Thursday, April 29, 2010

No Number 2 Pencil Required!

Hi gang!

According to the blog-o-sphere, Spring seems to finally be making an appearance across the rest of the US. For us in Miami living in a Tropical Monsoon Climate - it’s true I looked it up and everything, Tropical Monsoon is a real climate- our seasons are a little different. We don’t have Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Instead, we have Hurricane, Tourist, and Mosquito. Fortunately, Tourist season does not overlap Mosquito and Hurricane. We are now between seasons in a time I like to call Seminole Spring (name inspired by Indian Summer familiar to our friends up north). Too early for the mosquitoes (at least the mean ones), most of the tourist are gone (at least the mean ones), Hurricane season still a few weeks away, the air temperature is higher than the humidity reading. Sheer bliss.

I promised several blog readers that I would chat a little about monofilament thread. First, the disclaimer – everything stated here is purely my opinion and my observation. I do not have any relationship, financial or otherwise, with any of these manufacturers or distributors. Phew – glad that’s over!

I firmly believe that it is important to test techniques, tools, notions, etc. for you and not just take someone’s word for it. I have wasted quite a bit of money because I “took someone’s word for it” (I’m thinking of a relatively new marking pencil put out by a fabric manufacturer that I went and bought in every color only to discover they were worthless for my techniques). That is why I would like to share not only my results but also my testing methodology.

Step 1 layout the criteria for the test.

Step 2 is to put each product through the paces simulating REAL use.

Step 3 is to review your results, weight your options, and then spend your money.

For the monofilament thread test, I was looking for the best monofilament for my machine appliqué technique. My criteria included minimal shine; no wiry feel either on the spool or after it’s stitched, and must behave in the sewing machine (both top and bobbin). If you find that you have MANY criteria, (more than 3 is considered MANY) then prioritize them because chance are good not every product will meet all.

Here are my three subjects.

Can you tell which is the shiniest? Which is least shiny? I photographed the spools in very low light with no flash but look at how much spool 1 and 3 shine!

Next, I put each thread through the paces. My setting is an extremely tiny blind hemstitch. Width is 0.6 and Length 0.40. Not all thread behaves at this setting, at least in both the bobbin and the top.

Specifically for this test I created a machine appliqué sample that I could stitch. It’s important to use the same fabrics in your sample that you would in a real project. For example, I use a lot of batiks and hand-dyed fabrics. Even though they are expensive, I have to include them in my test or I will not get an accurate result because the weave and dye are different enough that the stitches will show more and the light may reflect differently.

The pattern is Block 1 from Mary Sorensen’s Simple Gifts ( Here I stitched the stem and the circle. Although you can see the stitches, I quite please that there is no shine with the brand used to stitch the top of the stem. There is a bit more shine on the thread used to stitch the bottom.

As for the Feel Test – the middle spool felt the least wiry. It was very soft and was not kinked at all, as it came off the spool. The other two did.

And the winner….. The middle spool Sew Art Invisible Nylon.

Originally, I had four spools to test, Sulky, Monopoly, Sew Art, and YLI. However, Thaddeus (13 month old “puppy”) took a special interest in the YLI and it disappeared before I could test with it. Someone or something, Thaddeus denies any involvement, chewed the top of the spool off causing the tightly wound thread to explode off the spool. I’m dusting for paw prints now.

Bonus Example: I just used this methodology to search out the perfect needle and thread combination for hand appliqué.

Step 1 – My criteria was simple – Invisible Stitch

Step 2 – Set up sample. I used all the problem children - hand-dyed fabrics, batiks, circles, very light colored fabric, dark fabrics, bias stems, etc. Each set identical to try out different thread/needle combinations.

Step 3 – my results were very interesting – all my samples were scalloped. It was not the thread/needle combo. It was operator error. My technique was flawed. I turned to an appliqué artist I admire and respect, Sandra Leichner ( and asked for help with technique. Thanks to her generosity, I was able to set the test up again, this time varying only the technique and viola! Here are my before Sandra’s help (berry on the left) and after Sandra’s help (berry on the right) photos. To give you some perspective, the berries are smaller than a dime. The needle is a No. 11 sharp.

Until next time, I wish you all…
Best stitches!
Mercy in Miami
aka (The Savage Quilter)

Monday, April 26, 2010

The most INCREDIBLE quilt - Sandra Leichner's new masterpiece!

Hi gang!
I'm an thrilled Sandra gave permission to post a copy of her newest quilt, Tea With Miss D., so that I could share with all of you.  Last summer I recommended her blog to my readers.  If you haven't checked it out since, please do so.  She has posted detailed shots that will take your breath away.  When viewing, keep in mind that the small roses are the size of a DIME!  That means the tiny leaves are much smaller than a dime!  They are all needle turned and the points are PERFECTLY tapered.

I have learned so much from her posts. I will post before and after shots of my hand applique stitch soon as part of a future post on How to Setup a Test that demonstrates the improvement in my work directly related to reading her tips and tricks.  Her book, with the pattern for this quilt, is scheduled for publication October 5th, 2010.  I can't wait!

Enjoy browsing her blog!

Best Stitches,
Mercy in Miami
aka The Savage Quilter

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I Owe, I Owe, It's Off to Blog I Go...

No it’s not the taxman I’m singing about (I use the word singing VERY loosely here) although I do owe him too today. I owe my blog readers. My last entry was about preparing shapes for machine appliqué. Since then I have been experimenting with various invisible/monofilament threads for stitching the appliqué down. I am still not finished because I ran into some interesting challenges using monofilament on my new machine (Bernina 830). I am happy to report that I was able to finally make the machine sew beautifully with the invisible thread and I promise to post a complete account of this adventure in the near future.

In the meantime, I do have something to share regarding design and value.

Almost every year, the local guild I belong to creates a quilt specifically for fundraising. If the taxman is reading this – please be assured Mr. Taxman that this is NOT a raffle quilt but an OPPORTUNITY quilt. Individuals make DONATIONS for the chance of winning the quilt. Okay now that the disclaimer is out of the way….

A few times, I have been asked to create an original appliqué design that reflects our area – Miami, the Tropics, etc. for the opportunity quilt. The quilts have all be executed BEAUTIFULLY! However, I have never really been satisfied with the results because I felt the design was weak. The first time the finished quilt had way too much dark, empty space surrounding each block. This last time (our 2010 quilt), I remembered what I was unhappy about in the previous design and made sure not to repeat the same mistake. This time the drawings/patterns looked fine and I was very happy with them.

Then guild members began stitching the quilt blocks. All was still good. Again, the stitching was exquisite. Then when it was time to put it all together, my heart sank. The design of the center medallion does not blend well or flow with the surrounding blocks. Worse yet, the border design is awful. When I look at the quilt all I see are these huge, dark wings.

BUT THE DRAWINGS WERE BEAUTIFUL. Where did I go wrong? < Insert tears of shame and frustration here>

Before I worked up the courage to share this dilemma on my blog I confided my disappointment with a quilt artist and friend I respect and admire, Shirley Bloomfield.

Shirley figured it out right away. The reason the drawing/pattern looks fine and the quilt does not is VALUE (degree of lightness or darkness in a color).  The original drawing/sketch was only a line drawing. No lights and darks were defined.
If I had shaded a photocopy of the original line drawing, I would have seen the huge wing shapes right away and pulled out my trusty BIG eraser!

Yes, this is embarrassing, but I wanted to share because it’s been such a valuable lesson - VALUE is always in charge.   

OK – now I’m off to pay Mr. Taxman.

Best stitches,

Mercy in Miami

aka The Savage Quilter