Friday, March 29, 2013

New Sewing Goodies & Studio Remodeling Update

I'm not usually one for broadcasting personal information about myself via car decals.  In fact, I only put the kids' school magnet on my car because they give these out when you contribute to the capital fundraising campaign, and I wanted to show support for the school and encourage other parents to contribute as well.  The little star on the other side of my license plate is from the police benevolent fund, another cause that I support.  However, you will never see stick figure families, monogram decals, or magnets advertising where we go on vacation, which sports teams we support, or which activities the kids participate in emblazoned all over the back of my car.  I was firmly anti-decal...  Until I saw this at a quilt shop yesterday:

Decorated: Quilt or Die!
Look what I got for my car!! Isn't that hysterical?  Skull and crossbones from a distance, but when you get closer you see that it's a skull-shaped pin cushion with button eyes, a bow on its head, and an open scissors instead of bones.  I love it!  My boys got a kick out of it, too.  My mother is the only one who doesn't like it; she thinks it's "weird."  Bernie put it on for me, and assured me that he can get it off later if I ever get tired of it.
I found this at the 2nd closest Bernina dealer to me, Sew Much Fun in Lowell, NC.  I bought my machine from the Bernina dealer 5 minutes from where I live, but he's more of a sew-and-vac shop, whereas Sew Much Fun is a full-on quilt shop with lots and lots of beautiful fabric, specialty notions and threads, embroidery stabilizers, etc.  Sew Much Fun is only about 30 minutes away from me as long as I time the trip to avoid rush hour, and I went there yesterday armed with a list of fabrics and hand applique supplies for Erin Russek's Jingle Block of the Month quilt. 
I was disappointed that Sew Much Fun didn't have many Christmas fabrics left to choose from for my Jingle project, but I did find most of the applique supplies I needed as well as several different interfacing and stabilizing options for my silk machine embroidery project.  To my delight, they did have the Bernina Deco 330 Adapter in stock that I needed for attaching my Multiple Spool Holder to my new 750 QE sewing machine.  She also had the little rubber gripper part to retrofit my #18 Button Sew On presser foot (this part comes standard on the new #18 feet as shown at left, and it prevents the button from sliding out of position while you're sewing it on by machine).  I have saved my favorite purchase of the day for last: a lovely new sewing throne:
It's the Bernina sewing chair, and honestly, I had to have it because it's red.  Even if it wasn't extremely comfortable and more fully adjustable than any other sewing chair I've tried, its redness alone would have ensured that one of these chairs eventually made it home to my studio.  The teal one I had previously looked terrible with my red cabinet, and I had considered reupholstering or slipcovering it.  A slipcover might slide around and annoy me on a sewing chair and really, reupholstering would cost more than a new chair.  Bernie had been complaining about sitting on a hard plastic folding chair in my studio, so I moved the teal chair over to the workstation shared by my serger and laptop, where my husband camps out with his iPad while I'm sewing.  Perfect solution!

While we're on that topic, here's what my studio looks like today:
Stalled Studio Remodeling Project  :-(

...And here's what still needs to happen before I can stop nagging my husband about it:

As you can see, I have already attached the Multiple Spool Holder with the adapter bracket.  Yippee!  The next thing that needs to happen is the building of the permanent cutting table.  Right now I have a temporary setup with a kitchen drawer base between metal wire mesh drawer units, with an old Pottery Barn dining table top for the surface.  The surface is too small, and although I like the wire mesh bins for fabric storage, I don't like the way they slide off the rails to the back and front and land on the floor.  I'd rather have them in sturdy wood or MDF cubbies, sized to fit, with additional storage built in all the way around the new, larger cutting table surface.  I've decided on masonite for the cutting table surface, which is what the existing sewing cabinet surface is made of, and I think it needs to be about 48" x 76".  I find the masontie not quite slippery enough for free-motion quilting, but it would be perfect on the cutting table to prevent my cutting mats from slipping.

Once the permanent cutting table has been built, I'll be able to determine whether my sewing cabinet can move any closer to the cutting table without it getting too cramped.  Bernie can install a floor outlet for cords beneath the sewing cabinet once we're sure that's where it's going to stay.  I hate that plastic folding table behind my cabinet, but I need the extra surface area to support large quilts and for staging and planning purposes.  What I dislike about the plastic table is its ugliness and wasted space beneath, where I pile all sorts of supplies and equipment that has no other home -- creating a lot of visual clutter.  So the sewing cabinet will be expanded to the back with additional built in storage for my embroidery module and other items built in.  The new sewing cabinet surface will NOT be masonite as I indicated on my rendering; that was a typo.  I think it will be MDF with some kind of Formica laminate top, and I want it to have breadboard-style pullouts on the front, to the left and right of the sewing machine, that can be used as mini cut and press stations for paper piecing projects.  I also want to go back to the airlift I was using before with my Artista 200/730E.  With the old machine, I had to lean on top of the machine in order to get the lift to move from one position to another, but I think it will work better with the heavier, 30 pound 750 QE machine.  In any case, the new electric lift we installed is driving me nuts because it doesn't have the capability to program stop positions.  So it lifts the machine shelf too high, then too low, then too high... 

We'll try to get as much storage as we can beneath the sewing cabinet and cutting table, and then address any leftover storage needs that remain.  The wooden unit that you see to the left of the cutting table now needs to go.  The shelves are not useful sizes for storing the items that I need to find homes for, and the length of this bookshelf extends too far to the left, getting in the way of the large design wall that I want on that wall.  It's the only wall where I can do a design wall because of the steeply sloped ceiling and the window on the opposite wall.  Pegboard will go on the wall to the right and/or to the left of the cutting table for ruler storage, and hooks will go on one side of my sewing cabinet for hanging my embroidery hoops.

Scalamandre Stravagante in Color 01, a 24-screen print, $399 per yard
I'm kidding about the Scalamandre drapery valance. Probably. Well, we'll see. I do love that fabric -- the colors and details are so gloriously vivid, and look at that vase! -- but the price point is way out of whack, even for me, considering this is the sewing room...  If I did use this fabric in my sewing room, I'd do a different kind of window treatment so the fabric could be applied flat instead of gathered into swags.  That way I would need just a yard or two, and the gorgeous print would be much better appreciated on a flat fabric treatment as opposed to gathering it up in swags.  In any event, we're a LONG way from window treatments for this room -- I just couldn't bear to leave the window naked in my little design picture.

We're off to church for Good Friday soon.  Lars is the acolyte, so we can't be late -- and that means I'd better figure out what I'M going to be wearing, as opposed to what my windows will be wearing! 

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, and Happy Spring, everyone!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

And the Winner of the Free Anita Goodesign Special Edition Design Pack Is...

Congratulations, quiltin cntrygrl!  You're my winner in last week's Machine Embroidery Blog Hop, sponsored by Anita Goodesign.  This Quiltin' Country Girl is the lucky winner of any gorgeous Special Editions Design Collection of her choice from Anita Goodesign, available here.  Thank you all so much for participating in the hop and for all of your wonderful comments.  I enjoyed reading each and every one of them.

My follow-up post with tips, tricks, and trouble-shooting related to my blog hop project will have to wait a couple more days.  My sons both have big tests tomorrow, and I am busy playing evil taskmaster/jail warden to two little boys who would rather do ANYTHING than study!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

MY TURN: Machine Embroidery Blog Hop and GIVEAWAY with Anita Goodesign Fantasy Birds

Happy Blog Hop, my fellow machine embroiderers!  Today it's MY turn to strut my feathers in the week-long Spring Machine Embroidery Blog Hop hosted by SewCalGal and I Have a Notion, and sponsored by the embroidery digitizing gurus of Anita Goodesign
I suggest that you get up right now and go to the bathroom, and then get situated with a cup of coffee and maybe even some snacks.  This is going to be one of those blog posts that rivals Tolstoy's War and Peace (in length and wordiness, if not in literary genius), but unlike War and Peace, my lengthy post will at least be broken up with lots and lots of PICTURES. 

NOTE: Those of you who soldier through this entire post will be rewarded with multiple chances to win the Special Edition design collection of your choice, valued at $99.95, from our generous sponsor, Anita Goodesign.  I am not going to tell you how to enter the giveaway until the end, though -- I'm gonna make you work for it!  ;-)
Tutorial Photo of Appliqued Quilt Block Technique
I was delighted when I was invited to participate in this hop even before I knew who the sponsor was, but when I found out it was Anita Goodesign, I was delighted!  I attended an all-day embroidery seminar with Anita Goodesign at my local Bernina dealer's shop several years ago, and not only was I wowed by their beautiful, high-quality designs (yep, I spent lots of $$ that day), but I was also impressed by the extent to which these folks work to make their designs and projects as accessible and hassle-free to home embroiderers as they possibly can.  In fact, despite how ornate and elaborate many of their projects and designs appear, Anita Goodesign is actually one of the best digitizers for those who are brand new to machine embroidery.  These collections are all designed with projects in mind, thoroughly tested so the designs work perfectly in the project application, and each collection comes with thorough instructions.  My Fantasy Birds collection came with a 72-page, full color PDF tutorial that thoroughly explains all aspects of the project from stabilizing your fabric all the way through assembly and the final binding stitches.  The tutorial PDF includes scores of full color photographs like the one above to guide you every step of the way.  All the guesswork and confusion is eliminated, and even beginners can easily achieve professional results.  I have not seen any other company do this, and it's a huge value add.
48" x 48" Fantasy Birds Tiled Quilt Project in Silk Dupioni
I chose to showcase Anita Goodesign's Fantasy Birds Special Edition Collection because this tiled quilt project is a perfect example of an embroidery project that looks impressive and intimidating, but is actually easy to create if you read through the tutorial PDF and follow the instructions.  Always keeping novices in mind, Anita Goodesign includes three different sizes of each design as well as mirror images of each design, so you don't need to have embroidery software in order to create the project, and there is a version of every design that will fit the hoop of any home embroidery machine without resizing.  (However, just in case a customer who doesn't own software wishes to tweak the size of these designs, Anita Goodesign includes a resizing program on the CD as an extra bonus). This collection allows even embroiderers with smaller hoops to achieve impressive, large scale designs by splitting the larger rectangular designs into two separate appliqued quilt block designs that fit together perfectly when seamed together.  How cool is that? 
Not only do I love the concept behind this design collection; I also really love the way these designs combine very realistically digitized birds with fanciful, stylized Jacobean floral and botanical motifs, amost as if a real bird flew in the window and alighted on an embroidered fabric branch.  I knew I would have fun playing around with that.  This time I'm using brighter jewel tones for the Jacobean floral motifs, but next time it would be fun to do the birds in full color but do the Jacobean motifs in grayscale.
The original project I had planned for this blog hop was a 16" x 78" quilted table runner using all four of the large rectangular bird designs as well as four smaller square bird designs, with the blocks laid out as you see them in the image at left.  Except, as great as I think the split bird block designs are for making the designs accessible to every home embroiderer, I'm not every home embroiderer -- I'm a home embroiderer who recently spent a good chunk of change on a fancy Bernina 750QE machine and a snazzy Jumbo Hoop to go with it, primarily because I have always longed to be able to embroider large, beautiful embroideries all in one hooping.  I am also a home embroiderer who has invested in the v6 Bernina Designer Plus Embroidery Software, and I almost NEVER stitch out a stock embroidery design without tweaking it in my software first.  No way was my first big embroidery project with the new machine going to have seams running right through the middle of the birdies!
So my grand plan was to stitch the square birdie blocks at the ends the way they were digitized, as applique blocks, but to sew out the larger bird designs seamlessly in my Jumbo Hoop.  In addition to the 25 quilt block designs in 3 sizes that are appliqued and embroidered in the hoop, Anita Goodesign also includes 48 individual embrodery designs from those blocks with the collection, each in 3 different sizes -- and including the four large bird and flower designs WITHOUT the split, in 3 different sizes, as shown below: 
Individual Blue Jay Design from Fantasy Birds Collection
The largest size of these individual designs is 6.75" x 11.75", so I planned to enlarge them in my Bernina software to fill the sewing field of my Jumbo Hoop, which is a little over 8" x 15" on a 7 Series machine (you can sew a design up to 10 1/4" x 15" on a Bernina 830 with the Jumbo Hoop due to the longer free arm on that machine).
Here's what this design looked like when I opened it up in my Bernina software, after enlarging it but making no other changes:
My Fantasy Birds look pretty ugly, don't they? That's because I imported the design in the commercial format EXP, which doesn't contain any information about thread colors so the software assigns colors randomly.  Bernina software will save an EXP design with an additional two files -- one contains the thread color information, and the other is an image file of the embroidery, like an icon.  If this was a simple two or three color monogram, I'd leave the design the way it was and disregard the colors shown at the machine during stitchout, but with a design of this complexity it's very easy to get confused about which color is going where and which portion of the design is stitching next -- I wanted to work out the colors ahead of time and have the correct color numbers displayed on my sewing machine's screen for each color change.
So my next order of business was to go through the thread chart for this design in my software and individually assign each of the Madeira rayon embroidery thread colors specified by Anita Goodesign for this design.  There are only 13 thread colors in the design, but there are 34 color changes in order for each component of the embroidery to stitch out in the correct sequence.  Although Anita Goodesign specifies Madeira thread, I already own almost every color Isacord makes and I wanted to use what I had on hand.  So, once I had manually entered the Madeira colors, I simply chose "Isacord 40 Numerical" from the drop-down menu, clicked "Match and Assign All" and, in seconds, all of my thread colors had converted automatically to the equivalent thread colors in Isacord polyester embroidery thread.  No need to hunt down a thread color conversion chart online or try to match up the colors manually!
I still wasn't finished with the software stage yet -- I spent another hour or so playing around with different thread colors for the Jacobean floral portions of the design.  I left the blue jays alone because I loved how realistic they looked and didn't want to mess that up, but I wanted to do something brighter and more vibrant with the "fantasy" part of the design, so the flowers wouldn't blend into the background as much and so the design would coordinate better with the assortment of silk remnants in my fabric stash.  This is what I finally came up with:
By this point, I was really getting really excited about the project!  I put my son Lars, the best 12-year-old embroidery assistant ever, to work digging through five large bins of embroidery thread until he had located all of the appropriate thread colors and lined them up for me in stitch order. (This task was assigned to him as penance for falling asleep with silly putty in his bed a few nights ago.  Laundry will be EXTRA fun this week!) 

So I was ready to start embroidering, and I was going to start with this blue jay design! I knew it would take awhile to stitch out, and I figured I could use that time to enlarge and edit stitch colors for the subsequent designs.  I had assembled all of my supplies and notions, cut out Jumbo Hoop sized pieces of silk fabrics, and prepared my fabric pieces as per Anita Goodesign's tutorial instructions. 
Silk Dupioni (above), My Kravet Glittered Silk Shantung (below)
My base fabric is a gorgeous, very unusual glitter-embellished 100% silk shantung drapery remnant from Kravet -- the pattern is called Sparkle, the colorway is Ivory, and it retails for a sickening $121 per yard.  I have several odd-sized scrap pieces of this fabric that were left over from one of my interior design clients' projects several years ago, and I have been saving them just for a special project like this! 
Silk shantung is a lightweight, flimsy silk that is similar to the silk dupioni that Anita Goodesign used for their quilt samples, except that it's a bit more refined, with a smoother surface, a tighter weave, and a much less pronounced slubbed texture than what is characteristic of silk dupioni, as you can see in the photo above.  So I thought it best to follow Anita Goodesign's recommendations for stabilizing my silk for these dense designs.  I fused Pellon Ultra Weft interfacing to the reverse side of my silk first.  Then I cut a piece of plain cotton muslin large enough to fit comfortably in my Jumbo Hoop, and adhered a piece of Pacesetter Midweight Tearaway embroidery stabilizer to the back of the muslin with my 505 spray adhesive.  I then sprayed the top of the muslin with 505 and adhered that to my interfaced silk.  Finally, I spray-starched the right side of my silk with Niagara Original spray starch.  My fabric sandwich was as crisp as cardstock when I hooped all of my layers.  I intended to use my sewing machine's hoop basting feature to secure all four layers around the perimeter of the hoop prior to stitching, but alas, I could not find the screen with that option, and I was impatient about getting started...
Well, I plugged that USB stick into my sewbaby, opened up my design, attached my hoop, and pressed the start button -- and almost fell on my ass when I saw that the estimated stitching time was 220 minutes.  I grabbed a calculator to check my math -- yep, this baby was going to take almost four HOURS to sew out, not counting the additional time involved in rethreading and trimming jump stitches between color changes, or the time I'd spend removing stabilizer and cleaning up the completed embroidery design once it had finished.  Eek! 

My enlarged design was 13 1/4" x 7 3/4", had 69,639 stitches, and was going to burn through an estimated 161 meters of bobbin thread and 4-6 hours of my time.  And, considering that it was already 5 PM on Tuesday evening when I made this discovery, I realized that not only would I be unable to complete my entire table runner project for this post, I wasn't even going to be able to sew out the entire first design in one evening.  Dinner and bed time stories with my children trump sewing projects any day in the week.  So I embroidered about half of the design after I put the kids to bed on Tuesday night, and when I stopped at 11 PM I put my sewing machine in Eco Mode to conserve power while ensuring I could pick up right where I left off on Wednesday morning. 
Finally, around 2 PM yesterday, my blue jay design had finally finished stitching:
Ta Da!
Well, I now truly appreciate the value of owning a machine that can embroider up to 1,000 stitches per minute.  Even if my old Artista 200E/730E could have embroidered a design this size (which it couldn't), at its maximum embroidery speed of 680 stitches per minute it would have taken approximately FIVE hours and forty minutes to stitch this design.  (I've been practicing Pre Algebra with Lars -- this would make a good word problem for him!)  Uff da!  Clearly, a large, densely-embroidered quilt project like this is a major time commitment, not the quilt-in-a-day scenario I had envisioned.  After all, other than embroidered quilt labels, occasional monogram projects, and quilting "in the hoop" with speedy outline quilting designs, I really don't have much embroidery experience, and I've certainly never tackled any designs of this size before.
I really love how beautifully this design stitched out, and I'm looking forward to continuing my project.  Above are some of the other silk fabrics I'm considering for borders and/or for the appliqued fabric strips on the smaller blocks.  Wouldn't it be fun to cut out the big butterfly from that silk Robert Allen print and fuse it into this design as an applique, secured by satin stitching? 
After unhooping the design, I carefully tore away most of the tearaway stabilizer.  Then I sat down with a bright Ott light and tweezers and painstakingly removed the stabilizer from all of the nooks and crannies.  Next, with a duck-billed applique scissors for safety and holding my breath the entire time, I trimmed away most of the cotton muslin fabric from the back of the design, as though the muslin was a cutaway stabilizer.  I really wanted to restore the soft hand and drape of the silk now that the embroidery process was complete.  When I was finished, the back of my design looked like this:
Back of Design, Tearaway Removed and Muslin Cut Away
Now that I've stitched out this design, I keep thinking of other applications besides table runners, quilts, or pillows.  Wouldn't this design be gorgeous on the flat sections of a box pleated or pelmet-style window valance? 
Can You Imagine These Designs on a Window Treatment?
Of course, as soon as I got that idea, I had to import the photo of my completed embroidery design into my interior design software to try it out.  Why do I suggest embroidery for the valance, but not for the drapery panels?  Well, with a top treatment, you wouldn't have to embroider 15 yards of continuous fabric and drive yourself nuts trying to space the designs with an accurate pattern repeat like you'd have to do for a pair of drapery panels.  You would just overcut each flat section, embroider the design, and then trim the piece to the appropriate size afterwards.  If you're really ambitious, you could even use some of the other standalone designs in this collection, maybe some of the Jacobean floral elements, to embroider banding for the lead (inside vertical) edges of your drapery panels in place of the solid brown banding in my rendering. 
You know, embroidered silk drapery fabrics that look like this go for hundreds of dollars per yard, yet you're limited to the thread colors chosen by the mills.  By embroidering your own silk base fabric, you can have your dream fabric with embroidery thread colors custom selected to match your oriental carpet, your other fabrics, or anything else that tickles your fancy.  Just add English bump interlining, a heavy cotton sateen drapery lining, and you'll have a gorgeous custom window treatment unlike anyone else's, anywhere.
It's probably a good thing I didn't finish my table runner project, because I've been going on forever and I still have dozens of photos and three more pages of notes that I had planned to include in this blog post, just from sewing out the first design.  So, expect a follow-up post within the next few days where I will share the Trouble-Shooting Journey to Eliminate Thread Loops with an Unusual Needle, my Three Favorite Embroidery Tools that Don't Come With Your Machine, and My Final Verdict on the Final Steam Pressing of Embroidery Designs.  In all honesty, I probably won't finish my project until several months from now, considering that it was just last week that I finished the project I began for the Fall Machine Embroidery Blog Hop I participated in back in November!
So, have I lost everyone, or are you still with me?  Because I did promise a giveaway!  Anita Goodesigns is giving away FREE Special Edition design collections worth $99.95 each (winners choose which of the 15 Special Edition collections they want to win). 
For the Cheeky Cognoscenti giveaway, you can earn ONE chance to win by visiting Anita Goodesign's website here, drooling all over your keyboard at their gorgeous designs, and then commenting on this post to tell me which Special Edition design collection you would choose if you won and what ideas you have for using those designs in your own project. 
You can earn a SECOND chance to win by following Cheeky Cognoscenti via either Networked Blogs or Google Friend Connect (on the side bar at the right side of this page, scroll up) and then leaving a second comment telling me that you're followingImportant: If you are a "No Reply" blogger or an Anonymous commenter, be sure to leave your email address [eg. Sally(at)hotmail(dot)com] in your comment so that I can contact you if you're the winner! 
That's right -- not only am I giving away a free Anita Goodesign Special Edition design collection, but each of the other eight bloggers in the hop is also giving away a free Special Edition design collection this week as well.  If you haven't done so already, be sure to stop by each of the other blogs before the end of the week so you can see more beautiful embroidery projects, pick up more embroidery tips and tricks, and collect even more chances to win.  Each blogger sets their own rules for when they will choose a winner, so if you missed any of the blogs from Monday through Wednesday you might not be too late to enter!

I plan to select a random winner from all comments on this post on Monday the 25th.

Here's the lineup with links, one last time:

Monday, March 18th:

Tuesday, March 19th:

Wednesday, March 20th:

Thursday, March 21st:
ME! ME! ME! ;-)
Rebecca Grace - Cheeky Cognoscenti

Fri., March 22nd
Once again, I want to extend a HUGE thank-you to SewCalGal and I Have A Notion for organizing this hop and for inviting me to participate, and an even bigger thank-you to Anita Goodesign for graciously agreeing to sponser the event, for supplying the designs featured in all of our blog hop projects, and for donating such generous prizes for our lucky winners.

Well, folks, I had glorious plans of not only finishing the entire table runner yesterday, but I also planned to complete this blog post before my kids got home from school and schedule it to publish automatically at 7 AM.  Since it is now after 2 AM on Thursday morning.  I'm going to do one thing AHEAD of schedule -- I'm going to go ahead and publish it right now and then head straight to bed.  Happy Thursday, everyone, and good luck in the giveaways!  May the best stitcher win.  ;-)

UPDATED 6/17/2013: I didn't make this into a table runner, but I did finally layer it with batting and quilted the piece, and it came out so beautifully that I was doing a happy dance all over the sewing room!  You can see those results in this post.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Finished: Dresden Plate Minky Quilt for Princess Petunia!

Dresden Plates for Princess Petunia, 47" x 47", 2013
Sarah's Dresden Plate quilt is finally finished!  A week late, but better than never!  I hope my little princess likes it.  This is a replacement for the Minky quilt/blanket I made when she was born 5 years ago, which has been "THE" blanky, known as "her covers," ever since. 
Sarah's Original "Covers," as it looked new in 2007
This quilt became the blanky she wouldn't sleep without, the one she snuggled under to watch cartoons, and the one that served as dress up cape/cloak as the need arose.  The quilt top has disintegrated, the batting is coming through and washing away in the laundry, the once-pink Minky backing fabric is now an ugly grayish-beige, and the ruffled satin ribbon trim is looking pretty ratty.  It no longer looks anything like this picture.
So my mission with the new quilt was to create something roughly the same size, same weight, textures and feel, but with a big girl color palette.  Hopefully Sarah will accept the "new covers" as a replacement for the raggedy old ones!  I had toyed with the idea of embellishing this quilt with some hot fix Swarovski crystals to give it some bling, but after washing it I knew that was all wrong for this quilt.  It's much too soft and casual -- I'll save those sparklies for another project instead.
New Dresden Plate "Covers"
This is the second time I've bound a Minky-backed baby quilt (baby size this time, even though it's for a Big Girl!) with prepackaged 2" satin binding, and I really like the results.  I do use a lightweight batting in these quilts, with minimal quilting to secure the layers, so the quilt has a nice blanket weight, drapes beautifully, and is really snuggly.  Little ones love to rub the satin binding on their noses.
So, how do I attach the satin binding?  So glad you asked!  First, when I'm doing the initial horizontal and vertical quilting "in the ditch" between blocks to stabilize the quilt layers, I add a row of quilting stitches about 1/4" to 1/2" in from the edge of the quilt top, using my walking foot to prevent the Minky from slipping or stretching.  Then, once all quilting is complete, I trim away my excess batting and backing fabric to within about 1/4" of the edge of my quilt top.  Next, I trim away that extra batting and backing by serging along the edges of the quilt with a 3-thread overlock on my serger.  *IMPORTANT: Be sure to test your serger settings on scraps of your cotton fabric, batting, and Minky backing before you serge your actual quilt.  I found that I needed to adjust the dual feed on my serger in order to prevent getting a wavy edge.
Pinning Satin Binding to Quilt Edges
Wright's 2" Satin Blanket Binding comes prepackaged in lengths of 4 3/4 yards.  I needed two packages to bind the edges of my 47" x 47" quilt.  Join the lengths together before you begin pinning it to your quilt.  The satin binding will be creased in half down the center, with one edge sticking out slightly farther than the other.  You want that wider side on the BOTTOM of your quilt.  Carefully pin the satin binding to your quilt edges, mitering the corners and leaving about 5-8" loose ends at the beginning and the end.  The thicker your quilt, the more difficult it will be to line up the edges of the satin binding on the top and bottom of your quilt sandwich.  With a thick quilt like this one, you may want to baste the binding in place with water-soluble basting thread before stitching it down permanently -- that way, if you're a little off in some places, you can make adjustments.
Overlap your loose ends, and cut them with a 1/2" overlap.  Then, take the pinned quilt to your sewing machine, carefully pulling the unpinned satin binding ends away from the quilt, and stitch the ends together using a 1/2" seam allowance.  Now the loose part of your satin binding should fit your quilt perfectly, and can be pinned in place.
I stitch my satin binding to my quilt with a three-step zigzag, width 6.0 and length 1.25.  On my Bernina 750 QE, this is Stitch #7.  I used my 1D foot with Dual Feed engaged, but a walking foot would be a good alternative.  Actually, I would have had better visibility to precisely place my zigzag stitches at the edge of the satin binding if I had used my 20D Open Embroidery foot or my walking foot with the open toe sole attached.  You want the point of the left "zig" in the zigzag stitch to be right at the edge of the satin binding.  After securing the binding on all four sides of the quilt, I go back and zigzag down the folded miter of each of the four corners as well, so there are no loose loops for little fingers to poke around in.
The satin binding is kind of stiff right out of the package, but it softens up considerably in the very first washing.  Satin binding trim is pretty durable and can withstand frequent machine washing, but since your quilt edges are serged inside the binding, they are protected and you could easily repair or replace the satin binding in the future if you needed to.
Now that I've finished this belated birthday present for my niece, I can turn my full attention to the Machine Embroidery Blog Hop project I'm working on for next week!  It's actually very fitting that I finished the Dresden Plate quilt right before starting on another Blog Hop project, since I came up with the idea of using the machine embroidered applique flowers in the center of my Dresden plates last November, as part of another Blog Hop that I was participating in using Marjorie Busby's embroidery designs for GO! die cut shapes.  My new project post won't go up until this Thursday, but there will be lots of other projects and tutorials for you to enjoy from various bloggers throughout the week, and at each blog post you'll have another chance to win a FREE embroidery design pack of your choosing from Anita Goodesign !  Here's the lineup: 
Monday, March 18th:

Tuesday, March 19th:

Wednesday, March 20th:

Thursday, March 21st:

ME! ME! ME! ;-)
Rebecca Grace - Cheeky Cognoscenti

Fri., March 22nd

Once again, I want to extend a HUGE thank-you to SewCalGal and I Have A Notion for organizing this hop, and an even bigger thank-you to Anita Goodesign for graciously agreeing to sponser the event and donate prizes for our winners. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dresden Plate Quilting is COMPLETE! Now, To Bling or Not to Bling?

Well, here we are, 5 days after the birthday, and finally the quilting on the Dresden Plate project is finished.  I just quilted in the ditch along the sashing, border, outside of plates, around the red flower applique, and in between the plate wedges, using Aurifil Mako 50 weight cotton thread in the bobbin and invisible nylon monofilament thread in the needle, and I like how the "invisible" quilting gives each plate so much dimension.  Trimming out the backing fabric behind each plate was a good call; even with my batting and minky backing, this quilt is still very "smooshy" and flexible, not stiff at all. 

I did experiment with spray basting, using 505 temporary adhesive spray.  I sprayed my batting rather than the quilt top or backing fabric, and found that the spray adhesive worked VERY well to adhere the cotton quilt top to the cotton batting, but was less effective adhering the slippery backside of the polyester Minky fabric to the cotton batting.  Next time I do this, I think I'll lay the batting down, then spray and attach the Minky on top of the batting so I can make sure I got every little ripple smoothed away, and I'll spray both the batting AND the Minky.  Then I'll flip the Minky/batting over and adhere the quilt top.  I did pin baste as well, and although I had a little bit of slippage with the Minky it was nothing major. 

This was the first time I used the new Stitch-in-the-Ditch sole plate for my walking foot.  I like it -- see how that blade rides along right in the seam?  I was able to quilt these long, boring lines between blocks much faster, without having to watch as closely to align my stitches right next to the seam allowance.  However, when I got to the posts between sashing strips where the seam allowance was pressed the other direction, I found that the blade on this sole obstructed my view of the needle and that it did NOT "automatically" switch from one side to another well.  You can see what I mean in the next picture, the first post I quilted with this foot:

On subsequent posts, I just slowed down as I approached the yellow square and stuck my face down there by the foot so I could carefully maneuvre around the post square, and then I increased my speed and went back to "cruise control" afterwards.  That worked fine.  Overall, the new walking foot sole did improve my ditch quilting considerably:

Quilting "In the Ditch," Stitches Disappearing Right Next to the Seam
I quilted all of the plates free-motion, with my BSR foot.  Again, loving the invisible nylon thread for this.  I used a 75/11 Quilting needle and reduced my upper thread tension considerably, and also reduced my presser foot pressure.  I put the invisible thread on a separate cone thread stand behind and to the right of my machine to allow plenty of room for the thread to unwind and unkink itself.  I still had the thread loop up and knot a couple of times -- the sound of stitching immediately changes and the stitches become instantly more visible because the top thread is so taut that it lies flat on top of the quilt instead of meeting the bobbin thread inside the quilt.  So when that happened, I just stopped, found the place where the nylon was caught, fixed it, and continued.  Maybe putting a thread net on the nylon thread would have helped -- it was an older spool, getting toward the end, so the thread was very "curly" from having been wound around the spool.

I love how the quilting stitches "carve" the plate design into the Minky backing, even though you can't see the actual quilting stitches due to the pile:

Quilting around Plates, Backing Side

But once all the plates had been quilted, I had to contend with that plateless center block.  What to do there?  I couldn't skip quilting it because it was a 13" block and my batting recommended quilting no more than 8" apart.  Yet I didn't want the center block to be too obviously quilted when all of the other blocks were quilted invisibly along the plate seams.  After mulling my options for a few hours, I finally decided that I had to just make a decision and go for it -- I no longer had the luxury of time to test out a bunch of different options.  I switched to a red thread, since there were no seams for ditch quilting and I would only be quilting against the red background fabric, and I ended up tracing around a Dresden plate on template plastic to make myself a pattern. Then I drew that shape onto my center block with a white marking pen.

Marking a Dresden Plate Around the Embroidered Block
I tried to echo quilt around the embroidery, adding some loops and swirls, and then quilted a ghost of a Dresden plate around the outer edge.  I'm not sure I 100% love it, but I didn't have any better ideas and this gift is already late!

Center Block Quilted

I wanted to do about the same amount of quilting on that center block as I did on the others, but the single line of quilting around the outside of the "plate" looks very puny all by itself like that.  In retrospect, I wish I had appliqued a big circle onto this block for the monogram, maybe even a plate with tiny 1-2" wedges around the outside and a huge center circle for the embroidery.  Then I could have quilted it in the ditch with the invisible thread just like the other blocks.  Or maybe I should have used a contrasting thread to quilt this block, so it would stand out more?  Anyway, it's done, and I'm really pleased with how the quilt as a whole is turning out.  It's VERY soft and cuddly, with no stiffness whatsoever, and it will only get softer after I wash it -- I starched the quilt top before I layered and basted the quilt, so I'm definitely going to wash the quilt before I wrap it up and ship it.

Soft, Smooshy and Cuddly! 
Today I need to trim away the excess batting and backing fabric along the quilt edges, which I'll do by serging along the border edge.  Then I'll encase the edges of the quilt with dark pink 2" satin binding...  and then, will it be finished, finally?  Well...

I ordered a whole bunch of Jet Black Swarovski hot fix rhinestone crystals for this quilt, intending to put sequin-sized rhinestones at the outer point of each plate, and sprinke a few smaller black rhinestones across the yellow centers of each appliqued flower.  My darling husband thinks I should not do this.  Wise, sensible people have warned me that rhinestones can fall off in the wash, and that they are not snuggly -- but with this quilt, you're going to snuggle the Minky side against your skin, not the front of the quilt, and honestly, the crystals are so small and smooth that I can't imagine they would be a scratchy nuisance.  They would be so FUN...  Little girls love bling, right?  Well, we'll see how I feel about it after the quilt is bound and washed.  It's my quilt, and I'll bedazzle it if I feel like it!  I'm a totalitarian quilter at heart.  Just think of me as the Quilting Stalin, or the Quilting Mussolini.  Those who object can face the firing squad, or learn to make their own quilts!  ;-)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Machine Embroidery Blog Hop Featuring Anita Goodesigns Starts Next Week!

I had so much fun participating in SewCalGal's Machine Embroidery Blog Hop last November that I couldn't pass up the opportunity when Kelly from I Have A Notion invited me to participate again.  Then I found out that the sponsor providing designs (and PRIZES!) for this blog hop is none other than Anita Goodesign, a renowned digitizer known for exquisite artistry, impeccable digitizing quality, and really unique project-based design collections!  I'm positively giddy; can you tell?

Each blogger participant will be featuring a project or tutorial using one or more of Anita Goodesign's fabulous machine embroidery designs.  If you hop along with us from blog to blog next week, you can expect to pick up lots of machine embroidery tips, tutorials, inspiration AND lots of chances to win a free design pack of your choosing from our generous sponsor, Anita Goodesign.  How cool is that?  My own Blog Hop post is scheduled for next Thursday, March 21st, but I hope you'll check out all of the other bloggers' projects throughout the week.  I'm really excited about the designs I've been working with for this project, and I can't wait to see what all the other talented and creative participants will come up with, as well.  So, without further ado, here's the lineup for next week's hop:
Monday, March 18th:

Tuesday, March 19th:

Cindy - Sew Cindy
Trish -

Wednesday, March 20th:

Thursday, March 21st:

ME! ME! ME!  ;-)
Rebecca Grace - Cheeky Cognoscenti

Fri., March 22nd

I want to extend a HUGE thank-you to SewCalGal and I Have A Notion for organizing this hop, and an even bigger thank-you to Anita Goodesign for graciously agreeing to sponser the hop and donate prizes.  Just to whet your appetite while you wait for the hop to kick off on Monday, click here to pop over to the Anita Goodesign site to see some incredible designs that you won't believe you can actually stitch out on your home embroidery machine.