Quilting – Out of the Blue (part two)

Out of the Blue

Our painted fabric is now ready for the next stage where we will define the different areas of the flower with color and stitches. Remember that any number of these blocks could be created for a larger project, such as a quilt.

Look at your project and decide where you would like to divide the various sections, i.e., the center, the petals, the surrounding areas. This should be easy to do since the salt would leave some of the defining areas mottled. With a sharp chalk marker, draw around the center section, the petals, and the outer areas. Of course, your wall ornament may be completely different from mine, but I think you get the idea.

Chalk Outlines

Cut batting and backing a little larger than your project and sandwich together using 505 spray or whatever method you prefer. Prepare your sewing machine for free motion quilting, making sure the feed dogs are lowered.

For the center of the flower, use a light colored thread that coordinates well with your fabric. Free motion whatever design you like in this area. I began by sewing around the perimeter and then working towards the center.

Center Motifs

Thread your machine with a darker thread and use a different motif to free motion quilt the next area. I used navy thread and the garnet stitch, making circles and ovals with my needle. Remember, it is the contrast of colors and stitches that gives this piece its visual interest.

Now return to a lighter color thread and begin outlining your flower petals. Add a little dimension to the upper petals with three or four short lines of stitching radiating outward.

Petals

When your petals are compete, thread your machine with a darker thread and once again free motion quilt with a new motif. I used a meandering stitch in this area.

Continue in this alternating pattern until you finish your quilted project.

Radiating Stitches

Dimensional objects in fabric painting can reward us with spectacular outcomes that open up new avenues of creativity. I hope you will think of this tutorial as a mere starting point.

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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

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Quilting – Out of the Blue (part one)

Out of the Blue

Each year as spring arrives, I think paint. What could be more exciting in the world of fiber art than not knowing what the alchemy of fabric paints, salts, gels, powdered pigments, sponges, brushes, and a little time will render? It’s a surprise every time and I love it!

For this fiber play, you will need some white Kona or pima 100% PFD (prepared for dying) cotton fabric, a sponge applicator, a dimensional plaster (or metal) decorative wall ornament, a bottle of Pebeo Setacolor transparent fabric paint, rubber gloves, plastic wrap, and some rock salt.

Fabric Painting Supplies

Commercial fabrics are often treated with finishes that will resist the absorption of paint. If you’re not sure whether your fabric is PFD, wash it first with Synthropol or a small amount of laundry detergent. Do not use fabric softener in the rinse water.

Additionally, fabric paint can permanently stain your clothing, so it’s a good idea to wear a protective cover over your clothes or older clothing designated just for this purpose.

When fabric painting, I use a foamcore board purchased from an art supply store as my base. It’s lightweight and easy to cover with a drop cloth, large trash bag, or vinyl. I also keep a spray bottle (filled with water) and paper towels handy.

A book on mixing colors is also a helpful aide. There are many on the market from which to choose. I like Mix Your Own Acrylics by Jill Mirza and Nick Harris (published by Walter Foster Publishing, Inc). There is a short section on color theory followed by color galleries filled with easy ratios to follow in your own paint mixing.

Paint Mixing

I purchased the decorative wall ornament at T. J. Maxx, but I’ve seen similar home decor pieces in numerous stores. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding these.

Decorative Wall Ornament

Now, let’s get painting. Prepare a level surface along with your foamboard by covering them with a drop cloth or plastic sheeting. Place your decorative wall ornament on top. Cover it with plastic cling wrap (such as Saran Wrap) to protect it from the paint.

Covered Block

Next, drape your cotton fabric on top of the ornament and mist it with water until damp (about the dampness of clothing coming out of the washing machine).

Damp Fabric

Put on rubber gloves and pour a small amount of fabric paint (I used ultramarine) on a damp sponge applicator. Quickly spread the paint across the surface of the fabric, making sure you leave no white areas. Paint the fabric a little beyond the edge of your ornament.

Wash you sponge applicator immediately and set aside. Now take some rock salt and sprinkle it on top of your painted fabric.

Painted Fabric

Begin pushing the fabric down into the crevices of the ornament, allowing rock salt to fill the little valleys and hold the fabric in place.

Salted Fabric

Leave your work to dry. On hot days, this could happen very quickly. Conversely, on damp days it could take hours. As soon as your piece is dry, remove the salt and shake the fabric. Sometimes little pieces of salt stick to the fabric. These are easy to remove by hand.

Setacolor paint must be set by heat to be permanent. Cover your ironing area with an old towel or piece of scrap cloth and iron your work at the cotton setting for a few seconds. That’s all it takes to fix your colors.

Flower Form

Hopefully, you see the faint impression of your decorative ornament. In part two, we will define the lines and fill our painted fabric with stitches.

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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

Fabrications – Gilded Gardens (part five)

Our colorful garden is almost finished, but a few remaining embellishments are in order. This is one of those projects that says to us, “The more, the merrier.”

With the heavy thread work behind us, we now turn to filling some of our flowers with felted or couched yarns, adding some yarn to a few of our leaves and to our background, and capping it all off with beads or French knots.

Take a look at your work and decide which flowers you would like to embellish with yarns. For visual interest, select several different colors and audition them until you find just the right ones for your project. I used spun roving, chenille/eyelash mixes, and brushed yarns.

Beginning with any flower other than the center, needle felt as much or as little yarn as you like within its center area. On the flowers that I completely filled, I began by tacking down the end of my yarn in the center and then slowly working in a spiral motion until the yarn reached the edges. You don’t need many stabs of the needles to do this. The goal is to secure your yarns but not to completely felt them with the background.

Felted Flower

Spiral Felted Flower

On other flowers, needle felt smaller amount of yarn and leave some of your flower background showing. On still others, mix your yarns so that the flower is multicolored.

Before working the center flower, needle felt some spun roving (or other fiber) in a radiating design out from the edges. If your center flower has leaves, needle felt or couch a special decorative fiber down the center vein. I used wrapped silk cords.

Wrapped Silk Cords

Wrapped Silk Cords

Then fill your flower with various yarns. With a contrasting color, needle felt a colorful center.

Center Flower

Center Flower Motif

Now take some green furry yarn and felt or couch it along the edges of your leaves just as you did with the heavy thread in part four, working past the leaf tip and meandering here and there.

Couched Yarn

Look at your work and see whether there are areas that need to be filled. For the look of tiny flower buds, I took small pieces of roving, twisted them into a tight little ball, and needle felted them in place. I also meandered spun roving and needle felted it in place.

For the final embellishment, do some bead work down the center vein of a leaf or two, at the center of some of your flowers, and any place else you would like some bling. As an alternative or an additional embellishment, work some French knots in the center of flowers.

Bead Work

Bead Work

Congratulations! Your garden is now complete. I hope you loved doing this project as much as I did.

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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

Fabrications – Gilded Gardens (part four)

Gilded Gardens

[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.]

The final stage of this secondary thread work involves working with perle cottons #3 and/or #5. These heavier threads cannot go through a machine needle so we must use other methods. The most common way of using these decorative weight threads is through bobbin work.

Before the day of specialty bobbin cases, I would simply bypass the tension mechanism on my Bernina 1230 and bring the bobbin thread up directly. This worked okay for very heavy threads and ribbon floss, but wasn’t ideal. I then purchased a second bobbin case and made adjustments as I mentioned in part three. Sewing machine companies now produce specialty bobbin cases, and if you like using decorative threads in your work, they are a nice accessory to have.

Specialty Bobbin Cases

To begin the second phase of heavy thread work, hand wind your bobbin with perle cotton #3 or #5, place it in the specialty bobbin case (or adjusted secondary bobbin), and set up your machine for free motion embroidery (according to your previous test results), making sure the feed dogs are in the down position.

Hand Wound Bobbin

Specialty Bobbin Case

Turn your work to the backside and position the needle at a point on the circumference of one of your circular flowers. Sounds like geometry, doesn’t it?

Backside Bobbin Work

Now check to make sure the bobbin thread tail is positioned towards the back of the machine so that it doesn’t get caught up in the securing stitches and make an unpleasant mess on the front side of your work. Take a few slow securing stitches moving every so slightly forward, clip your top thread tail, and then begin working your way around the circle. Before the second pass, clip your bobbin thread tail. On the second pass, work some spirals, scrolls, and circles in the areas surrounding your flowers.

Bobbin Work

Bobbin Work on Surface

Surface View of Bobbin Work

When you are happy with the decorative bobbin work around your flowers, go back to some of the flowers and fill the interior completely with stitches, working in a spiral motion. Next, work some vein stitching on one or two of your leaves.

Leaf Veins

On other leaves, work a row of stitching down one side and continue in a winding motion past the tip of the leaf.

Leaf Bobbin Work

An alternative to free motion bobbin work would be standard bobbin work. Keep your feed dogs in the normal up position and sew around your flower circles from the back side of your project. It’s possible to make scroll designs around your flowers using this method, but you will need to keep your lines simple.

Another alternative would be to use a couching or braiding foot and couch the thicker threads around your flowers.

Braiding Feet

Couching and Braiding Feet

Couching allows you to use a contrasting top thread color to add even more interest to your work. Make sure you switch to a needle plate that allows for zig zag stitching and adjust your stitch length and width. Leave a small top thread tail and sew over it in your second pass.

Couching Perle Cotton

Couched Perle Cotton

Work slowly so that you can keep your thread close to the previous round of stitches. When you complete your couching, do a few stationary zig zag stitches to secure your thread and then clip it.

Couching Heavy Threads

My favorite way to apply heavy threads is with the Bernina Free Motion Couching Foot #43. I hope other sewing machine companies will produce a similar foot for their machines because it’s a wonderful accessory that I wouldn’t want to be without. The look of free motion couching is quite similar to bobbin work. I did free motion couching on two of the leaves in Gilded Gardens. (This design work can also be created through free motion bobbin work.)

Free Motion Couching

Bernina Free Motion Couching Foot

If you have this accessory, I recommend that you move your needle one position to the right and set your machine on a zig zag stitch width of 1.1 mm. This helps to catch the threads or yarns with every stitch. Some decorative threads are too thin (perle cottons #8 and #12) or too thick for this foot, but many work well. I especially like using this foot with perle cotton #3.

Perle Cottons

One of the special stitches in Gilded Gardens is the pod stitch.

Pod Stitch

This stitch is formed by building repeated rounds of stitches on top of each other. I created some of my pod stitches with the Bernina Free Motion Couching Foot and some with bobbin work. Your feed dogs must be down in order to work on such a small design.

Pod

Pod Stitch

Begin by forming your outer circle and then spiral in towards the center, allowing the thread to build up on top of itself. You can only go so far with this before your machine needle or bobbin case will say “enough.” By that point, you should have a nice round pod decoration formed on the surface of your work. I would suggest that you practice this on a test piece before attempting it on your project.

So, with all the above options, you’re sure to find one that suites you well and aides you in completing this phase of the project.

Your work should now look complete. However, we still have several flowers and leaves that beg for further embellishment, which they will receive in part five.

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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

Fabrications – Gilded Gardens (part three)

[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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There has been some kind of technical issue with my WordPress blogs for the past two days. I’m sorry if pictures have not loaded correctly or you have had trouble viewing the blog.

N. Rene West
Time Treasured

Fabrications – Gilded Gardens (part two)

Gilded Gardens 2

In part one, we completed the background for our flower garden. We are now ready to fill our garden with some flowers and leaves.

Any fabrics that have a hand dyed or hand painted look will work well here. Also, commercial prints of large flowers would be usable. The print I used for most of my flowers had a tie-dyed floral design that allowed me to take advantage of the circular centers. I do recommend using several different colors for the sake of visual interest. Since many of these will be covered with other embellishments by the time you are finished, your fabric choices aren’t that critical.

First, back your fabrics with a fusible or with a stabilizer. Which one you choose will determine how you apply them to the backing. Next, cut out some free form leaf shapes in various sizes. The number is up to you.

Cut Leaves

Next, cut out some free form flowers in all different sizes. You may like to vary the shapes.

Cut Flowers

Now, place the leaves and flowers on your background, and arrange them in whatever way they appear pleasing to you. If you used a fusible, now is the time to press the shapes to your background. If your shapes were stabilized, you can apply them with basting glue, spray adhesive, or whatever way you normally apply your appliqués.

Basting Glue

The next step involves felting wool roving onto the main leaf shapes. You can skip this step if you like. I wanted some additional texture on my four center leaves. This step can be accomplished by machine needle felting or by hand felting. (Hand felting tools are available at most craft stores.) Simply take a small amount of green roving and place it on top of your leaf shape. Needle punch around the shape until the roving appears secure.

Felting the Leaves

The basic structure of your flower garden is now complete. Take a second look at it from a distance to make sure you are happy with the placements. If you think more leaves or flowers are needed, this is the time to add them.

Placement Completed

We now move on to the next stage and it is here that the fun begins. Set up your sewing machine for free motion embroidery, making sure the feed dogs are in the down position. There will be two main layers of thread work. For the first layer, I used 35 weight cotton thread. You can use any embroidery or quilting thread you like. Do use several different colors that compliment each other.

Begin with any flower or leaf and stitch around its edges.

Stitch Down Shapes

Continue doing this until every flower and leaf have been stitched down.

Stitchdown Complete

Next, choose one shape at time and think about how you would like to embellish it with stitches. Begin by stitching around its edges a second and third time and then veering out with the needle and stitching some spirals, scrolls, or circles.

Spirals, Scrolls, Circles

Thread Work 1

You may also like to do some echo quilting around the shape.

Threadwork 2

Be as creative as you like. And remember, even little stitches do not apply here. No flower, vine, or leaf is identical to another, so your stitches don’t have to be either. In fact, uneven stitches in this piece only serve to enhance its beauty. Life is good, isn’t it?

In part three, we will move on to the second layer of thread work, using perle cottons and various techniques for applying them to the surface of our work. It will be fun, I promise!

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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

Fabrications – Gilded Gardens

Gilded Gardens

Spring has arrived in the Blue Ridge Mountains and spotted the landscape with majestic purple crocuses, golden yellow daffodils, and soft white cherry blossoms. All of this beauty followed me into the studio, so out came the threads, fibers, yarns, and colorful fabrics.

This multi-layered project is not for the faint of heart. However, if you hang in there, you will be rewarded with a beautiful piece of art that is worthy of your signature and a frame. Mine is actually destined to be a pillow, but you could use the following techniques for a quilt, a handbag, or any number of other items.

Additionally, you could break the project down into smaller parts and use a few flowers and leaves rather than the large number that I’ve included. I also found that each stage of work looked complete in and of itself, so you could stop at any point you desired.

For this fiber play, you will need some flannel and several background fabrics that are hand dyed, hand painted, or have the same look as these do. You will also need embroidery weight threads, perle cottons, roving, yarns, and embroidery floss (silk or cotton).

Perle Cottons

Perle Cottons

Yarns

Assorted Yarns

I used silk cords and beads as well, but these are optional. You may have some other wonderful fibers on hand that you would like to use in this project.

Silk Cords

Silk Cords

The first stage of construction involves building your background. After deciding on the size you would like your finished project to be, cut a piece of flannel a little larger than your measurements. Then begin cutting pieces of fabric to fill the space. You can back your fabrics with a fusible or with a heavy stabilizer. If you choose a fusible backing, iron your pieces onto the flannel. If you choose a stabilizer, attach your pieces by using a little basting glue or a spray adhesive such as 505.

Fabric Placement

Most everything about this project is free form. Relax and enjoy each stage, setting precision aside for another day. If there are small gaps here and there, don’t worry about it. These will be covered with a flower, a leaf, or some other decoration.

When all of your background fabrics are in place, you might like to add one more layer of interfacing/stabilizer to the back. I used a light weight stabilizer that I applied to the flannel with a basting spray. The purpose of the flannel and stabilizers is to provide stability for all the stitching that will cover the surface. Also, if you decide to hand or machine felt some of your pieces (a later stage of this project), both of these backings give the fibers something with which to mesh.

In part two, we will fill the background with flowers and leaves and begin the next stage: thread work.

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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

Quilting – Celtic Moon (part two)

Felted Quilt

The next stage of Celtic Moon involved felting the land piece. After backing it with stabilizer, I followed the lines of the print and felted wool roving here and there, using three different shades of green. I then positioned the piece on the background and prepared my sewing machine for free motion quilting.

Felting Shapes

There are several items that I find helpful for machine quilting. Of course, good quality quilting needles are important. I also attach a straight stitch plate to my machine, which results in nice stitches on the back of the quilt. Sometimes I use quilting gloves (usually in the winter) and other times I prefer the banker’s tips sold in office supply stores. A newer item that I really like is the free motion slider, a Teflon sheet that allows the quilt to move freely under the needle.

Quilting Supplies

I chose a 35 wt. variegated cotton thread and quilted the land piece, following the general shapes on the print. Next, I picked out another variegated thread for the water and quilted it quite densely. The marble design made the quilting quite easy since it already resembled the flow of water. When the quilting was complete, I stitched around the Celtic garnet stitch design, which gave it the look of trapunto.

The final stage of the quilt made me a little nervous. I had thought of several ways I could put a moon on the surface, but finally decided to use chiffon and a heat gun since it allowed for the background to show through and also rendered the look of the moon’s craters.

Since chiffon shifts easily, I pinned my pattern on top of it and then cut around it, leaving plenty of fabric around the edges. I then sewed around the moon pattern.

Moon Pattern

Next, I repeated the method had I used for the Celtic design, only this time I made my circles much larger. When I completed the garnet stitches, I trimmed off the excess fabric.

Large Garnet Stitches
I took the quilt outside and used a heat gun to melt the holes in the chiffon. As soon as the holes would begin forming, I would move the heat gun to the next area. This is a technique that takes practice and demands careful attention. You can easily burn your fabric if you’re not careful. If you try this method, do a test sample first so that you know how close to position your heat gun to your fabric.

To complete the moon, I painted outlines with Lumiere metallic bronze around the burned out holes.

Lumiere Metallic Paint

This certainly isn’t the most colorful quilt I’ve every made, but the techniques used to construct it made it a very interesting project. I hope you will try some of the methods and incorporate them into your projects.
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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

Quilting – Celtic Moon (part one)

Celtic Moon

With National Quilt Day and St. Patrick’s Day falling on the same weekend, I decided to make a Celtic-themed quilt using several techniques that I think you will enjoy using in your own work.

Of course, the quilt is predominantly green. It’s kind of funny. I was listening to an Alex Anderson pod cast the other day regarding color. She shared how she disliked fall colors in her early quilting days but grew to appreciate all colors. Greens and browns would be my early “dislike” colors. Now I notice that the two colors show up frequently in the things I create.

When I began designing this quilt, I wanted the feeling of motion to play a large part, so I chose a marbled fabric for the water background and a print with lots of fluid lines for the land.

The first stage of the quilt involved the winding Celtic design. I thought about painting the design onto the fabric but decided that some kind of thread work would be a better choice. After backing the fabric with Decor Bond, I penciled in the outline of the design. I then chose a variegated cotton thread (35 wt.) and set up my sewing machine for free motion embroidery.

This technique is fun, easy to do, good practice for other kinds of free motion work, and adds a unique quality to your work. I call it a meandering garnet stitch since you work in a circular motion but alter the size and shape of your circles as you move across the fabric. You could use this technique with just about any shape imaginable.

Lower the feed dogs on your sewing machine. Hoop your design and begin with a few securing stitches. Clip you thread tail.

Clip Thread Tail

Now move the hoop in a circular motion, creating small, medium, and large circles, covering the interior of your outlined shape. Allow some of your circles to elongate and cross over previous stitching lines, forming a web-like appearance.

Meandering Garnet Stitch

When the interior of your design is complete, make a few rounds of outline stitches, allowing them to build up on each pass.

Outline Stitches

You can use any kind of thread you like with this technique. Decorative and metallic threads work well. You could also sandwich fibers under tulle and then stitch the meandering garnet stitch over them. The choices are yours to make.

Garnet Stitch

In part two, I will share with you how I machine felted the land piece, free motion quilted the water and land shapes with lots and lots of thread, and with fear and trepidation, formed the moon on the surface.

Celtic Motif

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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

Felted Finery – Sea Change

Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

The Tempest, Shakespeare

Sea Change

I have no idea why, but I’ve had polka dots on the brain for a few weeks now. I even combed through fabric stores looking for dots that didn’t overlap and were spaced in such a way that I could free motion quilt between them. Well, I never found any. Then, while working on another quilt and rummaging through piles of prospective fabrics from my own stash, low and behold I found just what I was looking for.

For this fiber play, you will need any print that has shapes into which you can felt organza. Owing to the rounded configuration of needles on felting machines, simple shapes without sharp points work best. Of course, on some machines and attachments you can remove needles. You will also need polyester organza that matches or compliments your fabric. I used the additional embellishment of glass beads for the little dots in the star fish.

Fabric and Organza

Cut your fabric to any size you like and back it with a heavy stabilizer or interfacing such as Decor Bond. Next, lay your fabric wrong side up over a light box (or hold it up to a window) and mark the outlines of all shapes you want to felt. Remember that the color you use to mark your shapes could migrate to the front of your project, so choose a matching color or use chalk.

Cut your organza several inches wider than your shapes or hoop your fabric and organza together. Machine needle felting compacts fibers and your organza will shrink rapidly under the needles. Beginning in the center, slowly tack down the organza while securing it with your fingers (if it’s not hooped). Then lightly needle felt the shape. For this project I used the Bernina Needle Punch Attachment, and it didn’t take more than a few seconds to do each circle.

Felted Organza

As you finish your shapes, cut away excess organza with a pair of appliqué scissors or small craft scissors.

Cut Away Excess Organza

I did one more felting around the circumference of the circles after each trim.

Felting Circumference

When all of your shapes are complete, sandwich your top with batting and backing and then free motion quilt between the felted shapes.

Quilting

Felted Circle

I needed an edge trim for my felted piece, so I gave it some thought and decided to cut circles out of organza with a heat tool. I use this method when I embroider on organza, so I assumed it would work just as well on simple shapes.

First, do this in a well ventilated area. Place a Teflon pressing sheet or heat resistant liner on a secure surface (I use a Silpat purchased from a cooking store). Pick out some metal or wood shapes as your patterns. Lay one shape on top of the organza and trace around it with your heat tool. The organza should melt immediately, leaving a non-fraying edge to your shapes.

Heat Tool

There are many decorative things you can do with these organza cutouts. I cut circles in two sizes, layered them, and then attached them to the edge of my project with beads.

I hope you will look through your fabric stash and use this technique to transform a plain print into something eye-catching and unique. Have fun!

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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

Tool Trove (4) – Bernina Needle Punch Accessory Set (also called Decorative Punch Tool)

Bernina Needle Punch Attachment

I debated whether to make this purchase for about a year, but finally decided that it would be good to have a backup for the Babylock Embellisher. Also, since I write so many machine needle felting tutorials, I thought it would be helpful to know how well they work when using different equipment.

Bernina packs the accessory set with a helpful CD that walks you through the steps necessary to set up the attachment (along with some basic tutorials). There are quite a few steps involved, but all of them are easy to perform. For example, you must remove the bobbin, bobbin case, and shuttle hook from the lower part of your machine. Then you remove the presser foot, needle, needle holder thumb screw, and stitch plate. I would suggest that you have a special container handy in which you can place these items. If your studio or sewing area looks anything like mine, you’ll understand the wisdom in this.

Next, you insert the special stitch plate with the large hole, mount the needle punch needle holder with its large screw, attach the Needle Punch presser foot, and drop the feed dogs. The bobbin case door remains open while using this attachment.

Bernina Parts

Bernina Needle Punch Attachment Parts

Much of what I say from this point on will be framed as comparisons and contrasts with the Babylock Embellisher. As I began experimenting with the Bernina Decorative Punch Tool, I immediately noticed some differences.

The Bernina Needle Punch reminds me more of hand needle punching for several reasons. First, the five needles enter the fabric directly and go through an open hole. There is no resistance in the downward or upward motion so the fabric has more force on it in both directions, much like hand felting. The Babylock Embellisher has seven needles, seven small holes in its needle plate, and seven small holes in its cloth presser (which can be adjusted up and down). The individual holes of the needle plate and cloth presser provide resistance, keeping your fabric in a more stationary position.

Babylock Needle Plate and Cloth Presser

Babylock Embellisher Needle Plate and Cloth Presser

If you do free motion quilting, you’ve probably encountered the difference a straight stitch needle plate makes on your stitches since the fabric isn’t forced down into the larger hole of the zig zag needle plate. Although stitches are not the issue here, I found some fabrics ( such as organza) a little more difficult to work with using the Bernina attachment. Hooping proved to be an adequate solution.

Of course, I tend to use fabrics that aren’t traditionally thought of as felting prospects. Bernina clearly states in the “application” section of its instruction sheet that its Needle Punch attachment is designed for wool fibers, wool yarn, felt, and boiled wool (the CD also mentions denim). The attachment does a beautiful job on all of these fibers.

In regard to the resistance/nonresistance issue, there is another consideration. The small individual holes in the Babylock needle plate give little room for error. If you twist your fabric or your needle gets bent, you’re more likely to experience needle breakage with the Babylock. As I stated previously in my review of the Embellisher, felting needles are expensive.

Second, owing to its large, open presser foot, the Bernina Needle Punch provides clear visibility of the needle action just as you would have with hand needle felting. The Embellisher’s cloth presser is opaque, so you don’t see the needles enter the fabric. I really enjoyed watching the interaction of needles with fiber. Do exercise caution on the open right side of the Bernina presser foot. It’s possible for your fingers to get dangerously close to the needles.

As you can see from the graphic below, there is a big difference in the size of the needle holders. Additionally, there is a larger separation between the Babylock’s seven needles than the Bernina’s five needles. The Babylock has an individual screw for each needle. The Bernina has one screw that tightens or loosens all of its needles. The Bernina needle holder is simple to install; the Babylock takes a little more adjusting in the line up of needles with the needle plate holes.

Needle Holders

Babylock Needle Holder (left) – Bernina Needle Holder (right)

I like both of the needle placements for different reasons. The Babylock’s larger size means your work goes faster. The Bernina’s smaller size makes couching and detail work a simple task. I change the number of needles I use on the Babylock frequently, something I won’t have to do as often with the Bernina. As an added benefit, the Bernina and Babylock needles are interchangeable although not identical (the Babylock needles are a little thinner).

Since the Bernina is also a sewing machine, lint buildup is a concern. I would recommend using the vacuum attachment made for computers after every felting session. If you practice good bobbin case hygiene, this shouldn’t be a problem. On the plus side, the features of the Bernina sewing machine such as needle up/down position and speed control are also available while felting. I really like having the needle holder stop in the up position so that I don’t accidentally bend my needles.

For day to day use, having a stand alone machine facilitates in a projects flow since you don’t have to stop and reconfigure your machine. The downside of a stand alone machine is the price. Needle felting attachments cost much less than a dedicated felting machine. Also, in some circumstances having one machine that does it all can be a great convenience. Classes, group projects, travel, and space immediately come to mind. The decision really comes down to personal preference and what works best for each individual.

After about five minutes of using the Bernina attachment, I noticed that I was no longer thinking of the differences between the two machines but rather enjoying the felting itself. I’m thankful that Bernina offers this optional attachment to its customers (on CB hook models) so that more people can enjoy this wonderful craft.

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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

Felted Finery – Angelina’s Secret Cousin (part two)

Dragonflies

My little shadow dweller started out to be an actual shadow of the blue dragonfly. The dark background fabric didn’t allow for the effect I desired, so he took on a new life as a lurker.

The method I used to create him is a little different from the colorful dragonfly in part one. For this fiber play, you will need a black stabilizer, a cut piece of your background fabric, and some black polyester organza.

Hoop the black stabilizer and place your background fabric on top. This time keep the most pronounced side of the fabric face up.

Using your Babylock Embellisher or needle punch machine/attachment, slowly tack down the fabric to the stabilizer. Next, needle punch the entire surface of the fabric. A light felting will be sufficient.

Place the black organza on top of the felted fabric and secure its outer edges with your fingers. Beginning in the center, tack the organza down using a cross motion and then an “X” motion. The organza will have a tendency to fold and bunch up. Keep it as taut as possible as you work across the surface.

Felted Organza

When the organza has been evenly felted, remove the design from the hoop and cut away the excess stabilizer. Unlike the first dragonfly that we made, this one will have the organza side of the piece as his front.

Sandwich the piece between parchment paper or a nonstick ironing sheet. With your iron set at “cotton,” press for about 6-8 seconds. Some stabilizers will begin to melt during this process, so do this in a well ventilated area.

After your felted piece cools, cut out your design shape. I simply put my previously made dragonfly on top of the felted piece and cut around it.

Shadow Dragonfly

Your dark dragonfly should have a hint of the background fabric showing through. This gives the appearance of translucence to his body. These shapes can be easily attached to another surface by stitching through your base fabric and catching part of their under bodies with the needle. There is no need to bring the needle and thread to the surface of the design (unless you want to, of course).

I hope you enjoy this technique and find creative ways to use and expand it in your own work.

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I received a question yesterday from one of my wonderful readers in Austria that I would like to spend a few minutes answering.

The question concerned batiks and more specifically the batiks I’ve been using in my latest tutorials. Fabric designers usually present their new lines seasonally. Batiks are a little different because many of them are imported. However, designs change rapidly and once a season or two passes it can be difficult finding a particular fabric from an earlier collection. We’ve even had people write us at Dawntreader Designs because they saw a fabric used in one of our products that they desperately wanted and couldn’t find in fabric stores or online.

The fabric I use in my tutorials comes from a large inventory that has been collected over time from many different sources. I often go on buying trips to other cities to find new and interesting fabrics, fibers, and notions for the business studio. That’s my day job, so to speak. With that said, let me add that little of what I procure is exclusive to business owners or some select group. I shop just as other people shop, only I probably purchase larger quantities at any given time.

I’m sorry to say that the dragonfly batik and the green leaf batik were purchased several years ago from parts unknown, and I haven’t seen them in stores for a long, long time. I believe the leaf design could be achieved with hand dyed or hand painted fabric. Similarly, the dragonfly could be hand painted as well. Also, another batik with a busy design could be used for the dragonfly and then cut out in the desired shape.

I try to write my tutorials in such a way that the technique transcends the specific colors or fabrics that I use. It can be frustrating when a tutorial or magazine article offers a long list of esoteric supplies that are not readily available to the general reader. This isn’t always possible to avoid, but I do try to suggest alternatives for those who can’t find a specific item that I incorporated into the work.

Thanks for the question. I’m just sorry I can’t point you to a source for the batiks. Keep your eyes open, though, because beautiful new batiks come to market regularly and you may just find something you like even better.

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N. Rene West
Time Treasured

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