Thursday, February 23, 2017

Stabilizing Satin Stitching

Block of the Month for February consisted of two interlocking circles of fused applique.  I was
determined to finish the edges of said applique with satin stitching.  I think in the past I have used mostly zigzag stitch for this; satin stitch is merely a more closely spaced version of zigzag.

But I had heard that satin stitching requires a stabilizer--you know, a backing to help all those closely placed stitches stay nice and neat.  A perfect opportunity to learn new things play!

What kind of stabilizer works the best?*

*For my machine; using my particular threads; your mileage may vary

The contenders

  • Advertised stabilizers: Pellon E-Z Stitch, Sulky Totally Stable, Therm-o-Web Stitch n Sew
  • Other "frugal" materials: freezer paper, paper towels, backing paper from Wonder Under

A note on threads & needles

I tried my six different stabilizer samples using three different threads.  Each thread was paired with a specific bobbin thread (following advice I read somewhere to use lighter weight thread in the bobbin when satin stitching). 
  • My regular cotton piecing thread: Presencia 50 wt; bobbin: Presencia 60 wt (just slightly thinner).
  • A hefty cotton topstitching thread: Sulky Blendables in 12 wt (this brand also comes in 30 wt); bobbin: Presencia 50 wt cotton
  • Shiny, specialty thread: Sulky Rayon 40 wt; bobbin: Coats & Clark polyester

Needle:  Schmetz Topstitching machine needle, size 90/14 was used throughout.  That thing is a workhorse; color me impressed.


I read lots of advice on setting up for machine satin stitch before I tried my hand at it.  Recommendations that stood out to me:
  • Use thicker thread; thinner thread as a bobbin
  • Use the correct needle for your thread; a size 90/14 is often recommended even when using your usual piecing/sewing thread
  • Loosen upper thread tension a bit
  • Consider using an embroidery foot for your sewing machine, if one is available
  • Release presser foot tension, if you have that option
  • Go slowly, especially if you have tight curves or corners to navigate
  • Pivot frequently along tight curves (not an issue for my samples)
  • Try not to pull or tug on the fabric; let the feed dogs do the work

Practice, practice practice

For each combination of stabilizer and thread, I stitched a bit on an extra chunk of fabric that used the same fusible applique method as my BOM block.  I did this to check that the tension setting, stitch length and width appeared to still be working.

My machine recommended stitch length of 0.3-0.5 mm; I found that 0.4 mm worked best for all my samples.

Recommended stitch width was 2-5 mm; I used widths of 3.4-3.8.  If I were outlining a complicated design, I might choose narrower width for lesser details or super-curvy edges.

After each test, I checked for puckering, fabric distortion, and ease of removal of the stabilizer product.  When I had a combination I liked, I went ahead and stitched on the actual blocks for my project.  I knew I wanted to use at least two different threads in the finished block.


I have to keep in mind that I was only outlining gentle curves, so I didn't put each product to a rigorous stress test.  Even so, I noticed some differences in how well the feed dogs reacted, how well the fabric remained un-distorted, and how "stabilized" I felt the block to be during the stitching process.

Fewer differences were evident in the ability to cleanly tear away each product.  (Again, not a lot of details, curves and tiny points/valleys to really test this feature.)

And, most surprisingly, not a lot of difference in the appearance of the actual stitching.  Every product gave me a lovely satin stitch.

Pellon E-Z Stitch:  my feed dogs didn't love it, and it was one of the two products that would worry me most for tearing away from intricate designs.  On the positive side, no real distortion of my curve, as it felt like the product "gripped" my fabric the best of those needing to be pinned in place.

Sulky Totally Stable:  my favorite!  Maybe this was an unfair grouping of products--Totally Stable actually adheres to the fabric (via a quick touch of the iron); most of the others rely on pins.  Regardless, this product performed well; thumbs up from my feed dogs, from keeping the block distortion-free, easy release of the fusing from the fabric and easy tear away from the stitching.  It also appears to be re-usable (except where the stitching was), making it somewhat economical.  But I don't consider it to be too expensive of a product anyway.

Therm-o-Web Stitch n Sew:  my second favorite!  Although it has to be pinned into place, Stitch n Sew adheres well to the fabric, flows nicely under the feed dogs, keeps the distortion at bay, and also tears away nicely.

Trying out the "frugal" options
Freezer paper:  although it adheres to fabric, I have always found the stiffness of Freezer Paper to be a problem when I need to maneuver my work.  For use as a stabilizer, I wouldn't choose it.

Paper towels:  this product actually gave me the most problem with distortion.  And I doubt its ability to tear away from the stitching easily--which threatens further distortion.  Thumbs down.

Backing paper from Wonder Under:  why not?  Re-use of a product that would otherwise go straight into the trash?  Not too bad, as long as your pinning is thorough.  Was a tiny bit slippery under my feed dogs, but otherwise acceptable.  And the price was right.

Thanks for playing along!  I have some new knowledge under my belt, and I will feel confident if when I next try some satin stitching.  Really digging this year's Block of the Month at my shop.

Close-up: flashy Sulky Rayon (in turquoise) and modest Presencia cotton

Saturday, February 18, 2017


...In which I realize that my recent efforts to document both my process/progress and my finishes on all things sewn and crafted have completely fallen off the planet.

I'm afraid that some things have gotten finished and sent off to eager recipients without even having been photographed at all.

This simply won't do.

I must take the time to celebrate my finishes!  The neverending pile of WIPs, which keeps getting overrun by the new and shiny ideas tap-dancing on the edges of my consciousness, will always be present and pressing on my attention.

All the more reason to stop and smell the roses, as it were.

I am hereby giving notice that I will share my finishes here--even those that were finished some time ago.  Thank you for bearing with me.

Have you neglected to celebrate a finish?  Hunt for the picture you took of it, and show it off!  Tell me about it in the comments, and I'll come over to help you toot your horn.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

TGIFF: A finished BOM sampler

Welcome!  I'm Alla, and I'm so glad you are visiting.  I have been blogging about my creative passions since 2011; these days, it's pretty much all about the quilting.

Today's finish is a sampler quilt made from black-white-and-bright BOM blocks.  I hosted/taught this BOM last year (September 2015 - August 2016), and made a commitment to the students to stitch it up as soon as I could.

New skills for me:

Wonky/twisted setting for blocks (based on tutorial found at; click ahead to step 3).

Placing blocks in a non-grid pattern, which involved partial seams everywhere.

Curved piecing on some flying geese in the background (learning about/practicing my curves in this year's BOM).

Quick shot of the reverse, a giant B&W print from the stash of amazing art quilter Jonathan Shannon.

Not sure if the fabrics and the setting managed to break this traditionally-pieced sampler out of its stuffy past, but I like to think that 12-inch star blocks can aspire to a modern sensibility.

Thanks for reading about my quilt!

Now it's your turn:  Link up those fabulous finishes here and don't forget to stop by some of the other finishes--leave them some comment love! Grab the TGIFF button and link back to this post, so your  visitors can see other dynamite finishes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I Hava Design Wall!!!

Yep, I hava design wall, and I'm pretty chuffed!
All last night I was singing, in my best Jo Anne Worley warble, about the virtues and wonders of this new development in my sewing space.

Not familiar with Jo Anne Worley? (Such a shame, youngsters)

(If for some reason the video doesn't play, I got it here on Youtube.)

Design wall specifics: two 4 foot x 8 foot pieces of rigid foam insulation, found at my local big-box lumber and building supply store. One side is a silvery mylar, one side is a white plastic; the "foam" looks like a styrofoam product to my untrained eye.

I covered the whole thing with 1 2/3 yards (8 feet) of polyester batting, from the roll at the quilt shop.

Held up very cleverly with blue painter's tape; and by being wedged between the floor and ceiling.

And on the design wall today?  A little ol' table runner whose borders need some help. 

(I am aware that 64 square feet of design wall is a tiny bit of overkill for a table runner.  But I will use its lovely, ginormous surface soon, I promise.)

This table runner is made from three blocks out of last year's black-white-and-bright Block of the Month.  I threw it together quickly, to show students an idea of how to use some of their blocks.  I also wanted to try out a border idea that I had previewed in 2014--also on a black-and-white quilt.


 Upon further review, I was left feeling that my version of the border--which I made narrower due to the size of a table runner vs. a full quilt--was just too darn loud.  The black-and-white fabrics I used did not allow for good viewing of the piecing.  Plus, they shouted down the lovely blocks in the center.  Not good at all.

So, there you have it: a large canvas to give perspective to noisy borders.  I'll be replacing some of the fabrics to try and calm things down a bit.

In other news... I will be hosting TGIFF this week.  More super excitement brewing!

If you have a FINISH, please come back and join the party on Friday this week.  I love to celebrate finishes!!
3rd of July wedding = awesome photographs

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Special Stocking

One of my goals for September--Memento Stocking--finished!

Last seen during fabric auditions. I showed some of my color ideas to the recipient, and she gave me carte blanche.  As long as I used the pocket and name tape from the uniform of the Marine being honored, she had no opinion about the rest--yay, who doesn't love picking fabrics?

This stocking was made using my tutorial. I have had a great time personalizing each stocking I make for a specific recipient, and using special, meaningful materials.

I used part of a sleeve from the uniform to make a bias strip for the toe detail.  I also added batting to the cuff to make it feel more substantial.

Name obscured for the family’s sake
I felt so very honored to make an item that will remind the family of their fallen loved one.

Linking up with Finish it Up Friday, hosted this week by Sarah at Georgia Girl Quilts.  Happy to have a finish(!) and to check out marvelous, motivating work by others.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Who Do I Blog For?

It occurs to me that blogging has not happened lately.  I apologize if any of my regular readers have missed this. I've been writing in my journal--not regularly, don't think I'm "cheating" by putting all of my thoughts in writing elsewhere--but I think this places some of my blogging energy on paper, rather than the digital sphere.

What I have not done is replace my blog with an Instagram feed of things I am working on.  Even if I manage to post some fabricky porn on Instagram, it will never fill my need to process and share via the written word.  That's kinda always been my thing; not gonna change that mode as long as I have the ability to write...

So, I'm pondering again who it is that I blog for: is it just for me?  Do I want lots of followers?  Will better blogging lead me to fame and fortune as a small business person?  (If my small business dreams ever get out of the micro-business realm.)  And overall--if I have all these ideas for blog posts floating around in my head (and I DO), why can't I just stick to some sort of schedule and release them into the world like a normal blogger?

Things I have read lately about blogging

Inspire to Thrive: surefire ways to succeed in social media
Just read a piece from them on why your business needs a Facebook page (um, can't say I'll get right on that, but it's probably a good idea I will want to implement. Soon, maybe.)
Coincidentally, the most recent post is titled "What Happened to Blogging and Having a Great Blog?"

Basic Blog Tips: helping you build a better blog
Just their post headlines make me want to read more "what's a landing page and why should I make one for my blog" "why your email open rates have taken a nosedive" "using comments to boost your own blog's traffic"

But then again, I ask myself if my purpose is to build a great blog, or just be my messy, authentic self online.  Who has time to curate their persona?  Not me, obviously; I can't even write a blog post every week.

Thoughts?  Authenticity vs. branding?  And how often should I push myself to Just Post Something (Anything) Already?!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Goals for August

Oops...make that Goals for September (already?!)

Haven't put any of my sewing goals in writing recently.  And yet, setting goals really is helpful for my internal compass, which tends to get knocked about by all the ideas floating around--the shop, the blogiverse, my friends, the Facebook.

External Deadlines

1.  Memento Stocking for the family of a U.S. Marine
Fabric auditions for another Memento Stocking
2.  Make step-outs for teaching Circles BOM (for September and October classes).
3.  Finish sample(s) for September's class in Oregon
This kimono is goin' places!
4.  Make step-outs for paper-pieced kimono class
5.  Make step-outs for memento stocking class

But I really, really wanna do these, too

6.  Finish flimsy of black & white BOM
Thirteen blocks = fussy setting
7.  Betsy bag
8.  Make 2 more Circle blocks for BOM samples
Latest circle: Grandmother's fan, on a muslin foundation

BONUS Points - as if!

9.  Cinch sack
10.  Pillowcase for a certain niece
11.  Hem Sweetie's pants (she is so patient with me!)
12.  Asian BOM fan sample block

Whew! Setting my aim high again, with no hope of actually finishing them all.  However, it is super important for this list to exist.  In fact, as I was writing up the list and sorting out the "must do" from the "wanna do", I realized that I have been plotting and scheming on the wanna list for the past few days.  Chomping at the bit, as it were.  Tally ho!  

I am teaching three sewing classes in September--those are some motivating deadlines.  Best to remember where my stitching energy should get put in order to not come out looking like an amateur in that regard.  

Do you make lists?  Are they helpful?