Once in a while I see a conversation on one of my groups focused around sitdown longarms or high-end sewing machines where there are advanced or sitdown longarm machine owners saying they have not really used them much since they bought them because they don’t really know how to use them confidently or are afraid they will break them. Knowing as I do that these machines can add so much fun and ability to accomplish really fine products, these conversations make me a little sad and frustrated.
True, they do require learning, practice, and a determination to move forward and learn to use them. But they can help accomplish amazing sewing and quilting projects.
It’s important to use them correctly though. That is not as difficult as it may seem. Even if there is not a dealer nearby or one who offers good classes, there are some very helpful books, youtube videos, zoom classes and blogs to help.
One thing I have found that makes things work more easily is to get the feet that do those special things, add the attachments that enlarge the use of the machines, buy a handful of rulers.templates, get a nice selection of needles and pay attention to what you are using, and then play and practice! Test, test, test. Practice. Practice. Practice. Play, play, play. And then step forward and do a sewing or quilting project you really want to do. If the results aren’t terrific, do another project and don’t be too self critical. Give your machine a name and pet it. The last thing to do is sell your machine or leave it sitting there getting all lonesome.
My Q20 sitdown longarm with some rulers…and a practice piece.
I love my Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm. It is great not only for quilting, but also for free motion embroidery. I have had it for five years now and have had almost no problems. I do keep a notebook nearby to keep notes.
My Bernina 880 plus all ready to play
I also keep a notebook near my other sewing machines so I can write down things I learn along the way. I always learn something in the process of making a new item.
Sew what can you make that won’t be distressing if it doesn’t come out quite right, but might be really fun if it does? I have some suggestions:
Dog quilts, baby quilts for charity, wheelchair size quilts for charity, table toppers for your home, lap quilts for you and yours to cuddle under on tv night, simple tote bags with embroidery or applique, or just well made, zipped project bags, panel quilts with borders.
Aprons, simple skirts, easy tops not particularly fitted in style, some of those fun small projects you can find on sewing machine blogs, small zipped pouches for kids and travel, pajamas or nighties, robes for yourself and family
Decorative pillows using pre-made pillow forms, table cloths and napkins, kitted projects with instructions and all the pieces like from Kimberbell
THEN, you can move up to some more advanced decorative wall quilts, or a foot warmer quilt for your bed, make yourself a lovely outfit using a good pattern, put together your own kits and follow my patterns and video classes.
After that, you will be able to make anything! Just take your time and assemble the parts, test all the parts, and fly with me.
Sew I was realizing today as I worked in my studio that my fabric art and my video making are fairly well merged together finally and I have really begun to enjoy playing/working in my studio again. It has definitely been a huge challenge.
I started back about September of last year, thinking I would just take some of the classes I used to teach and add a few more and turn them into videos to share on YouTube and make downloads to accompany them. Simple, right? I had no idea what I was about, how to really accomplish it, and the journey I was undertaking. Using my single little GoPro camera I just made a video and edited it on my video editor that was designed for home videos. I had to learn to edit just for that.
After my family and I saw the video result I had loaded up on YouTube, we all realized it would not do. It had many problems from lighting to scripting to quality of the filming. Plus, the talent (me) needed to figure out a little better how to address the watcher. So I took it down and my family swung in there and helped me get set up, figure out how to do the videos, and are still helping me produce better videos. It was a period of frustration, especially when my computer failed just after we got started and it it took a couple of months before that was solved. Now I have a wonderful setup as well as a good computer that is designed for this work (thanks to my family set of professional techies). Grown kids are the greatest blessing!
It’s been a major change in my studio and the way I work and I’m still learning, but this past few weeks I had a lot of fun. I realized that fun has returned to my studio work, frustration has cooled down, and happiness is centered around fabric art again.
Sew new ideas are flooding in and I have quite a few directions I will be taking this newly merged activity based on what I have learned over the years. And yes, I do still plan to make show quality and experimental quilts, perhaps, though, with some videoing along beside them.
One thing I have been adding to help fund this rather expensive activity and keep the YouTube video teaching free for my followers and friends, is to add some affiliations with companies so I can recommend products I use myself with links for you to use both here on my Blog and on my YouTube in the information box below the videos. If people use them and purchase something at the time or shortly thereafter, I will get a small percentage from the purchase and it won’t cost them any more for the product and they won’t have to hunt for it.
I so far have only had people reference the links and not purchase enough for anyone to pay me anything (it has to add up to a bit before you get paid), but I hope this will improve as time goes on and my followers understand how it supports my little business to help keep things going.
So far I have an affiliation with Connecting Threads, Dick Blick art supplies, Accuquilt cutters, and yes, Amazon to cover the blank areas the others don’t.
Very recently I added Wonderfil Specialty Threads. Now you all who know me know I love Superior Threads too, but the thread types I use and like from Wonderfil are not made by Superior Threads, so between the two of them I’ve got the many types I like to use covered.
I am planning on a number of YouTube classes and Quick Tip Videos that will involve extensive thread work using these specialty threads along side of the Superior I like too (even though they don’t have an affiliate program). It will be fun…small wall art whole cloth quilts that feature things I love like trees, rocks, trains, birds, flowers, and architecture that are sized right for a small space on your home walls or even in an office or for use on pillows or tote bags, etc. They should be fun…fun to make, fun to watch being made, fun to think about.
Sew happy everyone! Have fun in your studio and treasure your family and friends. If you have something you want to have me present on my videos, please tell me in the comments.
First of all, I am celebrating today, because my youngest son David just released his latest novel (click on the book to find it)! Congratulations to him.
Setting up for free motion quilting or thread play
While my communiques (blogs, vlogs, and YouTube videos) are intended for everyone who wants to play, regardless of their machines, sometimes I also address some quick specifics for working on Berninas. Please don’t stop reading when you come across those if you are not a Bernina owner, because you might find some of what I say interesting anyway.
I have three Berninas: a Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm, a Bernina 880 Plus, and a Bernina 350. I also have a simple older BabyLock serger. I am truly grateful to have this collection of machines I obtained over the years through trade ups, gifts, and so forth. This is a wonderful set of machines for me to play with here in my studio. It’s like playing inside my own wonderland with favorite toys. But it does require practice, sometimes research, testing tools and techniques, and (gasp!) reading my manuals to get the most from this stable of machines. So I want to share what I have learned from this.
Setting Up For Free Motion
The setup for free motion on these machines is relatively simple.
If you don’t have a Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR attachment) or want to work without it, simply put on a darning or quilting foot like foot #73, #24, #29 or #9. Drop your feed dogs.
If you have a Bernina stitch regulator attachment that works on your machine, attach it and set it for your chosen BSR mode. BSR1 runs smoothly and constantly, idling with a little stitching, which is great for smooth free motion quilting and free motion embroidery. The idling allows you to stitch several stitches at the corner of a sharp turn in addition, which makes a nice turn. BSR2 stops when you stop and starts when you start, so you may prefer this setting. I find with this attachment I have to use a slightly shorter stitch length and not sew too fast for best results.
One of the interesting things you can do with this BSR attachment, is free motion zig zag with stitch regulation, which can’t be done on a sitdown longarm with a stitch regulator. This can provide some unique thread play opportunities and looks.
For most domestic machines you probably won’t need to make any adjustment in tension from the default for normal threads. For specialty threads, however, you may need to lower or raise the top tension to accommodate specialty thread weights and types. It’s a good idea to do a test using similar fabrics and write down your changes before working on your project piece.
When doing free motion it helps a lot to have a slick supporting surface, so I use a silicone mat, such as a Supreme Slider. I tape mine down with that indispensable studio tool blue painters tape because I have ruined more than one mat by stitching it to the back of my project. I have repaired them a bit with clear packing tape if they aren’t too badly torn. Yes, I know the stickiness returns if you rinse the back, but you have to remember to do that periodically and also the heavier and larger your quilt the more likely it is to dis-attach from the table and get caught in the stitching.
A queen sized Supreme Slider taped down with blue painters tape at my old Bernina 830 LE (I traded it for my 880 Plus last year). This works well and is easy to remove when you need to.
Setting Up the Q20 and the Q16 sitdown longarms
These machines are built for free motion quilting and free motion thread work and truly you can dive right in just as they are. But there are a few things that are helpful to know to make your free motion stitching work better. Note that I have had my Q20 now for nearly five years and I love it.
Free motion is always better when the supporting base is slick and the fabric can slide easily. There are some very large silicone mats available for these machines, where you cut the square carefully around the BSR/Bobbin square area (whatever do you call that?!!!).
Some people like using these extra large silicone mats with their sitdowns, I don’t have one. I spray the table before each project with Sullivan’s silicone spray, and wipe it fully dry with a soft cloth or paper towel. But before I spray it, I cover the BSR/Bobbin area under the needle and the vent area at the back of the machine with blue painter’s tape to prevent the spray from going down into the machine works. Alternatively, you can spray into the cloth and wipe the table but I think you get a little less silicone on the table that way (not scientific, just an opinion). From personal experience I know the spray works very well.
These machines have two BSRs built in which provide excellent stitch regulation.
BSR1 constantly runs and has a speed setting to make it cruise along easily at the pace you like. I use it for most of my free motion quilting and all of my free motion embroidery. I like to start off with a relatively slow “idle” speed of 250 to 300 and will raise that if I need to. The machine will run very fast if you want it to.
BSR2 stops when you stop and starts when you start. I use this mostly for ruler work.
BSR3 is a basting stitch with multiple stitch lengths to choose from. I use it a lot for larger quilts. I will spray baste the sandwich and then do some large segments of thread basting. This is especially good for your masterpiece or show quilting that will take a long time just to keep everything in good placement.
Then there is manual setting that does not engage the BSR, of course, but it does have a speed control on it so you can set it at a comfortable pace for you. I like this for micro-quilting, but I don’t use it for much else. It is smooth running and quieter and makes it easy to do those tiny bubbles for instance, but I still prefer the BSRs for most of my quilting. It’s a personal preference. Some people prefer this mode for everything, but if you are new to the machine, I urge you to try the BSRs first. They are wonderful.
I often get the question about what thread will the Berninas use. All my Berninas will work well with almost any good quality thread. I just have to be sure I have the right needle, tensions, stitch length, and the speeds set up right for that.
Keeping notes on how you set things up is always helpful, but these machines have four savable programs for various thread settings, which is really nice. Once you set it all up like you like it, you can save it and even tell it what thread and needle it is for in the naming of the programs.
I like to use the kickstart feature, which allows me to free motion stitch/quilt with a very steady power feed. This helps me relax while stitching and eliminates most stitch skips and the like, without my foot on the pedal. This is because the pedal is basically on/off and if you don’t keep your foot fully down it might skip a stitch, though not usually.
For using the kickstart, get your BSR mode chosen and make sure you are all set up, then kick the pedal at the heel and the machine will sew until you press the pedal at the front to stop it. I love it. You don’t have to concentrate on anything other then where you place your stitching once you get used to it. Here’s a youtube with cute fluffy slippers on using it:
And last, but not least be sure to set your bobbin tension to match your thread in the bobbin. I use mostly Superior Bottom Line in my bobbin…even mostly their prewound M sized bobbins, which are Bottom Line…and set my tension to 180 using the Towa Guage that comes with the machine. The Bernina default setting is 220, but I find you really need to adjust per thread size. If you somehow didn’t get one, be sure your dealer gives you one. It’s not like a domestic…it’s a real longarm.
Sew happy everyone! Have fun in your studio. I hope you found this helpful. I will be posting my next video probably this weekend. Cheers.
I love quilted fabric art pieces, in case you haven’t figured that out yet, They can be as artistic as any great painting and can warm the home and office with their beauty. The texture can approach three dimensional with different finishes and dents and poufs, and they make you want to go and touch them. There are so many directions they can take.
I also love using the power of my great machines and my computer to work well beyond my own talents and abilities even as my hands age and can do less. There is much there to take advantage of for creating and enjoying and the additions continue. I even recently bought a new Bernina foot and my dealer kindly mailed it to me.
Learning the techniques, and taking advantage of the various attachments and feet is an important and interesting part of this.
Understanding how the machines respond to fabrics, threads, and quilt sandwiches is a key aspect to getting the maximum advantages out of the machines.
Trying not to get too frustrated when things don’t go well, but instead working through various steps to see what can be done to solve problems is equally important, and perhaps the hardest thing to do.
Learning how to better use various helpful software also adds to how far one can go.
These are the goals for me to continue to reach for this year even after all these years of sewing and quilting using these great tools. I have concluded there is always more to learn. And then I also want to get better adding surface design in the form of in-the-hoop embroidery, paints, beads, and crystals to move even further just adds to the enjoyment. I feel almost like I am just beyond a beginner in this aspect.
Sew even though it is unclear where we will land in our quilting/sewing world after The Great Upheaval, my own name for the pandemic and actions taken, there will always be much to do and learn. This makes me excited even as I still hang out safely in my studio. Truth be told, even after we all get through this thing and I can go out more, I will be spending the majority of my time in my studio because I love these activities. Yes, I will have my friends in finally and go see them, and I will go to brick and mortar fabric stores that may be left, and will delight as I see the rebirth of the industry across the nation. I hope to go back to shows eventually. I think we still have some months before this happens.
So I will be making some smaller projects in 2021 but still plan on doing them to quilt show quality even if they never go to a show. It is the standard that I don’t want to leave. I will, of course, also make some cuddle quilts and a few clothes this year.
This Week’s Featured Quilt
Kanazawa Memories, Completed August 2015 Sashiko designs stitched with 12 weight Sulky cotton on Peppered Cotton. I digitally painted the individual flower appliques and printed them on cotton, and then arranged them in a close approximation of arranging Ikebana with real flowers. The vase is made from some hand dyed silk I had on hand. I then appliqued them with Monopoly. This is the perfect example of what I was just talking about. I did take a hand Sashiko class from the great Pepper Cory and I loved it, but I have a very hard time hand stitching Sashiko now. But here I used digitized Sashiko, some of which I digitized myself, and picked threads and fabrics close to what I knew were very Japanese in nature. Decades ago, I lived in Kanazawa for three years and had some wonderful helpful friends. This quilt was created while thinking about this time in my life. You can see a better image of this on my website gallery. I am still waiting my coming new computer after the great computer crash a week ago, so I must use what is available here on my laptop. Here’s the link to the gallery page where you can find this.
Sew happy everyone! Join me in advancing our understanding of what we can do with the machines we have. Cheers everyone.
Hi y’all. I have pretty much figured out the video making puzzle and have all the things lined up for that, and now I need to do some additional work on the fabric art projects I am planning to use for my videos before I can start this up.
So, with a lot of happiness, I decided I will spend the whole next week at least just “working” on fabric art. I will be taking progress photos and probably small snatches of videos as I do this, of course, but mostly I will be playing in my studio with fabrics and threads. I’m so glad I don’t have a deadline!
The question is, what am I going to work on now? Well, I have the wool applique by machine project and I also want to start up one of my many planned items I already designed in the free motion/quilting arena. It should be fun and I hope very soon to share the fun with you in my planned videos on YouTube.
One of the things I have found really fun while I was working on the video equipment was to watch old Sewing with Nancy shows. I think I have found nearly all of them now to watch on my tv or computer monitor. Pfaff has put her original older ones on YouTube where she used Pfaff machines (search for Pfaff Talk and you will probably see it there). They nicely bunched all the parts of a subject into one longer video, which is nice. In searching for “Sewing with Nancy” on my Roku, I also found I could place a PBS link on my Roku that has the Wisconsin PBS collection of her shows they have. They are organized by season going back to about the time she switched away from Pfaff to the BabyLock that her company owned. I believe that almost covers her entire production, though there may be more. There is a huge wealth of great shows between these two sources and I have been having a lot of fun having that on while I worked. She was an amazing woman who gave us sewists a lot. I miss her though I only met her briefly once at a quilt show.
Sew I am taking a full break today. I sold one of my two cars yesterday to one of those companies that buys cars, because we were having trouble keeping the battery charged and running since we used it so little. They gave me a fairly good deal on it. Both my son and I work from home and we simply don’t need more than one car between us.
That was an almost surreal adventure. I found I had a flat tire when I got there. It drove fine all the way there except I had noticed a little bumpiness at one point that I chalked up to the road. David was driving the car I sold, and on the way the EZPass in that car decided it was time for the battery to quit working and he had to stop and pay the toll with a credit card, and then I got there and realized I had left my wallet behind! I never do that. But I had put it down to grab my mask and forgot to pick it back up. So we got the AAA to come and fix the tire, which apparently is not damaged in any way, and we discovered the other car had a low tire too! Odd, don’t you think? Suspicious? He pumped up that tire too, which also did not appear to be damaged and David drove me back to pick up my wallet and we went back and completed the sale. It was trying and tiring, but we came home all safe and sound.
Sew after a tough week that also included having my dishwasher die and getting a new one installed on Wednesday, as well as the real work of figuring out all that video equipment, and then to be topped off with the difficult day yesterday, I decided to just goof off today and pick up again tomorrow after church (I watch our church service online, even singing the songs, giving the responses aloud, and so forth. That helps make it more real).
Despite it all, this difficult week ends up with a nice new dishwasher, a check for the car, and my video equipment and methods figured out and ready to use with charged batteries and downloaded manuals on how to use the equipment, and I even made progress on learning the editing software. Thank the Lord!
Sew happy everyone! I’m really ready for some time playing with fabric and threads. How about you?
Sew I have spent the whole last week working toward getting set up for VLOG’s that I plan to periodically publish on YouTube. I thought in the beginning I would be able to do the setup in a couple of days at most, but there were so many things my test videos revealed that needed attention…placement of the cameras, sound quality of the recordings, doing the demonstration of the sewing around the cameras, poor skill of the presenter (me). I have finally managed to get a setup of two of my three cameras at my Bernina 880 plus and an additional setup at my Q20 so that you can see me fairly well, and it doesn’t emphasize my age too very much like my first try did. I got the front camera placed so you can see the stitching going on relatively well and it doesn’t get so much in my way so I can’t really work. For instance, it doesn’t get in the way of threading my machine like one of my tries did. I think that front camera will also be a little adjustable so if you need to see the screen and buttons on the machine that will be possible. The third camera will be placed on an overhead gadget my son Ken put together for me. That has to be installed first though.
Through a little YouTube research on the camera gear, I finally figured out I was missing a small piece of equipment that is designed to improve the sound quality between the camera and the microphone. I ordered that from Amazon and it will presumably arrive early next week.
Besides getting the equipment set up, I realized I need to do considerable practice for my videos to flow nicely and be enjoyable. I am not a natural presenter, so I have to work at that a bit. I am also working on getting my video editing with multiple cameras up to par. So I am guessing it will be another couple of weeks before I start publishing videos on YouTube, but I am thinking I have made a lot of progress so far.
In the meantime, I am working on my book and downloadable handouts to accompany some of these videos. I kind of wish, in a way, that I could just drop all of this and go make a fun piece of fabric art. But I think once I get it all set up I CAN go make a fun piece of fabric art and include my quilty friends that are interested in the process with my videos.
I am still very excited about my wool applique by machine overall project that inspired all of this in the first place. I so far have five skill-building pieces outlined and some are completely written in my book manuscript. I need to make the samples for that. After that, I am planning on additional books encapslating some of my somewhat unique techniques that draw heavily on machine work. So this is just the necessary not-so-fun part right now and I’ll get over that hump shortly.
I really admire those of my friends who so successfully create their teaching videos with seeming speed and grace. My process is much more bumpy and slow. LOL
Sew happy everyone! Have fun in your studios this week. I love watching a lot of my quilty friends videos. They help keep me cheerful. Cheers.
We certainly are having a heat wave! My studio Fritz is the warmest room in my home. This is where my longarm sitdown Bernina Q20 and my computer setup lives. I also have Studio Gibbs, where I store my fabrics and where my Bernina 880 Plus lives, and there is little Studio Betsy, where my little Bernina 350 and my old Baby Lock Serger lives in one part of my bedroom. These rooms are all on the top floor of my home. It’s over 100 outside, supposedly it feels like 117 here in Ashburn, Virginia, right now and is very humid. Our AC is good, but is struggling to keep up for the upper floor.
So I am working down in my main level on my laptop writing this blog and doing some planning for some videos for YouTube I hope to make. I finally have gathered all the cameras, software, and so forth I need for that and am currently getting it all setup and figuring out how to run it all.
I now have three cameras and several tripods and clamp-on holders.
My son Ken gave me two of the cameras and a gadget he made with a remote that attaches to the wall so I can focus one camera over my island where I cut, do some paint/dying, and can even set up some ironing. That will allow me to show a lot of things flat from above. I still have to install that on the wall, but that should be easy and I will probably get that done tomorrow.
I will be able to use two cameras surrounding wherever I am working, which is always a great help when you are trying to show techniques involving sewing.
I have a nice video editor from Corel that I have been studying how to use and trying to set up some templates for the videos. This allows me to use multiple cameras in a single video.
I also now have a webcam, a clip on microphone, and even some stuff I haven’t yet figured out that Ken gave me. hahahaha I think some of it assembles into a device that I can hang a background or a green screen on.
I guess when you ask a tech-oriented family to help you get setup for videos, they think well beyond your own simple thoughts into a reasonably professional production set for the self producer. LOL. I may need some help doing some of the videos, but I think I will be able to do most of them alone once all is set up. I’m hoping to get this all done this week, but we’ll see.
It is a great blessing, and I am thrilled, but it is taking me some time to figure it all out. I figure I need to do some plans…not really a script but maybe some talking point and gather the pieces for the projects and other videos I will be showing. I’ve been planning this for several years and am finally getting it all put together.
So in the late afternoons when it is too hot upstairs I will work on scripts or guides or whatever they should be called.
That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about my production setup, but at least I have it all recorded so I can possibly figure out what I’m doing…hahaha.
My plan is to produce videos, books, and downloadables for intermediate to somewhat advanced people interested in advancing their fabric art/quilted art. After doing some research there appears to be a plethora of these informative things for beginners, but a bit of a gap for the intermediate and above people.
I will be presenting what I have learned over the past sixty years of sewing and sixteen years of quilting (overlapping), while acknowledging there are many ways of doing things but these are the techniques I like. I feel compelled to share this before I age out to the point I can’t. Some of it will be free, and some will be for sale at reasonable prices. I hope to get this fully launched at least by September, and there will probably be a few videos within a few weeks.
These are the main categories I am planning on addressing:
Working with a sitdown longarm…quilting, free motion thread work, couching, and a few specifics for the Bernina Q20.
Using high end sewing machines with all those wonderful things they open up to the fabric artist, going beyond the obvious.
What you can do in-the-hoop embroidery and more on the Bernina software V8 to go along with my book I already have published.
Projects that use multi media techniques and/or take advantage of a studio that has both a high-end 9 mm sewing machine and a sit down longarm and even occassionally includes a little 5 mm sewing machine.
I am hoping to develop workbooks, project books, and patterns for sale to go with some of this. I’ve been working on these this past year but I still have a ways to go,
So there you are. I will not be teaching out of my home for some time, so I thought it was really time to push forward with this plan that has been in my thoughts for years.
Sew happy everyone! Let me know if you have a particular technique or some such you wish you could learn more about. Maybe I can work it in. Stay happy everyone…go do some sewing or drawing or reading or watching of videos or just chilling. Cheers.
Picking up where I left off on my last blog post, I want to address the problems of dealing with various threads when sewing and embroidery as opposed to free motion quilting.
I have had an interest in threads for a very long time and have been fascinated to see the development of threads over the past few decades. Threads I use today are clearly considerably better than those I used decades ago when I had my fashion design and tailoring business in Ithaca, NY in the mid 70s to mid 80s. Even the threads I used then of the same brands have seemingly improved in their tencil strength and reduction of lint. Even then though I used what I determined were the best thread brands available. So I suggest not using older threads from your great aunt’s basket, but any of the threads in your stash of a good brand are probably ok even if they are a decade old.
These are pretty, but best to place old threads in decorative jar or bowl and use more contemporary thread. If you want to use one just for memories, just stitch a few inches somewhere it won’t be getting any stress.
One of the chief things is to keep your machine clean and oiled, your thread properly threaded (pulling off the top if it is cross wound, and from the side if it is stack wound). Almost all the machines today have a method for both threadings. Check your manual. My Bernina 880 plus has a little metal eyelet hole to send the stack wound through before threading it. I am not sure that is obvious, so check your manual.
Thread path for stack wound spool on the 880 plus pulling sideways as needed for this wind.
First of all, I suggest you go back and read my last blog that was centered around thread management in free motion quilting. Even so, though there are many things there that are the same for sewing and embroidery.
For the most part, when sewing clothes and accessories on the sewing machine, the tension goal is the same as for quilting..a balance between the top and the bottom, but tension settings sometimes have a different goal especially for decorative stitching and embroidery where the tension may be best when pulling to the back more than the front. My Berninas automatically adjust that when I switch to decorative stitching and I never really have to think about it. But if you are having trouble with your threads breaking or somehow misformed stitches, then it is likely some adjustment to the tension needs to be made.
Yes, you can change the bobbin tension!!!! I have heard so many people say they were told not to change the bobbin tension, and that limits you to the standard thread weights and cuts out some wonderful specialty thread work you could do. But you may want to have a separate bobbin case if your bobbin works that way to use for specialty bobbin work or changing the tension to accommodate a specialty thread. My Bernina 880 Plus has a tension adjustment method built in using that little multi-purpose tool. Check your manual.
8 series multi-function tool.
Having the proper foundation for your sewing or embroidery project can make a huge difference in the behavior of your thread as you work. For the most part, when quilting, the batting and backing fabric provides sufficient foundation for even rather intensely quilted projects, but if you are doing fancy stitching with specialty threads on your sewing machine for say, your new summer dressy top, you will really need to add interfacings and/or stabilizers (tear away or wash away is best). I think I will write a separate blog on that subject because it is important and there is much to say about that. But getting it wrong can make you think there is something wrong with your machine or make your threads break and misbehave and your project get all bumpy and pully. So pay attention to the foundation.
Just like when you are quilting, you need to test things before you begin a project and periodically at certain phases of your project to make sure you have things working right before you stitch on your expensive fabrics. Make a test piece and take notes as you go If your machine saves personalized settings then use that function to save time.
I realized I wrote a post that addresses a lot of thread decisions already and it belongs with these two blogs.
Here is page 18 from my Bernina 880 plus manual. It has a great explanation of needles and what they are used for. I thought you would like to see it:
Sew after you read that blog and my last blog and this blog, (and your manual) do you have any questions I may be able to help answer in thread management? Please let me know. I want to help people enjoy their sewing and quilting with little frustration and a lot of fun.
Sew happy everyone. Take time to test and read your manuals as part of your project time especially if you have a deadline. Unsewing is no fun at all. Try out some of the wonderful specialty threads available. Cheers everyone.
I just saw it again on social media from a quilter that has had a high end machine for two years that should bring them a lot of happiness but they cannot get the thread to stop breaking and therefore don’t use it much. Often it is thread nests, or thread shredding. Sew I decided to talk about this a little bit. In my humble opinion, most machines, and particularly high end machines, should be able to use nearly any type of quality thread designed for machine stitching. Note I did not say any brand, but rather any type. The owner should not have to find the thread that works for the machine, but the machine should work with the thread. I think there is much that can be done to make this happen.
Sew today we have a range of really fine threads to go with our really fine machines accompanied by really fine needles. Sew what’s the problem? This is what I think and have experienced in my own studio. I have a Bernina Q20 longarm set up as a sitdown, a Bernina 880 plus, and a little Bernina 350 (plus an older BabyLock serger and a vintage White that I am not including in this discussion today). So I will be talking about these, since that is what I have, but I suspect there is a correllating set of steps and considerations for your own machines that you can take. Your manual and YouTube videos can be very helpful for those, especially if you know what you are looking for.
One of my chief points I like to make is that it is important to test. Test your setup before starting a project. Make a sample sandwich from more or less the same fabrics and battings. or prepare a test piece of fabric you are using for sewing or embroidery, and test everything first. Then keep it close to periodically test if things go awry. This can be a very important tool for you. If you serge, or otherwise finish the edge, and put a large ring in the corner, you can hang this up or keep them together. Be sure to make notes of settings and products you used right on the fabric for future reference.
Before you begin any project, you should pay attention to matching the needles with the threads and the tensions with the thread types. Most of the better thread manufacturers have advice either right on the spools or on their websites as to what needles work best. It’s a good place to start, but may not always be the answer for what you are working on. Usually it is, however.
One thing to remember is that there are a lot of variables that can negatively affect our sewing that we may not think about on a daily basis and have nothing to do with the overall quality of our machines. These may include
humidity and heat,
adhesives, interfacings, stabilizers,
lint caught in the thread path or the bobbin holder that may not be apparent when we do a standard clean and oil,
a faulty needle,
a little bur or damage on the foot,
a damaged/bent bobbin
a well used bobbin brake spring that just needs to be replaced,
the tension settings for both the top and the bobbin not set correctly for the thread,
a bad spool or cone of thread even from a reputable dealer (it happens and usually they will replace it if you let them know),
and our own mood or health at the time.
I’m sure there are things I havent thought of in this list, but you see there are a lot of things that can make us have a frustrating sewing or quilting day.
Let’s take a look the Q20 sitdown longarm for starters.
Preparing to practice some ruler work on Fritz, my Bernina Q20
I have heard that some dealers appear to mistakenly tell their customers that they should never ever in any circumstancs change the bobbon tension from the recommended 220 for the Qs. My own dealer is wonderful and does not do this. This is decidedly poor advice, especially for a longarm such as the Bernina Q20 sitdown, especially if we use any kind of bobbin thread other than 50 weight cotton. For the most part, I have found over the past four years of working with my machine that 220 is USUALLY too tight. Here is a little chart I worked out that works for my machine.
Here’s my chart. You should make your own that works for you, but you might want to start here.
If you conduct your own testing that will let you know if it works for your setup. Sometimes adjustments need to be made to this chart depending on the weather, the batting and other variables. Making notes is really helpful.
Thread Management in the Q20
I keep on hand the following things to assist with thread management:
thread nets for cones. I didn’t originally use these, but recently I find I have much fewer problems if I use a thread net. I do note that Wonderfil threads have an alternative wrap for their cones that I have not yet tried.
the horizontal spool holder to allow for use of stacked thread spools (when the spool is wound so it is evenly stacked rather than cross wound).
horizontal spool holder is usually an additional attachment you have to purchase.
Here is the spoolholder installed
the pink liquid for the little applicator sponge in the threading path originally intended for metallic threads. I find it also helps if I am having problems with thread shredding of, for instance, rayons.
This little bottle is usually included in the purchase of your machine. It is a silicone thread lubricant and is tiny but goes a long ways.
thread lubrication path on my Bernina Q20.
Dritz sewer’s aid. It’s probably the same thing as the pink liquid, since it is a silicone thread lubricant, but it can be used more generously directly on a spool or cone without sendng the thread through the applicator sponge thread path. I don’t use it in my machine’s little sponge just because it may be a slightly different weight or something.
A package of M sized bobbin genies. This is really helpful if you are having problems with thread nests on the back due to static electricity. I originally learned about this from Sharon Schamber.
I like to keep a spare bobbin brake spring I order through my dealer, a spare bobbin case, and a spare threader replacement head all on hand. Maybe there are other parts I should have but I don’t know about. I have had my machine for four years of heavy use and these are the only parts I have had a problem with so far other than having to have my BSR laser sensors replaced early on.
And a selection of the following needles:
Topstitch titanium needles (I prefer Superior brand, but Schmetz and Bernina are also ok) sizes 70/10, 80/12,90/14, 100/16
universal 70/10 and 80/12
Quilting needle 80/12, and 90/14.
I also have a collection of specialty needles, like leather needles or double needles in different widths for playful quilting fun. Note that you must have the double needle throat plate to use the double needles.
Twin needle stitch plate
A can of compressed air to blow clean the bobbin area and the brush. The top area should be cleaned with a brush according to Bernina, but the bobbin area is ok to use the compressed air and it makes a big difference.
Bernina machine oil
I also have the multifunction tool that came with my Bernina 830 that I traded in for my 880 plus, which has another one, because I particularly like the way it helps me hold the needle in place while I screw it in. You can buy this tool at the dealers, or here online, and there are other generic tools on the market that perform this function (a threader gadget has a needle holder end to it
8 series multi-function tool..handy for more than the 8s
The bobbin tension gauge (it’s made by Towa). If you don’t have this, you should have received it with your machine, so go to your dealer and ask for it. Here’s a little video link to help you use it correctly, although Nina McVeigh, whom I admire very much, is saying the tension should be 220 always. I hate to disagree with the extremely talented Nina, but trust me, the tension needs to play with your thread types. Using the gauge
As you look at this list, you may figure out that when things go awry (and yes, they do for me too from time to time, but far less often than they did at first) that I have a selection of things to try beyond changing the needle and cleaning and oiling the machine. I usually manage to quilt a full quilt now with no thread issues).
Steps to Take When You Are Having Problems
Unthread the machine and check the spool/cone to see if by chance the thread is catching on the spool itself or there is a flawed area in the winding of the thread you can see.
If it is a cone, make sure it has a net.
If it is metallic, run it through the lubrication path after adding a drop of lubricant on the sponge.
If it is monopoly run it through the lubrication path to help control this lively thread.
It’s really important that the top tension and bobbin tension match the threads you are using. The neat thing about the q20 machine is that it has a set of four programs where you can store your settings for the different types of threads for the top.
Check the needle. Is it the right one for your thread? If you run your fingers down the needle and across the tip carefully, you can sometimes detect that there is a bur or bend on the needle. But this is not a guarantee you will find it if there is some kind of flaw. You may need to change your needle even if it is new. Replace the needle using a needle holder to help assure it is fully up in place. Just holding it with your fingers can sometimes not get it quite fully engaged upward.
Remove the bobbin and blow out the bobbin area, then oil the machine carefully. Double check especially if you have been using monopoly recently. It can tangle around things like it is alive sometimes and you can’t see it without a magnifier and flashlight!
Run a needle around the workings of the bobbin case to see if there is a wad of lint caught in the case…I have had that happen and it can bring things to a frustrating point.
Check your bobbin case brake spring. Is it in the proper place? Is it upside down? Is it wearing out (flattening or with a bur). I had a very difficult to diagnose problem happen about a month ago with terrible thread nests on the back. I finally replaced the brake spring and it has been working wonderfully ever since. I never did see what was wrong with it.
Examine your bobbin to see if it is bent or damaged in anyway. This is especially important if you are a klutz like myself and drop your bobbins on the floor or if you have had it for years and used it for many miles of stitching.
Run your bobbin through the tension guage to make sure it is still set correctly for your thread weight. It can change over time, especially if you do hours of quilting and everything heats up.
Replace your bobbin.
Check both the front and the back of your piece to make sure the tension is ok on both sides. It’s a good test to put a different color in the bobbon of the same type of thread you will be using and test it to see if you have any tension problems showing up or down that don’t show when your threads are the same color. Note that I have surrendered to the metallic threads. I put a matching thread color (some polyesters look metallic) in the bobbin. I have sometimes been totally unable to get the tensions set with a metallic so there are no little dots showing on the back. I have also been successful from time to time with getting it right. I have to think it might be a batting issue. It doesn’t stop me from using metallics, however. I may even put a metallic in the bobbin, which works fine.
Run a length of tooth floss through the upper thread path slowly and carefully to pull out anything that doesn’t belong you don’t find with just brushing it out.
Check your foot for damages. I one time had constant breakages and then tried a different foot. They stopped. Upon close examination, I found the foot that has had many many miles of use had a bur on it. I sanded it with an emory board and it works fine now.
Remember to have the foot up when rethreading…a real necessity to make it all seat into the thread path correctly.
Put it all back together and do some test stitching. Make notes of any setting changes you had to do to get things right.
I realize this is really a long post and I still haven’t discussed working with my sewing machines. Although a lot of the same things apply, I wanted to get more specific for them. So I will break this blog into two parts. Next week I will talk about solving thread problems in sewing machines.
Happy Mother’s Day to everyone. Yes, many of you are mothers and grandmothers, but I know a couple of you who have no children but provide much learning and support to us quilters and sewists in motherly fashion. So Happy Mother’s Day to all of my readers (even the guys). My oldest son Ken has already called to talk with me, and my youngest son David, who shares my home with me, is going to cook a steak dinner tonight. Lovely!
My side yard
It’s gorgeous here in Ashburn, Virginia. About 65 and totally sunny with not a cloud in the sky. I just spend about an hour out back enjoying it all. The back of my house looks out into a small woods, just thick enough so I can’t see over to the next part of the neighborhood and thin enough so developers won’t come and build back there. The wildlife is delightful that live there…birds of several varieties, bunnies, turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, and even foxes. I feed the birds so I can see them and they pay me back by keeping down the gnats and flies and singing to me.
My youngest son David on the upper deck.
Sew I had hoped to finish the quilt I am making in memory of my wonderful mom, but though I have made great progress, I still have a ways to go. I have finished the quilting on the central part of the quilt and am working on the borders. I put freeform feathers on the bottom border, and I plan on doing the same on the top border. I got some new stencils and am have marked a beautiful vine with leaves coming down both sides. Since I quilt everything to death, except my snuggle utility quilts, I have a lot of quilting to go yet. And then I will have to wash it to remove the markings, and paint some of it. So there is much to do still. I had thought it would not be pretty enough on the back to be a good show quilt, but I just turned it completely over and was surprised to find it is beautiful. Yes, there are flaws, but it is still beautiful. The flaws don’t seem to show much on the front. Some of them will be removed, others will maybe go under a label or two (I’m thinking of writing a little biography of my mom in a simple text label in addition to the who made it when and so forth label).
Sew I am close enough to being done with Mom’s quilt to think about what my next major project will be. I actually have three going now. One is my own personal snuggle quilt for my bed using Sue Nickles applique blocks that I just use to work on when I want to do something that is just relaxing sewing, one is a fairly extensive project of wool applique by machine that I am simultaneously writing a book about.
I have found that there is a slight bit of room in the art quilting world for books that people with advanced machines may want to have. There are a lot of how to quilting books for beginners, piecing books, and yes, even some advanced art quilting books, but I think while there are some books out there for people with all these wonderful stitches and feet and other attachments, that area might still have room for some skill building books for using these advanced machines many of us have. Wool applique by machine is my first of these skill-building books I am working on (I just bought a second camcorder and will be making videos too).
Another book I am thinking of is multiple deep space quilts using a variety of methods in homage to the magnificent deep space scenes you can find many of on NASA’s website that are copyright free. Here I have some credentials in the quilting world, because I have won several nice ribbons on my deep space quilts and I have many more to make. So I thought this would be a good book and already have it underway using photos I took while creating some of these quilts. I plan on making several more, some step outs and some small ones to sell for people who may want one of these for their wall, or to give as a gift. Of course, I will be producing show quilts from this project also, giving my work double, or even triple use (I will be making some videos too).
Sttitching Spiral Quilt 3 with a reference picture. I gave this quilt to Ken and Beth.
I guess maybe that is all I can do this year, but it doesn’t stop me from planning other quilts, and thinking about how I can incorporate them into books and videos. I may speed up, and some of these books are nearly written and only need a few samplers. so it might not be as overwhelming as it sounds.
I would love for my readers to tell me what they want me to teach by book and video (I am not going to do much travel for a while), realizing that I have been sewing for more than sixty years, having even once owned my own fashion design business, and quilting since 2009, with ribbons and other awards to my name.
One of my most prized awards that may sound unrelated, but is not, is a simple honorable mention I won in Kanazawa Japan decades ago. I studied Ikebana there, receiving my fourth year Sogetsu School Ikebana certificate, the next one, had I continued, would have been a master certificate. While there, I entered a flower show and made an arrangement using great big sunflowers, chrysanthemums, and swooping curls of broomstick. It won an honorable mention. Theoretically, it was anonymous. But there were some magnificent arrangements there. It’s something I have never forgotten. Nor have I forgotten a single bit of my training. I have sketch books with some of my arrangements too. A flower arranging quilt would be fun.
Kanazawa Memories, with machine stitched sashiko and a fabric Ikebana arrangement I made by printing individual flowers on fabric and appliqueing them into an arrangement. I lived in Kanazawa Japan for three years as a young woman. I no longer own this quilt.
In the stitching/sewing world, I can probably teach almost anything except piecing and hand sewing. I can do those things, but only at about an intermediate level, whereas clothes, tailoring, and now art quilting, I consider myself to be at an expert level in many of the techniques. Please comment and send me your questions or suggestions either here, on Facebook or send me an email/message, realizing it will be a while before I get the answers to you, unless it is a simple answer I can put on my blog. Also, what do you think of my planning to write books for people with higher tech machines?
Sew happy everyone! I hope you get to go out and enjoy the great beauty of spring or fall wherever you are.