Wednesday, November 30, 2016

5 Tips for Working with 40 and 28 Weight Aurifil Thread

Whenever my husband and I visit a restaurant for the second or third time, we almost always regret ordering something different. We'll take a few bites and sigh: "Wish I had just gotten that chicken sandwich. That was SO good." I guess I'm a creature of habit.

28 weight - 2600, 2024; 40 weight - 3840, 2810, 2600, 2220, 2024, 2535, 5006, 3770
I'm used to using 50 weight Aurifil thread for all of my piecing and quilting on my domestic machine (and my machine loves it); why break something that isn't broken, right? I had heard that 40 weight, a bit of a thicker thread, really gives the quilting good definition, but 28 weight seemed unimaginably thick to me as machine quilter. But really... I was wrong!

When I decided to start my large wholecloth quilt project, I took a chance to try these different,  new-to-me thread weights. Since a wholecloth quilt is made up only of quilting, the heavier weights might really provide contrast (yes, the lower the number, the thicker the thread). I asked Aurifil if they would be willing to let me try out some 40 weight (green colored spool) and 28 weight (gray colored spool) threads, and they were gracious enough to send several spools in specific colors. Thank you, Aurifil!

You can see above how much thicker the 28 weight thread is. Aurifil states on their website that it's best used for machine quilting, embroidery, applique, plus hand applique and hand quilting (it gives great texture). So, I decided to put it to the test...

I tested out the gray thread (2600, my favorite shade ever) on a scrap quilt sandwich. Since I knew I'd be writing words on my wholecloth, I wanted to experiment with writing right away. You can see that the 28 weight thread is still noticeably thicker than 40 weight, but below, further away, it only makes a slight difference. Still, though, both threads are thicker than 50 weight.

 I wrote a little message for you. 😉

5 Tips for Working with Heavier Weight Threads

1. Take the time to figure out the right tension on your machine. You may have to adjust your tension dial to accommodate (I did). It can be a frustrating and lengthy process, but it's worth it. Once you've figured out the right settings for different kinds of thread, I suggest writing down your numbers on a handy post-it to keep near your machine. Also, I use a universal needle 80/12 for almost everything, but you may want to try the needles Aurifil suggests (28 weight: Top Stitch 90/14; 40 weight: Sharp/Microtex quilting or denim 80/12).

2. Use a practice quilt sandwich for all tension testing and practicing. It doesn't have to be large (fat quarter size - 18x22 works well for me, or sometimes smaller).

3. Use a thinner thread in the bobbin that's a similar color. I only use 50 weight bobbins - that's the thread I have the most of and I know it works well (plus, Aurifil recommends it on their website!). I haven't tested thicker weight threads in the bobbin but if anyone has, I'd love to hear about your experience. Also, I know that the quilt police like it when you use the same color thread in the top and bobbin... but I hardly ever do. As long as your tension is right, you shouldn't really see the threads!

4. QUILT SLOWLY. Thicker weight threads, especially 28, have more of a chance of breaking/splitting. This didn't happen to me often and I'm thrilled with the quality of the thread, but it's simply MORE thread.

5. Practice tracing over thread to gain even more definition. See below...


This is a small project I started (with more words). On the bottom row, I decided to trace over the stitches to make them stand out even more. I want the words to really show in comparison to the rest of the piece. Overall, I'm very please with how the 28 and 40 weight threads stand out on their own, but you can really add to the effect by tracing.

Background thread - 50 weight; words - 40 weight, traced over 2 or 3 times.

50 weight is my favorite for piecing, but 40 weight is definitely my favorite for machine quilting now. I love to make my quilting SHOW (after all, I put so much work into it!).

So, have you tried changing thread weights? If not, take the chance and dive into the unknown. You might be surprised at the subtle contrast and change in the look of your work!

For further reading, please check out Yvonne (@quiltingjetgirl)'s tutorial for using 12 weight Aurifil on her longarm.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Week 3: Wholecloth Quilt Challenge

 The "Today I Feel" Quilt is my ongoing large wholecloth quilt project. I'm writing one post every week about the past week's phrases, which answer the prompt, "Today, I feel...." You can read more about the project on Week 1's post and my daily expansions on each phrase on Instagram under the hashtag #todayifeelquilt. The threads are generously sponsored by Aurifil Threads.

The quilt is half done now, after writing 1 encapsulating phrase each day for three weeks (has it really been three weeks since I started and since the election?)! It helps that I've been filling in the surrounding negative space every weekend. The project will take me right past my birthday on December 17 - which was completely unintentional, but I'm glad of it!

Week 3 was Thanksgiving week - my favorite holiday. I had a 4 day weekend and spent lots of time with family, friends, and food. It was probably my most "relaxed" week yet.

Today I'll explain how to use thread color to create contrast. As I mentioned in Week 2's post, this quilt is very much a day-to-day experiment. Since I quilt a different phrase each day, I naturally want to change thread colors. Ideally, I'd like each phrase to read on it own. So far, I'm happy with the overall look!

 I love to add details like that little star over the "i." It makes the words even more special.

When I started out, I wanted the color palette to stand out well against purple but also complement it. I've thought of popping in lime green thread a couple of times but it doesn't seem to play well with the other colors. Also, most purples are a no-go because they blend too easily.

When choosing a color to quilt in, I think about what the phrase means to me. Is it a happy, sad, or angry phrase? Whenever I get stuck on a color, I choose light gray (2600) or white (2024). Never underestimate the power of neutrals! Sometimes I simply choose a color because I haven't used it in a while; I look at the words nearby and determine which would highlight it best.

Later this week, I'll post about specifically using different weights of thread to create contrast in a quilt! In next week's wholecloth post, I'll discuss variation in word size. So much to explore on a seemingly simple project!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fall Table Topper: By Hand and Machine

This summer, I slipped into unprecedented territory: handwork. I LOVE machine quilting and will never tire of its wonders, but there's just... something about handwork (hand quilting, stitching, embroidery, cross stitch, knitting, etc.). I've developed a penchant for small, portable projects, and this, my second sashiko project, was made just for the sake of making. It was meditative. It was needed.

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know I have slight problems using brown fabric (yes, and now you're laughing - I even bound it in brown! What?!). Well, when I saw this maple leaf pattern at Easy Piecing's booth at Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza, I saw its potential with orange sashiko thread. In the midst of easily stitching along the pre-printed blue lines, I decided to add random pops of yellow thread in at the end. I used what I had on hand - some DMC floss. This was the perfect seasonal project to stitch in the early part of fall while I settled into the season.

Once the hand stitching was done, the piece just didn't feel large enough to hold its own (I can't help but "go big or go home" for sewing projects). So, I pulled out my autumnal solid fabrics and Oakshott shot cottons to create a color cascade in the border.

 I decided to quilt the whole thing up with simple spirals that slightly contrasted each solid color. The marriage of shiny shot cottons and Aurifil threads is so pretty to see in person! I used 50 weight threads 2850 (sage green), 2870 (green), 2140 (gold), 1135 (yellow), 2250 (red), 2460 (burgundy), 2240 (orange), and 1133 (light orange).

The middle, though, just didn't seem complete without more stitching, so I quilted some purposefully imperfect brown spirals (in Aurifil 4012) around the maple leaves, using my free motion foot. It feels like the perfect texture for the piece and for fall - in fact, this is my favorite part of the piece. It provides such definition to the sashiko stitching in the middle.

Oh, hi there! Here's a sewing selfie. Guess I was feeling cheeky that day.

 I backed this in a favorite, autumnal Anna Maria Horner print from Dowry ("Postage Due").

I always think: "well, maybe that will be too much quilting. Maybe I should just let it be." I should never think that, because I'm NEVER disappointed with *more* quilting! Everyone has a different style and I'm a quilting maximalist. With this project, I realized that a marriage between "big stitch" hand quilting or embroidery with thick thread, combined with thin machine quilting, is something I want to explore even more. So, stay tuned (hint - see below). And a very Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Americans!


Monday, November 21, 2016

Week 2: Wholecloth Quilt Challenge

 The Today I Feel Quilt is my ongoing large wholecloth quilt project. I'm writing one post every week about the past week's phrases, which answer the prompt, "Today, I feel...." You can read more about the project on Week 1's post and my daily expansions on each phrase on Instagram under the hashtag #todayifeelquilt. The threads are generously sponsored by Aurifil Threads.

Week 2 of the #todayifeelquilt was decidedly more positive. It was a pretty typical week in my life - gym, school, tutoring, and a little sewing (this project, with just a few minutes a day, was what I made the most progress on). I expect that this coming week, with Thanksgiving and lots of family time, will provide even more interesting words.

I've been quilting around all the week's phrases on Sunday, There are lots of details embedded in the quilting to match the phrases.

I promised to talk about the process of writing words on this quilt, so... here goes. Almost everything I do is an experiment. Fortunately, I've quilted words on smaller pieces before, but nothing quite prepared me for writing on a much larger quilt (40" wide).

See, when you're quilting on a domestic machine using free motion quilting, you can often turn the quilt in any direction to work on a motif (to alleviate bulk). When you're writing words, though... they kind of have to be in one direction. Ideally, they'll be straight, too, which is why I use a ruler and a handy dandy Fons & Porter chalk pencil to draw a line (plus, I love that these chalk pencils have erasers!). I'd usually use my hera marker but that's the downside of quilting on purple fabric; it's much harder to see the indent. So, chalk it is.

Some friends on Instagram have asked me how I write the words. Do I trace them? Nope, I just draw the line (there have been a couple of words that I drew both a top and bottom line for, but I usually just eyeball it. No one will notice if they're a little off). When I have the word in mind, I take a step back to decide approximately how large the letters will be (in fact, part of my vision for the quilt is to have the letters vary dramatically, so it's all very day-to-day). Then, I quilt the word(s) and often trace over them two or three times for definition.

Cursive is the easiest, quickest way to write a word; you're only starting once. But some words beg to be represented in a different font, so I make a little more time for those. Lots of starts and stops, means lots of threads. My sister, who is not a quilter but an avid quilt cheerleader, mentioned her love for the photos where the threads still hang. I've been lazy throughout the week and tend to bury them at the end, when I'm about to quilt the details around the words. Sometimes, though, I feel like leaving the threads would be a good idea - it feels raw and "real." Buried and cut threads feel like cleaning up. But, this quilt will hang in a show, and I want it to be long-lasting, so I bury those threads.

Anyway, except for one small misspelling and an unsightly bump on the backing, I haven't unstitched any words yet. I'm pretty well-practiced in lettering and cursive, but I honestly believe anyone can do this if they have good free motion control on their domestic (or longarm) machine. People ask me how I got good at free motion quilting... well, how you get good at anything. You practice! I have free motion quilted almost every day (I'd say at least 4-5 times a week?) for the past 4 years. You can do anything when you are confident!

I was going to talk about using thread to create contrast, too, but I'll save that for next week when more of the quilt will be covered.

If you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them! Just let me know in the comments. Thanks for your support of this project. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Mini Quilt Auction for the Quilt Alliance

Heads up! You can support a fantastic nonprofit organization, the Quilt Alliance, by bidding on one of this year's mini quilts. Group 1 is open for bidding until Nov. 21 at 9 pm EST. My quilt, "In The Wind," is number 54. You can read more about it in my blog post here. I hope it goes to a special person! ツ

Artist: Jessica Skultety - Phillipsburg, NJ USA

Materials and Techniques: Solid fabrics (Kona, Cloud9 Cirrus Solids, FreeSpirit). Machine applique, domestic machine free motion quilting.

Artist's Statement: This quilt encapsulates my current quilting loves: solid fabrics, cool colors, machine applique, and free motion quilting. Orange peels have become my signature style; I love how versatile and whimsical they are. I'm currently creating a body of work featuring the orange peel in modern/modern traditional quilts under the hashtag #jsorangepeelcollection. It's my hope that I'll never run out of ideas, because making orange peels is, in a word, comforting.

Size: 16" x 16"

(The above is from the Quilt Alliance listing).

Monday, November 14, 2016

Week 1: Wholecloth Quilt Challenge

Last weekend, I finally decided on the large design for my wholecloth quilt challenge with Renee (read the initial post here). It took a while - 3 months, to be exact. But I didn't want to rush it.

From the beginning, I wanted to include quilted words of some kind. I've become a bit obsessed with this concept and don't see that ending any time soon. What could I write on a quilt that would be profound? That would really mean something to me? I shy away from "corny" quotes - though I do have quite a nice list going of quotes I'd like to write on a quilt.

I suppose it was the excitement and anxiety I felt about the U.S. election last weekend that inspired me to use this quilt as a diary. I figured, whatever the result that Tuesday, I would be able to use the quilt to express my feelings and then carry on the concept through at least a month. The idea is that each day, I answer the question "Today, I feel..." (without writing those words). The quilt will not be *all* election related, though. This coming week is pretty tame for me, for example. No guild meeting, no quilt retreats, no emotional elections.

When it came time to baste the quilt, in typical me fashion, I decided to "go big or go home." I had a little over a yard and a half of gorgeous purple Free Spirit plum solid from Pennington Quilt Works (indeed, I already bought yardage for this wholecloth quilt but decided not to make it *quite* so big - I'll use it for something else). It seemed like the perfect size. Basted and done. Wholecloth quilts are so easy to start!

So, I'll fill in how I feel by week, starting at the bottom. By the time I've written 7 phrases for that week, I quilt-doodle around them to create a kind of speech bubble. I decided to use 50 weight #4225 Aurifil purple thread because it blends with the solid perfectly. You can see there's a texture but only notice the actual details up close. I plan to show more of those details virtually as time goes on.

This quilt will hang in my special exhibition at the Quilt & Sewing Fest of NJ in March, and the best part is that it will be done by the end of this year! Thank you to Aurifil who generously sponsored many of the threads I'm using (40 and 28 weight). I have a post coming about the wonders I discovered using thicker threads for the first time (I usually stick to tried and true 50 weight for quilting).

Finally, I plan to write a post about each week about my progress. This week was one of the most emotional weeks of my life, and that's not a stretch. I was wracked with excitement and pain over the election, which felt extremely personal. If you'd like to read more of an explanation, feel free to visit the #todayifeelquilt hashtag (which you can click on even without using Instagram) and read the individual captions. It was comforting to know that I wasn't the only one feeling this way. The Instagram and online community once again came together. Plus, once I quilted in the words, I was more or less able to move on with my day.

One more thing - I understand that this election and its results are extremely contested and divisive, and I'm in no way looking to change your mind or lose you as a friend if you disagree with me. I'm also not looking to start any arguments. This quilt, though, has become yet another reminder to me of how therapeutic and cathartic art can be.

Next week, I'll talk more about how I'm using thread to create contrast and the process of writing on this quilt.A happy and peaceful week to you! (P.S. The Wonky Press will be out tonight!)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Exciting News: Special Exhibition and Workshops!

I'm absolutely jumping-around-in-my-computer-chair thrilled to announce a few events coming up. If you're in the NJ/NY/PA/DE/etc. area, I hope you'll join me. I would LOVE to see friendly faces and, if we're not in-person friends yet, I'd love to actually meet you!

There will be a special exhibition of my quilts at the Mancuso show, Quilt and Sewing Fest of New Jersey from March 2-5, 2017 in Somerset, NJ. It will showcase 10-15 (maybe more - we'll see) of my modern, modern traditional, improvisational, and all domestic machine-quilted quilts. When I'm not teaching (see below), I'll be sure to be there to talk to anyone about them! This is my first individual exhibition and I'm honored. My husband came up with the title (thanks, Mike!).

Jessica Skultety: My Quilty Habit
Do you love bright, bold, and uniquely quilted quilts? If so, you’re coming to the right place! Jessica Skultety, a 27-year-old* New Jersey quilter, teacher, lecturer, and writer, is a serial maker of improvisational and modern quilts. A self-taught quilter (thanks, Google!), she started quilting all of her work on a domestic machine and fell head over heels in love with creating "perfectly imperfect" stitches. Her current passions are creating wholecloth word quilts and dreaming up new ways to modernize traditional blocks. In addition to this special exhibit, Jessica will be teaching two classes centered around modernizing traditional blocks and improvisational techniques.

*I'm turning 27 in a month, so it was strange writing this in advance of March. :)


I'm also teaching my full day Orange Peels and Improv class and half day Wonky Cross class at the show! I am so excited. Register now to save your spot - it just opened to everyone and space is limited. For more information about each class and to register, click here (for Orange Peels) and click here (for Wonky Crosses). I hope you'll join me!

Finally, I'm teaching a short version of my essential improv class, Brick By Brick Improv, at the Mid-Atlantic MOD quilt retreat on April 29 from 2:30-4 (see more info here). If you're in one of the modern quilt guilds attending the retreat, you can register for classes and the retreat itself this Sunday, 11/13. Talk to your guild leaders for more info.

I've been a bit absent on the blog this week due to the U.S. election and a guild meeting, and this weekend I'm going to a much-needed guild quilt retreat! Next week, I plan to be blogging normally, and I'll explain the thought behind my latest wholecloth quilt, a work-in-progress. Have a wonderful weekend and do something fun.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Crown of Orchids: Improv Winged Square Quilt

This summer, my guild began a crayon challenge. At one meeting, we had to choose 3 random colors from a bag and make a quilt. Seems daunting, right? Perhaps. I originally intended to create a challenge piece with the minimum size limitation (12"x12") but when I pulled purple (let alone my favorite purple), it started to become something much larger. Sometimes when the inspiration hits, it's just nonstop (name that musical!).

These were the solids I bought that matched my crayons, though this picture is actually a bit discolored; the purple is much brighter and the pink redder.

This was a summer where I finished a lot of quilts. But it wasn't simply *finishing* work; it was completing, in some cases, months or years of preparation, experiments, and unsewing. The quilt was made over a short period (about 2 months) but it's probably my most well-made piece yet. That just goes to show that improvement in all aspects of the quilting progress (namely piecing and quilting) really do get more precise the more and more you make quilts. Don't believe me? Keep making quilts!

Though the focus was improvisation, I did make sure that "sewing cloth" was visible (top left). It was just too appropriate! I used the last I had of that awesome word fabric.

I wrote about the process of starting this quilt right here, from idea to experimenting in Paint to execution. Generally, I envisioned a wonky version of the traditional Winged Square block, which I've previously used on other projects. It's one of those traditional blocks that sits in my mind and continuously inspires me; it has such a unique lopsided-ness with its placement of half-square triangles (HSTs).

 My Sunshine Pillow from earlier this summer, featuring the traditional Winged Square block.

I wanted to try making completely improvised, wonky HSTs, so I gathered up my fabrics and sewed a huge panel using my brick-by-brick improvisation method (Picture 1). Then, I cut it down randomly into squares and pared each square, on a random angle, with a square of white (Pictures 2&3). Some of my improvised HSTs didn't reach trim size, so I simply added strips or scraps of fabric. That's what I LOVE about improvisational quilts - you can add things here and there, and it will simply contribute to the overall look (Picture 4). It just doesn't matter!

After that, I went through some serious indecision about how to sew the 4 blocks together, though I was set on the traditional layout above as the basis. I used Paint to view both options, and I also took pictures from the 2nd landing in my house. Ultimately, the wonkiness of the HSTs wasn't enough wonkiness (for me), so I offset the blocks just a bit (the right option). This is truly a modern traditional quilt!

The backing is a fun conglomeration of all of my little scraps - and boy, it was fun to piece.

There were only two options I could envision for quilting. One was quilting every single little piece very densely with straight lines (which would have been boring to do and extremely time-consuming). The other option, a spiral, was also very time-consuming but infinitely more satisfying to me. I always choose fun. If not, why am I quilting in the first place?

After some discussions with my quilting guru Jess @jtlevitt, I decided to try quilting a ring of white (50 weight Aurifil 2024) in a sea of medium purple thread (Aurifil 2540, which I purchased especially for this project but find myself using constantly now). It was all very guess and check - stopping at a point where the centers of the large white squares in each block would be filled with white thread, but accented with the purple. It honestly came out better than I could have imagined, and the pictures don't really do it justice! Also, can you tell that this purple color is really hard to capture accurately on a camera? Don't worry, I still love the purple.

I started out quilting with my free motion foot in the middle and switched to my walking foot until I reached the white spiral starting point. That part was all free motion foot too, because I was look for a more "organic" look than perfectly curved. Those lines are realllly close together but it felt like I was creating magic! It's "matchstick quilting" with a twist, really.

The picture below came out blurry but I love how it shows the spiral (and especially the white one) so well. That's why I ended up naming this quilt "Crown of Orchids" - for the halo/crown and for the brilliant orchid background (Kona Geranium). Plus, I'd really love a crown of orchids to announce my love of purple to the world.

And finally, my guild proved that color challenges don't have to be scary. That might be easy for me to say, since I somehow chose colors that worked well together... but still. But seriously, check out the four pictures from our September meeting and all the amazing finishes! My guild members are a brave and extremely talented bunch.

As for me, I'm positively thrilled to have another quilt that allows me to profess my love of purple, improvisation, traditional blocks turned modern, and spiral quilting (even if I don't yet have that crown of orchids)...

Linking up to Needle and Thread Thursday, TGIFF, Crazy Mom Quilts, Fabric Tuesday.


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