A Little Faith, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pfaff Sensormatic Foot

I love to make Christmas presents if I can. For last Christmas, our Quilt Club decided to try a Secret Santa with a maximum budget of £10. We all pulled a name out of a hat and had to get a gift for that one person. When I read the name I’d pulled, I was really pleased – I’d got Stef, our Fearless Leader and friendly local Rough Collie enthusiast. She has five Rough Collies of various generations, which she shows and breeds and does very well with. I decided the thing to do would be to creep on her FB page for doggy pics, find a nice one and then interpret it in fabric and thread. Result? One unique gift with minimal financial outlay – I just needed to buy a bit more bondaweb!

After looking at several doggy pics, I picked out a photo of Faith (centre, top) as my cover girl – she’s a pretty tri-coloured girl, and the colours and shapes in the photo looked like they’d be reasonably straightforward for a novice threadpainter to interpret.

Figuring out how to get from a photo on my laptop to an image in fabric required some thought and experimentation. I knew I wanted to lay down “blocks” of colour and then add details with thread painting, but how? I explored various different routes, but finally printed a simplified black-and-white copy of the image onto freezer paper, drew around the different tonal areas, then carefully cut out each bit with a craft knife and fused it onto fabric that I’d already ironed bondaweb to. Yes, it was a fiddle! Luckily, my fabric and thread stash already contained all the materials I needed to recreate Faith, all I had to do was audition assorted fabric scraps and FQs until I got a reasonable match to the colour version. As each piece was cut out, I fused it onto a background of lilac batik – it was the dog I was recreating, not what was behind her!

I did make one rather obvious boob, however. I didn’t cross-reference between the B&W and colour images enough, so when I stepped back and looked at my complete fused image, I discovered that I’d inadvertently used a swathe of grey where I needed tan. Ooooops! What to do….?

Markal Paintstiks to the rescue! I managed to mix up a pretty convincing tan shade and applied it over the (thankfully pale!) grey – sorted! Once that was reasonably dry and fixed in place, I cracked on with the quilting, and here’s where the sensormatic foot comes in.

That lil plastic almost-nothing right there? That thing caused me serious conniptions when I first started using my Pfaff QE 4.2 for quilting. I tried a couple of other FMQ feet and finally settled on a hopping foot as my weapon of choice. But I couldn’t find it! I was stuck, needing to get this project finished and I couldn’t find my fave FMQ foot! ARRRRRGH!

In fairness, as I’ve become more adept at FMQ with the Pfaff, I had been considering getting the sensormatic foot out and trying it again; I don’t like to be beaten by a piece of plastic the size of my fingertip! But I’m not sure whether I would have tried it again so soon without circumstances forcing me. In the event, I saddled it up and gave it a whirl on a test piece and…… IT WORKED. It was FINE! It needs a bit of judicious fiddling with the foot height and tension, but it behaved well enough that I felt comfortable unleashing it on my actual piece.

Although threadpainting is very often done with a free-motion zig-zag stitch, I tried this and my machine just didn’t seem comfortable with the notion, maybe because I couldn’t set the stitch length to zero? In the event, it was quicker to use a free-motion straight stitch and do my own zig-zags, and in fact this worked out better because I could “draw” in the longer hairs of Faith’s coat.

I used a wide variety of black, grey, white, tan, and brown threads in metallic, rayon, polyester and cotton to create the texture and colours of Faith’s coat, layering and blending where necessary. To support the piece, I used two layers of Stitch’n’Tear, which I have now decided is brilliant stuff! Even so, the density of the stitching made the piece very rippled and uneven, so I blocked it by giving it a good soaking and then mercilessly nailing it into shape with T-pins on my design wall – hooray for polystyrene sheets!

By pulling very firmly and using copious pins around the edges of the stitched area, I managed to get everything pretty well flattened out and behaving itself, and it thankfully stayed that way once it was dry and unpinned!

To finish everything off, I layered it with two layers of wadding and a backing of more purple batik (Stef’s favourite colour is purple!), then quilted around the stitched area with a sort of cloudy, flowery filler so that the main design really popped out against the background.

I was extremely pleased with how it came out, and I particularly love that the character of some of the fabrics still peeks through the threadpainting. More importantly, Stef loved it too! <3

….oh, and I did find my other FMQ foot eventually – apparently I’d hidden it from myself in a box of Clover Wonderclips. As you do…!

6 thoughts on “A Little Faith, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pfaff Sensormatic Foot”

  1. Wow! The thread work is absolutely amazing. It looks as though you can run your fingers through her coat. Thank you for describing the process in detail. For those of us too chicken to try this type of piece, it was very interesting.

    1. Thank you so much, Katie! For the longest time, free-motion threadpainting has been a bit of a black art to me, but actually it proved to be a lot more forgiving and fun than I imagined. I learned a lot from doing this piece, and would totally do another (although next time I might think twice before I have joins between bits of freezer paper slap bang in the most detailed area of the image!). Having the broad colour areas already in place helps loads, and I also sketched in light marks with a fabric pencil as I went along so that I could get the hair going the direction.

    1. Thank you! There were a few tears when she opened it! It was something I’d wondered about trying for a little while, and I definitely think I picked the right photograph to try it with, but I’d recommend anyone to give it a go, it’s much more forgiving than you might think.

    1. Thank you! It was a lot of fun, I was surprised how forgiving threadpainting is. Definitely worth a go!

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