Making a Celtic Quilt – Top Tips for (Invisible) Machine Appliqué

Working my way around the design, including  sewing down the folded edges formed when the points were created.

This is the ninth in a series of posts that will take you step-by-step through the process of creating a Celtic Quilt.

The lines that form my Celtic and Celtic-style knotwork designs are formed by cutting bias strips of fabric and sewing them into tubes, which are then fuse-basted onto background fabric. You can choose to appliqué the design (sew everything down), add borders, layer the quilt top with batting and backing, and then quilt by either hand or machine. Or you can choose (as I usually do) to add the border(s), layer the quilt top with batting and backing, and then machine appliqué and quilt in one step.

Here are some of my top tips for successfully appliquéing a Celtic-style design:

In 20+ years of teaching, this is the monofilament thread that seems to work the best in the greatest number of machines.

Choose the right thread.

I recommend a .004 polyester or nylon monofilament thread for your top thread. In teaching various appliqué classes for more than 20 years, I have found the single brand that seems to work best in the greatest number of machines is MonoPoly by Superior Threads.  That said, I have also had students use Wonder Thread, YLI, and even Sulky successfully – it all depends on what works best in each particular machine.

I never use monofilament in the bobbin. Instead, I prefer a high quality 50 or 60 weight, 2 ply cotton, or a high quality 60 weight poly such as Bottom Line by Superior Threads.  Using a relatively finer thread in the bobbin instead of an all-purpose 50 weight, 3 ply cotton thread makes it easier to avoid little dots of bobbin thread being visible on the right side of your work.

Note 1: monofilament can be a little tricky to work with, as it has an unfortunate tendency uncoil, get wrapped around the spool pin, and then break before you realize what has happened. Fortunately, you can minimize breakage by

(1) using a thread net over the spool,

(2) switching to a vertical spool pin instead of a horizontal one, and/or

(3) stitching slowly and steadily – avoiding abrupt stops or speed fluctuations that might cause the spool to spin.

Note 2: If you’d rather avoid monofilament, you could opt to use Bottom Line, or a 50-60 weight, 2 ply cotton thread in both the top AND the bobbin – just match the color of the thread as best you can to your appliqué fabric(s). Silk thread is also WONDERFUL, but can be pricy.

Choose the right tension settings.

Many machines now have automatic tension control, which generally does a very good job adjusting to whatever kind of thread you may be using. However, when it comes to monofilament thread, even high-end machines may need some minor adjusting. On my own machine, I find it helpful to lower the upper thread tension to between 1 and 2 when I’m using monofilament thread as the top thread in my machine (auto-tension for my machine is set at 4).

For more on thread tension and when and how to adjust it, see this machine quilting post: Machine Quilting FAQ & Top Tips.

Choose the right needle.

Continue Reading…

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Making a Celtic Quilt – Preparing the Quilt “Sandwich”

True Lover’s Knot (on point) from Celtic Quilts: A New Look for Ancient Designs – Now ready to layer with batting and backing!

This is the eighth in a series of posts that will take you step-by-step through the process of creating a Celtic Quilt.

The lines that form my Celtic and Celtic-style knotwork designs are formed by cutting bias strips of fabric and sewing them into tubes, which are then fuse-basted onto background fabric. You can choose to appliqué the design (sew everything down), add borders, layer the quilt top with batting and backing, and then quilt by either hand or machine. Or you can choose (as I usually do) to add the border(s), layer the quilt top with batting and backing, and then machine appliqué and quilt in one step.

What kind of batting do you prefer? 

This is one of the most common questions quilters ask each other.  My preference is for low-loft batting, usually cotton or cotton blend, although I’ve seen some really nice bamboo battings lately…

The batting I’m using for this project is Hobb’s Heirloom 80/20 Fusible Cotton Batting.  I like it because it is nice and flat, does not beard over time, and the dry (heat activated) adhesive allows me to fuse the quilt top, batting, and backing all in one go. It also gives the quilt sandwich a slight stiffness that helps stabilize the fabric – very helpful for Celtic-style appliqué, which involves lots of turning. (This slight stiffness washes out if you launder the quilt; the adhesive is water-soluble.)

It is also particularly helpful not to have to deal with pins (as in pin-basting) potentially getting caught on each other or on the presser foot as you quilt.

If you choose to use a temporary basting spray instead of a fusible batting, I recommend using 505 Spray and Fix, as I find it is much less likely to gum up your needles and/or cause thread breakage.

But as always, use what works best for you!

Is the layering process any different with fusible batting?

Slightly. Continue Reading…

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Celtic Quilts – True Lover’s Knot

True Lovers' Knot by Beth Ann Williams, (C) 2000

True Lovers’ Knot by Beth Ann Williams, (C) 2000

Starting in with my next post, I’m planning a series of “Sew-Along” and “Quilt-Along” posts for creating the Celtic True Lover’s Knot design from my book, Celtic Quilts: A New Look for Ancient Designs.

This block can be finished as a 16″ x 16″ wall-hanging, made into a decorator pillow, or joined with additional blocks to make a larger quilt.

Continue Reading…

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Book Review

Quilt As-You-Go Made Modern: Fresh Techniques for Busy Quilters by Jera Brandvig

From C&T Publishing:

Fun and done! Quilting is easier than ever with this popular method

• A modern approach to quilting that’s fresh, fun, and simpler than it sounds; it will change the way you quilt (for the better)
• Great for moms or anyone with a busy schedule – these 13 projects are easy to transport because they make it simple to pick up where you left off
• Go your own way: This method allows you to use a pattern or improvise, creating a wide variety of design options
• Save money! Learn how to finish your own quilts without the use of a longarm professional

Do you believe rules were meant to be broken? If so, this improvisational quilt-as-you-go technique is for you. Instead of dealing with precise paper patterns and cutting measurements, you’ll learn how to piece fabric onto small, manageable batting blocks. Let your creative juices flow as you quilt directly on the blocks (not the whole quilt!), whether in large abstract zigzags or small structured stitches. After the blocks have been joined, all you need to do is add backing fabric and binding, and – voila – it’s finished!

 

I’ve been interested in quilting as-you-go methods since I first saw “Lap Quilting” with Georgia Bonesteel on PBS back in the 1990s. Motivated partly because the weight of a full size quilt at the sewing machine has become extremely difficult for me to deal with – even though I am VERY comfortable with the technical aspects of machine quilting – and partly because I find the sheer convenience of it appealing, I have been on alert for different methods ever since. This book was the “AHA!” I’ve been hoping to find. Continue Reading…

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Free-Motion Quilting – the fun stuff!

Free-motion quilting sample

Free-Motion quilting is one of my favorite – and occasionally dreaded – parts of quiltmaking. Favorite, because it allows me to play with color, line and texture; occasionally dreaded, because I sometimes (fortunately not nearly as often I used to) start to over-think everything and become stressed out.

But one of the good things about having 20+ years of experience with machine quilting is that I’ve survived all the most common mistakes (and some relatively uncommon ones, too!) and have learned lots of tricks and helpful techniques for both getting into a more productive headspace and then executing my ideas.
But let’s back up a minute… Continue Reading…

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Snowing… and Sewing!

What a crazy winter! Since I was in Africa in 1978-1979 and missed the record-breaking snow and cold of that winter, I have never experienced anything like this before. Wow! We are grateful that we haven’t had to deal with the power outages other areas have been affected by, and that the water main break at the end our street was fixed in a very timely manner. Truly, we have nothing to complain about. But… we’ve all had enough snow to last us a LOOOOOONG time and winter isn’t even over yet.

Fortunately, I have more than enough to do to keep myself happily occupied. (Actually, I have a sufficient backlog of potential projects to keep me occupied for the next century or two – but that’s another topic.) Continue Reading…

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So You Want to Buy a New Sewing Machine…

One of the questions I am asked most frequently is “What sewing machine (or brand of sewing machine) do you recommend?”

I always feel a little awkward about answering this; while my current Baby Lock machine is my favorite machine I’ve ever owned, I’ve also happily sewn or quilted on just about every other major brand out there.

Ultimately it comes down to this:

  • What kind or sewing or quilting do you want to do?
  • What kind of features are most important to you?
  • What dealers are in your area and what is their reputation for customer service and education?

That said, here is a list of features I suggest looking for when shopping for a new sewing machine: Continue Reading…

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Machine Quilting FAQ & Top Tips

machine quilting detail

Here’s another post dealing with FAQ – this time specifically related to using a sewing machine for quilting. For the time being, I’m avoiding the topic of which threads I recommend; we’ll save that for another day!

Do you work by hand or by machine?

The short answer is both. I almost always use a sewing machine to piece and/or appliqué my quilt tops, both for speed and for durability.
When adding the quilting, (the stitching that holds the quilt top, batting, and backing layers of a quilt together), I most often use a technique that might be compared to “hand quilting with an electric needle.” I drop the feed dogs, decrease the pressure on the presser foot, and set the stitch length and width to 0. This means that all the sewing machine does is make the needle go up and down. Stitch length and direction are controlled entirely by the way that I physically move the quilt with my hands. I rarely mark my quilting patterns, they are developed “free-hand,” or made up as I go along.

I usually machine sew the binding to the front of the quilt and then wrap it around and hand sew it to the back.

Do you have any tips for quilting by machine?

Sure do! I’ve been teaching machine quilting classes since the 1990s. Of course, I try to always remind people that there is no one way that is best; if something other than what I recommend works better for you, then by all means ignore me! Continue Reading…

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