Monday, February 27, 2012

Invisible Machine Applique, Check! Scrabble Label Attached to Quilt Backing

Pieced Scrabble Label Appliqued to Quilt Backing
I spent so much more time thinking/planning/agonizing and researching this step than I spent actually doing anything.  I pieced together this "Mommy Loves Lars" label at least a week ago and set it aside while I prepared the backing fabric and mulled over how best to applique the Scrabble label to the back of the quilt.  Other than some little maple leaf stems that I appliqued onto pieced blocks several years ago by hand, I have no prior experience with applique whatsoever.  When I took the mastery classes for my nifty sewing machine, I remembered them showing us how easy it was to do machine applique, but this was my first try.  My biggest concern was making sure that the appliqued label was perfectly flat to the backing fabric, with no bubbling or puckering, because it's going to be upside down on the bottom of the quilt throughout the quilting process and I won't be able to see if I'm getting pleats and puckers in the label until it's too late to do much about them.

So, I researched my options.  I decided to use Pellon Wonder Under fusible web to secure the applique in place prior to stitching instead of pins, and then I adhered tearaway embroidery stabilizer to the wrong side of my backing fabric with temporary spray adhesive for more support.  I used the monofilament nylon thread in a size 60 Microtex needle, with cotton thread in the bobbin, and reduced my upper thread tension from 4.0 to 3.0.  I used a preprogrammed invisible applique stitch on my machine (Sitch #1331 on the Bernina Artista 200/730) with stitch length and width both set to 1.0.  Foot #20 gave me plenty of visibility, although sewing with invisible nylon thread is kind of unnerving because you can't see the thread -- you just have to watch the needle and trust that there is, indeed, thread in it! 

Honestly, this wasn't hard at all once I got started.  I'm really glad that I fused the applique in place instead of pinning and that I remembered to use stabilizer under the fabric.  The most difficult part was that, unlike appliqueing small shapes onto a 10" or 12" quilt block, I was appliqueing a piece that was about 10" tall and wide onto a background fabric that was 80" x 115", and I had to bunch all that fabric up so I could keep turning it under the sewing machine until all sides of the applique were stitched down.  Once I had sewn all the way around the applique shape, I threaded the thread tails through a hand needle so I could pull them to the wrong side and tie them to the bobbin thread tails.  Piece of cake!

In hindsight, I probably should have appliqued the label onto one side of the backing fabric before I seamed the two fabric widths together, but this method worked just fine.

Next up: the "Drunken Dragons" quilt title, my name, and the year need to be embroidered someplace inconspicuous on the quilt top, near an edge someplace.  Then the quilt top can get a final pressing and starching, and I can layer and baste the quilt top, batting and backing and get started with the quilting part.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Starbucks Launches Haircolor Apartheid: Brunettes Get the Good Stuff and Blondes Get the Bland

Starbucks Blonde: for Ding-a-lings Who Drink Coffee with Pink Straws
Have you heard about the new Starbucks Blonde Roast?  When I walked into a Starbucks yesterday and saw the big Blonde Roast poster, for a split second I thought Starbucks was instituting some kind of haircolor apartheid.  What a stupid name for coffee!  When I hear "blonde coffee," I picture what comes out of the coffee maker if you forget to put new coffee in the filter basket and just run water through old grounds.  Have you ever heard anyone praise a pale yellow cup of coffee?  I normally try to abstain from blonde-bashing (since the only person in my household whose hair is NOT naturally blonde is me), but in this case I have to wonder whether someone in the marketing department at Starbucks was left in the peroxide too long.

[BTW, I have no idea who that poor girl is with the pink straw.  I found the photo here, on a web site that says she is Norwegian -- but if that's true, then I'm sure she is drinking DARK BROWN coffee through her straw.  All of the Norwegians I know take their coffee seriously!]

The beans themselves look so unappetizing, like Starbucks forgot to roast them.  Are we sure they are even coffee beans?  They look suspiciously like a lab-created sunflower seed/lentil bean hybrid.  Yuck!

Personally, I want nothing to do with the blonde coffee.  I found a couple of reviews online for Starbucks Blonde Roast (here and here) and they were uniformly unfavorable -- apparently it LOOKS like coffee, but lacks flavor and aroma.  The nicest thing anyone had to say about the Blonde Roast is that "it's not meant to appeal to people who like coffee, it's meant for people who like Dunkin' Donuts coffee!"  It seems Starbucks Blonde would be more aptly named Starbucks Bland or Starbucks Blech.  Isn't there a lawyer out there who'd like to launch a class action defamation lawsuit on behalf of the world's coffee-loving blonde people?

Have YOU tried Starbucks Blonde?  What did YOU think?

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Scrabble Label for the Drunken Dragons Quilt, and Potentially Sticky Backing Fabric

Scrabble-Style Quilt Label, Ready to Applique
I made a little progress on Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt yesterday.  I found this wonderful Scrabble fabric with 2 1/2" letter tiles, which I cut out and pieced together to spell out "MOMMY LOVES LARS."  I'm not sure if the design wasn't printed perfectly straight on my yardage or if it just got out of whack when I prewashed the fabric, but I didn't try too hard to straighten it.  This looks more realistic to me, a little bit crooked, the way the tiles really look on a Scrabble board (unless you're playing with someone who's really obsessive and straightening everything with a ruler throughout the game).

I cut the letters out individually using my smallest rotary cutter, leaving a 1/4" seam allowance for piecing them together, and then I pressed the seam allowance/extra fabric under along all the outer edges of the label.  I barely escaped that process with my fingerprints intact, by the way -- those of you who do a lot of applique, please tell me: Is there a secret to pressing the little edges under without burning yourself with the iron?  Am I supposed to be using one of those dinky baby craft irons for this?

Anyway, the plan is to machine applique the Scrabble label to the quilt backing before I layer everything together, so the label will be securely quilted in and in no danger of falling off the quilt.  That's another reason why I'm probably going to use monofilament nylon quilting thread for this project -- I wouldn't want colored quilting thread on top of this Scrabble label.  Of course I haven't experimented with the scary invisible thread yet, so that's subject to change...

After I made the Scrabble label, I pieced two widths of fabric together for the quilt backing. I chose this denim blue fabric with little white dotted swirlies and orange "fireflies" because I thought it complemented the fabrics in the quilt top, and I hoped that the busy print would help to camouflage any less-than-fabulous quilting stitches or hiccups on the back of the quilt.  However, as I was pressing the seam allowance open on my backing, I noticed that the white dotted swirlies seem to have been painted onto the surface of the fabric instead of printed like the other colors.  This is really obvious on the selvage, where they isolate each color used in the design in a little color dot., and the white "paint" covers up the 4 that was printed inside the circle.  This wouldn't have concerned me, except that I just finished reading Diane Gaudynski's dire warnings against using white-on-white fabrics for quilt backing because they often incorporate a rubbery, latex like paint in the design that grips the bed of your sewing machine and makes it extremely difficult for machine quilting.  Ugh -- did I go and find a blue version of the rubbery paint fabric?  I bought the fabric online, so I couldn't have known this before I bought six yards of it, and I didn't discover the issue until I had prewashed the fabric, seamed it together, trimmed the selvages and pressed the seam open.  This backing is ready to go, and I do like the look of it.  So, I may be crying the blues later, but I'm going to give it a go.  I'll starch the snot out of it and hopefully I won't have too much trouble with it.  If I do, I'll just have to get creative, and I've already got some ideas (like floating a piece of Sulky Solvy water soluble embroidery stabilizer under the quilt to prevent the backing fabric from sticking -- any bits of stabilizer that got stuck in the quilting stitches would just dissolve when I wash it the first time).

So, what's next?  I need to decide where exactly on the quilt backing I want to position the Scrabble label and machine applique it in place.  Since it's so big, I may also anchor the applique label to the backing by stitching through both layers along the seams between the Scrabble tiles.  I don't want the label to shift, pucker, or pleat during the quilting process.  I'm leaning toward putting the Scrabble label just off center at the top of the quilt, upside down, so that we'll see it right side up when the quilt is on the bed and the covers are turned down.  Otherwise I might put it in a corner.  Then there's a second label, the "Stitched with Love by Rebecca Deming Rumpf, 2012" and I may embroider that on the front of the quilt, along the edges of one of the outer blocks.  I still haven't done my quilting experiments, so that's a big question mark, and I have to check the washing instructions for the silk batting I purchased to see if I need to put any special care instructions on the quilt so it doesn't die the ugly death of a laundry disaster someday.  If necessary, I can embroider the care instructions to the quilt backing as well.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lars's Kindle has been Deregistered! Take That, You Little Book Bandit!

Lars's Kindle Keyboard 3G
Ugh -- when I checked my email this morning, I was met with several new greetings from Amazon, thanking me for kindle purchases that Lars the Book Bandito was making in the wee hours of the morning, without my permission, effortlessly charged to my American Express card via my Amazon account, with the click of one button.  It wouldn't even be so bad if he was downloading books to read, but he was downloading Active Content -- mind-numbing little games to play on his Kindle instead of using it for reading. 

If you missed my previous posts about my quest to find a child-friendly eReader for Lars and Anders, you can catch up here.  I ended up purchasing the Kindle Keyboard 3G (the version without promotional advertising) for both boys, and it's working out perfectly for Anders because he doesn't struggle with impulsivity the way that Lars does.  I told him one time, "If you want a new book for your Kindle, come and ask me for permission and I'll get it for you," and for Anders, that's enough.  But Lars breaks this rule again and again, several times a week, and then I have to take the Kindle away as a punishment consequence.  It's incredibly annoying.  I didn't buy the Kindle so I would have one more thing to take away, and I didn't buy it so he could play games on it, either -- I wanted him to have a dedicated electronic reader for reading books only, something I wouldn't have to limit the way we do the iPod, Playstation and Nintendo DS games.  I bought it so he could carry a hundred books around with him wherever he goes without breaking his little back and always have something to read.  I bought it so that, when he comes to an unfamiliar word while reading, he could highlight the word and instantly get a definition without having to put the book down and go looking for a dictionary.

So I called Amazon Kindle's tech support this morning, more to share my disappointment and frustration with a captive audience than because I thought there was anything they could do about it.  The first woman I spoke with told me that there are actually parental controls for wifi access on the newest Amazon Fire Kindle, and I looked at that online briefly, but then came to my senses -- I'm beyond punishment with Lars on this issue, because yelling and confiscating the Kindle isn't working, and is unpleasant for everyone in the house, but I'm not about to reward him for his behavior by buying him a brand-new, full-color, web-surfing Kindle, either.  I called Kindle Tech Support again, and this time I spoke with a young man who suggested changing my Amazon 1-click settings and using some kind of reloadable payment card as the default payment method for the Kindles so I could put $10 a month or whatever, and when he'd used that up it would decline additional purchases.

Still not satisfied -- here's why: The Kindle is great for reading books once they are downloaded, but the Kindle Store that you access through the device is difficult to navigate, and especially difficult to browse if your objective is to find good reading material for an 11-year-old boy.  That's why Lars has downloaded so many lame, super-short books, as well as the annoying Active Content games -- they're easiest for him to find.  It's much easier for me to find books for him when I browse Amazon on my PC, where I can find Listmania lists like "best sci-fi kindle books for all ages" or even search Listmania for lists containing other titles Lars has already read and enjoyed.  So I had an ephiphany -- What if I just deregistered Lars's Kindle from my Amazon account?  Tech support guy said that all of his current content would remain, and he just would not be able to make new purchases from the Kindle device if it isn't registered to an Amazon account.  Theoretically, I can log into my Amazon account and re-register his Kindle whenever I want to purchase new content for him, and then deregister the Kindle as soon as the content has finished downloading.  I can still get new content for his Kindle from wherever we are, because I can use the Safari browser on my iPad or iPhone to reregister his Kindle from anywhere.  I'm just going to have to type in the whole serial number and everything.  So I downloaded four new books for Lars this morning, and then I cut him off from my Amazon account.  I'll let you know how it works out!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Technology Trickle-Down Takes Too Long! A Road Block for the Drunken Dragons Quilt

Keryn Emmerson design, enlarged to max hoop width, still too small for my quilt
So, here's my dilemma.  My Grand Plan for this Drunken Dragons quilt involved using the embroidery module on my Bernina Artista 200E/730E to do "in-the-hoop" decorative quilting in the center of each of the large circles, with background grid quilting to be done with my walking foot.  I was going to layer the quilt top with batting and backing, hoop a piece of stabilizer and adhere my quilt sandwich on top with temporary spray adhesive, run a basting line along the outside edge of the hoop to keep things from shifting, and then quilting a perfect decorative motif was going to be as easy as pushing one button on my sewing machine and watching the computer stitch out perfect repetitions of the selected quilting design onto each and every circle on this quilt.  The seam lines on my circles would make it especially easy to get the placement of the designs right, which is one of the biggest challenges of machine embroidery (for me, anyway). 

Keryn Emmerson design from OESD #788
I found the perfect quilting motif, too -- it's from the Oklahoma Embroidery Suppy & Design Collection 788, Quilting Inspirations by Keryn Emmerson, and it looks kind of like a blazing sun.  Perfect, right? 

My 11" Diameter Circles
Wrong!  When I sat down at the computer to enlarge this design, I selected the largest hoop that I have for my sewing machine, which is the Oval Hoop at 255 mm x 145 mm, or about 10" x 5.75".  Then I printed out a template of the enlarged design and went upstairs to "try it out" on my quilt top, as you see in the first photo of this post.  Boo, hiss!  It's WAY too small.  I guess I was thinking that the Drunkard's Path blocks I made were 7" x 7", and the circle was only a portion of that block...  It didn't dawn on me that since it took FOUR 7" blocks to make one circle, my circles were going to be larger than the maximum embroidery field of my sewing machine.  They are 11" diameter circles.

Bernina Artista 730E, photo courtesy Bernina USA
Now, it would be so much easier to just accept this and move on, and come up with a different plan, if my circles were too big to be quilted with the embroidery module on ANY sewing machine, but there's the rub: My Artista 200E computerized sewing and embroidery machine came out in 2002, and it was the top-of-the-line model at that time, but that was 10 years ago.  In 2006, when Bernina came out with the Artista 730E, I was able to pay to have my machine upgraded to the equivalent of the newest model, which is why I refer to my sewbaby as a 200E/730E.  The coolest new feature with the release of the 730 was the Bernina Stitch Regulator, or BSR Function, which facilitates even stitch length while free-motion quilting. 

Bernina 830LE, photo courtesy Bernina USA
But in 2008, Bernina came out with a beast of a new TOL sewing machine, the 830E (not to be confused with the 830 model they sold during the 1980s).  Right now they are promoting this Limited Edition version with pretty red graphics on the cover.  It's faster, it has a gigantic bobbin that holds a ton of thread, and of course the first thing you notice is that the whole machine is a lot bigger, with much more space to the right of the needle -- obviously, that's going to be really helpful to quilters who struggle to fit large quilts under the machine.  But the feature I'm most longing for at the moment is the much larger embroidery sewing field of the 730E's Jumbo Hoop, which measures a whopping 260 mm x 440 mm, or approximately 10 1/4" x 17 3/8".  If I had this machine, I could enlarge that design motif to fit my 11" quilt circles perfectly.  It's not like I can just get a wider hoop for my existing machine, either -- this is outside the limits of what my sewing machine is able to do.  Now, at an approximate retail price of $10,000, I'm not rushing out to the Bernina store to buy this machine just so I can finish Lars's quilt the way I want to do it.  That's not in the budget right now, and even if I found $10K under the sofa cushions or something (hah!) I don't think I could bring myself to spend that much on a sewing machine -- I don't even have enough time to spend sewing to justify that kind of splurge.

So instead, I'm consoling myself with the inevitability of Technology Trickle-Down.  Whatever blistering hot, bleeding edge technology is only available on the priciest models today will eventually be seen on midpriced models as well.  Over the next few years we'll even start to see this snazzy red 830LE sewbaby showing up used on eBay for a fraction of the price of a new one, so that by the time my current sewbaby is ready for retirement I should be able to step up to a sewbaby with a big, wide embroidery hoop for much less than it would cost me to make that jump today. 

Now that we've finished our pity party, what are my options for finishing this quilt using equipment that I already own?  Well, I could hand quilt the whole thing, with designs as elaborate as my heart desires, but I'm not going to do that.  For one thing, I'd like to finish this before my eleven-year-old son is ready to head off to college.  Another reason not to hand quilt it is that the variety of fabrics I used are not all suitable for hand quilting.  The batiks are a bit too stiff, and some of the other fabrics have a slightly more open weave and are not perfectly balanced thread count on the warp and weft.  As I learned from Dierdre McElroy in a hand quilting class I was fortunate to take with her a few years ago, that means it would be impossible to get consistent, even, hand quilting stitches throughout this particular quilt -- I would have evaluated each fabric for hand quilting before I used it if I was planning to finish the quilt that way.  So, no hand quilting.

I have a couple of options for machine quilting.  If I had been machine quilting for years, and was really good at it, I could just mark the design I like directly on my quilt top, drop the feed dogs, and quilt it free-hand.  I don't have the skill level to pull that off.  Another option would be to find a quarter circle design and use my Hoop-It-All Double Wide Quilter's Square to quilt each circle in four stages.  This is an expensive 3rd party hoop contraption that "tricks" my machine so that I can embroider larger designs without rehooping, with a 14 1/2" square hoop that is divided into four quadrants that slide into position and lock in place.  I'm ashamed to admit that I have never even taken this gizmo out of the box, and it must have been at least four years ago that I purchased it at a seminar.  See why I can't bring myself to fork over the ten grand for that uff da machine, no matter how wild and wonderful it may be?  I haven't had time to learn how to use half of the sewing toys that I already own!  The downsides to the Hoop-It-All solution are that I would need to spend some time figuring out how it works, for one thing, but more importantly, I would need to find a completely different design that could be stitched out in four quadrants.  My blazing sun motif has continuous lines of stitching going all the way around the circle, so that wouldn't work.

Another idea, the one I'm leaning toward at the moment, is to select a digitized embroidery quilting design that I could stitch in-the-hoop at the center of each circle, about 5 1/2" diameter with my machine's Oval Hoop, and then I would embellish and enlarge the design to fill the rest of the 11" diameter circles using free motion quilting aided by my BSR function.  I could add wavy zigzag "rays" around my blazing suns, for instance.  That way, I'm getting the speed advantage and good-looking results of the computerized quilting, but also having a chance to practice some FMQ.  After all, I'm never going to get good at it if I don't ever roll up my sleeves and just do it, right?  So, while the completed quilt top continues to languish in my studio, my next order of business is going to be threading up my sewbaby with invisible nylon monofilament thread, making up some practice quilt sandwiches, and stitching out some of these motifs to see what kind of Frankenstein hybrid quilt design I can come up with for these gigantic circles.  I'll post the results, be they good, bad, or ugly.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day, With a Twist

I'm sorry; I couldn't resist...  I was googling to find a nice Valentine's Day image to share, just something short and sweet and lovely, and was reminded that this hearts-and-flowers holiday we're celebrating today all began with the brutal clubbing and beheading of a Catholic priest named Valentine who was martyred for performing marriages against the wishes of Roman Emperor Claudius II.  Then I stumbled upon this photo, which totally appeals to my inappropriate sense of humor.  I am also breaking a cardinal rule with this one, not linking back to the original source for the photo, because it was co-ed-something-or-other porn site.  Google, why do you take me to these nasty web sites?  All I asked for was "Valentine's Day Images!"  Thank goodness for the parental control lockdown on the kids' computer!

On that note -- HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!  I hope none of you get clubbed or beheaded.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Lars's Drunken Dragons Quilt Top, Fully Assembled, 70" x 105"
Lulu the Puppy Princess Poses with the Quilt Top
All 150 Drunkard's Path blocks have finally been assembled for Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt top.  Ta da!  I am really not as excited about this as you might expect, though, because I am much more confident in my patchwork skills than I am in my quilting skills, so the rest is all going to be uphill, with lots of experimentation and frog stitches (rip-it, rip-it!) along the way.  I even bought a new seam ripper, nice and sharp and ready to go.  How's that for a positive attitude?

Lulu kept prancing into my view finder when I was trying to get a picture of the quilt top.  She doesn't understand why anyone would want to see a picture that doesn't have a puppy princess in it.  Indeed!

Meanwhile, I still don't know for sure how I'm going to quilt this quilt, so it's time to take a break for some Research & Development.  I'm leaning toward quilting a decorative motif in the center of each circle with the "quilt in the hoop" embroidery method, but I can't get a large enough design (width-wise) in any of my machine's hoops and I don't feel like messing around with the Hoop-It-All Quilter's Square contraption for this project.  So I'm thinking I'll enlarge the selected motif as big as I can fit in my hoop, and after I've stitched one out on each circle, I'll go back and do some echo quilting around them with free-motion quilting (FMQ) to fill the rest of the circles.  That's my compromise between wanting to learn and practice FMQ and not wanting to mess up this quilt that I'm going to have to look at every day on Lars's bed.  Then I think I'll do grid quilting in the background with a walking foot, because one of the things I like best about this quilt is the contrast between the curved lines and the squares, so curvy quilting lines inside the circles, straight lines between them, should play that up nicely.  I'm still kicking around the idea of machine trapunto for added dimension on the circles, but I'm wondering if that's too large of an area to do trapunto and if that will make the quilt too bulky to work with under my little sewbaby.  I'll try to take pictures and post the results of my quilting experiments as I figure it all out.

Can you spot my "oops?"
This little "oops" was annoying to discover in the very last row of the quilt.  I thought we were really careful when we did the block layout to be sure that we didn't place blocks with the exact same fabric next to one another, but this one slipped by somehow.  Whatever -- I'm leaving it.  Nobody's perfect, right? It's not that big of a deal, and this is the bottom of the quilt, where I'm going to tuck it underneath the edge of the mattress so that all of the bedding doesn't end up on the floor every morning. 

I don't know when I'll get back to this project.  I've got receipts strewn all over the place that I've been organizing on-and-off for the accountant so he can prepare our taxes, and I really need to finish that up this week and cross it off my list.  (I wish I could just shove it all into a grocery bag and dump it out on his desk).  We're also taking Otto back to the vet tomorrow morning because it looks to me like he managed to pop a couple stitches and his incision is opening up instead of healing.  It has been nine days since he had his neutering operation, and I really had hoped he'd be back to his normal, rambunctious routine by now. 

At least he's getting used to the Cone of Shame and no longer cries constantly while wearing it.  Now he's actually using it like a snowplow, crashing into things or people deliberately with the cone.  That's what all the dents and dings are from.  Hopefully the vet will be able to seal his incision back up with a couple drops of surgical glue rather than having to restitch.  Cross your fingers for my puppy rabbit!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Cone of Shame

My poor, sweet puppy has been crying piteously for days now, whimpering and snivelling about the injustice of The Cone of Shame. He finally went in for neutering last Friday (we waited until he was 13 months old for a number of health reasons). We tried just keeping a close eye on him for the first couple of days, but every time we turned our backs he went into turbo-crotch-licking-overdrive, so the e-collar we initially just put on at bed time is now tied around his big meatball of a head all day long. Today is the 6th day post-op and his discharge instructions say that he has to be prevented from licking for a minimum of 7 days after the surgery. So he staggers around the house, knocking down picture frames and crashing into door jambs, and makes sad puppy dog faces full of mournful reproach.

Just a couple more days, Otto, until we ditch that cone and get your Indestructible Dog Ball out in the yard for you again! Hang in there, buddy!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ice Berg, Dead Ahead! Approaching the Perils of the Quilting Phase, and the Band Plays On

The Titannic, image found here
Well, Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt top is nearly complete.  (If you missed the earlier posts about this project, click here to catch up).  I just have to assemble the last of the 15 rows of blocks, then attach that row to the others.  I decided to assemble the quilt top in thirds (five rows per section) to minimize fraying along the raw edges, so I'll have to join the three sections together, and then the piecing stage of the 70" x 105" twin bed quilt will be complete.  After that, I'll join my two widths of the backing fabric together and make and attach the quilt label to the backing so it will be quilted in securely. 

Scrabble fabric from Quilting Treasures, photo from

I am excited about the quilt label; I'm going to spell out "MOMMY LOVES LARS" in Scrabble fabric, cutting out each letter with a seam allowance so I can stitch them together like a Scrabble board. 

The scary part comes next. Depending on the quilting design, I may have to do some marking on the quilt top -- always a terrifying prospect, because what if the marks don't wash out afterwards like they're supposed to?  "They" tell you to test the washaway marking pen on every fabric in your quilt to be sure it will wash out afterwards, but I used so many fabrics...  Also, I would have needed to make up my little marking pen tests on fabric scraps a couple of weeks ago to do this, because it's going to take me at least that long to do the quilting.  Just because the ink comes out after it's been on the fabric for a day doesn't mean that it would come out after three weeks.  Anyway, I'm not marking anything until I know for sure how I want to do the quilting.

So far, this quilt has been pretty smooth sailing, like the Titannic, speeding across the Atlantic Ocean with its sparkling chandeliers and happy passengers, but we're about to enter dangerous waters...  Nothing like a positive attitude, don't you agree?  Here's what's going through my mind as I stare out into the frigid, frosty darkness of the quilting voyage that lies ahead:

Machine Trapunto by Anita Shakelford
My first thought is to stitch a grid of diagonal lines as background quilting everywhere except inside the circles.  The circles would have concentric, fairly wide spaced circle quilting for emphasis.  To make the circles stand out even more, I could add trapunto to the circles (an extra layer of batting just under the circles for added dimension) using the method that Diane Gaudynski describes in her books.  I'd use my walking foot for the background grid, but the circles?  Well...  I can't very well turn my quilt around 360 degrees under my sewing machine needle to quilt each circle with the walking foot, not on this oversized twin bed quilt.  The line of quilting that goes right in the circular seamline would be challenging to execute even with a walking foot -- do I really think I can do that accurately with the feed dogs down and the training wheels off?  Am I really going to be able to quilt perfect circles with FMQ?  I've jokingly dubbed this the Drunken Dragons quilt because the block pattern is called Drunkard's Path, but I don't want people to look at the finished quilt, covered with wobbly, crookedy lumpy-non-circular blobs and think I was drunk when I was quilting it!

I've been telling everyone how I'm going to do free-motion quilting (FMQ) on this project in hopes that I won't chicken out, but I feel a cold sweat coming on. For those who don't know, normally the feed dogs on the sewing machine pull your fabric through at a steady pace beneath the stationary needle going up and down to create stitches of exactly the same length.  When you do free-motion quilting, you disengage those feed dogs so you can control the fabric movement with your hands, enabling you to go back and forth, diagonally, sideways, all without turning your fabric.  It's like trying to draw a picture or sign your name by moving a piece of paper around underneath a stationary marker, except that you also have to be careful to move the quilt at a steady speed so you don't end up with a mess of some really long stitches, some really short stitches, and a bunch of knots.  With a lot of practice, people like Diane Gaudynski and Wendy Sheppard are able to quilt the most exquisite designs using this method, but my experience with FMQ so far looks like I tried to doodle with my left hand, blindfolded. 

Bernina Stitch Regulator, from Bernina USA
I have a gizmo for my fancy computerized sewing machine that is supposed to help -- the BSR function (Bernina Stitch Regulator) has a little Doctor Evil laser thingy that scans and counts threads next to the needle as I'm moving the fabric, speeding up or slowing down the needle movement as needed to keep stitches around the same length.  But BSR doesn't improve my ability to "draw" by moving fabric, it only helps to keep stitch length more or less consistent.  If I'm really going to drop those feed dogs and quilt without training wheels, then I'd better set the quilt top aside and do at least a week of practice quilting before I even mark the quilt top. I'd hate to mark an overly ambitious design on my quilt top and then realize I'm not skilled enough to execute it well. I'm looking at this quilt top, and not really coming up with a lot of FMQ ideas that would look good on this quilt and that I'm likely to be able to do well.  I mean honestly, circles?  I really WANT circles, though.  I may have to plan a smaller project, like a table runner, for FMQ practice.
Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors, Decorative Quilting Motif Stitched with Embroidery Module, 2006

So there's this cunning little voice in the back of my head, and I can't tell for sure if she's an angel or the Devil. She says there's no shame in using all the high-tech gadgetry at my disposal in order to finish the quilt and get it on Lars's bed, looking the way I want it to look, and finished within this lifetime. I have several design collections of Keryn Emmerson's outline quilting designs that I could use with the embroidery module of my sewing machine to insure good looking results using fancier designs than I could manage free hand.  When I've used this method in the past, most notably for Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors above (I know, I should have done more quilting on the Flying Geese patches and I still might add more later), I got annoying little thread knots on the back of the quilt (which, thanks to Diane's book, I now know could have been minimized by using a lighter weight quilting thread).  I just found a Bernina Through the Needle: Quilting in the Hoop article that suggests using these outline embroidery designs on just the quilt top and batting for the decorative stitching, then adding the backing fabric before doing the background quilting through all three layers, so that any tension snafus or knots gets hidden between the layers of the quilt.  I guess I'd need to use an adhesive basting spray to adhere the quilt top to the batting if I'm going to do some of the quilting before I layer and pin-baste all three layers together, though -- ugh, this is getting complicated again!  I wonder if this is like that moment when Captain Edward Smith ordered his crew to increase the Titanic's speed just as they were approaching the ice they'd been warned about?  I mean, is this going to make my project go more smoothly, or will this plan of action come back to haunt me in my dreams? 

Here are a couple of the quilting designs I'm considering for the circles on this quilt:

Keryn Emmerson's Continuous Quilting Designs collection for Bernina

 I like that Celtic knot circle design shown on the cover of the design collection packaging, but it's too small so I'd want to enlarge it and then add some additional wide-spaced circle outlines.  This particular collection is on one of those design cards that plugs directly into my sewing machine rather than on a CD, and although I can resize the design directly on my sewing machine, I'm pretty sure I need to use my PC software to add additional outline circles.  I may be able to do this if I open the design on my sewing machine, save it to the sewing machine's memory, and then copy it from there to a thumb drive that I take downstairs to my PC. 

Another Keryn Emmerson design from her Quilting Inspirations 788 Collection for OESD

The design shown above is another possibility, and even though it's also too small to fill the big circles on my quilt, perhaps I could stitch them out as-is and then add some FMQ echo quilting.  Since this design is so angular and irregular, the echo quilting wouldn't need to be perfect in order to look good.  But I really, really want circles...

I did some browsing over at (even though I hate to buy more embroidery designs when I have SO MANY that I already own and have never used), and found another possibility:
Rangoli design from, get it here
I like the circles in the Rangoli design at left from, and even though at 3.5" it's again, a little on the small side, I could easily resize it larger to fit, and the stitching looks like it would be open enough to allow the quilt to puff up between the stitches.

Alternatively, I should also be able to digitize my original concentric circle idea myself fairly easily with my Bernina Embroidery Software, but I upgraded from Version 4 to Version 6 last year and have not been able to take classes from my dealer yet to learn how to use the new version.  It's completely different than the older version, because Version 6 has a baby version of CorelDRAW for digitizing from scratch and when I fooled around with it last night I wasn't able to figure out how to use the circle tool.  However, I was able to find the handouts for the Version 6 Software Mastery classes online, which I printed out, and I also managed to send the colossal on-screen software owner's manual PDF to my iPad so I can read it in my Kindle app -- but it doesn't navigate as easily as a Kindle book would, and I'm not able to use the hilighting or annotating functions.  This is so irritating -- I want a real, physical owner's manual that I can highlight, write notes in, and cover with Post-It flags to help me find the right information quickly when I need it again!  I know some users have paid to have a local printer print the whole thing out in multiple spiral bound volumes...  Ugh.  Bernina, are you listening?  I want an owner's manual next time!!!  So anyway, there is going to be a little software learning curve, and I have a few hundred pages of boring technical reading ahead of me, but it's doable -- and I need to learn how to use that software anyway or else it will be a huge waste of money.

Monofilament Nylon Thread from SewArt International
Finally, just when you thought I was finished with this smorgasbord of anxiety-inducing possibilities, we come to the question of thread.  I wasn't thrilled with the look of the heavier-weight "machine quilting thread" I used on Anders' quilt.  I've considered using the lighter-weight cotton or silk threads recommended by Wendy Sheppard and Diane Gaudynski.  But I'm leaning toward a .004 nylon monofilament quilting thread from Sew Art International for this project.  I have a lot of busy fabrics in this quilt, and I don't think I want the quilting thread to stand out and scream at anyone.  Plus, invisible nylon should hide my oopses and glitches better than any other thread, and it will enable me to quilt in that Scrabble label without scribbling all over it with the quilting thread. I have this thread in both clear and a smoke color, and I haven't decided which color to use yet.  I've never used the monofilament nylon thread before (it's a maiden voyage -- just like the Titanic!), and I'm nervous about the thread snarling, snapping, or otherwise misbehaving, but I'm going to do my research as far as tension settings and practice before I tackle the Real Deal.

Ready to Go: Final Blocks Awaiting Assembly
I can worry about all of this some more while I stitch those remaining blocks together today, since they aren't going to sew themselves.  After all, it's not a real quilt until somebody gets an ulcer.  Isn't that what they always say?  Well, that's what they should say.  Meanwhile, the band plays on...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Extreme Makeover, Web Site Edition: A New Look for Custom Interiors by Rebecca

Screen Shot of my New and Improved Web Site at

My darling husband, who will be the first to tell you that he is not, NOT, a web designer, lovingly slaved away with something called Frontpage or FTP something-or-other about 12 years ago to help me create my first web site, back when just having a web site at all was enough to set me apart from other designers.  The site didn't do everything I wanted it to do, it wasn't as polished as what I would have liked, but it has served me well as a presence on the web, a place where prospective clients can find out more about what I can do for them and see photographs of my work.  Set decorator Casey Hallenbeck, who hired me to collaborate on window treatments for the sets of the NASCAR film Talladega Nights, found me via the web site, after all -- actually, that's a funny story, because when he called me and said he was working on a movie that was filming in Charlotte I didn't believe him, but I digress...

So, what was wrong with my old web site?  Well, for starters, Bernie had set the iPower account up for me using his own email and passwords, and I had no access to go in and make any updates on my own.  Changes could only be made from his computer, because he had the Frontpage software and I did not.  Every time I wanted to change photos or copy on my business web site, I had to wait until my husband was home and had time to help, then do some serious nagging for a few days (because he'd rather do just about anything else -- it was amazing how he'd hop up and declare that it was time to change air filters, aerate the lawn or patch holes in the wall when I mentioned working on my web site).  Then, once he finally sat down to work on the web site with me, neither of us could remember what the username or password were so we had to contact iPower and reset the password...  Big, giant pain in the butt!  Then I'd describe to Bernie how I wanted the site to look and feel, and he'd get frustrated because he didn't know how to do that using the tools at his disposal, and he'd grit his teeth and mutter "this is NOT what I do for a living!" Can you understand why my web site sat on the Internet, neglected and unchanged, for over a year and a half at a clip?

The biggest problem with my business web site that I'd noticed since getting my iPad a year ago is that the lovely Edwardian Script font we used for my business name in the site header was only visible on computers that also had that font loaded locally.  So my web site looked pretty good on my own PC and on my husband's PC, but on my iPhone, my iPad, and on anyone's computer who did not have Edwardian Script, the header showed up in ghastly Times New Roman and looked hideously unprofessional.  I should have taken a screen shot of the old site to show you the before and after. The web site that looked pretty good when it was created in 2000 looked amateurish and cheap to me by the end of 2011.  A makeover was long overdue.

Custom Wedding Monogram by Jennifer Alison Designs
So anyway, at the end of last year I hired Jennifer Alison Designs to create a new logo for my business.  I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted the logo to look like, incorporating a script monogram, freshening up the branding I'd been using for my business, but similar enough that my previous and current clients would recognize that it was me when they got something in the mail with the new logo on it.  I chose Jennifer Alison Designs because the concept I had in mind for my business was very similar to the custom wedding monograms that Jennifer specializes in.  Her prices were extremely reasonable, she was great to work with, and the only difficulty was choosing between several gorgeous designs she submitted.  I highly recommend her.  This is the new Custom Interiors by Rebecca logo, created by Jennifer Alison Designs:

Now that I had the new logo design, it was time to tackle the web site.  I got the iPower account information from Bernie and then I shooed him out of my office -- this time, I was going to do the web site completely on my own so I'd have complete control and be able to make content changes or add pages to the site whenever I wanted to.  I discovered some deceptively easy looking Weebly drag and drop templates on the iPower site -- I say "deceptively" easy because it was not readily apparent to me how little I could modify the templates, and I wasted several hours working on a design based on a template that didn't have the features I needed in the right places, an error I discovered after struggling for awhile and finally calling for tech support.  Most of the templates have too much going on for my purposes.  I wanted my web site to be a background framing the photography, not something artsy or distracting.  I didn't want color, because a background color that looks great with one portfolio shot might look terrible with another photograph.  It was also irritating that I couldn't add a photo header to a template that didn't have one already built in, or that I couldn't change the color schemes of templates.  The tech support guy told me I could do some of that if I upgraded my account, and of course I could have invested a lot more time into learning to create a web site from scratch instead of using templates at all, but I was determined to use the tools I was already paying for and to keep the site as easy as possible for me to maintain.  It took me an entire day, from breakfast to dinner time, to get the web site looking the way I wanted it to, but it's finally finished and it was definitely worth the time investment to not only have a web site that accurately reflects my design business today, but one that I can tweak and adjust whenever I need to, from any computer with internet access.  I'm pretty sure I could even make changes to my web site from my iPad, although I haven't tried that yet.

My favorite things about the new web site are:
  • My logo, which looks snazzy on every computer -- thank you, Jennifer!
  • My slide show on the home page, instead of a separate portfolio page like I had before
  • My Contact page, which I was able to customize with additional fields to include the basic information I want from every prospective client
  • My new BLOG PAGE!  When I started writing Cheeky Cognoscenti, I intended it to be a personal blog where I'd write about my family and sewing projects, but design-related posts kept creeping in just as frequently.  Going forward, I'll be blogging on interior design topics over at  I still need to figure out how to add sidebar goodies like a design blogroll, links to preferred vendor sites, etc., but at least the "meat and potatoes" part is done.
Whew!  Revamping my web site was one of my New Year's Resolutions for my business.  It felt good to cross it off my list before the end of January!  If you have a moment, please take a look at my new web site here and then come back here and leave me a comment to tell me what you think.  Compliments are always nice, but I especially want to hear from you if you find a (gasp!) typo, or if something looks wonky on your computer that I might not be aware of.  Thank you!