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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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: 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 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.

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Problem Solving in the Studio 3: Free Motion Couching

One of the things I have really been enjoying experimenting with lately is couching by machine.  Couching, or laid work in which cords or yarns are laid onto a fabric and attached using small stitches, reaches back into history at least as far as the llth century, usually gold cording.  Of course, that was by hand and gloriously beautiful.

I have been working on a book on embellishment and one of the techniques I will be covering in the book is couching.  Or rather, several of the techniques I am discussing are several different types of couching by machine.  Our machine companies have developed or are developing couching feet designed to help us apply interesting cords and yarns to the surface of our projects by machine.  Like many things, though, success in this endeavor requires a bit of practice.

 

This is the start of a small sampler of winter trees that I am making. The largest tree is couched on sports weightyarn, using foot number 43 on my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm. The next largest tree on the right uses a thinner baby fingering yarn and so I used the ruler foot 72 with the largest of the three couching inserts. The silver tree in the center back is couched on Ricky Tim’s Razzle Dazzle decorative heavy thread, the thinest of the bunch, that I couched on using the smallest insert in the ruler foot 72. This was pure fun to do.

I also used free motion couching using Bernina 43 foot for my quilt Night on the Bayou, which will be in this year’s Houston IQF show.  Isn’t that terrific?  No, it will not be winning a ribbon, but I’m very happy to have it in the show nevertheless.

A close up of the Night on the Bayou showing the tree limbs I couched on with yarn using foot 43. I also couched on the bushes and grasses growing in the water (not shown here).

Sew there are some problems I have had sometimes especially in free motion couching.

Normally, I use either Superior Thread’s wonderful Monopoly thread or a 100 weight matching (to the yarn or cord) silk or poly thread to couch the thread on.  I use a small 70/10 needle.

When I first started trying this, I had trouble with the thread breaking periodically, especially the monopoly.  Then I saw someone, and I cannot remember who or where, say that using a universal needle helps prevent thread breakage for monopoly threads.  Sew I tried it and found a 70/10 or even a 60/8 universal needle actually does make a big difference. Lowering the top tension also makes a difference.  My biggest problem is getting these small needle eyes threaded with thread I can barely see. It just takes magnification and time. for me to do that.

The other problem I have sometimes is stitching off the thread when doing a curve or circle, leaving the stitches in the right shape and the yarn hanging there.  To make this better, I have found from experimentation that it is a matter of making sure to provide sufficient looseness of the yarn or cord feeding into the foot and stitching slowly enough.  I pile on a bit of loose cord/yarn onto the fabric and watch to make sure it doesn’t feed a loop into the foot, stopping and adding more cord/yarn as it uses up.  If the yarn/cord feeds in with even a small amount of too much tension, it will pull it out of the stitch path.

For the most part, this is fixable if you take your time by going back and stitching over it, using a stiletto or bent tweezers pulling the cord/yarn into place while you slowly restitch over the yarn, following the stitching now on the fabric.  Alternatively, you can remove the yarn beyond the skipped area by pulling gently on the stitched down part and clipping the thread.  But if there is enough looseness of yarn, and you sew slowly enough in the first place, you probably won’t miss the yarn/cord in the first place for the most part.

Of course, like every really good technique, you need to practice.

A word about practice and testing:  I know it takes time to test and practice techniques and products, but it can save you a great deal of time later and even the ruination of your project.  Keep a notebook and staple samples into it and write up what you did.  That way, next time you use the same kinds of items to do the same thing, even if it is months down the road, you just have to look up what you already did and proceed straight to your project.

Do I sound like an annoying nagging teacher now?  LOL…well, maybe I am.

Sew happy everyone! I hope you try couching and have a lot of fun with it.  I have lots of plans for using this technique in future quilts.