Sizzling Hot in the Studio

We certainly are having a heat wave! My studio Fritz is the warmest room in my home.  This is where my longarm sitdown Bernina Q20 and my computer setup lives. I also have Studio Gibbs, where I store my fabrics and where my Bernina 880 Plus lives, and there is little Studio Betsy, where my little Bernina 350 and my old Baby Lock Serger lives in one part of my bedroom.  These rooms are all on the top floor of my home. It’s over 100 outside, supposedly it feels like 117 here in Ashburn, Virginia, right now and is very humid. Our AC is good, but is struggling to keep up for the upper floor.

So I am working down in my main level on my laptop writing this blog and doing some planning for some videos for YouTube I hope to make. I finally have gathered all the cameras, software, and so forth I need for that and am currently getting it all setup and figuring out how to run it all.

  • I now have three cameras and several tripods and clamp-on holders.
  • My son Ken gave me two of the cameras and a gadget he made with a remote that attaches to the wall so I can focus one camera over my island where I cut, do some paint/dying, and can even set up some ironing.  That will allow me to show a lot of things flat from above.  I still have to install that on the wall, but that should be easy and I will probably get that done tomorrow.
  • I will be able to use two cameras surrounding wherever I am working, which is always a great help when you are trying to show techniques involving sewing.
  • I have a nice video editor from Corel that I have been studying how to use and trying to set up some templates for the videos. This allows me to use multiple cameras in a single video.
  • I also now have a webcam, a clip on microphone, and  even some stuff I haven’t yet figured out that Ken gave me. hahahaha  I think some of it assembles into a device that I can hang a background or a green screen on.

I guess when you ask a tech-oriented family to help you get setup for videos, they think well beyond your own simple thoughts into a reasonably professional production set for the self producer.  LOL.  I may need some help doing some of the videos, but I think I will be able to do most of them alone once all is set up.  I’m hoping to get this all done this week, but we’ll see.

It is a great blessing, and I am thrilled, but it is taking me some time to figure it all out.  I figure I need to do some plans…not really a script but maybe some talking point and gather the pieces for the projects and other videos I will be showing.  I’ve been planning this for several years and am finally getting it all put together.

So in the late afternoons when it is too hot upstairs I will work on scripts or guides or whatever they should be called.

That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about my production setup, but at least I have it all recorded so I can possibly figure out what I’m doing…hahaha.

My plan is to produce videos, books, and downloadables for intermediate to somewhat advanced people interested in advancing their fabric art/quilted art.  After doing some research there appears to be a plethora of these informative things for beginners, but a bit of a gap for the intermediate and above people.

I will be presenting what I have learned over the past sixty years of sewing and sixteen years of quilting (overlapping), while acknowledging there are many ways of doing things but these are the techniques I like.  I feel compelled to share this before I age out to the point I can’t.  Some of it will be free, and some will be for sale at reasonable prices.  I hope to get this fully launched at least by September, and there will probably be a few videos within a few weeks.

These are the main categories I am planning on addressing:

  1. Working with a sitdown longarm…quilting, free motion thread work, couching, and a few specifics for the Bernina Q20.
  2. Using high end sewing machines with all those wonderful things they open up to the fabric artist, going beyond the obvious.
  3. What you can do in-the-hoop embroidery and more on the Bernina software V8 to go along with my book I already have published.
  4. Projects that use multi media techniques and/or take advantage of a studio that has both a high-end 9 mm sewing machine and a sit down longarm and even occassionally includes a little 5 mm sewing machine.
  5. I am hoping to develop workbooks, project books, and patterns for sale to go with some of this. I’ve been working on these this past year but I still have a ways to go,

So there you are.  I will not be teaching out of my home for some time, so I thought it was really time to push forward with this plan that has been in my thoughts for years.

Sew happy everyone! Let me know if you have a particular technique or some such you wish you could learn more about.  Maybe I can work it in.  Stay happy everyone…go do some sewing or drawing or reading or watching of videos or just chilling. Cheers.

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Fixing Things

I know that sometimes things go awry with my quilted art projects no matter how hard I try to keep things on track.  Usually, though not always, it is entirely my fault.  But sometimes, it is a machine or tool misbehaving.  This week it was my bobbin case, or rather the little spring in my bobbin case.  Fortunately, I had a spare, but I was not good about trying that until I had exhausted all the other reasons I was getting nasty big nested wads on the back of my quilt.

It started with just an occassional nest, and got progressively worse.  In the end, before I was about to decide there was something seriously wrong with my Bernina Q20 (Fritz) sitdown longarm, it looked like this:

back when bobbin spring broke down.

Sew I made every step and tried many things.  I cleaned, oiled, flossed out the thread path, and blew out the bobbin area.  I took the bobbin out and put in a fresh bobbin.  I took out the magic bobbin washer I usually use and tried that.  I put it back in and tried that.  I reset the bobbin tension, and yes, it was way off for some reason, and tried that.  I changed the needle, I changed the top thread.  It got better periodically, and I thought we were ok, so I went back to quilting. Unfortunately, it started misbehaving badly again (it looked great on the top but I could feel and hear it everytime it made a nest).  So I stopped.  I prayed about it.  It was especially important that I could fix it myself since my Bernina shop is closed right now.

And then I remembered that I had bought a spare bobbin case spring because I had read on one of my facebook groups that is something people should have on hand for the Bernina Q20/Q24 longarms.  I replaced the spring on the bobbin, rethreaded everything, and reset to default settings, just in case. I still got thread nests…and was about to give up, but I decided to doublecheck the tension on the bobbin again.  When I took the bobbin case out, I found the bobbin was in upside down!  Hahahaha.  I must have done that the last time I took it out and put it back.  So I put it in right, rechecked the bobbin tension and tried again.  What do you know!  It worked.  It sewed cleanly and beautifully without any problems.  So I readjusted the tension and stitch length to my preferred settings and sewed for a full half day with no problems.  It is still sewing well.  The spring didn’t seem to be that far flattened, but it was flatter and less bouncy than the new one. I know the bobbin was in right for most of my attempts to fix the nests.  I had to laugh at myself.

Sew now I am left with the ten or so inches of the quilting on my border of the quilt that I have to unstitch, or unstitch at least a good part of it and restitch.  I hate unstitching and it’s hard to do!  So I have to make some decisions here on what I have to actually do.  The location of this batch of bad quilting is in the lower right corner, right where a label should go.  So I can hide at least some of the bad back stitches under a label, cutting off a good portion of the nests.  In the process of all of this, I used a different thread for the actual large feather on that section of the border than I did for the second one on the other side of the lower border.  The first thread is lighter and needs to be removed, because the darker new thread looks much better.  So I will have to remove the whole feather.  Sigh.  I am not having much success at this.  This portion stitched well and I find the stitches hard to pick out. It is slow.  Sigh! But I will persist.

This all brings up the topic of fixing things on your quilted art pieces.  There are things to consider when deciding to unstitch and other things that can be done some of the time.

  1. Is the project a show quilt or show garment or for other professional use? If so, it must be fixed.
  2. Does the problem really make the item less desireable for personal use or a gift?
  3. Can you somehow cover up the problem with appliques, false back sections (shows do not accept false backs on show quilts), back appliques that add fun or beauty, or hide with paint?
  4. Is it even possible to fix the problem? If not, can you use the item in some alternative way?

Sew happy everyone!  Hang in there.  We really are going to come to the end of this trying time and things will get better again.  We may have even learned a lot of interesting life lessons from all of this.  I am, in fact, really pretty excited about the fall and winter quilting and quilt show season that is before us.  I am already working on it.  How about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upcoming Fun Events and the “Leather” Coat Project

Hi everybody!  I have several items of news, which some of you already know about if you read by Facebook posts, but I’ll tell you anyway.

First of all my Embellish This! workshop at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, MD suffered a delay because on my way to the planned workshop my car quit running.  I was on the toll road and right at an exit that went downhill, which was quite a good thing since I was able to coast off the exit ramp onto a generous grassy side and was completely out of harms way.  Turns out it was some kind of air hose had come disconnected for no known reason and that was all.  But the nice AAA tow truck rescuer towed the car and gave me a ride all the way back to my preferred car repair place and they fixed it for nothing and did the annual checkup at the same time, which revealed I needed new brake pads and a new belt of some kind.  I did get those fixed the next day.  So the new class date is now December 15 and there are still places left, and I would like to fill them.  A full class is a happy class!  This class will be totally fun and result in a top that could be made into a nice wall hanging or pillow for a Christmas present and leaves you with a lot of knowledge of the techniques needed to embellish your projects.

Embellish This! workshop sampler for December 2019 class.

Secondly, I have been, as you know from my past several blogs, making a faux leather, aka “leather” coat for my youngest son David, who is a big and tall man of noble stature.  You can read the past two blogs to get an idea of what this entails, but I will say that it has been the hardest thing I have ever made in my entire sixty plus years of sewing!  And no, it wasn’t difficult just because it is “leather”.  The “leather is fairly easy to sew with, but it is black and slightly shiny and you can’t take anything out if the stitches are going to show.  But I had made the Frankenpattern from three patterns and then did a substantial amount of size changing.

I have only got the hems and the buttons to go on this project. I just had a fitting with David and it looks fabulous, fits perfectly, and I am surprised after all the struggle I had getting it right.  Partly it was difficult because it has been decades since I made anything tailored for a man.  Partly it was difficult because some of the pattern needed so much adjusting.  Partly it was difficult because I made several stupid mistakes (probably lack of practice) that resulted in my having to recut the right front piece along with its pocket pieces, and the collar, which didn’t lay properly (I used the Burda pattern collar and it was probably right if I had been working in wool, but it did not work for “leather”, so I remade it.  But anyway, I am down to the hems and buttons and I am happy.  Only one more day of sewing on it and it will be complete.  I discovered it is hard to work on it beyond 4 or 5 pm  because I have to rely a lot on the light coming in my studio window for this black shiny fabric.  Once the light oustide goes down the artificial light makes it simply too hard to see.  This is why I made the mistake on the front pocket that made me have to remake the front and its pocket, and I was too stubborn to stop sewing.  But I learned the hard way…LOL.

And now for the really fun news.  My quilt The Wizards’ Duel got into Road to California quilt show in Ontario, California, which is relatively close to San Diego where my brother Pat and his wife Carol have one of their homes, and where my nephew Whitlow and his family live.  Now since I had to purchase a new machine the middle of this year (you can read about that in several previous blogs..it was necessary) and have had some additional unexpected expenses this year, I told Pat I was unable to come out to see him and go to the show around that time, but that my quilt had gotten into the show.  The next day, he called me back and let me know that Carol and he were going to give me the plane ticket and most of the expenses for the trip for a nice ten day visit with them!  You could have blown me over with a feather!  He and Carol are going to drive us up to Ontario on Wednesday night before the show and stay all day Thursday and the morning of Friday!  They have been to the show themselves whenever I had a quilt in the show and it will really be fun for us to go together!  So I now have the ticket reservations, we managed to get into one of the preferred hotels, and the tickets for the show.  How about all of that?!  What a lovely present from my dear SIL and brother (it was her idea I was told)!

Wizards’ Duel.  Since this picture I have improved the mountainous rocks in the scene per a judge’s suggestion at MAQF.  I then sent it to PA Nat’l Quilt Extravaganza and it won a blue ribbon (Best Interpretation of Theme) and had wonderful comments from the judges.  R2CA will be the third show it will be shown in.  I entered it into several AQS shows but they rejected it from all of them for unknown reasons.  Perhaps I should have had it rephotographed, because the rocks make a difference and the flash made the bottom scroll work too bright.

So in my blog from Nov 2, I so confidently laid out grand plans for November in which I would do a lot of clothing sewing and end up with a refreshment to my wardrobe and David’s coat.  I had thought David’s coat would take about a week and a half, but it has gobbled up all of November.  These things happen, but now I have to decide whether to keep on with the clothing sewing or go back to quilting and fit the clothes in a little at a time across the winter and early spring.  I think I will do a little bit of both, in light of my trip to California and the fact that I have lost a full size over the past year.  If I make one pair of slacks at least I will greatly improve my traveling wardrobe.  I would also benefit if I could fit in a jacket…either the jeans jacket or the faux suede jacket with lots of embroidery.  I’m inclined to do one of those also.  both have embroidery and would be fun to flaunt at the show.  I KNOW they won’t take very long because the patterns are already fitted and don’t require massive refits.  I looked at my wardrobe and figured I can get by with just the slacks addition.  Sew we’ll see.  Nevertheless, I will still make all the items I listed for my November sewing plans but will spread them out over three or so months in between the quilting because I need them.  BUT, I WANT TO FINISH MY MOM’S MEMORY QUILT!!! LOL Not to mention I want to make several additional show quilts for 2020.  We’ll see how it goes.  And don’t forget, I’m working on books.

Sew happy everyone!  Even if you end up having to struggle through a project, make something wonderful for you or your family.  Stretch your sewing and quilting skills a little further.  Send me pictures and I’ll post some of them here if you would like.  Also, you are free to ask me questions if you run into difficulties.  I know a lot (just a fact, not a brag). LOL

 

 

Satin Sampler

OK.  I have been working out a satin sampler to test markers, techniques, threads, paints, and background designs for several projects, one being my Mom’s memory quilt.  The cool thing about this is that I am making it with polyester crepe back satin.  It has a lovely beefy hand and I wanted to test it for future projects.  Why?  Partly because I can get a 58 inch wide piece for about $5 per yard for a lighter hand up to $8 a yard for a heavy satin instead of the $17 to $40 a yard for 43″ wide fabric, and partly because there are some wonderful colors available in the polyester that don’t run when washed.  I am using the heavy polyester crepe back satin for this sampler.  I will be making it into a pillow top for my bedroom since I can tell I will like it when finished.

Sew I have layered it with a cotton backing, and a double bat of Quilter’s Dream 80/20 select loft on bottom and Quilter’s Dream wool on top.  I marked it with a heat-away gel pen (see my blog on marker testing for this satin) that I do not recommend unless you are prepared to go through a removal process that requires much effort and time.  This ink returns when frozen (such as in the airplane when you check your luggage or ship it someplace). Also, my marker testing is incomplete, because I want to finish the sampler, freeze it, and completely test the removal process again on this sandwiched piece. I am quilting it with 40 weight Superior Magnifico and, where needed, 100 weight microquilter.

I painted this sampler with a combination of Setacolor and Jacquard Lumier fabric paints in order to get the colors I wanted.  Their steadfastness will also be tested in the freezing/washing test.

Here is a little look at my work on this little sampler thus far.  I am really having fun with this.  While most of the stitch work has been on my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm, some very small amount was done on my new B 880 Plus machine, just to see how it quilts.  LOL

 

 

So my conclusion about good quality polyester crepe back satin as a quilting fabric…it works, it’s beautiful, and it both paints and quilts well.  I do back it with a very light weight pellon fusible to make it behave well.

* * * * * * *

Something I didn’t tell you all earlier is that just after I got Odette all sorted out with a new machine from Bernina because the first one seemed to have a serious problem, I made a mistake in threading it and got a huge glob of thread nest in it that I could not remove myself.  So I had to take it in to the dealer to get it fixed.  It made me weep. I was really gloomy when I found that Lew, the magical tech guy, was out for two weeks and so I had to wait.  He fixed it almost imediately when he got back and I got it safely home on Tuesday and have done considerable sewing and embroidery on it since then.  It is clearly a wonderful machine.  It was my mistake, and I have since figured out what I did wrong (with Lew’s suggestions).  I didn’t want to whine again or have people tell me I was wrong to buy it in the first place because their prefered brand works so much better they think.

Anyway, that meant that I was without my main sewing machine for nearly three months with the exception of a day or two twice!!!  So I did a lot of sewing on my little Bernina 350 and a lot of free motion work on my Q20, and a lot of non-machine prep work for future projects, and stacked up quite a bit of work for the new machine.  I will, therefore, be missing a few deadlines I had tentatively planned on.

I have begun attacking the stack of work and have been having a huge amount of fun and the icy fear of further machine problems has begun to melt away over the past week.  In addition to some “regular” sewing, I did some in-the-hoop embroidery last week that came out so perfect and beautiful that I was nearly weeping again, this time in joy.  You should know that I seldom cry for anything much, and am known as a “tough old bird” as one of my former colleagues told me.  But this machine saga seems to have loosened a few tears from me.

Sew happy everyone!  May your stitches be beautiful and your machines play well with you for many years.  Hugs to you all!

 

Making Samplers

I am writing a book on embellishment techniques and have a plethora of samplers to make for this book.  I will also be using examples from some of my show quilts.  One of the projects in my book includes  several samplers teaching how to make trees using couching and a variety of interesting decorative threadwork.The starry night in the winter forest scene above is almost complete.  I still have to bind it and add hot fix crystals in the sky.  But I thought I would show you what I have on this little sampler, which I stitched on with no premarking.  This is such a fun activity to just sit down with a small quilt sandwich and play.  Initially I had planned just to practice and test some tree making in preparation for this sampler, but I liked it and decided to just trim it down and make it one of the samplers.

  • The two front larger trees are couched on sport weight yarns using a couching foot #43 on my Bernina Q20 and white 100 weight Microquilter by Superior Threads with Bottom Line in the bobbin. (Q20 settings: net on the cone, bobbin tension 180 with a magic silicone bobbin washerover the spring, top tension 1.50, threaded across the silicone gadget with the pink liquid, 80/12 universal needle (note…for small thin 100 weight and monopoly threads the universal needles work best, because the top stitching needles I normally use tend to “step on” the thread and break it instantly.  This is true whatever machine you us).
  • The middle tree, though you can’t tell in this picture, is sparkly silver Ricky Tims Razzle Dazzle by Superior that I couched on also with the couching foot #43 using a silver Superior metallic thread in the top (same settings except top tension is 3.0 and needle is 90/14 titanium top stitch Superior).
  • Then I free motion stitched the two smaller back trees using Aurifil 12 weight wool/acrylic blend thread and a 100/18 top stitch needle (Bottom line bobbin set as above, top tension 3.0, spi 9, bsr1,  100/18 top stitch titanium Superior neeedle, threaded as normal, stitched slowly, use a tooth cleaning threader to thread the aurifil thread through the take up bar hole and the needle).  Clean and oil your machine after using wool blend thread.
  • After that, I free motion stitched with Superior metallic thread the lines showing the hilly shapes, ruler stitched the moon shape, and painted the moon with Setacolor paints.
  • Then I used 100 weight black Microquilter (set as in the first dot section) and did a simple stipple all over the quilt and outlined the trees.

I encourage you to try such a sampler.  It can make either a neat Christmas decoration once all the crystals are placed on it, or you could add a halloween pumpkin or owl applique for Halloween.



Progress on Mom’s memory quilt:

Now that I have it all designed, I decided I had to make a sampler to practice everything especially on the satin part of the quilt where I will have pictographs of flowers, birds, and embroidered items that are related to Mom’s interests.

So I managed to get all the marks out of the test piece when I used the heat away pen after a four hour soak and a cold water wash in Synthrapol and finally a reironing to take away the last of the marks, which were very light at this point.  I then refroze it thinking they would come back but they did not.  I will retest this on the sampler when I am finished with it.  This is the kind of treatments you have to do when your fabrics or thread colors bleed onto your quilt, so I do not recommend the use of these pens except in very rare circumstances and after much testing.  I plan on making a decorative pillow for my bed with this sampler.

Sew I thought the hardest part would be to quilt the pictographs, but I found that to be really fun and, while time consuming, they were fairly easy to do at a slow stitch with my Q20 using BSR1, spi 12, and Magnifico 40 wt thread by Superior, and a 90/14 top stitch titanium needle with top tension 3.5 and bottom line in the bobbin at 180 tension.  Now I am working on figuring out the background, but first I will be doing really really tiny scribble stitching for about a quarter inch out from the edges of all the pictographs with 100 wt thread to set them apart and make them look like trapunto.

I am using a double bat on this quilt (80/20 thin bottom and wool on top), a cotton backing, a beefy polyester crepe backed satin and two colors of polyester dupioni.  But the only pictograph quilting is only on the ivory satin.  Here are the sampler pictographs.  I think it is coming along really well, but I am puzzled about what kind of background I am going to put on the white.  I am thinking of using walking foot stitching with some simple decorative stitches on my 880 plus in some kind of grid work, but I am not sure yet.  One thing at a time on this project. LOL  It’s hard to see in this picture, and it looks like there is more problem with fabric management than there is, but here is the sampler so far.

Sew happy everyone!  Take some time to play on some samplers that you might want to use or just throw out later.  It gives you the freedom to try things you might be hesitant to do on a full quilt project.  Cheers.

 

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!

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 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.

An Exhibit of My Quilts at G Street Fabrics

I am enjoying a new fabric adventure into the world of exhibiting of the body of my art quilting work at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, which is a two-part exhibit.  The first part is in the Bernina section of the store.  The second part will start in mid-July and my quilts will be displayed throughout the store.  I believe this part will run for an additional two months and I am hoping to complete several new quilts for this part.  So in effect, my quilts will be on display from now through August.

Yesterday I took eight of my quilts over to the store for part one. This part includes all three of my Ancient Manuscript quilts, four of my Hoffman Challenge quilts that demonstrate my growth as a quilter from 2008 to 2013, and Dad’s House Plan from 2013.  I had such a good time while I was there and am very excited about this two-part exhibit.  I am honored that G Street Fabrics wants to do this exhibit for me.

In June, I will be teaching a three hour workshop on quilting there at G Street…primarily free motion quilting but I am also going to briefly talk about quilting with a walking foot. Sometime while my quilts are there I will be providing a walking lecture around the store to talk about my quilts and related things in the store.

G Street is a wonderful store.  It is getting better all the time after it clearly moved to save itself from failing.  It closed two stores in Virginia to my chagrin and moved from it’s old Rockville location to its new one.  The new store is less showy and slightly smaller than the old Rockville one, but I looked over it yesterday and found it has a fine selection of fabrics and notions and seemed busy again.  It also has a kind of interesting atmosphere similar to some fabric stores I encountered in New York years ago…not flashy, but full of wonderful things for the sewist, quilter, and fabric artists of all kinds.  The Bernina section is in a setting like its own store, and it has a wonderful set of classrooms for teaching.  They have a Bernina Q24 longarm set up in the store that is available for in-store rental of time on the longarm.  And Lew is the best Bernina tech I have ever encountered over my many years of sewing on Berninas.  I encourage you to go pay it a visit if you are ever in the area, or even make a trip there if you are close enough.  You can even order from them online.

Sew happy everyone!  I hope you can make it to G Street and see my exhibits.   I better get to work…I have several new quilts in the works for the second part of the exhibit!

A Word About My Art Quilting and Some Early Quilts

                  Fandance by Moonlight. Hoffman Challenge

2008This is my very first show quilt and you can see the scotch tape on my photograph…LOL.  So you can see my professional side of show quilting has grown as well as my quilt making abilities.

As I prepare for my upcoming exhibit of my work at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, one of the things they wanted was for me to provide my Hoffman Challenge quilts, which, if you look at them carefully, you can see my progress as both an artist and a quilter from year to year.  Unlike some of my quilty friends who make a quilt, enter it, and win big, I have struggled, indeed still struggle, to move my art quilting to a truly professional level, but it has been fun along the way. I love making art in fabrics, threads, and paints.  I think my artist side has been a little slower in developing than my quilting techniques, but I’m working on it.

“Equipped to Stand” 2012
Even though I can now see many flaws in both the design and the quilting making techniques on this quilt, I still love it. I would never send this quilt out for show today, but we all learn. They let it into several shows and the judges were sweet about it and their remarks didn’t bash me down to the point I quit quilting.  Unlike this photo, it is square and relatively flat, though I had to undo a lot of it to get a wave out of it.  You can see it was not all that long ago.  I have come a looong ways from here.  If they had torn it apart, I might have quit.

To me, an art quilt needs to have a lot of elements come together to make it good and this is what I am always striving for. Starting with the basic design concept  I draw the concept while considering balance, value, color, placement, perspective, and simply artistic appeal.  I am constantly attempting to learn more about all this through practice, books (some left from art classes in college and some collected over the years), and, more recently, online training.  I’m still trying.

So here is my process for a complex show quilt (not for all of my quilts).

I try to capture the concept that is in my head or the inspirational photo by drawing the picture of the planned quilt on my computer, thereby providing me with a “pattern” .  Here is how I work through this.

  • I use Corel Draw to draw out some elements, like buildings or space ships, and saving them with a transparent background as a .png file, which will import into other packages without a background.
  • I use Corel Painter, a truly powerful digital painting software, to draw the main picture, importing the items from Corel Draw and placing them where they belong.  I size it here and save with iterative painter files and finally as a .jpg.
  • I may go back and forth between Corel Draw and Corel Painter several times because one program is better than another for various things.
  • If I am putting borders on the quilt I will then move to Electric Quilt and set it up with a single block sized properly for my .jpg.  Then I play with the borders until I like them.  This gives me the pattern for the borders.  I save this as a .jpg.
  • I move back to Corel Draw and start a new file (you can’t just open a .jpg in Corel Draw, but you can import one).  I import the design I saved in Electric Quilt into Corel Draw and size  the image to the size I want the quilt to finish.  Corel Draw has a wonderful way of tiling the picture into sizes that match the printer paper with symbols to mark where they join.  I usually print the pattern on a 11″x 17″ paper.  I print one pattern in color and one in gray scale.  I also print the border pattern from EQ7.
  • I tape the pattern together carefully.
  • Then I pin the colored print on my design wall, or tape it somewhere if that is occupied, and sit there looking at it every now and then, wondering how on Earth I am going to accomplish this quilt.  At this point, I take time off from this particular project if I have time.  This is why I usually have some ongoing simple quilt or clothing projects so I can go work on something else while the concept “marinates” in my mind and I talk to myself…sometimes exclaiming “Oh THAT’s what I can try!”  I’m glad my son’s flat is on the lower level, and is not in my studio to hear me, he might be looking for “a place for Mom”, although, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy writer so probably not.
  • I keep a notebook nearby to write down my ideas.

Once I’ve figured out more or less how I’m going to make the quilt, I just jump in.  I first shop my stash to see if I have what I need for this quilt and buy the rest, including fabrics, threads, paints, and other embellishments.  After all my years of sewing and quilting my stash is now such that often I am able to complete a quilt without buying anything, or buying only one item.  It generally takes me nearly half the time of total time making a quilt to get to this point.

  • I have to take one or two elements of the quilt at a time.
  • I make samples and try things until I find what works.
  • I have to figure what must come first…usually working from background forward.
  • I take photos along the way because for some reason I can see mistakes better in a photograph than directly looking at the project.  I think I get too close to it, as they say.
  • I unsew and go backwards when I need to, but try to limit this as much as possible.  Sometimes “mistakes” are actually result in a good new direction.

As I construct the quilt, I pay close attention to how flat and square the project is becoming along the way. It’s ok not to have a square quilt, but it has to be deliberately not square and obviously not intended to be square.  Construction techniques really still need to be right. This often involves my ripping things out for correction, and sometimes even just starting over. I have obtained a laser square and a laser cross-hair lamp to help me with this

I’m not a piecer, but sometimes I have to piece.  “Pendragon” had the main center block, and ten border and text block pieces that all HAD to be square and straight and the border had to be lined up so the designs were straight and in the right place.  This is one of the more challenging things for me, because, did I say it?  I’m not a piecer.  Piecing is much more challenging to me than it must be to traditional quilters, who seem to love it.  I piece when I have to in order to realize my design.  I sometimes use foundation paper piecing when I need a real quilt block, like I did for “Waiting…” and “Drawing Nigh”.  So I’m very happy to have these tools and techniques to help me piece.

Sew once I have completed the top, including any highlighting or lowlighting I do with fabric paints and inks, I sandwich my quilt mostly using basting adhesive and rulers to get the lines that need to be straight and square right and adding some quilting pins because I use a very light amount of adhesive spray on the batting only.  This is my least favorite thing of making a quilt and I find it physically taxing, especially if it has to be on the floor because of size, and I wear a mask and often have to do it over and over again until it is right.

Then I quilt it, bind it, add a pocket, a label, and block it.  My oldest son Ken photographs it at his home in my daughter-in-law’s wonderfully big studio where her longarm and her Bernina 880 resides.  Beth was, afterall, the one who pulled me into quilting after Marvin died because she was sure I would love it.  I’m not sure she expected me to love it as much as I do, and I know she didn’t expect me to move into the art quilt world.  Before this happened, I had made several pieces of fabric art, had sewn for most of my life, used to have my own fashion design and tailoring business, and made my own clothes and some of Marvin’s.  I found art quilting simply unleashed and pulled together all the sewing and art skills I had learned in my life, but I did need to learn a lot before it was any good.

And I’m still learning, experimenting, and moving through art quilting.  Maybe someday I’ll start winning the big ribbons (I have won a few ribbons, but no BOS).

Sew are any of you making our free design art quilt with me introduced in my last blog post?  How’s it coming?  I’m not rushing you.  It will probably be another couple of weeks or month before I get to the next step.  I’m preparing for my exhibit and I figure the first step is a big one.

Sew happy everyone!