[Note: Part three and four of Gilded Gardens provide a greater amount of technical information than most of my tutorials. Therefore, I would recommend that you read them through at least once before beginning the second level of thread work.]
We now have our background and garden contents stitched down and embellished with various decorative free motion stitches. We could call it a day at this point and still have a nice piece of appliqued floral artwork. However, why stop the fun when there’s so much more of it to be had!
At this point, a little technical information is required for those who have never worked with decorative threads. The next stage of our project involves perle (pearl) cottons and similar heavy threads. I used perle cottons in sizes 3, 5, 8, and 12. I also used a #4 cotton matte thread. An alternative to perle cottons would be crochet threads in comparable weights. (With so many wonderful threads and fibers on the market, I can’t possible list them all. Simply choose your favorites and use the information below as a guideline.)
There are multiple ways to use these threads with your sewing machine, so if one way doesn’t work for you, another probably will. Additionally, sewing machine companies have responded to the demand for specialty feet and bobbin cases that make using these threads much more pleasurable. I will be mentioning a few that I’m acquainted with, but it’s best that you check with your own dealership to see what’s available for your particular sewing machine. Even if you have no desire to purchase more gadgets, you can still complete this project using simple tools.
Perle cottons #8 and #12 can be stitched with a topstitch needle or jeans/denim needle, which have larger eyes. I used needle sizes 90/14, 100/16, and 110/18. When using thick threads through the needle, wind your bobbin with a heavier thread as well. I used 35 weight cotton, but any heavy weight thread up to the size in the needle could be used.
You will need to adjust your bobbin case to accommodate thicker threads. I recommend that you keep an extra bobbin case on hand just for heavier threads, and mark it so that you don’t get it confused with your regular bobbin case. Since threads come is various weights, this bobbin case will need to be adjusted with each use.
When making adjustments, place the bobbin case in an enclosed area, such as a bowl or Rubbermaid container, so that the little adjustment screw doesn’t get lost in case it falls out of its hole. You only need to remember one thing when adjusting bobbin screws: right is tight. Make all adjustments in small increments and then test your stitches.
Bernina Bobbin Case
If your bobbin work is loopy, turn your bobbin tension screw to the right to tighten it (remember small increments). If it lies on the surface undefined, turn your screw to the left to loosen the tension. You may also need to adjust your top tension to get the stitches you desire.
Make notes of combinations that work well (e.g., 35 wt @ 2 o’clock) so that you can refer to them in the future. Testing your stitches is crucial to the success of your projects, so please don’t skip this step.
Now, let’s begin. Using a topstitch or jeans/denim needle, thread your machine with a #8 or #12 perle cotton, and fill your bobbin with a heavy thread. Loosen your top tension. Perle cottons feed well from a thread stand. I actually used a coffee cup holder that I purchased from a kitchenware store and have included a picture so that you can see what a perfect thread dispenser it makes. If you leave your feed dogs in the up position, use an open embroidery foot for clear visibility (although I used a standard presser foot with no problem). Also, increase your stitch length to about 3.5 mm.
Begin stitching around some of your flowers. Do not sew into previous stitching since this will cause your thread to fray and break. Make several passes until you are happy with the way your flower looks. We will be using heavier threads in the next stage and yarns in the final stage, so leave some flowers bare, including your center flower (unless you would like to complete your garden at this stage).
To form your spirals, scrolls, and circles, you will need to lower your feed dogs and switch to a free motion embroidery foot if you haven’t already done so. I’m not going to tell you that this is an easy, carefree technique. If you move your fabric too slowly, you may very well have an instant bird’s nest form on the back of your work. At the same time, you don’t want to run your machine so fast that you fray your thread.
I recommend using perle cotton #12 since it is finer than #8. Practice on a test piece in order to become comfortable with the technique before attempting it on your project. The results are worth the extra effort, I assure you. However, if your machine is too finicky or you’re not at ease with the technique, don’t worry. Either skip this step or use a heavy embroidery thread to accomplish the same task. I used a 20 weight thread on my test piece with no problem and the results were similar to the #12 perle. I simply used stitch buildup to replicate the look. If there’s a will, there’s a way, correct?
#12 Perle Cotton on Left – 20 Wt. Thread on Right
Work the decorative shapes off the sides of some of your flowers, keeping them simple. If your machine has a needle down option, this is a good time to use it so that your work doesn’t shift at your starts and stops. You may also like to do some meandering, ending the winding trail with a filled circle.
In part four, we will begin working with perle cottons #3 and #5, learn how to create a pod stitch, and conclude the second level of thread work.
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N. Rene West