Category Archives: Product reviews

Meeting the Inventor of Misty Fuse

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Iris demonstrates Misty Fuse

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Dye-Namix studio in New York City. During that visit, we had a special guest teacher that is a rock star in the quilt world — Iris, the inventor of Misty Fuse!

I love fusing! It was actually fusing that got me into quilting, as I’d heard that you could make beautiful art quilts and not have to sew. The not-sewing illusion was broken part way through my first class, but I was already hooked!

Iris developed Misty Fuse in conjunction with quilter Esterita Austin. They wanted a product that would fuse to very light fabrics, be environmentally sound, not darken fabric, and — of course — worked extremely well. Misty Fuse is the result.

If you’ve been using a product such as Steam a Seam, you will be surprised to see that Misty Fuse is not sold with any paper. It looks like a fine interfacing. Instead, you use teflon pressing sheets on the side that doesn’t have any fabric. The heating process is quick and Iris recommends that you slide your iron to adhere the Misty Fuse.

As I said, Misty Fuse has several advantages over its competitors. The biggest, I think, is that it doesn’t change the hand of the fabric. As a longarmer, I have difficulty quilting when I have several fabrics fused on top of each other, especially when the fusible web is also stiff.

Check out their website if you’d like to learn more about Misty Fuse.

My New Cutting Mat

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Until recently, my largest cutting mat was 24″ x 36″.  It sits on a cutting table that my father made for me. It’s a great system for cutting pieces and strips — but not so good when it comes to trimming finished quilts. As you can imagine, the quilt falls over the sides and pulls away as I use the rotary cutter.

Unfortunately, our house doesn’t have a large enough surface for a big cutting mat. And, every time I looked at them, I wondered where the heck I’d store it.  (Lots of people store big mats under their beds, however our bedroom is on the 2nd floor and the mats are heavy to lug around.) My only alternative seemed to be leaving it permanently on our kitchen table and throwing on a couple placemats on it whenever we wanted to eat! I probably would have done that, except that we’re always spilling stuff and I would have wrecked my mat!

A few weeks ago, I had the brilliant idea that I could buy a large cutting mat and store it on the floor under my longarm. The mat I bought is 56″ x 33″. The narrow part fits fairly well under the large batting rolls that are suspended under my machine. When I need to cut, I just slide out the mat and cut on the floor. This eliminates any drag on my quilt. Cutting has been fast and easy.

Using the mat in this location also allows me to cut batting with a rotary cutter. Previously, I was using scissors.

As you can see, this mat has been a game-changer. The exact model that I purchased is no longer available at Joann Fabrics, but this one is similar and is currently on sale:

http://www.joann.com/36×59-cutting-mat/xprd74039/

The Truth About Titanium

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I first heard about titanium needles from Bob Purcell at Superior Threads. I totally trust Bob, who sells only the highest quality of products. Bob said that titanium needles had been used in the garment industry for years, so it was only logical that they would make the transition into the quilt world. They are 3 to 10 times stronger than regular needles, so need to be changed less, and they have a proven history of sewing through tough fabrics used in upholstery, making blue jeans, and the automobile industry. The strength and durability of titanium needles made using them on my longarm a no-brainer. Until …

I talked to an A1 rep and she discouraged me, saying that titanium needles may require me to re-time my machine. That was enough to discourage me from EVER trying titanium needles, despite their apparent advantages. At the recent MQX conference, I asked a national educator — who sells a different brand of longarm — to explain why they don’t recommend titanium needles. She explained that needles break at their weakest part, which in traditional needles is the eye. However the stronger titanium needles tend to break at the top of the shaft, which means you have 2″ of needle that can get stuck in your hook assembly. The result is costly damage to your machine. Yikes! Another strike against titanium needles!

But I started thinking about it. If titanium needles are used successfully in commercial sewing machines, surely the titanium needles are not breaking and causing sewing machines to be repaired. Why would they use them? Groz Beckert titanium needles have been used in the sewing industry since 1980. Common sense tells me that these titanium needles would not be have lasted 30+ years if there was any problem with them.

I talked to my friend Vicki. She’d used titanium needles on her domestic machine with great success. When it broke, it broke at the eye and she had no problems.

Vicki volunteered to do some research on titanium needles. It turns out that there is very little information on the Internet.( I’m guessing that sewing shops are fairly low-tech and, unlike quilters, don’t feel the need to discuss their machinery online.)  I’ve listed some of the resources below.

I’m going to go ahead and use titanium needles on my longarm. From my research, it seems like this is the smart choice and that the “will damage hook assembly” problem is a myth. However I’d like everyone to make up their own mind, so please have a look at these websites before you make a decision.

I’ll report back on my experiences at a later time. I’d love to hear what you think!

Groz-Beckert’s info on titanium needles: http://www.groz-beckert.com/website/media/en/media_master_367_low.pdf

Organ’s information on titanium needles: http://www.superiorthreads.com/media/uploads/2011/02/03/files/2_Organ_Needle_Co._Titanium_Nitride_PDF.pdf

Superior Threads’ info on titanium needles: http://www.superiorthreads.com/education/needles/why-use-titanium-coated-needles

That All-Important Thread

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When I started quilting, I bought my thread at Joann Fabrics. I did not know that there were different sizes of thread available (some thicker, some thinner) or that there was a difference between cotton and polyester thread. I simply bought the color that matched my project.

My first step toward becoming a thread snob was in piecing quilts. A friend recommended that I switch from 40 weight thread (thicker) to 50 weight thread (thinner). I ordered some Aurifil 50 weight thread and was amazed what a difference the 50 weight thread made in my piecing. If you think about thread size using a garden hose (large thread) and a piece of licorice (small thread), you can envision that folding fabric over the thinner thread will achieve better results. I immediately had flatter seams and more accurate blocks.

http://www.aurifil.com/Aurifil/50wt_Cotton.html

When I bought my longarm, I also started buying thread by the cone. I had a lot of Bottom Line thread (by Superior Threads). This is 60 weight thread (even thinner than Aurifil’s). It is also polyester, which means that it is lint free. This time, I didn’t notice a huge difference in my piecing skills, but it completely cut out lint in my sewing machine. For the last two years, I have used Bottom Line exclusively in my Janome, and the results have been wonderful.

http://www.superiorthreads.com/shop/category/bottom-line/description/

For more information on how thread is measured, you can read this article by Superior Threads.

http://www.superiorthreads.com/education/thread-education/thread-measurements-understanding-how-thread-is-measured

Magnify Your Work!

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Every time I go to a quilt show and look at that tiny stippling, I feel like my poor eyesight prohibits me from ever winning a ribbon. Seriously — how do these women manage microscopic stitches when I can’t even read the account number on my credit card?

The secret is that they use magnifying glasses.  Yup. It’s that simple. I can’t blame my aging corneas any longer.

I know that some quilters attach a magnifying glass to their longarm machine. I decided to try a different approach with these magnifying glasses. They are wonderful! The fit over my existing glasses and the quality of the lenses is excellent. It takes a bit of time to get used to quilting this way, but I can’t imagine every going back to the squinting method.

I do find that my eyes are more tired after using the magnifying glasses. I have to take more breaks and try to remember to blink.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000LXXSM8/ref=oh_details_o05_s00_i00

Perfect Half-Square Triangles — A Comparison

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Last week, I sampled two programs for making half-square triangles — Triangulations and Ta Da Triangles. I worked with them over the weekend to determine which was my favorite. Ummm … I’m not really ready to declare a winner. I love that Triangulations is incredibly flexible; but I hate picking off the paper. Ta Da Triangles is less flexible and more expensive if you’re making a lot of triangles, but the interfacing does not need to be removed and that’s a big plus! Here’s my synppsis of the differences and I’ll let you make up your own mind.

Triangulations (Available at http://www.bearpawproductions.com/store.php?cat=1)

Pro’s:

  • Very flexible. You can make squares in 1/16″ increments.
  • Easy. Just print off the appropriate size triangle.
  • Cheaper in the long run. You buy the program once and can make as many copies as you want.
  • Simpler to sew. There is no stopping and starting — just follow the arrows and your needle is down for the entire page.
  • Triangles fit easily on 8.5 x 11 inch printer paper.
  • No further trimming is required.

Cons

  • Requires purchasing paper that is especially for paper piecing.
  • Have to pick off the paper once you’ve sewn, which is time consuming.
  • Requires a computer and printer.
  • More likely to dull the needle, since it is sewing through paper.

Ta Da Triangles (Available at http://tadatriangles.com/default.aspx)

Pro’s

  • Interfacing is easy to sew on.
  • Does not dull the needle.
  • Interfacing remains on the triangle and stabilizes the triangle.
  • Does not require a computer.

Con’s:

  • Only makes limited sizes of triangles in 1/4″ increments.
  • Must plan project and purchase the correct sizes of Ta Da triangles.
  • The interfacing is on large sheets which is cumbersome.
  • Leaves dog-ears to be trimmed.

Review: Ta-Da Triangles

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Ta-Da Triangles (printed on interfacing)

At a recent quilt show, I couldn’t resist the $6.99 combo pack of Ta-Da triangles. This system of half-square triangles uses a series of solid and dotted lines, printed on interfacing. This interfacing gets fused to the wrong of one fabric. A second fabric is chosen, and placed with it’s right side together with the right side of the fused fabric.

The next step is to sew on all of the dotted line. When you’re finished, use the rotary cutter and cut along the solid lines. You now have a perfect half-square triangle. Press and trim off dog ears.

This method was easy to use. I liked that the fused fabric acted as both a guide and a stabilizer. No need to remove paper from tiny 1″ triangles! The interfacing will stabilize that bias edge and make piecing more exact. I also liked that I wasn’t using paper and didn’t feel like I was dulling the needle.

I had trouble staying on the lines. I realize that this is just a matter of skill-building. I’m not sure why I can sew a straight  1/4″ seam without a problem, yet cannot manage to navigate a straight line very well when it’s on a sheet. This certainly impacts the  quality of the half-square triangles. It is also somewhat annoying to stop-and-start sewing every couple of lines (compared to Triangulations which is a one-shot pass around the whole piece of paper).

I would recommend using a contrasting thread. I used white thread on white interfacing. I could not figure out where I’d sewn without turning over the fabric and looking at the bottom piece.

You are left with dog-ears on the corners of the square.

Perfect squares need dog ears trimmed!

The major downside of Ta-Da triangles is that it’s available only in 1/4″ increments. You’re out of luck if you want to make a 7/16″ triangle … unless you want to trim it down!

I would definitely use this product if I was making a miniature quilt or needed a lot of small half-square triangles.

This product is available from http://tadatriangles.com/default.aspx. You can also see a demonstration of how to use this product.

In Search of the Perfect Half-Square Triangle: Triangulations Review

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Yes, it’s every quilter’s dream — well, besides a 2,000 SF ocean-view studio with endless amounts of cutting tables and fabric storage! I’m talking about making perfect half-square triangles.

At a recent retreat, the other participants used triangulations for the first time. I was working on other projects, but was very intrigued and thought I’d give it a try. You purchase a disk that is easily installed in your computer. Next, you choose the size of half-square triangle you’d like to make. I chose 1 & 5/16th inches because I know that smaller triangles are the hardest.( I’m also not sure who came up with the idea of creating any kind of squares that involves more precision than 1/4″, so this was a good test.) Finally, you print the page on paper piecing paper.

For my test, I chose 2 fabrics — a solid white and a blue flower. Trim your two fabrics to the approximate size of the 8 1/2 by 11″ paper. Place right sides of the fabric together, and put the triangulations page on top. (I used a couple pins to hold the paper in place.) Then sew in  the direction of the arrows. You can start anywhere on the sheet. Keep sewing until you get back to the starting point.

Cut the page apart on the solid lines. You will end up with 24 perfectly formed 1 5/16″ triangles. Pretty cool!

I’m not sure if I’m a total sewing moron, but I had a hard time staying on the lines. I think this is just a matter of practice. You are essentially sewing a maze pattern and it is unfamiliar. I’ve had a lot more practice marking a diagonal block center and sewing 1/4″ seams on either side, or sewing with a 1/4″ foot. It’s seldom we sew anything on a line.

It also felt like it took a very long time to complete the sheet. However, it did yield 24 (theoretically) perfect 1 5/16″ triangles. That would take a very long time regardless of what method I used.

My final complaint is that it is tedious to peel off the paper.

For the test, I probably should have made 24 tiny half-square triangles the traditional way, and then 24 using Triangulations. I could have timed them and had a back-to-back comparison. However I am not a masochist! I’m guessing that the triangulations method would likely be faster than the traditional way. It would certainly be more accurate for smaller blocks.

If I was doing half-square triangles that were more than 3 inches, I probably would not use this method. However, it seems to be awesome for getting precise small triangles. It saves the time of marking squares, and no trimming is required. Another consideration is that triangulations is also only useful if you want a whole page of 2-color triangles.

Overall, I think this is a great product, especially for miniature half-square triangles. The program also includes Triangulations for quarter square triangles and tamed (flying) geese. It is available at the site below:

http://www.bearpawproductions.com/store.php?cat=1

Printed Page from Triangulations

Triangulations after sewing on the lines. Note that my sewing lines aren't completely straight.

Cut apart on solid lines

Cut triangles apart on solid lines

Mother Knows Best: Craft Gloves

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A few weeks ago, I posted that I’d hurt my hands while I was quilting. Somehow I managed to strain my thumb while I was pinching fabric as I ripped out a quilt. My  mom, a long-time quilter, recommended quilting gloves. I found some at Joann’s and have been very impressed. They are comfortable and provide enough support to help me avoid injury.

A few days later, I was explaining to my nail tech how I’d injured my thumb. She discussed how she was in agony every night. Apparently she spent her days holding clients’ fingers steady by pinching their fingers between her thumb and index finger. She had an overuse injury similar to mine, except that her pain was several years old. I passed on the idea of craft gloves.

Surprisingly, she had a glove in her drawer and had never used it. She agreed to try it for the day. Two weeks later, I returned for a manicure and she was still wearing the glove. The first day, she noticed an amazing decrease in pain and had been wearing the glove ever since. She was ecstatic to have found such a simple solution.

These gloves seem to be widely available. The gloves I purchased seem to have been discontinued, however the ones shown below are similar.

http://www.joann.com/handeze-therapeutic-craft-glove/prd3042/

Adventures with Minky

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Minky fabric is an ultrasoft, somewhat stretchy fabric that is most often used in baby quilts. The kind I used had raised dots to add texture.

I had never used Minky on the longarm machine, although I know a lot of people who use it regularly. My preference for baby quilts is usually flannel.

The minky is easy to load. I did not notice a problem with it stretching. Overall, it quilted very well. The only issue was that — everyone once in a while — I would feel like my machine was sewing through mud. I think that the needle would catch inside the dot and pull differently. I wish I could describe what was happening, but the result was a “pulling through mud” feeling. Then, just as suddenly, the machine would right itself and the quilting became easy again.

I also learned that binding with Minky fabric is far more difficult than with cotton or flannel. The raise dots are thick to go through with your needle, making binding far harder on your hands.

Would I use minky again? Possibly, if a client really wanted me to. It was super easy to adjust the tension and the results are wonderful, but my machine wasn’t happy with it.

http://www.minkydelight.com/minkydotfabric1.html