Risk Taking in the Studio

Test sampler I made before starting my Mom’s memory quilt.

When I make a show quilt I have a variety of steps that can be a little bit scary, even if they are also fun. I have to take the risk or I would never accomplish the things I want to do. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I pretest, when I am actually working through the quilt project, things come up that are unexpected and must be either corrected or otherwise dealt with.  I am currently trying hard to finish my Mom’s memory quilt, which proves my point.  It has been a real challenge from the start and seems even more so the closer I get to the end.

Sew I finished the loooooooooong period of heavy quilting, unquilting, quilting, unquilting, quilting.  Each part of the quilt had a different sort of quilting that required much thought and practice, but even so, I have not been as happy with it as I had hoped.  I have been working on this quilt for mny hours over the course of a year.  The top looks really pretty good, but I am not as happy with the back.  Still, I love the quilt.

Today, I have been painting the flowers and birds on the white satin that I spent mnths quilting.  The painting is going fairly well on the top, but a few spots have soaked through to the white back.  I think I have control over that now and will not have any more soaking through, and if so, I can use the upper corner where that happened as the place to put the additional label I have planned for all along that will give a little bio and a picture of my mom.  I don’t think I can get away with more thanone of those, however…lol.  So if I do have more trouble with soaking through, I will have to color the back flowers and leaves using something that I know won’t soak through like fabric crayons, which would look nice, but I would rather not do that.  Hopefully I will be able to complete the painting without additional problems of the paint soaking through (I got my brush too wet).   Before I started this I made the sampler above and had no problems with the paints soaking through.  I have painted after quilting on many quilts, and I am pretty sure it was just that I got my brush too wet. Sigh!

Earlier this week we (or rather my son David, who is in control of  our washer that is on his level in our townhome..lol) washed the quilt to get the Crayola washable gel pen markings out of it and set it up for blocking.  I  had told him to wash it on the hand wash cycle with cold water and Wooolite.  It did not entirely come out.  I have to say I was stressed over that.  But anyway, he rewashed it another time using the same directions and more of it came out but not all.  So I suggested warm wash with Synthrapol, and then it all came out.  It also did not damage it in any way and looks fabulous overall.  The quilt has a double bat with an 80/20 bat on the back and a wool bat on the top.  I had done a bunch of testing of the Crayola washable gel pens before I marked the quilt top using the same fabric.  But when I did the test I washed it out with Synthrapol, not Woolite, and I only dried it a few hours and ironed it instead of having it sit in the fabric a year.  So I suspect that is what the difference is, but it might just have been the warm water or the third wash. The point is, it came out and it was a great help while it was in the quilt. I would most certainly use it again even if I have to wash my quilt several times.  But I kind of think just one wash in warm water with the Synthrapol would have done the job.

Oddly, the part that I was most worried about when washing/blocking…the appliqued on crocheted ten inch lace blocks my Mom made…came through the wash without a bit of trouble and they even look refreshed and truly beautiful.

I had originally thought this quilt would end up a little over 60 x 60 inches, but all the quilting drew it in to about 58 x 58 in the end.  I haven’t bound it yet, but that’s what I think it will end up.  It will, therefore, be a small wall quilt in whatever shows it is in, if they will even let it in, or if they even open.

Sew you see, when I make a show quilt, there are lots of things that can and often do go wrong.  What I have found is that I have had to develop a set of approaches to fix problems when they happen, or criteria to help decide when I can let it go and stay as it is.  Afterall, I am not a machine.  I do not make perfect quilts.  I think small flaws can actually add to the beauty and magic of a quilt. I’m not sure judges agree. But sometimes, I may even have to let it go and not enter them into shows.  I think this one will be ok for entry.  We’ll see when I’m done. I am sure those keen eyed judges will see every little flaw and tell me about them if they provide feedback.  They always do.  Hahahah.

In addition to binding, I still have the painting and to add lots of pearls to the quilt. Some of those pearls are possibly going to be Swarowski hot fix pearls, but I have to test that first, because my quilt top is made from polyester crepe back satin and polyester dupioni…it’s gorgeous.  It quilted beautifully, but I will have to test to see if the hot fix pearls go on ok without a hitch, and stay, and don’t melt or burn the fabric.  I once slightly burned a silk dupioni quilt in one spot with the hot fix crystals I started to add.  I ended up glueing the crystals all on, which I found I didn’t like doing at all.  Later on, I learned that I could use the transfer tape to help apply the crystals.  It holds them in place and provides a bit of heat protection of the fabric when I used the hot fix applicator.  So I am hopeful I can use the hot fix pearls for this quilt.  But it is another risk, and the last thing I do to complete the quilt I have spent so many hours on for a year now.

I am planning on making slightly smaller art quilts for a while.  They might actually sell better, since people may be able to find spaces on their walls for them.  But I will continue to do those risky techniques that make the end quilt look so fabulous.  I hope you will too.

I am hoping we are all able to begin to come out of our homes and are still stay well.  Just like a show quilt, risks are required if we are to accomplish anything good.  I personally don’t think we as a country can stay away from work for much longer without the entire world economy collapsing, which is also a massive threat to peoples’ lives, health, and overall well being…even more threatening than the Covid 19.  But we can take precautions as we go out, wearing our pretty face masks we probably all made or had made for us and washing our hands, using sanitization methods in our houses, cars, and places of business, and keeping our distance for a while.  There has been much progress in understanding this thing and how to treat it and they are still moving forward.

Sew happy everyone!  Make something fun.

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Thread Decisions

I don’t know about you, but my thread stash has grown to equal or beyond my fabric stash over the past few years.   I think this is caused by my many ideas for quilted art.  I have learned that the different weights and types of threads can make a huge difference in the success of the finished project.  Additionally, a lot of my quilted art projects have a lot of thread art that livens them up.

Sew I am currently trying hard to finish up the quilt I am making in my Mom’s memory using those beautiful 10 inch crocheted lace blocks as the center.  I just changed threads from a beautiful blue Superior 40 weight Magnifico, which is a polyester thread with a lovely sheen that matches my border fabric, to a Superior monopoly, which I truly have a very hard time seeing.  I am using Monopoly in the central pentagon where the five chrocheted blocks are.

This small quilt sampler has seven different thread types.

Now my Bernina machines sew well with this thread, but it took me a while to learn how to get that to happen.  After much trying and crying, I finally found that it works best with an 80/14 Universal needle.  If I use the top stitch needles I normally use for quilting, the needle will eventually “step on” the thread and break it.  It also requires the significant lowering of the upper thread tension and I use it with a 60 weight polyester bobbin thread (Superior Bottom Line). This thread is a very lively thread and requires threading to control it as much as possible.  I use the thread paths that cross the little pad with the pink silicone liquid, otherwise known as the thread lubrication unit.  This also adds a little tension to the top thread, and requires and additional little bit of tension lowering, but it holds it in the thread path really well and I am able to use it with hardly a bother.  I do this for both my Bernina 880 plus and my sitdown longarm Bernina Q20.

thread lubrication path on my Bernina Q20.

Thread Lubrication Unit on my Bernina 880 plus.

Thread lubrication path on another Bernina. They look a little different for each of the Bernina machines that has one.

For my little B350, my travel machine, it doesn’t seem to need as much control, but the thread path isn’t as long, and I figure that is why.   Happily these adjustments also work well with any 100 weight thread I use (I use both polyester and silk for various things).

My Bernina B350 named Edith Claire (E.Claire) after Edith Head. Even for this more simple machine, I do samplers before beginning to stitch a project. Circles make nice samples.

Deciding what threads to use on a project requires, once again, some testing and practice.  This is one of the big reasons I always make a practice quilted piece before I actually begin my main project.  The questions to ask that can only be answered with a little testing include:

  1. Do I want the stitching to take a front place in the overall design?  If so, use a heavier contrasting thread, even if the contrast is only one or two steps away from the fabric.  If not, use a lighter thread that matches as closely as possible the fabric, or even use a monopoly if I am stitching over a variety of fabrics in a small area (or, in this case, over hand crocheted lace).
  2. Is the stitching going to hide down in the seam or along the edge of an applique in stitch-in-the-ditch.  Or is the stitching echoing along the edge to highlight the applique or some element in the fabric, for instance.  Sometimes, like a halo, I might want the thread to be slightly or even strongly contrasting for this purpose.  The only way to tell is give it a try.
  3. What type of fabric is the stitching going on?
    • Right now, I am planning a substantial wool applique project that will include the writing of a large chapter in a book (or breaking into its own book), and will result in several samplers, the book project, and a separate show quilt.  This project requires decorative threads.  I am planning to use a variety of threads…primarily 12 weight wool/acrylic blend thread by Aurifil with a 50 weight cotton in the bobbin for most of the stitching at default tension settings with a longer stitch length, but also 40 weight Magnifico and Isacord embroidery threads, and metallic threads for some places.  These are all hopefully going to enhance and showcase the project.
    • For most of my cotton quilted projects I use the combination of 100 weight threads to sink into the background, and 40 weight embroidery threads to show the stitching.  But sometimes, I need additional types for a special thing.  I sometimes use 12 weight cotton thread by Sulky, which I have found runs smoother through the 100 weight top stitch needle with less mess on the back than other brands.  I tried a lot of brands before I settled on this one.  I have a lot of Superior 12 weight cottons that I sometimes use, but only my Bernina 880 plus and my little B350 seem to be ok with that.  My Q20 makes knots on the back with it no matter how I set the tensions and so forth. It might be the way I stitch.  Who knows.  Anyway, I usually use the Bottom Line with that in the bobbin and set the top tension just a little looser than normal to accommodate the width of the thread passing through the tension discs.

So you see, there are lots of considerations that make the thread choices successful.  Batting types and fabric densities, and yes, even the weather have an impact on these decisions.  That is why one really does need to make a small test piece, using the same fabrics, battings, needles, and so forth to practice on before stitching on your main project.  I write them down in my book I keep on projects, so I can return to these settings when needed.  It is truly helpful.  Also, be patient with the thread changes if you are stitching your masterpiece quilted art project especially.  They make a big difference.

Drawing Nigh, completed 4/17/2016. This quilt had 32 thread changes in the sky alone.

Sew happy everyone!  Stay healthy and have some fun in your studio while we are all still under house arrest quarentine.  And even after we are able to get out and move around, I hope you don’t abandon your studio.  Hugs!

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Part 4 Trees

The flowers and new spring growth are everywhere. I love this area at this time of year. I processed this picture of a nearby redbud (I think that’s what it is) as a “dreamscape”.  Not sure I caught the feeling right, but still…it’s pretty.

I am thinking my dear readers are possibly at the stage of thinking “will this never end” concerning our stay-at-home orders.  At first we were kind of shocked, then a bit scared, then ready to gung ho make face masks or whatever we could do, then start learning things, and now, after all of that, we are still here.  Still at home.  Still going to be at home for weeks yet. Sigh.  Oh, my, will this never end!  Well, yes, it most certainly will. Then we will have to pick up our alternative busy life styles where we will wish to goodness we had a little more time to quilt or sew.  Well, I won’t because I am retired and blessed to be working in my studio full time now anyway.  But I will have things to do outside of my studio and things that pull against my getting projects done.

Sew now that you have made your face masks or are coming to the end of that project, what are you working on or planning on working on?  (As an aside:  Quilted Art for me includes art quilts, traditional and contemporary quilts, quilted clothing, and quilted bags and other three dimensional items.)  If you are like me, you have more than one project going, or at least going on in your head.  Do they include trees?  I love making trees.

Trees for your quilted art

I love adding trees to my pictorial quilted art pieces, but I’m thinking that trees can be a really neat thing to add to lots of types of quilted art such as a jacket or skirt.  I didn’t realize until recently that I have learned or even developed many ways to come up with trees over the years, mostly made as embellishment items using thread painting, yarn couching, and applique and I thought I would share some of them with you.  The really neat thing about making trees for fabric art is they are so forgiving. They don’t require precision, but they do require looking at real trees and seeing what you can learn from them using your imagination.  Are they straight?  Are they interestingly textured? Are they spooky? Are they happy little trees?  Do the leaves read as a a bunch or individually or both?  What is the color of the trunk?  Try drawing the tree out first.

Machine Embroidering Trees or Parts of Trees

This tree is the stitchout from an olive tree I digitized in my Bernina software on wash-away stabilizer. I placed a tree photo in the art side and traced it by hand digitizing it in the embroidery side of the software (for further information on how to do this kind of digitizing, see my book Twelve Skill-Building Projects for Bernina V8).  The same could possibly be done by drawing it onto a piece of wash-away stabilizer and free motion embroidering it. I have done that too, but could not find a good picture. In both cases I would advise using a layer of black nylon veiling under the stitching to hold everything together off the quilt and then appliqueing it on.  One of the cool things about digitizing it this way, is that you can get the coloring very close to the photograph, the texture of the tree trunk close to how it really should look.  I used this tree on several Nativity quilts I have made.  That’s the other thing, if you digitize it in your design software, you can restitch it for another project later on.

Here is the first tree trunk I ever digitized and embroidered out.  It required a double hooping and I missed the connection just barely, so I free motion zig zagged the connecting place and you can’t see where it was.  In fact, I have even forgotten where it is and cannot figure it out even with close examination.  So even if you make a mistake like that, you can sometimes fix it on the spot without having to redo the whole thing.  I stitched it out with a variegated thread.  Here is the whole quilt “The Storyteller”.

But even though in this quilt, the tree trunk makes a happy tree, when you look at the stitchout design by itself you can probably readily see that the same trunk would make a really fun spooky tree where you could place a raven or an owl for Halloween.   So working out these things in digizing software gives you lots of additional options that can save you a lot of time on other projects.

Trees without the use of digitizing software and embroidery module

So sometimes I want to just applique my trees down.  In this case, I usually use steam-a-seam 2 and free cut out with scissors the tree trunks and limbs and even leafy sections without a pattern.  Then I iron them on the top and use a single narrow blanket stitch with a close matching thread color to permanently attach them.  It’s so much fun!!!!

Here’s a quilt where all the trees are made that way.  The texture of the trees is added when quilting.  This was really fun to make.

Summer Melody, 2016, 33 x 29 inches.

And sometimes you can make a rather cool evergreen tree freehand with a combination of yarn couching the trunk with Superior monopoly thread and heavy 12 weight wool/acrylic Aurifil thread free motion embroidery for the tree’s needles.  Here is the one I made on my failed Bob Ross contest quilt.  I made this quilt while my wonderful old Bernina830, which I did a great deal of heavy work on for 8 plus years, was failing, and so many things went wrong in my studio during that time.  I am not surprised it did not make the contest, but I still love the tree I made for it here, which I made entirely freehand on my Bernina Q20 as kind of a reprieve from my B830 problems.  I now have a new Bernina 880 plus to take the 830s place and I love it.  So production in my studio is at full speed lately.  I suggest if you want to make such a tree that you make a practice first.  It requires a fairly substantial stabilizer under the tree area of the top because all that stitching draws it in and makes a problem without it.  I used Madeira Cotton Stable that I get from Nancy’s Notions on the whole quilt top.  It tears away later, and, since it is cotton, it will soften when washed.  I marked only one line representing the main trunk to keep it tilted just as I wanted.  It hardly matters what you mark it with because the mark is completely buried with yarn.  I did all of this before sandwiching the quilt.

Happy little tree

 

and then you can combine applique and free motion yarn couching and other thread work to come up with some rather dramatic trees.  In this case, I appliqued the big cyprus trunks and then did a lot of shading using fabric paints to give the tree trunks the right round shape.  The tree limbs were couched on with wool yarn, and the spanish moss was free motion stitched using 12 wt Aurifil wool/acrylic thread.  I premarked straight lines down for the spanish moss with chalk before stitching, because it takes a fair amount of concentration to keep it from drifting sideways in an unatural way.

Night on the Bayou, 2018

 

Up close

And lastly, I was just playing around one day and here you see the resulting winter scene with the trees using both couching for some, 12 weight thread for others,  40 weight polyester, and even 40 wt metallic for others.  It is the kind of practice piece I suggest you try if you are new to making trees with free motion fibers. As for all these quilts with heavy amounts of stitching, be sure to back it with a heavy stabilizer that either tears off or washes off to help with the draw in of the stitching.  I recently finished this as a little quilt sampler, but don’t have a picture of it yet but you can see the thread work here.

Sew happy everyone!  God bless you in this holy week and have fun in your studio while you await the end of the quarantine.  Have a blessed and happy Easter Sunday.

 

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Part Two, Collecting the Parts

Sew I got some interesting feedback from some of you on my last post where I discussed obtaining or creating the design and pattern, and thinking through the instructions.  Several of my quilty friends…some of them prize wining quilters and teachers…just dive right in and go.  So I want you to know that this series of blogs is primarily designed to lead people like me who need a plan to work from through building a good fabric art/quilting project.

Personally, I like to work with a plan.  Very often, however, I make so many changes along the way the end result is unrecognizable from the beginning.  But it helps me to approach a new project with a plan in mind.  I will say though that sometimes I get kind of stuck on the pattern making part and in this case I may just go with a loose sketch and not a fully drawn pattern. I know what I want to do in my head, but getting it down into a pattern or plan is often kind of difficult for me, but I like it when I can.  I have friends who can just draw it out on their background fabric and start, or even just cut a bunch of fabric and start.  That would be amazing to have such a skill, but that is not me.  LOL

Sew once you have a project in mind, how do you pick your fabrics?  Do you buy a bundle from a particular fabric line?  Do you shop your own stash?  Do you just go to the store and buy a new set of fabrics?

I have an extensive stash that I have organized more or less by color and fabric type.  So I generally take my pattern I struggled to make, lay it out on my table, and start pulling fabrics from my stash that I think will fit into the quilt.  This is quite a messy process.  I end up with a pile of fabrics on my table, floor, and chair that might work.  Once I get to that insane place, I do a second pull of fabrics.  Then I put away the ones I decide definately won’t work and lay out what I have to work with.  From there I may eliminate a few more.

My idea is to put together my own kit for the project.  Here I will find if I need to buy additional pieces to pull it all together, which is usually the case.  I will say, however, that I frequently do not need additional fabrics.  I almost always need additional notions like stabilizers for embroidered embellishments, or more spray starch, a certain paint color, or a specific kind of cording or yarn to couch on the quilt.  It all depends on my project, but after all these years of collecting and trying to keep things organized I can usually make a nice quilt without buying a lot.  I will occassionally make a comfort quilt just to use up some of my stash and then I have a quilt to snuggle in or give away.  I think the hardest thing for me to keep in stock is the right battings, because I don’t have a lot of storage space for battings and I like different ones for different projects.

Sew here are the steps I take:

  1. Referencing the pattern or drawing I pull from my stash the fabrics that seem to me might work.  If you are new to this or don’t keep a stash, this would be done in the fabric store making a stack on the cutting table and asking them to let it stay there for a bit.
  2. Then I arrange the fabrics in a stack according to color or part of the quilt.  Here is where those small pieces leftover from some great piece of hand dyed fabrics come into play if I only need a small piece to make that flower petal, piece of armour, or leather saddle (yes, I do use leather for leather saddles on my horses).
  3. This arranging with the pattern in hand enables me to remove the fabrics that don’t work either because the color is jarring, the print is simply not right for the quilt, the value change is either too much or not enough, or I don’t like the whole set of fabrics so I put them back and start over.  Yes, I have done that.  Sometimes this fabric selection part can take a considerable amount of tme.
  4. If I’m shopping from my home stash I can determine at this point if I need to purchase more fabric.  If you are at the store, you may find you need to pull another piece and put back a bunch. Sometimes you can get a lot of what you need in a bundle of precuts and save a lot of money.
  5. Sew now I put away all the fabrics I will not be using and usually spray starch and iron the ones I will be using.  I prewash all my fabrics (unless they are not washable for unusual uses) before storing them away, so all I have left is the spray starching and ironing in preparation for use.

Now that I have my fabric bundle/kit put together, it is a good time to pick the threads. Actually, if I’m going to be using a lot of thread changes in my stitching I will just leave the threads in their storage place but check to make sure I have the right ones and that they are sufficient.  In my art quilts I use a LOT of threads…different colors, different weights, different types all for different uses, and over the last few years I have built a very nice thread stash, but I use them a lot so sometimes I have to replace a color.  It can be very frustrating when I am working hard to finish something and run out of a particular thread at an awkward time.  My closest brick and morter fabric store that carries the kinds of threads I like is 45 minutes away, and they may not have the color I want or some such.  So I order my threads online and that takes time, especially if I want to wait for a sale.  I also purchase threads at quilting and sewing events where they usually have a discount, so I try to keep a list of colors I need in my bag when I go to those.  You can save a lot of money on threads if you pay attention to what you use a lot of and what you may need in the future and who is having a sale on those.

The next thing to check for your kit collections is all the additional things that make your project work right…the batting, the stabilizers, the embellishments (paints, cords, beads, and so forth), and things you may not think of like thread nets if you use coned threads, fray check if you use that, interfacing if you are backing your light weight fabrics with a fusible, for instance.  I’m probably forgetting something.

So do you have it all together?  Are you ready to start the fun part of actually making your project?  Do you have the right tools?  Oh, I’ll talk about tools in my next blog post.

Sew happy everyone!  Enjoy yourselves while you are picking all the pieces for your next project.  Petting fabrics and admiring thread colors can be a lot of fun.  If you can shop your stash for everything you need on this project you can pretend you aren’t spending anything on it, because once these things are there and settle down into your stash it’s free, right?!  LOL

 

 

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Part One, the Design to Pattern

I realized with some astonishment recently that 2020 is my sixteenth year of making quilted art projects, mostly, but not entirely in the form of wall art quilts.  I have been sewing since since I was five, when my mother began teaching me to sew, followed by years of learning and making my own clothes and helping my mother in her own sewing pursuits.  I retired from my intensive job with the US Government at the beginning of 2012, but I had already been working toward moving to full-time fabric artist upon retirement for a number of years.

Over the years I have learned a great deal.  I have almost always been in a learning mode, because I find it fun.  For me, a terrific development has been provided by generous fabric artists, digital artists and sewing technicians through online informative sewing and quilting sites, video classes, The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims, and YouTube.  This has enabled me to continue my love of learning new techniques and improvement of my skills while hanging out in my own studio and at a very low cost or even free.

What has all this to do with the title of this blog, you may be asking about now.  Well, I just wanted you to know that I do have a significantly solid and advanced basis to pull from for this series I will be blogging over the next month or so about building quilted projects for fun and excellence.

Sew approaching a new project should begin with a bit of planning and record keeping. Such projects can be divided several ways, but I like the following 10 steps, each of which will be dealt with in their own blog post:

  1.  Designing or Obtaining the Pattern
  2. Collecting the Parts
  3. Checking the Tools
  4. Cutting and Marking
  5. Constructing the Top
  6. Sandwiching Properly
  7. Quilting
  8. Blocking and Squaring
  9. Adding Embellishments
  10. Binding and Finishing.

Designing or Obtaining a Pattern for Your Project

Since I don’t normally use purchased patterns and usually create my own designs, for me that first step of designing frequently takes just under half of the time I spend on a project.  I use my computer heavily in this step.  Here are the computer apps I currently use for this:

  1. Corel Paint Shop Pro 2020 (for processing photographs)
  2. Corel Draw Graphics Suite 2018 (makes very good vector designs and communicates with Bernina Software.  This also helps me create my own pattern, size it, and print it out full size to tape together)
  3. Corel Painter 2020 (for painting.  It’s almost like having real paint,  brushes, and pencil collections with no mess and the ability to erase or add something in the middle layer.  I often start here for concept art)
  4. Bernina Embroidery Software V8.2 (for digitizing or personalizing embroidery designs, and even for some quilting)
  5. Electric Quilt 8 (aids in figuring placements, sizing, yardage, and if I need a traditionally pieced area for my quilt project, this is where I turn).

I won’t cover how to use these drawing packages for this, because I know even if you use digital design programs to help you out, you probably don’t use the same ones I do and they are expensive to gather, take time to learn, and there are lots of really good classes out there on youtube and on the sites where the packages are sold.

Once I have my design, I write out the steps, list the fabrics and threads, list the additional pieces, and think about the tools that will be required.  In other words, I create my own pattern with instructions. You may be surprised to learn that I mostly do this the old fashioned way in my planning notebook, where I glue in samples of the fabrics, write out steps, and keep other important notes as I go along. You can read about how I manage these things in my blog Project Management for Fabric Art from a year ago.  I still do things this way.

Now I know many of you don’t want to use the computer designing process, and if you want to design them yourself you would greatly prefer using a sketch book or graph paper and doing math to figure out what you need to make your project, or at the very least use Electric Quilt 8, which is an easy way to produce a good traditional quilt pattern.  This is a good approach, but I do encourage you to scan in your resulting images/designs,  keep a record of your project on your computer, and write out the steps you need to take for your project so you can start with a good pattern with steps to completion already thought through.

Also, there are those who prefer starting with a pattern that has good instructions.  That’s probably why you can make a quilt much faster than I can, and I think this is also a good approach if you have different goals from mine.  One of the keys to this is to use patterns from reliable designers that provide good instructions.

In other words, whichever your approach, the first step is to obtain or create the design with good instructions and project steps already thought through.

For me, I also want to load up my audible books, music, and podcasts to listen to while I work through the construction phase.  My next blog post will discuss building your own kit so you know you have what you need.

Sew happy everyone!  I encourage you to use an ordered approach to your quilted projects, however small or large, and you will really enjoy the process and probably come out with a wonderful result.

 

 

 

Making Christmas Presents…A Comedy of Errors

OK gentle readers, I have completed making four in-the-hoop zip bags using this OESD design, and adding my own embroidery between step three and step four for both Christmas presents and me.  They are generally fairly easy to make, and they all came out just wonderfully.  But I made a comedy of errors while I was making them, to the point that it was downright funny.  Do you ever have days like that in your studio?

OESD’s Zippered pouches…their picture.

Thank goodness, all the errors I made were easy to fix.  Here’s my funny list each error only done once:

  • I forgot to open the zipper on one bag and had to undo the edge seam (while still in the hoop) and move the zipper pull (I opened just a small amount and caught the zipper pull with one of my old dull rippers and pushed it to the center.  Worked great), then I backed up the digital in-the-hoop program so that it restitched the edge seam.
  • I forgot to put the handle into the seam before stitching the back to the front.  I unstitched the seam as I did in the first error and put the handle in the seam and then backed up the program so it restitched the edge seam.
  • I got the back lining that I was stitching in with the back on the inside, so when I turned it the pretty cotton lining was on the outside.  I decided it really looked great that way and left it.  The lining is not suggested in their design, but I decided to add it just to the back.  The front is folded over and provides its own lining that way.
  • I got the zipper pull too close to the edge when I opened the zipper and broke a needle when it went by, or rather didn’t go by.  Sigh.  I replaced the needle, found all the broken needle pieces and moved the zipper pull further toward the center and restitched.

So how many zipper bags did I make?  four.  Did each one have an error?  Yes, listed above. Did they all come out nice…yes!!!

But really, these zipper bags are easy to make…just don’t forget anything.  I should have made a list and checked it off.  I suggest you do that.  I know I will for future little projects like this.

Ok, now I am ready to do the few other small Chistmas gifts I am planning on making, although I might make another one just for me. Maybe I should go back to quilting and just send Christmas cards only, or maybe I’ll quit for the day and hope I get my head on straight tomorrow.  LOL

Sew happy everyone!  Merry Christmas one and all.

Working with “Leather” Tips

I am finally in the construction phase of the “leather” coat for my youngest son and it has been a time of learning and relearning. It has also taken me much longer to get here than I thought it would, but as I work, I am remembering a lot of the cool things I had learned decades ago that are helping me now, so I am speeding up.  I have now worked with this faux leather enough to know I really like it.  It has just the right weight, a good hand, and responds well to construction steps.  It is a vast improvement over faux leathers of the past.

Sew here are a few hints if you want to try your hand at working with such “leather”.

  1. I found that my Bohin chalk marker I use for quilting works well for marking.

    Bohin chalk marker

  2. After you get your flat pattern adjusted and a muslin piece fitted (essential) and ready to use, you have to mark each piece one side at a time on the back of the “leather”.  First, cut out the pattern carefully, then weight it down flat on the back of the “leather” and chalk around the pattern.  Cut carefully with scissors or rotary cutter (small rotary cutter will cut around the curves better).  Accuracy of the cutting will make a difference in the finished product.  This process takes about three times or more of pinning a pattern on woven fabric folded in half and then cutting out both sides of each piece together.

    Here’s my pattern on the “leather’ with my “fancy” pattern weights…LOL  Note some of the pieces chalked in ready to cut.

  3. You cannot readily pin the “leather” because the hole stays permanently.  Exception:  I pinned a few places where I really needed help keeping it together for stitching, but making certain the pin holes will be in the seam or hidden some other way.
  4. Clips work really well as a substitute for pinning when working along the edges for most of your stitching needs, and blue painter’s tape works great when you need some help where you can’t put a pin or a clip.

    The collars for this project are constructed with a separate under collar, interestingly shaped collar stands that are added before joining the collar pieces. Here you see the collar stand seam has been top stitched open and the collar pieces are clipped together ready to sew.

  5. You really need a teflon foot for most stitching (see my last post for the feet I am using), but I also have added my clear plastic foot number 34D Bernina that allows me to see the exact placement of the needle when making a bound welt pocket.

    Reverse pattern foot 34D, clear with marks and works with dual feed.

    In the case of the plastic foot, I was using my dual feed and stitching very slowly.  It worked well for this purpose, but for regular stitching at normal it really is best with a teflon foot.

  6. Marking carefully is vital when making welt pockets and don’t try to push yourself when you get tired.  I actually ruined one of the coat fronts late in my sewing day after the sun had gone down, and had to recut that piece and the binding pieces and start over by doing that.  So I suggest you buy an extra length of the longest piece in your pattern to be able to recut if need be.  You can use the leftovers for bags, hats, eye glass covers, and other interesting small projects.  I will be using that ruined piece as part of a bag I plan to make, so it isn’t really lost.  The next day, I got the pockets in really nicely and now I am so confident in making such pockets I will probably start using them on a regular basis again.

  7. I am using a seam roller gadget to “press” the seams open, but that is just temporary and the seams need to be either top stitched down or glued.
  8. I found you can iron on fusible interfacing on the wrong side at a lower iron setting than you normally use, no steam, and with a quilting cotton pressing cloth.  Be careful, press, don’t iron, and test your own “leather” first.  I am using a pellon tailoring interfacing.  Do NOT iron on the right side of the “leather” and I suggest you not try to iron the seams and completed turned pieces either.

Sew I will publish at least one more post on this project showing you the end result.  I am writing this information up into a how-to book including this and other projects.  There is a lot more to tell you about this.

Sew happy everyone.  I encourage you to take a look at the current day vegan leathers and try working with it.  There are a lot of interesting “leathers” out there and they come in different textures and weights.

 

Working With “Leather” from the 1970s to Now

When I recently got my new Bernina 880 plus, I also got a number of intersting new feet, including leather roller foot 55, teflon foot 52D (for dual feed), and teflon zipper foot 54, and other feet and attachments to go with the collection I already had from my erstwhile Bernina 830 that I traded in.  Sew I have a number of interesting projects I want to try that my wonderful studio can now handle that I might have not done before.  One of these is working with leather.

 

Leather roller foot 55

Teflon zipper foot 54

Teflon dual feed foot 52

 

 

 

 

 

As some of you probably know, I have started a project of tailoring a faux leather, aka “leather”, overcoat for my youngest son David, the moderately popular sci-fi/fantasy writer, who is a cute, big and tall man in his early forties.

Decades ago I had my own fashion design and tailoring (real tailoring, not alterations) business in Ithaca, New York.   During that time I did some leather work…making a few bags and re-styling a couple of old fur coats.  I did this on my two machines…a beautiful antique White machine, which I still have, from the early 20th century that has a powerful motor that only has a straight stitch, and my Singer Golden Touch and Sew that was the Singer top of the line at the time before they  went greatly downhill as a machine.  It was a good little machine, but truly insufficient for what I was using it for. But I did not have any special feet that sew smoothly across leather, a dual feed mechanism for keeping the two layers together of slick lining fabrics, for instance, and the buttonhole program that has a simple rectangle for assisting in the making of bound buttonholes.  I didn’t have YouTube to look up reminders on how to do a bound buttonhole or a welted pocket, for instance.

What I did and still do have is a wonderful treasure of a long out-of -print book I found in the library and Marvin later bought from a used book store.  It is called How to Make Men’s Clothes by Jane Rhinehart published in 1975. Years ago when I had my shop in Ithaca, I wrote to her and obtained permission to use her book for instructional purposes and the illustrations in her book as needed in my own manuals. She was delighted, actually. I have yet to write that manual, but I am thinking of doing one now adding leather techniques and updated available supplies. As you see if you click on the link to her book, it is still available as a used book from Amazon.  There are other used book places you can find it…some grossly overpriced.  I highly recommend this book if you want to improve your tailoring abilities (much of it works for women’s tailored clothes too).  I made my dearest Marvin several jackets shortly after we were married using these techniques.  He wore those jackets for most of our life together and said he could throw them in the corner, sit on them, pick them up and put them on and they looked like they had just been freshly pressed.  It is really a construction manual that helps you to “build” tailored clothing from inside out.

Sew now I have a powerful Bernina 880 Plus with feet designed specifically for leather and vinyl work using the dual feed mechanism and a wide harp space in a large cabinet to assist me in keeping things together.

The faux leathers have vastly improved over the years.  The one I bought for this project (I bought a whole 8 yard bolt of 60 inch wide “leather”, which allowed me to get it at a reasonable price per yard, and I plan on making myself a jacket from the remaining fabric) feels almost exactly like the true leather samples I obtained before starting this project and even the back side resembles a smoother version of the back of the real leather.  It has about the same weight as the jacket-weight leather samples.  From a short distance, and maybe even up close, you will not readily be able to identify this as faux leather once I have it sewn up.  Yes, I would really prefer the real leather, but this is a wonderful substitute and is a quarter of the price.  So be aware that if you prefer not to use real leather for whatever reason, you can still make that smart “leather” jacket.  I will say that you might still want to use real leather if you are going for a quilted leather project.  It can take the heavy stitching that type of project requires and I am not sure the “leather” would.  Also I found several good suppliers of leather if you want to go that way…just let me know in the comments.

I remember the older faux leather.  It was too shiny, too stiff, and in a year or so it would crack and peal.  The back was not as good either.  You could tell from a distance it was not real leather.  I used it for Ithaca opera costumes (I was the chief costumer for several of their operas back when I lived in Ithaca) from time to time…not fun to work with.

When I worked on the leather projects of the past, I used tissue paper under my needle, and I just tightly held the sides together and stitched slowly.   Now I use clips to hold the sides together, stitch normally with the dual feed engaged, and have even better results.

When I worked on the leather projects in the past, I glued down the seam allowances and hammered them flat with a wood mallet on a towel.  The glue was a heavy goo similar to that gooey paper cement only worse.  It smelled too.  Today they have a double sided leather strip and I got some white leather glue, actually from the same manufacturer that made the old gooey junk.  What an improvement!  Now I use the double sided tape or the much nicer white leather glue and my little wood wall paper roller to make a nice flat seam.

When I worked on the leather projects in the past, I avoided top stitching as much as I could because I almost had to hand crank my machine stitches to make them go through all the layers (try keeping that straight!).  Today, I don’t mind it at all because the machine stitches right through all those layers with no problem.

Sew for my current coat project, I could not find a pattern that fit my tall nobly-shaped son.  They do not have big and tall men tailored clothing patterns published by any company that I could find.  They absolutely need to fix that!!!!  The closest I came was a couple of costume coats for cos-play, and even those still would not have fit well.  So I ended up taking a Burda pattern, a McCall’s costume pattern, some instructions from How to Make Men’s Clothes, and Frankensteined a sloper together for him.

The Franken pattern ready to chalk and cut.

Then I made a muslin fitting shell…one that did not quite work but headed me in the right direction, and one that did work after that.  Then I transfered all the corrections to the flat sloper pattern and have chalked the pattern while weighting the pattern on the back of the “leather” (one side at a time) and have cut out the “leather” with my newly sharpened big scissors.  I know you can also do this with a small-blade rotary cutter, but it requires a bigger mat than I have and the scissors work well.  I have an idea the rotary cutter would work best on true leather.  I still have another 18 pieces of interfacings, linings, and pocket bags to cut out before I start construction.

Here’s my pattern on the “leather’ with my “fancy” pattern weights…LOL…I should make myself some nice pattern weights, but who has the time?!

I have, however,  made a sample to see how my machine uses it, practice the seam finishing, and so forth.  What a dream!  I may be doing a lot more in this “leather”.  But I really do want to get back to my quilting. So I am thinking I can make a practice welted pocket in a square piece big enough to later use on a bag.  That way if I ruin it, I can try again without ruining the coat.

Sew happy everyone!  Try something new you haven’t tried before, or something you did long ago in the past that was more difficult than it would be today with today’s machines and products.  Now…back to cutting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Problem Solving in the Studio 4: Beyond Sewing Supplies

Home office tools, computers, and supplies, as well as building or painting supplies are often problem solvers in my studio.  I figure they are for you too, dear readers, but it seems a good idea to review them in case some of you haven’t tried them yet.

My printer/scanner is a major problem solver for me in my studio.  This was just highlighted to me this week as I was trying to come up with the right quilting plan for the border on my mom’s memory quilt.  I figured out how I want to quilt the rest of the quilt and am excited that I am nearly finished with the top so I can sandwich and get to quilting.  I had a concept in my head of how I wanted to make the border quilting pattern.  I have taken Lisa Calle’s online classes on iquilt, and classes from Bethanne Nemesh, Gina Perkes, and Jamie Wallen at shows.  So I can come up with designs, but getting them drawn like I want and in the right size is always a challenge for me.

Yesterday, though, I drew several designs I wanted to  consider in a small size on letter sized paper with my pencil, scanned them into my computer, took them into Corel Draw (but you could do this with any drawing package or photo editing software you may have).  Then I resized them into the exact size I needed and printed the one I chose and traced the designs on my border.  I think it looks promising. Sometimes I draw these digitally and size them correctly, fixing any problems resizing causes.  It’s such a help.

Of course, I also occasionally print fabric pieces for some of my wall art quilts, even if I have a background piece printed by Fabric on Demand or Spoonflower.  For instance, for PendragonI painted and printed the heads (all bald heads…loL…I added the hair with stitching later), as well as the swords.

Pendragon
34 x 45

I used Scotch Magic tape yesterday to hold some free standing lace motifs in place while I stitched them onto the quilt top with monopoly thread.  This tape is a wonderful help in in-the-hoop embroidery work because it will hold things in place while being stitched through and then easily tear off leaving nothing behind.  I learned about this from a Sewing with Nancy show and thought I would try it, and found it works very well.

I have reported in my previous blogs about using various pens and pencils, such as Crayola washable markers and gel pens or colored pencils for marking fabrics.

I know all of you by now must have a roll of blue painter’s tape in your studio.  It makes a great marker for straight stitching, holds designs in place at the light table for marking with no sticky left behind, holds a super slider mat for that little additional security to keep it in place, and so forth.

For me, one of the hardest things to do is square up my quilts.  Last year I bought a laser square, used for tiling in the building industry.  It helps a lot getting a square corner.  I did find I need to place it on something to match the height of the quilt top to make it work right (magazines or rulers seem to work for me).

I’m sure there are a lot more such items from outside the traditional sewing items to help us problem solve in our studio.  I invite you all to add a comment with your favorite item you found to work with in your studio that came from outside the sewing/quilting world.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio this fall!