Machine Quilting with a Serpentine Stitch

This is a slightly expanded version of a post previously published on the Cotton Cuts blog in September 2021.

I’ll say one thing about the global pandemic: I think I’ve done more sewing and quilting in the past year and a half than in the previous 10 years! Seriously, my sewing machine has been a lifeline, and the connections I’ve made through sharing my work – and enjoying everyone else’s work – on Instagram has made this time of isolation also one of creative joy and inspiration.

But one of the things I’m finding is that finishing all these quilt tops I’m making is easier said than done! I love to free-motion quilt, but I find it very taxing on my body (I have a domestic sewing machine – not a mid-arm or long-arm quilting machine); so I like to switch it up with walking foot quilting – which for me, is usually faster, too.

I’ve spent some serious time experimenting with different ways to go beyond “stitch-in-the ditch” and simple straight-line grids and jazz up my machine quilting. (Not that they aren’t perfectly great ways to quilt – I was just ready to play with some new-to-me techniques.)

The serpentine stitch (one of the built-in decorative stitches in my sewing machine) has become one of my very favorite ways to quilt with a walking foot – simple, fast, and lots of lovely texture.

Close-up of samples of machine quilting with a serpentine stitch by Beth Ann Williams

This is what the serpentine stitch setting looks like on my machine:

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Finishing Spree & My Top 4 Favorite Patterns of Summer 2021

Since I like to work on multiple projects at a time, I occasionally experience a bottleneck of quilts that are all at the same stage. Such has been the case this month, when I ended up sewing bindings on 8 different quilts in a little over a week. Wow! My arms are ready for a break, but it’s so much fun to see each quilt finally completed. And it has given me chance to reflect on my favorite patterns of the summer.

But before I go any further, I’d like to elaborate on what I look for when I buy a commercial pattern rather than designing a quilt myself (which I also like to do).

What I Look for When I Buy a Pattern:

(listed in no particular order, recognizing that no pattern ticks ALL of the boxes – which is just fine!)

–A design that I haven’t seen before, or an clever twist on an old favorite

–A technique I haven’t tried before or don’t use very often

–Multiple size options (this isn’t a deal breaker if it’s only one size – as long as I feel confident that I can change the size if I wish to do so)

–Well-written (and tested) instructions with clear diagrams, cutting charts, and (bonus points) coloring sheets

–An opportunity to use a favorite fabric or collection of fabrics I’ve been saving for “just the right project”

And the most important factor:

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Finishing Spree! Quick Bindings That Mimic the Look of Hand-Sewn

I like to have lots of different projects going at different stages at the same time, so I always have something interesting to work on. But sometimes there’s a bottleneck, and I have a bunch of projects that are all at the same step. That’s what has been happening to me lately – a pile-up of quilts just waiting to be bound.

Butterfly Bouquet quilt (pattern by Simone Quilts), made by Beth Ann Williams and quilted by Terri Watson of ThreadTales Quiltworks

For years and years, I bound all of my quilts with a double-fold binding machine-sewn first to the front of the quilt, and then wrapped around and hand-sewn to the back of the quilt. I love the beautiful, clean finish this method provides, but it does take time! Over the past couple of years, I’ve been experimenting with alternatives. (I know I could always just straight-stitch the binding; but I find it can be tricky to keep absolutely perfectly lined up with the edge of the binding, and I’m not especially crazy about how it looks.)

One of my favorite alternatives has been a Flange Binding (or faux piped binding) – I even wrote a tutorial here on the blog.

Church Window quilt made and quilted by Beth Ann Williams (pattern by Lo & Behold Stitchery), finished with a flange binding.

But not every quilt needs a piped binding (faux or otherwise), and my collection of quilts waiting for bindings was piling up. So I returned to another technique I’ve experimented with before – sewing the double-fold binding first to the BACK of the quilt, and then wrapping the binding around the the front, and stitching it down with my favorite “invisible” machine applique technique.

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Finishing Spree! Finish with a Facing

A quick note before we dive into facings – I have 3 more Zoom classes coming up soon:

Easy & Effective Machine Quilting with a Walking Foot – Sat., April 17 & 24, 2021; 10 am – 1 pm

It’s All About the Thread – Thurs., April 29, 2021; 6 – 8 pm

Color Tools & Color Confidence – Thurs., May 6 & 13, 2021; 6 – 8 pm

Registration is through the Wyoming, Michigan Lakeshore Sewing store – 616-531-5561.

And now back to Facings. 🙂

My sewing machine has been getting a workout! I’ve been in full-on production mode with even more projects than usual in-progress at the same time. As I’ve been working, one of the techniques I’ve been exploring is different ways to finish the outer edges of my quilts.

My Sea Breeze table runner, finished with a facing. I also tweaked this foundation pieced pattern by Sharon Holland to better fit the dimensions of my table. I machine quilted it with variable channel quilting to add subtle texture without taking away from the elegant simplicity of the design. The wonderful batik fabrics are Java Batiks from Cotton Cuts. 🙂

I always finish my utility quilts (bed quilts, cuddle quilts, throws, etc.) with a sturdy French Fold Binding, as the binding is often the first area to start to show wear on a quilt that is getting lots of use.

But when it comes to art quilts, wall hangings, table runners, or other smaller items, there are other options. One of these is a facing. Facings are a great alternative when you don’t want to cut off or confine the design with a binding. There are lots of different ways to approach facings for a quilt; but after quite a bit of experimentation, I have found what works best for me. And even better – there’s a link to free printable instructions near the end of this post!

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Wicked Weaver & My New Favorite Product

The October Java Batiks box from Cotton Cuts and the Midnight Bite Sew Along (#MidnightBiteSAL) from Lillyella Stitchery offered me a fun opportunity to go outside my comfort zone this month.

Ronan posing with the contents of the October Java Batiks Box from Cotton Cuts.

The Midnight Bite pattern bundle has 3 sizes of each of two different patterns – a bat and a spider. I opted to make the Wicked Weaver, which is also available as an individual pattern. Admittedly, spiders aren’t usually my thing, but I thought it would be a interesting challenge.

Wicked Weaver (pattern from Lillyella Stitchery) in progress.

When I made my fantasy butterfly this summer (from the Take Wing pattern also by Lillyella Stitchery), the only part of the process that I definitely did not enjoy was removing the paper foundations after the stitching was complete. What a pain! Trying to get all the little bits of paper out from underneath the small stitches – without putting too much strain on the stitches – is not my cup of tea. Which was frustrating, because after years of avoiding foundation piecing, I felt like I’d finally hit my groove and figured out a method for foundation piecing that I find straightforward and satisfying.

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Finishing Spree – Take Wing, Foundation Piecing, & Mixing Quilting Methods

A quick note: my fall online teaching schedule is up! In addition to repeating a couple of my most-requested classes, I’ve got some brand-new classes to share with you all. 🙂

And now to the topic at hand – foundation piecing (also called foundation paper piecing) is a great technique for achieving precise piecing and sharp points even with tiny pieces and fabric edges that are not on-grain. For this method, the pattern is printed (or traced) onto foundation paper. This paper acts as both a stabilizer and a stitching guide while the block is being constructed. When all of the pieced sections of the design have been joined together, the paper is carefully torn away from the underside of the quilt top.

New to foundation piecing? We All Sew has a great FREE foundation pieced block tutorial that provides a good starting point. Don’t worry if you don’t have the same kind of machine used in the tutorial – most any machine with a basic straight stitch should do just fine

LINK LOVE – FREE Foundation Pieced block pattern & tutorial from We All Sew

Although I generally don’t do a lot of foundation paper piecing, I fell in love with the Take Wing pattern by Lillyella Stitchery when I came across it on Instagram. Just beautiful!

Take Wing foundation paper pieced pattern – available in the Lillyella Stitchery shop on Etsy

I purchased the pattern right away, but then had to set it aside for a bit because I already had too many irons in the fire.  But when the August Java Batiks box from Cotton Cuts arrived, I knew immediately just what I wanted to make! Continue Reading…

Finishing Spree! Fireworks, Curvy Quilting & “Disappearing” Binding

A quick note: my new fall online teaching schedule is up! In addition to repeating a couple of my most-requested classes, I’ve got some brand-new classes to share with you all.

I haven’t been posting much this summer, but I’ve certainly been sewing up a storm! I’m finding it good therapy. 🙂

Due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to enjoy our usual fireworks display downtown this year, but I was inspired by the July Java batiks box from Cotton Cuts to create some fireworks of my own (metaphorically speaking, of course). 😉

Goodies from the July Java Batiks box from Cotton Cuts.

I started by cutting out shapes with my Tri-Recs rulers, and created little four-patches for the corner of each block. (This was a design-as-I-go project – I didn’t have a pattern.)

I used the Tri-Recs rulers to cut out the star block, AKA my fireworks burst.

I turned my blocks on point, and added more four-patches to the setting triangles.

Building my design – I decided to extend the expanding “fireworks” by added four-patches to the areas where the setting triangles would be.

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NEW Online Class

Some exciting news – I’m teaching my first online class next week! 🙂

I’m a little nervous, but also very excited about engaging “live” with fellow quilters again – I’ve missed everyone so much while keeping safe at home during this pandemic.

Here is the info from the Lakeshore Sewing website:

Creative Machine Quilting with a Walking Foot
Learn from the comfort of your own home! Join this beginner-friendly hands-on zoom class with author and designer Beth Ann Williams, featuring a mix of live instruction and Q&A, up-close photography, and video clips showing the techniques in action. Together we’ll make a set of swatches that you’ll be able to refer to for inspiration whenever you wonder “How can I quilt this?” Go beyond quilting in-the-ditch and discover fast, fun, and deceptively easy ways to complement piecing, enhance a focal area, and create a variety of textures, all while machine quilting with a walking foot.

Confident Beginner – Intermediate $35; Tues., 7/14 & 7/21/2020, 1:30 – 4 PM.

 

We’ll be quilting on sample swatches in class, but here is a selection of finished projects by Beth Ann Williams using some of the techniques we’ll cover in class.

Please call the Wyoming Lakeshore Sewing store at 616-531-5561 to register.

The class supply list is available here, in the store, or on the Lakeshore Sewing website. Continue Reading…

Cotton Cuts and the Value of Value

“Color gets all the credit, but value does all the work.”

I don’t know who first came up with that quote; but I’ve seen many, many versions of it – because it’s so true!

Most quilt books have a section on how to choose colors for a quilt. Color theory can be very helpful, but what often gets lost in the discussion is the importance of value – how light or dark a given color (or piece of fabric) may be, and how differences in value and value placement can be used as a primary design element.

Today I’d like to briefly share some of my recent exploration in using value to define individual shapes within an overall pattern, establish focal areas, and create depth and lumiosity.

But first I’d like to back up for a second and talk about a different kind of value…

Cotton Cuts is one of those special companies that you not only feel good about supporting because of the quality of their products, but you can also feel good about supporting their mission.They offer a variety of monthly subscription options for top-quality quilting-weight fabric and Aurifil thread. They also have a 10-month mystery quilt; an online shop with additional thread, fabric, and patterns; and host the #CCColorChallenge on Instragram.

From the Cotton Cuts website:
“Cotton Cuts is on a mission to create jobs. We have partnered with a local workshop that provides dignified employment opportunities to the intellectually challenged and to those with other disabilities. Every Cotton Cuts membership that you purchase contributes toward enriching the lives of these very talented individuals.”

“Build your stash while feeling good about it!”

As a newly minted Cotton Cuts Brand Ambassador, I received my first box of goodies back in March.  What fun! Each box I’ve received so far has had different color theme.

Here’s my March Java Batiks unboxing video:

And here’s a video I posted of my April Java Batiks box:

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Finishing Spree – Flange Binding by Machine

What is a flange binding? It’s a great no-hand-sewing option for finishing quilts with a sturdy double fold binding while adding a fun design element to the outer edges of your quilt.

Church Window quilt by Beth Ann Williams (pattern by Lo & Behold Stitchery), finished with a flange binding.

With only a few exceptions, I’ve always bound my quilts by sewing the binding to the front of the quilt by machine, and then wrapping the binding around to the back of the quilt and sewing it down by hand. I expect that I will always finish my show and “heirloom” quilts this way, but I have been thinking for quite a while about how I can speed up the process for utility quilts. Especially now that I’ve become enthralled with sew-alongs, the number of  quilts in the to-be-finished pile is growing, and I’m finding it challenging to keep up with myself!

I’d done some experimenting, but had not settled on a method I was entirely happy with, when a couple of the ladies at the Muskegon Lakeshore Sewing store told me about the flange binding method demonstrated by Jenny Doan of the Missouri Star Quilt Company.

I was so impressed! The finished binding looks like it has been accented with fine piping – adding a fun design element at the same time as offering a relatively quick machine-sewing finish.

Since then, I’ve done quite a bit of research and found a number of different ways to achieve this effect.  I’m going to share what works for me – but please remember, this is only 1 of the many ways to do this. 🙂

There is quite a bit of preparation for this method, but I find that each step is an important factor in ensuring a hassle-free result at the end.

Ronan “assisting” me with binding prep – he was escorted upstairs shortly after this and remained banished for the rest of the process. 

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