Embellishing Techniques Part 2: Machine embroidery

I’m getting really excited about the upcoming Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival, 22-25 Feb.  One of my best friends, Mei Ling,  is going with me.  We share a love of Berninas, quilting, and sewing.  Several of my other friends will be there and Mei Ling and I are both going to the Fashion Show and taking a class with Sue Nickles on applique.  Yes, I could teach a class on machine stitched applique, but Sue is the very best and I always learn things when I go to a class.  It’s mainly just fun for me to be there with a bunch of others who love fabric arts whether I already know how to do something or not.  Plus my latest quilt, which has some free motion and one small piece of in-the-hoop machine embroidery on it, will be in the show!  Sorry, you still have to wait until the judging takes place for MAQF and then I will share the quilt with you.  I’ll blog about the quilt when I get home from the show.

An aside:  Last night, the day before it started, my son pointed out to me that Birds of a Feather quilting workshop event moved to Herndon, VA, twelve minutes away from my home this year.  I had just assumed it was still in Williamsburg this year (see what assuming does for you….lol).  So today I went over to see if I could grab a few classes and I caught something I wanted to see very badly, which was Bethanne Nemesh demonstrating yarn couching on a longarm, which she has been developing lately.  I spent about ten minutes talking with her about it and she gave me a few hints, letting me try my hand at it.  It was worth a whole workshop for me even though it was just a few minutes.  I also managed to meet Gina Perks.  And I signed up for three shorter classes from those two notable quilters.

Sew what am I doing now?  Well, I’m preparing to go the MAQF show, making a vest and tote bag and gathering the items needed for Sue’s class. The vest is reversible. It has this delightful tropical birds and plants on a black background print on one side, and the other is a slightly textured solid fabric that I have embroidered some pretty flourishes on the back and fronts.

Which leads me to the supposed topic of this blog…decorative stitches and machine embroidery for embellishing quilts and wearable fabric art. Over the years I have used a lot of machine embroidery…both free motion and machine generated. I have found some things to know about that you may already be aware of, but I found out my student/apprentice Anita has never heard about. Sew I decided to summarize briefly a few pointers here for successful machine embroidery of all types.  I am including this information in a more expanded version in my current book I’m working on about surface design and embellishment.

Thread choice makes a very big difference in getting the look you want when doing machine embroidery.  Choosing  those threads requires some thought and a bit of readily available education.  Mind you, this takes a little time and practice and testing at first, but once you get it in your head you can do this quickly:

  1. Decide if you want a shiny or matt finish thread
    • Rayon is shinier than polyester, though some polys are pretty shiny too and make wonderful bird feathers or flowers or shiny objects or…well you get the idea.
    • Cotton is mat finished and makes great trees or grasses or sinks into the background just a bit when you want it to,
    • Wool is very interesting and is great for coats of furry animals or tree trunks, and when you want the look to be more hand-like because you are doing a folk art piece.
    • Silk can be both shiny or mat.  Silk is really versatile, but finding the silk threads you have in mind can be somewhat difficult.
  2. Look at several websites of thread companies and learn about what’s available and what they do.  A lot of them have some really good educational information there.  Every new little bit I learn about threads helps my next project.  It shows up in surprising ways.  Sew I encourage you to take some time with these interesting links:
  3. After looking at these sites and playing around with threads, you will better understand thread quality and weights.  If possible, obtain a bit of the threads you are interested in  and do samples to test how they work with the design you are planning to use on the fabric you plan to use.

Well, this is getting pretty long, and I still have much to say, even in a “brief” summary about machine embroidery, so I will stop here and continue in my next blog with a word about stabilizers and how to remove a heavily machine embroidered mistake.  Then maybe another blog with pictures.

Sew happy everyone!  Go learn about some threads.  There is much to learn.

By the way, I have many of my quilts for sale on my website.  You can see them here.  I really want to go to Houston and keep on writing this blog and that is where the money would go.  If you are interested in one of my quilts, contact me at BettyJo@bjfabricartist.com  Or, if you just want to help support the continuance of the blog, see the donate button.  But please keep reading my blog even if you don’t.

 

Starting and Stopping Thread Work and Quilting

Sew it’s been a while.  I’ve been enormously busy finishing my quilt for the Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival…and yes, I finished and I’m now working on my little Milky Way “You are Here” mini.  It’s only about 20 x 20 inches and it’s for my part of the space exhibit at MQX.  All of my deep space quilts will be there and this is just a little fun piece to show where we are in our home galaxy.

There are a lot of opinions out there in fabric art/quilting land about how to best start and stop your thread.  Do you bury it? Do you stitch small stitches and cut close? Do you back it up and cut close?  The answers to these questions can frustrate anyone dealing with this issue.  Some quilters have no problems with it because they’ve already decided just what they are going to do and do it the same all the time.  I however have a plethora of ways to get going and stop.

For the most part, I hate to bury knots.  On my show quilts, especially, I stitch very densely in many areas, and sometimes there simply is no way to get that knot fully under the top without problems.  Also, I’m not convinced it really holds down the thread any better than other methods.  So I analyze what I’m working with and so forth to decide what to do.  Let me just say at the start, that if I am making a utility quilt…baby, give away, cuddle on a cold night…I will back stitch or stitch a short stitch close cut.  It just takes the rough and tumble better than buried knots.  I’m sure there are those who will disagree with me about this, but I stand by it after 65 years of sewing.  So here is how I handle this issue for wall and show quilts:

  • Thicker threads, such as 12 weights and some 30 weights almost require burying in some form because they just show up at the end.  Maybe I will just bury them without a knot and carry the thread through the quilt fairly far using a long basting needle.  If it works out in my overall quilting, I bury the thicker thread and stitch over the end in my background quilting, but that doesn’t always work.
  • Very thin threads of 50, 60 or 100 weight can easily just be cut close after some close stitching…say 15 stitches per inch (spi), so I never bury those.

But what about those 40 weights and specialty threads, such as monopoly and metallics?  Well, it has been my experience that these very lively threads  WORK better and stay better with a careful back trace stitching and then cut close.  I am not sure judges will agree with me, but the thing is, such lively threads  WILL come up from a bury even when knotted if certain directions of friction are encountered in the handling of the quilt for shipping and hanging and unhanging.  If stitched carefully enough, a backtrack is virtually unnoticeable, except you can probably see it with a magnifying glass and a flashlight. (Did you know that some judges look st your quilts that way?)  But I decided my metallics will be backstitched and close cut since they go through a lot when sent to shows.  If you decide to do this, go really slowly when you backstitch and get it as exact as possible.

The 40 weights are the problem because they aren’t easily determined.  Some of them, such as Superior’s Magnifico and Sulky’s rayons are really shiny and show up everything, especially with a high contrast.  So in that case, I will probably bury them with the long thread no knot method if I can bring myself to do it.  LOL.  Some of them, such as Superior’s King Tut, a cotton thread, will melt into the background when the contrast is low. They do well with a short stitch close cut ending.

Sew the answer then is either to quilt so well and planned that you NEVER have a start or stop (LOL) or to test the starts and stops before setting out on quilting that special project and decide how you are going to approach it. Also, always be flexible as you go, because when you are quilting certain places you can change your mind.

Sew Happy Everyone!  May your dreams be met, your life be full of love and simply lovely!

By the way, I need some funds to help me keep my dreams for 2018 going, so I am hoping to sell several of my quilts this year to finance my attending the Houston show and keep me in stitches (LOL) and make room in my house for more.  You can see which ones on my website gallery…just scroll over the quilt and you can see the price and size.  Contact me if you are interested in one and maybe we can work something out that suits your budget.  I’ve instituted a lay away plan for the quilts. If you don’t want to buy a quilt but do want to help, there is a donate button on this blog if you are so inclined and the funds will all go to financing my trip or keeping this blog going.

 

Working with My Bernina Q20 Sitdown Longarm

As I’ve said before, I really love my Bernina Q20, Fritz, that I have set up as a sitdown longarm. I belong to a couple of Facebook groups, and one in particular, for sharing things about this machine. I decided I would write a blog (with a bit of humility and a lot of experimenting behind me) about how I set my machine up for quilting, because there are a lot of new quilters out there with this machine who seem to have a lot of questions.  Please understand this is how I work best with MY machine, but I thought it might still be of some value to the newer Q20 owners anyway.

Just so we are all singing from the same page, I have attached a pdf of the manual for reference:

036-0625-2-04_2015-06_Manual_Q20-Q24_EN_GZD_Online

To me, the greatest thing about this is how much control I have of the stitching. There are quite a few things that make an impact on that…the thread, the needle, the bobbin thread, the bobbin setup, and all the neat settings provided on the machine, and then there is the wonderful kickstart.  If you haven’t done the upgrade and don’t yet have your kickstart, I hope you will do so right away.

I had my machine for about a month before I realized it has programs where you can set up all your top tensions, speeds, and stitch lengths for all the modes and save it (see pages 73-74). I have mine programed for different weights of threads. 40 wt polyester, 100 wt silk, and 12 weight cotton. The fourth one is the default settings, so really there are only three you can set and save, but that seems enough to me. I felt pretty dumb when I found this out, because I was resetting everything every time I turned it on.  I have worked out a chart of settings for my own use, so I thought I’d share.  First see pages 29-31 in the manual for a discussion of how they see threads and needles, then see my personal preferences chart

chart for Q20

I have all the attachments available for the Q20, but there aren’t many (thank goodness). I already had the feet that work with my Q20 (see page 22 in the manual), mostly because I collected them while I was learning to FMQ on my Bernina 830 LE, and they fit.  I even have the double needle stitch plate (see page 46 through 49 for threading for double needle stitching)  and the horizontal spool pin necessary for straight wound spools (see page 23).

Here are some good tutorials:

Threading for twin needle work

Bobbin tension check

Preparing to stitch (you probably know most of this, but it’s a good reminder)

Stitching with and without the BSR

One of my many practice pieces. This one shows different thread weights and a little bit of yarn couching.

 

Do I use the BSRs?

Yes, I do use my BSRs and love them (read pages 75-78 for a discussion of the various BSR modes). I have the BSR attachment for my 830 LE, but it is slow and a little cumbersome compared to the fabulous BSRs on the Q20. I use BSR1 for most of my free motion, BSR2 for my ruler work, and manual sometimes for really tiny tiny fmq and some special threadwork, and even if I spray baste a quilt, I thread baste it with BSR 3..so fast, so handy, gives that little bit of extra security.  After years of using a BSR on my Bernina 830LE and now my Q20, I find the manual comes pretty naturally, but I still prefer the BSRs for most things.

It is true that good results from the various modes take practice both to learn what YOU like and to get the best benefits from the different modes.  I think, in fact, that you need to practice as if you are learning a musical instrument…frequently and for at least a half hour at a time, and every now and then a long period of practice. I periodically make a bunch of 20 inch or so practice sandwiches…marking some with grids, some with stencils, and nothing on some.  I use solid colors for the practice sandwich tops so I can really see what I’m doing, but it’s a good way to use up that ugly fabric you wonder why you ever bought on the back of your practice sandwiches, and I use joined pieces of leftover batting for my practice sandwiches too.

A practice piece using, surprisingly, polyester satin with wool batting.

Working with the kickstart:

The kickstart lets you stitch without your foot on the pedal, but is very easy to start, pause, and stop. By doing this, you don’t have an uneven feed of power going to the stitching.  Here’s their guide addendum for the manual for the kickstart:

Zusatzblatt_Kick-Start_EN_13-12-2016_GZD

And here’s a link to a youtube tutorial on using it:  kickstart tutorial

When using just the pedal to make it go, it is unlike a regular sewing machine, or the gas pedal on your car. The pedal on the Q20 sitdown does not make the stitching go faster or slower. The pedal is on or off. Pushed down all the way, you get it fully on. Slightly up, sometimes it skips stitches. If your foot slips off your pedal or you lose concentration, it makes it skip or unevenly stitch. Without the kickstart you have to spend part of your concentrated effort making sure you have that pedal fully and evenly compressed all the time you are stitching. So the kickstart is absolutely the most even way to stitch because it is on at full power, paused, or stopped. It may sound a little intimidating to think of turning on the stitching all the time, but you really are still in complete control. You can still kickstart the pedal and make it pause, or you can press the front of the pedal to exit the kickstart program instantly.  I hope you will try it if you haven’t already.

 

Here are some rulers I used to stitch this border piece (stitched, painted, then pieced into the top, then quilted with monopoly and 100 wt silk)

This spiral galaxy quilt is a whole cloth quilt stitched in its entirety on my Q20 (except for the binding and rod pocket, of course).

Sew with all these settings in mind, I hope you will find your own personal settings…make a chart yourself if you want…and then find that working with your Q20 is just as wonderful as I have.

Pendragon
34 x 45

Down to the Last Minute, and A Thread Review

I am going to take the second batch of my quilts out to G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, for the second part of the exhibit of my quilts.  This exhibit, which runs from mid July until the end of August or so, includes nearly all my show quilts except for Pendragon, Dad’s House plan, this year’s Hoffman Challenge still on tour, and a couple I have sold or given away.  They will be displayed throughout the store, including those that are already there in the Bernina department.  I also have completed one new quilt and nearly finished a second new quilt just for this exhibit.  Some of these quilts are available for purchase.  I will (really) post photos of the exhibit sometime in the latter half of July.

Sew here is where I’m at on the preparations.  I have completed the second one of my Alfred Shaheen panel quilts and named it “Tropical Garden”.  I used a lot of Superior’s new 100 weight polyester thread called Microquilter on both that quilt and the “Field of FLowers” I hope to finish by Friday to include in the exhibit.

A Review of Microquilter Thread

When I won all thirty colors of Superior’s Microquilter 100 weight polyester from Superior Threads, I was really thrilled.  I use almost more 100 weight threads than I do any other thread.  I use it for background quilting, detail thread sketching on things like flowers and line drawings, and I also love it for machine applique.  I do not use it for piecing or bobbins.

I found it a wonderful workable thread.  I tried it in my Bernina Q20 sit down longarm, my Bernina 830 LE, and my Bernina 350.  In every case I had to lower the top tension to keep it from breaking, just as I do for silk 100 wt and monopoly.  It worked beautifully without further adjustment in everything but the Q20.  For that, I had to lower the bobbin tension also (I used it with Bottom Line in the bobbin, though I did try one bobbin with the Microquilter).  I found surprisingly that the Superior top stitch needle size 80 worked better than a smaller needle that I use for monopoly and silk.  So here is how I ended up setting up my Q20 (Fritz) if you have one:

  • I have found my Q20 works better with a Magic Bobbin Genie sized for M bobbin.  I just put it in over the spring in the bobbin.  Without it, I have some thread nests on the bottom of my quilt when I get going really fast, and believe me, the Q20 can go REALLY fast.
  • I set the bobbin tension with Superior’s Bottom Line or the Microquilter itself for 180 using the tension guage that came with my machine.  If you use the Microquilter in your bobbin don’t wind it full.  It works better a little less…starting at about 3/4 full.  In the course of making two quilts, I used both Bottom Line that I wound and some prewound Superior thread bobbins that use Bottom Line.
  • I set the top tension for 125
  • I used a size 80 Superior top stitch titanium needle.
  • I used BSR1 set at 280 speed for tiny little stippling and 200 for slower tiny bubbles
  • This setup makes it work like a dream…no nests, no hangups, no tension problems

I will provide some pictures of my quilting with Microquilter as soon as I get them taken.  I am behind in getting my quilts photographed.

 

I got my little personal app quilt home that was a part of Road to California’s traveling exhibit of app quilts.  It has lost about six hot fix crystals out of hundreds, so I need to replace them by Friday.  I have one quilt that needs washing and reblocking, which I will do today.  I have several more stumpwork butterflies to make for the Field of Flowers and I have to put the rod pocket and label on it.  I think I can make the Friday deadline on this one, since the actual quilt is complete and bound. I even have the silver spider charm on the spider web part of that quilt.  Here’s the dragonfly that is ready to go onto the quilt already.  It’s in parts and needs a little additional embroidery after attachment where the wings attach to the body.  I will do turned edge applique of the body and hide the wing wires under that.  I will also probably darken the little white edges of the sheer to match the stitching.  I may even do a hand blanket stitch over the edges if I decide it needs it.  The first picture shows the pieces after stitching, and the second picture shows the dragonfly together ready to applique on.

The embroidered pieces, which I made in the hoop with my Bernina 830 LE

And I also need to ship “Pendragon” to AQS this week.  I want to do a little gold paint touch up on the border paint before I ship it.

So I have a really busy week ahead of me, but it’s an exciting time.  I am enormously pleased that G Street has asked me to show my quilts in the exhibit there.  It is a real honor.  I hope you have a chance to see it.  The whole show will be available in mid-July. I’m not sure of the exact dates, so you might want to call them before you head there.

Sew happy everyone!  Teach someone to sew or quilt…yourself, you cat, your dog…your son.  Until next time!

 

Five Years as a Full Time Fabric Artist: Stash Changes

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

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

So how has it changed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On MAQF, Antiques, and Tutorials

MAQF

I just came home all inspired by a delightful few days at Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival where I had “Pendragon”.  I put together some of my pictures from the show.  Here is a link to the picture file:  Smugmug/MAQF 17

I stayed a day longer than I usually do for this show and it gave me lots of time to see every quilt, take all four lectures I was interested in and see the Show and Tell that I usually miss.  I also did a lot of shopping.  Well, afterall, my 70th birthday will be this coming Friday on March 3rd, so I gave myself some presents…threads, new rulers (a set of circles and a set of ovals), and one of those spinning cutting mats among a few additional small items.

The loot from the show

Pendragon did not place, but I believe it to be mostly because the theme of the show was modern quilting and that quilt has nothing to say that is even remotely modern quiltish.  I still believe it is a ribbon worthy quilt, so we will see what it does in the future. I decided to see if they would include it anyway because I sort of consider MAQF my main show.  It is within driving distance and I have relatives in the area, so going there is always a treat for me.  I did get some nice comments from the judges:

Your original design effective in telling your story; Embroidery well executed; Piecing well done; Quilting motifs compliments the design; Quilt hangs flat and square; Back of quilt should be free of loose threads and lint” (note:  I sticky rolled it and examined it with my big magnifying lamp when I packed it…lint may have happened on their end.  That backing fabric I used was a little lint grabbing…not using that again).

Pendragon
34 x 45

A New Page Is Turned

Now, however, I am turning a page on my work.  From here I am focusing on the quilt work itself, and on figuring out how to pass on what I have learned even as I maintain my studio artist status (not a lot of travel, a little teaching within driving distance, writing books and creating tutorials), rather than so much focus on the competition work. I will still enter shows, and still plan on making show quilts (they teach me a lot and give me a chance to stretch my work), but it’s an attitude and work flow adjustment in my studio that is on this nice new page in my life.   You can see more about this in one of my past blogposts here.

On Antiques

There are lots of definitions of “antique”.  The one I like the best for this discussion is “an object such as … a work of art that has a high value because of its considerable age.”    Tomorrow (Friday, March 3rd), I will be 70 years old.  I am a work (in progress) maybe even a “work of art” and have considerable age. I think every human being has high value…so there you are.  I could probably be called “an antique” fabric artist.  I feel physically great (have also lost some weight recently and hope to lose more) and I believe I am as mentally alert as ever (always a little daphy).  Many of my ancestors lived well into their hundreds.  I have a wonderful plan for my future and my kids are nearby.  My studio is well stocked, and my fleet of machines is wonderful and in good working order.  I’m excited about the future.  Thank the good Lord and I hope you will continue to join me on my quilting journey.

On Tutorials

One of the things I am going to begin on this blog post is a regular short tutorial (every week or month?).  This week’s tutorial is answering a question I got a lot at the show…how I made the chain mail on my characters in Pendragon using Bernina v7.  I haven’t yet gotten v8, but I suspect this would work there also.

Digitizing Chain Mail for Small Applique (Or using special fills to create what you want)

I wanted to make the characters’ chain mail shirts look right, and decided the best approach was to digitize the chain mail in my Bernina v7 software and embroider it in the hoop.  This took me a while to discover how to do it.  I think I spent two or three days on figuring this out, but I just did a chain mail heart shape and took snap pictures for this tutorial all in about three minutes.  So I thought I’d share this with you in case you wanted to create something special with interesting fills and shapes.  Using Bernina v7 software:

  • Draw a closed shape…you can put the picture in the art canvas side and trace it on the embroidery side
  • Right click on the object and bring up the Object Properties dialogue box.

    Draw shape and in object properties box make these selections (sorry the text box got cut off, but that’s what is said more or less).

 

    These are the selections I made..sizes will depend on your own project size and requires a little experimentation to get it right.

 

  • I had to turn my shirts upside down and move them around to get the wave fill to match where the parts of the wave needed to be to show the expansion and contraction of the chain…like a shirt on a beautifully muscled knight. 😀  I also gave each shirt their own color to help me figure out which belonged where when complete.  I embroidered them all in Superior Fantastico 5169..a silvery variegated gray on black fabric.  I cut them out close to the embroidery and glued them on with Roxanne basting glue and blanket stitched the edges in the same thread to give them a finish.

So there you are.  I can see this method working for a wide variety of appliques and purposes.  The software is so flexible, but finding out how to do something you want to do that is a little different can take time.

Finished chain mail in place

On Upcoming Events:

  • For the month of May and a couple of weeks into June, G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, is hosting an exhibit of my quilts.  I will have one day where I will provide a walking lecture tour of my approximately 15 quilts that will be placed around the store.  I’ll let you know when that is.
  • In June, I will be providing a workshop on machine quilting at G Street.
  • My quilt “Drawing Nigh” will be at AQS in Lancaster, PA, March 20-April 1.  If you attend and see my quilt, let me know.

Sew happy everyone.  Focus on your creative projects to have the most fun, put in your best effort, learn a little bit, and share, and don’t let it stress you out.  I would really appreciate comments.

Part 3: Quilting for Domestic Machine Artists…Threads Can Make All the Difference

Threads are an interesting, and sometimes a little touchy, subject among machine artists.  Lots of us have our favorites and, like me, are what one might call “thread snobs”.  So how do I view threads?

Thread sizes can be used to help with designs.  I love doing line-drawing quilts, even though I haven’t done one lately. For one of my quilts “Perspective in Threads” I used four thread sizes to act like different sized strokes from different nibs on a drawing pen.  I frequently use multiple thread sizes in my quilts.

Perspective in Threads

Perspective in Threads  This picture could really be a lot better!  It is actually nicely squared up, but it doesn’t look like it here, and you can’t really see the contrasts as well as you can in person.

Dad's House Plan.

Dad’s House Plan.  Largely a thread work quilt.  All the landscaping is threadwork, as well as the plans in three different sizes of white threads.

So what do I use and how?

  • 100 weight for microquilting, background work I want to more or less sink into the background, and couching down fat specialty threads.  I also use this for machine stitched raw-edge applique and machine stitched turned-edge applique when I want the applique to stand out and not emphasize the edge.
  • 60 weight polyester for most of my bobbin threads when I am quilting and appliqueing and some piecing.
  • 50 weights for clothing construction and some piecing.
  • 40 weight for machine embroidery and quilting when I want the quilting to show up.  I have found that some 40 weight cottons, such as Superior’s, show up slightly larger than their polyester threads, and that can be used as an advantage when doing line-drawings.
  • 30 weights for top stitching on clothing.
  • 16 and 12 weight for heavy lines and when I really really want the quilting to show up.
  • Superior Thread’s light monopoly for really invisible stitch-in-the-ditch and some appliques.
  • Metallics for metallic needs.
  • Fat specialty threads for bobbin work and couching.

I have found that, for the most part, Superior Threads makes some of the best thread on the market, for almost all of the sized threads above.  I have heard good things about Aurifil, though I mostly use Superior.  I do use Gutterman, Mettler, and So-Fine 50 weights for clothing construction.  And for 12 weights, I have tested several brands–though I haven’t tried Aurifil’s–and find that I get the best results from Sulky 12 weight from those I have tested.  I tried Superior’s relatively new 12 weight.  It’s beautiful, but it is slightly bigger than Sulky and it doesn’t stitch as well in my machines even when I use the largest needles. Sulky 12 weight seems to work just fine, but I’d like to test Aurifil’s.

Jenny Lyon’s recent blog post about testing some of the new threads good for microquilting does a great job of reviewing them, so I won’t review them here.  But I strongly encourage you to go there and read her review.

I was interested to see that a fabulous line-drawing style quilt won a ribbon at Houston this week.  Here’s a picture of that winning quilt.

Mikyung Jang of South Korea, winner of the $5,000 Superior Threads Master Award for Thread Artistry for the quilt "Suwon Hwasung."

In this year’s Houston IQF, Mikyung Jang of South Korea won the $5,000 Superior Threads Master Award for Thread Artistry for this quilt “Suwon Hwasung.”

Sew that really inspires me to try my hand at a new line drawing quilt.  Her work is magnificent, and clearly quite a few cuts above what I have done so far…but I want to try one again.  How about you?

Sew happy everyone!  Try it!  Get a solid color fabric, find a non-copyrighted line drawing you like or make one yourself, blow it up to full size (I will address simple pattern making for your own use in my next part of this), and mark it with Crayola washable markers…then sandwich and stitch away happily.  Please, if you do this, share pictures with me at bettyjo@bjfabricartist.com even if it is only a practice piece.  I would love to share your work here if you would like.

Testing Border Designs

This will be the last blog post I write on making Ken’s special quilt until it is completed, and probably until after it has been debuted at some show in order to keep it for a surprise, but I wanted to tell you how I was solving the border problems.  I will write the posts, but not publish them until then. I will, of course, continue writing blog posts about other topics.

I have been kind of concerned about whether or not I could get the border right for the quilt my son Ken designed for me.  It uses complex Celtic knots and designs.

So this week I managed to get all but one of the corners digitized and tested to stitch in-the-hoop at my Bernina 830 LE (Gibbs).  While working in the embroidery module, Gibbs rebelled over most of my gold metallic threads, finally accepting Superior metallic.  With some testing and fussing with tensions and needles, coupled with slowing way down to nearly the slowest speed, it decided to stitch out my designs without any further tantrums.  But I don’t much like the way the thread looks, so I am going to test some near-metallic colored threads.

After all, this is the outline for painting the design with Setacolor gold paint and finishing with Setacolor Gold Glitter Finish.  I have used these paints for several years now on my show quilts and they are permanent once dried and heat set.  I’ve even washed them with success.  The glitter may need a little refreshment after a couple of years of shipping, folding, showing, folding, shipping, but the underlying gold stays solid and most of  the glitter is still there even so.  I’m fairly certain with ordinary hanging in one’s home or office, and an occasional light vacuuming with a cheesecloth over the end of the vacuum hose, these paints will last for decades.

This is my first test of stitchout 1...small right corners. Here you can probably see that I have only half of the block finished with glitter paint. It seems the right finish to me. But I am not happy with the metallic threads here.

This is my first test of stitchout 1…small right corners. Here you can probably see that I have only half of the block finished with glitter paint for comparison. It seems the right finish to me. But I am not happy with the metallic threads here.

My biggest problem was getting the long designs on the border that were too big to fit into a hoop and that I thought were too exacting to manage a good multi-hooping of the many hoops required.  So I decided to see if I could get the outline stitching done with good marking and free motion/ruler work on my new sit-down longarm Bernina Q20 (Fritz).

Fritz is a dream.  Fritz does not dislike any of my metallic threads.  Neither does Gibbs, for that matter, if it isn’t working in-the-hoop.  But I practiced on Fritz this time in non-metallics.  Oh my….I set it up in BSR2, which Bernina recommends for ruler work.  Using 7 of Lisa Calle’s wonderful rulers, I have done some practice work.  While I need more practice, I am fairly certain by now that I can make these border pieces.  I have found that Fritz can place each stitch where I want it…it will slow way down, work at higher speed, stop when I stop and start when I start, and all controlled only by how I move the fabric when it’s set on BSR2.  I will note that this can also be done at most any sit-down sewing machine, although perhaps not as easily.

I am pre-stitching the designs, not quilting them in.  I will quilt them after sandwiching the quilt, and will use either Superior’s monopoly or 100 weight silk matching the backgrounds.  This will provide further definition to where the design goes over and under to make the Celtic knots.

So I starched and then backed my test pieces with my favorite stabilizer for embroidery (for that is what this is).  That is Madeira Cotton Stable, which has a light fusible on it, and is 100 percent cotton.  Thereby no hooping is necessary.  This stabilizer can either remain in the border or tear out. I usually tear out most of it and don’t worry about getting absolutely everything before sandwiching.

The top corner design was done at Gibbs in the hoop and then painted. The lower left and right designs were done with rulers at Fritz and then painted.

The top corner design was done with Gibbs in the hoop and then painted. The lower left and right designs were done using rulers and the Bernina #96 ruler foot with Fritz and then painted.  I left unpainted some of the stitching on the lower left so you can see how it looks before painting.  It needs practice.

I still have to complete the digitizing of the one big upper left block, and when I finish and test that, and dye my PFD Radiance a dark green (which kind of makes me nervous, but they don’t make it the color I want), I will FINALLY be ready to start actually making the quilt top.

This is progress, though it kind of doesn’t seem like it since I haven’t actually started assembling the real quilt yet.  But the time I’m taking to work everything out beforehand I will mostly gain back when I make the quilt and know exactly what to do each step along the way. 🙂

Sew happy everyone!  I hope you are having a wonderful weekend.  God’s blessings.

 

 

Spiral Galaxy Quilt: Using Reference Aids

Since my last blog I have made much greater progress than I anticipated by this time.  I have completed the basic quilting, and I am currently adding the rust colored star  dust streaks that swirl through spiral galaxies.  I was a little worried about this part of the quilt, because the dust swirls in complex ways throughout the overall spiral and there is no way to mark this quilt.

I am happy to say that my method seems to be working, so I thought I would share.  I started the quilt by placing a NASA photo of the galaxy I am using as my model (see my last blog post) in Corel Painter and “tracing” a simple outline of the placement of the spiral arms and then moving it to Corel Draw and printing it full size.  Corel Draw will tile a picture into whatever size paper your printer handles, so you can tape it together and have a full sized pattern to work with.  If you have Bernina V7 design software, and don’t have Corel Draw, you can use the art canvas, which is a version of Corel Draw.  I also have found that Excel spreadsheet will also tile a picture, which is what I used before I had Corel Draw.

spiral galaxy print tiles pic

This shows how Corel Draw has divided the full sized picture into tiles for printing.

Then I traced the pattern onto the black fabric, but that is the sum total of any kind of pattern I could use on this quilt because after the Angelina Fibers and the veiling are placed down, you can’t trace anything, and there really isn’t much more you could make a pattern for anyway.

Sew I have gotten all the fiber applique and nylon veiling completely quilted, using 40 weight black thread and rulers for the basic swirl, monopoly over the fiber applique part and black 100 weight silk over the purely black part. I also embroidered spire star backgrounds for ten stars, using in-the-hoop and gray variagated 40 wt thread.

In order to free motion stitch (is it embroidery or is it quilting?) I have printed several pictures of spiral galaxies that show the rust colored dust swirls fairly clearly.  It actually looks very much like a woody vine.  Anyway, I place the pictures close by or even on the quilt so I can see them frequently and out of my peripheral vision and have begun the stitching that way

Sttitching with a reference picture

Sttitching with a reference picture

This quilt is a homage to the fabulous spiral galaxies sometimes photographed or even envisioned by painters in NASA’s website.  It is not supposed to be any particular spiral galaxy.  I am intrigued by the realization that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is a spiral galaxy.  Here is a link that talks about that and gives us some idea of where we are in the Orion spur part of the galaxy.  Milky Way link

This is the third of my deep space quilts.  Now that I have developed the techniques for making pictorial deep space quilts I am planning on making more.  I’m not sure how many more or which wonderful space entities I will use for the models.  I hope to develop at least enough to put together an exhibit in some gallery somewhere some year. I have discovered that some space entities work better than others for my quilts.  I have found that those that have more distinct characteristics, those that have more color, and those that stand a better chance of the viewers recognizing what they are looking at seem to be the best models.  Maybe some of the quilts will actually earn some ribbons for me.  That would be wonderful.

Sew happy everyone! I hope you can have some time to create in your studio this week.

Thread Colors Make Magic

Sky colors.

Some of the sky colors after quilting.

I finally finished quilting “Waiting…2”, and I blocked it, though I still need to do a little thread clipping and binding.

During the quilting of the sky, which has been the most difficult part of this whole quilt, the thread colors became very important. The overall magic of the sky grew substantially different in coloring before and after the quilting, but to my chagrin I did not take a before picture.  I did not understand how much difference it would make other than just a good quilting.  I fell into a pattern of sculpting clouds and using thread colors to bring the sky to life.  I already had added some painted colors to the sky, which I used for my guide to thread colors as I worked.  The different thread colors really helped me realize the vision I had in my head for this sky, almost a thread painting.  In the end, I surprised myself when I realized I had used over 30 thread colors of thread, including metallic silver and monopoly, for this quilt!!!  I was as surprised that I had this many good threads in all these colors as that I had used that many on the quilting.  What a happy thing that I have collected these over the past four or five years and kept them carefully, replacing colors as I used them up and adding a color set here and there.

Most of the threads I used on the quilt are Superior Threads…Rainbow, King Tut,  and Magnifico solids, with Bottom Line for the bobbin.  I also have a couple of Isacord solids in there somewhere.  I used gray bobbin thread (except for the monopoly) which goes well with the back, and I made sure the tension was as right as I could get it and I can’t see any gray on the top or any colors on the back where they should not be.  This enabled me to easily change the color frequently.  I did have a couple of incidents where I needed to take out some stitching because I forgot to change settings for the different types of threads.  This is where a little notebook really comes in handy.  I make notes about each type of thread (not each color).

I took almost all day yesterday to get the quilt blocked and marked square (I haven’t yet cut it square, because I put the binding on using the marking before I do that).  I got it all squared up according to my laser square and various other square ruler aids.  Then I measured all the sides and it was 5/8″ longer on one side than the other and equally wide across top to bottom.  Arghh!!!  I ended up erasing all the marks and starting over (twice) until I got it right. It’s a mystery…LOL.  Judges really don’t like it if it isn’t square and neither do I.  I can only think that the considerable bit of trapunto I placed under the cliffs had an effect on the square “measurers”.  It seems the original marks were a little bit off on both the top line and the bottom line.  Anyway, it’s marked square now, lined up to the water horizon line, and I even took out a different color marker to make the final marks clear.  Hooray!  ready to bind.

Sew Happy Everyone!  Have a wonderful weekend and rest of the week. Try a little quilting with color varieties and see what you think.