Trapunto & Machine embroidered Applique

August 30th, 2011

Even though my first machine embroidered applique has 2 big errors (I didn’t stabilize it correctly so the background fabric puckers and the applique shape I cut out didn’t exactly fill the stitched lines, so there is a “blank area on the right side), I simply could not throw this out! Remember, I’m on this path to experiment with this stuff, so I wanted to try one type of trapunto on this piece and used this experiment to create a new pincushion. (I know…I need another pincushion like I need a hole in the head!) Anyway, the first step was to cut out a piece of batting in the shape of the embroidered heart and then I lightly attached it to the backside of the fabric with 3 small spots of a glue stick:

(whew…that last photo really shows the waviness/puckering because of my stabilizer snafu!) After that, I spray basted a layer of thin batting underneath the entire piece of fabric and went to the sewing machine. In retrospect, I wish I had added a backing fabric because it would have helped augment the trapunto effect. I had invisible thread (Monopoly by Superior Threads) in my top needle and Masterpiece in my bobbin and stitched just outside some of the heavy thread outlines within the heart and then I stitched just outside the entire heart. My photos really don’t show much trapunto effect, but in this next shot, you can see a little bit of definition/texture:

…and if you’re at all confused about what I did, here is a shot of the backside that makes the stitching clear:

I switched to a rayon thread that roughly matched the background fabric and quilted that area with a small scale version of “Rudimentary Plumify-It” FMQ design:

I trimmed the size and attached a backside, stuffed it, then whipstitched that opening shut and here she is:

She is my current favorite, but please don’t tell the other pincushions…they’re like children and I love them all…

Adventures in Machine Embroidery

August 30th, 2011

If the title of this post scared you, please don’t pick up your remote and switch channels on me! I am just starting out on an incredibly fun journey that will enrich my quilting life and I want to share the thrill of discovery with you. (Don’t worry, you’re going to see tons of plain old quilting posts all along the way, but I’m having so much fun with this that I want you to see it and perhaps you will become as enthralled as I now am.)

About 9 years ago, I won a Babylock Ellageo embroidery machine. At the time, this was a top of the line model and I had no idea what to do with it. Like all of us, I have a finite amount of time that I can spend sewing, and I love quilting so much that I couldn’t imagine giving up any of that time to learn embroidery. Hence, the machine sat in the box but I had every intention of learning how to use it once I could get a huge chunk of time. (Anyone who knows me will laugh at this, because time is my life issue and I always have this hope that a huge chunk of time is “just around the corner,” yet it never is.)

Fast forward to late last year. My New Year’s goal was to learn how to use my embroidery machine because I wanted to learn how to do machine embroidered applique. (If that term has no meaning to you, stick with me over the next few weeks, because you’ll be blown away by what’s out there!) My initial lesson was to be in January but then my left wrist developed severe problems to the point that I could not use my left arm. Then I had the honor of meeting Sarah Vedeler at Spring Quilt Market. If you do not know of her, you should, because she is the Queen of machine embroidered applique. At the same time, I had just developed a line of cutting dies for fusible applique and I was now creating quilts so quickly that I could not keep up with all the thread work that is required. Think of it, quilts like:

…all have intricate applique shapes that require some type of edge finishing, and sometimes, decorative edge finishing, and this takes lots of time. What I pictured above is a mere taste of quilts from earlier this year, and let’s not forget about the 2 that I’m freehand embroidering/trapuntoing now, each of which is taking hours and hours of thread work before they even make it into the final quilt sandwich stage:


There are other tops that I haven’t even shown yet on my blog, and of course there are the thousands of quilts I have marinating in my head! What I’m trying to impress on you is the fact that I cannot keep up with my own work. This has weighed heavily on me for the last many months, yet I just could not find the time to learn machine embroidery. It’s not that I wanted to give up free motion embroidery, but if I could learn machine embroidered applique, I could have an embroidery machine working on one quilt while I was working on another quilt and maybe get my self caught up. Then, the straw that broke the camel’s back came when I read this blog post by Sew Cal Gal. (Again, this is another blog you should be reading, so bookmark it if you’re not already following her blog!) If you scroll through this post, you’ll see photos of some appliqued tulips that Darlene made with intricate embroidery inside them. She created these using Sarah Vedeler’s embroidery designs. I kept going back and looking at those photos, and frankly, the lovely detail kept me awake at night. I knew I just needed to make time to learn machine embroidered applique. This was the very beginning of my journey!

I got a 45 minute basic lesson on how to use my embroidery machine on a Friday afternoon, and began playing right away. My first attempt was to embroider this wreath, using a digital embroidery file that was installed on my machine:

I couldn’t believe how easy it was to do, and I raced back to my dealer with this wreath in hand because I was so proud of myself…I think he thought I was nuts! Next up, I thought I’d really extend myself, and I embroidered this iris that had all of 3 different thread colors:

Whoa! I was really smokin’ now! I decided it was time to graduate and try a digital design file from a source outside my machine. I had also won an embroidery card with lots of designs on it, so I embroidered this pumpkin off of that card:

You can see there are some stabilizing issues in these and design-wise, they’re really not challenging if you know how to embroider, but they fueled my interest in learning and brought me closer to being able to start learning about machine embroidered applique. By now, I had ordered Sarah’s Hearts Quilt CD and it had arrived, but alas, I had to leave town for 2 weeks and that meant being away from my embroidery machine. Drat!! I spent those 2 weeks dreaming of what was to come next, and couldn’t wait to be reconnected with that machine! This is where it all began to fall apart, though. Although my machine was only 9 years old, technology has advanced so quickly that my machine was actually somewhat of a dinosaur. The only way digital design files could be transferred into my machine was either through an embroidery card (that holds a whooping 6 designs maximum!) through a transfer devise called “The Amazing Box” or though a floppy disk. You’re surely asking yourself, “Did she just say a floppy disk?” Yes, I did, and that was my reaction as I had given away all my floppy disks many years ago when they went the way of the dinosaur!

When I got back home, my husband and I spent about 30 hours installing/de-installing/re-installing/trying everything we could think of to get “The Amazing Box” to work, but the software is old and just would not work on my computer. It turns out my amazing box wasn’t so amazing after all! I was about to give up when I joined a Babylock yahoo chat group and learned that I could purchase a very inexpensive ($20) floppy disk drive and leave the amazing box out of the equation. Suddenly, the sun was shining once again! I spent this past weekend over-the-top excited as I had my first experiences playing with Sarah’s designs. Here is my first embroidered applique heart:

Now Sarah was very clear in her instructions about the importance of stabilizing, but I just had to see what I could get away with! I stabilized the background fabric with a layer of fusible interfacing but I did not stabilize the applique itself. Can you see there’s some puckering around the edges of the heart? Big “no-no,” so I learned to listen to what Sarah says! Next up is another applique heart I embroidered, but I followed the rules this time:

Can you see the difference?…no puckering this time! Next up, I wanted to try embroidering an applique badge. (Don’t I sound official using embroidery terms like “badge?!”) A badge is a free standing embroidery, in this case, a free standing embroidered applique that I can later applique to something else. If we go back to our first photo,

you’ll notice that it is not appliqued to fabric…that white background is 2 layers of dissolvable stabilizer. (That means that once it’s placed into water, the stabilizer disappears and all that’s left is that heart, but it won’t have been appliqued to anything yet.) If you’re new to this, here’s a hoop that holds one embroidered heart on stabilizer and the outline for where to place the next heart can be seen:

By placing the applique shape exactly within that outline, all the embroidery will line up perfectly…genius! The machine stitches a lot faster than I do, so you can make a lot of these pretty fast:

I think I’ve created a monster!

Scenes From a Quilt Block

August 28th, 2011

I’m about to finish all the free motion embroidery and trapunto on this center block, so I’m pretty close to being able to add the side and corner setting triangles that will return this quilt to its square shape. The center heart is fairly “poofy” with a layer of wool batting underneath. I also added some gold “highlights” by outlining shapes within it and I love that “bling” detail:

And here’s a shot of one of the more complex stems. Again, my goal with shapes like this is to use a shiny thread in a color that does not match the background for the “showy” areas but use a very lightweight and non-shiny thread for the internal teardrops, as I really don’t want to draw attention to that stitching:

The birds and feathers have a very thin polyester batting behind them, so they won’t “puff out” nearly as much as the tulips and central heart:

(Oops!  It looks like I need to trim that fraying fabric on the wing!)  Here’s my tip for saving time when you’re finishing the edges of a flower where there’s an “interruption” between the petals…I don’t end my stitching lines after each petal, but take some very short stitches at the extreme edge of the petal, then “skip” to the next petal:

All those travel lines of stitching need to be trimmed before the next row of petals can be stitched. Here’s one of those flowers in its finished state:

I can hardly wait to add the setting triangles so I can add some more fusible applique to fill those! In the meantime, this week will be heavy on sewing and quilting (yippee!!!) so expect some great posts! I am working on several different projects, each quite different from the others, and will post at least 4 more posts within the next 6-7 days. To whet your appetite, here’s just a taste of one of them:

Everything’s Happening…

August 23rd, 2011

…except sewing!  Dang, it has been hard to find any time to quilt for the last 2 weeks!  I have made just the teeniest little bit of progress on my tulip quilt, finishing up most of the trapunto and free motion embroidery on these blocks:

I’ve been using wool batting on the tulips. Here’s a shot of the backside of a block before I’ve cut away the excess batting:

And here’s a shot after it’s been trimmed:

The thing to notice is there are 2 weights of batting (the thick wool behind tulips and an ultra-thin polyester behind the feathers) and also that I didn’t trim the feather batting very closely. I’m thinking that because this batting is so thin, it really won’t matter…we’ll see! Here’s what a typical tulip looks like once the edges are finished with the EKG-edge finishing design:

I always try to use a thread color that doesn’t match the fabric and I always use a shiny thread, either a rayon or a polyester. That little bit of sheen makes all the difference! Here’s a closeup of a tulip stem; these are free motion embroidered but not trapuntoed:

Starting this weekend, I should really have some good chunks of time to quilt, so hopefully, there will be some good posts coming up!

Color, Color, and More Color!

August 10th, 2011

These pictures really don’t do this top justice; the colors are so luscious and rich that it’s been a very stimulating experience to work on it. I started this quilt back in the first week of June when I was in North Carolina. I have a large fusing surface (2 hollow doors covered w/batting/fabric that lie on top of a queen size bed) and it’s a wonderful set up to create applique scenes improvisationally. I never have a drawing or a pattern or a “plan” when I start a new quilt like this. Usually, it’s based on a feeling I want to convey or a notion of a few colors I’d like to put together. The hard part is that I always have to leave the project until it’s far enough along that I can begin fusing objects into place. (This is because you can’t pick it up until all the major “characters” have been fused.) When I left that first week in June, this is what things looked like:

I had fused a few flowers together and just laid them on the surface along with one swirl. This gave me the sense of a color scheme and also the notion that I wanted flowing, curving movement. When I have to leave a project like this for a couple of weeks, I feel kind of sad, like I’m anticipating missing it, so I often take a photo like this so I can think about it while I’m gone and maybe come up with more ideas about it. When I got back to NC, I added more flowers and swirls and it looked like this:

Again, nothing is fused here; I was just going for a general layout/scheme. You can see that I’d thrown in more details as well, like some leaves. Everything on this top has been cut with my Sizzix machine except for the swirls, and because there are many different leaf shape dies, there are always many options for leaves. I went with the teardrops because they add to that sense of movement and also to that sense of whimsy and fantasy. Because the flowers aren’t really meant to represent real flowers, taking a little liberty with the leaves made a lot of sense to me.

This quilt actually began by cutting up tons of blue/purple/violet scraps into petals of all different sizes. I’ve really come to appreciate how much punch you can add to a quilt by throwing in details. So, I started cutting up more scraps in contrasting colors to add those details. I’d grab a wad of scraps that had similar cutout areas like these:

and if you touch an iron to it for 3 seconds, they flatten out so you can stack em up high and cut a ton of shapes from those scraps in one crank of the machine. So, you can dress up a plain petal by adding a yellow highlight:

…and then if you fuse a bunch of those petals together, you get a nice flower like this:

Now I really like that flower, but sometimes you want even more detail, so you end up slicing up more scraps and adding to it:

Here’s a similar type of arrangement, but I started with a different baseline petal and color scheme:

(I think you understand how addictive this can be!) Some of the flowers are kind of big, like this guy:

…or this guy:

…and others are relatively small and simple, like this little guy:

Because of that, parts of the top are more simple and somewhat quieter:

…while other parts are much busier and louder, almost riotous:

There is a tremendous amount of thread work that I’ll need to add to this (both free motion machine embroidery and trapunto) before it ever makes its way into the final quilt sandwich, so I’m just getting going on this baby. (And don’t forget, I’m still plugging away on my tulip quilt.) In the meantime, though, all these colors sure do make me happy!