Over time, I have grown increasingly fond of my Bernina. I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss about them was about when I first bought it and I did have a few false starts with blunted needles causing endless aggravation but apart from that it has been smooth sailing and beautiful stitching. As well as being a great machine, one of the fun things about it is the ridiculous number of specialist feet you can get for it as well.
Sewing machine feet, at least if you buy manufacturer brand ones, are rarely cheap accessories and there are few that doing things that would be unachievable by a skilled sewer with standard feet. However, they can make life a lot easier even in the hands of the beginner and help you achieve more professional, consistent results, with a lot less stress, so as I hobbyist I tend to thoroughly approve of such things!
I’ve been a bit obsessed with all things cording lately (I blame too much time doing kumihimo) and so when I saw Bernina’s free motion couching foot (#43) for cording on sale I thought it was the type of serendipitous chance not to be passed up.
While it’s not easy, I do enjoy free motion work and I was curious as to what this foot had to offer. Normally when you think about couching for hand embroidery, you would create little loops over the thread to hold it snugly in place, without ever going through it. The reasons for this are obvious with precious metal threads, which are easy to break and destroy just from moving around, let alone jabbing a needle through them. For other cord though it’s more of a matter of practicality, as it’s not much fun trying to shove a needle through thick layers of both fabric and tightly-wound cord.
This foot instead tries to invisibly stitch directly through the thread to secure it in place as an embellishment. You see a lot of this type of decoration on military wear and who doesn’t love a bit of bling and texture?
The foot comes with two hook-on feed attachments for the cord (which one you need depends on whether your machine is a 5.5 or 7.5 mm version) and a handy threader for the foot. The threader works great but the wire is so thin that it does a great job of pretending to be invisible. I suspect that losing this one is a matter of inevitability.
Using the foot is relatively straightforward – Bernina has a nice video guide here but it’s mostly a case of attaching the guide (the small one goes by the thread cutter), threading through the guide, though the guide on the foot and then through the hole (I’ve tried to show this in the photo above) which the threader makes very easy. Then you’re ready to snap it in place and go.
I had some awesome recycled string I’ve been using over on my weaving sampler that I thought would be great to start playing with. It’s a soft, but relatively thick thread, and I didn’t have too many problems getting it to feed through the foot evenly. I was using a standard 80/10 needle and a slightly stiffer than usual calico (I wish I could remember where I got this stuff, it’s a great weight for sampling on the machine as it doesn’t deform and flop around as some calicos do).
From there, I just started having fun. As long as the thread isn’t likely to snag and so can feed through evenly, using this couching foot doesn’t feel too different to standard free motion embroidery. There are a few parts you can see where the couching stitches have completely missed the cord, as well as parts where the stitches are more visible and on the surface than others, but as long as you keep an eye on the cord tension and nothing goes too funny with the rest of the machine it should be okay.
As the string wasn’t too hard, I was able to layer up several regions of it to make some silly shapes as well and didn’t have any problems going back on myself. I was also experimenting with different couching speeds. You can see in some regions the string looks quite damaged and goes almost fluffy – this is because the individual threads that make up each ply aren’t twisted together at all, so it’s easy to damage – but you can exaggerate this effect by increasing the number of stitches per cord length so the needle starts to disrupt the fibres more. Couching more loosely gives the string a different texture on the surface – as it’s quite thick it can then roll around and is probably more likely to snag, something that might be important to consider for clothing pieces.
I had an immense amount of fun doodling with string and being pleasantly surprised by how easy everything was to work with. Fancying a challenge, I thought I’d have a go with a few different types of ribbon. The yellow is silk ribbon that is left over from some ribbon embroidery project, a bit too lavishly expensive for sampling ordinarily. The blue cord is satin rattail left over from some braiding work and the red is some horrible cheap gift ribbon that I cut in half as it was impossible to thread through the foot otherwise.
The satin rattail (which I think is 1 mm) and the silk ribbon both worked like a charm and were very easy to use. I think the ribbon shows the green thread up to its fully advantage and the random walk I was working on was very angular with lots of changes in direction – this is the situation I find hardest to keep the couching cleanly going through the cord. I think its something that will come with practice though.
The cheap satin ribbon was horrible though. It was very stiff compared to the silk ribbon and I had to really drag it through the foot opening and a few points. I remember one teacher mentioning the folly of trying to do ribbon embroidery with anything other than silk ribbon and I completely understand why now! Highly not recommended. Pick something soft and flexible unless you have a good reason to struggle.
On the subject of tools and gadgets for making life both easier and more exciting, I picked up a Leclerc fringe twister recently as I’ve been getting back into weaving. Normally, you’d just use this to twist together the ends to finish up a weaving piece but I saw no good reason why it couldn’t be turned into a rudimentary cord maker.
It turned out that was a bit trickier than I had envisioned. I took some left overs from another weaving project with the intention of making 1 m of cord as you get through it surprisingly quickly while sewing. However, getting the massive amount of twist you need to make a solid cord and having any control over where the twist goes is very tricky! I might have had more luck plying this on a wheel!
Handy hints I would say are to make sure all your strings are the same length, and you keep the twister as centred as possible – you could use a G clamp to stick it to a table if you had the room. Preferably tie the other end of the cord to something and then you can twist and run around the cord trying to manually move the twist about to make what you want. You’ll need to knot the end as this isn’t a balanced yarn but I have to admit I really liked what came out and it sewed like a dream as well. The threads I used are slightly thinner than perle 8 cotton and the resulting cord was around 1 mm diameter so worked really well with the foot. Oh the possibilities!
If anyone has any cord making tips please do share or even some design inspiration! I feel the need for some pointless decoration on a project with my newfound skills and any excuse to make up some more lengths of cord as well. That was far too much fun. Maybe #43 isn’t the most useful foot in the world but it is a lot of fun and very good at what it does!