Working With “Leather” from the 1970s to Now

When I recently got my new Bernina 880 plus, I also got a number of intersting new feet, including leather roller foot 55, teflon foot 52D (for dual feed), and teflon zipper foot 54, and other feet and attachments to go with the collection I already had from my erstwhile Bernina 830 that I traded in.  Sew I have a number of interesting projects I want to try that my wonderful studio can now handle that I might have not done before.  One of these is working with leather.

 

Leather roller foot 55

Teflon zipper foot 54

Teflon dual feed foot 52

 

 

 

 

 

As some of you probably know, I have started a project of tailoring a faux leather, aka “leather”, overcoat for my youngest son David, the moderately popular sci-fi/fantasy writer, who is a cute, big and tall man in his early forties.

Decades ago I had my own fashion design and tailoring (real tailoring, not alterations) business in Ithaca, New York.   During that time I did some leather work…making a few bags and re-styling a couple of old fur coats.  I did this on my two machines…a beautiful antique White machine, which I still have, from the early 20th century that has a powerful motor that only has a straight stitch, and my Singer Golden Touch and Sew that was the Singer top of the line at the time before they  went greatly downhill as a machine.  It was a good little machine, but truly insufficient for what I was using it for. But I did not have any special feet that sew smoothly across leather, a dual feed mechanism for keeping the two layers together of slick lining fabrics, for instance, and the buttonhole program that has a simple rectangle for assisting in the making of bound buttonholes.  I didn’t have YouTube to look up reminders on how to do a bound buttonhole or a welted pocket, for instance.

What I did and still do have is a wonderful treasure of a long out-of -print book I found in the library and Marvin later bought from a used book store.  It is called How to Make Men’s Clothes by Jane Rhinehart published in 1975. Years ago when I had my shop in Ithaca, I wrote to her and obtained permission to use her book for instructional purposes and the illustrations in her book as needed in my own manuals. She was delighted, actually. I have yet to write that manual, but I am thinking of doing one now adding leather techniques and updated available supplies. As you see if you click on the link to her book, it is still available as a used book from Amazon.  There are other used book places you can find it…some grossly overpriced.  I highly recommend this book if you want to improve your tailoring abilities (much of it works for women’s tailored clothes too).  I made my dearest Marvin several jackets shortly after we were married using these techniques.  He wore those jackets for most of our life together and said he could throw them in the corner, sit on them, pick them up and put them on and they looked like they had just been freshly pressed.  It is really a construction manual that helps you to “build” tailored clothing from inside out.

Sew now I have a powerful Bernina 880 Plus with feet designed specifically for leather and vinyl work using the dual feed mechanism and a wide harp space in a large cabinet to assist me in keeping things together.

The faux leathers have vastly improved over the years.  The one I bought for this project (I bought a whole 8 yard bolt of 60 inch wide “leather”, which allowed me to get it at a reasonable price per yard, and I plan on making myself a jacket from the remaining fabric) feels almost exactly like the true leather samples I obtained before starting this project and even the back side resembles a smoother version of the back of the real leather.  It has about the same weight as the jacket-weight leather samples.  From a short distance, and maybe even up close, you will not readily be able to identify this as faux leather once I have it sewn up.  Yes, I would really prefer the real leather, but this is a wonderful substitute and is a quarter of the price.  So be aware that if you prefer not to use real leather for whatever reason, you can still make that smart “leather” jacket.  I will say that you might still want to use real leather if you are going for a quilted leather project.  It can take the heavy stitching that type of project requires and I am not sure the “leather” would.  Also I found several good suppliers of leather if you want to go that way…just let me know in the comments.

I remember the older faux leather.  It was too shiny, too stiff, and in a year or so it would crack and peal.  The back was not as good either.  You could tell from a distance it was not real leather.  I used it for Ithaca opera costumes (I was the chief costumer for several of their operas back when I lived in Ithaca) from time to time…not fun to work with.

When I worked on the leather projects of the past, I used tissue paper under my needle, and I just tightly held the sides together and stitched slowly.   Now I use clips to hold the sides together, stitch normally with the dual feed engaged, and have even better results.

When I worked on the leather projects in the past, I glued down the seam allowances and hammered them flat with a wood mallet on a towel.  The glue was a heavy goo similar to that gooey paper cement only worse.  It smelled too.  Today they have a double sided leather strip and I got some white leather glue, actually from the same manufacturer that made the old gooey junk.  What an improvement!  Now I use the double sided tape or the much nicer white leather glue and my little wood wall paper roller to make a nice flat seam.

When I worked on the leather projects in the past, I avoided top stitching as much as I could because I almost had to hand crank my machine stitches to make them go through all the layers (try keeping that straight!).  Today, I don’t mind it at all because the machine stitches right through all those layers with no problem.

Sew for my current coat project, I could not find a pattern that fit my tall nobly-shaped son.  They do not have big and tall men tailored clothing patterns published by any company that I could find.  They absolutely need to fix that!!!!  The closest I came was a couple of costume coats for cos-play, and even those still would not have fit well.  So I ended up taking a Burda pattern, a McCall’s costume pattern, some instructions from How to Make Men’s Clothes, and Frankensteined a sloper together for him.

The Franken pattern ready to chalk and cut.

Then I made a muslin fitting shell…one that did not quite work but headed me in the right direction, and one that did work after that.  Then I transfered all the corrections to the flat sloper pattern and have chalked the pattern while weighting the pattern on the back of the “leather” (one side at a time) and have cut out the “leather” with my newly sharpened big scissors.  I know you can also do this with a small-blade rotary cutter, but it requires a bigger mat than I have and the scissors work well.  I have an idea the rotary cutter would work best on true leather.  I still have another 18 pieces of interfacings, linings, and pocket bags to cut out before I start construction.

Here’s my pattern on the “leather’ with my “fancy” pattern weights…LOL…I should make myself some nice pattern weights, but who has the time?!

I have, however,  made a sample to see how my machine uses it, practice the seam finishing, and so forth.  What a dream!  I may be doing a lot more in this “leather”.  But I really do want to get back to my quilting. So I am thinking I can make a practice welted pocket in a square piece big enough to later use on a bag.  That way if I ruin it, I can try again without ruining the coat.

Sew happy everyone!  Try something new you haven’t tried before, or something you did long ago in the past that was more difficult than it would be today with today’s machines and products.  Now…back to cutting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upcoming: A Really Fun Class at G Street Fabrics

Embellish This! workshop sampler for November 15 2019 class.

Hi everyone!  Next Friday, a week from today, I will be teaching a super fun workshop called “Embellish This!” at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, MD sewing machine department.  There are empty spaces…so come and fill it up.  My classes usually have a waiting list, and often this happens in the week before it starts.   Call 301-231-2998 and ask for the sewing machine department to sign up.

Bring your machine and obtain the kit (a $45 kit worth over $100) that is filled with an interesting variety and weights of decorative threads and cords, and even some yarns, sequins, and needles to play with.  You will have a lot of threads leftover to use on several other projects. It also has a marked test fabric and a 15 x 15 inch fabric panel that I designed just for this class to embellish that will make a fun decorative pillow top, wall hanging, or table topper when compete (a nice present).  The fabric practice piece and the panel are both already backed with fusible tear away stabilizer.  Be prepared to have a LOT of fun.  I also have asked that students bring a free motion couching foot, an open toed embroidery foot, and an embroidery foot like Bernina embroidery foot 39 or 6 that has a small hole for cording to use with decorative embroidery.

You will be amazed what you can do with your machine, and you will enjoy yourself.  You will go home with a strong understanding of how you can use it to give your projects a special touch.  This is a stress-free class designed for all levels of sewists.

I hope my local friends will come  and launch their Holiday sewing with this fun class.

Wardrobe Analysis, Slopers, Muslin Test Garments, and a Fashion Fabric Stash

It’s November!  I have a plan for November.  Now I know my topic is usually related to the art of quilting, but I decided I seriously need to do some garment sewing for a bit, delaying some of my quilting plans while I do.  I have a really beautiful collection of fall, winter, and early spring fabrics stashed in three under bed storage units and in my blanket box I had built to match my bed some years back.  I also recently added a full 8 yard bolt of faux leather, and three pieces of fabric suitable for dress slacks for me. It’s literally been a decade or more since I replaced or added significant clothes to my wardrobe, and my son needs a new coat.

Over the past few years I have lost a couple of dress sizes although I am still quite a large woman with long arms, a smallish waist, and big hips.  So purchased clothes seldom look good on me, though a few simple styles can serve.  I also have worn out most of my old collection of nice shirts and slacks I used to wear to work even if the style and fit is still ok. Then there is the fact that I am now a fabric artist, retired from government work, so even if it was still serviceable, my wardrobe doesn’t fit my lifestyle anymore.

Analysis of my current wardrobe tells me that the addition of several nice pairs of slacks, a few simple jackets, and some tops would make the rest of it work (I no longer wear dresses and I have black jeans, blue jeans, some nice sweaters and just a couple of shirts).

Now I know from having once had my own fashion design/tailoring business long years ago that once one gets a perfectly fit pattern for slacks, I can make a pair in less than a day.  At my top speed at that time, I could make a beautifully finished pair of well fitting slacks in an afternoon, including the cutting.  The big problem with that is getting the pattern perfectly fitted. So the first step is to get a sloper (or basic slacks pattern) flat fitted from measurements and then make up a pair of muslin test slacks.  After that I will make any changes to the test slacks and adjust the flat pattern.  That is step one.  Then I can zip through the three pairs of slacks.  I might make my poly/wool pants I have stashed away and add a simple cute jacket to get a nice dressy suit for winter…but maybe in December.

For my son David’s “leather” coat, I already have a sloper pattern and need to make a muslin fitter test for that before I add the style touches and make the coat.  That will probably take me a week or week and a half to make his coat.

Faux Leather..looks good. Has a nice weight. When I finish sewing it, one may not readily be able to tell it isn’t real leather. Real leather was out of my budget.

I recently flat fitted the cutest McCall’s jacket pattern to make a denim jacket out of some of the on hand denim.  It has places for adding some interesting embroidery.  I’m not going to make a test muslin for that, mostly because it has a lot of style ease in the pattern and also because I have a whole lot of denim, and since I have had it for a long time, I figure it is about equal to the cost of the muslin.  I buy my jeans from Lee Jeans, which has a style that fits me well surprisingly.  I may take a pair and add some corresponding embroidery at the bottom of the blue jeans, thereby giving me an attractive  blue denim suit to wear when teaching or even go to church or some such.  This will probably take me less than a week.

This is the denim jacket pattern. I will do the embroidery too.

Then I will make myself a faux leather jacket, for which I have a pattern that I already know fits me, though I still think I will make a muslin fitter before I cut the leather, since it cannot be unstitched even the slightest because of the holes from the stitching.  Leather…faux or real…has to stay like you sew it!  This is a more complex jacket and will probably take me a week to make.  This will be fun.  My new machine came with some feet designed to sew on leather/faux leather.

I have a stack of blouse/top fabrics that will make nice year round tops and also a piece of  black faux suede to make an elaborately embroidered, but otherwise simply styled jacket to wear for Holidays or some such (I’ll make this for Christmas, but not until December).  I just ordered a couple of new tops patterns that look fairly simple to make.  I’ll make those across the next year with one every once in a while.  So I am not counting them on my initial wardrobe redo timing.

Sew my initial wardrobe update seems to me to be doable by the beginning of December, especially since I am still quilting my Mom’s memory quilt, which is coming along nicely.  Don’t forget, I made myself a beautiful overcoat last year that has a faux fur collar and I love it.  It also told me I still love making clothes, but doing them right and carefully fitting them.  This wardrobe update will be using on hand fabrics and thread.  I probably have all the interfacing and other additional notions I may need.  So the entire cost of this year’s update will be really low and I will end up with a wonderful wardrobe.  I will construct most of the items so I can take them up as I lose more weight. I am, of course, planning on embellishing,  embroidering, and adding some interesting style touches for most of the new clothes I make (not the slacks). That’s what makes constructing my own clothes so much fun. I’m excited.

Meanwhile, I have made a very nice start to the quilting of my Mom’s memory quilt.  I will work these things together.  This makes it really fun for me in my studio.  I also have gotten mostly ready for my next workshop I am teaching at G Street Fabrics on 15 November…Embellish This! in which we embellish a fabric panel I designed that makes a 15 inch by 15 inch square suitable for a pillow top or wall hanging (Christmas present?).   That class is going to be a lot of fun and not a lot of stress, plus you end up with a very nice selection of decorative threads you can use for Holiday embellishment (purchased kit $45, worth at least twice that much).  So I encourage my local friends to sign up.  I think there is still room in this class.  Call G Street and ask.

So I have a plan in addition to continuous periodic work on my Mom’s memory quilt:

  • November sewing
    • David’s “leather” coat
    • My three slacks
    • My denim jacket
    • My “leather” jacket
  • December sewing
    • My “suede” embroidered jacket for Christmas
    • My wool suit????
    • A new bag from leftover “leather” and “suede” together
    • A simple top or two

Will I finish all of this?  I’m thinking I actually might with careful planning with no additional costs.  That way I will save a lot of money and have a good wardrobe for my current lifestyle.  Then I can get back to focusing on quilting full time.

Happy sewing everyone!  Make yourself some lovely garment or garments to make you happy, but I encourage you to make a muslin fitting test piece before you cut your expensive fashion fabric if you do not already know the pattern fits.  Then you can make the same pattern with different style touches with several fabrics…stack them up, cut them out, embellish them, make them all at once!  Then let me know how it went.

 

 

 

Problem Solving in the Studio 4: Beyond Sewing Supplies

Home office tools, computers, and supplies, as well as building or painting supplies are often problem solvers in my studio.  I figure they are for you too, dear readers, but it seems a good idea to review them in case some of you haven’t tried them yet.

My printer/scanner is a major problem solver for me in my studio.  This was just highlighted to me this week as I was trying to come up with the right quilting plan for the border on my mom’s memory quilt.  I figured out how I want to quilt the rest of the quilt and am excited that I am nearly finished with the top so I can sandwich and get to quilting.  I had a concept in my head of how I wanted to make the border quilting pattern.  I have taken Lisa Calle’s online classes on iquilt, and classes from Bethanne Nemesh, Gina Perkes, and Jamie Wallen at shows.  So I can come up with designs, but getting them drawn like I want and in the right size is always a challenge for me.

Yesterday, though, I drew several designs I wanted to  consider in a small size on letter sized paper with my pencil, scanned them into my computer, took them into Corel Draw (but you could do this with any drawing package or photo editing software you may have).  Then I resized them into the exact size I needed and printed the one I chose and traced the designs on my border.  I think it looks promising. Sometimes I draw these digitally and size them correctly, fixing any problems resizing causes.  It’s such a help.

Of course, I also occasionally print fabric pieces for some of my wall art quilts, even if I have a background piece printed by Fabric on Demand or Spoonflower.  For instance, for PendragonI painted and printed the heads (all bald heads…loL…I added the hair with stitching later), as well as the swords.

Pendragon
34 x 45

I used Scotch Magic tape yesterday to hold some free standing lace motifs in place while I stitched them onto the quilt top with monopoly thread.  This tape is a wonderful help in in-the-hoop embroidery work because it will hold things in place while being stitched through and then easily tear off leaving nothing behind.  I learned about this from a Sewing with Nancy show and thought I would try it, and found it works very well.

I have reported in my previous blogs about using various pens and pencils, such as Crayola washable markers and gel pens or colored pencils for marking fabrics.

I know all of you by now must have a roll of blue painter’s tape in your studio.  It makes a great marker for straight stitching, holds designs in place at the light table for marking with no sticky left behind, holds a super slider mat for that little additional security to keep it in place, and so forth.

For me, one of the hardest things to do is square up my quilts.  Last year I bought a laser square, used for tiling in the building industry.  It helps a lot getting a square corner.  I did find I need to place it on something to match the height of the quilt top to make it work right (magazines or rulers seem to work for me).

I’m sure there are a lot more such items from outside the traditional sewing items to help us problem solve in our studio.  I invite you all to add a comment with your favorite item you found to work with in your studio that came from outside the sewing/quilting world.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio this fall!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sew Happy with My New Machine

I have been blessed with a really fine new Bernina 880 Plus, aka Odette.  I have been doing a lot of work with the machine since I got it all settled down and I learned its little ins and outs.

I have been working on a quilt in  memory of my Mom.  Mom was a great beauty, a fabulous sewist. a woodworker, had been a nurse, and a home decorator.  She was a wonderful mother and wife during her life.  She taught me to sew and knit. This quilt is a hug and a bow to her sparkling memory.  I’m really enjoying working on it as I remember all the wonderful things she taught me and shared with me.

Mom (Zephana Bivens) in her woodshop at 78.

So my design for Mom’s memory quilt has a considerable amount of in-the-hoop embroidery in it.  Some of the embroidery designs came with my new machine, were some I had purchased or collected  in the past, and two of them I purchased just for this quilt.  In spite of when I got them, all the designs are from OESD and are amazingly well digitized and have stitched out wonderfully on my new machine.  I am so impressed with how beautiful the stitches are, how they don’t overly pull, and how wonderful they look when done.  I have three more to go, each requiring about two hours to complete.  Then I will sandwich, quilt, paint, wash and block, bind, and add crystals and pearls.

Mom, Dad, and my brother Pat before I was even on the way.

I also have done some additional sewing just to see how the machine works, testing all the attachments.  I got some special feet designed to work with leather and vinyl.  Just this week I bought enough beautiful faux leather to make my youngest son, the writer who shares this house with me, a coat and myself a jacket.  I’m excited about this project.

One of the things that came with my new machine is Bernina’s Big Book of Feet. I have been reading through it while babysitting the embroidery module doing its work.  I find I have most of the feet, since I had a Bernina 830 prior to this one and had collected them across the eight years and I got some new ones that came with the deal.  It’s so exciting when I can do and I will be sewing a lot of clothes and home decorating items over the next year as well as the planned show quilts on my list to explore some of these interesting techniques.  I’m thinking I might make some of the clothes as wearable art and enter them into shows also.  Maybe I will make a few bags and hats too.

Mom and me in May 1967. I am showing off the dress I made.

How exciting!  Will I get it all done?  Probably not, but it will be fun trying.  After nearly three months of working to get a good new machine following the breakdown of my 830, and another couple of weeks learning Odette’s ins and outs, I have concluded I have the best machine I have ever had.  It sews evenly, beautifully, and smoothly.  I foresee many years of exciting new projects ahead. Knock on wood!  LOL

I’m currently writing a book about embellishment that will include several sampler projects, just to fill in my spare time…hahahaha.  (Also, I am going to teach a class at G Street sometime in November on embellishment).

Embellish This! workshop sampler for November 2019 class.

Sew happy everyone!  Take time to learn what your machine can do.  Even some of the more basic machines will help you do some remarkable work if you take the time to explore it, but especially if you have a more advanced machine….take that time to read the manual, and try some new techniques to enhance your sewing.  It will give you lots of happiness in the process and with the items you make.

Problem Solving in the Studio 3: Free Motion Couching

One of the things I have really been enjoying experimenting with lately is couching by machine.  Couching, or laid work in which cords or yarns are laid onto a fabric and attached using small stitches, reaches back into history at least as far as the llth century, usually gold cording.  Of course, that was by hand and gloriously beautiful.

I have been working on a book on embellishment and one of the techniques I will be covering in the book is couching.  Or rather, several of the techniques I am discussing are several different types of couching by machine.  Our machine companies have developed or are developing couching feet designed to help us apply interesting cords and yarns to the surface of our projects by machine.  Like many things, though, success in this endeavor requires a bit of practice.

 

This is the start of a small sampler of winter trees that I am making. The largest tree is couched on sports weightyarn, using foot number 43 on my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm. The next largest tree on the right uses a thinner baby fingering yarn and so I used the ruler foot 72 with the largest of the three couching inserts. The silver tree in the center back is couched on Ricky Tim’s Razzle Dazzle decorative heavy thread, the thinest of the bunch, that I couched on using the smallest insert in the ruler foot 72. This was pure fun to do.

I also used free motion couching using Bernina 43 foot for my quilt Night on the Bayou, which will be in this year’s Houston IQF show.  Isn’t that terrific?  No, it will not be winning a ribbon, but I’m very happy to have it in the show nevertheless.

A close up of the Night on the Bayou showing the tree limbs I couched on with yarn using foot 43. I also couched on the bushes and grasses growing in the water (not shown here).

Sew there are some problems I have had sometimes especially in free motion couching.

Normally, I use either Superior Thread’s wonderful Monopoly thread or a 100 weight matching (to the yarn or cord) silk or poly thread to couch the thread on.  I use a small 70/10 needle.

When I first started trying this, I had trouble with the thread breaking periodically, especially the monopoly.  Then I saw someone, and I cannot remember who or where, say that using a universal needle helps prevent thread breakage for monopoly threads.  Sew I tried it and found a 70/10 or even a 60/8 universal needle actually does make a big difference. Lowering the top tension also makes a difference.  My biggest problem is getting these small needle eyes threaded with thread I can barely see. It just takes magnification and time. for me to do that.

The other problem I have sometimes is stitching off the thread when doing a curve or circle, leaving the stitches in the right shape and the yarn hanging there.  To make this better, I have found from experimentation that it is a matter of making sure to provide sufficient looseness of the yarn or cord feeding into the foot and stitching slowly enough.  I pile on a bit of loose cord/yarn onto the fabric and watch to make sure it doesn’t feed a loop into the foot, stopping and adding more cord/yarn as it uses up.  If the yarn/cord feeds in with even a small amount of too much tension, it will pull it out of the stitch path.

For the most part, this is fixable if you take your time by going back and stitching over it, using a stiletto or bent tweezers pulling the cord/yarn into place while you slowly restitch over the yarn, following the stitching now on the fabric.  Alternatively, you can remove the yarn beyond the skipped area by pulling gently on the stitched down part and clipping the thread.  But if there is enough looseness of yarn, and you sew slowly enough in the first place, you probably won’t miss the yarn/cord in the first place for the most part.

Of course, like every really good technique, you need to practice.

A word about practice and testing:  I know it takes time to test and practice techniques and products, but it can save you a great deal of time later and even the ruination of your project.  Keep a notebook and staple samples into it and write up what you did.  That way, next time you use the same kinds of items to do the same thing, even if it is months down the road, you just have to look up what you already did and proceed straight to your project.

Do I sound like an annoying nagging teacher now?  LOL…well, maybe I am.

Sew happy everyone! I hope you try couching and have a lot of fun with it.  I have lots of plans for using this technique in future quilts.

 

Problem Solving Tools 2: Markers for Satin

Marking satin for quilting and placement has been a BIG barrier to making some quilts.  I want to make several quilts using polyester crepe-back satin and have been working on figuring out all the techniques that come with this.

First I made this sampler pillow top, in which I figured out what batting and backing to use, what paints to use, what background quilting I wanted for one of my projects, and markers.  You can read more about this in Satin Sampler blog below, but there is more to know about the marker.

When I refroze the sampler, the marks came back and then I soaked it with Dawn and Oxiclean all day long (9 hours).  the marks did NOT go away at all.  The marker test failed (I have ironed away the marks in the photo above).

Sew I thought about this a bit and began to wonder if there were any pens that were designed to wash out of clothing or go away with water for kids to use.  When I searched for such pens online, I came across Crayola’s Washable Gel pens.  So I ordered a package from Amazon and yesterday I ran a test on the markers.  To my delight, my test worked!  The pictures aren’t great, but here they are.

Before (note the clear marks that are smooth and thin. The ink did not spread at all.  The ink glided over the satin without pulling the weave of the satin like pencils do:

Here is the after picture.  I washed it in cold water with Synthrapol by hand (with a three minute soak).  The ink you see is a Sharpie to keep up with what the sections were…one was not ironed, and one was ironed.  There is not one bit of the gel pen marks.  Today I froze the fabric for a while just to make sure the marks would not return.  This is the result…no marks:

For me and the projects I want to do this is a HUGE breakthrough.  I can now proceed in marking my current project and design the others. I will note that one of my quilty friends said he had used this pen and had them bleed some splats, and some of the colors were less washable than others.  He also noted that if you accidentally get water on it it may spread like watercolor. He lives in California and his water may be different or some other difference.  I have not used this much either, and he probably has. Also, I have not tested this on cottons or silk. So I don’t think I can fully recommend this marker yet–perhaps in the future after I use it more–but I am going to use it.  Even the occassional splat (that washes out) is greatly preferable to the pulling from a pencil that occurs when trying to mark satin that way.  Therefore, I suggest if you are going to use this that you run a test on your particular fabric and wash with your water with Synthapol before marking your quilt.

One of the cool things about my sampler is that the paint was untouched by all the attempts to remove the marks…it survived it all.  The paint is a combination of Jacquard’s Lumiere paints and Setacolor paints that were dried and heat set.  I also like the general concept for the background quilting.

Sew happy everyone!  Remember to test your techniques and products before investing those hours into your project.

 

 

Problem Solving Tools in the Studio 1: Needles

The other day I was having trouble with a metallic thread I was using breaking periodically.  It sewed beautifully for a bit and then broke.  I rethreaded and it did it again.  I was using a Superior 90/14 titanium top stitch needle, which is the one I use the most and which handles 40 weight embroidery threads extreamly well.  The metallic thread was about a 40 weight.  I finally decided to change the needle for a Klasse needle that I happened to have on hand that is designed for metallic threads.  It sewed so well I managed to finish my project without another thread break.

I have had the same good results when sewing with monopoly threads when I use a 70 universal needle rather than a top stitch needle I was using.  I think the needles kind of “step on” these specialy threads and the slight rounded needle point just slides by the thread rather than break.

Sew as I am getting to know my new Bernina 880 plus, Odette, I have been planning new projects and testing various techniques for them.  This process has highlighted to me a happy thought that I have greatly enlarged my understanding of sewing, quilting, and problem solving in the studio since I retired from my government job to be a full-time fabric artist.

As well as using the right needle helps to solve thread problems, so does the little things like using a net when sewing from a cone of thread.  The net keeps the thread from “pooling” at the bottom of the cone which will cause uneven feeding through the thread track and produce some tension problems.

I know that many of my readers already have a full understanding of the use of various types of needles. In the past, even though I really kind of knew what should be used,  I did not take full advantage of the substantial differences using the proper needles can make.  I used to just put in a universal 80/12 and use it for almost everything, changing only for specialty sewing.  After I retired to my studio career, I decided to pay more attention to the needle I used.  I found to my delight that it solved some of the stitching struggles I used to just power through.

Today I keep on hand an array of needle types and use them appropriately, often changing the needle several times during one project.  For the most part, I use Superior titanium needles, which I believe to be the best on the market.  However, I do also think Organ, Schmetz, Bernina, and Klasse needles are excellent brands.

The needle companies are doing many new things with needles now, like special needles to reduce stickiness when you are sewing through layers of fusibles, for instance.

Several of the brands have guidelines on their websites for their different needles.  Here are some helpful links with a wealth of information on needles and their uses:

Side note: I get quality needles and don’t always use them up as I change them, so the first thing I had to do when deciding to change needle types for different threads, was to come up with a way to keep these needles for future use.  I have two things that I do this with.  One is a big red tomato pin cushion that I have marked around it which type of needle is in which section.  I keep this by my big Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm.  It uses domestic machine needles, which I like.  The other method for keeping track of these partially used machine needles  is my needle book I made several years ago that I have marked areas for different needles on the flannel pages in the book.  I keep this with me for use wherever I need them.  I even take it with me when I go to workshops, retreats, or downstairs when I need to do hand sewing.  Also, I try to keep a record of what needle is in the machine.  Odette has a useful built in program for doing this, but neither my little B 350 nor my Q20 have this.  So I keep a notebook close by  for that and other reminders along the way.

Sew if you are having problems with your thread breaking, splitting, or not stitching with an even tension, it might just be your needle.  If you think your machine “doesn’t like” a particular thread, it might really just need a different needle type or size.

 

 

 

 

 

Satin Sampler

OK.  I have been working out a satin sampler to test markers, techniques, threads, paints, and background designs for several projects, one being my Mom’s memory quilt.  The cool thing about this is that I am making it with polyester crepe back satin.  It has a lovely beefy hand and I wanted to test it for future projects.  Why?  Partly because I can get a 58 inch wide piece for about $5 per yard for a lighter hand up to $8 a yard for a heavy satin instead of the $17 to $40 a yard for 43″ wide fabric, and partly because there are some wonderful colors available in the polyester that don’t run when washed.  I am using the heavy polyester crepe back satin for this sampler.  I will be making it into a pillow top for my bedroom since I can tell I will like it when finished.

Sew I have layered it with a cotton backing, and a double bat of Quilter’s Dream 80/20 select loft on bottom and Quilter’s Dream wool on top.  I marked it with a heat-away gel pen (see my blog on marker testing for this satin) that I do not recommend unless you are prepared to go through a removal process that requires much effort and time.  This ink returns when frozen (such as in the airplane when you check your luggage or ship it someplace). Also, my marker testing is incomplete, because I want to finish the sampler, freeze it, and completely test the removal process again on this sandwiched piece. I am quilting it with 40 weight Superior Magnifico and, where needed, 100 weight microquilter.

I painted this sampler with a combination of Setacolor and Jacquard Lumier fabric paints in order to get the colors I wanted.  Their steadfastness will also be tested in the freezing/washing test.

Here is a little look at my work on this little sampler thus far.  I am really having fun with this.  While most of the stitch work has been on my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm, some very small amount was done on my new B 880 Plus machine, just to see how it quilts.  LOL

 

 

So my conclusion about good quality polyester crepe back satin as a quilting fabric…it works, it’s beautiful, and it both paints and quilts well.  I do back it with a very light weight pellon fusible to make it behave well.

* * * * * * *

Something I didn’t tell you all earlier is that just after I got Odette all sorted out with a new machine from Bernina because the first one seemed to have a serious problem, I made a mistake in threading it and got a huge glob of thread nest in it that I could not remove myself.  So I had to take it in to the dealer to get it fixed.  It made me weep. I was really gloomy when I found that Lew, the magical tech guy, was out for two weeks and so I had to wait.  He fixed it almost imediately when he got back and I got it safely home on Tuesday and have done considerable sewing and embroidery on it since then.  It is clearly a wonderful machine.  It was my mistake, and I have since figured out what I did wrong (with Lew’s suggestions).  I didn’t want to whine again or have people tell me I was wrong to buy it in the first place because their prefered brand works so much better they think.

Anyway, that meant that I was without my main sewing machine for nearly three months with the exception of a day or two twice!!!  So I did a lot of sewing on my little Bernina 350 and a lot of free motion work on my Q20, and a lot of non-machine prep work for future projects, and stacked up quite a bit of work for the new machine.  I will, therefore, be missing a few deadlines I had tentatively planned on.

I have begun attacking the stack of work and have been having a huge amount of fun and the icy fear of further machine problems has begun to melt away over the past week.  In addition to some “regular” sewing, I did some in-the-hoop embroidery last week that came out so perfect and beautiful that I was nearly weeping again, this time in joy.  You should know that I seldom cry for anything much, and am known as a “tough old bird” as one of my former colleagues told me.  But this machine saga seems to have loosened a few tears from me.

Sew happy everyone!  May your stitches be beautiful and your machines play well with you for many years.  Hugs to you all!

 

Fall Is In the Air

Color Swirl by Kevin Tatum (my grandson) using Corel Painter.

Ever since I was in High School, which was a long long time ago, I have gotten excited when I started thinking about fall and winter sewing and quilting.  This year is no exception.  In fact, having just reorganized my fabric, thread, paint, and notions stashes, and purchased a new Bernina 880 Plus, I am more excited than usual about the projects I have before me this year.

One of the things I always like about going through my studio to sort things out is finding pieces of fabric I had forgotten about or had at least pushed to the back of my to do list.  This is for both clothes and quilts.

When I cleared up my studio this year, I also went through my clothing patterns, pruning out about 75 percent of my old patterns and keeping only those that seem right for me now.  The remaining patterns and fabrics for clothes on hand are inspiring me  to think about making some new clothes. My wardrobe really needs an update too.

When I bought my new machine, I got it at a time when they were providing a gift that includes new feet, some machine luggage, additional embroidery motifs for use in the hoop and a variety of other neat things.  I was able to exchange some of the feet that duplicated those I already had for some new ones.  So now I have a lot of feet that are inspiring ideas for using interesting techniques.

Remember when I talk about all  the things I have found in my studio, I have been sewing since I was five years old and I am 72. I retired in 2012 to be a full time fabric artist.  So some of the things have been hiding for a while from me in some of the closets, in boxes under my bed, and even in plain sight…LOL.  I feel very blessed.  Because of all the things I recently rediscovered stashed away I don’t have to buy anything new for most of the projects I want to make.  I did restock some threads and paints that I anticipate needing.  So I have resolved to myself that for the next year I will attempt to do m work without new stuff.  Now I want to make:

  • a new bag, in leather (I now have feet for use with leather and vinyl and some leather).
  • a new suit, in black denim (I have a stash that includes a fair amount of denim) with embroidery
  • a blue denim jacket
  • a new dress suit in wool with a silk top to go with it
  • a new jacket in raw silk, maybe 2 since I have 2 nice pieces
  • several new tops and use some heirloom techniques  (I have a nice collection of feet to use for this now) and embroider some of them.
  • I also want to make several new show and utility quilts.

It is fairly certain that  I won’t get all of this done this year, but it’s nice to have them on the list to pick from as I do have time.

Clearly I have an exciting and busy time ahead that will last well beyond fall and winter, and I have already started.  I will have to plan my days in order to fit other important things into my life.  I’m excited!  I’m sure the nicely rearrangement of my studio, and my wonderful fleet of machines will help me accomplish a great deal of these projects though.  So I won’t have to buy any new clothes for fall through spring either. I don’t have much in the way of summer fabrics, unless I use my quilting cottons.  LOL

Oh, and last year I made a new dressy overcoat with a “fur” collar using some of the fabrics on hand.  It’s warm and cosy.  So I really do complete a lot of these dream projects.

Messy work table with coat pieces


Progress Report on My Mom’s Memory Quilt

I have made a good start on my Mom’s memory quilt, which is going to also be a show quilt, but I have a long ways to go on it.  It has a large pentagon in the middle of it on which I am appliqueing her needle work.  The pentagon fabric is a lovely medium blue dupioni that sets off the beauty of her crocheted lace.  It’s a pentagon because I thought I only had five of the ten inch squares I found in her work basket, but during the reorganization I found a sixth square.  It’s a slightly different shade of crochet thread, though, so I will find something neat to do with that one.  The color difference is probably why it was in a separate  place.  There are  some more crocheted items, but they don’t work with this quilt.

I had no idea how difficult it would be to make a perfect pentagon that has 21 inch sides.  It was a challenge.  A good friend of mine sent me a Corel Draw pattern for one to print in tiled sheets and taped together.  I thought that it would then be easy to get it right, but putting the tiles together that way gave many opportunities for slight variations in the shape.  I had to try it several times until I got it right, but finally succeeded when I started using a lot of rulers to help.

So yesterday I cut out the freezer paper pentagon, cut out the fabric, and then glue basted the edges down.  I checked the edges for straightness and measurements.  It’s very good.  the sixteenth of an inch off I had on the paper pattern disappeared as I worked the fabric from it.  I love how it looks.  I placed the crocheted pieces around  it in a way that forms a star in the middle, just laying them down to see how it looked for now.  (No pictures until its debut show, whatever that will be).

It is in many ways a gift to my Mom. It would be so much fun if she were still here to show it to her, but I am having a lovely time making it while thinking about all the great things she taught me and the lovely things she made herself. She did not quilt, but she was a real expert seamstress.  She has been gone now  twenty years, but sometimes I think she is nearby.

Sew happy everyone!  What are your planned projects for this fall and winter?