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

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 Tools 2: Markers for Satin

Marking satin for quilting and placement has been a BIG barrier to making some quilts.  I want to make several quilts using polyester crepe-back satin and have been working on figuring out all the techniques that come with this.

First I made this sampler pillow top, in which I figured out what batting and backing to use, what paints to use, what background quilting I wanted for one of my projects, and markers.  You can read more about this in Satin Sampler blog below, but there is more to know about the marker.

When I refroze the sampler, the marks came back and then I soaked it with Dawn and Oxiclean all day long (9 hours).  the marks did NOT go away at all.  The marker test failed (I have ironed away the marks in the photo above).

Sew I thought about this a bit and began to wonder if there were any pens that were designed to wash out of clothing or go away with water for kids to use.  When I searched for such pens online, I came across Crayola’s Washable Gel pens.  So I ordered a package from Amazon and yesterday I ran a test on the markers.  To my delight, my test worked!  The pictures aren’t great, but here they are.

Before (note the clear marks that are smooth and thin. The ink did not spread at all.  The ink glided over the satin without pulling the weave of the satin like pencils do:

Here is the after picture.  I washed it in cold water with Synthrapol by hand (with a three minute soak).  The ink you see is a Sharpie to keep up with what the sections were…one was not ironed, and one was ironed.  There is not one bit of the gel pen marks.  Today I froze the fabric for a while just to make sure the marks would not return.  This is the result…no marks:

For me and the projects I want to do this is a HUGE breakthrough.  I can now proceed in marking my current project and design the others. I will note that one of my quilty friends said he had used this pen and had them bleed some splats, and some of the colors were less washable than others.  He also noted that if you accidentally get water on it it may spread like watercolor. He lives in California and his water may be different or some other difference.  I have not used this much either, and he probably has. Also, I have not tested this on cottons or silk. So I don’t think I can fully recommend this marker yet–perhaps in the future after I use it more–but I am going to use it.  Even the occassional splat (that washes out) is greatly preferable to the pulling from a pencil that occurs when trying to mark satin that way.  Therefore, I suggest if you are going to use this that you run a test on your particular fabric and wash with your water with Synthapol before marking your quilt.

One of the cool things about my sampler is that the paint was untouched by all the attempts to remove the marks…it survived it all.  The paint is a combination of Jacquard’s Lumiere paints and Setacolor paints that were dried and heat set.  I also like the general concept for the background quilting.

Sew happy everyone!  Remember to test your techniques and products before investing those hours into your project.

 

 

Problem Solving Tools in the Studio 1: Needles

The other day I was having trouble with a metallic thread I was using breaking periodically.  It sewed beautifully for a bit and then broke.  I rethreaded and it did it again.  I was using a Superior 90/14 titanium top stitch needle, which is the one I use the most and which handles 40 weight embroidery threads extreamly well.  The metallic thread was about a 40 weight.  I finally decided to change the needle for a Klasse needle that I happened to have on hand that is designed for metallic threads.  It sewed so well I managed to finish my project without another thread break.

I have had the same good results when sewing with monopoly threads when I use a 70 universal needle rather than a top stitch needle I was using.  I think the needles kind of “step on” these specialy threads and the slight rounded needle point just slides by the thread rather than break.

Sew as I am getting to know my new Bernina 880 plus, Odette, I have been planning new projects and testing various techniques for them.  This process has highlighted to me a happy thought that I have greatly enlarged my understanding of sewing, quilting, and problem solving in the studio since I retired from my government job to be a full-time fabric artist.

As well as using the right needle helps to solve thread problems, so does the little things like using a net when sewing from a cone of thread.  The net keeps the thread from “pooling” at the bottom of the cone which will cause uneven feeding through the thread track and produce some tension problems.

I know that many of my readers already have a full understanding of the use of various types of needles. In the past, even though I really kind of knew what should be used,  I did not take full advantage of the substantial differences using the proper needles can make.  I used to just put in a universal 80/12 and use it for almost everything, changing only for specialty sewing.  After I retired to my studio career, I decided to pay more attention to the needle I used.  I found to my delight that it solved some of the stitching struggles I used to just power through.

Today I keep on hand an array of needle types and use them appropriately, often changing the needle several times during one project.  For the most part, I use Superior titanium needles, which I believe to be the best on the market.  However, I do also think Organ, Schmetz, Bernina, and Klasse needles are excellent brands.

The needle companies are doing many new things with needles now, like special needles to reduce stickiness when you are sewing through layers of fusibles, for instance.

Several of the brands have guidelines on their websites for their different needles.  Here are some helpful links with a wealth of information on needles and their uses:

Side note: I get quality needles and don’t always use them up as I change them, so the first thing I had to do when deciding to change needle types for different threads, was to come up with a way to keep these needles for future use.  I have two things that I do this with.  One is a big red tomato pin cushion that I have marked around it which type of needle is in which section.  I keep this by my big Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm.  It uses domestic machine needles, which I like.  The other method for keeping track of these partially used machine needles  is my needle book I made several years ago that I have marked areas for different needles on the flannel pages in the book.  I keep this with me for use wherever I need them.  I even take it with me when I go to workshops, retreats, or downstairs when I need to do hand sewing.  Also, I try to keep a record of what needle is in the machine.  Odette has a useful built in program for doing this, but neither my little B 350 nor my Q20 have this.  So I keep a notebook close by  for that and other reminders along the way.

Sew if you are having problems with your thread breaking, splitting, or not stitching with an even tension, it might just be your needle.  If you think your machine “doesn’t like” a particular thread, it might really just need a different needle type or size.

 

 

 

 

 

New Machine, Managing Stash

Quilting on my 830 in my studio

OK gentle readers, many of you already know that I had a major crash of my wonderful old Bernina 830 LE (Gibbs).  I had it for eight years.  I used it a huge amount, especially since my full time retirement at the first of 2012…hours and hours.  It suddenly had problems in the bobbin area and I took it to my terrific Bernina tech Lew.  He is one of the best  He gave it a full service and adjusted a few things and got it back to work, for all of five minutes after getting home (it stitched out a nice couple of test stitching pieces at the store beautifully).  So I took it back and he managed to get it working again. 

I came home and got my little Bob Ross Cherrywood Fabric challenge quilt completed.  Then I made a shirt for my son for his sci-fi/fantasy writers’ conference down in Chattanooga where he is now.  But I made it on my little Bernina 350, which I use for taking with me places.  I also use it for several specialty sewing techniques and attachments I don’t particularly want to use on the big machine, like needle punch and the ruffler.  But I was wanting to give it a good little workout (machines are better if they are used at least a little bit, but perhaps not as much as I used Gibbs…LOL). 

Sew I got down to the top stitching around the edge and buttonholes.  I decided to do those on Gibbs.  First of all, all three of the thread sensors said I had problems with my thread and bobbin, so I turned them off.  Then the auto buttonholer messed up several buttonholes.  I managed to get the messup out (hard to do if you have ever tried it), and I used the manual buttonhole buttons to complete them.  Then I tried to do the topstitching.  I got three stitches along and Gibbs hung up (like before) with the gears of death.  I cleaned it, rethreaded and oiled it and tried again…again, the gears of death.  Just to make sure, I rethreaded it one more time and still got the gears of death.  I concluded that Gibbs has reached the end of its professional life. Even if Lew got it going again, it would not take the high level of work I put on my machines any longer.  Lew had told me that he thought there were signs that the mother board was failing, in addition to the bobbin case hook assembly probably needs to be replaced, he was pretty sure .  I am fairly certain he was right.

Well Gibbs, thank you for waiting until Bernina offered a great trade in deal for all 830s and 820s, and in the month they also are including a great package of gifts with it and a 60 month with no interest.  I traded for a Bernina 880 plus, which I will likely get in a couple of weeks from now.  It was a fortuitous timing on Gibbs’ part.  In human terms I think Gibbs was probably approaching 100 if you think about the hours and number stitches I have put on that machine….LOL…of course, that is just speculating.  Lew said I had an exceptionally large number of stitches on the machine.

* * * * * * * * *

So while I’m waiting I decided to address my huge studio storage of my stash and notions issue that has gotten increasingly messy and overfilled in the past five years since I did this last.  My dear friend Anita, who is an artist in her own right, and my student/apprentice came over and helped me for a full day of sorting through the fabrics.

We threw away two big bags of unusable scraps, filled another big bag for Anita to take away, go through and keep what she wants, and get rid of the rest somewhere.  But of course we didn’t finish.  She is coming back tomorrow afternoon for another session. 

Today, I am going through my threads and organizing those as much as possible, and sorting through my clothing and accessory patterns to try to reduce my three and a half filing cabines full of patterns I have collected for at least the past 15 years.  I want to eliminate enough patterns so I only fill one filing cabinet with them.  Then I can use them to store things like stabilizers, interfacings, other notions, and bag making supplies.  I have a lot of these things…Sigh.  So that will empty several of the drawers in my oak cabinet that I want to use for really special fabrics like my silks, satins, and so forth. 

It is my hope to end up with empty storage spaces.  This way, I can maybe even keep things in order for at least the next five years (I’m a realist…I know this will have to be repeated sometime down the road).

This way, when the new machines comes home, we can launch right into productivity.  I was really upset at the expense right at first, but now I believe the new machine will be a great blessing.  I developed many of my techniques on Gibbs and pretty much literally wore it out.  I now have a Bernina Q20 for my quilting and free motion embroidery.  I will still be using the new machine for feed dogs up quilting and zig-zag free motion, which can be done with the new BSR that is included in the package.  I suspect the old one I had with Gibbs, which goes back with him, is near being worn out itself.  It also comes with a new embroidery module and the old one goes back with Gibbs.

Sew I will likely be able to use the new machine for much longer if I don’t trade it in for the next top of the line in four or five years from now–which I might–since I have split off the major part of the quilting to my Q20 and some specialty attachments and activities to my B350.  I suspect there are a lot of new advances I will also like.  Despite my disappointment over Gibbs, I am really getting excited about this refreshment of my studio all ready for new quilts, book and workshop samples, and a few other projects.

Sew happy everyone!  May your stitches be beautiful and your machines work without problems for years and years. 

 

Project Management for Fabric Art

Since I retired in 2012 to become a full time studio fabric artist, I have found a need to develop a system to keep things organized for time and technique management. Initially, I felt that taking time to keep records cut into my creative time and resembled work too much.  After all, I was here to have fun and make fabric art, right? 😄

Lately, I have added teaching local workshops and for several years have been working on writing several books.

So I found it necessary to figure out a way to keep up with all of this.  In fact, the multi-faceted system I came up with saves time and reduces stress, and some of it is kind of fun. Without records I would spend a lot of time figuring out where I was within a project, what was next, and making mistakes I would not have made if I had notes I could refer to.  This is especially important if there is an interruption in a specific project and I have a gap of time, or if I am working on more than one project at a time, which I often do (a show quilt, an approaching teaching session, a bit of writing, and even something just for me like clothing or my current bed quilt project).

My daughter-in-law Beth, who is also a quilter and a computer professional, suggested I look into www.Trello.com, which is a free organizational program designed for businesses. I find this program very easy to use and set up.  It helps me keep up with project ideas and a general overview of where I am on each project, and you can put in a check list.  It’s especially nice when I am doing a project with another person. Beth and I set up a team “Board” of Tatum Quilters so we could share projects.  We haven’t done much in that direction, but we still talk about it from time to time…LOL  So you might want to check it out.

While Trello helps me keep up with my ideas and plans for quilts, I found I need more detailed information and some of that doesn’t fit into a computerized file.  So I also have my big black low tech notebook.  I use this from the very beginning of a project and also keep other information in it. I write up ideas, make a general overall plan, keep tiny samples of fabrics, lists of threads, and other supplies, and put records of everything I need in this book for keeping my project together. The following images may give you an idea for your own notebook.

Here I have the original design of the Renaissance banner my BFF Anita and I made for the church last year. This is her original design.  I added notes, and a list of the fabrics I ordered for the project.  I just stapled her original drawing in to the notebook since it fit.  If such a design doesn’t fit, I sometimes fold it one or two times and staple it in.

 

So here is the finished design after I put it into the computer and drew a pattern for us, making a few changes we discussed along the way. On the right side is a plan for making the quilt from start to finish, which we checked off as we completed it.  I just printed a page size of the pattern and stapled it in on one page.

 

Sometimes I just staple drawings into the book to keep them from getting lost. This is my train project I am about to start working on.  The one on the left is a copy of the drawing my BFF Anita did for me to use for this, and the one on the right has a few scribbly additions I did thinking about how I might make it.  I have pages after this with a brief list of steps to make this quilt and have space for notes on stitches, settings, etc. for my machine work.

 

Here I have the samples of the fabrics and a list of the threads for Pendragon. Ken (oldest son) and Beth (his wife) gave me this wonderful addition to my stash along with the design for Pendragon that Ken drew. Pendragon was such a major project requiring many advanced techniques I had to develop or had never used it has ten pages in my black book that includes all kinds of things related to it.

 

Here is my trial of the upper left corner of Pendragon. I digitized the outline of the ancient design for stitching just the outline in the hoop, which needed a lot of fixing.  So I had to do a stitchout before putting it on the quilt. I also wanted to try the painting to see how that would go. So I just stapled the sample into the book because I liked it and didn’t want to throw it away.  If you look hard, you can see on the right a very loose sketch of how the quilt pieces fit together.

If you’d like to learn more about Pendragon, I have several blogs in which I included the making of this extensive project.  The testing of borders and the making of Pendragon.  So as you see, I also keep what you might think of as progress reports in this blog.

You might think that would be enough record keeping, but when I started doing show quilts that went to several shows, and sometimes had multiple quilts out for shows or exhibits, I found I had to make sure I knew where they were or were going.  I needed to be careful that I didn’t enter the same quilt in a show that was being held at the same time another show that I had entered was held, or enter it into this year’s shows when they had already been shown or rejected from another year’s show (Just as a matter of principal, I never reenter a show that has rejected my quilt previously even if they accept this kind of entry).  And I found I can’t enter another Mancuso show if the quilt has received a ribbon in another Mancuso show.  So it became a kind of choreograph of the dance of the quilts.

I take care of this with a simple Microsoft Excel workbook with two spreadsheets.  One keeps up with what shows that I am interested in and the deadline dates.  The other spreadsheet keeps up with what has been where or entered where, with a simple asterisk if it placed in that show.  I include an example of my workbook here.  I don’t know if it will work on your computer or if it is anything you might want, but it was easy to include if it works for you and you are into show quilting.

Quilt Show List example

Sew there you are.  Yes, it is a complex four part system, but it also works well for me and so I wanted to share it.  Believe it or not, it saves more time than it spends to do this, especially after getting started with it all, and it really helps keep down the stress factors in my busy busy studio. One more thing, I put on my calendar when a quilt has to be shipped once they are accepted into a show.  I have occassionally waked up and wondered if I had missed a deadline, only to be happy to find I had not by looking on my calendar.

Sew happy everyone!  Try making a show quilt or a master quilt, even if you don’t want to show it.  You might want to keep your own records, with lots of pictures along the way (oh and yes, I have computer files with folders by the year for quilts made in that year.  Yes, I back up everything).  It will be fun to look back on it or if you want to remember how in the world you did that technique on that quilt some years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Fabric Arts Adventures

Background fabric design for use in upcoming quilt

This has been a busy and interesting month so far, and the end of the month promises to be just as unique.  First of all, I want to tell you about the background fabric piece pictured above.  I spent some time (more than a forty hour week) painting this design I wanted to use for a background, to which I will be adding a lot of objects, including trees, rocks, train trestle, train, steam clouds as appliques.  But I painted it digitally in Corel Painter and sent it off to be printed full size by Fabrics on Demand, which has a wide selection of fabrics and does a good job.  I’ve used them before.

So after about a week I got word that they had printed the fabric and shipped it.  I waited, waited, decided I would have to contact them because it had been weeks and no fabric.  In the meantime, we had a snow week, with an 11 inch snow followed by very cold weather.  Then we had a thaw.  Just as I was about to contact the company, my son brought in a wet package that he had found on the side of the front porch under a bush.  Yes it was my fabric.  It had apparently been blown off the porch under the bush and covered in snow and ice.  We might not have found it until even later if the cold weather had continued.

The fabric was in a plastic envelope and carefully packed, but it was totally soaked.  I washed it in the washing machine, thinking that I normally would have hand washed it with Synthrapol detergent, since it was a custom printed piece.  So I wasn’t sure how it would come out.  But it is totally beautiful.  The colors are strong and lovely and the piece is clearly not going to bleed or shrink now as I use it in my quilt.  My friend Anita was amazed at the piece.  She is an artist herself but is new to the fabric art world.  I could tell she is excited to consider that she might be able to turn her art into a piece of fabric. She would have to take a good picture or scan of her art since she doesn’t work digitally in order to get it into fabric in this way, but that works too.

Twelve Skill-Building Projects for Bernina v8

Okay readers, I have been working full-time for several weeks now just to update my Ten Skill-Building Projects for Bernina V7 to a new book for Bernina V8, and I have finished the basic manuscript, sent it to my Beta readers, and designed the cover.  I am looking to have this out by the end of February.  So if you have either V7 or V8, I think you will find working through the projects of these books will provide you with a solid understanding or improvement in your use the software to go forward and make some wonderful in-the-hoop embroidery designs.  You can make what you want for your projects.  These books are designed so if you work through the book the later projects build on what you learn in the earlier projects.  Additionally, you will end up with some fun small items…mug rugs, a color wheel, a needle book, and a bunch of nice designs to use in other ways.

I’m very happy to be more or less finished with this Bernina software books project.  I have more or less been working on this for several years now.  It’s not that the projects are that hard, it was the difficulty of figuring out what should be presented and in what order to help fabric artist that still has the program in the box or has only used it a little because it was a little confusing, or that may not know how much is really there.  It is an amazing software…almost magical.  It has tools to help you get where you need to be, but it does not do a good job of telling you what tools are there.  The reference manual is well presented, but you may not know what you don’t know and you don’t know where to look.  The books are not exhaustive in covering all the tools, but they are enough to give you a real feel for what you can do with the software.

Just as I neared the finish of the first book for V7, Bernina came out with the updated V8, so I put it aside.  But my dear friend Mei-Ling Huang, who is also my Bernina dealer, encouraged me to go ahead and put out the V7 book, because there are a lot of sewists out there still using that software.  And then she pushed me a little to also write the updated V8 version.  I truly don’t think these books would be finished without her encouragement.

Sew now that I have completed these two projects and have gotten my fabrics for the next several show quilts and workshop samplers and kits, I have to straighten up this studio!  It’s a mess!

I’m so excited about the work I have in store for the future.  I made a list of things and put a date I wanted to get them done by, just so I can figure what I need to work on next and next and next.  Let’s get to quilting and embroidering!

I also am thinking about what book I should write next.  I have found that self-publishing through Amazon KDP is not too difficult for me to manage.  I want to get what I know out for people to use. I have learned a great deal in the past sixty plus years of sewing and art work.  Maybe the next one will focus on surface design and embellishment.  I have won several prizes at major shows based on my work in this field.  But I have to get to quilting first.  Just need…to….quilt!

Sew happy everyone!  There’s a fabulous bunch of tools and supplies out there to make some wonderful fabric art.  Teach someone to sew or quilt or try something new yourself!

Software for Your Fabric Art

Practice painting I did today in Corel Painter

Sew my last couple of posts I’ve talked about the need to learn and practice your machine and quilting.  I don’t know about you, but I also use a lot of software in developing my fabric art.  This, too, requires a bit of practice (nice thing to do when I just want to sit down or am still mulling new ideas around)

I truly appreciate those of you who do everything with pencil, paper, or directly on your fabric.  But one of the things that attracts me to fabric art are the related technologies, and also, I not only find I do a much better job of constructing my pieces when I sketch them all out and print a full sized picture or pattern, but it helps me with a wide variety of decision-making along the way.

I turned mostly to art quilting about a year after my dear Marvin passed in late 2002.  So I’ve been at this now for somewhere around 15 years!  This is astonishing to me.  I have also been quite interested in the tech side of fabric arts for even longer, if you take in in-the-hoop embroidery and computerized machines which I have had now for longer than that.  So I have been collecting software related to my fabric art for a long time, and, while it would be overwhelmingly expensive if purchased all at once, I got it over the years and kept it mostly updated, spreading out the costs.

It started small.  I took a class online from the Pixel Ladies who used Photoshop Elements.  I learned that I could print large patterns using Excel spreadsheets and tape them together.  That opened up the idea to me that I could design my own quilts, quilting designs, and even fabrics using the computer and testing all the colors and placements and so forth without any fabric and stitching to undo or waste in the beginning (note that this saves a lot in the cost of fabrics and threads too).

I also bought Bernina design software when I got my Bernina 200E (I later traded it in for my 830 LE).  I think it was v5 at that time, but not certain.  I skipped everything until I got version 7.0.   I am going to skip the v8 update to save some money because I don’t think the update has sufficient advancement that I use (this does not mean it wouldn’t work for you) on 7.0.  It took me a long time to learn how to use that and very well.  It has some remarkable functions.  I did though, and even nearly finished a book I was writing on learning this program.  It was very close to being done for self publication when they came out with the update, which points out why writing books on software is not particularly the way to go for me.  I take too long to learn it before I can write it.  LOL

From there, I bought Corel Draw, because I found the Bernina software uses a limited version and I wanted all the bells and whistles.  I also added Electric Quilt somewhere along the way years ago.  And then I bought a Wacom drawing tablet that came with a back version of Corel Painter.

Sew there you go….I was off and running and haven’t stopped since.  I’m still learning all this software and probably will always be.  I have found it cheaper to keep it updated at least every other version than let it get old and needing to buy the whole package.  Besides, Corel, especially, gives you some really good buying opportunities once you become their customer, and if you watch carefully, you can often get the updates for much cheaper than the retail price.

Anyway, the point of this is that this year, the year I wasn’t going to buy any new software (heh heh),  I ended up updating everything (except Bernina software), including my Wacom tablet (my old one was 14 years old and had just decided to retire…i.e., it became a paper weight).  And then my son David hooked up his old smaller monitor for me so I have two monitors (really terrific advance and it was free).  So now I have  at my finger tips (and yes, I share it with some of my friends when they come over):

  • Corel Painter 2019 (for painting and fabric design)
  • Corel Draw 2018 (for illustrative drawing, pattern making, and digital work with Bernina design software)
  • Bernina Design v7 (for in-the-hoop embroidery)
  • Corel Paint Shop Pro (for photo editing similar to Adobe Photoshop…I like it better)
  • Electric Quilt 8 (for figuring out how to use a pictorial piece with borders, for designing utility quilts)
  • And several related smaller pieces that came with these items to make them work best.
  • The latest Wacom Intuos Pro tablet with really nice artist’s pen that came with it.  It works with all the above like having a pencil or brush that responds to pressure and turns in some of the programs.

I like Corel because you don’t have to subscribe to it. It also is very powerful, and I can use all the pieces together, and it has great webinars and other tutorials to help you learn it.

So to make a quilt design I might dress up a photo in Photoshop Pro and send it over to Corel Draw for turning pieces into patterns (maybe I liked a flower in the picture, but nothing else), and then to Corel Painter to use as inspiration for fabric pieces and concept design, then put it all together back in Corel Draw where I make a full sized printout or printouts (prepping a fabric file to send to the fabric printing company for larger pieces, for instance).  Then I would maybe design embroidery elements (like lions on the vests in Pendragon or the small wall hangings on the wall).

Now that I have this terrific design setup, for which I am very grateful, I am working to learn it better and practice it more, because I have a ton of ideas how to use all of this.

  1. I am writing a book (or is it three books) on Fabric Art skills that covers everything from the design phase through the making skills, surface design and embellishment, and finishing. It includes patterns, samples, and quilting designs in it (them), and I am hopeful of getting it out by the end of September (but don’t hold your breath).  I’m sure you can see the need for such a setup for this.
  2. In the process I have learned how to make to-size patterns you can print on your regular printer and tape together.  So there will be some of those coming also.
  3. I have already started using digital painting printed on fabrics in my show quilts.  Pendragon has a back castle wall and all the faces that were printed on fabric and used in the construction of the quilt (along with a plethora of other techniques).  I also used a considerable amount of small in-the-hoop embroidery pieces that I digitized myself in Bernina software.

    Pendragon, 34 x 45.  This quilt has been selected for the juried show at IQA Houston this fall.  I’m so excited.

  4. So I am currently working on trying to figure out a design for my next show quilt using this setup.
  5. And finally, well maybe only finally for now, I am thinking of developing a fabric run to assist pictorial/landscape fabric artists and submitting it to fabric companies to see if I can get someone interested in my ideas.  Wouldn’t that be fun?

Sew what did I learn from all of the years working with these technologies?  Learn the software, keep it updated more or less, you can skip at least every other update unless they give you a great deal and have a lot of improvements, practice, and use it to help you save money of fabric, thread, and accompanying items, and it can really help you improve over the years…you can keep your records of your struggles too for future reference.

Sew happy everyone!  If you have design software, it can really open new ideas and opportunities for fabric art if you spend a little time learning and practicing them.  Blessings everyone!

 

 

How to Stop Fearing Your Machine and Start Having Fun

I love this picture from early in the twentieth century.

Periodically in some of my Facebook groups that are focused around quilting and sewing I see a surprising number of people who have sewing or quilting machines they are truly afraid to use.  Now I can see how this might happen.  Today’s machines are often technically advanced, big, powerful, and fast.  That can be very intimidating, especially if you fear making mistakes on your creations or breaking your machine.  Maybe you are afraid of sewing through your fingers.  Maybe you think you can’t possibly figure out how to use that advanced machine.  These are legitimate fears, but you can take steps to stop them in their tracks.

Let’s talk about this a little.  In almost any creative situation you can figure out how to make an approach of taking things apart and moving step by step to find you can do far far more than you ever thought you could.  And yes, you will almost certainly mess up, make mistakes, have to unstitch, break a needle, break some thread, or even mess up so badly you throw a project away.  Give yourself permission to throw things away, and realize they have served their purpose in teaching you something.  This is just sign of progress and that you tried.  So here is my suggested method to overcome the fear of your machines, or even to advance your understanding of them:

  • Read the manual of your machine.  Yes, read it even if you have been sewing for 65 plus years, even if it is a somewhat simpler machine, or even if it’s boring or you don’t understand it, but read it anyway.  Later you will remember that there is an answer to a question you have along the way in your manual so you can go back and look it up in the index at the back when you need it.  You don’t have to remember it until you need it.  You just have to remember that there is an answer there.  Sometimes you may find you do things differently with this machine than you did with your mom’s machine you learned on.  If you don’t find the manual, they are often online free for download.
  • Get yourself a small notebook and make notes as you go.  Keep a record of your steps, the settings on your machine you used for what. Even after 65 years plus of sewing, I still keep notes on projects I do.  It’s so handy when I want to do it again, or have gone out of my project to hem my new jeans and need to get back to where I was on my project.  I have also taken those notes and made spreadsheets or lists that I can print out and stick on my wall for reference.
  • Take advantage of the tools your machine has.  These tools include both the functional tools built into your machine and the accessories (specialty feet, magnifying glass, differing sole plates, optional threading aids, cleaning aids, pinpoint lasers, and other things).  Yes, you have spent a lot buying your machine…so spend a little more and get those specialty feet as you need them for particular projects.  It makes your initial investment truly worth it.
  • Realize that even if you paid a lot for your machines they are not perfect (nothing manufactured is, really!), but usually they will work if you do things right.  They may have some things that might go awry from time to time.  So join those Facebook groups where you can ask what other people do about some things, look in the manual near the end where they have the section usually entitled  “Troubleshooting”, go on YouTube to find if it is something you can fix yourself (if you have a Bernina, take a look at Bernina Boys  on YouTube), contact your machine’s online support (I can’t tell you how many problems I have gotten solved this way without having to lug my machines to the dealer), or yes, lug your machine to the dealer and get that problem fixed.  But start with a cleaning, check on the tensions, and change the needle…maybe even change the thread.
  • And if you are not getting that nagging problem fixed by your dealer, contact the manufacturer (using the online support) and ask them what to do.  Remember, they WANT you to be happy with your machine.  If you are happy with your machine you will tell others about it, and they will buy one.  If you are happy with your machine, you might buy another one that has another function (I have three Berninas).  But I will suggest that if you buy a solid advanced machine and LEARN HOW TO USE IT, you will almost certainly be amazed at what you can do with it.

    My Bernina 830 LE named Gibbs

  • Realize that, surprisingly, sometimes it is the thread, the needle, and something amiss with your machine.  But normally problems can be solved by cleaning the machine, changing the tensions. using a different sized needle, or just replacing a needle that may be slightly bent or have a blunt end.
  • Learning to use your particular machine is like learning to play a new instrument.  You HAVE TO PRACTICE!!!  Yes, practice a little bit frequently and a lot once in a while at the very least.  Practice even if you have sewn for 65 plus years.  Practice is just that.  You are making a practice piece…something that may even end up in the trash.  But this can be really fun.  Remember that..it’s ultimately fun!

    My Bernina B350 named Edith Claire (E.Claire) after Edith Head.

     

  • Plan out your project in small steps.  Prepare your pieces (make the markings you need to make).  Be sure you have the right threads, needles, backings, battings, stabilizers and interfacings on hand.  These things make using your machine so much easier.

    My Bernina Q20 named Fritz.

     

  • And finally, if you have a computerized machine, make sure you keep it updated with the latest updates.  Sometimes the updates are put out primarily to correct some bug they have discovered and so you won’t have that problem happen to you.  Sometimes they add new stitches or new functions.  Find out how to do this in your manual.

Here I have attached a pdf file to print out a small practice project for free motion quilting.  It is sized so you can print it out with normal letter sized paper and tape it together.  Then use it as a marking guide for your fabric.

FMQ Practice

I developed it for a FMQ workshop I will be teaching at the sewing machine department at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland in October of this year.  I’d love to see you there.  There are only eight spots for students, so call them (ask for sewing machine department) and reserve your space.  It’s about organic fmq for fabric artists…no fancy feathers, but lots of fun.  I’m also teaching a class on 22 September in Machine Applique for Fabric Artists, and one in October on Feed Dogs Up Quilting for Fabric Artists.

Sew happy everyone.  Go read your manual and practice.  Then have some fun making a wonderful project.  You will be happy you conquered your machines…well almost conquered…or at least learned to use them.  LOL

 

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part Three: Working with Threads

As I work through my Bayou quilt, and think about past quilts I have made, I realize how much one needs to pay attention to the adjustments, needles, cleaning, setting, and other requirements for optimum machine performance as you use the varying types of techniques, fabrics, and threads.

Threads

Today I am adding more Spanish moss in differing colors of Aurifil’s wool 12 weight thread and additional wool yarn couching using Superior’s almost truly invisible Monopoly.

I was having problems this morning with my wool thread breaking and breaking after hours of working well.  So I stopped and did a thorough clean and check of the machine, oiled it, and added a new 100/16 Superior titanium top stitch needle.  When I cleaned the bobbin, I found a large bunch of wool fluff both outside in the bobbin casing area and in the bobbin casing itself full,  and I blew air through the upper tread track and dislodge additional wool fluff.  I like this thread, but it does require frequent machine cleaning, loosening the top tension, and really fresh needles.  I doubt it would be possible to make wool thread that didn’t do that, although Aurifil’s is excellent.  It is actually 50 percent wool and 50 percent acrylic. I also use a tooth floss threader to thread this through the needle (and the take up lever hole on my Bernina Q20).  I haven’t had the same breakage problem since I did the cleaning.

The Spanish moss here is Aurifil’s Lana wool/acrylic 12 weight thread.

When I am couching using my Bernina Q20, I use Superior’s monopoly.  I truly cannot see it well enough to make sure it is always threaded through the machine right.  Over the past little while, I have found that this thread works best with a universal 70 needle.  I don’t think I could go smaller using this powerful machine, but when I am using my Bernina 830 or Bernina 350, I use a 60 universal needle.  I haven’t figured out why it works better with the universal needle, but it does.  I have almost no problems with it, though I do lower the top tension significantly on all the machines when using this thread.  This thread makes wonderful couching thread when using the machine method that stitches through the yarn or cord.  It basically buries itself down in the yarn and disappears.  In the past, I have also used this thread to quilt over and around painted, appliqued, or thread embroidered areas of a quilt.  I don’t particularly like overall quilting using Monopoly, because I like to see the thread most of the time, even if it is nearly matching and you have to look to see it.  I have used it though when I am quilting through an area that has multiple colors and no particular single color or even variegated thread would work right.  I actually use a magnifying glass to work with this thread.

The gold Celtic border was outlined first with gold thread, then painted with gold paint, but it had no over and under view until after it was quilted with Monopoly thread. I will be using this technique again.

Yarns for couching are really another bit of my stash that might end up growing, but I hope to keep it kind of small.  Still it is exciting to work with.  My machine likes the smoother yarns and cords the best, but I want to use some of the less smooth ones, like the Shetland wool sport weight I am using for the limbs of my trees.  I can see this yarn making whole tree trunks and limbs.  It has various slubs and smooth sections that produces wonderful depth of character.  acrylic yarns are really smooth and even and make wonderful fills.  I’m still learning this element of my pictorial fabric work so I will talk more about it later.  I have found lots of help in learning this from Bethanne Nemesh’s couching work.  She has generously shared much of her techniques on both Facebook videos [only one example…she has several there]  and her blogs.

For background work, I often use Superior’s 100 weight Microquilter or its Kimono silk 100 weight.  This thread seems to call for a small needle also.  I use 60/10 or 70/11 topstitch needle depending on the density of the quilt I’m stitching through.  I sometimes have had to go up to 80/12  topstitch needles when stitching through multiple applique areas or heavily thread embroidered areas.  This thread also requires a lower top tension, just like the Monopoly, though not quite as low.  I  am not giving numbers because everyone’s machine and fabrics are just a little different, so you need to do a sample using the actual fabrics and threads you have on your quilt.

Sttitching on the space dust on one of my deep space quilts using 40 weight variegated Fantastico by Superier.  The background stitching you see here was done with 100 weight Kimono silk.

Sew for most of my quilting where I want the design to really show and machine embroidery, though, I usually use a 40 weight thread of some sort with an 80/12 or 90/14 Superior topstitch needle, depending on the fabrics and threads I am using.   Most of the time I use the 90/14 and it seems to make a great general needle.  My favorite threads for this are Superior’s Fantastico, Magnifico, and Rainbow (they no longer make this thread but I have a lot of it), and when stitching things like rocks or places I don’t want any shine, I use King Tut.  King Tut, a cotton, definitely requires the 90/14 needle.   I also like Aurifil’s 50 weight cotton when I need it a little less visible, but don’t want to use a polyester for some reason.  I use the 80/12 needle with Aurifil 50 weight cotton.

Isn’t this fun?!!! There are soooo many wonderful possibilities to make your pictorial quilt come to life now…I could work hours and hours and hours on it, except my body demands I stop from time to time and walk or stretch or breath….LOL.

Sew happy everyone!  Try out all those wonderful types of threads.  Just get the smallest spools at first so you can figure out whether you like them or not and how they might work for you.  Then make a sampler.

 

 

 

 

 

Working with My Bernina Q20 and New Attachments

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE

As many of you know, I am racing to meet a deadline for a show quilt for the Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival, a quilt I had not included in my business plan for 2018.  In spite of a major mistake I made that required that I basically start over with the quilt, I have met my goal of getting the top complete and the quilt sandwiched and ready to quilt by Christmas.  In fact, I started the quilting yesterday, but not before I installed a new interesting attachment on Fritz, my Bernina Q20 sit down longarm.  It is a laser light pointer that puts a red laser light point exactly where the needle will come down.

I gave this new attachment to myself for Christmas in celebration of my dear late husband Marvin.  He always gave me the most wonderful presents.  One of the ways I have learned to deal with Christmas since his passing fifteen years ago is to give myself a nice present as if it came from him.  I miss him as much all these years later as I did the first Christmas after he passed.  Strong, solid, reliable, loving, brilliant, and fun to be with was my Marvin.

Sew I got my new show quilt all sandwiched with one layer of thin polyester batting and one of wool batting.  Using the newly-installed laser pointer, I spent most of yesterday afternoon and about five hours today quilting.  I have a fair amount of appliques on this quilt and some challenging designs planned for the quilting.  So far, I love the pin-pointer in mode 1 (on all the time I stitch), and Fritz is working like clockwork despite all the challenging threads I am throwing at it.

I started by stitching in the ditch and around the appliques (and no the star pictured at the top is not in the quilt) with Superior’s superb monopoly…so thin…so strong…nearly totally invisible and not very shiny like other monopolies.  Truly, handling this thread is like I imagine sewing with spider webs or something equally hard would be, except it doesn’t break once you get all the tensions and needles correct (I used top tension 1.75, bobbin is Superior Bottom Line 60 wt polyester set at 180 tension, and an Organ 75/11 titanium embroidery needle).

The laser light pointed the way.  I was able to stitch amazingly accurately and extremely close around those appliques.  I used the Q20’s BSR1 (stitch regulator mode 1) and the kickstarter that allows me to stitch without pressing the pedal.  I love the kickstart.  I didn’t at first, but now that I am really use to it, I use it nearly all the time for all the work I do at Fritz.

I then did some detail work within one of the appliques that truly brought it to life, with the laser pointer aimed at the chalk marks I had marked on the applique.  The monopoly was perfect for this, because I had painted the applique and free motion embroidered it.   I did not want to impact the free motion embroidery but I did want to quilt in the trapunto.  I had added an extra layer of wool batting behind the applique to give it that trapunto fill. I am very happy with it.  I haven’t yet done the detail for any of the other appliques.

So I then switched to metallic thread.  Metallics are known to be troublesome, but today Fritz was happy to play.  The metallic stitching I have done so far was just plain wonderful.  It is ruler work, stitching along several long marked lines.  The laser pointer works great with ruler work, pointing exactly where the stitch will go, so lining up that quarter inch, which is sometimes a little elusive, is no problem at all.  However I did find that the #72 ruler foot works better with the laser pointer than the #96.  The 96 has a diagonal fill in the center to help you place the needle that makes the laser point difficult to see if you are not leaning over it more than I do.  The 72 has an empty center, and that works just great.  For ruler work I use the BSR2 (stitch regulator designed for ruler work that moves when you move and stops when you stop, but sometimes it will take a stitch if it detects even a small amount of movement).  For metallic thread I set a top tension of 2.5, and use Bottom Line with the same 180 tension.  I also thread it so it runs across that little silicone liquid pad thingy.  In fact, I did that for both threads.

I have, in the past, had metallic thread stitch through a tiny tiny bit regardless of how hard I tried to get that perfect, causing judges to fuss about my tension.  For this quilt so far, this is not happening.  The tension appears perfect to me on both sides of the quilt. I’m really happy because I didn’t want to put metallic in the bobbin.  If the judges say I have tension issues on this quilt, I will just have to think they have some kind of special vision.  LOL

Sew my next challenge for the laser pointer light and Fritz are the complex pictographs I have to quilt on the quilt.  At least one of them will be stitched in metallics.  Then I still have to decide how I am going to stitch the background…I have an idea developing, but it will be a big challenge for me.  Still, if I can carry it off, I think it will be a wonderful quilt.  It’s so very much fun though.  I really recommend the laser light pointer and the use of the kickstarter if you have a Q20.  I also bought the echo circle attachments for the #72 foot that I am planning on using on this quilt.  I’ll give a review of their use when I get to that.

Sew happy everyone!  Try something new and don’t be discouraged if you have to spend some time learning it.  Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.