Do You Already Have A Sewing “Droid”?

This week we celebrated Star Wars day on May the 4th (be with you).  You have to understand, my youngest son is a sci-fi/fantasy writer and my oldest son and his family are all really interested in science fiction, so they probably got it from me.  It made me think…what would it be like to have a sewing droid.  Then I began to wonder if I already have one.  Hahahah.  After all, working with droids appears to be both wonderful and frustrating at times, just as today’s advanced machines are.  And I don’t think they HAVE to be able to walk or roll from their location.  They just have to do what they are dedicated and programed to do with efficiency.

Is R2D2 visiting with Odette?

When I first got my Bernina 880 plus, I thought it was “just” an advanced sewing machine.  I named her Odette, after Odette Uettschi-Gegauf, who was in charge of Bernina from 1959 to 1988, during the time so many major advances were made in Bernina machines. I have had it now for just about two years and have recently taken some time to learn more about what it can do in preparation for a project I am planning.  This project involves testing the limits of making exquisite hand-look embroidery (inspired by antique, highly skilled,  and royal hand embroidery) to come out of my machines using both in-the-hoop and out-of-the hoop stitching, and stitching with my other two machines as well.  I knew it had a lot of power and a lot of functionality, but I hadn’t really learned how to use all the advanced special functions with real confidence. Sew I have been exploring and experimenting with Odette when I had time.

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Odette

To me, the most important thing any sewing tool or machine should do well is to make a beautiful stitch, sew with enough power to be able to make bags, jeans, and even sails, as well as handle the most delicate fabrics in a single layer.  It is well if it will do both straight stitches and zig-zag stitches, and drop the feed dogs for free motion stitching.  With these functions alone, you can make nearly anything and do a vast array of embellishment work as well. Odette has really beautiful stitches in every capacity I have used so far.

E. Claire (My B350 named after Edith Claire Head, the legendary Hollywood designer)

I have a little Bernina 350 that I bought as a travel machine, but I find it very useful for other things as well…it does piecing exceedingly accurately in particular, and serves as a back up if I need to take Odette to the spa. I also use it to do needle punch with that attachment.  It does have an extremely small harp space, though, but I did manage to make a few quilts with it nevertheless. Sew if this is all you want, you probably don’t need, or may not even want, one of the multi-thousand dollar advanced machines on the market today and should put good money in a solid functional machine.   I would say one of the biggies are very nice to have, though, but if you have one, you need to spend the time to learn how to use it no matter how many years you have used a sewing machine.  That is imperative.

Odette

For any machine, especially the droids (LOL), you need to keep it cleaned and oiled, carefully threaded, and make sure to use the right needles, the right tension settings, the best threads, and the right feet for your project or you can get really frustrated, and your machine (or droid) will fuss at you by breaking your threads, making a thread nest in the bobbin area, or refusing to sew at all.  I would guess that about 97 or greater percent of the problems a person has with their machine is brought about by not paying attention to these golden rules.  All of us, at times, break these rules because we are tired, or in a hurry, or just not thinking about it.  So don’t!  (I’m talking to myself here).

Earlier today I was watching YouTube videos on multi-directional stitching that Odette will do.  It uses the feed dogs to move not only back and forth, but side to side.  I knew it has that function, but I haven’t used it much.  Mostly I have used the decorative stitches that require its use because they are very wide, but I haven’t really used the ability to take nearly any of its stitches and have it sew them in any direction around the hole plate.  Some of the videos on YouTube make it seem extremely interesting. Plus you can set up some of these stitches in concert with other stitches and sew a highly-interesting wide border that would be beautiful on  quilt or a table cloth, or a little girl’s pretty dress.  Then, you can move such a set of stitches into the embroidery side and use them in the hoop, if you want.  I think I will have to try these things for a more practical use than just play.

Odette has a function that enables you to design your own decorative stitch.  I played around with it a little, but not used it much.  This function seems extremely possible for my “near hand embroidery” projects.  All these things take time, of course, and testing.  Testing is so important.  You can even move these designs into the embroidery side for in-the-hoop accuracy.  Then you can take any decorative stitch and have it stitch around a shape!

One of the most amazing things I learned recently in Bernina’s set of four “Embrace the Rhythm of Your 880” webinars they put out a few months back, is that the B880 dual feed mechanism has its own motor that allows you to set the speed slower or faster than the regular feed dog.  It is the only Berninas that have this advantage, by the way. So if you are working on two kinds of fabric, for instance, like a fluffy fabric on one side and a plain cotton on the other, you can set it to move the fluffy fabric at a different speed to account for the differences.  Together with the presser foot pressure adjustment, it allows you to sew your minky-lined jacket together without stretching, unwanted gathering, or other problems.  I’m not sure how I will use this function, since I am not planning on a minky-backed quilt anytime soon, but perhaps it will come into play in some of my ideas of stuffed embroidery…not sure, but worth some experimentation.

Sew, do you have a sewing droid and not know it?  I suspect most of the major brands top of the line have many functions that might make it qualify. This is why it is important to talk to your machines, since it may make them happier. LOL

Sew happy everyone and have fun in your studio!

 

 

“Hand Work” by Machine

I am sure you’ve noticed that there is a recent renewal of interest in embroidery and quilting by hand.  I can appreciate this.  I used to do a lot of it myself.  It looks wonderful and can give the stitcher a sense of meditative happiness and quiet, plus you end up with a beautiful piece to quilt and/or put on the wall, make into a pillow, or frame for a gift.  These are often small and exquisite little jewels that are a great pleasure to make and view.

As wonderful as these are, I am thinking that with today’s machines, specialty threads, specialty feet and attachments, plus a community of sewers and quilters who are constantly developing new techniques, it is possible to create equally exquisite little pieces by machine.  Mind, I am not advocating giving up hand work, just using it as inspiration for some extraordinary stitching by machine, or using both together on a single piece. While this might enable one to make such a treasure in a  shorter space of time, it may not be that much faster, but interestingly challenging in a different way.  Machine work is especially nice if one is facing arthritic or injured hands that make doing the hand stitching difficult or painful. Yes, it will almost certainly look a little different, but the texture and beauty that can be accomplished may be equally extraordinary.

I have two sources of inspiration that has made me want to try this.  Alex Anderson recently ran a free class on The Quilt Show and YouTube called Make It Your Own stitch along lessons.  I watched it.  I did not make one, but I found some of the results truly beautiful.  Trying to make a similar piece  by machine may be very interesting.

The second one is the Royal School of Needlework posts in Instagram. Their work is truly incredible. I am particularly fond of their gold work which is often a combination of couched on gold cord and padded embroidery. But I also love many of their other colored embroidery pieces. Can I approximate the looks of these pieces?  Well, I don’t know, but it is worth a try.  I do know that it is possible to do padded embroidery in-the-hoop, and I have done a lot of couched work on all three of my machines.

I will do a little experimenting first, and then demonstrate some of the techniques on my YouTube channel.  What do you think?  Would you enjoy that? This will take me months before I am ready to record the work, but I will keep you apprised here on my blog of my progress.

The first thing I need to do, and, in fact, am already doing, is to make myself an interesting “library” of stitches I can do on my machines using different threads, different settings, and including the default settings.  This actually came about because I ended up with a small stack of sheets of fabric all prepared for testing decorative stitches that I had put together for a class that I never ran due to the pandemic.  They are nice white on white quilting fabric backed with a stabilizer and I drew in lines and added a selection of needles up in the corner.  I think I will add some darker fabrics and interesting designs that I can get from my Bernina 880 plus.  Once I get this done, I will be better able to decide how to make some of my ideas and draw up instructions or a pattern.  I tell you, it is almost equally as meditative and calming to me to stitch these library sheets as it would be by hand.  I think the key is to not try to rush this project, but to sew at whatever speed it takes to get things to work right.

I am using all kinds of threads and weights I have in my stash, primarily from Wonderfil Threads (a relatively new passion of mine), but also from Superior Threads (which I developed a huge stash of over the years.  It differs a bit from Wonderfil, so they work well together).  I believe my thread stash is bigger than my fabric stash at the moment. When I finally get to the first project, I will give you a list of the threads I use so you can try them if you want.

In the process of putting together the right fabrics for these types of projects I thought you might like to know favorites that I’m sure you would love too that would make great fabrics for such projects (beyond our stand by of high quality quilting cotton).  These include Kaufman Essex Linen, a wonderful linen/cotton blend good for a multitude of sewing projects, and Kaufman silk/cotton Radiance.  Surprisingly, I also found that faux silk polyester dupioni (the 58 inch wide) makes a wonderful choice, but it needs to be backed with a lightweight iron on fusible such as  Pellon SF101 iron on woven interfacing.

Sew happy everyone! Have fun in your studio.

 

 

Adding Paint to Quilts

Hi everybody!  My Two Birds Project, video one and the workbook with the pattern are published! Video Two will come in February and Video Three in March.  There will likely be some additional smaller videos out in February and March also.  Please watch them, and, if you haven’t already, subscribe to my YouTube channel.  It’s free and doesn’t ask any questions or pester you after you subscribed.  Here’s the link to the video: Two Birds Video

And here’s the link to the pattern with workbook if you want to join me in making one for yourself (it is only $5):  Two Birds Pattern

Sew I had the idea that it might be a good idea to make a set of five small quiltlets of different fabric types and use commercial embroidery on them that would look nice with the addition of painting.  I plan to use several different types of paints, inks, and markers that I have hanging around my studio in order to compare the paints and the way they work with the different fabrics.  That way I can reference them when I am making a quilt to decide which paints I need to use.  That’s what I’m working on now.

Test sampler I made before starting my Mom’s memory quilt.  I Quilted it first and then painted the bird and the flowers.

Hawaiian Garden:  I quilted, then painted the borders.

I think this will be a fun project.  I will video it so you can see what I do and write a blog or two about it also.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio!

 

 

Working with Heavy Threads

Hi everyone.  As those of you who have followed me over time know, I love threads and have written several blogposts on the subject.  This week I have been free motion stitching with 12 weight threads for quite a few hours. What great looks you can get from them and each type looks remarkably different from the others!

Sew am I happy with the work I did this past week?  Some of it looks fabulous, but there is one area I was not happy with.  I have found in the past, however, that if I just keep going it often improves.  I can also add some ink or paint to improve things.  The interesting thing is that this is all part of my next video project.  I think I will use this to discuss what to do when things are not just what you envisioned initially or some such.  I think I can show that the fiber content and the value contrasts make a great deal of difference in the resulting looks for these fabulous threads. By the way, I got that one area much improved and think it will do just fine.

When purchasing such specialty threads, getting excellent quality thread and the right colors are what is paramount for getting a good outcome.  Especially when using heavy threads, the stitching can gnarl up and knot or split if the threads are poor quality.  It is really important to use them with the right needles, bobbin threads, and tensions.  Some of them, especially rayons, require silicone thread treatments to make them behave, such as the pink liquid that comes with some Bernina machines or Sewer’s Aid.  Thread nets also help improve their function if you are using a cone.  Also lower the top tension and lengthen the stitches to make things go well.

For domestic machines, slow down.  I also frequently use these on my Bernina Q20 longarm sitdown.  And for those of you who have a Q, here are the settings I use:

  • BSR 1 with 200 idling speed
  • 8 spi
  • 1.75 top tension
  • 180 bobbin tension with the 60 weight Bottom line
  • Kick start function to keep from skipping stitches

For such large threads I use Superior 100/16 top stitch for the regular spots or Schmetz 100/16 nonstick needles for stitching through fused on items like appliques

I love these 12 weight threads, have used them enough to know they are good quality, and each one offers a different look for multiple purposes:

For all of these threads I use a light weight thread in the bobbin such as Superior Bottom Line (a 60 weight polyester), Wonderfil DecoBob (an 80 weight polyester) or, if you only like cotton…a 50 weight cotton.

I am also planning on using even heavier weight specialties on my current project and my next project.  These have to be either couched on or stitched on upside down with the thread in the bobbin and a lighter thread on top.  I have some beautiful 8 weights to try.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio and try some heavy weight thread sewing.  It adds so much to your projects.

 

 

 

Time to Use Some of My Fall and Winter Fabrics

Hi everyone!  So today I started thinking about fall.  I am probably a little late on this, but we had a cooler rainy day that seemed to be appropriate for fall thinking.  Then I got an email reminding me that the pattern sale for Butterick patterns was going to expire today.  It was a really good sale, and so I bought several of the new fall patterns that I had seen earlier that really appealed to me, plus, they came in my size!  I probably will have just a few adjustments, but maybe I can just lay out the patterns and mostly simply cut them out without having to redraft the patterns.

I have a nice stash of some silks, woolens and blends for fall and winter that I will try to use for these projects.  I prefer sewing clothes for fall and winter with these wonderful fabrics.

Here are two of them.  The first one is patterned for knits, and I have some black slack weight ponte knit that has been lounging in my stash for a while.  It’s not enough for both the slacks and the jacket, so I will probably get a different color fabric for the jacket, but I will search my clothing fabric stash first to see if maybe I have something that will serve.  I also got the coat and dress combo on the right, although I have pretty much given up wearing dresses.  This was such a lovely combination and I have fabric that would work well for this, so maybe I will make it even if it is a dress or at least I will make the coat and turn the dress into a top to wear with dressier slacks. They will look great, but perhaps not as great as on those models.

Then I got this really nice blouse pattern. I may not have the fabric for this, but I will check first. If it turns out as nice as I think, I will probably make several.

And I also got this tailored jacket for a project I am thinking of making with in-the-hoop embroidery using fabrics in my stash.  I will use this project for videos.  I have everything I need for this as I envision it.

 

Sew I am also working on some project designs for video projects and making progress.  Taping for some of these will begin next week, since I have finally finished the pattern for the first one.  Should I video the making of at least some of the clothes?  I’m wondering.  Tell me what you think.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studios!

 

A New Stitching Adventure

Birds at Play Detail from Pattern

Hi gentle readers,

I am almost ready to start making and filming a fun new wall quilt that focuses on stitching…both free motion and some with feed dogs up.  It also has a small amount of appliques behind some of the stitching and 9 pieces of fabrics to make a simple style quilt background to put all this stitching with some appliques and some paint onto.  The picture above is a single tile from a multi-tile downloadable pattern with instructions and supply list. This project was inspired by a page from a Dover Publications coloring book.

I got the missing fabrics this week and they are all washed and ready to go.  I am still working on the pattern, but the hard part is done so I will be publishing that for sale at a moderate price on my website store to go along with an undetermined number of free YouTube videos to take people through the project…fun to simply watch, and fun to make with me if you want.

I will be adding a page to this blog site with links to my recommended supplies that apply to ongoing projects.  Once it’s there you can just click on “Supply links” above and you can go shopping!

Sew I am excited about making this piece.  I will be testing some products I have not used before I make it and will tell you about them as I go.  This includes some new specialty threads from Wonderfil Threads I have only briefly used and Sulky’s Sticky-Fabri-Solvy printable self adhesive water soluble stabilizer. I think it could be a real blessing for limiting the amount of marking I have to do for this project and stabilizing the stitching.  I might do a 60 second shorts video on my test of all of this just so you can see it even if I decide not to use it for this particular project.  Would you like that?

I should be publishing the first parts of this project in a few weeks.  We’ll see though.  It takes a while to film the making of a complex project like this and get it edited.  In any event, I will let you know how it stands with my next blog post.  Let me know what you are working on.  Do you have any special requests for techniques to discuss? (Please comment here.  I love comments because it helps me know if people really view and like my blog efforts here and the comments stay with my blog if I look back on them a few months later for reference).

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio!

 

A Show-and-Tell of My Experimental Quilting

knight detail from “Equipped to Stand”

My family helped me produce a new video I could never have done on my own for my YouTube channel that is a discussion and trunk show of my experimental quilting.  I think you might enjoy seeing it.  Here’s the link:  video

For years I have thought of much of my work as experimental fabric art, where I try to get certain looks in my quilts and sometimes had to develop a new technique or figure out how to apply a known technique to produce the look I wanted or just to see what something would look like.  It has been a bit of a wild ride over the years and so it seemed the thing to produce a show and tell for you all.

Thanks to my family for their help and encouragement both for the videos and the quilting. There are some fun things on the way.

Sew happy everyone!

 

Hand Stitching and Machine Stitching

I hand stitched this little crewel scene using wool threads years ago. It has a special meaning for me because I stitched it during my frequent visits with my mother in the months that lead up to her death in 1998. My youngest son took it and had it framed in a museum quality acid free framing to protect it.

I love both hand and machine stitched fabric art.  I do most, or nearly all my stitching by machine now, but that was not always the case.  I have done some rather beautiful, even if I do say so myself, embroidery, cross stitching, and crewel work by hand.  I used to d0 a lot of hand stitching when I made wedding dresses and couture tailored garments decades ago.  But I am now in my 70s and my hands get really tired in short order when I am doing hand stitching.

Besides that, I have wonderful Berninas that can help me do some remarkable things and I love exploring all they can do.  It seems to me possible to not only get an exquisite handmade look for some fabric art using my machines, but also to do some equally exquisite stitching that is clearly done by machine.

“Canterbury Silk”. This quilt won several ribbons in national competitions. All the stitching in this quilt is by machine.

I am not sure how much faster it is to do the stitching by machine, though I am sure it is a little bit.  This is especially the case when I am trying to embellish with specialty threads and decorative stitching.  To do that well, I often need to stitch slowly.  I imagine that there are some of you who can stitch more rapidly with super results, but I totally enjoy the slow stitching around appliques, for instance, or embellishing parts of an especially nice quilted wall art piece. It is as enjoyable to me as the hand stitching ever was.

Kanazawa Memories, Completed August 2015
Sashiko designs machine stitched with 12 weight Sulky cotton on to Peppered Cottons.  Appliqued with Monopoly. I love how the Sashiko came out on this piece.

High end machine work requires planning, testing, practice, and a fair amount of knowledge, but it is sometimes thought to be less artistic 0r less appreciated somehow than hand done work.  While I love hand work, I disagree with this point of view.  I think both are important and can be exquisite and  admired as something special.  I also think it is wonderful what can be accomplished by machine.

Sew happy everyone!  Have a delightful Merry Christmas!

Detail from “Noel”.

 

Embellishing Appliques by Machine

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.

As an example, here is one of the flowers appliqued and ready to embellish.  I used a combination of all wool felt and wool blend felt.

 

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!

 

 

 

Designing New Projects

In addition to my coming YouTube class on Wool Applique and Embellishment by Machine, which I am hopeful will be out in early December, I have begun working on new project designs. Amazingly I don’t really have any UFOs floating around the studio, except my bed applique quilt using a Sue Nickel’s pattern that I have been working on periodically for more than a year.  I would call that more of a work in progress than an unfinished object, though.

What I do have is a very long list of planned fabric art projects that I hope to also include in my youtube video channel.  This has certainly given me a different viewpoint on my project plans when I am considering using the resulting fabric art piece or pieces in multiple ways including not only competition as in the past, but also sharing some parts of the projects on videos and in books.  While I have the concept for a major work for competition underpinning my design thoughts, I also am thinking of pulling some samplers and small works from the same project to include in books and videos.

In the case of the great wool project, I have kind of been working in the other direction of building the samplers, videos, and book first and I am now coming up with a design for a major competitive work using these techniques.  I already know what I am thinking of doing for that, but I haven’t got the design drawn up yet. I have pieces of it drawn, but not the overall design.  So I am working on that.  It’s exciting.

Considering that I want to rapidly launch a number of videos along the way, I am sorting through my long list to figure out the next video/competitive piece project.  I am thinking it should center around free motion thread and decorative elements work and quilting.  It may involve using a preprinted commercial panel, but I am not sure of that yet.  So this is what I am playing around with in my design work right now.  The overall design is always the thing that takes the most time for me.  I know that a lot of fabric artists can just sit down and draw something, but for me it is a struggle.  I have a concept in my mind, but getting it out of there into a form I can use to work on is always challenging.  But it is still lots of fun.

Wool Project and Videos Update:

 

Sampler one part one. Here we have the simple shapes of the sampler in place, ready to begin the second part of embellishment/embroidery.

For contextt…here is my test and practice piece using the same dies. There will be a lot more  special stitching though.

So my dear oldest son Ken saw how I was struggling to get setup to do videos in a massive tangle cords and equipment and he came to my rescue.  He has installed some brackets around my studio so I can quickly attach a camera or a light where I need it. He has given me some instruction on the use of lights and a new light and diffuser. So with all of that, he has reduced my setup work and taken down the time from a full day of setup to a few minutes.  The first video segments I am working with from this are also much better lit and easier to see overall.  It’s amazng the difference careful planning and assistance can make!

Later he is coming over to help me with the audio so, unlike my original video that I removed from YouTube, you should be able to hear it well thorughout (and from his other work to see it as well)!  What a great couple of sons I have!

All week I have been taping segments that will join together to show how its done and I  will do a voice over script.

A box full of simple shapes ready to place on the sampler that I cut with my Accuquilt Go! cutter using five different dies I bought for other projects.

Here are the dies I am using for this overall project.

This has involved my sewing on my ssampler quilted wall hanging that is the subject of the first three videos.  So I am taping a little while I sew, sewing a lot in between, and taping a little more.   I do not think I could do this well in one continuous live presentation like I tried to do with the video I first made.  If I were to go live, it would involve a little live and a little pretaped bits. (My current work jingle: sew a little, film a little, talk a little, sew sew sew) ???

Sew happy everyone!  Shortly I will drop the discussion of making the videos and go back to mostly fabric art talk.  I thought you might want to know why I wasn’t producing a lot of fabric art, but that has begun again! Finally!  Cheers.