Building a Pictorial Quilt Part Two: Making a Tree

One of the most fun I have when making a pictorial quilt is making trees, mountains, rocks and water scenes.  Making these wonderful natural landscape items do not require perfect lines and matched points.  So each kind and size of trees I need to “grow” on a quilt may require a different technique and plan.  I have to consider the distance, the species, where the light is coming from, and then decide how to make them.  Here are a few examples:

Here the trees surround the house. For these trees, I digitized them on my Bernina Software (even the tiny trees have little leaf shaped leaves, though I think that is lost a bit to the viewer because of the size). I then stitched them out on black nylon veiling with wash-away stabilizer and free motion appliqued them onto the quilt top with matching thread.

 

This small tree is the stitch out from an olive tree I digitized in my Bernina software on wash-away stabilizer. I placed a tree photo in the art side and traced it by hand digitizing it in the embroidery side of the software. The same could be done by drawing it onto a piece of wash-away stabilizer with Crayola washable marker and free motion embroidering it. In this case I would advise using a layer of black nylon veiling to hold everything together.  The advantage of black nylon veiling is that it can be cut very close to the embroidery (without cutting through the stitching) and the little bits left tend to disappear when you applique it on…often covered with applique stitching. Note that when you soak away the stabilizer, the Crayola marker goes away also.  This happens to be laying on a paper towel, in case you are wondering.

 

Here you see the trunks of some big Cyprus trees in my current ongoing project. I cut the applique shape from different types of commercial woody type fabrics. So then I did highlighting and lowlighting with Shiva oil paint sticks and a stiff brush, then heat setting with my iron (covering it with a paper towel to absorb excess oil paint. I plan on adding a layer of wool batting behind the trees to give them a little more depth because the trees require considerable stitching to make the base look like the Cyprus, but this is how I started these trees.

So the Cyprus trees appear to have windy limbs that seem smaller than such a massive tree trunk would have.  I decided to couch the limbs on with wool yarns and then free motion embroider the Spanish moss.  Here are two pictures of the progress so far:

Here you see some of the limbs on the different trees with some Spanish moss.  I did a lot of looking at Spanish moss photos before I did these so I could figure how they should look. These seem to me to be coming out ok.

 

I learned early on that I needed to draw some guide lines for the direction of the stitching or I’d get them to be blowing around in different directions. Since the water in this quilt is going to look calm and reflective, it didn’t make since to have the Spanish moss blowing around much, though they don’t have to be exactly the same, but close. Here you see some of my marks for future stitching. Also note that I had to break the stitching on several clumps so it looked like the limb is further toward the back from the viewer.  I need to keep it pretty close to the same proportions as the top part, so drawing lines is helpful.

Sew I’ll show you the whole trees when they are done.  That will be a while now because they need to be quilted, and maybe a little more highlighting, to get the full impression.

Sew happy everyone.  I hope you decide to put some trees on your quilts and relax…they are fun to make.

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part One

I don’t know why, but recently I realized my design and making of a pictorial quilt has fallen into a multi-step method that can be shared with my readers. I suspect that most pictorial quilters work much the same, but each of us develops our own methodology and here is mine.  It might work for you if you are interested in making such quilts.

Work from the background forward. Here I am appliqueing on the pieces.

Sew what do you do when you have a picture you want to make into a quilt…either you drew it yourself, you took a photo, you bought or were gifted the rights from another artist, or you bought a royalty free design from somewhere like Dover that grants permission to use it for artistic purposes (be careful to read the permision statement)?

Plan by taking apart the project in your mind and writing down notes about how you plan to approach it.  If you have worked in digital drawing programs like Corel Draw, Corel Painter, or Adobe Photoshop, for instance, you know you can divide a project into layers and work on each layer one at a time.  You may also know that you need to think from background to foreground in how you approach a design.  It’s the same here.

  1. Print or draw a full-sized quilt plan.  I say “plan” rather than “pattern” because sometimes that’s all it is…just a full sized picture of what you want to make.  But it functions kind of like a pattern. My current project is a Bayou quilt using another artist’s (Joel Christopher Payne, a Disney artist among other things he does) picture for inspiration (though I am using it for inspiration and a guide rather than trying to copy his work).
  2. Study your picture and analyze it for challenges, needed fabrics, techniques you might use.  This quilt has many challenges.
    • It’s dark and details are hard to see
    • It has lots of old wood and cyprus trees and water at night, making texture really important and values more difficult.
    • I am planning on adding more Spanish moss and creating a slightly lighter pictorial quilt than his wonderful picture
    • It has a lot of plays of light shining through the trees, playing out on the water, and fireflies.
    • There are lots of water plants around the Bayou scene.
    • Almost half of the work on this quilt is to be free motion yarn couching, free motion embroidery, and other embellishment work.
    • This quilt background will start with extensive applique work.
    • After the applique there will be a small amount of highlighting and lowlighting with various fabric paints.
    • After the appliques are in place and some of the paint work then I will start with the couching and free motion embroidery work.
    • I have figured out how to deal with the light playing on the water, but I am still not sure about the light coming through the trees…maybe veiling, which is on order.
  3. Along the way you may decide to use some trapunto to give some additional depth to your work.  In this case, I will be adding a layer of wool batting behind the tree trunks, the cabin, and the old house boat.
  4. Building such a challenging pictorial quilt for me sometimes involves testing a technique on a scrap first and then working that part on the quilt, but sometimes I have to change my mind on how I will approach a particular part of the quilt.
  5. Then I have to do the sandwiching, squaring, and quilting that every quilter has to do.

So I now have all the appliques on and have done some of the highlight/lowlight work.  It’s ready to start the couching and free motion embroidery.  This picture is taken from standing over a table, so it isn’t front on like I’d like.  This is like layer two through ten of a 32 layer digital drawing…lots of work left to do…it’s kind of a background at this stage.  LOL  And besides, this is just a small part of it…it’s 60 by 30 inches overall…at least that’s what I’m hoping for in the end.

Sew happy everyone!  Take a plunge and try your own pictorial wall quilt.  Be patient with yourself and realize almost every problem can be overcome in achieving your vision.  Sometimes the problems are really a blessing…they give you new ideas.

Embellishing Techniques Part 3: Learn All You Can and Use It Well

Okay readers, I am all fired up and my studio is spotless and ready to go.  There isn’t even a chipmunk in my studio (my facebook friends will understand this comment).  After attending Birds of a Feather, and then Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival, and then spending a lot of time getting rid of a chipmunk and cleaning my studio, it was some time before I was able to start using the explosion of inspiration that filled my head and heart for the future after such inspiring quilting events and spending the MAQF with my friend Mei-Ling who also inspired me.

* * * * *

So to continue the Machine Embroidery pointers…I decided I really have to finish and publish my book on Surface Design and Embellishment, which includes among other things both in-the-hoop embroidery and free motion embroidery, to say all I want to say.  But I did want to give you a little list of things to research on your own and to think about.

  1. Learn about stabilizers..there are lots of them out there and they all do different things.  Sometimes you need more than one at once.
  2. It is possible to remove machine embroidery that messes up without damaging your fabric sometimes, but not always.  I got a little electric trimmer for this purpose and it works most of the times if the fabric on which the embroidery is placed is sturdy enough.

    Summer Melody: I made a big mistake when I embroidered the bunnies on the path. They were sideways!!! So I got the Wahl clipper/trimmer and removed the embroidery and redid the bunnies. There was a small hole that I made trying to remove it without the trimmer, but it was covered by the new embroidered bunnies.

  3. If you are using a commercial design, and you have digitizing software, such as Bernina’s, it’s a very good idea to load it into the software and take a good look at how it is stitched.  You can often correct the designers mistakes, resize it, choose different fills, and make different thread selections before you use it…do this to a copy, not the original…and then do a stitchout before placing it on your main project.
  4. Realize that free motion thread painting is also a good option, but requires practice and understanding of thread density and how that affects your fabrics.  This requires its own blog post (and chapter in my book).
  5. Even decorative stitching available on your machine just to go on that beautiful new blouse you are making often requires proper stabilizing and thread to fabric considerations.
  6. You can use decorative stitches within a pictorial wall hanging or to enhance applique and pieced projects.  It’s very exciting and there is much to learn and try out.
  7. This kind of work takes time, thread, stabilizers, and practice but the results can be really rewarding.

* * * * *

Use what you already know how to do in interesting ways and spend some of your precious time learning and practicing.  One excellent idea that some quilters have suggested is to make simple utility, charity, and baby quilts for your learning and practicing.  I think this  is a wonderful idea, but you DO need to do SOME simple practice you are going to throw away or put into your reference notebooks.  I do suggest you don’t let the practicing and learning take over all your sewing and quilting time though.  Make yourself make that masterpiece quilt or  important project.  It’s all about balance in the studio, but be brave!

Suggested project:  Steps to a tree wall-hanging with birds and flowers.  With this wall-hanging, either find a coloring book tree or draw a simple tree and choose by the look you want what techniques, fabrics, and threads to use.  For instance, 1.  Make the background: the background could be pieced, appli-pieced (or pieceliqued..same thing), or painted or all of them to get the background you want.  2.  Make the large part of the tree trunk and large limbs…use appliqued woody fabric, couched on yarn, or paint, then free motion couch or embroider the small twiggy parts of the tree.  3.  Add the leaves…use free motion machine embroidery, appliqued leaves, or digitize leaf sections you embroider on black netting with washaway stabilizer and applique in place.  4.  Add the birds and flowers…use commercial embroidery for in-the-hoop embroidery machines, sizing appropriately, or applique by hand, or paint and then applique.  5. Sandwich and quilt…use monofil polyester to in-the-ditch and around-the appliques stabilizing, then either quilt using your walking foot or free motion stitch the quilt, block, square, and bind.  Please send me a photo to include in a blog post if you make a wall hanging inspired by this idea.

 

 

 

The Wizards’ Duel

The Wizard’s Duel

I promised you all that I would write about this quilt after Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival.  I had a wonderful time going to the show with one of my best friends Mei-Ling Huang.  Mei-Ling is a lot of fun and we share many interests.  She claims not to be a quilter, but I have seen her quilting on the Bernina Q24 longarm set up in her Bernina shop at G Street Fabrics where she is the Bernina dealer.  But she is a long-term sewist and she does make beautiful garments.  Currently, I happen to know that she is working on a t-shirt quilt for her daughter, who is in medical school.  She was clearly fascinated by the goings on at MAQF and we enjoyed very much the class we took together from Sue Nickels on Stitched Raw Edge Applique.  I found the class a perfect example of how to organize and run a class as well as really enjoying the applique instruction,

Sew the picture above is my completed quilt and I got the judges comments back yesterday.  They have marking grades on standard criteria.  It fared very well, getting all top marks (E for Excellent) except for degree of difficulty and that was S for Satisfactory.

Judge 1 commented:

  • Powerful color impression
  • Ambitious Subject Matter
  • Nice use of crystals

Judge 2 commented:

  • Batting a bit too puffy [Huh?!!!]
  • So much care in the figures.  Rocks would benefit from same attention

Judges:  Esterita Austin, Pepper Cory, Marjan Kluepfel

I don’t know which judge had which comments section, though I do know that they weren’t Pepper (a friend of mine), who just signed it.  After looking at it objectively, I happen to agree with the comment about the rocks and plan on adding some additional quilting and maybe a litle more highlighting before I send it out again.  Not sure I agree on degree of difficulty, but seeing some of the other quilts there I am pretty pleased with these marks overall, which is rare when I get my judges comments back.  I am a little puzzled about the batting a bit too puffy comment, but to each his own.  Maybe it had to do with the rocks.

When I am done with a quilt I like to look back at the original concept and see how far away I wandered in the making of the quilt.  Here is the finished concept art, though I did go through a number of other versions along the way.

concept art for Wizards’ Duel

And here are some detail photos of the quilt.  I hope you can see all of the quilting.  I had loads of fun with that turbulent sky full of characters,  I have a Pegasus in this shot.  Go up and look at the full quilt and see if you can find the Phoenix, the small flying bird, a starry kind of symbol like I used in the corners, and the little bit of free motion feather design at the corner near the raven.  I also free motioned and straight ruler stitched the explosion of light (is that a sun?  I think so) behind the wizards.

Detail shot one

And here is detail shot two…on this you may think you see a row of flying geese, but that’s not what they are.  In my mind’s eye these are a row of flying pterodactyls!  Hahaha.  I hopeyou can see these, I know it’s kind of hard to see.  Also pay attention to the border.  This quilt is the first one where I used ruler work extensively. I used a strip of paper that was the exact length of the border and folded it until I got the divisions perfect (no math method) and marked the grid on the border, then used my rulers to quilt the design without additional design marking.  Then I just bubble stitched where it needed filling.  I was pleased with the results.

I will tell you that the biggest challenge was coming up with the figures.  I started with prepared for dye cotton fabric and marked the figures on with a simple Fons and Porter dark marking pencil.  Then I colored them using Neocolor water soluble paint crayons and brushed them with water. After that I ironed them dry, thereby heat setting them, and then I placed a bit of wool batting behind the dragon and stitched the outline and the scales.  After that I used some oil paint sticks to burnish the scales of the dragon a little.  Then I thread painted their garments with Superior metallic threads using my BerninaQ20 longarm sitdown.  Finally, I appliqued them to the quilt top.  After sandwiching them, I quilted the figures sections with Superior Monopoly thread, but that was the only place I used monopoly.  I didn’t want to interfere with the thread painting I had done, but they needed quilting for depth of character.  I wonder if the judges realized the difficulty involved there.  Perhaps they did.

And finally, here is a very good picture of the quilt hanging in the show that my friend Cathy Wiggins took.  I think it shows the quilting clearly…in fact the show had it lit just perfectly so the quilting showed well.

Wizards’ Duel at MAQF courtesy of Cathy Wiggins

The quilts at the quilt show were unbelievably magnificent.  I do think Wizards’ Duel stands up well in such a show, even if it didn’t receive a ribbon.  As I said, I plan on adding some quilting and highlighting on the rocks section and entering it in other shows.  Maybe it will place after that.  It’s very hard to place in such a show.  The MAQF is becoming a very important and popular show and for good reason…it is fabulous.

Mei-Ling and I attended the fashion show too and spent some time viewing the wearable art competition section at the show.  We were so inspired by this that we decided to try to make a joint entry for the wearable art next year.  Mei-Ling is a small beautifully proportioned woman and we will make it to fit her.  More on that much later.

I came home to find a chipmunk had invaded our home…he came in about an hour after I got home.  That is another story that is still going on .  He’s still here and in one of my studio rooms.  My studio is on the upper level of my town home where my bedroom also is.  It consists of two small bedrooms…Studio Fritz (where my computer/office section is and where my Bernina Q20, named Fritz, sits), Studio Gibbs (where my main fabric, thread, and paint stash, my work tables, and my Bernina 830LE named Gibbs sits), and Studio Betsy (one small side of my bedroom where my Bernina 350 named E. Claire sits where my old Bernina 1230 named Betsy used to sit.  I sold Betsy recently to my student and friend Anita).  The chipmunk has taken up residence in Studio Gibbs (thank goodness not my bedroom!).  So far, the only damage he’s done is knock things over and deposit chipmunk poop in places.  The stash is safely in drawers and the closet where he can’t get to chew or soil and Gibbs is of no interest to him so far.  I am soooooo hopeful of getting him out of there today.  I have a live trap set for him and have tried multiple things, and am trying once more today with the trap and all.  I need my studio back.  I never had this happen before.  Please pray for a successful removal of the chipmunk.  Silly me, I name everything, even a chipmunk I may end up killing…this one is Chippy.  I am so hopeful of not having to kill it to get it out of there.

Sew happy everyone!  You know you can get a basket like device to attach over your dryer vent so chipmunks can’t get in and chew holes in your dryer vent hose.  My son just installed one on our house.  I wish we had done it earlier!!!!

 

On Creativity and Competition

Last night I watched the truly magical performance of the short program in men’s figure skating by Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu. He’s simply magnificent.  Indeed, I find it difficult to find the words to describe his sparkling performance that comes after a career threatening injury just months ago.  Such performances by leading artists are gifts to those who have a chance to see them.  I remember one magical violin concert by Joshua Bell that Marvin and I attended in Istanbul in the ancient and fabulous Hagia Sophia years ago.  It remains a particularly special memory as I look back over my life with Marvin…a wonderful gift to us.

There is a certain similarity between performance art,  tangible art and its subcategory of fabric art.  It’s the ability to stir the mind and touch the heart.  It’s the pulling of the resulting piece out of the mind, heart, hard work, and training that goes into the making of a quilt no matter the category.  This can be seen at major quilt shows or quilt museums when you walk by the exquisite jewels of quilts…every competitive year tougher and more accomplished than the year before as quilters grow in the techniques and understanding of design.

I retired early in 2012 from an interesting, but fairly intense job, to work full time in fabric arts–fabric, thread, surface design, and embellishment–to create beautiful, interesting, fun, or impactful fabric art that touches the heart and mind of the viewer or even makes them laugh.  I was pretty arrogant in the early years, thinking I could make anything and was just as good as those who won big time ribbons.  I was sure it was only a matter of time before I reached that level.  I’m more hopeful than arrogant these days.

It has been just over five years now since retirement and ten since I seriously turned to fabric art, and more or less 65 years since I started sewing.  Looking back I find that I am even more interested in this fascinating activity than I was when I first began years ago.  I love it and I have developed as a studio artist in recent years,   I realize only a very few manage to get to the top and it may not be me, but I still keep on making art.  I belong in my studio studying new ways to do things, designing new pieces, and making them.  I occasionally venture out to teach locally and I even have a student, or maybe she is really an apprentice, who is also one of my best friends.  It is exciting and sometimes I get to meet or virtually befriend other fabric artists/quilters whose work, or teaching, or writing is very inspiring and who have encouraged me along the way.

Next week I am going down to Hampton, Virginia, to the Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival, which in my humble opinion is becoming one of the important shows in the country.  I have a fun quilt in the show.  I had not originally planned to make this quilt, but decided to make one at nearly the last minute starting in November.   That is about as late as I could have expected to complete it by the deadline, but I decided anyway to add this quilt into my 2018 quilting plans.  I have already worked out my plans for 2018, but I realized I didn’t have any quilt to enter into MAQF, and that I was going to go.

I had some special encouragement from my friends, particularly Lisa Calle, who was also struggling to finish a quilt she had been working on for four years in time to get it in the show.  So we helped each other not give up and keep on despite the various bumps in the road.  Both of us got our quilts in the show.  I’m so looking forward to seeing hers.

I would be surprised if my quilt makes a ribbon, mostly because I’m a little unsure of the both the overall design and the quilting design, but it was a delight to make.  I honestly cannot tell whether it is really good or I just like it.  At some points in the process I didn’t even like it myself.  I like it now, and I can hardly wait to show you photographs and tell you more about the making of it after the judging takes place.

I have been competing since 2004, when I entered my first Hoffman Challenge quilt.

It is a sweet little quilt with a Japanese fan theme and I learned much making it, and it got in and toured.  Today, I try to get my quilts into various shows primarily to share my work with people.  I make them because they are there in my mind and heart and for people to see and I make them to have fun. I have sold a few, and I’d like to sell more of them, but they don’t sell well.  I would like to sell enough to pay for my quilting habit and to go to a big show like Houston or Paducah every now and again.

But it is also true that I am a true competitor.  I want my work to be historically artistic and breathtaking and to be a gift to those who see it even if they don’t end up possessing it, I look back over my older quilts and can see true progression in my work, but there are parts in some of them that are surprisingly really good.

After all my years of sewing and all the recent years of working really hard to improve my techniques and, more recently, to improve my design and my quitling, I now fully believe my work is deserving of getting into the shows and even placing beside the winners, but I am realistic in realizing that my work does not always touch the hearts of the judges even if it touches those of some of the viewers.  It is different.  It is possibly not even what some would call “a quilt” because it is not a warm snuggly thing to warm a person on a cold night or wrap oneself in to gain comfort.  It is to hang on a wall and to look at.  The subject and the design may be pleasing to me, but it may not be understood or at least understood to be the best in a given category by a judge.  Maybe they can’t see what depths of technique and new ideas were placed in the piece or how much I had to pull out of myself to make a quilt. Here is Pendragon which was in MAQF last year.  It did not place there, but it did make a 3rd place ribbon at Paducah fall show.

Pendragon
34 x 45

Maybe some pictorial element I did in a quilt free motion is well done enough they think it is done by computerized machine work, or maybe they see flaws in colors and values and design elements that I would not consider as a flaw because it’s what I like, or I really didn’t see it or even saw it and ignored it.  But there is always that chance, however slight, that the judges will decide it is really really good…maybe even the top of its category.  And maybe there will be no ribbon, but I will be honored to have the quilt in the show and my friends see it who have encouraged me along the way.

Just last Sunday I took a class from Bethanne Nemish at Birds of a Feather, who made the point that the competition is getting tougher all the time, and she’s right.  What would have won ten years ago would not win today, and may not even get in, because the quilting art continues to get better all the time.  Is there a peak?  I don’t think so…not exactly anyway, because quilting will continue to evolve and new techniques, new designs, and even new styles will continue to emerge as long as there is a competitive field on which to show it.  But it is still worth competing.  As Bethanne pointed out in her class, you will be better, you will stretch yourself and you will learn.  It is well worth competing even if you really, in truth, haven’t got a chance at getting a big ribbon.  You need not feel depressed if you don’t win anything.  Besides, you may give someone who really needs it a gift, by lifting their hearts and inspiring their minds.

Besides, it’s amazing that a seventy year old person can compete in a major show alongside the young quilters already at the top.   I expect to continue for a while…don’t know how long…maybe a couple of years, maybe a couple of decades.  (Chuckle)

Sew happy everyone.  See you at MAQF or elsewhere.

 

Embellishing Techniques Part 2: Machine embroidery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Embellishing Techniques Part 1: Hot Fix Crystals

My close friends and competitors…sometimes one in the same…know that I love embellishing my art quilts.  Some quilts simply call for embellishments and, when this is true, I use them generously.  This subject recently came up in a Facebook conversation and so I thought I would run a series of three or so blog posts, not necessarily one right after the other, on my embellishment techniques.  You may have others or your techniques may vary, but these are mine.  I’m always looking for new ideas though, so comment freely please.

My love for embelishments 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.  Today I will hand sew some things still, but I use a lot of hot fix crystals and machine techniques that I will talk about in future posts.

When I first started using hot fix crystals  years ago I bought one of those wand style irons.  I still use it by the way, but I’m thinking of replacing it and maybe I can get one that doesn’t flip off the table and land on the carpet and I have to race to pick it up before it burns it…hoping not to burn myself in the process.  It’s supposed to pick up the crystal and you can then place it down, but it never really worked well that way.  Sometimes it would pick it up and hold on to it, so I had to get a straight pin and pry it out.

So I started placing the crystal down where I wanted it and placing the wand iron on top of it. If I was lucky, the crystal would end up in the right place (though I found I could move it slightly if I worked quickly enough).  Sometimes the wand would flip the crystal out of place like a tiddly wink and it would go spinning through the air landing who knows where.  Sometimes I ended up slightly burning the area around the crystal.  And sometimes I ended up burning myself trying to prevent all these things.

And THEN, a friend of mine directed me to hot fix transfer tape! What a great invention and what a wonderful improvement to my crystal placements!!! I think it was invented for people who make those crystal designs for people to put on their clothes.  But anyway, here are the steps I use with it:

  1. Put on your music or audiobook.
  2. 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. Working in sections, place your hot fix crystals (or other hot fix embellishments) where you want them
  5. Remove the backing from the transfer tape.
  6. Gently and carefully lower your transfer tape piece 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. Now here you have a choice.  You can either use your regular iron set hot and without steam or the wand iron.  I found the wand iron makes the crystals more secure for the most part but takes longer.
  8. So with the wand iron heat each crystal with the tape still in place for as long as it needs
    • tiny ones require about 12 toe taps or slow counts.
    • medium ones require about 20 counts
    • larger ones require more…30 seconds to 40 counts to be really secure.

Heat setting individual crystals with the wand with the tape still in place.

The transfer tape 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.

Another way to approach it is to place lots of crystals on the tape upside down 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.

Now if I can only stop my hot wand from falling off the table that would be good.  Maybe I can find a new one at Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival that I am going to this year with my good friend Mei Ling…I’m so excited.  I’ll let you know if my quilt gets in.  Will I see you there?

Sew happy everyone!  Help each other out, encourage other quilt artists…both the beginners and the very advanced.  Even the big winners sometimes need encouragement.

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

Starting and Stopping Thread Work and Quilting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Happy New Year and Planning for a Great 2018

 

Happy New Year everyone!  I really want to thank those of you who read my blog for sticking with me this year.  I am planning on doing more how-tos, reviews, and showing progress on my quilts this year.  I am expecting and declaring that 2018 will be one of the best from start to finish for me, my family, and all my friends. 

I have a lot of fun planned for 2018 and I want to share the quilting/sewing part of it with my readers.  I’m putting this in a list format and we’ll talk more about these over the next few months.

Two Quilt Shows I’m planning to attend.  Will you be there?

  • Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival 22 Feb-27 Feb.  I’m hopeful of having my current quilt in this show.  I’m also hoping one of my friends will be accompanying me.
  • International Quilt Festival in Houston, Nov 7-11.  Again, I am working on a quilt for this show.  We’ll see if I make it on time.  But I also am planning on entering Pendragon in this show.

Classes/Workshops I’m Developing…Not sure where or even if these will happen, but I’ll let you know along the way:

  • Basic free motion quilting for the new sit-down quilter
  • (Intermediate) Organic Free Motion and Other Quilting
  • A Demo-Lecture on Surface Design and Embellishment for Fabric Art
  • Machine Applique…Multiple Methods and When to Use Each One
  • Make a Quilted Bag

Books already started I hope to finish:

  • Quilting for Fabric Art
  • Machine Applique…Multiple Methods and When to Use Each One
  • Surface Design and Embellishment for Fabric Art

And most importantly quilts I am making or hope to make in 2018:

  • The one for MAQF (it’s a secret until after the judging, then I will blog about it)
  • Bayou quilt based on Joel Christopher Paynes artwork I bought the right for one quilt
  • A fourth, and possibly fifth, deep space quilt.  I hope to get the fourth one made for MQX East to celebrate its space theme
  • I have a bunch more show quilts, so we will see what I manage to make beyond the three above.
  • Several utility quilts, including one for my own bed and periodically make up a fast charity quilt.
  • I have dropped two sizes in 2017, still have a long ways to go, but I need to make a few nice new clothing items for me.

Sew Happy in the New Year Everyone!  May your dreams be met, your life be full of love, and your year fun and simply lovely!

By the way, I need some funds to help me keep my dreams for 2018 going, so I am hoping to sell several of my quilts this year to finance my attending the Houston show and keep me in stitches (LOL) and make room in my house for more.  You can see which ones on my website gallery…just scroll over the quilt and you can see the price and size.  Contact me if you are interested in one and maybe we can work something out that suits your budget.  I’ve instituted a lay away plan for the quilts.

 

 

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.