A Pantograph--(noun) an instrument for copying a drawing.

Just the word seems to indicate and ease at quilting. "Just follow the pattern. How simple is that?" This is what I thought when I would have things quilted by other quilters. And I believe many quilters feel this is somehow "cheating." I know I was one such person. That was until I bought my long-arm machine.

My mentor during the time I bought my machine was a full, devout if you will, free motion quilter. She praised the works of people like Karen McTavish, who's free motion quilting is truly breathtaking. I was constantly told how pantographs were cheating. Indeed copying someone's work could seem this way to a retired teacher, as was my mentor. She inspired me to practice, practice, practice free motion designs. I drew them on paper, lots of paper. I practiced on quilts. Heck, I even practiced on the sidewalks with side walk chalk. While I do not consider myself and expert, this method has increased my muscle memory and the quality of my free motion quilting has skyrocketed. I was able to get to know some of the quirks of design and my machine. It helped my develop my speed control and enabled me to think ahead of the design.

At the time I tried a pantograph or two and was disgusted with what I turned out. "This is not for me!" I declared. It is much too restrictive. I am a free motion quilter! (and I am, mostly.)

Last week I stepped back, looked and decided to take the jump once again. As you may have read the 24 hour baby quilt has a quilted pantograph covering it's surface. I had forgotten how much work setting up a pantograph requires. Measuring, re-measuring, lining up point a on the quilt with point A on the pantograph, adjusting the laser stylus, and accounting for repeats took a painstaking 20- 25 minutes for every new row. (check out the green post-its they indicate the changes I made in the pantograph for just one pass. ) Adding or subtracting the distances to get the entire quilt covered without having a huge blank space at the bottom of the quilt that is just too small to fit another repeat, but too large to leave un-quilted took more time than I remembered. What I was surprised to find was that quilting the actual pantograph was easier than I remembered. Not EASY but far from disastrous.

I found that the last year and some odd months of free motion quilting has made me a better pantograph quilter. Odd. I know. I realize now that the two are only the same in that they use a long arm machine to quilt a quilt. It takes a completely separate set of skills, at least for me, to use a pantograph verses free-motion. They are in fact, quite the opposite of each other. Free-motion for me is a much more flowing type of quilting. Relaxing almost. I find often that I get lost in the rhythm of quilting this way and fail to plan where I am going. With a pantograph one is required to maintain a stiffness to the upper torso which is uncomfortable and unnatural. Yet, your path is clearly laid out for you.

However, it does require skill. A completely different type of skill from free-motion. I have come to understand that this is far from "cheating" as I once thought and it is by no means easier. It has it's place in quilting, as does free-motion quilting. I believe by practicing some of both it will make me a better quilter.

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