What I Do to Make Thread Behave Better, Part 1

I just saw it again on social media from a quilter that has had a high end machine for two years that should bring them a lot of happiness but they cannot get the thread to stop breaking and therefore don’t use it much.  Often it is thread nests, or thread shreaddings.  Sew I decided to talk about this a little bit.  In my humble opinion, most machines, and particularly high end machines, should be able to use nearly any type of quality thread designed for machine stitching.  Note I did not say any brand, but rather any type. The owner should not have to find the thread that works for the machine, but the machine should work with the thread.  I think there is much that can be done to make this happen.

Sew today we have a range of really fine threads to go with our really fine machines accompanied by really fine needles.  Sew what’s the problem?  This is what I think and have experienced in my own studio.  I have a Bernina Q20 longarm set up as a sitdown, a Bernina 880 plus, and a little Bernina 350 (plus an older BabyLock serger and a vintage White that I am not including in this discussion today).  So I will be talking about these, since that is what I have, but I suspect there is a correllating set of steps and considerations for your own machines that you can take.  Your manual and YouTube videos can be very helpful for those, especially if you know what you are looking for.

One of my chief points I like to make is that it is important to test.  Test your setup before starting a project. Make a sample sandwich from more or less the same fabrics and battings. or prepare a test piece of fabric you are using for sewing or embroidery, and test everything first.  Then keep it close to periodically test if things go awry.  This can be a very important tool for you.  If you serge, or otherwise finish the edge, and put a large ring in the corner, you can hang this up or keep them together.  Be sure to make notes of settings and products you used right on the fabric for future reference.

Before you begin any project, you should pay attention to matching the needles with the threads and the tensions with the thread types.  Most of the better thread manufacturers have advice either right on the spools or on their websites as to what needles work best.  It’s a good place to start, but may not always be the answer for what you are working on.  Usually it is, however.

One thing to remember is that there are a lot of variables that can negatively affect our sewing that we may not think about on a daily basis and have nothing to do with the overall quality of our machines.  These may include

  • humidity and heat,
  • batting types,
  • adhesives, interfacings, stabilizers,
  • lint caught in the thread path or the bobbin holder that may not be apparent when we do a standard clean and oil,
  • a faulty needle,
  • a little bur or damage on the foot,
  • a damaged/bent bobbin
  • a well used bobbin brake spring that just needs to be replaced,
  • the tension settings for both the top and the bobbin not set correctly for the thread,
  • a bad spool or cone of thread even from a reputable dealer (it happens and usually they will replace it if you let them know),
  • and our own mood or health at the time.

I’m sure there are things I havent thought of in this list, but you see there are a lot of things that can make us have a frustrating sewing or quilting day.

Let’s take a look the Q20 sitdown longarm for starters.

Preparing to practice some ruler work on Fritz, my Bernina Q20

I have heard that some dealers appear to mistakenly tell their customers that they should never ever in any circumstancs change the bobbon tension from the recommended 220 for the Qs.  My own dealer is wonderful and does not do this.  This is decidedly poor advice, especially for a longarm such as the Bernina Q20 sitdown, especially if we use any kind of bobbin thread other than 50 weight cotton.  For the most part, I have found over the past four years of working with my machine that 220 is USUALLY too tight. Here is a little chart I worked out that works for my machine.

Here’s my chart. You should make your own that works for you, but you might want to start here.

If you conduct your own testing that will let you know if it works for your setup.  Sometimes adjustments need to be made to this chart depending on the weather, the batting and other variables. Making notes is really helpful.

Thread Management in the Q20

I keep on hand the following things to assist with thread management:

  1. thread nets for cones. I didn’t originally use these, but recently I find I have much fewer problems if I use a thread net.  I do note that Wonderfil threads have an alternative wrap for their cones that I have not yet tried.
  2. the horizontal spool holder to allow for use of stacked thread spools (when the spool is wound so it is evenly stacked rather than cross wound).

    horizontal spool holder is usually an additional attachment you have to purchase.

     

    Here is the spoolholder installed

     

  3. the pink liquid for the little applicator sponge in the threading path originally intended for metallic threads.  I find it also helps if I am having problems with thread shredding of, for instance, rayons.

    This little bottle is usually included in the purchase of your machine. It is a silicone thread lubricant and is tiny but goes a long ways.

     

    thread lubrication path on my Bernina Q20.

     

  4. Dritz sewer’s aid. It’s probably the same thing as the pink liquid, since it is a silicone thread lubricant, but it can be used more generously directly on a spool or cone without sendng the thread through the applicator sponge thread path.  I don’t use it in my machine’s little sponge just because it may be a slightly different weight or something.
  5. A package of M sized bobbin genies. This is really helpful if you are having problems with thread nests on the back due to static electricity.  I originally learned about this from Sharon Schamber.
  6. I like to keep a spare bobbin brake spring I order through my dealer, a spare bobbin case, and a spare threader replacement head all on hand.  Maybe there are other parts I should have but I don’t know about.  I have had my machine for four years of heavy use and these are the only parts I have had a problem with so far other than having to have my BSR laser sensors replaced early on.
  7. And a selection of the following needles:
    • Topstitch titanium needles (I prefer Superior brand, but Schmetz and Bernina are also ok) sizes 70/10, 80/12,90/14, 100/16
    • universal 70/10 and 80/12
    • Quilting needle 80/12, and 90/14.
    • I also have a collection of specialty needles, like leather needles or double needles in different widths for playful quilting fun. Note that you must have the double needle throat plate to use the double needles.

      Twin needle stitch plate

       

  8. A can of compressed air to blow clean the bobbin area and the brush.  The top area should be cleaned with a brush according to Bernina, but the bobbin area is ok to use the compressed air and it makes a big difference.
  9. Bernina machine oil
  10. I also have the multifunction tool that came with my Bernina 830 that I traded in for my 880 plus, which has another one, because I particularly like the way it helps me hold the needle in place while I screw it in.  You can buy this tool at the dealers, or here online, and there are other generic tools on the market that perform this function (a threader gadget has a needle holder end to it

    8 series multi-function tool..handy for more than the 8s

     

  11. The bobbin tension gauge (it’s made by Towa). If you don’t have this, you should have received it with your machine, so go to your dealer and ask for it.  Here’s a little video link to help you use it correctly, although Nina McVeigh, whom I admire very much, is saying the tension should be 220 always.  I hate to disagree with the extremely talented Nina, but trust me, the tension needs to play with your thread types.  Using the gauge

As you look at this list, you may figure out that when things go awry (and yes, they do for me too from time to time, but far less often than they did at first) that I have a selection of things to try beyond changing the needle and cleaning and oiling the machine.  I usually manage to quilt a full quilt now with no thread issues).

Steps to Take When You Are Having Problems

  1. Unthread the machine and check the spool/cone to see if by chance the thread is catching on the spool itself or there is a flawed area in the winding of the thread you can see.
  2. If it is a cone, make sure it has a net.
  3. If it is metallic, run it through the lubrication path after adding a drop of lubricant on the sponge.
  4. If it is monopoly run it through the lubrication path to help control this lively thread.
  5. It’s really important that the top tension and bobbin tension match the threads you are using.  The neat thing about the q20 machine is that it has a set of four programs where you can store your settings for the different types of threads for the top.
  6. Check the needle.  Is it the right one for your thread? If you run your fingers down the needle and across the tip carefully, you can sometimes detect that there is a bur or bend on the needle.  But this is not a guarantee you will find it if there is some kind of flaw.  You may need to change your needle even if it is new. Replace the needle using a needle holder to help assure it is fully up in place. Just holding it with your fingers can sometimes not get it quite fully engaged upward.
  7. Remove the bobbin and blow out the bobbin area, then oil the machine carefully.  Double check especially if you have been using monopoly recently.  It can tangle around things like it is alive sometimes and you can’t see it without a magnifier and flashlight!
  8. Run a needle around the workings of the bobbin case to see if there is a wad of lint caught in the case…I have had that happen and it can bring things to a frustrating point.
  9. Check your bobbin case brake spring. Is it in the proper place? Is it upside down? Is it wearing out (flattening or with a bur).  I had a very difficult to diagnose problem happen about a month ago with terrible thread nests on the back.  I finally replaced the brake spring and it has been working wonderfully ever since. I never did see what was wrong with it.
  10. Examine your bobbin to see if it is bent or damaged in anyway. This is especially important if you are a klutz like myself and drop your bobbins on the floor or if you have had it for years and used it for many miles of stitching.
  11. Run your bobbin through the  tension guage to make sure it is still set correctly for your thread weight.  It can change over time, especially if you do hours of quilting and everything heats up.
  12. Replace your bobbin.
  13. Check both the front and the back of your piece to make sure the tension is ok on both sides.  It’s a good test to put a different color in the bobbon of the same type of thread you will be using and test it to see if you have any tension problems showing up or down that don’t show when your threads are the same color.  Note that I have surrendered to the metallic threads.  I put a matching thread color (some polyesters look metallic) in the bobbin.  I have sometimes been totally unable to get the tensions set with a metallic so there are no little dots showing on the back.  I have also been successful from time to time with getting it right. I have to think it might be a batting issue. It doesn’t stop me from using metallics, however.  I may even put a metallic in the bobbin, which works fine.
  14. Run a length of tooth floss through the upper thread path slowly and carefully to pull out anything that doesn’t belong you don’t find with just brushing it out.
  15. Check your foot for damages.  I one time had constant breakages and then tried a different foot.  They stopped.  Upon close examination, I found the foot that has had many many miles of use had a bur on it.  I sanded it with an emory board and it works fine now.
  16. Remember to have the foot up when rethreading…a real necessity to make it all seat into the thread path correctly.
  17. Put it all back together and do some test stitching.  Make notes of any setting changes you had to do to get things right.

I realize this is really a long post and I still haven’t discussed working with my sewing machines.  Although a lot of the same things apply, I wanted to get more specific for them.  So I will break this blog into two parts.  Next week I will talk about solving thread problems in sewing machines.

 

 

 

 

 

A Sunny Mother’s Day and Considering Next Steps in My Studio

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone.  Yes, many of you are mothers and grandmothers, but I know a couple of you who have no children but provide much learning and support to us quilters and sewists in motherly fashion.  So Happy Mother’s Day to all of my readers (even the guys).   My oldest son Ken has already called to talk with me, and my youngest son David, who shares my home with me, is going to cook a steak dinner tonight.  Lovely!

My side yard

It’s gorgeous here in Ashburn, Virginia.  About 65 and totally sunny with not a cloud in the sky.  I just spend about an hour out back enjoying it all.  The back of my house looks out into a small woods, just thick enough so I can’t see over to the next part of the neighborhood and thin enough so developers won’t come and build back there.  The wildlife is delightful that live there…birds of several varieties, bunnies, turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, and even foxes.  I feed the birds so I can see them and they pay me back by keeping down the gnats and flies and singing to me.

My youngest son David on the upper deck.

Sew I had hoped to finish the quilt I am making in memory of my wonderful mom, but though I have made great progress, I still have a ways to go.  I have finished the quilting on the central part of the quilt and am working on the borders.  I put freeform feathers on the bottom border, and I plan on doing the same on the top border.  I got some new stencils and am have marked a beautiful vine with leaves coming down both sides.  Since I quilt everything to death, except my snuggle utility quilts, I have a lot of quilting to go yet.  And then I will have to wash it to remove the markings, and paint some of it.  So there is much to do still.  I had thought it would not be pretty enough on the back to be a good show quilt, but I just turned it completely over and was surprised to find it is beautiful.  Yes, there are flaws, but it is still beautiful.  The flaws don’t seem to show much on the front.  Some of them will be removed, others will maybe go under a label or two (I’m thinking of writing a little biography of my mom in a simple text label in addition to the who made it when and so forth label).

What’s Next?

Sew I am close enough to being done with Mom’s quilt to think about what my next major project will be.   I actually have three going now.  One is my own personal snuggle quilt for my bed using Sue Nickles applique blocks that I just use to work on when I want to do something that is just relaxing sewing, one is a fairly extensive project of wool applique by machine that I am simultaneously writing a book about.

I have found that there is a slight bit of room in the art quilting world for books that people with advanced machines may want to have.  There are a lot of how to quilting books for beginners, piecing books, and yes, even some advanced art quilting books, but I think while there are some books out there for people with all these wonderful stitches and feet and other attachments, that area might still have room for some skill building books for using these advanced machines many of us have.  Wool applique by machine is my first of these skill-building books I am working on (I just bought a second camcorder and will be making videos too).

Another book I am thinking of is multiple deep space quilts using a variety of methods in homage to the magnificent deep space scenes you can find many of on NASA’s website that are copyright free.  Here I have some credentials in the quilting world, because I have won several nice ribbons on my deep space quilts and I have many more to make.  So I thought this would be a good book and already have it underway using photos I took while creating some of these quilts.  I plan on making several more, some step outs and some small ones to sell for people who may want one of these for their wall, or to give as a gift.  Of course, I will be producing show quilts from this project also, giving my work double, or even triple use (I will be making some videos too).

Sttitching Spiral Quilt 3 with a reference picture.  I gave this quilt to Ken and Beth.

I guess maybe that is all I can do this year, but it doesn’t stop me from planning other quilts, and thinking about how I can incorporate them into books and videos.  I may speed up, and some of these books are nearly written and only need a few samplers. so it might not be as overwhelming as it sounds.

I would love for my readers to tell me what they want me to teach by book and video (I am not going to do much travel for a while), realizing that I have been sewing for more than sixty years, having even once owned my own fashion design business, and quilting since 2009, with ribbons and other awards to my name.

One of my most prized awards that may sound unrelated, but is not, is a simple honorable mention I won in Kanazawa Japan decades ago.  I studied Ikebana there, receiving my fourth year Sogetsu School Ikebana certificate, the next one, had I continued, would have been a master certificate.  While there, I entered a flower show and made an arrangement using great big sunflowers, chrysanthemums, and swooping curls of broomstick.  It won an honorable mention.  Theoretically, it was anonymous.  But there were some magnificent arrangements there.  It’s something I have never forgotten. Nor have I forgotten a single bit of my training.  I have sketch books with some of my arrangements too.  A flower arranging quilt would be fun.

Kanazawa Memories, with machine stitched sashiko and a fabric Ikebana arrangement I made by printing individual flowers on fabric and appliqueing them into an arrangement.  I lived in Kanazawa Japan for three years as a young woman.  I no longer own this quilt.

In the stitching/sewing world, I can probably teach almost anything except piecing and hand sewing.  I can do those things, but only at about an intermediate level, whereas clothes, tailoring, and now art quilting, I consider myself to be at an expert level in many of the techniques.  Please comment and send me your questions or suggestions either here, on Facebook or send me an email/message, realizing it will be a while before I get the answers to you, unless it is a simple answer I can put on my blog.  Also, what do you think of my planning to write books for people with higher tech machines?

Sew happy everyone!  I hope you get to go out and enjoy the great beauty of spring or fall wherever you are.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Part 4 Trees

The flowers and new spring growth are everywhere. I love this area at this time of year. I processed this picture of a nearby redbud (I think that’s what it is) as a “dreamscape”.  Not sure I caught the feeling right, but still…it’s pretty.

I am thinking my dear readers are possibly at the stage of thinking “will this never end” concerning our stay-at-home orders.  At first we were kind of shocked, then a bit scared, then ready to gung ho make face masks or whatever we could do, then start learning things, and now, after all of that, we are still here.  Still at home.  Still going to be at home for weeks yet. Sigh.  Oh, my, will this never end!  Well, yes, it most certainly will. Then we will have to pick up our alternative busy life styles where we will wish to goodness we had a little more time to quilt or sew.  Well, I won’t because I am retired and blessed to be working in my studio full time now anyway.  But I will have things to do outside of my studio and things that pull against my getting projects done.

Sew now that you have made your face masks or are coming to the end of that project, what are you working on or planning on working on?  (As an aside:  Quilted Art for me includes art quilts, traditional and contemporary quilts, quilted clothing, and quilted bags and other three dimensional items.)  If you are like me, you have more than one project going, or at least going on in your head.  Do they include trees?  I love making trees.

Trees for your quilted art

I love adding trees to my pictorial quilted art pieces, but I’m thinking that trees can be a really neat thing to add to lots of types of quilted art such as a jacket or skirt.  I didn’t realize until recently that I have learned or even developed many ways to come up with trees over the years, mostly made as embellishment items using thread painting, yarn couching, and applique and I thought I would share some of them with you.  The really neat thing about making trees for fabric art is they are so forgiving. They don’t require precision, but they do require looking at real trees and seeing what you can learn from them using your imagination.  Are they straight?  Are they interestingly textured? Are they spooky? Are they happy little trees?  Do the leaves read as a a bunch or individually or both?  What is the color of the trunk?  Try drawing the tree out first.

Machine Embroidering Trees or Parts of Trees

This tree is the stitchout 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 (for further information on how to do this kind of digitizing, see my book Twelve Skill-Building Projects for Bernina V8).  The same could possibly be done by drawing it onto a piece of wash-away stabilizer and free motion embroidering it. I have done that too, but could not find a good picture. In both cases I would advise using a layer of black nylon veiling under the stitching to hold everything together off the quilt and then appliqueing it on.  One of the cool things about digitizing it this way, is that you can get the coloring very close to the photograph, the texture of the tree trunk close to how it really should look.  I used this tree on several Nativity quilts I have made.  That’s the other thing, if you digitize it in your design software, you can restitch it for another project later on.

Here is the first tree trunk I ever digitized and embroidered out.  It required a double hooping and I missed the connection just barely, so I free motion zig zagged the connecting place and you can’t see where it was.  In fact, I have even forgotten where it is and cannot figure it out even with close examination.  So even if you make a mistake like that, you can sometimes fix it on the spot without having to redo the whole thing.  I stitched it out with a variegated thread.  Here is the whole quilt “The Storyteller”.

But even though in this quilt, the tree trunk makes a happy tree, when you look at the stitchout design by itself you can probably readily see that the same trunk would make a really fun spooky tree where you could place a raven or an owl for Halloween.   So working out these things in digizing software gives you lots of additional options that can save you a lot of time on other projects.

Trees without the use of digitizing software and embroidery module

So sometimes I want to just applique my trees down.  In this case, I usually use steam-a-seam 2 and free cut out with scissors the tree trunks and limbs and even leafy sections without a pattern.  Then I iron them on the top and use a single narrow blanket stitch with a close matching thread color to permanently attach them.  It’s so much fun!!!!

Here’s a quilt where all the trees are made that way.  The texture of the trees is added when quilting.  This was really fun to make.

Summer Melody, 2016, 33 x 29 inches.

And sometimes you can make a rather cool evergreen tree freehand with a combination of yarn couching the trunk with Superior monopoly thread and heavy 12 weight wool/acrylic Aurifil thread free motion embroidery for the tree’s needles.  Here is the one I made on my failed Bob Ross contest quilt.  I made this quilt while my wonderful old Bernina830, which I did a great deal of heavy work on for 8 plus years, was failing, and so many things went wrong in my studio during that time.  I am not surprised it did not make the contest, but I still love the tree I made for it here, which I made entirely freehand on my Bernina Q20 as kind of a reprieve from my B830 problems.  I now have a new Bernina 880 plus to take the 830s place and I love it.  So production in my studio is at full speed lately.  I suggest if you want to make such a tree that you make a practice first.  It requires a fairly substantial stabilizer under the tree area of the top because all that stitching draws it in and makes a problem without it.  I used Madeira Cotton Stable that I get from Nancy’s Notions on the whole quilt top.  It tears away later, and, since it is cotton, it will soften when washed.  I marked only one line representing the main trunk to keep it tilted just as I wanted.  It hardly matters what you mark it with because the mark is completely buried with yarn.  I did all of this before sandwiching the quilt.

Happy little tree

 

and then you can combine applique and free motion yarn couching and other thread work to come up with some rather dramatic trees.  In this case, I appliqued the big cyprus trunks and then did a lot of shading using fabric paints to give the tree trunks the right round shape.  The tree limbs were couched on with wool yarn, and the spanish moss was free motion stitched using 12 wt Aurifil wool/acrylic thread.  I premarked straight lines down for the spanish moss with chalk before stitching, because it takes a fair amount of concentration to keep it from drifting sideways in an unatural way.

Night on the Bayou, 2018

 

Up close

And lastly, I was just playing around one day and here you see the resulting winter scene with the trees using both couching for some, 12 weight thread for others,  40 weight polyester, and even 40 wt metallic for others.  It is the kind of practice piece I suggest you try if you are new to making trees with free motion fibers. As for all these quilts with heavy amounts of stitching, be sure to back it with a heavy stabilizer that either tears off or washes off to help with the draw in of the stitching.  I recently finished this as a little quilt sampler, but don’t have a picture of it yet but you can see the thread work here.

Sew happy everyone!  God bless you in this holy week and have fun in your studio while you await the end of the quarantine.  Have a blessed and happy Easter Sunday.

 

 

 

Keeping On Keeping On With Some Fun Too

I know some of my gentle readers are about to pull their hair out by about now being confined to their homes.  Sew let us all get up and do some stretching and bending.  Ten reaches to the sky, ten toe touches, ten swings from right to left with arms out, and 100 in place marches.  Ten deep breaths and giggle like a kid for ten seconds.  Now!  Grammy BJ (that’s me) suggests doing this several times a day and then get to work or play.  Here’s what I have been working on this past week.

Yes I finally made a bunch of facemasks, primarily for my family and friends.  A lot of my friends have devoted their entire work time to making these masks.  There is a need, and now that the study came out showing the properly made cotton masks using high end “quilter’s cotton” in at least two layers is, indeed, fairly effective (79 percent for the best, but poorly made with poor fabric choice can be virtually no use at all.  A surgical mask is 65 percent effective, and the N95 is 95 percent, jusf for comparison), we no longer have to contend with people saying it isn’t of any use.  Sew if you want to make some for you and your family or more I highly recommend Bethanne Nemesh’s mask method shown here in her video.  I made mine this way.  Here are a few of them (100 percent cotton…cotton fabric, cotton t-shirt ties, and cotton thread are easy to launder and sterilize.  I may be wrong, but I don’t like the idea of a non-woven interfacing.  A third layer of cotton something like flannel might add some additional safety, but the study was looking at a two-layer tight woven quilting cotton):

Sew after I made a bunch of these, I am probably done with mask making, at least for a while.  Now I am very excited about my current projects.  I have four I am currently working on or planning.  Yes, I know that’s a lot for all at once, but I can’t help it that all the ideas came at once.  Hahaha.

My primary project is my Mom’s memory quilt I am centering around five beautiful ten inch crocheted lace squares I found in her workbasket after she passed.  I have made substantial quilting progress recently, and am working on quilting the borders now.

Mom’s lace squares…10 inches of beauty.

  1. Here’s a peak…more quilting is in order here.  I really really love that blue polyester dupioni and off white polyester satin.  They quilt very well and did not break the bank like silk would have.  I think the dupioni is clearly different from silk dupioni, but it does have a rich beautiful texture.
  2. A wool machine appliqued quilting project that includes both samplers for my book I am writing and a larger show quilt using what I am learning as I build this part of the book and its samplers.  My goal is to take true advantage of the magnificent threads and machines we have today to produce wool applique quilts that are at once suggestive of hand applique and shows and teaches the use of advanced stitching by machine.  I will also add considerable amount of beads and possibly other forms of embellishment.  Here’s a little test I have done to determine what may be possible and think about the pattern.

    Just a test

    I have determined to use my accuquilt go! cutter to cut out a bunch of shapes and in real time place them in a good design and add stitching, then make a pattern for the book.  I have this nice tool, as many of you do or many have cutters of some sort, and I think it would be a fun approach, but I also plan on providing enough of a pattern for those who do not have one to make the resulting project.  And yes, it will all be done on black boiled wool because that is what I have on hand.  I am on a tight budget right now.  LOL

  3. My appliqued bed quilt I started some time ago using a beautiful pattern by Sue Nickels.   It’s sort of Baltimore Album like, but all done by machine applique.  I don’t have a picture yet.   This is my relax and stitch project where I don’t have to please a judge and I didn’t have to think of the design.  I am, of course, making my own changes and it will be just for me.
  4. And the fourth project for the near term is a new deep space quilt.  I love doing these.  I have worked out the technique, have all the supplies I need for one, and I take the design straight from one of the NASA photographs they so generously share copyright free, so I only need to put some size and spacing marks on a wholecloth black top and away I go.  I plan on putting how to do this either in my current book on embellishment or in its own book.  So I will be taking a lot of pictures as I go.  In case you are unfamiliar with such quilts, I have two below for you to see.  Both have won ribbons, and the Sky Horse was in the juried Houston show in 2014.

    Sky Horse photographed by Ken Tatum

    Spiral Galaxy No. 3

    These are so much fun to make.  I make them at my sitdown longarm because they are all free motion stitching.

    Sttitching with a reference picture

    And finally, my oldest son Ken who designed Pendragon for me is working on Excalabar design for the next in my ancient manuscript series.  If I manage to get all of these quilts done this year I will be doing very well.  I don’t work as fast as some of my competors in the show quilt world…hahaha.

    Pendragon
    34 x 45

    Sew happy everyone!  I love you all.  I hope you are keeping busy and making all kinds of fun things in your studio, or cooking, or gardening, or doing all of these things.  God bless you!

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Part One, the Design to Pattern

I realized with some astonishment recently that 2020 is my sixteenth year of making quilted art projects, mostly, but not entirely in the form of wall art quilts.  I have been sewing since since I was five, when my mother began teaching me to sew, followed by years of learning and making my own clothes and helping my mother in her own sewing pursuits.  I retired from my intensive job with the US Government at the beginning of 2012, but I had already been working toward moving to full-time fabric artist upon retirement for a number of years.

Over the years I have learned a great deal.  I have almost always been in a learning mode, because I find it fun.  For me, a terrific development has been provided by generous fabric artists, digital artists and sewing technicians through online informative sewing and quilting sites, video classes, The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims, and YouTube.  This has enabled me to continue my love of learning new techniques and improvement of my skills while hanging out in my own studio and at a very low cost or even free.

What has all this to do with the title of this blog, you may be asking about now.  Well, I just wanted you to know that I do have a significantly solid and advanced basis to pull from for this series I will be blogging over the next month or so about building quilted projects for fun and excellence.

Sew approaching a new project should begin with a bit of planning and record keeping. Such projects can be divided several ways, but I like the following 10 steps, each of which will be dealt with in their own blog post:

  1.  Designing or Obtaining the Pattern
  2. Collecting the Parts
  3. Checking the Tools
  4. Cutting and Marking
  5. Constructing the Top
  6. Sandwiching Properly
  7. Quilting
  8. Blocking and Squaring
  9. Adding Embellishments
  10. Binding and Finishing.

Designing or Obtaining a Pattern for Your Project

Since I don’t normally use purchased patterns and usually create my own designs, for me that first step of designing frequently takes just under half of the time I spend on a project.  I use my computer heavily in this step.  Here are the computer apps I currently use for this:

  1. Corel Paint Shop Pro 2020 (for processing photographs)
  2. Corel Draw Graphics Suite 2018 (makes very good vector designs and communicates with Bernina Software.  This also helps me create my own pattern, size it, and print it out full size to tape together)
  3. Corel Painter 2020 (for painting.  It’s almost like having real paint,  brushes, and pencil collections with no mess and the ability to erase or add something in the middle layer.  I often start here for concept art)
  4. Bernina Embroidery Software V8.2 (for digitizing or personalizing embroidery designs, and even for some quilting)
  5. Electric Quilt 8 (aids in figuring placements, sizing, yardage, and if I need a traditionally pieced area for my quilt project, this is where I turn).

I won’t cover how to use these drawing packages for this, because I know even if you use digital design programs to help you out, you probably don’t use the same ones I do and they are expensive to gather, take time to learn, and there are lots of really good classes out there on youtube and on the sites where the packages are sold.

Once I have my design, I write out the steps, list the fabrics and threads, list the additional pieces, and think about the tools that will be required.  In other words, I create my own pattern with instructions. You may be surprised to learn that I mostly do this the old fashioned way in my planning notebook, where I glue in samples of the fabrics, write out steps, and keep other important notes as I go along. You can read about how I manage these things in my blog Project Management for Fabric Art from a year ago.  I still do things this way.

Now I know many of you don’t want to use the computer designing process, and if you want to design them yourself you would greatly prefer using a sketch book or graph paper and doing math to figure out what you need to make your project, or at the very least use Electric Quilt 8, which is an easy way to produce a good traditional quilt pattern.  This is a good approach, but I do encourage you to scan in your resulting images/designs,  keep a record of your project on your computer, and write out the steps you need to take for your project so you can start with a good pattern with steps to completion already thought through.

Also, there are those who prefer starting with a pattern that has good instructions.  That’s probably why you can make a quilt much faster than I can, and I think this is also a good approach if you have different goals from mine.  One of the keys to this is to use patterns from reliable designers that provide good instructions.

In other words, whichever your approach, the first step is to obtain or create the design with good instructions and project steps already thought through.

For me, I also want to load up my audible books, music, and podcasts to listen to while I work through the construction phase.  My next blog post will discuss building your own kit so you know you have what you need.

Sew happy everyone!  I encourage you to use an ordered approach to your quilted projects, however small or large, and you will really enjoy the process and probably come out with a wonderful result.

 

 

 

Here We Are in 2020! Merry 12th Night of Christmas!

Sampler practice piece.

Hi everyone!  Merry 12th night of Christmas (today January 5th 2020)!

Sew I will be leaving for California two weeks from today to visit my brother and his family and go to Road to California show with my brother Pat and sister in law Carol.  I would appreciate your prayers for an easy, safe trip! They have gone to R2CA twice before when I had quilts in the show.  I have a quilt in this show too…The Wizards’ Duel.  It looks a little different from this picture (I must get a new photo made).  I took the judge’s comments from Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival 2018 to heart and fixed the lower left mountainous rocks and added additional quilting and painting to the entire rocky area.  Then I sent it to Pennsylvania National Quilt Festival in Oak, PA and won a blue ribbon for Best Interpretation of Theme.  So I am hopeful I get some kind of ribbon at R2CA this year.  We will be there Wednesday night the 22nd, all day that Thursday, and a little bit that Friday morning.  I hope to see some of you there!

Wizards’ Duel before I improved the rocky area.

If you saw my last blog post you know I have lots of plans for this year, so I won’t relist that.  I know I have listed more quilts than I can possibly make, but then I can choose the ones I feel like making and put the others on the shelf for later.

By the way, if you got a Bernina v8 software for Christmas or some such, remember I have a book with skill-building projects to help you learn to really enjoy that software, Twelve Skill-Building Projects for V8.

Carrying on the skill-building theme, I am writing a skill building book on fabric embellishment, and another skill-building projects on various quilting styles good for art quilts.  I hope to get these two books published this year!  They require samples when I don’t already have one.  I like “skill-building” because it is not trying to tell you every little thing, but provide projects that will enable new or improved skills for your own fabric art.  I also am planning on making lots of new videos for my YouTube channel, but not until I get back home.

Sew happy everyone!  I hope you manage to get to at least one quilt show this year.  If you can’t get to one you really want to there are usually a lot of interesting YouTube videos about some of the shows.  I will take my cameras with me, but not sure what I will get done with that since I will be there with family.

Making Christmas Presents…A Comedy of Errors

OK gentle readers, I have completed making four in-the-hoop zip bags using this OESD design, and adding my own embroidery between step three and step four for both Christmas presents and me.  They are generally fairly easy to make, and they all came out just wonderfully.  But I made a comedy of errors while I was making them, to the point that it was downright funny.  Do you ever have days like that in your studio?

OESD’s Zippered pouches…their picture.

Thank goodness, all the errors I made were easy to fix.  Here’s my funny list each error only done once:

  • I forgot to open the zipper on one bag and had to undo the edge seam (while still in the hoop) and move the zipper pull (I opened just a small amount and caught the zipper pull with one of my old dull rippers and pushed it to the center.  Worked great), then I backed up the digital in-the-hoop program so that it restitched the edge seam.
  • I forgot to put the handle into the seam before stitching the back to the front.  I unstitched the seam as I did in the first error and put the handle in the seam and then backed up the program so it restitched the edge seam.
  • I got the back lining that I was stitching in with the back on the inside, so when I turned it the pretty cotton lining was on the outside.  I decided it really looked great that way and left it.  The lining is not suggested in their design, but I decided to add it just to the back.  The front is folded over and provides its own lining that way.
  • I got the zipper pull too close to the edge when I opened the zipper and broke a needle when it went by, or rather didn’t go by.  Sigh.  I replaced the needle, found all the broken needle pieces and moved the zipper pull further toward the center and restitched.

So how many zipper bags did I make?  four.  Did each one have an error?  Yes, listed above. Did they all come out nice…yes!!!

But really, these zipper bags are easy to make…just don’t forget anything.  I should have made a list and checked it off.  I suggest you do that.  I know I will for future little projects like this.

Ok, now I am ready to do the few other small Chistmas gifts I am planning on making, although I might make another one just for me. Maybe I should go back to quilting and just send Christmas cards only, or maybe I’ll quit for the day and hope I get my head on straight tomorrow.  LOL

Sew happy everyone!  Merry Christmas one and all.

Wardrobe Analysis, Slopers, Muslin Test Garments, and a Fashion Fabric Stash

It’s November!  I have a plan for November.  Now I know my topic is usually related to the art of quilting, but I decided I seriously need to do some garment sewing for a bit, delaying some of my quilting plans while I do.  I have a really beautiful collection of fall, winter, and early spring fabrics stashed in three under bed storage units and in my blanket box I had built to match my bed some years back.  I also recently added a full 8 yard bolt of faux leather, and three pieces of fabric suitable for dress slacks for me. It’s literally been a decade or more since I replaced or added significant clothes to my wardrobe, and my son needs a new coat.

Over the past few years I have lost a couple of dress sizes although I am still quite a large woman with long arms, a smallish waist, and big hips.  So purchased clothes seldom look good on me, though a few simple styles can serve.  I also have worn out most of my old collection of nice shirts and slacks I used to wear to work even if the style and fit is still ok. Then there is the fact that I am now a fabric artist, retired from government work, so even if it was still serviceable, my wardrobe doesn’t fit my lifestyle anymore.

Analysis of my current wardrobe tells me that the addition of several nice pairs of slacks, a few simple jackets, and some tops would make the rest of it work (I no longer wear dresses and I have black jeans, blue jeans, some nice sweaters and just a couple of shirts).

Now I know from having once had my own fashion design/tailoring business long years ago that once one gets a perfectly fit pattern for slacks, I can make a pair in less than a day.  At my top speed at that time, I could make a beautifully finished pair of well fitting slacks in an afternoon, including the cutting.  The big problem with that is getting the pattern perfectly fitted. So the first step is to get a sloper (or basic slacks pattern) flat fitted from measurements and then make up a pair of muslin test slacks.  After that I will make any changes to the test slacks and adjust the flat pattern.  That is step one.  Then I can zip through the three pairs of slacks.  I might make my poly/wool pants I have stashed away and add a simple cute jacket to get a nice dressy suit for winter…but maybe in December.

For my son David’s “leather” coat, I already have a sloper pattern and need to make a muslin fitter test for that before I add the style touches and make the coat.  That will probably take me a week or week and a half to make his coat.

Faux Leather..looks good. Has a nice weight. When I finish sewing it, one may not readily be able to tell it isn’t real leather. Real leather was out of my budget.

I recently flat fitted the cutest McCall’s jacket pattern to make a denim jacket out of some of the on hand denim.  It has places for adding some interesting embroidery.  I’m not going to make a test muslin for that, mostly because it has a lot of style ease in the pattern and also because I have a whole lot of denim, and since I have had it for a long time, I figure it is about equal to the cost of the muslin.  I buy my jeans from Lee Jeans, which has a style that fits me well surprisingly.  I may take a pair and add some corresponding embroidery at the bottom of the blue jeans, thereby giving me an attractive  blue denim suit to wear when teaching or even go to church or some such.  This will probably take me less than a week.

This is the denim jacket pattern. I will do the embroidery too.

Then I will make myself a faux leather jacket, for which I have a pattern that I already know fits me, though I still think I will make a muslin fitter before I cut the leather, since it cannot be unstitched even the slightest because of the holes from the stitching.  Leather…faux or real…has to stay like you sew it!  This is a more complex jacket and will probably take me a week to make.  This will be fun.  My new machine came with some feet designed to sew on leather/faux leather.

I have a stack of blouse/top fabrics that will make nice year round tops and also a piece of  black faux suede to make an elaborately embroidered, but otherwise simply styled jacket to wear for Holidays or some such (I’ll make this for Christmas, but not until December).  I just ordered a couple of new tops patterns that look fairly simple to make.  I’ll make those across the next year with one every once in a while.  So I am not counting them on my initial wardrobe redo timing.

Sew my initial wardrobe update seems to me to be doable by the beginning of December, especially since I am still quilting my Mom’s memory quilt, which is coming along nicely.  Don’t forget, I made myself a beautiful overcoat last year that has a faux fur collar and I love it.  It also told me I still love making clothes, but doing them right and carefully fitting them.  This wardrobe update will be using on hand fabrics and thread.  I probably have all the interfacing and other additional notions I may need.  So the entire cost of this year’s update will be really low and I will end up with a wonderful wardrobe.  I will construct most of the items so I can take them up as I lose more weight. I am, of course, planning on embellishing,  embroidering, and adding some interesting style touches for most of the new clothes I make (not the slacks). That’s what makes constructing my own clothes so much fun. I’m excited.

Meanwhile, I have made a very nice start to the quilting of my Mom’s memory quilt.  I will work these things together.  This makes it really fun for me in my studio.  I also have gotten mostly ready for my next workshop I am teaching at G Street Fabrics on 15 November…Embellish This! in which we embellish a fabric panel I designed that makes a 15 inch by 15 inch square suitable for a pillow top or wall hanging (Christmas present?).   That class is going to be a lot of fun and not a lot of stress, plus you end up with a very nice selection of decorative threads you can use for Holiday embellishment (purchased kit $45, worth at least twice that much).  So I encourage my local friends to sign up.  I think there is still room in this class.  Call G Street and ask.

So I have a plan in addition to continuous periodic work on my Mom’s memory quilt:

  • November sewing
    • David’s “leather” coat
    • My three slacks
    • My denim jacket
    • My “leather” jacket
  • December sewing
    • My “suede” embroidered jacket for Christmas
    • My wool suit????
    • A new bag from leftover “leather” and “suede” together
    • A simple top or two

Will I finish all of this?  I’m thinking I actually might with careful planning with no additional costs.  That way I will save a lot of money and have a good wardrobe for my current lifestyle.  Then I can get back to focusing on quilting full time.

Happy sewing everyone!  Make yourself some lovely garment or garments to make you happy, but I encourage you to make a muslin fitting test piece before you cut your expensive fashion fabric if you do not already know the pattern fits.  Then you can make the same pattern with different style touches with several fabrics…stack them up, cut them out, embellish them, make them all at once!  Then let me know how it went.

 

 

 

Sew Happy with My New Machine

I have been blessed with a really fine new Bernina 880 Plus, aka Odette.  I have been doing a lot of work with the machine since I got it all settled down and I learned its little ins and outs.

I have been working on a quilt in  memory of my Mom.  Mom was a great beauty, a fabulous sewist. a woodworker, had been a nurse, and a home decorator.  She was a wonderful mother and wife during her life.  She taught me to sew and knit. This quilt is a hug and a bow to her sparkling memory.  I’m really enjoying working on it as I remember all the wonderful things she taught me and shared with me.

Mom (Zephana Bivens) in her woodshop at 78.

So my design for Mom’s memory quilt has a considerable amount of in-the-hoop embroidery in it.  Some of the embroidery designs came with my new machine, were some I had purchased or collected  in the past, and two of them I purchased just for this quilt.  In spite of when I got them, all the designs are from OESD and are amazingly well digitized and have stitched out wonderfully on my new machine.  I am so impressed with how beautiful the stitches are, how they don’t overly pull, and how wonderful they look when done.  I have three more to go, each requiring about two hours to complete.  Then I will sandwich, quilt, paint, wash and block, bind, and add crystals and pearls.

Mom, Dad, and my brother Pat before I was even on the way.

I also have done some additional sewing just to see how the machine works, testing all the attachments.  I got some special feet designed to work with leather and vinyl.  Just this week I bought enough beautiful faux leather to make my youngest son, the writer who shares this house with me, a coat and myself a jacket.  I’m excited about this project.

One of the things that came with my new machine is Bernina’s Big Book of Feet. I have been reading through it while babysitting the embroidery module doing its work.  I find I have most of the feet, since I had a Bernina 830 prior to this one and had collected them across the eight years and I got some new ones that came with the deal.  It’s so exciting when I can do and I will be sewing a lot of clothes and home decorating items over the next year as well as the planned show quilts on my list to explore some of these interesting techniques.  I’m thinking I might make some of the clothes as wearable art and enter them into shows also.  Maybe I will make a few bags and hats too.

Mom and me in May 1967. I am showing off the dress I made.

How exciting!  Will I get it all done?  Probably not, but it will be fun trying.  After nearly three months of working to get a good new machine following the breakdown of my 830, and another couple of weeks learning Odette’s ins and outs, I have concluded I have the best machine I have ever had.  It sews evenly, beautifully, and smoothly.  I foresee many years of exciting new projects ahead. Knock on wood!  LOL

I’m currently writing a book about embellishment that will include several sampler projects, just to fill in my spare time…hahahaha.  (Also, I am going to teach a class at G Street sometime in November on embellishment).

Embellish This! workshop sampler for November 2019 class.

Sew happy everyone!  Take time to learn what your machine can do.  Even some of the more basic machines will help you do some remarkable work if you take the time to explore it, but especially if you have a more advanced machine….take that time to read the manual, and try some new techniques to enhance your sewing.  It will give you lots of happiness in the process and with the items you make.