Textured appliques can be derived from using a combination of techniques. Such appliques can add major interest, even take center stage, on an art quilt and I find them really fun to do and a little challenging to figure out what needs to be done. The detail shown in the picture above started off as white basic quilting cotton that I washed and steam pressed. Then I traced the applique outlines on the fabric using my light table, painted with artists water soluble crayons, backed the applique itself with wool batting, quilted (I think of this as “prequilting”), backed with fusible web, cut out closely to the applique, fused it down. Then I and edge stitched it to the top. After the quilt top was completely ready, I sandwiched the quilt with a double bat of wool on top and 80/20 cotton/poly on the bottom and did some more stitching to improve the look of the appliques. I was particularly trying to help show muscles and shapes on the dragon and so I added more paint highlights, this time with iridescent Shiva sticks.
Here’s a little closer picture of the dragon so you can see it better.
That’s just an example, but I have used a lot of other techniques to get textured appliques for my work. I’ll probably do a video on this…maybe within my upcoming tree series. They need a lot of texture.
First of all, I am celebrating today, because my youngest son David just released his latest novel (click on the book to find it)! Congratulations to him.
Setting up for free motion quilting or thread play
While my communiques (blogs, vlogs, and YouTube videos) are intended for everyone who wants to play, regardless of their machines, sometimes I also address some quick specifics for working on Berninas. Please don’t stop reading when you come across those if you are not a Bernina owner, because you might find some of what I say interesting anyway.
I have three Berninas: a Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm, a Bernina 880 Plus, and a Bernina 350. I also have a simple older BabyLock serger. I am truly grateful to have this collection of machines I obtained over the years through trade ups, gifts, and so forth. This is a wonderful set of machines for me to play with here in my studio. It’s like playing inside my own wonderland with favorite toys. But it does require practice, sometimes research, testing tools and techniques, and (gasp!) reading my manuals to get the most from this stable of machines. So I want to share what I have learned from this.
Setting Up For Free Motion
The setup for free motion on these machines is relatively simple.
If you don’t have a Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR attachment) or want to work without it, simply put on a darning or quilting foot like foot #73, #24, #29 or #9. Drop your feed dogs.
If you have a Bernina stitch regulator attachment that works on your machine, attach it and set it for your chosen BSR mode. BSR1 runs smoothly and constantly, idling with a little stitching, which is great for smooth free motion quilting and free motion embroidery. The idling allows you to stitch several stitches at the corner of a sharp turn in addition, which makes a nice turn. BSR2 stops when you stop and starts when you start, so you may prefer this setting. I find with this attachment I have to use a slightly shorter stitch length and not sew too fast for best results.
One of the interesting things you can do with this BSR attachment, is free motion zig zag with stitch regulation, which can’t be done on a sitdown longarm with a stitch regulator. This can provide some unique thread play opportunities and looks.
For most domestic machines you probably won’t need to make any adjustment in tension from the default for normal threads. For specialty threads, however, you may need to lower or raise the top tension to accommodate specialty thread weights and types. It’s a good idea to do a test using similar fabrics and write down your changes before working on your project piece.
When doing free motion it helps a lot to have a slick supporting surface, so I use a silicone mat, such as a Supreme Slider. I tape mine down with that indispensable studio tool blue painters tape because I have ruined more than one mat by stitching it to the back of my project. I have repaired them a bit with clear packing tape if they aren’t too badly torn. Yes, I know the stickiness returns if you rinse the back, but you have to remember to do that periodically and also the heavier and larger your quilt the more likely it is to dis-attach from the table and get caught in the stitching.
A queen sized Supreme Slider taped down with blue painters tape at my old Bernina 830 LE (I traded it for my 880 Plus last year). This works well and is easy to remove when you need to.
Setting Up the Q20 and the Q16 sitdown longarms
These machines are built for free motion quilting and free motion thread work and truly you can dive right in just as they are. But there are a few things that are helpful to know to make your free motion stitching work better. Note that I have had my Q20 now for nearly five years and I love it.
Free motion is always better when the supporting base is slick and the fabric can slide easily. There are some very large silicone mats available for these machines, where you cut the square carefully around the BSR/Bobbin square area (whatever do you call that?!!!).
Some people like using these extra large silicone mats with their sitdowns, I don’t have one. I spray the table before each project with Sullivan’s silicone spray, and wipe it fully dry with a soft cloth or paper towel. But before I spray it, I cover the BSR/Bobbin area under the needle and the vent area at the back of the machine with blue painter’s tape to prevent the spray from going down into the machine works. Alternatively, you can spray into the cloth and wipe the table but I think you get a little less silicone on the table that way (not scientific, just an opinion). From personal experience I know the spray works very well.
These machines have two BSRs built in which provide excellent stitch regulation.
BSR1 constantly runs and has a speed setting to make it cruise along easily at the pace you like. I use it for most of my free motion quilting and all of my free motion embroidery. I like to start off with a relatively slow “idle” speed of 250 to 300 and will raise that if I need to. The machine will run very fast if you want it to.
BSR2 stops when you stop and starts when you start. I use this mostly for ruler work.
BSR3 is a basting stitch with multiple stitch lengths to choose from. I use it a lot for larger quilts. I will spray baste the sandwich and then do some large segments of thread basting. This is especially good for your masterpiece or show quilting that will take a long time just to keep everything in good placement.
Then there is manual setting that does not engage the BSR, of course, but it does have a speed control on it so you can set it at a comfortable pace for you. I like this for micro-quilting, but I don’t use it for much else. It is smooth running and quieter and makes it easy to do those tiny bubbles for instance, but I still prefer the BSRs for most of my quilting. It’s a personal preference. Some people prefer this mode for everything, but if you are new to the machine, I urge you to try the BSRs first. They are wonderful.
I often get the question about what thread will the Berninas use. All my Berninas will work well with almost any good quality thread. I just have to be sure I have the right needle, tensions, stitch length, and the speeds set up right for that.
Keeping notes on how you set things up is always helpful, but these machines have four savable programs for various thread settings, which is really nice. Once you set it all up like you like it, you can save it and even tell it what thread and needle it is for in the naming of the programs.
I like to use the kickstart feature, which allows me to free motion stitch/quilt with a very steady power feed. This helps me relax while stitching and eliminates most stitch skips and the like, without my foot on the pedal. This is because the pedal is basically on/off and if you don’t keep your foot fully down it might skip a stitch, though not usually.
For using the kickstart, get your BSR mode chosen and make sure you are all set up, then kick the pedal at the heel and the machine will sew until you press the pedal at the front to stop it. I love it. You don’t have to concentrate on anything other then where you place your stitching once you get used to it. Here’s a youtube with cute fluffy slippers on using it:
And last, but not least be sure to set your bobbin tension to match your thread in the bobbin. I use mostly Superior Bottom Line in my bobbin…even mostly their prewound M sized bobbins, which are Bottom Line…and set my tension to 180 using the Towa Guage that comes with the machine. The Bernina default setting is 220, but I find you really need to adjust per thread size. If you somehow didn’t get one, be sure your dealer gives you one. It’s not like a domestic…it’s a real longarm.
Sew happy everyone! Have fun in your studio. I hope you found this helpful. I will be posting my next video probably this weekend. Cheers.
Wool sampler prototype piece part one. Embellishment will be presented in part two and quilting and finishing in part three.
Wool applique and embellishment is a great tool in a fabric artist’s quiver. There’s nothing else that provides the rich, warm, depth that real wool fiber does. It can make all the difference in achieving the artistic look you want. In my artist’s eye it compares to working with thick oil paints while cotton or silk is like watercolors. Both are beautiful but achieve totally different looks. Both require different techniques to get the best results.
So using a small project in wool applique I am finally launching my first video set in my YouTube channel. Here is the link to the new video. I have plans for multiple videos on my channel this year, and have just revamped my studio to include the things I need for producing them. So I would love you to subscribe to my channel and enjoy my videos just as a matter of interest or especially to join me in working through the projects you like. See the handout and pattern pdfs on my Aids and Links page here on this site for you to download and print out. Then go to my YouTube video here.
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Here is a list of the supplies with links that I will be using in this first project to which I have added links to help you in your shopping for the supplies:
1 yard of background fabric. I am using all wool Melton, which I had in my stash. Since the price of wool has skyrocketed since I filled my stash with it, I suggest using a melton wool blend for this, which is less expensive and still has a lot of the same characteristics and depth of beauty. Here’s another link at B. Black tailoring supplies, which is a fabulous store that has things that are difficult to find elsewhere. A solid color quilting fabric would also work but will not provide the same deep sense of richness.
There is another option. Use wool clothing that is no longer worn, or that you find in a thrift store, or use pure wool fabrics you have stashed under your bed in those storage boxes you put your clothing fabrics in. You may have had it for a decade and still haven’t made that garment you bought it for, like me. Cut the clothing so you get the largest pieces from them and wash your wool in hot water with some detergent in your washing machine and dry it in your dryer. This provides some amount of felting and cleans the fabric. It is also possible to dye this. It requires all three elements…hot water, agitation, and detergent, to make it do a bit of felting the fibers together. It does need to be pure wool for this to work well. The resulting fabric is also easy to dye in your washer.
One package of lightweight woven fusible interfacing sufficient to cover the yard of background fabric, such as Pellon SF101 Shapeflex
One pack of precut melton wool felt pieces in a variety of colors for flower heads and a pack of a variety of green pieces for stems and leaves. You will probably have enough felt pieces for a couple of small wall hangings or other wool applique projects. Be sure to save all the leftovers for small applique uses elsewhere. Please don’t use craft felt not made with any wool. The comparison is like using paper to fabric. You can use wool blend felt, but pure wool really makes a big difference in how this looks.
Aurifil 12 weight wool blend thread (small spool collection) or (large spool collection..the best value by the yard) or three or four colors of the large spools. If you prefer to use a 12 weight cotton as a slightly cheaper alternative I recommend Sulky 12 weight cotton, for this project, it will still look beautiful, just different and not quite as close to hand done that the wool thread will provide. I have even successfully used 40 weight all poly embroidery threads, and I sometimes have mixed them across a project in order to get particular looks or colors. The wool adds a depth of beauty and is probably what most hand stitchers would use. You should do some testing to see how they look.
universal 80/12 needles if you choose to use monopoly thread for your appliques. I found the Schmetz super non stick needles really helps with dealing with the fluff from wool combined with the fusible web.
1 piece of backing fabric about 25 x 25 inches (for the back of this small quilt) This is a good thing to pull from your existing stash.
Small piece of lower loft batting about 25 x 25 inches. I am using 80/20. This is a good place to use leftover batting from a larger quilt project.
And whenever I use fusibles, I like to have on hand this effective iron cleaning kit good for multiple cleanings that I have successfully used for years: Rowenta Iron cleaning kit
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While you can print the pattern out and use it to cut out your appliques, I did cut all my appliques using my Accuquilt Go! machine, which I really like for such projects. I have had mine for some years, collecting dies a bit at a time, and use it a lot for circles, rectangles, strips, bindings and borders and projects such as this. In my opinion, it is well worth the investment required. I can cut out a simple snuggle lap or crib quilt of squares and a border (prestarched) with a few fun appliques to snazz it up (backed with steam-a-seam 2) in ten minutes (after the fabric is pressed with starch) and make the quilt top all in the same day. Everything is nice and accurate too, very unlike it looks if I do my own cutting. Hahaha.
I used the following three dies for this project and it only took a few minutes for all the shapes I needed with some leftovers:
Go Circle (1 1/2″ to 2 1/2″) it’s so hard to hand cut good circles. These are beautiful. If you can only get one dye set for this project, this might be it.
I have been having fun in my studio this past few days while I worked on my wool applique sampler. I got all the pieces appliqued and have started the fun part of adding decorative stitches to turn them from simple shapes into interesting flowers.
Here is the same applique after I added some decorative stitching using wool blend 12 weight Aurifil thread.
I may decide to add more stitching to this particular flower. It was helpful to me to see it in the photograph. Somehow pictures of my work gives me a different perspective. I may decide, instead, however, to use some free motion quilting to add more details to this flower.
Here is a little closer view of the flower heads and flower stem that I also embroidered with some decorative stitching.
Sew it is a layered process, and while I have a general idea of what it will look like when finished in my mind’s eye, I make adjustments and changes from my original concept as I go.
In any case, I find this phase of the project really fun as each addition changes the appliques and I see my original concept emerge into reality. The last thing I will do before sandwiching and quilting it is to add some patches of grass and maybe a bug or animal around in the grass. The quilting should also make its own addition to the overall interest of this little wall hanging. I am considering how to finish the edge. Should I bind it in cotton or edge stitch it with some heavy weight specialty thread, or even try out that yarn couched edging that Nina McVeigh demonstrated in one of the Bernina videos on The Quilt Show?
One of the useful little bits I learned in the process was how well the Schmetz Super non stick needles helped solve the problem I was having with the wool felt that I had fused on with Steam-a-Seam 2 sticking to the needle. It was getting balls of felt fuzz climbing up the needle until I switched needles. Then I had no more problem with that so far. I was rather astonished.
I’m not sure you can really see the various stitches in this picture, but you can see how I added the numbers of the stitches just above each stitchout.
I made a little test piece to help me decide which decorative stitches I want to use. I also tested the way I stitched them out. For this I used the machine automatic knot it will stitch out if you ask it to both at the beginning and the end. I also stitched them with a specific number of repeats and then just stitched using a slow set of the speed and the start button, rather than the foot pedal. This allows for the machine to stitch out a very even pace, which makes decorative stitches more beautiful.
So when I set it up to go around those circles, I set it to stitch one repeat without turning (basically hands off), and then turn the fabric before doing the next repeat. It makes for a very nice embroidered stitch, almost like good hand embroidery, especially when using a nice thick thread like Aurifil Lana wool blend 12 weight thread.
One thing I learned about working with all this wool and wool thread is that I need to clean my machine a lot more often because both the fabric and the thread produce lint down in the bobbin area of the machine. It is well worth it though, because it is lovely.
I have a long ways to go before I finish this sampler, but I am really having fun with it. I am also video taping here and there as I go.
Sew happy everyone. I encourage you to try your hand at wool applique by machine. In just a few weeks I will come out with my three part video class on YouTube that will use this very sampler and the techniques I am talking about here. I will have a free downloadable handout here to go with it. That effort is progressing nicely finally. I decided to produce all three videos before I posted the first one. Cheers everyone. Happy Advent!
I digitized this olive tree from a non copyrighted photograph and stitched it out on black nylon tulle with wash away stabilizers. I then removed the stabilizers and tore away the visible tulle. What you see here is the tree ready to applique to my quilt Noel. It would have produced a great deal of thread pull had I stitched it directly to the quilt top.
Heavy machine stitching always pulls the fabric and if done directly on a project can leave the surrounding fabric unacceptably ruffled. Some of this can be dealt with on shrinkable natural fabrics, such as cotton or wool but not so much silk, by steaming the area upside down on a wool ironing mat or a thick pad of towels. Polyester fabrics will not respond to steam shrinking attempts and is possible to damaged it with the amount of steam one might try to use. Really heavily stitched motifs are almost impossible to steam out regardless of fabrics except wool, but it may be possible to “quilt that out” in some cases though it is not easily accomplished and doing this is very stressful in any case.
Such headaches and fails can be avoided by stitching off-project and appliqueing the finished motif on to the project background. If you do it right, it is most often very difficult to tell that it is an applique and not directly stitched, but even if you can tell, it is preferable to the pull.
So there are several ways to approach this that usually involve machine work inside a hoop and wash away stabilizer. I have a relatively large collection of embroidery hoops I collected over the years. I found most of them can work for machine work, but some are just too wide to easily get under the presser foot. There are hoops that are designed for working with a machine, and can be used for hand embroidery. I find a 7 or 8 inch hoop works well. Here are a couple of models I like:
three plastic spring hoop set I have had a set similar to this for years, and this may be the same set. I don’t know for sure, but it works well for free motion embroidery and is thin enough to slide under the foot. It is also easy to adjust the area in the hoop when you need to without taking it out from under the foot of the machine.
three wood traditional style set. This is .6 inches high, I think this will happily slide under the foot if you angle it a bit. I do not have this set myself although I do use a couple of very old wood hoops that I have had around for a while and they are .5 inches wide and work ok with the machine.
Here is the setup for free motion embroidery. I do also add the Super Slider on the machine to make it work really smoothly when I am using my domestic machine. I find I really don’t need the slider when I do the embroidery on my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm, which I find I prefer now that I have that option.
Here I am stitching a horse’s tail for my quilt Canterbury Knight using the method described herein.
Here is the tail on the horse on the quilt. There is not enough contrast to see it well, but after it was quilted it showed up fairly well.
Horse with newly groomed tail
And the final finished quilt that has won several nice ribbons.
Surprisingly, I found when working with my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm that the heavily weighted gripper rings designed for quilting work wonderfully as hoops for free motion embroidery when using that wonderful machine. I don’t have a link for that, but they are available probably for order at a Bernina dealership. I balked at the price, but waited for a really good sale and I really really like them. I know you can get a cheaper black set without the open space on the rings for sliding on, but I love the lovely red of the rings as well as the little open spaces. For these, you just put the layers together and the first thing you do is stitch around the layers well away from your design to hold them together much as you would do for a quilt sandwich. These would probably not work well on a domestic machine, even the machines with larger harps, but they are divine on my sitdown longarm for both quilting and embroidery.
So I set up my motif build with a layer of heavy clear washaway stabilizer, such as OESD badge master, or Sulky Super Solvy on the bottom, on which I have lightly marked the design guidelines with a Crayola Fine Line Washable Marker. On top is a layer of nylon tulle to hold everything together even if it isn’t a stand-alone design. I find when it is finished and I soak away the stabilizer, the tulle can be gently torn along the edge of the stitched motif and not seen at all once appliqued.
If the motif also includes a fill of applique fabrics, I cut the shape and glue them to the tulle with washable glue stick and that is the first thing I stitch around to hold them in place before beginning. Then I hoop the whole thing together with the inside hoop on top so the fabric/stabilizer bundle is flat on the bottom.
Now I use the same kind of sandwich if I am doing digitized in-the-hoop machine embroidery motifs. Here’s one I made that way that also went on Noel.
I digitized this star and then embroidered it off the quilt using the method described herein.
After I soak off the washaways and let it almost dry but is still a little damp, I will press it upside down on my wool ironing pad with a light weight cotton ironing cloth over it. It then can be basted down in place on your project and attached with a narrow zig-zag or free motion off and on the motif using the same thread you used at the edge of the motif. I usually also stitch inside the motif just a little where appropriate to give it some concept of having been stitched directly in place and highlight some of the shaping. It doesn’t take much stithing to make it wonderful.
You would be amazed what you can do with this method by just adding that little bit of tulle and over=stitching a tiny bit after placement on the main background. Then you won’t have the ruffles. You can also use this method to make some interesting trapunto designs.
Video Update: My oldest son decided he needed to provide some significant help for my video making and asked me to pull the original video on Wool Applique by Machine. Don’t worry folks, if you were interested in my videos, they will happen and will be far better than they would have without his assistance. I will certainly announce the videos when they are available. This should not be very long from now…maybe a week or two for the first one, but I will let you know. I have a long list of vlogs and video classes I am planning.
Hi all y’all. Do you enjoy applique or do you only use it when there is absolutely no other way to get the look you want? I was surprised several years ago when I attended a major quilter’s class and she introduced me as an applique-er. After thinking about it, I think she is mostly right. I thoroughly enjoy applique of several artistic techniques. I select the technique by their complexity, the kinds of fabrics I am using, and the style I want to show. These include:=
fused or glued stitched raw edge
placed and held in place by veiling and then free motion stitched down.
turned edge glued and blind stitched by machine
For complex edges, especially, my favorite technique is stitched raw edge applique. This is where I fuse it down and stitch along the edge using either a narrow vari-overlock stitch (like a hem stitch but it has fewer stitches between the zig-zag stitch) with a Superior monopoly thread or a 100 weight polyester or silk matching thread so it basically disappears. Narrow blanket stitch also works well. I don’t particularly like zig zag for this, but I know some who do. I also found I cannot get a good result for complex appliques without some kind of adhesive use along the edges.
The Announcer, the Horse, and Bird appliques From Canterbury Knight are all stitched fused edge appliques hand painted by me.
To show off the edges I very much like the blanket stitch using decorative thread picked to show. I don’t see a difference when doing this using raw edge or turned edge appliques, because the edge is covered with the thread. The blanket stitch may be either a double blanket stitch if you REALLY want to see it, or a single using a heavier 12 weight thread so it highlights the edges. This is a particularly good approach if you are having problems with your applique not showing up well because you chose to use fabrics that are close in value or color. Sometimes I have found it very difficult to carry out the design I have in my head with a clear value difference between the applique and the background. I also can fix this problem with a hidden edge applique technique combined with a straight stitch outline stitched along the edge in a contrasting color decorative thread.
Dad’s House Plan. The house and roof of this quilt were turned edge machine stitched appliqued in most places.
For less complex shapes, I have found the turned edge with the vari-overlock narrow stitch with monopoly or matching 100 weight thread looks very close to turned edge hand stitched applique. In my case, the machine stitched looks much better. haha. If you don’t have a vari-overlock stitch on your machine, it is very similar to the blind hem stitch that nearly all today’s machines have in their utility stitch set, it just has more straight stitches between the zigs or zags, so making the stitches shorter overcomes that problem. I start by turning the edges around either a piece of lightweight interfacing that is going to stay in place, or a freezer paper shape ironed to the back. I usually find that just grocery store starch I paint on with a small stencil brush works well to hold the turn in place, and then remove the freezer paper before gluing it in place to the background. One can glue it however, with washable glue sticks, and a lot of applique-ers do that.
Here we have a complex edge that I have starched the turn over with starch onto freezer paper. The next step would be to remove the freezer paper, turn it over and stitch it in place onto the background fabric. You might want to iron the turn down a little more after removing the paper.
When I am making one of my deep space quilts, I make the “gas cloud” that surrounds and plays throughout a galaxy from hot fix angelina fibers. These fibers only stick to themselves and flatten out into a sort of fabric so they don’t stick to the background fabric. You can’t use a fusible web with it because it shows, nor can you use glue because even if it dries clear you can still see it through the clouds. So I cover it with black nylon veil and just free motion stitch it into place. I may pin it a few times, but I don’t even like to do that, because the holes remain if you happen to hit it just wrong. So I just have to hold it in place and stabilize it with a little of the stitching before I do the free motion embroidery-like quilting. I think this method would work well for a net or lacy applique also.
Sky Horse photographed by Ken Tatum
And then for piecing together areas like adding mountains or suns or other large parts of a pictorial quilt, there is applipiece (Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry’s term) or piecelique (Sharon Schamber’s term) where the piecing is done using turned edge applque stitched (as described above under “less complex shapes”) from the top by machine usually using monopoly or very light weight thread and the vari-overlock or blanket stitch and then cutting the area joined from the back down to a little less than a quarter inch seam. The complex edges require snipping into the edge periodically to facilitate the turning around the shapes). This is one of my favorite methods when creating a pictorial or other free style design background.
The Storyteller, a Hoffman Challenge piece where the entire background was applipieced/pieceliqued together.
In the hoop applique requires “a whole nother” set of activities and skills beginning with digitizing your design in software or purchasing a commercial embroidery design. I use this occasionally, but not often. It usually uses satin edge stitch to sew down the appliques, though it sometimes uses blanket stitch. If I am going to use satin edge I try to do this in the hoop because the satin stitch can then be digitized to have beautiful miters and properly angled stitching, which is really difficult just using the satin stitch outside the hoop. It is possible to get a nice satin stitched edge for simple shapes with care in regular nonhoop stitching though. Then you can add additional decorative stitching in-the-hoop for nice results.
5″ x 5″ fabric greeting card or mug rug in the hoop
That pretty much covers the methods I use for applique. I am using stitched raw edge applique that has been attached with Steam-a-Seam 2 for my wool applique by machine. First I am stitching it down with monopoly and then I am doing the decorative stitching around the edges and inside the appliques. This means I can use the decorative stitches to make the look I want without worrying about whether or not the stitch catches the edge of the wool applique, which I find a big advantage.
Detail showing some of the stitching on my practice wool piece
Sew happy everyone! Put on some good music or an audiobook and start with a small applique project. It is fun, but it does require some time to get it right. Still, by machine is faster, or at least less problematic for arthritic hands than by hand, however beautiful it is.
So recently a friend of mine asked me about the use of interfacings and stabilizers and what was the difference. I consider interfacings and stabilizers both indispensable in fabric art creating of various types. They make the difference between a successful project and a lackluster or even failed piece. Understanding them is one of the basic skills for everything from fashion sewing to quilted art. I can fully understand her need to know more about them.
The Byzantine world of stabilizers and interfacings can be very confusing, because there are so many of them and they all have different uses. Adding to the confusion is all the different brands that are out there and may call them something different and what do they mean by “lightweight” anyway?
The Back Wall of Home Dec Fabrics at G Street Fabrics
First of all, let’s discuss her question of what is the difference between interfacing and stabilizer.
Well, for one thing, stabilizers do not always stay in the project, but sometimes they can. They are largely designed to assist in making machine embroidery work both in the hoop and free motion thread painting. They are also useful for decorative machine stitching.
What makes this confusing is that interfacings can also serve as stabilizers but they are designed to remain in the project and interfacings often look like stabilizers.
You may need both or even two or more for specific projects.
You can even use spray starch or other spray products to work as stabilizers.
And then there are those clear plastic looking stabilizers of varying weights made with corn starch or similar ingredient that washes away. They have a variety of interesting and helpful uses in the fabric artist’s studio.
Interfacings provide stability for fabrics that have a tendency to disintigrate, spread the stitching, or simply need a heavier hand for the project you are making. They help to properly shape clothing, and is particularly required for any high-end sewing like fine couture sewing, tailored garments, wedding dresses, simple dressmaker jackets or vests, and shirts with buttons and collars. I use interfacings extensively in both my clothes making and art quilting to make my wide selection of fabrics work together.
Sew I am focusing this discussion by using popular brand names just because it is easy to identify and I know from using them they are a good product, but there are other brands that are also fine and some that are just terrible (shrinking, bubbling, wadding up with use). Buy a good grade of these products so your project will be successful.
I have a handful of stabilizers that I keep stocked in the studio so I have them when the need to sew or quilt hits me in the middle of the night and it also helps to save lots of time. Also by stocking, I can save a lot of money by buying them when a good sale goes by. There are a large number of Pellon interfacings, but I try to keep at least three yards available of these four weights of interfacings. I buy the first two of these by the bolt when they are on sale because I use a lot of them. They are usually much cheaper–three or four times cheaper–by the bolt, and even more if you hit a good sale.
For stabilizing (there’s that word that helps make this all so confusing when talking about interfacings) such fabrics as silks, very light weight cottons, dupioni and satin polyesters, specialty fabrics, and to use for some wool or wool like tailoring fabrics, I stock a woven fusible lightweight interfacing like SF101 Shape Flex by Pellon This nice woven interfacing does not have much affect on the hand of the fabric and, if quilted, it causes the fabric to drape better and to be smoother and more attractive. It can be used for shirt making also, but you may want to use a heavier weight for more tailored shirts. I would not use this as a rule on good quality quilting cotton unless you are making a shirt or dress out of it.
For an even lighter hand (fabric drape and feel) backing up fabrics that need a little help, such as high quality silk dupioni or cotton lawn I like one of the nearly sheer nonwovens, such as Pellon 906F sheerweight. This particular interfacing is scarce right now because it is one of the choice interfacings for making masks more effective. So I linked to a pretty good price for the bolt.
For a little heavier interfacing that you might want to use for crisper collars in tailored shirts, or costumes, for instance, I like Pellon 931td Some people are using this for mask making also, making it a little scarce, but I think it is just too heavy to comfortably breath through for me.
For bag making or some such with leather (artificial or otherwise) or heavy upholstery fabrics when you want to quilt it I use Pellon’s naked foam. I thank Nina McVeigh for alerting me to this product on her fascinating The Quilt Show show (if you aren’t a member, you are missing a lot). I layer it with the leather or heavier upholstery fabrics and add a cotton backing fabric. This is approaching a batting discussion that will be a future blog post, but I felt it also fits well in the interfacing discussion too.
For high-end tailoring, especially with wool projects like coats and jackets I usually, but not always, move away from Pellon and use mostly Hymo. Note that I have already run a few blogs about tailoring coats, and plan on making a wool slacks suit and a raw silk tailored jacket for this fall and winter and will blog the making of those, since I have some beautiful fabrics on hand that I should use before they age out. You can easily obtain high quality and varying weights of these from tailoring supply houses online. I generally buy these by the project. So you will want to first consult your pattern or a tailoring book to get the right thing. Here is a link to A group of Hymo tailoring interfacings especially good for wools from B. Black and Sons a wonderfully supplied company where I buy my tailoring supplies: Hymo
And B. Black also has these lovely canvas/cotton interfacings that I have used with success for non-wool or light summer tailoring: Canvas/cotton.
I use several different stabilizers for my fabric art projects and even for embellished clothes, but I only stock a few of them because they could take over my storage space otherwise.
The primary stabilizer I use for my in-the-hoop embroidery and free motion thread painting for my quilted art pieces is either OESD’s Ultra Clean and Tear Fusible or Madeira Cotton Stable, which I have a slight preference for but it is increasingly hard to find and has gone up in price. Both of these stabilizers give the fabric enough stability to take a higher amount of stitches than most of the stabilizers will do and they both tear away easily after stitching while remaining in place when you are stitching.
A heavier film wash away stabilizer, such as OESD’s Badgemaster, and a slightly lighter film stabilizer Madeira Avalon is especially useful in the studio. I use both Madeira and OESD film stabilizers. Washing it away can be interesting. It’s like a science fiction slime creature at first…hahaha. I just soak it in clear cold water and then rinse it well in running water.
I really like OESD’s Aqua Mesh Washaway, that looks like an interfacing, works well for marking designs on, and easy to use for stitching a free-standing thread motif, applique, or free standing lace. In such cases I will almost always add a layer of black or white nylon tulle on top and a double layer of Aqua Mesh Washaway. Then when you rinse it away, your piece will hang together and you just cut closely around the veiling, which basically disappears to your eyes on the fabric you applique it on to. Black veiling or matched to the background veiling works well for this. It is especially useful when you are embroidering or even free motion couching cords and yarns to build a heavy design to make them free from the main project and applique them on. It helps deal with the pull and keeps your main project nice and flat.
I embroidered this freestanding lace star on blue nylon veiling with a double layer of wash away stabilizers and then appliqued it on.
Fusibles can act as a stabilizer/interfacing
And don’r forget that when you are making a fused on applique for a wall project, for instance, you may wish to keep the fusible whole rather than windowpane it if you are going to do a lot of heavy stitching on it later. Then it acts just like a combination interfacing and stabilizer that does not get removed from your project. So you have to give some thought to how you are going to complete the project and how it is going to be used to decide whether to windowpane (cutting out most of the middle of the fusible leaving just the edges) to maintain a soft drape or is it a good idea to use the fusible whole.
There are several high quality fusibles on the market and everyone seems to have their own preferences. I personally prefer steam-a-seam 2 with the two sides of paper. One side has one inch squares on it and that’s the side that you draw your design on, cut roughly around the design about 1/4 inch away, peal off the plain side, stick the side with the grid and the drawing onto the back of your fabric, and cut it out. After that you remove the paper and you have an applique with a lightly sticky side that you can move around until you have it just right before hitting it with a steam iron that glues it in place ready to stitch.
Sew happy everyone! This blog took me too long to write because I was trying to identify what I felt were the best links to online resources. If, however, you are fortunate enough to have an open fabric store that carries these good products near you, then bless them with your purchases there. Blessings to everyone. Have a wonderful time in your studios! Feel free to ask questions. I might know the answer.
Hi there. I have been working out how to get embroidery designs placed properly for my summer clothing efforts using my Bernina V8 software. I could not find this anywhere in the help or manual, so I wrote it up and put it into the following PDF file for those of you who have the software.
Here is a picture of the Jeans Vest Jacket back I managed to make the template for and then I discovered how to put it into the software so I can change the color and size.
I started with the line drawing in the pattern that I scanned into my computer and took it from there following the directions in my pdf file. So fun. Now I can place the embroidery onto the garment and know how large to make it and where it needs to go. I wonder what else I can use this for?
If you have the Bernina V8 software and have problems with it, I wrote a book last year that you may find useful if you don’t have it already. I wish I had discovered this before I published it or I would have included it into the book.
Picking up where I left off on my last blog post, I want to address the problems of dealing with various threads when sewing and embroidery as opposed to free motion quilting.
I have had an interest in threads for a very long time and have been fascinated to see the development of threads over the past few decades. Threads I use today are clearly considerably better than those I used decades ago when I had my fashion design and tailoring business in Ithaca, NY in the mid 70s to mid 80s. Even the threads I used then of the same brands have seemingly improved in their tencil strength and reduction of lint. Even then though I used what I determined were the best thread brands available. So I suggest not using older threads from your great aunt’s basket, but any of the threads in your stash of a good brand are probably ok even if they are a decade old.
These are pretty, but best to place old threads in decorative jar or bowl and use more contemporary thread. If you want to use one just for memories, just stitch a few inches somewhere it won’t be getting any stress.
One of the chief things is to keep your machine clean and oiled, your thread properly threaded (pulling off the top if it is cross wound, and from the side if it is stack wound). Almost all the machines today have a method for both threadings. Check your manual. My Bernina 880 plus has a little metal eyelet hole to send the stack wound through before threading it. I am not sure that is obvious, so check your manual.
Thread path for stack wound spool on the 880 plus pulling sideways as needed for this wind.
First of all, I suggest you go back and read my last blog that was centered around thread management in free motion quilting. Even so, though there are many things there that are the same for sewing and embroidery.
For the most part, when sewing clothes and accessories on the sewing machine, the tension goal is the same as for quilting..a balance between the top and the bottom, but tension settings sometimes have a different goal especially for decorative stitching and embroidery where the tension may be best when pulling to the back more than the front. My Berninas automatically adjust that when I switch to decorative stitching and I never really have to think about it. But if you are having trouble with your threads breaking or somehow misformed stitches, then it is likely some adjustment to the tension needs to be made.
Yes, you can change the bobbin tension!!!! I have heard so many people say they were told not to change the bobbin tension, and that limits you to the standard thread weights and cuts out some wonderful specialty thread work you could do. But you may want to have a separate bobbin case if your bobbin works that way to use for specialty bobbin work or changing the tension to accommodate a specialty thread. My Bernina 880 Plus has a tension adjustment method built in using that little multi-purpose tool. Check your manual.
8 series multi-function tool.
Having the proper foundation for your sewing or embroidery project can make a huge difference in the behavior of your thread as you work. For the most part, when quilting, the batting and backing fabric provides sufficient foundation for even rather intensely quilted projects, but if you are doing fancy stitching with specialty threads on your sewing machine for say, your new summer dressy top, you will really need to add interfacings and/or stabilizers (tear away or wash away is best). I think I will write a separate blog on that subject because it is important and there is much to say about that. But getting it wrong can make you think there is something wrong with your machine or make your threads break and misbehave and your project get all bumpy and pully. So pay attention to the foundation.
Just like when you are quilting, you need to test things before you begin a project and periodically at certain phases of your project to make sure you have things working right before you stitch on your expensive fabrics. Make a test piece and take notes as you go If your machine saves personalized settings then use that function to save time.
I realized I wrote a post that addresses a lot of thread decisions already and it belongs with these two blogs.
Here is page 18 from my Bernina 880 plus manual. It has a great explanation of needles and what they are used for. I thought you would like to see it:
Sew after you read that blog and my last blog and this blog, (and your manual) do you have any questions I may be able to help answer in thread management? Please let me know. I want to help people enjoy their sewing and quilting with little frustration and a lot of fun.
Sew happy everyone. Take time to test and read your manuals as part of your project time especially if you have a deadline. Unsewing is no fun at all. Try out some of the wonderful specialty threads available. Cheers everyone.
I just saw it again on social media from a quilter that has had a high end machine for two years that should bring them a lot of happiness but they cannot get the thread to stop breaking and therefore don’t use it much. Often it is thread nests, or thread shreaddings. Sew I decided to talk about this a little bit. In my humble opinion, most machines, and particularly high end machines, should be able to use nearly any type of quality thread designed for machine stitching. Note I did not say any brand, but rather any type. The owner should not have to find the thread that works for the machine, but the machine should work with the thread. I think there is much that can be done to make this happen.
Sew today we have a range of really fine threads to go with our really fine machines accompanied by really fine needles. Sew what’s the problem? This is what I think and have experienced in my own studio. I have a Bernina Q20 longarm set up as a sitdown, a Bernina 880 plus, and a little Bernina 350 (plus an older BabyLock serger and a vintage White that I am not including in this discussion today). So I will be talking about these, since that is what I have, but I suspect there is a correllating set of steps and considerations for your own machines that you can take. Your manual and YouTube videos can be very helpful for those, especially if you know what you are looking for.
One of my chief points I like to make is that it is important to test. Test your setup before starting a project. Make a sample sandwich from more or less the same fabrics and battings. or prepare a test piece of fabric you are using for sewing or embroidery, and test everything first. Then keep it close to periodically test if things go awry. This can be a very important tool for you. If you serge, or otherwise finish the edge, and put a large ring in the corner, you can hang this up or keep them together. Be sure to make notes of settings and products you used right on the fabric for future reference.
Before you begin any project, you should pay attention to matching the needles with the threads and the tensions with the thread types. Most of the better thread manufacturers have advice either right on the spools or on their websites as to what needles work best. It’s a good place to start, but may not always be the answer for what you are working on. Usually it is, however.
One thing to remember is that there are a lot of variables that can negatively affect our sewing that we may not think about on a daily basis and have nothing to do with the overall quality of our machines. These may include
humidity and heat,
adhesives, interfacings, stabilizers,
lint caught in the thread path or the bobbin holder that may not be apparent when we do a standard clean and oil,
a faulty needle,
a little bur or damage on the foot,
a damaged/bent bobbin
a well used bobbin brake spring that just needs to be replaced,
the tension settings for both the top and the bobbin not set correctly for the thread,
a bad spool or cone of thread even from a reputable dealer (it happens and usually they will replace it if you let them know),
and our own mood or health at the time.
I’m sure there are things I havent thought of in this list, but you see there are a lot of things that can make us have a frustrating sewing or quilting day.
Let’s take a look the Q20 sitdown longarm for starters.
Preparing to practice some ruler work on Fritz, my Bernina Q20
I have heard that some dealers appear to mistakenly tell their customers that they should never ever in any circumstancs change the bobbon tension from the recommended 220 for the Qs. My own dealer is wonderful and does not do this. This is decidedly poor advice, especially for a longarm such as the Bernina Q20 sitdown, especially if we use any kind of bobbin thread other than 50 weight cotton. For the most part, I have found over the past four years of working with my machine that 220 is USUALLY too tight. Here is a little chart I worked out that works for my machine.
Here’s my chart. You should make your own that works for you, but you might want to start here.
If you conduct your own testing that will let you know if it works for your setup. Sometimes adjustments need to be made to this chart depending on the weather, the batting and other variables. Making notes is really helpful.
Thread Management in the Q20
I keep on hand the following things to assist with thread management:
thread nets for cones. I didn’t originally use these, but recently I find I have much fewer problems if I use a thread net. I do note that Wonderfil threads have an alternative wrap for their cones that I have not yet tried.
the horizontal spool holder to allow for use of stacked thread spools (when the spool is wound so it is evenly stacked rather than cross wound).
horizontal spool holder is usually an additional attachment you have to purchase.
Here is the spoolholder installed
the pink liquid for the little applicator sponge in the threading path originally intended for metallic threads. I find it also helps if I am having problems with thread shredding of, for instance, rayons.
This little bottle is usually included in the purchase of your machine. It is a silicone thread lubricant and is tiny but goes a long ways.
thread lubrication path on my Bernina Q20.
Dritz sewer’s aid. It’s probably the same thing as the pink liquid, since it is a silicone thread lubricant, but it can be used more generously directly on a spool or cone without sendng the thread through the applicator sponge thread path. I don’t use it in my machine’s little sponge just because it may be a slightly different weight or something.
A package of M sized bobbin genies. This is really helpful if you are having problems with thread nests on the back due to static electricity. I originally learned about this from Sharon Schamber.
I like to keep a spare bobbin brake spring I order through my dealer, a spare bobbin case, and a spare threader replacement head all on hand. Maybe there are other parts I should have but I don’t know about. I have had my machine for four years of heavy use and these are the only parts I have had a problem with so far other than having to have my BSR laser sensors replaced early on.
And a selection of the following needles:
Topstitch titanium needles (I prefer Superior brand, but Schmetz and Bernina are also ok) sizes 70/10, 80/12,90/14, 100/16
universal 70/10 and 80/12
Quilting needle 80/12, and 90/14.
I also have a collection of specialty needles, like leather needles or double needles in different widths for playful quilting fun. Note that you must have the double needle throat plate to use the double needles.
Twin needle stitch plate
A can of compressed air to blow clean the bobbin area and the brush. The top area should be cleaned with a brush according to Bernina, but the bobbin area is ok to use the compressed air and it makes a big difference.
Bernina machine oil
I also have the multifunction tool that came with my Bernina 830 that I traded in for my 880 plus, which has another one, because I particularly like the way it helps me hold the needle in place while I screw it in. You can buy this tool at the dealers, or here online, and there are other generic tools on the market that perform this function (a threader gadget has a needle holder end to it
8 series multi-function tool..handy for more than the 8s
The bobbin tension gauge (it’s made by Towa). If you don’t have this, you should have received it with your machine, so go to your dealer and ask for it. Here’s a little video link to help you use it correctly, although Nina McVeigh, whom I admire very much, is saying the tension should be 220 always. I hate to disagree with the extremely talented Nina, but trust me, the tension needs to play with your thread types. Using the gauge
As you look at this list, you may figure out that when things go awry (and yes, they do for me too from time to time, but far less often than they did at first) that I have a selection of things to try beyond changing the needle and cleaning and oiling the machine. I usually manage to quilt a full quilt now with no thread issues).
Steps to Take When You Are Having Problems
Unthread the machine and check the spool/cone to see if by chance the thread is catching on the spool itself or there is a flawed area in the winding of the thread you can see.
If it is a cone, make sure it has a net.
If it is metallic, run it through the lubrication path after adding a drop of lubricant on the sponge.
If it is monopoly run it through the lubrication path to help control this lively thread.
It’s really important that the top tension and bobbin tension match the threads you are using. The neat thing about the q20 machine is that it has a set of four programs where you can store your settings for the different types of threads for the top.
Check the needle. Is it the right one for your thread? If you run your fingers down the needle and across the tip carefully, you can sometimes detect that there is a bur or bend on the needle. But this is not a guarantee you will find it if there is some kind of flaw. You may need to change your needle even if it is new. Replace the needle using a needle holder to help assure it is fully up in place. Just holding it with your fingers can sometimes not get it quite fully engaged upward.
Remove the bobbin and blow out the bobbin area, then oil the machine carefully. Double check especially if you have been using monopoly recently. It can tangle around things like it is alive sometimes and you can’t see it without a magnifier and flashlight!
Run a needle around the workings of the bobbin case to see if there is a wad of lint caught in the case…I have had that happen and it can bring things to a frustrating point.
Check your bobbin case brake spring. Is it in the proper place? Is it upside down? Is it wearing out (flattening or with a bur). I had a very difficult to diagnose problem happen about a month ago with terrible thread nests on the back. I finally replaced the brake spring and it has been working wonderfully ever since. I never did see what was wrong with it.
Examine your bobbin to see if it is bent or damaged in anyway. This is especially important if you are a klutz like myself and drop your bobbins on the floor or if you have had it for years and used it for many miles of stitching.
Run your bobbin through the tension guage to make sure it is still set correctly for your thread weight. It can change over time, especially if you do hours of quilting and everything heats up.
Replace your bobbin.
Check both the front and the back of your piece to make sure the tension is ok on both sides. It’s a good test to put a different color in the bobbon of the same type of thread you will be using and test it to see if you have any tension problems showing up or down that don’t show when your threads are the same color. Note that I have surrendered to the metallic threads. I put a matching thread color (some polyesters look metallic) in the bobbin. I have sometimes been totally unable to get the tensions set with a metallic so there are no little dots showing on the back. I have also been successful from time to time with getting it right. I have to think it might be a batting issue. It doesn’t stop me from using metallics, however. I may even put a metallic in the bobbin, which works fine.
Run a length of tooth floss through the upper thread path slowly and carefully to pull out anything that doesn’t belong you don’t find with just brushing it out.
Check your foot for damages. I one time had constant breakages and then tried a different foot. They stopped. Upon close examination, I found the foot that has had many many miles of use had a bur on it. I sanded it with an emory board and it works fine now.
Remember to have the foot up when rethreading…a real necessity to make it all seat into the thread path correctly.
Put it all back together and do some test stitching. Make notes of any setting changes you had to do to get things right.
I realize this is really a long post and I still haven’t discussed working with my sewing machines. Although a lot of the same things apply, I wanted to get more specific for them. So I will break this blog into two parts. Next week I will talk about solving thread problems in sewing machines.