Embroidery, applique; go digital in computer age

Individual designs from “Scoop It Up” by Lunch Box Quilts can be mixed and matched on smaller projects, such as this table runner.

Angie Steveson: She’ll present a trunk show of her computerized embroidery designs Feb. 10 at Hi Fashion Fabrics in Grand Junction.


Computerized Machine Embroidery

Automatic formation of patterns occurs through a computerized embroidery system via digitized designs, design cards or discs. Patterns are stitched on background fabric in a hoop. The process yields three-dimensional effects with fabric and thread.

Like many needleworkers, I learned to embroider by hand at my grandmother’s knee — on tea towels, pillow cases and dresser scarves. Stem stitch, chain stitch, lazy daisy and French knot, even some satin stitch, although I wasn’t so good at that one.

Since I was a kid, sewing machines have advanced to a level of sophistication that earlier generations could not have imagined. The one I own now threads the needle for me, snips the thread at the end of my seams and automatically sews dozens of decorative stitches. Oh, yeah.

Manufacturers have moved the big industrial versions into sewing enthusiasts’ homes, as witnessed by the burgeoning horde of long-arm quilters, with their movable machines attached to 14-foot frames.

Along with that comes the trend of computerized machine embroidery, perhaps driven by perfection as much as by ease and speed.

That was the case for Angie Steveson of Lunch Box Quilts in Scottsdale, Ariz. She used to applique; by hand, but that took too long. When Steveson tried to guide her domestic machine satin stitch around her individual pieces, “I was never satisfied with the final outcome,” she says.

Then in 2003, she discovered embroidery machines, which digitize patterns and stitch them for you in a hoop, while you sit by and marvel at the magic of technology.

Steveson has made the computerized method of embroidery her forte, specifically with machine applique, and now designs and sells her own digital patterns at http://www.lunchboxquilts.com.

She’ll be at Hi Fashion Fabrics in Grand Junction for a trunk show of her designs and quilts from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 10. Cost to attend is $15.

One-day workshops are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 11 and 12 at the store, 2586 Patterson Road. Participants may choose any of her patterns and learn different hooping methods and types of stabilizers to get fast and accurate results. The cost for either day is $69. Beginners are welcome.

Steveson is a freelance certified Bernina educator, but workshop attendees may use any brand of machine.

In 2006, Steveson won a Viewers Choice award in a Bernina contest with a quilt she made of applique; sunflower designs. Her prize was a new machine, and then she began to perfect her designs online using Bernina software.

Having a degree in mechanical engineering helps with that process, Steveson says.

Now, she has 10 digital patterns and a wholesale business that is growing daily. Her patterns are inserted into the machine via a USB stick.

Some of her newest designs are “Scoop It Up” and “Boots and Bandanas.” Each theme contains many patterns, which can be mixed and matched. Her projects range from full-size quilts to table runners, aprons and kitchen towels.

Computerized machine embroidery has become popular with sewing enthusiasts in the past three years, says Heather Lofstrom, a department manager at Hi Fashion Fabrics.

“They were first used in garment sewing and art quilting,” she says. “But just last spring, the applique; patterns came onto the market.”

At last summer’s Black Canyon Quilt Show in Montrose, the best-of-show winner made her entry with computerized machine embroidery. She had been a student of Teresa Spurger, who teaches the techniques at Quilters’ Corner in downtown Grand Junction.

As an example of its popularity, store co-owner Johnna Keith says 60 quilters are enrolled in the 2011 Embroidery Club at the shop, 421 Colorado Ave. It runs every other month, and all brands of embroidery machines are welcome.

In contests, the question arises about the fairness of computerized designs being compared with handwork or traditional machine quilting. It’s similar to the art quilt vs. the traditional quilt in past years. Now, for the most part, the latter two are placed in separate categories.

Steveson thinks the same soon will be true for the computerized versions, especially as that’s the case at the most revered annual event, the International Quilt Festival in Houston.

In 2010, Houston judges chose three top winners and an honorable mention in Computer-Aided Machine Embroidery. You can view them at http://www.quilts.org.

Two of Steveson’s quilts were juried into this month’s Road to California Quilters Conference and Showcase in Ontario, Calif. Because there was no machine embroidery category, her “Island Breeze” quilt is competing in applique; and “About Trout” is entered in the innovative division.

“I look for that to change, though, because Houston has paved the way for it,” Steveson says.

One thing’s for sure; with all the options for 21st century quilters, none of us has an excuse to be bored with this fascinating and progressive art form.

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