Karla Petraglia

Free Hand With Winnie

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I’m the proud owner of a HQ18 Avante, but it was my dog, Winnie, who really helped me to learn how to use it! I started sewing around 10 years old, in a home that was rich with the tradition. My grandmother was a tailor from Germany, and taught me a lot about sewing garments. I’m sure I’m the same as many women: periods of time during which I hadn’t sewn for a while, but have actually sewn my whole life long. I went back and forth over the years with sewing and crafts. Then, about 2 years ago, got back into sewing in a big way. My husband said, ‘If you’re going to do this right, you should get yourself a good machine’, so of course I took his advice! I bought a top-of-the-line combination sewing/embroidery machine, and set up shop in a spare room of our house. I found myself a regular visitor at the store where I’d bought my machine, which also specializes in quilting supplies and equipment. To learn my new machine, I started with a ‘Bag of the Month’ Club, and never thought too much about quilting. However, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful quilt-tops others were making there. They encouraged me to try it, and I took my first class in December of 2009. I took more classes, and my sewing room began to fill in with a cutting table and all the associated accessories, and of course, lots of fabric. Before long, I had pieced together four different tops, and had them finished by a local quilter. My husband and I were in awe when I would bring them home and how gorgeous they looked as finished quilts. That’s when I started researching longarms on the internet, taking a few months looking, reading and talking to users. I decided Handi Quilter was the machine for me and found my closest dealer, Elaine Gilmore at the Quilting Machine Shop in Bunnell, Florida. After a ‘test drive’ at her shop, I ordered the HQ18 Avante. At that time, I didn’t order the Pro-Stitcher because I felt I should learn how to free-hand first. Elaine had a show in Paduca, so I agreed to wait a bit for my machine; this gave me plenty of time to go crazy waiting and thinking! By the next week, I called Elaine and added the Pro-Stitcher to the order. Elaine arrived early on a Saturday morning, and they had the machine set up by noon. For the rest of that day, she trained me on the Pro-Stitcher. She was back Sunday morning, we trained some more, then we loaded my latest quilt-top, a day-bed quilt with a dragonfly theme and a hibiscus stitch design. It went well, though I had a few ‘user-errors’ which Elaine helped me with. A thread-break revealed how incredibly easy it is to get back up and running from the same spot! We got about a quarter of that top done, and I was on my own to finish it. I continued to quilt for myself and friends using the HQ Pro-Stitcher, because there’s always something to learn with it, but I did very little free-handing at first. Which brings me back to my dog, Winnie, all Yorkshire Terrier, all 4 pounds of attitude! I knew that if I was to advance as a quilter, I would have to develop my free-handing skills. Several months ago, I began to apply myself to it. It didn’t go well at first. I made the same mistake everyone else does: I was too tense, and tried to ‘muscle’ the machine along. My stitches were not smooth, not artistic, not pretty. The more time I spent at the machine, the more Winnie was at my feet, fussing for attention. At some point, I picked her up to quiet her down, and, while holding her, proceeded to ‘one hand’ the HQ18 Avante with the other. The result was something I would have never expected! This ‘one hand drill’ forced me to relax my grip, and my free-handing skills developed very quickly. Winnie has moved on to other mischief, and while I generally steer the arm with two hands, I ‘solo’ every day just to keep that touch. My HQ18 Avante was a great investment. There are just so many incredibly useful features. I love the ‘move’ function, which lets me see if my quilt is straight on the frame, and the ‘point-to-point’ capability if things aren’t straight on the quilt. ‘Rotation’ and ‘mirror’ are great, too, and returning to the exact spot on a top of any size is a breeze should a thread break. Still, the best feature has to the looks on visitors’ faces when they see come over and see my machine, and I show them what it can do! And of course, Winnie helps!

I own the following HQ machine: HQ18 Avante