Machine Embroidery Buddies

Tell me why you sew, and I’ll tell you who you are. Isn’t that the truth? These wonderful ladies, friends of mine, wanted to learn machine embroidery. We won’t talk about how long they have had their embroidery units neatly packed away in boxes with all the best intentions in the world.

We’ve been talking about getting together for years to learn the ins and outs, tips and tricks of the trade. Finally — we did it.

They came over to my house for a day and and I gave them the basic Embroidery 101 lessons. Someday, I will write it all down in lesson form for this blog. I know there are plenty of others out there who have an embroidery unit packed away somewhere, hoping that they will use it eventually. Or maybe you gave up on embroidery entirely.

I am here to re-inspire you. Machine embroidery is truly fun. And the more you know, the more you can experiment, and the more you are inspired to try new things. The hardest part? Getting started.

You can see from these pics that one of the biggest impetuses (is that a word?) for machine embroidery is, wait for it, grandchildren. And children as well . But I think the grandkids get the machine embroidery lovin’. Why? Because they are fun. The things we do for them is done with pure love with no expectations for anything in return.

That’s also why I teach. I want to share what I know, so that others can enjoy this craft. I also want us to use our hands, machines, brains and ideas to make things and to inspire each other, and maybe that will spread into the world and make a difference.

I don’t know if it will. All I know is that they will be coming back for another lesson next week. I hope it inspires you to dig in, as well.

The old saying goes “You can’t take it with you.”

No you can’t. But with any luck, we can quilt it, sew, it, embroider it and leave some of it behind and hope it does some good.

Couching Vs. Embroidery

A friend had been struggling with adding the Wisconsin fight song to a quilt she did for her son. It was made of flannel and very cozy. It had a 2 inch inner border which really was ideal for the words of the fight song. She had already pieced it, and had it quilted professionally.

Over breakfast one day, several of us were talking about the best approach. My friend had purchased some minky-like yarn and was hoping to create the words by couching it. I suggested using the Bernina free-motion couching foot. It seemed like a good approach, but she was not sure she had the foot or knew how to use it. I thought I would test it out for her.

As you can see on my test-out, disaster ensued. The #43 couching foot let the yarn slide around too much to catch it, and basically the thread did not grab the yarn. So then I thought I would try the Bernina stitch regulator on zigzag using the free-motion foot. Slightly better results but still horrific. My experience with the couching foot has been to use very specific sizes and yarn has never worked well. I’ve had much better results with cording, which neither of us had.

I then suggested embroidery might be the best way to go.

After finding a font that was similar to what she wanted (cursive) I then created embroidery hoopings for all the words to go around the quilt. It had to be spaced decently so that it would be readable.

From the above pic, you can see that I positioned every phrase and laid it out on the quilt so that I would have a guide for spacing. The quilt was about a twin size. This took 17 hoopings, all done in the software from a TrueType font. I matched the bobbin thread to the back of the quilt, so, while you could see the embroidery on the back, it did not noticeably stand out. When finished, the embroidery words actually acted more like quilting.

We needed a satin stitch because a plain stitch of the words –or even a triple stitch–was just not visible.

In the end, I think the words ended up looking sharp, and added a lot of personalization and interest to the quilt.

Could we have managed the same result with couching? Maybe with cording, but almost certainly not with yarn.

I have seen that Bernina now offers couching inserts to attach to the #72 ruler work foot and I’m interested in seeing how easy that is to use. For our purposes, I think embroidery ended up being the best result.

What do you think?

This One’s for the Girls

Get your mammograms.

That’s it. That’s the message. I know it’s no longer October and we’ve moved on from the specific Breast Cancer Awareness Month to the festive Hallmark Channel and holiday activities. But I want to emphasize the message again.

Get your mammograms, ladies.

My sister went in September. They found something and it’s been removed. Just not as easily as we had hoped. Things like this tend to get complicated.
But she is past the surgery and doing well. Of course, once she found out, I immediately made an appointment for mine. I got called back…something didn’t look right. After four agonizing days of wondering if I had the same problem, I was able to go back in and they took another picture and all was well. For now. They handed me a chocolate breast cancer ribbon and sent me on my way.

I know you’re all busy. We worry about our cholesterol, our weight, our eyes, our teeth, our hair, our families and their health, and we even worry about the planet.

But we all need to start to prioritize ourselves. It’s not our nature to do that. But I’m learning, especially as I get older, to make the time for myself. I can’t help my family or friends or anyone else if I’m not OK.

You,too. None of us is here forever. But let’s make an effort to be well while we’re here.

Slowing Down

Not sure if it’s my age, or my season of life, or the times we live in, but these days, I’ve been thinking a lot more about SLOWING DOWN.

I used to see how many quilts or projects I could finish in a year. How many blog posts? How many pictures taken? How many trips? How much fabric? What’s next? And next after that? And after that?

I’m not that old.

OK, I’m a little old. Old enough to realize that maybe we’re not meant to live our lives in such a constant hurry.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, has me thinking these days about what he calls the first half of life vs. the second half. The first half of life is pretty frantic…working, working, working to establish oneself, to acquire, to achieve and to “become.”

The second half of life (if we do it right, according to Fr. Richard) is when we’re better at giving it all back. Re-packaging, adding wisdom, paying it forward. Now, I’m certainly in the second half of life (even farther than that, unless I plan to live well into my hundred and teens), so I am feeling the need to do just that — down-size, slow down, appreciate more, waste less and generally live a bit closer to nature, to my origins. To leave a smaller footprint. To listen to what the world needs and not just the raging, never-filled loudness of my own concerns.

I think those of us approaching “elderhood” owe it to the next generation to be examples and thoughtful guides.

So with that in mind, I’m going to spend more time appreciating what is, and thinking about what needs doing vs. what I want to do.

Of course I will keep sewing and quilting. I have a room full of fabric that would be criminal to waste.

But what else needs doing?

That takes time, listening and contemplation.

I’m not an expert at this second half of life thing. Quilting friends will understand. I’m a UFO.

An Un-Finished Object.

Glamping Away (or Glamping Go Away)

Once again I heard the expression “glamping.” This time it was referring to a new site in Michigan, called The Fields of Michigan…a blueberry farm that offers luxury tents on their property.

I am not going to judge anyone young enough or adventurous enough to want to spend a few nights outdoors. It can be fun. That has not really been my experience, but, hey, to each his own. For $329 per night, I’ll take the Four Seasons in basically any city or town anywhere.

But in honor of that time of year when people seem to want to celebrate camping, I am re-upping a blog post I wrote several years ago:

Are You A Happy Glamper?

Enjoy your summer, keep up the sewing, and I’ll meet you back in the sewing room after you pull off your ticks.

It’s Time to Get Real About Organic Cotton

When is the last time you thought about where your quilting stash comes from? Have you ever thought about the process, the transport, the distribution? How many of us have ever even recognized on a conscious level that quilt cotton is a plant?

If these questions seem abstruse or even mildly annoying, you’re not alone.  So few people care about this issue. At least that’s the information I was given when I contacted some of the largest distributors of quilting fabric around.

Moda told me there’s no market (that’s us) for organic fabric. Oh yes, they had one line of it a while ago and it didn’t sell terribly well, so…they don’t even carry any organic fabric right now. Fatquartershop.com who sells fabric online said they have nothing to do with the content of their products. In their copy on their website, they describe whatever a manufacturer tells them to say, and distribute on demand. Period.

Fabric designers tell me they do not get involved with the fabric manufacturing process.  They license their designs and have no say in whether their designs are used sustainably/responsibly or not. This may not be true for all of them, but it’s common practice.

So who makes the determination about whether fabric should be organic or not?

Surprise! It’s you. And me.  We are the ones who define this market, and we will have to be the ones to require change.

The question is:

Do you think we need change? 

Let’s talk about it a bit.  Because I’m going to make the case that we have no choice but to put pressure on manufacturers to change their cotton growing processes. And we might have to start with our local quilt shops.

Here’s why:

–70% of the world’s topsoil is degraded.

–It takes 1,000 years to replace 3 cm of degraded topsoil.

–With current farming practices, all the world’s topsoil will be gone in 60 years.

This is not my opinion.

This information is provided by lengthy studies done by the Textile Exchange and reported in life cycle analyses done over spans of years.

Go ahead and google “How much topsoil is left?” 

Without topsoil, the world doesn’t eat, let alone quilt with natural fabrics.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be responsible for my kids and grandkids being unable to have food and clothing because of my simplistic, uneducated (and, frankly, selfish) choices.

I’ve seen some people make the case that organic fabric requires more resources. 

That is simply not true. Not when using any scientific methodology of measurement. Not when attempting to understand the life cycle of the product.  And certainly not when we entertain the implications of the alternative. On the contrary, we now have clear indications that water use on organic farms is far less than traditional practices.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the information on these two charts, but the explanation for them was very clear: Organic farming of cotton greatly reduces water and other energy consumption, and continuing on our current trajectory is simply not sustainable.

Here is where we encounter the power of market forces.

You and I can demand that things change. Manufacturers, distributors and farmers, all have little reason to improve their processes. Inertia and monetary fears will keep them all from advancing to more sustainable processes.

But the science tells us that we will pay a price one way or another. As consumers, we either start demanding organic cotton now, or we will not likely have access to any at all in the future. The choice is that simple and that stark.

But I’m just one person.

What can I do?

-Ask your local quilt shop to carry organic cotton. Be assertive. Those designers that you love? Their designs can be made on organic cotton. But folks like Moda (who is a HUGE distributor of fabric) think you don’t care. I’m telling you it’s time to care and care deeply.

Contact folks like Moda directly: marketing@modafabrics.com and let them know about your concerns.

–Do your own research. Here are a few links to explore:

–aboutorganiccotton.org

–textileexchange.org

Quick Guide to Organic Cotton

–Get the Facts About Organic Textiles

Hope is on the horizon.

But we must all start to act.

Folks like Wrangler, H & M and Nike are starting to recognize that their own businesses will not be around if they don’t educate consumers on organic products, and make the industry more sustainable.

The organic cotton industry has increased by 11% in the US from 2016 to 2018. But that’s not enough. Where does our quilt cotton come from? India? China? the US?

I don’t have all the answers. But I will continue to follow up. In the meantime, I will continue to work down my stash of fabric, and I plan on only purchasing organic fabric in the future. This is a statement I can only make because I’ve done a bit of homework on this and believe it is the best path for me.

I’ll be exploring more of the current manufacturers soon. The good news is that there ARE organic quilt fabrics out there. We just aren’t aware of them.

I leave you today with a current picture of my own garden out back. Our Midwestern loam is the finest on the planet. Everything grows here. But we need to be responsible stewards of the land, of our money and of our resources.

I’m ready to take the organic leap. Are you?

Stitching Into Spring

I’ve been in a flurry of personal sewing gifts for milestone birthdays, so I have not taken the time to update the blog til now. I thought I would just include a gallery of projects.

The quilt that I just raced through was a pattern from Modern Quilt Studio. If you haven’t figured it out by now, they are one of my favorites, as Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr are both artists with graphic backgrounds and an instinct for color and design. I have great respect for them both. I recognize the talent that feeds into what comes across as simplicity.

This takes work and artistry and they have both. If you have the chance to see either of them in person, you won’t regret it and I promise you will come away smarter and more confident in your craft.

More importantly, they were modern quilt artists before it was cool. One of the first quilting books I ever purchased was theirs and I haven’t looked back since.

I hope you are “springing ahead” with your sewing, as I am with mine. While I have some fabric already available for my next quilt, I also want to try something completely different.

That’s the fun of it all, isn’t it? We get to try new things all the time. Stay warm and keep stitching!

2019 in Living Color

Whatever your style, whatever your favorites, 2019 is turning into a year of bodacious color.

I’m a trend-geek and I’m always interested in what the “experts” consider to be the next big thing. As you can imagine, 2019 holds a lot of possibilities, from Artificial Intelligence to Augmented Reality to graphic design with the most vibrant knock-’em-dead colors available.

I won’t go into my newly formed relationship with my Roomba named Sean. I freely admit that I am not an early adopter when it comes to technology. I like to let someone else work out the bugs. But if you ever want to know about the joys of a Roomba, let me know. I am thrilled. And I don’t even mind that my scale talks to my Fitbit, and my vacuum cleaner texts me regularly. Give me an electronic slave that cleans the toilets and I will have dinner with it afterward, if that’s what it takes.

But enough technology.

What will affect us in the sewing world?

Pantone has declared a new color for 2019 (they choose one every year.) This one is called Living Coral. I love it.

What influence will it have on fashion design and fabric? Well, for them to choose this color, they already know what the runways are planning. Pantone does their research to predict this color. So we can be sure to see more of it come spring.

Here’s a link to some palette possibilities. As I look at them, I can see that the combinations would make great quilts. So there’s something to explore. And it all looks quite fresh to me. Sometimes I find that the fabric in my stash just looks dated, but add in a few new colors and you can really brighten up, freshen up, and lighten up your color combinations.

I’ve been working on a quilt with some bold colors and a very simple design. But the quilt was more difficult to put together than it looks.

I was working with a line called Warp and Weft from Modern Quilt Studio. It is a line of wovens that they designed to have a stronger weave than the average woven. And the colors were fun.

However, I had to pull out a few of the fatquarters from the bundle because they just dragged down the whole palette.

I’m not critical of the colors. These are perfectly lovely fabrics. They just absolutely did not work in the quilt. The charcoal was too dark and would have created “holes” in the quilt. The buffalo print was just too busy and neutral, and the pink really greyed down the look of the whole quilt. It took some fussing to get something that looked effortless.

The second challenge was to lay it out with contrasting colors next to one another. That was key to the whole look.

This quilt will be quilted at a friend’s house on her longarm. It will be a collaboration and I am not tied to any particular style of quilting, as long as we all learn something in the process. I think it will be fun.

In these dreary mid-winter days, I encourage you to embark on your own color adventure. It’s fun, it’s cheerful and you may find yourself exploring something new.

Quilting a Large Quilt on a Home Sewing Machine

When folks ask me about quilting on their home machine, my go-to answer has always been: You’ll probably be OK with anything up to a twin size quilt. After that, it just gets unmanageable.

And, overall, I stand by that recommendation.

However, I’d like to add an amendment. As long as you are not attempting to do some really advanced level quilting, go ahead and try a large quilt on your home machine. (This one was 90 x 90.) But here are a few tips:

  1. Surround yourself with supportive tables and ideally a sewing machine cabinet designed for quilting.

As you can see above. I have a fairly large quilt table to support the weight of the quilt as it gets moved around. It doesn’t hurt to have a a cabinet that allows your machine to sink down level with the table.

2. I always use gloves. And this has a lot to do with personal preference. Some people get too hot in their hands, and I can understand that. But I love Machingers, as they are lightweight, fit my hands, and are machine washable.

3. Do 1/4 of the quilt at a time.  This way, you’ll never have more than half the quilt shoved up against the machine at one time. And I do mean shoved.

4. Avoid rolling your quilt. It’s simply impossible to do any type of freeform quilting with a giant roll on your right. Any good quilter will tell you to just bunch it up and straighten as you go.

5. Quilt from the center to the outside, always moving fabric away from your machine. Even as I type this, I recognize that there are times when you are moving up or down on the quilt and even occasionally in the wrong direction. That’s fine. As long as OVERALL, your are moving from middle to your right edge. That’s the beauty of working on a quarter of the quilt at one time. Once a quarter is done, spin your quilt 90 degrees (a quarter of a revolution), allowing you to work on the next quarter. Does that make sense?

6. Keep your quilting simple. Save the gorgeous, ornate, custom, refined work for the longarm. Or make yourself an expert on this with LOTS of practice. I don’t consider myself an expert yet on quilting a large quilt. It’s an awful lot of heft to shift around elegantly. I’d rather use machine embroidery for a more complicated design. But remember this: you are only working on about a dinner plate size area at any given time. After that is done, you need to shift your hands and the quilt.

As always with this hobby, if you’re not enjoying yourself, or are afraid to ruin something, then it is just advisable to pay someone to do your quilting. If, though, like me, you prefer to have a quilt that’s all “your own”, then don’t be afraid to try some things.

On the queen size quilt above, I knew that once it was washed, all I really wanted was that old-fashioned scrunchy, quilty look. I did some small/medium-sized stippling, with straight line quilting on the outer border of half square triangles. I threw it in the washing machine and all sins were forgiven. All that’s left to do is the label, which I’m hoping to squeeze in before the end of 2018, so I can declare this one FINISHED.

And as we all know, finished is better than perfect….though I am loving the way this came out, and my teenage son has already claimed it.

Have a Happy New Year and a wonderful and productive 2019! My next project is much more carefree and colorful. Here’s a sneak peak.

Happy Stitching–a sewing machine, a glass of champagne and a bit of chocolate would be a perfect way to start the new year.

Mini Quilt Accents

From time to time, I find myself just needing to focus on a small project with comforting and cozy colors. In this particular case, I had some parameters…it cannot be more than 16 in. wide.

Where do you find a quilt that size?

If you are familiar with Jo Morton, you can find them in her books.  She now has 3 books out with her “Little Favorites.”  These little quilts are wonderful as decorating tools.

The pieces go together pretty quick as I assembled this one in less than a week, working sporadically…one day for an hour, one day for two hours, etc.

The satisfaction comes from finishing something that looks nicely put together in no time.

I’ve been on the hunt for hangers and ways to display these little quilts. I found a gentleman at Quilt Fest in Madison who sells every imaginable type of quilt hanger.

I found a couple of things I liked but I’m sure I’ll go back to him as a resource. Just be sure to pay attention to measurements otherwise you’ll be fudging the sleeve and squishing your quilt.

Enjoy the process, because nothing warms up a house in the fall like a quilted accent. That and some apple pie.