Friday, May 31, 2013

Applique By Machine and By Hand: The Verdict!

Hand Applique at Left, Invisible Machine Applique at Right
I was so excited about taking Harriet Hargrave's Invisible Machine Applique class at the North Carolina Quilt Symposium last weekend.  I have owned Harriet's Heirloom Machine Quilting and her Mastering Machine Applique books for about 10 years, and although I relied on her machine quilting book extensively with my first few quilts, I had never attempted machine applique until this class.  Since I had just started my very first hand applique project this year, I thought it would be great to try Harriet's methods for achieving similar results by machine to see which construction method I preferred.
Bernina 750 QE Packed in a Tutto 1XL Machine On Wheels Bag
I lugged my Bernina 750 QE to class in a spiffy red Tutto trolley case purchased 'specially for this occasion.  I was very happy with how well my machine fit in this case and how easy it was to transport this way -- but then, when I walked into the classroom and saw the itty bitty, TV-tray-sized "tables" that were each supposed to accommodate TWO students and TWO machines, I found myself wishing I had brought a smaller machine! 
For those of you who are also 750 owners, I can tell you that Harriet recommended using Stitch #3, the Vari Overlock stitch, instead of the Narrow Blind Hem stitch built into the machine's quilting menu, because there are fewer straight stitches between the V-shaped bites on the Vari Overlock stitch and she feels that Stitch #3 creates a much more attractive invisible applique.  She had me MIRROR IMAGE Stitch #3, reduce the length to 0.9, reduce the width to 0.4, and reduce the needle tension to 3.0 (with monofilament .004 nylon thread in the needle and 60/2 Mettler cotton embroidery thread in the bobbin -- no adjustments needed to bobbin tension).  After making those adjustments to the stitch, I also had to press that button on the leftmost side of the second row to put the needle back in center position, otherwise the stitch would form so close to the left toe of my #20C Open Applique presser foot that I couldn't see what I was doing.
Stitch #3, Length 0.9, Width 0.4, Catching 2 Threads of Applique Fabric
With those settings, I was able to get beautiful tension for machine applique and the left swing of the needle caught only two threads of the applique fabric.  With the Open Toe Applique foot and the super-bright LED lighting on my 750 'Nina machine, I had excellent visibility for this technique.  But, did I ENJOY it?
Well, compared to the hand applique that I've been working on lately, I have to say that I found machine applique to be incredibly stressful.  In order for the machine stitching to be invisible, you need that skinny little 60/8 needle to rub right against the folded applique fabric edge for the straight stitches, pivoting carefully around every curve, and the left swing "bite" part of the stitch is supposed to catch just two threads of the applique fabric and then land precisely against the fold on the background fabric.  I found myself holding my breath as I stitched, tensing my shoulders, and muttering curses under my breath every time the needle didn't land exactly where I wanted it to.  Hand applique is slower, but it's so much more relaxing and every single stitch goes exactly where I want it.  If a hand needle pokes through in the wrong spot, I just back it out and adjust it to where it needs to go.  It's easy to pull out a single hand stitch just by unthreading and rethreading the needle. The stitch length for this invisible machine applique is SO tiny that the stitches are like a string of knots, virtually impossible to remove. 
"Invisible" Machine Applique?  Well, Not On Batiks...

About those tiny stitches, though...  My applique shapes were all cut from densely-woven batik fabrics, which I thought would be fun and "painterly" for an applique exercise, and my background fabric was a "regular" cotton quilting print.  Even though I was using .004 monofilament nylon thread in a 60/8 needle, the smallest machine needle available, the needle holes are really obvious in the batik fabrics.  In the photo above, you can see every one of the needle holes on that line between the blue and pink hearts, even though the needle landed right where it was supposed to every time (on that little bit, at least!).  Where I was appliqueing the green batik stem and leaves to the "normal" weave of the background print, the stitches are much more invisible, but not so much with those batiks.  This photo was taken prior to cutting away the backing fabric and pulling out the freezer paper templates, which helps to turn that applique edge a little and helps to hide those straight stitches between "bites," and it's possible that the needle holes on the shapes themselves might close up and look less obvious after washing the finished quilt, but still -- I think I'll avoid batik fabrics next time I'm planning to do invisible machine applique. 

My Machine-Appliqued Tulip Block Sample from Harriet Hargrave's Class

I know this was a new method for me, and this was only my first try -- in unfamiliar surroundings, with distractions and pressure to finish so the class could move on, etc.  I'm sure it will get easier to machine applique with practice, and even running the sewing machine at a snail's pace is faster than stitching the applique pieces down by hand with a milliner's needle.  The verdict?  I think I might use machine applique for a project with large, simple applique shapes, for something I need to get done quickly for a gift, or something like that.  But I really like having a portable hand stitching project to carry around with me, and I love the way the little applique shapes puff up as I stitch them by hand.
Applique By Hand: Completed Jingle BOM Applique Block #2
I was able to finish up my Jingle Applique Block #2 (a Block-of-the-Month pattern designed by the faboo Erin Russek of One Piece At a Time) this morning, stitching the berries in place while I was watching Anders perform in his school talent show.  I couldn't have brought my sewing machine into the auditorium, that's for sure! 
See My Lumpy, Misshapen Berries?
I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with the smallest applique shapes, and I haven't mastered those sharp points without fraying.  My little padded berries, all made with the same 3/8" diameter circle templates, are ending up misshapen and unevenly sized by the time I stitch them down.  If I master the berry circles later on in this project, I might go back and redo the worst berries on the earliest blocks.  For now, however, I have one more applique block plus a pieced block that was just posted today before I am caught up...  As well as that big center applique medallion.  The applique stitch itself is easy, and although Erin's starch and press method for preparing the applique shapes for stitching takes some time up front, it's nice to not be obligated to cut the backing up so freezer paper can be removed after all the stitching is complete.  I love how the hand applique stitches just disappear into the applique fabric when the thread color is a good match.
I'm so glad I decided to give this project a try!  Next, I think I'll prep the applique shapes for the 3rd applique block so that's ready to tote around.  As for the next pieced block -- maybe that would be a good first project for Judy the Featherweight?
There are only FIVE days of school left before summer vacation, including Field Day, final exams in math and Chinese for both boys, and a science project that Lars and a partner are finishing up this weekend.  I have some Room Parent duties (such as creating an end-of-year Signup Genius for next week's party) to wrap up and I'm in the early stages of a client's nursery project as well.  Perfect timing, really.
Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hand-Stitched Favorites from the 2013 North Carolina Quilt Symposium

Detail of a Quilt by Anne Francis
Anne Francis had some beautiful work in the North Carolina Quilt Symposium show, last weekend in Fayetteville,  including the penguin quilt shown here.  This quilt is covered with hundreds and hundreds of hand stitched French knot "snowflakes" that also secure the three layers of the quilt in lieu of traditional quilting stitches.    Spectacular!  I'm afraid I could not find a label near this one, so I don't know the title.

Another of Anne Francis's quilts that I enjoyed was A Harry Potter Story, made with the author's permission.  I made sure to get lots of pictures of this one for my Harry Potter aficionado sons. 

A Harry Potter Story, by Anne Francis
Look at the detail on Harry, with his embroidered lightning bolt scar, "Nimbus 2000" inscribed on his broomstick, and the fancifully hand embroidered Golden Snitch!
Detail of A Harry Potter Story, Entirely Handmade by Anne Francis

Harry Potter, Voldemort, Dumbledore, Hagrid, and the Hogwarts Castle were all carefully rendered by hand in applique and embroidery on this hand-pieced quilt.  Not a single machine stitch in the entire quilt. 

Dumbledore Detail from A Harry Potter Story, by Anne Francis

Isn't that amazing?  I was surprised to see so much hand work in this show, since most of the classes offered at this year's Symposium were geared toward machine quilting.  On the show floor, I saw quilt after quilt that had been hand pieced, appliqued, and hand quilted, in every style from traditional to contemporary to whimsical.  It's so interesting to see how artists working in the same medium (textiles and thread) and using the same techniques can create such completely different quilts.  I suppose I was mostly drawn to the appliqued quilts this time around since I'm immersed in my own first applique project. 

Detail of Papa's Album, by Sandra Russell
Look at the detail of hand applique with hand embroidered details and thousands of tiny, perfect hand quilting stitches in the Baltimore Album quilt pictured at left, which won first place for Best Hand Quilting.  Just marking the straight, parallel lines for the diagonal grid quilting would have been a challenge for me!

Papa's Album, by Sandra Russell
There were some beautiful machine quilts as well, and I'll show those to you tomorrow.  Or the next day.  Or when I get around to it...  ;-)

Only SEVEN more days of school before summer vacation!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Of Birds, Berries, and Grads: Jingle BOM Applique Block One is FINISHED and So Is College For Amanda!

Jingle BOM Applique Block One FINISHED!
I stitched the last berries to my Jingle BOM Applique Block #1 in the Hartford International Airport last night while waiting for our (much delayed) flight to bring us back from my niece's college graduation.  My little 3/8" diameter berries came out better than I'd hoped for, considering that this is my first-ever attempt at applique.  I think I cut my seam allowances a little too wide, which created a lot of bulk under the smaller pieces, but I'll try to do better on the next block. 

My niece and former flower girl graduated with an Engineering Science degree from Smith College in Northampton, MA yesterday.  I still can't believe she's all grown up now. 

Bernie and Me with Newly-Graduated Amanda!

It was a beautiful graduation ceremony, the culmination of a weekend full of hundred-year-old traditions and a chance to catch up with my husband's side of the family.  Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post delivered one of the best -- and funniest -- commencement speeches that I have ever heard:

Now that I'm finally home (and properly caffeinated, thank you), I've got some unpacking, laundry, and grocery shopping to attend to.  Lars and Anders have only three weeks left of school, and next weekend my mom and I are taking a machine applique class with Harriet Hargrave at the North Carolina Quilt Symposium.  Now that I've tried a little hand applique, it will be interesting to try Hargrave's invisible machine applique method to see which I prefer. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Chopin Meets Suzuki and Alfred Hitchcock: 2013 Spring Music Recitals for Lars and Anders

It has been a busy spring for my boys this year, with their Willy Wonka Jr. performances at school followed immediately by Anders' Suzuki violin recital, followed the next weekend by both boys' piano recital.  For your viewing pleasure, I will share both recitals today. 

This was their first recital with their new piano teacher through the Community School of the Arts.  They both have been taking piano lessons for three years.

Here's my 12-year-old son, Lars, playing Chopin's Prelude in C Minor, Op. 28 No. 20:

...and here's my 9-year-old son, Anders, playing Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette (which will sound familiar to Alfred Hitchcock fans):  (for some reason I was able to embed Lars's YouTube video but not Anders.'  Please let me know whether or not you are able to view the video when you click the link!)

Last but not least, here's Anders playing a Suzuki Etude at his Spring violin recital.  He has just completed his first year of violin lessons -- and of course I can't figure out why this YouTube video won't embed in my blog post, but here's a direct link: 

They both did a fine job, don't you think?

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Fierce Art of Applique: Why Real Quilters Don't Have Fingerprints

Finally Stitching the First Applique Block!

After spending the last few days preparing applique shapes for stitching, pressing tiny seam allowances with starch and a big, hot iron, I no longer have fingerprints.  I have a deeper appreciation for those who craft masterpiece quilts with thousands of itty bitty applique pieces, and if this quilting thing doesn't pan out, I'm all set to become a gangster.  They can dust for prints all they want, but they'll never prove it was me...  ;-)  I'm working on Applique Block One of Erin Russek's Jingle BOM project, which you can find here
Starch-and-Press Tools

This is my first attempt at hand applique (as opposed to fusible machine applique), and I'm using the starch-and-press method that Erin demonstrates in her blog tutorials.  Her tutorial is fantastic, but it's definitely not as easy as it looks!  I'm using Mary Ellen's Best Press in lieu of diluted liquid starch because I went to three different grocery stores near my home and NONE of them carry liquid starch.  Plus Mary Ellen's Best Press comes in "aromatherapy" flavors, and the lavender kind smells yummy.  So I put the Best Press liquid in an Avent baby bottle, thinking that the markings on the side would be useful if I needed to dilute the starch, the small opening at the top (where the nipple would go) is perfect for dipping the stencil brush, and the airtight cap seals it up nicely between pressing sessions -- you know, when I've gone off to slather my fingertips with burn cream...

It took me a long time to make all of the pieces for this block, and I just did it in batches of 5 or 6 pieces at a time.  I will say that the first leaf was the hardest, and it did get easier after making more of them.  Erin posted a special tutorial for making the cardinals, but I still don't think I did the face and beak parts correctly. 
Bird Suffers from BBS, Bulky Beak Syndrome!

Because those pieces were so small, but I still needed a turn-under allowance all the way around, I had a ridiculous amount of fabric bulk and was not able to get the beak as tiny as the pattern specified.  I was hoping that I could tighten it up along the edges when I stitched the birds to the background fabric, but that didn't work out, either.  I probably should have trimmed away more of the black and red layers beneath the birds' faces, and maybe even slimmed down that turn-under allowance.  I think that on the next bird block I will try running a gathering stitch along the turn-under allowance of the beak and see if I can get a smaller seam allowance and flatter finished beak that way.  I have to think about this some more; maybe if I figure out how to do the beaks better on a subsequent block I'll be able to come back to this one and redo them. 

Step One: Embroidered Stems
Step one for this block was embroidering the chain-stitched branches.  Erin used two strands of embroidery floss for her branches, but I used perle cotton because that's what I had on hand in the right shade of green.  This probably resulted in thicker stems or branches or whatever they're called, but I think it will be fine. 

Birdie Eyeball: The "Black" Embroidery Floss that Turned Out to be Gray
Then, of course, I had to cut out all of my little shapes, press the raw fabric edges under with starch, and preassemble my little birdies.  The pattern had tiny circles marked for the cardinals' eyes, but it didn't specify how you were supposed to make them.  After looking at some images of cardinals online, I decided to satin stitch the eyes with black embroidery floss and then outline with a backstitch in gray.  I had some variegated black and gray DMC embroidery floss, so I just unwound that and cut out the darkest section of floss for the eyeballs and a lighter gray section of the floss for the outline.  After finishing the eye of the first bird I realized that the "black" section of the variegated embroidery floss was actually a very dark gray, but I decided it was fine.  Maybe my Christmas cardinals have cataracts!

I opted to glue baste all of these pieces onto the block background prior to stitching anything down because I noticed that my shapes all finished slightly larger than the pattern pieces, probably because when I traced the shapes and cut them out I cut outside the line instead of inside the line, and then there's that little bit of bulk from the turn of cloth on top of that.  So I thought I should make sure everything was going to fit nicely before I started stitching anything in place. 

I positioned my fabric background over the paper pattern and used my light box to precisely place each bird and leaf, securing every piece with dots of Roxanne's Glue-Baste-It.  I had a fleeting thought during this process: "Gee, this is going nicely!  I'm surprised the fabric isn't shifting on the paper pattern more!"  I ignored this thought, and when I had finished gluing down all the pieces I discovered that I had been so zealous in my gluing that I had glued the block to the paper pattern!  Fortunately, I was able to tear away the pattern and remove the bits of stuck-on paper from the back of my block with a tweezers.  I further secured my applique pieces with 1/2" applique pins for added insurance.

Back View of Applique In Progress
After all that drama, the actual applique stitch is easy-breezy.  Since you can't see the stitches from the right side, here's what it looks like from the back (above photo).  I'm not sure how close together the applique stitches are supposed to be, but since I'm using a very fine, 60 weight 2-ply cotton embroidery thread, I thought I should err on the side of stitches too close together rather than risk having the stitches too far apart. 
I still haven't make the nine 3/8" diameter berries for this block yet, but I did mark their placement with a faint silver pencil.  Looking over the directions, the little stuffed circles might actually not be that bad, since you gather the fabric allowance smoothly around the circle template with a running stitch before setting it with the iron.  That means I don't need to stick my fingers under a hot iron to push the fabric edges into place as I'm pressing them!
I can't believe it's noon already.  I have so much to do today!  Happy Monday, everyone!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Ready-to-Wear Inspiration: Decorative Machine Stitches at Lucky Brand and Quilt Block Bodices at Anthropologie

Riley Schiffli Shorts from Lucky Brand, $79.50
A couple of catalogs caught my eye yesterday as I was tossing them into the recycle bin.  You know all those decorative stitches programmed into our sewing machines -- hundreds and hundreds of them?  What to my wondering eyes should appear, but cutoff jean shorts at Lucky Brand Jeans that have been decorated with decorative machine stitches along the cut edge to look like eyelet.  How cute is that? 

Hmmm..  Somewhere I have a pair of beloved jeans with a ripped knee that I couldn't bear to throw away.  Maybe I'll try to create a longer version of these shorts?  The only thing that I haven't worked out in my head is that bulky double-felled side seam.  I might have to completely open up that seam to do the embroidery stitches, then resew it with matching jeans thread, because I can't imagine decorative stitches would form properly if I tried to stitch them across that thick seam.

Sunburst Maxi Dress from Anthropologie, $228
The other interesting piece I saw was in an Anthropologie catalog.  At first glance, I thought the bodice of this summer maxi dress was made from a paper-pieced quilt block.  Closer inspection indicates that the starburst design is embroidered and beaded, but still -- why NOT make a dress bodice out of quilt blocks?  I'm not sure I like the bib-like shape of this dress, but there's no reason any pattern for a woven fabric couldn't be cut from quilt blocks that were made just a bit larger than the pattern pieces.  I think I'd line the bodice to make sure the raw edges of the seam allowances don't unravel and come apart as the dress was washed. 

Well, I'm in dire and desperate need of a haircut and my appointment is at noon.  I have several errands to run beforehand, so I'd best step away from the computer and get on with the day.  Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!