Monday, October 31, 2011

Quilting with Metallic Thread

A simple feather design quilted on soft, washed muslin with wool batt takes on an entirely different look when a metallic thread suddenly makes a surprise appearance!

After reading "Mastering Metallics" by Ann Fahl I decided to try out a few threads I had in my thread drawer.  Here I used Superior's "Glitter" thread, a flat type very sparkly metallic, and a #80 Jersey needle. 

I know it is not the type of needle recommended, but it worked so well for me with my YLI Sparkle thread, a silk and metallic blend, that I wanted to see if it would work on something more challenging.  I much prefer it to the horribly big spear-like #80 Topstitch needle.

It worked beautifully in my machine, a Bernina 730 with a rotary hook.  I used #100 silk thread in the bobbin, but could have used a fine cotton like Aurifil #50.

Top tension was reduced from default #4 to #2.  The thread was on the vertical spindle to keep it nice and taut and flat.  There was no looping or twisting or skipping stitches.  I used a fairly small stitch, quilted a bit slower than usual, and it worked well.

The larger the stitch the more sparkle/glitter you get.  But, the larger the stitch, the less puff in the batt, and the design loses its oomph.

The background quilting was done with pale yellow #100 YLI silk thread and really sets off the metallic nicely.  I think this thread combo has possibilities!

Next I am trying YLI Sparkle for a feather design on ecru silk fabric instead of muslin.  I'm using a #70 Jersey needle.  I'll post my findings later.

Below, another photo of the design. 

The sparkle of the thread is very apparent in real life, not so much in the photos.  Sorry about that.

What I didn't like about this thread is the lack of smoothness for smaller designs or close echo quilting. 

Curves were not smooth, and the stitches tended to go off a bit from a straight line.  On the back, the silk stitches looked perfect. 

I think it is an anomaly of this type of flat thread but I didn't like that it made my quilting suffer just a bit.  I didn't wobble, the thread did!  I would not use this thread for tiny designs or micro fills, froth, or baby pearls.

Sometimes it's fun to go off your normal path, and try a new road.  I am having some fun making these samples and will keep them around to remind me of possibilities for future projects.  I took notes with a Sharpie pen on the back so I can refer to what was used to create each sample. 

Oliver loved this thread; he let it run through his teeth as I quilted.  Yikes.

You must know your tools and materials to have success in your quilting.  Taming a thread is always a good thing, and knowledge is power.  Try something new today, just for fun.

Keep quilting!  Your work gets better everyday.

Happy Halloween from a sleepy Oliver, still in his nightcap.....!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Fabric Matters

At our recent classes at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY, one of the key items I discussed was how to get dimension into quilting designs.  It's tough to go to all that work to find designs turn out flat and lifeless.

The design above was quilted on cotton sateen over wool batt, and had a soft fine cotton as the backing.  I used #100 silk thread and a stitch length of about 1.6 mm.  I did get dimension in the areas where the batt was left to fill the design. 

I realize it is NOT the same as stuffing the designs with extra batting ("trapunto") but I am quite content with this look.  It's easy to handle in a home sewing machine and just enough oomph to set off the designs.  I also quilt closely around them to flatten surrounding areas and make the design more of the focal point.  Thread color can also emphasize quilting designs.
However, some students consistently had problems getting any loft at all into designs.  After teaching for a long time and observing and drawing conclusions, I realized it is due to a variety of factors:

Batt, of course.  You need a batt with some loft in it to get designs to show well.  I currently am using wool batts, various brands and experimenting.  Some of the cottons work great as well, but remember, washing a quilt with cotton batting can cause shrinkage and puckering, making designs hard to see.  Wool tends to keep most of its dimension after gentle washing/wetting and air drying.

Stitch length.  In designs like Bouncing Bananas, below, or Headbands and Froth, if the stitch length is too big for the design size the puff will ooze out between the stitches, leaving you with a very flat design that is nothing but many stitches.

Here you can still see the individual stitches as well as the puff.  Stitches are not piled up, or so close it is a jumble of thread.  They are small enough to create a smooth shape PLUS create dimension and puff.  Correct stitch length is vital in creating puff.

Fabric choice.  The final crucial factor is the fabric you quilt on, even the fabric on the back of the quilt.  Sometimes when there was NO loft in designs at all, I would turn over the student sample only to see amazing loft on the BACK of the quilt.  The fabric used for backing had the proper hand and weave, thread count and finish, to allow the puff to appear.  The fabric on the TOP of the quilt did not. 

Many fabrics that we love don't work to showcase machine quilting.  Tight weaves, extra finishes, very dense fabrics, all can prevent the puff from happening. 

Even with a batt 1" thick, there would be little dimension if the fabric will not allow it to happen.  Sadly many batiks fit into this category, and that's why I suggest on my supply lists to save them for work at home, not in class.  Thread doesn't sink into them well at all.  They tend to be very flat when quilted, and many times affect thread tension adversely.

These fabrics can certainly be used, but if you plan on having areas in quilts to showcase quilting designs, do an audition on various fabrics before the top is even put together. 

Quilt up some prototypes, use the same fabrics, batt, thread, needle that you will use in the quilt.  Try various threads and colors,  adjust tension, see what works beforehand.  Plus, check for puff.  You want to see if the fabric will allow the designs to have dimension.

Sometimes spray adhesives used for basting quilt sandwiches can adversely affect puff as well.

Recently I had lunch with Ann Fahl and we were discussing the effect fabric has on quilting, how it prevents dimension, how some threads don't work well in certain fabrics.  She showed me her new book "Mastering Metallics" and she found that even with everything else done correctly, metallics don't work well or create problems in some cases because of the fabric.

Below, her new booklet, and my sample.  I tried some #40 Superior gold metallic with a Schmetz #80/12 Topstitch needle, #100 silk thread in the bobbin, on a mystery fabric that actually was so labelled.  It said it was a blend of silk, and unknown fibers.  It's a devil to quilt on, trust me, slips and slides and skews all over the place.  You can't see markings, and you can't see where you've already quilted.  I auditioned it several times for projects, and dismissed it as too difficult for the result.

However, I did get some nice dimension, and using Ann's guidelines in her booklet on how to place the thread on my machine, what needle to use, tension adjustments, and speed of machine, I successfully quilted a frond design with NO problems at all.

Even when several areas converged, everything went well.  There was no fraying thread, no skipped stitches.  I quilted slower than usual and that helped. 

Oh how I wish way back when I had had this book to help me when I first tried metallic thread!  If you want to use all the types of metallic and need some help, this booklet is perfect.  You can order it from Ann at her website,

So.....stop and consider everything before plunging into a project.  Selecting fabric to showcase your beautiful machine quilting to its very best advantage is worth the bit of extra time it takes.  After a while you will have experience in what works, what lines of fabric you love to quilt on, what backings work the best.  It's an adventure!

Meanwhile, keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day.

Follow me on Twitter!  I will be using it to mention machine quilting tips as they pop into my head.....!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

National Quilt Museum Classes.....Wow!

It was beautiful weather in Paducah, KY last week for my two classes at the National Quilt Museum, warm, autumnal, perfect.  Above, my first class, posing in the museum's main gallery with two of my quilts as backdrop.  Yes, there were onlookers watching us with either questioning looks or big grins, because this group was fun, talented, and really succeeded with their quilting.  It was such a pleasure working with them.

They had the wonderful opportunity to view the quilts in the collection plus several exhibits, shop, eat at charming downtown restaurants, have lunch at Bryerpatch Studio with Caryl Bryer Fallert, and generally enjoy all that the museum and Paducah offer.  What a terrific time we all had.

We certainly had an array of beautiful shades of denim!

I've scheduled this same class there for next Oct. 18-20, 2012 for experienced beginners and beyond.  I think this is a wonderful class and we get a lot accomplished in the three days spent together.  Because local shops close early we take a longer lunch break for either viewing the galleries (free to class members), shopping in the store on site, or eating out, shopping at the local quilt stores.  Contact Rebecca Glasby at the museum for information from their website.

I had a second class after a day catching up, recording a video interview for my part in an upcoming exhibit at the museum, doing some re-shuffling of samples, and oiling my machine. 

The second class was for experienced quilters and former students who worked on techniques and designs I suggested and also did some independent work with advice from me.  They were definitely troublemakers, as you can see in the photos below.

Joan and Susan came complete with accessories, and made me smile every time I noticed their bat headbands gently bouncing as they worked or talked, while moving their heads.  Susan is filling the bucket with chocolate bars, which we needed and ate!  The handle had flashing lights....

Doing some quilting as a demo for interested students.

Class #2, below.

Thanks to all for making my time at the museum fly by, your talent and humor and hard work were terrific.  I hope new students will sign up for next year's class where we'll explore free motion machine quilting on a home machine, take you to a higher level of expertise, and become friends and kindred spirits in quilting.  I know I'll see many of you again at quilting events.

Keep quilting - your work definitely gets better every day,