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”.

 

300th Blog Post! and Other Things

This is my 300th blog post here!  Sew I thought it was a good time to talk about several things planned for the near future related to my little micro business.

I am rebuilding my website and will be adding a little shopping cart that I am planning to use just for downloadable files, such as workbooks, patterns, and other downloadable aids for sewing and quilting.  I am almost done with the new website and hope to introduce it to you very soon.  The shop will be added a little later.

Now the main website is different from my blog, just in case you are wondering.  This blog will remain the same at least for some months.  Eventually, I am hoping to move this over to the blog space that comes with my website upgrade, but I don’t want to lose my older blogs.  If you haven’t done so for a while or ever, scroll back through my blogs.  You have to do it by the month by going to the archives box and selecting the month.  But you will find there are a lot of things you may find helpful in my blog archives.

Perhaps I will instead of moving the blogs, pull the more useful information from them and put them into a book or books with a bit of editing, and then start a totally new blog.  What do you think?  I would love to have your input on how to handle this.

In the meanwhile, I am still working on getting my videos going on YouTube.  The first set of three or four videos on Wool Applique by Machine are nearly done and will be posted by the end of December.  I have a long list of video subjects I am planning on developing.  For this first set, there will be free handouts for download from here, but for the next of them there will be a mix of workbooks and patterns for a small cost from my main website shop I am setting up, and the occasional free downloads will still be from this blog.

Of course, all of this is centered around my continued quilted fabric art work (multi-use work..LOL).  Once I get over the hump of setting all of this up, and I am almost there, then I will be able to go back to mostly sewing and quilting and designing, but just using a lot of it for my videos.  It has been a bit of a bear getting it all set up, but I have had a great deal of help from my sons.

So 2021 looks to be really exciting for me and my studio, and I hope for all of my readers.  Here is a little list of some of the subjects I am thinking about for the first half of 2021.

  • Wool Applique by Machine Techniques Sampler
  • Advanced Wool Applique Wall=hanging Project
  • Cotton and silk applique techniques and when to use what technique
  • Fabrics of several types and their properties when making fabric art
  • Embellishment threads, ribbons, roving, beads, and findings with machine work and how to get the best results
  • Free motion and in-the-hoop embroidery and using it well
  • Start with a fabric panel and end with a piece of exquisite embellished fabric art
  • Sit down longarm videos  (free motion embroidery and quilting, using rulers, mixing things up)
  • Bernina Q20 specific videos (short videos)
  • Some Bernina V8 specific videos
  • a bunch of really short technique videos.
  • I am thinking about doing some  real tailoring videos and workbooks. It’s something I know well and I think is something others would find interesting.
  • and on and on…not much if anything about piecing.  But there are a ton of piecing videos out there by real experts.

I don’t really know what I will do in what order.  Part of the fun for me is moving through the things I know that I want to share by using the projects I want to work on myself.  I don’t have deadlines, and I don’t plan on setting them, but I will let you know when they are ready to do.

Sew happy everyone!

 

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!

 

 

 

Wool Applique and Other Things

Hi dear readers.  I am pretty excited because I have finally gotten a good start on my wool applique project and have made a decision about what I will work on for my secondary project.

Test and practice piece I made to make some decisions before starting the actual project.

So today I pulled together all the pieces I have had around the studio for a while that are available for my wool project.  I was pleased to find my packages of felt that I had bought some years ago are fine melton wool felt .  These are mostly two unused packages of a variety of colors I bought them from Nancy’s Notions probably 7 or 8 years ago and they are in wonderful shape. They don’t have these now, so I recommend Sue Spargo sets such as the blue set or the red set I highlighted available on Amazon.

Here are the melton wool pieces I will be using for this project. The background reddish brown piece is richer in color than it appears in this picture. It is one of the new pieces I ordered from a tailoring supply place in California. The smaller precuts were purchased years ago in multicolored packs and are also melton wool felt.

I have several gorgeous melton wool pieces in one yard cuts that I ordered about a month ago.  Since the wool applique projects I am making for my book and videos are small, these 60 inch wide one yard cuts will make two or even three of the projects background pieces, a test piece, and are likely to have small leftover bits that can be added to the smaller pieces for the appliques.

Detail showing some of the decorative stitching.

I have also been identifying where to find the supplies for people who want to make these projects themselves.  I will share those with you at some later point once I figure it all out.

A detail from the test piece showing how well the applique is stitched on by machine with almost no visibility of the stitches.

I have some interesting hand woven placemats I bought somewhere sometime years ago and decided they were not going to work for placements for me, but they were really interesting handwoven look.  I don’t know the fiber content though I think it is cotton and wool, and I can’t even remember when or where I bought them. I washed and dried them by machine and they came out in good shape.  They will be an interesting addition for appliques I can use in the future or for the show quilt I am planning on making at the end of the great wool project.  Before I cut them out, they will have to be backed with interfacing and/or Steam-a-Seam fusible, which kind of acts as a stabilizer and will keep them from fraying.  I will show those to you when I figure where and how to use them.

Additional detail stitching. I am saving a library of these stitches as I have them set in the files on my Bernina 880 Plus. I have had this machine for about a year now and the more I use it the better I like it. It’s amazing.

Sew I have made a couple of decisions  for studio activities for the future.  I plan on making a new deep space quilt as my second project to work on for when I need a break from the wool project.

Spiral Galaxy No. 3 one of my deep space quilts.

I always want two projects going at once to give my mind and sewing muscles differing things to do from time to time.  The neat thing is that deep space quilts are made almost entirely free motion with angelina fibers, a little bit of painting, and hot fix crystals.  That means it will mostly be done in Studio Fritz the room where my Bernina Q20 longarm sitdown machine (Fritz) resides.   While the wool project will mostly be done in Studio Gibbs where my Bernina 880 plus  (Odette) lives and where my cutting/painting/whatever island is.  I also plan a bit of needle punching with my little Bernina 350 for which I have the needle punch attachment. That, too, will be part of my book and video projects.

A Word About the Future of the Craft of Sewing

Okay.  I know I said two decisions.  The second one is to figure out the direction for my work for the future. I decided I don’t want to do online live classes like on Zoom, but I will do some hopefully enjoyable videos and put them on YouTube.  I have been and still am a studio artist and this is my main focus.  I did do some local classes at G Street Fabrics, and was kind of considering entering the larger teaching circuit, but that avenue is no longer available at the moment. I had found it so much work and it barely paid me back for the work and expenses I invested in the classes.  I loved it and glad I had the experience, but I won’t be returning to in person teaching.

While I still very much wish to share what I have learned, I am going to do this by writing books and making videos and perhaps the occasional trunk show if invited.  I will continue to work in my slow way toward these goals.

I don’t know if the quilt shows will fully come back for years.  I am going to still make professional show-quality art quilts, and capture the making of them in videos and blogs and books.  If the in-person shows come back, I will then have some to enter just for fun, but I’m not going to stop making them.  I don’t know what I will do with them beyond that and giving them away here and there or selling one every so often and enjoying them myself.

Don’t worry when you hear of shows closing and people changing their current paths in the quilting or sewing world.  The sky is not falling. There even appears to be some new interest in sewing and quilting brought on by people making masks and experimenting with sewing during the pandemic. Sew if you have the opportunity, teach someone to sew even if it is remotely.  As Becky Thompson on her YouTube Vlog Power Tools with Thread likes to say “Go sew something!”

Preparing to Make Videos in a Tangle of Cables and Technology

Sew I have spent the whole last week working toward getting set up for VLOG’s that I plan to periodically publish on YouTube. I thought in the beginning I would be able to do the setup in a couple of days at most, but there were so many things my test videos revealed that needed attention…placement of the cameras, sound quality of the recordings, doing the demonstration of the sewing around the cameras, poor skill of the presenter (me).  I have finally managed to get a setup of two of my three cameras at my Bernina 880 plus and an additional setup at my Q20 so that you can see me fairly well, and it doesn’t emphasize my age too very much like my first try did.  I got the front camera placed so you can see the stitching going on relatively well and it doesn’t get so much in my way so I can’t really work.  For instance, it doesn’t get in the way of threading my machine like one of my tries did.  I think that front camera will also be a little adjustable so if you need to see the screen and buttons on the machine that will be possible. The third camera will be placed on an overhead gadget my son Ken put together for me.  That has to be installed first though.

Through a little YouTube research on the camera gear, I finally figured out I was missing a small piece of equipment that is designed to improve the sound quality between the camera and the microphone.  I ordered that from Amazon and it will presumably arrive early next week.

Besides getting the equipment set up, I realized I need to do considerable practice for my videos to flow nicely and be enjoyable.  I am not a natural presenter, so I have to work at that a bit. I am also working on getting my video editing with multiple cameras up to par. So I am guessing it will be another couple of weeks before I start publishing videos on YouTube, but I am thinking I have made a lot of progress so far.

In the meantime, I am working on my book and downloadable handouts to accompany some of these videos.  I kind of wish, in a way, that I could just drop all of this and go make a fun piece of fabric art.  But I think once I get it all set up I CAN go make a fun piece of fabric art and include my quilty friends that are interested in the process with my videos.

I am still very excited about my wool applique by machine overall project that inspired all of this in the first place.  I so far have five skill-building pieces outlined and some are completely written in my book manuscript.  I need to make the samples for that.   After that, I am planning on additional books encapslating some of my somewhat unique techniques that draw heavily on machine work.  So this is just the necessary not-so-fun part right now and I’ll get over that hump shortly.

I really admire those of my friends who so successfully create their teaching videos with seeming speed and grace.  My process is much more bumpy and slow.  LOL

Sew happy everyone! Have fun in your studios this week.  I love watching a lot of my quilty friends videos.  They help keep me cheerful.  Cheers.

Sizzling Hot in the Studio

We certainly are having a heat wave! My studio Fritz is the warmest room in my home.  This is where my longarm sitdown Bernina Q20 and my computer setup lives. I also have Studio Gibbs, where I store my fabrics and where my Bernina 880 Plus lives, and there is little Studio Betsy, where my little Bernina 350 and my old Baby Lock Serger lives in one part of my bedroom.  These rooms are all on the top floor of my home. It’s over 100 outside, supposedly it feels like 117 here in Ashburn, Virginia, right now and is very humid. Our AC is good, but is struggling to keep up for the upper floor.

So I am working down in my main level on my laptop writing this blog and doing some planning for some videos for YouTube I hope to make. I finally have gathered all the cameras, software, and so forth I need for that and am currently getting it all setup and figuring out how to run it all.

  • I now have three cameras and several tripods and clamp-on holders.
  • My son Ken gave me two of the cameras and a gadget he made with a remote that attaches to the wall so I can focus one camera over my island where I cut, do some paint/dying, and can even set up some ironing.  That will allow me to show a lot of things flat from above.  I still have to install that on the wall, but that should be easy and I will probably get that done tomorrow.
  • I will be able to use two cameras surrounding wherever I am working, which is always a great help when you are trying to show techniques involving sewing.
  • I have a nice video editor from Corel that I have been studying how to use and trying to set up some templates for the videos. This allows me to use multiple cameras in a single video.
  • I also now have a webcam, a clip on microphone, and  even some stuff I haven’t yet figured out that Ken gave me. hahahaha  I think some of it assembles into a device that I can hang a background or a green screen on.

I guess when you ask a tech-oriented family to help you get setup for videos, they think well beyond your own simple thoughts into a reasonably professional production set for the self producer.  LOL.  I may need some help doing some of the videos, but I think I will be able to do most of them alone once all is set up.  I’m hoping to get this all done this week, but we’ll see.

It is a great blessing, and I am thrilled, but it is taking me some time to figure it all out.  I figure I need to do some plans…not really a script but maybe some talking point and gather the pieces for the projects and other videos I will be showing.  I’ve been planning this for several years and am finally getting it all put together.

So in the late afternoons when it is too hot upstairs I will work on scripts or guides or whatever they should be called.

That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about my production setup, but at least I have it all recorded so I can possibly figure out what I’m doing…hahaha.

My plan is to produce videos, books, and downloadables for intermediate to somewhat advanced people interested in advancing their fabric art/quilted art.  After doing some research there appears to be a plethora of these informative things for beginners, but a bit of a gap for the intermediate and above people.

I will be presenting what I have learned over the past sixty years of sewing and sixteen years of quilting (overlapping), while acknowledging there are many ways of doing things but these are the techniques I like.  I feel compelled to share this before I age out to the point I can’t.  Some of it will be free, and some will be for sale at reasonable prices.  I hope to get this fully launched at least by September, and there will probably be a few videos within a few weeks.

These are the main categories I am planning on addressing:

  1. Working with a sitdown longarm…quilting, free motion thread work, couching, and a few specifics for the Bernina Q20.
  2. Using high end sewing machines with all those wonderful things they open up to the fabric artist, going beyond the obvious.
  3. What you can do in-the-hoop embroidery and more on the Bernina software V8 to go along with my book I already have published.
  4. Projects that use multi media techniques and/or take advantage of a studio that has both a high-end 9 mm sewing machine and a sit down longarm and even occassionally includes a little 5 mm sewing machine.
  5. I am hoping to develop workbooks, project books, and patterns for sale to go with some of this. I’ve been working on these this past year but I still have a ways to go,

So there you are.  I will not be teaching out of my home for some time, so I thought it was really time to push forward with this plan that has been in my thoughts for years.

Sew happy everyone! Let me know if you have a particular technique or some such you wish you could learn more about.  Maybe I can work it in.  Stay happy everyone…go do some sewing or drawing or reading or watching of videos or just chilling. Cheers.

 

What I Do to Make Threads Behave Better, Part Two

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.

 

 

What I Do to Make Thread Behave Better, Part 1

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 shredding.  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,
  • batting types,
  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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

     

  3. 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.

     

  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

       

  8. 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.
  9. Bernina machine oil
  10. 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

     

  11. 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

  1. 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.
  2. If it is a cone, make sure it has a net.
  3. If it is metallic, run it through the lubrication path after adding a drop of lubricant on the sponge.
  4. If it is monopoly run it through the lubrication path to help control this lively thread.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Replace your bobbin.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Remember to have the foot up when rethreading…a real necessity to make it all seat into the thread path correctly.
  17. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

A Sunny Mother’s Day and Considering Next Steps in My Studio

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone.  Yes, many of you are mothers and grandmothers, but I know a couple of you who have no children but provide much learning and support to us quilters and sewists in motherly fashion.  So Happy Mother’s Day to all of my readers (even the guys).   My oldest son Ken has already called to talk with me, and my youngest son David, who shares my home with me, is going to cook a steak dinner tonight.  Lovely!

My side yard

It’s gorgeous here in Ashburn, Virginia.  About 65 and totally sunny with not a cloud in the sky.  I just spend about an hour out back enjoying it all.  The back of my house looks out into a small woods, just thick enough so I can’t see over to the next part of the neighborhood and thin enough so developers won’t come and build back there.  The wildlife is delightful that live there…birds of several varieties, bunnies, turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, and even foxes.  I feed the birds so I can see them and they pay me back by keeping down the gnats and flies and singing to me.

My youngest son David on the upper deck.

Sew I had hoped to finish the quilt I am making in memory of my wonderful mom, but though I have made great progress, I still have a ways to go.  I have finished the quilting on the central part of the quilt and am working on the borders.  I put freeform feathers on the bottom border, and I plan on doing the same on the top border.  I got some new stencils and am have marked a beautiful vine with leaves coming down both sides.  Since I quilt everything to death, except my snuggle utility quilts, I have a lot of quilting to go yet.  And then I will have to wash it to remove the markings, and paint some of it.  So there is much to do still.  I had thought it would not be pretty enough on the back to be a good show quilt, but I just turned it completely over and was surprised to find it is beautiful.  Yes, there are flaws, but it is still beautiful.  The flaws don’t seem to show much on the front.  Some of them will be removed, others will maybe go under a label or two (I’m thinking of writing a little biography of my mom in a simple text label in addition to the who made it when and so forth label).

What’s Next?

Sew I am close enough to being done with Mom’s quilt to think about what my next major project will be.   I actually have three going now.  One is my own personal snuggle quilt for my bed using Sue Nickles applique blocks that I just use to work on when I want to do something that is just relaxing sewing, one is a fairly extensive project of wool applique by machine that I am simultaneously writing a book about.

I have found that there is a slight bit of room in the art quilting world for books that people with advanced machines may want to have.  There are a lot of how to quilting books for beginners, piecing books, and yes, even some advanced art quilting books, but I think while there are some books out there for people with all these wonderful stitches and feet and other attachments, that area might still have room for some skill building books for using these advanced machines many of us have.  Wool applique by machine is my first of these skill-building books I am working on (I just bought a second camcorder and will be making videos too).

Another book I am thinking of is multiple deep space quilts using a variety of methods in homage to the magnificent deep space scenes you can find many of on NASA’s website that are copyright free.  Here I have some credentials in the quilting world, because I have won several nice ribbons on my deep space quilts and I have many more to make.  So I thought this would be a good book and already have it underway using photos I took while creating some of these quilts.  I plan on making several more, some step outs and some small ones to sell for people who may want one of these for their wall, or to give as a gift.  Of course, I will be producing show quilts from this project also, giving my work double, or even triple use (I will be making some videos too).

Sttitching Spiral Quilt 3 with a reference picture.  I gave this quilt to Ken and Beth.

I guess maybe that is all I can do this year, but it doesn’t stop me from planning other quilts, and thinking about how I can incorporate them into books and videos.  I may speed up, and some of these books are nearly written and only need a few samplers. so it might not be as overwhelming as it sounds.

I would love for my readers to tell me what they want me to teach by book and video (I am not going to do much travel for a while), realizing that I have been sewing for more than sixty years, having even once owned my own fashion design business, and quilting since 2009, with ribbons and other awards to my name.

One of my most prized awards that may sound unrelated, but is not, is a simple honorable mention I won in Kanazawa Japan decades ago.  I studied Ikebana there, receiving my fourth year Sogetsu School Ikebana certificate, the next one, had I continued, would have been a master certificate.  While there, I entered a flower show and made an arrangement using great big sunflowers, chrysanthemums, and swooping curls of broomstick.  It won an honorable mention.  Theoretically, it was anonymous.  But there were some magnificent arrangements there.  It’s something I have never forgotten. Nor have I forgotten a single bit of my training.  I have sketch books with some of my arrangements too.  A flower arranging quilt would be fun.

Kanazawa Memories, with machine stitched sashiko and a fabric Ikebana arrangement I made by printing individual flowers on fabric and appliqueing them into an arrangement.  I lived in Kanazawa Japan for three years as a young woman.  I no longer own this quilt.

In the stitching/sewing world, I can probably teach almost anything except piecing and hand sewing.  I can do those things, but only at about an intermediate level, whereas clothes, tailoring, and now art quilting, I consider myself to be at an expert level in many of the techniques.  Please comment and send me your questions or suggestions either here, on Facebook or send me an email/message, realizing it will be a while before I get the answers to you, unless it is a simple answer I can put on my blog.  Also, what do you think of my planning to write books for people with higher tech machines?

Sew happy everyone!  I hope you get to go out and enjoy the great beauty of spring or fall wherever you are.

 

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Fixing Things

I know that sometimes things go awry with my quilted art projects no matter how hard I try to keep things on track.  Usually, though not always, it is entirely my fault.  But sometimes, it is a machine or tool misbehaving.  This week it was my bobbin case, or rather the little spring in my bobbin case.  Fortunately, I had a spare, but I was not good about trying that until I had exhausted all the other reasons I was getting nasty big nested wads on the back of my quilt.

It started with just an occassional nest, and got progressively worse.  In the end, before I was about to decide there was something seriously wrong with my Bernina Q20 (Fritz) sitdown longarm, it looked like this:

back when bobbin spring broke down.

Sew I made every step and tried many things.  I cleaned, oiled, flossed out the thread path, and blew out the bobbin area.  I took the bobbin out and put in a fresh bobbin.  I took out the magic bobbin washer I usually use and tried that.  I put it back in and tried that.  I reset the bobbin tension, and yes, it was way off for some reason, and tried that.  I changed the needle, I changed the top thread.  It got better periodically, and I thought we were ok, so I went back to quilting. Unfortunately, it started misbehaving badly again (it looked great on the top but I could feel and hear it everytime it made a nest).  So I stopped.  I prayed about it.  It was especially important that I could fix it myself since my Bernina shop is closed right now.

And then I remembered that I had bought a spare bobbin case spring because I had read on one of my facebook groups that is something people should have on hand for the Bernina Q20/Q24 longarms.  I replaced the spring on the bobbin, rethreaded everything, and reset to default settings, just in case. I still got thread nests…and was about to give up, but I decided to doublecheck the tension on the bobbin again.  When I took the bobbin case out, I found the bobbin was in upside down!  Hahahaha.  I must have done that the last time I took it out and put it back.  So I put it in right, rechecked the bobbin tension and tried again.  What do you know!  It worked.  It sewed cleanly and beautifully without any problems.  So I readjusted the tension and stitch length to my preferred settings and sewed for a full half day with no problems.  It is still sewing well.  The spring didn’t seem to be that far flattened, but it was flatter and less bouncy than the new one. I know the bobbin was in right for most of my attempts to fix the nests.  I had to laugh at myself.

Sew now I am left with the ten or so inches of the quilting on my border of the quilt that I have to unstitch, or unstitch at least a good part of it and restitch.  I hate unstitching and it’s hard to do!  So I have to make some decisions here on what I have to actually do.  The location of this batch of bad quilting is in the lower right corner, right where a label should go.  So I can hide at least some of the bad back stitches under a label, cutting off a good portion of the nests.  In the process of all of this, I used a different thread for the actual large feather on that section of the border than I did for the second one on the other side of the lower border.  The first thread is lighter and needs to be removed, because the darker new thread looks much better.  So I will have to remove the whole feather.  Sigh.  I am not having much success at this.  This portion stitched well and I find the stitches hard to pick out. It is slow.  Sigh! But I will persist.

This all brings up the topic of fixing things on your quilted art pieces.  There are things to consider when deciding to unstitch and other things that can be done some of the time.

  1. Is the project a show quilt or show garment or for other professional use? If so, it must be fixed.
  2. Does the problem really make the item less desireable for personal use or a gift?
  3. Can you somehow cover up the problem with appliques, false back sections (shows do not accept false backs on show quilts), back appliques that add fun or beauty, or hide with paint?
  4. Is it even possible to fix the problem? If not, can you use the item in some alternative way?

Sew happy everyone!  Hang in there.  We really are going to come to the end of this trying time and things will get better again.  We may have even learned a lot of interesting life lessons from all of this.  I am, in fact, really pretty excited about the fall and winter quilting and quilt show season that is before us.  I am already working on it.  How about you?