Saturday, May 2, 2015

Quilting with nano particles

New things are just too good to let go. Take my mini obsession with metallic threads. Thanks to Superior threads and their helpful sales staff, I have a new found love for sparkle. I have used their threads in many quilts stitched in 2014 and continued the trend into 2015.

Ditto for inset seams. They do add a few more steps to a finished piece, but the extra effort was totally worth it. They showed up in projects late 2014 (both quilts and quilt blocks). Looks like I wasn't the only one intrigued by their striking impact- the judges at QuiltCon liked them too. If you want to give them a try, I have a tutorial here.

But it's 2015 now, and I was looking again for that something that I would use again and again in different ways, perhaps even mixing it with inset seams and metallics. And I found it. It's magic, truly.

Let me first say, that this quilt was conceived in my head, but I quickly realized, it was not a quilt I could just go and piece. I did (gasp) draw a picture on a piece of note book paper. I then (while in the car but not at the wheel) transferred this design to graph paper (free hand). I toyed with colored pencils, but abandoned that because I kept changing my mind on the colors. I even decided on a size before starting. I did some basic counting and calculating and I did follow (for the most part) my own directions. I cut some pieces the wrong size, and forgot to cut other pieces all together- (not surprised at all). I encountered errors on the way (ha), made some design revisions to make the piecing more practical and ripped out several areas more than once when I just couldn't get the parts to align. I persevered. I mixed mediums, toyed with transparency and pulled out some skills I had become familiar and comfortable with over the last year. In the end I made a quilt. Once again inspiration comes from something utilitarian….. derived once more.

We have all seen the high visibility reflective strips on vests and work clothing. Makes the wearer more visible at night when light hits the silver strips. Safety first right? But, leave it to some top designers to be weaving these hair thin reflective yarns into their clothing lines making a beautiful custom suit illuminate when light hits it. I've also heard it's becoming a bit of a fashion trend with the often photographed. Once a flash hits the fabric the result is startling, showcasing the clothing but obscuring the wearer.  But I was wondering, what makes this fabric so special? How does the fabric work? Is it even fabric? Well, I never thought I'd get some hands on experience with nano particles, but that's just what this fabric is. Teeny tiny glass beads embedded in fabric. Space age technology meets old fashion craft. I wonder what a quilter who is open to trying new things could do with some of that very precious material?  Shall I tell you? But first, the story of the fabric because it is the best part of the whole process.

I did my research, called manufacturers, spoke to people who really didn't understand what I was looking for until I decided to just tell my story ("Hi, I'm a quilter and I'd like to use some of your material in a quilt"), to a lovely man who listened and then sold me some. Luckily he was open to me not buying the entire run of fabric (I think somewhere in the arena of 1000 yards). I just wanted a little, you know to try it, see how it worked. He sent me a small sample. I touched it (lovingly), showed it to my friends and family, used a flash light on it, ironed it even. I was smitten. So I called him back and talked myself into 2 yards. I talked him into 2 yards too, but  at the price I was paying 2 yards was a HUGE commitment.  It is the MOST expensive fabric I have ever purchased, I have big plans for this precious material, but first I needed to make one quilt and see how it went. I opted for minimal use, maximum impact, because one thing you need to know about this fabric before you start sewing with it, is that its one big drawback is sewing needle marks. Once you sew and make a needle hole, the hole is there forever, like leather, and paper, just way more expensive.

Derived inspiration No. 4
Front, no flash
there is a tiny inset piece in the lower right corner that is almost invisible without a flash.

Back, no flash

49 x 53 inches
original design (designed/pieced/quilted)
Front,  with flash
The fabric becomes reflective (actually retroreflective- throwing the light right back at the viewer).
The fabric "changes" properties from dull gray to bright white!

       top: retroreflective glass nanosphere fabric (seriously never thought I'd get to use that descriptor anywhere never mind in quilting). Without a flash the material is a dull almost pewter gray. With the flash, well it's magic.
before quilting/ front. Yes, I got really excited when I turned on the flash.

       Kona 100% cotton solids in snow and shadow.

       back: IKEA gray check duet cover, deconstructed, 100% cotton. Inset remnants of Kona cotton       quilting solids and reflective material left over from piecing the top.
Back, flash on.

Threads: Metallics- Superior threads: silver; Marathon Metallic 3015 (white)
               Cotton-  Aurifil 50 wt, 100% cotton in: 2021, 2630, 1158, 2606, 4020, 1153, 2810, 2600
                             Mettler, 40 wt  in 594

Batting: Hobbs heirloom 100% cotton

Quilting: dense straight line quilting with random areas of FMQ in the colorful insets with color matched threads all on a Bernina domestic machine (1630 as my 180 was in for service).

New things: reflective nano particulate material, pattern sketching, earnest attempt at direction following.
I used every little bit of that precious fabric. For reference the inset length is 1/4" the width, 1/8 ".
pieced inset seams. 

pieced inset seams with flash
There is not batting behind this s you can see the piecing details.

Tried and true things: inset seams,  inset binding, metallic threads, keen sense of adventure, more than occasional disregard of "directions".
Inset seams all the way into the binding.
Aurifil thread on the white, superior metallic thread in the gray.
A little sparkle makes this special.

Stay tuned for more projects using nano particulate reflective fabrics and reflective yarn (oh yeah, I talked my way into some of that too).


  1. You've created a "magical" quilt. That is just so cool to see the light reflecting in the quilt.

  2. Complete and total MAGIC! And I felt like I was reading a really good book when following your story-so fun. Love the way you think and your sense of adventure with sewing-truly inspiring. Love this quilt and hope to see it in person. Bravo! And btw the drawing things out and making a concrete plan before sewing is foreign to me as well-going to be the hardest part of Marci's blocks.


  3. I love this Stephanie!! The inset reflective strips add so much glamour and excitement to your quilt! It's very exciting to think where you will end up going with this new fabric!! Good on you and your adventurous spirit!!

  4. What fun, I love that you are so inquisitive.

  5. You are so talented. I love the simplicity of the piece with the wow of reflective material. Very, very cool!

  6. Your creativity and innovation are incredibly inspiring. I loved reading this and I love what you're doing here.


If you don't speak up, I won't know what's in your mind…….