Thursday, September 21, 2017

Aurifil Monofilament Threads Put to the Test

This past weekend, I debuted my new Modern Mandalas workshop.  These starry designs are achieved through a combination of piecing and bias tape applique.  
Modern Mandalas Starry Designs
For the piecing and quilting, my go to is Aurifil 50 wt as it is thin enough to allow my pieced units to lay flat, is strong enough to go through multiple layers and adds beautiful quilted texture.  When it comes to the bias tape applique, I prefer to use a monofilament thread as it is nearly invisible and therefore does not require me to change thread colors as these designs require two or more colors of bias tape.  So imagine my delight when I discovered that Aurifil also makes Monofilament Invisible threads!  I was eager to order some and see whether they lived up to Aurifil's reputation for producing superior threads.

Aurifil's Monofilament Invisible Threads are made of nylon and available in two colors:  Smoke for use with dark fabrics and Clear for use with light colored fabrics.  Below you can see how the Smoke thread (top) blends in with the dark black strips, whereas the clear (bottom) beautifully camouflages against the light white stripes.
Aurifil Monofilament Invisible Threads Smoke and Clear
Monofilament threads have a reputation for being a bit persnickety.  Aurifil provides some helpful tips on their website including:

  • Reduce top tension to 2.0 or lower on a home sewing machine
  • Use a slightly larger stitch length
  • Use a matching color 50 wt thread in the bobbin
  • Use either a 90/14 or 100/16 needle
  • Iron Guides to prevent shrinkage and/or melting (as this is a Nylon product)
Armed with this helpful information, I was ready to test this product with my own series of experiments in preparation for use with my Modern Mandala designs.  

Set Up for Experiments:

I used a 90/14 Top Stitch Needle in my sewing machine and prepared a series of 5 samples (ladders with rungs) that combine 1/2" packaged bias tape (green) as well as 1/4" bias tape that I made using 100% quilting cotton (white) set onto a navy Kona cotton background.

Test Subjects Ready for Experiementation
Prior to stitching down the bias tape, I use Elmer's Washable, No Run School White Glue to glue baste the bias tape into place.  In addition to being safe and non-toxic, Elmer's School Glue is starch based and washable!  I simply put a thin line glue onto the background and then position the bias tape on top.  I hold it in place for a few seconds and then use a dry hot iron to heat set.  If for some reason I need to adjust any of my bias tape pieces, I can peel it back and reposition as needed with additional Elmer's Glue.
Elmer's School Glue for Glue Basting

Experiment #1:  Tension

Initially I started with a tension around 3.0.  While I did use Aurifil 50-wt thread in the bobbin, I purposely chose a contrasting color (Black) which would allow me to easily identify any tension issues.  And as you can see below, I did experience some issues as I stitched along the intersections.  While I am not sure whether it was the fact that I was pivoting or stitching through multiple layers (as it only occurred at the intersections), but there are quite a few stitches where the black bobbin thread is very noticeable.
Troubleshooting Tension #1
On the next sample, I followed Aurifil's instructions and reduced the stitch length to 1.0-1.5, which completely resolved the issue and yielded beautifully stitched lines!
Reduced Tension = Beautiful Stitches

Experiment #2:  Pressing with Heat

My Modern Mandalas do require piecing and pressing, so I needed to see how Aurifil's Monofilament Invisible Threads would hold up to pressing with a hot, dry iron.  Would the monofilament stitches shrink, resulting in the black bobbin threads from resurfacing?  Or would the the monofilament completely melt?!?  In preparation for either scenario, would a pressing cloth help mitigate shrinkage/melting?  Perhaps pressing only from the back, thereby preventing direct contact?  Or perhaps reducing the temperature would be necessary?

So I began with the worse case scenario:  direct contact with an iron on the Cotton setting (which is the highest my irons will go).  I was stunned and relieved to see no evidence of shrinking or melting!! These ladder units laid perfectly flat and the stitches remained beautifully intact.
Pressed and Still Beautiful
So much for all my extra test samples to test the use of pressing clothes or lower temperatures!!  And in case you were curious--I still tested using a pressing cloth and reducing heat--and they remained beautifully flat and intact.

When I went to test pressing from the backside (in lieu of a pressing cloth), I did notice some slight warping but only in the very first sample stitched prior to reducing tension.  So I suspect the bubbling was a result of tension issues vs. applied heat as the other two stitched in 1.0-1.5 layed beautifully flat.
Comparison of Back Side With Tension Adjustments (left and middle) and Prior to Adjustments (right)
I was seriously impressed with how well Aurifil Monofilament Invisible Threads performed!!  Very little finetuning was required and at no point did I experience any thread breaks!  (In the spirit of science, I should note that as I was working with lighter colored bias tape, all my experiementation was performed using the Clear version.  While I do not anticipate any issues using the Smoke version, I will likely do some more testing of tension and application of heat just to be on the safe side.)

And in light of these stellar results, I was ready to use Aurifil Monofilament Invisible thread on my latest Modern Mandala designs!

In Progress Modern Mandala
And here is another Modern Mandala that is assembled and ready for quilting!  I am looking forward to adding some exciting texture...using Aurifil threads of course!!
Assembled Modern Mandala Ready for Quilting!
Many thanks to Aurifil for providing me with two spools of their Monofilament Invisible Thread (as part of my participation in their Aurifil Artisans program).  I can't wait to stitch up some more Modern Mandala designs!!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Modern Mandalas with Folsom Fiber & Quilt Guild

Trunk Show Review

After I finished teaching Slice of Improv for the Foothill Quilters Guild, I drove down to Folsom, CA for another round of Challenge Yourself! lecture/trunk show and workshop for the Folsom Quilt & Fiber Guild.

They too had a quilt challenge in progress where there was a challenge fabric and members had to incorporate the color green by exchanging 2-3 swatches with a fellow member!  What a great idea for encouraging members to get to know one another!!

Their meeting venue had a large stage, so we were able to drape all the quilts from the trunk show along the edge for members to come up and get a closer look at the quilting and other small details!

When it came time to book the workshop, their programs chair fell in love with my Modern Mandalas and asked if it would be possible for me to teach a 1-day workshop.  I shared my concerns about the precision and time required to create my Lime Light, Star Bright Modern Mandala, but offered an alternative based on my experiments using bias tape applique to create modern mandalas.  She agreed and I went to work creating a new sample, workshop description and supply list!  In the next few months, I was a busy little bee testing and refining my process and pattern.  There were samples and step outs to create, along with handouts and pattern templates to draft for use during the workshop.  But all these efforts paid off when it came time to debut this fun new workshop!

Just check out all these amazing in-progress Modern Mandalas!!!!  We went through the steps involved to create a quadrant and then used some mirror magic to preview the completed mandala design!  What fun to see the pattern transformed using different prints and color combinations using bright solids, polka dots, strips and chevrons!
Magnificent Modern Mandalas!
And here are a few of my inaugural Modern Mandala Makers...who were all fearless and lots of fun!!
Modern Mandala Makers
 At the conclusion of the workshop, we created a Mandala Mash Up!
Modern Mandala Mash Up
I am so excited about this new workshop!!!  In fact, I will be teaching it again this Saturday, September 23rd at Scruffy Quilts in San Mateo.  There are still a few openings for those looking to add some modern zen to their quilting!  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Slice of Improv with Foothill Quilters Guild

This past week, I trekked up to Auburn, CA to visit the Foothill Quilters Guild.  En route I visited a few local quilt shops including Thistle Dew Quilt Shoppe and Whistle Stop Quilt & Sew Shop and found some fun fabrics that had to come home with me!!  I also ran into a few familiar faces, which was a fun treat for me!!  At the Monday night guild meeting, I presented my Challenge Yourself! lecture/trunk show.  In some ways I felt like I was preaching to the choir as they had a fabulous quilt challenge already in full swing:  Participating members received a bag containing an unwanted bridesmaid dress that they were then tasked to turn into new fiber art!  What a super fun challenge idea and I saw two of the mystery bridesmaid dresses revealed that evening and would love to see what becomes of them!!  
Challenge Yourself!
The Challenge Yourself! theme continued into the next day's workshop:  Slice of Improv.  I have so much fun teaching this workshop and nudging quilters outside of their comfort zones...and this group of quilters were an adventurous lot!  They really embraced the improvisational nature and each added their own fun personality into their group of improvisationally pieced blocks!!  Some were fairly new to improvisational piecing and really stretched themselves as they tried the various techniques.  Others were accustomed to improvisation and created personal challenges for themselves by trying some of the more advanced techniques and/or combining techniques.

Not only were they adventurous, but they were pretty productive group as well, churning out quite a few finished blocks!!  When it came to background fabrics, this group was pretty evenly split:  dark and light colored!!

Wow!  These bright colored scraps just pop against the dark colored backgrounds!!  One quilter brought a wonderful pile of ombre fabrics that just glowed against the dark green mottled background fabrics and each block looked like a neon sign!!  Another quilter brought a fun assortment of black and white stripes & prints (leftovers from a Freddy Moran workshop) and incorporated a few pops of color!!  Two quilters brought a variety of grey fabrics, both in solid and prints, that they stacked, sliced and then shuffled to create dynamic backgrounds for their colorful inserts to truly shine!!
Scraps that Pop Against a Dark Background
The other half of the class chose lighter colored backgrounds and I just love the subtle beauty of their blocks!!  Cream colored prints with an assortment of brown, pink and peach prints made for a very beautiful color palette.  Another member brought a bright colored jellyroll and a cream colored Grunge print for her background.  I love how she pieced schnibbles from the selvedge for a fun detail!!  Another participant brought a rich assortment of silks and other non-traditional quilting fabrics, and chose to work on larger blocks.  Each block was truly a work of art complete with beautiful texture!!  Last but not least is a really cool combination of blues and greens, with equally exciting lines, curves and angles!!
Subtle But Equally Brilliant Blocks!
The day flew by quickly as we enjoyed the freeing, forgiving and FUN nature of improvisational piecing!!  Many thanks to the Foothill Quilters Guild for an absolutely fabulous visit!!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

August Quilting Adventures with the Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association

August was amazing as I had the honor and privilege to present my Challenge Yourself! lecture/trunk show and teach Walking Foot WOW! for my fellow Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association quilters!  There was so much interest in the Walking Foot WOW! workshop that our programs team went above and beyond to secure additional dates and venues to accommodate three SOLD out workshops!!
Walking Foot WOW! Take 1, 2 and 3!!!
With nearly 60 members and 20+ quilting designs--there were so many beautiful, modern quilted textures stitched over those 3 days.  
Gorgeously Stitched (and beautifully bound) Samplers by Robbie Groves (left) and Carol McCord (right)
After debuting this Mod Molas technique at the SCVQA Quilt Show, Isabel from the Programs committee asked me if it would be possible to incorporate this technique into Walking Foot WOW!?!
There was certainly great potential and after some experimentation in creating a new WOW sampler, I agreed to introduce a fun new twist for SCVQA.

I have so much fun watching everyone's WOW samplers fill with modern quilted textures...but what fun to see them totally transform as they cut out small swatches to reveal a colorful layer hidden below!!!!
Amazing Quilted Transofmrations by Pat Cox (left) and Joni Strother (middle and right)
Can you say WOW!  WOW!!  WOW!!!  Joni Strother wrote a fabulous blog post about her workshop sampler and brilliantly photographed the transformation (I highly recommend checking it out!!)

And it sure was a hot crowd for the monthly meeting where I presented my Challenge Yourself! lecture/trunk show.  Yes--we were experiencing record hot temperatures here in the Santa Clara area and regrettably our meeting venue does not have A/C.  I am so appreciative of all those who braved the heat as it was a packed audience.  I was honored to share my journey in which so many have played a pivotal role in my own development as a quilt artist.  Many thanks to all those who have served on the board for our dynamic association, our programs team that schedule top-notch teachers from which I have learned so much, volunteers who organized quilt challenge and quilt shows that have challenged me as a quilt artist, the two hosts and participants of Q101 that helped me discover my joy of teaching and everyone who has ever participated in any of our quilts shows and/or show and tell--which always leave me feeling inspired and eager to create!!  THANK YOU!!!

I was especially proud to see several members showcase quilts that were started in past workshops with me (Slice of Improv) as well as a whopping 8 WOW Samplers from the first two workshops!  Let's just say I was beaming inside and out after seeing all those fabulous finishes!!

Last but not least, Doug was able to join me for the meeting (and was a huge help with transportation and technology).  He sat in the front row and hear me sing his praise for being so incredibly supportive as I pursue this exciting new journey as full-time quilt artist, teacher and lecturer!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Time for some Technicolor

My September newsletter just went out via email and it is packed with color, color and more color!!  I invite you to check it out and sign up so next month's gets delivered right to your inbox.
PS.  October's newsletter will be all about Organization!