Go On – Touch the Tension Dial!

When I was at school, for the short time I was allowed into the sewing machine room, the whole class was warned never (NEVER) to touch the tension dial. We were all terrified of that tension dial and what could possibly happen if we altered it.

Actually, when something is understood, it is easier to fix and tension isn’t hard to understand and doesn’t need to be a mystery or something to be concerned about. The best way I have found to explain tension is by thinking about a tug of war match. In a sewing machine, you have two teams – one on the top, the top team and one in the bobbin, the bobbin team.  Now think about those two teams taking up the tension on the rope, the flag in the middle of the rope sits perfectly on the line between the two teams.  How this translates to your sewing machine, is that the meeting of the two threads (from the top and from the bobbin) happens perfectly within the thickness of the material sewn – so the bobbin thread is only seen underneath your work and never on top and the top thread is only seen on the top of your work and not on the underside.

So, by understanding this, we can now look at what ‘bad tension’ refers to. It means that the two teams aren’t pulling with the same strength, they are not balanced. There are two outcomes from unbalanced pulling, or tension.

  • When the top team pull too hard, or the bobbin team slacken off, then the flag moves towards the top team. On our sewing machine, this means that the bobbin thread is seen on the top. So, if you see your bobbin thread on the top of your work, it is either because your top tension is too tight, or your bobbin tension is too loose.
  • When the top team slacken off, or the bobbin team pull too hard, then the flag moves towards the bobbin team. On our sewing machine, this means that the top thread is seen on the underside of the fabric. So if your top thread is visible on the underside of your work, it is either because your top thread is too loose, or your bobbin tension is too tight.

This concept is a really easy way to decide what is wrong with your sewing if tension is the issue. It will help you decide which changes to make to correct the balance of tension and get your sewing back to perfection. However, before you change any dials, always check these three things first

  1. Is the machine threaded correctly? In every case unthread your machine (completely) and rethread it.
  2. Have you got the same type and thickness of thread in the top and in the bobbin? They dont have to be the same colour, but they should be the same type. Some sewing machines are more forgiving of this than others.
  3. Is your stitch length appropriate for the thickness of the fabric bulk you are sewing – for example, two pieces of quilting cotton would normally have a stitch length of between 1.8-2.2, but sewing up curtain fabric will generally require a stitch length of around 2.8-3.2.

So now you are ready to conquer the world! Go forth – touching that dial should never worry you again!

Understanding Your Overlocker

With the Singer Overlockers on sale in Lidl this week and with the use of overlockers on the TV series, The Great British Sewing Bee, more and more of the sewing community has access to an overlocker.

Overlockers are sadly often misunderstood tools. They can do so much more than just sew stretch fabrics. Overlockers are designed for

  • encasing seams on all fabrics to neaten and prevent fraying
  • sewing seams without puckering, stretching or gathering on more troublesome fabrics such as knits (stretchy fabrics) and fine wovens (for example, voile)
  • creating specialist stitches such as flatlock seams, rolled hems and others
  • making decorative edges by using decorative threads in the machine loopers

Although I have had an overlocker for a couple of years, it is only in the past six months that I have used it regularly and it is a brilliant extension to my sewing machine work. It had been threaded and ready for use for some while and from time to time I did get it down to use, but with hindsight, it was a poor attempt to use it.

The machine is different from a sewing machine in a variety of ways. It has no bobbin but instead uses loopers to create stitches. It has the ability to cut fabric as it sews. Most newer overlockers have two feed-dog systems, one of which can be altered to move quicker or slower than the other, creating the differential feed which is so useful when dealing with difficult fabrics.  To add to this, each thread, and overlockers sew with two, three or four threads has it’s own tension settings. All this combines to make a machine with lots of variables, so it is important to find your basic stitch (I call this an anchor stitch) and see what happens when you vary one thing from this point.

The basic stitch or anchor point for each overlocker will need slightly different initial settings for each machine. For my own Juki overlocker, I get a great basic 4 thread overlock stitch on woven fabric, using a stitch length 2.5, no differential feed (set to N or 1), a cutting length of 2 and all thread tensions set 4. Once you have found your own basic stitch with woven fabrics, like me, you can create a book of stitches by first changing the length to 1 and checking the stitch, then to 2, then to 3 and so on up to the maximum setting. Then set the length back to 2.5 and varying the cutting length in the same way. Doing this, and recording your findings in a book of stitches, will be invaluable in understanding how your overlocker works and what it is capable of.

My next overlocker class with spaces available is over two nights on Mondays January 22nd and 29th. Email mail@gillmacdesigns.com for more details or to book a place.

 

Working from Base Camp

I am no stranger to working on my holidays. After years of corporate life, where everything was urgent, nothing could wait and my phone was constantly ringing (with bad news), not working would be shocking. However now working on this holiday, isn’t really work, it is building a small business, creating projects that I think people will enjoy, whilst using fabrics that I think will inspire. In the Lake District, I can do this whilst Katie and Brian fell walk – everyone is happy

We’ve been away for two weeks, staying on Ullswater. It is the only place in the UK, other than the Hebrides, that I’ve been where the daylight changes the colour of the surrounding landscape so dramatically, often hour by hour and certainly every evening. I love doing anything by this light because almost every time you look out the window the palette of colours has changed again.

We don’t particularly come here hoping to get good weather. Good weather is a bonus, but slowing down our pace of life and changing the way we operate for two weeks is all we truly need. My business allows me to be a ‘base camp’ for Katie and Brian who like to plan a walk, get dropped off in one location and get collected somewhere else. Katie is becoming quite an accomplished walker. She knows how to plan, what to take and how to both fuel and pace herself. I think this year is the first that she is setting the pace rather than Brian, but she sees it as a team game and that is all part of it.

This afternoon I have come down to Glenridding to plan my class schedule whilst they take out a rowing boat. It is cooler today, but they are still keen to get out on the water all the same. Later, I will be back at base camp, looking out over cattle and fields and further onto Ullswater.  I am able to sew with a magnificent view, preparing Winter class samples and writing spartan notes that will eventually become class methods. Perfect !

Gill’s new class list is now on the website and pictures of her sewing whilst away in Ullswater this year are on the website gallery.

GillyMac Dawn til Dusk Sewathon

If you didn’t already know (how could you not know !) , on 22nd September we held a Dawn til Dusk Sewathon in support of Macmillan Cancer Support. From 7am until 7pm there was a flow of adults and then after school children and teens arriving at the studio in Westfield Road. The participants enthusiastically sewed squares together all day, making 15 quilts over the 12 hours.
a322c70e-9a45-4de2-ac92-652da96ac258

 

img_5827

Julia’s First Ever Patchwork

It was a great team and community effort. Pupils, past pupils, friends, and neighbours came together to sew and eat cake ! By sewing precut squares into blocks of three by three, Deborah Ransom and Jean Cozens co-ordinated the assembling of colourful quilts in cot size and bed size. The day flew because of the boundless energy and enthusiasm of the flow of people through the studio on the day. We even had some very young helpers !

img_5828

Allegra having a rest !

img_5835

Jordi enjoying the Tuffet !

For me, the day was a moment in time of the spirit of sewing within a community of volunteers. That spirit is continuing through a group of volunteers that are helping with all the quilting and binding need for each of the quilts.
All of the quilts made are being donated to Project Linus, a charity which provides handmade quilts to poorly children and child carers across the UK. The quilts made during the Sewathon will be distributed across Berkshire. The day also raised more than £650 for Macmillan Cancer Support which I have just dropped off at the bank.
This isn’t something we can repeat annually as it takes an awful lot of effort by all those involved, but I hope we can have another Dawn til Dusk event in 2018 and maybe even try and break our record of 15 quilts ! I’ll keep you updated with how the completion of the quilts go and the reception we get when they are handed over to Project Linus in November.
Thank you all very much for taking part – it was amazing !
img_5889

A Little Bit of EPP & Relaxation

After a pretty hectic summer, I now have time to breath as do a little of what I fancy. In saying that, there are many things I need to do to prepare for Autumn classes, catch up on admin for Gillymac, construct and finish my block swap quilt, and of course I need to order lots tuffet supplies…. cook dinners, plan activities, roll over that start of Katie’s new term in my mind so nothing gets forgotten… You see what I mean ! We are all the same I am sure. IMG_7044

However, with that in mind I did none of it yesterday and spent the day preparing 1″ hexagon pieces for an American English Paper Piecing (EPP) swap. I saw the swap on Instagram whilst on my never ending quest to be more modern and ‘with it’. The deal is that I prepare 60 hexagons, 10 of each in red, orange, yellow, green, purple and blue – it is a rainbow swap. You then post them off to a co-ordinator who is located in Georgia, and she posts back an equivalent mix prepared by other people around the world. After that we all make something and post it on Instagram. It’s different and fun and EPP is something I never have time for so this made me sit down and relax yesterday preparing them. I’m really pleased with the outcome. 

So now I need to wait for my allotted batch to be returned to mid in mid-September and in the meantime I will be thinking about how to best use what comes back. It will be a cushion or a bag front I think … But I will enjoy researching and drawing out my ideas in the meantime. I started sewing again 11 years ago to escape from the pressure of life, and it is important to centre yourself from time to time and do fun things like this. 

IMG_7042

Ps. If you are happy to attempt to be ‘with it’ on Instagram (I do try) you can see how the rainbow hexi swap is going in pictures by searching #rainbowhexiswap 

Tasha’s Reversible Tote Bag

As a teen project for the Summer holidays, Gill and I found a great pattern for a reversible tote bag. It looked great and simple to make … so my first project at GillyMac Designs was to make it up.

The Finished Bag

Method

  • I first had to cut out my pattern by Novita Estiti from ‘VeryPurplePerson.com’, I did this on two contrasting coloured fabrics.
  • Then I put the right sides together and sewed along the bottom edges, leaving the straps open.
  • Then I sewed along the straps (arms holes and openings) and stop stitching after 20cm, I clipped all the round edges, then I pressed everything out and pulled it around the right way round through the straps.
  • I then sewed the straps of each set together, I made sure that I sewed each strap to the strap beside it, NOT the strap in front.

IMG_4843

 

  • I pressed the seams open and pressed the seams into each other.
  • I then top stitched the handles and around the arm holes, I didn’t use a contrasting thread but that could be possible.

IMG_4852What it could be used for

This bag could be used for shopping as it is easy to carry in a hand bag and store away. The bag is strong so could hold food items or any bits and bobs you buy in the shops or on the high-street. It is a fashionable item that can hold any dance kit or sportswear and it easy to hold on your shoulder. It could be used as a school bag as it is strong and if it gets dirty it is easy to wash both sides thoroughly. It can go with anything as there are two sides so could go with any clothes that you are wearing and if you don’t think one side goes with your outfit… try the other side!

It is fun and easy to make and the product is very useful.

The GillyMac Club is Launched !

Now that there quite a few people coming along to classes and so many brilliant things are being created, it has been on my mind to find a way to share more of what we do just between ourselves.  I already post some of the work in my gallery page on this website,  and of course there is the very active facebook page I run for GillyMac Designs, however many of you are often doing similar projects but are in different classes, and it would be great if you were able to share your work directly without it being in an open forum.

GillyMac Club Image 1

Earlier in the year Tracy and I were discussing how to create such a group and  luckily for me she has come up with just the thing ! We haven’t solved the problem if you are not on facebook, but the majority of you are and I will continue to think about how we can include everyone. Now, if you have been to a GillyMac Class, you can apply to access the GillyMac Club, where you will find (currently) 26 photo albums from each of the various classes I teach, full of class samples made by me, or items others have made in classes. There are over 700 photos uploaded. I know I am missing some of your lovely work and so if you have made something in a class and you cant find it … don’t despair, you are able to upload photos to albums yourself and I would encourage you to do so.

GillyMac Club Image 2

To find the group – simply search for it in the top search bar on your facebook book page. I have invited a number of you to join it already. When I am sending you the invite you will automatically get access. Alternatively, you can proactively look for the group and ask to join. It may take Tracy or I 24 hours to approve you, so just hang in there we will do it as quickly as we can. Everyone who has been on one of my classes at home, at Liberty, at Juberry, Lady Sew and Sew or at the various quilt groups I’ve spoken and taught at can join. The group is accessible from whatever device you use to view facebook – however for the best access to the photos and the albums I have found it ideal to use my laptop.

I have written a few words about the protocol of the group. This is just about not reusing photos that are not your own. Please would you scan over it. I’m sure there will be no issues.

GillyMac Club Image 3

So that’s it. I hope we can make it a useful forum to share information and pictures… Gill

GillyMac’s Top 10 Patchwork & Quilting Apps

Recently I have been researching the world of applications for patchwork and quilting to see what’s out there. In teaching,  I already regularly use a few, but I was ask to write an article for an online publication so I thought I’d share my top tips. Below you will find a mixture of free and paid for applications all for use in an IOS (Apple) environment. I’ve noted the version and latest development date, as this will also give you an indication of the progressive nature of the app.

10. Doodle Buddy (v1.7 2016)  free – To improve you skills in free motion quilting you need to practice practice practice!! This isn’t always possible at the machine, but using your iPad or iPhone the Doodle Buddy app is like an Etch-a-Sketch (for those of us of a certain age ) allowing you to practice drawing out your quilting designs over coffee, in front of the TV, waiting for kids on the school run or at sport etc… This app is really useful and a must have.image5
9.  Photo Pen HD  – lite version (v1.4 2012) free – having practiced your Free Motion Quilting, (FMQ), now you need to decide how to quilt a real block or quilt. Using this app you import a photo of your block or quilt and use the app to draw your quilting designs on top of the photo. It’s easy and effective. The resulting picture can be saved to your photo stream and printed out to have beside you as you tackle your project on the machine. Brilliant ! We use this application often in my classes.

86C3FF57-F7ED-4993-A403-F58C00F740C0

8BlockFab (v1 2010) – free.  This is not a quilt design tool but is a library of 70 blocks that you can view in a number of preset colour combinations and as a group of blocks. The app calculates the fabric required for a block, but not for a quilt. The most useful part of this app for me is the preset colour combinations, These are good colour mixes which I have used in other applications and for ideas for my own quilts colour choices.

7.  Quilting Wizard (v1.0.2 2013)- £3.99. This is a low cost quilt design app that allows you to import your own fabric images and incorporate them into over a 100 different preset blocks. Quilts can be made square on or on point, with bindings and sashing options. Fabric requirements are generated, however there is no ability to created your own custom block design.

 6 . ArtRage – ( v2.1 2015) – £3.99.  Built for art drawing with a strong professional development team behind it, this app can be used for patchwork design as taught by Lady Sew & Sew (www.ladysewandsew.co.uk). With this application you are able to import pictures of your fabrics and build bespoke quilt designs (there are no preset blocks). Great for those artists among us who don’t want to be constrained by traditional blocks. ArtRage does not calculate fabric requirements, but you should never rely on apps that do so without calculating fabric requirements yourself anyhow. If you want to use this app for P&Q you will need to go on the course, as currently there is no book or user notes for this use of the application. It is all very useful for free motion design practice as well !

image2 (1)

5 . Craftsy – (v3.3.3 2016)  free – There is nothing like a face-to-face lesson, but coming a close second is the Craftsy platform. This is available on a PC as well, but the Craftsy app is designed for optimum use with Apple devices. Use of the platform is free and you purchase patterns and classes as you want them, however there is a plethora of free stuff available as well. Don’t be the last person to find out about Craftsy – it is great !

4. QuiltingCalc by Robert Kaufmann (v2.3 2014) – free -This is a super useful free app. It calculates the best way to cut shapes from a piece of fabric, how much fabric is needed for backings, borders and bindings, as well as having many different basic measuring features. This is a really useful app to have on an iPhone which can be used in the heat of shopping !

image4

3. Free Motion Quilting Ideas ( v1.1 2016)  – £2.99 – I bought the book first (Free Motion Quilting Idea Book)which is packed with ideas  and practical applications for quilting basic shapes. The app is just the same, walking you through 16 really useful basic designs and then developing your FMQ by applying those designed to triangles, rectangles, circles etc through the use of embedded videos (so there is no need for WiFi connectivity to use this app).

image1 (1)

2 . Quilting Tutorials by Missouri Star Quilting (v2.3 2015)  – free – I love Jenny from the MSQC she is very entertaining. This application is regularly updated with new classes, as if the 100s of tutorials and quilts already available are not enough. Each tutorial I’ve watched is engaging, and full of useful tips. With this number of tutorials as well as the ability to order fabric via the app you could stay at home for years quilting with Jenny.

image1
1 . Quiltography –(v1.41  2015 ) £10.99 – yes it is worth it. For the cost of a couple of magazines and a coffee, you will get hours of fun from this application. Use the extensive library of traditional blocks or build  your own custom one on a grid size of your own choice. Photograph and import pictures of your own fabrics and create quilts with borders and sashing with customer or traditional blocks. In addition, for those of us who like pixilated quilts, the app allows you to import a picture, pixilate it using however many colours you wish, and created a pdf pattern for you to follow which includes fabric requirements. There are limitations, I find the fixed nature of the use of borders annoying, but all in all it is easy and enjoyable to use and has all you need to create some great quilts.

image3

So that it … hours of fun for you with these apps ahead ! Enjoy ! … and in you have questions email me at mail@gillymacdesigns.com.

Why Don’t You …

I have no idea why it seems to be such a secret that to work with kids is just the best job (though teaching my two Thursday groups is a close run wonderful thing)!!  This Summer, I’ve had the pleasure to teach just over 60 children, either at home, on Young Quilters session, at the Festival of Quilts or a Claires Court Holiday Club. I am amazed it is so many!

 IMG_1254

We have made mini quilts, appliqued pictures, zipped pencil cases, frogs and owls, as well as tote bags and tie dye’d T-shirts. There are lots of pictures on my ‘Young Quilters’ page at the website.  Yesterday I looked at the cost of each activity per child. Ignoring my time, the cost was less than £4.60 per child per activity for each of the activities, except for tie dying where we created fabric bags as well as dyed T-shirts all in one session, but even that was only £7.  So the cost is not much really at all, yet everybody seemed to have a brilliant time.

image1 (10)

It’s not just the cost though, it’s opening their little minds to what they can really do. What they achieve can be all their own work and can be beautiful, brilliant and useful. It doesn’t need to be another thing that has to be sneaked into the bin, but it can be something you, they, friends or family can use or keep forever.

By mid-Summer I had created the classes for my after school groups. I am still reeling from their success at the Festival of Quilts and wanted to build on that. This term we are making bed runners (like table runners, but for the end of a bed with pockets for teddies and books), and we will be doing a variety of applique pictures. Later on in the term we will be doing some microwave dying and fabric stamping across to create our own fabric designs to use. I am also planning activities for 1/2 term at Claires Court Holiday club …so keep an eye out for that.

image1 (9)I am hoping that by the end of the year I will have a “Why Don’t You” page on my website. For those of us of a certain age there used to be TV programme in during the school holidays called “Why Don’t You” that encouraged children to get off the sofa (it would be ‘away from the computer’ now) and do something more interesting instead… I thought I could share my low cost makes and ideas to try and inspire even more creativity ! So watch this space !!

 

Nearly Right is Wrong !

At school, my maths teacher, Mr Collins, used to say to me, “Gill, it’s no good being nearly right. Nearly right is wrong!”. The problem is that when something is nearly right, you want it to be right soo much it is very hard to make that leap of faith and start again !

Currently all of my children’s classes are making competition pieces for the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in August. Last year was the first time the girls had entered and it was great fun. At that time I had two children’s classes, and the older ones won a prize !! This year I have three children’s classes and all of them were super keen to enter ! The theme this year is “Patchwork Magic”.

Thinking of one super duper Patchwork Magic quilt is easy, two is more difficult and three is tough ! Especially when each group expect you to come up with the winning design just for them !! No pressure !!! This year, for one of the designs I was lucky enough to have the support of Jacqui Bignell of FlapDoodle Designs, who drew a fairy, just for my Junior Sewing Bee.

20150512_161527078_iOS

The Junior Sewing Bee comprises five girls from 9-11 years of age. Once we had the design, I think we all thought that it would be easy after this ! The girls and I took time to choose all the colours for the fairy, but I chose the background colour. I picked silver.

20150524_211530594_iOS

Half was through it was clear that is was just not right. ! Added to this the girls couldn’t understand how the fairly could be throwing out stars in the daytime. I chose to ignore then for one lesson (even though I knew they were right), but when they insisted it was strange for a second lesson, it was clear something had to change!

At this point it takes a lot of confidence to change direction. Five worried faces can be quite intimidating. However, like Mr Collins said, if it’s not right it’s wrong and so we jumped ship, cut the fairy off the silver background and ordered more material for a navy background. The girls were immediately happier with this, and we progressed. The thing I found most surprising was that by using a navy background a whole new colour palate could be used, allowing me to change the grass to a colour I much preferred.

20150609_210712554_iOS

Latterly it has been her hair that has caused an issue. The girls made the hair using a seminole patchwork technique, which was lovely, but looked really flat (and boring). Again there was much angst… But a trip to Sew Crafty for ribbon and the application of the most expensive thread I have ever bought (saved for a special occasion) seems to have solved the problem.

IMG_1120

It is not easy with anything to change course,adapt a design, unpick your work, but ultimately you know if something is wrong and in my experience it is worth taking that leap of faith to move from nearly right, to correct.

The piece will be on show at the N.E.C in Birmingham from 7th- 10th August. I’ll let you know how they get on. Fingers crossed !
20150512_154819860_iOS