Friday, October 28, 2011


In my last blog about the bargello Christmas runner, I showed you how the strips were made.  Now we begin to assemble them so that the colors travel across the quilt.  In order to keep our lines true, parallel lines are drawn on the batting that has been pinned to the backing, keeping the backing nice and smooth while this part of the quilt sandwich is being manipulated.  The parallel lines are our guides for where to start the strips.  I also drew lines about every 2" perpendicular to the parallel lines so that I could "eyeball" my strips to help keep them straight.

This is how my bargello came out.  My runner is draped over the edge of my sewing machine cabinet.  I bound the edges and then off I went to take the second lesson from Til -- embellishments!

My!  Til brought so many beads and baubles and bright shiney things!  Ribbons and needles and threads galore.  Others brought their decorative stashes to share, too, for who would ever use 7,000 tiny gold beads?  Not in my lifetime!

Pat is putting on the binding for her background bargello prior to adding the embellishments.

Joane has selected the fabrics she wants and the shapes of the ornaments.  These can be backed by wonder under or dryer sheets or fabric stabilizer so that you can applique them onto the quilt in your favorite way.  Or you can just do needle turn applique.  However you do it, though, you must put the ribbons and beads and the like on the ornaments before appliqueing them onto your runner.

Dot is extraordinarily creative and decided not to use the drawings given out by the teacher for her ornaments.  She made hers up, and they are reminiscent of the old fashioned painted glass ones we used to have as kids.

Once the ornaments are on, round gold ribbon is used to "hang" the ornaments from the centers of the bargello waves, and wired gold ribbon is used to create a bow at the top where they meet the bargello stripes. 

Voila!  This is a time consuming but easy project.  You can make it go faster two ways:  Tube quilting and strip joining. 

When you cut the 2 1/2" strips of the various colors and sew them together in a strata, join the last strip to the first one, making a tube, with the strips going longwise.  Lay the tube on the table, flattening it so that one of the seams runs along an inch marker horizontally on your cutting board.  Place the bottom of your 6 x 12 (or larger) ruler along this seam (with the tall side of the ruler near the left edge of the tube) and trim the end of the tube on the left (if you are right handed) to even it up and square it up.  Then cut your variable strips, one section after another in the following order:  1, 3,  5.  Then with another strata cut sections 2, 4, and 6.  Cut all the strips you need for each section and label them.  Press each strip so that the seams of section 1 go up, the seams of section 2 go down, 3 goes up and so forth. 

When we assembled our bargellos, we did so keeping the strips in their respective piles, beginning with section 6, placing that first section 6 strip on our backing/batting sandwich so that we lined up the beginning on one of the long parallel lines and kept the entire strip aligned with the perpendicular line at the beginning.  Then we added each individual strip, one at a time.  However, one of us, who shall remain nameless in order not to get in trouble with the teacher, decided that all those strips were too apt to work their way into a curve or cattywompus, so she joined a few strips together at a time and then added this new mega-strip to the sandwich, thus decreasing the number of sewing lines that had to be accomplished.  I must say, her quilt looked alot more even than mine did, and I'm going to try it her way next time.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Both my sister and I have bought quilt tops from Ebay on the internet.  I'm pretty sure she feels as I do:  the quality of Ebay quilt tops is abysmal!  From a quilting point of view, the piecing is spare and often leaves areas that are not joined with enough seam allowance so that the quilt top comes apart if any stretch is put on it.  The colors may be very pretty, but the fabric is usually thin with poor greige (pronounced "gray") goods.  These don't hold up well to repeated washings and everyday use.  And worst of all, for the person who actually quilts these tops (i.e., adding patterned sewing to the quilt sandwich), junctions between blocks sometimes don't fit, or they pucker or tent.  In that case, the quilter has to "quilt it out."

Case in point.  This is an Ebay quilt and is a wonderful Drunkard's Path pattern, rich in autumn and/or Christmas colors. This quilt is king size, so there was alot of room for puckers, tenting, mismatched seams, and two areas where the seams came apart.  Because of the variety of colors, I used a variegated autumn colors thread.  Because the main patterning was on the diagonal, and because doing custom work on a poor quality quilt like this is not using my time effectively, I used a pantograph.  Usually during the time that the pantograph is running with my marvelous IQ computerized stitching program, I can do other things, like press quilt tops, put on binding, or create new blocks for a project.  Not so with this quilt.  There was so much distortion and puffiness in the blocks that I had to babysit it the whole time, easing fabric excess into more flattened shape while the Nolting needle came perilously close to my fingers.  It took 20 minutes to do one pass of the pantograph.  There were nine passes in the entire quilt.  That means that I sat there for three solid hours pushing and patting and fitting this quilt into some semblance of a flat cover for someone's bed.

These auctioned quilt tops are not going to become heirlooms, and it certainly saves on the time it takes to create a quilt that you want to use yourself or give away as a "utilitarian" quilt, so they're definitely worth quilting.  I don't mean to take away from the people who mass produce these on Ebay, but buyer beware!  If you think you're getting something that is well made, you will be unhappy with what you find once you open the box.  Be prepared to TWEAK it with a capital T!

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Bargello quilts are some of the most complicated and stunning uses of fabric that can be found.  Both the colors of the strips and the widths of the strips vary from row to row, creating a unique pattern.  It is not known when bargello stitchery came into being, but there are examples of it in the fabrics created for chairs in Florence in the 16th century.  It was originally called the Hungarian point, suggesting that the patterns originated in Hungary. In the last two decades, a resurgence of interest in the complex patterns has arisen and extended to a variety of modalities, among which is quilting.  Most recently, bargello quilting is being accomplished with strip piecing, and that's what I want to show you today.

Strata are created using 2 1/2" strips of fabric in a variety of colors.  In this particular case, the pattern and colors are predetermined by a pattern developed by Til T from my quilting guild, who has created a Christmas table runner in this fashion.  The first picture shows the strips sewn to one another in  a particular sequence.  The second picture is a strip cut from that strata.  Til's pattern calls for 8 of these strips.

In order for the progression of the colors in an orderly sequence across the quilt, you need to create strips of varying widths.  Since you don't want all your strips to have the same sequence of color, you have to either form a whole new strata and cut the next set of strips, or you can do it the way I did, by cutting the second set of strips the correct width and then following these steps:

Here I am cutting a narrower strip from the original strata.

I take the two ends of one strip and join them right sides together.

In order to make this step less tedious, I join all strips of that particular series by chain piecing them.  For instance, the series could call for a 2" row with the colors black, black, light green, medium green, dark red, light red, black, black, black.  It would be extremely time consuming to have to join these individually, so that's why the strata are so useful.

Once you have joined each strip end to end, you have a circle, like this.  Remember, the sequence of the colors is always the same in simple bargello.  So now we can just remove the stitches between the colors that we need to be first and last for the next row:

This shows the last row I needed to make for the table runner.  The sequence here is black, black, black, black, black, light red, dark red, dark green, medium green, light green.  You can see that it is quite different from the preceding rows.

Finally, I place my folded (just for convenience) strips beside each other to demonstrate how the bargello pattern will evolve.

Later this week I will show you how the strips are joined to each other.  This is a quilt-as-you-go project, and that's another story....

Don't forget to check out my other blog:  where there are some pictures of a lovely embroidered quilt in the making. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011


For several years I quilted Quilts of Valor that Sue Bennett had created.  Sue would donate the material and the work, and I would donate the quilting.  Then she would put on the binding and send it in to the QOV people, who would then send it on to a wounded soldier.  At some point, Sue started sending me her personal quilts.  Now she's sending me her friends, and they compliment me by sending their quilts.

The stunning New York Beauty above is an example of Kay McA's work.  Kay is a careful piecer, and apparently a very patient one, too.  The reason I know this is that her sewing is very precise, but also, she has waited an inordinate amount of time to get her quilt finished.  I received it from her in mid-August.  My Intelliquilter robotics tablet was in California having some upgrading work done on the battery compartment.  This was supposed to take one week.  It took four, so I didn't get started on Kay's quilt until early September.

There followed several unexpected mishaps:  we had an earthquake, followed a few days later by hurricane Irene and three days of power outages.  After two days of cleanup around here, tropical storm Lee hit, and another power outage occurred.  Even with a generator, I wouldn't dare start up my Nolting 24 Pro, fearing surges and the like that could permanently damage the machine and/or the Intelliquilter.

As soon as the property was recleaned from Lee, I had commitments to five classes that I needed to attend or sponsor.  One of these was hosting Marilyn Doheny for my guild.  Marilyn gave a fabulous trunk show one day and a stimulating, exciting class the next.  She stayed with me during this time, and because her next show and class wasn't until the next week, her visit stretched to a full week.  This is a real treat for any quilter who loves getting her creative juices flowing, and we had a wonderful visit, cooking, sewing, visiting quilt shops, and getting Marilyn rested up from her month long marathon of traveling.  But it didn't get this quilt done.

Here's a picture of the center NYB.  If you click on the picture, you can enlarge it quite a bit to be able to see the stippling in the wedges between the blades of the star.  Around the outer shell are triangle shaped feathers to fill the setting block, and inside the inner circle is a feathered wreath with a small star in it. I created all of these designs for Kay with my Intelliquilter. 

At each corner of the central star is a three-quarter star.  The stippling was the same here, as were the corner treatments, but, again, I had to fashion a three-quarter wreath for these wrap around NYB's.

As the array of NYB's expanded, there were also half-wreaths needed.  My IQ helped me create these to fit smoothly in the half circles.

Kay's quilt has eight rows of Beauties; each row took nearly 5 hours to do:  four for the stippling wedges and one for the feathered accents.

So now this one is finished, and although it has been on my frame for six weeks with all the interruptions from weather, mishap and hostessing, I am sorry to see it go.  It is a visually compelling quilt, and one that Kay will be proud of forever.

Friday, June 24, 2011


This is a picture of a phenomenon called pokies.  The technical term for this unfortunate event is called bearding.  It consists of bits of thread that have broken off from the top fabric of the quilt and/or batting poked through the backing in the quilting process.  This is not to be confused with loopies, where the top thread tension is loose enough to allow for looping of the top thread on the backing prior to the needle returning through the fabric to the front.  "Loopies" is easy to fix:  just increase the top thread tension.  Pokies requires some investigative work.

Now, just to clarify things, the stitching and the threads in this case are just fine.  The tension is great, the stitch length is adequate and the stitching is smooth.  So we have to look elsewhere.  Let's start from the top:  the top of the quilt, that is.

The top of this quilt is made from batiks.  Batiks are tightly woven and heavily dyed fabrics.  They are gorgeous, so we keep getting suckered into using them in our projects.  I'm as guilty as anyone else, because I love them.  But they don't love the quilting process. 

Batiks require a sharp strong needle to pierce them cleanly.  A Gros Beckert 20 is my needle of choice for fabrics that are hard to pierce.  You blanche.  Well, I'm telling you that sometimes you can get away with using an 18, but it's not as strong a needle, and I have had them break on me before when using them on quilts made from batiks.  IF your customer has prewashed his or her batik fabric, you can use an 18.  Otherwise, save yourself a headache and use a 20. 

And DON'T use the titanium needles.  They are strong, yes.  But they are also flexible.  This is important because that tight weave in batiks can deflect the needle and cause problems with the stitching.  And, importantly, the titanium needles tend to have a slightly rounded tip, rather than the very sharp tip found in the Gros Beckerts.  This rounded tip doesn't pierce the tight weave of the batik fabric and instead pulls threads from the batiks down through the batting to the backing.  A dull needle can do the same thing.  You can tell if you're having a problem with the tip of your needle by looking at the quilt top.  If you are getting "runs"  (yes, they look just like the runs in your nylons, only tiny), you need a sharper needle.

Some people find that they do much better using a smaller needle if they encounter bearding.  The current wisdom about this is that the smaller the hole, the less space to drag batting through with the needle.  I confess that I have never used a size 16 needle, but I do like the 18's quite a bit and prefer them over the 20's for most things.

Lastly, look at your batting.  I have found that all-cotton and all-wool battings have a greater tendency to pokies than blends.  Why?  I don't know, but I think it has something to do with the strands of fibers and how they are aligned in these natural battings.  I DO know that if you do not place the scrim side of any batting against the backing, you will definitely be more likely to pull fibers from the batting through to the backing.  The scrim helps to "seal" the batting to keep stray fibers from coming through to the back.

What about the backing itself?  This quilt's backing was all cotton but dyed with metallics in patterns throughout the fabric.  This type of fabric may be harder for the needle to pierce, so, again, you need a strong one that won't break or deflect, but it doesn't significantly contribute to pokies.  Pokies come from the inside out, and they are already on their way through the quilt sandwich to the outside by the time the backing is pierced.

How about the height of the quilt sandwich compared to the bed of the longarm?  Lets say that you have rolled back to a certain spot on your quilt in order to do the next set of patterns and have forgotten to lower the take up roller to allow the quilt sandwich to rest on top of the sewing plate.  Pokies aren't the issue here.  Mostly what you will see is laddering and maybe loopies, because the backing isn't lying snugly on top of the sewing plate. This creats an increased distance the needle travels after having already passed through the backing before the top thread can be caught by the bobbin and looped around the bottom thread, just as the distance between these two points would be increased if you had a very thick sandwich.  Only you don't. You have air between the back of the quilt and the bobbin.  This distance leaves that top thread flapping in the breeze, so to speak, and you will have nests and other nasty things on the back of your quilt as a result.

Some people say that having the quilt sandwich too tight may cause pokies.  This isn't necessarily so unless the sandwich is held too high by the takeup bar, as in  the previous example.  I have found that a tight sandwich is more likely to cause skipped stitches rather than pokies or loopies.

Now, let's talk about treatment.  How to deal with pokies.  Well, it's not a pretty answer.  You have to pull those fibers out of your nice, neat stitching.  Some quilters have used those little rotating razors that shave pills off of sweaters effectively.  I pull the fibers out, one by one.  If there is just a little sprinkling of fuzz, rather than full blown fibers, you can try washing the quilt.  Sometimes the shrinkage that occurs with natural fiber battings will pull the whole sandwich up a little, and the fuzzies will wash away or disappear into the sandwich again.  But caution:  don't count on this if the fibers are over 1/4" long.  You do NOT have to rip out your quilting.  The stitching is fine.  It's the combination of fabric, batting type, scrim placed correctly, and most importantly, having a good, sharp needle that is the cause, not your stitching.

So there's today's lesson on one of quilting's headaches:  pokies -- cause, prevention and treatment, all in a nutshell.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day goodies

Red, white and blue.  Does that combination do it to you like it does it to me?  This is the second of Sue B's friends' quilts, and it's very nicely made.  Corners match.  The quilt is squared up. Seams are ironed flat.  It's exactly the kind of quilt that makes me happy to load and work on.  I finished quilting it yesterday, trimmed and photographed it today and got it into the mail in time to go out this afternoon.  Mission accomplished.

Now here's a little treat for you longarmers.  You know how the unused portion of your leader flaps in the wind as you are turning your take up bar to move on to the next section?  And if you don't smooth out those leader ends, they end up getting all folded over and sort of snarled up between the backing bar and the belly bar?  Well, here are some useful little items.  They are cuffs that fit over your bars to hold those loose ends tightly against the bar.

Essentially, they are thin conduit tubing that has been cut open and has had the edges smoothed.  I looked for PVC tubing or other plastic conduit so I could have DH make some of these for me, but I couldn't find the appropriate thickness.  It has to be thin enough and springy enough to slip over the bars and leaders.  So I ended up buying these at a quilt show.

Here's what I like about them:  they hold the excess leader nicely against the bars.  Here's what I don't like: at the end of the quilt, when you often want to move that last row up from the belly bar so that it's more in the middle of your machine's throat space, the leaders unroll to accommodate you.  With these plastic cuffs in place, the leader can't do that, and you have to push them off the leaders and onto the bar. 

One last thing to share with you.  This video is AMAZING!  Enjoy Toby Keith and the aircraft at one of our Air Force bases:  USA

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What happened?

This is Barbara M's first quilt.  My friend, Sue, for whom I have quilted many QOV's, browbeat her friend, Barbara, into sending me her quilt to "bring to life."  So I used special care.  I thoroughly cleaned my studio, which I affectionately call my lurkim, wiped down the long arm table with alcohol, cleaned the Edgerider wheels, and the driving wheels on the IntelliQuilter, scrupulously cleaned out the brackets into which the wheels roll, oiled my wonderful Nolting 24 Pro after cleaning out any lint, etc., and I was ready to go.

The center of the quilt was four large blocks in which I used one of my favorite feathered square wreaths.

Here you can see a variety of treatments:  continuous curve for the four patches that alternate with smaller yellow blocks in which I put the same square feathered wreath as I had in the larger center blocks;  egg and dart line dancing in the small inner border, and a formal feathered rectangle in the pansy rectangle.  But check out the dark blue rectangle.  I used two of the formal feathered rectangles, mirror image, in that.  Little did I know that that was my downfall.

Here's the back of the quilt.  Looks pretty good, right? Well, to the naked and adoring eye, yes.  But up close and personal it was another matter.

If you look closelly, you will see an occasional navy blue dot.  Was I using navy blue thread on the top that had poked through?  No.  Was my batting some crazy dark or black color?  No.  Were there loose thread bits that had been shed from the quilt top getting sewn into the backing as I quilted?  No.

What you see here is the result of one of two things, but they both boil down to the same dynamic:  the needle was entering the navy blue fabric and pulling the threads from that fabric down to the backing.  This could happen if 1) your needle was dull, or 2) if you were unfortunate enough to have purchased the titanium longarm quilting needles, which are NOT sharp but have a rounded point.  I had purchased some of these, thinking that these were the up and coming thing, but they're not, and I urge you to abandon them in favor of the standard sharp pointed long arm needles if you're using them. 

If you have any of these, here are some caveats:  titanium is strong, but it is flexible, so your needle may flex away from the scarf if you are quilting on the fly like a banshee, causing skipped stitches.  And titanium needles have a rounded point, which might be wonderful for knit fabrics, but does not pierce cotton well and therefore can pull the threads into the batting and even out the back of the quilt, as happened with this quilt.

Unfortunately, I did not see this until I had finished two borders and the third row of the quilt, but I salvaged the situation by changing to a standard SHARP long arm needle for the rest of the quilt.

This quilt was also a challenge because the pale yellow Masterpiece thread I was using broke up to five times per pattern sewn!  There are several reasons for thread to break: 
1) the quilt sandwich is too tight
2)  the machine is moving too fast for the thread to recover between stitches
3) the thread tension is too tight
4) there is a burr on the needle or the plate, catching the thread and tearing it
5) the combination of batting and thread is contributing.  For instance, polyester batting combined with long staple cotton thread may break the thread if there is alot of slub in the thread, which then catches on the polyester and pulls and breaks
6)  the weight/strength of the thread is inadequate for the high speed revolutions of the long arm quilting machine.  In my case, the Masterpiece thread weight was 50/2, and obviously not a good match for this quilt, even though all the fabrics had been prewashed.  I did not have another pale yellow thread that I could use, so I had to tough it out with the Masterpiece, which is now relegated to my sewing studio upstairs, to be used only on my home sewing machine henceforth.  I was also using poly batting.  Masterpiece IS professional grade quilting thread, unlike some standard personal-use threads;  however, I will never use it on a quilt done with my size (24") longarm again.  I have heard that smaller quilting machines, like the midarms (16 - 18" arms) or the home quilting machines (9" arms), or those with fewer rpms, do well with it.

So that's your lesson for the day -- and mine, as well, I might add.