Archive | September 2018

Tricks for Great Quilt Piecing

Many of you know my dad passed back in 2014 (I can’t believe he’s been gone for more than 4 years!) and I miss him dearly (daily).  One of things I remember most about my dad was that he was handy with things.  One of the phrases he always used to say when I was attempting to do something that wasn’t working out was, “Here, let me show you a trick.”  His tricks always showed me there is a better or best way to do something other than what looks like the obvious.  So in honor of my dad, I’m going to show you some tricks to nearly perfect piecing.  I say nearly perfect because my piecing is not perfect, not by any means, but these techniques help.  This post is image heavy but it’s a must to show you how things can go wrong and how to fix them.

First of all, even the best quilters – the best in the world, make mistakes.  They have made more mistakes than you can imagine but what makes them great quilters, is that they have learned how to overcome them.  Not a single quilter in the world, with all the special, expensive rulers and gadgets, or all the experience the quilting world has to offer, makes a quilt without making piecing mistakes.  That’s why you won’t find a single quilter without a seam ripper!  😀

I’m in the middle of a quilted table topper pattern I picked up while in Las Vegas last week.  Hubs had to go there for business so I told him he had to take his wife.  🙂  It’s a Barn Star pattern so it has its share of straight seams and intersections with bias (half-square triangles (HSTs)).  Whenever you are seaming with anything on the bias, your odds of getting it right on the first go are a crapshoot.  And I played Craps all last week so I know what I’m talking about!  LOL  I won about $1,000!  I dropped a little over $200 in the Vegas quilt stores and lost probably about $400-500 so…  I’m going to call my trip to Vegas a WIN!

Let’s start with the basics – a true 1/4″ seam.  Do whatever you need to do to validate that you have a 1/4″ away from the needle marked on your machine.  I’ve used a Sharpie and even scored a groove with an Exacto knife into a brand new machine base to ensure my 1/4″ is true.   The best way to do this is to take a ruler and measure from where your needle drops into the feed dogs and measure out 1/4″.  This machine, the Brother PQ1500SL – identical to the Baby Lock Jane but is less than 1/3 the cost – is designed specifically for quilt piecing so it has a marked 1/4″ line.  My previous machines that were designed for garment sewing didn’t have a specific line for 1/4″ so I kind of had to give it my best guess from the center of the needle.  If that is the case with you, then make a mark or place the edge of a piece of tape at where you believe the 1/4″ away from the needle is, so all your seams are the same.  Your blocks may not match exactly in size to what the pattern says they should, but your quilt will come out correct as long as the seams are all the same.  Before I bought my 1500, I purchased a 1/4″ seam allowance ruler where I could drop my needle into a hole on the 1/4″ line of the ruler and then find the true 1/4″ SA.  This ruler is from PMQuilting (not an affiliate link) and it’s one of the best you can buy for just $7.99.  See the hole above the 3″ mark?  It says “Place Needle Here”.
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If you put your needle into the hole, you can see where the 1/4″ edge is.  This is where you need to align the left edge of a piece of painter’s or washi tape…or a Sharpie line. 😉
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If you don’t have one of these rulers, align a mark in the middle of your presser foot where the needle comes down and then make a FINE TIP Sharpie mark on the bed of your machine where the 1/4″ line is.  Don’t worry, not only will you not be sorry you permanently marked your machine, you’ll re-mark it when it fades.
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I have to put these two pieced sections together.  There’s a straight seam on the left (yellow-red on top to red-yellow on the bottom) and a bias seam in the middle of the two brown fabrics to make a point of the barn star.
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Trick #1 – The first thing to do is to start matching things in the middle.  In this case, I want to “nest” the straight seam first which is the first seam on the left.  When you match seams between two pieced parts, always begin somewhere that is not on one end or the other.  It can be in the middle or somewhere near there.  “Nest” means to make sure that one seam allowance (SA) goes one way and the other goes the other way where the seams meet.  Push these together until you feel them butt up against one another.  If your seam allowances go the same way, fix it with your iron to iron one in a different direction or clip one seam allowance near the closest intersection so the seam allowance can fall to the proper side and press it.  Due to what garment seamstresses call the “turn of cloth”, it’s virtually impossible to get a join to look right if the seam allowances go the same way due to bulk.  Here the top SA goes to the left and the bottom SA goes to the right.
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Once you have them butted up right against one another, take a pin and pin them together starting the pin on one side of the seam and coming out on the other making the pin perpendicular to the seam.  Get as close as possible.  This ensures that the seam will stay nested while you fiddle with the rest of the edges.  In the image below, I’m only one thread away from the seam on either side.  That nest is not going anywhere!
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Once you have a straight seam anchored (if there is one), now you need to secure the top and bottom edges.  If you don’t have a straight seam in the middle to work with first, find the center of the two fabric pieces and pin the two pieces together in the middle.  This ensures a balance between the two pieces from the start.  Below, now that the straight seam is nested and pinned, I’ve pinned both ends leaving the brown (bias) seam for last.  Always leave the hardest join for last.
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Trick #2 – Create a sewing line with a pin.  Where the join is supposed to happen on the bias part, set the fabrics flat as they lie, and 1/4″ away from the edge, “sew” a 1/4″ seam with a quilting pin by weaving it through the fabrics at the join.  Quilt pins are long enough to do this.  Don’t guess, don’t stretch, just pin them as they lay.  The brown is on the bias (a triangle) and it needs to meet up with another bias cut accurately on the bottom piece at this seam.
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Once pinned, lift up the top piece to check the join.  Wups, it’s off.  The bottom fabric needs to move to the left about two stitches.  Now, if this works for you, then fine.  It’s your quilt and you press on.  But that’s not what this post is about.
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Unpin and move the bottom fabric to where it needs to be and re-pin.  Keep doing this until you get it right.  There, that’s better.
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Now sew.  From one end, take two to three stitches leaving the needle in the down position and then match up the edges of the top and bottom pieces along the 1/4″ mark.  With a slight tension with your hands (don’t pull), slowly sew down the length of the seam.  Again, don’t pull, just keep the edges flat to one another.  When you get to a pinned intersection, slow WAY down as you near the pin.  Take one or two stiches over the pin and THEN remove the pin.  If you remove the pin before you get to it, you risk a fabric shift.  I know sewing over pins is taboo, but everyone does it even if they say not to.  Does that make it right?  Maybe.  If you go slow enough, (like handwheel-turning slow) the needle will find its way over the pin without breaking or messing up the timing of the machine.  Your join will be perfect.  Here, my needle is one stitch over the pin.
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Keep sewing and do the same over the bias seam join.  Then sew to the end of the pieced set.

Trick #3 – After sewing, do not press the seam open yet.  Set the seam with an iron by pressing on top of both fabrics – not using a back and forth motion.  Ironing back and forth will stretch the bias piece.  Just press the entire length of the seam.  Using steam is up to you, but my experience shows that steam can distort fabric cut on the bias.
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Then finger press the seam open.  This turned out perfect.  The nest of the straight seam is perfect and so is the bias join of the brown fabric.
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Once the finger press is complete. Press again the length of the seam with the iron until everything is nice and flat.  Look at the 1/4″ seam on the edges of the block at the 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions.  Perfect.
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So what do you do when you think everything will work out right and it doesn’t?  Hey, things happen.  Sometimes even the best laid plans go awry.  Is this good enough for government work (as my dad would say)?  Sure.  Is it what I’m after?  No.  This topper is going on my dining room table.  Missing this point will drive me crazy every time I look at it.  Perfectionist much?
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Trick #4 – When joins don’t meet, unpick about 10-15 stiches on either side of the oopsie and try again.
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Shift the fabric until you think it’s right and pin.  Then begin sewing about 5-10 stitches above where you stopped unpicking on the INSIDE of the seam allowance.  Cross over the SA before you get to the unpicked part and stitch exactly on the previous sewing line.  About 5-10 stitches after you stopped unpicking, cross over the seam line again into the SA and stop sewing.
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The crossover above and below the stitching line will lock the stitches without a bulky backstitch.  Here you can see where I crossed over at the end of the fix stitch.
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There, that’s better!  Clean up any unpicked threads.
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OK, so you’ve shifted the fabric and now you have bubbles in one side or the other.  Dang, can’t a girl catch a break?  Not to worry!  See the bubble on top in the photo below?  If you pull the bottom fabric hard enough so the bubble on top pulls out, you’ll distort the entire block because the bottom fabric is not cut on the bias.  If you sew over the bubble, you risk a pucker in your seam.  Scandal!

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Trick #5 – If you can’t massage the section toward you enough to flatten the bubble without tugging hard, flip the entire unit over so the section with the bubble is on the bottom.  Garment seamstresses know this by rote.  Place the piece with the most amount of fabric closest to the feed dogs.  The feed dogs will ease the extra fabric in invisibly while leaving the top piece without effect.  Keep stitching until you reach the other end.
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Trick #6 – This trick of flipping the fabric works even before you start.  If you have more fabric on top, flip it over so the excess fabric is closest to the feed dogs.  If you have to flip the unit over halfway through?  So be it.  Make it work!  If it is WAY off and just wont’ fit, you’ll need to unpick your previous piecing and begin again.  Hey, them’s the breaks kid!

So that’s it!  I hope my tricks can help you become a better piecer!

Automated Machine Embroidered Applique with Brother Scan-n-Cut & Simply Applique

I know “Automated” and “Machine Embroidered” sound redundant, because just the fact that the machine is doing the embroidery means it’s automated, right? I’ve taken it a step further! Last year I blogged about how I’d like to automate applique quilt blocks.  I’ve been working on it and I think I’ve found some success!  I adore applique quilts but I have a bit of arthritis in my hands so cutting out applique pieces with scissors is not much fun, and I’m not a fan of all the stops, starts, and turns in the sewing part.  Being a techy kind of girl, I knew there had to be a better way.  Enter the Brother Scan-n-Cut and Simply Applique software.

I have a cute pattern for a Rhino Quilt that I kept from a magazine from back in 2014.  This rhino is one piece and a very simple line design so I figured this would be a good one to test on.  I cut out the pattern page of the Rhino from the magazine and scanned it in to the Brother Scan-n-Cut.  I have the wireless model that uploads the image to the free Brother Canvas Workspace.   This place is amazing.  You should check it out.

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In this cloud environment, you can edit to your heart’s desire.  Basically, you want to remove anything that you don’t want cut or stitched in some way.  Here he is before.  I think those lines are from a fold in the paper and the bottom of the page that the scanner picked up and then there were some words or marks on his body.
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And here he is after.  Ready to go!  I edited by clicking on the parts I didn’t want and simply hitting the Delete key on my laptop.  Easy peasy.
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Once you have your image the way you like it, you can download it to your laptop or back to your Scan-n-Cut machine.  For this project, I have to do both.  It gives you .fcm files for the Simply Applique software and .svg cut files for the ScanNCut.
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First I download it to the Scan-n-Cut where I have a piece of fabric stuck to the mat that has Heat-n-Bond ironed to it.  Paper side up!  Ask me how I know!  What a mess!
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I load the mat, press a button, and in less than a minute – ta da!!  One cut rhino!
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Then I download the file to my laptop and pull it into the Simply Applique software. (File/Import fcm).   I’ve messed around with the stitch depth settings a bit for placement, tack down, and satin.
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Then I save the file to a USB I can load into my embroidery machine.  The software will save to virtually any type of embroidery file – it is not proprietary to Brother or Baby Lock.
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I loaded a hoop with a piece of fabric and cut away stabilizer and let the machine do its thing!  I love how this turned out!
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This sample was all done with cheap fat quarters from a non-quilt store (don’t want to ruin my good fabric if it failed!).  wp-15374873227454877274604283714793.jpg

OK, so one single shape is a good start.  But what about applique with multiple layers in the design?  I’m working on Ocean Friends by Pamala Jo Designs.  I wanted to make this quilt for a little neighbor boy at the coast.  Using the same process I described above, within an hour, I had this block done!  I need to work on the settings for offset stitches because sometimes the tack down missed the fabric completely even if the fabric was exactly where it needed to be on the placement line.

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To keep everything straight in my head, I pulled a screenshot from the Brother Canvas and printed it out so I could keep track of which color needed to be placed in the correct order.
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In Simply Applique, I renamed each stitch in the left menu with the sequence number, part name, and color I was going to use.  One thing I haven’t worked out yet in the software is how to remove covered stitches on the final satin stitch.  I had to watch the embroidery closely to stop the satin stitching where a piece of fabric would overlap and then begin it again when needed. I used a run stitch on the whites of the eyes and the pupils vs. a satin stitch.
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Here’s the final sample.  I had some machine issues with skipped stitches but that had nothing to do with the software.  Oh, and if I made the white fabric large enough, that would have helped too.  🙂
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In addition to continuing to test the offset placement and tack down stitches, I’m going to experiment with adding embellishments after the fact like satin stitched eyes or maybe a stitched smile. That can be done in the software so I need the practice.

DIME Stitch Lab 2018 Haul

I just took a fun little overnight road trip to The Woodlands (just north of Houston) to attend a Designs in Machine Embroidery (DIME) Stitch Lab.  I’d never been to one and wanted to check it out.  It was held at the Homewood Suites and that’s where I stayed the night as well.  I think there were about 45 in attendance and it was sponsored by the Sewing & Vacuum Warehouse.  They did a great job of hosting and feeding the herd for two days.  They even took into consideration my low carb diet and had specialty meals for me.  Nice huh?

The room was set up with nine sets of three 4 ft tables in U-shape groupings for 3 to sit at each table – total of up to nine folks on each table set.  On each table was the brand new Brother Luminaire sewing and embroidery machine (comparable to the Baby Lock Solaris I believe).  This thing is a beauty and it lights up like a runway!  It has a whole host of very cool features like the ability to edit your designs right on the iPad-sized screen and project your design onto the stitching field so you know exactly where the design will go and what it will look like when it’s finished.  I think it has a camera in it too so you can take a picture of what you want and it will show up on the screen so you can edit it.  This thing is pretty high tech.  They sold 5 or 6 of them at the event, but not to me.  lol
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This seminar was not a Brother demo though so we didn’t get schooled in all the cool features of the machine, but was instead an opportunity to try out all of the DIME products on the machine.  They had fabric and stabilizer for us to make six projects:  a dog bandana with 3-D raised foam lettering, a hot pad trivet, a giraffe Embroider Buddy, a wall hanging, a t-shirt, and a burp cloth.  All things were donated to local charities and the giraffes and burp clothes went to a children’s hospital.  Nice huh? 🙂  This is my table partner Terri.
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The bottom line of this event (while incredibly fun) is that it is for us to play with all the cool gizmos that DIME offers to make our embroidery journey fun and easier.  After a product was demonstrated by the great instructors, they had little paddles with numbers on them for each of us and little shopping bags lined up against the back wall with our corresponding numbers from the paddles.  When they were finished doing a product demo, Cheryl the head DIME Educator, would ask who wanted one and we’d all raise our paddles and she’d call out our numbers like an auctioneer.  The girls in the back would stuff our bags and in the end it was like Christmas!  Shopping while sitting down in front of a gorgeous toy and making friends along the way.  I loved it!  Here is Cheryl.  She was awesome!
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Note:  The links to the products below are affiliate links so if you use that link to buy something, I get paid by the vendor so I can buy more stuff.  Win win!

My haul included Word Art in Stitches software which I bought specifically for the 10 micro-fonts.  My son is a pastor and wants me to embroider scripture on small items and you simply can’t do that with regular software when the smallest font size is 1/2″.  It also digitizes for the puffy letters that is so popular now on ball caps.  This software can be used for any brand embroidery machine and comes with over 140 fonts.  The demo was amazing.  Most of my embroidery includes lettering so this is well worth the expense to me.  I’ll also use it to embroider on quilt backings vs. hand stitching on a separate quilt label.
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I also picked up Perfect Stitch Viewer which allows you to see a preview of your design on your laptop in the file library so know what the heck it is you’re looking at.  When you download design files from any online vendor, it comes with a file name like UT123456 and what the heck is that?  You can’t open it to see without opening your design software and pulling the file in.  Even if you re-name the file to say like “Snowman”, do you know how many snowman files I have?  Scads!  I have the Embrilliance version of this and it works great, but while I can see the preview of the .pes files, I can’t see the preview of the .jef files for the new 7 needle Janome machine we have (I’m not sure why – probably operator error).  AND this software allows me to see a preview of long arm files!  YAY!  That’s what really sold me on this version.  Worth every penny.
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Next is the Bird’s Nest tool.  How this works is when you have a bird’s nest, rather than attempt to remove the hoop – with the nest refusing to let go – and doink up your machine’s timing while you’re at it, you use this long hook to reach under the hoop and lift the stabilizer away from the machine.  Then use the long blade to get under there and slice the nesty threads.  Then you can remove the hoop safely and clean it up.  It comes in a handy zipper case with an extra blade and blade cover.  Of course, I’ve never had a bird’s nest happen to me so I don’t know why I bought it.  HA!  I wish!  Plus, it doubles as a weapon if needed or I can remove my appendix.  Money.
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I’ve wanted these little Hoop Guards for a while.  Have you ever embroidered a newborn Onesie?  Absolute miserable experience.  Nuff said.
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I’ve looked around for an off-brand version of this Print & Stick Target Paper and haven’t found it.  This makes life so much easier when hooping.  I usually print out my design on regular paper and then pin or use spray adhesive to adhere it to the item I’m hooping.  That method has a success factor of like 50% or less for me on hard-to-hoop items because inevitably, the paper comes off or I poke myself.  The tack on this paper is great and it doesn’t leave any residue when you lift it off.  They call it paper but it’s really like a lightweight sticky interfacing that bends along with the item it is stuck to and seriously stays put. You can use the printed paper many times over and over (that’s redundant I know but it’s important so I’m leaving it).  You print your design on this paper using your regular printer, cut it out and then stick it to your item and hoop your item as usual.  Since the paper is stuck firmly to the item, you can be exactly sure you’ve centered your design where you want it in the hoop.  This is especially helpful for big designs that require multiple hoopings like up the leg of a pair of jeans.  Then you load your hoop into the machine, make sure your needle is coming down exactly on center and remove the sticky paper.  Playing with this stuff at the seminar, I really found the value in it for me.
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And last but not least, is the Unicorn Embroider Buddy.  Isn’t she cute?  They had a wall full of these cute cuddly creatures of all kinds, but there was only one unicorn.  I saw her early on the first day and I went to the back of the room and asked the lady to put her in my bag right away.  I knew she’d be gone in an instant.  You can remove the insides from these creatures and then hoop their belly in a 4×4 hoop for any design you like.  On the 2nd day when I was waiting in line to check out, one lady came up to me and asked me if I’d be willing to part with it.  Was she serious??  Fat chance!  She said that the shop could order her one and she hoped that it would come in by the time she went to Ft Worth to see her granddaughter because her granddaughter just LOVES unicorns.  Well what granddaughter doesn’t?  I’ve got one too ya’ know?  You think I’m buying this for myself?  Sheesh! You snooze you lose sister!  I asked if she lived nearby and she said yes.  I said I well I don’t so I’d have to pay shipping if I didn’t get it now.  So she says, “Oh well OK, you should keep it then.”  HA!  Well gee, thanks!  Like it was ever an option that she was going to get this unicorn from me.  I was bigger than her so I’m sure I could take her but you never know about those ladies.
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Because my purchase was over $250 I got a free font.  That was nice I suppose.  Not sure when I’ll use it but hey, it was free!
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So that’s it!  I left a little early to start the 3-hour drive home.  I really had a great time!

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A Game Changer in Sewing Machine Lighting

Sometimes the very best tools we can use in our sewing rooms come from non-sewing places.  I like a lot of very bright light when I sew.  Like daylight-bright-white-light.  I’ve got a couple of those outrageously-priced spot lights for sewing (upwards of $50 each) and while they work OK, sometimes that spotlight is too bright even for me, or the glare off the silver plate around the feed dogs is too much and I don’t use it at all.  I went searching for a better solution and oh boy did I find one in of all places…Home Depot!  This product is $29.99 and it’s on the lighting aisle.

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While there are 4 strips in this package, I only needed one.  The strips have a strong sticky on the back and the packaging says the light will last for 23 years.  I doubt I’ll have need for the spares.  🙂

Here is the before.  Yes, I’m machine binding my quilt.  After I attach it on the front as normal, instead of stitching on the back, I wrap it around and then stitch in the ditch from the front.  Without the light, it’s kind of hard to see the ditch.

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And here is the after!  The picture doesn’t do it justice.  I can see the ditch perfectly.  The reflection of the bulbs on the base of the machine are not a distraction and they don’t bother me at all.

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I held it up with the protective backing on first to see where I wanted to place it and then simply adhered it to the machine with the sticky backing.  I placed it a little to the back of the throat and ended up moving the cord side a little to the backside of the machine so as not to have a direct visible line-of-sight to the lights.

wp-15365130901784941874163189928168.jpg I’m SO happy with this solution!  I can see buying more for my other machines.  🙂  I wish I could just buy the electric part to use the other bulbs from this package on my 18″ sit down machine.