Monday, November 15, 2010

Quilt date for November

Since I was moved to post yesterday about my sewn jewelry, I thought it would be a good idea to tell you more about my technique of sewn cords.  And since it's the fifteenth of the month, time for a quilt date, it seemed serendipitous to do both at once.

This technique uses the zigzag stitch to embellish cords or bundles of cords.  Great for necklaces, and also additions to quilts. 

War Rationale 2 (detail)

Crop Management  (detail)

The first step is to find a cord or multiple cords to be the base of your stitching and decide how long you want the finished cord to be.  Then choose threads for your machine to match or complement your cord.  Sometimes you want the same color for all three; sometimes you want a contrast color.  Metallic threads work particularly well in the bobbin, where they have little chance to break or misbehave, and add a bit of sparkle. 

For the photos in this post, I've used different colors for the base, top thread and bobbin thread, so you can see better what's going on.  In real life you'll probably have lower contrast, so the bits of base cord peeking through the stitching won't be as obvious as they are here.  Or you can stitch densely and cover every bit of the base.  For these pictures, my base is three cords held together in a bundle.

The basic sewn cord is just thread zigzagged over a base.  To make it easier to see what's going on, and to give you more control over the stitching, remove the presser foot.  This makes you vulnerable to sewing over your own fingers, so BE CAREFUL!!!  Don't try this after two glasses of wine with dinner. 

You need to lower the presser foot lever to engage the tension disks and make sure the top thread feeds evenly.  But since there's no actual foot to hold down the cord, the feed dogs will not pull the cord along as you sew.  Instead, you'll have to grab the cord behind the needle and pull it along as you sew, and hold the cord in front of the needle to keep it taut and guide it directly under the needle. 

If you pull quickly, the zigzag stitches will be spread out along the cord.  If you pull slowly, the stitches will bunch up and cover the cord densely.  If you pull backward, it's like hitting the reverse control -- your stitches will go back over your previous stitching and make a double layer.

If you want the stitching to wrap snugly around the base cord(s), set your stitch width just a little wider than the cord itself (make a sample first).  If you want the stitching fairly loose for special effect, use the mazimum width.  But there's a tradeoff here -- the narrower the stitch width, the harder it is to feed your cord smack down the middle without the needle hitting it now and then.  After you've practiced a little you'll figure out what width suits you best.

The zigzag stitching usually encases the base cord but doesn't pierce it.  That allows the thread to slide up and down the base cord, which allows certain special effects.  But when you start your stitching, you want it to stay put.  Anchor your first stitch either by sewing through the cord or by making a knot in the base cord and stitching through the knot.

Now you have thread ends that you may not want to be visible.  So pull the thread ends toward you and incorporate them into the bundle with the base cord.  Hold them there with your fingers or tweezers, in front of your needle.  Grab the cord behind the needle with your other hand, and pull gently while the machine stitches. 

Go for a while and see what happens -- try pulling the cord at different speeds, and different stitch widths, and see how that changes the look of the finished cord. 

Now it's time for tricks. 

-- Make a thread bobble.  Make several fairly long stitches by pulling the cord quickly.  Now stop and pull the thread back toward you.  The stitches will pile up behind the needle.  You can leave them just so, in an airy little swirl, at left in the photo above, or you can stitch back and forth over the pile a few times till it's densely covered to make a solid bobble, at right in the photo. 

-- Make a thread burst.  Hold the back of the cord firmly.  Take your tweezers or other narrow sewing tool  (toothpick?  skewer?  seam ripper?) and pull an inch of thread out of the bobbin.  Continue stitching; the extra bobbin thread will be caught in the stitching and make pretty loops.  Especially nice if you have metallic thread in the bobbin -- the loops will sparkle.

-- Make a cord bobble.  Grab the free end of the cord and bend it back on itself.  Hold the two ends together with the hand behind the needle.  Grab the U of the bend and pull it a quarter-inch toward you (or longer, if you want a longer bobble).   Stitch over both cords, pulling gently away from you, till you get to the U.  Again, grab the U and pull it toward you till the overlapped section is as long as you want the bobble to be.  Bend the free end of the cord back toward you so there are now three cords in the bobble area.  Stitch all three together till you get back to the end.  If you want, go back and forth a couple of times to make the bobble really dense.

-- Make a cord loop.  Grab the free end of the cord and pull it to the side to make a loop.  Let the loop hang to the side while you continue stitching onto the free end of the cord.  If you want, you can put a knot into the loop, or run the loop through a bead, then catch the end of the loop back into the stitching.  This way the cord loop will not be stitched, just showing its natural color.

If you want the loop to be covered with zigzagged thread, stitch for a couple of inches down the cord, then stitch back (pull with your front hand, not your back hand) to the starting point.  Now thread your beads and make your loop or knot.

-- Leave thread ends hanging from the cord.  At any point, you can pull out a length of thread and let it hang free of the zigzagging, just as you did with the thread burst.  Or you can incorporate a new thread into the stitching and let the ends hang free at beginning or end.  Or you can let the loose thread end parallel the cord for a while, then pull the ends back into the sigzagging. 

-- Join two or more cords by zigzagging them together. This is particularly nice if you want a multi-strand necklace to hold together at the back of the neck.

This technique lends itself to incorporating beads or other embellishments.  You can string beads on the cord before you start zigzagging (dip the last half-inch of the end of the cord into Fray-Check and let it dry; once it stiffens it's easy to thread small beads). In the photo below I threaded seed beads onto just one of the three cords in the base bundle. 

For larger beads, thread them onto your finished cord.  Or you can thread beads onto a second cord and incorporate that into the zigzagging.  When you string beads onto a cord, make sure the other end is knotted, or don't cut it off the spool yet.  this prevents your beads from escaping onto the floor, from which they will probably never return. 

If a bead has a large enough hole for your sewing machine needle to go through, you can simply attach it while you zigzag.  Carefully place the bead underneath the needle and lower the needle through the bead, turning the wheel with your right hand and holding the bead in place with your left hand.  Keep your foot off the foot pedal while you do this; it could be dangerous to accidentally stomp on the gas and send the needle hurtling downward while your fingers or your tools are in the way.

If you want a bead to hang at a certain level, make a thread bobble or a knot underneath to keep it from slipping down. 

If you want to make a slip-on necklace (no clasp), finish the cord and string the beads.  Check the length, then cut the cord an inch longer than you need.  Overlap the two ends and zigzag them together.  To make sure one end doesn't slip out of the bundle, make sure your stitching pierces both cords.  Or put a knot into each cord and make sure to stitch through each knot. 

If you want your cords to hang loose, decide how to finish the ends.  When I use these cords in a quilt, I catch the top ends into a seam or under a binding, so the cords emerge from between pieces of the quilt.  I usually put an overhand knot into the bottom end and let the threads hang free into a little fringe.  If the free thread ends look skimpy, you can incorporate an extra thread or two into the last couple inches of stitching, so you have more thread ends in your "tassel."

I suggest the first date be a little necklace, because everybody has some beads lying around.,  It's highly unlikely, but if by some awful luck your necklace is too ugly to wear you can always cut the cord, remove the beads and start over.  Try a monochrome color palette; ordinary sewing thead is fine, and glitzy threads like rayon or metallic are flashy.  For the cording, anything you have on hand will work, from as lightweight as two or three strands of carpet and button thread, to as heavy as rattail cord or household string. 

Let me know how it works out. If you want to send me a picture of what you made, I’ll post it.  Have fun!


  1. I am glad you posted this. I was looking for an online tutorial of the technique to pass onto my Machine embroidery students. We did this technique the other day along with edge stitching with zigzag/satin stitch. I have instructions in some of my books, but we are meant to include ICT in the lesson (which is ridiculous if you are always assigned to rooms with no computers or interactive whiteboards!) So the way I get around it is to give them an online link which relates to the topic.

    So, if you get a few extra hits from the UK after Wednesday, you will know why!
    Thanks again. I will have to read it through again and try one or two of the variations to have as samples.
    Sandy in the UK

  2. Great ideas and tutorial! Thanks for taking time make it.

  3. Wonderful tutorial ! Thanks for sharing such a detail tutorial..I will certainly try it and hope that it would work great for me....Indeed, lovely tips..

  4. thank you for this great tutorial! I really love it and will try out that soon!
    many greetings from Austria