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.

Sewing Through the Midwestern Blizzard

#SNOWVEMBER, is what I’m told.

Actually, it’s just raining. but they say the snow is coming…and plenty of it. I am skeptical, but that’s nothing new.

These little ornaments on the tree are made from Kraft Tex. (See my previous post for more details.) I think they turned out cute, and I am anxious to try stitching them out on fabric and turning them into little stuffed ornaments. I think that would be adorable. These have designs on both sides, because I just wanted some flexibility. I’ll need to make some minor adjustments to the software file I use to stitch out the designs on fabric. On the new ones, I’ll add a seam around the outside, leaving an opening to turn them. Then it will be just a matter of stuffing them.  I’ll share when I start that.

But for this task, I wanted to show you the greatest little tool I got at the shop as it was closing. I didn’t think I’d ever need it, didn’t really have any idea why I might use it, but of course I purchased it anyway.

And it sat in my sewing room for over a year.

(Incidentally, as we speak, the rain has turned to snow out my window. Maybe they are not all liars after all.)

It’s called a Circle Rotary Cutter from Olfa. I finally decided to try it out for this project and I am in love with it. I guess I just didn’t know how desperately I needed to cut accurate circles. It has a ruler attached so you can set the radius. You basically use it like a compass, with the sharp point in the center, and a blade instead of a pencil at the end. Suddenly I am imagining all the wool projects I’d like to invent using circles, as well as paper, Kraft Tex, felt, and basically anything a rotary cutter will go through.

In minutes I had beautiful, ACCURATE circles. Do not discount the significance of getting a circle perfectly round.

I am off now, to work on a quick quilt that I must finish before the holidays. We all have those last minute projects. For those of you in the Midwest, Happy Blizzard-Sewing!

The Ubiquitous Old Red Truck — And Other Holiday Icons

C’mon. You know you’ve seen this truck everywhere.

I’m not sure when it became the definitive retro/vintage/holiday symbol. But somewhere along the way it did. I’ve seen it in catalogs, in charming shops, on TV (Hallmark Channel has at least one movie where the truck is a co-star.) I’m sure this old truck obsession is a simple longing for tradition, simplicity, home-baked cookies and the scent of actual pine. But let’s remember: this cute, sentimental old truck could put out enough dangerous fumes to choke a horse pulling an open sleigh. We are excellent at suspending reality during the holidays.

That said, my grandfather had a dark green/blue one just like it on the farm. (You can see it in the pic with Mom and me below.)

Since I’m as sentimental as everybody else around the holidays, I found myself purchasing the truck machine embroidery shown at the top. Buy it here.

I stitched it out on Kraft Tex.  If you’re not familiar with Kraft Tex, it’s the miracle textile that the Levi’s logo is made of.  It doesn’t rip.  It’s washable. It lasts forever and takes a beating and doesn’t show wear and tear. And you can sew with it and on it.

I wasn’t sure how it would hold up with 22,000 stitches on it, but I used Stabilstick Cutaway stabilizer and it was perfect.

Then I started getting more ideas about holiday decor using Kraft Tex and machine embroidery. You can find some cute and simple designs here.

I stitched them out, again using the Stabilstick cutaway stabilizer.  I put a design on the front and on the back, trimmed them to size, rounded the corners, and stitched in black around the outside.  They are the perfect shape for mouse pads.  But I added ribbon and will give them out on Thanksgiving as a holiday decoration.

Once I did those, I started testing ornaments.

CAUTION: Don’t just resize the designs.

I tried to take them from 7 or 8 in. wide down to 4 in. Even in software, they did not size down properly.  They were not originally .ART files, so the software was struggling to reduce stitches. I tried it anyway, but…

Yuck. Big mistake. So I went back to the website and ordered some new ones in smaller original sizes.

These turned out just fine.  I’ll be adding ribbon and using them as ornaments. They will have different designs on each side. I’ll share more when I get them completed.

For now, I’m wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving and a relaxing weekend with loved ones. My holiday will be spent with 10 close family members and 2 dogs. That’s charming and sentimental enough for me.

 

Machine Embroidery Cross Stitch for Halloween

I found this cute embroidery in Cross Stitch Magazine, Halloween edition.

I am not someone who is into cross stitch, but I think it looks so charming around the holidays. My way of handling this is to digitize it and then use the machine to embroider it.  I use Bernina Embroidery Software 8, which has a cross stitch application within the program. If you are not familiar with it, the sub-program has its own “help” section and manual.  I find that it is really pretty simple if you know a few basics.

I will share with you what I did to create this design, and you can explore another of my Halloween posts right here.

The first step is to scan the pattern at its original size.  This design was approximately 7.5 in. x 6 in. Shown above is the black and white scan of the image, but you can see that this image is enlarged enough to show that I can see the markings of all the different thread colors. That will be important later when I manually add them.

A few basic steps:

  1.  Crop the image right up to the outline of the grid.  You want it to be cropped as perfectly as possible when you load it into the cross stitch program. I use Adobe Photoshop to do this, but Corel is built into the software program and you can easily use that instead.
  2. Count the grid.  The heavy lines indicate ten spaces, so you can get an accurate count. You’ll need that later.
  3. Open the cross stitch program in applications.
  4. Click the “picture” tab and load the picture.
  5. Right click on the picture (this is an important step!) and plug the dimensions of the grid in the width and height. These are the number of grid boxes you counted in the second step. This aligns your image with the grid in the program.
  6. Begin adding in your stitches by clicking on the pencil.  At the bottom you can choose the type of stitch…I almost always use a full cross, but you have a number of options.
  7. Choose a color, and you’re ready to fill in your stitches using the image as your guide.
  8. Left click on each grid box to add in your stitches.

In the image above, you can see what it looks like after I added all the stitches.  This did not take long at all, maybe half an hour to get them all filled in.

Save the file as  filename.arx. .arx is the extension used by the cross stitch program.

Now you can close the whole cross stitch program and your embroidery software will still be open. When opening this file, just be sure to choose the .arx extension or “All Files”.

This is the great part. The software will digitze those cross stitches and turn the whole design into an embroidery file. Above, you can see how it turned out on my screen. I exported it then as .exp as I would any embroidery design file and saved it on a usb stick.

The first time I stitched it out, the ghost in the background was just a little too faded. I switched to a slightly darker fabric and the ghost appears more clearly on the right (although I think the picture is a little fooled by the lighting.)  In real life (!) the one on the right lets the ghost show up much better.

I had fun with this project and it’s actually a lot less time consuming than cross stitching by hand — though I have great appreciation for those who do that!

This way, I can stitch it out over and over again…on a pillow, as an ornament, on a bag, etc. I used Isacord thread for these, which is 40 weight embroidery thread.  But I am curious how it would turn out if I had done it with 28 weight, a heavier weight thread. I think that would be really sharp.  The cross stitch program would allow me to adjust the size of the grid as well, so I have lots of opportunity to go deeper and try new things.

Hope this inspires you. The cost of one magazine provides you with so many cute patterns to try. And cross stitch is a program that is so often overlooked in digitizing software.

It’s really worth some experimentation.

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.

 

It’s the Neutral Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

Neutral, white pumpkin

My kitchen table collection.

We’ve all seen them, because they’re everywhere.

I admit, I really like them. Maybe I’m just sick of the same old orange pumpkin. Maybe they make a display look just a bit more elegant. Maybe it’s just a trend that started years ago, has reached its max-out peak and will be gone soon.

Whatever the reason or the cause, white pumpkins are more “in” than ever.

Don’t get me wrong.

When the fall colors roll around, I am the first to love my reds and browns and shades of burnt orange. I will never cease to be amazed by nature’s color palette with the change of the seasons. The trusted orange pumpkin is still prolific, as well as many other shades and sizes of squash.

Have you noticed that the new trend is more pumpkins are better?  I don’t know how I feel about that, but 50 pumpkins on your porch or deck seems to be what the magazines/pinterest/social media tells us is the best way to celebrate fall.

Here’s a screen grab from Better Homes and Gardens on Instagram (they DO have cute posts.)

I hope they don’t have any need to use those stairs in case of a fire.

Nevertheless, the pumpkins are neutral neutral neutral.

Oh sure, a few orange pumpkins are thrown in, but even those are pale and muted. Understated. Quiet.

None of these are the rowdy, screaming, terrifying jack-o-lanterns I grew up with.

I confess, I think it looks fresh. Sometimes I wish the holidays could be anything other than red and green (and sometimes blue).  I get sick of the same old thing.

Apparently these artisan pumpkins and gourds do grow naturally (as opposed to white christmas trees.) They are just heirloom and specialty seeds. They are ideal for carving as they’re softer on the outside…not as tough as those big orange pumpkins.

At this point, I’ve seen them now at every grocery store, every farm stand, and every pumpkin patch. I put them on my kitchen table.

This too, shall pass, and we’ll all move on to the next big thing. But for now, we’re all Martha Stewart, who, by the way, was using white pumpkins in her displays in 2003.          (I read about her in this article.)

Whether your pumpkins are white,tan, bright orange, or anything in between, I hope you have fun with them this season.  They only come around once a year. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

More Freestanding Lace

Boo!

Machine embroidery has so many uses, but the one I’ve been dabbling in the most lately is freestanding lace. I’ve blogged about it a few times in the past. You can read those posts here and here.

Lately, I tried something new and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I took a simple lace embroidery, meant to be a small doily.

Then I stitched a number of them together after creating a design in software to see what it might look like.

Freestanding lace, Bernina Software 8All you have to do is use a simple zigzag with an open-toed foot on your machine.

Just pin the multiple pieces together and sew the zigzag in various points to hold it together.

Keep the zigzag stitch narrow and tight, and it will be hardly visible on the finished piece. I went forward and back-stitched, just to make sure it would not unravel.

The finished product turned out better than I had expected.

While I am using it now for Halloween, it obviously will be gorgeous for the holidays, as well.

I also have to admit that I am in love with these tiny LED lights, lit by battery packs. Of course, they cannot stay on all evening as my orange lights do around the fireplace, but the teensy ones on the Halloween tree and surrounding this ceramic pumpkin are just perfect.

Like those ornaments? I’ve made them over the past couple of years in machine embroidery.  You can search “Halloween” on my site or view one of the posts right here.

I hope I have inspired you to make more use of your machine embroidery.  It’s fun and festive and the ideas are endless.

7 Reasons to Own a Serger

I know. You’re a quilter.  Or maybe you enjoy machine embroidery. You don’t need a serger to have a happy life.

But I’m here to tell you that you can use it in many useful ways, even if you think you won’t.  If you never want to have one, that’s OK.  But let me try to persuade you just a little.

Why You (Might) Need a Serger:

  1.  To make quilt backs.  I use my serger all the time for this simple reason.  It is the fastest machine to do a very straight and very sturdy stitch on long pieces of fabric.  Afterward, I just iron the serged edge to one side. This is especially helpful when the back of the quilt is rather scrappy and I am assembling multiple pieces.  Just keep your edges straight, and off you go. Easy peasy.
  2. To make duvet covers. You may or may not want to do this, but I use a nice comforter on my bed that needs a duvet.  I always make my own, never purchase one.  I piece them together just like quilt backs.  Usually I have one print on one side and another print on the other, so when I flip the comforter I get a contrasting, yet coordinating look.
  3. Curtains and valances.  This is the very best way to make things for the home.  I have different valances for different seasons in my kitchen.  They get lots of washing and re-hanging over the course of the years. They have to be able to withstand all of that and a serger keeps the raw edges from unraveling. Of course, the edges that you will see are turned under but seams and ruffles really last with a serger.
  4. Pillow cases.  I use the easiest pattern for pillow cases ever (not the burrito style–google it if you don’t know about that.) The Ready Set Serge is great for simple serger ideas and I have used a number of her patterns over and over and over again.
  5. Garments.  This one is a no-brainer, but if you’ve never sewn garments, it may not be obvious to you.  It’s the best way to give your sewing a finished look without elaborate things like french seams or other couture techniques. This is the tool for quilters who occasionally sew a garment.
  6. Knits and any stretchy fabric.  Sergers were designed for this.  They can pound through sweatshirt fabric like nothing else. Leggings? Bathing suits? Stretchy fabric for a skirt?  All perfect on a serger.
  7. Simple bags. With the onset of the “bring-your-own-bag” movement, I have often found myself using leftover fabric (sometimes not-so-leftover fabric) as grocery bags, farmer’s market bags and carry-alls. I prefer cloth bags to anything else because I can throw them in the washing machine…and often do. The finished serged edges keep them from fraying and they withstand wash after wash.

I hope this persuades you to think again about a serger.  I know that for folks who do more garment sewing than I, the serger is priceless.  But even as someone who is mostly a quilter and machine embroiderer, I find that the serger is the perfect complement to my sewing.

And here’s the thing.  Once you have one, and learn to use it, you won’t know how you ever did without.

Speaking of JoAnn’s…

I wanted to add a follow-up to my last post about JoAnn’s.

I recently read an excellent article on the Craft Industry Alliance blog, and I want to provide a link to all of you.

The article very thoroughly goes over the impact of recent tariffs on the craft industry.

Answers are not simple or easily resolved. It is important for all of us to understand that this impacts us all. Thankfully, the article makes it clear that good quality quilt fabric, the kind we purchase at quilt shops, is manufactured in Korea and Japan, and therefore not affected by the tariffs.

I urge you to read the article.  Please note the sidebar that covers the list of products that will now be priced higher. This is our industry. These are the products of our hobbies and often our businesses.

The least we can do is be aware and well-educated.

(Thought it might be a good time to re-up this blog post of mine about where sewing machines are currently manufactured. In light of recent tariffs, the country of origin may become pretty important when purchasing a new machine. Clearly, those made in China will be going up in price…unless we see something else happen in the news.) Here’s the post.