Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bringing Up Bobbin Thread, part 2--free motion quilting

You have prepared the sewing machine for free motion quilting.  You have lowered the feed dogs--you have your free motion or darning foot on--and you have loosened the top tension just a bit.  Put your quilt sandwich under the presser foot.  thread the machine all the way down through the needle and pull the thread tail out the back of the needle.  Hold onto that thread tail.
Take one stitch either by pushing the "needle up/ needle down" button two times or by rotating the fly wheel one full rotation.  Pull on the thread tail in your hand.  The bobbin thread loop should pop right up.
Bobbin thread loop
Pull on the loop to get the bobbin thread tail all the way up.  Hold both thread tails in your hand as you start to stitch.
Take a couple of stitches in place to anchor your threads.
Stitch away from the starting point.
Now you can clip the thread tails and go on about your stitching.
Now, I will answer the question you are dying to ask.  Do I really clip my threads or do I bury them?  Well, the answer is that I do both.  I use different techniques for different quilt situations.  When I am doing wall quilts, art quilts, thread sketching and threadwork, I clip my threads because there is too much possibility that I will get them tangled up in my bobbin should I stitch back over them at some point.

If I am doing a traditional quilt with open beautiful quilting,(especially for a show) I will bury my threads.  John James make a self threading hand needle that is so easy to use.  You just pop the thread tails into the top of the needle and bury the threads the same way you would for hand quilting.  You can even do this when you take a break to change hand positions or to roll your shoulders.  It is a change of thought process and can be a nice break.

Sometimes the thread will dictate how you handle this--especially if it is a thicker specialty thread--clip!

Keep doodling--you get better every day!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bringing Up Bobbin Thread, part 1--seams

"Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start"...a good song but an even better instruction.  Here's my chance to explain my pet peeve and the instruction I will forever be repeating...bring up your bobbin thread.  OK, so why do I need to do that and why is it important?  Let's start with sewing a seam--whether a 1/4 inch piecing seam or a 5/8 inch clothing seam.

Needle Thread Tail
First thread your machine all the way down through threading the needle.  Do this with the presser foot raised--ALWAYS.  Lower the presser foot now and hold on to the thread tail coming out the back of your needle.  I have a 1/4 inch piecing foot on my machine.

Bobbin thread loop popped up
Now you are going to make one stitch.  There are two ways to do this.  If you have a "needle up/ needle down" button on your machine, push this button two times.  That will make the needle go down and then back up again making one stitch.  Keep holding onto the thread tail.  If you need to do this manually, turn the flywheel (the wheel on the right side of your machine) TOWARD you a full rotation until the needle goes down and all the way back up again--making one stitch.

Pull gently on your thread tail and the bobbin thread loop should pop up through the needle hole in your presser foot plate.

You should be able to grasp the bobbin loop by pulling more on the top thread tail.  Pull the bobbin thread on through the hole so that you can grasp it with the top thread.  Next you are going to raise the presser foot so that you can pull both threads under the foot and to the back.  Keep holding on to them.

Top and bobbin thread tails

Both threads pulled toward back

A good habit to get into is to keep a small scrap of fabric to sew onto to begin each seam and to sew off at the end of each seam.  This keeps your threads from being pulled into the bobbin area and making a mess.  It will sure keep you from having to stop and clean the birds nest of thread out from under your presser plate.  Here I have cut a small rectangle of green fabric to start sewing on.  I will hold on to both my thread tails until I have taken at least two stitches and know that the thread is anchored into the fabric. 

Sew across the scrap and then feed the fabric you want to seam under the presser foot.  It is OK to leave a little bit of open thread in between the two fabrics by taking several stitches.  That leaves you room to cut it off after you get going.

Sew across scrap
Now feed in your project

Now I am feeding in the fabric that I am seaming together.  I am piecing a quilt block so I am lining the right edges of my pieces with the right edge of my 1/4 inch foot.

Once I get sewing good on my block pieces, I will clip off the scrap in the back.

When I get to the end of my seam, I will finish my seam by sewing back onto the scrap and clipping off my block pieces.
Clip off the scrap in the back
Sewing back onto the scrap to end the seam

Why is this important?  My sewing educator said I don't have to do this at all.  Well....not doing it is a great way to bring your sewing to a quick halt and give yourself a major headache.  If you don't have a grasp on the top and bobbin thread tails when you first begin to sew, the bobbin will pull the top thread down into the bobbin and wrap it around the bobbin spindle.  That creates a knot under your presser plate and to keep going will simply wrap your thread around and around on your bobbin carriage creating the familiar "birds nest."  It is a good way to break needles, thread, and become intimately acquainted with the cleaning out your bobbin case portion of your instructions.  

The next post will explain the same procedure but with beginning to free motion quilt.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stencils, part 2

You have your stencil design completely drawn on your quilt and you are ready to stitch it out.  Now what?  I will say this a million times--pull your bobbin thread up to the top to start.  I am nuts about always knowing where both your thread tails are.  It drives me crazy to see that little mess at the beginning of a seam or the bump that says "I started stitching here." That always says, the quilter did not hold on to the thread tails.
Pull up the bobbin thread to the top.
Keep in mind to watch where you start and which direction you will be stitching.  I will repeat that I get lost in a stencil if I haven't made notes to myself.  Please remember that all that blue drawing will be washed out and no one will EVER know if you were on the line or not.
While stitching the design you are going to have areas where you need to backtrack.  Backtracking is simply stitching over your previous stitching.  I will tell you now that it is very hard to do so go slowly and carefully.  You don't want to do this very often but you also don't want lots of "Starts" and "Stops." So whenever possible, choose the shortest distance to backtrack over.
Getting ready to backtrack over the tip of the flower.

Jump Stitch
Here comes a surprise.  If you have a short distance to go to get to the next line but it is an open area--do a "Jump" stitch.  For those of you who do machine embroidery, your machine does jump stitches all the time as it goes back and forth around the embroidery design.  You can do the same thing in machine quilting!  In this picture, I have "jumped" from the center design over to the outline around the outside.  To make a "jump" stitch, stitch to the stopping point and make a couple of stitches in place to anchor your threads. Lift your presser foot ( to release the tension discs and the hold on your thread) and simply move over to the area you want to start stitching in again.  When you lower the presser foot, take a couple of stitches in place to anchor the threads again and then stitch on.  Do remember to go back later and either tie the jump stitch off or just clip them out.  They will hold as good as they do in machine embroidery.
Stitch all the way around your stencil design.  If you want to see what it is going to look like finished, just turn it over and look at the back.  That way you are not distracted by the blue markings.
This is that stencil completely stitched out with contrasting stippling done around it.  It is set in a sampler piece showing other machine quilting ideas.

You can search for stencils featuring your favorite motifs.  It is also a good way to learn a new design.  Being able to follow the blue line easily takes some practice.  Think of it as just driving down the highway and following the highway lines.  You already know how to do that so utilize those abilities you already excel at.  "Driving" your sewing machine is a good metaphor.  You can open up on the straightaways and slow down and go very carefully in the switchbacks.

More doodling to come.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Since you are getting used to the feel of doodling around on your sewing machine, I want to give you something new to explore.  In machine quilting, there are two main types of designs.  The first is an artistic design which is meant to stand on its own...think of feathers, flowers, hearts, pictures of any kind. Then there is background fill which is meant to fill in around the designs...think of stippling, meandering, cross-hatching, straight line quilting.  Please don't get overwhelmed thinking about all these because I want to tell you about an easy way to accomplish them all...STENCILS.  There are stencils for any design, any size, any configuration and they are fun to use.  So let's take a look at what kind of stencils are available.
Stipple Stencil

This stencil is a regular stipple.  It is an easy way to learn how to stipple because you are just going to follow the lines.  This is a background fill.  There are lots of other background fills.  Here are just a few examples:

Background fill
Clamshell background fill
Rippling Water

All of these stencils can be used to mark background fill.  There are also some wonderful main design stencils.  Take a look at these:

Floral Design

This one is meant to be used in a corner or to fit into open areas in a pieced block.  You can make a great design out of it by drawing it four times to fill out a square.  Think about how you can create designs using stencils.  Flip them and flop them around to see what you come up with.

This one can be used on a border or can be used to frame out around a center medallion.  Using stencils is a great way to know that you can recreate an element and use it in several areas of your quilt.

Now lets talk about how you get the stencil design onto your quilt.  Decide where you want the stencil design.  If you need to center the design on a block or in an open area, mark the center of the area.  Each stencil has registration marks or a center point to be used for this purpose.

Centering dot
Draw all the open areas of the stencil using your favorite marking method.  I like the blue water soluble marking pens.  Drawing your stencil designs should be done on the flat quilt top before you sandwich the quilt.

Drawing the stencil
Once you have completed drawing the entire stencil, you will still have open areas in the lines from the connectors in the stencil.
Drawn stencil with open areas
I highly suggest you complete the lines with your marking pen.  I have been known to get completely lost once I start stitching out a design and having the design completely drawn in really saves your sanity when you begin to stitch.
Stencil design completely drawn in

Another tip that will help when you are stitching is to take your finger and go around the stencil to decide the best direction to stitch.  This will help you decide where you need to travel and where you need to backtrack.  To help me remember which direction I decided was best, I draw arrows along the stitching lines.
Adding arrows to help me remember.

I am going to stop here and we will continue our exploration of stencils in the next post.  We will cover how to stitch the stencil design.  What is traveling and backtracking?  How do I DO that?

I also want to give you a "heads up."  I will be blogging from the International Quilt Market and Festival in Houston Oct. 29-Nov. 6, so stay tuned and I will give you the scoop on what's new and exciting from Houston!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Congratulations to Shannon from Idaho!

Congratulations to Shannon from Idaho who is the winner of the Hemming House fat quarter collection from Moda.  Thank you to everyone who stopped by while blog hopping.  The response has been overwhelming!  If you are new to the blog, please start at the beginning for an introduction to machine quilting.  Stay tuned...more doodling to come!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


This post is to answer a question from Rose.  She asks about having special issues when quilting on flannel.  We love flannel!  Is there anything more soft and cozy than to cuddle under a beloved flannel quilt in front of a fireplace in the winter?  Makes me long for some Canadian winters again.

Flannel does pose some challenges when quilting.  First, make sure that it is 100% cotton flannel.  You can find less expensive blends of polyester and cotton flannel.  That's great for shirts and will help them last longer and shrink less, but it is a nightmare in a quilt.  She talks about using Superior So Fine thread and was wondering if that was part of the problem.  So Fine is a beautiful 50 weight polyester thread and should have worked just fine.  Let's look at the issues when quilting with flannel.

The combed fibers that make flannel fuzzy is why we love it--right?  Those same fibers cause a drag on the surface of the sewing machine.  This means that it is harder to move the quilt around on your sewing surface. So--how do we solve this?  I use two methods together.  The first thing I do is starch and press the backing fabric on the right side to help give it a smoother surface to slide around under the needle.  I love Mary Ellen's "Best Press" starch alternative.  You can saturate the fabric and iron it dry with no flaking!  The second thing I do is make sure I use a "Supreme Slider' on the bed of my sewing machine.  There are several other brands out there and I feel sure they all work the same.  The "Supreme Slider' is a Teflon sheet that is placed on the bed of the sewing machine to help the quilt slide around under the needle.  You are definitely going to need this to accomplish free motion quilting on flannel with any ease.  If I am doing free motion quilting on flannel, I also use quilting gloves to help grip the quilt as I doodle all over it.  I like Fons & Porter's cotton quilting gloves.  They are lightweight and I can thread the needle of my machine without taking them off.

This is MY flannel quilt.  Have you noticed how many quilts we make and never have one to call our own?  My choice when deciding on quilting patterns for flannel is to do something pretty simple.  The pieced area of this quilt was quilted with all straight line quilting using a walking foot.  It has a diagonal straight line quilted through all the red and green squares.
This type of quilting is called crosshatching.  It usually done in 1 inch or 1/2 inch increments.  It makes a beautiful background for applique blocks and you will find it in the background of Baltimore Album quilts.  On this quilt, it is 3 inches apart.  The batting in it is 80/20 Hobbs Heirloom so it was perfectly safe to quilt it that far apart.  I use my walking foot when piecing flannel and to do everything except free motion quilting.  Remember that you can use many of your decorative stitches with your walking foot.  Think about what the crosshatching would look like with a feather stitch or a buttonhole stitch.  That would be a lovely way to add something special to a flannel quilt.
Stippling on flannel
On the wide border, I did a fairly large stipple.  The spacing between the stitching lines is about 1 inch.  Again, I had to use gloves and did everything I could think of to make the quilt slide around on my sewing surface.

On the subject of thread, the thread Rose chose was fine.  Any good 50 weight thread will quilt nicely under the right settings.  If you wanted a heavier thread, I would suggest a 40 weight machine quilting thread such as Superior's King Tut.  All the good thread companies have a 40 wt. quilting thread but I mention Superior's since Rose seemed to have access to that brand.

The old wive's tale that polyester thread will cut through cotton fabric is kind of misleading.  It will in 100 years but so will strong 100% cotton thread.  I love all good threads.  I don't like cheap, slub-filled, bad thread which will simply never work well.  The main difference you might see between using polyester and cotton thread (especially on flannel) is that the cotton thread will sink down into the quilt becoming more a part of the background.  Polyester thread has a tendency to sit on top of the quilt.  Now, that is a very good thing when you want your quilting to be a very noticeable part of the overall design.  Keep in mind when adjusting your tension with polyester thread that computer machines have a difficult time "reading" the weight of polyester thread.  It doesn't really have a weight like cotton does.  The companies use weight just to tell you that this polyester thread is the same size as a corresponding weight cotton thread.  That "sinking in" issue I mentioned with cotton thread is why most quilters prefer to piece with a fine cotton thread.  The thread will sink into the fabric and become less noticeable--like it becomes a part of the fabric.

The last issue with flannel is that you might want to use a light weight batting for a flannel quilt.  The flannel, itself, is going to add heft and warmth to the quilt without adding a heavy batting.

Thank you to Rose for the great question and the opportunity to tell you more than you really wanted to know.  I love questions!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Beautiful Metallic Threads

When I ask quilters what thread gives them the most problems, the answer is always "metallic."  Well, I agree.  Mostly, the frustration comes from not having a "how to" guide for getting good results with this gorgeous thread.  So....let's walk our way through using metallic threads.  The first thing to know is that metallic threads are a polyester core with a very thin foil wrapped around it.  That should explain how it looks when it shreds.  Keeping that in mind will also begin to help you imagine how best to treat the thread as it feeds into your sewing machine.  I prefer a regular cotton thread in the bobbin when I use metallic thread on top.  It works better for me than the polyester bobbin thread in this instance.
Lovely Metallic Threads

Needles for use with metallic threads

As you can imagine, the thread needs to be protected as it slides down the shaft of your needle.  Therefore, your needle needs to have a deeper shaft and it would be nice if it had a slippery coating to make less friction as the thread flows down the shaft.  A topstitch titanium coated needle fits the bill perfectly!  A larger needle is needed than the size I would usually use for quilting and the 90/14 does a good job of creating a beautiful stitch with most of the metallic threads I have used.  Of course, a "Metalic or Metalica" needle is also a good choice.  I have found that a larger size than usual is still the best choice--90/14 again.  I am speaking strictly from my own experience and research.  I get good results with both of these needles.

 You will need to lower the tension on the top thread of your machine.  This takes some trial and error to find the correct balance.  That will change with every thread.  Lower the number=lessen the tension/ higher the number=tighten the tension
 For best results, put your metallic thread on a thread stand.  This allows it to relax and straighten out before feeding into the sewing machine.
 See, this is exactly what I mean.  You will see loops and tangles as the thread feeds off the spool.  Those need an opportunity to relax out of the thread otherwise you will be feeding a knot into your tension discs.  The thread needs to be straight when it goes into the machine.  The thread will twist and tighten as it feeds into the machine.  That will cause a knot which will result in broken thread or a broken needle.  I have even pushed my thread stand away from the machine by several inches to allow the thread to relax and straighten out.
One more area to pass on stressing the thread is the last thread guide.  I bypass that last one because the thread doesn't need any more stress.  I only do this on metallic or specialty thread.  You might want to move a little slower than usual.  Give this thread a chance to do beautiful things for you.

The quilting magazines are already showing holiday projects so I thought this might be a good opportunity to talk about metallic threads.  You can do anything with a metallic thread that you can do with cotton sewing thread as far as quilting is concerned.  Notice I did NOT say piecing.  It is so pretty and so much fun to add a little "bling" to holiday projects.  Whether you are just doing some highlighting with the walking foot or stippling and writing with free motion, it can be done with metallic thread.
 As always, bring both threads to the top.
 Just outlining with gold thread adds a "pop" to any fabric!
Get adventurous!  Try out some of those yummy threads that have been calling to you.  Share what you are doing, please!

Fall Into Fall Giveaway

Wow!  Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to "comment" for the fat quarter bundle.  I am keeping up with putting names in the bowl for the drawing.  I am scurrying around to the other blogs and am finding wonderful new friends out there who all share a passion for quilting!  How fabulous is that?  I just wanted to say, "thank you" for checking out my blog.  I hope several of you will join us on our learning adventure into machine quilting.  I teach in person and there is no better way to learn than to have someone lead you through a new endeavor in person.  That said, not everyone can take a class for a wide variety of reasons.  This is why my blog is here.  I do tend to jump around on topics but I get excited over questions so please ask me to clarify or further explain something I have mentioned.  The journey is an endlessly exciting exploration into what you and your sewing machine are able to do.  I hope to smooth out some of the frustrations that naturally happen when dealing with a machine.  With that in mind, the next post will address a major issue for most of us and is my gift to everyone and most especially to the newcomers.