Monday, November 30, 2015

Thread for quilters

I was talking with a friend who has been a seamstress/sewer her entire life, but is new to quilting. She asked about using old cotton thread that was inherited from an estate, and this evolved into a much longer conversation about all types of thread and what you should use in a quilt.  Threads have come a long ways baby since our childhood.

USE QUALITY THREAD.  If you're a quilter and you spend one or more years making your "labor of love" quilt, you really do need to buy quality thread and quality fabric.  Purists demand long fiber cotton threads and I have used them for many years.  My favorite manufacturers are Gutermann , Mettler, and Aurifil.  All of these are 50# thread and are readily available where quality quilting fabric is sold.  I have stocked up in many colors, preferring to buy spools of thread when there is a sale.  If you sew a lot of quilts, like me, it's more cost effective to buy the larger spools and stock up in neutral colors.  A new trend in threads is a set of threads that coordinate with a well known celebrity quilter or fabric designer.

Good quality cotton thread
MATCH THE THREAD TO THE QUILT.  The type of thread you use depends on the purpose and use of the quilt.  If your quilt is going to be an heirloom bed quilt, for sure you should use cotton thread.  Many quilts are made for children and will be washed a lot and may be threadbare after 10 years.  It's OK to use polyester thread, or even your old thread for these quilts.  I would still opt for quality thread, though.  That's because the inexpensive brands are often thicker and create a ton of lint in your machine.  Are you an art quilter?  Well, then the sky is the limit.  You can use heavy, thick, thin, silk, cotton, polyester, rayon, or anything else you can get through the needle or bobbin of your machine.  You can use anything because your quilts won't ever be washed.

SUPER FINE THREADS.  Quilters who make hand applique quilts like to have fine threads that match their fabrics.  They often use a 100# silk thread and have a collection of colors in their sewing kit.  I have threads from YLI, Tire (which is now sold by Superior in 50#), and Kimono Silk Thread from Superior. People who do machine applique often use a fine invisible thread.  My current favorite is Superior Threads Mono Poly reduced sheen.  All of these threads tend to sink into the fabric, making the applique look fabulous.

Silk threads

HEAVY THREADS.  Threads that are heavier weight, such as 30# to 8# or even thicker, are fun to use to embellish quilts, or add an element on an art quilt.  I use them to machine quilt as well.  Some of the brands that I have are made by YLI, Sulky, and Madeira.  You may have a ton of 40# thread in your collection if you have been sewing clothing.  It's OK to use this in your quilts too, but it is heavier than the 50# thread, and can distort your blocks by making your seams a scant larger than 1/4".

Heavier threads

OLD THREAD.  Well, what can I say about  old thread.  We all love the old wooden spools and the cotton threads that we inherited from our Mothers and Grandmothers.  I recommend doing a quick test before using these threads in a quilt.  Unwrap the first layer of threads.  Has the color brightened?  If it has, that means that the thread has seen too much natural light and has started to degrade.  Take a length of thread and break it.  Does it break easily, or is it still strong?  If it breaks easily, it has become too degraded to use in a quilt.  Is the old thread of low quality or polyester?  Don't use it for piecing a quilt; you'll be disappointed.  Can you use the thread for something else than piecing a quilt?  The basting process uses a lot of thread and it gets thrown away after the quilting is done.  Perfect.  Is the quilt going be loved, used, and tossed after a short period of time?  Go ahead and use the thread if it passes the color and strength test.  Just remember that this old thread is usually a heavier weight than what current quilters prefer.

TAKE A THREAD CLASS.  Superior Threads has a fantastic thread class that they put on at the regional quilt shows.  They also have a great newsletter that you can subscribe to.  Many of the other thread manufacturers have tons of information and color charts on line or that you can purchase.   National and local teachers have strong thread preferences and will often discuss threads and sell them to you in classes.

Finally, remember to store your thread in dark, cool places.  I have a drawer for some of my thread, and boxes that I keep in the closet with the bulk of my collection. Here is a box that I keep my silk threads in.

I admit that I probably have too many threads.   But I'm a quilter, and the quilter with the largest stash wins!  Right?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Free form piecing

I love the free form piecing style that is so popular with the modern quilters.  Katie Pederson was the featured quilter in Walla Walla this fall and I thought that her quilts were a perfect example of that style.  She has an amazing sense of color and playfulness.

My latest quilt is an incorporation of her ideas with her "On Target" quilt and my colors.

"On Target" by Katie Pederson

My stash of fabrics is overflowing with green so I pulled some out and added others that have wild loud colors or are complimentary to green.    I started just cutting random strips about an inch wide and tossed them into a pile.  Then I randomly sewed the strips together to give me a colorful strata.    I also pulled a more sedate pile of fabrics that I thought would go great with the bold strata.


These fabrics include some of the Grunge fabric that I really like right now, as well as some shiny ones that I found in Sisters this fall.

As usual when I start a new project and am trying to figure out how to cut and piece the quilt top, I have been  barely able to go to sleep or stay asleep.  I could see where Katie pieced this top in triangle sets, but I had to figure out how to get that wonky look.  (She does teach this class, but so far not in this area!).  After quite a bit of ripping out and trial and error, I came up with a method that is working for me, but is probably not the most efficient way of making this quilt.

After I sewed the strata, I cut them into 1-1/2" sections, pieced them together into one long strip, and attached two pieces of the first fabric.  (I'm mixing up my photos a little bit, so I hope you can follow along.)  In this example, the fabric sewn to the strip set is the darker gray.

The next piece to get sewn on is the color that will be the smallest triangle.  In this example, I started with white for the first two pieces and then added the turquoise.  After pressing this strip set, I cut a triangle off the strip set, making sure to keep the tip of the small triangle at the top.  The next step was done to get the piece to look wonky.  Just trim the bottom (first) piece at an angle and sew on the color on the longest side.

 When I was happy with the look, I trimmed this piece a little larger and matched it up with the next triangle in the quilt. This is a real puzzle!  One triangle is the top in one square, and the bottom in the next one.  This definitely saves fabric, but is a little confusing.  A color coded chart would probably help... as well as sewing sometime other than 3:00 A.M.

After sewing the center seam and pressing and starching the block, I aligned the center seam on the diagonal line of the 6" square ruler, and trimmed the block to size.   It seemed to me like this was important in Katie's quilt, so I was careful to duplicate this step.

Below is what the quilt looks like so far.  None of the blocks have been sewn together yet
Quilt in Progress

Here are the left over triangles ready for the next round.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Machine Binding Technique

It's that time of year to make gifts!  I have always liked to get handmade gifts from my relatives and friends.  When I know that other people also enjoy handmade gifts, I relish the chance to make something for them.  I'm passing along the torch of my grandmothers, mother and friends.

This year I decided to make some holiday placements.  There are so many fun and modern holiday prints and I found one with owls that I thought was just the ticket.  Its got lime green, turquoise and red colors, which are all my favorites.   I decided to use a red fabric for the flip side that can be used for Valentine's.  So two holiday seasons worth of placements!

I've written this blog about the machine binding for these placements.  I made 8 of them, 14" x 20", which meant that I needed 45 ft of binding.  The thought of handing stitching down this much binding on the back side just wasn't appealing.  So I thought about and remembered a technique that one of my fellow Clark County Quilters uses on all of her quit bindings.  It uses two passes with the machine. One to attach the binding and the second one to finish to top.

Finished binding on the top
Finished binding on the back
I used a french binding, which just means that you double your fabric, stitch the raw edged side, flip it over the edge, and stitch the folded edge.  This gives you double binding throughout.  I cut the fabric strips at 2-1/4" wide and stitched all of my pieces together in a bias seam to reduce bulk.  On my quilts, I stitch on the top side and then hand slip stitch the back side.  But for these placements, I stitched the binding on the back side first with a 1/4" seam and the walking foot.

1/4" seam sewn on the back side

The binding was then flipped to the front, and the corners were all pinned in place.

Corners pinned in place

The stitch that I used was on the Bernina 440, and is #45.  I reset the stitch to 2.9 W, 2.7 L, and hit the reverse key.  Here is the screen showing the stitch.

The alignment of the walking foot

I used the walking foot due to the bulk of the seams and lined up the outer edge of the binding with the inner edge of the foot.  This put the seam right inside the edge of the binding and pretty close to right on top of the seam underneath.

Alignment of the binding on top of the seam

I hope you can use the machine binding technique.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Landscape Art Quilts continued

After sewing the background pieces together, I decided that waterfall and river needed to get that foamy wild look.  So it was time for surface design fun.

I pulled out some threads, paint, and sheer fabrics and went to work.  White acrylic paint was mixed with fabric medium and then sponged and painted onto the blue areas.  After it dried overnight, I thread sketched with a shiny white rayon thread.  Next I added pieces of white organza and  stitched them down randomly.  Finally I cut and stitched on more white fabric with a cotton white thread.  The falls and river look foamy enough for me.  It's hard to see all of this in pictures but I'll try to show you some close ups .  

foamy falls and river

After I finished the falls and river to my satisfaction, I quilted the rest of the background.  The final step to this landscape was to add the two girls.  They were made with turned edge machine applique, and were enhanced with colored pencils.   The quilt has a faced finish.
"Friends at the Falls" by Joanne Adams Roth

I hope you like the finished landscape!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Landscapes in Art Quilts

I belong to a book club that reads 4 books per year and makes quilts based on the books.  This is a really fun thing to do, as it induces me to read books that I normally wouldn't pick, which in turn widens my horizons.  It also allows me to play with techniques that I normally don't put into a quilt.  The landscape art quilt that I am making is based on the book, " A Sweetness to the Soul " by Jane Kirkpatrick.  Where I started, then, was to quickly sketch up my idea, then look for pictures that I could use for inspiration.   The main character is a heroin who as a young girl befriended a similar aged girl from the Indian tribe.  My idea was to show them hand in hand standing at the side of the river, looking at the scenery and the waterfall.    


There were quite a few references to a waterfall in Eastern Oregon where the Indians would go to fish.  While Celilo Falls weren't mentioned, they are the falls that I wanted to use as the inspiration, since they no longer exist.  Below are a few old pictures on the Internet.

I also looked through a sales brochure to find a picture of a woman from the back that I used as the model for both of my girls.  These pictures enabled me to refine my sketches of the girls (left) and the background (below).

I enlarged the background sketch to the size I wanted the quilt to be.  This enlargement became the pattern pieces for the fabric.  Here is the pattern after it was match marked, cut apart, then taped back together.

In order to sew the background, I flipped each pattern piece over. I traced around the pattern on the reverse side of the fabric and made the match marks in the seam allowances.  Then the seams were sewn.   Here is the background after piecing, but before enhancing.

Stay tuned for updates as I continue to work on this landscape quilt.