Sunday, July 31, 2016

An Old Shoe

I really appreciate all the understanding, empathy and compassion that were expressed in response to my dark week post.  I especially liked the idea of framing Dixie, but then realized that the dog and half the background are already quilted - very poorly.  I just can't keep it, but I will redo it.  In the meantime, since I like the results so much (sans quilting), I will keep the bad one as a guide for a much nicer new one in the future with a different fusible material.  It was fun to do until it came to the quilting, which was truly a nightmare.  My real doggie gave me a sweet, loving lick to let me know it was OK...or maybe she just wanted a taste of my hand lotion.

Meanwhile, "Onward ho!"  What do I mean by "An Old Shoe?"  My mother used that expression to describe a new acquaintance who was able to settle into our life like family we had known forever.  Comfortable.  That is how I feel about the new quilt that I started this week because I am familiar with and enjoy the technique.

My new project has paper pieced spiral elements in it.  So, you say, "What is a spiral quilt?"  A spiral quilt can be made from any and many geometric shape(s) and is sewn like a log cabin block, but is made with triangles instead of rectangles.  I will try to give you a general, but admittedly skimpy idea, but if you want to try it I recommend RaNae Merrill's "Simply Amazing Spiral Quilts."  Her directions are clear and precise, covering the drawing, designing, and sewing.  Her second book, "Magnificent Spiral Mandala Quilts" is also excellent.  I design my spirals on Adobe Illustrator, but they can be drawn on paper with pencil, ruler and eraser.  They are sewed with foundation/paper piecing.

Step 1.  Draw the outline of a shape.  In this case I started with a triangle.

Step 2.  Draw a ring of small triangles inside the outer border, one along each side.  You can measure or make your triangles any size that you like.  I make mine kind of free form as I find the measuring tedious.

Step 3.  Draw another ring of small triangles inside the first ring.  Continue making similar rings until you get to the center.  RaNae Merrill goes into different ways to draw these triangles.  The way I am showing is the easiest to sew.

Step 4.  Fill all those inner triangles with color.

5.  Print or draw your design on paper (I use Sulky Paper Solvey and print it from my computer).

But....that is only one triangle. Let's play with that single triangle:
Now here is what you can do when you combine several geometric shapes into a 60º wedge.  This example is symmetrical, but you can get some interesting designs when you introduce some asymmetry with your shapes:
60º wedge made with several different shapes.

Then rotate six copies of the wedge around its center point:

Six wedges can make a quilt.
See the wedge?

Now fill with color.  It is full of primary, secondary and tertiary design possibilities.  Talk about an adult coloring book!  There are so many ways to portray this and no one can figure out how you did it!  You can turn your imagination loose and it is not hard to sew one of these, but it takes time and attention to detail.

TIP:  Try a simple design or two this week.  It is fun.

Sew a Happy Seam this week.  I wish you some designing fun.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Machine Misfortunes

I am tired of gummy needles, missed stitches, and broken thread.  I am tired of failure.  Do you ever feel that way?  I love my doggie portrait.  The fusing came out better than I dreamed, but the quilting is a disaster due to fusible adhesive glopping up the needle.  I called my Baby Lock dealer who is always helpful.  She suggested that maybe I didn't get the fusible ironed enough so that it was fully incorporated into the fabric.  She also suggested #12 denim or jeans needle.  If I couldn't get that needle, try #12 universal.  OK.  I drove to the valley and the closest store didn't have the right needle, although I picked up the #12 universal.  I went to the other store and they were closed for two days.  So....I came home, ironed down the fusible really well with a silicone press cloth and tried again.  No luck.  I talked to my daughter (professional longarmer) and she asked if I had used steam.  No I hadn't so I tried that, to no avail.  My only option is to look further for the #12 denim or jeans needle when I am down off the mountain on Wednesday.

Thank you for listening. I feel better now.  Here is a picture of my doggie before quilting.

Dixie fused, before attempting to quilt.
No luck in quilting no matter what I did so I moved on to another project, but my beloved sewing machine bunched up the stitches, ruffled the fabric and tore the foundation paper.  It was fully serviced one month ago!  I called my dealer and was told to bring the machine in.  Move over dark cloud.  I have had enough disruption.

I left the machine in the shop while I got a haircut, had a Japanese lunch with DH, and did some errands.  What a boost for sagging spirits!  On the way home I retrieved my presently persnickety

The diagnosis of my machine troubles:
1.  The fusible not only gummed up the needle, but left a crystalline, powdery residue in the bobbin case and surroundings.  The folks in the shop cleaned up the mess and recommended not using Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite with my machine.  That's easy.  I prefer Soft Fuse anyway.  I will just have to do the doggie over again. Fortunately my 3-year service contract paid for the work.

TIP:  Run a tester on your machine with Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite before investing time or money in it for a fusible project.

2.  In my new project (no fusible) I was using Superior's Bottom Line in both the top and bobbin, sewing seams on foundation paper.  It is a thin, polyester thread, and is relatively elastic.  This is fine for the bobbin as it will pull the top thread down slightly when it relaxes, but it is too stretchy for the top and causes bunching.  Being polyester, it also can get hot, which causes more stretching and therefore more bunching.

TIP:  Use Superior's "Bottom Line" thread in the bobbin, but not top AND bottom.

In spite of many, many years of sewing and quilting, I still find myself crawling up the learning curve.  There is always something new to learn in this business/hobby.  My brain loves to form new connections, which will hopefully keep me sane and avoid early onset dementia.

Friday:  Epilogue by Brain Dead
I set up the machine and sat down to sew again, but my fabric bunched up as before.  Rethread, change the needle, redo.  Still bunches.  No (scream and tear hair out).......this cannot be!  Change from my favorite foot to the standard foot.  Ah, it works great.  Pick up my favorite, but non-standard foot to put it away.  What is this sticky stuff on the bottom?  Oh no!  I told you about putting my foundation pattern together with surgical tape.  Well, my surgical tape had been in the band-aid drawer for decades and was feeling a bit gummy on the non-sticking side.  Apparently the top of the tape gummed up the underside of the foot so fabric could not flow under it.  My newly purchased roll of tape is not sticky on top and I can sew over it just fine with all feet.  I cleaned my favorite foot with alcohol and it is back on the machine and working beautifully.  Incidentally, I can easily pull the bad, old tape off the foundation pattern and replace it with the new.  All is working fine and progress has begun again.  May I hear a big HURRAY!!!!?

TIP:  If it is sticky, don't sew it!  Buy a new roll of surgical tape if you plan to use it.

I still have to do the doggie over from scratch, but at least I have the pattern in waiting mode.

Sew a Happy Seam this week.  I wish you no gummed needles or puckered fabric.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Fusible Analytics

I promised an analytic comparison of two methods of using fusible material to create a quilt.  Both methods leave raw edges and can be quilted anywhere from lightly to heavy thread painting.  Be aware that my analyses are summaries of MY experience and are not intended to take the place of the books and classes mentioned below.

Method I.  I learned this by following the directions in Lea McComas' book, "Thread Painted Portraits," and additionally from attending a class she taught.

1.  Using a posterized black and white version of a photo, trace it on the dull side of freezer paper and carefully label by value (#1 = white, #5= black, #2-4 = in-between values; and/or color).  Starting with the lightest value (#1) mark those edges with a red pencil where you will cut extra fabric to slip under the adjoining piece(s).  Remember to work so that light color goes under a darker color.
    Pro:  This keeps everything clear and straight, and pays off in the end.
    Con:  Time consuming.
   TIP:  Don't rush.  Doing it right saves time in the end.
   TIP:  Pre-shrink the freezer paper by running a dry iron over it, lifting it, then pressing it a second
           time.  Believe it or not, it does shrink and can mess up your plans.

Labeled drawing.  Letters refer to color, numbers indicate value. (Click to view large)
2.  Make a copy of the whole thing by tracing lines and notations.  The copy will be cut apart to be used as pattern pieces.
     Pro:  This gives you a master copy for reference.
     Con:  Time consuming.
     TIP:  A light table is invaluable here, but taping it to a window works too.
     TIP:  Cut your pattern pieces as you go or it will be a major puzzle sorting them out.
     TIP:  I keep the cut patterns in labeled envelopes so I can find them if I change my mind about the
              fabric I chose originally.

3.  Iron your basic, freezer paper pattern to an ironing surface and lay a silicone press sheet over it.  You need to be able to see through the press sheet to the pattern.  Iron fusible material to the back of your chosen fabrics.  Using the cut freezer paper patterns, cut out pieces.  Using the tip of your iron, tack your cut pieces of fabric in their assigned places to the ironing sheet.
     Pro:  The cut pattern pieces are right side up and placed on the right side of the fabric.  No
    Con:  Lots of little, pattern pieces running around.  Potential for unnecessary fabric waste.
    TIP:  To avoid fabric waste, don't put large amounts of fusible on your fabrics at one time.
    TIP:  I like SoftFuse.  It only has one layer of paper and is no trouble to quilt through.
    TIP:  Don't forget to cut extra fabric on your fabric pieces where the red marks are on your

Extra fabric where pattern is marked with red arrows.

Basic pattern beneath pressing sheet;
fabric with fusible and cut patterns on top. 
4.  Once all the pieces are tacked in place to your satisfaction, cover with another pressing sheet and press the whole thing together (in a pressing sheet sandwich).  When cool all those pieces of fabric can be peeled off the pressing sheet as a single unit, which is then ready to lay down on a prepared background and fused down permanently.
     Pro:  So cool!

Method II.  This method was learned during a class taught by Barbara Yates Beasley on creating animal portraits.

1.  Draw outlines delineating color and/or value on clear mylar with a fine, black Sharpie pen.  The backside is used for making pattern pieces.  Each outlined space becomes one little piece of fabric.
  Pro:  The mylar is very easy to work with and trace on; can be erased with alcohol and used again.
  Con:  It is easy to mix up front and back.
  TIP:  Using a posterized, black and white version of your photo may help with the drawing.
  TIP:  Label the backside of the mylar with "Pattern" or some indication as to which side you are
           working with.

Yes, you saw it last week!
2.  Trace the drawing on muslin so you know where to put the little pieces of fabric.
  Pro:  It is easy to put each piece in its place on the muslin.
  Con:  It is easy to get lost if you are looking at the pattern side so you have to remember to turn the
           mylar over to match the piece to its place on the muslin.
  TIP:  If you are comfortable with the computer you can do your drawing on the photo (I use
          Photoshop) before printing, then trace those lines on the mylar.  This would then show you the
          pattern pieces from the front side on the printed photo (no constant flipping of the mylar).

3.  Turn the mylar over to use the backside as the pattern.
    Pro:  Easy to draw patterns.
    Con:  Easy to forget which side you are working on and end up with the fusible backwards.
    TIP:  Mark the backside of the mylar so you know which side is up.

4.  Trace a piece from the mylar basic pattern onto Steam-a-seam 2 Lite, which has paper on each side of the fusible (sandwich style).
    Pro:  It is easy to see the lines for tracing.
    Con:  Sometimes the fusible sticks to the wrong piece of paper and you have to mess with it to
             move it to the paper with the tracing on it.
    TIP:  Check which side the fusible is clinging to before tracing.

5.  Cut around pattern piece roughly, take off paper backing and iron to wrong side of fabric.
     Pro:  Little fabric waste if no mistakes.
     Con:  One more time to remember which is front and back.
     TIP:  Chin up - do it enough and you'll keep it straight.

6.  Cut closely around the piece leaving about 1/16 inch outside the drawn line to nestle under or on top  of adjoining fabric pieces and set in its place on the muslin.
     Pro:  The piece of fabric with the fusible clings lightly to the muslin and pretty much stays put
              until  ironed.

I found that this method messed with my mind:  Wrong side, right side, which side; diddle, diddle dumpling, one ear wrong.  Several errors with wasted time and materials challenged me to remember.

The major problem that I am still wrestling with is that the Steam a Seam 2 Lite gums up my machine needle.  Their website says it was designed to not be gummy, but "if it does" you can use Sewers Aid (silicone liquid) on the needle to help it slide through.  I find myself constantly cleaning the needle with alcohol and applying Sewers Aid.  I am still getting skipped stitches and broken thread especially if I move the fabric toward me.  A 90/14 needle helps a bit, but makes visible holes in the fused fabric.  Maybe that will resolve.  I have done a lot of turning this little quilt to prevent the hiccups, but I miss the freedom of movement, and have given up on considering this as a show quilt.  The quilting is not up to snuff, but I am not doing it over.  Chalk it up to the learning process.  I still love the way my dog turned out.

This is long.  I hope it is helpful

Sew a Happy Seam this Week or try some fabric fusing.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Dixie Saga

I had a wonderful day in mid-May at a class taught by Barbara Yates Beasley on creating a quilt from the photo of an animal.  She is a good teacher, organized and professional, and I had a lot of fun.  In this post I will share with you what I learned.

One of the requirements of the class was to have a full-sized photo of our animal.  The size was limited so mine is 12 x 16 inches.  We brought a piece of muslin for the background of our projected quilt and a piece of foam core board on which to work.  We taped our photo to the board and were each given a large piece of clear mylar (acetate), which we laid on top of the photo.  Using a fine-tip, black Sharpie we outlined areas of different value and/or color.  If we made a mistake we had a tiny bottle of alcohol and a cue tip, which erased Sharpie ink lines.  It was nice because the ink does not rub off or smudge, but we can still correct misdrawn lines.  Using a pencil or brown Sharpie (I prefer pencil because it is erasable) we lightly traced the drawn lines from the mylar onto the muslin to serve as a guide for arranging fabric pieces.

Drawing on mylar (acetate)
TIP:  Painter's masking tape is a must to keep the photo and/or the muslin in place while working.

The next step was to turn the mylar over and write "Pattern" on the back somewhere to remind us which side was front and which was back.  Working from the WRONG (i.e. Pattern) side we traced one area from the mylar pattern on Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite (this is the only fusible she would allow us to work with in her class).  It has paper on both sides of the fusing material.  Once drawn we cut roughly around it, removed the paper backing, and ironed it onto the WRONG side of the fabric.  Finally we cut the pattern piece about 1/16 inch outside the line we had drawn on the fusible paper and removed the remaining piece of paper.  Once cut we could lay the piece on the muslin in its proper place, fusible side down, where it clings lightly.  Once the animal is done you cut pieces for the background, tuck them in under the edges of the animal, and when satisfied that all is right, iron the whole thing (animal and background) down to the muslin.

We took our project home to finish (I still had a lot to do).  It was easy to transport as we put the mylar over the whole thing and the pieces that were already in place stayed where they belonged with the foam core board supporting all.  Slick!

I got busy at home and soon found that the fabric was running the asylum.  I totally lost control and my dog didn't look very good...except the eyes, which are perfect (see last week's post).  I decided to start over... except for the eyes and a few pieces around them.  I also felt that I was missing an in-between value of brown and needed some more fabric.  Sound familiar?  Since I was in Seattle for a couple of weeks it wasn't too hard to find time for a mother-daughter quilt shop jaunt.  After that I felt better about my doggie.

Once home, I was excited to try a new tack.  I created a black and white posterized version of the photo in Photoshop.  This is a great way to define value.  Using alcohol I erased all the Sharpie lines on the mylar that defined the out-of-control portions and redrew them from the new image version.  Then I restarted the trace and cut process, using the black and white image as a value gauge and the color photo as a color guide.  I finally ended up with a pretty good likeness of my cute pet.

Posterized black and white to show values clearly
Next week I will write an evaluation of my experience with two methods of creating with fusible so stay tuned.

Sew a Happy Seam this Week.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


I am not drawn to self-help books or those that delve into deep philosophic concepts.  I much prefer a good thriller or detective novel with an occasional biography thrown in.  I also like science, photography and quilting magazines.  In that vein, I read an interesting article in Discover magazine - "Creativity" by Lacy Schley (Jul-Aug, p 50-1).  As you may have gathered from my first sentence, it is not deep.  Each paragraph is in a separate container, sort of like the blocks of a quilt.  Easy reading!!!  I found it interesting so I will summarize very briefly.

"What Do You 'Need' to be Creative?"
1.  Low inhibition levels caused by brain activity where less information is filtered out.  The result:  more information coming in, leading to more neurological connections.

2.  An inner drive that causes you to be so passionate that you MUST do something about it.  I call this my inner bulldog.

3.  An open personality that leads to the desire to experience more things and opportunities.  You are likely to be curious, perceptive, imaginative and intellectual.

The article does not indicate whether these qualities are the result of nature or nurture.  Does it matter?   Where do you fit on the continuum?  I find that these criteria fit me pretty well, but not perfectly.

The other part of the article focuses on "How Can You Spark Creativity?"

1.  Have hope.  Even when you are not sure about a project, hope motivates you to at least try it.  It tends to jump-start your creativity.

2.  Take a hike.  It gets the endorphins going, which make you feel really good about yourself.  Stress levels are reduced, which promotes creative thought and problem solving.

3.  Work on your own and then share with a group.  Group discussion can ofter help that gets ideas flowing.

4.  Meditate.  Not necessarily formal meditation, but rather nondirective where you allow your thoughts to flow wherever they want to.  This activates brain areas associated with memory retrieval and emotion.  It generates ideas and solutions.

5.  Think differently.  Break out of your usual habits.  Try something new.

6.  Just do it!  The more you try, the more chance you have of expressing your own creativity.

I look at the above and realize that I have probably used all the jump-starters at one time or another without realizing that I was sparking my creativity.

The most recent new endeavor for me was to take a class where I created a picture of my dog from lots of little, bitty pieces of fabric.  I have done similar projects before, but I learned a new method and created my dog with a completely different look than I would have done on my own.  I went kind of wild with color, which was really out of my comfort zone.  Next week I will share my journey so far with that project.

Sneak peak of "Dixie"
Sew a Happy Seam this Week and do something really creative.