Embroidery machines advance into quilt arena

A modern quilt features two different quilting designs stitched in a hoop on a computerized embroidery machine.

“Dashing Through the Snow” was machine embroidered on silk dupioni by Heather Lofstrom, Bernina department manager at Hi Fashion Fabrics in Grand Junction.

This tree ornament was created with Christmas collection software for free-standing lace, cutwork and machine embroidery.

Teresa Spurger with Quilters’ Corner in Grand Junction teaches this “Goose Tracks” block-of-the-month embroidery class. The pattern by Hoopsisters allows you to quilt-as-you-go and assemble the finished blocks as the last step.

So you think you’re proficient in multi-tasking? Well, that skill could slip a notch or two compared with the newest trend — multi-hooping.

It’s one of the catchphrases in computerized machine embroidery, a sewing system that’s commanding attention these days.

Computerized machines process artwork and automatically stitch it onto fabric. The operator watches the design appear before her eyes.

These high-tech machines come equipped with hoops — usually in two sizes — to secure the fabric. The hoops attach to the machine and clench the fabric tightly so it doesn’t move while the design is being embroidered within its specific parameters.

In the past 2½ years, computerized machine embroidery has crossed over into quilting, says Heather Lofstrom, Bernina department manager at Hi Fashion Fabrics, 2586 Patterson Road.

With options for endless embroidery and reference marks on the designs, she says blocks and borders can be quilted in a hoop. Applique and trapunto are possibilities, too.

“I can do five other things while the machine quilts for me,” says Lofstrom, who describes herself as the ultimate multi-tasker.

Some quilters are looking at computerized embroidery machines as alternatives to hiring long-arm quilters to finish their patchwork tops.

At Quilters’ Corner, 421 Colorado Ave., co-owners Bill and Johnna Keith see the same trend. They sell Janome machines.

“With the machines’ evolution, much wider applications are available,” Bill Keith says.

Not only can people modify and decorate ready-made garments, embroider pillows and gift tags, and stitch free-standing lace, but they also can piece together blocks with the machines and quilt each as they go. An example is the store’s Goose Tracks embroidery block of the month.

A few years ago, embroidery machines in a quilt shop may have been unusual, Bill Keith says, but now they’re integrated with quilting. He credits the larger 8-inch by 12-inch hoop as a major factor.

All types of designs can be purchased on CDs or USB sticks, says Kari Harvey, Hi Fashion Fabrics store manager. One embroidery line by award-winning national quilter Diane Gaudinsky is capable of covering an entire quilt.

“By buying designs on CDs, you don’t need a separate computer,” says Johnna Keith. “You just load it onto a memory device (in the machine).”

For those who transfer embroidery designs from their personal computers to their sewing machines, Hi Fashion will offer a Computer 101 class in the spring.

It’s for sewing enthusiasts “who want to become more familiar with the technology,” says store co-owner Jeff Vogel.

They’ll learn such basics as “how to how to drop and drag” information, transfer designs and find designs they’ve saved on their computers.

“It’s to help them navigate the process,” Lofstrom says. “Our customers have asked for it.”

Hi Fashion Fabrics already offers monthly class projects for machine embroiderers, such as pincushions and tea towels. Free webinars also are scheduled over lunch hours, allowing customers to view Internet demonstrations with Bernina educators. Next year’s topics include sweatshirts and jackets, notebook covers and embroidery for cards.

In late spring, the store plans a machine embroidery block of the month class. Multiple hoopings will be required, Lofstrom says, which allow for “continuous embroidery or bigger designs that line up perfectly.”

At Adams Vac and Sew, 457 Colorado Ave., and in Montrose, at 509 E. Main St., Husqvarna Viking and Pfaff computerized embroidery machines are available.

“The machines have become so much faster that (the manufacturers) have had to put industrial-style needles in them,” says store co-owner Mary Alice Myers.

She also notes that a new thread delivery system, introduced last year, calculates thread weight and stitch length. That, along with sensors to detect fabric thickness, ease the headache of thread tension issues.

In addition to stippling an entire quilt top in a hoop, the machines can stitch fancy old-fashioned cutwork “and actually cut out” the designs for you, Myers says.

This past week, the Grand Junction store sponsored a class on thread velvet, sewn with rayon, cotton or metallic threads. The result is the texture of velvet, she says, and is especially pleasing in monograms.

Fifty-five to 60 sewing enthusiasts learn about new tools, designs and techniques at an Embroidery Club that meets regularly at Quilters’ Corner.

In January, the shop will launch a club called Digitizing TNT, “because it is dynamite,” Johnna Keith emphasizes.

The software is more user-friendly now, she says, and any image can be turned into an embroidery pattern by assigning stitches to it. “You can create your own designs.”

Other materials besides fabric can be embellished with machine embroidery, she says — leather, cork, balsa wood, even metal.

Lofstrom has embroidered on all types of fabric, “everything from flannel to silk dupioni.” She lists three essentials for the process: choice of design, choice of fabric and choice of stabilizer.

“If you get all the variables right, you’ll enjoy the process.” This link between computerized embroidery and quilting is “definitely the new wave,” she says.

So, quilters, what do you think? Up for a new adventure in 2012? You’ll have to jump through a few hoops, but the results could be amazing.

Email Sherida.Warner@ GJSentinel.com.


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