“Metal Hoop Know-how”

It was great to see so many of our customers at the Quilt and Sewing Expo in Fredericksburg this past week! Many of you came by and shared pictures of your current projects and of events important in your life. Some of you purchased one or more of the metal hoops for your embroidery machine, so I thought I would share with you some resources for using them. I love my metal hoops and use them often. I find them most useful when adding embroidery to pre-sewn items such as towels, tote bags and ready to wear clothing (in the embroidery world these items are known as blanks). I also use them when adding embroidered quilting designs to the quilt sandwich.  Basically, anywhere I find a traditional hooping difficult, I use my metal hoops. I do not tend to embroider designs with an extremely high stitch count, but for designs that are not overly dense, my metal hoops are perfect. If you would like to watch a how-to video on the use of the metal hoop, please follow the links below. Both videos show some interesting projects, so if you have time, you may want to view both. Husqvarna Viking                                 Pfaff

“Flat Felled Seams”

I am making a long vest for the coming fall season and one of the steps requires me to make a flat felled seam. Since I will be making this seam in the neck area of the vest, I thought I would simply use flat felled seams as a design element in the rest of the vest. Flat felled seams are the type of construction elements used in jeans jackets and on the outside leg seams of a pair of jeans. They are also known as French Seams and are found on high end men’s dress shirts. Many sewing machine manufacturers have a foot that can be very helpful with this technique. Some of you may even have one of these feet in your accessory box and simply have not known what to do with it. Flat felled seams allow you to have no raw edges; neither on the wrong side nor the right side of the project. They are excellent for materials that are prone to fraying such as linens, tweeds and other woven materials. These feet come in different sizes depending upon what size felling you are using.   Pfaff has two sizes of felling feet,

and Husqvarna Viking has one size.   (In each picture, you see the foot and the ankle that is used with it, included for those of you who have purchased two different ankles for your machine.)

In case you have never used one of these feet or in case you need a refresher on its use, I have included links to two how-to videos that you may find helpful.

Pfaff.                          Husqvarna Viking                                                                                  Happy sewing!

“Pressing Curves”

My sewing is very eclectic. Because my sewing is so eclectic, so too is my collection of sewing tools: I have countless rulers, types of scissors, clips, pins, blocking mats, etc.   You name it, I probably have it. There is one tool in my collection that, I believe, is a must if you will be working on any type of projects that involve sewing curves. That tool is a pressing ham. I have two, actually. Each one has different curves available to handle anything on which I might be working. Since I like to use all the different curves and surfaces of the hams, I also have a stand into which they both will fit.

A pressing ham allows the pressing of curved seams without creating creases, as would happen if you pressed curved seams on a flat ironing surface.

Usually there is a wool side to the ham and a cotton side, allowing different amounts of steam and temperature to penetrate the fabric for your project. Since the ham is usually filled with sawdust or an equivalent material, you are able to pin directly into the ham, fixing your curve directly to the surface of the tool.

This makes it great for working with anything on the bias too (such as this jacket’s curved back neck).


Though this tool is used most often by garment sewers, I have also used it in home décor and quilting: anywhere I have needed to press a curved seam. I even use it to press flat seams that become curved when they drape over the body, such as those for darts.

By the way, I am all for saving money, but this tool should be one of quality. The two hams I use have been with me for over 30 years and have been used countless times, but are both in excellent condition. If you buy quality here, you will probably never have to replace it.

“The Look of Hand Quilting”

Newer sewing machines have so many unique stitches for quilting. As you explore the ones on your machine, I encourage you to try out the hand-picked stitches that resemble quilting by hand.  This stitch uses monofilament (clear) thread for the needle thread and regular thread in the bobbin. The stitch works best when the top thread tension is increased so it pulls the bobbin thread to the top of the quilt sandwich.  This technique also works best when using 50 weight thread in the bobbin that matches the color of your quilt’s background fabric.  As you can see in this example (using no batting), from left to right, I kept increasing the top tension until the red bobbin thread was clearly visible on the right side of the fabric.    You will need to stitch examples before you use this stitch on your project in order to achieve the results that are pleasing to you.  These are the settings I settled on to create the rows of stitching on my sample.    I found I did not like the stitch as much when I increased the length from the factory setting.  I encourage you to try this stitch and look at it in person since the monofilament thread tends to have a sheen to it when photographed.  This is not noticeable when looking at it in person.  This technique cannot be used in free motion mode, since the machine needs to go forward and backward to create the stitch:  feed teeth must be engaged.  This stitch is best used for channel quilting, either in straight channels or in diamond patterns.

“Serged Seams”

The majority of the fabrics I use in my sewing are prone to fraying. Over the years, my serger has become the main tool I use for the construction of all of these projects, be they for home décor or garment sewing. Using the serger eliminates the need for lining these projects and allows them to last much longer than if I did nothing. Of course, in the days before sergers were for the home market, all of my seams needed to be encased, but that is a skill I’m glad I do not have to use often anymore! I use three main techniques when using my serger for construction; each technique is project dependent and each uses the four thread set up on the serger.

1) The easiest thing to do is to serge all of the edges of the cut fabric before sewing any seams. Keep in mind that this will remove any clips or notches that you have cut, so you will need to mark these some other way.

After serging the raw edges, you simply construct the project as normal.   You will have the serger threads (in purple) covering the raw edge of the seam and the sewing machine thread (in red)creating the seam allowance.

   2) The second technique involves serging the seam allowance, right sides together, as if you were sewing it on your sewing machine.

You will now have a serged seam that has not used your sewing machine at all.

Press the seam to one side

and replace the standard presser foot on your sewing machine with the edge stitching foot.

On the right side of the fabric, place the foot’s guide so it runs along the ditch of the seam,  and move your needle position to a pleasing place to the left of the seam ditch to topstitch.


If you wish, you may also topstitch the seam again, moving your needle position a little further to the left of the foot’s guide. (My needle position in this example was set first at -3.0 and then at -6.0).

3) Lastly, the third technique sews the seam allowance first with the sewing machine.

Without pressing the seam open, take it to the serger and position it so the machine stitching is directly under the guide on the presser foot of the serger.

This means the left needle of the serger will be running over the sewing machine’s seam (which in this example is the red thread). 

This seam is then pressed to the side and it may be topstitched as in technique #2.
I have found all three of these techniques to be strong enough for garment construction. I personally use technique #2 most often, even when sewing high stress seams such as those for slacks. Unless the garment is ill-fitting and too tight, the seams should last many years.

“Going Big”

Last week I told you I would talk more about using the 360X350 hoop on my “lesson” quilt. I have used the hoop for several projects, but never to quilt something with all three quilt sandwich layers: top, batting and backing. This large hoop comes with the same quick release mechanism that comes with all the Husqvarna Viking and Pfaff machines.

     The quick release allows you to set the hoop, close the quick release and then re-hoop projects of the same thickness over and over without making more adjustments with the adjustment screw; just by opening and closing the quick release lever. It saves time when embroidering multiple projects and it holds the project in the hoop very firmly, giving you better stitch quality. I was able to hoop the quilt and was able to use the hoop clips around the perimeter (you need to use these silver clips on all of the larger hoops that have the notches for the clips),    but the quilt was too thick to close the quick release lever.

The pattern stitched out beautifully, and the two halves of the hoop lined up exactly the way they should, using the reference stitch,                but I don’t think I will use it again with all three quilt layers. I always slow the machine when using this hoop, as recommended in the hoop’s instructions, but I think I will quilt with it before putting the whole sandwich together, then apply the backing as I do before I stitch-in-the-ditch. How taught the fabric is in the hoop greatly affects how well the design stitches out. Not being able to close the quick release lever means I didn’t get as much tension on the fabric as I could have gotten had the quick release been engaged. I’m not displeased with how the hoop performed for me: in fact I am thrilled with how well it did in spite of the fact I could not engage the quick release. I simply understand that sometimes I should quit while I’m ahead! By the way, did you notice that variegated thread doesn’t look very good if the background fabric changes color?  

Another valuable lesson this quilt has taught me.

“A Question of Tension”

I do a lot of sewing, but I rarely change the upper thread tension of my machine. With the Husqvarna Viking Sewing Advisor, I just feel I don’t really need to. I input the material I’m sewing and the machine sets the tension for me. This led to my revelation this week. I made a quilted throw out of some very inexpensive, badly cut jelly rolls that I had purchased years ago, long before I had any idea of what to do with them. I used left over batting and backing and used this as an opportunity to do a number of sewing experiments that I wouldn’t normally try if I were making a gift or something really nice. I knew from the beginning of the project, it would not be a great looking project, but it would be a great learning tool. I put the jelly roll top together in no time and had it stitched in the ditch to the backing and batting in record time. It’s amazing how quickly something will go together when you don’t have to be at all careful! Anyway, I decided to try out a quilting design using the 360X350 hoop (we’ll talk about the findings on that adventure another time), but I did run into one snag. You see, when the machine is in embroidery mode, it automatically changes the top thread tension to a much lower tension. This is so the top thread pulls all the way to the back of the work, creating a very unbalanced stitch. This is what makes the beautiful embroidery stitches so striking on the front of your project. I didn’t take this into account when I made the decision to use two different colored threads for the top thread and bobbin thread for the design. I wanted the back of the design to blend into the black background, so I used black thread in the bobbin. I used a variegated thread for the top thread to see how variegated changes look in the quilting designs. As you can see from the pictures, the variegated thread I used for the top 

pulled to the black backing.

I have as much variegated thread on the back of the quilt as I do on the front! 

This isn’t a bad thing if that is your intention. I have always used the same color thread in both the top thread and in the bobbin when using embroidered quilting designs, so this fact just didn’t dawn on me. Because of this learning project, I will never forget this experience and its outcome. If you decide to use two different colors of thread in the top and the bobbin for one of your embroidered quilting designs, don’t forget to stitch out a test first so you can increase the upper thread tension to create a more balanced stitch.

“Beginning and Ending”

During class #2 of the machine owners’ class we experience the use of several stitches that may not be as commonly used by most sewers. One of these stitches is the seam/overcast. The overcast stitches can be used to help limit the amount of fraying a piece of fabric is able to do, but a seam/overcast is a stitch that not only limits a fabric’s fraying, but also is used as a construction method. These stitches are often done using a presser foot that has a pin over which the thread stitches as it goes over the edge of the fabric for the overcast part of the stitch.

Since the thread is going over this pin it is not advisable to reverse the sewing to do any reinforcing stitching; you could damage the pin. If the seam/overcast is supposed to be a method of construction, how do you secure the beginning and ending of a seam if you cannot backstitch? This week I took time out of my sewing projects to do some charity sewing. I make walker bags for a local nursing and rehab facility.  (They supply the fabric and I supply the labor!) I assemble these bags using the seam/overcast for woven fabrics (stitch #16 on my machine).


As I begin to sew a seam, I start out with a straight stitch in the far left needle position (stitch #1 on my machine). 

I sew about ¼” and then reverse my stitching until I am back at the beginning of my seam, then I switch to the seam/overcast stitch and finish the rest of the seam. As I get to the end of my seam, I switch from the seam/overcast stitch back to the straight stitch in the left needle position. This allows me to finish the seam and backstitch without any thread being on the pin. My seams are very secure at the beginning and end while also being overcast to prevent fraying.  By using the left needle position straight stitch, I am sewing in exactly the same place as the “seam” portion of the seam/overcast stitch.  This allows the seam on the right side of the fabric to be smooth.  The only one who knows two different stitches were used to create the seam is me….and now you!

“Matching Fabric Patterns”

Last week I started cutting out a knit top. I promised I would give you some hints concerning matching fabric patterns, so here we go! The fabric for my knit top is a tie-dye look with a very large repeat. It is basically, a large stripe. This is good because stripes are much easier to work with since they only have to be matched in one direction. The rule is to match the front, back and sleeve fabric pattern using the armhole notches of the garment’s paper pattern pieces.

I also use the underarm seam (where the pieces will be sewn, not cut) to make the match even more accurate.

When these are all cut from the fabric, (the front, the sleeve and the back) the stripe matches all the way across the body.


I usually sew my garments using a flat construction method, so this is what the top looks like with the sleeves attached, but the side seams not yet sewn. 

Once the side seams are sewn, the fabric’s pattern will run across the front, will be picked up on the sleeve at the same level and will be carried on to the back. 

When cutting out your pattern pieces, lay one of the pieces you have already cut on top of the fabric, matching the pattern of the fabric you have cut to the fabric of the piece you are going to cut. If you have done it correctly, your pattern piece will disappear into the fabric. Can you find the pattern piece?


“Working with Knits”

Now that the jelly roll throw has found its way to Richmond and the table runner is safely on a table in Michigan, I have begun to make some new garments for myself. Today I was cutting out a new knit top and thought I would share a couple tips for cutting and working with knits. Many of the customers I teach in the machine classes find sewing on knits to be rather intimidating. If you follow a few simple guidelines, it’s not as tricky as one might think. First of all, you may want to consider cutting out the knit using a rotary cutter and mat rather than using scissors. Knits tend to migrate in different directions when they are cut with scissors, so using a small rotary cutter gives much more control over the fabric. This does take a bit of practice, but if you use a rotary cutter often, you will quickly get the hang of it. Also, the way the material is put onto the bolt is not necessarily the way in which you want to cut it. The fabric will come off the bolt with the selvages on one side and a fold on the other, just like every woven fabric, but knits do not give up the imprint of that fold as they are pressed and worked with. Therefore, the fabric needs to be re-folded so the selvages meet each other in the middle.

This allows the pieces that need to be cut on the fold a fold that is not “set in”. Nothing says “homemade” like a permanent crease down the front and back of a garment! With the fabric selvages meeting each other in the middle, the front and back of the garment can be pinned across from each other. 

(This also helps with pattern matching, which we’ll talk about next week.) Once the front and back pattern pieces are cut, re-fold the fabric so the selvages are on one side and the fold is on the other (just the way the fabric originally came off the bolt). 

Now you are ready to cut out the sleeves. 

(If you had kept the fabric folded the way it was folded for the front and back pieces, your fabric would not have enough width to accommodate the sleeve head.) Since knit fabrics are usually 58”-60” wide, there is usually more than enough fabric to make these folding modifications. Almost all knit patterns will show these folding modifications in their cutting layout directions. Next week………….matching patterns!