“Hand Work” by Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sew happy everyone! Have fun in your studio.

 

 

Adding Surface Design to Quilted Art

Making Spiral Gallaxy 3 (see below)

You may not know, but I have happily received several delightful and prestigious awards in Surface Design or similar awards over the years. I still find surface design and embellishment to be the most interesting part of making quilted wall art pieces.

The border swirls and leaves were all painted after quilting using Setacolor and Jacquard paints.

Some of my quilts are entirely surface design and quilting, such as my deep space quilts.  These encompass several techniques that often include multiple media pulled together, and are oh so fun to do.

Spiral Gallaxy 3…a wholecloth quilt with large Angelina Fibers applique, black veilling, a little background paint, lots of threadwork and quilting, and tons of hot fix crystals.

So what do I mean when I say Surface Design and Embellishment?  There may be a more formal definition among professional artists, but I personally mean anything outside the norm that is added to the fabric during construction of the piece or even a mostly finished piece to enhance the look or complete the design.  This might include paint, decorative thread-work, lace, Angelina Fibers, beads, buttons, crystals or found objects, and even dimensional applique.

Hawaiian Garden. The central panel is a vintage piece by Albert Shaheen. I made this as a challenge piece for MQX show in 2016. I pulled the border design from the panel and quilted, then painted the borders. I gave this to my brother and sister-in-law for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

To me, surface design is like play.  Over the next several months, I am planning on providing some demonstrations on my YouTube channel presenting some of my techniques and products I use.  The first of these will be painting on a previously quilted piece.  The various fibers and fabric weaves respond differently to the selection of the painting product. Over the years I have accumulated a nice variety of these products and kept them replaced when used up or dried out, although recently it did hurt my feelings to find I had a large percentage of my Setacolor fabric paints that had dried out.  I don’t know why they did (I’m kidding), since they were only 8 or so years old and mostly less than a quarter of the jar left…LOL. So I threw a bunch out and rearranged what I have left to use for this project.  I think I have not been making enough wall art over the past couple of years, probably because life got in the way for a while, but I am back now to full time work and feeling pretty good for an ancient fabric artist.

For the most part, the products I use are basically machine washable in cold water once heat set with an iron.  Some do require a medium, such as GAC Fabric Medium or drug store pure Aloe gel, to make them permanent or even to make them behave right on fabric.  I plan on doing a test or two for you to show the results on this blog.  My goal has always been to use the product that helps me create the look I want without changing the hand of the fabric and that can be washed when needed.  I want to be able to wash a quilt even if it is going to be a piece of wall art only.  You’d be surprised how dirty a show quilt can get when it has been shown in multiple shows or hung for years. But they don’t need to be washable frequently in hot water, like you would if you are making a snuggle quilt for a child, for instance. I would not recommend painting such a snuggle quilt.

Anyway, I have been making a set of small quiltlets with spaces in them to paint and I am just about ready to start filming this work.  It will be fun for me, I’m sure.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio!

 

 

 

 

Winning the Metallic Threads Battle

Hi everyone!  Sew I saw it again this week.  Someone who is so frustrated with the behavior of their metallic thread in their machine they vowed never to use it again.  But I think it should not have to be like that and I have some suggestions that have been successful for me with my machines.  Admittedly the machine you have may have a different outcome, and I even have some minor frustrations with metallics from time to time, but these are some things to know and try before giving up on metallics.  Afterall, they are sooo pretty when they come out right.

  1. Make sure your machine’s thread paths, both top and bobbin, are fully cleaned and oil the machine.
  2. The needle can make a big difference. Since metallics are usually 40 weight threads, but are flat metal strips wrapped around a core of either polyester, rayon, or nylon, they need a needle with a larger eye than regular 40 weight thread.  I use either Superior 90/14 top stitch titanium needles or Schmetz 90/14 metallic or topstitch needles, which all have a larger eye.
  3. Feel around the machine foot you are using just to make sure there is not burr or other rough place.
  4. I prefer either Superior Metallic Thread, which has a polyester core that doesn’t break as often, but sometimes shreds, or Wonderfil Metallic thread, which has a rayon core that sometimes breaks but doesn’t shred as much.  I have found they both work pretty well, and much better than any of the others I have tried, including YLI, which has a strong reputation but all my machines, especially my 880 plus, tend to reject it. Nevertheless, with care, I have successfully gotten through many embroidery designs with metallic threads and no breakage or shredding.
  5. Lower the top tension.  Do some testing to see if it is right.
  6. Use a lightweight polyester thread in the bobbin that is close in color to the metallic you are using in the top.  This reduces thread buildup and will help clear up a lot of headaches for you.  I even heard of someone having their plastic bobbin break when filling it with metallic thread (which actually is what prompted me to write this blog).  That is probably because it was filling at too rapid a speed,  or it was overfilled, or it was a poor quality metallic, but it works better to use a 60 weight Superior Bottom Line or 80 weight Wonderfil DecoBob threads.  Both are excellent for most of your embroidery and even regular sewing for all types of thread in the top.  You’ll be glad you got this if you do.  I like prefilled bobbins because they are so evenly wound and that is particularly helpful when sewing with a difficult thread.  Most machines will take a prewound of the right size…look in your manual.  But alas, my Bernina 880 plus is such a diva that she requires her own fancy bobbin with silver stripes that has no prewounds available. I love her anyway. Her name is Odette (after the daughter of the founder of Bernina.  She ran Bernina for many years and added many wonderful advances to the machines).

    prewounds of multiple sizes

  7. Sew slowly!  If your machine has a speed control, slow it way down for stitching and in-the-hoop embroidering with metallic threads. It takes longer, but is so rewarding.
  8. Lubricate the threads.  My Bernina 880 plus and Q20 longarm both have a thread lubricant path and a pink liquid that came with them specifically for this reason, but my little Bernina 350 does not.

    I digitized and embroidered this star as an applique. It is on one of my Christmas quilts now owned by my church.  It’s made with metallic threads.

    So I will use the lubricant path and pink liquid as described in my manuals for the two larger machines and use something like Dritz Sewers Aid for the smaller one.

    • When using the thread lubricant path, loosen the tension slightly, because I have found it adds a little tension on its own.
    • When using the lubricant for a machine that doesn’t have a prescribed path, run a line of the lubricant down the side of the thread spool on three or four sides and hand rub the spool until it is fairly well distributed.  Then thread the machine.
  9. Metallic thread is very “lively” and has a strong “memory” that makes it keep a curl when it comes off the spool.  So if you use a thread stand with a tall thread guide you can set it behind your machine and bring the thread up and over into your thread path.  This allows the thread to relax a little before it enters the thread path.  You can also take advantage of cones of thread using these too.  I do this when using it with my little B350 that I take with me to places like a class at a quilt show, but my two big machines both have tall thread guides built in.  So consider what your machine does and adjust accordingly.  Wonderfil has a gadget called a “Thread Tamer” that will do a lot of this for you.  I haven’t got that yet, though I think I probably will. It looks very helpful and interesting.
  10. Lengthen the stitch length a little.  If you are using an in-the-hoop design, your machine may have an adjustment you can make to do this for such designs or lower the density.  It not only will make the thread behave better, but will show up more metallic as it stretches further between stitches.  A lower density is very helpful in dealing with metallic threads too and, if carefully set, can look better than full density.  But not all machines will do this.  Make some simple in-the-hoop test and see what it looks like.
  11. OK, this last idea is something I haven’t tried yet but intend to.  Wonderfil just came out with a thread managing invention called The Ultimate Thread Dispenser that fits on most machines.  I think it looks very much like it will make a difference for metallics and the other painful, but totally beautiful thread worth the struggle, and that’s rayon embroidery threads.  It’s not very expensive, so you may want to order one. Here’s a link to their video talking about it, if you are interested.

Sew most of us love the look of beautiful metallic embroidery, but many of us have been totally frustrated with thread breaks, thread tangles, and so forth.  It’s worth trying things to see if you can make your machine decide to cooperate with you and use the metallic.  Perhaps if you talk to your machine nicely it will also help.  LOL

Sew happy everyone!  Keep trying new or even difficult things and have fun in your studio.

 

 

Adding Paint to Quilts

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

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

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

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

Hawaiian Garden:  I quilted, then painted the borders.

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

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio!

 

 

Fall Project Timing

Hi everyone.  I can’t believe it’s already October!  I love that it is fall, because it was a hot and somewhat rough summer for me, but it occurs to me that I have several projects I have in mind for fall and for the Christmas/winter season that aren’t even started yet.  Yikes!  I better stretch my time in the studio a bit more!

 

I have been working really hard on the complex multi-video two birds project.  I am about three fourths of the way.  I want mostly to complete the whole project before publishing the first video because I need to make sure the accompanying workbook and pattern with all its techniques are good and actually work with the videos.  That will be available from my shop on my website and together with the videos presents a fairly complete class.  This class presents a lot of the techniques I have used in the past on some of my show quilts and I think quilters will enjoy making it.  Besides, it makes up into a really nice wall or lap quilt that would be a wonderful present or enjoyable quilt for yourself.

Sew, kind of as step one on this project, I uploaded a video that discusses how to turn a line drawing, like a coloring book page, into a pattern similar to my two birds to use in your own designs.  I know everyone may not have all the software or want to play with it in that way, but I know some will and may not have thought of using it for that or really know how.  If you have Bernina software v8, for instance, you have Corel Draw elements.  Anyway, take a look at the video and see what you think.

Here is a picture of some luscious Wonderfil threads (see link on the right). I love their specialty threads and am using a lot of them in my two birds project.

I have a couple of wool applique by machine decorative wall hangings–one for fall and one for Christmas–coming too, if I succeed in getting them all done in time.

In the meantime, I have my right eye cataract surgery on the 14th of this month.  I will be glad to get that taken care of.  I can see so well out of my left eye now and not well at all out of the right eye.

Then to top off everything, I have clothes I need to make.  We’ll see how much of all of this I get done.

The Simplicity pattern from my substantial pattern stash. Note the pants have a simple full elastic waist and no pockets…not what I want, but I have a better slacks pattern. The long sleeve tunic provides a suggestion for the embellishment. I would be adding something more for fun.

 

I always plan more than I can do it seems.  But it is so much to look forward to and have fun with in my studio as we drift into fall and winter.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio.

 

Keeping a Good Eye On My Work

This coming Monday, August 23rd 2021, I will be having surgery for a cataract in my left eye.  I know it is often the case that people have both eyes done within weeks of each other, but my right eye is doing just fine at the moment.  I am having a hard time seeing my work lately and so I thought all I needed was a new pair of glasses so I went to my eye doctor and find myself here, preparing for this on Monday.  I am looking forward to the result.  I have had many people tell me what a great result they have had from such surgery and it does not seem to be a big major disruption in their lives.  Still, I would appreciate your prayers for a good result and a quick recovery and thankfulness that this is available to me at this time in my life plus that I have excellent doctors.  The lack of good vision has clearly slowed me down in my work. My eye doctor told me I would be happy.

Sew I think it would be fun to make something celebratory.  I am thinking it might be time to start a Christmas project, and I promised some of my followers that I would come up with another project for wool applique by machine with embellishment.  I am thinking of making a Christmas project, and have already begun working on the design. I still have a bunch of beautiful melton wools and it would be really fun to do one with lots of beautiful stitching with beautiful threads and hundreds of beads, crystals, buttons, and other embellishments…a real decorative piece to celebrate both my improved vision and the Lord’s birth.  Maybe I’ll do two–one in wool and one in cotton or silk!  LOL

In the meantime, progress is finally being made on the project I am calling “two birds” that will be presented with three videos and a detailed pattern.  The pattern is basically done, but it is being tested and the project is being filmed as I make it.  It’s more complex than my introductory projects on my YouTube channel, so I want to complete the work on the project before I publish any of the videos.

Sew me and my family advisory team have come up with some ideas for shorter videos to publish along the way that we think people will like.  These will be showing up periodically, and, before too long, the two birds project will get there.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio and keep an eye out for my upcoming projects and videos.  God bless you all in this perilous time.

 

 

 

A New Stitching Adventure

Birds at Play Detail from Pattern

Hi gentle readers,

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

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

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

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

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

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio!

 

Preparing for Thread & Couching Projects

I am working on the designs for several free motion thread work and couching small quilts.  Essentially these are small whole cloth wall quilts done in multiple colors and styles of threads, cords, and yarns.  They are pictorial in design and include both free motion thread painting and quilting.  I will add some cord or yarn couching and might even add some decorative stitching with my Bernina 880 plus here and there.  It’s kind of exciting for me.

Scanned coloring book page before cleaning up and turning into a pattern. This is not one of the four.

Sew what are these planned pieces?  They include one scene of evergreen trees in the summer, one scene of trees at night with white winter stylized trees and a night sky both designed entirely by me, and four stylized tropical bird scenes based on scenes found in a Dover coloring book that will be colorful and, yes, challenging to stitch. I am  turning them into downloadable pdf patterns to print and tape together ready for tracing onto your fabric. Then I will stitch them out with some additions of quilting designs and embellishments.

I hand stitched this little crewel scene using wool threads years ago. My youngest son took it and had it framed in a museum quality acid free framing to protect it. I believe it is possible to replicate crewel stitching by machine to look nearly like hand stitching.

It’s an adventure!  And yes, there will be videos on YouTube and workbooks and patterns available on my website shop so you can sew along with me.  I am considering the possibility of creating background fabrics for tracing these bird scenes onto that could then be purchased at Spoonflower.  I am not sure this will work, but I will let you know if I am successful.

This is from another Dover coloring book, but I think it would make a wonderful piece of crewel work-like piece.  Maybe I will add this one to my thread-work projects.

Sew I hope very much a lot of you will join me in these projects that will be presented in July and August, and possibly September.  These small wall quilts make wonderful presents or home decor (either one or in groups).  I don’t have the final sizes or supply lists yet because I’m still working on them, but I’ll let you know.  Mostly I will be using threads from Wonderfil Threads and Superior Threads.  I love both brands and they work well together because Wonderfil has some wonderful specialty threads that Superior does not and I have a huge collection of Superior threads in “normal” weights I have collected over the past several years.

If you do one or more of my projects and send me pictures at www.bettyjo@bjfabricartist.com of your projects, I will share them here on my blogs if you would not mind.

I will let you know when the workbooks with patterns and supply lists are available in my shop for each project.  Right now, however, you can join me on the deciduous tree in full bloom quiltlet.  There is a workbook with pattern and the first of two videos already available. The second video will likely be available next weekend. This is a skill-builder project and I think you would enjoy making it.  If you do you would get to practice textured padded applique and broiderie perse by machine that are two great techniques for the fabric artists to have in their tool belts.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Show-and-Tell of My Experimental Quilting

knight detail from “Equipped to Stand”

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

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

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

Sew happy everyone!

 

Textured Appliques

                                                    Detail from The Wizards’ Duel

Textured appliques can be derived from using a combination of techniques.  Such appliques can add major interest, even take center stage, on an art quilt and I find them really fun to do and a little challenging to figure out what needs to be done.  The detail shown in the picture above started off as  white basic quilting cotton that I washed and steam pressed.  Then I traced the applique outlines on the fabric using my light table, painted with artists water soluble crayons, backed the applique itself with wool batting, quilted (I think of this as “prequilting”),  backed with fusible  web, cut out closely to the applique, fused it down.  Then I and edge stitched it to the top.  After the quilt top was completely ready, I sandwiched the quilt with a double bat of wool on top and 80/20 cotton/poly on the bottom and did some more stitching to improve the look of the appliques.  I was particularly trying to help show muscles and shapes on the dragon and so I added more paint highlights, this time with iridescent Shiva sticks.

Here’s a little closer picture of the dragon so you can see it better.

That’s just an example, but I have used a lot of other techniques to get textured appliques for my work.  I’ll probably do a video on this…maybe within my upcoming tree series.  They need a lot of texture.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio.