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!

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.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

And the Quilt Goes On... Tips for Embroidery Repair and Perfect Patchwork Seams

Quilt Top is Complete!
I finished up the Dresden plate quilt top for my niece's birthday yesterday -- Yay!  Of course her birthday is TOMORROW and I still have to layer, baste, quilt, and bind this before I can ship it out, but at least the end is in sight.  I figure that as long as Sarah gets her gift before her brother James gets his (their birthdays are 6 days apart), I'll be okay.

Embroidering the Monogram Label with the Jumbo Hoop
I embroidered the monogram block on Thursday with my new Jumbo hoop.  This monogram/quilt label is approximately 7 1/2" wide by 8" tall, so it would have been impossible to embroider this on my old 200E/730E.  (If I had an 830 E machine, I could have made this design even bigger, up to 10" wide, but as you can see on my sewing machine's screen, the 7 Series machines cannot embroider in the leftmost 2" of the Jumbo Hoop because there isn't enough space in the harp area for the hoop).  Can I just tell you how much I LOVE this hoop?  It has an entirely different closing mechanism than the smaller hoops; it clicks into closed position and distributes the tension more evenly across the entire hoop rather than just at the location of the screw, if that makes sense.  After my recent research on machine embroidery best practices, I opted to fuse a layer of Polymesh to the cotton quilt fabric, and then floated a layer of midweight Clean and Tear stabilizer under the hoop.  My design stitched beautifully with NO puckering or distortion. 

Thread Loops (Circled) Due to Dull or Damaged Needle

The first color to stitch in this design was the blue scrollwork, and I noticed some little thread loops as this was stitching out.  My books say that thread loops are caused by a dull or defective needle.  This made sense, as I had the same embroidery needle in my machine that I had used for all of the blanket stitch applique to attach my plates to their background squares.  I switched to a brand new 80/12 Titanium plated Organ embroidery needle, and the remainder of the design stitched out perfectly with no more loopies. 

[Updated April 2013: Thread loops can also be caused by using a ballpoint needle rather than a sharp point needle on woven fabrics, or by using a needle that is too SMALL to allow thread to pass smoothly through the hole in the fabric while forming that satin stitch.  Next time I do a design like this on quilting cotton fabric, I'm going to use a size 90/14 Organ Embroidery SHARP needle, a 90/14 Topstitching Needle, or a 90/14 Microtex needle.  Using a thread net on slippery embroidery thread spools helps to eliminate the loops as well.]

However, what to do about those loops that were in the scrollwork?  I did NOT want to start over again, because it took about an hour and a half to sew out the design.  If I just trimmed the loops off with a scissor, the rest of the embroidery design would be compromised.  So, after unhooping my fabric, I used a snag repair tool to pull the loops to the back side.  It worked like magic. 

After removing the tearaway stabilizer and trimming the polymesh to within about 1/2" of the embroidery design, I pressed my embroidered fabric and then cut it into a 13 1/2" square for my center block.  I did not cut out the block prior to embroidery because the block was smaller than the size of the hoop.  I sewed the blocks together with the sashing and posts yesterday afternoon, and finally added 3" borders to the quilt (I'm planning to use 2" wide satin binding on the edges, so only 1" of my border will show on the finished quilt.  I have one more quick tip to share: You may already know this, but I had sewn on Berninas for years and it was still news to me when Kaye England told us in class how to get a perfect 1/4" patchwork seam on a Bernina machine. 

For a Perfect 1/4" Seam, Look at the Line on the Stitch Plate, NOT the Presser Foot
First of all, you should have a straight stitch plate on your sewing machine, especially if you have a 9 mm machine like my 750 QE.  Kaye recommends regular 80/12 Universal needles for patchwork pieceing and 50 weight Aurifil Mako cotton thread, so that's what I'm using here.  I have my #37 D Patchwork foot on my machine (the D indicates Dual Feed, so I have that little Dual Feed footsie engaged -- I really feel like it helps feed the fabric evenly, especially with the little 1/4" seam where the right feed dog is not in contact with the fabric).  Now, I've always used a #37 foot for piecing, and I've always used a straight stitch plate.  But I used to watch the presser foot when I was sewing, trying to keep the fabric edge even with the edge of the foot.  Kaye pointed out that there is a little groove line on my stitch plate for a 1/4" seam, and that you can get a perfect 1/4" seam by lining up your fabric edge with that little line on your stitch plate.  As long as your fabric is right next to that line, but not covering it, you'll get a perfect 1/4" seam every time.  I can't believe no one ever told me that before!

Borders Attached, Ready for Quilting
Now that the quilt top is assembled, I've decided to trim away the backing fabric behind each plate.  As usual, I did some internet research before coming to this conclusion, and found that removing the bulk of the backing fabric is strongly recommended for hand quilters, and optional for machine quilters.  My concern is that the extra layer of fabric behind each Dresden plate is making the quilt top feel too firm and stiff to me.  I want the finished quilt to be very fluid and snuggly, so I think trimming the backing fabric is the way to go. 

After that, it's time for my least favorite part of the quilting process -- layering and basting.  Since the Minky fabric I chose for my backing has stretch in one direction, it's especially important to do a good job of stabilizing it prior to quilting.  My internet research indicates that most quilters who are successful with Minky use a temporary adhesive spray for basting, and some even spray-baste first and then add pins for additional security.  Most quilters who spray baste seem to prefer 505 Spray and Fix Temporary Fabric Adhesive spray, which is what I use for embroidery so I already have a can of that upstairs.  I may or may not already have a good thread for the actual quilting in my hoarde, but even if I have the basting spray and quilting thread I will still have to run out to JoAnn Fabrics at some point over the weekend to purchase satin binding for the quilt edges.

The boys have piano lessons this afternoon and they each have some homework that I'll need to supervise, but I'm optimistic that I will be able to wrap this project up by Monday at the latest.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Monogram Quilt Label for Princess Petunia

Monogram Quilt Label Design for Sarah
Well, after spending an entire day trying to decide which floral print fabric I should use for the center of my niece's Dresden plate quilt, I've finally realized that the center block needs to be the tone on tone red chevron fabric.  I need someplace to embroider my niece's monogram and quilt label.  I'm not putting this on the back of the quilt because I'm using minky, so it has to go on the front and the center block is the only place it can go.  It just won't show up on a print, no matter which thread colors I choose -- and believe me, I tried out A LOT of them!

Print Fabric Rejected!
 Yuck, right?  So, no print fabric for the center block.

By the way, both of the images in this post are screen shots from my Bernina Designer Plus embroidery software, version 6.  I imported fabric photos into my design software so I could "preview" the embroidered label in different thread colors against the print background.  That's a very handy feature!

Here's what the design looks like with a plain white grid background:

I purchased the Tween monogram design from Embroidery Arts, including the circular scroll design, and then I stretched, rotated and aligned the monogram letters in my software program.  The "stitched with love" lettering is a True Type font from my PC that my software automatically converts to embroidery.  This design is going to be my first time using the Jumbo Hoop for my new sewing machine.

Hopefully I can embroider the center block this evening, assemble the blocks with sashing and add borders tomorrow, and then layer and quilt it on Friday.  Then the last step is to serge the outer edges of the quilt and finish it off with satin binding, and that will be either Friday or Saturday.  Talk about down to the wire -- the birthday is SUNDAY, and I still have to wrap and ship this quilt to New Jersey!

Dresden Plates: Fabric Auditions for the Center Block

The Winner!  Or, Not?
All eight plates are attached to their background blocks!  Yay!  When I originally made these Dresden plates, it was for a machine embroidery blog hop that I was participating in, and I didn't have any specific project in mind for them.  I completely used up the fat quarters in these eight plates, so I'm short one block for this 3 x 3 quilt and I can't make another plate to match the others.  So I decided to choose a complementary print for the center block,  and the winner that I chose last night is that pale blue floral fabric above.  The black and white striped fabric is going to be used for 1" sashing with yellow posts, so I laid it out beneath the blocks to help me envision how all the fabrics would look together in the finished quilt.

This is the fabric I was originally planning to use for the center block, but I decided against it because the whites in this print are too bright.  My plate fabrics have off-white accents, and the bright white in this Asian floral print just make my plates look dull and dirty:

Rejected; Whites are Too Bright

See?  Although I did love how the blues, purples, reds, and yellows in that fabric sort of tied everything together.  And that was the fabric Sarah picked out herself.  Now I'm second-guessing myself...

I also auditioned this daisy print fabric for the center block; daisies are my sister's favorite flowers:

Also Rejected for Upstaging the Plates

I liked the idea of using the daisy fabric in the center, but again, the white was too bright and I felt like this fabric upstaged my Dresden plates.

So then I looked at this one, a floral print with a much lower contrast to the chevron background fabric:

Do We Love This, Or Do We Hate This?
Hmmm...  Last night, when I was taking these pictures, I thought this blended in too much and was kind of blah, but now I'm wishing I had looked at this fabric with the stripe separating the blocks.  I REALLY need to get a design wall in my studio; it would make these decisions so much easier!

Ugh -- now I'm not so sure anymore about that light blue floral fabric.  I feel like I like the red, purple and yellow floral better now.  I don't have time to hem and haw about it, either, because the Princess's birthday is in FOUR days, and five-year-olds do not understand birthday presents that do not show up in time for the birthday.

I'm just going to have to pick one and go with it so I can get the quilt top assembled today.  Meanwhile, having felt that my Dresden Plate blocks needed some black accents, I ordered some Jet Black Swarovski hot fix crystals from M&J Trimming yesterday.  They are supposed to be machine washable, *but* the manufacturer recommends cold water, delicate cycle, and turning garments inside-out for laundering.  You can't turn a quilt inside-out.  I toyed with other options, like sewing on little black craft pom poms (that would take too long) or black sequins (those would be scratchy, and again it would take too long to sew them on).  My Swarovski crystal rhinestones should go on fairly quickly, and they will also add some BLING to Princess Petunia's covers -- and my princess likes her some bling!  My mother suggested that I just send my sister some extra rhinestones so she can replace any that fall off, so that's what I'll do.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dresden Plates Appliqued to Background Squares, and Scratchy Sequins (Not!)

Appliqueing Dresden Plates with Modified Machine Blanket Stitch
Yesterday after church, in between laundry, packing book bags for school, and cleaning up the kitchen, I managed to slip away to my sewing room for about an hour to work on the Dresden Plate quilt.  I carefully cut my 13 1/2" chevron print background squares, lining my ruler up precisely along the zigzag points before each cut.  I folded my squares diagonally to create a plus-sign placement fold, positioned one of the Dresden plates in the center of the square, and pinned it in place. 

Positioned and Pinned, Ready to Sew

Then I proceeded to applique the first plate to the first background block, using my machine's built-in blanket stitch.  Now, there are a lot of ways I could have done this, most of them easier than what I'm doing (naturally).  I could have hand appliqued, or machine appliqued with invisible monofilament thread, or topstiched along the folded edges of the plates, or used the longer, narrower machine blanket stitch that was programmed into my machine, but I wanted the applique stitch at the plate edges to look just like the machine embroidered blanket stitches of the appliqued flowers in the centers of my plates. 

Machine-Embroidered Applique with Blanket Stitch
So, after a bit of trial-and-error fiddling on scrap fabric, I shortened the double blanket stitch length to 1.5 and increased the stitch width to 4.8 (and saved the altered stitch in my Personal Program so I wouldn't have to make these adjustments again each time I sat down to sew).  I used an embroidery needle, rayon embroidery thread in the needle, embroidery bobbin thread in the bobbin, and reduced my upper tension to 2.50 to ensure that no bobbin thread would peek through on the right side of my project.  I'm using Open Embroidery foot #20D, with Dual Feed engaged on my Bernina 750 QE.  To prevent puckering/tunneling with this extra-wide blanket stitch, I slipped scraps of tearaway embroidery stabilizer under the background fabric as I was stitching. 

Using Scraps of Tearaway Stabilizer to Support Wide Blanket Stitches

I also pulled my bobbin thread up at the beginning of stitching, and brought the thread tails to the back with a hand needle afterwards to knot them off.

I got another hour or so of sewing in again today, and now I have four plates appliqued to the background squares and the other four plates pinned in place, ready to go.  I have mixed feelings about how this is going.  First of all, I quickly discovered that it's VERY difficult to get outside corners to look nice with such a wide machine blanket stitch.  I understand how you're supposed to pivot at the points when you do machine applique with a blanket stitch, it's just next-to-impossible to do it when the sideways swing is SO wide, and they are SO close together.  Now I really appreciate the simple perfection of that machine embroidered applique, with every stitch angled to perfection at the inside and outside corners.

Perfect Inside and Outside Blanket-Stitched Corners
My Yucky Blanket-Mess Corners
 See?  Yuck!  I'm not even going to show you a close up of the corners where I tried to pivot every stitch the way the embroidered corners were done, because those were disastrously ugly. 

So, now I'm thinking maybe it would have been better to do an invisible blind hem stitch applique at the plate edges rather than this oversized, Look-At-Me-and-My-Ugly-Corners blanket stitch?  Too late now -- the Princess's birthday is in six days and I don't have time to rip out all these stitches and redo them.

See?  Needs More Black
The other thing nagging in the back of my head is that there isn't enough black in this block to tie in with the black and white striped sashing that I've planned.  So I was playing with one of the finished blocks, putting little black sequins on all of the points. 

Black Sequins: Adorable, But Scratchy

Better, right?  Except that I don't have enough black sequins to adorn every point on all eight plates and, more importantly, this is supposed to be a SNUGGLY quilt, and the sequins would make it SCRATCHY.  I do like how the black sequins look, though -- and covering up the ugly outer corner stitches is an added bonus.  Maybe I can get some of those flat sequins, the paillettes?  Or littl black pom poms to stich on the points; that would be adorable, don't you think?  I think I'll browse a bit at M and J Trimming while I watch TV with Bernie, and see what non-scratchy black decorations they might have.

You know, I think my sister has her dates mixed up.  I'm sure my niece was born on MAY 10th, not March -- surely I have two more months to finish this?  ;-)