Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chubby Welt Cord: Another Reason to Love the Dual Feed on the Bernina 750 QE

Half Inch Welt on Window Seat Cushion
In true Gemini fashion, I've been vacillating wildly between hand sewn invisible applique, my vintage Singer Featherweights, and my shiny new Bernina 750 QE over the past few months.  When I decided to purchase my new  'Nina  machine over a year ago, no one at the store did a very good job of explaining the integrated dual feed feature to me and it didn't factor into my purchasing decision at all.  However, I've found that the little Dual Feed footsie that scoots along behind my presser foot really DOES improve all kinds of sewing, from piecing quilt tops to matching prints on drapery panels.  I recently discovered another situation where the dual feed is a huge help: covering welt cord.

Lars's Window Seat Cushion
Most of the time, if I'm making a project that requires fabric-covered cording, I'll use a 5/32" or smaller diameter cord so I can whip it up on my serger with the raw edges perfectly even and overcast, all in one operation.  However, for this bench cushion for Lars's bedroom window seat, I preferred the look of chubby 1/2" diameter welt covered in orange chenille upholstery fabric.  Now, when covering cord on a regular sewing machine, the biggest problem to watch out for is uneven feeding of the two fabric layers, which can create a twisting, spiraling effect to your cord and make it pucker unattractively on your finished project.  Normally this effect is more pronounced and more difficult to avoid with the larger diameter cord, so I gritted my teeth and prepared for the worst.

I used my #4D (the D denotes that it's a foot with a special cutout at the back to accommodate the Dual Feed mechanism) Zipper foot with dual feed engaged, and I was delighted with how well my machine handled this task.  Since I will be using this cording on an upholstered cornice as well as on the boxed cushion for the window seat, I had to make 12 yards of cording.  With Dual Feed engaged on my 750, I was able to sew this cord accurately with no twisting or shifting of the fabric layers, and at FULL SPEED, 1000 stitches per minute, with my pedal to the floor.  It was almost as fast as covering skinny cording on the serger (except for having to go back and overcast the edges in a separate step with Foot #2A). 

Overcasting Raw Edges with a Zigzag Stitch Using Foot #2A

Here's a Bernina video that better explains how and why to use the Dual Feed feature, demonstrated on a 780 sewing machine:

Now that Lars's window seat cushion is done, I need to upholster his cornice (a job I loathe) and make a few throw pillows for him to snuggle into with a good book.  Then I can get back to my quilting!

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Center Medallion FINISHED for Jingle BOM Quilt

Center Medallion for Jingle BOM Quilt
I sewed the last stuffed berries on the center medallion for my Jingle BOM quilt yesterday.  I still need to wash off a couple of stray pencil marks and trim it down to 27" square, but I wanted to get it up on the design wall and take a picture as soon as I got all of the dog fur and sweater fuzzies off with a lint roller.  Ta da!

The 9 pieced blocks and 9 appliqued blocks for this quilt are already finished, setting triangles cut and ready to go, but I'm planning to deviate from Erin's original design by setting my medallion straight and surrounding it with some pieced borders, so stay tuned for that.  Meanwhile, I've gotten distracted by another project under the needle of my sewing machine, some things for Lars's bedroom.  I'll get back to Jingle after that detour. 

I'm linking up to Design Wall Monday at Judy's blog and Anything Goes Monday at Stitch by Stitch.  Click over to see what everyone else is up to this week!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Son, the Quilter: Stitching In the Ditch with Monofilament Nylon on the Bernina 750 QE

Anders Quilting on the Bernina 750 QE
Anders finally started quilting his first quilt on Sunday afternoon!  He has officially graduated from Piecer to Quilter.  Although he pieced his first quilt top on Judy, my 1951 Singer Featherweight, I set him up with Nina the Bernina 750 QE for the actual quilting for several reasons:

1. Mine is sunk in a cabinet, which really helps minimize the drag of a heavy quilt.  Even before we layered his top with batting and backing, Anders was having increasing difficulty controlling his quilt top as it got bigger and bigger and began hanging off the edges of the diminutive machine bed on the Featherweight.

2. I have a walking foot for Nina, but I don't own one that fits the Featherweight.

3. Nina the 750 QE has a cool stitch in her quilting menu that automatically secures a line of stitching with several tiny stitching at the beginning and again at the end.  On most machines, the quilter has to remember to manually adjust the stitch length every time he or she begins or ends a line of quilting, and especially for a child who is just learning, it really helps for that to happen automatically.

You'll notice that Anders selected lime green Minky dot fabric for the backing of his first quilt, which can present some additional challenges.  I spray-basted the thin cotton batting to the Minky first, then spray basted his quilt top to the batting, smoothing out all three layers until they were ripple-free.  Then, for added insurance against shifty Minky misbehavior, I pin-basted the quilt as well, about 2-3" apart.  His quilt top is pretty stable because I had been starching each seam throughout the construction process.  I marked a 1 1/2" grid across the surface of his quilt with chalk pencils, aligning the grid with the seam lines on his blocks, so that all he has to do is straight lines for this one.  Hopefully the lines don't rub off before he finishes quilting them!

Since Anders' fabrics are such busy prints anyway, and since he is bound to have some "oopses" on his first project, I chose SewArt monofilament nylon "invisible" thread for the needle with Mettler 50/3 cotton thread in the bobbin, color matched to the Minky backing.  I wrote a post awhile back with tips for monofilament nylon thread that you can find here).  This was my first time using monofilament nylon on the 750 QE and she handled it beautifully.  With cotton thread in the bobbin, I got lovely balanced tension for this project by dropping the needle tension down to 2.0 (invisible nylon thread stretches, so you always need to lower your top tension for this specialty thread).  Normally I like to use a size 60 sharp needle with monofilament thread for the tiniest holes and least visible stitches, but I put in a 75 Quilting needle for Anders.  He gets his quilt hung up on the edge of the cabinet occasionally and is still getting the hang of letting the quilt move freely through the machine with the feed dogs doing the work.  Those skinny size 60 needles break more easily if the quilter is tugging at all, so I thought the 75 would be a bit safer.

Bernina Walking Foot #50 with 3 Soles
Anders is quilting with a special "ditch quilting" sole fitted to the Bernina #50 Walking Foot.  My walking foot originally came with two interchangeable soles, one of them closed-toe and the other one open-toe for greater visibility.  The new Bernina walking feet come with this third sole that has a metal guide blade in the center to facilitate quilting stitches that land right next to the patchwork seams, on the low side of the seam allowance.  I was able to purchase the ditch quilting sole for my walking foot separately from my Bernina dealer.  It worked really well for Anders since he was able to watch that metal guide and make sure it was following the chalk lines when he wasn't next to a seam. 

Anders managed to get the vertical lines quilted on the right half of his quilt before he was done for the day.  Since he only quilts with me every other Sunday afternoon, it will probably be another couple of months before he finishes this project.  I am SO glad I simplified what I had originally planned for him to make!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow Munchkins and Cinnamon Mocha Chip Cookies

Anders with his Snow Dwarf

I got a few more cute pictures from our snow day yesterday.  Here Anders is posing with his diminutive snow man.  He was unable to find any pine cones, prickle balls, or lumps of coal, so I brought out the craft supplies -- hence the seashell nose, triangular button eyes attached with pipe cleaners, and feathers.  I couldn't even produce a decent carrot for the nose.

Lars Being Lars in the Driveway

Here's Lars, wearing the "snowman scarf" (scrap of fleece I brought down from the sewing room) and threatening to put boobies on his brother's snow man.  *SIGH*

Anders and I made those cookies for his class Valentine's Day party, although school ended up getting canceled again today.  We'll just send them in on Monday, I guess.  We tasted a couple, to make sure they are edible.  ;-)

Anders with his Cinnamon Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies

Well, as you can imagine, the natives are getting restless after almost an entire week off from school, confined to the limited amusements of our house and yard.  It has not helped that the snow storm trapped their daddy in Las Vegas all week, either.  After several canceled flights, we hope he really does make it home this evening, because if I have one more day alone with the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies, Bernie will come home to find me huddled under the bed with a glazed look in my eyes, muttering gibberish and compulsively banging my head on the floor.

Next week, Mommy deserves a pedicure, and a nap!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

And Then There Was MORE Snow

View From My Kitchen Window
So, after an early school dismissal on Tuesday, we had no school yesterday and again today because of this Pax Storm or whatever they're calling it.  As you can see, I am finally able to enjoy a wintry scene from my window just like people in other parts of the country have been enjoying this winter.  Unlike thousands of Charlotteans, our neighborhood has not lost power (ice + tree limbs = downed power lines, unplowed streets = no repair crews restoring power).  It's toasty warm in our house, and we are well stocked with essentials such as food, milk, coffee, and dog food.

I have discovered that, once the snow gets thick enough,  the dogs can play in it without getting muddy!  If anything, they come in a little cleaner than they were when I let them out, and just need the snowflakes toweled off their furry coats so it doesn't melt when they come indoors.  This is a substantial improvement over the rainy winter days we usually experience in lieu of snow.

My Cul-de-Sac This Morning, Before the Snow Started Again
It sure is pretty, this white stuff!  The reason a moderate amount of snow is such a big deal in the South is that there are no snow plows or salt trucks to get it off the road.  It snowed all day yesterday, then sleet and freezing rain overnight, followed by more snow, and it's all still on the road, like a snow sandwich with a 1/2" thick ice burger in the middle.  Also no one knows how to drive in snow and no one has snow tires.  My kids can't even play in the snow, because we don't own sleds or appropriate snow clothing.  Anders just went out and tried to make a snowman and he lasted about 10 minutes.  He wore his winter coat, but he has no boots, no snow pants, and no GLOVES, so making one small snowball with his bare hands was enough for him.  He looks so disappointed.  :-(

I had signed up to bake cookies for Anders' Valentine's Day party at school tomorrow, and I'm wondering whether they will even have school.  The snow is supposed to turn into rain soon and then stop around 4 PM, with no more precipitation expected overnight, but temperatures won't warm enough to melt any of this and, as I mentioned before, there won't be any plows or salt trucks moving it off the roads.  It won't go away until it melts in the sun, and the back roads that are shaded by overhanging trees could still have icy patches into the weekend even if most of it melts away on Saturday.

Meanwhile, we'll just have to hunker down and enjoy it.  There have been a lot of winters in Charlotte without any snow at all, and usually even if we do have an inch or so of snow, it melts away within hours.  It's really neat to see how the snow transforms the indoors as well as outdoors -- there's a different quality to the light when it's reflected off the snow.  Everything looks different in my house.

Well, I think I'm going to plan for school in the morning, which means baking cookies and packing lunches.  It's better to be unnecessarily prepared than unprepared and scrambling in the kitchen at 6 AM.

Happy snow day, everyone!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Machine Embroidered Applique, Without Panty Lines

Machine Embroidered Elephant Applique Pillow
I figure everyone's probably sick of seeing my Jingle BOM quilt project over and over again, so I thought I'd switch gears and write a machine embroidery blog post today.  I did some custom machine embroidery a few months ago for an interior design client's nursery project, and I thought I'd share with you how I worked out some of the technical challenges that arose along the way. 

Panty Lines!  Base Fabric Shows Through Applique Fabric
My client had selected the Graham crib bedding collection from Serena and Lily and I designed a window seat, upholstered cornice, and a diaper stacker to complete this modern nursery.  (Coincidentally, the baby's name is also Graham, so we also did a custom monogrammed pillow for the glider rocker with his name on it).  Serena & Lily sells their crib bedding fabric by the yard, and I planned to use it for a sweet little appliqued throw pillow.  My base fabric, Skittles in Blueberry Sky colorway, is from F. Schumacher's Lulu DK Child collection.  As you can see in the photo above, the embroidered splatter dots on this fabric not only show through the thin quilting weight cotton sheeting fabric, but since they are embroidered rather than printed, they also created raised bumps that I didn't want on my applique. 

I sourced the machine embroidery design for this cute elephant applique from Applique Corner Design, an independent Etsy seller who created the design using Bernina digitizing software -- software that I own, but never digitize with.  I can almost always find a professionally digitized design that suits my project and only use the software to edit, combine designs, and tweak things.  I did need to make some adjustments to this design in my software after I stitched out a sample embroidery.  I added underlay stitching to the ear applique because the satin stitching didn't meet up exactly for me when the circle was complete.  Also, the original design file instructed the machine to stitch the entire outline of the elephant first and then go back and do the tail separately.  In my test sew, the elephant pulled in ever so slightly, just enough that the tail ended up not being attached to the body.  Like pin the tail on the elephant, but without the pin.  I easily corrected that by programming the tail and body outline as a single embroidery object to stitch out at the same time.  Finally, I enlarged the design to completely fill the usable portion of my Mega embroidery hoop. 

Tracing Applique Shapes Onto Fusible Web
Another reason I can't live without my digitizing software (even though I rarely digitize) is because I use it to print out actual size templates of any embroidery file.  This is crucial for an applique design, so that I can precut my applique shapes precisely before stitching them down.  I used my light box to trace the shapes onto lightweight fusible web, trying to keep my pencil line in the middle of where the satin stitching will be.  Note that it's important to trace a REVERSE image of the applique shape -- this photo was an "oops" that resulted in an elephant pointing the wrong direction!

Initially, I had planned to use Dry CoverUp, a vinyl topping product designed for machine embroidery, to prevent the embroidered dots of my base fabric from showing through the finished elephant applique.  However, I tried it in my trial run and I didn't like how stiff it made the finished embroidery.  This was, after all, for a baby's room, and I wanted this pillow to be super soft and snuggly when it was finished.  So I used temporary spray adhesive to hold two layers of my thin cotton elephant fabric together, and then I treated the doubled fabric as one layer.

Fusible Web with Window, Adhered to Reverse Side of Applique Fabric
As you can see in the photo above, my enlarged elephant shape was wider than my fusible web so I had to use two pieces.  Those little asterisks I penciled in are registration marks to make sure I aligned the two pieces of fusible web properly when I ironed them to my fabric.After tracing the elephant shape onto my fusible web backing but BEFORE ironing it to my applique fabric, I carefully cut a "window" out of the center of the fusible web shape.  Again, my goal was to keep the finished applique embroidery as soft and snuggly as possible.  I only needed the fusible web to adhere those outer edges of my elephant in place until the machine satin stitches permanently secured the applique to the base fabric.  Not only does this window technique eliminate a lot of the bulk and stiffness of the fusible web, but it also enables you to carefully trim away some of the backing fabric behind the applique shape after the design has finished stitching. 

Test Fitting Applique Shapes to Printed Template
After fusing the fusible web to my applique fabrics, I carefully cut out my two shapes and laid them on my actual size printed template to ensure that the shapes fit properly within the column of satin stitching along all of the edges.  (That's the smaller test stitchout that you see draped on the pillow form in this photo.  I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but there was a definite contrast between the soft, slightly puckered texture of the background fabric and the stiff, rigid applique).

Fusing the Applique Shape to the Background Fabric
Once the applique shapes have been prepared, a machine embroidered applique design stitches out much like any other machine embroidery design.  The machine stitches an outline placement line for an applique shape, and then stops as it would for a color change.  That's when you carefully remove the hoop from the machine, line up your precut applique shape along the placement line, and fuse it in place.  With this large design in my Mega hoop, I'm able to fit my full size iron inside the hoop to fuse my applique in place, but if you're doing a smaller design in a smaller hoop, a travel iron would be a better choice.  With the applique fabric fused in place, you reattach the hoop to the embroidery machine and then it stitches a zigzag tackdown stitch followed by a satin stitch all along the edges.  WAY faster than the hand stitched applique project I've been working on recently, but of course it's a completely different look.

Tackdown Stitching Completed, Satin Stitching In Progress

 Here you can see how, after the entire design finished stitching and I removed the fabric from the hoop, I not only removed my tearaway stabilizer from the project, but also cut away the background fabric inside the body of the elephant, using duckbilled applique scissors to ensure I didn't snip into the applique fabric by mistake.  Note that I would not have been able to remove the backing fabric if I had fusible web permanently adhering the entire elephant shape to the background fabric -- that's why I cut that window in the fusible web before I fused it to the yellow fabric:

Excess Backing Fabric Trimmed Away Behind Elephant Applique
Notice that, when I trimmed away the backing fabric, I got a slight puckering to the applique shape that wasn't there before.  For some projects that wouldn't be acceptable, but it's exactly the effect I wanted to achieve with this one.  Now my elephant applique was as soft and pliable as the background fabric, and if I scrunched the whole thing in my hand there was no obvious stiffness to the applique.  It looked and felt as though the applique had always been there, as if this is how the fabric came from the mill.  Perfecto!

Finished!  Soft, Snuggly Applique with No Embarrassing Show-Through

Here's the finished pillow:

Finished Elephant Pillow
Isn't that adorable?  Just the way I had envisioned it!  The yellow chenille throw pillow fabric and the gray matelass√© bench cushion fabric are from Fabricut, and all of the trims are from Samuel & Sons. 

The other embroidered pillow for this project was a custom monogram.  When I design monograms for very young children, I like to use very clear, legible fonts.  Although this is for a newborn's nursery, I'm thinking about this baby growing into a preschooler, recognizing his name and his initials on the pillow once he starts learning the alphabet and learning to write his name.  I know I said that I never digitize anything with my embroidery software, but I do use it quite a bit for monograms.  I spelled out the child's name in lower case letters using a TrueType font that I digitized for embroidery in my software.  Then I combined the first name design with a large capital initial "G" that I purchased from Embroidery Arts, my absolute favorite source for machine embroidered monogram designs.  This letter is from their Moderne Monogram Set 5, and I used my embroidery software to enlarge it significantly and changed the satin stitch to a step fill stitch pattern.

I was using that same pesky Schumacher Skittles fabric that already had splatter dots embroidered all over it, so there were "panty line" issues with this design, too -- especially since my large "G" needed to be stitched in pale yellow thread over top of dark blue embroidered splatter dots.  This time, I did use the CoverUp product, and it worked like a charm, making my yellow G stand out boldly against the background fabric and completely eliminating show through.  Since the letter "G" that needed CoverUp was skinny, the stiffness of the vinyl CoverUp was negligible with this design.  I just had to go back and very carefully trim away the little whiskers of yellow vinyl that remained around the edges of the embroidery after I tore the excess product away.

Monogram Test Embroidery Completed
Automatic Basting Function
This design fit nicely into my Large Oval embroidery hoop.  As you can see, I use the built-in hoop basting function of my Bernina 750 QE as added insurance to keep the fabric and stabilizer from shifting during the embroidery process.  With this feature engaged, the machine automatically sews a long basting stitch along the perimeter of the embroidery hoop before it begins stitching the embroidery design.  These stitches are easily removed once the design has completely stitched out, and I use this basting function with every single project.

Finished Pillow: "G" is for Graham
I also did a custom diaper stacker for this project, which doesn't have any embroidery on it, but I just had to share it because it came out so cute:

Custom Diaper Stacker
I used flannel drapery interlining behind that thin cotton sheeting fabric to give it some body and a padded satin hanger inside at the top.  With a diaper stacker that cute, I'm ALMOST nostalgic for the diapering days...  No, not quite!

And here's the whole nursery:

Completed Nursery
The upholstered cornice fabric is Conifer Modern from Kravet and the leather glider chair is Natuzzi.  We also added some Samuel & Sons Dolce Pom Pom border trim to the readymade Serena & Lily crib skirt, to give it a more custom touch and to tie the bedding in with the custom items.
Here's the initial design rendering I made for the client:

 I was really happy with how this project turned out, and more importantly, the new mom was thrilled with it.  All's well that ends well.  Back to that hand applique medallion!