Friday, July 3, 2015

Silk Serendipity and Skirt Stymied, Stagnating

FrankenWhiggish Rose Meets YLI Silk Thread
Happy Friday, everyone!  It's been a mixed week in my sewing world, so let's start with the good, shall we?  After breaking my left thumb and right collar bone in a bicycle accident on March 22nd, I was able to resume my FrankenWhiggish Rose needleturn applique project this week.  Yay!  I still can't bend that thumb normally and it hurts too much if I try to use my left thumb and pointer finger to precrease the applique shapes along the stitching line, but I can do that with my right hand.  A mere fourteen weeks after breaking my thumb, I can finally use it enough to manage hand stitching again.  I never before realized how important it was to be able to pinch and hold the folded fabric edge with my left hand in order to successfully stitch with my right hand.  And it feels really good to have a relaxing slow-stitching project in my lap again in the evenings and when I'm away from my sewing room.

Oren Bayan Mercerized Cotton Machine Embroidery Thread
However, what has NOT been fun or relaxing is the way-too-frequent thread breaks I've been experiencing, and that was happening before the accident, too.  For my first needleturn applique blocks (for my not-yet-finished Jingle BOM quilt) I was using spools of Oren Bayan, a Turkish mercerized cotton machine embroidery thread collection that I bought by mistake on eBay several years ago.  That worked pretty well for me, but I have not been able to find that brand in the U.S. and I didn't have good color matches for my FrankenWhiggesh Rose fabrics.  So I purchased Mettler 60/2 fine cotton machine embroidery thread instead, which looks pretty much the same as the Oren Bayan to my naked eye.  But, for whatever reason, it's breaking and snarling ferociously on me despite generous applications of Thread Heaven conditioner, and the thread breaks are really slowing me down.

I know that some people do use Mettler 60/2 cotton thread successfully for hand applique, but I also know that I tend to make really tiny stitches when I get my groove going (some have told me that my stitches are TOO small) and that means that my length of thread might be pulled through the fabric twice as many times as it might be for someone else.  I'm pretty sure that my thread breakage is due to my Mettler thread not being strong enough to withstand that repeated stress and friction.  I briefly considered that my needle might be the culprit, either due to a microscopic burr in the eye of the needle or friction at the eye from a too-small needle eye for the thread diameter, but if either of those scenarios were to blame I would be seeing thread breaks happening right at the eye.  I'm using a length of thread roughly the length of my forearm, and I'm having my thread break approximately halfway to two-thirds of the way in after I've taken at least a hundred tiny stitches without a break.  The kinking and snarling tendency happens throughout stitching.

My Successful Applique Combo: YLI #100 Silk Thread and Size 12 Bohin Applique Needles
I'm not about to go to a heavier thread like a 50/3 cotton, because I want my stitches to remain invisible.  Instead, I decided to try YLI Silk #100, which is the preferred thread of Jeanne Sullivan and many other (though not all!) applique experts.  As with the Oren Bayan thread, no one carries the YLI Silk thread locally, but there are a lot of online sources for YLI.  I ordered a selection of colors from Uncommon Threads, which is located right around the corner from me in Rock Hill, South Carolina, so I got my thread pretty quickly via USPS.  After experimenting with a lot of different needles for applique, I've settled on the Bohin applique needles (thin enough to leave tiny holes and precisely placed stitches, but stronger than the milliners or straw needles which constantly bend and even snap on me).  The size 12 Bohin applique needle is a perfect match to the YLI Silk #100 thread, and when I tested this combo last night I was in stitching heaven.  It feels very different to stitch with silk thread because it is SO slippery smooth -- I'm used to the way the cotton thread kind of grabs the fabric with each stitch.  However, I had zero kinks, zero knots, and zero thread breaks -- which means zero profanity and a happier household.  One annoyance with silk thread is its tendency to slide right out of the needle and unthread itself constantly, but I used a trick that I read about somewhere, threading the eye of the needle and then looping around and threading it again from the same direction.  That worked really well for me. 

So, one sewing problem solved for me this week.  Hooray!  I'd love to tell you that my skirt project was coming along just as nicely, but...

Tracing Skirt Pattern onto Pellon Sew-In Interfacing
The first thing I did was to carefully trace all three of my OOP (Out of Print) New Look #2708 skirt pattern pieces (in what I THOUGHT was my size) for my skirt onto nonfusible Pellon interfacing.  I did this to avoid cutting the original pattern in case I wanted to make a different size after sewing up the muslin, or in case I want to make the pattern in another size several years from now.  I'm glad I took the time to do that -- the interfacing pattern is a lot sturdier than the flimsy pattern tissue anyway and if I like the finished skirt, my traced pattern will easily stand up to repeated use for multiple projects. 
Traced Pattern Pieces, Ready to Go
I traced the pattern pieces with pencil, by the way.  I considered using fine point Sharpie or another ink pen so I could see the lines and markings more clearly, but it bled right through the interfacing and the underlying pattern tissue, and the last thing I need is Sharpie marks all over my butcher block worktable surface!  Then I used those pattern pieces to cut out my skirt from cheap cotton muslin fabric.  I started sewing the mock up skirt together according to the pattern instructions, and I panicked when it came time to sew the waistband to the top of the skirt because the two fabric edges did not seem to be matching up. 

Yikes!  Why Is There Extra Fabric???
There seemed to be a LOT more fabric along the waistband edge (or the "yoke," as the pattern instructions call this piece) than there was along the edge of the skirt to which it should be sewn.  Could this be a pattern drafting mistake, or something I did wrong in construction?  All I had done so far was sewn the side seams on the skirt and on the waistband, and I sewed those seams at a precise 5/8" as per the pattern instructions.  When I texted this picture to my mom, she said that it was possible that my stay stitching at the top edge of the skirt pieces had drawn that layer in imperceptibly.  But I did not see ANY visible puckering when I was stay stitching.  Well, part of the reason for the test garment was to figure out how to construct the skirt, so I decided to pin the two pieces together within an inch of their lives, sew the seam, and then evaluate it afterwards.  I am familiar with sewing a concurve piece to a convex piece from my Drunkard's Path quilt blocks, but quilt piecing uses 1/4" seams instead of the 5/8" seams in this pattern.  It made sense to me that even if the opposite curved pieces matched perfectly at the seam line, the wider seam allowances could cause it to look like one piece was too long for the other at the cut fabric edge.  So I pinned the two layers together very closely, matching the notches, right side seam, center front and center back, and I carefully sewed them together.

Pins, Pins, and More Pins
Now, I pinned these pieces together and sewed them according to the pattern instructions, with the waistband piece on top, like this: 

However, when I sewed those drunkard's path blocks together, I put the convex outer curved piece on the bottom and then pinned the concave inner curved piece on top.  I think that was a lot easier to pin and sew accurately.  Does anyone know of any reason why I shouldn't sew my skirt the same way -- with the contoured waistband piece on the bottom, next to the feed dogs, and the concave curved top edge of the skirt pinned to fit along the edge on top of the skirt?  I'm going to pin it just like I did in the photo above, and I do have Dual Feed on my Bernina 750 sewing machine, if that makes a difference (I know some people like to sew with any fullness on the bottom so the feed dogs can help ease it in).  The curved seam came out just fine regardless, but when I tried on the muslin skirt to check the fit --

Custom Fit?  Hah!
UGH!  YUCK!!!  It is so big that it's in danger of falling off -- unless I wear it with suspenders.  Keep in mind that the skirt is supposed to sit 1" below my natural waistline, even higher than I was holding it in the photo.  Yes, I remembered to press the edges of the skirt opening in 5/8" on each side, and it's still ginormous. 

So, half hoping this was evidence that I had lost weight since I'd measured myself, I grabbed my tape measure and measured my waist AGAIN.  I still got 30", the same as last time, which is a size 16 according to the pattern sizing chart.  So why is the skirt so HUGE??! 
Obviously this means I should make the skirt in a smaller size, and it's a good thing I made the muslin first, but it still bothers me that the skirt is so big because now I have zero confidence in my ability to use a tape measure.  If I had chosen a pattern size by my hip measurement instead of by the waist, I'd have made the skirt in a size 14.  But I don't know -- this test skirt is SO big.  Will a 14 be that much smaller?  Should I make a 12?  I did pull the tape measure snug when I measured, but does the pattern company expect you to suck in your gut and hold your breath, and pull that tape measure as tight as a tourniquet?

The only good news from this muslin misfortune is that I'm pretty sure the skirt has enough fullness for my cotton voile fabric to hang nicely.  I wasn't sure based on the pattern photo and I was a little concerned that my lightweight voile might hang too limply if there wasn't enough fullness at the bottom of the skirt.  I think the length will be good, too, when the top of the skirt is up where it belongs and the hem is turned up at the bottom.

SO...  I'm going to wait until my Mom comes over tomorrow to find out what size SHE thinks I should make.  Mom to the rescue yet again!

Meanwhile, back to my hand stitching!  I'm linking up Slow Stitching Sunday at Kathy's Quilts, Main Crush Monday at Cooking Up Quilts, Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation, as well as with Can I Get a Whoop Whoop at Confessions of a Fabric Addict, because Sarah is a sweetie and she understands that sometimes we need encouraging feedback (and advice!) even more when we're struggling than we do when we finally hit that finish line with a completed project to show off.  For those of you in the United States, happy Independence Day weekend!


Mardi said...

This is my first time to your site so I'll first say I am sorry about the broken thumb. Even after it has healed it takes time to get back to normal. Have you tried gluing your appliqué down to decrease the pressure of holding it? I love using Elmer's school glue on stuff like that and it washes out completely and doesn't hurt the fabric. Put a light bead of glue near the creased edge and iron it down. Then sew. You can get a very skinny spout top for the bottle from Sharon Schamber's website or that of her daughter, Christy Fincher. Take care.

Jenny K. Lyon said...

Wow, I feel for you! I've been having lots of problems also. As to the Mettler, it's actually a shorter staple cotton thread that has a "silk finish" which means it has gone through a process which burns the little fuzzy ends off. This gives it the appearance of a high quality cotton but it's actually a shorter staple cotton thread. I'm not surprised you had trouble.

As to your skirt, pattern companies vary wildly in their slopers. The recommended ease for a skirt is 1/2-3/4" at the waist and 2-2 1/2" at the hips. So you can add those to your measurements and compare them to the pattern to get the right size.

You already figured out the yoke seam! I'd put the waistband on the bottom too, next to the feed dogs. I enjoyed your post-you write engagingly. I see I am not the only one encountering problems lately!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Mardi! I did the starch-and-press method with preturned edges, glue basted in place, on my Jingle BOM applique blocks. I liked the results of doing it that way, and I'm continuing to do the little stuffed berries that way on my FrankenWhiggish Rose blocks, but my main objective with this project is to learn how to do needleturn applique so that my applique projects can be totally portable and "unplugged" -- no need to iron the edges. Without starching and pressing over a template, I don't think I could get my curves turned smoothly enough before I glued them under, and I wouldn't want to be fiddling around with a messy glue bottle when I'm stitching in the waiting room at the doctor's office or at my son's violin lesson... Or have a bottle of glue leak all over everything inside my purse!! My thumb is getting better every day and the doctor said that from here on out, using it will help it to heal. :-) But I do have that skinny glue tip from Sharon Schamber's web site and I absolutely love it!! For these blocks, I used Roxanne's Glue Baste It for the skinny bias stems and to glue down the preturned stuffed berries and the broderie perse rose buds circling the center of my flower, but I'm going to try Elmer's when I run out of the Roxanne's glue. Thanks for your kind words and suggestions, and thanks for stopping by.

Tammy Hutchinson said...

Beautiful work on the applique-the silk thread sounds heavenly. I grew up sewing clothing and have just lately come to quilting. My waist also measures 30" (though I'm short and more dumpy looking than you!) and a size 12 pattern, or even a 10, depending on hips, is what I use for skirts and pants. Dress patterns run on the very large size in my opinion. When buying pants or skirts, I usually wear an 8 or 10. Good luck-you'll figure it out, and wonder why you ever paid money for skirts in just s0-so fabrics before!

Michelle said...

Oh, you poor thing. So sorry about your accident. I'm glad to see that you are able to stitch again. Your block is so lovely.

deb @ frugal little bungalow said...

I'll bet that you end up making a size 12 :)

Lovely applique...glad that you can enjoy it again.

Angie in SoCal said...

Oh so sorry about your thumb! They take forever to heal - ask me how I know. I broke my left thumb twice a year apart to the day by slamming a car door on it. Ow! The good news about your skirt is that it's too big! Imagine if it was too small. Your Mom and you will figure it out. That is a beautiful applique block.

Carla A Few Of My Favorite Things said...

Love your whiggish rose block. The pieced background really adds a lot. I like to use Masterpiece for applique. I have tried silk and it is just too slippery. I hope it works great for you.

Juliann in WA said...

That whig block is beautiful! Sorry about your accident but happy your are healing. As for the skirt, I find that patterns run large and generally make a size smaller. That said, it is great that you have made it too big. Now you just need to figure out how to get it down a size or two. Good luck.

Jill said...

Love your traditional whig rose on a pieced block. Adds interest. Appreciate the tips on needles and various threads as I have applique plans in the near future. You explained your reasons for your choices very well. Glad you can return to hand stitching.

Stephie said...

Beautiful applique! Have you tried running your cotton threads through a block of beeswax (or a candle)? It can really help, but it sounds like you've found a great solution in the silk thread :) I make my own clothes and draft my own patterns - commercial patterns are similar to buying clothes in that they conform to standard shapes and measurements that have nothing to do with how our bodies really are - and they'll also vary from one company to another. One of the simplest ways for you to work out what size you need to cut from your pattern will be to put the muslin on and pin it so that it fits, then mark a pencil line along the pins and cut out the pieces along these pencil lines. Lay the muslin pieces on the paper pattern (not forgetting you no longer have a seam allowance) and check to see what size it's closest to. Hope this helps! x

Deanna W said...

Hope MOM was able to help. I use to make clothes but after discovering quilting...I never looked back. I hated trying to fit everything and that is just not necessary in quilting. Good luck!!

PDQuilt said...

PLEASE enable email subscriptions to your blog. I hate missing your postings!! Thanks in advance, Paula Donn

Rebecca Grace said...

Hi, Paula! I do have an email subscription feature. You may not be able to find it if you're looking at the blog from a mobile device, but if you choose "view web version" at the bottom of the mobile version, or if you are looking at my blog from your computer, there are sidebars full of stuff on the right and left sides of the page. On the right sidebar, just below the photos of the Networked Blog followers, you should see "Follow By Email" and a field where you can enter your email address to sign up. If you can't find that or it's not working for you, send me an email and I will sign you up for an email subscription from my end: rdrumpf(at) Thanks!

Unknown said...

Hi Rebecca - I know this probably won't help with your needleturn applique project, but for all hand stitching I have started using Superior's #50 weight So Fine thread. It is polyester that looks like cotton. The fact that it is poly for some reason makes it not tangle at all for me anyway and it does come in lots of colors. Claudia W

greg @ grey dogwood studio said...

Rebecca, I use Kimono Silk Thread from Superior for my hand applique. It's strong enough to hold through multiple layers when I applique Dresden plates and I haven't had any breakage problems. (My only "problem" is being able to thread something thinner than hair through a tiny needle, but never mind that...) Shabby Fabrics has a thread card, thread packages and individual spools.