Blog for 2023
A look back at my creations and news for 2023!

 

CREATING A BEAUTIFUL DREAM BIG PANEL

Being a member of the Las Comadres Gallery in Taos, NM, it’s a continual struggle to figure out what people will buy. I’ve found that the Dream Big Panel made by Hoffman is one that people like to take back home with them. So, I’ve made a couple dozen. I thought I’d take time to describe the process of making one, from start to finish. As I was considering this, I realized how many little steps there are! And to be honest, all these steps go into almost every quilt. But on the easy side, this is a panel. There is no piecing involved.

The most obvious place to start is buying the panel. You might find some of these panels in your brick & mortar stores, and I encourage you to check locally. Failing that, my go-to is Etsy. Equally rewarding is a simple google search. Some of the colors are getting hard to find! Spruce, for instance.

I also prefer to work on panels that are basically created with tones of one color, like Magenta, or Spruce. Why? I don’t want to change thread colors. An example of what I don’t prefer is the Orchid panel, which has a yellow center and then shades of purple moving out from there. It’s hard for me to know when to stop using one thread color and change to another. I DO it, but it’s nice when I don’t have to

Lastly, I only buy the 42” x 42” size. I do have a couple 108” Hoffman panels in my closet, but haven’t been ready to commit to them yet!

As with many, many panels, they are rarely square when they come off the bolt.

DB1

I was fortunate to stumble upon a video produced by Hoffman, which demonstrates how to get your panel square! And it works! I do this EVERY TIME. Hint: I iron the fire out of the panel first. After it is square, I spray it with starch. I want the fabric to move as little as possible once I start stitching. Here’s the Hoffman link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGE2B5jcsms

For the backing, I have found that if I buy 1 & 2/3 yards of wide back fabric, I have enough for two backings. I always, always wash and dry my backings as they shrink up to 8%. (Nope, I don’t wash the panel.)

Next, the batting. There are lots of choices, but my go-to is one layer of thin cotton (or thin poly) on the bottom, covered with one layer of wool. I always use Quilters Dream, and I use the ‘Request’ option with the regard to cotton or poly. It is their thinnest batting. I don’t see any difference using either the poly or the cotton. I cut these to about 46” x 46”.

Now I’m ready to load it all onto my longarm.

DB2

I have a non-computerized Innova M24. I use SoFine 50 thread from Superior Threads, always. I use the same color thread in top and bobbin, always. I look for the color with the least contrast. My surface designs are freehand. I do use rulers, plenty of them! (HINT: I press fairly firmly down on my ruler because of the double batting. It’s fairly easy for the needle to come down on the ruler if I don’t have secure pressure on the ruler. Not good.) Since I do these so frequently, I’m in the habit of loading each one in the exact same orientation. It makes it easy to reference photos of previously finished pieces.

I’ll talk about two approaches. The choice depends on whether or not I am going to change thread color. I used two different panels in this post, one with one thread color, and one with four! First, one thread color:

I baste along the color line. (Disregard the color of this panel. I used the photo cuz it's what I had.)

DB3

After basting the top and sides (not the whole panel – just what’s on the throat), I move to the bottom of the throat space and do a very long basting stitch from left to right.

DB4

I then do the outlines of each petal above the basting line.

DB5

I add a quarter inch echo inside of each outline. I outline each full petal above the basting line.

Then I will add the fill to all of the petals that are fully outlined.

DB6

I tend to fill each petal the same way from panel to panel. I’ve tried many different designs and I’ve narrowed the designs to what fits best, which ones I feel I have the skills for, what looks pleasing to me, and gives off an equal distribution throughout the quilt. There are a million options, and they almost all look fabulous. No rules there!

I’ll also do the straight line stitching around the edges while I’m here. I stitch them ¼” apart. I place the ruler parallel to the color striations printed on the panel. At some points, the row is narrower proximally than it is distally. It’s truly not visible, but it keeps the stitching in line with the striations.

DB7

DB8

 

After completing the petals above the basting line, I advance the quilt, remove the first basting line, and add a new basting line at the bottom of this throat, and repeat the process of outlining/echoing the petals, and filling them in. (Hint: best to remove the previous basting line before adding the next one.)

DB9

DB10

 

It takes 4 advances on my machine to get to the bottom.  A smaller throat will require more advances. I confess that even though this is supposed to be a one thread color quilt, I did decide to use a lighter color for the center. 

A couple things here....If you want to outline all the petals from top to bottom, and then go back and do the fills, that is perfectly fine.  You can save the center for last, or do it as soon as you can get to it. All good choices. 

Second approach, using thread color changes:

First I choose the colors. I’ve used two, three or four colors. I don’t think I’ve used 5.

DB11 

I will use my plexiglass to label the petals with the corresponding thread colors. I guarantee you, it’s never the same plan twice, but it helps me remember what the heck I’m doing.

DB12

 

I baste the entire quilt about every 6 or 7 inches, as well as top, sides and bottom.

DB13

 

I start at the center. Sometimes I’ll use a color for the center only, and then change for next round of petals. It just depends on the color changes in the fabric, and personal choice.

DB14

 

I stitch out an irregular circle around my central design. I don't like microquilting, so this is more comfortable for me. Look around on IG for other ideas - there are so many beautiful ones. 

DB15

 

Once I’ve changed to color #2, I will move out from the center, filling in the petals that I’ve designated to have that thread color.

DB16

 

DB18

 

That done, I will continue moving out from the center, outlining the next round of petals with a third thread color. This requires rolling back and forth a bit. And finally, color #4 for the straight lines. (disregard the fact that the quilt in this photos is totally finished....)

DB19

 

Now it’s ready to come off the machine, and onto the cutting table. I have a large cutting table (36” x 72”) and can square it using the guidelines on the mat. Always, I have to trim off some the printed fabric to get it square. Not much, no more than 3/8”, and typically only on one side. But don't fret if your situation is different. It'll be great! Even though I squared the panel before I started, it’s not perfect, and stitching always pulls in fabric. If I didn’t have that cutting table. I would put 2 tables together, and use a 90° laser level:

https://www.amazon.com/QWORK-Horizontal-Vertical-Projection-Suction/dp/B07CGKF44F

I use this thing in a later step. It’s a great tool for squaring backings. Anyway, I’d lay it out, use the level to get 90° at all 4 corners, draw the lines and use scissors.

The next step is really important. I didn’t always do this. Not until I had to fix so many frayed edges. I take the quilt to my domestic machine as soon as it’s trimmed, set the stitch length at 3, and baste the entire edge 1/8th “ from the edge. And I mean 'as soon as'. I don't do the squaring up unless I know I have time to edge baste immediately.

DB20

Why? Because when you trim/square it, you cut threads that are in the designs. They unravel themselves up to an inch into the quilt! The more you handle it, the more unraveled they become. Not good, not good!

When I get to this point, I feel like I’m at the last stage. Which still has 6 steps!!

It will hang much nicer if it is blocked. I soak the quilt in cold water for just a minute. Just to get it wet. The tub works. Or a big sink. Spritzing doesn’t work for me. I gently squeeze out most of the water. I wrap it in two beach towels, and let it sit 5 minutes. I have a piece of foam board from the hardware store, 1”x46” x46”. (Original size was larger, I had to cut it down.) I gather 4 things: a box of pins, my 15” square ruler, the laser level mentioned earlier, and some items I can place at the corners of the quilt that will reflect the laser light.

DB21

 

I lay the quilt on the foam board, press it from center out with my hands, getting it nice and flat. (Don’t kneel on the foam board – it’ll squish and/or crack.) I start with the ruler and laser in one corner, and set to making the whole thing square.

DB22

DB23

DB24

 

I use pins sparingly at first, because it needs to be manipulated a few times before it’s square. But when it is, I use about 160 pins around the perimeter. Yup. Every inch. It doesn’t take as long as you think it would.

DB25

DB26

 

Let it dry overnight. I usually have a fan on it. But if you don't have one, you don't have one!  You just may have to be more patient than me!

While that is drying, I take care of the last steps: make the binding, make the sleeve, cut the dowel, and add the label. So close!!

I love traditional bindings. But with these panels, I have landed on bindings with a flange. I like the way they look. That little bit of color around the edge really adds to whole thing. AND, there’s no hand stitching.

DB27

Here’s a link to a flange tutorial by Missouri Star Quilt Company:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAQWwwAa2K0

Sleeve: Nothing special about the sleeve. It’s about 3” tall, finished. I make 2 sleeves, each approximately 18”, leaving a 2” gap between them. It gives the owner flexibility to use one nail or two for hanging.

Dowel: 3/8” dowel, 48" long, then cut down to size.

Label: That is a very personal choice! You just do you!

DB28

DB29

IMG 9204

IMG 9209

So! I’m happy to answer questions, happy to accept corrections or better ideas at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Don’t be afraid to try one. They’re great practice, great for muscle memory, and you just can’t mess up! If you stuck through this whole thing, you are ready to take one on!

Debbie

 

 

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