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).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

To Tuck or Not to Tuck

Oh dear.  It is Monday and I haven't written my weekly blog.  There are some weeks when my brain becomes so engaged with other things that I forget to plan the usual things.  I confess I have waffled on sharing this content, but why not?  I write about solutions and almost every quilt presents one or another challenge that needs a solution.

I am quilting with wool batting and that makes the unstitched areas quite puffy.  When properly done the excess quilts out very nicely, but...I had to learn a methodology the hard way.  I was quilting the main motif in an area defined by SID seams  When I got near one of these seams I discovered that I had pushed the fabric out to the edge and now I had too much excess to "quilt it out."  I hope you can imagine because I didn't think to take a photo.  I was thinking too hard about how to solve the problem.  I had two options:  1) remove the quilting and redo, or 2) stitch a tuck in at the seam.

I took the lazy road.  I flattened the excess fabric into a tiny tuck about two inches long so that it met the seam line. Then I stitched tiny ladder stitches by hand to secure it because it had a mind of its own and wanted to stand up.  When it was properly corralled,  I  went over the tuck with micro-stippling, and you would never know about my "no-no" if I hadn't shared the secret with you.

TIP:  I do not recommend doing this tuck trick if you can avoid it.  It is really bad form and cannot be guaranteed to look right.  I should have ripped and re-quilted, but at that particular moment my inner bulldog was tired.  (Who knows, I may yet rip it out, but right now I think I'll leave it.)

Can you see how much puff I have to negotiate?  You can also see that ultimately
it flattens beautifully with the micro-stippling.
This was the first of eight areas of the quilt that are the same, so I needed an avoidance strategy.  My design is mostly feathers so from now on I will start with the upper scroll (see diagram below) and then the end feather and spine of the lower motif.  This nails down the fabric evenly and should prevent excess fabric from bubbling up and becoming a problem.  By the time the feathers are added a lot of fabric has been divided up and shared equally.  This divide-and-conquer technique works beautifully, and I had no problem on the second space of the same design.

Click to enlarge.
The upper part (above the upper aqua seam) I do separately, and do all the circular frames first.  Again division of puff is the goal.  Yes, I have to start and and stop a lot with this design, but I don't really mind.  I tie the threads and bury them as I go to avoid catching stray threads in the stitches.

TIP:  I am a great advocate for tying threads immediately.  I have seen people come back later to tie them and they invariably miss some.  The other problem is that they can get in the way and may end up caught in the stitching.  Stopping to knot and bury along the way gives a mini-break to some of your quilting muscles, and may help reduce fatigue.

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you no need to hide fabric tucks.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Needle Nirvana and Beautiful Backs

Needle Note
I got caught out of school last week.  One reader asked me what size needle I use for Kimono silk.  I must confess that I was using a #12/80 Topstitch.  Then I went to the list of articles compiled on the Superior Threads site and found that I was not using the optimal sized needle.  I  went through my bucket of needles and found one #8, which they recommend.  My needle threader broke it in half!  I don't know if the needle was defective or if the threader is too vigorous, but I will be purchasing some more #8 needles.  Meanwhile, I pulled a #10 Microtek out of the stack and used it.  Oh my gosh:  It was like sewing butter.  I love the finer needle for the silk and my FMQ (free motion quilting) is so much smoother with the smaller needle.  It goes through all the layers of the quilt sandwich without a hitch.

TIP:  Never stop learning!  Use the right size needle for your thread.  You will be so happy.  In my case  the #12 was OK and didn't cause problems, but the #10 works so much better.  Maybe #8 will be better still.

Create a Beautiful Back
1.  Make sure the backing of the quilt sandwich is firmly secured as you compile the layers and pin them together.  It should not be stretched super tight, but it should not be loose either - just firmly smoothed out and fastened down with painters' tape or clips until pinned.  This will avoid nasty tucks on the back.  Grains must be straight on both top and backing.

2.  Using a small sandwich of the same materials as your quilt, work out your optimal tension.  This may vary from quilt to quilt.   You don't want "pokies" of bobbin thread showing on the front or top thread showing on the back.  You don't want weird lines pulling at rounded forms.  You don't want thread loops snaking up.  Continue to check the tension periodically as you work on your quilt. Sometimes the tension slips or maybe your bobbin case needs cleaning.

Here you can see red "pokies".  They are bits of bobbin thread
showing because the top tension is too tight.

3.  If you are new at FMQ or still not confident with your ability, choose a busy fabric as backing.  The stitching irregularities will be less obvious in the confusion of a noisy design.  Practice will ultimately improve your stitching competence.

Busy fabric obsures the quilting to some extent.

4.  Eventually you will find that using a non-busy fabric and colored bobbins will make the back look like a similar, but different quilt.  I began using top and bobbin thread the same color so that "pokies" would be obscured (note:  it is smarter to check and adjust your tension!).  Imagine my surprise when I turned the quilt over and discovered how pretty the back looked.

My first step out of obscurity.  My stitching is not always the greatest, but I got
lots of practice on this 72 x 72 in quilt.  Even lacking perfection it makes 

interesting texture accentuated by thread color.

Continued practice brought confidence.  
Back of "Butterflies in My Garden."  See front.

Back of "Fenestra Rosa".  See front.

Bigtop (see front) is a spiral quilt where some of the quilting overlay looks hit and miss on the front because the thread color melts into some of the colors of the piecing.  However,, the overlay designs can be seen clearly on the back (seals and clowns - click to enlarge).  I SID-ed the lines of the spiral with gray Bottom Line in the bobbin.  I purposely used the gray instead of black because I thought the lines would suggest the high wires and tightropes of a circus without being a distraction.

TIP: Don't forget that the back of your quilt is an important element and should look just as nice as the front.  Show judges check the back as carefully at they do the front.

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you a beautiful backside.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

No Thread for ALL Projects

When I first began quilting I used 100% cotton for all sewing and quilting as that was thought to be the best at that time.  The common understanding was that synthetic thread was not good as it could melt, and it might or cut your fabric because of its strength.  Time, testing and common use has proven that these threads stand up really well without damage to the fabric although nylon is questionable because it yellows and gets brittle with age.  As quilting has evolved the available threads and fibers have exploded.  There are so many brands, fibers, and thicknesses that it would be very time consuming to research them all and even more to test and write about them.  I will narrow this blog down to my own experience.  Caveat:  I am NOT an expert.  I just know what I like.  If you are interested in informative articles about thread go to Superior Threads and start reading.

One important issue is thread weight.  Threads are labelled as #30, #50, #100, aka 30 wt, 50 wt, 100 wt, etc.  The confusing thing is that #30 is relatively thick and heavy and a lower number is even heavier.  A nice piecing weight is #50.  The finest thread in my list is #100 and is often silk, but Superior has just come out with a #100 polyester thread (MicroQuilter) that sounds really nice and is cheaper than silk.   The numbering makes sense when you realize how the system works:
  • #30 means that on a weight scale 30 yards = 1 specific weight unit.
  • #50 means that on a weight scale 50 yards = 1 specific weight unit.
  • #100 means that on a weight scale 100 yards = 1 specific weight unit.
So, all three achieve the same weight, but it takes more yards of the #100 than the #30 to weigh the same.  I don't know if it is yards or feet or whatever.  I don't know whether it is ounces or grams or whatever.  This example is meant only to explain the system because it is hard for newbies to wrap their minds around it.  I also want you to understand when I explain my choices of thread.

Needles, on the other hand, are bigger if the number is higher.  The size of the thread determines the size of needle that you should use.  You would use a larger needle for #30 thread than you would use for #100 thread.

TIP:  Changing needles and threads is inherent in fine quilting.  Get used to it!!

OK.  My choices from start to finish:

Piecing.  My first choice would be Aurifil cotton Mako.  It is 100% cotton, #50 aka 50 wt and is fine/thin for a cotton thread.  It is not linty.  However, I took a class from Harriet Hargrave many years ago and she recommended Presencia 50 wt and it is an excellent thread too.  I bought a huge cone of it, so I use it for all my piecing, but will change when it is gone - if it ever gets used up.  No complaints.  I just like the Aurifil better as it seems thinner.  I use a medium gray for all my piecing.

Ditching.  I do most of my SID with Superior Mono-poly.  It is clear and fine and you don't have to worry about color.  My machine has no problem with it.  My only complaint is that it is shiny.  I see it as I work, but when the quilt is done it is really invisible.  Superior also has a smoky version for use on dark fabrics, but it is also shiny.  Both of these threads blend with the colors of your fabric.  In the bobbin I use Superior's Bottom Line, which is a 60 wt thread.  It is very slightly elastic, which allows it to pull the top thread into the batting when it relaxes after sewing.

TIP:  Check your tension before you start to make sure that you don't have pin points of thread poking out on one side or the other.  The top and bottom threads should meet and loop within the batting.

Quilting the quilt.  The thread for the rest of the quilt is variable and depends on what I am doing.  I love Isacord when I want the quilting to stand out.  It is 40 wt polyester with a beautiful sheen and I am using it to outline a lot of feathers.  Thread buildup really shows so you have to plan in order to avoid too much backtracking with it.  I also am using 100 wt Kimono silk from Superior.  It is dreamy, thin and strong.  I use it where I want texture more than obvious color or where I want to smash down the background to accentuate a quilting design.  The very fine thread buries itself in the quilt leaving texture more obvious than thread.  I used a contrasting color silk for the dark border feathers so they would show a little bit, but not stand out.  I also find it hard to see if I work dark on dark!  I use Bottom Line in the bobbin for both Isacord and silk.

Isacord for feathers.  Kimono silk for grid and border designs.
Turquoise point not quilted yet.

On this quilt I am using the same bobbin color for the whole quilt.  I will talk about quilt backs next week.  They can be a lot of fun.

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you fine stitching with beautiful threads.

how the back looks