Nov 9, 2014

a machine that changed my life

This is a story about a machine that changed my life.

There are plenty of transformative machines that have changed our lives, of course --- the car, the fax machine, um... the Weedeater. But no machine has changed me so personally and profoundly as a new Bernina I bought two years ago this month.

Hang with me and I'll explain. But please note, this is not a shameless plug. No one asked me to write this. These words are the real deal - an expression of how the way I approach my own quiltmaking has completely evolved.

For example, here's me 2 years ago.

"Roseville Album" by Teresa Duryea Wong. Hand applique, hand quilted. 2011-2013.
Based on a pattern by Kim McLean.
And here's me today.

Wanna Cookie? Teresa Duryea Wong, 2014. Hand applique, machine quilted. Original design. 
FINALIST: Special Exhibition: "It's Raining Cats and Dogs."
Holy Cow. Teresa Duryea Wong, 2014. Fused applique, machine quilted.
Original design. 2014.
For 16 years I was a hand quilter. I made mostly traditional quilts. I believed that hand quilting was superior and worth the time and effort it took to make things. I still believe that hand quilting is a beautiful technique, and there are moments when I miss the tedious, repetitive hand work and its outcome.

But one day, something lit up in my head.

It was 2012, and I was walking around at the Houston International Quilt Festival. I stopped at the Bernina booth, and without planning or even a warning, I made the largest single purchase I have ever made on a machine that is for pure fun.  Once I sat down and saw all the benefits, saw the technology and what it allowed you to do - well, I wanted in!

I have to admit, the first year was a huge learning curve... and there was a lot of frustration as I tackled new techniques. I am not the most patient person. My local dealer offered classes - including a half-dozen, full-day classes that were included with the purchase of the machine. I took every one of them, plus a few more. There were also several trips to the dealer for repairs and problems, and lots of queries to the Bernina 800 series Yahoo user group. Bet you didn't know there was such a thing, did ya? But let me tell you... this user group rocks. The ladies there know their machines and someone is always willing to help, or at least calm you down!

You see, free motion quilting is like driving a car. It takes time to learn and even more time to be good at it.

This past year, like magic, I now rule my machine!

The story of how this happened is long. For starters, I figured out that the thing eats oil for breakfast - yes, seriously! Of course they advise you to oil the machine often, and even a cute little 'check oil' icon pops up on the screen. But I figured out, if you're sewing all day, at full speed, like I often do, feed the thing oil every two hours at least... and sometimes, I feed it every hour! Its kinda like Little Shop of Horrors ... "feed me, Seymour."

The other thing I figured out is that not all threads are created equal. At first I tried some ordinary threads... and then some shiny threads, and some thin threads and some thick ones. Lots of cuss words and maybe a few tears later... I discovered Aurifil.  It's like raising kids, there are some things you just gotta figure out on your own.

Look at that rack of pure Italian beauty! Don't you just love it?

Aurifil thread is strong, it is smooth, the colors are beautiful, and it makes quilting more fun.  I can't fully explain exactly why it is so much better, but I use 50 weight, 2-ply, and it is 100% cotton. And that combination just works. Plus, its made in Italy. Need I say more?

The other thing about my Bernina is that feet do matter! You gotta pay attention to these little jewels and make the investment to get the right tool for the right job. For me, the biggest discovery and the biggest change that made a difference for me personally was to switch from the BSR (Bernina Stitch Regulator) to the open embroidery feet for free motion quilting (or FMQ as we say in our quilty language). Using these feet (44C is my fave) gives me free motion freedom, stress free sewing, beautiful stitches and hours of entertainment!

When properly fed and with the right thread and the right foot, my machine just purs along while I stitch. And that makes me both productive and happy.

Just like a car, FMQ is also fast and it gets you to where you're going so much faster than hand quilting! Its something akin to the difference between riding a horse-drawn cart or flying with Hans Solo at warp speed!

So that brings me back to my two art quilts.

While my hand quilted beauties took me on average two to three years to complete, these two art quilts were made in a matter of months. But hold on a sec... this evolution is more than just time.

Rather, it's the very idea of FMQ itself and the fact that I could eventually master it that helped me see things differently, even think differently. And this is my whole point.

While I once relied on store-bought patterns and color-coordinated collections of fabrics (nothing wrong with that - I cherish all my quilts and I still love all styles of quilting...), I now design my own patterns and I use a plethora of techniques to make my own color from a variety of fabrics.

I dream of painting-sized images in my head and I work out how I can construct my own art using my machine!

Yep, evolution is part of the game I guess... and the journey continues. But I now consider myself an art quilter. In fact, my dog quilt "Wanna Cookie" was accepted into a juried competition for the International Quilt Festival. It was on view in Houston and it will now travel for two years to various museum shows and quilt exhibitions. Isn't that cool?

But I just can't stop there. If you are still with me, there is still more to the story!!!

A couple months ago, I started a small business!!! I make custom quilted tote bags specifically designed to hold needlepoint projects.  I sell these to a needlepoint retail shop and the joy of making something that will sell and will be used is enormously rewarding.

So... when I walked out the doors of the 2014 Houston International Quilt Festival for the last time, I got to thinking about the past two years.

Belive me... never did I envision launching a small business when I wandered into that Bernina booth two years ago. But there you have it.

Two years, two art quilts, and one small business start-up later, I gotta say, its been a heck of an evolution.  

And all because of a machine that changed my life! 

Thanks Bernina!


  1. Thanks for taking us on your journey. I have two Berninas and love them both, BUT I bought a Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen at this year's festival. Now I have to make room for it in my studio.
    BTW your work is wonderful and I still love that fabulous hand appliqué you did. I don't want to do it either, but it sure is nice to look at.

  2. After all your trials and tribulations with your Bernina, it's great to hear it is now working out so well. Makes me feel like I'm still in the dark ages chugging along with my Bernina 160!! She quilts OK though and the only thread she seems to be fussy about is metallic.
    What a change in your style! But how great too, to have both techniques at your finger tips. Your bags are getting more inventive - i love the big purple one and the design of the handle on the red one.

  3. Lovely story!! I can relate. Going from my tiny White quilter's machine to a Janome 6600 seemed absurd at the time. And for quite a while afterward. Now I can't imagine quilting without it.

  4. oil every day??!! I have a Bernina, albeit an old one, a 1630. I clean and oil every bobbin change. This one sure is pretty, but I don't know if these new machines are for me since I can't lift a heavy one to take in for classes. How has that part been? Is the larger harp really big enough to deal with quilting? Guess so... obviously! Thanks T-
    LeeAnna at not afraid of color