Sunday, April 12, 2015

Of Fractured Bones and Other Annoying Quilting Delays... And PROGRESS!!

Greetings from the Land of Humpty-Dumpty, in which Rebecca goes for a bike ride, has a great fall, and is still waiting for all the King's horses and all the King's men to put her bones back together again.    This happened exactly three weeks ago today, and in addition to the broken and displaced right clavicle bone that has disabled my right arm, I also broke my left thumb and smacked my head hard enough to crack my bike helmet and give myself a mild concussion.  So I have not been sewing for the past couple of weeks.  Or brushing my own teeth, dressing or showering myself...  But not sewing stinks the most, especially when my cousin's baby is coming any day and the quilt is SO CLOSE TO BEING FINISHED!  (Also, it is a surprise, so if you know my cousin, DON'T SPOIL IT).
The Unhappiness That Is My Collar Bone
I'm getting my collar bone screwed back together again surgically on Wednesday, but over the past week I've been sneaking up to my sewing room to work on my Amish Baby 54-40 or Fight quilt.  With one arm in a sling and a thumb splint on the other hand, I'm not making great strides or anything -- I can get in about 15-20 minutes before the shoulder pain is unbearable, but every little bit gets me closer to the finish line!  A little bit of sewing is better than NO sewing.

In this post, I wanted to document some of the things that have worked for me in the final stages of this project so I can refer back to it in the future and save myself some trial-and-error:

Marking Stars for Free Motion Quilting
To mark the stars for free-motion quilting on the blue fabric squares, Don Linn's hooped tulle and Sharpie method wouldn't work because I couldn't see the faint black line against the blue fabric.  So I cut out an exact template of the star shape from a junk mail postcard, cutting just INSIDE the marked line, and used a Clover white marking pen to carefully trace the stars onto the blue squares.  The white pen works great on dark fabrics.

"Wave Stitch" Controls Fullness in Unquilted Border Perimeter
Once I had completed that last bit of quilting, I still had 2" of my teal border unquilted because that's the width of the satin binding that I'm planning to use.  I saw that the quilting stitches had drawn up the body of the quilt so that there was a faint ripple to the unquilted outer edge, and I did NOT want a ripply-edged quilt looking like I don't know how to measure for borders properly.  I considered stippling the border to flatten it out, but decided that I wanted to retain some of the loft and puffiness inside the satin binding.  So I scrolled through the decorative stitches programmed into my Bernina 750QE sewing machine and selected one that looks kind of like a wave stitch, and stitched that around the perimeter of the quilt just inside the raw edge using my walking foot.  It did the trick of shrinking the outer edge just enough without flattening out the loft that I wanted to keep.  Also, I think it makes kind of a fun quilting stitch, don't you?  I'll have to remember that one for another quilt -- it would be a great alternative to just straight line quilting.
My next trick when I am doing a Minky-backed quilt with satin binding is to enlist my serger to trim and clean up the edges of the quilt before binding.  That wave stitch also enabled me to remove the remaining safety pins from the quilt before they went anywhere near the serger blades... 

Two Thread, Left Needle Serger Overlock Before Binding
Why didn't I just trim the excess batting and backing fabric and get on with binding my quilt?  Well, Minky is an unruly pain in the butt whose edges like to curl up and shed all over the place.  I didn't want to deal with that when I was trying to attach the slippery satin binding.  A serged edge is much, MUCH more stable and easier to work with.  Moreover, when you see a well-loved tattered blanket, the satin binding usually shreds and disintegrates long before the rest of the blanket, and it is easy enough to give new life to a cherished blankie by replacing the satin binding.  My overcast quilt edges will be protected from fraying when the satin binding wears out, and will make it easier for whoever gets the job of replacing the satin binding.

One big, HUGE thing to remember as you're setting up your serger is that MINKY STRETCHES, but ONLY IN ONE DIRECTION.  It's important to test your stitch settings across both the lengthwise AND the crosswise grains before you start in on your quilt.  Otherwise the stitch that looked great on your sample might get wavy on the two sides of the quilt where the Minky wants to stretch on you. 
Test Your Stitch Settings on the Lengthwise AND Crosswise Grains!
On my Bernina 1300MDC serger I got a nice, wave free edge with differential feed set to 1.5, stitch length 3.5, cutting width 2.0, and the tension settings recommended in my user manual.  I used a size 80/12 Universal needle and YLI Elite serger thread.
Here's one more serger trick that I always forget when I'm trimming away the excess batting and backing fabrics as I overcast the edge of the quilt.  Just before reaching the corner, I cut away a couple of inched of the excess fabrics on the side I'm about to stitch with a scissor.  Then I can serge right to the edge of the corner, sink my needle just off the edge and raise it to the highest position, pull the work backwards to clear the stitch finger, and then turn the quilt to begin stitching the next side of the quilt right at the corner where I left off.  I always mess up the first corner before I remember the scissor trick.  If you forget, you try to turn the corner but the bulk of the untrimmed batting and backing is in your way so you can't get the quilt back under the presser foot far enough.
Approaching the Corner, Next Side Scissor Cut 2-3"
So the whole time I'm quilting my blue stars, stabilizing and overcasting these quilt borders, I'm stewing about the satin binding.  I have made a number of these Minky backed, satin binding baby quilts in the past, and the only reason I subject myself to the hassle of it all is that babies LOVE satin binding.  If you give a baby a blanket with satin binding, he will reward you by rubbing the satin binding on his nose while sucking his thumb and making sweet little baby gurgling noises.  So it has to be satin binding.  But it is nearly impossible to get the inside edge of that satin binding lined up perfectly on the front AND back side of the quilt.  Anywhere the edges are NOT perfectly aligned when you stitch the zigzag from the front of the quilt, you will get something that looks like this:
Stitched Right Side Up, so the Front Looks Good...

...But the Back Is Not So Hot!
Very annoying!!  So I had an idea of what I could do to get better results this time.  I decided to stitch a placement line for the inside edge of the satin binding using YLI Water Soluble Basting Thread in both the needle and the bobbin.  I'm going to use that stitching line to either glue baste or pin (haven't decided which) the satin binding in place prior to stitching.  In hindsight, I should have stitched that line before I quilted my curlique olives in the border, since I drew a chalk line there anyway to make sure my quilting design remained outside of the area to be covered by satin binding.

Water Soluble Thread Placement Line for Satin Binding
Water soluble thread is very cool because it just dissolves and washes away when your project is rinsed or laundered, but it is more fragile than ordinary sewing thread and it requires special care.  It is very important to store water soluble thread in the airtight ziplock bags it comes in, and handle it with very dry hands so you don't get it sticky.  It's probably also a good idea to store your bobbin thread right in the baggie with the spool of water soluble thread, clearly labeled.  It would be very sad to get caught in the rain in a dress you accidentally constructed using water soluble thread... 

Settings for Water Soluble Thread
I sew successfully with YLI Wash-Away Water Soluble Thread on my Bernina 750QE sewing machine using Straight Stitch #1, but I increased the stitch length to 3.50 and reduced the tension all the way down to 1.0.  I also reduced the speed considerably when winding the bobbin, and because I'm working on a 3-layer quilt, I used my walking foot.

I've decided on a triple-stitched zigzag stitch to secure the satin binding to my quilt.  I'll be using Mettler Poly Sheen thread for that, for reasons of strength, matching the color and the sheen of the satin binding, and because both the satin binding and the Minky backing fabrics are polyester.  I'm using a brand new size 80/12 Microtex Sharp needle to stitch the satin binding without any snagging or pulls (which are also possible pitfalls of pinning, which is why I'm considering gluing the binding in place).

Broken Thumb with Splint
But none of this is happening right now, because my thumb is sore and my shoulder hurts from all of this typing!  Enjoy the rest of your weekend.  I'm linking up with Esther's WIPs on Wednesday linky and Whoop Whoop Friday at Confessions of a Fabric Addict.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Amish Baby is ALMOST Finished: Continuous Curves, Olive Loop Border and Free-Motion Stars

Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight: In Progress, Nearly Complete
This baby is due to be born within weeks, and it looks like the Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight quilt will be finished right on time.  I wanted to do a quick post about how I did the continuous curve quilting on the square patches, the olive loop border, and the free-motion stars in the lime green blocks, mostly so I can refer back to the post someday when I want to dust these techniques off and use them again.

In my last post, I was struggling with how to get those free motion continuous double curves to look relatively even on the red and white square patches.  I ended up making myself a little template out of gridded template plastic, 2" square to match my patches, with little tiny holes punched out a quarter inch in at the center of each side. 

My Template for Marking Continuous Curves
That made it really easy for me to mark my quilt with dots (the Bohin mechanical chalk pencils are the perfect diameter for marking through these holes with just a twist).  I found that when I had those dots on the quilt it was a lot easier to quilt the continuous curves because I had something to aim for to keep the arced stitching lines about the same depth and with the arc center in the correct spot. 

Free Motion Olive Loop Border
Next, I quilted olive loops in the outermost border.  I first saw this motif in Judi Madsen's long arm quilting and I have been doodling it on my bulletin during the sermon at church...  shh!  Because I'm planning to use 2" wide satin binding for this quilt, I marked a chalk line indicating where the edge of the satin binding would be to ensure that none of my olives would end up under the binding.  And I just stitched this one freehand, trying to deliberately include some olives that were larger or smaller than others (because I knew they were not all going to come out identical).  I think this came out really good for my first try.  Definitely going to use this one again!

I could have just done the continuous double curve quilting in all of the square patches, but I wanted to bring in a little smidge of whimsy.  So I found this little squiggle star motif -- it's actually part of an embroidered outline quilting design from a collection I bought ages ago.  I resized the squiggly star on my photocopy machine until it was exactly the size I wanted it, 1 1/2" to nestle nicely inside the seam allowances of my 2" squares.  Then I used a marking method that I learned from Don Linn's April 2012 tutorial for the SewCalGal FMQ Challenge.  In Don's tutorial exercise, we used wooden embroidery hoops, bridal tulle and an extra fine point Sharpie marker to create a mark-through template for transferring quilting designs (you use either the purple disappearing marker or the blue water soluble marker to draw the design on your quilt, NOT the Sharpie!).  Since my motif was pretty tiny, I asked my husband for a small plastic ring from his Garage of Handy Manly Stuff.  I just wrapped a piece of tulle around the plastic ring and held it in place with a ponytail elastic.

Basically, you trace your quilting design onto the tulle with the Sharpie.  Then you can place the hooped tulle over your quilt and use the temporary marking pen to trace right over the design on the tulle.  I could have used my embroidery design software to resize the embroidered quilting motif and stitched the stars out with my embroidery module, but it would have been overkill for something so simple and it would have taken a LOT more time to hoop and rehoop over and over again for every single star.  It's actually a lot easier to FMQ a SMALL quilting motif than a large one, and these stars were quick and easy to quilt last night.  Anders was hanging out in my sewing room watching Tom & Jerry while I quilted the stars.  :-)

Free Motion Stars!
Finally, since I was all threaded up with the lime green thread, I snapped on my walking foot and quilted some straight(ish) lines in the green border.  I placed them approximately 1/4" from the seams, which framed the embroidered text nicely without crossing over the stitching, and I think that the straight line quilting is a nice contrast with the curvy olive loop border and the curvy stippling in the black background fabric.

I think I want to leave the green star triangles unquilted and puffy, but something needs to go in the royal blue square patches.  I am leaning towards more squiggly stars.  Lastly, I might do some really random quilting in the outside of the green border, where it will be covered by satin binding, just to shrink it up and flatten it out a bit.  If I leave it totally unquilted and just attach the border, I'm afraid the border will look wavy.  Once all of the quilting is complete, I'll trim off my excess batting and backing and serge the quilt edges (I always do that with satin binding quilts, to protect the quilt edges in case the satin binding wears away over time and needs replacing).

Meanwhile, I am taking a break from quilting today so I can hem my new choir robe and personalize the fit a little bit.  (The sleeves are too long and the hem is crooked).  Happy weekend and happy stitching!
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