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.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy New Year!

The title says it all.  Have a great celebration followed by a year of happiness and good health.  These kids know how to celebrate.  It was just hard to get them to hold still long enough for a photo.

Back to sewing soon!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Merry Christmas

Although my greeting is in the Christian tradition, I wish everyone Happy Holidays in recognition that quilters come in all faiths.  It is a joyous time of year for all.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Wind is blowing, snow is falling and the cozy house is summoning.  The hectic time of year is here with  shopping, decorating, wrapping, baking, etc.  No time to sew in the next three weeks.  No time to blog in that same interval.  I leave my blog open with photos instead.  I hope you enjoy.  This photo was taken by my sister.  Yes, that is me snowshoeing in the magnificent mountains where I live.

Rocky Mountain National Park.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How Fierce is Your Bulldog?

All kinds of people make quilts.  Some are more motivated than others about different parts of the process.  The vast majority of us make quilts for pleasure and the amount of time and care spent meets individual needs and goals.  What about quilting gives you pleasure?

I know a person who decided she didn't want to spend time being really careful.  She said, "I am not going to worry about points anymore."  So she doesn't worry about the tip of a point that gets a little clipped.  Her quilts are beautiful.  She makes quilts to be used and washed frequently and we all love them.  They do not have to be perfect in every detail.  That's OK.

Some make quilts for charity using donated fabrics.  The perfection seen in these quilts runs the gamut from quick to time consuming.  One lady told me that this allows her to do the sewing she loves without having to spend her money on fabric.  The important aspect of this kind of quilting is the potential to sell and raise funds for charity and from that is derived additional pleasure and accomplishment.

There are many talented quilters who make a business of quilting.  Those with longarm machines see tremendous variation in the quality of their customers' quilts.  Some clearly have no knowledge of "proper" techniques and their blocks don't even meet at the seams, but they love doing it or they are doing it for love.  Other customers pay to have beautifully constructed quilts quilted by a professional.  Still others prefer to do it all themselves, not wanting to share the glory, so to speak.  Pattern-makers transpose their quilts onto paper that others can make the same quilt.

I have one daughter who wanted to join the family enclave of quilters.  She made the attempt, but came to me one day to say, "Mom, I'm sorry, but I just don't enjoy quilting."  I am sorry she put that pressure on herself, but her considerable, artistic talents show in every other area of her life.  She just doesn't like to sew.

There are some of us who have fierce inner bulldogs and go above and beyond to achieve perfection. This can be frustrating because it is an unattainable goal.  So goes my quilting with a lot of ripping last week.  Why?:
  • I wasn't satisfied with what I had done.
  • I tried a new idea on the actual quilt because I didn't have a suitable tester on which to work (quilting the spiral).  I saw a portion of it that could turn into a more interesting sub-design.  Satisfied now and glad I re-did it.
  • I stitched a bunch of motifs with the wrong color thread.  Just plain careless.  
I have an insatiable bulldog in me, but I still can't achieve perfection.  It's the same when playing piano.  There are some small glitches here and there that I consider too small to bother with considering the time it takes to rip carefully.  I have been known to use permanent marker to hide a small defect where possible. However, if a glitch bothers me I leave it overnight, and if it still bothers me by the next afternoon I pull out my ripper and redo it.

Ripping is really time consuming because you have to pull out enough loose thread beyond the defect  to tie off the ends on both sides.  Then more ends to tie in after you re-stitch the affected area.  Sometimes it is worth it and other times it is not.  How do I rip?  It depends.
  • For quick and easy (not much danger of damage) I use the seam ripper to cut about every third stitch, top or bottom.  Then I yank the uncut thread from the other side and all comes undone.  The downside is a lot of tiny pieces of thread from the cut side.
Pretty obvious right?
  • If you need to preserve enough thread to tie off the ends, use the seam ripper to cut one stitch on top and one on the bottom and then carefully pull the thread out of every stitch.  Sometimes you can pull two or three stitches out at a time without breaking the thread.  When you have enough out to tie a knot, do so and bury it.
  • For really touchy spots where there may be other thread in the way such as SID work or tiny stitches I do one stitch at a time, using the top thread to pull the bobbin thread loop to the top , then slip the top thread out of the loop.  This can be done from the back if  you choose.  This is slow, but very safe.
Once the loop is up (red), pull the green thread free of the loop.
Do the same for each stitch.
Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you no reverse sewing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Needle Knowledge

I told you I put a #8/60 needle in my machine to work with silk thread.  When the needle threader tried to thread it, the needle broke in half.  Wow, was that a surprise!  After that the needle threader didn't work anymore.  I found a quiet day when there was no snow on the road and took my machine down the canyon to my very congenial repairman.  When I got there and told him the problem he was not at all surprised.  You NEVER use the needle threader for a needle smaller than a #12/80.  I didn't know that!  Did you?  My professional longarmer daughter knew that and her sit-down machine is a Bernina.  I have a BabyLock so that piece of knowledge must cover at least those two machines.  At any rate my needle threader has been properly adjusted and is alive and well once again.

I was also advised to forget using the #8/60 needle altogether.  It is just too small and some of the needle companies are no longer making it.  That's why they are hard to find!  So folks, I am using a #10/70 for my silk thread sewing and it is working well.  It is not hard to thread by hand because silk has enough substance to go through the needle like a piece of fine wire.

I was also told that this information is in my User's Manual.  I never thought about looking it up.  It never occurred to me that my needle threader might not work in this instance.  Fortunately I have a service contract that covered the cost.

TIP:  Check your Manual before you do something new on your machine, or at least call your dealer or repair person.

No sewing photos today.  I have been busy getting Christmas ready for my large family. I still sew every day, but it is the mundane, over-and-over stuff of quilting all over my quilt.  Some ripping involved for stupid reasons.  I'll tackle that topic next week.

Meanwhile take a look at winter in "my" mountains.

Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain NP
Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you a working needle threader (but use it properly).