ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Friday, October 28, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

There are a number of questions I am frequently asked about products I use, so I thought I would address these in a blog post.

What batting do I use?
If I had a dollar for every time I am asked this question, I would be a rich woman! It happens after nearly every trunk show, and in nearly every workshop I teach. Here is the answer: Quilters Dream Cotton. The majority of my quilts contain Quilters Dream Cotton in "Request" weight (their lowest loft batting). I don't need warmth for art quilts, and using a light-weight batting keeps the quilt flat and light for shipping to shows and storing in small spaces. I am often asked if I've tried bamboo batting, etc. No, I haven't, I am very happy with Quilters Dream Cotton, Request weight, and have no need to change. I also doubt that my work would look very different with another batting, it just might be thicker or loftier. I'm far more concerned about improving my design than changing my batting.

What cotton do I use for my hand-dyed fabrics?
I use "Combed Cotton Lawn" from TrendTex Fabrics in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. They are a wholesaler, so you can ask any quilt shop you frequent to order it for you (Item 1377, Colour 10). In order to buy wholesale from TrendTex you need to be a business and you have to meet their first-time minimum order policy of $1,000. I love the high thread count of this cotton, and have not found one that dyes more vibrantly. It is pfd (prepared for dyeing) so you don't need to scour it (just wet and wring before dyeing), and it has a beautiful sheen that shows off the vibrant colour to its maximum.

Why doesn't my raw-edge applique fray?
Two reasons. One is the high-quality, high-thread count cotton I use (details above), and the other is the Steam a Seam fusible web I use in my work (details below).

What fusible web do I use?
I prefer Steam a Seam Lite. There are four Steam a Seam products (all sold by the Warm Company):
1. Steam a Seam: Regular weight fusible with one backing paper.
2. Steam a Seam 2: Regular weight fusible with two backing papers.
3. Steam a Seam Lite: light-weight fusible with one backing paper.
4. Steam a Seam Lite 2: light-weight fusible with two backing papers.
I prefer the light-weight fusible web with one backing paper (Steam a Seam Lite). I don't need the second backing paper and it gets thrown out anyway. Any Steam a Seam product with a "2" after it will have a backing paper on each side (two papers). This means the product has more of the pressure-sensitive, re-positionable adhesive (on both sides actually), but I find the lite one has enough of this property to keep me happy. I find Steam a Seam products easy to use, consistently reliable, and the pressure sensitive adhesive lets me build a design that stays together until I'm sure I want to make it permanent with an iron.
BEWARE: Steam a Seam gets old if you don't store it in an air-tight container! When it is old it starts coming away from the paper and is harder to use.

It only occurred to me a couple of weeks ago, while teaching at the QUINCE Jam Retreat, just how much Steam a Seam gets sold because of me. A student who was registered in all of my classes at this retreat reported that she needed a total of SEVEN meters of Steam a Seam for the classes. Hmmm ... maybe I should tell the company.

What sewing machines do I use?
My main sewing machine is a Bernina 150 that I purchased in 1998. It is simple, easy to use, and good quality. It has all the important features I love: needle down, good stitch, good tension, and a knee lift. I can put the free-motion foot on, drop the feed dogs, and proceed to quilt. I really have no desire for a more updated machine. I also have a small Janome Gem Platinum that is a dynamic little travel machine. It is light, has many of the features of the bigger and more expensive Janomes, and cost very little. I take it with me when I want to sew on the road or when I need to do a demo in class.

Does my sewing machine have a stitch regulator?
No it doesn't. I learned to free motion quilt before stitch regulators. I also love the humanness of "unregulated stitching". It is almost like a hand signature.

Do I have a special quilting frame or long arm?
No. I do all my quilting on my domestic sewing machine.

What kind of sewing machine needles do I use for machine quilting?
For more than a decade, I successfully used the following:
"Quilting" for cotton or polyester threads
"Embroidery" for rayon threads (loosen upper tension 1 or 2 notches)
"Metallica" for metallic threads (loosen upper tension quite a bit, often down to 1.
This system worked so well for me that when I heard about Superior Thread's advice to use a 90/14 needle I paid little attention. However, after testing it, and seeing how much simpler this would make the life of my students, I have switched to recommending Topstitch 90/14 needles only. It means students only need to buy one type of needle, and it works!

What kind of thread do I use?
I have a huge stash of threads I've collected over the last 15 years and will use any brand from that stash if it is the right colour for the project. However, when I go to purchase threads these days it is almost always Superior Threads. The company educates about its products to ensure that you will be successful using them, and all their threads are manufactured in Japan where most of the best quality threads are being made these days. We have our own Canadian educator, Anita Zobens in Dundas, Ontario, who also sells Superior Threads from her website.

Am I ever going to use commercial fabrics again?
That depends. 99% of the time I use my own hand-dyes because low-water immersion dyeing produces a mottled look that mimics the look of dappled light you will see in nature. My work is mostly inspired by nature. There are many batiks and some other commercial fabrics that can produce this look as well, but for the most part I prefer to dye my own and can get a wider range of values this way. I can't see me ever using calicoes and florals or patterned fabrics again, but never say never.


  1. Thanks for all the valuable information! Your work is so beautiful.

  2. What a great post! I am going to save that one. Thanks, looks like it was a lot of work... and btw, you should definitely tell Steam A Seam how much you do sell for them!

  3. I enjoyed reading your answers to FAQs. Thanks for letting us know more about you. Superior Threads are really fine, and the advice of 90/14 needles is excellent. I like it when I agree with someone's post--makes me think I'm doing something right!

  4. Thanks for answering these most questions--every one is one that I would have asked.


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