A lot about quilting is easy and intuitive, but some things are not. Whenever possible, I try to avoid the latter, but they eventually catch up with me and I am forced to wrestle with them.
One of the more challenging things is making a neat satin stitch edging by machine. A satin stitch is a tight zig-zag that goes all the way around and covers the edges. The fabric underneath shouldn't show.
When I started making fabric postcards, maybe a decade ago, I was forced to confront my inadequate satin-stitch edging. I couldn't make it smooth, and little threads were poking out (kind of like the grey hairs on my head). In postcard exchanges, I would receive gorgeous cards edged with tight, neat, satin stitching. What was I doing wrong?
(Satin stitching tends to be used for smaller art quilts, and for small- scale tradeables, like Artist Trading Cards and fabric postcards. Especially if they contain fusible interfacing or web,which makes the edges sturdy. I wouldn't even try this technique on a quilt that didn't have fusible at the edges.)
I begged my swap-mates for their secrets. And they gave it to me cheerfully, though it wasn't what I wanted to hear. As it turned out, for quite a few of them, their secret was a cord. Or piece of thin yarn, or 6-strand embroidery floss, in a color that matched the thread. What they were doing was - at the point where the card was fully sandwiched and ready for an edge finish - butting that cord next to (not on top of) the edge, and going around once with a long zig-zag, swooping over the cord on the right swing, and going into the quilt on the left swing, all the way around.
I wasn't happy. It sounded impossible. And what about the corners?
But when I tried it, it turned out to be much easier than it sounds! Use an open-toed applique foot; sew slowly and carefully. At the corner, make sure your machine takes a stitch to the far right, then zigs in again as you turn the corner.
Once it's loosely zig-zagged on - meaning you can still see the cord and the edge of the quilt very clearly - THEN you go around, once, maybe twice more, with a much tighter, wider zig-zag satin stitch, almost completely covering the cord. (Crucial tip: Choose cord that's the same color as the thread, so if anything is showing through no one can tell. A marking pen in a matching color can also help with touch-ups.)
I knew I'd tamed a monster when I made the project below and at the top of this post:
Gosh, aren't those edges smooth! That's regular black thread, satin stitched!
Yes, that is the Hearst Castle. One summer, when I was about 13 our family drove a Rambler from Boston to Los Angeles, and then up the coast to San Francisco. On the way, we stopped at the Hearst Castle. The two swimming pools - indoor and outdoor- were insanely magnificent. Especially that outdoor pool.
Since that moment, my lifelong dream has been to fall, be pushed, and/or jump into that pool.
But also hoping to fulfill my lifelong dream of never being arrested, I still didn't have the courage to - whoops! splash! - fall in by the time, decades later, that my husband and I brought our children to see the castle. Well, OK, if I can't jump in it, I might as well make a quilt (or a quiltlet) out of it.
The glowing turquoise batik and wavy shape reflected the watery theme. Hearst's indoor pool had turquoise-and-real-gold tile, as I recall. Thus the gold lame 'frame' for each of the photos.
Also on that childhood trip, dad took a picture of my teenage brother standing next to one of Hearst's nude marble statues. Talk about awkward family photos! Mysteriously driven to inflict the same embarrassment on my children, I got my DH and DD to pose by a shapely headless lady. The tour guide told us that in Hearst's heyday, Harpo Marx once visited, and draped all the nudes with Hearst's mistress Marion Davies' abundant mink coats, as a gag. (Hearst was supposedly miffed and from then on gave Harpo the worst seat at the dinner table.) So who knows? Maybe Harpo hung minks on this very statue!
This quiltlet is 9" high and actually does function as a cuff bracelet. There's a button on both the front and back of the upper left hand corner, and a buttonhole in the lower left corner. I'm thinking about giving it to my mom. Mom's memory is mostly gone, but she did love the Hearst castle. Maybe it would ring a bell?
I used sturdy interfacing between the layers, and black cotton on the back. A six-strand black embroidery floss serves as the cording. The edges came out so well, that I now recognize that I have indeed fulfilled a lifelong dream of making a neat satin-stitch edging. Tomorrow, perhaps, a fall in a magnificent pool?
P.S. Here's an incredibly useful free Quilting Arts booklet about different ways to bind art quilts, including a variation of the cord method: http://theartquiltassociation.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/QA-Quilt-Binding-Methods.pdf.
Here's a similar finish, but with the cord highlighted: http://quiltwhimsy.blogspot.com/2012/01/friday-finishes-shapes-ii-corded.html
And here's a similar approach, but with light zigzagging only: http://luannkessi.blogspot.com/2011/01/cord-bound-edge-treatmenttutorial.html.
Do you have any satin stitch edging tips?