Monday, March 27, 2017

My Vote is In

I have been hand stitching the binding on my big-ish quilt, but it is so tedious that after awhile I switch to quilting the background for my dog quilt.  This is the quilt on which I tried the Modpodge technique instead of fusible (scroll back to last week's post for directions).

**Easy to prepare.

**Cut patterns right side up.  Easy.

**Fuses down nicely ("Glossy" version), although a couple of sharp points have worked loose, but only the tips.

**Edges don't fray.

**Does not gum up the sewing machine needle.

**Have to let it dry for an hour after painting the Modpodge on the fabric.

**Using "Glossy" the fabric is definitely stiffer than traditional fusing material.

**It is tough to sew through.  My machine does it just fine, but using a needle to bury the
threads dug a hole in my finger.  The stitching doesn't bury itself down into the batting as much as I would like.

**Because of the stiffness I don't think the quilting has as much puff as it normally would.  However, I am using a low-loft batting so I am guessing.

My vote is in.  I mostly don't like the heavy stiffness because it prevents the fabric from flowing under the quilting needle - sort of like pushing card stock and trying quilt it.  Using the "Fabric" variety of Modpodge probably doesn't make it so stiff, but it also doesn't iron down securely.  I won't be using this as a regular part of my sewing.  Anyone want some Modpodge?

No way to capture the stiffness in a photo, but I was still able to quilt it.

TIP:  Don't let a fail stop you from trying new things.  You never know until you try if a new process fits you.

I wonder what would happen if I diluted the Modpodge a little.  Time for some scientific experimentation.  Later!

I have used Softfuse for several years and like it better than anything else.  You can purchase it on Amazon.  One of my local quilt stores carries it, but it is generally harder to find than some other brands.  It comes with paper on only one side so patterns have to be reversed if you draw them on the paper side, but I have a work-around for that.

How do I manage a work-around for the pattern?  I iron fusible to the back of a reasonable amount fabric before cutting pieces. Set the prepared fabric on a pressing sheet (silicone or teflon) right side up, fusible down.   Then iron the freezer paper pattern to the right side of the fabric, cut it out and pull the pattern off (like I did with Modpodge).  The fabric lifts right off the pressing sheet, fusible still on the back.  I try to gauge how much fabric to prepare so I don't have a lot of extra fabric with fusible on it.  You can always fix some more and it doesn't have to dry like Modpodge.

I wrote the above two days ago, but this morning while walking my dog in the fog I had a brilliant idea.  It is not really new, but I just adapted it to Modpodge.  One thing I really like about the Modpodge technique is the non-fraying edges.  So here is my idea.  Cut loosely around the pattern leaving about 1/8 inch beyond the edges.  Then paint only the outer edges with the Modpodge.  Let it dry then cut the details of the pattern.  It will keep the edges from fraying.  It will iron to the background fabric.  It will still be soft in the middle.  You won't have useless, stiff, leftover fabric scraps.  You could still use some fusible in the center if it is a large piece.  Worth a try, don't you think?

Sew some happy seams this week!  I wish you a bunch of new ideas to think about.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Stepping Out

Last week I suggested you try something new so I followed my own advice and changed the order of binding my quilt.  I wanted a small feather to meander on the one-inch border of the quilt.  I had to be very careful not to stitch where the binding would cover the quilting.  That's a tall order on such a narrow binding.  I decided to stitch the binding on first and do the quilting after that, but I didn't hand stitch it to the back.  I'll do that later.

When you do a lot of heavy quilting you will notice that the unquilted outer edges get a bit ruffled.  This is natural and normal, but can cause problems.  I was worried about potential puckers when I sewed the binding on.  For the umpteenth time I watched Sharon Schamber's video on applying a straight binding.  She glues every step of the way, so I did, and that stabilized the fabric, which allowed me to lay the binding down without puckers or pleats before stitching.  It also stiffened it, which made the sewing easier and more accurate.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I realized that I had achieved success.

TIP:  If you are fussy, I highly recommend Sharon Schamber's U-tube tutorial on bindings.  If you show your quilts it is a must see.

Now, the binding was on and I had to quilt that narrow border.  There was still some excess fabric with which to contend, but I dove in and quilted one side.  Wow!  All excess fabric quilted out perfectly and filled the feathers.  Not all my trials turn out so well so I am dancing the happy dance.

Excess fabric at left.  Quilted border on right.  Unfinished binding on outer edge.

Note the double freezer paper pattern in the back.  That is for marking the spine of the feathers.  The feathers themselves I quilted freehand.

(The safety pin is a reminder that I need to restitch that spot.  You can't see it, but the stitching is ragged and there is a visible knot.  That is a quick and easy re-do.)

TIP:  You don't have to be as fussy as I am, but I spent a lot of time designing and sewing this quilt.  I will definitely be showing it.  If you want to win anything you have to be fussy and binding is a critical issue among the judges.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you success in a new endeavor.

Monday, March 13, 2017


The quilting is done.  What a letdown and yet a relief.  Now I need to block it.  Not my favorite activity.  I keep my styrofoam blocking board in our detached garage, which keeps it in good shape and out of the way.  Unfortunately, the mountains have been full of tremendous winds in the last week and trying bring the board into the house would be insane.  Meanwhile that project is on hold until DH can bring board in.

I started redoing my picture of our dog Dixie.  You can read what happened to that project several months ago here.  After looking at the little quilt for all this time and still loving it, I finally decided what to do.  It came together so well first time around that I really didn't want to start over.  So...I cut the dog off the quilt, trimmed it carefully, and then painted the edges with Inktense pencil and medium.  A tiny bit of batting showed only on the cut edge because I had already quilted it.  I heat set the color by ironing the edges.  So, it is ready to thread paint onto a new, quilted background.

The background pieces were fixed to muslin (as the dog is), but I had to do that part over because the fusible gummed up my needle so badly.  I managed to quilt the dog in spite of the problems.  I decided to use a new technique developed by Lara Bucella, which she writes about in her book, "Crafted Appliqué - New Possibilities."

TIP:  Get her book to get complete directions.

Instead of using fusible web she uses Modpodge to adhere fabric to fabric.  I remember using that for decoupage many years ago.  Today Joann's carries a large variety of Modpodge glues.  You paint the Modpodge onto the back of the fabric and let it dry (an hour or so).  Make sure it doesn't soak through to the front.  I lay it all on a garbage bag to protect the surface of my table.  Use a light hand with a foam brush, which can be washed clean and used again.  When dry, cut your pieces and iron them onto a fabric background.  One of the real benefits is that the edges stay sharp - no fraying - beautiful!

There are several labels on Modpodge, so what is the right one to use?

**"Fabric" (blue label):  Treated fabric pieces cling to the background fabric in the planning stage.  They will not stay forever even when ironed so you need to stitch the pieces down when you have them where you want them.

**"Gloss" (red label):  When ironed it will stick tight.  I used this today and found that I could gently, but firmly pull it off if necessary, but it does iron on pretty securely.  I will still quilt it later.  It has about the same stiffness as fusible web.  It is supposed to wash well, but I haven't tried that yet.

Supplies for Modpodge fusing.

The author says that freezer paper patterns will gently adhere to the back of the Gloss treated fabric, but I had no success with that.  Those patterns have to be reversed.  What I did discover is that I could cut the freezer paper pattern right side up.  Set the treated fabric on a non-fabric pressing cloth (silicone or teflon) right side up, glue side down, and lightly iron the freezer paper to the right side of the fabric.  It stays put long enough to cut the pattern.  None of this turning yourself inside out trying to get your brain around backwards patterns.  The pieces are cut about 1/16 inch larger than the pattern so adjoining pieces will overlap and iron on to each other.  I ironed the pieces together on the silicone sheet and was able to lift them up as a unit ready to place on the muslin background.

Treated fabric on pressing cloth with pattern underneath.  It all sits on my light table.
TIP:  If you are following a special design or pattern, place a copy of that design under the pressing sheet (hopefully you have one that you can see through) so you can see where to put the cut pieces before ironing.  I set it up on my light table so I could see the design lines better.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story.  I have to stop now to block the other quilt!

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you a new adventure - try something different.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

To Rip or Not to Rip

I just ripped off Shakespeare with that title, but he'll never know.  How do YOU decide whether to rip?  There are definite reasons, but these vary with the individual.

*Major mistake -  We probably all rip those out or throw the project in the trash.

*Poor product choice - You bought a product that looked and sounded really cool, but it turned into a disaster.  Read about my poor choices here.

**Poor color or fabric choice.

**Poor thread choice.

**Poor planning.


**You are unhappy with your work and know you can do it better

**You are a fussy quilter and strive very hard for perfection.
I could go on and on, but I did some ripping this week for about 8-10 hours.  That sounds like a lot of ripping, but I spent a third of the time tying knots and burying them, and another third restitching.  I did a really stupid thing.  While I was away from my sewing machine for two months I forgot some choices I had made before I left.

Initially I had improved my corners with an after-the-fact addition to the design of my quilt top.  This required a minor adjustment to my quilting design.  I had to flatten the circles slightly on top.  When I did the first panel I left out some little "horns," for lack of a better description.

The devil in in the details.  See the "horns?"
When I came home and started sewing again I barged right in, flattened the tops of the circles, but stitched the horns.  I did the remaining 7 panels in this manner.  When I came back to the first one I realized I had done those last 7 wrong.  Oh goodness me.  What to do?  My choice was based on the following:

**If I added the "horns" to the first one I would have to rip out a small amount of micro-stippling.  I decided that was more daunting than redoing the other seven panels.

**The "horns" were really hard to get exactly alike and symmetrical so there were variations that bothered me.  I imagine many people would never notice the diversity, but I did.

**With no "horns" the upper, squashed part of the circles look like a pretty, slender swag, but the design still retains the look of a circle.

Poor light for a photo due to heavy weather out the window, but I hope you can see the pretty swags.
TIP:  When you have been away from your project for while check your work before starting to sew to be sure you remember what you have done previously, or keep notes as you progress.  Some quilters actually keep notebooks as they go, but I don't.  I'm really good at ripping!

In the end, the decision to rip, or not, is yours based on your individual sensibilities and the purpose of the quilt.  Making a quilt for a child to drag around will lead you to different decisions than if you are making an art quilt for show.  I have ripped and I have repaired.  Today I will finish the last two corners, and then will block my quilt and bind it before doing the final quilting on a narrow border.  Eventually the end always comes when you persist.

TIP: Ask yourself these defining questions:  Is it more important to you how you feel about your work or is it more important to you how a stranger judges your work?  Some will make a choice.  Some think both are important.  I know where I stand.  What about you?

Sew lots of happy seams this this week.  I wish you no errors, but if necessary, easy ripping.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rules of Quilting

Every quilter must know and follow the rules....right?

When piecing:
  • *all intersections must meet perfectly
  • *seams should be perfectly straight and 1/4 inch deep
  • *mitered corners must be at exactly 45º
  • never use a steam iron to press your seams
  • always starch your fabric
  • never starch your fabric
  • always pre-wash your fabric
  • don't bother to pre-wash your fabric
When quilting:
  • all stitches must be exactly the same length
  • the machine must run at the same speed (tell my foot that!)
  • free motion means no pattern or lines to follow
How many of you follow all the rules (and the many more I haven't mentioned)?  How many of you have been arrested by the quilting police? There are many "rules" that will make your finished product better (i.e. the ones with a *), and there are others that may or may not make a difference.  Making a quilt is a major project, and it probably won't be perfect throughout.  Will anyone notice?  Probably not.  It is up to you to decide how perfect you want it and I can almost guarantee some reverse sewing will enter into achieving high levels of perfection.  You have to be your own quilting police person.

I got a comment last week by a reader who was pleased to know that it was OK to draw lines to follow when free-motion quilting.  I am an inveterate line draw-er.  My very first FMQ teacher complained that she cannot draw well with pencil, but has no trouble drawing with her machine needle.  I am the opposite.  If I am quilting a defined shape or grid I mark the lines on the quilt first.  Because long, straight lines are a major challenge I use my dual feed contraption to do a large grid.  The tiny ones I do with FMQ.  I can do feathers freehand as long as I have a boundary line within which to work.  I am comfortable with background fillers, as they are fun to play around with and are truly free-form.  Organic forms do not have to be a perfect shape and actually look better when they are free from restraint.  Sometimes I get them too free and have to take out some stitches, but that's OK.  I get it right the second time around (or maybe the third) (or fourth).

Below is a photo of my current quilt, which is nearly done.  I want you to see the lines.  All of the feathered and associated shapes have been drawn out with a turquoise, removable pen because I want them as exact as possible.  The turquoise is still very visible, but will disappear with water.   Sometimes I find a drawing error or change my mind and will redo it with a purple, removable pen as I go.  The purple disappears in air, so it is really a last minute marking tool.  For the straight lines at the edge I drew a guide line every half-inch to keep me from veering off.  Big or small I really depend on my marking, and guess what?  The quilting police don't even care, or at least they have never knocked on my door.  Besides I told the dog to chew on them if they come.

See all the markings?  I don't always hit them perfectly...but close enough.
On dark fabric I use a ceramic pen, which I can rub off with my quilting glove.

Ceramic pen.  Imperfect point.  I may have to do something about that!
I discovered something you should know.  Stitching a large, perfect circle with no bobbles and perfectly even stitching is harder that doing straight lines.  Beware and be aware!

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you no visits from the quilt police.

Monday, February 20, 2017


Micro-stitching is something I like to do.  I like to cover the quilt with lots of stitches.  I like the way it squashes the background and lets the design puff out.  I sew slowly as that is the only way I can maintain control of my free motion quilting.  My followers are aware that I work on a domestic machine, and I have learned to put up with occasional wrestling matches between me, the quilt and the sewing machine.  I have made it clear that I am in control...except when I am not.

I got busy quilting my pretty design and planned to stitch a micro-grid in the center.  When I was ready to do that the approximately 1 1/4 in. center was a huge puff.  Was I going to be able to do it?  YES!  I planned to win this one and I will tell you how I did it.

Look at that puff in the center!  Urghhhhh.
I knew that I could not do it without marking.  Sewing straight lines is hard under any circumstances, but these were really short and close together with a real risk of running into the surrounding feathers.  Marking is my crutch so I did that first thing.  I lined up a 3 in. square ruler with the diagonal line on top of the straight fabric grain and the center of the design, then drew a line along the straight side of the ruler with a purple marking pen.  From there I could measure and mark additional lines 1/8 in apart.  Rotate the ruler 90º, line up the previous marks with the perpendicular ruler lines and draw the rest of the grid.  It has to be done carefully and with a light touch because the puff is not a firm base for drawing.

Diagonal line of the ruler on the straight of fabric and design
Grid drawn with removable pen marks looks nice to the eye so I am ready to stitch.  Slowly.  Stitch by stitch.  Grids require some backtracking so be prepared.  Put in an extra stitch at an intersection and turn right or left as required.  Stay out of the feathers!  Keep the machine going at at constant speed.  Move your hands carefully.  Hold the quilt loosely.  The thread is 100 wt Kimono silk from Superior.  When the quilt is finished and soaked, that thread will sink into the batting and the eye will see the texture more than the stitching.

Water spritz removes the marking. 
The stitching is not perfect.  I wish it was, but you have allow yourself some slack.  No one is going to notice the irregularities.  This is not a very important element in the overall design.  Using a ruler foot and straight edge, thick ruler might have made it more perfect, but that is a $100 outlay up front and a fair amount of practice.  Not ready to do that right now.  Sometimes when I start I will stitch to the right of a line and the next stitch to left of the line, which is not good.  Straight lines should not zig-zag!  When I make that big of a mess I will rip it out and start again.  This grid I did with no thread breaks - no additional stops or starts.

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you straight stitching on your straight lines.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Adjusting the Machine

I have been on the road for the better part of two months.  Living in three homes in Seattle within three weeks over the holidays, then ten days at home to unpack, do laundry and repack for a trek to WI and MN, staying in two different homes and caring for my daughter after her knee replacement.  That is why my blog has been sparse for awhile.  The sewing machine stayed home, abandoned and solitary, but we loved spending time with our family.

We arrived home safely, but were very tired.  Unpacking took time, clearing away the suitcases took more time.  The chaos was mentally stressful, and I couldn't even get near my piano.  We live in a tiny cabin in the mountains so clutter can accumulate quickly.  I was so tired I didn't even want to sew.  Whatttt?  Did I really say that?  First, I had to re-establish my routine, but I also knew that if I sat down to sew, I would probably make mistakes and have to rip.  As I recovered and began to settle into the old pattern I finally decided, "It is time.  Get busy and work on that quilt," and I did.  Oh joy, I do love to sew!  I feel so good after a session of wielding needle and thread.  I only made one mistake and that was because I had forgotten about a thread color change so had to rip a tiny bit.  Not too bad.  I was afraid it would take awhile to get back in the swing of FMQ, but it didn't.  It is part of me now.

Another thing that plays into quilting is maintaining mental and physical well-being.  I am getting back into my exercise routine.  This takes more time than the FMQ because I live at 7500 ft elevation and the altitude must be taken into consideration.  I no longer experience altitude sickness after spending time in low country, but a little fatigue is apparent at first on my walks, so Dixie and I are working back up to our 2-3 miles a day.  Exercise keeps us physically fit, slows aging, tones the muscles, and provides quiet time to breathe the fresh, mountain air, and do some free motion, creative thinking.  It adjusts our bodies' machinery so it can do its best work.

Dixie on a winter walk.
How we both feel after exercise - happy, happy! 
Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you time to adjust your inner machine.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Historical Stitching

I am still helping my daughter who had a knee replaced 1 1/2 weeks ago.  I don't have my quilt with me, but I do have my computer so all is not lost.

This is a good time to look back in history at the sewing of a past era.  Women seem to have been driven to sew from the beginning of time.  Maybe it started with utilitarian purpose, but in time those who had spare moments in their lives stitched for pleasure and beauty.  Little girls were taught embroidery skills at a very young age.  I taught my daughters to sew when they were young, but in this day and age they don't have to unless they want to.  They didn't all take to it, but three of my girls are accomplished quilters.

I digress.  I gave one daughter a beautiful piece of embroidery that was done by an direct ancestress of mine named Helen (Boteler) Chernocke who lived from 1671-1741 in England.

Helen (Boteler) Chernocke
 There is a story about the portrait.  The child is probably named Pynsent after his father,  and he died young after playing with "lucifers" (matches).  He may have been the oldest son as some years later they named another son Pynsent.

The embroidery is so lovely and in such amazingly great condition, though there is some age-related damage.  It was originally a cushion cover that was not meant to be sat upon.  It may have been for a special chair - we can only speculate.  The motifs were outlined in coiled gold.  This was very thin, real gold wrapped around silk thread and couched to the background.  The gold is mostly gone now, but there are a few specks of it.  The thread around which it was coiled is red.

Helen's lovely embroidery.
We looked into repairing it, but the experts say not to try as today's threads are too strong and will damage the old fabric and stitching.  There are people who work on things like this, but we have not contacted them.  My daughter has it carefully covered with muslin and stores it flat.  I have one or two more pieces that are more damaged than this.

I thought you might like to see the kind of work that was done at that time by women who had time on their hands.  I get my interest in sewing honestly!

Sew a happy seam this week.  I hope you enjoy this week's diversion.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Quilting as Therapy

I have been swamped with year end stuff and the birthdays of several family members.  I always write my annual letter in January to avoid the confusion of the holidays.  This year I am rushed even more to get it done before my daughter's knee surgery.  I MUST get all this stuff done and my week already has two out-of-house days.

I am really finding out what my daily quilting does for me because I am not doing any right now.  What do you gain from quilting?  These are the things I treasure:

**The challenge.  There is always something to challenge our capabilities.  There is something     new to learn.  There is something new to try.  There is something to think about and puzzle out.

**I love the opportunity to be creative.  Design a quilt.  Design a quilting pattern.  Choose colors. Figure out how to put a quilt together both design-wise and technical-wise.

**Many quilting tasks require repetition where you have to pay attention with some intensity.  Even monotonus tasks leave me more relaxed when I finish.  The satisfaction of progress is a real upper.  As you go over the same thing time and time again your mind has time to wander and think about things in your life to the music of the motor.  

**There is pleasure and happiness in finishing a task or completing a quilt.  I love to go back to look at what I have done.  Sometimes I see things that need fixing, but mostly it is gratifying to see something accomplished and looking pretty.
After a session of quilting I am ready to quit for awhile - until the next day anyhow!  It somehow leaves me feeling a little like I do after good exercise session.  I find that the little worries of life go away for awhile, leaving me more willing to face and deal with them.

You have heard it before:  Work on a quilt and say goodbye you your therapist.  Works for me!

The quilt below is sitting on my machine waiting for attention.  I turned it over and the light from the window highlighted the texture of the quilting.  The other side has color, but the back is different sort of vision.  On the front some of the quilting doesn't show much, but the back says it all.

Quilting from the back.
Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you joy in your quilting.

Thursday, January 5, 2017


We spent three weeks in Seattle celebrating, visiting, eating too much and just plain having fun with family.  We always drive and weather has never slowed down DH who is a frustrated truck driver I think.  He loves the challenge, but is a careful driver.  We pushed through fog, snow, slush and ice where many cars were in ditches.  Occasionally we hit some clear road and a little sunshine.  It was tense driving in many places, but we arrived safely to discover 12 inches of snow on the drive and much more in the snow plow dump at the street.  So, in the dark, we dragged out the shovels and began moving enough to pull the truck in to the drive.  It was an exhausting arrival and I am still functioning at three quarters my normal energy level.

I have much to do before I take on the care of my daughter as she recovers from knee replacement surgery so I don't plan to do any sewing until I get some priority things accomplished:  birthday cards to make, annual letter to get out, photos uploaded with pictures to add to the letter, and on and on....  I am posting today just to keep in touch and to let you know that I have not fallen off the edge.  I am eager to get restarted on my quilt, but since there is no deadline it sits and warms the sewing machine.

On top of the the original 12 inches, we now have an additional 12 of new snow.  It is stunningly beautiful, but sooooooo cold at -5º.  Although Dixie loves the snow, she doesn't want to walk in the freezing weather.  Neither do I!

Dixie watching.
Sew a happy seam this week.  I am envious, but wish you the best.