The Dresden something…

I want to make a quilt –an honest to goodness, goes on the bed, snuggle up in winter, make a pillow fort quilt.

There, I said it.

This revelation might not come as a huge surprise to those who know me, as I make wearable art on a regular basis, but producing a functional quilt is something that has eluded my entire sewing career.  I DO quilt most of my showpieces; however, it’s not the same. The quilting I stitch for a jacket pattern is specialized and condensed. It often goes unnoticed on my pieces because the quilting designs I normally stitch are simple and almost utilitarian… and usually drowning in a million embellishments. I like simple quilting patterns because they seem sincere and approachable to me; however, there is something to be said about magical, ornate and intricate quilt patterns. Which brings me to the one aspect of the quilting industry that both haunts me and terrifies me – free-motion quilting.

I’m terrible at it. I get the basic premise of free- motion stitching, but I have never been able to find a rhythm or fluidity when behind the needle.  I have seen COUNTLESS videos, instructions and blog posts about F-MQ, but none of it has sunk in. I have been able to accomplish a few zig-zag stitches in F-MQ though.

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The quilting on Zapped’s skirt was all F-MQ. I suppose the multiple blue ribbons it brought in should have convinced me to continue the practice, but alas, they did not, as I haven’t used F-MQ on any other piece since. Mind you, it was a basic back and forth design, so really, it barely reads as F-MQ, in my book.

So, where is all of this sharing taking me?

To a long-time coming project I finally got off the ground.

Ladies, and a select group of gentlemen, I present to you:

THE DRESDEN… uhhh… QUILT THING?
… look, I’m still working on the name, but hear me out.

I LOVE Dresden plates; they are my favorite quilt block to date. As simple as they are, I never get tired of making them, and there are countless variations , so what better block to try my hand at leaning free-motion quilting!?

The rules to this game are simple:

1 – Make 30 blocks to form a quilt. Now, I don’t think wrestling a full size bed quilt in the throat of a domestic machine is the best way to start learning, so I will be connecting these quilted blocks with the Quilt-As-You-Go method. Each block can then be blocked, set and trimmed BEFORE it gets connected. AND each block top must be complete before quilting begins.  I don’t want to keep starting and stopping, so when I start quilting, I want to stay quilting.

2 – Each block must be 20”x20”. I need some room to screw up practice on, so I thought that size would be plenty of space, yet still manageable. I remember Ana Buzzalino talking about using a large piece of fabric to practice on so you can chart your progress, and that sounds like a great idea, but I don’t want to have to unfurl a blanket to just sit at the machine and stitch, so the more manageable size wins.

3 – All block designs must radiate from a center point and form a circle, and all designs must present a challenge. This is a strange rule, but one that will keep this project within a modicum of unity. I don’t have to ONLY use Dresden plates, as there are a few odd ball designs that I want to try, but they must come together as a round-ish object. I will allow myself to fudge this with a circle of bias or radial applique if necessary.
The designs shouldn’t be too simple. I want to work around obstacles because this is how most of my pieces are designed.  Sure, it would be easy to just work on some plain muslin, but I want to walk away having learned something about the way I design a surface.

4 – NO EMBELLISHMENTS! Nothing – not a button, not a bead, not a sequin! This is the hardest rule to follow, but I want the quilting to be the focus of this quilt. This is going to be a white-knuckle project as I control the compulsion to bead the Hell out of each block.

5 – Only fabric from the stash can be used, with one exception. WHAT?! WHO MADE UP THESE STUPID RULES ANYWAY!?!?! Oh, I did. Never mind… Yeah, this one is REALLY gonna hurt. OK, so the exception to this rule is that I have an idea for a printed motif that fits within the blade of a Dresden, so I’m going to experiment with that, but other than that, it’s all stash. This can be either commercial prints or any of my hand dyed stock. I am not going for a unified color story at all, in fact, scrappier is better for this one, so anything goes!

6 – All applique/piecing must be turned edge. I plan on regularly tossing this thing in the washing machine, and as much as I love fusible applique, I don’t want to deal with fraying. I can use machine applique (my fave) or needle turn.

7 – All quilting, with the exception of stitching in the ditch/outlining, must be free-motion quilting.  I was wondering when we were getting to this one.  There are a few patterns I want to master: bubbles, stippling, ribbon candy, basic feathers and… DUN DUN DUN… simple feather wreaths.  Everything else is gravy. These stitches will not be perfect, but since this is my own quilt, who cares; I’m learning. I’m hoping this project helps me to accept set-backs and stumbles.

8 – Take your time. There is no rush to complete this. I was going to do a BLOCK OF THE MONTH thing, but as fall is quickly approaching, there is no way I’ll make headway while facing my preparations for Quilt Fest. If this thing takes 2 years, so be it!

9 – Document your progress. I neglect this blog WAY too much, so I thought this would be a great way to make content in-between couture weeks and whenever I get free time. I’m planning videos, tutorials and patterns. I said “planning,” not confirming.

10 – QUILT EVERY DAMN DAY! This is a tall order, but one that must be upheld. The key to success in a trade is practice, so even if it’s just two blades on a block, I have to sit at the machine and quilt every single day, once I start quilting.

So that’s it. A basic rule set that will help me on my way to quilting splendor…. I hope.
All of these rules are slightly flexible (Except the one about dyeing. I REALLY need to clear out this stash!) because I don’t want to paint myself into a corner, but for the most part, I’m going to follow them.

As far as quilting instruction goes, I think I have a decent idea of where to start. I understand the basic mechanics of F-MQ, it’s the patterns and carrying the needle to the next motif that messes me up. I have been following a few F-MQ’ers on Youtube, so I know where I need to start. If anyone has any suggestions or comments, please leave them below.

In the meantime, I have already started the top-building process. While working on yet ANOTHER project, I took a few days off and began constructing come of the block tops. Here are my results so far:

I can already see lots of quilting motifs in my head.
I just hope my hands can carry them out!

OK, so more in a few days, I plan on explaining how I make both peaked and rounded Dresden blades.

Let me know if you have any questions!

 

Hand-Dyed Pearl Cotton/ Embroidery Floss Tutorial

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I’ve been wanting to do this tutorial for a while now and FINALLY got around to taking pictures during my process.

If you’ve ever wanted to dye your own embroidery floss or pearl cotton, this is an easy method with great results. I don’t usually dye more than 8 or 10 skeins at a time, so I can control the colors better, but once you get the hang of it, you can probably do a lot more at one time.

Let’s get started!
You will need:

  • White, 100% cotton 6-strand embroidery floss or white, 100% cotton pearl cotton (any size). I personally use DMC because I get good results, but feel free to use any brand you want. For this demo, I’ll be using #5 pearl cotton.
  • MX/Procion dyes. I use ProChemical mainly, but as long as it’s for cellulose fibers, any brand will work.
  • Soda ash. You can get this through any dye seller.
  • Synthrapol for rinsing your hand-dyed coton.
  • Small plastic containers – one for each color.
  • Plastic spoon for mixing – I use plastic baby spoons from the grocery store.
  • Measuring spoons – NEVER user dye utensils for food prep!
  • Measuring cup –  NEVER user dye utensils for food prep!
  • Two quart plastic container
  • Plastic tray or cardboard box lined with a plastic trash bag
  • Old towels
  • Cheap acrylic yarn – Honestly, the cheapest stuff you find on the clearance rack is fine.
  • Cling wrap
  • A couple of cans of vegetables, or two candle sticks, or something that can stand on its own.
  • About a yard of tulle. Use a coupon or get it on sale. Any color will do, but make sure it’s tulle and not netting. Also, avoid the kind with glitter on it.
  • Sewing machine and thread.
  • Apron, rubber/nitrile/dish washing gloves, face mask, eye protection.

 

AS ALWAYS, WHEN WORKING WITH DRY POWDERS AND CHEMICALS, USE A FACE MASK AND EYE PROTECTION.

Also, I work on an old towel when I dye.
It helps to catch drips and makes clean up WAY easier.

Step 1 – Make a skein.

I just wind a length of pearl cotton around my forearm, kinda like winding a garden hose. How long you need the cotton depends on your project. I usually just count 20-25 revolutions around my forearm, but you can do more or less.You can also wrap your skein around two cans or a knitty noddy if you have one.

Step 2 – Tie off your skein.

Using the acrylic yarn, bind your skein at even intervals around the loop – I usually do four. You don’t want the knots too tight or they will act as a resist and you’ll get white spots without dye – unless that’s what you want, then bind away! Just make them loose enough to slide over the surface of the skein.

Step 3 – Soda soak your cotton

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Mix 2 tablespoons of dry soda ash with 1 quart of warm tap water (If you have hard water, use cheap, store-brand distilled water so you don’t have to add a ton of other chemicals) in the 2 quart container. Stir the soda ash until it completely dissolves in the warm water – you’ll know it’s dissolved when the water is slightly milky and you can’t hear any more granules scrape against the bottom of the container. When completely dissolved, place your bound skeins in the solution. Let them soak for at least 15 minutes. SOFTLY agitate them a couple of times during the soaking to make sure they get saturated, but don’t ruin your skein shape.

Step 4 – Make your dye solution

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While your skeins are soaking, measure out about 1 cup of tap water into each of your plastic containers (If you have hard water, use store-brand distilled water so you don’t have to add a ton of other chemicals). The number of containers you use will depend on how many colors you want to dye your cotton. Measure out the desired amount of dry dye powder into the containers. If you want a pale color – use about 1/4 teaspoon, for a medium value – use 1/2 teaspoon, for a dark color – use a teaspoon. Please feel free to experiment with the amount you use. These amounts are not in stone and you can get great results just playing with dye amounts. Using the plastic spoons, thoroughly dissolve the dry powder into the water. When all dye solutions are made, set the containers close together.

Step 5 – Dyeing the cotton

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Remove one skein from the soda soak and wring it out over the 2 quart container. It needs to be damp, so don’t dry it out. Figure out how you want your dye pattern to run (But seriously, don’t over think this, just have fun!) and place a section of the skein in one of the dye containers. With the other containers close by, dip the remaining sections in the other containers. Let the skein rest on the rims of the containers (If you want a solid color, just drop the entire skein in one color bath). You’ll want to soak the skeins for a few minutes – this allows the color to sink into the fiber and travel up to the rim a little bit. you can manipulate the skein as much as you want to get the color blending you desire.

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Once you get the idea, you can start adding more dye containers and more skeins to get a little dye factory going.

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Have fun blending colors and dye patterns. Once you have your set up, leave the skeins to soak for about 10 minutes. Make sure to get enough dye liquid on the parts that are resting on the rims.

Step 6 – Batch setting your cotton

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Once you have the color you want, and they have been soaking for about 10 minutes, carefully transfer each skein to a plastic tray or box with a trash bag lining it. You can slightly squeeze some excess dye liquid out of the skein, but be careful to wipe your glove before moving over to another color of the skein. You can easily transfer color that way.

Lay them down with out them touching each other. When you have all the skeins laid out on the tray, cover the tray with cling wrap. You’ll want the cling wrap to touch the skeins so they don’t dry out. Keeping them moist while the chemical reaction of the dye bonding to the fiber happens is called batch setting. You’ll want to keep them under the cling wrap for an hour, at least. You can keep them batch setting for up to 24 hours if you want, but I never leave them that long. I usually don’t let them batch for longer than 3 hours just because I’m impatient.

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You don’t have to have green cling wrap, I’ve just had this box for like 10 years and NEVER seem to run out of it.

Step 7 – First rinse
After the skeins have batch set, your first rinse will be in the sink. You can get a plastic dishpan and fill it with tap water and do a rinse in that, but you’ll need to change the water every so often. Honestly, I just run the tap with a light stream and rinse under that. You are going to run the skeins, one at a time, under the tap and let the water wash off any excess dye. At this point, you just need to get rid of the bulk of the loose dye. Your water will not run clear at this point, but you will notice that the run-off isn’t as dark as it was when you started. Try squeezing the individual color sections, under the water instead of balling up the skein – this will prevent any back staining of dark colors on light colors. You need to get all the skeins rinsed like this and set them on a towel in single file.

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Once they are all lined up, roll up the towel tightly to get out the bulk of liquid in the skeins. Really squeeze them to get them just damp dry.

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Step 8 – Machine rinse

Lay the tulle on a table. Place a skein on the tulle with some room around it and sandwich in between another layer of tulle. The pictures I have here are just to show you placement, but when you do this, it will be easier to do one at a time. What is happening is that you are making a one time use rinsing bag for the washing machine. The old standard is to use a lingerie bag, but I find that leaves the skein all tangled and matted. This way does use up a little tulle, but ultimately saves you time on rinsing.

You are going to use a long baste on your sewing machine, with any thread you have (this is a great way to use up oddball bobbins). Sew around each skein with just a little wiggle room. You also need to sew down the center of the skein, in the donut hole, so to speak. This prevents the skein from balling up when in the washing machine. This stitching does not have to be pretty, as you can tell in my pictures. You can do individual bags for each color group, but I have never felt the need to. I get great results just lining them up in a  row. You can fill up the width of the tulle with as many skeins as you have.

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Make sure to sew COMPLETELY around each skein, backstitching at the start/stop AND down the center. If there is a little hole between the skeins, the loose end will find its way through it, BELIEVE me!

Once the skeins are secure in their tulle cells, toss that puppy in the washing machine on hot with some Synthrapol (Follow mfg. instructions on your brand of Synthrapol). I usually run my wash cycle twice, on hot. I also do some yardage fabric dyeing and toss that in as well. The tulle casing can take a beating in the machine.

After your preferred washes (Do at least two for good measure, more if you are selling your floss), you can throw the tulle package in the dryer. If you want, you can also hang the skeins to dry. Again, I’m impatient, so in the dryer they go. I use medium heat for a “regular” drying cycle in my machine.

When they come out of the dryer, cut around the tulle cells, being careful to not cut the pearl cotton in the process.

Step 8 – Winding your floss

Place the skein around the two cans of vegetables, keeping the skein taut.

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CAREFULLY cut the acrylic yarn off of the skeins.

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Slowly unwind the skein from the cans as you wind it onto a bobbin or empty spool. I have a die cutter, so I use all these fun die shapes instead of traditional bobbins. You can also just leave it in a skein form if you want.

And there you go.
That’s how I dye my floss/pearl cotton.

Let me know if you try this or have any questions.