Building a Pictorial Quilt Part Three: Working with Threads

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

Threads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part Two: Making a Tree

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

 

 

 

Embellishing Techniques Part 1: Hot Fix Crystals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting and Stopping Thread Work and Quilting

Sew it’s been a while.  I’ve been enormously busy finishing my quilt for the Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival…and yes, I finished and I’m now working on my little Milky Way “You are Here” mini.  It’s only about 20 x 20 inches and it’s for my part of the space exhibit at MQX.  All of my deep space quilts will be there and this is just a little fun piece to show where we are in our home galaxy.

There are a lot of opinions out there in fabric art/quilting land about how to best start and stop your thread.  Do you bury it? Do you stitch small stitches and cut close? Do you back it up and cut close?  The answers to these questions can frustrate anyone dealing with this issue.  Some quilters have no problems with it because they’ve already decided just what they are going to do and do it the same all the time.  I however have a plethora of ways to get going and stop.

For the most part, I hate to bury knots.  On my show quilts, especially, I stitch very densely in many areas, and sometimes there simply is no way to get that knot fully under the top without problems.  Also, I’m not convinced it really holds down the thread any better than other methods.  So I analyze what I’m working with and so forth to decide what to do.  Let me just say at the start, that if I am making a utility quilt…baby, give away, cuddle on a cold night…I will back stitch or stitch a short stitch close cut.  It just takes the rough and tumble better than buried knots.  I’m sure there are those who will disagree with me about this, but I stand by it after 65 years of sewing.  So here is how I handle this issue for wall and show quilts:

  • Thicker threads, such as 12 weights and some 30 weights almost require burying in some form because they just show up at the end.  Maybe I will just bury them without a knot and carry the thread through the quilt fairly far using a long basting needle.  If it works out in my overall quilting, I bury the thicker thread and stitch over the end in my background quilting, but that doesn’t always work.
  • Very thin threads of 50, 60 or 100 weight can easily just be cut close after some close stitching…say 15 stitches per inch (spi), so I never bury those.

But what about those 40 weights and specialty threads, such as monopoly and metallics?  Well, it has been my experience that these very lively threads  WORK better and stay better with a careful back trace stitching and then cut close.  I am not sure judges will agree with me, but the thing is, such lively threads  WILL come up from a bury even when knotted if certain directions of friction are encountered in the handling of the quilt for shipping and hanging and unhanging.  If stitched carefully enough, a backtrack is virtually unnoticeable, except you can probably see it with a magnifying glass and a flashlight. (Did you know that some judges look st your quilts that way?)  But I decided my metallics will be backstitched and close cut since they go through a lot when sent to shows.  If you decide to do this, go really slowly when you backstitch and get it as exact as possible.

The 40 weights are the problem because they aren’t easily determined.  Some of them, such as Superior’s Magnifico and Sulky’s rayons are really shiny and show up everything, especially with a high contrast.  So in that case, I will probably bury them with the long thread no knot method if I can bring myself to do it.  LOL.  Some of them, such as Superior’s King Tut, a cotton thread, will melt into the background when the contrast is low. They do well with a short stitch close cut ending.

Sew the answer then is either to quilt so well and planned that you NEVER have a start or stop (LOL) or to test the starts and stops before setting out on quilting that special project and decide how you are going to approach it. Also, always be flexible as you go, because when you are quilting certain places you can change your mind.

Sew Happy Everyone!  May your dreams be met, your life be full of love and simply lovely!

By the way, I need some funds to help me keep my dreams for 2018 going, so I am hoping to sell several of my quilts this year to finance my attending the Houston show and keep me in stitches (LOL) and make room in my house for more.  You can see which ones on my website gallery…just scroll over the quilt and you can see the price and size.  Contact me if you are interested in one and maybe we can work something out that suits your budget.  I’ve instituted a lay away plan for the quilts. If you don’t want to buy a quilt but do want to help, there is a donate button on this blog if you are so inclined and the funds will all go to financing my trip or keeping this blog going.

 

Working with My Bernina Q20 Sitdown Longarm

As I’ve said before, I really love my Bernina Q20, Fritz, that I have set up as a sitdown longarm. I belong to a couple of Facebook groups, and one in particular, for sharing things about this machine. I decided I would write a blog (with a bit of humility and a lot of experimenting behind me) about how I set my machine up for quilting, because there are a lot of new quilters out there with this machine who seem to have a lot of questions.  Please understand this is how I work best with MY machine, but I thought it might still be of some value to the newer Q20 owners anyway.

Just so we are all singing from the same page, I have attached a pdf of the manual for reference:

036-0625-2-04_2015-06_Manual_Q20-Q24_EN_GZD_Online

To me, the greatest thing about this is how much control I have of the stitching. There are quite a few things that make an impact on that…the thread, the needle, the bobbin thread, the bobbin setup, and all the neat settings provided on the machine, and then there is the wonderful kickstart.  If you haven’t done the upgrade and don’t yet have your kickstart, I hope you will do so right away.

I had my machine for about a month before I realized it has programs where you can set up all your top tensions, speeds, and stitch lengths for all the modes and save it (see pages 73-74). I have mine programed for different weights of threads. 40 wt polyester, 100 wt silk, and 12 weight cotton. The fourth one is the default settings, so really there are only three you can set and save, but that seems enough to me. I felt pretty dumb when I found this out, because I was resetting everything every time I turned it on.  I have worked out a chart of settings for my own use, so I thought I’d share.  First see pages 29-31 in the manual for a discussion of how they see threads and needles, then see my personal preferences chart

chart for Q20

I have all the attachments available for the Q20, but there aren’t many (thank goodness). I already had the feet that work with my Q20 (see page 22 in the manual), mostly because I collected them while I was learning to FMQ on my Bernina 830 LE, and they fit.  I even have the double needle stitch plate (see page 46 through 49 for threading for double needle stitching)  and the horizontal spool pin necessary for straight wound spools (see page 23).

Here are some good tutorials:

Threading for twin needle work

Bobbin tension check

Preparing to stitch (you probably know most of this, but it’s a good reminder)

Stitching with and without the BSR

One of my many practice pieces. This one shows different thread weights and a little bit of yarn couching.

 

Do I use the BSRs?

Yes, I do use my BSRs and love them (read pages 75-78 for a discussion of the various BSR modes). I have the BSR attachment for my 830 LE, but it is slow and a little cumbersome compared to the fabulous BSRs on the Q20. I use BSR1 for most of my free motion, BSR2 for my ruler work, and manual sometimes for really tiny tiny fmq and some special threadwork, and even if I spray baste a quilt, I thread baste it with BSR 3..so fast, so handy, gives that little bit of extra security.  After years of using a BSR on my Bernina 830LE and now my Q20, I find the manual comes pretty naturally, but I still prefer the BSRs for most things.

It is true that good results from the various modes take practice both to learn what YOU like and to get the best benefits from the different modes.  I think, in fact, that you need to practice as if you are learning a musical instrument…frequently and for at least a half hour at a time, and every now and then a long period of practice. I periodically make a bunch of 20 inch or so practice sandwiches…marking some with grids, some with stencils, and nothing on some.  I use solid colors for the practice sandwich tops so I can really see what I’m doing, but it’s a good way to use up that ugly fabric you wonder why you ever bought on the back of your practice sandwiches, and I use joined pieces of leftover batting for my practice sandwiches too.

A practice piece using, surprisingly, polyester satin with wool batting.

Working with the kickstart:

The kickstart lets you stitch without your foot on the pedal, but is very easy to start, pause, and stop. By doing this, you don’t have an uneven feed of power going to the stitching.  Here’s their guide addendum for the manual for the kickstart:

Zusatzblatt_Kick-Start_EN_13-12-2016_GZD

And here’s a link to a youtube tutorial on using it:  kickstart tutorial

When using just the pedal to make it go, it is unlike a regular sewing machine, or the gas pedal on your car. The pedal on the Q20 sitdown does not make the stitching go faster or slower. The pedal is on or off. Pushed down all the way, you get it fully on. Slightly up, sometimes it skips stitches. If your foot slips off your pedal or you lose concentration, it makes it skip or unevenly stitch. Without the kickstart you have to spend part of your concentrated effort making sure you have that pedal fully and evenly compressed all the time you are stitching. So the kickstart is absolutely the most even way to stitch because it is on at full power, paused, or stopped. It may sound a little intimidating to think of turning on the stitching all the time, but you really are still in complete control. You can still kickstart the pedal and make it pause, or you can press the front of the pedal to exit the kickstart program instantly.  I hope you will try it if you haven’t already.

 

Here are some rulers I used to stitch this border piece (stitched, painted, then pieced into the top, then quilted with monopoly and 100 wt silk)

This spiral galaxy quilt is a whole cloth quilt stitched in its entirety on my Q20 (except for the binding and rod pocket, of course).

Sew with all these settings in mind, I hope you will find your own personal settings…make a chart yourself if you want…and then find that working with your Q20 is just as wonderful as I have.

Pendragon
34 x 45

Stash Busting: Making a Bag

One side of the bag

While I began finally to recover from a bear of a cold–and yes, I am back from the coughing, sneezing, nose-dripping, energy sapping two week long cold finally–I decided to do something kind of fun and gentle that someone else did most of the thinking for me.  So I finally got around to making bag 1 of Rami Kim’s IQUILT online class.  It is entirely made from scraps in my stash.  Even the zipper was something I must have bought nearly a decade ago just for this bag, but I didn’t know it then.  LOL.  The picture at the top is one side.  I really love it.  I added a couple of pockets in the lining that she didn’t have.  I like it so much I think I will use it for my primary bag for a while.

It was a lot of fun, even though I made a lot of mistakes that had to be corrected.  I made the top piece, which is cut in two pieces for both sides.  First you quilt a 14 x 22 inch piece and then you cut out the corners and cut it into half for the zipper.  I cut one corner too big!  😒  So I had to make another top piece.  I had originally used a darker gray, but since I used it up in the first piece, I hunted around and found a similar piece with the same kind of print but it was a lighter gray.  Then I cut the bottom piece of lining in two, like you were supposed to do for the top, but not for the bottom, so I rejoined it with the leftover piece of folded strip like the one that you use down one side of the folded Chotsky ribbons.  But in the end, I think it came out really nice.  Here’s the other side.

In the past, when I made a bag (and I’ve made quite a few over the years), I was never really happy with the handles.  Rami suggests leather handles for the bags, and they solve a multitude of problems.  I went on a hunt for them, and finally found that Amazon sells them in multiple styles and colors and they aren’t expensive.  So I ordered two pair…this gray one and a nice green one for a future bag totally from my stash.  I have a couple of long multi-zippers in a roll from Nancy’s Notions that I can use for that one.  This is so much fun it could get to be a habit.  In the future, though, I hope I am faster and make fewer mistakes.

Sew happy everyone!  Make yourself a bag.  Hint:  Be sure to build it right…interface the fabrics, put the right kind of stiff batting, and use the zipper a little longer than required to make it easier.  Adding internal pockets is really easy…just make a lined square piece the right size (figure it out from your pattern, remembering where it will bend or be stitched) and stitch it on while the lining is still flat.  Be sure to measure and center the pockets.  You can even make a zipper pocket fairly easily.  Maybe I’ll show you how in one of my future blogs if you want.  I just made patch pockets for this bag and added a couple of lines of stitching to make a place for a pen and a notebook on one side and just left it with no divisions on the other side.

 

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!