Friday, August 16, 2013

Trace-and-stitch experiment with wash-away stabilizer

I read a tip recently in some quilting magazine (looking at stacks of quilting magazines, both new and new-to-me around my house, who knows which one!) that one way to get your quilting designs onto the quilt after sandwiching is to trace the design onto soluble stabilizer, pin it to the quilt, and just stitch through it by following the lines. After you quilt it, the stabilizer will easily tear away and any left behind in the stitches will wash away when you wash the quilt. Since I do all my own quilting on either my regular sewing machine or on my HQ16 sit-down model, anything to make the quilting process easier is worth trying!

In the past I've printed quilting designs from my computer onto regular paper, which I found was too thick and hard to remove even with the natural perforation of the stitches. Then I had foundation paper recommended to me, which I used to stitch the feathered heart on Heartfelt Love and that worked well for the most part. There were a couple of drawbacks with that method. First, it's difficult to truly center your design because you can't see through the paper. I cut the design out close to the stitch lines in order to better see where I wanted it to go on the block, but then had problems keeping the quilting foot from catching on the paper at the edges and tearing. Although not as bad, even the foundation paper was hard to remove in some cases where stitches were built up and bits of paper were left behind. I had to go after several spots with tweezers and pins to get all the bits of paper out before I was truly satisfied.

So, I've been looking for another method of getting fun designs onto my quilt tops. I've collected some fun books of quilting designs including some great dinosaurs that I want to use on my grandson's quilt, but haven't done anything with them because I just didn't have a good way to trace them. Using a soluble stabilizer seemed like a brilliant idea when I read it, but I needed to try it for myself to see how it really works. Here's what I learned from tonight's experiment.

I recently purchased a roll of Pellon Sol-U-Film Lite, a wash-away embroidery stabilizer. Initially I had planned on using it as a topper for my machine embroidery projects and probably still will. Since it was sitting on my cabinet in plain sight (my other soluble stabilizers are still lost in the shuffle of my last move) and I had a quilt ready to be quilted with designs from my computer, I figured it would be a great place to start in trying out this technique. First I found a star design in my EQ7 quilting designs that fit the block style I was trying to fill. I printed it onto regular paper in the dimensions of the target block, taped the tiled image together (10" design that fit the star in the 12" block), and then taped the Sol-U-Film Lite over the printout on my cutting mat. The first thing I noticed right off is that this particular product is definitely a LITE version! It is almost as flimsy as the old saran wraps of the past that made my mother say words she didn't typically say. But I continued on since it was purely an experiment and I wanted to know whether this technique would work at all.
I tried several different pens and markers and the only one that would write on the film was a Sharpie--green happened to be the color that was in the pencil cup on my desk. I was a little worried about that since Sharpies are permanent, but I made sure the ink was completely dry before taking it anywhere near my quilt (rubbing across the traced lines with my hand didn't turn it green). 

A problem I didn't really consider when I started this experiment was the fact that I was working with a 10" design and this particular roll of film is only 7-7/8" wide (looking online I see that it also comes in 12" widths  *Sigh...). I was already setting myself up to fail on some level because it wasn't quite big enough for the design I wanted to transfer; however, since it was only two points (I think you can see where the film didn't reach to the edges of the top & bottom points on the first picture), I figured I could probably wing it and stitch the points without the lines drawn in those spots. 

Most of the designs I use typically have a lot of curves to them, so they're much more forgiving than the design I picked for this quilt. I prefer those curvy designs, but this one fit the block so well! As you can see I just drew the lines and didn't use a ruler to be sure they were all straight. Being in a hurry to try it at the machine, I was sloppier than usual and, although the lines are all there and pretty close, a little more precision in the tracing before would probably make the end results a little better. But, hey, it was an experiment!

After the design was drawn and I was sure the ink was fully dry, I pinned the film onto the quilt. I'm so glad I had the design on film that I could see through because once I put the design on the block, I realized I liked it much better tilted with the sharp points in the corner blocks instead of straight up the way it printed. I probably wouldn't have been aware of that subtlety had I been using foundation paper. After centering and pinning the design over the block where I wanted it, I began stitching, starting with the center square, jumping to the next square and continuing to add rounds until it was complete. As expected, the two points that weren't on the film were a little problematic. On one point when I stitched off the film, the foot got caught under the film when I sewed back towards the center. I had to hold the film down securely while moving the quilt to get the needle & foot to bounce over it and not get caught further and pull the film askew. Otherwise, it worked just fine and the traced lines were visible even on the black background fabric.
Once the stitching was done, I was able to tear the film away as it was perforated along all the stitching lines. It tore away easily and even the pieces on the interior of the design came up easily once the outer piece was removed. There were only one or two spots at v-shaped joints where I had to dab away any remainders of the film with a damp cloth.
The quilted block looks great! I'll do this again only using a roll of stabilizer film that is wider than the block I'm working on. For 6" or 7" blocks, this roll will work fine since I can easily secure the film over the entire block without worrying about stitching off the edge. Overall, this is a great way to get the designs from a program like EQ7 or fun designs from books onto a quilt without having to plan ahead and use a light box to trace before sandwiching. I typically let the quilt speak to me as I go, so rarely do I get a top marked before I'm at the machine with the quilt sandwich ready.
Here's a few things to keep in mind if you try this:
  • Experiment with quilting designs with dry- or wet-erase markers on a piece of plastic sheeting laid over the quilt block first (laminating plastic sheets, clear placemats or even a piece cut from a Ziploc freezer bag will work). This lets you try out different designs before committing them to the quilt. Note: The wet-erase markers don't smudge as you draw, so have worked better for me in the past, and they wash off easily so you can reuse your plastic sheet.
  • Use a soluble film or light weight wash-away stabilizer that you can see though. This allows you to center the design on the block easier than when using foundation paper that you can't see through. 
  • Trace all of the designs before you go to your machine so you can pin them on in progression and streamline the quilting process.
  • Try different products to see which one works best for you. In the 12" width, this product probably would have been great, even with its flimsy nature. It's my own fault I tried it on a block wider than the roll. Next time I'm going to try Super Solvy as it has a little more body to it and isn't quite as flimsy as the Sol-U-Film Lite that I tried. A little more body to the stabilizer would make it easier to trace on. I had to hold this film pretty securely with my other hand so it wouldn't shift as I traced the design. I think I'll put this roll back with my embroidery stabilizers for now.
  • This appears to be a great way to transfer the designs from those fun books of quilting designs onto quilts--just trace onto the stabilizer and then stitch through.
I'm giving this "trace-and-stitch" technique two thumbs up! It was fun trying something different. When I bought the Sol-U-Film Lite I didn't know what texture or weight it would be, I just knew it was a wash-away film that I could trace and stitch through. I'll be looking at other wash-aways to experiment more as I truly like this technique. It just needs a bit more tweaking as my experiments continue.

Regardless of what technique you use to get designs onto your quilts--FMQ without lines; stencils with soluble pens, chalk markers, or pounce; tracing before sandwiching with a light box; or using this technique of trace-and-stitch on wash-away stabilizer, just be sure to have fun!

More snippets from the sewing room soon,

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