Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"In the Hoop" Quilting with the Embroidery Module

...And we're off to the races!  Here you can see I've secured my hooped quilt into the embroidery module of my Bernina Artista 200/730 sewing machine.  Notice the way I have the bulk of the quilt piled up around the sewing machine so the embroidery module can move freely without the weight of the quilt creating drag that would result in distortion or misalignment of the design.  I've also checked and double-checked that no part of the quilt is stuck UNDER the embroidery hoop, which would be truly disastrous!  
40 wt YLI Variegated Machine Quilting Thread
I'm glad I tested out a couple of different thread scenarios.  Although the design stitched out beautifully with the SewArt monofilament nylon thread in the needle and 60 weight Mettler cotton embroidery thread in the bobbin, I felt like my efforts would be wasted on all these fancy quilting designs if I couldn't see them on the top of the quilt.  I went back to those beautiful variegated YLI and Superior Threads machine quilting threads, but since those are much heavier 40 weight threads, I had to switch from a 75/11 quilting needle to a 90/14 needle that left a bigger hole, allowing the bobbin thread to show as little dots on the top of the sample quilt and the top thread to show up on the backing side.  The starting and stopping points in the outline quilting design were also quite pronounced, as you can see in the photo at left.  That's because the machine takes several tiny stitches at the beginning and end of each "ring" of the design to prevent the stitches from pulling out after the thread tails are snipped.  With this heavier thread, those stitches sort of pile up on top of one another, and they jump out at me even more because with the variegated thread it's usually two different thread colors coming together at the point where the two lines of stitching meet.  The knotty thread bumps were even worse on the back of the sample:

Backing Side, 40 wt in Needle, 60 wt in Bobbin
YUCK!!!!  Granted, I could have improved my results with the 40 weight thread by using the same weight thread in the bobbin and tweaking the tension, but that wouldn't make the knots go away.  With 60 weight thread, you can't see where the knots are and you can't even feel them when you run your hand across the back of the design.  Ultimately, I just thought the heavier 40 weight thread looked clumsy compared to the elegance and precision of the 60 weight thread with the tiny needle. 

Top Side, Sample Stitched with 75/11 Needle and 60 weight Cotton Thread
So for the next sample stitch out, I went back to my 75/11 quilting needle and threaded my needle with a light blue shade of Mettler 60 weight cotton embroidery thread, using the same thread in the off-white color for the bobbin.  I overrode the machine's embroidery tension setting and set it at 4.0 since I want balanced stitches and I'm using the same thread top and bottom (most of the time with embroidery, you want UNbalanced stitching with the decorative needle thread pulled slightly to the backing, since embroidery bobbin thread just comes in black or white). 

BACKING side, 75/11 Needle and 60 weight Cotton Embroidery Thread
This combination of needle, threads, and tension settings produced near perfect results on both sides of the quilt sample, as you can see on these red and yellow tractor fabric samples.  Isn't it amazing what a difference the thread makes?  Scroll back up and look at the ugliness I got with the 40 weight thread on that brown tractor fabric.  Same design, same everything, the only difference is heavier thread and the larger needle required to accommodate it. 

So, once I'd nailed down the needle/thread/tension particulars, I snapped a hoop onto one of the circles at the center of my quilt, trying to use the block seamlines to make sure the hoop was centered.  This is actually a lot more difficult than you'd think, especially due to the size and thickness of the quilt.  My first try wasn't centered as well as it could have been, but it's not noticeable from a distance so I decided not to rip it out, since that would leave needle holes in the batik fabric that might not close up completely when the quilt was washed.  I'll try to do a better job of lining it up on the next one. 

First Decorative Quilting Motif Stitched Out

Ta da!  The cotton quilting thread is just a bit more visible against my fabrics than the grid quilting that I stitched earlier with the invisible nylon monofilament thread. 

First Motif Stitched, Backing Side
As you can see from the back side, I still have a lot of space to fill in with free motion background quilting once I get all of these "in the hoop" quilting designs stitched out on the quilt.

It only takes two minutes for my sewing machine to automatically stitch out this design, and unless the quilt gets caught on something during stitching the design comes out perfectly every time.  Again, it would be nice if I could have enlarged my quilting design to 10" diameter to completely fill the big circles on my quilt, because then I wouldn't have to go back and add free motion quilting around every single motif.  (The Jumbo Hoop, available for the Bernina 830LE machine, has an embroidery field of 10" x 15 3/4").  However, free motion quilting is a skill that I really want to master, because then I could quilt any design I wanted without having to first find or create a digitized embroidery file or wrestling to hoop an unwieldy quilt.  That reminds me -- I really need to call that quilt shop in Concord and reschedule my free motion quilting class!


Ivory Spring said...

Super nice!!!

Anonymous said...

It is very nice, but try this, maybe http://katiesquiltingcorner.com/2012/04/how-to-quilt-using-your-embroidery-machine.html

Hugs from Germany , ewa

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Ewa! I just looked at Katie's method. Her results on her quilt look fantastic, but I don't think her technique would work better for me. I don't understand why she is using all that masking tape around her hoop, since I've had no problems hooping the quilt itself. Wrapping the embroidery hoop AND binder clips with all that masking tape, peeling it all off and replacing it every time it got too much lint on it to be sticky anymore, sounds like it would take SO much longer than just hooping the quilt directly. I know that my new Bernina 750 QE machine has such a tight fit between the embroidery hoop and the machine's bed that the binder clips she uses to hold her quilt to the hoop would definitely impede the movement of my hoop. I do use safety pins to baste my quilts, but I also do walking foot quilting "in the ditch" to secure the fabric layers before I move on to quilting fancy designs with the embroidery hoop or FMQ. I think that if I was doing an allover quilting pattern like Katie's, I would probably quilt in the ditch first with a water-soluble thread for extra security, even if I didn't want that quilting to remain permanently. Finally, I have concerns about the way she sews just part of a design off the edge of her quilt. When I had a similar situation where I wanted half of a digitized embroidery motif to fall at the outer edge of my quilt, I ended up redigitizing a separate design that was an exact half version of the original. That way, my "half design" had securing stitches to tie off so the stitching doesn't start to come out as the finished quilt is washed and used. By just stitching the design off the edge and cutting away the excess, there's nothing to prevent the design from unraveling. She does talk about going slowly on the edges and "skipping" parts of the design by stopping and advancing through stitches, and she may be able to avoid stitching off the edge of the quilt that way, but it is much faster and less stressful to have a partial version of your quilting motif digitized separately so you can just push the "start" button and relax while your machine does all of the work automatically.