How to Stop Fearing Your Machine and Start Having Fun

I love this picture from early in the twentieth century.

Periodically in some of my Facebook groups that are focused around quilting and sewing I see a surprising number of people who have sewing or quilting machines they are truly afraid to use.  Now I can see how this might happen.  Today’s machines are often technically advanced, big, powerful, and fast.  That can be very intimidating, especially if you fear making mistakes on your creations or breaking your machine.  Maybe you are afraid of sewing through your fingers.  Maybe you think you can’t possibly figure out how to use that advanced machine.  These are legitimate fears, but you can take steps to stop them in their tracks.

Let’s talk about this a little.  In almost any creative situation you can figure out how to make an approach of taking things apart and moving step by step to find you can do far far more than you ever thought you could.  And yes, you will almost certainly mess up, make mistakes, have to unstitch, break a needle, break some thread, or even mess up so badly you throw a project away.  Give yourself permission to throw things away, and realize they have served their purpose in teaching you something.  This is just sign of progress and that you tried.  So here is my suggested method to overcome the fear of your machines, or even to advance your understanding of them:

  • Read the manual of your machine.  Yes, read it even if you have been sewing for 65 plus years, even if it is a somewhat simpler machine, or even if it’s boring or you don’t understand it, but read it anyway.  Later you will remember that there is an answer to a question you have along the way in your manual so you can go back and look it up in the index at the back when you need it.  You don’t have to remember it until you need it.  You just have to remember that there is an answer there.  Sometimes you may find you do things differently with this machine than you did with your mom’s machine you learned on.  If you don’t find the manual, they are often online free for download.
  • Get yourself a small notebook and make notes as you go.  Keep a record of your steps, the settings on your machine you used for what. Even after 65 years plus of sewing, I still keep notes on projects I do.  It’s so handy when I want to do it again, or have gone out of my project to hem my new jeans and need to get back to where I was on my project.  I have also taken those notes and made spreadsheets or lists that I can print out and stick on my wall for reference.
  • Take advantage of the tools your machine has.  These tools include both the functional tools built into your machine and the accessories (specialty feet, magnifying glass, differing sole plates, optional threading aids, cleaning aids, pinpoint lasers, and other things).  Yes, you have spent a lot buying your machine…so spend a little more and get those specialty feet as you need them for particular projects.  It makes your initial investment truly worth it.
  • Realize that even if you paid a lot for your machines they are not perfect (nothing manufactured is, really!), but usually they will work if you do things right.  They may have some things that might go awry from time to time.  So join those Facebook groups where you can ask what other people do about some things, look in the manual near the end where they have the section usually entitled  “Troubleshooting”, go on YouTube to find if it is something you can fix yourself (if you have a Bernina, take a look at Bernina Boys  on YouTube), contact your machine’s online support (I can’t tell you how many problems I have gotten solved this way without having to lug my machines to the dealer), or yes, lug your machine to the dealer and get that problem fixed.  But start with a cleaning, check on the tensions, and change the needle…maybe even change the thread.
  • And if you are not getting that nagging problem fixed by your dealer, contact the manufacturer (using the online support) and ask them what to do.  Remember, they WANT you to be happy with your machine.  If you are happy with your machine you will tell others about it, and they will buy one.  If you are happy with your machine, you might buy another one that has another function (I have three Berninas).  But I will suggest that if you buy a solid advanced machine and LEARN HOW TO USE IT, you will almost certainly be amazed at what you can do with it.

    My Bernina 830 LE named Gibbs

  • Realize that, surprisingly, sometimes it is the thread, the needle, and something amiss with your machine.  But normally problems can be solved by cleaning the machine, changing the tensions. using a different sized needle, or just replacing a needle that may be slightly bent or have a blunt end.
  • Learning to use your particular machine is like learning to play a new instrument.  You HAVE TO PRACTICE!!!  Yes, practice a little bit frequently and a lot once in a while at the very least.  Practice even if you have sewn for 65 plus years.  Practice is just that.  You are making a practice piece…something that may even end up in the trash.  But this can be really fun.  Remember that..it’s ultimately fun!

    My Bernina B350 named Edith Claire (E.Claire) after Edith Head.

     

  • Plan out your project in small steps.  Prepare your pieces (make the markings you need to make).  Be sure you have the right threads, needles, backings, battings, stabilizers and interfacings on hand.  These things make using your machine so much easier.

    My Bernina Q20 named Fritz.

     

  • And finally, if you have a computerized machine, make sure you keep it updated with the latest updates.  Sometimes the updates are put out primarily to correct some bug they have discovered and so you won’t have that problem happen to you.  Sometimes they add new stitches or new functions.  Find out how to do this in your manual.

Here I have attached a pdf file to print out a small practice project for free motion quilting.  It is sized so you can print it out with normal letter sized paper and tape it together.  Then use it as a marking guide for your fabric.

FMQ Practice

I developed it for a FMQ workshop I will be teaching at the sewing machine department at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland in October of this year.  I’d love to see you there.  There are only eight spots for students, so call them (ask for sewing machine department) and reserve your space.  It’s about organic fmq for fabric artists…no fancy feathers, but lots of fun.  I’m also teaching a class on 22 September in Machine Applique for Fabric Artists, and one in October on Feed Dogs Up Quilting for Fabric Artists.

Sew happy everyone.  Go read your manual and practice.  Then have some fun making a wonderful project.  You will be happy you conquered your machines…well almost conquered…or at least learned to use them.  LOL

 

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.

 

 

 

Five Years as a Full Time Fabric Artist: Stash Changes

I’ve been making art quilts now on a serious basis for about 10 years and full time for five! 

It surprised me when I realized that.  While thinking about that and looking at my bulging and dripping over stash storage, I realize that my quilt needs have changed as I developed my styles over the past ten years.

So how has it changed?

I have enormously increased my thread stash over the years, and recently I jaw-droppingly won Superior Threads giveaway of 30 cones of all 30 colors of their new Microquilter 100 weight.  This is a thread I will use a lot and recognized when they introduced it that if it was as good as I expected that I would want a lot of it.  What a nice thing!  Thanks Superior! So I bought  new cone holder to accommodate that.  I store my smaller spools in the plastic drawers where I used to store more fabric.  I would have a hard time adding much thread into my stash now.  I am thankful for this stash and expect to use most of it over the next few years. I use a lot of thread in my wall art quilts.

I had originally stocked in a lot of Oriental fabric prints, story prints, and landscape prints in the strong reds, browns, and blues I really love.

I have increased those fabrics that are either solid or read solid, and I also have large quantity of blacks and whites, and I even have a lot of prepared for dye fabrics.  Truly, I could use bolts of blacks, whites, and solid dark blues.  I recently used up a bolt of black and had to buy some more.

I still love landscape fabrics, and have lots of plans for those.

I originally told myself I would never paint a quilt.  Sew how has it happened that paints, inks, and other fabric markers have grown into a big stash…not huge, but big?  He he he he.

Then there are crystals, beads, and sequins, which I use mostly on space and ancient manuscript quilts with a crystal or two on some of my others.  These are small and take little space, but I use them up rapidly when I make one deep space quilt.  I don’t buy a lot ahead because it is so expensive.  I do watch for big sales in bulk though.

I can’t seem to keep enough stabilizers and battings in stock, since I use them a lot and mostly buy them as I need them, so those spaces are about the same.

I plan on a little stash busting by making a quilt for my bed and maybe a couple of lap quilts for my home and a charity quilt or two from the parts of the stash I no longer anticipate using in professional art quilts.

I will be reducing my stashes throughout this year.  The last time I did this was about five years ago when I retired and started full time, and it held up well, but is once again in need of some attention.

I refuse to let myself add more storage, because I have plenty to keep enough fabrics, threads, and paints to last me the rest of my life! I must reduce what I have to make it all fit again and make room for the few things I need for specific projects that aren’t already there.  This will be an ongoing effort for the next several months, I think…maybe longer.

Sew I am well stocked for quilting and sewing, though I could use more cotton-silk Radiance and a few more neutrals.

With apologies to those of you who are interested, I will be late in my promise for part two of our stylized landscape project next steps.  I have to work through the background to get  pictures and maybe even videos and that is taking longer than I anticipated.  Nevertheless, I will get part two done in this month.

Sew how has your stash changed since you started this activity?  Do you need to reduce or add or both?  I would love to hear from you about this.

The Hoffman Challenge Is Finished and Now…

OK I finished my Hoffman Challenge quilt.  I still have to make the label and put the hanging pocket on the back, but otherwise this little quilt is finished.  I had intended to spend only a few weeks making it. Here is a picture:

Summer Media..photo by Ken Tatum

Summer Media..photo by Ken Tatum

I named it “Summer Melody”.  It took me longer than I planned, but I while I was making it I reorganized my entire upper floor, both my studio and my bedroom..and thoroughly cleaned my main level.  I also had my main sewing machine, Gibbs, go on the blink and had to carry it over for repair, bought my Bernina Q20, had it installed, and held my own private quilting retreat with classes and learning/practicing on my Q20.  So I’m tired but happy to have completed it and have now cleared the deck for some more intense show quilt making and continued work on my first book.

I went out to G Street Fabrics today to pick up a few things (an hour there and an hour back, plus I always spend some time there).  And NOW….

Having cleared up my studio, gotten my machines sorted out, finished all my ongoing quilts, I am all excited about beginning the next two projects, especially, and about working more on my first book about applique.  I like to work on two quilts at once, so I can vary things when I need to stop and think about next steps.  I am going to make a spiral galaxy quilt and my oldest son Ken’s design he put together for me (see the blog about that here).  I think I’ll write progress blogs about the spiral galaxy.  I want to hold back blogging about Ken’s design because it is very special.  I will, however, blog about making it after it’s debut showing, wherever that will be.  I also want to make some new blouses and vests for me–we’ll see if that gets done.

Sew happy everyone!  Oh it’s sew much fun…always play time in B.J.’s studio.  Come join me for a day or two if you are anywhere near Ashburn, VA.  There’s room and machines for friends to come and sew and quilt with me…just a few at a time though.  I can’t put you up overnight though.. I used up my guest rooms for my studio.  But there are some really nice hotels nearby. 😀 😀 😀

Finishing Things So I Can Start New Things

I love finishing projects of all kinds.  It means I have accomplished something, but chiefly, it means I can start something new.  Currently, I am working on finishing my Hoffman Challenge 2016 small wall quilt.  It is such a happy project…full of butterflies and bunnies, and set in a whimsical forest.  I am quilting it now.    I know that you don’t HAVE to finish one project before starting another, but it’s really nice to do it that way.  I have a hard time not finishing before starting another, simply because of all the years I had to finish things for really important reasons, and way back when I had my own fashion design/tailoring business when I HAD to finish projects for my clients’ sake.

I am also getting my studio rearranged so I can put my new Bernina Q20 where it will be easily available.  To do this, I had to start with reorganizing my bedroom so I could eliminate one of my two dressers and move the Koala cabinet that I use with my Bernina 1230 and Bernina 350 into my bedroom.  I have finished preparations for that part of the reorg.  Next I will be putting the Q20 where the Koala cabinet is now.  It all starts tomorrow with a scheduled pickup of no-longer-in-use clothing and shoes (six bags so far).  Then on Tuesday the 31st, the guys come who are taking the dresser away to charity and moving the koala cabinet in place.  Then the following Monday, June 6th, I am expecting the delivery and setup of the Q20.  And finally, on Wednesday, the 8th, my dear friend and Bernina dealer Mei Ling, and the magician machine tech Lew, who fixed my 830LE, are coming to provide me with a day of training on the use and servicing of the Q20.

Wow!  I mean WOW!!!  When they have finished on Wednesday, I will be ready to begin a new phase in being a studio fabric artist.  I’ve recently learned that is what I am, because I am not an extrovert who wishes to travel all over and teach.  I am not particularly an introvert either, because I love people.  But I love my studio and my work as an artist whose medium is fabric and quilting.  I feel inspired when I’m in the studio working (and usually listening to music).

Upon completion of all of this, I will have available for my creative use two standard workhorse machines for use in clothing and some piece work (and the 350 to take to classes), my Bernina 830LE (Gibbs) for machine embroidery, specialized applique, and decorative stitch work, and my new Q20 set up as a sit down longarm for my quilting work.  I will still use Gibbs for quilting when I want to quilt with decorative stitching, but that is only about one percent of my quilting.  I also have a small kitchen island that is my cutting and painting station, a nearby small bathroom where I do some occasional hand dyes and for use with cleaning up after painting, and my computer station with a good ink jet printer.  In the process of all of this, I am removing a couple of old printers and putting in a second monitor for my computer station (at no cost…just work) to assist me with the design work.

I am most grateful to the Lord, my kids, and my Bernina friends who have or are all pitching in one way or another to help me make this happen.  It is a dream studio.  Sew I am a healthy, albeit overweight, 69 now.  In the past, I sewed decades using lesser machines and after work and weekends, and then spent a lot of time learning the art quilt craft after I retired a little over three years ago.  This seams a very good time to raise the level of my work up another notch, don’t you think?  It would also be a great help to me to start winning more ribbons and selling more quilts (and even completing and selling my books) to help pay for my fabric art work and maybe even add a little additional income.

I just completed “Drawing Nigh” and am about to finish the Hoffman Challenge quilt.  So what is next after my studio revamp?  Ahhh.,..I have a lot of plans that seem to be growing all the time.  First off, I want badly to make a new show quilt by 15 August for the PA Nat’l Quilt Extravaganza in Philadelphia because I’m going up there for that show and am staying with a long term friend who recently retired and moved nearby there.  So I want something to show off with…LOL…I don’t think I can complete Ken’s wonderful quilt by then, so I am planning on attempting the next quilt in my deep space series, which may be doable.  After all, it was that show last year that gave Sky Horse it’s ribbon (Best color choice for its category).  I think I probably can.  More than half of the work on those quilts is free motion quilting.  It will be a good tryout for my new Q20.  I hope to complete Ken’s quilt by the end of the year or early next.  It is much the most difficult piece of art I have ever attempted, so I refuse to rush it.  And then, I am considering making a couple of whole cloth quilts inspired by really ancient historical quilts.  Oh, and don’t forget the orange/gold dragon flying over volcanos and possibly fighting a phoenix, or the third in my “waiting…” series, or my memorial quilt for my mom, or the deep dark forest in nearly three dimensions, oh, and there’s Jacob’s ladder, and Adam naming the animals, and…and….

Sew happy everyone!  Do a little spring cleaning and reorganizing and start something new and fun.

Studio Revamp: Throw Away, Give Away, Keep…Repeat

Now that I have ordered my Bernina Q20, I have to prepare a place for it by mid June.  This is a pretty big project, because it involves reorganizing my whole upper level, starting with my bedroom and master bath (there are drawers in there).  I have to eliminate one of my two dressers from my bedroom, move the Koala cabinet where I use my alternative machines into my bedroom where the dresser is now, and finish up with some reduction of fabrics and other assorted junk and a good vacuuming and dusting.

So I have begun by cleaning out the dresser I intend to keep, and I found a whole big black bag of old work things to toss and a bag of things give away in that dresser.  I no longer wear panty hose, business tops, and skirted suits except on very rare occasions.  Back when I worked, wore these everyday.  Now my “uniform” is a long sleeved shirt or top, a pair of jeans, and socks and shoes. So I will keep a few business dress outfits and get rid of the rest.

I have fashion fabrics in under bed storage boxes.  These are currently out in the room and need to be sorted and put back.  There you will find some lovely woolens, silks, and other dressy/business fabrics.  I will probably keep a few and give away the rest.  Every now and then I want to sew some clothing, but I don’t need that much and the clothes I want to make are different for me now.

I should have done this right after I retired in January 2012, and, in fact, I did a little, but I was still attached to things, thinking I would wear them, but I haven’t at all.  I now think they look dowdy, no longer match my coloring, (I have let my hair go natural, with lots of gray and it looks a little blond), and I have a different life style altogether.  So I will be able to do this without a problem…just a lot of work.  And in the end, I will be much happier with my bedroom as well as my studio.

Then if I have time before the machine gets here, I am going to prune my stash down so it all fits in the generous storage units I have for them and give the studio a good cleaning.  My taste in quilting fabrics has changed over the past few years as well.

Sew happy everyone!  Is it time to spring clean your bedroom and studio?  When done well, it helps the work flow for a long time, I think.