Fine Tuning Fabric Art: Applique Styles

Hi all y’all.  Do you enjoy applique or do you only use it when there is absolutely no other way to get the look you want?  I was surprised several years ago when I attended a major quilter’s class and she introduced me as an applique-er.  After thinking about it, I think she is mostly right.  I thoroughly enjoy applique of several artistic techniques. I select the technique by their complexity, the kinds of fabrics I am using, and the style I want to show.  These include:=

  1. fused or glued stitched raw edge
  2. placed and held in place by veiling and then free motion stitched down.
  3. turned edge glued and blind stitched by machine
  4. applipieced/pieceliqued
  5. In-the-hoop applique

For complex edges, especially, my favorite technique is stitched raw edge applique.  This is where I fuse it down and stitch along the edge using either a narrow vari-overlock stitch (like a hem stitch but it has fewer stitches between the zig-zag stitch) with a Superior monopoly thread or a 100 weight polyester or silk matching thread so it basically disappears. Narrow blanket stitch also works well.  I don’t particularly like zig zag for this, but I know some who do. I also found I cannot get a good result for complex appliques without some kind of adhesive use along the edges.

The Announcer, the Horse, and Bird appliques From Canterbury Knight are all stitched fused edge appliques hand painted by me.

To show off the edges I very much like the blanket stitch using decorative thread picked to show.  I don’t see a difference when doing this using raw edge or turned edge appliques, because the edge is covered with the thread.  The blanket stitch may be either a double blanket stitch if you REALLY want to see it, or a single using a heavier 12 weight thread so it highlights the edges.  This is a particularly good approach if you are having problems with your applique not showing up well because you chose to use fabrics that are close in value or color.  Sometimes I have found it very difficult to carry out the design I have in my head with a clear value difference between the applique and the background. I also can fix this problem with a hidden edge applique technique combined with a straight stitch outline stitched along the edge in a contrasting color decorative thread.

Dad’s House Plan. The house and roof of this quilt were turned edge machine stitched appliqued in most places.

For less complex shapes, I have found the turned edge with the vari-overlock narrow stitch with monopoly or matching 100 weight thread looks very close to turned edge hand stitched applique.  In my case, the machine stitched looks much better.  haha. If you don’t have a vari-overlock stitch on your machine, it is very similar to the blind hem stitch that nearly all today’s machines have in their utility stitch set, it just has more straight stitches between the zigs or zags, so making the stitches shorter overcomes that problem.  I start by turning the edges around either a piece of lightweight interfacing that is going to stay in place, or a freezer paper shape ironed to the back.  I usually find that just grocery store starch I paint on with a small stencil brush works well to hold the turn in place, and then remove the freezer paper before gluing it in place to the background.  One can glue it however, with washable glue sticks, and a lot of applique-ers do that.

Here we have a complex edge that I have starched the turn over with starch onto freezer paper. The next step would be to remove the freezer paper, turn it over and stitch it in place onto the background fabric. You might want to iron the turn down a little more after removing the paper.

When I am making one of my deep space quilts, I make the “gas cloud” that surrounds and plays throughout a galaxy from hot fix angelina fibers.  These fibers only stick to themselves and flatten out into a sort of fabric so they don’t stick to the background fabric.  You can’t use a fusible web with it because it shows, nor can you use glue because even if it dries clear you can still see it through the clouds.  So I cover it with black nylon veil and just free motion stitch it into place.  I may pin it a few times, but I don’t even like to do that, because the holes remain if you happen to hit it just wrong.  So I just have to hold it in place and stabilize it with a little of the stitching before I do the free motion embroidery-like quilting. I think this method would work well for a net or lacy applique also.

Sky Horse photographed by Ken Tatum

And then for piecing together areas like adding mountains or suns or other large parts of a pictorial quilt, there is applipiece (Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry’s term) or piecelique (Sharon Schamber’s term) where the piecing is done using turned edge applque stitched  (as described above under “less complex shapes”) from the top by machine usually using monopoly or very light weight thread and the vari-overlock or blanket stitch and then cutting the area joined from the back down to a little less than a quarter inch seam.  The complex edges require snipping into the edge periodically to facilitate the turning around the shapes).  This is one of my favorite methods when creating a pictorial or other free style design background.

The Storyteller, a Hoffman Challenge piece where the entire background was applipieced/pieceliqued together.

In the hoop applique requires “a whole nother” set of activities and skills beginning with digitizing your design in software or purchasing a commercial embroidery design.  I use this occasionally, but not often.  It usually uses satin edge stitch to sew down the appliques, though it sometimes uses blanket stitch.  If I am going to use satin edge I try to do this in the hoop because the satin stitch can then be digitized to have beautiful miters and properly angled stitching, which is really difficult just using the satin stitch outside the hoop.  It is possible to get a nice satin stitched edge for simple shapes with care in regular nonhoop stitching though.  Then you can add additional decorative stitching in-the-hoop for nice results.

5″ x 5″ fabric greeting card or mug rug in the hoop

You can read more about this method in my book Twelve Skill-Building Projects for Bernina V8.

That pretty much covers the methods I use for applique.  I am using stitched raw edge applique that has been attached with Steam-a-Seam 2 for my wool applique by machine.  First I am stitching it down with monopoly and then I am doing the decorative stitching around the edges and inside the appliques.  This means I can use the decorative stitches to make the look I want without worrying about whether or not the stitch catches the edge of the wool applique, which I find a big advantage.

Detail showing some of the stitching on my practice wool piece

Sew happy everyone!  Put on some good music or an audiobook and start with a small applique project.  It is fun, but it does require some time to get it right.  Still, by machine is faster, or at least less problematic for arthritic hands than by hand, however beautiful it is.

 

 

Fine Tuning Fabric Art Projects: Threads

As many of you know I love decorative threads and I love using them with appliques and in all kinds of machine embroidery and other uses in the course of my fabric art making.  Sew I decided to write a little bit about my favorites and how I like to use them.

First of all, for general success be sure when you thread your machines to run the cross wound threads off the top  and the stack wound threads straight out.  Most machines have instructions in their manuals for how to do this.  Also, if using a cone, be sure to use a cone net to make it work evenly.

Perspective in Threads, one of my earlier pieces that, except for the borders, is a whole cloth piece using four different thread weights.

12 weight threads:  These threads are wonderful to use when you want your stitching to show.  Since I am currently on a wool kick, I will start with wool thread.  Wool thread makes beautiful accents for wool appliques, machine embroidery, or Spanish Moss hanging from the trees.  I like Aurifil’s Lana wool blend threads.  I use 100/16 top stitch titanium coated needles by Superior with it and Aurifil’s 50 weight cotton in the bobbin.  These threads are a bit linty, since wool is linty, so you have to clean out the thread path and the bobbin area after every couple of hours of stitching with it, but it provides such a wonderful result.  I also set the top tension lower with this thread and stitch more slowly than I usually do because it has a tendency to break, though not bad if you do these things.  I’m sure these are the reasons thay added the acrylic in an effort to control the downside of wool as a thread.

The Spanish moss in the quilt below were all stitched on my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm with Aurifil wool blend thread that I bought in the large 383 yard spools.

Night on the Bayou
59″ x 31″
Inspired by a painting by Disney artist
Joel Christopher Payne
       used  by permission.

 

So I did a lot of testing and find that for stitching with my two domestic sewing machines that a lot of different brands of 12 weight cotton work just fine for feed dogs up sewing, but the one that works the best for me for free motion stitching is Sulky 12 weight cotton.  It has less knotting and other problems as long as I use the same 100/16 topstitch needle and slightly lower the upper tension.  I use Superior Bottom Line 60 weight polyester in the bobbin with 12 weight cotton at the default setting although for heavy decorative patterns or in the hoop embroidery I tighten the bobbin tension one click to the right in my Bernina 880 plus.

Kanazawa Memories, Completed August 2015
Sashiko designs stitched with 12 weight Sulky cotton. Appliqued with Monopoly.

When I am sewing on my Bernina sitdown longarm Q20, I frequently use Superior’s M Style prewound bobbins, which are also Botton Line.  They are so evenly wound and work very well.  I just make sure I am putting them in the right direction (I usually write Bernina on the right side) and just use them exactly as if I were using a Bernina bobbin I wound.  For my Q20 I set the bobbin tension at about 180 for Bottom Line.

40 Weight Threads: 40 weight embroidery threads are wonderful and they are the thread I use the most for embroidery and quilting.  I use them in both the top and the bobbin when making a show quality quilt, although I also often use Superior Bottom Line in the bobbin too.  For the most part, I use two different 40 weight brands.  I use an 80/12 or 90/14 Superior topstitch titanium coated needle with these threads.  These needles stitch much longer than most and if you are stitching through fusible webs, they don’t seem to attract as much of the glue on the needle.  For the most part, default tensions work with these threads.

  • Superior Magnifico poly, Fantastico variegated poly, which are basically the same thread except Magnifico is solid and Fantastico is variegated.
  • Superior King Tut cotton which is matte finish and usually requires the larger 90/14 needle
  • Isacord poly.  I started out embroidering with this thread.  It is very good, but not as shiny as the Magnifico or Fantastico.  It does make a nice quilting thread.

Stitched with Magnifico in a goldish color.

Monopoly

I only use Superior’s Clear Monopoly or black Monopoly It is so thin and strong, and it does not show up shiny like some monopolies.  I understand there are others that are reportedly just as good, but I know this is a successful monopoly.  I use it for stitch in the ditch and applique when I want to hide the stitching.  This works best for me with a 70/10 or 80/12 universal Schmetz needle, which is larger than recommended.  The reason is the point of a universal is not as sharp and if it “steps” on the thread it is less likely to break it than a sharp pointed needle.  It took me a while to learn this one.  Your machine may prefer a different size needle, but I encourage you to use a universal needle.  You have to be a little careful with this thread as it is so very lively and can wrap itself around things in the bobbin and so forth.  It is so very hard to see, but it provides a wonderful result and once you get your machine set up right it sews very well.  I set the top tension really low, even down to 1.0 or 1.5.  I do not put it in the bobbin, so I use Bottom Line with it.  I do not cut it with the machine cutter, but rather pull it out a little further than usual so it doesn’t pull back out of the needle when cut, which I have found it often does otherwise.  I do a little back stitching to tie it off.  You can’t see any thread buildup in that case and it holds it better even than a hand knot.

Metallic Threads

Metallic threads are so beautiful and I confess it has been my greatest challenge in getting it to work well, but I decided to apply the same set up for metallics as I do for Monopoly only I use a 90/14 Superior top stitch needle for success.  I was told to use a Metalic thread needle, but I did not find that as successful.  It may be the way I sew, who knows.  In any event after some testing I find I prefer Superior Metallic threads and I run it through the path on my machines that allows me to use the Bernina thread lubricant, or I just use a thread lubricant on the spool before stitching.  It is really important to test things on a test piece before using any of these threads on your project.

Light Weight Threads

When I don’t want to use a Monopoly for one reason or another, I like to use a 100 weight thread.  These threads make wonderful quilting threads especially when you want to have the quilting sink into the background, do microquilting, or are appliqueing so it looks like hand applique.  My favorites for these techniques are Superior Kimono 100 weight silk thread, and Superior Microquilter 100 weight poly.

I have already mentioned Superior’s 60 weight Bottom Line for bobbin work, but I also have successfully used it as a top quilting thread, a piecing thread, and even to make clothing.  It is strong and pretty.  It also sinks nicely into the background, but spreads a little more color than 100 weight when you are doing microquilting.

When using these threads in the top, I use a Superior 70/10 top stitch titanium coated needle and lower the top tension to about a 1.75 for the silk or 2.25 for the poly.  If you start having trouble with breakage, you might try an 80/12 top stitch needle.

So I made a chart some years back for use with my Bernina Q20.  I just updated it this week, and thought I would include it here.  Yes, I am aware there are differences from previous versons of this chart, but I have continued to make adjustments as I learned more.  Your own machines may need adjusting, but the point is that threads of all kinds may need their own special settings for optimal results.  So do some experimenting and testing.  I encourage you to create your own guides and have fun with those fabulous threads.

Sew happy everyone!  Go forth and create something wonderful or just have some fun in your own studiois.

 

 

Simple Shapes for My Wool Project

Sew earlier this week I got everything ready to make my first video and then discovered I was missing a cord to connect the little monitor I need to my Sony Handicam camera.  Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t think identifying cords needed in the computer world is the easiest thing to do,  Thank GOODNESS I have my own family geek squad.  Hahaha.  My son David helped me to identify what I needed and looked through our huge collection of cords, but we didn’t have the right one.  So I ordered it and it is supposed to come today. If it comes, I hope then to get my first video on YouTube sometime next week.  I don’t know how long this whole video making and editing will take me, but my tentative plan is to put one up a week at first.

Sew I got all ready to make the first item for my book/video wool project.  It is called “Simple Shapes” and it is a small wall hanging, and I really invite you to join me in making one yourself.  I will be providing all kinds of help here and even videos demonstrating it.

For several years now I have had an Accuquilt Go! cutter, and have, over the years, collected a fair number of their dies.  I find the dies are wonderful for this particular kind of project, and also I cut all my bindings and borders on it.  It’s much more accurate than I am…LOL.

I also use it to cut my 8 inch blocks I use for cuddle quilts.  I used it when I work with my grandson, who made a couple of simple quilts with my help several years ago, and he was able to cut his own quilt pieces safely.  It’s just a very helpful tool in my studio.  Yesterday it took me only about half an hour to cut out all the pieces I need for this, and most of that time was because I am backing them with Steam-a-Seam  fusible before I cut them, and I had to get that ironed on.  This makes the wool feed through the cutter so nicely and hold the pieces nicely in place.  I have other methods to do this too, but this one is my favorite.

However, if you don’t have a cutting machine and don’t want to buy one right now but want to follow along with me and try your own hand at wool applique by machine, I have made a pdf pattern with simple shapes that you can download and use.  You can find the pdf file on my Aids and Links page on this blog (see the links at the top of this blog).  I know you could draw your own, but why bother, since I have them all put together in the free pattern. They are not necessarily the same as those on my dies, but close enough.

Sew I cut out a bunch of shapes from fun several colors of the wool felt I talked about in my last blog.  As I promised, I also looked around and found you can get satisfactory quality sets from Amazon if you want to make one of these wall hangings yourself.  I would love to see you join me in this fun project. I recommend you get four sets and you will have enough for several projects. Just click on the links below.

I also found a melton wool blend in black that would make a nice background, or you can use a nice solid color quilting cotton for the background. If you get a single yard the wool, it is large enough to make two or even three small wool projects, because these are small little jewels of projects and the yard is 58 inches wide. These would make nice Christmas or other celebration presents.

Sew now that I have all these simple shapes cut out  I will arrange them in a flower arrangement of some sort.  Follow this blog in the future to see what to do.  Note that I also cut some stems and vines about 1/4 inches wide and some leasves shaped from the felt that are not on my pdf but I did use the stems and leaves die on the Accuquilt site also.

I will talk more about what to do with all these shapes in future blogs, but you might guess if you look again at my last blog where I show a lot of the test piece I did.  I will be demonstrating this on my video, assuming I am successful in getting that done.  LOL  I will be linking to my video in my next blog probably.

Test and practice piece

Sew happy everyone!  Teach someone to sew or quilt or at least encourage sewists and other fabric wizards you know.  Even the most advanced folks need encouragement.  Sending you all hugs!

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.

Interfacings or Stabilizers?

So recently a friend of mine asked me about the use of interfacings and  stabilizers and what was the difference. I consider interfacings and stabilizers both indispensable in fabric art creating of various types.  They make the difference between a successful project and a lackluster or even failed piece. Understanding them is one of the basic skills for everything from fashion sewing to quilted art.  I can fully understand her need to know more about them.

The Byzantine world of stabilizers and interfacings can be very confusing,  because there are so many of them and they all have different uses.  Adding to the confusion is all the different brands that are out there and may call them something different and what do they mean by “lightweight” anyway?

The Back Wall of Home Dec Fabrics at G Street Fabrics

First of all, let’s discuss her question of what is the difference between interfacing and stabilizer.

  1. Well, for one thing, stabilizers do not always stay in the project, but sometimes they can.  They are largely designed to assist in making machine embroidery work both in the hoop and free motion thread painting.  They are also useful for decorative machine stitching.
  2. What makes this confusing is that interfacings can also serve as stabilizers but they are designed to remain in the project and interfacings often look like stabilizers.
  3. You may need both or even two or more for specific projects.
  4. You can even use spray starch or other spray products to work as stabilizers.
  5. And then there are those clear plastic looking stabilizers of varying weights made with corn starch or similar ingredient that washes away.  They have a variety of interesting and helpful uses in the fabric artist’s studio.
  6. Interfacings provide stability for fabrics that have a tendency to disintigrate, spread the stitching, or simply need a heavier hand for the project you are making.  They help to properly shape clothing, and is particularly required for any high-end sewing like fine couture sewing, tailored garments, wedding dresses, simple dressmaker jackets or vests, and shirts with buttons and collars.  I use interfacings extensively in both my clothes making and art quilting to make my wide selection of fabrics work together.

Sew I am focusing this discussion by using popular brand names  just because it is easy to identify and I know from using them they are a good product, but there are other brands that are also fine and some that are just terrible (shrinking, bubbling, wadding up with use). Buy a good grade of these products so your project will be successful.

Interfacings

I have a handful of stabilizers that I keep stocked in the studio so I have them when the need to sew or quilt hits me in the middle of the night and it also helps to save lots of time.  Also by stocking, I can save a lot of money by buying them when a good sale goes by. There are a large number of Pellon interfacings, but I try to keep at least three yards available of these four weights of interfacings. I buy the first two of these by the bolt when they are on sale because I use a lot of them.  They are usually much cheaper–three or four times cheaper–by the bolt, and even more if you hit a good sale.

  • For stabilizing (there’s that word that helps make this all so confusing when talking about interfacings) such fabrics as silks, very light weight cottons, dupioni  and satin polyesters, specialty fabrics, and to use for some wool or wool like tailoring fabrics, I stock a woven fusible lightweight interfacing like SF101 Shape Flex by Pellon  This nice woven interfacing does not have much affect on the hand of the fabric and, if quilted, it causes the fabric to drape better and to be smoother and more attractive. It can be used for shirt making also, but you may want to use a heavier weight for more tailored shirts.  I would not use this as a rule on good quality quilting cotton unless you are making a shirt or dress out of it.
  • For an even lighter hand (fabric drape and feel) backing up fabrics that need a little help, such as high quality silk dupioni or cotton lawn I like one of the nearly sheer nonwovens, such as Pellon 906F sheerweight. This particular interfacing is scarce right now because it is one of the choice interfacings for making masks more effective.  So I linked to a pretty good price for the bolt.
  • For a little heavier interfacing that you might want to use for crisper collars in tailored shirts, or costumes, for instance, I like Pellon 931td Some people are using this for mask making also, making it a little scarce, but I think it is just too heavy to comfortably breath through for me.
  • For bag making or some such with leather (artificial or otherwise) or heavy upholstery fabrics when you want to quilt it I use Pellon’s naked foam. I thank Nina McVeigh for alerting me to this product on her fascinating The Quilt Show show (if you aren’t a member, you are missing a lot).  I layer it with the leather or heavier upholstery fabrics and add a cotton backing fabric.  This is approaching a batting discussion that will be a future blog post, but I felt it also fits well in the interfacing discussion too.
  • For high-end tailoring, especially with wool projects like coats and jackets I usually, but not always, move away from Pellon and use mostly Hymo.  Note that I have already run a few blogs about tailoring coats, and plan on making a wool slacks suit and a raw silk tailored jacket for this fall and winter and will blog the making of those, since I have some beautiful fabrics on hand that I should use before they age out.  You can easily obtain high quality and varying weights of these from tailoring supply houses online.  I generally buy these by the project.  So you will want to first consult your pattern or a tailoring book to get the right thing.   Here is a link to A group of Hymo tailoring interfacings especially good for wools from B. Black and Sons a wonderfully supplied company where I buy my tailoring supplies:  Hymo
  • And B. Black also has these lovely canvas/cotton interfacings that I have used with success for non-wool or light summer tailoring:  Canvas/cotton.

Stabilizers

I use several different stabilizers for my fabric art projects and even for embellished clothes, but I only stock a few of them because they could take over my storage space otherwise.

  1. The primary stabilizer I use for my in-the-hoop embroidery and free motion thread painting for my quilted art pieces is either OESD’s Ultra Clean and Tear Fusible or Madeira Cotton Stable, which I have a slight preference for but it is increasingly hard to find and has gone up in price. Both of these stabilizers give the fabric enough stability to take a higher amount of stitches than most of the stabilizers will do and they both tear away easily after stitching while remaining in place when you are stitching.
  2. A heavier film wash away stabilizer, such as OESD’s Badgemaster,  and a slightly lighter film stabilizer Madeira Avalon is especially useful in the studio.  I use both Madeira and OESD film stabilizers.  Washing it away can be interesting.  It’s like a science fiction slime creature at first…hahaha.  I just soak it in clear cold water and then rinse it well in running water.

I really like OESD’s Aqua Mesh Washaway, that looks like an interfacing, works well for marking designs on,  and easy to use for stitching a free-standing thread motif, applique, or free standing lace.  In such cases I will almost always add a layer of black  or white nylon tulle on top and a double layer of Aqua Mesh Washaway.  Then when you rinse it away, your piece will hang together and you just cut closely around the veiling, which basically disappears to your eyes on the fabric you applique it on to. Black veiling or matched to the background veiling works well for this. It is especially useful when you are embroidering or even free motion couching cords and yarns to build a heavy design to make them free from the main project and applique them on.  It helps deal with the pull and keeps your main project nice and flat.

I embroidered this freestanding lace star on blue nylon veiling with a double layer of wash away stabilizers and then appliqued it on.

Fusibles can act as a stabilizer/interfacing

And don’r forget that when you are making a fused on applique for a wall project, for instance, you may wish to keep the fusible whole rather than windowpane it if you are going to do a lot of heavy stitching on it later.  Then it acts just like a combination interfacing and stabilizer that does not get removed from your project. So you have to give some thought to how you are going to complete the project and how it is going to be used to decide whether to windowpane (cutting out most of the middle of the fusible leaving just the edges) to maintain a soft drape or is it a good idea to use the fusible whole.

There are several high quality fusibles on the market and everyone seems to have their own preferences.  I personally prefer steam-a-seam 2 with the two sides of paper.  One side has one inch squares on it and that’s the side that you draw your design on, cut roughly around the design about 1/4 inch away, peal off the plain side, stick the side with the grid and the drawing onto the back of your fabric, and cut it out. After that you remove the paper and you have an applique with a lightly sticky side that you can move around until you have it just right before hitting it with a steam iron that glues it in place ready to stitch.

Sew happy everyone!  This blog took me too long to write because I was trying to identify what I felt were the best links to online resources.  If, however, you are fortunate enough to have an open fabric store that carries these good products near you, then bless them with your purchases there.  Blessings to everyone.  Have a wonderful time in your studios!  Feel free to ask questions. I might know the answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Achieving a Straight Unwavy Quilt

When I started making quilts to hang on the wall, I was working with smaller quilts that didn’t seem to present problems of waves and unevenness.  I had a quilt in the 2013 Quilt Odyssey show and I attended the show.  When I saw the quilt hanging there, I was a little horrified at the wave I saw and how it looked a little crooked. It also seemed a little wiggly at the top.  There it was, hanging in a prestigious show (it has since decided to close the Quilt Odyssey shows) with all those amazing quilts.

Perspective in Threads completed in 2012  before I fixed the binding and after I fixed the rod pocket.

I wanted to grab it and run!  LOL  I couldn’t understand it.  When it was home and on the table it was flat and I guess maybe not as square as I originally thought, but certainly not so wiggly/wavy.  When I got it home I took a hard look at it, did some measuring, square measuring, etc.  I realized a couple of things attributed to the wiggles and waves and most of them had to do with the rod pocket! Here is my analysis of that little quilt.

  • The rod pocket was slightly too narrow and so it had been scrunched a little on their rod. It was sewn so there was no extra space on the back to prevent the rod from poking the top out.
  • The rod pocket was not level in relation to the quilt itself.
  • The binding wasn’t done very well.
  • It measured correctly with even sides and top and bottom though there was a very slight difference between the top and the bottom length.  It was relatively square and there really wasn’t much I could do about any minor unsquareness because of the way I had used the printed border.  I don’t think that is a problem.
  • It is basically a whole cloth quilt with a border and quilted well and evenly, so it didn’t pull it out of whack even though I “quilted it to death”.

So there you go.  The primary problems were the binding that could have been better and the poorly done rod pocket.  I have since replaced both on that quilt, but it has not shown since.

After that, I started carefully measuring the rod pocket when I cut it out and when I applied it so it is even from the top. Instead of 4 inches I make a 5 inch or even more pocket, making sure that it is put on in such a way that there is more fabric on the back in order to make the quilt hang straighter on the top and the rod to be at the back, and although I still struggle with getting a really good binding on a quilt, I am enormously better than I was in 2012 with that. I ewill take the binding off and redo it now if need be.

I bought a laser square and am really particular about the squareness of a quilt now from start to finish. My quilts that go to shows now are seldom, if at all, out of square.

Sew happy everyone!  Stay calm and carry on…carry on with quilting, sewing, family, friends, home, and pray a lot.  Make something for yourself or your favorite person. This plan will likely give you a lot of peace.

 

 

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?