Wednesday, February 17, 2010

High Jinks and A New Quest

A photo of last night’s high jinks.  The culprit, the offender, the criminal, the guilty party, the perpetrator, the wrongdoer, AKA he is YOUR dog – Thaddeus, in the upper right side of the photo camouflaged against the dark chair. The white mess in the middle of Jim’s clothing is the toilet paper roll from the bathroom. The clothes he pulled out of the hamper and the shoes he took off the shoetree. The puppy had quite a bit to choose from and still managed to pull tee shirts, shorts, and shoes that actually went together - maybe Thaddeus should pick out Jim’s wardrobe every morning.


I love handwork. I enjoy feeling the fabric in my hands and draped against me as I stitch. I have been hand appliquéing for well over 10 years – almost as long as I have been quilting. I do a fair amount of hand piecing and have been known to attach binding completely by hand. Nevertheless, I am on a quest for the perfect machine appliqué technique. Why you ask? Speed and guilt I answer. I feel the need to justify the expense of the new sewing machine (guilt – must do more on machine) and as I approach the big five oh (50) I am realizing I will never make a dent in the list of projects I MUST complete in my lifetime if I continue to only work by hand. Another thing stopping me is a the little voice in the back of my brain that whispers “pssst….real appliquérs stitch my hand, by hand is always better than by machine, by hand is always more important, machine work is cheating, …”

I heard the little voice when the topic was hand versus machine quilting. Guess what, the little voice is full of feces. Just because it is by hand does not make it better. I hand quilt perfectly fine. I have won ribbons for hand quilting.

For me, hand quilting is easier than machine quilting. I have seen beautifully hand appliquéd quilts fade into mediocrity because even though hand quilted the quilting design did not complement or enhance the artistic vision of the quilt. Hand quilted pieces have bowled me over – but not because they were hand quilted – but because the quilting design truly enhanced the finished piece. It is like good acting – you forget it is an actor on stage and believe the character is real. I forget its fabric, batting, thread, a specific technique, etc. It is simply a beautiful object that has stopped me in my tracks.

To my artistic eye, rarely does hand quilting rival machine quilting in creating texture, dimension, and sculptural effects. If those are the effects you wish to create then machine quilting is the path to follow.

Several visits to the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky have helped quiet the little voice when it comes to machine appliqué. Sue Nickels and Pat Holly’s quilts are machine appliquéd masterpieces. Now the only thing holding me back is finding the perfect technique.

The perfect machine appliqué technique…

  1. Is first and foremost enjoyable!
  2. DOES NOT feel like a kindergarten art class – glue, sticks, water, pipe cleaners, paste, yuck! Nothing that gets my hands dirty!
  3. Feels like sewing and not crafting.
  4. Creates a beautiful edge – I would prefer a turned under edge but a beautifully stitched raw edge will do in a pinch.
  5. Uses a minimum of adhesives.
  6. Feels soft like hand appliqué – no brittle plastic feeling thread along the edges or extra layers of interfacing.
  7. Ultimately is faster than hand appliqué.

The adventure begins…I will keep you all posted!

Best Stitches,

Mercy in Miami

aka The Savage Quilter

Monday, February 15, 2010

Out With the Old, In With the New - My Top 10 Tips for Leaving the Past Behind

I can honestly say I love my Bernina 830. I can now also admit that this was not always the case. It took about six weeks of “OH MY GOOD, what did I get myself into?”, extreme anxiety, and many patient hours of my Bernina tech’s time (Eddie at The Quilt Scene in Miami) to get to this point. After lurking in several online chat groups of new 820/830 users and attending workshops I have learned that this is a shared experience among non-830 Bernina owners that move up to the 830. It seems that if you have never experienced a Bernina then the learning curve is much less steep and the lover affair instantaneous. Well this is my third Bernina so I’m guessing it was 3 times more painful for me. The advice from the Bernina mother ship (Switzerland – Chicago is only an outpost) is to forget everything you know. A little easier said than done. My suggestion to Bernina is a dictionary for Bernina brand loyal customers that translate OLD way to NEW way. I hope they are listening because I know my purchases alone over the years have built them at least a new wing on their factory!

Just to get them started here are my Top 10 for Machine Quilters…

OLD - Clean & Oil machine with every bobbin change

NEW - Set alarm on machine for 2-3 hours - clean and oil machine with every bobbin change or 2-3 hours of sewing whichever comes first - this is a very thirsty machine! Oil the brush so that it will pick up more lint & debris and at the same time oil the machine - check the entire thread path for lint or debris

OLD - Re-thread machine by pulling thread out either from spool end or from needle end

NEW - Rethread machine by cutting thread at the spool and pulling thread out from the needle end - NEVER pull thread out from the spool end because it will damage the levers and cause an expensive repair - if thread breaks open cover above needle area to reveal thread and pull from there

OLD - Lower presser foot with lever on back of machine or knee lift

NEW - Learn to use the tip of the foot petal or button to lower presser foot (not just for needle up and down anymore) - much smoother motion than knee lift and less stress on your hip joints

OLD - Free motion work drop feed dogs & set stitch length to zero

NEW - Free motion work update presser foot selection on screen and feed dogs drop automatically - Do not touch stitch length

OLD - Thread by hand or use automatic needle threader

NEW - DO NOT USE a needle threader for any needle smaller than a size 70. Thread size 60 Microtex sharp or size 65 Organ Embroidery by hand - bypass the needle threader for extra small size needles

OLD - Wind a bobbin only 50% - 75% when filling with specialty threads

NEW - Wind a bobbin only 25% - 50% with specialty threads

OLD - Place specialty threads on a thread stand and thread as usual - maybe pass through special guide

NEW - Hold the thread tightly with your right hand as it leaves the spool and then thread the machine with your left hand - the little extra pressure is all specialty or very thin threads need to register on the sensors - once registered, the thread is fine until it is time rethread the machine

OLD - Specialty thread in top and bobbin - lower top tension to a 1-2 setting (generally - all threads are different - even same thread can vary from spool to spool)

NEW - Specialty thread in top and bobbin - follow all tips listed here and lower top tension to .75 and work your way up until the tension is perfect - sew a sew rows of your design to ensure the tension is perfect - sometimes the tension sensor will not activate until you have sewn 30 - 50 stitches

OLD - Specially thread on top and cotton embroidery in bobbin - thread bobbin through finger and set top tension to 2 (generally - all threads are different - even same thread can vary from spool to spool)

NEW - Specialty thread in top and bobbin - follow all tips listed here and lower top tension to 1.75 and work your way up until the tension is perfect - sew a sew rows of your design to ensure the tension is perfect - sometimes the tension sensor will not activate until you have sewn 30 - 50 stitches

OLD - Use Walking Foot to attach binding, matching plaids, working with layers that needed to stay perfectly in place, etc.

NEW - Use #57D Foot (quarter inch piecing with guide Dual Feed) to attach binding - engage Dual Feed - lower presser foot pressure to 10 - whenever possible, select a Dual Feed foot and engage function - lower presser foot pressure to 10-20 - if sewing through extra thicknesses lower to 0 - haven't found need for walking foot yet!

Best Stitches!
Mercy in Miami
aka The Savage Quilter

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Five Lessons Learned including The Difference between Poof and Puff and the 830 Machine Quilting Cocktail

Hi gang!

First a little off the quilting topic I wanted to share the latest photo of my biggest fans! Thaddeus will be 11 months old this weekend! Just to get an idea of how big he is now - Jim is 6'5". Thaddeus stands at the edge of the sewing table and loves to watch the quilt top move around as I quilt. If he especially likes a top he brings his favorite toys over and tosses them onto the top so they "go for a ride" as I quilt.

I suppose there is no doubt now that Punxsutawney Phil is real science! What a brutal winter! Even in Miami, we have been feeling the effects. For us it is a wonderful break from the relentless heat. However, I cannot help feel badly for my friends to the North. I hope that all that are snowed in are making beautiful quilts.

Now back to Quilting....

We had quite a wonderful start to the New Year. My friends Joyce Fong from North Carolina and Shirley Bloomfield from England came to visit for a week in January. Shirley is a very accomplished, published, prize winning appliqué artist. was my guild’s guest speaker at our 25th Anniversary Luncheon.

Shirley addressing the crowd and "WOW-ing" them with her quilts

Shirley's interprepation of a Baltimore Album is the most incredile modern example I have ever seen. She really captured the joy de vivre I only see in the old Baltimore quilts.

A few of our guild's founding member's cutting the 25th Anniversary cake.

Apart from the Luncheon and the Workshops, Shirley, Joyce, Jim, and I spent the week site seeing, shopping, quilting, and eating. The highlights were a trip to Key West and day at Fairchild Tropical Gardens. It was heaven! The only thing I would have wished to be different was the temperature. While Joyce and Shirley were here, Miami set a record for the most days in a row of cold temperatures. The sunscreen and summer clothes stayed in everyone’s suitcase. Of course, Miami is not prepared for cold weather so very few places are heated – including restaurants. Poor Jim had to rummage in the attic to find our winter clothes so we could each have hats, gloves, scarves, etc. while we were out.

Here we are (clockwise - Shirley, me, and Joyce) in my sewing room at the end of a long day of fun, all bundled up.

Finally, on the last day Shirley was able to get some sun time.

Since Joyce and Shirley left, I have been focusing on refining my free motion quilting skills. I just finished quilting one of Shirley’s blocks, Summer Bounty, from her book, The Appliqué Garden. She left the block behind for me to add borders and turn it into a little wall hanging. The finished piece is a little less than 18 inches square. The wreath opening faces down but Blogger was giving me fits today and wouldn't let me rotate the photo.

At her suggestion, I wanted to add a very narrow dark berry color border to separate the appliqué from the dark green border. However, I wanted something a little more special than a simple narrow border and decided on a flat flange. It looked beautiful when first appliquéd. However, the large amount of quilting on the piece caused the border and the block to shrink resulting in the flange ruffling a tiny bit. It’s not awful because the block has dimensional elements – berries and tiny white yoyo flowers. However, if there had not been the dimensional elements, the ruffling would have been too noticeable to leave in and I would have had to take the piece apart and redo the borders and quilting.

For the dark green border, I decided on Diane-shiko stitched in dark blue green YLI #100 silk. See earlier posts on why I love this design for borders. See her website, blog or book for perfect examples of this technique. I tested several colors of thread on the border including gold, maroon, brown, purple, black, yellow green,...but was not happy with most of them. The stitches looked fine and the color was ok. But it was not special. Then when I tried the blue-green it created a color wash – almost like a haze – over the border that was very pretty. I have heard others speak of this effect but I had never experienced it firsthand. Lesson 2 learned. Test, test, test, did I say test?, test until the thread choice speaks to your soul. It is so worth it! In the photos, it appears the camera is out of focus but trust me it’s very nice.

For the block itself, I wanted to try different filler designs on the outside of the wreath than the inside of the wreath. I struggled with how to make the transition at the wreath opening where there was no appliqué. Finally, I decided to add a quilted motif – something that would naturally occur in a garden. I am not sure if a dragonfly is common in England in a summer garden, but I thought a butterfly would look too cute and a ladybug would be too small to close off the wreath opening.

Below is a closer view of the Dragonfly.

On the outside of the wreath, I drew in a ¼-inch grid and attempted micro-Diane-shiko. It is really too small. There is not enough space between the lines of quilting for the puff to define a nice design. Any freehand filler design in a very small scale would have worked just as well and I would have saved the time it took to mark the background. Lesson 3 learned.

On the inside of the wreath, I wanted to try different freehand designs in a very small scale. I wanted the quilting to look free flowing, smooth, and interesting to look at. You should be able to spot Bouncing Bananas, Galloping Garlic, Froth, and Echo filler designs. Notice that the areas that look nicer, more interesting, more aesthetically pleasing, are the areas with less dense quilting and a little more puff. So not only is it true that one cannot be either too thin or too rich, it is also true that micro filler designs can be too small! Lesson 4 learned.

I used 3 or 4 shades of very pale yellow YLI silk #100 to quilt the cream background.

Did you know that in my world there is a difference between puff and poof. Puff is the firm, filled with batting space that defines a quilting design. Puff is beautiful, sculpted, and desired. Poof is the opposite. Poof it the excess fabric bubble that sometimes forms during the machine quilting process usually ahead of the presser foot. On an appliqué quilt top poof can be used to your advantage. I actually quilted the piece from the outside, starting at the border, in to the wreath. Then I quilted from the middle out to the wreath. All the while, I corralled/directed the poof to the appliqué shapes. Then as a last step I outline quilted right at the edge of the appliqué and embroidery shapes trapping the poof and transforming it into puff.

Notice the appliqué looks stuffed. It is not.

This is a wonderful technique I read about in Sandra Leichner’s blog. I follow her blog religiously and recommend it to all that love handwork and machine quilting. Two entries I especially love are –how to machine quilt hand appliqué, and how to machine quilt hand embroidery,, notice I did not quilt on the appliqué shapes at all. These were very small pieces to begin with so I did not feel they needed quilting.
I quilted this Summer Bounty on my Bernina 830. Some of you may have read or heard about some of the challenges I faced moving from my Bernina 440 QE to the 830. On the 440 QE I used YLI #100 silk thread exclusively in the bobbin and top and only used a Microtex/Sharp No 60 or No 70 needle. This did not seem to be the silver bullet in the 830. After much experimentation by myself and my wonderful machine tech (Eddie at the Quilt Scene in Miami), I find I am finally getting good results. My current free motion machine cocktail is YLI silk #100 in the top, Aurifil cotton #50 in the bobbin, and a Schmetz Machine Embroidery Needle No 75. Depending on the quilt sandwich and the color of YLI thread, I set my top tension anywhere from a 1.5 to a 2.0. The change that resulted in the biggest improvement seemed to be the change in needle. Using the Microtex Sharp needle I was able to set the tension to get a beautiful stitch but if I picked up any speed at all the silk would shred. I had tried everything else including increasing the size of the needle all the way up to a no 90 and it still shredded. All I had left to try was to change the type of needle I was using. The clouds parts and I swear I heard angels singing! It worked like a charm! Lesson 5 learned - change is good!

I know I am not a very prolific blogger but I hope I make up for quantity with quality and sincerity. I love sharing my lessons learned, even the embarrassing ones, with all of you and hope you find the information helpful.

Best stitches,
Mercy in Miami
aka The Savage Quilter