This week is McTavishing - but I only have one block for you. I watched Karen McTavish on this video about 15 times. And still couldn't get it quite right myself. So I'm handing over to a lady who requires little introduction to Australians as one of our most talented and prolific contributors to Australian Patchwork and Quilting. Emma How of Sampaguita Quilts produces an astonishing number of original and beautifully quilted works, and one of her signature free-motion fillers is based on Karen McTavish's design. Having had a not-terribly successful bash at McTavishing myself, I thought I'd ask an expert - so over to Emma.
Thanks to Laura for inviting me to share some of my thoughts and tips about McTavishing!
McTavishing is a filler style developed by the incredible Karen McTavish. I first came across McTavishing about three years ago and have been using it ever since. It’s one of my favourite fillers, and I have to be careful not to over use it sometimes. One reason for this is its flexibility - like stippling, it fits easily in absolutely any size or shape space on a quilt. It also adds wonderful texture and movement, without having direction. The idea of McTavishing is to put the focus on the texture created, rather than the stitches themselves.
My first few efforts (such as the example above) were done from simply looking at her quilted examples, and I later realised I repeated the back-and-forth lines far too many times. Reading her book Mastering the Art of McTavishing really helped me work out where I was going wrong, and how to branch out in a different direction from each set of curvy lines. I think this was also where I first learned the trick of repeatedly drawing a pattern on paper until you feel really comfortable with it before you start quilting. This is probably the most important tip for successful free-motion quilting; I can’t emphasise it enough! I have pages and pages at home and (shhh!) at work filled with designing, practising and repeating quilting patterns.
Karen’s ‘rule’ of changing direction every four lines is really more of a guideline than a rule, and she does break it herself on occasion. I aim for 4 or 5, based on which end of the set of lines I want to finish at for where I plan to quilt next, and occasionally 6 or 7 if it will finish filling a finite space. A good guideline I’ve worked out is that a set of lines shouldn’t be wider than it is long. When you’ve quilted each set of curvy lines, pause and work out the best pace to go next – you may need to travel a little to start the next set.
When you change direction, there are two ways of meeting existing lines. The first (left, above) is to curve into it then pivot back out again (think of the bottom of a crescent moon nestling into a bowl). The second (right, above) is to quilt right to the existing line at close to a right-angle, travel a short distance along the existing line, then go back out at a similar angle as before. I use both of these, letting my desired line direction determine which I use on each occasion.
(McTavishing gives the background a blustery effect on my winter tree quilts.)
The more you look at different versions of a quilting pattern, the more you can pick up which aspects of yours you want to change. Even though I loved my own version, and it had come a long way from my first efforts, I still felt there was an elusive ‘something’ missing. Then I saw one version with a lot of spirally bits, and that made me realise that what I didn’t like about mine at that point was that it was a bit too stiff, so I stared making my curves curvier, and throwing in the odd spiral. That made it flow better.
McTavishing isn’t about perfection. The lines need to be consistently spaced, but they don’t all need to be perfectly parallel. In fact, there’s more movement and I like it best when they’re not.
Finally, don’t expect your McTavishing to look exactly like anyone else’s. In fact Karen even suggests you rename your own version after yourself, by simply adding ‘ing’ to your last name. I call mine Emming, because it doesn’t work with my last name - but I usually end up referring to it as McTavishing anyway, since it’s a generally understood term among quilters, and I don’t want to have to explain every time!
So your homework today, FMQALers, is to watch Karen's video and practice drawing some McTavishing as Emma suggests. Then have a go at one block, and I'll be back with another on the weekend. Here's my first!