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Archive for the ‘Quilt Tips’ Category

ThreadDrawerDividers

Thread in wall-mounted drawer dividers. No, this isn’t all of it.

To buy or not to buy…
To keep or not to keep…
To use or not to use…

These are pretty existential questions to apply to my humble thread stash, but this is what’s on my mind this week.

To buy or not to buy: yes, by all means, buy. But also choose carefully. I don’t have a huge thread stash, but it’s filled with quality threads. I’m partial to Aurifil, Superior, and Isacord, but there are other brands that I like and that work well. I also buy cones of threads I use all of the time, like Aurifil cotton 50wt in black and an incredibly useful neutral khaki #2370.

To keep or not to keep: keep the thread that’s good quality and not so old that it breaks easily. Don’t give away colors just because you don’t think you’ll use them. You’ll want them when you least expect it. I’ll admit that I have a haphazardly curated collection of old thread from my mom and my sister that I will never use. It may be time to purge that.

To use or not to use: the answer is “use.” Why do we buy yummy hand dyed and variegated threads and then save them for something special?! Your work is special! Use the thread; they’ll make more. Do you need to justify using your “good” thread? Here’s how: if you don’t use your thread, it will eventually age out of its usefulness and then you’ve paid for decorations rather than useful spools of thread.

Based on experience, there are brands I will not buy, will not keep, and will not use. Once a thread proves itself inconsistent, fragile, excessively lint-producing, or harmful to my machine, I kick it out of my studio. And I can’t say this forcefully enough: if you bought thread 5 spools for $1, you got exactly what you paid for.  I get that thread can be expensive. Balance that against the time you spend ripping, restitching, rethreading your machine, troubleshooting when your machine rebels, and possible sewing machine repair bills. Finally, thread from a grocery store is meant for emergencies, not for use on your sewing machine. Possible exceptions might be those general stores in rural areas that cater to fabric and sewing needs as well as groceries.

My thread stash is not huge, but it serves me well. I tend to buy thread for specific projects and I keep threads that are given to me regardless of the color as long as they are new enough to be in good shape. I store much of it in clear boxes, sealing out the dust. In a perfect world, your thread should be protected from dust and from direct sun. Do the best you can. And please, please, have fun using your thread.

In the interest of full disclosure, these pictures represent only some of the thread in my studio. I also have more in my storage room (aka The Black Hole of Quilting Supplies), but there’s no way I’m showing you that! So, you may use your imagination. ContainersOnShelf

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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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It’s that time of year again. We’re counting down until it’s time to open gifts in the Souder household. Do you celebrate your holiday with stocking stuffers? When I was little, we didn’t have much. Our stocking stuffers were practical gifts with a few chocolate coins and a tangerine. I think practicality when I buy stocking stuffers. And so, how would you fill a quilter’s Christmas stocking?

  1. Christmas TreeCotton swabs — for cleaning our sewing machines
  2. Bobbins — for the sewing machine we use the most (yes, we have more than one); I could use some for my Bernina 820
  3. That Purple Thang — really; it’s just purple plastic, but it’s a surprisingly useful tool
  4. Clover seam ripper — no one wants to rip out stitching, but I think this is the best ripper on the market
  5. Bobbin thread — in neutral colors; I’m a big fan of Wonderfil‘s Invisifil bobbin thread
  6. Machine needles — Microtex or Denim needles in size 80 or 90 would be wonderful
  7. Rotary cutter blades — sneak into the studio and check the cutter size, but don’t look for any gifts we might be making
  8. Something fun and inspirational — this will be different for each quilter; for me, something hand-dyed from Artistic Artifacts might be just the thing
  9. Subscription (or extension to a current subscription) to your quilter’s favorite magazine — in my house, that’s Quilting Arts, but Machine Quilting Unlimited would be good, too
  10. Gift certificate from the family — good for one full weekend of quilting time with no other responsibilities

From Moonlighting Quilts and the Souder family, we wish you all the best for this holiday season. See you next year! (Don’t forget to print this list and leave it where Santa will find it.)

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Recently, I received an intriguing e-mail from the folks who bring us the International Quilt Festival in Houston. I’m teaching there again this year and they were asking their teachers to send their top five tips for quilting or whatever our specialties are. Here’s what I sent them. You may see these tips on their website, but why wait?

  1. Technique counts! If the points are supposed to match, then take your time and make the points match. If you’re adding a traditional binding, take the few extra minutes to make sure your binding is full and tight with nicely mitered corners. And “Art Quilt” is not code for sloppy and haphazard – unless you are intentionally going for a sloppy and haphazard effect in your work. Whatever you’re doing, do it well.
  2. When you’re choosing fabric to represent something, think outside the box. For my Trees workshop, students often show up with fabric that has bark printed on it to use for tree trunks. While that may seem logical, the scale of these prints is almost always off. Instead, look at your stash and think color and feel. You may be really surprised by what works best!
  3. Use your thread! As quilters, we collect pretty thread and then stash it in boxes or line it up on shelves and racks for display. Why do we do that? Instead, go ahead and use it. They’ll make more!
  4. Be purposeful in your work. Sometimes we all need to throw together a quick quilt from a kit or our favorite fabrics, but it’s important to also make the time to create purposefully. Think through your decisions as you choose fabric, thread, paint. Are you adding those beads because they move the quilt forward or because you just took a beading class and everything suddenly looks like it needs a few beads? Do you really want that focal point in the absolute center of the quilt? Maybe you do, but you might want to consider the effect of that bull’s-eye before you commit to it. Be present in your work and consider what you are doing.
  5. Teach someone to quilt. Share your knowledge and your love of the art. Pay it forward. You may never know the good you’ve done, and that is perfectly fine.

If you’re going to the Quilt Festival in Houston, I hope to see you there. My trees class is Friday night and I’d love to see you at my lecture, The Anatomy of a Commission, on Thursday at 10am. And I’ll be in the Bernina booth on Saturday trying to create change in the world one gift bag at a time.

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