Archive for the ‘Sewing Machines’ Category

Tools Change Everything: Zigzag Bobbin Work

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

20u singerI believe in tools! 

Years ago I bought this 20U Singer industrial. It was under protest. I had burned the brushes off a very nice 930 Bernina. If you don’t know any of these numbers, take my word. 930 Berninas were war horses in armor.

So they told me that a 20 U was  a tough enough machine. I had mine calabrated to work with embroidery thread, and did a number of zigzag embroidery images on it. 

For a fast machine, it was still a tedious experience. This machine doesn’t really use a foot. So all the fabric needed to be hooped. And unhooped. And re-hooped. Again and again and again.

I simply stopped working with it at one point. I was considering selling it. 


179 The problem with princesBut people have always loved the quilts made through this technique. It allows for so much detail and coloration. 40 weight embroidery thread is ephemerally beautiful, and it shines when it’s laid in color layers.815 butterfly garden detail

Yesterday, I tried it with a felt stabilizer sandwich and a Halo hoop


halo hoopl


The Halo Hoop has been around for a while. I use them for any larger bit of embroidery I’m working on. It’s a weighted metal hoop with a plastic coating that grips the fabric. Instead of clamping it, you simply slide the hoop along.

My favorite stabilizer sandwich is ( from the back tp the front) a drawing in Totally Stable,  a layer of Decor Bond,a layer of polyester felt, and a layer of hand dyed fabric as my top. Anything that doesn’t iron down, I spray glue with 505 spray.



frog in process

I took this frog drawing and stated to color. I worked from the back for two reasons. My drawing was there, and I could tie off the ends.











frog in process  f2I didn’t get done, but I got far enough to know that between the stabilizer sandwich and the Halo hoop, the whole technique had been revolutionized for me.

Things I learned

  • My father’s old saying: if it’s too hard, too horrible or too long, you have the wrong tool.
  • You can use a hammer for a saw, but it’ s hard on the hammer and what you’re sawing.

Rethinking how to use your tools makes all the difference.  

You can work without a foot, but you need to use your fingers and a hoop. And hopefully your brain!finger positiona

And most of all, good tools change everything!

264 As Good as it Gets


Now for Something Completely Different: Ellen Goes Crazy

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013
Me and my altar ego

Me and my altar ego

I know. I know. I’m just noticing this now. Well that would be unobservant, wouldn’t it?

Pat Winter and I are opposites in a lot of ways. She works strictly by hand. I work by machine. She has a busy family. I live with cats and dogs. She stays at home. I wander all over the place. But she’s a dear friend and an amazing artist. We delight in each other’s work and world.

patwinterphotoPat is a majorly inventive crazy quilter with a gift for teaching and sheltering beginners. That’s lately been expressed in her Crazy Quilt Magazine. I’m writing a column for her on machine techniques that crazy quilters will find fast, fun and cool.

634 Wind over Water 2The world of crazy quilting is largely a hand stitched world. But there are a lot of reasons for adding in the amazing things your machine can do for you. I’m strictly a machine quilter for one simple reason: my hands don’t work for hand stitching. Don’t feel sorry for me. This is who I physically am.  This is who I’ve been all my life. It’s not a limit. It’s a feature. Instead, it formed me as a machinist. I can do things with my machine you may not be able to replicate by hand, no matter how long you have to work on it. And visa versa. Machine and hand quilting are both incredible tools, neither of them better or worse. But they do have their advantages. Pick and choose your techniques to make your life and art work for you. And never let anyone tell you one technique or another is right or wrong.

We’ve been working to make all quilting an art form for around 40 years. That’s demanded a lot of redefinition.  One of those definitions is about whether things are good or bad technique. Instead of that bold and, in my humble opinion, limited judgment we need to look at the work it self and say, “Is this cool? Does it open new doors? Does it make us all stronger? More able? More capable? How does it expand who we are and what we can do?

There are differing advantages between hand and machine work. I’ll state some of them, but remember that  they’re not global. A hand technique may give you exactly the stitch you want for a piece, but not for another. Look at each work and decide for yourself.  Use what works for you. Ignore anyone who has to make comments from the peanut gallery  

Hand stitching: Pluses

  • It’s quiet
  • Can be done anywhere you can bring it (Car, in front of TV, sewing group,etc.)
  • Relaxing:
  • Inexpensive for set up: all you need is needle and thread


  • Slow: most techniques take a fair amount of time
  • Can hurt your hands (Carpal tunnel, tightened shoulder muscles)
  • Needs high skill level: much of hand stitching improves greatly with practice.

Machine Stitching: Pluses

  • Fast: what you can accomplish is amazingly faster
  • Most techniques are easily learned and take less skill
  • Put’s you and your work in the protected environment of your sewing room: do you want someone in the room asking where the orange juice is?
  • Protects hands and shoulders from repeated action stress
  • Allows people with hand disabilities to do amazing work


  • Takes a machine and the cost of a machine. But not necessarily an expensive machine
  • Has to be in your sewing space. It’s not easy to move it into another room
  • Most people don’t consider it relaxing, although I do

I’ll be providing some machine techniques for Pat’s Crazy Quilting Magazine. The world is wide and we want to you all kinds of ways to accomplish the things you want to do most. Pick freely, try everything, and choose wisely for yourself.

12 couching thin yarnThe current issue has  an article on differing methods for couching yarn.

Next issue , we’ll talk about machine beading.



Check out these earlier posts about Pat Winter

Technology and the Dye Cup Fairy

Pat Winter: It’s Always the Quiet Ones

You’ll find Crazy Quilting Magazine on Pat’s blog site at

crazy quiltingor at

Once More with Feeling: Turtles

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013
285 Twilight on the Isalnd (1)

Twilight on the Island

My very first pet was a turtle. Margaret decided that since it stayed in a bowl, you could always rinse out the bowl if it went terribly wrong. She was mistook in several ways. I was five, so things did go wrong. But she didn’t understand that turtles do wander. Myrtle the turtle escaped regularly from her bowl. We found her in the bedroom, the living room, the kitchen, and the basement. Fortunately she seemed to be unable to complete her escape by going outside. But it was my mother’s living dread was that she might climb up some woman’s nylons during Kalerie Club, my mother’s reading group. My father always hid in the basement for these events. I went over to the neighbors. But I did hear the screams  from there when Myrtle joined Kalarie Club. Myrtle was replaced by other turtles and eventually I was allowed a cat.

Turtles are another form of dinosaur. They’ve been around since then and are such wonderful living rocks. I love the dichotomy. I also wish I could pull my head in and be done with certain social situations. “No, that’s not Ellen. That’s a rock that walked in on it’s own power. ” You can see the appeal.

Here are several turtles I’ve done over the years.

But they are also an exercise in texture. The necks and extremities are full of folds and soft  texture. The shells are hard formations of plates. My favorite technique for this is garnet stitch with thick thread. Soft tiny circles make the skin, and huge bulls eye circles make the shell. I usually use my own hand dyed thread for these.

You’ll find more information on doing garnet stitch on my post A Gift and a Wish, and a tutorial called The Stitch Vocabulary on

Bernina Skins! How Cool Can It Get!

Saturday, August 18th, 2012


Remember the old black sewing machines with great decals? They had beautiful swirls or flowers or flourishes. Of course it was cosmetic, but how cool!  I often wonder how people must have thought about them when they bought those great old machines.”George, I want the one with the flowers.” No, Nancy, we’re getting the one with the sphinxes. ” It’s some measure of how folk felt about them when you see the pictures of the sod house with the sewing machine out in front.

Here’s something I want in the worst way! I love skins. I’ve skinned my computers, mp3 plyers and phones. I’d skin the cats but I don’t think the vinyl will work that way.


Bernina has set up a way to skin your sewing machine. It’s really mostly for the Activa series.  I won’t be able to order them for my 2 twenty year old Bernina Records, more to the pity.  But I absolutely love them!


They have a gallery full of designs. You can pick and crop them as you will. But you can also put your own design up and fit it to your machine


Here’s what I chose for my machine. I had several quilts I liked but the one that worked out best was Fall Confetti. I loved how it looked. Just the right amount of detail. But I wanted the praying mantis ( who really is my alter ego) to be front and center on the sewing machine column.




My Machine Skin

So I flipped her. I flipped the picture and then sized it so she was just there, directing people to the right buttons.






Mine hasn’t arrived yet. I really can’t wait!









The site for skins is at You can follow these instructions: Click on Start > SkinDesign > Product > Specials > Bernina.  Design skins are available for the BERNINA artista 635, B215, activa 210, activa220, activa 230, activa 230PE, and activa 240.

Before you say it’s silly, imagine this. You have 10 sewing machines in a classroom. They’re pretty much the same. And you say to a kind and helpful student who is packing you after a long class day, “Would you pack up my machine?” They wouldn’t have to ask, “Which one is yours?” And you wouldn’t go home with the wrong machine. At least that’s what I’m telling the tax person.

 There’s another great post on this at

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