Advancing One’s Fabric Artistry

Hi everyone!  I got to thinking a lot this week about what is needed to advance one’s fabric artistry abilities.  This was brought on because one of my best friends is getting a new sewing machine next week.  It’s already in, she just has to go pick it up and has scheduled a class for learning to use it.

For several years now I have been helping Anita learn how to add fabric as a new medium to her already wonderful art and basic sewing skills. She has made amazing progress.  In return, she has helped me reorganize my fabric and thread stash, assembled kits when I made them for classes, worked with me to make church banners (we go to the same church), willingly tested some of my ideas, and generally encouraged me in my current projects. We enjoy our sewing and chatting time together.

Her wonderful old Bernina 1230, which was nearly 25 years old and was originally mine, had the mother board die and they don’t make or have replacements anymore, so she bought a new Bernina 480.  This is a great choice for her because it has a 9mm stitch width with lots of decorative stitches and the harp space is one inch wider than her 1230.  It will advance her work.  Over the next year or so she plans to add some of the accessories that don’t come with it to stretch the usefulness of the already fabulous machine for her kind of work. It will take a Bernina Stitch Regulator, but I think she probably won’t get this for a while. The others include:

  1. The Gold ocher color bobbin case that gives a tighter bobbin tension than the black one that comes with it and is particularly useful for decorative stitching, free motion embroidery, and quilting. I think they should have included this in the initial machine package (do you hear me Bernina?).
  2. A single hole stitch plate for straight stitch accuracy and free motion stitching.
  3. The walking foot which is extremely helpful for a quilter/bagmaker
  4. Multi-Spool Holder: Attaches to the back of the machine and allows the use of threads on cones (cheaper by the yard) and has a telescopic threading rod that also helps manage the threads from metallics and other difficult threads.
  5. Bernina Thread Lubrication Unit: Helps handle metallics and other difficult threads (Rayons, for instance)
  6. Additional Feet:
    1. A quarter inch foot number 96 C with guide or #37 which enables really accurate quarter inch and eighth inch seams to piece things together.
    2. 20c open toed embroidery foot A definite necessity for any fabric artist.
    3. Narrow hemstitch foot (there are five of them of various types which make different kinds of narrow hems. Probably #63 would be my choice. She wants to make some scarves among other things that need narrow hems.
    4. Free Motion Couching foot #43: couch heavy threads, cords, and yarns to the surface of the fabric.  I have also used this as a free motion stitch foot for stitching over uneven surfaces before I got the cup foot.
    5. 39C clear embroidery foot: It is a great foot for decorative stitching and has a small hole for threading cordonet thread or other light cording through to stitch over with decorative stitching.

So far, she has developed fine skills and used them for free motion embroidery, hand embroidered baby quilts, appliqued bed runners, quilts for her grand children with free motion quilting, bags, a lovely drapey jacket, table toppers, and a beautiful Victorian ball gown for her grand daughter complete with a perfect fluffy petticoat for it.  I would say she has clearly graduated from a basic sewer to advanced intermediate sewer and intermediate quilter, and is hovering on the edge of tipping the scale into an advanced fabric artist and quilter.  While it is unfortunate her old machine died, this new machine will be a blessing for her.

 

Anita’s lovely granddaughter modeling her beautiful satin jacquard ball gown Anita made for her.

Sew in addition to a good sewing machine, what, in my humble opinion, does it take to become a master sewing artist? It definitely does NOT mean that everything you make is a masterpiece.  Sometimes the pieces are, frankly, not very good. It does, however, mean that you are capable of making a masterpiece and do from time to time and are willing to take the leap to try. Since I am an incorrigible list maker, I have a list of what I think is needed to reach for advanced fabric artist and quilter. It’s an ongoing endeavor and lots of fun to do.

  1. It takes a good understanding of your machine (or machines) and a number of interesting things you can do with it beyond make a seam or a buttonhole and kind of constant testing and trying out of possibilities with it.  Never stop learning.  I am constantly working on this myself. Indeed, I have spent the last six months or so learning things I didn’t know or needed to improve in using my Bernina 880 plus.  I’m sure my sons and daughter-in-law are tired of hearing “wow! Did you know I can do such and such with my machine?”  But I have to tell someone!
  2. Handwork, even if you are, like me, primarily a machine person.  You can turn your understanding of handwork into using your machine for about 90 percent of the time.
  3. It really helps to gain a solid understanding of interfacings, stabilizers, and battings; fibers and their properties; thread types and weights and what they are for; what needles you need for which threads and kind of sewing; markers; and tools available beyond the obvious.
  4. There are always new developments in sewing tools and I am often surprised by what’s available now. The struggle is figuring out what tools are really needed or at least would help speed or improve a frequently needed process and which can be passed over.  I am sort of a gadget/tool fan, so I often have to tell myself “no” firmly when confronted with the purchase of a new tool.  Hahaha. I do have a large collection, but I have been sewing since I was five and am now 75. Plus I inherited both my mother’s and my mother-in-law’s sewing supplies. So the vast majority of my sewing tools have been around for a long while.
  5. But chiefly, it takes allowing yourself to have confidence in your abilities, and a certain amount of willingness for risk taking that comes with realization that one will sometimes fail and have to spend a lot of time unstitching or remaking pieces of a project or start all over using a different direction. It’s part of the adventure.  Also, sometimes, you just have to abandon a project and realize it is ok to do so.  I constantly work on this.
  6. Where I personally need to work the hardest is in my designs.  That is the hardest thing for me because I almost never use someone else’s designs and often have a vision in my mind that may be difficult to get down into a workable pattern or guide either on paper or on my computer.
  7. Piecing accurately.  Even an art quilter needs to piece from time to time. I think I am just fair intermediate piecer.
  8. Speaking of patterns, I am working on improving my professional pattern-making skills to a higher level for use by people who would like to try the projects I present on my YouTube channel, in my blog here, and in books.  I no longer have classes since Covid shut them down and I switched to videos and writing permanently, but I still teach by these methods and one-on-one in person.
  9. There are other things that may add a lot to a project, especially in the embellishment arena, but are not required.  These might include crystals and beads, fabric paints, found objects, charms, 3 dimensional sewing (like butterflies and flowers for instance), machine embroidery–both in-the-hoop if you have an embroidery machine and out of the hoop (even if you do have an embroidery machine).
  10. I’m sure I have forgotten something. Do you have any ideas?

The thing to know is that you probably already have most of these things in your virtual tool belt and, like me, mainly just need to learn more in each of these categories.  I find it fun.  Do you?

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio and let me know what your fabric adventures are.

Embellishing Your Projects, Part One

Sky Horse from 2014. This quilt won several ribbons and was shown at Houston IQF in 2014. It is inspired by NASA photos of the Horsehead Nebula.

Hi everyone,

I was just listening to Dee’s Saturday Sampler (TQS) talking about adding hot fix crystals to quilts.  Now she did a nice presentation.  But there were a few points that I would like to add.  I have lots of experience doing this across the years, especially for my deep space quilt series and Christmas quilts.  Also, I add a few crystals for many other types of quilts. Even though I wrote about this in a blog back in 2018, I thought it was time to revisit this technique and update what I said back then.

Stellar Nursery, my first deep space quilt using NASA’s “Mountains of Creation” pictures.

 

My love for embellishments started decades ago when I had my own fashion design and tailoring business when I designed and my shop made formals, wedding dresses, and costumes for operas, dancers, and skaters.  Back at the beginning of that business, I hand sewed or glued most of my embellishments on.  Now I mostly use hot fix embellishments, including Swarowski crystals, hot fix pearls, and different shapes.

Out of Mom’s Workbasket. This quilt won Third Place in the Traditional category in Pennsylvania National Quilt Festival 2021. I did not show it elsewhere because it is white and precious to me. I used hot fix pearls across the quilt.

I recently replaced my hot fix crystal wand.  It works very well for me especially when I use hot fix transfer tape! What a great invention and what a wonderful improvement to my crystal placements!!! It works also with digital cutters that make hot fix crystal designs, such as the Brother Scan and Cut, but you need the Rhinestone Starter Kit to go with it for that. I do not have this kit, so I have not tried making them.

Sew here are my steps for adding hot fix crystals to a quilt.

  1. Put on your music or audiobook.
  2. With your craft or old scissors, cut a piece of the transfer tape (I use both a smaller cut of around a six inch square and a larger cut of about a 10 inch square. It’s reusable about four or more times.
  3. Place the item you are embellishing  flat on the table or ironing board.
  4. Remove the backing from the transfer tape.
  5. Working in sections, place your hot fix crystals (or other hot fix embellishments) on a section of the quilt in the pattern you want them .
  6. Lower your transfer tape piece carefully down over the section of crystals trying not to disturb the pattern and press it down around the crystals and more or less attaching to your project.
  7. Grab a large ceramic cup  or dish to put your hot wand into.  I think the cup works a little better than the dish shown here, but either one works better than those little stands that comes with some of them.
  8. With the wand iron, heat each crystal with the tape still in place for as long as it needs.  You can move the whole tape with the crystals on them a little bit as you need them.  Hold it firmly in place and tap your toe, or count slowly.
    • tiny ones require about 12 toe taps or slow counts.
    • medium ones require about 20 counts
    • the larger ones require more…30 to 40 counts to be really secure.
    • the shaped ones do best with a small iron flat on the tape.  I did have one iron get too hot on the tape once and it melted a piece of the tape!  I only had it happen once and that iron died shortly thereafter, so it may have been operating badly on the way out.

The transfer tape does not melt and acts as a pressing cloth, protecting the fabric to which you are attaching the crystal from burns by the wand. It also holds the crystals in place so they don’t go flipping off into never never land. If it gets just a little out of alignment, you just move the tape…the crystal stays on the tape until it is fully glued down and then releases with no problem. This means you can pick up your tape slowly to check if you’ve missed one or if it needs more time and replace the tape if so.

Another way to approach it is to place multiple crystals on the tape upside down with the crystals to the sticky side and just move the tape around and place the crystals on one by one. This is a particularly good method for clothing and other shaped pieces when you are having a hard time getting them flat for crystal placement.

I like to shake the quilt when all the crystals are cool to see if anything falls off.  Sometimes it does, but now is the time to find out.  So just put the crystal back down and cover it with the tape and re-iron.  Occasionally, a crystal does not seem to have adequate glue, so you can throw that one away and use another one, or use glue to affix it.

These crystals and pearls really add some loveliness to your projects.  They are washable and durable, especially if you shake the item to make sure they are fully attached.  Some say it is possible to get carried away with such crystals and pearls.  Some quilt police types feel they should never be on  your quilt.  I say, it’s your quilt.  Add the sparkle you want and ignore them and enjoy your blinged out piece.

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

 

 

 

Having Fun in My Studio

Someone asked me recently what I have been working on lately.

I have finished the Kingfisher wool applique by machine pillow top project (basic design without the eye pupil, which is a very small black button, shown above). I haven’t made the pillow yet, but will in a few days. I have some really black stretch denim I think would make a nice pillow back for it. I think it needs to be something kind of heavy to balance the wool which I have sandwiched and quilted, and a little stretch will help the pillow look good. I haven’t decided whether to put cording in the seam or not.  I like it a lot even though it is relatively simple. Two videos will come out of this project. One will be published soon…probably this coming weekend. It’s being edited and there will be a free pattern available for it on my website which I really hope you will download.  I will provide a link to it when my video is published.

Also, just yesterday, I got a stack of color cards for Wonderfil Threads of various types and a few sample spools, which are really a fun way to shop for threads.  I don’t have a local source for my favorite threads so I have to order them.  I have a Thanksgiving table runner project that I plan on using their threads for embroidery, applique, and quilting for that.  So I have to hurry, because it’s already August!!!

I love figuring out threads this way.  I can take my time, try out the thread samples, and see the actual threads.

Magnifico by Superior color card image

I also have some color cards for Superior Threads.  If you have to order your threads to get the kind you like, I highly recommend getting some of these sample cards even if you have to buy them.  Sometimes they give them away at big events like quilt shows or cut the cost for them a lot.  But even so, they provide color accuracy and coincidentally they are fun to look at if you love threads like I do.

So I have also been adding to my stitch library with pages for Wonderfil, Superior, and Miscellaneous thread types.  Today I made a page for different Wonderfil types, with a line of decorative stitches per type.  I encourage you to make your own library of stitches and thread types pages. It’s not only fun to stitch these pages but really useful.

 

And last, but not least, I worked up, but not yet printed, a full sized guide for my next deep space quilt.  That’s the closest I ever come to a pattern for this style quilt.  Basically, it’s a placement guide for the space objects.  I also print out the NASA picture or pictures of the space scene or objects and then build the scene on fabric using a little background paint, and Angelina Fibers hot fix fiber (they stick to themselves not the fabric) appliques, and I cover the whole quilt top with black nylon veiling. I sandwich it all together and baste it down.  So then I use quilting and free motion embroidery to build the space objects and quilt the whole thing.  It’s one big whole cloth quilt with big appliques, and different sizes and colors of hot fix crystals.   It’s loads of fun, but does require a placement and sizing guide to make it even start to look right.  I will be showing just some of the making of this quilt for fun…but not a how-to like some of my work.

Sew I have been having fun in my studio. That’s what I am working on.

Sew happy everyone.  Have fun in your studio too!

 

 

 

Surprisingly Useful Studio Tools

Hi everyone.  This past few weeks have highlighted some really useful studio tools…some I made myself, and some I purchased sometime in my long sewing career.

As I noted on my last article, I discovered that a persistent thread-breaking problem was not, in fact, my machine, my needles, or my bobbin.  It was a burr that had developed on my 15 or so year old open toed embroidery foot that I had obtained two sewing machines ago.  I could hardly believe it was so old when I added it up.

My 20D foot…where the burr was and is no longer.

So today I took out my little Dremel tool that I keep around for special things, and sand-buffed the foot.  Then I tested it with multiple thread types and different stitches.  It did not break anything!  That foot sells for about $56 today.  Nice savings.  I had done the same thing to another foot last year that had developed a burr.  It was an even older one that the one I fixed today!  So the Dremel tool has more than paid for itself, and I have used it in other ways over the past decade.

Then there are two reference tools I made myself.  One is the decorative stitch library I have been building over the past six months.  I am working on a wool applique by machine project that uses some decorative stitches.  I have done multiple lines of different stitches in different threads and written the stitch number, any changes I made to the stitch settings, and so forth.  I now have about 10 large “pages” of these stitches.  I was actually surprised how much I consulted them as I was working through the stitch embellishments to the project.  It is very handy to see them stitched out! I am still working on this project and will somehow put them together when I finish.

Pages of my stitch library

The second reference tool I used today when I got to the background quilting of my project.  I am using a swirl and curl background, as I call it.  That consists of stippling and curls randomly used together, which makes a nice background fill for this project.  If you look on my YouTube channel, I have a short little video where I show the making of a stippling size reference piece.  This is particularly good when you need to try to keep the stippling the same size throughout the piece,  so I pulled it out and used it for this project.  So handy!  Here’s the link.

I think I should make more such reference aids, and I plan to.

Then there is my Clover ball-pointed awl that I used to hold the little wool applique and pointed pieces in place when they weren’t sticking so well while I stitched them down.  I use that a lot when I am appliqueing.

The problem with the Bernina foot made me think how much I enjoy using all the different Bernina feet and how much easier they make things or make things come out better.  I do love my Berninas and I have no affiliation with the company.  I am just a fan.  They are all three (B350, B880 plus, Q20 sitdown) wonderful machines (or is that sewing Droids?  You might click on that link and see what I mean).

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studios and make sure your tools are organized and accessible.

 

Using Those Scraps of Special Elements in the Studio

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Hi everyone! I have been thinking about my crowded stash and studio tools amassed from decades of professional and personal sewing and quilting. I want to make something special with a lot of them…or maybe strive to build more than one amazing masterpiece project using these wonderful elements.

A collection of beautiful threads from Wonderfil.

This idea has been growing in my head for some time now and I have recently had conversations with two fabulous important quilters about this that further encouraged me.  When I couple these elements with  all the interesting things I have been learning about what I can do with my machines, it becomes very interesting indeed.  I haven’t fully decided whether this is exactly going to be a Victorial style crazy quilt or a somewhat different design of my own with a crazy quilt and Victorian steam punk slant.

crepe back satin from my stash

Over my many decades of sewing and quilting, I have accumulated bits and leftover pieces of silk palace brocades, satins and dupionis, batiks, velveteens, wools, small bits of fabulous laces, vintage handkerchiefs, pieces of crochet that my Mom left me, small leftover lengths of silk ribbons and other special trims, and a collection of beautiful threads of a wide variety of sizes, fibers, and weights.  To helo draw all of this together are my Berninas…my little B350 with several special attachments, my big Bernina 880 plus with its embroidry module and nice set of feet, and my Q20 sitdown longarm.

Sew, what would YOU do with this collection of elements and tools?

Edna Mode, waiting for an answer as to what to do with all these beautiful scraps and threads and interesting machines.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studios.

 

 

 

Cutters for the Fabric Artist, a Review

I used to think that cutters beyond scissors or rotary cutters were not a necessity in my studio.  Indeed, I was a little snobbish about it.  LOL  But now I would really not like to do without them.  I have both a die cutter and a digital cutter and use them both.

Some years ago I bought the Accuquilt Go! cutter and have slowly added the admittedly expensive dies to my collection over the years.  Quilt shows often have particularly good sales for these dies.  The most important use I make of them is to cut borders, blocks, and bindings. I can cut out a fast simple cuddle quilt in a matter of minutes, truly, and they are accurate and easy.  It enables me to make a wonderful quilt in a couple of days, complete with quilting and binding. It helps me use up some of the fabrics I have laying around, thereby freeing up space in my stash.  I also have a collection of fun shapes..circles, leaves, animals, flowers, and so on…that I have used a lot, particularly when I was putting together kits for teaching and needed a lot of them, and they make a nice addition to some of those fast cuddle quilts. You can cut layers of fabric at once in the Go! cutter and it is an excellent tool for quilters of all stripes. I wouldn’t like to do without it.

I got a Brother Scan and Cut 125e in March for my birthday and now I wonder how I ever did without it, especially for the kind of applique quilting I often do.  The primary advantage of a digital cutter for me, of course, is that I can design my own shapes, or use published patterns, and don’t have to depend on the die shapes that are available or cut intricate shapes out by scissors.  You can only cut one layer at a time, but it will cut paper, fabric of a wide variety, cork, vinyl, plastic, and so on.  You do need several kinds of mats and blades for cutting all those things, and I did find it a little hard to figure out at first, but it is so easy to use now that I have.  I have made several greeting cards for friend and family with it too.  I suspect other brands work as well, and my library has Silhouette cutters available for public use, which I have used.  So you might check at your local libraries.

I have found that the Scan and Cut will cut fabrics with precision in very detailed shapes that are hard to accomplish with scissors.  This is especially good as my aging hands with developing arthritis find such intricate cutting to be harder to do otherwise. In fact even if you don’t find scissors cutting difficult, the cutter is still a fast and accurate way to cut your appliques.  I keep coming up with other ideas for its use.

So recently, over YouTube I learned how to make a stencil with the Scan and Cut and I plan on making some for marking refined and delicate quilting patterns on quilts.  I have not yet tried it, but that opens a world of possibilities for future quilting.  I have gotten pretty good in free motion stitching with my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm without marks, but sometimes it is important to have the quilt marked for stitching with attention to detail or when you need symmetry.  It will cut stencil plastic easily, but I am thinking of trying a doubled layer of freezer paper for single or limited use designs and it could be ironed in place for Pounce chalk marking. If I create quilting designs that I think will be useful on multiple quilts, I will cut it from the stencil plastic.

As those of you who follow my work know, I use stitched, raw-edge applique quite a lot.  In the past, I printed out the applique shapes onto printer paper in reverse, and traced the shapes onto the fusible web and cut it out with scissors.  Now, I send the shape to the Scan and Cut, iron the fusible web onto the fabric wrong side, and send it through the cutter. I get it done in a third of the time or less and with greater accuracy.

But what if you wanted to do stitched turned edge appliques?  For that, I turn to the expertise of Kathy McNeil where she demonstrates the method, but I add in the cutter to help out.  She uses a very light weight fusible interfacing precut by hand in the shape of her applique and irons it to the wrong side of her fabric, then cuts around it a little less than a quarter of an inch from the edge of the shape. Then she prepares the applique using glue and appliquick sticks available in her web store.  Here’s a video of that process.  She sews her appliques on by hand.  I would use the machine of course.

So if I start with the applique shape I have drawn or downloaded on my computer, and instead of printing it onto paper and tracing it to the interfacing, I can wirelessly send it to the Scan and Cut from my computer.  The shape needs to be reversed for ironing onto the back.  You can do that at the cutter if you want to before cutting.  Then cut the interfacing pieces and iron them to the applique fabric and continue as she shows with the sticks and the glue.  So if you have a bunch of these appliques, you can cut as many as will fit onto a 15″ x 15″ piece of interfacing (the size of the cutting mat) at one time. It’s quite easy to take the shapes and move them around once they are digitally in your Scan and Cut.  NOTE:  You need to use the low tack mat for the really light weight interfacing by itself.

Sew I have found that having both cutters in my studio is a really nice addition to the tools available for me and they each have their own use and don’t cancel each other’s usefulness out.  They are separate tools with their own uses.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio!

 

 

Capturing An Explosion of New Ideas for Future Projects

Hi everybody!  I think we all need a diversion and some quilting to help deal with the roiling of events in the news lately.  As for me, I have been starting two new projects after my last one that was going to be entirely on painting quilts took a nose dive.  By the way, if you want to know about painting quilted fabrics stay tuned. I will still present these techniques scattered throughout my other projects as needed, but not a whole video series for those techniques after all.  Mostly I have to work on camera placement and filming techniques for painting quilted fabrics. The problem was entirely related to painting while filming.

Sew what are these new projects?  Well, one of them, and the next video project, is a second dive into wool applique by machine in which I will be making a pretty scene with a Kingfisher bird on black wool that will be sized for use as a decorative pillow top.  I am nearly finished making the pattern and I will be using my Scan and Cut digital cutter to cut the pieces.  The downloadable pattern will be available on my shop for a small amount and will include both a pdf file for those who do not have a digital cutter and the svg files divided by color for those who do.  I will be providing videos showing how I do them for this project, including the use of my new Scan and Cut.

The second project is a new “show quilt”! Sew there will be a video exhibiting only some of the making of this quilt and there will be no pattern.  I am  making my fourth deep space quilt and as soon as my fabric arrives this week I’m ready to start construction.  I will be using Deep Space II #98 Peppered Cotton designed by Pepper Cory to build the scene, inspired by NASA photos of M51 Galaxy (there are many), which is a spiral galaxy that has a second spiral galaxy farther away and kind of behind it on the edge, making it look like a small spiral is attached to the larger M51’s tail.  Unlike most of the other peppered cottons, this one is not a shot cotton but is yarn dyed intensely black. It makes me happy that the name of the fabric is “Deep Space II”. Thank you Pepper for bringing it to my attention.  I love making deep space quilts.  They are a whole cloth quilt, built entirely with free motion stitching and almost no marking.  It includes a  little paint, a large Angelina Fibers applique, and covered with black veiling, then quilted together in ways that make sense, and adding some free motion embroidery to represent the space dust. After that, I add a lot of hot fix crystals, kind of using the NASA photo as a guide for placement to represent stars. Some of the larger stars or star clusters are sometimes backed with an embroidered representation of the light that shoots out around it from the lens flair often in a cross shape that is highlighted on the NASA photos. This adds to the interest and beauty of the quilt in my humble opinion.

Practicing for making a deep space quilt.

 

I like having two very different style projects going at once because it allows me to move from one to the other when I need a break from some aspect of a project.

Sew this past week I spent a fair amount of time thinking about and updating my Quilt Project Plans spreadsheet for the remainder of this year and into next year.  It is way more than I can possibly do in that space of time perhaps, but it is wonderful to look forward to the near future projects and be able to pick from some of those I have already thought through a lot.  I also keep a handwritten notebook where I describe most of the projects more fully and sometimes keep outlines and notes to help me make them.  I have been doing this for many years.  Way back to when I only did clothing designs and sewing.  It’s sometimes fun to take one of the old notebooks and look through them to see just what I actually made of the many plans that have floated by.  I sometimes pull a long-forgotten project out and make it.

Here are some pages from my Pendragon quilt project that I did complete and that was shown in several prestigious quilt shows, including Houston.  The sample shown here is a test for the upper left corner of the border.

Sew happy everyone!  And remember, sometimes you need to abandon a project and not feel like it is a fail. Doing so can often open up an explosion of new ideas when you realize you no longer have to struggle to complete something that just isn’t working, and sometimes persistence through the challenges helps you to finish works and you come out with a real winner.  Give yourself permission to take the path that works best and be sure to have fun in your studios!

 

Winning the Metallic Threads Battle

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

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

    prewounds of multiple sizes

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Happy 2022! Looking Forward to a Good Year

We made it through 2021!  Hooray!  Happy New Year everyone!  I am taking a positive approach for 2022…expecting it to be a good year full of light, love, peace, and productivity! So what’s first up for Betty Jo’s Fabric Arts?

I talked a little about this in my last blog post.

  • I will soon be presenting the first in a three-part series of videos coupled with the publishing of a workbook with pattern for the Two Birds Project.  The first part is completely filmed and being edited, and the workbook is fully written and being edited.  The two remaining videos are filmed all but the short openings and I need to record the voice-over scripts for them. It will be a fun set for my followers and I’m excited to get to this point.
  • I am working on putting together a wool applique by machine project. Wait until you see what can be done with these techniques and materials! It’s really going to be fun!
  • I have worked up a production plan for the first part of the year that includes show quilts (to fit within my architectural, ancient manuscript, and deep space genres), applique projects (both wool and other fabrics), and multiple shorter technique skill project videos that I think you will enjoy. There may be other things too along the way. Plus a little bit of clothes sewing.

I got a fun addition to my studio for Christmas, a Brother Scan and Cut DX.  I have been spending the last several days learning all about it and how best to use it.  It adds lots of new possibilities and a great help for the applique quilts for sure, but I can also make some quilting stencils and other things I am thinking about.  I now have both the Applique Go! with a nice collection of dies to help me cut multiple layers of fabric for snuggle/quick-to-make quilts and the Scan and Cut for cutting digitally created shapes for more complex individual applique designs among other things…how wonderful.  Truly, except for wishing I had more space and storage (doesn’t everyone?), I have a marvelous studio for designing, quilting, and stitching adventures complete with the video equipment well set up for filming them.  And yes, I also have significant help from my delightful family.  Oh, and don’t forget, I have newly improved eyesight to help with all of this!  I am totally thankful both to my kids and my Lord for all of this.

Sew I am making a kind of fresh move in my YouTube channel, pattern making, and books now at the beginning of 2022.  Last year  seems like kind of a rehearsal and learning period for me.  So I’m excited.  I hope to get a lot of new subscribers/readers and provide significant content you all will enjoy.  I love sharing my work with you.

Let me know if there is a particular subject you want me to cover either in comments here or on my videos on YouTube.  I will see what can be done.

Sew happy everyone! Have fun in your studio!

 

Don’t Fear Your Advanced Machine(s)

 

 

Once in a while I see a conversation on one of my groups focused around sitdown longarms or high-end sewing machines where there are advanced or sitdown longarm machine owners saying they have not really used them much since they bought them because they don’t really know how to use them confidently or are afraid they will break them.  Knowing as I do that these machines can add so much fun and ability to accomplish really fine products, these conversations make me a little sad and frustrated.

True, they do require learning, practice, and a determination to move forward and learn to use them.  But they can help accomplish amazing sewing and quilting projects.

It’s important to use them correctly though.  That is not as difficult as it may seem.  Even if there is not a dealer nearby or one who offers good classes, there are some very helpful books, youtube videos, zoom classes and blogs to help.

One thing I have found that makes things work more easily is to get the feet that do those special things, add the attachments that enlarge the use of the machines, buy a handful of rulers.templates, get a nice selection of needles and pay attention to what you are using, and then play and practice!  Test, test, test. Practice. Practice.  Practice.  Play, play, play. And then step forward and do a sewing or quilting project you really want to do.  If the results aren’t terrific, do another project and don’t be too self critical.  Give your machine a name and pet it.  The last thing to do is sell your machine or leave it sitting there getting all lonesome.

My Q20 sitdown longarm with some rulers…and a practice piece.

I love my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm.  It is great not only for quilting, but also for free motion embroidery.  I have had it for five years now and have had almost no problems.  I do keep a notebook nearby to keep notes.

 

My Bernina 880 plus all ready to play

I also keep a notebook near my other sewing machines so I can write down things I learn along the way.  I always learn something in the process of making a new item.

Sew what can you make that won’t be distressing if it doesn’t come out quite right, but might be really fun if it does?  I have some suggestions:

Dog quilts, baby quilts for charity, wheelchair size quilts for charity, table toppers for your home, lap quilts for you and yours to cuddle under on tv night, simple tote bags with embroidery or applique, or just well made, zipped project bags, panel quilts with borders.

Aprons, simple skirts, easy tops not particularly fitted in style, some of those fun small projects you can find on sewing machine blogs, small zipped pouches for kids and travel, pajamas or nighties, robes for yourself and family

Decorative pillows using pre-made pillow forms, table cloths and napkins, kitted projects with instructions and all the pieces like from Kimberbell

THEN, you can move up to some more advanced decorative wall quilts, or a foot warmer quilt for your bed, make yourself a lovely outfit using a good pattern, put together your own kits and follow my patterns and video classes.

After that, you will be able to make anything!  Just take your time and assemble the parts, test all the parts, and fly with me.

Sew happy everyone!  Have fun in your studio!