Decorative Stitching – Glam Bag

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In our recent Decorative Machine Stitching Lesson 1 post we gave you the set up for success in working with 12 wt thread on your sewing machine.  Hope you have a chance to try it and see how wonderful those stitches look when done with a heavy thread using a 100 Topstitch needle. (Be sure and read the Decorative Stitching Lesson 1 Post for the correct setup).

Practice Piece


I had so much fun playing with the thread myself that I wanted to share an idea about how to use those “practice” pieces. This is what my first practice piece looked like.  It’s pretty much a mess to most people, but it lets me see what stitches I like.  Some might write down the length and width of the best ones which is a fine idea, but I am lucky to have a machine that will remember that for me!  With this practice piece I can refer back to it, and try different stitches as I go along.  If I want to try another stitch, I just put in on the practice piece.



Once I got going, I thought it would be a good idea to use just one color of thread so I could concentrate on the stitches. I just drew a line and did diagonal stitching.  I originally had spaces and rows, but I just kept putting stitches on until it became boring.  I just didn’t know when to quit.  I’ll cut this up and use parts of it in another project…someday!!




I decided to add more color and sew them in rows.  It gave me more variety and was much more interesting.


I discovered a new stitch.  I used a stitch that had one straight side to it.  After stitching it, I  used the mirror image button on my machine and stitched it again.  It became a wider stitch than what appears to be possible on a sewing machine.  I love that.  Now it didn’t exactly line up in the middle, so I ran a triple straight stitch in a contrast color down the middle to cover the gaps.  It made a wonderful design.  It’s fun to discover a “new” stitch!  I know your machine has some stitches that would work just like this one



Once I had enough practice pieces, I wanted to make something.  I used one of our favorite little bag patterns called Little Glam Bag.  It gave me some great divisions to use my small pieces.  If you haven’t tried this pattern it is a simple little pouch and is a great way to use your decorative practice pieces.  You can order this pattern on our website at Glam Bag.

If you are close to the shop, come by and I’ll show you my Glam Bag.  It’s fun to play, but it’s great to have a finished project!



Easy Machine Binding Technique

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We all love to piece and quilt.  Maybe one more than the other, but we rarely hear “I just love to bind the quilt.”  When it’s time to bind the quilt, we are so close, but so far away.  We have spent time and money to get this far, but we truly have nothing until the binding is on.

This post is not called “Winning Quilt in a Quilt Show Binding” for a reason.  We are going to do it by machine and you will be finished in less than 2 hours.  We piece our quilts by machine, quilt them by machine, but yet think we have to spend hours and hours stitching the binding on by hand.  Often, though, when we try machine binding, we are not satisfied with the look.  The stitching might look fine on the top side, but be off the binding on the back.  This video is meant to show you how to have your binding look the same on the front and back of the quilt.

This binding technique works great for quilts that we need to finish.  The quilts we make for kids or donations and ones we need to get finished.  Let’s get those bindings on so we can curl up under a new quilt this fall.

It’s a little hard to see my cutting chart.  I have written the measurements below so you will have it as a written reference.

Here is our latest Youtube video “Easy Machine Binding Technique”.
   We hope the video was helpful and you will give it a try. Let me go over the mathematical cutting measurements again as they are so important to your success.
1.  This is a double binding technique. Your strips will be cut selvage to selvage.  After cutting your strips, they will be seamed and then folded in half, wrong sides together. Don’t press the strips, just fold them in half. You will be sewing the raw edges of the binding to the backside of your quilt.
2.  Use a “busy” binding to hide inaccuracies. All your stitches will show on a solid.
3.  Use a thin thread such as Aurifil or DMC cotton.  Both are 50wt and thin so they will blend better.
4.  Determine the width of binding you want.  My preferred is 3/8″, but if there is piecing that goes to the edge, I use a 1/4″ so that I don’t cut off my piecing points.

5.  The math is:  6 times the width you want your binding + 1/4″ to allow for the thickness of the batting.

1/4″ binding:  6 x 1/4″ = 1 1/2″ + 1/4″ = 1 3/4″ to cut your strips
3/8″ binding:  6 x 3/8″ = 2 1/4″ + 1/4″ = 2 1/2″ to cut your strips

1/2″ binding:  6 x 1/2″ =  3″ + 1/4″ = 3 1/4″ to cut your strips

To calculate how much fabric you need for binding, consider each strip to be 40″.  You can add up the 4 sides of your quilt and divide by 40 to tell you how many strips you need.  Always round up.  Then multiple this number by the width you are cutting your strips.  This will give you the yardage.  For a throw sized quilt, 3/4yd will be plenty.  For a bed size quilt, 1 yard should do it. It’s always better to have a little extra.

You will have to figure out how to get these sewing widths on your machine so that you are actually stitching the proper width for your math calculation. Sewing your binding on with the width that you used to calculate the strip width is important.

We have the “big board” in the shop so you can come by and take a look.   Hope this will help you finish some of those quilts that just need the binding.

Decorative Machine Stitching Lesson 1

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 I have sold sewing machines for 42 years so I’ve “seen a thing or two”.  Machines have always had decorative stitches, but we didn’t always have a variety of threads.  It’s the thread, needle, tension, and stabilizer combination that makes for successful decorative stitching.  Sounds confusing, but it’s really not when I give you my little “cheat sheets” on how to set your machine.

I do have a disclaimer.  We have been a Brother dealer for about 25 years and an Elna dealer before that.  The information I will share will be directed to the Brother machine for the tension settings, and accessories.  Since Brother makes Babylock sewing machines, you will find the same settings easy to follow.  I can’t speak for other brands, but a sewing machine is a sewing machine with tension settings, stitch selections, needles choices and needed stabilizers.  I feel anything I say will be able to be applied to other machines.

The one with the most decorative stitches doesn’t win here. Most often, the more basic stitches are preferred for heavy threads. In the coming weeks, I will cover settings for working with not only heavy 12 wt thread, but also metallic thread.  I will also show you the set up for bobbin work and various feet for using cords.  All of your practice pieces can be used, even if just for a small accent in a larger project, so don’t toss them!

This lesson we are going to start stitching with 12wt thread in the needle.  Remember, the lower the # of the thread, the thicker it is.  The lowest number that will comfortably go in almost every machine with a 100 Topstitch needle is a 12wt.  You will find that different brands of 12wt will actually be slightly different in weight.  The brand that we have found works consistently in all of the machines we have used is the Sulky Brand.  We have carried several others over the years and always come back to Sulky as the machines easily stitch with this one. We also like this one because you can get small spools on many of their colors.  You will use a different thread on the bobbin so your thread will go a long way when decorative stitching.

The next consideration is the top tension.  Again, simple.   Set it to “1”.  The Brother/Babylock machines have a “normal” tension of 4, so it is considerably looser.  The tension needs to be loose so that your bobbin thread will be able to pull the heavy thread to the backside of your work.  This way, the bobbin thread won’t show. My choice for bobbin thread is Metrosene 50wt.  We need a bobbin thread that is heavy enough to hold down our 12wt thread.  If we have a very light bobbin thread, we won’t be able to loosen the top tension enough to keep the heavy top thread from pulling our bobbin thread up.

You will have better results if you use cotton or cotton/linen blends of fabric as your background.  I always use spray starch to stiffen my fabric.  For all your practice pieces, use Sulky Tear Easy under the fabric.  This is all the stabilizer you will need if you spray starch your cotton or cotton/linen fabric.

The needle choice is a deal breaker.  It’s simple. Use a 100 Topstitch needle for success.  The very first thing I do when beginning to use a heavy thread is change the needle.  If you have a machine with one of those great automatic needle threaders and you use it without putting in a 100 Topstitch needle, you will bend it and have to have it replaced.  Ask me how I know!.  Always, put in a 100 Topstitch needle FIRST.

Your last consideration is the foot you use on your sewing machine.  For the Brother/Babylock it is the “N” foot.  The “N” foot rests on what I call sliders so that there is a gap to allow the thicker threads to move easily under the foot.  Regardless of what foot your machine suggests, if you are using 12wt thread, use the “N” foot.

I stitched some samples for you to see the impressive difference in Aurifil 50wt on the right and Sulky 12wt thread on the left.  Each of these samples easily shows how heavy thread can make your stitching look more like hand work.  These are all simple stitches, nothing fancy.

OK…it’s time to try it yourself.  Check off the following and you are ready to go:

  1.  Topstitch size 100 needle in your machine before you begin
  2.  Sulky 12wt cotton thread in the needle
  3.  Metrosene 50wt cotton in the bobbin (match the top thread or the background)
  4. Use the “N” foot for Brother/Babylock.  It rests on sliders to allow for heavy thread.
  5. Set your top tension to “1”
  6. Spray starch your cotton or cotton/linen fabric and use Tear Easy underneath
  7. Select a stitch, change the tension and sew.  Remember, experiment with different widths and lengths for the stitches.


If you need any supplies, you can find them all on our website.

Essex Cotton/Linen

Tear Easy Stabilizer

Sulky 12wt Thread and Topstitch Needle

I hope you will find as much enjoyment in learning your sewing machine as I have had over the years.

Needle Knowledge

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Know Your Needles for machine or hand stitching
Know Your Needles booklet available on our Needles & Threads page.

As a seller of home sewing machines for over 40 years, we have seen many changes.  Machines have more capabilities and we have more choices in fabrics and thread.  With these new choices, we need different needles for different jobs.  We are not talking about industrial machines or long arm quilting machines….we know home sewing machines!

We stock over 10 types of needles and about 5 sizes in each type.  It can be very intimidating when trying to decide which needle and size to use.

Sizes of needles typically range from 70 – 110. This is a metric measurement having to do with the size of the shaft, but it roughly equates to the 10 – 18 size that might be more familiar.  If you look on the needle package it shows both numbers, ie: 80/12.  Regardless of the type of needle you select, the larger the size of the needle, the larger the needle.  You will use the small sizes for lightweight fabric and thin thread. The large sizes work with heavier fabrics and thick thread. Simple enough.

We are often asked for an “all purpose needle”.  Unfortunately, there is no such needle as there are so many fabrics and threads available.  The “Know Your Needles” booklet lists needles for both machine and hand sewing.  It is a great reference for needles.  We have some suggestions that will help you decide which needle to use.

First question: Are you sewing knits or wovens?  Sewing with knits requires a Universal Needle or Stretch Needle.  The size depends on the thickness of the knit.   If you are a quilter, you have just eliminated two types of needles.

Schmetz Microtex Needles
Schmetz Microtex Needles


If you are a quilter using woven fabrics and batiks, we suggest the Microtex needle size 80.  It has a very thin sharp point and a narrow shaft.  If you want to keep it simple, use the Microtex 80 needle for all your quilt piecing.

As a side note, selecting the correct needle also means selecting the correct thread. We tell our customers to purchase a top quality thread and needle, then sew on whatever fabric you want.  Top quality thread would be Aurifil or the finer DMC 50wt.

Now, back to needles…..

Schmetz Embroidery Needles
Schmetz Embroidery Needles


If you are going to do free-motion quilting or work with an embroidery machine, you would want to select an Embroidery needle.  They are designed to stitch in many directions making them great for machine embroidery, free motion quilting or thread painting.  We typically use the 75/11 size unless we are using a heavy thread in which case you will want to use a 90/14.

Schmetz Jeans Needles
Schmetz Jeans Needles


If you find yourself working on densely woven materials such as denim, canvas, or upholstery fabric, then your choice would be the Jeans needle.  This one comes in sizes 70,80,90,100,110.  These are great needles for making tote bags. Remember, the size of the needle gets larger as your fabric gets heavier.

Schmetz Topstitch Needles
Schmetz Topstitch Needles


Another favorite needle of ours is the Topstitch needle.  This needle has a large shaft and very long eye with deep groves to allow heavier threads to stitch.  We use these primarily for decorative stitching with 12 weight threads.  Our favorite size is the 100 Topstich because we love to use 12wt thread.  If you want to try metallic threads, there is a Metallic needle with a fine shaft and large elongated eye.

In a nutshell, you don’t need an arsenal of needles….start with  Microtex 80, Embroidery 75/11 and 90, Jeans 80 and 90, and Topstitch 100. (If you don’t do decorative stitching, you could wait on the Topstitch 100)

There are always special jobs when you will need a smaller needle and finer thread, but we are talking about piecing with woven fabrics.  Add needle types and sizes as you try decorative stitching or venture into garment sewing.

Probably the most important bit of advice is to change your needle often.  Our advice:  new project = new needle.   Lesson learned:  A customer brought in her machine complaining of skipping stitches.   Her needle was badly bent.  The damage the  needle did to the bobbin case and hook on her machine was a $100.00 repair.  A new needle is about $1.25.

Although we carry several brands of sewing machine needles, our favorite is Schmetz.  They have great packaging to hold your needles, and now their needles are color coordinated for the type and the size. The top color is the type of needle and the bottom color is the size. You can see the two colors on the needles shown above.

Needle types: Microtex = purple; Embroidery = red; Jeans = Blue; Topstitch = Aqua; Metallic = Pink

Needle sizes:  70/10 = green; 80/12 = orange; 90/14 = blue; 100/16 = purple; 110/18 = yellow

We hope this will help you get the best needle for the job.  We have the needles and booklet available for order on our website at “Needles and Thread”