A Notebook with Fabric Samples on Projects

I have sometimes seen on tv shows about history, costumes, or fashion development books from history that hold samples of fabrics used for interesting events or proposed for historic figures. They make me want to spend some time with them pouring over the interesting or beautiful fabrics. I recently saw a show “Stitches in Time” on Britbox streaming where such books were used in research to better understand clothing from the past and recreate a costume.

This got me to thinking about how, as a fabric artist, I have also made some attempt, albeit not suffiicient, at keeping such records as I work through my more advanced projects.

Here is a couple of pages from my notebook where I kept the records of my projets over several years. I recently filled it up and started a new one.  I did not use all these fabrics in this project, which was my quilt “Pendragon”, but my son had given me the fabrics for the project and I wanted to keep a record of all of them.

Pendragon, 34 x 45, this quilt was exhibited in several major shows and won some ribbons, including 3rd place in AQS Paducah (Fall) and was shown in Houston IQF

It is a delight to me to look back through these project pages, especially for those that were particularly successful.  I wish I had used more pages and put larger fabric samples .  Indeed, I am now adding larger samples for my current projects. Not all of them have fabric samples, but I find myself wishing I had added them.  Something to enjoy in years to come and pass to my family in the end, who may decide to pass it on to the trash bin (but I won’t mind at that point), or who may find it a lovely memory. Perhaps some anthropologist centuries from now may also find this intriguing, especially if the resulting projects are still around.  LOL I laugh in amusement, but the researchers from the show were looking at record books hundreds of years old with samples of fabrics trying to match them to paintings or actual aged garments. Sew it does seem likely that at least some of my work will be around long after I have gone from the earth.

1890 embroidered wool (origin unknown)

Keeping records as I make these projects is not only interesting, it is very helpful to me.  In the notebook I also put a lot of information as I go, such as stitch settings and a step by step list of things I need to do.  Then I can refer back to them if I put the project aside for a while and return to it or when I make a companion quilt, as I am planning to do for Pendragon.  I hope to begin on Excalibur this year.

Such records are also useful for me as I am writing books and blogging about quilted and embellished fabric art. It is my hope to get one of these out this year.

Sew happy everyone!  I encourage you to make a record with samples of the fabric along with information about the fabrics. It’s not a waste of time, doesn’t take very long, and can actually save you time in future projects if you make notes along the way of your project near the fabric samples.

 

What I Do to Make Threads Behave Better, Part Two

Picking up where I left off on my last blog post, I want to address the problems of dealing with various threads when sewing and embroidery as opposed to free motion quilting.

I have had an interest in threads for a very long time and have been fascinated to see the development of threads over the past few decades.  Threads I use today are clearly considerably better than those I used decades ago when I had my fashion design and tailoring business in Ithaca, NY in the mid 70s to mid 80s. Even the threads I used then of the same brands have seemingly improved in their tencil strength and reduction of lint.  Even then though I used what I determined were the best thread brands available. So I suggest not using older threads from your great aunt’s basket, but any of the threads in your stash of a good brand are probably ok even if they are a decade old.

These are pretty, but best to place old threads in decorative jar or bowl and use more contemporary thread.  If you want to use one just for memories, just stitch a few inches somewhere it won’t be getting any stress.

One of the chief things is to keep your machine clean and oiled, your thread properly threaded (pulling off the top if it is cross wound, and from the side if it is stack wound).  Almost all the machines today have a method for both threadings.  Check your manual. My Bernina 880 plus has a little metal eyelet hole to send the stack wound through before threading it.  I am not sure that is obvious, so check your manual.

Thread path for stack wound spool on the 880 plus pulling sideways as needed for this wind.

First of all, I suggest you go back and read my last blog that was centered around thread management in free motion quilting.  Even so, though there are many things there that are the same for sewing and embroidery.

For the most part, when sewing clothes and accessories on the sewing machine, the tension goal is the same as for quilting..a balance between the top and the bottom, but tension settings sometimes have a different goal especially for decorative stitching and embroidery where the tension may be best when pulling to the back more than the front.  My Berninas automatically adjust that when I switch to decorative stitching and I never really have to think about it.  But if you are having trouble with your threads breaking or somehow misformed stitches, then it is likely some adjustment to the tension needs to be made.

Yes, you can change the bobbin tension!!!!  I have heard so many people say they were told not to change the bobbin tension, and that limits you to the standard thread weights and cuts out some wonderful specialty thread work you could do. But you may want to have a separate bobbin case if your bobbin works that way to use for specialty bobbin work or changing the tension to accommodate a specialty thread. My Bernina 880 Plus has a tension adjustment method built in using that little multi-purpose tool. Check your manual.

8 series multi-function tool.

Having the proper foundation for your sewing or embroidery project can make a huge difference in the behavior of your thread as you work.  For the most part, when quilting, the batting and backing fabric provides sufficient foundation for even rather intensely quilted projects, but if you are doing fancy stitching with specialty threads on your sewing machine for say, your new summer dressy top, you will really need to add interfacings and/or stabilizers (tear away or wash away is best).  I think I will write a separate blog on that subject because it is important and there is much to say about that. But getting it wrong can make you think there is something wrong with your machine or make your threads break and misbehave and your project get all bumpy and pully. So pay attention to the foundation.

Just like when you are quilting, you need to test things before you begin a project and periodically at certain phases of your project to make sure you have things working right before you stitch on your expensive fabrics. Make a test piece and take notes as you go  If your machine saves personalized settings then use that function to save time.

I realized I wrote a post that addresses a lot of thread decisions already and it belongs with these two blogs.

Here is page 18 from my Bernina 880 plus manual.  It has a great explanation of needles and what they are used for.  I thought you would like to see it:

Sew after you read that blog and my last blog and this blog, (and your manual) do you have any questions I may be able to help answer in thread management?  Please let me know.  I want to help people enjoy their sewing and quilting with little frustration and a lot of fun.

Sew happy everyone.  Take time to test and read your manuals as part of your project time especially if you have a deadline.  Unsewing is no fun at all.  Try out some of the wonderful specialty threads available. Cheers everyone.

 

 

What I Do to Make Thread Behave Better, Part 1

I just saw it again on social media from a quilter that has had a high end machine for two years that should bring them a lot of happiness but they cannot get the thread to stop breaking and therefore don’t use it much.  Often it is thread nests, or thread shreaddings.  Sew I decided to talk about this a little bit.  In my humble opinion, most machines, and particularly high end machines, should be able to use nearly any type of quality thread designed for machine stitching.  Note I did not say any brand, but rather any type. The owner should not have to find the thread that works for the machine, but the machine should work with the thread.  I think there is much that can be done to make this happen.

Sew today we have a range of really fine threads to go with our really fine machines accompanied by really fine needles.  Sew what’s the problem?  This is what I think and have experienced in my own studio.  I have a Bernina Q20 longarm set up as a sitdown, a Bernina 880 plus, and a little Bernina 350 (plus an older BabyLock serger and a vintage White that I am not including in this discussion today).  So I will be talking about these, since that is what I have, but I suspect there is a correllating set of steps and considerations for your own machines that you can take.  Your manual and YouTube videos can be very helpful for those, especially if you know what you are looking for.

One of my chief points I like to make is that it is important to test.  Test your setup before starting a project. Make a sample sandwich from more or less the same fabrics and battings. or prepare a test piece of fabric you are using for sewing or embroidery, and test everything first.  Then keep it close to periodically test if things go awry.  This can be a very important tool for you.  If you serge, or otherwise finish the edge, and put a large ring in the corner, you can hang this up or keep them together.  Be sure to make notes of settings and products you used right on the fabric for future reference.

Before you begin any project, you should pay attention to matching the needles with the threads and the tensions with the thread types.  Most of the better thread manufacturers have advice either right on the spools or on their websites as to what needles work best.  It’s a good place to start, but may not always be the answer for what you are working on.  Usually it is, however.

One thing to remember is that there are a lot of variables that can negatively affect our sewing that we may not think about on a daily basis and have nothing to do with the overall quality of our machines.  These may include

  • humidity and heat,
  • batting types,
  • adhesives, interfacings, stabilizers,
  • lint caught in the thread path or the bobbin holder that may not be apparent when we do a standard clean and oil,
  • a faulty needle,
  • a little bur or damage on the foot,
  • a damaged/bent bobbin
  • a well used bobbin brake spring that just needs to be replaced,
  • the tension settings for both the top and the bobbin not set correctly for the thread,
  • a bad spool or cone of thread even from a reputable dealer (it happens and usually they will replace it if you let them know),
  • and our own mood or health at the time.

I’m sure there are things I havent thought of in this list, but you see there are a lot of things that can make us have a frustrating sewing or quilting day.

Let’s take a look the Q20 sitdown longarm for starters.

Preparing to practice some ruler work on Fritz, my Bernina Q20

I have heard that some dealers appear to mistakenly tell their customers that they should never ever in any circumstancs change the bobbon tension from the recommended 220 for the Qs.  My own dealer is wonderful and does not do this.  This is decidedly poor advice, especially for a longarm such as the Bernina Q20 sitdown, especially if we use any kind of bobbin thread other than 50 weight cotton.  For the most part, I have found over the past four years of working with my machine that 220 is USUALLY too tight. Here is a little chart I worked out that works for my machine.

Here’s my chart. You should make your own that works for you, but you might want to start here.

If you conduct your own testing that will let you know if it works for your setup.  Sometimes adjustments need to be made to this chart depending on the weather, the batting and other variables. Making notes is really helpful.

Thread Management in the Q20

I keep on hand the following things to assist with thread management:

  1. thread nets for cones. I didn’t originally use these, but recently I find I have much fewer problems if I use a thread net.  I do note that Wonderfil threads have an alternative wrap for their cones that I have not yet tried.
  2. the horizontal spool holder to allow for use of stacked thread spools (when the spool is wound so it is evenly stacked rather than cross wound).

    horizontal spool holder is usually an additional attachment you have to purchase.

     

    Here is the spoolholder installed

     

  3. the pink liquid for the little applicator sponge in the threading path originally intended for metallic threads.  I find it also helps if I am having problems with thread shredding of, for instance, rayons.

    This little bottle is usually included in the purchase of your machine. It is a silicone thread lubricant and is tiny but goes a long ways.

     

    thread lubrication path on my Bernina Q20.

     

  4. Dritz sewer’s aid. It’s probably the same thing as the pink liquid, since it is a silicone thread lubricant, but it can be used more generously directly on a spool or cone without sendng the thread through the applicator sponge thread path.  I don’t use it in my machine’s little sponge just because it may be a slightly different weight or something.
  5. A package of M sized bobbin genies. This is really helpful if you are having problems with thread nests on the back due to static electricity.  I originally learned about this from Sharon Schamber.
  6. I like to keep a spare bobbin brake spring I order through my dealer, a spare bobbin case, and a spare threader replacement head all on hand.  Maybe there are other parts I should have but I don’t know about.  I have had my machine for four years of heavy use and these are the only parts I have had a problem with so far other than having to have my BSR laser sensors replaced early on.
  7. And a selection of the following needles:
    • Topstitch titanium needles (I prefer Superior brand, but Schmetz and Bernina are also ok) sizes 70/10, 80/12,90/14, 100/16
    • universal 70/10 and 80/12
    • Quilting needle 80/12, and 90/14.
    • I also have a collection of specialty needles, like leather needles or double needles in different widths for playful quilting fun. Note that you must have the double needle throat plate to use the double needles.

      Twin needle stitch plate

       

  8. A can of compressed air to blow clean the bobbin area and the brush.  The top area should be cleaned with a brush according to Bernina, but the bobbin area is ok to use the compressed air and it makes a big difference.
  9. Bernina machine oil
  10. I also have the multifunction tool that came with my Bernina 830 that I traded in for my 880 plus, which has another one, because I particularly like the way it helps me hold the needle in place while I screw it in.  You can buy this tool at the dealers, or here online, and there are other generic tools on the market that perform this function (a threader gadget has a needle holder end to it

    8 series multi-function tool..handy for more than the 8s

     

  11. The bobbin tension gauge (it’s made by Towa). If you don’t have this, you should have received it with your machine, so go to your dealer and ask for it.  Here’s a little video link to help you use it correctly, although Nina McVeigh, whom I admire very much, is saying the tension should be 220 always.  I hate to disagree with the extremely talented Nina, but trust me, the tension needs to play with your thread types.  Using the gauge

As you look at this list, you may figure out that when things go awry (and yes, they do for me too from time to time, but far less often than they did at first) that I have a selection of things to try beyond changing the needle and cleaning and oiling the machine.  I usually manage to quilt a full quilt now with no thread issues).

Steps to Take When You Are Having Problems

  1. Unthread the machine and check the spool/cone to see if by chance the thread is catching on the spool itself or there is a flawed area in the winding of the thread you can see.
  2. If it is a cone, make sure it has a net.
  3. If it is metallic, run it through the lubrication path after adding a drop of lubricant on the sponge.
  4. If it is monopoly run it through the lubrication path to help control this lively thread.
  5. It’s really important that the top tension and bobbin tension match the threads you are using.  The neat thing about the q20 machine is that it has a set of four programs where you can store your settings for the different types of threads for the top.
  6. Check the needle.  Is it the right one for your thread? If you run your fingers down the needle and across the tip carefully, you can sometimes detect that there is a bur or bend on the needle.  But this is not a guarantee you will find it if there is some kind of flaw.  You may need to change your needle even if it is new. Replace the needle using a needle holder to help assure it is fully up in place. Just holding it with your fingers can sometimes not get it quite fully engaged upward.
  7. Remove the bobbin and blow out the bobbin area, then oil the machine carefully.  Double check especially if you have been using monopoly recently.  It can tangle around things like it is alive sometimes and you can’t see it without a magnifier and flashlight!
  8. Run a needle around the workings of the bobbin case to see if there is a wad of lint caught in the case…I have had that happen and it can bring things to a frustrating point.
  9. Check your bobbin case brake spring. Is it in the proper place? Is it upside down? Is it wearing out (flattening or with a bur).  I had a very difficult to diagnose problem happen about a month ago with terrible thread nests on the back.  I finally replaced the brake spring and it has been working wonderfully ever since. I never did see what was wrong with it.
  10. Examine your bobbin to see if it is bent or damaged in anyway. This is especially important if you are a klutz like myself and drop your bobbins on the floor or if you have had it for years and used it for many miles of stitching.
  11. Run your bobbin through the  tension guage to make sure it is still set correctly for your thread weight.  It can change over time, especially if you do hours of quilting and everything heats up.
  12. Replace your bobbin.
  13. Check both the front and the back of your piece to make sure the tension is ok on both sides.  It’s a good test to put a different color in the bobbon of the same type of thread you will be using and test it to see if you have any tension problems showing up or down that don’t show when your threads are the same color.  Note that I have surrendered to the metallic threads.  I put a matching thread color (some polyesters look metallic) in the bobbin.  I have sometimes been totally unable to get the tensions set with a metallic so there are no little dots showing on the back.  I have also been successful from time to time with getting it right. I have to think it might be a batting issue. It doesn’t stop me from using metallics, however.  I may even put a metallic in the bobbin, which works fine.
  14. Run a length of tooth floss through the upper thread path slowly and carefully to pull out anything that doesn’t belong you don’t find with just brushing it out.
  15. Check your foot for damages.  I one time had constant breakages and then tried a different foot.  They stopped.  Upon close examination, I found the foot that has had many many miles of use had a bur on it.  I sanded it with an emory board and it works fine now.
  16. Remember to have the foot up when rethreading…a real necessity to make it all seat into the thread path correctly.
  17. Put it all back together and do some test stitching.  Make notes of any setting changes you had to do to get things right.

I realize this is really a long post and I still haven’t discussed working with my sewing machines.  Although a lot of the same things apply, I wanted to get more specific for them.  So I will break this blog into two parts.  Next week I will talk about solving thread problems in sewing machines.

 

 

 

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Achieving a Straight Unwavy Quilt

When I started making quilts to hang on the wall, I was working with smaller quilts that didn’t seem to present problems of waves and unevenness.  I had a quilt in the 2013 Quilt Odyssey show and I attended the show.  When I saw the quilt hanging there, I was a little horrified at the wave I saw and how it looked a little crooked. It also seemed a little wiggly at the top.  There it was, hanging in a prestigious show (it has since decided to close the Quilt Odyssey shows) with all those amazing quilts.

Perspective in Threads completed in 2012  before I fixed the binding and after I fixed the rod pocket.

I wanted to grab it and run!  LOL  I couldn’t understand it.  When it was home and on the table it was flat and I guess maybe not as square as I originally thought, but certainly not so wiggly/wavy.  When I got it home I took a hard look at it, did some measuring, square measuring, etc.  I realized a couple of things attributed to the wiggles and waves and most of them had to do with the rod pocket! Here is my analysis of that little quilt.

  • The rod pocket was slightly too narrow and so it had been scrunched a little on their rod. It was sewn so there was no extra space on the back to prevent the rod from poking the top out.
  • The rod pocket was not level in relation to the quilt itself.
  • The binding wasn’t done very well.
  • It measured correctly with even sides and top and bottom though there was a very slight difference between the top and the bottom length.  It was relatively square and there really wasn’t much I could do about any minor unsquareness because of the way I had used the printed border.  I don’t think that is a problem.
  • It is basically a whole cloth quilt with a border and quilted well and evenly, so it didn’t pull it out of whack even though I “quilted it to death”.

So there you go.  The primary problems were the binding that could have been better and the poorly done rod pocket.  I have since replaced both on that quilt, but it has not shown since.

After that, I started carefully measuring the rod pocket when I cut it out and when I applied it so it is even from the top. Instead of 4 inches I make a 5 inch or even more pocket, making sure that it is put on in such a way that there is more fabric on the back in order to make the quilt hang straighter on the top and the rod to be at the back, and although I still struggle with getting a really good binding on a quilt, I am enormously better than I was in 2012 with that. I ewill take the binding off and redo it now if need be.

I bought a laser square and am really particular about the squareness of a quilt now from start to finish. My quilts that go to shows now are seldom, if at all, out of square.

Sew happy everyone!  Stay calm and carry on…carry on with quilting, sewing, family, friends, home, and pray a lot.  Make something for yourself or your favorite person. This plan will likely give you a lot of peace.

 

 

Repurposing Sewing Patterns and Die Cut Shapes

Hi readers!  Yes, I am done with my mom’s memory quilt except for completing the hand sewing on of the butterflies.  They are taking a while.  I am very pleased with the quilt both front and back now, and if there is no show to enter it into this fall, I will go ahead and post pictures of it, which I have yet to take. But for now I am hoping to enter it first into the Mancuso show in Pennsylvania in September.

I was chatting with a friend of mine this week and we agreed that we both need new summer clothes…simple tops and simple pants made from pretty durable fabrics.  I took a look at the pattern sites and was horrified at all the ruffles and dresses straight out of the hippy Woodstock era that are definately not for me. But I did find just what I wanted in my own pattern stash and I realized some of them are still available online.  It might surprise you but I found a couple of particularly nice patterns in the “uniform/scrub” category.  I purchased McCall’s M6473.

Here is the pattern made up into scrubs.

But in looking at the line drawings accompanying the pattern, I realized they are exactly what I was looking for and, made in the right fabrics and adding some embellishments I would have the summer patterns I wanted…quick, easy, and stylish.  These are just right for my daily life.  Take a look.

The pants have a dual waistband with a smooth front and elastic sides and back and really fun pockets. All three versions of the top are perfect canvases for some interesting fancy stitches, embroidery or appliques to spice them up. These tunics are nice and loose but not pregnancy tops.

I also found in my pattern stash a Simplicity pattern I have had for some time, Simplicity 2371, that has a lot of the same characteristics, though I think the scrub pants are a little better.  I will do all the size testing/fixing on the scrubs slacks and make a couple of pair of those out of some nice sturdy knit fabrics I have for that purpose that I bought at least over a year ago.  But I will probably make some version of the long leeved tunic on th Simplicity pattern.

The Simplicity pattern from my stash. Note the pants have a simple full elastic waist and no pockets…not what I wanted exactly. But the long sleeve tunic provides a suggestion for the embellishment. I would be adding something more.

Now as I was browsing through my pattern stash I saw a plethora of bag patterns, my vintage pattern collection, and some really gorgeous jackets and suits for dressier, colder times.  I have the fabric for most of that too.  Yes, my clothing stash, though carefully trimmed, is still quite wonderful.  I will make at least one nice winter suit for this year, but mostly I am still losing weight, but not very fast, still…I want to save some of the nicer fabrics for later.  I already have some really nice summer dressier clothes.  Some of these I made and some I bought and I have kept them pretty much altered to my size as I have gone down.  So mostly I need casual summer clothes for daily wear in my studio and some nicer pieces for fall and winter.

Sew all of this clothing sewing I will fit in here and there between my quilting projects.

This made me think about how I was going to approach my wool applique project.  I have a lot of Accucut Go! dies with flowers, leaves, birds and animals, and decorative shapes.  I think I will simply cut out a lot of them in multiple colors after I back the small wool and other similar pieces  I have with a fusible and play around with making a hands on design.  Many of these have patterns with them and were designed for specific things, but I am breaking up the sets and making a bowl full of these pieces.  I also need to figure out some vines and stems, and I am thinking I may have to draw up another animal shape or two.  This should be a fun project and will result in a small sampler, a book, and a show quilt.

Sew you see, you don’t have to use the patterns or pieces like the original designer intended, and you can often find just what you want by opening your creative mind and looking further at the designs and giving them some thought.

So next I will start two new quilting projects…the wool applique one and a more complex art quilt design in one of my ongoing series.  This second half of the year promises to be much more fun than the first half.  I am hoping and praying that in spite of the darkness of the hour in the country, the light will begin to shine through and clear away the dark.  Like the hymn that has been buzzing around my head for at least a week “Morning has broken, like the first morning…”  Remember, morning starts at the darkest part of the 24 hours.

Sew happy everyone!  Make yourself something fun just for you.

 

 

 

Finishing Up the Quilt: Beads, Butterflies, Rod Pocket, and Labels

These are the five 10 inch squares of crocheted lace that I found in Mom’s workbasket. They inspired the quilt.

Oh goody!  I have finally finished the construction of my Mom’s memory quilt.  I still have to add the beads, labels, the rod pocket, and a small set of pretty crocheted butterflies Mom made that I plan to add to the back.  I have a few spots where the paint soaked through to the back when I had my brush too wet.  There is no removing it, and I originally thought I would cover it with an additional label that gave a little bio and pictures of Mom.  But then I remembered the colorful crocheted butterflies.  They are just right to add a lot of fun to the back and will completely cover the paint spots.  I know there are some out there who think it is “cheating” to cover problems on the back of a quilt, but I believe that if you address the problem in some creative way it is just another part of making the quilt right. Besides, they are cute and I should add them regardless.  That way, the bio/picture label can still go on, but on the lower left side of the quilt oposite the info label on the lower right side of the quilt.  I will look around and see if there are more of the butterflies to sweep across the back of the quilt, but even if not, it will be a fun solution.

I was going to sew on the beads today…the hand sewing part.  There is also a machine sewing part and a hot fix part.  I have to test the hot fix first.  Chores and disintangling some bead strings took up most of the day and now it is really getting warm in my studio.  I may still get to some bead work, but it is Saturday.  I usually go a little easier on Saturday…a habit I picked up from all my years of my demanding job for the government…do a little more rest and recreation on your days off!  Same now…I still consider this a light or no work day and Sundays the same.

In any event, I think this quilt will be completed this coming week.  Hooray!  Then I have a long list of exciting future projects.  I have spent more than a year on this quilt.  During this time I had my main sewing machine die and I bought a new Bernina 880 plus and spent a while getting to know it.  I love it.  It works magnificently.  I usually make three to four show quilts in a year, but last year there were none, and this is the first one this year.  I will be making smaller quilts for the rest of this show quilt making season.  They will be art quilts and I will hope to sell them.  Selling smaller quilts is a little easier, because people are more likely to have the space on their wall for them.  They aren’t necessarily cheaper, but it depends on the techniques I have to deplow.  But I am also using them for book samples.  That way I will hope to get double duty out of the coming quilts,  and I will not be selling Mom’s memory quilt.  It’s just the right size to fold in half and place on the foot of my bed, or even unfold and use as a topper.  I don’t have a space big enough for hanging it, and even so it is considered a “small wall quilt”.  I guess I just am not cutout to make bed sized quilts.  They aren’t my thing.  Besides, I truly love making pictorial art quilts.

I really have no idea how to categorize this quilt.  It is truly not a traditional quilt, and it is not an art quilt exactly. In any event, I hope my Mom can see it from heaven and likes it.  It’s a tribute to my magnificent talented Mom, Zephana Compton Bivens.

Sew happy everyone!  Stay safe, well, and happy in spite of all the chaos swirling around us.  Take some time off just to goof off, read, take a walk, or sit outside. Cheers.

 

Risk Taking in the Studio

Test sampler I made before starting my Mom’s memory quilt.

When I make a show quilt I have a variety of steps that can be a little bit scary, even if they are also fun. I have to take the risk or I would never accomplish the things I want to do. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I pretest, when I am actually working through the quilt project, things come up that are unexpected and must be either corrected or otherwise dealt with.  I am currently trying hard to finish my Mom’s memory quilt, which proves my point.  It has been a real challenge from the start and seems even more so the closer I get to the end.

Sew I finished the loooooooooong period of heavy quilting, unquilting, quilting, unquilting, quilting.  Each part of the quilt had a different sort of quilting that required much thought and practice, but even so, I have not been as happy with it as I had hoped.  I have been working on this quilt for mny hours over the course of a year.  The top looks really pretty good, but I am not as happy with the back.  Still, I love the quilt.

Today, I have been painting the flowers and birds on the white satin that I spent mnths quilting.  The painting is going fairly well on the top, but a few spots have soaked through to the white back.  I think I have control over that now and will not have any more soaking through, and if so, I can use the upper corner where that happened as the place to put the additional label I have planned for all along that will give a little bio and a picture of my mom.  I don’t think I can get away with more thanone of those, however…lol.  So if I do have more trouble with soaking through, I will have to color the back flowers and leaves using something that I know won’t soak through like fabric crayons, which would look nice, but I would rather not do that.  Hopefully I will be able to complete the painting without additional problems of the paint soaking through (I got my brush too wet).   Before I started this I made the sampler above and had no problems with the paints soaking through.  I have painted after quilting on many quilts, and I am pretty sure it was just that I got my brush too wet. Sigh!

Earlier this week we (or rather my son David, who is in control of  our washer that is on his level in our townhome..lol) washed the quilt to get the Crayola washable gel pen markings out of it and set it up for blocking.  I  had told him to wash it on the hand wash cycle with cold water and Wooolite.  It did not entirely come out.  I have to say I was stressed over that.  But anyway, he rewashed it another time using the same directions and more of it came out but not all.  So I suggested warm wash with Synthrapol, and then it all came out.  It also did not damage it in any way and looks fabulous overall.  The quilt has a double bat with an 80/20 bat on the back and a wool bat on the top.  I had done a bunch of testing of the Crayola washable gel pens before I marked the quilt top using the same fabric.  But when I did the test I washed it out with Synthrapol, not Woolite, and I only dried it a few hours and ironed it instead of having it sit in the fabric a year.  So I suspect that is what the difference is, but it might just have been the warm water or the third wash. The point is, it came out and it was a great help while it was in the quilt. I would most certainly use it again even if I have to wash my quilt several times.  But I kind of think just one wash in warm water with the Synthrapol would have done the job.

Oddly, the part that I was most worried about when washing/blocking…the appliqued on crocheted ten inch lace blocks my Mom made…came through the wash without a bit of trouble and they even look refreshed and truly beautiful.

I had originally thought this quilt would end up a little over 60 x 60 inches, but all the quilting drew it in to about 58 x 58 in the end.  I haven’t bound it yet, but that’s what I think it will end up.  It will, therefore, be a small wall quilt in whatever shows it is in, if they will even let it in, or if they even open.

Sew you see, when I make a show quilt, there are lots of things that can and often do go wrong.  What I have found is that I have had to develop a set of approaches to fix problems when they happen, or criteria to help decide when I can let it go and stay as it is.  Afterall, I am not a machine.  I do not make perfect quilts.  I think small flaws can actually add to the beauty and magic of a quilt. I’m not sure judges agree. But sometimes, I may even have to let it go and not enter them into shows.  I think this one will be ok for entry.  We’ll see when I’m done. I am sure those keen eyed judges will see every little flaw and tell me about them if they provide feedback.  They always do.  Hahahah.

In addition to binding, I still have the painting and to add lots of pearls to the quilt. Some of those pearls are possibly going to be Swarowski hot fix pearls, but I have to test that first, because my quilt top is made from polyester crepe back satin and polyester dupioni…it’s gorgeous.  It quilted beautifully, but I will have to test to see if the hot fix pearls go on ok without a hitch, and stay, and don’t melt or burn the fabric.  I once slightly burned a silk dupioni quilt in one spot with the hot fix crystals I started to add.  I ended up glueing the crystals all on, which I found I didn’t like doing at all.  Later on, I learned that I could use the transfer tape to help apply the crystals.  It holds them in place and provides a bit of heat protection of the fabric when I used the hot fix applicator.  So I am hopeful I can use the hot fix pearls for this quilt.  But it is another risk, and the last thing I do to complete the quilt I have spent so many hours on for a year now.

I am planning on making slightly smaller art quilts for a while.  They might actually sell better, since people may be able to find spaces on their walls for them.  But I will continue to do those risky techniques that make the end quilt look so fabulous.  I hope you will too.

I am hoping we are all able to begin to come out of our homes and are still stay well.  Just like a show quilt, risks are required if we are to accomplish anything good.  I personally don’t think we as a country can stay away from work for much longer without the entire world economy collapsing, which is also a massive threat to peoples’ lives, health, and overall well being…even more threatening than the Covid 19.  But we can take precautions as we go out, wearing our pretty face masks we probably all made or had made for us and washing our hands, using sanitization methods in our houses, cars, and places of business, and keeping our distance for a while.  There has been much progress in understanding this thing and how to treat it and they are still moving forward.

Sew happy everyone!  Make something fun.

 

 

A Sunny Mother’s Day and Considering Next Steps in My Studio

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone.  Yes, many of you are mothers and grandmothers, but I know a couple of you who have no children but provide much learning and support to us quilters and sewists in motherly fashion.  So Happy Mother’s Day to all of my readers (even the guys).   My oldest son Ken has already called to talk with me, and my youngest son David, who shares my home with me, is going to cook a steak dinner tonight.  Lovely!

My side yard

It’s gorgeous here in Ashburn, Virginia.  About 65 and totally sunny with not a cloud in the sky.  I just spend about an hour out back enjoying it all.  The back of my house looks out into a small woods, just thick enough so I can’t see over to the next part of the neighborhood and thin enough so developers won’t come and build back there.  The wildlife is delightful that live there…birds of several varieties, bunnies, turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, and even foxes.  I feed the birds so I can see them and they pay me back by keeping down the gnats and flies and singing to me.

My youngest son David on the upper deck.

Sew I had hoped to finish the quilt I am making in memory of my wonderful mom, but though I have made great progress, I still have a ways to go.  I have finished the quilting on the central part of the quilt and am working on the borders.  I put freeform feathers on the bottom border, and I plan on doing the same on the top border.  I got some new stencils and am have marked a beautiful vine with leaves coming down both sides.  Since I quilt everything to death, except my snuggle utility quilts, I have a lot of quilting to go yet.  And then I will have to wash it to remove the markings, and paint some of it.  So there is much to do still.  I had thought it would not be pretty enough on the back to be a good show quilt, but I just turned it completely over and was surprised to find it is beautiful.  Yes, there are flaws, but it is still beautiful.  The flaws don’t seem to show much on the front.  Some of them will be removed, others will maybe go under a label or two (I’m thinking of writing a little biography of my mom in a simple text label in addition to the who made it when and so forth label).

What’s Next?

Sew I am close enough to being done with Mom’s quilt to think about what my next major project will be.   I actually have three going now.  One is my own personal snuggle quilt for my bed using Sue Nickles applique blocks that I just use to work on when I want to do something that is just relaxing sewing, one is a fairly extensive project of wool applique by machine that I am simultaneously writing a book about.

I have found that there is a slight bit of room in the art quilting world for books that people with advanced machines may want to have.  There are a lot of how to quilting books for beginners, piecing books, and yes, even some advanced art quilting books, but I think while there are some books out there for people with all these wonderful stitches and feet and other attachments, that area might still have room for some skill building books for using these advanced machines many of us have.  Wool applique by machine is my first of these skill-building books I am working on (I just bought a second camcorder and will be making videos too).

Another book I am thinking of is multiple deep space quilts using a variety of methods in homage to the magnificent deep space scenes you can find many of on NASA’s website that are copyright free.  Here I have some credentials in the quilting world, because I have won several nice ribbons on my deep space quilts and I have many more to make.  So I thought this would be a good book and already have it underway using photos I took while creating some of these quilts.  I plan on making several more, some step outs and some small ones to sell for people who may want one of these for their wall, or to give as a gift.  Of course, I will be producing show quilts from this project also, giving my work double, or even triple use (I will be making some videos too).

Sttitching Spiral Quilt 3 with a reference picture.  I gave this quilt to Ken and Beth.

I guess maybe that is all I can do this year, but it doesn’t stop me from planning other quilts, and thinking about how I can incorporate them into books and videos.  I may speed up, and some of these books are nearly written and only need a few samplers. so it might not be as overwhelming as it sounds.

I would love for my readers to tell me what they want me to teach by book and video (I am not going to do much travel for a while), realizing that I have been sewing for more than sixty years, having even once owned my own fashion design business, and quilting since 2009, with ribbons and other awards to my name.

One of my most prized awards that may sound unrelated, but is not, is a simple honorable mention I won in Kanazawa Japan decades ago.  I studied Ikebana there, receiving my fourth year Sogetsu School Ikebana certificate, the next one, had I continued, would have been a master certificate.  While there, I entered a flower show and made an arrangement using great big sunflowers, chrysanthemums, and swooping curls of broomstick.  It won an honorable mention.  Theoretically, it was anonymous.  But there were some magnificent arrangements there.  It’s something I have never forgotten. Nor have I forgotten a single bit of my training.  I have sketch books with some of my arrangements too.  A flower arranging quilt would be fun.

Kanazawa Memories, with machine stitched sashiko and a fabric Ikebana arrangement I made by printing individual flowers on fabric and appliqueing them into an arrangement.  I lived in Kanazawa Japan for three years as a young woman.  I no longer own this quilt.

In the stitching/sewing world, I can probably teach almost anything except piecing and hand sewing.  I can do those things, but only at about an intermediate level, whereas clothes, tailoring, and now art quilting, I consider myself to be at an expert level in many of the techniques.  Please comment and send me your questions or suggestions either here, on Facebook or send me an email/message, realizing it will be a while before I get the answers to you, unless it is a simple answer I can put on my blog.  Also, what do you think of my planning to write books for people with higher tech machines?

Sew happy everyone!  I hope you get to go out and enjoy the great beauty of spring or fall wherever you are.

 

 

 

Only Slightly Off Topic–Quarantine Inspirations for the Future

The things I have observed (online and in online and phone chats) that my friends are doing to get through this in relation to home management and economics are very interesting and many are very positive.  It makes me hope after we are through this, some of this is incorporated in future activities in schools and online and supplies are made more available that seem difficult to obtain at this point in the quarantine.  So here is what I am talking about.

I see people baking breads, cookies, and other interesting things, resurfacing these activities in the kitchen that they may have done years ago or seldom do and they are teaching their children more about this.

I see some people teaching their children more about sewing, quilting, and cooking.

I love how many sewists and quilters have pitched in to make masks and hats.  I have always loved how they pitch in when people somewhere face a disaster, making clothes and quilts.

I myself am trying to develop a very small deck garden using vegetables from my kitchen (potatos, tomatos, lettuce that came with the roots) and I want to add herbs and flowers when I can.

I am cleaning more than I usually do.  It isn’t a great deal more, but my “someday” list has shortened lately.  I have developed almost a daily bit of short periods that don’t overtake my work in my studio and have accomplished a lot really.

I greatly appreciate how much sharing of quilting, sewing, and cooking is being done online.  Great whole classes and I am spending a little bit most every day learning something.  I think many are doing it for free, but a lot of us would pay to watch these great teachers.  I just discovered that King Arthur Flour, for instance, is running a series of videos called The Isolation Baking Show!

So here is what I hope happens after we are through this. I hope to see many of these things continue.  I would love to see our school system give a lot of thought to the fact that school is as much there to prepare the children for living life through thick and thin in the real world as well as how to get into college (and maybe introduce consideration of a trade for their career).  I hope they will emphase learning survival skills.  I mean survival through a quarantine, a war, a great depression, a natural disaster, a family emergency, or individual financial difficulties people sometimes have, and how to enjoy life even in the face of these things. Some of these things can begin with the very young, and then skills can be built through the school years.  Some of us, like myself, should continue to learn or improve these skills even when we get to what one might call “elderly”.   I am not saying your children’s or grandkid’s schools don’t, but I have the impression that there could be improvement in many schools across the country, especially, and also continuation and development of more online sources for classes in:

  • Buying and maintaining your computers, how to stay safe on the Internet, and how to be a responsible person on the Internet, how to organize your computer files, and shop safely online (I have a friend that needs a lot of help in this, and I do too sometimes)
  • Sewng and quilting, including what to look for in buying a machine. Maybe even making costumes for cosplay, which would teach a lot, and repurposing clothes in the closet you no longer wear or you find in a thrift store, for instance, and what you should keep on hand even if you aren’t much of a sewist.
  • Managing your wardrobe with an eye on the budget, including how to wash, clean, repair, and press it and the properties of fabrics
  • Making a budget and watching out for problems and what is a financial advisor anyway
  • Gardening, even if all you have is a window or a deck and you grow herbs
  • Cooking and baking and figuring out how to capture and maintain wild yeast for sourdough, how to join things together to eat even when you have what I think of as a pantry that has odd things that don’t necessarily fit together because you are snowed in or quarantined
  • What a properly stocked pantry should always contain and how to prepare regardless of your eating choices (yes, I lean towards being a prepper, if you will, and will eswpecially continue doing so after this).  I recently learned from King Arthur Flour, for instance, that you can freeze yeast and use it direct from the freezer, making it good for a decade at least.
  • DIY home repairs suitable for the everyday person…repairing a leaky faucet, a small hole in the wall, preparing your home for winter, or living in a desert, repairing or constructing a lamp, safely using a ladder, power washing your home, replacing a towel rack, and so forth.
  • What tools and items one should keep on hand for DIY home repairs
  • Basic safe carpentry skills
  • Maintaining your home in general.  How to tell when to call in a professional and when to do it yourself.  Cleaning and organizing your refrigerator and pantry.  Changing the bed linens.  Properly disinfecting the home on a regular basis.
  • Home decorating, art, and music, because we really do need to have beauty in our lives as well as practicality, and sometimes we may need to make this ourselves
  • Maintaining your car (Although I can do this, I turn this one over to my youngest son)
  • And perhaps we should all give some thought about how to care for family members who become ill from one thing or another while trying not to catch it ourselves.

So Grammy BJ (my alternative personality…LOL)  surfaces again.   But it is something I have been thinking of a lot lately.

Sew happy everyone.  What skills have you resurfaced, added to, practiced, or learned since the great quarantine began?  What do you plan to continue developing or doing?

 

 

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Thread Decisions

I don’t know about you, but my thread stash has grown to equal or beyond my fabric stash over the past few years.   I think this is caused by my many ideas for quilted art.  I have learned that the different weights and types of threads can make a huge difference in the success of the finished project.  Additionally, a lot of my quilted art projects have a lot of thread art that livens them up.

Sew I am currently trying hard to finish up the quilt I am making in my Mom’s memory using those beautiful 10 inch crocheted lace blocks as the center.  I just changed threads from a beautiful blue Superior 40 weight Magnifico, which is a polyester thread with a lovely sheen that matches my border fabric, to a Superior monopoly, which I truly have a very hard time seeing.  I am using Monopoly in the central pentagon where the five chrocheted blocks are.

This small quilt sampler has seven different thread types.

Now my Bernina machines sew well with this thread, but it took me a while to learn how to get that to happen.  After much trying and crying, I finally found that it works best with an 80/14 Universal needle.  If I use the top stitch needles I normally use for quilting, the needle will eventually “step on” the thread and break it.  It also requires the significant lowering of the upper thread tension and I use it with a 60 weight polyester bobbin thread (Superior Bottom Line). This thread is a very lively thread and requires threading to control it as much as possible.  I use the thread paths that cross the little pad with the pink silicone liquid, otherwise known as the thread lubrication unit.  This also adds a little tension to the top thread, and requires and additional little bit of tension lowering, but it holds it in the thread path really well and I am able to use it with hardly a bother.  I do this for both my Bernina 880 plus and my sitdown longarm Bernina Q20.

thread lubrication path on my Bernina Q20.

Thread Lubrication Unit on my Bernina 880 plus.

Thread lubrication path on another Bernina. They look a little different for each of the Bernina machines that has one.

For my little B350, my travel machine, it doesn’t seem to need as much control, but the thread path isn’t as long, and I figure that is why.   Happily these adjustments also work well with any 100 weight thread I use (I use both polyester and silk for various things).

My Bernina B350 named Edith Claire (E.Claire) after Edith Head. Even for this more simple machine, I do samplers before beginning to stitch a project. Circles make nice samples.

Deciding what threads to use on a project requires, once again, some testing and practice.  This is one of the big reasons I always make a practice quilted piece before I actually begin my main project.  The questions to ask that can only be answered with a little testing include:

  1. Do I want the stitching to take a front place in the overall design?  If so, use a heavier contrasting thread, even if the contrast is only one or two steps away from the fabric.  If not, use a lighter thread that matches as closely as possible the fabric, or even use a monopoly if I am stitching over a variety of fabrics in a small area (or, in this case, over hand crocheted lace).
  2. Is the stitching going to hide down in the seam or along the edge of an applique in stitch-in-the-ditch.  Or is the stitching echoing along the edge to highlight the applique or some element in the fabric, for instance.  Sometimes, like a halo, I might want the thread to be slightly or even strongly contrasting for this purpose.  The only way to tell is give it a try.
  3. What type of fabric is the stitching going on?
    • Right now, I am planning a substantial wool applique project that will include the writing of a large chapter in a book (or breaking into its own book), and will result in several samplers, the book project, and a separate show quilt.  This project requires decorative threads.  I am planning to use a variety of threads…primarily 12 weight wool/acrylic blend thread by Aurifil with a 50 weight cotton in the bobbin for most of the stitching at default tension settings with a longer stitch length, but also 40 weight Magnifico and Isacord embroidery threads, and metallic threads for some places.  These are all hopefully going to enhance and showcase the project.
    • For most of my cotton quilted projects I use the combination of 100 weight threads to sink into the background, and 40 weight embroidery threads to show the stitching.  But sometimes, I need additional types for a special thing.  I sometimes use 12 weight cotton thread by Sulky, which I have found runs smoother through the 100 weight top stitch needle with less mess on the back than other brands.  I tried a lot of brands before I settled on this one.  I have a lot of Superior 12 weight cottons that I sometimes use, but only my Bernina 880 plus and my little B350 seem to be ok with that.  My Q20 makes knots on the back with it no matter how I set the tensions and so forth. It might be the way I stitch.  Who knows.  Anyway, I usually use the Bottom Line with that in the bobbin and set the top tension just a little looser than normal to accommodate the width of the thread passing through the tension discs.

So you see, there are lots of considerations that make the thread choices successful.  Batting types and fabric densities, and yes, even the weather have an impact on these decisions.  That is why one really does need to make a small test piece, using the same fabrics, battings, needles, and so forth to practice on before stitching on your main project.  I write them down in my book I keep on projects, so I can return to these settings when needed.  It is truly helpful.  Also, be patient with the thread changes if you are stitching your masterpiece quilted art project especially.  They make a big difference.

Drawing Nigh, completed 4/17/2016. This quilt had 32 thread changes in the sky alone.

Sew happy everyone!  Stay healthy and have some fun in your studio while we are all still under house arrest quarentine.  And even after we are able to get out and move around, I hope you don’t abandon your studio.  Hugs!