Thursday, 30 January 2014

Landscape progress

I had a very long and productive weekend, and the landscape quilt is now all pieced, with the appliques fused in place. Here it is with a selection of line drawings of some atypical Australian fauna while I positioned them for tracing prior to sandwiching:

The birds, amphibian, reptile and monotreme will be added in the quilting, so they'll be quite subtle. It's now sandwiched and ready to quilt, but currently James and I are finishing the quilting on his latest quilt, and the stretchy minkee backing on that is fussy on settings and slow going, and I don't want to muck around with things until that's done - hopefully in a day or two, since we're already late with it.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Australian landscape

Today is Australia Day, and appropriately I've been working on and Australian landscape quilt. Below is the bottom half of the quilt, which I pieced a few weeks ago. It's 84in wide and 40in high.

I started cutting out the intricate appliques, silhouettes of eucalypts and other Australian bush plants while watching the final stage of the Tour Down Under in our beautiful city.

By the time they were done, it was onto the cricket, also in Adelaide today. There's nothing better than listening to the cricket on the radio; it's the sound of summer.

Here are the most of the appliques. The tallest tree is almost 26in.

Next it's time to join the sky to the background and start fusing the trees.

Oh, and speaking of Australian, have a look at yesterday's visitor:

From where I'd been on the sofa, it was about 1m from me; it was right in the corner of the patio, climbing up the lattice and trying to get out. Cocoa, sitting on the back of the sofa of course, started barking at it, which set off Shadow. I went out with the camera and was about 2m away for this photo. Then I opened the gate. It eventually figured the way out, then went to climb a tree near our shed – but it’s a stump only about 2m tall. So it climbed back down and went around near the front door (at some speed) and tried climbing a post supporting some lattice-work and an arch on the front path. Foiled again! Then across some garden beds, down the driveway, and up a native frangipani. It sat up there a short while, but that obviously wasn’t satisfactory either, so it made its way back down, out the driveway, across the road (under my supervision!) and to a clump of big eucalypts.

Monday, 20 January 2014

2013 at Sampaguita Quilts

Now that I seem able to post photos again, here's an overdue wrap-up of my 2013 quilts. It was a relatively quiet year, with a long mid-year break where I worked on photos, read lots, and didn't quilt much!

I started by finishing the small, long-dormant piece I started in a class with Adds several years ago:

Next was a single bed quilt for Australian Patchwork and Quilting. I'd been wanting an excuse to make this ever since I first designed it, and it uses some of my own hand-painted fabrics:

I then joined round 13 of the Flickr Doll Quilt Swap and made a wholecloth linen quilt. It's entirely free-motion quilted (with mostly white thread, plus a little cherry and sea-green) to look like lace:

I followed this up with a table-runner version, using different highlight colours, for the 2013 machine quilting issue of Australian Patchwork & Quilting:

Mediterranean Tiles in beachy colours came next, with a shift to focus on the piecing, also for AP&Q and currently available for sale in my Etsy shop:

Then came a shift to flannels and simpler piecing for this cute baby quilt, again published in AP&Q and also available for sale in my Etsy shop:

My next quilt was a red and white lap quilt, simply pieced from equilateral triangles and made as a gift:

The next quilt was a commissioned version of my beach scenes, this time single bed size, and probably my favourite of the series to date:

I then got to make a different version of another series - my tree quilts. This time it was a Christmas version on a dark background with several hundred twinkly swarovski crystals. This one was hung in our living room over Christmas:

This next quilt is a strong contender for my favourite of the year. It's a commissioned single bed quilt representing the solar system, and I got to include loads of fun details:

After that I was back to making quilts for AP&Q; Magic Carpet has the appearance of a scrap quilt, but the spicy jewel toned fabrics pieces were all very carefully selected from my stash and some pieces fussy-cut. It's also available in my Etsy shop:

Also for AP&Q (and also in my Etsy shop) is the quick summer project, Melted Icecream, which I made using a roll of 2.5in pastel batik strips I won in a blog giveaway:

Next up was another commission, another large version of my tree with another possum and some other cute, personalised details:

Coming out in AP&Q in a few months, my next quilt is entirely machine appliqued and embellished, and probably my second favourite of 2013. I think this one will find a home on a wall in my house:

The final finish for the year was another gift, made from solid fabrics and enhanced with wholecloth details:

I already have another quilt quilted and ready to bind (in fact, I got it to that stage between Christmas and New Year) and have been working on a large commission which I'll start sharing soon. I've also been busy helping James to finish his next quilt which is due to AP&Q urgently and therefore my current priority.

2014 isn't shaping up to be too busy just yet (though there are a few baby quilts on the horizon). Once again I'm hoping that will mean I get to tackle a few quilts I've been wanting to make for a while.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Bernina 820 Review

I've been meaning to do this for a very long time - provide an update on how I feel about my machine. I've had it now for 22 months, done over 6 million stitches, made and quilted over 30 of my own quilts, and quilted about a dozen customer quilts on it. Without reservation or hesitation (and with a fair amount of relief), I can say that I love it - it's definitely the sewing machine for me. This post has been written over a long period (literally months), but I've probably still forgotten things.

(Warning: long and comprehensive and contains no quilt progress, though I did sneak in a photo at the bottom!)

It pieces and appliques well. Better than well. I expected nothing less, so I won't bother saying more about that.

Where it comes into its own is the free-motion quilting. My previous machine had been purchased specifically for FMQ (having been marketed as such) and was a disappointment for the full 3 years I had it. You simply wouldn't believe the number of broken needles I experienced - and in the small gaps between broken needles, I had birds' nests and broken and shredded thread. It was awful, and made worse by the fact that I'd expected to love that machine.

I'm very happy to say that the Bernina 820 FMQs beautifully for me. Since I've had the machine, I've only broken a single needle - and that was due to me not attaching the presser-foot firmly, and the needle hit it when it slipped (although I should mention, I would feel more confident if there was a way to actually 'click' the foot into position on the shank). The 'down' side of no broken needles, is I actually need to remember to replace them, and tend to leave them in a bit too long. (I almost always use an 80/12 titanium topstitch needle form Superior.) I do clean out the bobbin area after every couple of bobbins and oil when reminded (probably about every 3rd or 4th bobbin, and the reminder conveniently pops up when you have the bobbin open).

Put simply, it does what it should and what I expect. It allows me to quilt as I'd like, instead of being a hindrance. A good machine won't automatically make you quilt well - but it can allow you to be and become your best.

I regularly quilt with a range of threads including Superior BottomLine (60wt poly), Aurifil 50wt cotton, Superior King Tut (40wt cotton), Superior Rainbows (40wt trilobal poly), FilTec Glide (40wt trilobal poly) and Superior Glitter (metallic ribbon thread). I use them in all sorts of top/bobbin combinations, and all without a single problem. It stitches smoothly, neatly and evenly in all directions. I keep my bobbin tension set permanently one click to the right of centre, which seems to be its natural balance. I didn't even change that when I did some bobbinwork with heavy 12wt Razzle Dazzle (Superior).

Fast or slow, sweeping curves or sharp points, dense thread build-up, bulky seams, multiple layers of fused applique, clear thread, bobbinwork, 100wt silk, metallic, double-threaded (single) needles, double batting.... it really does handle anything I ask.  I do very occasionally find the top thread shreds, but it is rare and not enough to be of concern or a nuisance.

One feature which I use a LOT is the top thread tension adjustment. The default setting is 4, but I automatically reduce it to between 2.5 or 2.75 for most thread combinations. If the stitch isn't quite right, a fractional change is usually all I need to fix it, and it's so easy.

Despite how happy I am with the machine, I acknowledge it's not perfect - but I'm more than happy to accept it how it is. So here are the few things that aren't quite right. The automatic needle threader is not as accurate as it could be and misses a bit too often (however, I've just been shown how to clear it of fluff from using so much cotton thread, and I think that will alleviate the problem - we shall see). The clear foot (34D) has a weak point and the plastic cracked after very little use - I use it only for attaching bindings and a very small amount of applique. It takes a bit too long 'thinking' before the needle starts to move up or down. I'd like a single-touch reverse button that stays 'on'. And it needs more than 11 needle positions. That's pretty much it!

There were more things I didn't like to start with, but familiarity with the machine has eased those. While some of them still could have been designed better (e.g. the visibility of the buttons on the machine's head), they really have become non-issues.

Whenever I review anything, I always find its the few less-than-perfect things that stick out in my mind, so I also want to list some of the things I really love. This can be hard, because these are often the things that become second nature, and we stop noticing them, but here are a few. The stitch counter just makes me happy (I passed 6 million around New Year). I love the clock. The lighting is fabulous. The curved front to the 'table' is really comfortable - it allows me to drop and relax my shoulders. And the little window to the bobbin area is extremely useful. The head shape gives great needle visibility. Threading is easy. Cleaning the bobbin area is easy. The oiling reminders are brilliant (especially as the oil is quite thin - but it makes a huge difference). The thread stand works really well. I love the ease and precision available for adjusting the height/pressure of the presser-foot. The eco setting - wow! - perfect for leaving the needle in position mid-FMQ when necessary. The 'stitch-only-every-second-stitch-in-the-pattern' feature is genius. If you tell it which foot you have, it automatically adjusts some settings - when I'm ready to FMQ, the feed dogs just drop - no forgetting!

There are some features I've chosen not to use, as a matter of personal preference or just because I don't need to. In particular, I don't use the knee-lift or the tie-off functions, have never used the thread cutters on many machine, and early on I determined my preference for FMQing without the BSR, having already had substantial FMQ experience. And I've only scratched the surface when it comes to lots of the fancy tricks and stitches - I use only a handful of stitches on a regular basis and haven't needed to tray many others, either!

There's also the weight. It's not light. But I have no problem with that. I very rarely need to take my machine anywhere, or even move it. And when I do, I'm young and healthy enough to manage.

Oh, and the cost. Bernina's 8-series don't come cheaply. The 3-year 'wait' through my previous machine was long, but makes me appreciate the 820 all the more. My perspective is that I've made an excellent investment (not least in happiness), and am definitely getting my money's worth. When buying it, I intended to keep the 820 for a long time. I still do, because it does everything I want. Quilting on the Bernina 820 makes me happy.

And my dealer and tech Otto gave me a really great deal. He also provides impeccable service and really knows the machine. Shhh, don't tell him, but knowing what I know now - I'd buy from Otto & Penny's in Walkerville (South Australia) even if they were the more expensive option! Yes, the price was the initial drawcard, but I was made to feel welcome and valued, allowed to test the machine extensively, given all the answers I needed, and made confident that my machine was in capable hands. Otto's excellent reputation is thoroughly deserved, and that makes him invaluable. He goes the extra mile to minimise the interruption to my sewing (e.g. instead of having to wait a week with the machine in for a service like elsewhere, when I took it in for something to be fixed, I was given the floor model in the interim, and even them, it was a mere 24h before it was ready - and he serviced it at the same time, without being asked, because it was about due!)

Until I had the 820, I dreamed of one day owning a longarm. But now I'm not so sure. There are some lovely all over patterns which I'd love to use sometimes, but are too awkward and slow without a pantograph - but I'm not sure that following pantographs wouldn't take the fun out of quilting for me anyway. On the other hand, ruler-work is something I'm often wanting to do, but haven't found a satisfactory method on a domestic sewing machine. And I hate basting, and suspect a long-arm would make that process much easier and faster. I'd still like to try actually quilting a quilt on one, but I no longer covet them.

Here are my reviews on day 1, and after 1 week, 2 weeks and 2 months for comparison. Looking back, I can see that I definitely experienced some teething problems - which I now attribute almost wholly to my lack of familiarity with the machine. Apart from the fact that you need time to become attuned to any machine, this was not only a change in brand for me, but a machine quite unlike others.

Many of the features I loved at first I still love; others I do take for granted and use every day. Many of the problems I experienced have simply vanished - as has the awkwardness of the unfamiliar - so bear in mind that these were indeed early impressions. As I found the rhythm of the machine, the few thread breakages, skipped stitches and birds' nests ceased naturally - any quickly, I've also found ways to address other things. The too-short bobbin thread is easily fixed by not pulling it through the thread cutter after threading the bobbin.

I have come to the conclusion that every machine is just a little different, and what suits one quilter may not work for another. But my Bernina 820 and I have settled easily into a very comfortable partnership, and I see many years of happy quilting ahead of us. It was the right choice for me.

I'd be happy to read your comments/experiences and answer any questions.

This is a block made for my current quilt. It gives no indication whatsoever of the actual quilt though...

Thank you quilts

The black, white and hot-pink quilt was the final quilt I needed to finish so I could return with James and Eleanor to their old child care centre (which even Eleanor left 18 months ago!) so we could deliver the thank-you quilts to the rest of the wonderful staff. I'd been working through a few a year, but this last one took ages, for myriad reasons (some of this batch have been waiting a long time!).  It was lovely to see everyone again - and also rather nice to reduce the pile of quilts in my studio! Here they are with the last seven:

And below is a quick run-down of them all; they added up over the years, although there were very few staff changes!

Sue's Quilt (2008)

Our Favourite Star (2008)

Hushabye Stars (2009)

Hidden Star (2009)

Cuggle (2011)

Growing (2011)

Pink Feathers (2011)

 And this recent selection:


The Gardens Meet

A Gaggle of Goslings

Bursts of Illusion



Star Gazing

They were all well received, and I'm very glad I made them all - but equally glad they're done!

I've solved my photo uploading problems for now by using Firefox and adjusting my settings on that. I hope it continues to work.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Star Gazing

I finished this quilt last year, back in November! The photo shoot was a bit of a rush before it was delivered, and unfortunately the best place for photographing the black left a shadow from the phone line at that time of day...

It's made from solid fabrics, but my main idea (apart from using the recipient's favourite colours of black and hot pink) was to 'complete' the partial stars through quilting - as well as adding some entirely wholecloth stars.

The pieced and wholecloth parts of the stars are quilted the same way, although I used a deeper (more burgundy) thread to quilt the wholecloth parts.

I used a ruler and Hera marker to draw out the remainder of the stars, which meant no lines to erase afterwards.

The completely wholecloth stars are different. I quilted the outline of the star in deep pink thread, then echoed either side of that with black BottomLine thread to help them stand out better. Then I filled the centre with varying sized pebbles, each with a little swirl/spiral inside.

I filled the background with the same black BottomLine in a freehand swirl design which I've used a lot recently, and which has a very different effect when used to fill odd-shaped spaces; instead of looking like smooth swirls, it takes on the tone of what feels to me like an arabic or middle-eastern motif.

It measures around 52in square.

My extended break from blogging started when I first tried to post this and had issues getting the photos in. I'm still having trouble; both computers result in different problems. My laptop can't seem to upload photos at all since it upgraded to the new version of IE, and my older desktop can only upload one at a time, and I can only navigate with the arrow keys, not the mouse (though ti still works fine elsewhere, and still does some tasks in blogger). I am trying to post more frequently - I'd appreciate any tips to help me do so!