Fine Tuning Fabric Art Projects: Threads

As many of you know I love decorative threads and I love using them with appliques and in all kinds of machine embroidery and other uses in the course of my fabric art making.  Sew I decided to write a little bit about my favorites and how I like to use them.

First of all, for general success be sure when you thread your machines to run the cross wound threads off the top  and the stack wound threads straight out.  Most machines have instructions in their manuals for how to do this.  Also, if using a cone, be sure to use a cone net to make it work evenly.

Perspective in Threads, one of my earlier pieces that, except for the borders, is a whole cloth piece using four different thread weights.

12 weight threads:  These threads are wonderful to use when you want your stitching to show.  Since I am currently on a wool kick, I will start with wool thread.  Wool thread makes beautiful accents for wool appliques, machine embroidery, or Spanish Moss hanging from the trees.  I like Aurifil’s Lana wool blend threads.  I use 100/16 top stitch titanium coated needles by Superior with it and Aurifil’s 50 weight cotton in the bobbin.  These threads are a bit linty, since wool is linty, so you have to clean out the thread path and the bobbin area after every couple of hours of stitching with it, but it provides such a wonderful result.  I also set the top tension lower with this thread and stitch more slowly than I usually do because it has a tendency to break, though not bad if you do these things.  I’m sure these are the reasons thay added the acrylic in an effort to control the downside of wool as a thread.

The Spanish moss in the quilt below were all stitched on my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm with Aurifil wool blend thread that I bought in the large 383 yard spools.

Night on the Bayou
59″ x 31″
Inspired by a painting by Disney artist
Joel Christopher Payne
       used  by permission.

 

So I did a lot of testing and find that for stitching with my two domestic sewing machines that a lot of different brands of 12 weight cotton work just fine for feed dogs up sewing, but the one that works the best for me for free motion stitching is Sulky 12 weight cotton.  It has less knotting and other problems as long as I use the same 100/16 topstitch needle and slightly lower the upper tension.  I use Superior Bottom Line 60 weight polyester in the bobbin with 12 weight cotton at the default setting although for heavy decorative patterns or in the hoop embroidery I tighten the bobbin tension one click to the right in my Bernina 880 plus.

Kanazawa Memories, Completed August 2015
Sashiko designs stitched with 12 weight Sulky cotton. Appliqued with Monopoly.

When I am sewing on my Bernina sitdown longarm Q20, I frequently use Superior’s M Style prewound bobbins, which are also Botton Line.  They are so evenly wound and work very well.  I just make sure I am putting them in the right direction (I usually write Bernina on the right side) and just use them exactly as if I were using a Bernina bobbin I wound.  For my Q20 I set the bobbin tension at about 180 for Bottom Line.

40 Weight Threads: 40 weight embroidery threads are wonderful and they are the thread I use the most for embroidery and quilting.  I use them in both the top and the bobbin when making a show quality quilt, although I also often use Superior Bottom Line in the bobbin too.  For the most part, I use two different 40 weight brands.  I use an 80/12 or 90/14 Superior topstitch titanium coated needle with these threads.  These needles stitch much longer than most and if you are stitching through fusible webs, they don’t seem to attract as much of the glue on the needle.  For the most part, default tensions work with these threads.

  • Superior Magnifico poly, Fantastico variegated poly, which are basically the same thread except Magnifico is solid and Fantastico is variegated.
  • Superior King Tut cotton which is matte finish and usually requires the larger 90/14 needle
  • Isacord poly.  I started out embroidering with this thread.  It is very good, but not as shiny as the Magnifico or Fantastico.  It does make a nice quilting thread.

Stitched with Magnifico in a goldish color.

Monopoly

I only use Superior’s Clear Monopoly or black Monopoly It is so thin and strong, and it does not show up shiny like some monopolies.  I understand there are others that are reportedly just as good, but I know this is a successful monopoly.  I use it for stitch in the ditch and applique when I want to hide the stitching.  This works best for me with a 70/10 or 80/12 universal Schmetz needle, which is larger than recommended.  The reason is the point of a universal is not as sharp and if it “steps” on the thread it is less likely to break it than a sharp pointed needle.  It took me a while to learn this one.  Your machine may prefer a different size needle, but I encourage you to use a universal needle.  You have to be a little careful with this thread as it is so very lively and can wrap itself around things in the bobbin and so forth.  It is so very hard to see, but it provides a wonderful result and once you get your machine set up right it sews very well.  I set the top tension really low, even down to 1.0 or 1.5.  I do not put it in the bobbin, so I use Bottom Line with it.  I do not cut it with the machine cutter, but rather pull it out a little further than usual so it doesn’t pull back out of the needle when cut, which I have found it often does otherwise.  I do a little back stitching to tie it off.  You can’t see any thread buildup in that case and it holds it better even than a hand knot.

Metallic Threads

Metallic threads are so beautiful and I confess it has been my greatest challenge in getting it to work well, but I decided to apply the same set up for metallics as I do for Monopoly only I use a 90/14 Superior top stitch needle for success.  I was told to use a Metalic thread needle, but I did not find that as successful.  It may be the way I sew, who knows.  In any event after some testing I find I prefer Superior Metallic threads and I run it through the path on my machines that allows me to use the Bernina thread lubricant, or I just use a thread lubricant on the spool before stitching.  It is really important to test things on a test piece before using any of these threads on your project.

Light Weight Threads

When I don’t want to use a Monopoly for one reason or another, I like to use a 100 weight thread.  These threads make wonderful quilting threads especially when you want to have the quilting sink into the background, do microquilting, or are appliqueing so it looks like hand applique.  My favorites for these techniques are Superior Kimono 100 weight silk thread, and Superior Microquilter 100 weight poly.

I have already mentioned Superior’s 60 weight Bottom Line for bobbin work, but I also have successfully used it as a top quilting thread, a piecing thread, and even to make clothing.  It is strong and pretty.  It also sinks nicely into the background, but spreads a little more color than 100 weight when you are doing microquilting.

When using these threads in the top, I use a Superior 70/10 top stitch titanium coated needle and lower the top tension to about a 1.75 for the silk or 2.25 for the poly.  If you start having trouble with breakage, you might try an 80/12 top stitch needle.

So I made a chart some years back for use with my Bernina Q20.  I just updated it this week, and thought I would include it here.  Yes, I am aware there are differences from previous versons of this chart, but I have continued to make adjustments as I learned more.  Your own machines may need adjusting, but the point is that threads of all kinds may need their own special settings for optimal results.  So do some experimenting and testing.  I encourage you to create your own guides and have fun with those fabulous threads.

Sew happy everyone!  Go forth and create something wonderful or just have some fun in your own studiois.

 

 

Wool Applique and Other Things

Hi dear readers.  I am pretty excited because I have finally gotten a good start on my wool applique project and have made a decision about what I will work on for my secondary project.

Test and practice piece I made to make some decisions before starting the actual project.

So today I pulled together all the pieces I have had around the studio for a while that are available for my wool project.  I was pleased to find my packages of felt that I had bought some years ago are fine melton wool felt .  These are mostly two unused packages of a variety of colors I bought them from Nancy’s Notions probably 7 or 8 years ago and they are in wonderful shape. They don’t have these now, so I recommend Sue Spargo sets such as the blue set or the red set I highlighted available on Amazon.

Here are the melton wool pieces I will be using for this project. The background reddish brown piece is richer in color than it appears in this picture. It is one of the new pieces I ordered from a tailoring supply place in California. The smaller precuts were purchased years ago in multicolored packs and are also melton wool felt.

I have several gorgeous melton wool pieces in one yard cuts that I ordered about a month ago.  Since the wool applique projects I am making for my book and videos are small, these 60 inch wide one yard cuts will make two or even three of the projects background pieces, a test piece, and are likely to have small leftover bits that can be added to the smaller pieces for the appliques.

Detail showing some of the decorative stitching.

I have also been identifying where to find the supplies for people who want to make these projects themselves.  I will share those with you at some later point once I figure it all out.

A detail from the test piece showing how well the applique is stitched on by machine with almost no visibility of the stitches.

I have some interesting hand woven placemats I bought somewhere sometime years ago and decided they were not going to work for placements for me, but they were really interesting handwoven look.  I don’t know the fiber content though I think it is cotton and wool, and I can’t even remember when or where I bought them. I washed and dried them by machine and they came out in good shape.  They will be an interesting addition for appliques I can use in the future or for the show quilt I am planning on making at the end of the great wool project.  Before I cut them out, they will have to be backed with interfacing and/or Steam-a-Seam fusible, which kind of acts as a stabilizer and will keep them from fraying.  I will show those to you when I figure where and how to use them.

Additional detail stitching. I am saving a library of these stitches as I have them set in the files on my Bernina 880 Plus. I have had this machine for about a year now and the more I use it the better I like it. It’s amazing.

Sew I have made a couple of decisions  for studio activities for the future.  I plan on making a new deep space quilt as my second project to work on for when I need a break from the wool project.

Spiral Galaxy No. 3 one of my deep space quilts.

I always want two projects going at once to give my mind and sewing muscles differing things to do from time to time.  The neat thing is that deep space quilts are made almost entirely free motion with angelina fibers, a little bit of painting, and hot fix crystals.  That means it will mostly be done in Studio Fritz the room where my Bernina Q20 longarm sitdown machine (Fritz) resides.   While the wool project will mostly be done in Studio Gibbs where my Bernina 880 plus  (Odette) lives and where my cutting/painting/whatever island is.  I also plan a bit of needle punching with my little Bernina 350 for which I have the needle punch attachment. That, too, will be part of my book and video projects.

A Word About the Future of the Craft of Sewing

Okay.  I know I said two decisions.  The second one is to figure out the direction for my work for the future. I decided I don’t want to do online live classes like on Zoom, but I will do some hopefully enjoyable videos and put them on YouTube.  I have been and still am a studio artist and this is my main focus.  I did do some local classes at G Street Fabrics, and was kind of considering entering the larger teaching circuit, but that avenue is no longer available at the moment. I had found it so much work and it barely paid me back for the work and expenses I invested in the classes.  I loved it and glad I had the experience, but I won’t be returning to in person teaching.

While I still very much wish to share what I have learned, I am going to do this by writing books and making videos and perhaps the occasional trunk show if invited.  I will continue to work in my slow way toward these goals.

I don’t know if the quilt shows will fully come back for years.  I am going to still make professional show-quality art quilts, and capture the making of them in videos and blogs and books.  If the in-person shows come back, I will then have some to enter just for fun, but I’m not going to stop making them.  I don’t know what I will do with them beyond that and giving them away here and there or selling one every so often and enjoying them myself.

Don’t worry when you hear of shows closing and people changing their current paths in the quilting or sewing world.  The sky is not falling. There even appears to be some new interest in sewing and quilting brought on by people making masks and experimenting with sewing during the pandemic. Sew if you have the opportunity, teach someone to sew even if it is remotely.  As Becky Thompson on her YouTube Vlog Power Tools with Thread likes to say “Go sew something!”

Looking Forward to Some Sewing and Quilting

Hi y’all.  I have pretty much figured out the video making puzzle and have all the things lined up for that, and now I need to do some additional work on the fabric art projects I am planning to use for my videos before I can start this up.

So, with a lot of happiness, I decided I will spend the whole next week at least just “working” on fabric art.  I will be taking progress photos and probably small snatches of videos as I do this, of course, but mostly I will be playing in my studio with fabrics and threads.  I’m so glad I don’t have a deadline!

The question is, what am I going to work on now?  Well, I have the wool applique by machine project and I also want to start up one of my many planned items I already designed in the free motion/quilting arena.  It should be fun and I hope very soon to share the fun with you in my planned videos on YouTube.

One of the things I have found really fun while I was working on the video equipment was to watch old Sewing with Nancy shows.  I think I have found nearly all of them now to watch on my tv or computer monitor.  Pfaff has put her original older ones on YouTube where she used Pfaff machines (search for Pfaff Talk and you will probably see it there).  They nicely bunched all the parts of a subject into one longer video, which is nice. In searching for “Sewing with Nancy” on my Roku, I also found I could place a PBS link on my Roku that has the Wisconsin PBS collection of her shows they have.  They are organized by season going back to about the time she switched away from Pfaff to the BabyLock that her company owned.  I believe that almost covers her entire production, though there may be more.  There is a huge wealth of great shows between these two sources and I have been having a lot of fun having that on while I worked.  She was an amazing woman who gave us sewists a lot.  I miss her though I only met her briefly once at a quilt show.

Sew I am taking a full break today.  I sold one of my two cars yesterday to one of those companies that buys cars, because we were having trouble keeping the battery charged and running since we used it so little.  They gave me a fairly good deal on it.  Both my son and I work from home and we simply don’t need more than one car between us.

That was an almost surreal adventure.  I found I had a flat tire when I got there. It drove fine all the way there except I had noticed a little bumpiness at one point that I chalked up to the road. David was driving the car I sold, and on the way the EZPass in that car decided it was time for the battery to quit working and he had to stop and pay the toll with a credit card, and then I got there and realized I had left my wallet behind!  I never do that.  But I had put it down to grab my mask and forgot to pick it back up.  So we got the AAA to come and fix the tire, which apparently is not damaged in any way, and we discovered the other car had a low tire too!  Odd, don’t you think?  Suspicious?  He pumped up that tire too, which also did not appear to be damaged and David drove me back to pick up my wallet and we went back and completed the sale.  It was trying and tiring, but we came home all safe and sound.

Sew after a tough week that also included having my dishwasher die and getting a new one installed on Wednesday, as well as the real work of figuring out all that video equipment, and then to be topped off with the difficult day yesterday, I decided to just goof off today and pick up again tomorrow after church (I watch our church service online, even singing the songs, giving the responses aloud, and so forth. That helps make it more real).

Despite it all, this difficult week ends up with a nice new dishwasher, a check for the car, and my video equipment and methods figured out and ready to use with charged batteries and downloaded manuals on how to use the equipment, and I even made progress on learning the editing software.  Thank the Lord!

Sew happy everyone!  I’m really ready for some time playing with fabric and threads.  How about you?

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.