Tuesday, February 28, 2017

First 2017 finish: t-shirt baby quilt

Huzzah, a finish!  And made entirely from stash (well, except for the t-shirts)

The challenge 

A request from October 2016 was to make a t-shirt quilt for a baby whose mother works at Mills College.  These were the two t-shirts I was given to work with.  And oh, by the way, could I possibly make the quilt entirely out of stash?  Why yes, I'll accept that challenge!

First things first: Mills colors are blue and gold.  And these t-shirts were decidedly NOT blue.  Or gold.  What to do?  Start with the back.

I had one yard of a blue ombre stripe.  Needed it to be bigger, so I inserted a slim strip of the delightful multicolor fabric (I think it has a nice blue-and-gold overall feel) and the long-stashed gold-with-blue stripe.  (Long stash = made a baby hat from this; said baby is now 26)  Proud to say that I used up ALL of the blue stripe and the gold stripe.  Only crumbs left.

For the front, I found a pattern I liked called Fractal, from the book Quilt Lab: The Creative Side of Science by Alexandra Winston.  Although Fractal is not a pattern for a t-shirt quilt, I saw potential in the oversized squares and rectangles.  I adapted the overall scale to be able to use 15" square t-shirts in the corners, with the intention of putting my purple and green lovelies just so.  Then I searched my stash for blue fabric to fill in the large empty spaces.

Blue fabric.  Um...yeah.  Not really a blue person.  Probably can't tell from the photo above, but my only large swaths of blue are really quite navy.  Sweetie looked at the mock-up on my design wall and reminded me that, "Mills colors are blue and gold.  I'm not seeing that.  And what's with the bandana fabric?" 

Indeed: stash, that's what's up with the red bandana print.  Hmph!

However, I am a resourceful person quilter.  I knew where to get some t-shirts that feel more "Mills".  Collected a big selection--not entirely blue and gold, but enough that I felt confident I could work something out.

the finished quilt front

I fussed.  And I fused.  Have you ever made a t-shirt quilt?  Most of the front is exclusively t-shirts--and they all have to be stabilized with fusible interfacing in order to behave.  And in a baby quilt, behaving is important for the usability and longevity of the gift.

Ended up using more of the multi-color fabric from the back: replaced the red bandana bits, and tied together both front and back with binding.

The quilting shows up better on the back.  I used my walking foot to replicate the concentric circles that were shown in the quilt from the book.

I'm pretty proud of my efforts here.  I didn't make it to the baby shower (but the quilt did).  The mother-to-be was delighted, so that's a definite win.

1.  A finish
2.  Entirely from stash (counting this as a 2-yard stashbust)
3.  Done on-time for its intended recipient

Do you like the restriction of having to use only stash in a project?  Or do you chafe and feel like your creativity gets stifled?

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.