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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Making Samplers

I am writing a book on embellishment techniques and have a plethora of samplers to make for this book.  I will also be using examples from some of my show quilts.  One of the projects in my book includes  several samplers teaching how to make trees using couching and a variety of interesting decorative threadwork.The starry night in the winter forest scene above is almost complete.  I still have to bind it and add hot fix crystals in the sky.  But I thought I would show you what I have on this little sampler, which I stitched on with no premarking.  This is such a fun activity to just sit down with a small quilt sandwich and play.  Initially I had planned just to practice and test some tree making in preparation for this sampler, but I liked it and decided to just trim it down and make it one of the samplers.

  • The two front larger trees are couched on sport weight yarns using a couching foot #43 on my Bernina Q20 and white 100 weight Microquilter by Superior Threads with Bottom Line in the bobbin. (Q20 settings: net on the cone, bobbin tension 180 with a magic silicone bobbin washerover the spring, top tension 1.50, threaded across the silicone gadget with the pink liquid, 80/12 universal needle (note…for small thin 100 weight and monopoly threads the universal needles work best, because the top stitching needles I normally use tend to “step on” the thread and break it instantly.  This is true whatever machine you us).
  • The middle tree, though you can’t tell in this picture, is sparkly silver Ricky Tims Razzle Dazzle by Superior that I couched on also with the couching foot #43 using a silver Superior metallic thread in the top (same settings except top tension is 3.0 and needle is 90/14 titanium top stitch Superior).
  • Then I free motion stitched the two smaller back trees using Aurifil 12 weight wool/acrylic blend thread and a 100/18 top stitch needle (Bottom line bobbin set as above, top tension 3.0, spi 9, bsr1,  100/18 top stitch titanium Superior neeedle, threaded as normal, stitched slowly, use a tooth cleaning threader to thread the aurifil thread through the take up bar hole and the needle).  Clean and oil your machine after using wool blend thread.
  • After that, I free motion stitched with Superior metallic thread the lines showing the hilly shapes, ruler stitched the moon shape, and painted the moon with Setacolor paints.
  • Then I used 100 weight black Microquilter (set as in the first dot section) and did a simple stipple all over the quilt and outlined the trees.

I encourage you to try such a sampler.  It can make either a neat Christmas decoration once all the crystals are placed on it, or you could add a halloween pumpkin or owl applique for Halloween.



Progress on Mom’s memory quilt:

Now that I have it all designed, I decided I had to make a sampler to practice everything especially on the satin part of the quilt where I will have pictographs of flowers, birds, and embroidered items that are related to Mom’s interests.

So I managed to get all the marks out of the test piece when I used the heat away pen after a four hour soak and a cold water wash in Synthrapol and finally a reironing to take away the last of the marks, which were very light at this point.  I then refroze it thinking they would come back but they did not.  I will retest this on the sampler when I am finished with it.  This is the kind of treatments you have to do when your fabrics or thread colors bleed onto your quilt, so I do not recommend the use of these pens except in very rare circumstances and after much testing.  I plan on making a decorative pillow for my bed with this sampler.

Sew I thought the hardest part would be to quilt the pictographs, but I found that to be really fun and, while time consuming, they were fairly easy to do at a slow stitch with my Q20 using BSR1, spi 12, and Magnifico 40 wt thread by Superior, and a 90/14 top stitch titanium needle with top tension 3.5 and bottom line in the bobbin at 180 tension.  Now I am working on figuring out the background, but first I will be doing really really tiny scribble stitching for about a quarter inch out from the edges of all the pictographs with 100 wt thread to set them apart and make them look like trapunto.

I am using a double bat on this quilt (80/20 thin bottom and wool on top), a cotton backing, a beefy polyester crepe backed satin and two colors of polyester dupioni.  But the only pictograph quilting is only on the ivory satin.  Here are the sampler pictographs.  I think it is coming along really well, but I am puzzled about what kind of background I am going to put on the white.  I am thinking of using walking foot stitching with some simple decorative stitches on my 880 plus in some kind of grid work, but I am not sure yet.  One thing at a time on this project. LOL  It’s hard to see in this picture, and it looks like there is more problem with fabric management than there is, but here is the sampler so far.

Sew happy everyone!  Take some time to play on some samplers that you might want to use or just throw out later.  It gives you the freedom to try things you might be hesitant to do on a full quilt project.  Cheers.

 

Workshops, Quilt Plans and Start!

   Blessed Memorial Day everyone!  I like this eagle on this old     label.

Yesterday I completed my four part quilted fabric art workshop at G Street Fabrics for 2019.  I am planning on doing the same set next April/May session there, but nothing in between.  I have other plans for the rest of this year.

We finished up with ruler work for sit-down machines.  Everybody seemed to enjoy it, though I think they all (but maybe one) felt a little like they needed to go away and practice a lot before they really feel comfortable with it.  For those people, do that practice and to help ou out please go to my downloadables and links page and find the info there for making more marked practice sandwiches.  I will also add links to some products we talked about in the classes.

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Coming up with a plan

I think of things in steps.  I don’t know why, possibly it came from my long years of sewing clothes before I did any quilting and progressed through solving problems at work and back to sewing again. So I have come up with steps for making a major quilt, masterpiece quilt, or show quilt that you probably already do in your everyday quilt making but I have defined them below just because.

  1.  Come up with a plan.  I don’t necessarily mean a pattern, but it could be. This can be as simple as drawing a basic project design in your sketchbook or on your digital drawing package on your computer and enlarging it to full size.  Or you can find a pattern you simply love that another quilter has designed and purchase it.  Some notes about this:
    • I will tell you that for most of my quilts, this part of making the quilt is about one-third to a half of the work.   Sometimes, however, I only need basic placement guidelines for something so clear to me where I’m going, and kind of organic or freeform in nature that I don’t really need a pattern.  I do however always need help in keeping parts properly sized and placed.
    • If you are using someone else’s photograph or drawing for this, make sure you have permission from that person to use it for your quilt.  This may involve purchasing the rights (something I have done on occassion) or writing a letter and requesting the use of the inspirational piece.  Get that answer in writing to protect yourself.
    • Frequently you can find an inspirational design in royalty free designs, such as that available on Dover Publications books, or even online at museum sites for ancient documents that are so old they are free to use.
    • Don’t assume that the inspirational resource is free to use just because the creator has passed on.  The families or organizations behind these people may still hold the rights.  They must be in open domain.
    • Or you can draw it yourself.  Even just a simple placement drawing will help you keep things right.
    • Enlarging to full size for printing is not difficult.   You can use your printer’s tiling (if it has one), Microsoft Excel where you tell it the size of your picture you import and it divides it into page-sized tiles for printing to tape together, or a drawing package such as Corel Draw that does the same thing (remember, if you have Bernina Design software you have a limited version of Corel Draw that includes tiling).
  2. Now build your background.  Once you have your plan in hand, you need to have a quilt top background.
    • Even if you are making a whole cloth quilt, you need to get your fabric sized, cut, and marked, allowing additional space around the edge to make up for the drawing in that occurs in a lot of stitching.  You square it to size when ready to bind.
    • If you are making a landscape, you need to start from the farthest thing away in the background and move forward piecing or applipiecing (piecliqueing) the parts together forward.  Darkest to lightest maybe.  You might find that working through this on freezer paper or tracing paper will help you, which is how I started, but now I find I don’t need it at all.
    • Or if you are making a pieced quilt, you need to do the piecing and build your quilt top.  I’m not a piecer, so I have no real advice for this step.
  3. Assemble any applique parts.  One thing that might help you, is to make free motion or in-the-hoop embroidery parts of your design independent from the top and then applique them on.  I mostly use black or appropriately colored nylon bridal veilling for this with washaway stabilizers.  It can save a lot of tears.  LOL

Remember to do the best job you possibly can.  Take the time to draw it right, print it right, tape the pattern together right, wash your fabrics, if washable, and starch and iron the fabrics, and piece the background right. Also if you are using a very light drapey fabric, such as silk or polyester dupioni or satin, backing it with a very light weight fusible interfacing will help it behave.  Redo if it is wrong.

Project Management for Fabric Art

Since I retired in 2012 to become a full time studio fabric artist, I have found a need to develop a system to keep things organized for time and technique management. Initially, I felt that taking time to keep records cut into my creative time and resembled work too much.  After all, I was here to have fun and make fabric art, right? 😄

Lately, I have added teaching local workshops and for several years have been working on writing several books.

So I found it necessary to figure out a way to keep up with all of this.  In fact, the multi-faceted system I came up with saves time and reduces stress, and some of it is kind of fun. Without records I would spend a lot of time figuring out where I was within a project, what was next, and making mistakes I would not have made if I had notes I could refer to.  This is especially important if there is an interruption in a specific project and I have a gap of time, or if I am working on more than one project at a time, which I often do (a show quilt, an approaching teaching session, a bit of writing, and even something just for me like clothing or my current bed quilt project).

My daughter-in-law Beth, who is also a quilter and a computer professional, suggested I look into www.Trello.com, which is a free organizational program designed for businesses. I find this program very easy to use and set up.  It helps me keep up with project ideas and a general overview of where I am on each project, and you can put in a check list.  It’s especially nice when I am doing a project with another person. Beth and I set up a team “Board” of Tatum Quilters so we could share projects.  We haven’t done much in that direction, but we still talk about it from time to time…LOL  So you might want to check it out.

While Trello helps me keep up with my ideas and plans for quilts, I found I need more detailed information and some of that doesn’t fit into a computerized file.  So I also have my big black low tech notebook.  I use this from the very beginning of a project and also keep other information in it. I write up ideas, make a general overall plan, keep tiny samples of fabrics, lists of threads, and other supplies, and put records of everything I need in this book for keeping my project together. The following images may give you an idea for your own notebook.

Here I have the original design of the Renaissance banner my BFF Anita and I made for the church last year. This is her original design.  I added notes, and a list of the fabrics I ordered for the project.  I just stapled her original drawing in to the notebook since it fit.  If such a design doesn’t fit, I sometimes fold it one or two times and staple it in.

 

So here is the finished design after I put it into the computer and drew a pattern for us, making a few changes we discussed along the way. On the right side is a plan for making the quilt from start to finish, which we checked off as we completed it.  I just printed a page size of the pattern and stapled it in on one page.

 

Sometimes I just staple drawings into the book to keep them from getting lost. This is my train project I am about to start working on.  The one on the left is a copy of the drawing my BFF Anita did for me to use for this, and the one on the right has a few scribbly additions I did thinking about how I might make it.  I have pages after this with a brief list of steps to make this quilt and have space for notes on stitches, settings, etc. for my machine work.

 

Here I have the samples of the fabrics and a list of the threads for Pendragon. Ken (oldest son) and Beth (his wife) gave me this wonderful addition to my stash along with the design for Pendragon that Ken drew. Pendragon was such a major project requiring many advanced techniques I had to develop or had never used it has ten pages in my black book that includes all kinds of things related to it.

 

Here is my trial of the upper left corner of Pendragon. I digitized the outline of the ancient design for stitching just the outline in the hoop, which needed a lot of fixing.  So I had to do a stitchout before putting it on the quilt. I also wanted to try the painting to see how that would go. So I just stapled the sample into the book because I liked it and didn’t want to throw it away.  If you look hard, you can see on the right a very loose sketch of how the quilt pieces fit together.

If you’d like to learn more about Pendragon, I have several blogs in which I included the making of this extensive project.  The testing of borders and the making of Pendragon.  So as you see, I also keep what you might think of as progress reports in this blog.

You might think that would be enough record keeping, but when I started doing show quilts that went to several shows, and sometimes had multiple quilts out for shows or exhibits, I found I had to make sure I knew where they were or were going.  I needed to be careful that I didn’t enter the same quilt in a show that was being held at the same time another show that I had entered was held, or enter it into this year’s shows when they had already been shown or rejected from another year’s show (Just as a matter of principal, I never reenter a show that has rejected my quilt previously even if they accept this kind of entry).  And I found I can’t enter another Mancuso show if the quilt has received a ribbon in another Mancuso show.  So it became a kind of choreograph of the dance of the quilts.

I take care of this with a simple Microsoft Excel workbook with two spreadsheets.  One keeps up with what shows that I am interested in and the deadline dates.  The other spreadsheet keeps up with what has been where or entered where, with a simple asterisk if it placed in that show.  I include an example of my workbook here.  I don’t know if it will work on your computer or if it is anything you might want, but it was easy to include if it works for you and you are into show quilting.

Quilt Show List example

Sew there you are.  Yes, it is a complex four part system, but it also works well for me and so I wanted to share it.  Believe it or not, it saves more time than it spends to do this, especially after getting started with it all, and it really helps keep down the stress factors in my busy busy studio. One more thing, I put on my calendar when a quilt has to be shipped once they are accepted into a show.  I have occassionally waked up and wondered if I had missed a deadline, only to be happy to find I had not by looking on my calendar.

Sew happy everyone!  Try making a show quilt or a master quilt, even if you don’t want to show it.  You might want to keep your own records, with lots of pictures along the way (oh and yes, I have computer files with folders by the year for quilts made in that year.  Yes, I back up everything).  It will be fun to look back on it or if you want to remember how in the world you did that technique on that quilt some years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part Three: Working with Threads

As I work through my Bayou quilt, and think about past quilts I have made, I realize how much one needs to pay attention to the adjustments, needles, cleaning, setting, and other requirements for optimum machine performance as you use the varying types of techniques, fabrics, and threads.

Threads

Today I am adding more Spanish moss in differing colors of Aurifil’s wool 12 weight thread and additional wool yarn couching using Superior’s almost truly invisible Monopoly.

I was having problems this morning with my wool thread breaking and breaking after hours of working well.  So I stopped and did a thorough clean and check of the machine, oiled it, and added a new 100/16 Superior titanium top stitch needle.  When I cleaned the bobbin, I found a large bunch of wool fluff both outside in the bobbin casing area and in the bobbin casing itself full,  and I blew air through the upper tread track and dislodge additional wool fluff.  I like this thread, but it does require frequent machine cleaning, loosening the top tension, and really fresh needles.  I doubt it would be possible to make wool thread that didn’t do that, although Aurifil’s is excellent.  It is actually 50 percent wool and 50 percent acrylic. I also use a tooth floss threader to thread this through the needle (and the take up lever hole on my Bernina Q20).  I haven’t had the same breakage problem since I did the cleaning.

The Spanish moss here is Aurifil’s Lana wool/acrylic 12 weight thread.

When I am couching using my Bernina Q20, I use Superior’s monopoly.  I truly cannot see it well enough to make sure it is always threaded through the machine right.  Over the past little while, I have found that this thread works best with a universal 70 needle.  I don’t think I could go smaller using this powerful machine, but when I am using my Bernina 830 or Bernina 350, I use a 60 universal needle.  I haven’t figured out why it works better with the universal needle, but it does.  I have almost no problems with it, though I do lower the top tension significantly on all the machines when using this thread.  This thread makes wonderful couching thread when using the machine method that stitches through the yarn or cord.  It basically buries itself down in the yarn and disappears.  In the past, I have also used this thread to quilt over and around painted, appliqued, or thread embroidered areas of a quilt.  I don’t particularly like overall quilting using Monopoly, because I like to see the thread most of the time, even if it is nearly matching and you have to look to see it.  I have used it though when I am quilting through an area that has multiple colors and no particular single color or even variegated thread would work right.  I actually use a magnifying glass to work with this thread.

The gold Celtic border was outlined first with gold thread, then painted with gold paint, but it had no over and under view until after it was quilted with Monopoly thread. I will be using this technique again.

Yarns for couching are really another bit of my stash that might end up growing, but I hope to keep it kind of small.  Still it is exciting to work with.  My machine likes the smoother yarns and cords the best, but I want to use some of the less smooth ones, like the Shetland wool sport weight I am using for the limbs of my trees.  I can see this yarn making whole tree trunks and limbs.  It has various slubs and smooth sections that produces wonderful depth of character.  acrylic yarns are really smooth and even and make wonderful fills.  I’m still learning this element of my pictorial fabric work so I will talk more about it later.  I have found lots of help in learning this from Bethanne Nemesh’s couching work.  She has generously shared much of her techniques on both Facebook videos [only one example…she has several there]  and her blogs.

For background work, I often use Superior’s 100 weight Microquilter or its Kimono silk 100 weight.  This thread seems to call for a small needle also.  I use 60/10 or 70/11 topstitch needle depending on the density of the quilt I’m stitching through.  I sometimes have had to go up to 80/12  topstitch needles when stitching through multiple applique areas or heavily thread embroidered areas.  This thread also requires a lower top tension, just like the Monopoly, though not quite as low.  I  am not giving numbers because everyone’s machine and fabrics are just a little different, so you need to do a sample using the actual fabrics and threads you have on your quilt.

Sttitching on the space dust on one of my deep space quilts using 40 weight variegated Fantastico by Superier.  The background stitching you see here was done with 100 weight Kimono silk.

Sew for most of my quilting where I want the design to really show and machine embroidery, though, I usually use a 40 weight thread of some sort with an 80/12 or 90/14 Superior topstitch needle, depending on the fabrics and threads I am using.   Most of the time I use the 90/14 and it seems to make a great general needle.  My favorite threads for this are Superior’s Fantastico, Magnifico, and Rainbow (they no longer make this thread but I have a lot of it), and when stitching things like rocks or places I don’t want any shine, I use King Tut.  King Tut, a cotton, definitely requires the 90/14 needle.   I also like Aurifil’s 50 weight cotton when I need it a little less visible, but don’t want to use a polyester for some reason.  I use the 80/12 needle with Aurifil 50 weight cotton.

Isn’t this fun?!!! There are soooo many wonderful possibilities to make your pictorial quilt come to life now…I could work hours and hours and hours on it, except my body demands I stop from time to time and walk or stretch or breath….LOL.

Sew happy everyone!  Try out all those wonderful types of threads.  Just get the smallest spools at first so you can figure out whether you like them or not and how they might work for you.  Then make a sampler.

 

 

 

 

 

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part Two: Making a Tree

One of the most fun I have when making a pictorial quilt is making trees, mountains, rocks and water scenes.  Making these wonderful natural landscape items do not require perfect lines and matched points.  So each kind and size of trees I need to “grow” on a quilt may require a different technique and plan.  I have to consider the distance, the species, where the light is coming from, and then decide how to make them.  Here are a few examples:

Here the trees surround the house. For these trees, I digitized them on my Bernina Software (even the tiny trees have little leaf shaped leaves, though I think that is lost a bit to the viewer because of the size). I then stitched them out on black nylon veiling with wash-away stabilizer and free motion appliqued them onto the quilt top with matching thread.

 

This small tree is the stitch out from an olive tree I digitized in my Bernina software on wash-away stabilizer. I placed a tree photo in the art side and traced it by hand digitizing it in the embroidery side of the software. The same could be done by drawing it onto a piece of wash-away stabilizer with Crayola washable marker and free motion embroidering it. In this case I would advise using a layer of black nylon veiling to hold everything together.  The advantage of black nylon veiling is that it can be cut very close to the embroidery (without cutting through the stitching) and the little bits left tend to disappear when you applique it on…often covered with applique stitching. Note that when you soak away the stabilizer, the Crayola marker goes away also.  This happens to be laying on a paper towel, in case you are wondering.

 

Here you see the trunks of some big Cyprus trees in my current ongoing project. I cut the applique shape from different types of commercial woody type fabrics. So then I did highlighting and lowlighting with Shiva oil paint sticks and a stiff brush, then heat setting with my iron (covering it with a paper towel to absorb excess oil paint. I plan on adding a layer of wool batting behind the trees to give them a little more depth because the trees require considerable stitching to make the base look like the Cyprus, but this is how I started these trees.

So the Cyprus trees appear to have windy limbs that seem smaller than such a massive tree trunk would have.  I decided to couch the limbs on with wool yarns and then free motion embroider the Spanish moss.  Here are two pictures of the progress so far:

Here you see some of the limbs on the different trees with some Spanish moss.  I did a lot of looking at Spanish moss photos before I did these so I could figure how they should look. These seem to me to be coming out ok.

 

I learned early on that I needed to draw some guide lines for the direction of the stitching or I’d get them to be blowing around in different directions. Since the water in this quilt is going to look calm and reflective, it didn’t make since to have the Spanish moss blowing around much, though they don’t have to be exactly the same, but close. Here you see some of my marks for future stitching. Also note that I had to break the stitching on several clumps so it looked like the limb is further toward the back from the viewer.  I need to keep it pretty close to the same proportions as the top part, so drawing lines is helpful.

Sew I’ll show you the whole trees when they are done.  That will be a while now because they need to be quilted, and maybe a little more highlighting, to get the full impression.

Sew happy everyone.  I hope you decide to put some trees on your quilts and relax…they are fun to make.

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part One

I don’t know why, but recently I realized my design and making of a pictorial quilt has fallen into a multi-step method that can be shared with my readers. I suspect that most pictorial quilters work much the same, but each of us develops our own methodology and here is mine.  It might work for you if you are interested in making such quilts.

Work from the background forward. Here I am appliqueing on the pieces.

Sew what do you do when you have a picture you want to make into a quilt…either you drew it yourself, you took a photo, you bought or were gifted the rights from another artist, or you bought a royalty free design from somewhere like Dover that grants permission to use it for artistic purposes (be careful to read the permision statement)?

Plan by taking apart the project in your mind and writing down notes about how you plan to approach it.  If you have worked in digital drawing programs like Corel Draw, Corel Painter, or Adobe Photoshop, for instance, you know you can divide a project into layers and work on each layer one at a time.  You may also know that you need to think from background to foreground in how you approach a design.  It’s the same here.

  1. Print or draw a full-sized quilt plan.  I say “plan” rather than “pattern” because sometimes that’s all it is…just a full sized picture of what you want to make.  But it functions kind of like a pattern. My current project is a Bayou quilt using another artist’s (Joel Christopher Payne, a Disney artist among other things he does) picture for inspiration (though I am using it for inspiration and a guide rather than trying to copy his work).
  2. Study your picture and analyze it for challenges, needed fabrics, techniques you might use.  This quilt has many challenges.
    • It’s dark and details are hard to see
    • It has lots of old wood and cyprus trees and water at night, making texture really important and values more difficult.
    • I am planning on adding more Spanish moss and creating a slightly lighter pictorial quilt than his wonderful picture
    • It has a lot of plays of light shining through the trees, playing out on the water, and fireflies.
    • There are lots of water plants around the Bayou scene.
    • Almost half of the work on this quilt is to be free motion yarn couching, free motion embroidery, and other embellishment work.
    • This quilt background will start with extensive applique work.
    • After the applique there will be a small amount of highlighting and lowlighting with various fabric paints.
    • After the appliques are in place and some of the paint work then I will start with the couching and free motion embroidery work.
    • I have figured out how to deal with the light playing on the water, but I am still not sure about the light coming through the trees…maybe veiling, which is on order.
  3. Along the way you may decide to use some trapunto to give some additional depth to your work.  In this case, I will be adding a layer of wool batting behind the tree trunks, the cabin, and the old house boat.
  4. Building such a challenging pictorial quilt for me sometimes involves testing a technique on a scrap first and then working that part on the quilt, but sometimes I have to change my mind on how I will approach a particular part of the quilt.
  5. Then I have to do the sandwiching, squaring, and quilting that every quilter has to do.

So I now have all the appliques on and have done some of the highlight/lowlight work.  It’s ready to start the couching and free motion embroidery.  This picture is taken from standing over a table, so it isn’t front on like I’d like.  This is like layer two through ten of a 32 layer digital drawing…lots of work left to do…it’s kind of a background at this stage.  LOL  And besides, this is just a small part of it…it’s 60 by 30 inches overall…at least that’s what I’m hoping for in the end.

Sew happy everyone!  Take a plunge and try your own pictorial wall quilt.  Be patient with yourself and realize almost every problem can be overcome in achieving your vision.  Sometimes the problems are really a blessing…they give you new ideas.

Embellishing Techniques Part 3: Learn All You Can and Use It Well

Okay readers, I am all fired up and my studio is spotless and ready to go.  There isn’t even a chipmunk in my studio (my facebook friends will understand this comment).  After attending Birds of a Feather, and then Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival, and then spending a lot of time getting rid of a chipmunk and cleaning my studio, it was some time before I was able to start using the explosion of inspiration that filled my head and heart for the future after such inspiring quilting events and spending the MAQF with my friend Mei-Ling who also inspired me.

* * * * *

So to continue the Machine Embroidery pointers…I decided I really have to finish and publish my book on Surface Design and Embellishment, which includes among other things both in-the-hoop embroidery and free motion embroidery, to say all I want to say.  But I did want to give you a little list of things to research on your own and to think about.

  1. Learn about stabilizers..there are lots of them out there and they all do different things.  Sometimes you need more than one at once.
  2. It is possible to remove machine embroidery that messes up without damaging your fabric sometimes, but not always.  I got a little electric trimmer for this purpose and it works most of the times if the fabric on which the embroidery is placed is sturdy enough.

    Summer Melody: I made a big mistake when I embroidered the bunnies on the path. They were sideways!!! So I got the Wahl clipper/trimmer and removed the embroidery and redid the bunnies. There was a small hole that I made trying to remove it without the trimmer, but it was covered by the new embroidered bunnies.

  3. If you are using a commercial design, and you have digitizing software, such as Bernina’s, it’s a very good idea to load it into the software and take a good look at how it is stitched.  You can often correct the designers mistakes, resize it, choose different fills, and make different thread selections before you use it…do this to a copy, not the original…and then do a stitchout before placing it on your main project.
  4. Realize that free motion thread painting is also a good option, but requires practice and understanding of thread density and how that affects your fabrics.  This requires its own blog post (and chapter in my book).
  5. Even decorative stitching available on your machine just to go on that beautiful new blouse you are making often requires proper stabilizing and thread to fabric considerations.
  6. You can use decorative stitches within a pictorial wall hanging or to enhance applique and pieced projects.  It’s very exciting and there is much to learn and try out.
  7. This kind of work takes time, thread, stabilizers, and practice but the results can be really rewarding.

* * * * *

Use what you already know how to do in interesting ways and spend some of your precious time learning and practicing.  One excellent idea that some quilters have suggested is to make simple utility, charity, and baby quilts for your learning and practicing.  I think this  is a wonderful idea, but you DO need to do SOME simple practice you are going to throw away or put into your reference notebooks.  I do suggest you don’t let the practicing and learning take over all your sewing and quilting time though.  Make yourself make that masterpiece quilt or  important project.  It’s all about balance in the studio, but be brave!

Suggested project:  Steps to a tree wall-hanging with birds and flowers.  With this wall-hanging, either find a coloring book tree or draw a simple tree and choose by the look you want what techniques, fabrics, and threads to use.  For instance, 1.  Make the background: the background could be pieced, appli-pieced (or pieceliqued..same thing), or painted or all of them to get the background you want.  2.  Make the large part of the tree trunk and large limbs…use appliqued woody fabric, couched on yarn, or paint, then free motion couch or embroider the small twiggy parts of the tree.  3.  Add the leaves…use free motion machine embroidery, appliqued leaves, or digitize leaf sections you embroider on black netting with washaway stabilizer and applique in place.  4.  Add the birds and flowers…use commercial embroidery for in-the-hoop embroidery machines, sizing appropriately, or applique by hand, or paint and then applique.  5. Sandwich and quilt…use monofil polyester to in-the-ditch and around-the appliques stabilizing, then either quilt using your walking foot or free motion stitch the quilt, block, square, and bind.  Please send me a photo to include in a blog post if you make a wall hanging inspired by this idea.

 

 

 

Embellishing Techniques Part 1: Hot Fix Crystals

My close friends and competitors…sometimes one in the same…know that I love embellishing my art quilts.  Some quilts simply call for embellishments and, when this is true, I use them generously.  This subject recently came up in a Facebook conversation and so I thought I would run a series of three or so blog posts, not necessarily one right after the other, on my embellishment techniques.  You may have others or your techniques may vary, but these are mine.  I’m always looking for new ideas though, so comment freely please.

My love for embelishments started decades ago when I had my own fashion design and tailoring business when I designed and my shop made formals, wedding dresses, and costumes for operas, dancers, and skaters.  Back at the beginning of that business, I hand sewed or glued most of my embellishments on.  Today I will hand sew some things still, but I use a lot of hot fix crystals and machine techniques that I will talk about in future posts.

When I first started using hot fix crystals  years ago I bought one of those wand style irons.  I still use it by the way, but I’m thinking of replacing it and maybe I can get one that doesn’t flip off the table and land on the carpet and I have to race to pick it up before it burns it…hoping not to burn myself in the process.  It’s supposed to pick up the crystal and you can then place it down, but it never really worked well that way.  Sometimes it would pick it up and hold on to it, so I had to get a straight pin and pry it out.

So I started placing the crystal down where I wanted it and placing the wand iron on top of it. If I was lucky, the crystal would end up in the right place (though I found I could move it slightly if I worked quickly enough).  Sometimes the wand would flip the crystal out of place like a tiddly wink and it would go spinning through the air landing who knows where.  Sometimes I ended up slightly burning the area around the crystal.  And sometimes I ended up burning myself trying to prevent all these things.

And THEN, a friend of mine directed me to hot fix transfer tape! What a great invention and what a wonderful improvement to my crystal placements!!! I think it was invented for people who make those crystal designs for people to put on their clothes.  But anyway, here are the steps I use with it:

  1. Put on your music or audiobook.
  2. Cut a piece of the transfer tape (I use both a smaller cut of around a six inch square and a larger cut of about a 10 inch square. It’s reusable about four or more times.
  3. Place the item you are embellishing  flat on the table or ironing board,
  4. Working in sections, place your hot fix crystals (or other hot fix embellishments) where you want them
  5. Remove the backing from the transfer tape.
  6. Gently and carefully lower your transfer tape piece down over the section of crystals trying not to disturb the pattern and press it down around the crystals and more or less attaching to your project.
  7. Now here you have a choice.  You can either use your regular iron set hot and without steam or the wand iron.  I found the wand iron makes the crystals more secure for the most part but takes longer.
  8. So with the wand iron heat each crystal with the tape still in place for as long as it needs
    • tiny ones require about 12 toe taps or slow counts.
    • medium ones require about 20 counts
    • larger ones require more…30 seconds to 40 counts to be really secure.

Heat setting individual crystals with the wand with the tape still in place.

The transfer tape acts as a pressing cloth, protecting the fabric to which you are attaching the crystal from burns by the wand.  It also holds the crystals in place so they don’t go flipping off into never never land.  If it gets just a little out of alignment, you just move the tape…the crystal stays on the tape until it is fully glued down and then releases with no problem.  This means you can pick up your tape slowly to check if you’ve missed one or if it needs more time.

Another way to approach it is to place lots of crystals on the tape upside down to the sticky side and just move the tape around and place the crystals on one by one.  This is a particularly good method for clothing and other shaped pieces when you are having a hard time getting them flat for crystal placement.

Now if I can only stop my hot wand from falling off the table that would be good.  Maybe I can find a new one at Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival that I am going to this year with my good friend Mei Ling…I’m so excited.  I’ll let you know if my quilt gets in.  Will I see you there?

Sew happy everyone!  Help each other out, encourage other quilt artists…both the beginners and the very advanced.  Even the big winners sometimes need encouragement.

By the way, I have many of my quilts for sale on my website.  You can see them here.  I really want to go to Houston and keep on writing this blog and that is where the money would go.  If you are interested in one of my quilts, contact me at BettyJo@bjfabricartist.com  Or, if you just want to help support the continuance of the blog, see the donate button.  But please keep reading my blog even if you don’t…I understand.