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Archive for the ‘Design/Process’ Category

Last summer, I met a new client who told me an old story. She had stuff in a box and didn’t want to move that box around anymore. She wanted to do something with the contents of that box that she could enjoy and that would honor the former owners of the artifacts in the box. Does that sound familiar?

Wedding Gown from 1910

1910 Wedding Gown

So, what was in the box? Three generations of wedding gowns, carefully wrapped in tissue: my client’s wedding gown from the 1970’s, her mother’s wedding gown from the 1940’s, and her grandmother’s gown from around 1910.

About the Design
Working within the confines of a 24″ wide by 36″ long size for the quilt, I needed to use the wedding gowns in a way that would visually feature and honor all three in some way. My client told me it wasn’t immensely important for her to be able to see her 1970’s gown in the finished quilt, but she really did like her braided belt. We agreed that her grandmother’s gown was the most interesting and should be showcased. Her mother’s gown was lovely and handmade, and had features I wanted to highlight.

Wedding Gown from the 1970's

1970’s Wedding Gown in the Box

To design this quilt, I used my Celebration Quilt worksheet to determine color, pattern, materials, techniques, and to make other design decisions. (If you own my book Creating Celebration Quilts or have taken this workshop, you have this worksheet.) While we quilters often think of quilts in terms of strips or blocks, I approached this quilt with layers as my goal. Each generation would have its own layer.

Layer One: Foundation from 1970’s Gown
My client’s wedding gown was made of a white knit, which gave me the additional challenge of stretchy fabric. To create a base layer for this quilt, I found an appropriate backing, added batting, and basted fabric from the skirt of the 1970’s gown to this quilt sandwich as if this gown were the quilt top. I grid-quilted it on my BERNINA 820 at 1 1/2″ intervals to keep the knit stable. Everything else in this quilt would be appliqued to this foundation.

Let me just pause for a moment and say how very hard it is to cut — yes, CUT — vintage garments. Here’s what I tell myself: This garment is beautiful. It lived a wonderful life and is now in a box where it gets no use, has no exposure, brings no joy. If I cut this garment and make it part of something else, it will have a new life where it will be seen and appreciated every day.

Layer Two: Background from 1940’s Gown

1940's Wedding Gown

1940’s Wedding Gown in the Box

My client’s mother’s gown was really special. It was hand sewn from silk and lots of really lovely lace. I wanted to include it so that you could see it was still a dress, but there wasn’t enough real estate in this quilt to highlight both the 1910 gown and the 1940’s gown. I removed the lining from the 1940’s gown and auditioned several layouts that would show the bodice clearly. I also wanted to highlight the points at the cuffs.

Layer Three: Foreground from 1910 Gown
My client’s grandmother was tiny. Her wedding gown looks child-size. Every detail was well-preserved and, well, beautiful. I couldn’t fit the whole gown on the quilt (If I could have changed the quilt size at this point, I would have.) and I hated to lose any of the gorgeous lace detail. I started by removing the lining and then I positioned the dress on the quilt without cutting away anything. I tried placing it vertically, parallel with the sides of the quilt, but that made for a really boring composition. Then, I tried angling the dress to the right and to the left. The diagonal line made the quilt much more interesting and it left some room to the right to show off the 1940’s lace bodice.

Construction

Couching by hand

Couched Floss in the Binding Ditch

Once I knew where everything would go, I pinned things firmly in place and then hand-appliqued everything to the base layer. Where there where big expanses of gown between the stitched edges, I followed the lines of the lace or construction and added more hand-stitching to keep things flat and secure.  Once everything was in place, I trimmed the quilt to size and bound it. To add a little contrast between the binding and the quilt itself, I added a line of Aurifil’s new cotton floss hand-couched in the ditch. It’s subtle, but I think it was an important addition. Finally, I added my client’s braided silk belt. This was what she loved about her gown and I wanted it to show. I handstitched it across the top and left the ends to hang free, framing the other two gowns.

Finished quilt: Three Generation of Wedding Gowns

Out of the Box: Three Generations of Wedding Gowns

A Few Final Thoughts
When I make a Celebration Quilt for a client, I try very hard to use only the materials they supply. Everything in the quilt should be infused with meaning and memories. The only fabrics I added to this quilt were the binding, the backing, and the fabric for the printed labels.

Don’t forget the back of the quilt! When I have artifacts or leftovers that would not fit on the front of a Celebration Quilt, I try to make them work on the back. In this case, I used the lace points from the 1910 gown to highlight the labels. Because the quilt was somewhat unbalanced weight-wise, I added a second sleeve at the bottom for a thin metal slat or drapery weights to help the quilt hang perfectly.

Three labels

This quilt needed three labels to tell the whole story.

This quilt has three labels. One includes the name of the quilt and information about how it came to be. The second label includes pictures of all three brides, including names and dates. The third label includes the anatomy of the quilt, showing a picture of the quilt with arrows identifying what artifacts are where. This is a good idea any time the artifacts may not be obvious or the quilt may eventually go to someone who would not recognize the contents.

This quilt may not be for everyone; it’s not supposed to be. My client is happy. She has hung this quilt in her new home where she can enjoy it every day. An effective Celebration Quilt is personal and meaningful — and designed as a one-of-a-kind piece of art. If you are interested in learning how to make Celebration Quilts, you can buy my book or come to one of my workshops. If you bring the seed of an idea, I’ll help you make a plan. If you want to talk with me about making a Celebration Quilt for you, e-mail me and let’s start the conversation.

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In 29 days, I am sailing away to the balmy Bahamas on a quilt cruise with Quilt Retreats at Sea. While we are at sea, we’ll be sewing like madwomen. Between now and then, I need to cut 25 quilt kits plus some extras. Wouldn’t it be great to sit down at a retreat and have all of the fabrics completely ready to sew?

Fabric in a basket

I prewash and press all of my fabric before cutting.

As I’m preparing these kits and cutting yards and yards of fabric, I’m thinking about speed and accuracy.

Do not rush when you are rotary cutting. Rushing leads to careless mistakes, resulting in wasted fabric and stitches in your fingers. I have a dear friend who still sports the scar on her finger from such an incident. (You know who you are! And no, that finger is not more attractive just because it is more tapered!)

The secret to speedy fabric cutting is planning and common sense.

Fabric Stack

If you need to cut strips, I think it’s easier if you first sort the fabric by yardage.

  • Look at the entire task in front of you so that you can organize what you need to do.
  • Group similar tasks together to save set up time.
  • Make a list of what you need to cut, what fabrics to use, and how many pieces you need. Mark them off as you complete each task.

The secret to accurate fabric cutting is having the right tools and using them correctly.

Use the rotary cutter that works best for you. Try a few different models to see which one fits your hand best and which open-and-close mechanism is most convenient for you to use. I often switch off to a different model after I’ve been working for a while to give my hand a break.

Use a sharp blade. Use a sharp blade. Use a sharp blade. Your rotary cutter should cut cleanly through all of your layers in one smooth motion (always moving away from you). If it does not, you either need a fresh blade or fewer layers. I cut through no more than 10 layers of fabric at a time. If I miss a small section once, I’ll chalk it up to being tired and not applying enough downward pressure. If I miss cutting through all of the layers twice, I change blades. (Tip: I save the old blades for paper cutting. Use a Sharpie marker to label it and then put the used blade somewhere safe.)

Cutting on the kitchen island

For cutting, find a nice large horizontal space that’s a good height. I like using the island in my kitchen.

Rulers and mats vary in accuracy. Use good quality tools and check their markings for accuracy. My good friend Kathy Lincoln and I don’t often disagree, but we do on this point: I use the lines on the mat (yes, I’ve checked to confirm the markings are accurate) and Kathy uses only the lines on the ruler. Whatever you do, just confirm that your tools are accurate. I like to use the same tools for the entire cutting process to ensure consistency. I’ll change blades, but keep the mat and rulers.

So, how am I approaching this monumental task? Well, I’m taking over the house! I use the kitchen island for pressing fabric and for cutting. I use the table and chairs for organizing stacks of fabric, patterns, and notions. I use large square rulers to transport cut strips and squares from one place to another. Most importantly, I have fun. While I’m cutting, I may listen to a book from Audible or a marathon of one of my favorite TV shows, or I might listen to a custom cruise playlist I compiled just for this project. In less than a month, I’ll be sharing my pattern and fully cut kits with my Friendship Quilt Cruisers!

6,600 2" squares

6,600 2″ squares

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Recently, I was free motion quilting a baby quilt and I was interupted by skipped stitches. Everything would be perfect for a few inches and then I’d have to stop and rip. Since quilting is supposed to be fun (and this wasn’t), I did some research, started experimenting, and finally fixed the problem. Here’s what I learned – along with some words of wisdom from a few of my quilting friends.

What are Skipped Stitches?

The needle holes show where the stitches were skipped.

In free motion quilting, skipped stitches are when the needle carries the top thread into the quilt sandwich, but the thread does not form a stitch. The needle may leave a hole when it pulls out of the quilt, but the top thread also pulls out of the hole. Skipped stitches can come one at a time or several in sequence. I have a tolerance for one here and there, but groups look bad and I rip them out and try to figure out what’s causing the problem.

What Causes Skipped Stitches?

Skipped stitches are caused by incorrect timing in the stitch formation process. For stitches to form properly, the hook and needle’s bottom position must be timed just right. There are factors that can affect this:

  • How you prepare your sewing machine for free motion quilting
  • Thread size and quality
  • Needle size and type
  • Presser foot choice
  • Presser foot pressure
  • Your free motion quilting technique

As you make adjustments to solve the skipping problem, remember to change one thing at a time and test on a quilt sandwich that matches the quilt you’re working on.

Machine Preparation

Everything you need to clean your machine

  • Make sure the machine is threaded properly. This sounds simple, but a small oversight can cause big issues. Michele Scott, quilter, author, teacher, suggests turning the machine off and back on to restart or reboot to reset anything that may have become “goofy.”
  • Michele Scott also suggests trying a single hole or straight stitch throat (stitch) plate. The smaller opening leaves less room for the quilt to flap as the needle punctures the quilt sandwich, pushing it down and pulling it back up.
  • Reduce the top thread tension. Start with small changes, but don’t be afraid to approach zero. Just keep checking where the stitch locks (top thread with bobbin thread) to make sure you’re fixing your skipping problem and not causing a tension problem.
  • Make sure your feed dogs are down. I know, but check anyway. If you can’t cover them or lower them, then set the stitch length to zero to keep them from moving.
  • Make sure the needle is inserted completely and properly.
  • Clean the bobbin area and make sure there are no errant threads hiding there. Oil, if appropriate.
  • Victoria Findlay Wolfe, artist, quilter, and owner of Bumble Beans, Inc., suggests getting rid of all those dust bunnies hiding under your throat (stitch) plate. You may be surprised by how many you find!
  • Shannon Shirley, an award-winning quilter, says she gives her machine a good cleaning. Sounds like a great idea!

Thread

Successful combination of thread for this baby quilt

  • Use quality thread. This will cut down on lint (bonus!) and make a nicer stitch.
  • Try a different size thread. Sometimes really small threads can be too small to be caught by the hook. If this is consistently a problem, take your machine in to be serviced and explain the problem. This is an easy adjustment.  Try a thread that’s one step larger to see if this is the issue.
  • According to Kathy Lincoln, who teaches machine quilting, some batiks grab the thread fiber, interfering with good stitch formation. If batiks are giving you trouble, trying a finer thread could be the solution.

Needles

  • Dull or damaged needles can cause skipped stitches. Change your needle.
  • Use the right needle for your machine. I like Schmetz for my Bernina.
  • Microtex/Sharp needles work well with tightly woven fabrics, like batiks.
  • Topstitch needles have a bigger eye, which can be helpful if you are using larger thread.
  • Needles that are too small can cause flapping (why do they call it flagging?). Start with 80/12 and move up from there.
  • Kathy Lincoln says this about needles: It may seem counter-intuitive, but try going from a sharp point to a ball point needle. The ball point will separate the fibers instead of cutting through them.

Bernina presser feet, left to right: #15, #44c, BSR with clear plastic sole

Presser Feet

  • Start with whatever foot your machine manufacturer recommends. Generally, a darning foot is fine.
  • My Bernina foot #15 is my go-to foot for free motion quilting.
  • If flapping (flagging) becomes an issue, go for a foot that has more surface area, like Bernina’s #44. If you’re using the Bernina Stitch Regulator (the BSR), use the clear plastic sole. The idea is to provide as much coverage around the needle as possible to cut down on flapping.

Presser Foot Pressure

  • If the skipped stitches are caused by flapping, then increasing presser foot pressure can help reduce the flapping. While the presser foot does not actually ride on the fabric while you are free motion quilting as it does in regular sewing, increasing the pressure can limit the space within which the quilt sandwich can flap up and down.
  • Change presser foot pressure in small increments (On my Bernina, I change in increments of 5, starting with the default 50 setting) and test, test, test. For the batik baby quilt, I finally fixed the problem with a presser foot pressure set at 85.

Technique

  • Don’t push the fabric too fast. If you can’t slow your hand speed, then increase the machine speed.
  • Use your hands to keep the target section flat and firm (but not stretched or tight). I keep my hands flat, fingers at 12:00 and thumbs pointed toward each other at 3:00 and 9:00. Think of the stereotypical film director framing a shot with his hands. The area between my hands is where I stitch. Yes, you have to reposition your hands pretty often and, yes, it’s worth it.
  • Try to keep a steady, consistent speed.
  • Make a test sandwich out of the same materials you are using in your quilt. Test before you move to the quilt. Seriously. I like to skip this, but it’s best to play it safe. Use it to test tension and stitch quality.
  • I have an anonymous quilting buddy who says she switches off her machine and heads to the kitchen for an adult beverage. Hmm. That sounds like a plan. Take a break and start fresh later.

If nothing here works, then your machine timing may be off. You may need to take it in to your machine tech for service. Be prepared to sew at the shop and demonstrate the skipped stitches. Take your quilt or the test sandwich with you to the shop.

My baby quilt has a batik top, batik backing, and thin cotton batting. I was quilting on my Bernina 820 with Superior Threads’s King Tut (cotton 40-weight thread) in the top and Aurifil Mako (50-weight cotton thread) in the bobbin. The winning combination was a 90/14 topstitch needle, 1.25 top thread tension, the Bernina Stitch Regulator with the clear plastic sole set on BSR 1, and the presser foot pressure set at 85.  Now I just need to finish the binding!

For more information about this quilt, read my previous blog entry.

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If your quilt is ever going to hang in a show with pipe-and-drape construction, then your quilt needs a proper sleeve. This sleeve needs to be a 4″ tube, finished on both ends, roomy enough for the show pipes, and sturdy enough to hold up under the wear and tear of quilt show life. Here’s how to make it.

1. Cut the Fabric

From a sturdy woven fabric, cut a strip 10” wide by the one inch less than the width of your finished quilt. If your quilt is 18” wide, then you would cut a 10” x 17” strip of fabric.

Step 1: Cut

2. Finish the Ends

Hem the 10” ends of the unsewn sleeve by turning under ¼” hem, pressing, turning under another ¼” hem, and pressing again. Then, stitch in place. This covers the raw edges and creates a strong end for the sleeve. In case you care about thread color, this is the stitching that will show on your sleeve. Choose accordingly. The contrasting thread in the picture is for you, dear reader.

Step 2: Finish the Ends

3. Construct the Tube

Fold the strip WRONG sides together so that the hems are at each end and the tube is now 5” wide. I press at this stage to make things easier. Stitch along the raw edge side, taking a ½” seam allowance. Then, BASTE along the fold ½” from the edge. Yes, it sounds weird, but it’s important to do this.

Step 3: Construct the Sleeve

4. Finish the Sleeve

Press the sleeve so that the seam (raw edges) and the basting (folded edge) are nested together, one on top and one against the ironing board. I flip the seam allowance in one direction and the folded edge in the other direction. The task becomes more challenging for longer sleeves.

Step 4: Nest the Seams

Step 4: Finish the Sleeve

5. Attach the Sleeve to the Quilt Back

Pin the sleeve to the back of your quilt, centered left to right, about 1” below the top of the quilt. The raw edges should be toward the quilt and the basted fold should be away from the quilt. Do not take the shortcut of stitching the sleeve into the binding. Yes, it will save you time – unless you actually want to use the sleeve without it showing from the front. Resist the temptation.

Step 5: Attach the Sleeve

Now, hand stitch around all four sides of the sleeve, including the ends where the sleeve is open. If you don’t, the people who hang your quilt are likely to slip the pole between the sleeve and your quilt instead of inside the sleeve, leaving potential yucky residue on your artwork. When you stitch, try to catch the sleeve and the quilt backing only. If you go all the way through, your stitches will show on the front. If you catch too much batting, the quilt front could dimple a bit.

Step 5: Attach the End of the Sleeve

6. Finish the Sleeve

Now, rip out the basting that you stitched ½” away from the fold. This makes the outside of the sleeve a little longer than the side that’s against the quilt back, creating ease to go around the pole. If you don’t create this ease, the top of your quilt can appear rounded when the pole is in the sleeve. If you’ve seen this effect, you know why you want to avoid it.

Bonus Tip!

If you’ve decided not to bind the quilt, but use an escape hatch (or knife edge, pillow case construction, stitch and flip – whatever you want to call it) instead, cut the opening you use to “birth” or turn the quilt where the sleeve will go. The sleeve will cover the opening and your secret will be hidden. Laura Wasilowski calls this the trapdoor or encasement binding technique; check it out in her book Fusing Fun! Fast Fearless Art Quilts. Or click here to read Melody Johnson’s explanation of the escape hatch technique. I learned it from her at QSDS…but that’s a story for another post.

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I love to make things. Mostly I sew, but sometimes I like to take a break from fabric and make jewelry. 

A little while ago, a friend of mine asked me to create a special necklace to celebrate a big day — his wife was scheduled to take the oath of U.S. citizenship. Today’s the big day for his wife and I thought I’d share the necklace I made to commemorate the occasion.

Pendant Close-Up
Close Up of the Pendant

The Pendant
We agreed that it would be nice to have a pendant or focal point for the necklace, and so he went looking for the perfect piece. We wanted to find something appropriate for the day that his wife could wear year round. He found it when a Google search landed him on Kellee Bostic’s webpage: http://artseekraftsee.artfire.com. This lovely piece has stars and stripes, but I think it’s subtle.

The pendant is made of PMC (precious metal clay) and is .999 silver. Very pure. And a perfect starting point for this necklace. My friends at Eminence Jewelers in Fairfax, VA engraved the date on the back.

Finished Necklace

FInished Necklace

Materials
The client wanted to evoke a patriotic spirit but we agreed that we didn’t want the piece to scream red, white, and blue. Once I had the pendant in hand, blue became the obvious choice. After a little searching, I found these lovely resin teardrop beads in a faded denim blue. I added blue seed beads and then began to play with the sterling components I have collected. The closure is a lovely moonstone and sterling box clasp from Star’s beads in Vienna, VA.

I wish my client and his wife all the best! Congratulations! It’s a big day.

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I am a lucky quilter. I readily acknowledge this. I am a Bernina National Artisan and the happy recipient of a loaner machine — an artista 730e. I love the things it does that my Bernina 820 does not.

As a quilter, I spend my sewing time working on quilts and quilt-related projects. Yes, I learned to sew by making garments, but who has time to hem pants and replace buttons, much less learn machine embroidery? Me, apparently.

Eric on his BMW

My Husband on his Bike

The Project
My husband loves to camp. Recently, when he realized a lifelong dream and purchased a motorcycle, he began looking at his camping gear in a new way. He began to attend BMW rallies with his brother, toting all of his gear on his bike. He traded his folding camp chair for a Kermit chair, well-known to motorcycle camping enthusiasts. He exchanged his camp towel (an old bath towel) for a new high-tech microfiber towel. Then came the request. “My chair and towel look like everyone else’s. Could you put my name on them for me?” I thought quickly. Sharpie pen? Fabric paint and a hand-cut stencil? Ahhh. I could use my 730e to machine embroider whatever he needed. I could use machine embroidery to help him farkle.

I learned some important things through this process and I want to share them along with a few project details.

The Design
After much discussion, we decided to embroider my husband’s first name. I wanted to use my monogram designs, and so I campaigned for three simple letters. However, many of the campers don’t know his last name; they just know him as Eric. And the font was important, of course. After much back-and-forth with e-mail, PDF font samples, and help from patient and generous friends, we settled on a design.

Bernina 730e with embroidered towel

My 730e with Embroidered Microfiber Towel

Project Details
Font
: The Bernina embroidery software I used allowed me to import True Type fonts. I went to ITCFonts.com and found the perfect fonts: ITC Rennie Mackintosh Std Bold and ITC Rennie Mackintosh Ornaments. Click, purchase, download. Check. By rotating and resizing, I was able to lay out the design exactly as we wanted it to look.

Thread: Both the chair and the towel are dark blue. We entertained yellow, white, and green for thread colors, but we settled on grey. I used Isacord thread. Great stuff!

Stabilizer: I used a tear-away for both the chair back and the towel. The towel had no real loops, and so I did not need that clear topping to prevent the loops from being caught and the design from sinking too far down.

Kermit Chair with Name

Embroidered Kermit Chair

The Back of the Design: I didn’t really care if the back of the name showed on the towel. Who would see it? I cared very much about the wrong side of the stitching showing on the back of the chair. My husband had the perfect solution. He had a patch he saved from one of the two coast-to-coast bicycle trips he made with Wandering Wheels. We both loved the irony of a bicycle patch on a chair used at motorcycle rallies. I sewed the patch on the back of the chair over the wrong side of the embroidery. Problem solved! You can see a faint line of stitching around the name on the chair.

Wandering Wheels PatchThis project took longer than I wanted it to, but I learned a lot about machine embroidery in the process. I loved using the technology I had on hand. I am mesmerized by the 730e as the embroidery module moves the hoop in perfect synchronization with the needle to form a perfect design. I must admit that I’m looking around the house for other things that need to be embroidered. I had fun. Maybe I’ll work on quilts next week.

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Power Suit Challenge LogoHave you ever walked a quilt show, seen challenge quilts, and wondered how you could get in on the fun? Wonder no more! This is your official invitation to participate in Power Suits: An Art Quilt Challenge.

A few months ago, I received a call from a local tailor asking if I would like his outdated fabric swatches. When I said yes, I had no idea how many swatches he had! Let’s just say it’s a good thing we had a truck when we went to pick them up.

Initially, I wanted to share these treasures with my art quilt students. Once I saw the boxes (and boxes and boxes), I knew this was bigger than my classes. And so I teamed up with Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts to offer you this art quilt challenge.

Pallet of Boxes

Boxes of Swatch Books

Theme
What does “Power Suit” mean to you? Does it conjure images of smoke-filled rooms where deals are made? Is a Power Suit a garment or a person? Do you plug in a Power Suit? What if a Power Suit gave you Super Powers? Using Power Suits as your inspiration, create an art quilt that expresses your point of view.

Rules
1. Finished quilt size: 18” x 18”

2. The finished quilt must have a top, a middle, and a backing with some method of connecting the three layers.

3. The finished quilt must be labeled and have a hanging sleeve.

4. There may be no internal or external structure, rods, or hangers.

5. Just have fun.

Challenge Packet in Bag

Challenge Packet

Dates

August 31, 2011: Quilts are due. Ship to Artistic Artifacts, 4750 Eisenhower Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22304

Oct 22, 2011: Debut, Artistic Artifacts

Jan 2, 2012: Quilts shipped home

Questions
E-Mail: Cyndi@MoonlightingQuilts.com
Call: 703.407.0916

The Fine Print
You are responsible for providing your own insurance from the time the quilt leaves your hands to the time you get it back. We reserve the right to refuse quilts that we feel are inappropriate for the exhibition.

How to Participate
Ready to get started? Great!

To participate, you’ll need a packet of swatches. Your swatches will include suit fabric and shirting. To round things out, we’ve thrown in a tie and some random buttons. You may use all, some, or none of the materials we are giving you. The idea is to embrace the theme and express your opinions. What does “Power Suit” mean to you?

You can get your challenge packet from Artistic Artifacts or directly from me (if you’re local). If you plan to pick up your packet at Artistic Artifacts, visit their website for hours. If you’d rather receive your materials in the mail, click here to order your packet from Artistic Artifacts. If you order the packet alone, then a $5 shipping charge will apply. If your order includes other items, then you pay shipping only for the other items and Artistic Artifacts will throw in the swatch packet for free. If you have trouble, you can also order the packet through my website.

  

Contents of Challenge Packets
Challenge Packet – Contents Will Vary

Judy and I hope you will join us in the fun. Sign up now and get started!

Cyndi

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