Sunday, March 30, 2014

Traveling Crafter

I took a traveling OT job and have booked a hotel room for the first week of my 13 week contract. I left my new 830 sewing machine at home. I brought my old machine and a small amount of stuff to work on. Now, think of a budget vacation hotel room. Where does the sewing machine go? There's no ironing board. No desk. The coffee table is small, round, and knee high.

I drive a full sized truck. I could have brought half my sewing room. I was unwilling to turn myself into a beast of burden, loading and unloading equipment. Bud and I discussed this and decided on a solution. We bought a 25' travel trailer. Because it was the end of the quarter, we got a significant discount on the price. We take delivery April 5. We'll spend the weekend pulling my SCAdian camping gear out of the attic and stocking our trailer. For the next three months, I'll live in the trailer during the week and at home on the weekends.

Instead of paying $350/week for a room that doesn't meet my needs, we will rent a campsite for $250/month. I can cook my own food, sleep on my own pillows, and have space to work on my projects. In the long run, I expect to save anywhere from 50 to 75% of what I would have spent on hotels and eating out. I could have found a campsite for less than $250, but I don't wish to live in a trailer park right next door to a major highway.

FWIW, I am almost within sight of Legoland Florida. I'll probably have to drive past it on my way to work.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Everything Close at Hand

So, I'm up, it's the middle of the night, and I am trying to solve a problem that was floating in my head before I fell asleep. I got up and went to my studio. I thought I'd located a possible solution on Pinterest, some weeks earlier. I have at hand an already prepared sample for testing so I sketch it out. I do a test. Not quite right. I reach for a paper punch to create a template. Punch! Nope, I need a 1/2 inch smaller punch. I've got it. Punch! I use it for sketching and I like the sketch. Test. Win! Then I get out the materials to create a more durable template. Punch! The edges are rough. I've reach for the right file to smooth the edges. 20 minutes after walking into my studio, the problem is solved. Because I yam what I yam, the tools I used are already put away and the finished template is stored with the project. I'm still awake. Now what?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Like It!

I had been using a standard sewing machine to do the Free Motion Quilting on Bud's Flying Geese quilt. I struggled to complete 7 to 10 units in a day of working. My hands hurt, I got tired, I felt I was fighting with the project. Then I bought the 830 and found myself with double the space to work in to the right of the needle. A good portion of my difficulty with FMQ was difficulty with the space limitation. The overall quality has improved. I don't have nearly the fatigue and discomfort. There is still some, but I can complete a lot more before I need to take a rest break. Comparing my early efforts to my recent results shows significantly improved technique. Curves are smoother, stitch length is more consistent. FMQ is a skill that requires practice. It also requires the right machine. I might be better able to produce a good result using a standard machine after using my 830, but I'd be annoyed at the constraint.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Adjustments and the Learning Curve

I was trying to switch from embroidery to decorative stitching. I forgot to swap out a piece of hardware and broke a needle. Not just broke, shattered into many pieces. Sigh. I wasn't able to get all of the bits of needle out of the bobbin area right away. I ended up pulling out the vacuum cleaner attachments after many attempts with the lint brush. I'd clean, try sewing, discover the tension was incorrect, then go back to cleaning. In all the testing, a metal fragment knocked the tension for the bobbin thread out of whack. It was too tight. Gaahh. Normally, having the bobbin tension out of whack is a significant problem. It is not at all easy to adjust the tension on the bobbin. Well, on all of my other machines, it was difficult. However, on the 830, I was provided with a special tool and the bobbin case has a ratchet style tension adjustment. I moved the tension one notch/click and tested, moved it a second notch/click and tested and poof! The tension was again correct. While many might say that the 830 tension is twitchy and difficult, I think that adjusting the bobbin tension on this machine is much easier than on any other machine I've owned. On the other hand, I also have learned that I need to use the software on the 830 that will prevent the error that caused the broken needle in the first place. I neglected to tell the machine that I had changed hardware. If I had done that, the machine would have prevented me from stitching with hardware that didn't work with the decorative stitch I had chosen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

New Sewing Machine

OMG. I just bought an 830  sewing computer from our local shop. The machine is used. The lady who owned the shop was the first owner. I will be the second. It needs a cleaning before I take it home, but I won't have to pay for the cleaning. I will take it home tomorrow, I hope. In the meantime, I have the manual to read.

This makes machine number five. I am very excited about it and am looking forward to getting familiar with it. Instead of the 6" space between the needle and the body of the machine, there is 12" of space. I will have room to do my freehand quilting. There are USB ports on this machine. Bernina has entered the 21st century. There isn't FireWire. Oh well.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Waste Fabric!

I was digging through the instructions for the Mariner's Compass quilt to figure out how many yards of fabric I needed to buy. I was dutifully reading through the directions, making notes and adding up inches when I looked at the actual layout of the pieces. Instead of looking at a tiny diagram, I took out the pattern and unfolded it.

Wow. I can tell the fabric manufacturers LOVE this woman. The layouts are for speed during construction, not efficient use of fabric. Not by a long shot. In some cases, I'll use her suggested amounts of fabric. In others, I'm going to take apart her pattern and put it back together in a much more fabric efficient way. There is no way I can allow myself to waste that much fabric. Not at $13.00 a yard for batik cotton. I'm not the kind of person who saves every scrap for use in some other project. I hate scrappy projects.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Marking and Quilting

I've been using the chalk pencil and the air erasable marker to mark small sections of my quilt before I start a session of machine quilting. The air erasable marker lasts for more than one session before it fades off into no marks at all. The chalk pencil will brush off as I work and I have several times had to refresh the marks right before I stitch an particular area. Annoying as that might be, I'd rather the marks be too transient than permanent.

There is a huge fatigue factor. I'm a beginner, and I'm more tense than I wish I were. I don't have the muscle memory yet, though I can tell it is improving. I work very slowly, so I spend more time tensed up per pattern repeat than when working faster. Do I want to speed up? Certainly! I'm just in no rush to do so. I'd rather practice accuracy slowly than disaster at high speed. 

  • Repositioning my hands very frequently helps.
  • Making sure that the quilt is not falling off the table helps.
  • Planning ahead so I don't have to sew accurately 'backwards' helps.
  • Working in short sessions with significant breaks between them helps.
There are 244 pattern repeats on the quilt. The first day I tried, I completed three. I stopped after I got two of the scrolls upside down. Yesterday, I managed to complete 6. Today I did 10, and they look better than the first 9. By the time this quilt is completed, I should have the pattern stitch perfect.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Marking Tools for Quilting

These are the markers that I currently have to choose from to mark my quilt top.

Starting from the top:
  • A BOHIN mechanical pencil with white chalk. It can be erased. Write lightly, or you might fray your fabric trying to erase. There are also other colors of chalk available, as well as refills for the erasers and replacement leads for the pencil.  These are made in France. They are highly recommended. Preliminary testing is successful, it erases cleanly. White is good for dark fabrics.
  • A blue, water erasable pen. NOT recommended. The ink tends to bleed into the batting of the quilt and then come back to haunt you later, when you would rather it didn't. I have not tested this, there are enough horror stories around to make me not want to try it.
  • A purple, air/humidity erasable pen that IS recommended. If there isn't enough humidity in the air to make it vanish, a swab with a damp cloth or a spritz of water works well. I have tested this. It is true. Purple does not show up on dark fabrics.
  •  A FRIXION pen specifically for quilters, sewers and the like. It writes green and a warm iron makes it go away. I have tested this and it is correct. I'm told it can be erased. No eraser is attached to this pen, but there are erasers on the ones you can get from an office supply store. Green does not work on dark fabrics. And I don't ever want to try to iron a quilt with polyester fiberfil batting. The batting melts into something like flexible cardboard. If I were to use wool or cotton batting and light colored fabrics, I'd try this pen.
  • The square, white thing on the bottom left is tailor's chalk of the old school. It isn't really chalk, it is wax. The lightest touch of a warm iron and it melts. It leaves marks like oil stains on many fabrics. This wax comes right out with dry cleaning. Wax is wonderful if you are working with  wool. It's not right for a cotton quilt top.
  • The arrow head shaped doo-dad is a chalk wheel, that will put a fine line of (in this case) yellow chalk. The chalk brushes off and doesn't stain. For marking a quilt, it's only good for a very short time. The marks brush off so easily that normal handling, folding, and such will remove the marks. It is also difficult to get this shaped wheel to accurately mark a set of tight curves. Straight lines are easy. Chalk wheels are also available with white or blue chalk. The blue can be hard to find.
In all cases but for the wax and the FRIXION pen, you do NOT want to apply heat before the marks are removed. Heat will usually make your marks permanent. Forever and ever, no matter how much washing, permanent.

The qualities that are desired in a marker are that the mark be visible, the tool is not sharp and prone to damage the fabric during marking (super fine point tips are not always a good idea), and the marks should be either self removing, or easy to remove. If you choose not to remove the marks, they should not be visible to the casual observer.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Decisions, Decisions...

I am now trying to decide on the quilting pattern that I want to use on Bud's Flying Geese quilt. The straight lines in the ditch are in. I have one pattern that I practiced a bit, but it is swirly. Today, in a quilt shop, I spotted a flying geese pattern that had a cute geometric pattern in it. Variegated thread, too. But, I must get an OK from Bud about the pattern. I also purchased an air erasable pen, that vanishes with humidity. This is Florida. I won't be able to mark a lot in advance or it will be gone by the time I get to it.

The Mariner's Compass pattern arrived and I opened all the zip-lock bags and checked that all the papers and pages were included. I've already downloaded and printed out the corrections. Did I mention that the package weighed in at over 2 pounds? Yeah. I added up all the suggested yardage bits and it will take 30.5 yards of fabric to complete the top. I haven't purchased so much as a single thread of fabric yet.

I shopped for tools that I'll need to complete the Mariner's Compass quilt. Now all I need as a particular type of ruler in the correct size. As I work on this quilt, I will put the  pieces into a plastic under-bed storage box, to keep them together and in one location. If I decide to take my project on the road, it will be easier to transport.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Preparation Includes Shopping, Right?

So, the thread arrived for the geese and I have put in the stitch in the ditch quilting to hold the quilt stable. No problem. I've found a pattern that I want to use for the lines of geese and have been testing it out on some scrap fabric. Not surprising that I like drawing the design out first. I get much better results that way. On scrap fabric, I don't care if the marks are permanent or not.

I have a water soluble pen, a nice, soft pencil, tailor's chalk, tailor's wax, marking pencils, transfer pencils, and I like none of them. I don't trust the water soluble pen not to leave traces, the marking pencils don't iron out, the wax irons out, but leaves a mark, the soft pencil erases incompletely, and the transfer pencils are supposed to be permanent.

Tailor's chalk isn't permanent enough. It brushes off too easily and I would have to constantly re-apply it, or only mark small sections at a time.


I'm now shopping for a happy medium.

The pattern for the Mariner's Compass should arrive tomorrow. 

Friday, March 7, 2014


I'm already starting to work on the next major quilt project. It will be Judy Niemeyer's Mariner's Compass.  I shopped around and ordered the pattern and the extension to the pattern, so I can make a queen sized quilt. I've printed out a line drawing and have colored in several options for the corner pattern colorways and have decided on a three shades of blue colorway for the corners. I'm thinking about making the ropes (circles) in autumn tones from rust to browns. All the teeth and points in the middle are still up in the air.

The Mariner's Compass is going to wait until after I've finished the quilting for the Flying Geese. While I'm (still!) waiting for the thread to arrive, I can play with planning for the next quilt. I've no other projects partway done, now have I? Snrff!

Why am I getting ready to start this project? If all goes as planned, I'll be taking on a traveling OT position and be stuck in some rented residence several hours drive away from home, family, and studio. If I take a sewing machine, I'll set up on the dining room table and have something to do in the evenings.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Practice Makes Better

I am practicing free motion quilting. I'm putting in multiple short sessions each day. I was trying designs that were beyond my skills and getting frustrated. I went backwards down the skill ladder to the basics. Instead of trying to put together sets of small squiggles to create leaves, I just worked on squiggles in different sizes and directions.

The tutorial blogs are not useful for an absolute beginner.  They assume a pre-existing skill set. The ease of each design is not correctly rated as a result of this assumption. There are some things that are difficult, like restitching on top of an already stitched line or precise angular changes of direction. Some designs are easier when larger, some are easier when smaller. All designs are easier with guide lines chalked on the surface fabric.

Today, I was practicing spirals. First, I practiced drawing them on paper. Then I drew them on my fabric and stitched over my guide lines. The most difficult part is changing directions smoothly from spiraling inwards to spiraling out. When I got it right, it felt easier than it was when I got it wrong. The positive reward for success was a reinforcement. After many failures, the frequency of success increased quickly.

Do I find it embarrassing that I have had to drop to such simple designs? Nope. I understand that if I can't do these, I won't be able to ever do a more complex design. Mastering the building blocks first will create a skill set that will allow me to manage the more difficult patterns later. The simple designs, well executed, will be effective on a quilt. They are certain to look better than a more complex design poorly executed. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Keeping House

As a newlywed, living in a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath, 465 square foot house I would spend about 4 hours per day keeping the house going. I'd do laundry, ironing, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, shopping, cooking, organization, filing, bill paying, and even some regular maintenance tasks. I didn't do any of that stuff on the weekends, but I would spend at least 4 hours, Monday through Friday, on keeping the house up. For a house that size, with no kids, it is a part time job.

You might wonder how I could have found four hours of things to work on. I ironed things back then when I did laundry. The grocery store was across the street and I would walk there and back on nice days. I washed floors by getting down on hands and knees and scrubbing them. They looked wonderful when I was done and I knew I was getting exercise. I didn't go to the gym back then. I didn't need to.

Up at 8, work until noon, and the rest of the day was mine. I'd do volunteer work with my mother, use my sewing room to get projects done, walk over to the library (it was in our back yard) and get reading material, or otherwise stay busy. 6:30 was time to have dinner on the table for the Hubster, then out and about if we felt like it, or home together for the evening.

Now, I'm home full time in a 3,450 square foot house with 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths. Do I spend the same amount of time keeping up the house? Hah! I might spend an hour a day. Maybe. This will change. The more time I spend on domestic tasks, the happier I am hanging out at home. If home is a nice place, I enjoy being in it. Doesn't that make sense?

Sunday, March 2, 2014


The software that must be used to run the Cricut Explore can not be installed on Windows 8.1 and Firefox. At first, the software was only available if you had purchased the machine. A few days ago, it became available via a download on the Cricut website. I can't 'try before I buy' because I can't install it!

As a money saving ploy, this is working well. I guess I have just saved myself on the order of $300+ just by not installing this software. Perhaps I should look for some other things I can decide not to buy?