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Playing with the Brother NQ3500D’s built-in decorative stitches

Playing with the Brother NQ3500D’s built-in decorative stitches

by Liana Kirkey

I’m having a blast playing with the Brother NQ3500D – it’s not often I get to just sit and play on the machines. I’m discovering, though, that reviewing a machine is comprised of equal parts poking buttons, trial and error, and (gasp!) reading the machine’s instruction book. While developing yesterday’s post, Brother NQ3500D makes custom embroidered quilt labels easier than ever, I found most of the tools and buttons very intuitive. Today, however, some tools were new to me and I had to look them up in the book. Brother actually produces really good user manuals, so that part isn’t a hardship…

I wanted to explore decorative stitches and techniques today. Machines these days boast so many built-in stitches, yet I so often hear, “I never use them.” Sewing and not using your decorative stitches is like cooking and never using any seasoning!

Embellishing is my second-favorite sewing pursuit and I feel that small-scale samplers are a wonderful way to stash-bust and experiment with all kinds of stitches, techniques, and threads without being overwhelming. And with samplers, less is not more – the more filled with stitching it is, the more beautiful the result. The book Stupendous Stitching by Carol Ann Waugh is a wonderful inspiration for this, and you’ll definitely see her influence in the final results of the sampler I’ll begin here today. By Friday, I’m going to turn my creation into a slim case for my reading glasses…

Bust a small bit of your stash

Here’s a quick list of materials if you’d like to follow along and create with me:

  • cotton fabric backed with HeatnBond (Non-Woven Craft Weight Fusible Interfacing)
    to use as a base (I used a 6″ x 7” square of a very subtle print to show off the stitching, but suit your style – everything from solids to wild prints can work beautifully!)
  • applique scraps to coordinate, backed with HeatnBond (I like their Light Weight)
  • an assortment of decorative threads and couching yarns
  • a bobbin filled with your regular sewing thread
  • flannel or soft cloth for lining (an eyeglass-cleaning microfiber would be even better), backed with HeatnBond

NQ3500D exploration time

I showed you the stitch panel under the machine’s top cover on Monday; here’s the home sewing screen where we can access all of those built-in stitches.

Brother NQ3500D sewing home screen

On the NQ3500D’s sewing home screen, the blue stitch area hosts utility stitches, and the orange area is populated with decorative options.

I decided to start with applique. This way I can use some coordinating scraps of fabric to set the tone and colorway of my panel. I sliced a piece of my fusible web-backed applique fabric into a few random curves and fused them into place.

First up is to applique an edge down with a satin stitch. I chose and tested a zigzag from the first menu (1-10). I had to reduce my stitch length down to 0.1mm to get the coverage I wanted, and I’m not shy to tell you that I held my breath during the whole row thinking that it would jam with such a tight stitch. Nope – it fed beautifully and gave me perfect results! I then tried a random-width satin stitch (7-16) on another edge and discovered that the length and width settings were fixed – I couldn’t change them, but I really liked it as it was. The third stitch I tried was a feather stitch (6-4) straddling the edge.

Appliqued edges stitched on the Brother NQ3500D

Three different applique finishes: satin stitch, random satin, and feather stitch.

Now here’s where it gets really cool – and I get to show you that L/R Shift feature I raved about the other day.

Because stitch patterns execute in the center of a presser foot, aligning the applique edge to the obvious center guide isn’t practical – here you can see how the right stitch of the pattern is too far away from the edge instead of hugging it as it should (I used the open-toe embroidery foot to give you a clear view of the needle position).

Brother NQ3500D center stitch position

By default, stitches locate in the center of the presser foot, not always the optimal location for easy guiding.

Offsetting it would really make life easier – and that’s what the L/R Shift feature does: it lets you move a whole pattern left or right by 0.25mm increments!

Brother NQ3500D manual adjustment screen

This is the manual adjustment screen on the NQ3500D – among other adjustments, here’s where you can shift your stitch left or right.

I chose three stitches: a blanket stitch (10-20), one of the hemstitches (3-05), and a blind applique (1-34). I played with stitch length, width and that awesome L/R Shift to achieve just the look I wanted – and that blind stitch is barely visible – so perfect! The precision that feature offers me for edge work is fantastic!

Brother NQ3500D quilter's applique sampler

Traditional and contemporary quilter’s applique stitches: the nearly invisible blind applique, blanket stitch applique, and the angled blanket stitch

For the next little while I’m just going to play with stitches and try out the tools in the stitch screen and the editing screen. These screens offer some neat options; so let me give you a quick primer on what they contain, starting with the stitch screen:

Brother NQ3500D stitch screen

The stitch screen makes the most basic but useful stitch tools conveniently available.

Most of the icons on this screen are self-explanatory; along the bottom row, however, we have from left to right:

  • auto-pivot: I love this one! It’s an automated substitute for the knee lifter. With it highlighted, whenever you stop sewing, the needle sinks, the foot rises, and you can adjust your fabric direction. It’s so helpful when navigating curves and corners! I’m keeping it turned on for this project!
  • auto-reinforcement: I use this a lot, but not in this post… we’ll use it on Friday, though!
  • auto-thread cutter: another favorite of mine that we’ll employ on Friday.
  • save to memory: developed the perfect stitch settings or stitch combination? Save it to memory to use again and again…
  • image: this key shows you an enlarged image of your selected pattern
  • edit/stitch switching key (this one gets you in and out of the editing screen).

Touching the edit/stitch switching key from here gives you this screen:

Brother NQ3500D stitch screen

Keeping your most-needed tools at the ready, the NQ3500D’s stitch screen is clear and intuitively set up.

Now this screen holds the stitch toys, which are well-detailed in the manual:

  • free motion mode: this sets the presser foot height for free motion work (must lower feed dogs to use this correctly)
  • mirror image: horizontally mirror image most stitches
  • back to beginning: partway through a pattern and want to start over? Press this button!
  • single/repeat mode: sew continuously or just a single pattern using this
  • size selection: choose between preset L/S pattern sizes where available
  • variable key: this one changes depending on the selected stitch; it can offer pattern elongation, density, or character spacing control
  • step stitch keys: this key uses the sideways feed to shift patterns left or right

So now, after a couple of hours of playing with all of these goodies, I now have a nearly-complete sampler (I’ve left some room for tomorrow’s foray).

Whenever I tested a stitch setting I liked, I added it to my panel, aligning the edge of the presser foot up to a previous row of stitching to keep my spacing even. I’ve discovered how much I like the open-toe embroidery foot for this – I can really see where I’m going!

The scissors tool – the one I showed on Monday’s post introducing Brother’s NQ3500D is also a real winner in my book. Trimming is neat and tidy, and it really keeps the thread tails under control. My sewing area isn’t nearly the mess of threads it usually is!

Brother NQ3500D stitch sampler

Nearly done – with just enough space to add in some truly original stitch options… tomorrow!

Some observations made while playing

  • some menus seem to repeat patterns found in other menus
  • some stitches don’t let you adjust the stitch length or width, and others have preset large and small options.
  • the maximum speed seems to vary with the stitch pattern – some seem distinctly slower. The stitch quality is impeccable, so perhaps that’s Brother’s way of optimizing “quality control”?
  • I fared better when using the foot control on some stitches – my steering was certainly more consistent when I could control the start, stop and speed with my foot and keep my hands on my fabric.
  • a light touch on the fabric was all that was needed to steer around the curves. The feed dogs and presser feet are elongated on the NQ series for better control, and that’s definitely evident in how responsive it is.
  • the extra-large, sideways motion stitches are really cool, but trickier to steer. I did use one of them, but most were too large for this little sampler.
  • combining stitches from the decorative stitch menus is so very easy just select one stitch, then another. Can you find the combined patterns in the above picture?
  • metallic thread posed no problem, even at full speed, though I did have to lower the upper thread tension significantly. Of course, I was using the supplementary spool guide as recommended.

So… if you’ve been playing along with me, you’ll now have an embellished panel, too – I hope you’ve left some room for a few more stitches, because tomorrow I’m going to show you how to create your own stitches in My Custom Stitch™. I might even have to add some couching, because I just love the look and texture of it.

I have had so much fun exploring these tools, and really enjoyed sharing them with you. If you have indeed been playing along with me, I’m sure everyone would love to see your creations. And until tomorrow, happy sewing! I look forward to touring another exciting facet of the Brother NQ3500D with you all!

This is part 3 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 2:  Brother NQ3500D makes custom embroidered quilt labels easier than ever

Go to part 4: Design your own decorative stitches with My Custom Stitch™



Karen Thurn December 2, 2016 - 12:25 am

I’ve recently been test driving sewing machines and having lots of fun. I think the newer machines are actually easier to operate than my 20 year old Pfaff. But, shhh, don’t tell her.

Liana Kirkey December 3, 2016 - 9:33 pm

Hi, Karen – You are so right- the new machines offer so many conveniences that the oldies didn’t. It is said that “they don’t make them like they used to” is very true – but it isn’t always a bad thing! I hope yo’re having fun trying out the newer generation of machines. And I promise, it’ll be our secret!

Pauline Perry December 1, 2016 - 5:21 pm

I have really enjoyed the tutorials on making your own decorative stitches – thanks so much.

Liana Kirkey December 1, 2016 - 8:46 pm

Hi, Pauline – I hope that means that you have a Brother machine and were able to play along. It’s funny – no matter how many decorative stitches are on a machine, we always seem to want more, or different. I’m so glad you enjoyed them!

Vivian November 30, 2016 - 8:34 pm

I never thought of using a decorative Stitch as part of my quilting design. Very nice.

Liana Kirkey December 1, 2016 - 8:22 pm

Hi, Vivian – when you’ve got those stitches, flaunt ’em! Sometimes even the simplest decorative stitch, repeated equidistant, makes for a beautiful and unique space filler on a quilt. And some of those quilts can offer a lot of room to play with your stitches! Happy Sewing!

Beth B November 30, 2016 - 1:50 pm

Good post. I like to try the stitches in various ways on small projects. I also made a stitch book with all of the stitches on my machine, some in various length and width. This comes in very handy when I want ti see an actual sample of a stitch.

Liana Kirkey December 1, 2016 - 8:19 pm

Hi, Beth… you are so right – your stitch book is the best way to truly preview a stitch, and it has 2 huge benefits: it helps you learn the feel of your machine, and saves you tons of time when looking for just the right stitch to apply to your project! Good for you!

Jessica Braskey November 30, 2016 - 12:28 pm

Great post and so interesting to see. I have a Bernina 330 and love using decorative stitches!

Liana Kirkey November 30, 2016 - 1:20 pm

Hey, Jessica – glad you enjoyed it! You have a lovely machine and I’m glad to hear that you play with all of your stitches. Even some of the practical stitches can do double-duty as decorative with the the right threads and placement. Some of them are even prettier stitch over top of yarns (called couching). Have you tried that yet?

Wanda Bee November 30, 2016 - 12:28 pm

I’ve never been brave enough to use my decorative stitches. I don’t know why. So much beauty can be created.

Liana Kirkey November 30, 2016 - 1:04 pm

Wanda – Thanks for your comment. You have untapped fun in those decorative stitches! Grab a scrap of cotton, back it with some iron-on interfacing (you’re adding a lot of thread to a slight fabric so it’ll need that support), and just play! Stitch a row of each of your stitches – you’ll be amazed at how much prettier they are on fabric than on screen. Just fill that scrap and decide what to do with it later; the inspiration will come!


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