Episode #4 - Machine Embroidery with Patsy Thompson
This week I have a excellent interview with Patsy Thompson about machine embroidery. Patsy is an award-winning quilter, and she's also a self-published author, and you've probably seen her DVDs in your local quilt store. She has this really unique style of free-motion quilting, her thread colors especially. When you see her quilts, I think you'll instantly recognize them. It's really that distinctive.
Patsy and I are going to talk all about machine embroidery, how she uses machine embroidery in her quilts, how she does it, how she digitizes, all of that good stuff. Of course the machine she uses, so definitely be looking forward to this interview with Patsy.
She shares a lot of good information. We're going to include a few photos in the show notes, so if you'd like to see some visuals, you can of course come by and see the full transcript and show notes from the episode, and that's going to be at LeahDay.com/Episode4, so you'll be able to find it there. You can also see Patsy's amazing work at PatsyThompsonDesigns.com.
What’s going on around the house?
A little bit about what's going on around the house. We are still working on the Machine Quilting Block Party for next year. I have gotten block number one nearly done. I even started the pattern over the weekend and just really started knocking things out with those, and it feels really good. I got the quilting design solidified, and it's looking really good. I'm super excited about what I'm teaching next year.
We're going to have feathers, free motion quilting feathers, in every single block, and it's going to be a little different in every block. Some blocks it's going to be kind of in the background. Some blocks it's going to be over the flower shapes, so a lot of opportunities to learn new things about machine quilting. It's a challenge for me to push it to that direction and also to come up with all of these worksheets and guides that will help you learn. I'm really excited about having a lot of fun putting this whole thing together.
Another thing that I'm thinking about adding this year is an extra pattern that will allow you to make sashing and cornerstones, so to make the quilt bigger. This is something that I haven't done in the past, mostly because it's complicated to run up all those calculations and to add that, and it also definitely adds extra time in when it comes to putting the whole quilt together, but I had a lot of requests for it this year, especially around this time of the year, when we're finishing up our quilt and putting all the pieces together. A lot of people are wanting a slightly bigger quilt.
This year's quilt finished at around 43 x 56. I think that's right. Sunshine Surprise finished a nice lap sized quilt, but many people wanted it to be bigger, so by adding the sashing and cornerstones pattern, and I'm going to do this as like an optional extra, where you don't have to buy it.
You can make the quilt completely without it, but if you want a bigger quilt, then I think this is going to punch it up to maybe around 63 inches. It might even be bigger than that, by 80, something like that, so a nice twin size quilt.
If you want it even bigger than that, my best advice is just make more blocks. Take block number one and block number six and make them three times. You can make it bigger that way. That will work too.
That's been an interesting addition, and I'm just still working up the math on it. I don't know when that pattern will be ready, whether it's going to be ready to launch on January 1st along with Block #1 for next year. Still working on all of the details. There's a lot to get through with this. It's one of those things where when planning a project like this, it's very easy to get overwhelmed, because there's so many aspects to it.
I've done this for years now, and every time I look at the list, like the list of videos I need to make, and the list of tests I need to run as far as the block and making sure all the pieces are coming out the right sizes, all of that kind of stuff, it's very easy to get overwhelmed.
The thing I've learned is always just to look at my calendar and see how many days I have left of the month and break it down in small pieces. If I have 10 videos to shoot, it's looking at, okay, one video a day. If I happen to get two videos done in one day, Yay! That makes my schedule a little less tight and a little less difficult. It's all about scheduling and planning. It is a lot of work to put this together, but I wouldn't do it any other way. I love hosting these quilt-alongs. It sets up our whole year, and we're able to see the whole year in a really unique way when we work on projects like this.
That's just one of those things that I've gotten used to. We've done this since 2012, so it's now four years running, and this is the second year that we're doing it as a mystery block party, and that's really worked well for us. If you listened to last week's episode, the podcast with Josh, my husband, we both talked about just how it's been a continual ongoing process, just trying to figure out how to make this not just work and be a great teaching tool but also how to make it work so it doesn't make us crazy as well.
That's the challenge. It's one thing to build something that's, "Great, we're all learning something good," but it's another thing to feel like you're attached to a freight train and you're being drug behind it and it's too much and it's too overwhelming and it's killing you. I don't want that. I want it to be fun for everybody, including my family.
James got a little annoyed with me. He was a little frustrated over Thanksgiving break, because he was out of school for so many days and I really needed to knuckle down and get work done. I had to send him outside a few times to rake leaves. That's my go-to, not necessarily punishment. I see it as character building.
Number one, I need leaves raked, and then, number two, when he is in that bored cycle where he just keeps pretty much every 30 minutes comes in to interrupt me, "Hey, can we do this," that kind of stuff, usually he's just not wanting to bother to find something to entertain himself, and I'll send him outside, like, "You've got to learn how to entertain yourself, kid."
He's an only child, and that's always been something that's been a little challenging for him. The raking leaves and of course we also do karate with him as well, both of those things have really changed him dramatically, whereas before, years ago, I would have handed him an iPad or let him have his Game Boy and just copped out that way. We changed things up quite a bit with James, I think it was last year, where we went on a near media blackout with him.
Then we have a limit now of 20 minutes a day, where he can play a video game, and then that's it. We had to get really strict with it and put passwords on all of our devices. The reason was it was a real problem for him. He would get a really nasty attitude and almost just felt like that that's all he should have to do is play video games all day. He should be able to do that basically unlimited amount of time.
We also don't have television. We have Netflix and Amazon but we don't have television to watch either, so I really do keep it limited, and I found such a good change with my son with this. Now he knows if he comes in and bugs me repeatedly that I'm going to give him a job to do. It's in his best interest to entertain himself, to find a book to read, to do his own thing.
Sometimes, like this weekend, I wish I'd had more time for him to play. We did make some cookies together, and we baked a pie together, and we did those things, but I had to make it clear to him, "Look, when you run your own business, there are times that you just got to knuckle down and do the work. No one's going to do it for you," and no one's going to put this quilt along together for me.
This is one of those things that Josh can't do. He can't run fabric calculations and he can't lay out this pattern. He can't shoot these videos or shoot these pictures. All of that is on me.
It takes a lot of planning, and that takes a lot of time. I have to give myself time not just to know what questions to ask but then to ask them, because I find if I try and rush something like this, I end up getting really anxious about how good it's going to be. It hits my internal voices where it's like, "Oh, this isn't good enough. No one's going to like it." I start getting really self-critical, so I find that I need extra time during this time of the year just to sit down and process through all of that stuff in my head.
Sometimes I have to emphasize that to my son, like, "You're going to have to entertain yourself, dude," and that's okay. That's my parenting story of the week, I guess.
The Tunic Challenge
Another thing that I'm working on this week is of course the tunic challenge with Amy Johnson. That's been a really fun project with her all week. I should say all month. We've been at this for two weeks now, and this is our third week. Our challenge for this week is just to cut out the pattern pieces in the fabric that we're going to use. I'm going to make mine out of a dark purple batik.
Then I went to the quilt store. I went to We're Sew Creative in Concord and Jennifer gave me, she showed me this really cool lightweight lawn fabric, and it's a very thin cotton, and so I picked up five yards of that, way more than I need, but I'll probably make a couple of these tunics. What you do with that is it's kind of a ... It's not interfacing, but it is a sort of extra layer within the garment. You back the main fabric to this fabric, and it makes it a little bit more substantial. It wears better, and it doesn't crease and wrinkle so bad. That's an extra step that I'll be taking this week.
Fitting is one of those challenging things, and I think no matter who you are and no matter what size or shape you are, there's always going to be those things about your body that drive you crazy. For me, I've got those bits and pieces. I might be thin, but that doesn't necessarily mean that my body's perfect.
I could tell that it seemed to be bothering Amy quite a bit. The thing I came back to, there was a really good book that I read this month, and it's called On Living. Sorry. I don't remember the author name right off the top of my head, but I'll make sure to link it up in the show notes. She is a hospice chaplain, and so of course she spends a lot of time with people when they're dying. She talked about meeting people that had hated their bodies their whole life. This is something that was big for me.
For many, many years I wore clothing that was way too big for me, like three, four sizes too big, so it was hanging off my body. This was really mostly through middle school and high school. I had very, very low self-esteem, but even when Josh met me, he would make fun of the clothing that I wore, because it was just hanging off me.
It was like I wrapped myself in my blankets in bed and then walked around with them the rest of the day. It was largely just lack of self-esteem. I couldn't stand to see my body and my figure, and I felt like if I did, then somebody would make fun of me about it.
It has been a very long process, and, honestly, the most helpful thing was seeing myself in video and making videos and looking at myself and realizing, "You know, I'm not ugly" and that everyone has a unique body and a unique figure. The best thing we can do is love the body that we're in. That's one of the things that I loved from that book On Living was just the message, we only have one body. It's the only one we've got, and we've got to love it while we've got the chance.
The author talked about so many people wish that they had more time in their body and more time to really use it and enjoy it, like to dance and run and jump and do all those things that a lot of people when they get older it's just not possible anymore. It doesn't feel good anymore. It doesn't feel the same way.
This is something that I remind myself of a lot. We get a lot of emails from people who are struggling to quilt and struggling to use a sewing machine, because maybe they've had ankle surgery or maybe their hands are hurting. I always try and keep that in mind, like that might not be a limitation that I've run into yet, but it is definitely a limitation I may run into one day and to enjoy the bodies that we have and how well they work as much as we can while we have them.
That's one of those things that I noticed and just commented on. I really hope that if you're working on a garment and you're feeling really frustrated with the fit, just keep working at it. There's lots of places that you can learn more about fitting and adjusting and getting things to look right.
Knit fabrics, I got to say, stretchy knit fabrics are so much easier to work with than woven cottons, because they're a lot more forgiving, and they fit and flatter a lot more easily. They're not as easy to sew, and you have to do a little bit more trial and error with knits, but that's what we predominantly wear. That's what you predominantly see at the store, and there's a reason for that. It just fits a lot easier.
If you're struggling with trying to sew garments from quilting cotton, maybe look at some knits instead or some rayon, something a little bit more stretchy, that will give you a little bit better drape. That might work. That's how the Tunic Challenge has been going.
Free Quilty Box Pattern
Just this last week I got my Quilty Box. Quilty Box is our subscription service that comes once a month, and it's kind of like getting a magazine, only instead of a magazine, it's a box of cool gear and fabric.
This last month's box was curated or put together by Tammy Silvers. She picked all the stuff inside of it. It also came with this awesome pack of ten-inch pre-cut squares from Island Batik. I ended up making a really cute quilt with it. Honestly, I think it's the simplest quilt I've ever made with a Quilty Box. It's so, so easy, and it's so fast too. That's the really nice thing about it.
I wanted to keep the squares really big so that way they would really stand out and show off. I didn't want to cut them down and make them too small, so I left them nice and big and then just some very simple strip pieced blocks with them, so it came together really fast. That's called Chain of Beads, and you can find that free quilt pattern at my website, LeahDay.com/Beads, so definitely go look at that.
I'm not going to be sharing a machine quilting tutorial on that one. I just don't have time. Sorry. Getting another quilt basted and on the machine...Machine quilting tutorials on real quilts have always been a challenge, so I'm just not going to have time for that.
I did share some ideas and suggestions for machine quilting. You can find that on that same page. That is all that's going on around the house.
Walking Foot Wholecloth Quilt Disaster
We will be getting back to the walking foot book just as soon as I can get back on track on all these projects. Then we'll be getting back to that.
I did have a really nasty mishap unfortunately on my walking foot whole cloth quilt. I was changing machines out. I needed to get some machines serviced, so I was changing out some machines, and I pulled out my knee lifter.
That is the bar that comes out the front of the machine that will lift your presser foot. I pulled that out. Now, this thing is mechanical. It goes inside of your machine and it rubs back and forth. Metal rubbing back and forth causes grease and usually black grease, so black grease; right?
I then set it down on my cream colored quilt. Yes, that was really stupid.
I've got to figure out how to get that out, but unfortunately I can't do anything about it right this second because the quilt isn't finished, and if I get it wet, I'm going to wash out the marks plus the water-soluble thread.
It's kind of just an epic disaster, just totally epic disaster. I've just set it down. I'm ignoring it. I'm not going to even think about it. I did some research, and I think blue Dawn, the grease-cutting dish-washing liquid, I think that's going to be the best solution, but, honestly, I can't even touch it right now.
Honestly, this is the story of my life. This is why I don't make white or light quilts. I can't handle them. If I wear a white shirt anywhere, it will be stained by the end of the day. It just doesn't work for me. Lesson learned. That won't happen again, and if you have a knee lifter and you're popping it out, make sure to put it on the floor. Don't put it on the quilt that you've been working on for a month. That's just awful.
That's all the news from this week. A couple different stories here and there. Sometimes I make mistakes, and I'd rather share them with you so you learn from them and maybe don't make the same mistake, and just to kind of give you a little bit more of a glimpse of who we really are and what's really going on.
I'm certainly not a perfect quilter, and I do make...Gosh, I've made so many dumb mistakes. That knee lifter one is definitely going to be top of the list, at least for a little while. That's what's been going on there.
Our sponsor for this week is my website, LeahDay.com, where you can find some really cool quilting kits that will help you with free motion quilting on your home machine.
We have an Ultimate Quilting Kit that comes with the supreme slider, some quilting gloves, and Little Genie Magic Bobbin Washers. The bobbin washers just help your bobbin thread glide and slide and spin as easily and smoothly as your top thread, so that helps to reduce thread breaks.
We also have a Queen Supreme Kit, and the only difference with that is it comes with a bigger supreme slider. It's a double sized supreme slider, and this makes it much easier to quilt big quilts on your machine, because it helps to make the quilt slide and glide, reduces the friction between your quilt and your sewing machine bed.
You can check out those kits at LeahDay.com. Just come on over. They're always on sale and very nice discounts. You can save a bit when you get those three products together.
Now, here's the show!
Leah Day: Hello My Quilting Friends! Leah Day here with a great quilting friend Patsy Thompson and Patsy is going to tell us all about machine embroidery. So to get started first talking about how you got into this. How did you fall in love with machine embroidery?
Patsy Thompson: Well, it was actually Sarah Vedeler’s work. I don’t know if you’ve seen her work, but she just, to me she’s like the Grandmama of machine embroidery applique. And it was kind of funny how I ended up getting into it. I won a $12,000 sewing room and one of the prizes, the biggest part of the prize was a Babylock embroidery machine, which at the time was their top of the line machine.
And I had absolutely no interest in embroidery and it literally sat in a box for almost 10 years and I was teaching at a dealer in Florida that had one of those big events where they’re trying to sell people a lot of machines and at the end of one day her husband was walking me out to the car and we were joking about how many machines she sold and I said “You know I’m embarrassed to say this, I have this embroidery machine and it’s never even come out of the box. I won it and it’s nine years old now.”
And he said “You better open that thing because it’s going to be obsolete in about a year!” And shortly thereafter I saw Sarah Vedeler’s work and I was like “Oh my god, I can’t believe I’ve wasted 9 years when I could have been playing around with this.” And so I took the machine to my local dealer thinking this is going to be a huge deal to learn how to use an embroidery machine.
Literally 15 minutes in his shop, came back, set it up, was embroidering. Within 30 minutes of getting home, I had embroidered my first thing so I was like “Oh my god, this is so much easier than anybody would have ever imagined.
Leah Day: Awesome! Yeah, that’s super cool. I can’t imagine winning a $12000 studio. That’s so awesome. You’re so lucky! So what do you predominately make with machine embroidery?
Patsy Thompson: I use it to make applique quilt blocks and then I you know I piece them together the way anybody would and then quilt them. But what I love about it is I can make very complex blocks and finish the edges of the applique shapes with beautiful decorative embroidery and even decorate, you know depending on how large the applique shape is, sometimes do some really pretty decorative work inside of it.
So it’s kind of for me, I do a lot of free motion machine embroidery before I was using an embroidery machine, but to me this is, I can expand on that a million times using an actual embroidery machine. Plus I love that I can be doing something on an embroidery machine, flip my chair around and be machine quilting something at the exact same time.
Leah Day: Yeah, that kind of makes you feel like you have two of you in the room, right?
Patsy Thompson: Exactly!
Leah Day: So can you describe how that process works with hooping and the stabilizer and the layers of fabric?
Patsy Thompson: Here's a video demonstrating this process
Sure. Sure. I do things I think a little bit differently than the average embroiderer because I think most people come into machine embroidery applique having been a traditional embroiderer first and then to me they’re a little bit different.
I never ever hoop fabric and to me that makes everything easier. I never have to worry about hoop burn. I don’t have to worry that maybe I’m stretching or pulling on the weave of the fabric and it really allows me to get good placement.
So what I always do is hoop one piece of cut away stabilizer and the reason I usually use cut away is because most of my designs have enough dense embroidery that I feel I need a permanent stabilizer underneath. And with a tear away stabilizer, paper one, over time if you wash it repeatedly that paper is going to disintegrate and go away and I’m worried my stitches won’t be stable if that happens.
So I hoop one layer of usually cut away stabilizer, put that on the machine, and the first thing I always stitch out is registration guidelines. That’s different for every single design that I do. If I’m messing around, if I have say, one thing I’ll do a lot is I’ll take some kind of design that is a single hooping design and I will start repeating it onto a giant block.
And so let’s say I want to center it, I keep a set of cross hairs on my machine that will center anything, it doesn’t matter what the design is and print that out, or stitch that out on the stabilizer, remove that from the machine and then I take my fabric block which I have stabilized the fabric block itself as well in some way.
Usually I have fused a layer of interfacing to the back side and depending on how dense the stitching is, I may or may not use, I use Sullivans Stabilizing Fabric Spray. And sometimes I can just use the Sullivans fabric stabilizing spray and not use interfacing, it all depends on the design. But my fabric block has been prepared and again depending on where I want this design of mine to fall on my fabric block, I use soap slivers from the shower.
I use white dove soap, it’s the only one I can attest to that works really well and always comes out and I keep a vegetable peeler in my sewing room and I just shave the edge to keep it nice and fine. So I always get a nice fine edge and I will usually mark guidelines sew on the fabric block. So for as an example let’s say that my hooped stabilizer has a set of crosshairs that’s going to center this design. I would do the same thing on the fabric block. If I wanted to center it on square I’d have a giant plus sign.
If I wanted to center it on point I’d have my plus sign along the diagonal so it’d look like a big “X” if you’re looking at it square on. And I take flat headed straight pins, meaning a pin that truly has no bump at all on the bottom of the head. Working from under the stabilizer I pierce the center of that crosshair in the stabilizer, come up and then I pierce the center of my marked soap line on my fabric block, push it all the way up and then I put a foam pin anchor on it to hold it tightly in place and now I’m back to both hands. I have the use of both hands.
And then I’ll take another pin, go under the stabilizer at the end of one of those stitched lines and I will go ahead and pierce my fabric block on the soap line and I know I’m piercing in the right place if the needle stands up straight and the fabric lays flat, put a foam pin anchor to that, now I’m back to two hands again and I just do that for all of my lines and then once everything is aligned properly, throw a few pins along the edges, take out the foam pin anchors and the straight pins and I’m ready to embroider.
Leah Day: Excellent. Excellent. Yeah, I was able to follow everything you were saying. And I’m sure we could probably add some photos if you’re stitching something out and wanted to send us some photos and we could definitely add those to the show notes.
So what are some of your favorite supplies for machine embroidery? You mentioned that dove soap. Do you have like a favorite stabilizer brand and favorite pins, anything like that?
Patsy Thompson: Yeah, I use a company out of Winston Salem, North Carolina, I believe it’s called the Embroidery Store, but the web address is not theembroiderystore.com, but if you Google The Embroidery Store and something like MStore.com and I buy from them. I usually buy in bulk because stabilizer is very heavy and usually you can get free shipping if you charge $100 or more.
So I’ll do it like once a year and make a giant purchase so I don’t have to pay for shipping. But I use their medium weight cut away. The reason why I ended up going with them is when I first started embroidering I was spending a small fortune on stabilizer and I was at my local dealer and the OESD stabilizer that Bernina was marketing which costs a lot, they said “We have to be honest with you, this is exactly the same formulation as this Machine Embroidery Store and you can get it a lot cheaper.” So I’ve been using it ever since and I’ve been real happy with it ever since.
The other thing I would recommend is you have to have a nice mini iron. You need the mini iron for a couple things. You a teeny tiny iron plate to do precise fusing, which I’m always using precut, pre-fused applique shapes so you’ve really got to pay attention that you’re fusing directly inside the placement outline. There’s no room for messing around there. And if you have a big iron you can’t see well.
The one I’m using is a Clover Mini Iron. They actually have multiple models. The model I like is the less expensive one that does not have a guard, a plastic guard along the shaft because that plastic guard makes it very difficult to see where you’re fusing. So you have to be very careful not to touch it. It’s one of those things like the stove when you’re a kid, you do it one or two times and you learn never touch that thing. I mean, it’s dangerous, but you learn quickly. I also..
Leah Day: Sorry, I have one with the guard and I still managed to burn myself really badly with it. Yeah, I don’t think the guard really protects you at all.
Patsy Thompson: Okay, that’s good to know. And they should say I have a couple of the original Clover Mini irons that truly were not safe, they should have ever been allowed to be sold so if someone’s listening and you’ve tried a Clover mini iron and had a bad experience go back, give em a second chance because the models that are out there now they don’t have the electrical shorts, you don’t get mini electrocutions like you did with the original ones.
Leah Day: So what needles and thread do you use for machine embroidery?
Patsy Thompson: I use Schmetz needles pretty much. I buy them in bulk. Usually I’m using either the 75 or 90 embroidery machine needles. Sometimes I’ll do a Microtex sharp needle just cause I have a lot of those around and if I’m running low I’ll use that.
And for thread honestly I don’t really have a lot of thread loyalty to any one brand. I use many many brands. If you said “What’s the best thread company in the world?” I really do believe it’s Superior Threads, but I’ll be very honest and say I don’t feel I need the very best thread in the world for every single thing I make and just because other companies aren’t the best in the world it doesn’t mean their products are necessarily bad.
So I use a lot of embroidery thread, a lot of rayon thread, and when I say embroidery thread I mean I’m using polyester filament thread that might be a trilobal polyester, might be a plain old filament polyester. I never use the spun polyester and the reason for that is to me, thread is so important.
To me it’s the paintbrush and so I really want people to notice my threadwork whether I did it by hand or I did it on a sewing machine or I did it on an embroidery machine. I want sheen and I know a lot of people and Sarah who again to me is the Queen of all machine embroidery applique, she uses cotton thread and to me, I would just never embroider with cotton thread because I want that sheen.
Leah Day: Yes, you absolutely do have a distinctive style when it comes to thread. I was just recently stitching out something, it was like a band for a bag and I was stitching some feathers and I decided to change up thread colors. Like I did a little bit of a flourish inside the feather and I got done and looked at it and I was like “This looks like Patsy Thompson!”
So how do you develop that? How did that come about where you developed this really good idea for blending colors and really making them stand out?
Patsy Thompson: Oh, thanks. You know I don’t know. I think it just comes by playing with thread and I, you know, coming up in the world of quilting I never considered thread even, to me thread was like a pencil, you know what I mean? It was meaningless. Then all of a sudden, sometime in the late 1990s all of a sudden there were all kinds of colors of thread and types of thread. It was like the whole thread world exploded and I didn’t know how to use most of them so I just started playing with them and one year that was my New Years resolution – get to know as many different types of threads as you can. And ever since then I’m like a thread junkie. That’s my vice!
Leah Day: Awesome! Yeah, that is one of those things that I really haven’t dug into. I kind of found what worked and I only bought that. And now I’m looking at it going “Well, maybe I should branch out a little bit and try different things and experiment some more.” So I like your idea of a New Years resolution to try new threads.
So let’s get back to your machine - what is that machine that you won and do you like it even now after nine years in a box and do you have your eye on any new machines?
Patsy Thompson: Well one thing I’ve learned about embroiders, they’re very different than quilters and they’re always trading up. If you thought quilting was expensive, wait till, the world I’m saying now, wait until you get into machine embroidery because then you really start spending money.
I won a, let’s see, it was a Babylock Ellageo. It was great, it worked perfectly. It had floppy discs that was the way you transferred. So I’m gonna say maybe six to eight months after I started embroidering I went and bough a Babylock Ellisimo which I love.
I think Babylock and Brother have the most user-friendly machines. I mean I still probably know how to use 1% of what these embroidery machines can do, but I mean what I can get done just knowing a little bit about my machine it’s incredible.
But anyways from there I began buying used Babylock Ellisimo on Ebay and the reason for that is I live in two states and I was driving machines back and forth and my car got broken into. And they canceled, first accident I’ve ever had, and they canceled my car insurance because it was too expensive of a loss and the only way I could get new car insurance from another company I had to say I wouldn’t be transporting embroidery machines.
So I kind of got into an Ebay thing and every time I saw a good deal I’d get one. I don’t want to tell you how many machines I have. But I since then I have bought a Babylock Destiny, which I also love, which is kind of like a suped up version of an Ellisimo.
Leah Day: So if somebody else is looking on Ebay, I’m not saying it’s going to be me, but it might just be me, but if someone else is looking on Ebay for a Babylock Ellisimo what would you say is a good deal?
Patsy Thompson: Oh gosh, it depends. There are different upgrades that can be put onto an Ellisimo to make it a like an Ellisimo Gold, Ellisimo Gold II so there’s going to be some variation in price. But honestly if I had to buy amachine right now I would be willing to pay, depending on what upgrades were on it, between $3000 and probably $4300 for a Babylock Ellisimo with some of the upgrades.
One thing I’ve learned is always find out if the original boxes that came with the machine are available for shipping. If you don’t get those original boxes walk away no matter how good a deal it is because shipping something like this really matters.
I do not ever trust when they say it will be “professionally packed”. That just doesn’t mean anything. It means you went to the UPS store and a guy that doesn’t know anything about packing put some stuff in a box. So make sure you get the original boxes. But I have bought several sewing machines on Ebay and I honestly bought five or six embroidery machines used on Ebay and I’ve had great luck with all of them.
Leah Day: Excellent. Excellent. And I know quilters are such gear heads. I’m completely guilty of this myself where it’s like “I’ve gotta get all the feet and with embroidery it’s like I’ve gotta get all the hoops and I’ve gotta get all the upgrades.” I have a Janome 15000 and I’ve been very pleased with it, but I know what you’re saying about these different machines and these different brands and it strikes me that Babylock was really well positioned there and got into it and has kept it very open and easy to do. So that’s really awesome.
So I know I was reading on your blog about how, like your process of starting to quilt around your machine embroidery and you start with invisible thread. Do you have any tips for working with invisible thread?
Patsy Thompson: Yeah, normally when I, before I was doing machine embroidery, I always outlined all my regular applique shapes with invisible thread as well and when I do that, I would use the smallest needle possible which is a 60/10 Microtex sharp the reason behind a lot of my applique was done on fusible web and if you happen to veer inside that applique shape at all, you’re going to make a hole and because it’s fusible web that hole won’t heal.
So I want my invisible thread work to be invisible and to do that you want to make a small hole because you don’t want a trail of holes to give your stitching away. With machine embroidery applique I’ve found that a size 60 needle is just not going to hold up because the stitching is so dense you’re just going to break the needle.
So I still do outline everything with invisible thread, very important to do because it will make those appliques pop out and kind of give you almost a mini trapunto effect even though there isn’t any trapunto. But I use a bigger needle, usually a 70 or 80 and the other thing that I’ve learned, I kind of like to cheat. I’m always in a hurry so I like to sometimes veer deliberately into the edge finishing stitching because it hides it better.
The more I’m doing it, the more I realize what decorative stitches you can get away with that and know one will ever see your work and others it’s a dead giveaway. For example a satin edge stitch, you never want to stitch into that. It gives it away. It makes the satin stitch look bad. But most of the other really rich, more intricate embroidery edge finishing stitches you can go right through the center and no one will ever know.
Leah Day: Cool and have you ever considered just using regular thread or did you not like that look? Is there a reason why you went with invisible?
Patsy Thompson: Yeah, I don’t want anybody to see that stitching. I want to create an effect without ever having a stitched line show and I actually I had a couple of quilts that I sent off to longarmers to do because I didn’t have time and I did it mainly to save myself time and also so I could come back and inspect their work.
But anyways most longarmers hate invisible thread so they will use some other thread that closely matches it and I honestly didn’t like the look of that as well.
Leah Day: So about how long does one of your machine embroidered quilts take? I know you doing the designs on the blocks and then you’re taking it off the embroidery machine, putting it together, and then machine quilting it really nicely so how long does that usually take?
Patsy Thompson: You know, that’s a good question and I generally don’t know because at any given time I probably have about 12 different things that I’m quilting. I mean most things I make, I don’t make them and finish them quickly. The only things I make and finish relatively quickly are really small things like a table runner. But most other stuff it’s kind of dragging around for months and I’m switching off so I don’t get border between projects. But the I guess what I would call the stabilizing part of stitching and by that I mean stitch in the ditch and encircling all the applique shapes with invisible thread, that’s hours of work right there.
So before I can get to the fun part of the quilting I have already usually invested at least, depending on how big the quilt is, probably a good 12 to 14 hours.
Leah Day: Yeah, and let’s back up a bit I remember you saying you mostly use precut, pre-fused fabric for your appliques. What’s that process of preparing your fabric before you machine embroider it? Do you use dies to cut them out?
Patsy Thompson: Yeah, usually cutting dies. That’s my favorite way. If I don’t have a die for the shape then I will cut it on a Silhouette Cameo. I’m not as wild about the Cameo. I don’t feel like I’m as efficient as I am with cutting dies, but it’s a good alternative having an ecutter.
Leah Day: Okay. And what do you feel like is the best thing about machine embroidery? What does it do really well or faster that is harder to do with a regular sewing machine?
Patsy Thompson: Oh boy. Well two things I guess are the, three things I love about it. One is it’s very efficient in the sense that I can have multiple things going on at once. For example I can have two or three different embroidery machines each embroidering a block and in between doing thread changes I’m sitting at a sewing machine quilting. So I love that.
The other thing I love is the richness of stitches. I just can’t even come close to matching the beautiful stitches that an embroidery machine can do. Even if I use all the preprogrammed stitches on my machine. I just don’t have the breadth of decorative stitches that I do on an embroidery machine.
And the other thing is I love love love the end product because it is so highly textured. I mean I still to this day I want to touch these quilts because “Am I really seeing what I think I’m seeing?” It just creates such cool texture and I can’t do that with free motion embroidery by myself on a sewing machine.
Leah Day: And is there anything you feel like you wouldn’t try with machine embroidery or is there any technique that you haven’t tried yet?
Patsy Thompson: Well there’s a ton of stuff I’ve never tried. One thing I’m trying to get my nerve up to do – I love playing with different weights of threads with quilting and free motion machine embroidery on a sewing machine and I’m pretty fearless with that and I do have some really happy rayon and polyester threads, like 12 weight and I really am so curious to see what could I make with really super heavy thread on an embroidery machine but I’m so scared I’m gonna hurt the machine I haven’t gotten up the nerve to try it yet.
Leah Day: You need to buy yourself a really cheap one on ebay!
Patsy Thompson: Right, there you go!
Leah Day: It’ll be the sacrifice for the cause machine.
Patsy Thompson: Right, there you go!
Leah Day: So I’m sure that other people are wondering like how you make the actual embroidery design. What is your process with that?
Patsy Thompson: Well I’m very fortunate when I started doing this cause I’m like you, I don’t really make other peoples quilts, I like to make my own designs. And so when I started out I bought some of Sarah Vedelers machine embroidery applique designs mostly to learn the process.
And then I got Bernina V6 designer software and I can do some basic digitizing, but in all honesty I’m not that interested in learning how to do the digitizing myself. So I found a digitizer and I have a system that works really well for us. What I’ll do is I’ll design a quilt block and when I say a quilt block it might be a block that’s 12 inches square, it might be a block that’s 60 inches by 60 inches. You make the block whatever it is you want.
And then I will fuse everything in place the way I want it, take a photo of it, then I will scan all the shapes that are on it and I will make a list of every single shape on that block and how I want the edge finished, what stitching I want and if I have applique shapes that have internal designs, which I usually do, I will draw those internal designs. I’ll cut the same shape out of paper and I’ll draw the internal designs in pencil or pen and then I’ll scan all that and email it to my digitizer and my digitizer is a retired computer engineer so he’s very into precision.
He knows how to embroider. He’s really good at this and he is the one that figures out these odd ball multi-hoopings. I mean I’ve got some blocks that are like 19 hoopings. I could never look at that and figure out how to do the registration to get from one hooping to the next, but he figures it all out for me and then he sends it back.
Honestly most of the time it’s exactly the way I want it. Every once and awhile I’ll say “you know, I don’t like that stitching after all, let’s swap this for another one.” Or maybe there’s a couple of stitches, something just doesn’t look right and then we just go back and forth, but it’s a wonderful setup and he has really allowed me the freedom to create all kinds of stuff that on my own I could never do.
Leah Day: And does digitize for other people or just for you?
Patsy Thompson: I know he does for other people. He actually, I was given his name by a friend and he told me mostly he digitizes things like logos and stuff and so when he started getting my stuff he was like “Oh my gosh this is so nice!” Because at that point he was about to retire and he said “This is so much more challenging to me. This is, I love doing this stuff.”
So yeah, I don’t want him doing a ton of peoples stuff or he won’t have time for mine but yeah, I don’t want to give his name out publically, but yeah, I think he does work for other people too.
Leah Day: Okay good to know well if somebody wants to know his name they’ll have to come through you first. Good to know. So about how long does that process take? The back and forth –like you come up with the design , how long does that process take of you fiddling around with paper and drawing and stuff and sending it to him. So how long does that initial process take and how long does it take to get the designs back from him and that back and forth process?
Patsy Thompson: It depends on the complexity of the design and what is going on each of our lives. Sometimes it’s very quick. I mean sometimes I’ve had a few where it’s come back in 3-4 days later. I would say for more complex designs it’s usually in the order of 10 days to 3 weeks. Which is really pretty quick when you think about it to get something back from him.
Going from my end on, it’s hard to say because I think we’re probably similar like you’re doing dishes at night and in your head you’re thinking about designs so there’s a lot of time you’ve devoted to a design that it’s hard to quantify how much time you’ve spent on it because a lot of the work it happened while you were doing other stuff and when you actually sit down to do it you’ve already kind of made it up in your head. So it might be a few hours or several days for me.
Leah Day: Cool and do you sell your embroidery designs?
Patsy Thompson: Yeah, I sell a lot of them on our website. I honestly I hate writing instructions and so that’s where I get bogged down so most of what I make I don’t sell because I hate writing the instructions, but it’s confusing unless you have instructions. People don’t realize how easy it is unless they have some photos of the process, how to move from one hooping to the next.
Leah Day: Yeah, you practically need to make a video of it. It’s a lot of multi-step, just what we were talking about earlier with the hooping to create the block, it’s a very visual thing and it’s one of those things that you can’t necessarily get a file and know instantly what to do with it.
I’ve hit the same thing I’ve made some in-the-hoop designs which are really really fun. I mean, everything stitches out together in the hoop to make a change purse. But I bogged down with it. I made this thing two years ago, but writing the instructions is what’s stopped me from launching it. So I completely know what you’re talking about there.
So we talked about this when we were emailing back and forth and coming up with this episode that there are a lot of misconceptions about machine embroidery and I really want to talk to you about this because I feel the same way. When I got into quilting I saw machine embroidery and I didn’t understand it and I kinda thought it was cheating, but it wasn’t until I got into it myself “Wow! This isn’t cheating, this is it’s own unique, fun thing!” so how do you respond to that when you hear that kind of thing, and what’s your opinion about all of it?
Patsy Thompson: I could not agree with you more. That’s exactly how I felt about it. I thought “Oh they’re just pushing a couple of buttons.” And it is so much more than that. For one thing it borrows from all of the skills and fun of regular quilting.
You know if you’re doing hand applique you’re choosing okay this is my background fabric, these are all of the fabrics for the applique pieces. You have to make all those same decisions about contrast and value and all that, but then you add on top of that now thread is literally your paintbrush too and the thread work is going to add so much that your decisions about thread color, thread sheen, they now are important kinds of decisions so there is an extra layer of decision making because there are times when I want my thread largely to be very subtly noticed. For example, maybe on the edge stitching of something. But when I’m doing the decorative stitching inside of an applique I want to make darn sure you’re going to see it so I’m going to pick a much higher contrast thread. So there’s a lot of thought in that.
And then it is a bit different from traditional embroidery in that the thread colors that come to you with the machine embroidery applique file have no meaning. Because you are choosing thread color depending on the fabrics you’re working with. So you are in essence the designer here. You’re making a lot of choices.
Leah Day: Absolutely and I think that you know with anything you can have that idea of it, but until you actually do it yourself or really see it stitched out you just really don’t know. That as far as the whole “cheating” thing you know like “oh that’s not as tough or that’s not as technically or creatively challenging as regular applique or something like that.
And I really hope that that perception starts to change. But I think that the main reason for it is the expense of the machines and that’s really what turned me off from it for many many years is that I could never afford to buy an embroidery machine.
So I know that you teach machine quilting, do you also teach machine embroidery as well?
Patsy Thompson: Yeah, I teach both, but I have to say that for every machine embroidery applique class I teach, I probably teach six machine quilting classes. I love them both and I love teaching them both. I wish more quilters understood what they could do with machine embroidery applique.
In classes for machine quilting there are always many people who own embroidery machines who are using them for traditional embroidery but they don’t realize the gold mine they have in their sewing room. They just don’t realize the incredible stuff they could be making if they get into this.
Once you do one block, I feel like there’s a learning curve, you’ve gotta do one block and all of a sudden it’s like “Oh, my god, this is my new addiction.” And that’s exactly what it is because there’s just nothing like it.
Leah Day: Yeah, and have you ever considered doing like a machine embroidery quilt along or something to kind of get people into it and using their machines for this kind of stuff?
Patsy Thompson: You know that’s not a bad idea. I’ve never sponsored a quilt along so I don’t know how to do it. But yeah, probably a good idea.
Leah Day: Oh get ready! January 1st that’s the day you should launch it!
I’ve been doing quilt alongs since 2012 and it’s such an interesting way to connect with people online if that’s where you want to connect with people. But it sounds like there’s so much you’re doing – you’re traveling and teaching, you also do all this machine embroidery stuff, and you blog quite a lot, and you’re also a physician, a doctor too, right?
Patsy Thompson: Right, Right. There’s a lot going on.
Leah Day: So how do you balance all of that?
Patsy Thompson: I guess I work to always make sure I can have some time in my sewing room. I feel like that’s my “me” time that means more to me probably than time I spend doing anything else. So as busy as things get I always try to preserve some of that for me. And I just I don’t know, when I get that time, I use it as efficiently as I can and that’s why I appreciate that I can be working on multiple quilt blocks at once and machine quilting at the same time.
Leah Day: So here’s one last question, going forward what are you looking to? In the next five to ten years, what is really making you excited about the future?
Patsy Thompson: Oh golly. I keep having it in my head that all of a sudden I’m going to have a ton of time that I can spend in my sewing room. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that’s really for the last 15 years I keep thinking that in a couple years I’m going to structure my life so I really have a ton of time to sew. Even if I don’t get more time than I have now love what I’m doing now. If I could just even keep doing all the machine embroidery applique, all the machine quilting that I’m doing now I would be very very happy.
I’m currently on this ruler work adventure trying to learn as much as I can about it. I’m head over heels in love with ruler work and combining that and machine embroidery applique – that to me is very exciting, I could spend decades on that.
Leah Day: Excellent. Well I’ll have to have you back on to talk about ruler work in a little while. I’m getting into it too so that will be really exciting.
Patsy Thompson: I’d love to.
Leah Day: So thank you so much for coming on Patsy. So just to let everyone know how they can connect with you online – your facebook, Instagram, website – all that good stuff?
Patsy Thompson: My website is PatsyThompsonDesigns.com and there’s a clickable link there for my blog where I really do try to post in-process photos and descriptions of what I’m making. I’ve learned so much from other peoples blogs so I try to contribute so people feel it’s worth their time to come to mine.
I have a Facebook page that I wish I were more active at and I do have an Instagram that I just started posting on. I’m one of those old farts who’s trying to become techno savvy.
Leah Day: You’re doing great! You’re doing great! I’ll definitely friend you on Instagram and share your stuff too. So that’ll be exciting.
Patsy Thompson: See I don’t even know how to friend you on Instagram!
Leah Day: Oh come on, you’ll figure that out.
Patsy Thompson: Alright I’ll figure that out!
Leah Day: That’s your new challenge for the year. Excellent. Thank you so much for coming on.
So that’s it for this episode thank you so much for listening! You can find the show notes and full transcript and links to the different products and places you heard about at LeahDay.com/Episode4. Definitely check that out.
And don’t forget to come check out our wonderful quilting kits available at LeahDay.com that will help you master free motion quilting on your home machine.
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