Monday, November 24, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part XVI

Border Phase 4 - Free Motion Quilting

Now that the feathers, vines and small outer borders are done (phases 1-3), it is time to move on to phase 4, the free motion quilting. There is a lot of "dead space" in this border, so it needs to be filled with something. Namely, free motion quilting. I am quilting the spaces between the feathers and vines and the spaces between the small outer borders and the feathers/vines with a free motion pattern called stippling.

Thankfully, this part goes pretty quickly. It is a combination of concentration and relaxation - I have to concentrate on where I'm going and look ahead, but I also need to relax and let the stitches flow. Not an easy combination.

To free motion quilt, I've dropped the feed dogs on my machine and attached a darning foot. Other than a test for tension, I'm ready to quilt.

The thread is the matching Iris polyester thread, I wanted the quilting to be there, but not actually be the focal point. This quilting is actually just background filler. The stitching is better seen from the back:

Once the piece is in position, I start stitching squiggly curved lines and what I call "Snoopy heads" to fill the space. It does take practice, but after a while there gets to be a rhythm to it and then things start moving along!

You can see that I'm working on the inner sections here - this is the front side of the section shown in the photo above.

Tomorrow I should finish the areas between the small borders and the feathers/vines. Once that is done, I can move on to phase 5!

Parting Shot: Vogue Special Design 4042. I found this pattern the other day while actually looking for another pattern. The bodice is almost exactly the same as the one on the Vogue Couturier that I'm using for BOH. I'm glad I found it - it is actually in my size, a size smaller than the VC. I'm hoping that I can use this one to help grade down the VC.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part XI

Borders - Phase 3 - Smaller Outer Borders, Corded Satin Stitch

There was quite an interesting reaction to the feathers! For the moment, I'm going to set the collar business to the side for a while until I get more of the coat constructed. Then I'll take another look at it and make a decision. I should have something ready after Thanksgiving so that I can revisit the ideas.

Meanwhile, I still have a lot of work to do on the coat borders to complete them. Now that the feathers are stitched and the vines appliqued, I need to complete the smaller outer borders so that I can move on to phase 4, the free motion quilting. The outer borders are composed of two lines of corded satin stitch with a line of decorative machine stitching in between which eventually will be beaded (that decorative stitching is another post).

On any other fabric the corded sating stitching would be easy, because I'd just mark the fabric and guide the cord through my cording foot and follow the *easy to see* lines. (See photo below for the way I normal stitch the corded satin stitch, from a trial run for this project.) We've already discovered that this fabric is hard to mark. It would be easier for any other project, too, because the lines most likely would be straight and not curved, nor would I have curved lines on a curved hem! Ugh.

For this project, I've had to alter my technique. First, I've marked the curved lines on the wrong side, in pencil. Notice the Sharpie marker lines. They are corrections of the penciled lines. The blue ones are the first round of corrections and the red, the second. The colors help me to keep everything straight.

Next, using orange transfer paper, the lines are transferred to the front of the paper. If I still need to correct at this point, I use white tracing paper, and if it still isn't right (after much measuring and eyeballing!) I use a pencil. The line is stitched over anyway, so no one will see it. You can barely see the orange line below.

Once all that is done, I'm having to hand baste the cording(the cording is only plain old Coats and Clark Knit-Cro-Sheen) to the fabric. There are two reasons for this. One, it makes seeing where to stitch *a whole lot* easier! Following the thick white line is very easy. Second, with the curves, it is much easier to have a stable line to follow, rather than have to place the cording as it is stitched.

This is not the most fun part of this project. Honestly, it is very time consuming and tedious. I'm happy with the result, but it feels like I've been working on this portion for weeks! Actually I have - the sleeve cuffs are now in phase 5 and almost ready for phase 6, and were fairly small. With the coat border being worked as one piece from the neck edge all the way down the front, all the way around the hem and back up the other front to the neck it, this is a lot of work.

The actual stitching isn't bad! It is your basic zigzag satin stitch. Really, it is nothing fancy. I'm using an ultrabright, 100% trilobal polyester from Iris threads - a new thread I saw at my local fancy thread dealer that happens to perfectly match. Once that is done, to add sparkle, I'm going over that with a looser zigzag and the Superior Glitter #112 old Peacock. This ties the color of the quilting on the body to the embellishment on the borders. Don't even ask how bad it is if I have to rip out and redo a section! (Yes, I've had to do it!)

I should be done with this part of the smaller borders by tomorrow night and maybe get to do the decorative stitching on Saturday. I hope. I've already had my Saturday morning scheduled for leaf raking. Looks like it might be a late Friday night.

Parting Shot: Not Bluebirds. Red birds, cardinals to be exact. I got this lovely card from my quilt guild today - isn't is pretty?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part X

Some More Collar Thoughts and a Mock-Up

Thank you all for your thoughts on the collar! Many of you did like the feathers in some capacity. I probably willl be doing feathers, but I'm just not sure exactly how yet. [Vicki W - I already have some ideas that are along what you suggested, just wait till you see what I have in mind. ] What better way to eliminate some ideas than by doing a few mock-ups? First, let's look at the pattern bag, with the luxurious fur collar (which LindsayT loves, and so do I, if I were just making the coat to make the coat - wouldn't a red coat with a snow white fur collar be gorgeous, along with white long gloves? Yeah, alright, back to reality.):

Yes, the collar is that large, it is not one of the pattern envelope illustrator exaggerations. Check it out on the dress form, although this is a slightly bigger than final form because I haven't trimmed it yet. As a side note, this is really the undercollar, as I wasn't sure what the real collar would be made of at the time, so I only quilted the one piece.

I went to Joann's and picked up a couple of cheap feather boas to play around with and see if I really was going to be able to make the feathers work. First, we have the maribou boa, I would stitch it down in rows, and cover the collar completely. This would be lux, and sort of like fur.

Second, we have a chandelle feather boa, draped in the same way:

Now to compare them side by side:

The chandelle boa seems to be a bit much. I think the coat would wear me instead of me wearing it. It would work better by itself - if there were no other decoration on the coat except for the collar. The maribou is a better, it is still soft and fluffy, and shouldn't compete too badly with the other elements. I know I can order a much thicker and better quality than what I found at Joann's, so I think I could pull that off without too much trouble.

At this point, I'm still not 100% set on what to do. I think I will need to keep thinking about it and once the coat is assembled, see what the various options are. Seeing the whole picture will really help.

Parting Shot: Chocolate Moose. The Chocolate Moose is a custom chocolate shop in the city where my husband works. Every once in a while, he'll pick me up some chocolates. There are some giant truffles to share and some chocolate covered coconut squares in the box.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part IX

Thoughts on the Collar

I've been thinking a lot about the coat collar, trying to figure out exactly what I'm going to do with it. That large collar is a blank canvas that needs to be filled, but needs to be filled in a way that harmonizes with the ensemble. It would be a good place to add texture, but what exactly, I'm not sure. Let's explore a few ideas.

1. Fur. The original pattern has an option for a fur collar. I'm not opposed to fur - it would fit the time period of the piece, as there was not the taboo on fur as there seems to be now. Fur has some problems - from obtaining it to actually producing something nice with it. Since the title of the ensemble is *Bluebird* of Happiness, it seems a bit incongruous to use fur anyway.

2. Velvet. I have used velvet in many of my pieces. I did look at velvet at Martin's the last time I was there. It is $25 per yard and has been discounted 60% off that. The price is tempting, but the color was too yellow. Furthermore, I'd want to do something with it - emboss or give it some kind of texture. There is no other place in the ensemble that I'd use the velvet, so it would be a bit odd to have it show up only in the coat collar and not anywhere else in the ensemble. It would not be linked artistically anywhere else and would look like a last minute, "I couldn't think of anything else to make it out of".

3. Chiffon. No, chiffon is not too thin. I could gather it vertically radiating from the collar edge to the neck. It would create texture, and I have a few other places I could use the chiffon. I'd want to use the same treatment on the dress bodice, too, but that would eliminate using the nice ivory silk I just bought, which leaves the coat lining a strange stand alone choice. I've got to coordinate all this with the dress, too, and doing so would make the dress look like a train wreck - trust me, you don't know what I have planned for the dress yet.

4. Feathers. This seems like the most viable option at the moment, although it would need to be a careful choice. Too much and the coat would end up being kin either to Big Bird or a Las Vegas showgirl. Neither look is quite what I aiming for. I think the right kind of feathers could make a very luxurious collar and stay within the theme of the garment, so I think that I'll pick up some cheap feather boas and marabou trim at Joann's and see what I can come up with.

What do you think?

As a side note, you can see that planning one of these ensembles isn't easy. For me, everything is a deliberate choice and is thought through carefully. Every embellishment, every bead, every fabric must harmonize and relate to one another to make a pleasing whole. There are of course going to be elements that catch the eye, but they must be balanced with simpler elements to make a complete picture.

Parting Shot: Raking. It is that time of year where the leaves must be raked up. We've actually let ours go too long and now must hurry to get them raked up. They are calling for snow showers (which really means nothing to be honest!) in the next week or so and it is better to rake the leaves now than in the spring.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part VIII

Vines, vines and more vines.

I've actually been working on the vines for a while and realized that I had not done any posts regarding them. Part of the border design is green vines with flowers and leaves that intertwine with the feathers.

To make the vines, I start with bias strips of silk dupioni that are rotary cut 7/8" wide.
You can see in the photo below that along the edge of the fabric that I'm cutting into strips, there are some pins. Whenever I cut bias strips and I know I'll be cutting more at a later time, I place pins all along the edge to keep the cut edges perfectly aligned. I can then move the fabric and not have to try to realign or trim a bias edge. I do not always cut all the strips at once, as I never know how many I'll need and I'd rather not cut any more than necessary. It is also easier mentally to make four pieces of bias tubing than twenty four.

The finished width is 1/4", plus 1/4" (to make a tube), plus 1/4" for the two seam allowances, plus an additional 1/8" just for turn of cloth so that I can get the press bar into the tube properly. (Was that enough fractions for you?) These strips are then stitched *wrong* sides together with a 1/8" seam.

This does place the seam on the outside of the tube as you can see above. It doesn't matter as both edges of the tube are stitched down and the wrong side never seen. Turning all the tubes it takes for this sort of project isn't very exciting and since it doesn't need to be done, I don't do it.

Once they are stitched, they are then pressed using a quilter's press bar that corresponds to the finished width that I'm making. The bar slides into the tube, the seam is centered on the bar and the tube is pressed. The press bar is then moved along the tube until it is all pressed.

After pressing, the vines are pinned carefully in place and stitched down by hand.

Once all the vines are in place, the piece will be ready to go back to the machine for several steps of embellishment and quilting. After that there will more hand embellishment, machine construction, hand construction and final beading. That is probably why this process takes on average four months to complete an ensemble!

Q/A: There were a few questions regarding the bobbin work I showed in the last BOH post, so I thought I'd answer them on a BOH post to try to keep everything in one topic.

Kristine wanted to know, "When you do your bobbin work (or any non-linear design), do you drop the feed-dogs and follow the lines you've drawn?" Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. It depends on the design and the look I'm trying to achieve.

Nina wanted to know, "Which settings do you use for the stitch during your bobbin work?" I usually use a straight stitch and whatever tension settings needed to get the tension correct.

Parting Shot: Advance 6124. This is my latest eBay find. The dress is fairly simple, but I liked the inset cowl. Check out how many ways that drape can be worn.

Also, note these cool t-strap sandals:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part VII

Starting the Borders

I have quite a mix of techniques planned for the borders, which means that they will have to be done in several stages. In the photo below, you can see the artwork and a sample.

This is the second sample that I have made for this project. I cannot stress how important samples are to sewing. From projects like this to very simple ones, samples are important. I always stitch samples for just about everything I make, mostly just to check thread tension and stitch length. For this sort of project, samples also show if all the elements work nicely together or if one overpowers another.

In this case, I found out that the thread I was using - Superior Glitter #201 Gold - for stitching the feathers was too thin. Notice in the sample above that the feathers near the bottom of the photo are barely visible. The feathers themselves were not in balance with the appliqued vines and flowers - they got overpowered by the vines, etc. What I needed was a thicker thread.

I have a thicker sparkly gold thread, a YLI metallic yarn that was rejected in the original auditions, but got a call back because it now will work out perfectly. The only problem with using this thread is that it is thick and yarn like and cannot be run through the top of the machine - it must be wound on the bobbin and stitched with the front of the fabric facing down. This is called "bobbin work". With the YLI in the bobbin and Superior Glitter #201 Gold (my most favorite thread of all time!) in the top, I was very happy with how it stitched out.

Now, I'm sure you're thinking there is another problem to be solved, because how do you know where to stitch? Well, the answer actually solved a different problem for me. The blue silk, while beautiful is one of the worst colors to make marks for placement on. White barely shows, yellow, red and blue do not, and orange is only slightly better than white. I made a quilt one time in this color and the memory had faded until I started trying to mark this silk. *Then* I remembered the marking problem. Since I am stitching from the wrong side and the batting is very thin and a light color, I just traced the feather design onto the batting, which I can easily see through the tulle.

Yes, horror of horrors that is a Sharpie fine point marker that you see and that I traced the designs with. Don't worry, no one will ever see it and it doesn't bleed through.

I don't have a final picture of the front, but you will see it in subsequent posts when I show you the other techniques used in the border. Below you can see the stitching in progress, with the wrong side of the fabric facing up.

Tomorrow is 30 Minute Friday - this was an interesting week to put it mildly.

In response to a few comments about the fabric I showed yesterday, yes I need all eight yards, but not for the coat lining. I need that much yardage for the coat lining *and* the dress (it has that very full skirt, which as always is a yardage hog). The fabric does not have any gold threads in it, but I actually think that will be better in the long run as there will be less competition with the borders. Now that you've seen a sneak peak of what I'm planning, you can understand why that fabric needs to be subtle, yet interesting - finding both qualities in a fabric isn't easy!

Parting Shot: Piano. Both my children take piano lessons, and much to their delight and horror, mom can play the piano, too. It's nice to have someone to play four hand pieces with them, but they hate it when mom corrects them if they're playing a piece wrong! My daughter just brought home a new book with some interesting Christmas arrangements in it - we sat down and auditioned quite a few of them to see what she liked and will pick to play this season. So far, she likes the arrangements for Carol of the Bells, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Jingle Bells.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part VI

Found It!

I was finally able to get to Martin's last night to do a little shopping for the fabric for the coat lining and main part of the dress. I was already traveling down to Massachuesetts to do a trunk show and lecture at the Tewksbury Piecemakers guild meeting, so it was a good time to stop.

Let me give you a quick word about that adventure. I had a great time - the guild ladies are really nice, the president and other boardmembers that I met were very gracious and helpful and made me feel comfortable in their meeting. I also got to see their show and tell which was really fun. Some of the quilts shown were prizes winners from their recent guild show, and the ladies who made them did a tremendous job! I got some positive feedback from the guild members who enjoyed my presentation and that fact that it was different from some of the special speakers they had heard in the past. Different is always good! I'm so glad I got the projector, too, it worked like a charm. I also made a contact with another guild, so I might be doing another lecture in the future. Suits me, I have the equipment and like to talk to large groups!

Anyway, I had to do a bit of searching through all the fabric- they are consolidating two floors of inventory (three if you count what is in the basement!) on to one floor, so right now there is still some organizing and moving of merchandise around. I found several fabrics I thought would work, some with better qualities than others. I wanted a brocade/jacquard/woven pattern of some sort and some metallic gold, but I didn't want the pattern or color to overpower the blue silk and fancy borders. In the end bought this silk:

It is a dupionni, but also has the jacquard like patten woven throughout. It is interesting, yet not overpowering and I think it will work nicely for what I'm planning for the coat lining and the dress. Photographing it was not easy - there is no color contrast so the camera did not want to focus. I had to put the lens cap in the picture to get the camera to focus. I bought eight yards, with the original price being $30USD per yard. Thankfully, I did not pay that price, the fabric was 60% off. When the salesperson presented me with the total she said, "You saved $140!".

The more I think about this fabric, the happier I am with it. I really think this is going to be just right for everything I'm envisioning for the ensemble. Now, if I could just figure out what to do about the coat collar, I'd be set! More on that in another post.

Parting Shot: Flannel. I bought some flannel yesterday for the children's Christmas gifts. My daughter wanted to make something for her brother, and when I saw the pirate flannel on clearance I knew it would be perfect for an easy pair of pajamas for her to make for her brother. The pink kitties are for her, along with some pink flannel back satin and the matching kitty print fleece for a robe, I'll have all the fabrics I need for her pajamas and robe.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part V


I got my swatches in the mail yesterday from Banksville Designer Fabrics. I asked for brocades in either cream or ivory with possibly some metallic gold. I got seven swatches. There are definitely some there that could work and some that won't work at all, but I am pleased with the variety that I got. The prices are what you'd expect, too for silk or silk blend brocades, from $14 to $30 USD per yard.

Nov 026 by you.

Right now, my favorites are the top one and the two on the bottom. The others are too dark - either beige or tan. I'm not actually sure I'll buy any of them at all right now. I need to think about it a bit more. Tonight I am going to stop by Martin's House of Cloth on the way to a show and I'll see if they still have anything.

I also need to stop at Martin's to see if the ivory velvet they have would match any of the samples. I'm still thinking about the coat collar and what I should do with it. It needs to be interesting, but not overpowering. On one hand I want something dramatic, but on the other hand, I don't want it to overshadow the rest of the coat's embellishments. I've rolled around a lot of options in my head, and I just can't settle on anything at the moment, nothing seems to be quite the right thing. I don't need to make a decision yet, but it is nice to have it all figured out.

Maybe the stop at Martin's will help.

Parting Shot: Fashion Show Tonight. My son and I will be on the runway tonight, so I've been collecting items we'll need - my shoes, jewelry, petticoat, his cowboy hat and boots, etc., etc. It takes a lot to look good on the runway!

Nov 025 by you.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part III

Prepping the Pieces

With the thread crises behind me (thank you to those of you who offered thread - if I need more I'll let you know!) and now that most of the diamond quilting is done for the coat, I've been working on preparing the pieces for the next step. The next step will be lining and then attaching the borders - there is a reason for this order of construction which you'll see later. Meanwhile, I need to get the borders done, too, but that is a multi-step process that will take a while. There's a lot going on there which I will share in the future.

Meanwhile, each piece needs to be marked, staystitched and trimmed. I always quilt an area larger than the piece needs to be - there is some shrinkage when quilting and I like to have that extra bit of insurance. Each piece has the original pattern piece placed back on it and traced.

After tracing, each piece is staystitched on the traced line. This helps to lock down the quilting before I trim the edges.

Once the edges are trimmed, the piece is ready for further construction or assembly. You can see that I did not trim the bottom edge initially. That is because the sleeves are getting a border that is shaped differently and is attached differently that what the pattern was originally drafted for. Below you can see that I have made my own pattern piece. Once seam allowances are added, the pieces staystitched and trimmed, the bottom edge is ready for the next step.

Now that these pieces have been trimmed and modified with the proper seam allowances, I can use them to cut out the lining. I still have a few choices for lining, but haven't decided yet. I'm waiting on some brocade samples which I hope will be here before the end of the week.

Meanwhile, I'm starting to work on the borders. I'll show you those soon!

Parting Shot: New Toy. Well, not exactly a toy. It is a digital projector to use with my laptop for my trunk shows and lectures. My lecture series is titled, "Inside the Lining", and each lecture details the making of one of my art garments and is accompanied by a Powerpoint slide show. This one is an Epson S6 and is very, very easy to use and connects to my laptop with a USB cable. I've used other projectors with my laptop in my career as a high school teacher and this projector truly is plug and play.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part III


So I've been quilting along, with a double needle (hint: this takes twice as much thread as it normally would!) and I run out of thread. No problem, I'll just go over to where I bought the two original spools and pick up some more. They don't have any. Next option: order it directly from Superior Threads, the manufacturer. I look on the website and Glitter thread color #112, Peacock is *not* the same as what I have. This can't be! I'm half way through the body of the coat!

New #112 Peacock:

Old #112 Peacock:

I emailed Superior threads and got an email from Bob, the owner of Superior threads. He said that the color had been changed a few years ago! Peacock, color #112, is not a solid aqua blue color anymore, it is now a multicolor that includes aqua blue, pink and gold. That means I must have bought some old stock without knowing it. Very hopefully, I asked if they still had some at the warehouse. No, they didn't have any old stock, just the new color.

Now what? Well, I went back to my local thread supplier and lo and behold, two more spools appeared on the rack that weren't there a few days before. Hmmm. Still not enough thread. Back to Superior's website. They have a store locator on the website, which also shows which thread lines each retailer stocks, along with contact information. I started calling retailers starting with those on the East Coast. I found three more spools in North Carolina and those very nice people sent them to me, after a couple of phone calls to make absolutely sure the thread color was the right one! Yay! Now I can finish the quilting.

Moral of the story: Like with yarn, before starting a big project, always check to make sure you have enough thread *and* can get some more if needed!

Parting Shot: Cozy. Pixie was very cozy last night wrapped in the afghan and sitting with my husband while he watched TV.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Bluebird of Happiness - Coat - Part II

A Word About Materials

But, first a word of thank you for the congratulations and compliments on my ensemble, Midnight Garden, now on display at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, TX. I appreciate all the comments, it is a nice treat to see them after all the hours of love and labor put into an ensemble.

Pam - in Jerusalem had a good question regarding some of the materials I'm using for BOH: "What kind of batting are you using between the silk and the lining? Does quilting for a garment use the same type of batting as for a traditional quilt?" Good question. It seems like I forgot to explain exactly what I use for quilting this garment or any garment that I make.

Let's back up a bit here and establish a few things. First, a quilt, in the most sense is a three layers of fibers held together with stitching of some type. It doesn't matter what type of fibers, so that opens up the door for things other than what you'd think of for traditional quilt materials. Second, most traditional quilt materials are stiff - 100% cottons and batting (or wadding for some of you not in the States). If you make your quilted garments out of what you'd traditionally make a bed quilt out of, you are basically going to be wearing a . . . . . (everybody think logically now)

yes, that's right, a bed quilt. Now, I don't know about you, but last I checked bed quilts don't drape the way garment fabric does, although they're very toasty and cozy. I suppose it boils down to what you're looking for in a quilted garment. The type of work that I do needs thinness, lightness and better drape. I do not know what other garment artists use in their garments - that is up to them and the look they are trying to acheive.

What do I use? Well for what is known as the top, or what we'd call fashion fabric in garment sewing, I almost exclusively use silks or special occassion fabrics. For batting, I do actually use batting. My current favorite is Hobb's Tuscany Silk batting which I split by hand (just pulling the fibers apart) into two layers, and quilt useing only one of the layers. This is very, very thin and fairly drapey for something quilted. For the bottom layer or what is called the backing in the quilt world, I use tulle. Tulle is fabric and does qualify as a third layer. I could use chiffon or organza or anything else very thin, but I prefer tulle as it comes in loads of colors and I can buy it wide enough for my large pieces. I can also just abutt two pieces together with no seams if the piece isn't big enough for what I'm quilting. I know what you're thinking - isn't that rather ugly on the back? Yes, of course, but everything I make is fully lined, thus, you (and the judges) will never see the back of all the quilting.

Below you can see the back of a band for a sleeve that I started working on today. Since we're looking at it from the back, the silk is on the bottom, then the batting, then the tulle, which I've picked up, but isn't easy to see.

I'm still working on the quilting - not exciting, but it is important!

Parting Shot: Pumpkin Carving. My son finally got to carve his pumpkin today and his sister is working on hers right now. He wanted a traditional jack o' lantern face and she wants the eye of Sauron from J.R.R. Tolkein's epic triology, The Lord of the Rings. Hmmm . . I'll have to think about how to translate that into pumpkin art.