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!

My First Book

Hello gentle readers, I am very happy to tell you that my first book “Ten Skill-Building Projects for Bernina V7” has been published. Yesterday’s launch was a nice start with it ending up the day and starting today as #1 New Release in Embroidery on Amazon, and just recently was listed as #1 New Release in Sewing on Amazon!  I can only guess that they don’t have very many releases in those two categories, but I will be happy to celebrate this as a successful release.

So here’s the link:  Ten Skill-Building Projects for Bernina V7  I am also working on a similar book for V8.

This is a really nice ending to the week.  I caught a beast of a cold on or about New Year’s Eve, and only recently began to feel like a normal human being again, though I still have the occasional cough.  Sew now that I am back to working level human I am launching into the new projects I listed in my last blog.  Today I have been working on my bed quilt project.  It’s a pretty applique quilt using a Sue Nickels pattern, something entirely out of my usual flower box.  😄 This is my low stress level project for the first part of 2019 and I am looking forward to having this pretty quilt on my bed.

While I was battling the cold, I painted the mountainous background of my train quilt and sent the design to Fabrics on Demand for a full sized printout (48 x 35.5 inches) on cotton.  So I didn’t entirely lose the days I was sick.  LOL

I hope you are all having a good launch to your 2019.  I would love to hear from you about what you are working on.

Sew happy everyone!  Encourage your family and friends and give them all a lot of love.

Happy 2019! Let’s Make this a Wonderful Year!

I always love the beginning of a new year.  It is like turning a page on a well-worn journal that may not have worked out like we wanted and finding a crisp new space to fill with fabulous adventures. As some of my long-term readers probably realize, I like to publish my creative goals in my blogs and then see how much of them I can accomplish.  It’s a challenge!

For 2019 I have four avenues for fabric and thread play planned and the timing has worked out so I am at the beginning of them all, which makes it all the more exciting.

  1. Landscape quilts, using a variety of applique techniques, threads, couched yarns and roving I hope to develop  pictorial quilts with a lot of dimension. I don’t know how many of these I will make, but I have two already planned–think “train” and the little Bob Ross challenge by Cherrywood Fabrics…and I hope to make more.  I am thinking of developing a book on these techniques along the way, now that I know I can publish my own highly-illustrated books with some degree of professionalism.
  2. Experimental quilt(s), developing a couple of wild ideas I have had floating around for a while.  These include first of all polyester crepe-back satin which will also include some in-the-hoop embroidery that I digitize myself on Bernina design software V8 and develop a Ten Skill-Building Projects for Bernina v8, as an update to my new book on v7, that will be coming early in January. And secondly, seeing what I can do with some of the really beautiful commercial panels available and/or develop some background panels of my own for sale.  Both of these things offer real possibilities for quilters with limited budgets, time, or confidence. Blogs will be coming.
  3. Workshops, that I will be teaching a repeat to the ones on developing fabric art that I taught at G Street Fabrics this past fall and will be adding a basic ruler work workshop…all scheduled for April and May already.  I am all ready for the first three except for making a few additional kits, and I still have to make the sample and kits for the ruler workshop…one week of preparation should do the trick.
  4. Videos showing especially working with my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm and possibly more.  I have all the equipment, and this week I successfully went through the whole process to come out with one really terrible video, but I now know the process and will be practicing until I get it all just right.  I hope to share these as inspiration for people here on my blog.

I am very excited about all this. It may seem too much, but I don’t think it is given how I hope to build quilt projects together with books, blogs, and videos, getting multiple uses out of the same work with only a small addition of work. We’ll see…(oh! and I also will be continuing the work on my appliqued quilt using a Sue Nickel‘s pattern I am making for my bed, but that’s just for relaxation and fun).

I was inspired to tackle improvements in my landscape quilts first by Bethanne Nemesh’s videos on yarn couching on her own quilts, then by the success I had in using yarn couching for tree limbs and 12 weight wool threads on my Night on the Bayou quilt for producing Spanish Moss, and finally by my purchase of the Bernina attachment for my little Bernina 350 that does needle punch.  So I am going to put all this together with the applique quilting and embellishment techniques I already do and see what comes out.

I was also interested in how well a little testing of the leftovers of the crepe-back heavy satin I used for my coat did in quilting that I feel I need to make at least one and possibly more quilts using this product.  I think it offers some great possibilities and it’s a lot cheaper than the now-discontinued silk/cotton Radiance.  The every day quilter with a limited budget may find this a wonderful way to go. We’ll see, and I will write about it, at least in my blog if not a whole book.

Sew happy everyone.  Peace and love be yours as we begin 2019. Encourage those around you. Let’s make this a wonderful year full of peace, love, and yes, fun! May God bless you and yours.  Let the celebrations begin!

Happy Thanksgiving and Other Things

Hi everyone.  I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. I am very thankful for my wonderful family, friends, and my readers.  I was thinking about it the other day as I was pressing a section of the (seemingly never-ending project) overcoat.  I dug out my special pressing things I have had for years for use in making clothing…my ham, my sleeve pressing board, my shaped wood pressing piece.  I haven’t used them for a couple of years and I am grateful I did not get rid of them because of that.  I am grateful for my machines and my wonderful inspiring studio, no matter that it is a bit of a mess.

My thoughts today are also with those who have lost so much in recent disasters both hurricanes and fires.  I  just want to hug you all and wish you all a speedy  and full recovery.  I am trying to figure out the best approach for helping.  I don’t have a lot of cash to contribute and I know rushing to send stuff is sometimes more of a problem than a help in the end.  For now, I’m doing some praying and watching for what, if anything, I can do.

Sew how is my overcoat coming?  Well, I have completed the outer shell and am almost finished with the lining that includes the fur collar.  To me, the biggest challenge is getting that fur collar installed in the coat.  Sewing with this thick fur is not the easiest thing and requires some special techniques even it if is “faux” fur.  I think that will happen tomorrow afternoon or Monday.  Then I will be practically done except for hems and buttonholes, so it is looking like I will make my Thanksgiving deadline.  After that…back to quilt making and book writing, and I am looking forward to it.  The coat has been more of a project than I anticipated largely because of the challenging fabrics.  The fabulous wool is, nevertheless, loosely woven in a way that closely resembles hand woven fabric.  the fur collar is fabulous faux fur, but sewing with it is also challenging.  Nevertheless, I will be happy to have this beautiful coat.  It is going to be a little snug, but since I am in the process of losing weight I think that is the way it should be fitted at this time.  It will serve me well for several years even as I go down in size (I can move the buttons and I made the sleeve/side seems such I can take them up fairly easily).  My next fashion sewing project will be with well-behaving fabrics!!!

Sew happy everyone!  Have a wonderful time this week!

 

 

 

Workshops, Books, and Near Magic

On Workshops

I have one more workshop to teach of my three-part series on basic fabric art techniques.  The last one will be held at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland on 27 October and is on Organic Free Motion Quilting.  The class will quilt a prepared quilt sampler sandwich, and hopefully they will all leave with the same sense that one of my students said about the last class that “this has been a really good class and I feel so much more comfortable with my machine.”

Sew I have all the kits almost prepared, though I still have to put together six more sandwiches that are already cut, marked, and prepared, which should take me only about another hour.

So I have been asked by G Street to return for another round of these same classes next spring, and to add at least one more on ruler work.  I agreed to do that.

Drawing used to digitize the applique project.

On Books

While I was there, my friend and dealer talked me into finishing my 10 Skill-Building Projects for Bernina design V7 software book.  I had nearly finished it when Bernina came out with v8 and put it aside at that time, but I had shown it to her recently.  She said there are lots of people out there who are still using v7.  I decided she is right and maybe I won’t make much money with it, but someone may find it useful.  It does seem too bad to not publish it after all that work. She said then maybe I could maybe buy v8 at a sale price  and do another one for that software.  I’m considering that and think I probably will do that.

But I did open the file for the v7 book to see how much I have to do, and I think I can finish the manuscript in a matter of a few weeks. I only have one more chapter and I have to make one more stitch-out for photographs in addition to whatever I do for the last project.

Sew that made me look at the other book that covers the same fabric arts techniques presented in my three workshops only much more extensively, and that is not too far away from completion either.  And in fact, I even think I have nearly all the samples made that only needs photographing for the book.

I have a third book in the works also on surface design and embellishment…but it’s a ways away from completion.

I’ve been working on these three books off and on for years and it’s high time I get them finished and published.

On Near Magic

I know how frustrating computer software and computerized machines can be sometimes.  I also know that if they work, or if I actually figure out how they work, they can enormously enhane my ability to accomplish things, or accomplish them faster or better.  The more I learn the more I realize it’s nearly magical.  I also know that most of the problems I have with them is because I don’t really know how to use them right or don’t know all the cool things they will do that I can use.

I have been taking a class in Corel Painter this past couple of months and I have learned an enormous amount.  This will be a major help in my design work and it’s lots and lots of fun too.

For some unknown reason I am sometimes compelled to share what I have learned, which is why I am developing workshops, writing books, and sharing this blog.  I am going to add to those the making of videos.  My oldest son has outfitted me with all the equipment I need to do some simple videos and podcasts.  I have been practicing video making so those will happen sometime soon.

It may seem that I am getting in over my head, and am going to be overwhelmed, but while that may be, a lot of the work for quilts, books, workshops, and videos has multiple uses.  If I make samples and develop methods for a book, I can use the same thing in a workshop and video.  I can use my quilts or parts of them as some of the illustrations.  So it’s kind of like working on everything at once.  Magic, see?  Hahahaha

And I haven’t forgotten my show quilts.  Just today I worked on a pattern for one of my planned show quilts.  I won’t share this one until it is mostly done, but just think “trains”.

Sew happy everyone.  Share what you have learned with someone.  Happy new quilting season!

 

Report on Quilts Back Home from PNQE

Last Tuesday my two quilts that were in Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza came home.  As you probably know by now Wizards’ Duel got a blue ribbon as Best Interpretation of Theme and Night on the Bayou did not place.  PNQE is a Mancuso show and they usually provide comments that are often helpful and sometimes just a little depressing.  This time, I got wonderful comments on both quilts and I wanted to share with you, gentle readers.

Wizards’ Duel

For this quilt I placed it in the Innovative category.  They don’t have an all art-quilt or all pictorial quilt category.

(E=Excellent S=Satisfactory N=Needs Improvement NA=Not Applicable)

I got all Es for their set items:

DESIGN

  • Artistic Impression/Graphic Impact
  • Use of Design/Pattern in Quilt Top -balance, proportion, scale – balance, proportion, scale
  • Use of Color & Fabric – pleasing, value contrast, scale of fabric
  • Degree of Difficulty
  • Quilting Design – enhances top, is sufficient
  • Innovation/Creativity

WORKMANSHIP

  • Piecing/Applique – precision, stitches, shadow-through
  • Quilting Technique – even stitches, making stops and starts

Best Features of this Quilt (handwritten comments)

Visual impact of radiating center. Very innovative use of embellishments.  Good interpretation of theme

Areas that needs improvement (handwritten comment)

Nothing!

Ok, so I don’t think I have ever had a quilt where judges’ comments are provided that actually said “Nothing!” for areas that need improvement.  Here is where I have often managed to save a quilt to go on to other shows that made them place.  Indeed, this very quilt was shown at Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival and my quilting and treatment of the rocks was called down as needing improvement. So I improved them between shows, and it clearly paid off.  Sometimes I disagree with judges’ comments and in such cases dismiss the comment.  This would be when my artistic opinion conflicts with theirs, but I have also gotten really good and helpful advice from such suggestions.  Judges for this quilt were Augusta Cole and Marjan Kluepfel

Night on the Bayou

For this quilt I placed it in the Wall Quilt category and the grade sheet had the same categories and grading system, except the judges wrote in G=Very Good and gave me all Gs on all the categories!!!  Harrrumph!  Not only did they choose the nonexistent G for all the categories, their grades seemed to compete a bit with their comments. See what you think.

Best Features of this Quilt (handwritten comments)

  •  Absolutely LOVE the moss hanging from the trees!! Beautifully executed
  • Well chosen quilting designs enhance visual texture of tress vs water vs sky
  • Splotches of orange lights prevent monotony from happening

Areas that needs improvement (handwritten comments)

  • Some surface distortion noted [I can probably fix this with a new and better blocking and hopefully dryer and cooler weather for future shipping…I think it was caused by the hot very humid weather for shipment, coupled with the heavy yarn and thread treatments]
  • Perspective is good but not quite perfect [uhhh…artistic opinion and I submit that art quilting in particular is never “perfect” anywhere. She might have been more impressed if I had been able to get more moonlight filtering through the trees as my friend who attended the show suggested.  I’ll see if I can accomplish that before sending it out again. For the most part, the paint just sinks into the quilt on this fabric]

Sew what do you think about this?  I was really pleased, even with the comments on the Bayou quilt.  I was not pleased with having a whole scale special grade that was less than “excellent” on all the categories and that then conflicted with some of the comments. I can only think at least one of the judges is a person who has a really hard time rating anything as “perfect”.  I can guess which judge this came from, but will not say.  The judges for this quilt were Dierdra McElroy and Bobbie Bergquist

If you look up all four judges you will find that none of them are art or pictorial quilters.  They are all four traditional and a couple specialize in hand quilting, which should tell you something about how far they had to stretch their view of quilts to make a judgement call on the art and pictorial quilts and therefore, I think they did a fine job.  All four of them.  It’s a hard job when faced with such fabulous quilts throughout a national or international show.

Sew overall, I am happy, and now believe both quilts have the potential to bring in some nice ribbons from future shows.  I’m going to have to do some choreography in placing them.  Houston rejected Wizards’ Duel, but that was before I fixed the rocks.  I think perhaps I need a new set of pictures for both of them.  Pictures make a big difference in what a show will take.

Sew happy everyone! I wish you fun in your studio or office and that you be surrounded with love.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.