Monday, April 27, 2020

If I'm Holding a Seam Ripper, Now is NOT a Good Time!!!

First, the good news: All of the SID (Stitch in the Ditch) quilting with invisible monofilament thread has been completed on my Spirit Song quilt.  That was my main objective in last week's Tuesday To-Do List post.

It feels good to get to the end of the quilt!
...But then, of course, I had to roll right back to the beginning of the quilt because there is more quilting still to be done with threads that we can see!

Back to the Beginning for the Next Phase of Quilting
The best part about doing it this way is that I've gotten so much of the yucky stuff out of the way.  Now the quilt top is completely basted to the batting and backing around the perimeter, and the edges are locked down nice and straight and square from top to bottom.  For the rest of the quilting process, when I advance my quilt, I won't have to spend time lining up seams, checking for straightness, or basting the edges -- I can just roll the quilt forwards and start right in quilting.  I also have nothing hanging over the front edge of the frame anymore, since all three layers haver rolled up together onto my backing roller now.  

Back to the Top of the Quilt After All the SID Has Been Quilted
I kept this top pretty straight and square throughout the SID work, but I did get lazy at the very end and did not check EVERY horizontal seamline with my channel lock, resulting in a slight "smile" to the bottom edge of the quilt once I finally reached it.  Yikes!  Fortunately, it was slight enough that I was able to straighten out the bottom edge of the quilt and then quilt out the resulting fullness in the row of blocks just above the border.

Can You See Those Ripples in the Last Row of Blocks?
They look SO much better after the SID along the seam lines distributed and trapped the excess fullness where I needed it to go:

Much Improved After SID Quilting!
Here's what my quilt looks like right now, if you climb underneath the long arm frame and look up from below.  Kind of like a stained glass window:

View From the Carpeting
SO...  I switched from the 3.5 needle I'd been using for monofilament nylon to a regular 4.0 needle, rethreaded my needle with a yummy shade of variegated YLI 40 weight Machine Quilting Thread with a coordinating shade of So Fine bobbin thread, did some test stitching and tension adjustments to get a nice stitch, and then started quilting my quilt for about 5 minutes.

And I did NOT like it.  Hello, Mister Seam Ripper -- we have to stop meeting like this!!!

5 Minutes to Stitch Equals 45 Minutes to UNStitch
This was not a stitch quality issue or not liking the thread.  I just didn't like the thread for what I wanted to do with it.  I love the heavier 40 weight variegated threads for an edge-to-edge pantograph without backtracking, or for an allover meander or something like that.  I like the heavier thread when the quilting is less dense, with lines of quilting stitches spaced farther apart.  When I started quilting lines that were a quarter of an inch apart, this 40 weight thread just looked like a heavy, clunky rope to me.  

YLI Machine Quilting Cotton, 40 wt, Color V74 Paris Boutique
Also, even though my spool of YLI Machine Quilting Cotton (color V74 Paris Boutique) looks like a pale pastel on the spool, there are some rather dark pink sections and I didn't like how those looked when the quilting line ran across a white background fabric.  Such a shame because I really love that thread -- it's just not giving me the effect I had in mind for this particular project.  
Plan B: So Fine 60 wt, Color Peach Tart

I think I want to quilt the whole thing with So Fine 50 Weight thread in Peach Tart color.  This thread matches one of the lighter shades in the variegated YLI spool, and is a little lighter weight so the quilting stitches won't be quite as prominent.  My quilt top is really busy with all of these different fabric prints, after all, and I felt like the heavier "look at me" thread was fighting with the fabrics and piecing design rather than complementing them, especially where I had a high contrast between the darkest thread color and the lightest fabric color.  So I had to carefully unpick those stitches without ripping any holes in my quilt.

Tools of the Trade: Hemostat Forceps, Seam Ripper, and Curved Thread Snips
In addition to my seam ripper, I also use a hemostat locking forceps to grab onto small bits of thread and pull them out of the quilt, and a curved thread snipper to clip longer lengths of pulled-out stitches.  Since it's time consuming, close work, I am so glad I have my saddle stool so I can be seated high on my perch and lean over the quilt comfortably to reach what I'm ripping out.

Saddle Stool and IKEA Tool Cart
I've also got my little IKEA tool cart handy with other supplies and gadgets just an arm's reach away.  This cart is also a great place to put a glass of wine, you know, to put you in the right frame of mind for ripping out all of the stitching you did today.  Patience comes in a bottle labeled "CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA," but it's best to keep the red wine as far away from the quilt as you can, so long as you can still reach it!

Savor Your Seam Ripping!
I actually had one of my sisters on FaceTime while I was ripping out stitches.  I balanced my iPhone on the right handle of the long arm machine, with the back of the phone touching the takeup lever thingy so it didn't fall off.  Seam ripping is definitely an activity that goes faster when you have your mind engaged elsewhere!

So anyway, when I turned out the lights and left my studio for the day, I was right back where I left things the night before.  I'm threaded up with a peach pastel So Fine 50 weight in the needle and paired it with a peach 60 weight Bottom Line thread in the bobbin, and we'll have to see how that goes tomorrow!

My only To-Do this Tuesday is to finish quilting this quilt, somehow or another, and get it off my frame.  Wish me luck!

I'm linking up today's post with:


·       Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  
·       Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt
·       BOMs Away Katie Mae Quilts  


·       Colour and Inspiration Tuesday at Clever Chameleon

·       To-Do Tuesday at Home Sewn By Us

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Spirit Song Quilting Commences: Monofilament Invisible Stitching in the Ditch

Good morning and happy Tuesday!  My quilting goal for the past week was to complete all of the SID (Stitch in the Ditch) quilting along the seam lines of my Spirit Song quilt.  I'm about halfway there as of when I switched off the machine last night.

Invisible Monofilament SID Halfway Completed
For the SID work, I'm mostly using my 2 1/2" x 6" Quilter's Groove ProMini ruler, with Nexcare clear first aid tape on the backside of the ruler to reduce the slip-and-slide action without sacrificing visibility.  I also have the larger 10" version.

10 inch Pro and 6 inch ProMini Rulers from Quilter's Groove, Lisa Calle's Ruler Line
What I love most about Lisa Calle's Quilter's Groove line of rulers is that they all include helpful reference lines.  As I'm using this ruler for my SID work, I'm using those perpendicular straight lines and 45 degree angle lines on the ruler to line up with my piecing lines, helping me to keep the edge of the ruler nice and straight a quarter of an inch away from the stitching line.  I have a couple of other straight rulers without these reference lines that I bought before I took Lisa's ruler class, but this little ProMini has become my favorite.

How I Use the Ruler's Reference Lines for SID Quilting
You can see in the photo above how my palm, ring finger, and pinky are all resting on the surface of my quilt and acting as a "brake" in case that ruler decides to slide from the pressure of my hopping foot riding along the ruler's edge.  In the closeup below, you can see those etched lines on the ruler that I've aligned with my piecing seams to keep everything nice and straight as I'm stitching.

The Markings Are What Make These Rulers My Favorites!
And of course, when SID is done well and stitched in invisible monofilament thread, it truly disappears into the quilt, providing structure and support kind of like how a good foundation garment can make you look so much better in your dress!

Invisible Stitch In the Ditch: The Wonder Bra of Quilting!
...But from a distance, it looks like I haven't done any quilting yet at all:

Tedious, Invisible, But Crucial
SID takes a LONG TIME, and it doesn't give you that instant gratification of seeing your quilt transform before your eyes with beautiful designs and texture.  Done well, SID should be invisible -- we don't want to see those stitches at all, which is why I'm using Superior's Monopoly invisible monofilament thread in my needle.  By doing all the SID quilting first, I'm doing two things: First, I'm stabilizing my quilt and locking the three layers (quilt top, batting and backing) together with all of these seam lines as straight as possible and the edges of the quilt perfectly square.  That's going to drastically reduce the potential for things shifting and getting stretched out of whack during the fun quilting that comes later.  Also, SID along the seam lines gives more definition to the piecing lines, subtly accentuating those crisp points I worked so hard to create.  If I skipped the SID, the seam lines would actually puff UP after surrounding areas had been quilted down, which would have the opposite effect of obscuring or diminishing the piecing lines.  

Those Needle Holes Will Close Up When the Quilt is Washed
In the above photo, I've stitched on the low side of every one of those seams except the vertical seam between the yellow and hot pink fabrics at top right that extends down to the lower right corner between the mustard color print and the pink daisy print.  SID sinks the seam lines down into the quilt, but the only way to know the stitches are there are the needle holes (those will close up when the quilt gets washed).

Love Seeing the Backing Fabric Starting to Wrap Around the Pickup Roller!

I love seeing the backing fabric start to peek around the pickup roller at the back of my frame as the quilting progresses enough to advance the quilt!

I probably would already be done with the SID if I hadn't had a tension snafu.  Despite having tested and adjusted tension off to the side of my quilt before starting, I noticed with the first advance of the quilt that I had some flatlining (top thread too loose or bobbin thread too tight, causing the bobbin thread to lay flat on the back of the quilt rather than meeting the top thread in the center of the quilt batting to form a balanced stitch) on the back.  

Poor Tension, Bobbin Thread "Flatlining"
In this case, I knew my bobbin case tension was already set very loose (TOWA 150-ish and bypassed the little pigtail guide on my bobbin case) for my Bottom Line bobbin thread, so the upper thread was definitely the culprit.  I'd loosened it so much that it was being pulled all the way through the batting and the backing fabric, creating little loops that suspended a straight line of bobbin thread along the surface of the backing fabric.  I think my monofilament was getting caught on the edge of my thread net at one point, creating resistance, and I loosened my top tension repeatedly to try to "solve" that before I realized that it was a thread path issue.  Whoops!

So anyway, these really lousy tension stitches are very easy to remove from the backing side, just snip at either end of the bad stitching line and pull; the thread comes right out in one piece.  However, after pulling out the bad stitches on backing side, I had a horrible time figuring out which of my invisible seams had been ripped out and needed restitching when I got back to the FRONT of the quilt!  Really all I could see were the needle holes to begin with, and the bad stitching left holes that looked exactly like the good stitching.  I had pulled out the bobbin thread from the bad stitching, but the top thread still needed to be pulled out and clipped away in some cases...  I had to check EVERY STINKING SEAM, and I accidentally requilted a few seam lines by accident because I thought I'd pulled out the stitching there even though it was perfectly fine -- just couldn't SEE it.  Major time suck!  

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3...

These string pieced scraps, above, were good for testing stitch tension as well as for a quick refresher on SID, since I haven't done anything with my quilting machine for a few months.  It's also a good way of previewing what my thread is going to look like on a variety of different fabric prints.  I'm using the clear monofilament thread rather than the smoke because most of my fabrics are light colors, but the clear monofilament is slightly visible on the darkest blue fabric strips.

Not Quite 6 Months Old, Already 70 lbs of Sweetness!
This post has been a particularly boring one, even for me, so I'm ending on a high note with a puppy picture of my little Samwise Puppy-Pants.  He'll be 6 months old in 10 days, and this morning he weighed in at a whopping 70 pounds of sweetness!  :-)

So, what are my sewing goals for the coming week?

Tuesday To-Do List:

  • Finish SID quilting on Spirit Song
  • Change needle from 3.5 (for monofilament thread) to either 4.0 (for Bottom Line 60 weight or So Fine 50 weight thread) or 4.5 (for King Tut or YLI 40 weight cotton quilting thread), rethread machine (thread path is different from monofilament), and adjust tension as needed
  • Begin additional straight line ruler work quilting with thread that is meant to be seen!
Stay safe, everyone, and happy stitching!  I'm linking up today's post with:

·       To-Do Tuesday at Home Sewn By Us
·       Let’s Do Some Ruler Work at The Quilt Yarn
·       Midweek Makers at Quilt Fabrication
·       Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter

·       Tips and Tutorials on the 22nd at Kathleen McMusing

Friday, April 17, 2020

Finished On Friday: Soft Contoured Face Masks For the Finicky Ones

Grocery Chic: My Modified Olson Face Mask in Produce Aisle Print
Good morning, and happy Friday!  I'm stunned to be typing those words, because I was convinced that it was Tuesday all day yesterday.  This quarantine thing is a lot like being stranded on a desert island or locked up in a dungeon -- if you don't keep track of the days with little tick marks carved into the walls of your cell, you can lose all sense of how long you've been there very easily.

An Ordinary 45-60 Inch Shoe Lace Makes A Strong, Soft, Easy Mask Tie
Of course, there are many other aspects of the quarantine/stay-at-home/shelter-in-place that are not at ALL like being in a dungeon or stranded on a desert island.  I know this is temporary, I still have my espresso machine to keep me properly caffeinated and a well-stocked wine fridge, for dealing with the 24/7 horror show that the news has become.  My dungeon/island is well-stocked with fabric, sewing machines, and books to read, and the idea of feeling "imprisoned" in a big climate-controlled house with a puppy to follow you around and play with you, television and Internet and books to read for entertainment?  Well, that doesn't sound like much of a punishment after all, does it?  Okay, so it's not a dungeon -- it's like we're all emperors in exile on tiny private islands, and we're pacing around impatiently because we are NAPOLEON, damnit, and we've got Big Things we'd rather be doing out in the Real World!

Napoleon in 1814, Exiled to the Island of Elba.  Probably All Dressed Up for a Zoom Conference
Anyway, unlike Napoleon, I get to leave my island paradise periodically to procure food for the family, as long as I'm wearing a face mask.  My two teenaged sons get to leave our island several times a week to work as cashiers and cart sanitizers at our local grocery store, where they need to wear masks as well.  Since mask wearing in public has become almost as necessary as PANTS wearing in public, I finally decided to make some for my immediate family members.

Assembly Line Mask Production Happening on the 'Nina 750QE
...And so, after that very long-winded and totally off-topic introduction, I am now ready to share a few of my mask finishes with you:

One of Anders' Masks
One of My Husband's Masks (Why Did I Ever Buy That Fabric?!)
These contoured face masks are based on the Olson Mask pattern that was developed by a hospital up in Iowa, I believe, but with the addition of a lining fabric (super-soft, old T-shirts) and with the filter pocket eliminated.  I found the FREE pattern download on the Instructables web site here.  All of these masks for myself, my 6'8" husband, and my 6' sons, are the Large size.

Kaffe Fassett Fabric!  I Think This One Is My Favorite
I had plenty of fabric in my quilting stash to choose from for the outside of the masks, but was really wishing I had kept the super-soft outgrown Hanna Andersson T-shirts from when the boys were little.  I raided everyone's closets for old T-shirts to cut up for mask linings, but the color options were very limited and anyone who knows me will understand that the lining fabrics absolutely had to complement the face fabric for each mask.

A UNC Chapel Hill T Shirt Died to Make This Face Mask Lining
I had a few packages of single fold, 1/2" wide bias tape stashed away from projects that were planned but never executed, and that's what I used for the nose wire casing at the top of each mask.

My Husband Says My Face Masks Look Like Bikinis
Bernie says my face masks look like bikini bathing suits.  Maybe for an alien woman who only has one giant boob...  Note to self: Do NOT allow the Husband to pick out my swimsuits!

Okay, I know that everyone on the Internet who has a sewing machine has been churning out a bazillion face masks over the past few weeks, so I'm not going to take you through mine step-by-step.  I will say, these masks do not whip up in a few minutes.  Each one took several hours, so if you're looking to mass produce masks for donation purposes, you're better off with the pleated rectangle versions.  However, these masks give a great custom fit, show off your favorite fabrics better than pleated versions, and they are extremely soft and comfortable against your face.  If you know anyone whose child has heightened clothing sensitivities (this is a common symptom for intellectually gifted children, twice-exceptional, Autism/Asperger's, etc), this is the perfect mask for them because there are no rough edges, no seam allowances against the skin, all 100% cotton fabrics, and the shoe lace or ribbon strings are infinitely adjustable for that child who freaks out when clothing is either slightly too tight or slightly too loose.  Using an old T-shirt for the lining that has been through the wash a gazillion times ensures that the inside of the mask is as soft as -- well, as soft as their favorite old T-shirt!  All of those children (and adults!) who are tormented by the seams in their socks, who feel like their skin is crawling with ants when wearing clothes made of synthetic fabric, and whose mothers have to go searching from store to store to find the exact same underpants as the ones that were outgrown because it's the only kind their kid can stand to wear -- those families are having an even harder time dealing with the need to wear masks than the rest of us.

Here are a couple of things that I did differently from the mask tutorial on Instructables.  

First, I eliminated the filter pocket for several reasons.  It simplified the pattern, for one thing, and I was not making masks for a healthcare environment where the need for filters is really warranted.  Furthermore, I wanted to keep the masks as light and breathable as possible.  One of my friends who works in an assisted care facility advised me that we need to take the masks down to get a good breath of fresh air periodically, because the thicker our masks are, the more they have us reinhaling our own CO2, so it's a balancing act.  I knew that, for my finickiest family members, if the masks were extremely uncomfortable and difficult to breathe in, they would not be worn at all.  Multilayered masks also take longer to air dry after washing.  So, no pockets in my masks, just the 100% cotton quilting fabric on the outside and the 100% cotton knit T-shirt fabric on the inside.  When sewing the two mask layers together around the perimeter of the mask, I sewed with the woven quilting cotton on top and the knit T-shirt fabric on the bottom, so the feed dogs could control the stretch of the knit fabric.

Also, for some strange reason, the pattern I was following told me to press that contoured, vertical seam in the center of the mask OPEN rather than pressing it to one side.  Pressing a curved seam open is a royal pain, plus it doesn't make sense from a protection standpoint,  since seams pressed open leaves gaping holes (from the virus's perspective) down the front of the mask between the stitches.  Much safer and easier to press the seams to opposite sides; that way the fabric is overlapped at the seam line in the finished mask.

Bernina Edge Stitch Foot #10, Needle 3 Clicks Left of Center on my 750QE
After sewing the mask together around the perimeter and turning it right side out, the side edges get folded in 3/4" and stitched down to form a casing for whatever you want to use for  attaching the mask to your face -- elastic loops, bias tape ties, T-shirt ties, ribbon, 45" to 60" shoe laces, twill tape, selvages that have been trimmed off of fabric yardage -- really, anything goes.  Because this seam will receive stress from the ties or elastic loops, I used the Triple Straight Stitch (Stitch #6 on my Bernina 750QE) to sew these casings, with Edge Stitch #10D and my needle three clicks to the left of center position.  Although my fabrics are 100% cotton, I still used all-purpose polyester sewing thread for strength and durability.

Side Casings Sewn With Bernina Triple Straight Stitch #6
I also used the Securing Knot feature at the beginning and ending of these seams rather than reversing to secure the seam, for a neater finish.

The next thing I did differently from the Instructables tutorial was an accident the first time, but I liked it so I kept it for the rest of my masks.  Instead of inserting a nose wire between the two mask layers and stitching a channel to secure it before closing up the sides of the mask, I accidentally skipped that step and had to make my own little channel on the lining side.  I cut a 7" length of 1/2" single fold bias tape, turned the ends under 1/4", and pinned it in place along the top edge of the mask.

Bias Tape Casing for Nose Wire
I secured the bias tape with Edge Stitch #10 and my needle 3 clicks to the left of center.

Nose Wire Casing Stitched In Place
I used thread matched to the face fabric of my mask to edge stitch the nose wire casing, since those stitches show on the right side.

Right Side View of Nose Wire Casing Stitches (Mask Shown Upside Down)
Then I cut a 6 1/2" length of pipe cleaner from our crafts supply bin, and bent the tips of the wires back to create tiny loops at the end with a pliers (this step is important; it prevents the sharp wire ends from poking holes through the mask fabric).  

Inserting Pipe Cleaner Nose Wire
And then I inserted the pipe cleaner into the casing, tucking the ends of the wire into the bias tape fold at each end to keep it in place.

Pipe Cleaner Ends Tucked Into the Folded End of the Bias Tape Channel
I used a pink satin ribbon tie for this mask.  You just thread a single string of whatever kind through both side casings, like an upside-down U, and that makes it easy to take the mask on and off with a single bow to tie.

Found a Soft Satin Ribbon in the Right Shade of Pink
Now, how cute is that?!

Finished Face Mask, Ready to Wear
The danger of making cute face masks is that, once you have one, you feel this overwhelming urge to put it on and GO SOMEWHERE instead of STAYING HOME as we've been advised/ordered...

My Other Favorite Face Mask
I've only had two occasions for mask wearing this week.  The first was the big grocery shop, and the second was the trip to the pet store to stock up on dog food, treats, toys, and to exchange Sam's too-small harness for the correct size.

Side View of My Other Favorite Mask
In addition to creating a better fit at the top of the mask, with less opportunity for those respiratory droplets and virus goblins to get in around the mask, the nose wire is also key for those who wear glasses -- it prevents your glasses from fogging up from your breath coming out at the top of your mask.  

Making two masks each for my four family members took me three whole days, and I'm really glad to be crossing that off my list!  I'm washing the masks after each wearing in a mesh lingerie back in the washing machine with warm water, then reshaping them and hanging them up to line dry just like I do with lingerie.  I want these masks to last as long as possible before I have to make new ones.  Oh, and one more tip -- you might want to get some unscented laundry detergent if your regular laundry detergent is strongly fragranced.  A scent that smells nice to you when you're folding fresh laundry can be overpowering when it's right on top of your nose and mouth and you have to breathe through it!

So, if you want to make a mask like mine, you can find the FREE pattern and instructions on  Instructables here.  If you're looking for fabulous prints for the outside of your masks, I recommend supporting the small businesses on Etsy.  A fat quarter of quilting fabric is more than enough to make a single mask, with extra fabric for your project stash, and there are plenty of options for buying assortments of these pretty Kaffe Fassett fabrics on Etsy.  You can also find novelty prints there that are sure to coax a reluctant child to put on a mask, whether they are into super heroes, princesses, Star Wars, or whatever.  You can get basic colored shoe laces at your local grocery or pharmacy, or any color shoelaces under the sun on Amazon here.  Lots of pipe cleaners available on Amazon as well as the 1/2" single fold bias tape for the nose wire casing, and we all have an old T-shirt or two lying around the house that can be sacrificed for the lining.  

And of course, if you want a cute mask but you don't have the time or ability to make one yourself, there are tons of Etsy shops that are selling adorable handmade face masks in every color, pattern and style imaginable, at very reasonable prices.  Seriously; Etsy sellers are pricing their masks so low that they are barely covering the cost of materials.  So no, I'm not making these masks for people outside my immediate family and I'm definitely not making more of them to sell -- my creative time is worth a lot more to me than the going rate for handmade face masks!  If the masks I've already made wear out before this pandemic has petered out, I might be buying replacement masks from some of those Etsy sellers myself.

I'm linking up today's post with the following linky parties, and then I'm getting right back to quilting!

·       Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation  
·       Whoop Whoop Fridays at Confessions of a Fabric Addict
·       Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More
·       Beauty Pageant at From Bolt to Beauty
·       Finished Or Not Friday at Alycia Quilts
·       Off the Wall Friday at Nina Marie Sayre
·       TGIFF Thank Goodness It’s Finished Friday, rotates, schedule found here:  

·       UFO Busting at Tish in Wonderland