“Fabric Tips”

Because my sewing is so eclectic, I sew on many different fabrics.  I sew garment fabrics of all kinds, upholstery fabrics, drapery fabrics, linings, quilting fabrics:  you name it, I’ve probably sewn it.  Today I ran across a fabric I have never sewn before; Outdoor fabric.  This has become quite a popular fabric in the last year or two.   It is used for making pillows, cushions, etc. for use on decks, boats or any other outdoor applications.  I came across this fabric at the request of my local nursing facility, for which I make walker bags as an ongoing charity sewing project.   They provide the fabric and I provide the sewing!  Anyway, some of the fabric they provided this time was Outdoor fabric.  If you are planning to work with this fabric, here are a few tips that might prove helpful.

The Outdoor fabric has vivid colors and has great prints but is a little tricky to sew!

First of all, this fabric is completely synthetic.  It is quite stiff to handle and it seems to fray just by looking at it!  It also doesn’t particularly like the iron so I am not pressing after sewing the way I usually do when sewing a project. All Purpose construction thread seems to work just fine and an 80/12 universal needle has performed beautifully; not too light and not too heavy.

The size 80/12 needle did a great job!

I highly recommend that all raw edges of the project be overcast before sewing together, even if the seam will be enclosed.  If you fail to overcast every edge you may find the project will last only a very short time.  The woven “threads” of the material are slippery against one another and have a hard time holding together.  I would not recommend using pins with this fabric.  I am just holding the pieces together as I sew or am using clips to secure my pieces.  Needle holes will not “heal” with this fabric.  Lastly, I would not recommend using a straight stitch on any seams that will have stress.  I used a seam/overcast stitch on all construction areas to spread out the stress along multiple points in the seams.  A straight stitch works just fine for top stitching, though you will find the thread does not sink into the fabric, but lies on top of the fabric.  This is due to the nature of the fabric and is not necessarily helped by adjusting the machine’s tension.  I hope these tips help you should you decide to sew Outdoor fabric.

“Piping and Welting”

Sewing terms sometimes change depending on the type of sewing being discussed.  For instance, piping and welting are two names for the same thing; one name for the world of garment construction and one name for the world of home décor.  I was at a family gathering today in honor of Mother’s Day and I was talking to a relative about making a head board for the bed in her son’s room.  She was asking me about the process of construction and as I was explaining the sequence of steps, I mentioned she would probably want to use welt around the edges of the headboard to reduce the wear that might occur on the edges of the fabric as it wrapped around the board.  She wasn’t familiar with the term “welt” but when I said it was the same thing as piping, she immediately knew what I was talking about.  The difference between welting and piping is its use and the size of the cording that is encased inside the fabric.

From left to right: Cording for piping, cording for welt and cording for extra large welt. You will recognize the extra large welting as an accent found on many throw pillows.

Piping is for garments and usually uses a cording that is quite small in diameter.   This makes sense since it is found as an accent around sleeves, princess seams, the edges of linings, necklines, etc. where a larger cording might be uncomfortable to wear.  Welt, on the other hand, is found around the edges of throw pillows, the boxing of cushions and the outlines of furniture.  It is decorative, but also has a functional use.  Welting extends the life of an upholstered piece, cushion or pillow by taking the constant wear away from the seam.  It usually takes longer to wear out the welting than it would the cushion seam, so the item lasts longer.  No matter what you are using it for, remember that the piping or welting, if it is going to be going around curves or rounded edges, must be made from material cut on the bias.  If you neglect this important step you will be very unhappy with your final results.

“Scissor Maintenance”

When I first began to sew as a child, my parents taught me to use quality tools for the craft.  For example, sewing scissors were only to be used in the sewing room and they were never to be used to cut paper!  These were clear rules for a child and I understood them completely.  As I grew older, I started to put my own money into those sewing tools and so the rules really became something I followed.  Nothing like having “a little skin in the game” to encourage one to take care of what one has!  A quality pair of scissors will last for a good long time. My cutting shears are working on their fourth decade with me!  About once every other month, I treat them to a “scissor spa day” where they are cleaned, sharpened and lubricated.

  First step is to clean the blades with a soft cloth.

I use a men’s handkerchief for the job since it is soft and has very little lint.

Once the blades are wiped off (I also wipe the blades each time I use the scissors, before I put them away), I use the sharpening stone on the outside beveled edge of the blades.

The sharpening stone I use has its own leather case…
…and came with illustrated instructions for use.

Since I do this regularly, I do not need to do much sharpening all at once.  I then wipe the blade off again to get rid of any residue or debris from the sharpening.  I oil the scissors where they are joined, using a drop of sewing machine oil on both sides of the screw assembly and then open and close the scissors multiple times to let the oil get down into the area.  I use sewing machine oil because it does not tend to leave a stain as some household oils can:  it’s formulated to work in machines that deal with fabric. If needed, I also put a drop of oil on each blade, rub it in and then wipe off the excess. 

I oil one side of the screw….
…then turn the scissors over and oil the other side.

After everything is cleaned, the scissors go back into their sheath and they are ready for my next project.  The whole operation takes no more than ten minutes so I don’t tend to put off the maintenance.  I hope my sharing this routine with you will inspire you to do a little maintenance of your own!

All cleaned, oiled and ready for the next project!

“What Are Those Markings?”

Yesterday I was teaching the “Learn Your Machine” class at Bonny’s and a customer asked me “What are those markings on the metal plate?” She was talking about the markings on the stitch plate and I thought at the time, “What an excellent question!”  If you are new to sewing or if you have not sewn for an extended period of time, the lines on the stitch plate may not make much sense.  Most machine manufacturers sell their products globally, so creating the markings in the metric system is the most cost efficient.  If a stitch plate with markings in inches is available for your machine, you may want to invest in this, usually, optional accessory. The lines on the stitch plate are there for you to use as a guide for your fabric, allowing you to maintain a straight line of stitching.

You line up the edge of the fabric with the line that gives you the seam size you want and then guide the fabric along that line as you sew.

If you are using a plate that has lines with the designations of 1, 2, 3, etc. this is probably a stitch plate measured using the metric system.  By following these lines, you are stitching at a specific distance from the needle when it is in center position.

The lines are in centimeters away from the needle in center position:
1 cm = 3/8″
1.5 cm = 5/8″
2 cm = 3/4″
2.5 cm = 1″

The above are approximate measurements since the metric system does not line up precisely with inches.  Using a stitch plate that is marked in inches allows you to sew more accurate seams since there is no conversion from one system to another. Once you get used to the lines you follow the most for the specific seam size you sew, these markings will be another tool that makes sewing a little easier.

“The Perfect Piecing Stitch”

The beauty of chain piecing while making a quilt is you can sew continuously, joining piece after piece together in a short amount of time.  Chain piecing, on its own, does not allow for reinforcing stitches (sewing in reverse at the beginning and/or end of a seam) or you are defeating the time saving benefits of the technique.   Most  quality fabrics will stay together without this reinforcing stitch until the next seam is sewn across the first; but what about those fabrics that would benefit from reinforcement stitches at the beginning and end of a seam:  especially those pieces that will get a lot of handling before the next seam is sewn?  How can you keep these pieces from coming apart?  My solution has always been to change the stitch length at the beginning and end of a seam, but that eats up a lot of time and becomes very monotonous over the course of a larger project.  What to do?  How about using your machine’s programming/sequencing ability to create the perfect seam?  This is how I did it.

The challenge was to create a sequence (Pfaff terminology) or a program (Husqvarna Viking terminology) that was exactly the length I needed to sew a 5.5” fabric piece.

I was going to piece together two 2.5″ wide by 5.5″ long pieces.

I started with very small straight stitches for the first 6 stitches.

Stitch length of 1.0 is very small. This is how each seam begins and ends.

I then increased the length of the straight stitch for the next 53 stitches.

A stitch length of 2.5 is the common length for a straight stitch.

I finished the stitch by ending back at the length I started the sequence with and inserted a Stop at the end of the sequence.

Don’t forget to add the Stop command!

Now, each time I came to the end of a piece, my machine would stop and let me line up the next piece in the chain.

You can stop in the needle up or needle down position to add the next piece in the chain. I chose needle up.

I could start sewing again just by pressing the foot pedal or by pushing the stop/start button.  Here is what I created in my machine to sew an exact 5.5” piece of fabric (all stitches I used were straight stitches).

6 straight stitches at 1.0 length, 53 stitches at 2.5 length and 10 stitches at 1.0 length plus one Stop command.

I then saved that sequence so I can now reload that stitch any time I would like to chain 5.5” fabric pieces.  Each machine is a bit different, so you might need to tweak my numbers just a bit, but you might find this is your new favorite way to piece.  Your pieces, because they have very small stitches at the beginning and end of the seam, hold up well to a lot of handling, either from pressing or from layout manipulation.  If you need to stitch a larger piece size, add more stitches.  If you need to stitch a smaller piece, decrease the number of stitches.  Once you have the framework, the adjustments are easy. Also, once the sequence/program is complete and is in Sewing Mode, you are able to move the whole thing a bit to the left or a bit to the right to get the perfect 1/4″ or scant 1/4″ seam!

The top box lets me know how long the sequence is (148.5) and the bottom box allows me to adjust the sequence to the left or right of the center needle position. 0.0 means I am using this sequence in center needle position.

“Air Sewing”

In all types of sewing there will be times when you will either need to start sewing before the fabric is under the needle or after the needle has cleared the fabric.  In quilting, for example, it can happen while sewing leaders and enders, as well as while chain piecing.  In garment sewing it can happen when sewing points, such as for darts or for starting techniques such as a rolled hem.  All single needle sewing machines that use a bobbin form a stitch in basically the same way.  Once you understand the formation of a stitch, you will be less likely to have trouble with these “sewing off the fabric” techniques.

Remember, a sewing machine is all about timing and thread tension.  When the top thread and needle intersects with the bobbin thread is the key to everything.  Thread tension needs to relax at just the right moment to be ready to pick up the bobbin thread and form the stitch.  Since the stitch is not stable on its own, it needs to have a piece of fabric or stabilizer between the presser foot and the feed teeth to be able to stay formed.  This is why sewing in the air is just not practical and why it gets so many sewers into trouble.  It is very easy to create a thread nest when “air sewing”.  The best way to avoid this is to make sure there is tension on the thread as you begin to sew.  You may do this a few different ways such as holding the threads for the first two stitches with your fingers or by placing the threads under the presser foot, but making a habit of this small act will eliminate the lion’s share of thread nesting issues.  When working with fabric weights such as quilting cottons or lighter, a straight stitch needle plate and a straight stitch presser foot will help keep the fabric from getting sucked down into the stitch plate hole, keeping the fabric from following the top thread as it is on its way down to meet the bobbin thread.  If you are using a straight stitch presser foot and/or needle plate, remember to tell your machine by selecting “Stitch Width Safety” in the Set Menu.

“Oh, the Possibilities!”

The ability to sew has allowed me to make many unique items for me, my friends and my family.  This week is a perfect example.  It is the birthday of my nephew’s son, Holden, who is turning five and loves super heroes.  His gift request:  please make him something that had all of his favorite super heroes on it.  A quilt was a bit much for me since I knew this item would probably be “well loved”, so I decided on a pillow.  I had my list of super heroes in hand and went to find fabric.

This was my color pallet. Oh my! Not colors I would call “usual” for one of my projects!

I decided to use the yellow as my “pull it all together” color and I stitched out four embroideries to create some accents.

“Pow! and “Wakanda”……
The super hero shield….
…and Bam!

My only guidelines:  the top must finish piecing as a 19” x 19” top for my 18” x 18” pillow form and none of my seams could line up.  Most of the fabrics were printed so crooked that if my seams lined up your eye would go right to the places where the fabrics were printed so wonky! 

The pillow back was easy. He wanted me to include something from Star Wars along with the super heroes: no piecing required!

Talk about piecing as you go.  I just kept measuring and cutting until I got to 19” x 19″. 

Here is the finished product!

Now some of you know I am the proud new owner of a Pfaff Creative Icon.  I got it in February and I am exploring all of the bells and whistles.  I have owned Husqvarna Vikings since the early 1980’s, so I am sewing in some uncharted territory for me, especially since I have never taught the machine.  I’m learning it just like all of our customers!  Anyway, I found these two feet most helpful on this project:  the zipper foot that came with the machine and the Perfect ¼” foot for IDT (an optional foot).

The Pfaff Perfect 1/4″ foot with guide and the zipper foot.

The Perfect ¼” foot allowed me to create perfect ¼” and scant ¼” seams for piecing the pillow top.  The opening is slightly oval and allows the needle position to move just a tad. I also found the optional Extension Table with Adjustable guide to be very helpful in keeping a ½” seam all the way around my pillow while providing extra support for my large fabric square.

The guide slides so it can be used either to the left or the right of the needle.

These two accessories are also available for Husqvarna Viking machines (check your machine number for the table that fits your machine). Adjustable 1/4″ foot with guide and the Husqvarna Viking Extension Table with Guide


Since 2015 when I purchased my Designer Diamond Royale, I have been admiring a built in design that I really wanted to use, but was afraid it just wouldn’t turn out to my liking.  This week was the week to build up the courage to tackle that project.

This is the built in design….
….and this is the pattern I decided to use.

Placement of the design is the most important thing in ensuring success in this type of stitch out.  The design used three colors:  colors one and two were for the design and color three was to stitch the facing to the tunic’s neckline.  With the pattern chosen for the tunic top, I lined up the neckline of the design with the neckline of the garment’s front pattern piece.  The neckline did not line up exactly so I knew I would need to make some adjustments to the pattern piece since the embroidery design could not be changed.  I marked the pattern’s neckline and then lined up the embroidery design so I could taper it in to make an easy transition.

I marked the pattern’s seam line for the front neck….
…and lined up the embroidery design with that marking. I knew I would need to make adjustments, so I wanted those adjustments to be as small as possible.
I decided to use a light cut away to stabilize the design.
I decided to use my 240 X 150mm metal hoop: my favorite for hard to hoop projects!
After completing the first two colors it was time to stitch out color number three, which attached the front facing to the garment.
I applied fusible interfacing to the facing piece and placed it over the embroidery design, right sides together….
…held it in the hoop with Embroidery Perfection Tape…
…and stitched out color number three. The embroidery portion of this project was now done.
This is how the stitch out looks from the back. Color number three is the darkest color since that was the thread I was using to construct the rest of the garment.

After trimming the cut away stabilizer close to the design, I then tapered the rest of the neckline stitching to meet the embroidery design’s neckline shape and continued with the garment’s construction until finished.  I am very pleased with the finished product and, now that I am filled with confidence, will probably make another tunic with this same design in a different color way.

The finished product. There are subtle stripes in the fabric that even line up with the design. An added bonus!

“A Preview”

This coming Tuesday, March 26th, event specialist Karen Charles will be presenting at Bonny’s Alexandria store.  I’m looking forward to attending since I have seen her present once before and she was excellent!  If you have never seen her present, I thought you might like to see some of her work on YouTube and on the Husqvarna Viking site.  I have given you a link to the YouTube video talking about her take on machine applique that I thought you might enjoy.  I saw this video when it first came out and watching it tonight I was surprised how much new information I picked up again.  I especially enjoy learning new ways to use common stitches, such as Karen does with the blind hem stitch for applique.  Karen also produced a series of 9 projects on the Husqvarna Viking blog that might be of interest to you.  On some projects, Karen included a free embroidery design to download, which is downloadable for Mac and PC (when you download the design you will automatically get both versions of the design).  Of course, these resources are in addition to Karen’s Facebook page which Bonny included in her event flyer.  If you have not registered for Tuesday’s event, call the Alexandria store at 703-451-8480 on Monday and come join us.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Three examples of Karen’s talent for free motion and thread painting.

“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!