Practicing Free Motion Backtracking

I think my backtracking…you know when you go back over a stitching line…needs a lot of practice.  So I had the brilliant idea of using a design from a coloring book page to practice.  I definitely need to practice on almost a daily basis to get (and stay) really good at quilting.  I got a new coloring book from Dover Publications in their “Keep Calm & Color” series of adult coloring books.  I got in touch with them and found that I can use up to four pages in a single project without further permission even though it is copyrighted.

So I scanned one of the pages into my computer and enlarged it.  Then I printed it out in Corel Draw, which tiles my pages for me.  Several drawing programs or even printer software will do that.  Before I got Corel Draw I used Excel spreadsheet, which also tiles your images for printing.   Anyway, I taped it together and traced it onto my fabric using a light box and Crayola washable markers (trust me, they come out of cotton when washed)., and sandwiched the fabric with batting and a backing.  I machine basted it using my Bernina Q 20’s basting mode BSR3.

 

Sew now I’m having fun stitching the design with repeated lines of stitching along the design, which gives me plenty of practice backtracking.  After I finish the initial design stitching, I will background quilt the rest of the little quilt and I think it will look great if I add lots of beads and other assorted embellishments after it is quilted, washed, and bound.  This might just come out being a nice enough small wall art quilt to add to display in the second part of my exhibit at G Street Fabrics, and I am getting in lots of practice.  We’ll see what I think when it is finished.  So far, I’ve only had to take out a few stitches where somehow it went awry.  I’ll show you a picture when it’s finished.

I think this is a very fun way to get in some quilting practice and encourage you to grab one of those Dover coloring books and give one a try.  They would make a nice present for someone or wall art in that small spot in your home.

By the way, how is your stylized landscape project coming from this blog post?  Have you finished your sun yet and gotten your background constructed or found a nice piece of fabric for the background?  I am planning on publishing part 2 the first week in May.  If you aren’t making one you can just bookmark the blog posts and make one later, or just watch the rest of us have fun with this.

Sew happy everyone!  Try using coloring book drawings for your quilting practice.

 

 

 

A Word About My Art Quilting and Some Early Quilts

                  Fandance by Moonlight. Hoffman Challenge

2008This is my very first show quilt and you can see the scotch tape on my photograph…LOL.  So you can see my professional side of show quilting has grown as well as my quilt making abilities.

As I prepare for my upcoming exhibit of my work at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, one of the things they wanted was for me to provide my Hoffman Challenge quilts, which, if you look at them carefully, you can see my progress as both an artist and a quilter from year to year.  Unlike some of my quilty friends who make a quilt, enter it, and win big, I have struggled, indeed still struggle, to move my art quilting to a truly professional level, but it has been fun along the way. I love making art in fabrics, threads, and paints.  I think my artist side has been a little slower in developing than my quilting techniques, but I’m working on it.

“Equipped to Stand” 2012
Even though I can now see many flaws in both the design and the quilting making techniques on this quilt, I still love it. I would never send this quilt out for show today, but we all learn. They let it into several shows and the judges were sweet about it and their remarks didn’t bash me down to the point I quit quilting.  Unlike this photo, it is square and relatively flat, though I had to undo a lot of it to get a wave out of it.  You can see it was not all that long ago.  I have come a looong ways from here.  If they had torn it apart, I might have quit.

To me, an art quilt needs to have a lot of elements come together to make it good and this is what I am always striving for. Starting with the basic design concept  I draw the concept while considering balance, value, color, placement, perspective, and simply artistic appeal.  I am constantly attempting to learn more about all this through practice, books (some left from art classes in college and some collected over the years), and, more recently, online training.  I’m still trying.

So here is my process for a complex show quilt (not for all of my quilts).

I try to capture the concept that is in my head or the inspirational photo by drawing the picture of the planned quilt on my computer, thereby providing me with a “pattern” .  Here is how I work through this.

  • I use Corel Draw to draw out some elements, like buildings or space ships, and saving them with a transparent background as a .png file, which will import into other packages without a background.
  • I use Corel Painter, a truly powerful digital painting software, to draw the main picture, importing the items from Corel Draw and placing them where they belong.  I size it here and save with iterative painter files and finally as a .jpg.
  • I may go back and forth between Corel Draw and Corel Painter several times because one program is better than another for various things.
  • If I am putting borders on the quilt I will then move to Electric Quilt and set it up with a single block sized properly for my .jpg.  Then I play with the borders until I like them.  This gives me the pattern for the borders.  I save this as a .jpg.
  • I move back to Corel Draw and start a new file (you can’t just open a .jpg in Corel Draw, but you can import one).  I import the design I saved in Electric Quilt into Corel Draw and size  the image to the size I want the quilt to finish.  Corel Draw has a wonderful way of tiling the picture into sizes that match the printer paper with symbols to mark where they join.  I usually print the pattern on a 11″x 17″ paper.  I print one pattern in color and one in gray scale.  I also print the border pattern from EQ7.
  • I tape the pattern together carefully.
  • Then I pin the colored print on my design wall, or tape it somewhere if that is occupied, and sit there looking at it every now and then, wondering how on Earth I am going to accomplish this quilt.  At this point, I take time off from this particular project if I have time.  This is why I usually have some ongoing simple quilt or clothing projects so I can go work on something else while the concept “marinates” in my mind and I talk to myself…sometimes exclaiming “Oh THAT’s what I can try!”  I’m glad my son’s flat is on the lower level, and is not in my studio to hear me, he might be looking for “a place for Mom”, although, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy writer so probably not.
  • I keep a notebook nearby to write down my ideas.

Once I’ve figured out more or less how I’m going to make the quilt, I just jump in.  I first shop my stash to see if I have what I need for this quilt and buy the rest, including fabrics, threads, paints, and other embellishments.  After all my years of sewing and quilting my stash is now such that often I am able to complete a quilt without buying anything, or buying only one item.  It generally takes me nearly half the time of total time making a quilt to get to this point.

  • I have to take one or two elements of the quilt at a time.
  • I make samples and try things until I find what works.
  • I have to figure what must come first…usually working from background forward.
  • I take photos along the way because for some reason I can see mistakes better in a photograph than directly looking at the project.  I think I get too close to it, as they say.
  • I unsew and go backwards when I need to, but try to limit this as much as possible.  Sometimes “mistakes” are actually result in a good new direction.

As I construct the quilt, I pay close attention to how flat and square the project is becoming along the way. It’s ok not to have a square quilt, but it has to be deliberately not square and obviously not intended to be square.  Construction techniques really still need to be right. This often involves my ripping things out for correction, and sometimes even just starting over. I have obtained a laser square and a laser cross-hair lamp to help me with this

I’m not a piecer, but sometimes I have to piece.  “Pendragon” had the main center block, and ten border and text block pieces that all HAD to be square and straight and the border had to be lined up so the designs were straight and in the right place.  This is one of the more challenging things for me, because, did I say it?  I’m not a piecer.  Piecing is much more challenging to me than it must be to traditional quilters, who seem to love it.  I piece when I have to in order to realize my design.  I sometimes use foundation paper piecing when I need a real quilt block, like I did for “Waiting…” and “Drawing Nigh”.  So I’m very happy to have these tools and techniques to help me piece.

Sew once I have completed the top, including any highlighting or lowlighting I do with fabric paints and inks, I sandwich my quilt mostly using basting adhesive and rulers to get the lines that need to be straight and square right and adding some quilting pins because I use a very light amount of adhesive spray on the batting only.  This is my least favorite thing of making a quilt and I find it physically taxing, especially if it has to be on the floor because of size, and I wear a mask and often have to do it over and over again until it is right.

Then I quilt it, bind it, add a pocket, a label, and block it.  My oldest son Ken photographs it at his home in my daughter-in-law’s wonderfully big studio where her longarm and her Bernina 880 resides.  Beth was, afterall, the one who pulled me into quilting after Marvin died because she was sure I would love it.  I’m not sure she expected me to love it as much as I do, and I know she didn’t expect me to move into the art quilt world.  Before this happened, I had made several pieces of fabric art, had sewn for most of my life, used to have my own fashion design and tailoring business, and made my own clothes and some of Marvin’s.  I found art quilting simply unleashed and pulled together all the sewing and art skills I had learned in my life, but I did need to learn a lot before it was any good.

And I’m still learning, experimenting, and moving through art quilting.  Maybe someday I’ll start winning the big ribbons (I have won a few ribbons, but no BOS).

Sew are any of you making our free design art quilt with me introduced in my last blog post?  How’s it coming?  I’m not rushing you.  It will probably be another couple of weeks or month before I get to the next step.  I’m preparing for my exhibit and I figure the first step is a big one.

Sew happy everyone!

 

 

Make a Stylized Landscape Quilt with Me: Step One

I am making a fun new design-as-you-go stylized landscape quilt with some kind of flying creature and I hope you will try one of these too. For as many steps as it takes (to be determined) I will be providing a blog post to take us through this quilt together.  This quilt is made without first drawing out and printing a full sized design and will be using techniques that I am sure you may wish to try or have tried already.  I am not providing a pattern, telling you what size it will be, or even tutorials for all the techniques needed.  This is a project for us to play together making some wall art.  I will tell you where you can find the techniques, providing the links, and for some parts I will give tutorials, but not all.  It can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it, with guidance as to where you can find help.  And if you have a question all you have to do is make a comment on the blog post and I will respond as soon as I can.

Let’s begin:

I am using some interesting techniques available online at Iquilt and Craftsy.  But you don’t have to take a class for this project, just follow along.  If you have Electric quilt 7 and know how to do foundation paper piecing you, or you already know how to make a compass block, you can do this without additional classes.

For this fun project there are several objects we will need to make and obtain.

  1. Challenge–Make The Sun:  This can be either a simple quarter of a large circle of fabric to applique on a sky or one quarter of a sun compass block or a smaller full stylized star block in your choice of sun colors for your imaginary world.  For my quilt I am using the star block that Karen K. Stone teaches in “English Paper Piecing by Machine” found on iquilt here.  It’s very similar to a regular compass block, but has some interesting differences.  If you watch the sales, you can almost certainly get this class on a very good sale.  But there are a lot of beautiful choices for a star to represent our own star, the sun.  Here are some I found on Electric Quilt 7 that would be great choices with some color changes.  The outside large piece, or the background pieces need to be made from the same fabric as your background sky piece (see below), or you can use the curve to applipiece or piecelique (whatever you call it…it’s just joining the two pieces in an applique manner) it directly into the background sky.  I will provide a little tutorial of this in my next blog related to this project.  So just hold off on attaching the star/sun to the background sky.
  2. These blocks were all found in Electric Quilt 7 and would work very nicely. You can change the colors, of course, however you want them.

    In addition you could draft your own compass rose. I found this fascinating method on The Quilt Show that uses a really neat drafting device available from  Renea Haddadin’s website here.  I don’t have this device, but it really looks useful far beyond the drafting of a compass rose.

  3. Put together the background:  For this you will need a full width of ombre gradiated fabric that will be one third of the length of your finished quilt, or just a plain piece of fabric that looks like a sky to you.  You can paint this, buy this, or construct this with strips of various pieces of fabric.   You just have to size the sun appropriately to fit in the upper left corner of the scene.  Two thirds of your quilt will be mountains and maybe water or grass somewhere in there.  If you want to make this easy, you can use a simple white or off white or even light brown or green for the lower two thirds of your quilt background, giving you a background to applique mountains and rivers and plants onto.  Remember, this is a design as you go quilt and is meant to be just for fun.
  4. Wait to applique the sun in the upper left corner of your background until my next blog when I will be discussing applique techniques.

Okay, that’s all for now.  Go forth and make a sun and gather the background pieces or even make the simple background.  The next part will deal with appli-piecing the sun into the sky, and making the mountains and other parts of the foreground.  Then there is a part for making plants, and finally we will make some kind of flying creature for our scene, which may take several parts.  I plan on following this with a series of blogs focusing on embellishing and quilting.  I am not calling this a “block of the month” or anything, but I am planning this to stretch across several months…not sure how many.

Sew happy everyone!  Do some thinking about this…join me in the adventure and make your own wall quilt just for fun and to stretch your design techniques a bit.

On MAQF, Antiques, and Tutorials

MAQF

I just came home all inspired by a delightful few days at Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival where I had “Pendragon”.  I put together some of my pictures from the show.  Here is a link to the picture file:  Smugmug/MAQF 17

I stayed a day longer than I usually do for this show and it gave me lots of time to see every quilt, take all four lectures I was interested in and see the Show and Tell that I usually miss.  I also did a lot of shopping.  Well, afterall, my 70th birthday will be this coming Friday on March 3rd, so I gave myself some presents…threads, new rulers (a set of circles and a set of ovals), and one of those spinning cutting mats among a few additional small items.

The loot from the show

Pendragon did not place, but I believe it to be mostly because the theme of the show was modern quilting and that quilt has nothing to say that is even remotely modern quiltish.  I still believe it is a ribbon worthy quilt, so we will see what it does in the future. I decided to see if they would include it anyway because I sort of consider MAQF my main show.  It is within driving distance and I have relatives in the area, so going there is always a treat for me.  I did get some nice comments from the judges:

Your original design effective in telling your story; Embroidery well executed; Piecing well done; Quilting motifs compliments the design; Quilt hangs flat and square; Back of quilt should be free of loose threads and lint” (note:  I sticky rolled it and examined it with my big magnifying lamp when I packed it…lint may have happened on their end.  That backing fabric I used was a little lint grabbing…not using that again).

Pendragon
34 x 45

A New Page Is Turned

Now, however, I am turning a page on my work.  From here I am focusing on the quilt work itself, and on figuring out how to pass on what I have learned even as I maintain my studio artist status (not a lot of travel, a little teaching within driving distance, writing books and creating tutorials), rather than so much focus on the competition work. I will still enter shows, and still plan on making show quilts (they teach me a lot and give me a chance to stretch my work), but it’s an attitude and work flow adjustment in my studio that is on this nice new page in my life.   You can see more about this in one of my past blogposts here.

On Antiques

There are lots of definitions of “antique”.  The one I like the best for this discussion is “an object such as … a work of art that has a high value because of its considerable age.”    Tomorrow (Friday, March 3rd), I will be 70 years old.  I am a work (in progress) maybe even a “work of art” and have considerable age. I think every human being has high value…so there you are.  I could probably be called “an antique” fabric artist.  I feel physically great (have also lost some weight recently and hope to lose more) and I believe I am as mentally alert as ever (always a little daphy).  Many of my ancestors lived well into their hundreds.  I have a wonderful plan for my future and my kids are nearby.  My studio is well stocked, and my fleet of machines is wonderful and in good working order.  I’m excited about the future.  Thank the good Lord and I hope you will continue to join me on my quilting journey.

On Tutorials

One of the things I am going to begin on this blog post is a regular short tutorial (every week or month?).  This week’s tutorial is answering a question I got a lot at the show…how I made the chain mail on my characters in Pendragon using Bernina v7.  I haven’t yet gotten v8, but I suspect this would work there also.

Digitizing Chain Mail for Small Applique (Or using special fills to create what you want)

I wanted to make the characters’ chain mail shirts look right, and decided the best approach was to digitize the chain mail in my Bernina v7 software and embroider it in the hoop.  This took me a while to discover how to do it.  I think I spent two or three days on figuring this out, but I just did a chain mail heart shape and took snap pictures for this tutorial all in about three minutes.  So I thought I’d share this with you in case you wanted to create something special with interesting fills and shapes.  Using Bernina v7 software:

  • Draw a closed shape…you can put the picture in the art canvas side and trace it on the embroidery side
  • Right click on the object and bring up the Object Properties dialogue box.

    Draw shape and in object properties box make these selections (sorry the text box got cut off, but that’s what is said more or less).

 

    These are the selections I made..sizes will depend on your own project size and requires a little experimentation to get it right.

 

  • I had to turn my shirts upside down and move them around to get the wave fill to match where the parts of the wave needed to be to show the expansion and contraction of the chain…like a shirt on a beautifully muscled knight. 😀  I also gave each shirt their own color to help me figure out which belonged where when complete.  I embroidered them all in Superior Fantastico 5169..a silvery variegated gray on black fabric.  I cut them out close to the embroidery and glued them on with Roxanne basting glue and blanket stitched the edges in the same thread to give them a finish.

So there you are.  I can see this method working for a wide variety of appliques and purposes.  The software is so flexible, but finding out how to do something you want to do that is a little different can take time.

Finished chain mail in place

On Upcoming Events:

  • For the month of May and a couple of weeks into June, G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, is hosting an exhibit of my quilts.  I will have one day where I will provide a walking lecture tour of my approximately 15 quilts that will be placed around the store.  I’ll let you know when that is.
  • In June, I will be providing a workshop on machine quilting at G Street.
  • My quilt “Drawing Nigh” will be at AQS in Lancaster, PA, March 20-April 1.  If you attend and see my quilt, let me know.

Sew happy everyone.  Focus on your creative projects to have the most fun, put in your best effort, learn a little bit, and share, and don’t let it stress you out.  I would really appreciate comments.

Part 4: Quilting for Domestic Machine Artists…Making Your Own Pattern

chinese-bird-1

I make all the patterns of my designs myself for my own use.  I do this using multiple programs on my computer and, even though I know many of you don’t have these programs, I thought it would be a good thing to provide you with some ideas on how this works, and maybe you can come up with your own solutions.  For my purposes a “pattern” is a full sized print out of the design for my wall art quilts and either detailed measurements or block print outs or foundation paper printouts for utility (simpler and more traditional) quilts. I divide my quilting into two types, and each type has subcategories.  This helps a lot in figuring out exactly how I need to approach making the pattern.

  • Wall Art Quilts (made at show quality level even if not entered into shows) are:
    1. Quilts that cannot be washed or marked at all, such as deep space quilts
    2. Quilts that I plan on washing and/or wet blocking, such as many of my pictorial, landscape, and line drawing quilts made in cotton.
    3. Quilts that I may have prewashed the fabric and marked with erasable markers, but don’t think they could be washed when completed, such as my Ancient Manuscript series that has a lot of metallic painting and is often made in silks.
  • Utility/Snuggle Quilts…These quilts must all be washable, so I prewash all the fabrics and wash when complete.
    1. Simple and quick quilts, such as lap/baby/wheelchair quilts I sometimes use for charity quilting or a seasonal throw in my home.
    2. Somewhat more complicated quilts for using in my home or presents, but are for laps, beds, babies, pets, tables, etc…not intended for wall hangings.

For my utility/snuggle quilts, which are something I need to make quickly, I almost always design these in Electric Quilt 7.  This is a wonderful program for making more traditional quilts.  So I will just use the EQ7 block printouts and will also print a picture of the quilt in color and make notes by hand where I feel I need to.  (I also use EQ7 for helping me design borders for some of my show quilts by placing design files in place like a photo).  EQ7 provides not only the templates or measurements for all the pieces, it will also provide printouts for foundation paper piecing and tell you how much fabric you need for each color.  I love EQ7.  I sometimes cut these out with my Go! cutter, which makes it quick and accurate, and also provides some fun appliques to liven them up.   Even so, I work out the plan in EQ7.

For my wall art quilts, I do a relatively complete design of how I want the quilt to look in my drawing software.  This sometimes takes as long as constructing and quilting the quilt, or even longer, but it is both fun and worth it.  I really love using Corel Painter and Corel Draw in concert for this purpose.  These programs, together with my Wacom tablet, work something like painting or drawing  with paper and pencil or brushes to come up with a really good idea of how the quilt will look.

It allows you to get the colors right, easily fix mistakes, check how the values work, change sizes of elements within the design without messing up everything else or having to start over, and “see” what the quilt will probably look like if you make it.  If you work in layers, you can change the background if you don’t like it, move a tree from one side of the drawing to another, change the colors of the mountains, make the sky stormy if you started with sunny or vice-a-versa, play with angles and in Painter, there is even a Kaleidoscope function and a plethora of wonderful interesting brushes.

I am, right now, working on painting a whole quilt that I am planning on sending off to get a full size fabric print that I can then sandwich and quilt and embellish.  So if you have design software, I encourage you to take the time to learn how to use it if you haven’t yet.  I’m still learning.

However, when I started designing art quilts, I didn’t have these drawing packages and so I just sketched it out using pencil and paper, scanned it into the computer, and printed it out full size using Microsoft Excel.  Excel will accept the changes of size you want, divide it into page-sized tiles that you can print, cut, and tape together.  It’s a good system that nearly all my readers would be able to do even if they don’t have design software.

using-excel-for-full-pattern-print

Working with Microsoft Excel to divide a pattern into tiles.

Then I added Corel Draw, Corel Painter, and Bernina design software.  Bernina software not only allows you to digitize an embroidery design, but it uses a limited version of Corel Draw on the art canvas side.  So if you have that, you have some design software. Corel Draw will help you draw some interesting pictures or use photographs for a basis, and will allow you to print your design in tiles in a very exacting way.  You can even move the design around so the tiles split at more convenient places as needed.

Using Corel Draw to print into tiles

Using Corel Draw to print into tiles

 

Also, you can print the pattern in black and white, which lets you see how the values work in a design and saves colored inks.  Here is the first version of the design I made for Canterbury Knight.

Printsnap

And here is the quilt I made using the pattern above, but I changed the horse and castle to my own drawings rather than using the Dover ones I had in the original pattern (the horse above was the one used in an eleventh century illuminated manuscript, I just made it less oddly bent and showed a different style of horse and I changed the original castle a fair amount):

Canterbury Knight - F - 2015 web

Currently, I am playing with producing accurate PDF file patterns for some of my designs so I can share them.

Sew happy everyone!  Draw a quilt design one way or another and print it out full size.  Then you can make your quilt.

 

Part 3: Quilting for Domestic Machine Artists…Threads Can Make All the Difference

Threads are an interesting, and sometimes a little touchy, subject among machine artists.  Lots of us have our favorites and, like me, are what one might call “thread snobs”.  So how do I view threads?

Thread sizes can be used to help with designs.  I love doing line-drawing quilts, even though I haven’t done one lately. For one of my quilts “Perspective in Threads” I used four thread sizes to act like different sized strokes from different nibs on a drawing pen.  I frequently use multiple thread sizes in my quilts.

Perspective in Threads

Perspective in Threads  This picture could really be a lot better!  It is actually nicely squared up, but it doesn’t look like it here, and you can’t really see the contrasts as well as you can in person.

Dad's House Plan.

Dad’s House Plan.  Largely a thread work quilt.  All the landscaping is threadwork, as well as the plans in three different sizes of white threads.

So what do I use and how?

  • 100 weight for microquilting, background work I want to more or less sink into the background, and couching down fat specialty threads.  I also use this for machine stitched raw-edge applique and machine stitched turned-edge applique when I want the applique to stand out and not emphasize the edge.
  • 60 weight polyester for most of my bobbin threads when I am quilting and appliqueing and some piecing.
  • 50 weights for clothing construction and some piecing.
  • 40 weight for machine embroidery and quilting when I want the quilting to show up.  I have found that some 40 weight cottons, such as Superior’s, show up slightly larger than their polyester threads, and that can be used as an advantage when doing line-drawings.
  • 30 weights for top stitching on clothing.
  • 16 and 12 weight for heavy lines and when I really really want the quilting to show up.
  • Superior Thread’s light monopoly for really invisible stitch-in-the-ditch and some appliques.
  • Metallics for metallic needs.
  • Fat specialty threads for bobbin work and couching.

I have found that, for the most part, Superior Threads makes some of the best thread on the market, for almost all of the sized threads above.  I have heard good things about Aurifil, though I mostly use Superior.  I do use Gutterman, Mettler, and So-Fine 50 weights for clothing construction.  And for 12 weights, I have tested several brands–though I haven’t tried Aurifil’s–and find that I get the best results from Sulky 12 weight from those I have tested.  I tried Superior’s relatively new 12 weight.  It’s beautiful, but it is slightly bigger than Sulky and it doesn’t stitch as well in my machines even when I use the largest needles. Sulky 12 weight seems to work just fine, but I’d like to test Aurifil’s.

Jenny Lyon’s recent blog post about testing some of the new threads good for microquilting does a great job of reviewing them, so I won’t review them here.  But I strongly encourage you to go there and read her review.

I was interested to see that a fabulous line-drawing style quilt won a ribbon at Houston this week.  Here’s a picture of that winning quilt.

Mikyung Jang of South Korea, winner of the $5,000 Superior Threads Master Award for Thread Artistry for the quilt "Suwon Hwasung."

In this year’s Houston IQF, Mikyung Jang of South Korea won the $5,000 Superior Threads Master Award for Thread Artistry for this quilt “Suwon Hwasung.”

Sew that really inspires me to try my hand at a new line drawing quilt.  Her work is magnificent, and clearly quite a few cuts above what I have done so far…but I want to try one again.  How about you?

Sew happy everyone!  Try it!  Get a solid color fabric, find a non-copyrighted line drawing you like or make one yourself, blow it up to full size (I will address simple pattern making for your own use in my next part of this), and mark it with Crayola washable markers…then sandwich and stitch away happily.  Please, if you do this, share pictures with me at bettyjo@bjfabricartist.com even if it is only a practice piece.  I would love to share your work here if you would like.

Part 2: Quilting for Domestic Machine Artists…Rulers (cont.) and Markers

 

This is the second in my unknown number of parts series of quilting for domestic machine artists.  Several interesting points stood out to me from comments both here and on Facebook following my last blog-post on ruler work for domestic machine artists.  There are a lot of rulers, sometimes called templates, out there for this type of quilting; more keep being introduced; and they are relatively expensive.  There is no way I can test them all, or even all the brands (but if you’d like to contribute to this blog using the PayPal donation button on the lower right, I will happily thank you and apply it to rulers/templates and provide further testing results).

So I suggest if you are just starting out that you buy only a few basic rulers–a good well-marked straight ruler, and a few shapes and curves, or one of those sets.  Then learn to use them, and add them only as you need them for specific projects, which will help focus your ruler collection around the way you work.  In a while, you might want to take an inventory of what you have and see where there are gaps you might need.   I note that this series of blogs have forced me to do such an inventory and I have found some places I need some rulers.  Please pay close attention to the quality and the marking.  These things make a huge difference in your quilting results.

Another thing I hope you will do as you start using rulers is to be patient with yourself and just keep on practicing until you feel comfortable and have reasonably good results.  I hated it when I started using rulers, but I totally love ruler work now.  It’s amazing how easy it feels to me now when I found it really hard at first.  I still am not that great at it, but I do so enjoy it that I think I might get there.

I still haven’t had a chance to borrow my daughter-in-law’s Gadget Girls rulers, but I will and tell you about them when I do.

I also find that I need to mark lines to guide my ruler work.  This might be grids, or a simple line.  It is not full marking of the planned design usually.

A Word About Marking

Everyone has their own marking methods they prefer, and I suspect that is the case with most of you.  I have already mentioned some of this in past blogs, but it is worth revisiting.  I have several products I particularly like.  The choice for markers depends on whether I am going to wet block or wash my quilt after it is complete, what are the fabric weave  and content, and the value (is it light or dark).

  • My favorite marker is Crayola washable markers…the finest point available.  This marker washes out of everything I have tested so far, even if I happen to iron over it.  I only had one time I had to wash it twice, and that was using a brown marker on white tightly woven cotton.  It came out though.  This marker is not very expensive, it stays in place as long as it doesn’t get wet and you can easily see it (I sometimes have a hard time seeing the oft-recommended blue markers).  But it has to be washed out with water.
  • If I’m working on one of my art quilts that have a lot of silk, specialty threads, and other painting on it, I probably will not do more than a spritz of water and steam to block such a quilt.  But regardless the marks have to come off one way or another.
    • Mostly the different chalk markers, mechanical chalk pencils, and so on, tend to work fine, but I do avoid yellow because I had a terrible time getting that out one time, and I’ve seen others say the same thing.  Mostly I remove these with a microfiber cleaning cloth…comes right off.
    • Chalk goes away much too easily for most silks and satin weaves.  I have spent much of my quilting career hunting for a good marker that stays in place on such fabrics while I need it and comes off without washing.  I think I have tried all of the main types and brands on the market.  The ones I found that works the best are the mechanical pencils by either Fons and Porter or Sewline.  These, however, will also often go away well before I’m finished quilting satin weaves, such as Radiance cotton/silk or dupioni silk.
    • I have found one method that works for satin weaves, but is sometimes tedious to remove.  I trace the design on Golden Threads paper and stick it to the fabric with temporary adhesive dots trying to miss most of the stitching lines with the adhesive. Remove by tearing it off and catching resistant places with tweezers.  I have even been known to use this method on very close stitching.  Of course, it takes forever to remove and you shouldn’t use an open toe foot for this, because it gets caught under the paper.  Here is an example…shadows under the steps on my quilt Perspective in Threads.

Look at the shadow under the steps. THat was many lines of thread marked with the paper method.

Look at the shadow under the steps. That was many lines of close stitching marked with the paper method.  I printed the design on the golden threads paper and stuck it on.  It took me hours to remove, but it worked.  I stitched this whole quilt back in 2012.  This was long before I started ruler work.  I used straight stitch and decorative stitches on my Bernina 200E machine (I no longer have this) and marked with Crayola markers, except for the part under the steps.  Today, I would just mark the general areas that need the close stitching and do close together ruler work, so I wouldn’t have any paper to remove.  Here’s a picture of the marking.

Crayola washable marks on the top before stitching.

Crayola washable marks on the top before stitching.

fabric-tracing

Marking in progress for “Dad’s House Plan” also before the days of at-machine ruler work and done with Crayola markers.  As you can see from both of these examples, rulers would have been helpful when I quilted it.

  • It also helps a lot to have some kind of very temporary marker around once you start quilting.  I use either one of those that are air erasable or one of those fatter chalk pencils.  These are handy for as-you-go additional marks, corrections, notes to yourself, and idea changes after sandwiching to the ones you make before you sandwich your quilt.

Sew happy everyone! Teach someone to sew or quilt…your brother, your child, your neighbor…  Cheers.

Part 1: Quilting for Domestic Machine Artists…Rulers

I have decided to do a multi-part (not sure how many parts) series on quilting on domestic machines for artists.  I know there are a lot of you out there who really don’t consider yourselves artists, but who really are.  You pick colors, you make shapes, you put them together to make a pleasing wall quilt, snuggle quilt, bag, vest or some such, and come up with something wonderful and then you have to quilt it on your sit down domestic machine or sit down longarm.  So, that is who I mean when I say “domestic machine artists.”

There are many considerations, tools, threads, and designs to help, but just how to put them together becomes almost overwhelming sometimes.  I know this because I’ve been there.  Indeed, almost every quilt I make is like that.  And I have many quilts in my head that I want to make that may be even more of a puzzle when it comes to the quilting.  This little series may not be real organized, but I want to share what I have learned and you can take it away and improve on it, or reject it, or whatever you wish to do with it.  LOL

Free Motion Ruler Work on a Sitdown Machine

A little over a year ago I started experimenting with domestic ruler work, and since then have watched it take off.  I began with a Westalee Ruler foot on my Bernina 830, and later got the #96 foot, which no dealer recommends because you have to ALWAYS remember not to start it with the foot up.  It has to be down or you could knock your machine out of timing.  They are supposed to come out with their #72 foot that will be the recommended foot for use with your regular Berninas by the end of the year.

I have since solved the problem of using my #96 foot the expensive way by purchasing a Bernina Q20 longarm and set it up as a sit down in my studio.  It uses all my free motion feet I got for my 830 and is wonderful, by the way, but the essentials of using rulers are about the same.  The chief difference I found is that the rulers have to be on the small side, and the field of vision is not as large on the smaller harp domestic.  Also, the stitch regulators are doubled and built in and are much more powerful in the Q20 and so you can quilt a lot faster than on a Bernina with the BSR attachment.  Nevertheless, most of what I have to say is the same for sit down machines of all sorts.

I found several essentials are imperative to make free motion ruler work go well:

  1.  The table needs to be flush with your machine base, however you accomplish this, and your feed dogs need to be down.
  2. The surface under the needle needs to be slick.  For my Bernina 830 I use a silicone mat taped down with blue painter’s tape.  Yes, I know it’s supposed to stick, and I believed it until I sewed the mat onto the back of one of my quilts.  LOL   And for my Q20 I spray the table with silicone spray I got from Nancy’s Notions after covering the small needle and bobbin space under the needle with blue painter’s tape and the machine itself with cloth before spraying to make sure no spray enters the workings of the machine.  Then remove it after spraying and let dry.  Wipe with a paper towel before starting quilting….very effective.
  3. You need to have some kind of item to help the rulers stay put.  I use either the little sticky dots of sand paper on the bottom of the ruler, or double tape on small rectangles of that spongy shelf liner.  Both work well.  I have seen other methods, but these are the ones I like.
  4. A ruler foot is important:  I began with the Westalee ruler foot, which I found to be pretty good and it works with generic feet attachments.  But a lot of machines have ruler feet now and more are getting them.
  5. Your hands need something to help them grab and control the quilt and the rulers at the same time.  I use gloves.  Sometimes I use one glove on the right hand and nothing on the left, depending on how I feel.  I found I don’t need this nearly as much with my Q20 as I do with my 830, and have even quilted with no gloves when using very small rulers.  I saw Teri Lucas using the bats in her video from some time ago.
  6. You need the right rulers.  If you are using a regular machine harp space, you need smaller rulers.  It’s too bad because there are some wonderful larger rulers out there.  But you can do some magnificent quilting with the smaller ones too.  When buying rulers, I have found the better marked they are the more useful they are.  It isn’t just the outside shape, but how you can line it up with your quilt top and design.  So the marks are very important.
  7. You need a plansometimes you need to mark lines to line up your rulers for effective quilting.  I use either Crayola Washable Markers, if I’m going to wash the quilt, or mechanical pencil style markers if not and it’s cotton, or Golden Threads paper if it is on something slick, like satin (because other markings won’t stay on).

I have found to my surprise that I have a bunch of quilting rulers.  I don’t know HOW that happened.  LOL   I would like more.  Anyway, I really really like Lisa Calle’s rulers.  They seem just right for my kind of ruler work–well marked, easy to handle.  I also have one ruler from Gina Perkes, and one Westalee.  I am going to borrow my daughter-in-law’s collection of mostly Gadget Girl rulers and review those sometime later–perhaps I’ll be able to pick those up next weekend.  Anyway, here are the rulers I have found most effective for art quilting at my sitdown machines so far:

Lots of rulers.

Lots of rulers.

Well, in fact the very first quilt I made at Fritz (my Bernina Q20) was my Spiral Galaxy Number 3, and it won a ribbon at PA National Quilt Extravaganza (PNQE) in September for Best Interpretation of Theme.  I used those longer curved rulers at the back of the picture above and the little ones on the right for making the initial stitching of the arms of the spiral.  You can’t probably see it in the picture, it’s black 100 weight silk thread, but it guided the rest of the quilt.  The smaller curves were needed in the center of the spiral, changing four or five times to a larger curve progressing to the longest curve by the end of each arm.

Spiral Galaxy No. 3

Spiral Galaxy No. 3

So recently I have been working on the quilt my oldest son Ken designed for me that has Celtic borders.  The ruler work is not for the quilting yet, but rather to make the border pieces.  I will quilt along the same lines with invisible thread once they are pieced into the top and sandwiched.  So here is the design marked on the paper and stuck onto the satin ready to stitch:

celtic-start

And here is the final piece with the rulers in front that I used for all those varied twists, turns, and I also used a straight ruler which I forgot to put into the picture.  Because the design was a reproduction of an eleventh century artist’s illuminated manuscript border all the turns and angles were slightly different from the one before it.  So I had to keep fitting the rulers into the design and stitching a little ways and changing to another ruler.  The entire design was stitched with rulers, the paper removed (yes, that was a project), and painted.  I am hoping the quilting will make it clearer where the design crosses over and under itself.

celtic-with-rulers

And just to bring this together, below is one of my early practice pieces in which I used a lot of the small rulers for small circular or half circle designs.  When you look at this, remember it was done on the very first day of stitching on my Q20 and I missed a lot.  In fact, it’s not very good:

some of this is ruler work

some of this is ruler work

 

I have set up a couple of practice sandwiches to play around with the rulers and will be showing some of my results of that in a later part of this series, along with a discussion of threads, needles, markers, and free motion embroidery.  The plan is to also show some fill work.  I am doing all of this partly for my blog readers, but also in preparation for a workshop I will be doing at G Street Fabrics in Rockville in June 2017.

Ruler Help for Sitdown Straight Stitching

I will tell you that sometimes I get better results for some of my straight stitching using my Bernina 830 than I do on my Q20.  This is not always the case, but it is something that you may want to keep in the back of your mind if you are getting frustrated on a project where straight line work is important.  You can use any of your machines…you don’t have to be stuck to just one if you have several.  Use the one that gets the best result.  Here is an example:

stitched on my 830 with golden threads paper and the straight stitch with #37D foot.

stitched on my 830 with golden threads paper and the straight stitch with #37D foot.

I found this just simply went better with just plain markings and a straight stitch…slow but sure…using golden threads paper stuck on.  Then, like the bigger border swirly design, I removed the paper (even more of a task) and painted it. I have two more pieces before I’m finished.

Sometimes, I also use a ruler to help me get things straight when quilting on my Bernina 830.  I did this long before I had Fritz, and would probably use a straight ruler at Fritz for this if I were to do such a project again.  In the end, I actually cut this all off and bound it closer to the central design, but it works pretty well for some applications.

Straight quilting

Sew happy everyone!  Let me know if you have some rulers that you particularly like. Send me pictures of your ruler work, along with the information about the ruler you used, and I’ll probably publish them in future blogs.  Send to BettyJo@bjfabricartist.com

 

How Long Did That Quilt Take to Make?

Here I am back from the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza (PNQE), where I actually won a ribbon for my Spiral Galaxy Number 3.  I will be blogging about that also (waiting on some pics from one of my friends).  While I was there, and at other times about other quilts, I got the ever present question “How long did it take you to make?”

First of all, with the exception of the one I’m working on right now my quilts are my own design.  I may, however, be inspired by, or use a piece, character, or portion  from another source…like a set of NASA photographs, or a Dover flower, or a traditional quilt block for part of a wave, or a border from an eleventh century manuscript, for instance…but it still is my own design.  My current project is a design drawn by my oldest son for inclusion in my ancient manuscript series, but it is a pictorial design and still requires solving how to make elements of this design.  It isn’t a pattern.

So this is my usual workflow.  Each quilt is different, of course:

  1. A design concept pops into my head.
  2. I may capture the concept in a simple quick drawing and notes in paper and pencil so I can remember it.
    quilt designing002

    The design concept notes for Canterbury Knight

  3. I let it “marinate” in my head for a while, meanwhile I research various elements of the design, figuring out the approach I want to take to accomplish the quilt.  The research consists of any historical design information, techniques that may be needed, and types of fabrics I should probably use.
    An illuminated page from Book of Hours

    An illuminated page from Book of Hours

  4. I draw it using a combination of Corel Painter for the picture part, Corel Draw to make it full size, smooth some of the lines and turn it into a vector line drawing for a pattern, and maybe even Electric Quilt to see whether or not it needs borders, and get the sizes between the central theme and the borders all working together.
    My completed digital design for Canterbury Silk

    My completed digital design for Canterbury Silk

  5. I print out a full sized picture using Corel Draw, which divides it into printer paper sized tiles.  Then I tape that together.
  6. If I decide some of it needs to be digitized and embroidered in the hoop, I digitize it, test stitch, fix the digitized version.
    Betty Jo Tatum, "Canterbury Silk"

    Betty Jo Tatum, “Canterbury Silk”

  7. I do some testing and practice to see how to do some of the parts.
    practice pieces for Canterbury Silk

    practice pieces for Canterbury Silk

  8. I gather my fabrics and threads.  I start by shopping my stash, then shop elsewhere to fill in what is missing.
  9. I finally construct the quilt top, including appliques, embroidery, painting before-quilting items, and piecing.
  10. I mark the completed top for quilting.
  11. I sandwich and quilt
  12. I paint any post-quilting paintables, and add any bead-work or other embellishments
  13. I bind the quilt and add the rod pocket and label
  14. With a flashlight and a magnifying glass I go over the quilt looking for thread ends and any problems that need to be corrected.
    You may remember the completed quilt Canterbury Silk. It has already completed its show season. It won Best Surface Design from MQX Midwest in 2014, but no other ribbons.

    You may remember the completed quilt Canterbury Silk. It has already completed its show season. It won Best Surface Design from MQX Midwest in 2014, but no other ribbons.

You’ll notice that it is not until step 9 that I actually start constructing the quilt.  I think for most quilts it is between half and two-thirds of the way from concept to construction where one might say I started “making” the quilt. Also, I am not only working one quilt at a time.  Usually I have two or even three in the works over the same period of time.

So when I’m trying to answer “how long did it take you?”, don’t be surprised if I look like a fish out of water gasping for an answer.  I could give an answer like “I’m not quite sure, but I started the quilt about a year ago” or “I worked on the design about six months, and it took about three to construct it.”  Usually, though, I will just take a stab at the whole thing and say “about xxx months”.

Sew happy everyone!  How long did it take you to make your last quilt? 🙂

Burnishing the Rust Off Clothing Construction Techniques

I am making shirt number one in my wardrobe makeover project that I plan on stretching across the next year in between quilting.  Now it has been about two years since I made a blouse or shirt, and that was the first one after several years, so I have a lot of rust to sand off my shirt/blouse making skills.  I am remembering almost everything that I learned or developed during my many years of clothing construction though, and it is very helpful,  so I thought I’d share some of it.

First of all, I only rarely read the directions, but I don’t recommend this if you are new to clothing construction. The reason I don’t is that I change a lot of the techniques to speed up the process and make the end results more satisfactory and sometimes the directions coincide with my techniques and sometimes they don’t.

Secondly, I use the specialty feet and stitches to help me get things done well, like the edge stitch foot for topstitching, and using the blanket stitch with my applique foot for stitching down the inside of the collar stand to the neck.

Here you see the inside of the collar stand with the blanket stitch along the bottom where it attaches to the neckline. It looks nice on this side and on the other side.

Here you see the inside of the collar stand with the blanket stitch along the bottom where it attaches to the neckline. It looks nice on this side and on the other side.  No hand-stitching needed.

Here’s my basic approach, which I figure cuts the time by about 25 percent over the usual pattern making instructions after a little practice.  This is not for specialty fabrics, or when you want details like french or flat felled seams, but a simple shirt:

  1. I look over the pattern to see if I need to add or change a piece like adding an additional facing or changing the type of sleeve placket to match what I’m trying to do.
  2. After flat fitting my pattern, generally using Nancy Zieman’s methods (see last week’s blog) and cutting out the shirt, I interface all the facings and other pieces.  For facings I sew fusible interfacing non glue side to the right side of the facing with a small quarter inch or less seam on the edge you would be turning down, turn, and fuse the facing.  This gives you that nice turned edge with little trouble.
  3. I finish all the seam edges with a serger, or I sometimes use the vari-overlock foot (2a on my Berninas) and the vari-overlock stitch (#3 on my Bernina 830), except the arm scythe (armhole).
  4. I make all the small, challenging pieces first…like the collar on the collar stand, tabs, and the cuffs of the shirt.  I top stitch using my edge stitch foot (#10D on my B 830).
  5. Then I sew it together in this order:
    • Front seams and edges or front placket, depending on style.
    • Pocket(s).
    • Shoulder seams, or yokes.
    • collar or facing onto the neckline, depending on style, adding any decorative stitching as I go.
    • sleeves into armhole (arm scythe) before seaming side seams and sleeve seams, unless sleeve is a multi-piece sleeve where the underarm seam doesn’t match.
      1. I finish the armhole seam with a second stitching about an eighth inch into the seam, trim close to that and then I finish with a vari-overlock stitch or zigzag using #2a foot.  I have found down through the years that this is one of the strongest, most reliable seams you can stitch. I learned this from making very heavily used opera costumes.  It’s really embarrassing if the performer rips a seam during the performance.
      2. If you are making a particularly nice blouse, you may wish to cover the seam with a light bias tape designed for seam finishes or cut a 1/2″ bias strip from a very light piece of fabric and fold it over the seam after stitching the two rows and then zigzag it down.
      3. I then edge topstitch the armhole on the front and back, with the seam turned toward the front and back.
    • If needed, sew any additional pieces, like tabs on.
    • Sew the sleeve placket, if needed.
    • I then sew the side seams and sleeve seams in one operation.  This is particularly good if you are losing weight, because you can take in the shirt and sleeve for about two sizes from the finished size with very little effort by stitching in however much you need, starting at just above the cuff in the original stitch line and gradually stitching toward the amount you need to take in the shirt and continuing to the hem.  You only then have to remove the stitching from the original seam and the hemline and restitch the hemline.  I am currently losing weight, so I have chosen patterns that have single piece sleeves where the undarm/side seams meet–a much better option than not making any new clothes until you lose more weight.
    • Put on the cuff or hem the sleeve, as needed.
    • Hem the shirt/blouse and sew the buttonholes, if needed.
    • Sew on the buttons and you are done.

If you do a lot of shirts like this, you eventually make a shirt after cutting it out in a morning or afternoon.  I’m not back to this quickly yet.  It took me about eight hours to make my first shirt in my wardrobe makeover.  I am sure my next shirt will be quite a bit quicker now that I have worked through and sanded off the rust.

group of feet

Some of the feet I used to make the shirt…1D, 20D, 10D, 37D, and I also used 2A, and 8D.

A word about feet:  I have found that if I am not using a zigzag or decorative stitch, sometimes it is better to use a straight stitch foot, like 37D or 8D on my Bernina 830, which lets me see all the way to the needle, and the straight stitch throat plate, than it is to use the one most recommended for such sewing like 1D, because I can see where I’m sewing better.  If I’m sewing simple flat seams without much curving or the like, then the 1D is probably better, because it holds down the fabric very well.  I also usually engage the dual feed mechanism for most of the sewing, but this is not a necessity if you don’t have this on your machine.  If you don’t you may wish to pin a little more and have something like an awl to help move the top fabric through evenly with the bottom.  With my dual feed engaged, I can eliminate pinning altogether for a lot of the sewing.

Sew happy everybody!  Make yourself a shirt.