“Does it Really Matter?”

I am starting an embroidered, quilted tote for a friend’s birthday.  As I was gathering the materials, thread, designs and batting, I was reminded of a conversation I had yesterday in my machine class.  We were talking about batting and talking about the quilting distance ratings of batting.  Not everyone was aware that all batting has a distance requirement between quilting areas: every inch, two inches, three inches, etc.  If you have purchased a batting that requires a close distance between quilted areas, you should be very careful to comply with that recommendation.  Batting migration and bunching is no fun to try to correct once it happens.  Usually, the project needs to be taken apart and put back together again with a higher quality batting or it gets to become the dog’s new favorite blanket!  I, personally, like to quilt with batting that has at least a 10 inch recommendation.  I am not a person who uses a lot of heavy areas of quilting in my projects, preferring instead that lofty look.  A ten inch recommendation also allows me to have embroidered blocks that have no quilting in them at all.  I really like to use this type of batting for “stitch in the ditch” projects that also allow me to scatter my quilting throughout the project.  Most batting of quality has the quilting distance requirement printed on the product bag or the end of the bolt.  If there is no distance recommendation given, I always assume it needs to have quilting every inch or two, no wider.  This applies to polyester batting, cotton batting or blends.  The material the batting is made of does not necessarily determine the quilting distance.  Bottom line…..when choosing the batting for your next quilting project make sure you know the quilting distance for which the batting was intended.  It will make a world of difference in your outcome!

“How To Attach A Zipper Foot”

As I was teaching the “Sewing Machine Basics” classes yesterday, it occurred to me that I have never addressed how to put the zipper foot on the machine.  I guess because I have inserted so many zippers over my life, it never occurred to me that someone had never inserted one.  Talk about being in my own little world!  Zipper insertion isn’t taught in our Basics classes because all it entails is a straight stitch, which I do cover, so putting the foot on has been something I assumed was obvious:  but maybe not.  Almost every machine, no matter the price, comes with a zipper foot.  There are also optional zipper feet for specific purposes, but they all pretty much work under the same principal.  They all give you access to the zipper to allow you to sew as close to the zipper teeth as you want.  A basic zipper foot comes with the other accessories of your machine.

Included zipper foot for (left to right) Brother, Pfaff and Husqvarna Viking machines.

The zipper foot has the ability to attach either from the left or the right of the ankle to allow you to sew first up one side and then up the other side of the zipper without turning the project.  Since you almost always install a zipper from the bottom to the top, this ability to shift the foot is very handy.

Pfaff foot attached to sew up the right side of a zipper.
Pfaff foot attached to sew up the left side of a zipper.
Husqvarna Viking foot attached to sew up the right side of a zipper.
Husqvarna Viking foot attached to sew up the left side of a zipper.

Specialty zipper feet come in two varieties:  one for putting in a zipper when there is not much room around it (the narrow zipper foot) and one for inserting an “Invisible” zipper.  This foot, either in metal or clear plastic, allows the coils to unroll as it is stitched giving that invisible quality to the finished insertion.

Narrow zipper foot also attaches so the zipper can be sewn up the left side of the zipper…..
………or up the right side of the zipper.
The foot for inserting “Invisible Zippers” comes in either a metal or plastic version. Both allow you to uncurl the zipper teeth while sewing to produce that invisible quality.

I hope these pictures have helped if you are one of those people who have had very little zipper insertion experience!

“Pointers for Decorative Stitches”

As I have said many times before, I love decorative stitches!  Embellishment just works for me.  Over the years, because I enjoyed using decorative stitches in so many of my projects, I quickly grew weary of only stitching in straight lines.  Whenever I chose to use my decorative stitches in some other way other than in straight lines though, my project seemed to take on that, “Bless your heart, you made that yourself, didn’t you?” look.  No one needs that!  So I decided to start practicing; specifically, left and right 90 degree corners and decorative stitches along gentle curves.  If you do not already possess these skills, I hope you will start your own practice habit.

Practice lines on my fabric for right angles and gentle curves. The curve is a 3mm curve.

This is what I know: 

1.  When stitching with decorative stitches, always work with the needle in the “down” position when you stop sewing.  This will allow you to always keep your needle exactly where you left off so when you change sewing direction, the stitch does not get distorted by the needle or by the fabric moving unexpectedly. 

2. Use the marks on your presser foot to help you keep the alignment you want for your stitch.  You may find it helpful to slow down the speed of your machine to facilitate accuracy.

Here I am lining up the red middle guide mark on the foot with the drawn line on my fabric.

3.  Use the foot controller and not the “Stop/Start” feature (if your machine has this).  You will have much more control when using the foot controller.

4.  Choose stitches that naturally fit into the shape you want them to create.  Stitches with a lot of backwards motion have a hard time following curves, for example. 

I chose a stitch for the curve and then used the side to side mirror image function.
Lining the foot up for the decorative stitches on a curve. The middle mark is not my best option here, so I chose to follow the left foot marking.

5.  When using satin stitches for right angles, where the needle stops is very important.  When your angle goes off to your left, the needle needs to stop in the down position on your right inside the foot before making the turn.  When your angle goes to your right, the needle needs to stop in the down position on your left inside the foot before making the turn.  With practice, these specific needle stops will yield perfect right angles.  Also, in order to maintain a right angle and keep your presser foot lined up correctly, you will need to sew past the line you are going to sew next.  In other words, when coming to the corner, sew past it a couple stitches until the presser foot guideline you have been using lines up perfectly with the line you are going to sew next.

The needle is now set to turn the corner and sew to my left, down the next line.
The needle is now set to turn the corner going to my right.
The finished practice exercises. Remember to use stabilizer on the back of your fabric and the presser foot meant for decorative stitches for best results.

6. The most important thing to remember is to breathe and have fun!

“Do They Really Work?”

Frequently during my machine classes customers ask me about bias binders.  It sounds so promising that a foot can be attached to the machine to make this finish easier and faster to apply.  Many times the question is, “Do they really work?”  My answer is always “yes”, but there is a caveat.  You will need to practice using them to get the professional results you are seeking.  Much like the hemming feet, I find that using the bias binders and the quilt binder take some practice, but they do make the job much faster if you have put in the time learning how to use them.  When purchasing any of the binders you will want to keep in mind how each foot was designed to work.  Some feet are made to work with purchased binding, some are designed to work with binding you cut and create.

Adjustable binders are usually meant to work best with purchased, pre-folded single fold bias tape.

Stationary binders are meant to be used with purchased bias tape or created bias strips within a certain size range.

The new quilt binding foot (which came out this past fall) is meant to work with 1.75” fabric strips for use as binding on quilts. It is specifically designed to feed the thickness of two layers of material with batting through the foot. Husqvarna Viking Quilt Binder. Pfaff Quilt Binder. Looking each of these up in the accessory catalog available online will help you determine what foot could be just what you are looking for. In the meantime, you may want to check out this older video posted by Sara of Heirloom Creations. She demonstrates the adjustable and the stationary binders. Just know that the 1/2″ binder she demonstrates is no longer available. (The new Quilt Binders have no demonstration videos yet that I found.)

“Directions Maverick”

I spent my career as an educator teaching children in grades K through 6.  Directions are the bread and butter of a teacher.  Teachers aren’t always terrific at following directions, though.  I am making a garment onto which I will be appliqueing lace on the front as well as on the back.  In my opinion, free standing lace is one of the most elegant items that can be created on an embroidery machine.

This is the lace I decided to create using a natural white thread, with no color changes.

In the past, I have followed the directions to the letter about what types and what weight threads to use, the speed of the machine and needles to use.  My embroidery always seemed to bog down as the satin stitches began to layer one upon the other, breaking needles, thread and necessitating the slowing of the machine to its slowest speed just to get through.  This just didn’t seem right to me, so I decided to make some rule changes of my own.  Some types of laces are more open than others, so this writing is pertaining only to the lace I made today; a fairly dense lace.   For this lace, the directions asked for 40 weight embroidery thread for the top.  I followed that direction.  The directions then asked for the same 40 weight thread to be used in the bobbin.  To me that seemed as if it would be too thick so I decided, since the back of the lace would not show, to use 80 weight bobbin thread that I bought at Bonny’s last week, which is very thin.

I used 80 weight Deco-Bob bobbin thread instead of my usual 60 weight or the 40 weight the directions suggested using. Remember, the higher the number the thinner the thread.

The needle recommendation was for a new 75/11 sharp needle.  I instead used a new 80/12 chrome coated Microtex.

Top thread, bobbin thread and needles I used.

The directions also said to use 2 layers of non-woven water soluble stabilizer; I used 3.

I used three layers of Aqua Mesh……
….and hooped them together.
All the materials I needed to create my free standing lace.

Lastly, the directions asked for the machine speed to remain unchanged.  I embroidered all of the under stitches at the highest speed.  As soon as the more dense satin stitches began on the outside of the design, I dropped the speed by one level.  As the even more dense stitches began in the center of the lace, I dropped the speed to half.

Once the under stitching was finished, I lowered the speed by one level. I lowered the speed again when the stitches became even more dense.
The finished stitch out, still in the hoop.

This 33,000+ stitch lace was done in 1 hour and 20 minutes without a hitch.

I cut away the excess stabilizer and put it away for another project.
Once the excess stabilizer has been removed, it’s time for a warm bath! This is the lace before the bath.

This is the lace after the bath.

I pass along this knowledge in hopes that, you too, will be a directions maverick!

“Now That’s Cool…..”

For years I’ve enjoyed watching a program on PBS called “This Old House”.  They used to have a segment where one of the hosts brought in a tool and asked everyone else to take a guess as to what it was or how it was used.  Just as I did while watching the show, when I saw this tool for the first time I didn’t quite get it, but when I took a closer look, I was sold!

Upon first glance, I just didn’t know what they were. Once you see what they do, you’ll also say, “Now that’s cool!”

When embroidering on ready-made items, called blanks, or on larger quilted items you often have to roll the material around the hoop to keep it from getting caught in the embroidery on the bottom.  At the same time, you need to keep all the extra material out of the embroidery hoop on the top so you embroider only the area you intend to embroider.  In the past, I have used bull clips, tape, large clover clips; anything I could to keep the extra material tamed around my embroidery area until the stitching was complete.  These Metal Hoop Fabric Guides can be used with all three sizes of the metal embroidery hoops and hold back the extra fabric without having to use extraneous clips that often get in the way more than they help.

Blanks, such as this sweatshirt, can become quite unruly as you try to keep extraneous fabric out of the way of the embroidery area. These guides work like a charm. I think I may need to buy another package so I can use a guide on each of the four sides of the hoop!

These guides are attached to the hoop using the magnets already used to keep the material in the hoop.  They are very easy to place and cover a larger area than a clip so the extra material stays more tamed around the hoop.

This is how the guides attach to the hoop. You may place them anywhere on the hoop they are needed.

The extra material also does not incur any unintentional damage due to the clips snagging the material or leaving marks you didn’t anticipate.  When I find something that works I like to pass the information along!

Each box comes with two fabric guides.

“The Stabilizer Journey”

In honor of National Embroidery Month, I thought I would take a moment to talk about stabilizers.  Whether you are quilting on Silk Dupioni, adding decorative stitches to a woven fabric or creating a machine embroidery design on a project, your fabric will need to be stabilized in some way.  To say I can tell you the best stabilizer choices for every project would be unlikely, since there are entire books written on the subject, but I can give you some guidelines that help me.  First of all, if you are using a machine to stitch on fabric with anything but the most basic of stitches, you will likely need to stabilize the fabric in some way.  How can you tell if you need to do this?  Test the stitches you intend to use on the fabric without using anything to stabilize it.  Does the fabric pucker?  Then you need to use a stabilizer.  “What kind of stabilizer should be used?” is usually the next question.  Generally, if your fabric is tightly woven, with no stretch to it, you can use a good quality tear away or wash away stabilizer.  If your fabric has stretch, you should use a good quality cut away stabilizer.  Stretch fabrics include any fabric that has some “give” to it, such as denim.  Fabrics don’t have to contain Spandex to be considered a stretch fabric.  Once you know this basic rule, you may start to buy stabilizers that will most closely fit your needs.  I tend to purchase light weight stabilizers and then use multiple layers if I need a heavier stabilizer.  Just a note, when using multiple layers of stabilizer, I always use a basting stitch first to hold everything together while the stitching is going on.  This reduces the chance of the stabilizers slipping under my embroidery hoop or from under the fashion fabric.  If the back of my embellished project will not be seen, such as for a lined garment or pillow, I always use cut away stabilizer, regardless of the project’s fabric type or weight.  This is especially true if I know the project will be washed frequently.  One last thought….if you are working with a variety of fabric types, you will need to acquire a varied collection of stabilizers.  That’s just part of the art.

“How You Think About It”

My excitement over using scraps for zippered bags last weekend led me in some new directions this past week.  The first bag I made was truly made from a small scrap which did make it a little trickier to sew. 

This bag was from a small scrap that limited my decorative stitching and proved tricky to sew.

This week I started thinking about the bags, not as quilted bags, but as bags made from created fabric.  It’s a bit different since quilting is not usually meant to be seen as the star of the show.  I began using the decorative stitches and embroidery quilting designs on my machine to create fabric, which I then made into bags.  The stitching did become the star of the show!   A subtle difference, but a difference none the less. My favorite bag, so far, is the material I created using tone on tone fabric and thread to stitch out one of my machine’s omni motion sewing stitches.  I programmed two flowers; one upside down and one right side up.  I then simply repeated that pattern over the whole area of the fabric.

My omni motion flower, right side up.
The same omni motion flower: one upside down and one right side up.
The same two flowers repeated over and over form a new pattern of their own.
The flower pattern as it’s being stitched out.

Also, to make the bag more appealing and easier to sew, I used one fat quarter for each lined bag.  I simply cut the fat quarter in half and put one half under the batting for the lining of the bag and one half on top of the batting for the outside of the bag.

One half of the fat quarter on top of the batting and one on the bottom. This produced a 7″ X 7″ bag. My finished bag was actually 7″ x 6″ because I chose to square the bottom so it will sit up.

For the fat quarters that were prints, I simply programmed my wide stippling stitches from my quilt stitch menu and stitched them in lines.  Since the fabric is already a print, the stippling appears to be random.

This wide stippling stitch comes from the quilting menu of the sewing side of my machine.
Fabrics with prints simply get a stippling stitch added. Here I’m quilting the fabric, not creating the fabric.
The finished product. The front……
and the back. I’m much happier with the look of this bag over last week’s effort.
For these bags I’m getting to use up some zippers I inherited. Check out the prices!!

I’ve decided to create the fabrics for all of my bags at once and then sew up the bags assembly line style. Once they’re all finished they’ll go into my gift giving bin and wait for the holidays! What type of fabric might you create this week?

“Using Scraps”

Since it was so cold outside today, I decided it would be a good day to stay inside and re-organize the sewing room.  I do realize that to really do a good job, I would need much longer than just a day, but a dent is still a dent!  I came across some cotton scraps that I had put in a bin for another day.  Today was the day.  I found some zippers and scrap batting and started making lined zippered bags.  I bring this up because this is an excellent project for using, not only your scraps, but the decorative stitches on your machine.  I decided to use the programming abilities on my machine to bring quilting stitches into embroidery and then stitch them out as one design (which literally took 4 minutes to stitch out), but you could easily use your decorative stitches without using any embroidery capabilities at all.  I chose to use a simple arrangement of two different decorative quilting stitches.  I finished the stitching, trimmed up the batting and fabric for some straight edges, added the zipper, sewed up the sides and I was done.  The entire project, cut out to finish was exactly an hour.  I’m thinking this might be a good thing to sew for the holidays next year! 

I chose to use the embroidery side of my machine, but you could use decorative stitches to create your fabric without having an embroidery machine.
These are the two quilting stitches I used for the quilting of the lined zippered bag.
A fun little zippered bag. Next time I think I’ll try quilting horizontally.

“Reverse Applique”

Last week I was making a poncho and using left over fleece to create the neck and binding.  I still had more fleece left, so I decided to add an embellishment to the front of the poncho.  I wanted something simple since fleece has a large amount of stretch and can easily be distorted.  I decided applique would be perfect, but a traditional applique would put a lot of stitching on an already high loft and stretchy fabric.  I decided on reverse applique.  If you have never tried it, I highly recommend it.  Instead of adding fabrics and sewing them down, you sew fabric down and then cut away the top layer of fabric to reveal what lies beneath.  Let me share my process with you.

I looked through some books I have and came across this simple design from Mary Mulari.
I chose the design I wanted and then traced the design onto a piece of light weight cutaway stabilizer.

Once the design had been traced, onto the stabilizer, I attached the stabilizer to the wrong side of my embellishment fleece. 

Attach the stabilizer to the fleece accent fabric by straight stitching around the perimeter. Mark the horizontal and vertical centers.

I then attached the stabilized piece of fleece to the wrong side of the front of the poncho, lining up my vertical and horizontal centers with the markings I had placed on the garment.

Make sure you use lots of pins to keep everything from shifting!
Sew along the design lines. Sew slowly to keep everything accurate.

Once I had finished sewing the lines I wanted to use from the design, I turned the poncho right side out and decided what areas would be cut away. 

The sewn design before any trimming.

Remember, when working with fleece, keep things simple.  Too much detail does not work well with this fabric.  I decided to cut away the largest parts of the design.

When cutting away the top fabric to expose your design, use a pair of tweezers and a sharp pair of applique scissors. Only cut through the top layer of fabric!!
The top layer of fabric is cut away to reveal the accent fleece. This is reverse applique.

Once I had cut away the top fabric to expose the fabric underneath, I added the final embellishment stitching.  I first stitched these lines from the back of the poncho, following the lines I drew from the original design onto my stabilizer.  I used matching thread for my fabric so it wasn’t really noticeable from the front.

Once I had sewn the accent lines with the matching thread from the back of the garment, I changed to a 30 weight cotton thread and used a triple stitch to sew over the first stitching I had done, this time sewing from the right side of the garment.

I then trimmed the stabilizer and fleece on the wrong side of the poncho to within a quarter inch away from the stitching all the way around the design and pressed everything with lots of steam.

The finished product!