Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spring Classes

I have finally scheduled some classes at Quilters Loft Company for April and May. These are classes I have taught before, back by popular demand:

Creative Surface Design Workshop
Saturday, April 19, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 3,
10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Come and learn how to create interesting textures and colors in your quilts, using fabric paints, Shiva paintstiks, Angelina fibers, Tyvek, rubber stamps, Wonder Under (used not as a fusible, but as a paint transfer material) and more. All supplies are supplied in a kit available from me at class for $10. This is a no-stress, fun playtime.

Beginning Machine Quilting
Tuesday, April 8, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

If you are a beginning quilter who wants to learn how to machine quilt your tops, this is the class for you. You'll learn the basics of how to prepare the quilt sandwich by layering and basting, how to free-motion quilt several motifs, and lots of tips about threads, needles, thread tension, and batting to ensure good results.

Supply lists for both classes will be at Quilters Loft next week.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival

I attended the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival in Hampton, Virginia this weekend, and took a great advanced machine quilting class from Linda Fiedler (shown above with some of her work). I took this class because I wanted to make cleaner starts and stops in my machine thread painting and machine quilting. I also wanted to work on my stitch length consistency. In addition to learning these things, I came home with a different way of thinking about how to quilt my traditional quilts and my art quilts, and convinced that I needed to design and use more original quilting motifs in my work.

Linda's quilts feature foreground motifs she quilts in thread colors that contrast with the backgrounds, and in heavier thread (or several layers of thread) to make them really stand out. Then she goes back in and quilts more subtle background motifs. These layers make her quilts great fun to view up close for a long time.

She has a very placid, positive demeanor, and did a great job of gently encouraging those in our group who felt uncertain or afraid to take on some of the more advanced motifs (including the two friends, Grace and DeLane, I coerced into taking the class with me!)

We also got great information about threads, needles, tension and batting.

The Festival itself was great; lots of quilts, lots of vendors, and several wonderful exhibits. My favorite was Fiber Force: A Futuristic Approach, curated by Lisa Chipetine. This exhibit featured avante-garde art quilts that were among the most innovative and thought-provoking in the entire Festival.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

More appliqué questions

When I designed and stitched “Heart’s Desire” I actually used hand quilting thread for the needleturn appliqué. I've learned a lot since then! Now, I either use silk thread or a fine cotton embroidery thread, and my stitches are barely visible. (“Heart’s Desire” was offered through Keepsake Quilting’s catalog about a year ago; patterns are available on my website now.)

A student in one of my needleturn appliqué classes wrote me a few days ago with a bunch of questions. After writing her back, I figured they were worth sharing.

Q. Do you have any suggestions on keeping some of my pieces from being wonky after sewing them down? Mainly it’s on the smaller pieces. I thought about trying some basting glue like Roxanne’s. I also have areas of flat where it should look more round. I don’t seem to notice until after I’m finished with the piece for some reason.

A. I didn't notice any wonkyness when I saw your work ... are you using enough pins? You might try that, or you could try basting the pieces down with thread before you sew them down for real. Some people swear by that. (To me, it takes too much time.)

About the areas that are straight when they should be round: Only take a few stitches, then use your needle to push the fabric under or sweep it under, then take a few more stitches. I don't think I ever take more than two or three stitches without adjusting the fabric. And keep a close eye on the pencil line, making sure that it is turned under so it doesn't show.

Q. Have you heard anything on the Aurifil thread for hand appliqué? I’ve been looking into it … The Aurifl is that Egyptian long staple 2 ply cotton from Italy and I’ve seen many good comments about it on the internet. It’s also supposed to be very good for regular machine piecework so you don’t have to worry about doing a scant ¼” seam. Very thin but wonderful quality.

A. I have used Aurifil Wool threads for wool appliqué (Sue Spargo recommends it and sells their wool threads on her website,, but not their cotton ones. After your question, I did a little research, and it made me want to try it for needleturn. Their U.S. headquarters is in Chicago, and there are several online sources (just do a Google search for Aurifil). I always try to buy from local quilt shops first (we have to keep them in business so we can feed our fabric addictions, don't we?), but if they don't carry a product I need, I go online.

The things I have read on other quilters' blogs have all been good. I think the "Aurifil 50 Mako' Cotton" is what you'd want for needleturn applique. The 50 in the name is the weight. One supplier (Red Rock Threads) describes it as "ideal for machine quilting, detailed machine embroidery, red work, serging and lace design."

There is a 200 MT minispool and a 1.300 MT spool, and a 5.900 MT long-arm size; all come on orange spool holders. On, their 1422-yard spool size (I think this is what Aurifil calls the 1.300 MT spool) costs $8.95 and the cone (probably what Aurifil calls the long-arm size) costs $32.95. So it is pricey. But it sounds like it goes a long way (more fits on a bobbin than with other threads).

Q. I’d like to keep using a 100% cotton thread but I’m not real happy with the Mettler embroidery [thread]. Seems to fray easy. I have used silk thread in the past but now I’m concerned about it cutting through the cotton fibers according to the New Applique Sampler book. They don’t recommend silk or polyester because they are so much stronger than cotton. We take such a tiny bite into the appliqué pieces and now it’s got me wondering about using it anymore.

A. You've had problems with Mettler embroidery thread fraying? How long of a piece of thread are you cutting? The only time this has happened to me is when I cut a very long thread (like about three feet!). Most books recommend no more than 12-18 inches. If it is too long, then it may shred, because so much stress is put on it from each time you pull it through the fabric.

Also, have you tried Thread Heaven? This is a tiny blue box of clearish stuff (a synthetic chemical compound) that is a fantastic thread conditioner. It makes your thread less knotty and more slippery, so it glides through the fabric more easily. I find that it also makes it easier to thread through a small eye of a needle.

To address your concerns about using silk thread: I have heard some quilters say that silk or polyester "cuts through" the weaker cotton threads in fabric. But there are many, many more quilters who use silk thread (and have used it for a long time), and who swear by it. I have not been able to find any studies or research to support the claim that silk thread will cut through the applique. Have you?

YLI’s website states, “Our silk threads are the choice of some of the most accomplished designers throughout the world, and our thread and colors are specified in many books and instructions.”

Award-winning quilter Diane Gaudynski actually uses YLI #100 silk as a machine quilting thread. Pat Campbell and Elly Sienkiewicz, world-famous needleturn appliquers, use silk thread for hand needleturn. All three have YLI silk thread collections they endorse.

So I don’t worry about using silk thread. I love the way it sinks into the cotton fibers and almost disappears. I also find it to be very strong, and easy to use once treated with Thread Heaven. Without this product, it does tend to twist and kink up. It seems expensive, but once you realize how many yards are on a spool, it is not much more than cotton. I find that three or four shades of gray work on most fabrics, so I don't have to buy all the colors.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Second block of “Bohemian Bouquet”

This is the second block in my mystery block-of-the-month quilt “Bohemian Bouquet.” It is 14" square. Mail order patterns went out today, and fabric kits for the block are available at Quilters Loft Company in Mooresville tomorrow. The next block will be revealed, and the pattern available, on March 15. There are a total of 11 patterns to this quilt.

My friend DeLane Rosenau is doing this quilt in different colors, and using fused appliqué with satin stitch. Here is her block. Isn't it great?

If you don’t live in Mooresville and want to purchase patterns, you can buy them on my website,, and I’ll ship a new block to you each month for 11 months. The cost is $55 for all 11, plus $1 shipping per month, for a grand total of $66.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

When I was a kid, I always made valentines instead of buying them. At my house, my mom (a home economics teacher before she was a full-time mom and homemaker) got out the paper doilies and the red and pink construction paper, and we went to town. Nowadays, it seems like most kids buy valentines. But not here at the Knapp household! It’s handmade for us, all the way!

This year, we made paper flowers, using pencils as the stems. The flowers are actually three hearts, cut out and glued at the points. After punching a hole with a standard size hole punch, you can slide the pencil through it and it stays without gluing to the pencil. Then, use a tiny piece of double-sided tape to secure the leaf, upon which is written a little Valentine’s Day greeting. Together, they make a glorious bouquet!

I have to give Martha Stewart her due: This idea is hers, but she used lollipops instead of pencils, and I'm not sure if she did leaves.

I decided to go the low-sugar option (the kids always come home with about a month’s supply of sugar on holidays!) and bought pink pencils. After my kids were completely done making these, my seven-year-0ld asked, “So where are we going to attach the candy?” and was completely horrified when I told her that the pencil was the treat. So I caved. They are headed for school today with the pencil flower valentines … and lollipops.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful day filled with love! Susan

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Some friends and I tried discharging (using a bleaching agent to remove color from fabric) today. We tried “SoftScrub Gel With Bleach” and Jacquard Discharge Paste. On some of the fabrics, one product worked great and the other didn't. On one piece of fabric, neither worked, and we later wondered if it was cotton, or a synthetic. With the discharge paste, you let it dry, then steam it heavily with an iron before the discharging takes place. You have to do this outside, because the fumes are bad. With the SoftScrub, the discharging starts quickly, and did not seem to be speeded along by the steam.

Fabrics react differently depending on how they were dyed. For example, some black fabrics discharged yellow-orange, some almost white, and some pink. You also have to use something to stop the chemical reaction and keep the bleach from eating through the fabric. We used Chlor Out, a product used to eliminate chlorine in fishtanks.

We used rubber stamps, freezer paper stencils, free-hand painting, and also some old cast-iron water meter covers that I have been collecting. (I made friends with some of the guys at our town’s water department, and asked them to bring me the old covers as they replace them with new ones. The ones I have received are chipped and unusable as water meter covers, but they make very cool stamps and door stops!) The first photo in this post, showing stamping with a water meter cover, was done on Robert Kaufman Kona cotton with the SoftScrub.

I also discharged a coat I bought on sale for $10 at my favorite discount store, Target, this week. It was a black-ish gray canvas with a corduroy collar, and the collar discharged an orangy-pink. I used the water meter cover to stamp it first, then drizzled the SoftScrub on top. After it was washed and dried, I went back in with Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow and painted in some of the discharged areas. If you look closely, you can see the word "WATER" in reverse all over it. I'm not sure if it is done yet; I may go back and do more later. Here it is now:

Here's another stamp done with discharge paste on one of the water meter covers on blue fabric:

I also tried dribbling the SoftScrub right from the bottle onto the fabric (black Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton) and got some beautiful gradations from bronze to gold within the drips:

I just love this piece Alisan printed on a piece of cheap red fabric she bought at my least favorite discount store. She got some beautiful oranges and yellows:

And she got some beautiful periwinkle blues on this purple fabric:

A more subtle over-all effect with a rubber stamp, on the same fabric:

DeLane got this cool effect on a fabric that had a black print on top of a bluish base:

If you are a total control freak, this technique is probably not for you. You roll the dice and you take your chances. Of course, once you know a little bit about how the fabric will react, you can plan a bit. This was really fun, and worth further experimentation.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Soy wax resist

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to try more surface design techniques. Tonight, while the rest of the world was watching the Super Bowl, I tried out soy wax resist. I purchased the “Microwaveable Soy Wax” chips at Michaels craft store in the candle-making section.

It only took a few minutes to melt the chips in a small glass bowl in my microwave. I used a small plastic medicine measuring cup, dipped it in the wax, and randomly stamped it on white fabric. I did not use PFD – “prepared for dyeing” – fabric. This was just cheap white cotton I had on hand. After the wax cooled, I applied yellow and green Jacquard Textile Color straight out of the jars. I brushed it on first, but found it easier to manipulate with my hands, like finger paints. (It washed off my hands and from under my fingernails easily.)

The instructions say to let the fabric dry and then iron it to heat set, but of course I was too impatient for that! I tried heating the fabric in the microwave on a few layers of paper towels. This seems to have done the job of heat setting (since when I rinsed it out under hot water, the color stayed very strong), with the added benefit of making some of the wax melt out into the paper towels. After that, I rinsed it in very hot tap water, and pressed it.

The effect is similar to batik, but without as much crackling as with other waxes. It was easy and fun, and I'll be eager to try out some other tools for applying the wax, different patterns, and using other fabric dyes and paints on top of the wax resist.

Start With a Photo

“Start With a Photo” is a workshop I will be teaching for the Charlotte Quilters Guild in April. When I started working on the sample for the workshop (see my previous post), I realized that I would have to simplify the photo even further if I was going to teach it in a 4-5 hour workshop! So in this piece, I made the barn siding all one piece, the wall all one piece (with two highlights at the top) and the grass all one piece. The window is three pieces (black, gray, and white). The rest is all done with thread painting. Here’s how it looks now that I have finished the thread painting:

Here’s how it looked after I had fused the fabric down and sketched out the stones and highlights on the boards and window, before thread painting:

These are the threads I used:

Here’s how the piece looks on the back of the interfacing used as stabilizer. You can see all the detail that has been added with the thread:

Here’s a closeup shot of the back:

I’m still planning to finish the piece I started beforehand, which has a lot more detail in the fabric pieces (it took me hours to cut the stones for the wall, for example), and think it will be an interesting exercise to see how much more detailed the finished piece will be this way. Stay tuned.

Frequently asked questions:

What thread do you use for thread painting? I like “fine embroidery thread” like Mettler’s cotton merc. No. 60 and No. 50. If you use heavier-weight thread, like cotton machine quilting thread, there is more draw-up in the base fabric. Make sure you use the same weight thread in the bobbin as you are using for the top thread. I sometimes use a different color, because I like the little flecks of color that come up to the top if I have my tension slightly off. It adds very cool texture to the piece. WARNING: Quilt judges usually don't like this. They think it is a mistake! I do it anyway, because I like it. I am doing it on purpose! I think there are still a lot of quilt show judges who just don’t “get” art quilts, or who expect art quilters to follow the same rules as those for traditional quilts. Oh, well...

What stabilizer do you use? I use Pellon’s non-fusible “sew-in” interfacing. It comes on bolts about 22-1/2" wide. It is very stiff, but not too heavy, and provides a nice surface under the fabric to stabilize it for heavy thread painting. I used to use the fusible interfacing, but this works better. After I fuse down all my fabric pieces to the background, I cut the interfacing an inch bigger on all sides, and pin the fabric to it with straight quilters pins.

What fusible product do you use? I use Heat-n-Bond Lite. I keep meaning to experiment with other fusibles, but this is working for me right now, so I am sticking with it. I only use Heat-n-Bond in art quilts, because it makes the piece very stiff. I don’t use fusibles at all in my traditional quilts, or anything I’m doing by hand. In fact, I used to be so opposed to fusible products that I refused to use them at all in my first art quilt, “Teach Me to Hear Mermaids Singing,” which you can see on my website. Some of the pieces in this work (like the 1/4" fish eyeballs) were pinned down before they were secured with thread. Trying to thread paint this piece was like wrestling a porcupine. So I gave in, and started working with a fusible product.

How do you keep it from puckering up? This is technically called “draw-up,” and the best thing you can do to avoid it is to use the right interfacing as a stabilizer (see question above). Next, make sure you don’t thread paint too heavily in one area, especially right at the beginning. I try to go over the entire piece lightly, go around the outside, and then go back and do detail work on each area. For example, on this piece, I did a single line between the boards on the red fabric, went around the stones in the wall, and did simple lines in the grass first. I do not use a hoop. It slows me down, and I think it is a pain in the derriere. I know some people who love using a hoop, though.

I want to do this! Is there a book you recommend? I love Coloring with Thread: A no-drawing approach to free-motion embroidery, by Ann Fahl (2005). She has wonderful tips and trouble-shooting lists, thread and stablizer pros and cons, plus amazing photos and samples.