I have been writing tutorials regarding the BERNINA Circular Embroidery Attachment #83. This attachment can be used for a variety of techniques including making yo-yos for your quilting and sewing projects. If you are unfamiliar with this attachment, refer to my tutorial for We All Sew here. That article gives an overview of the attachment.
A Little Bit of History about Yo-Yos
Fabric yo-yos became popular in quilt making during the 1920s. It is believed that because of their round shape, they were named yo-yos as a reference to the wooden yo-yo toys that were also popular during this time. The Duncan Yo-Yo Company promoted the toy by sponsoring demonstrations and contests throughout the world. They began making plastic yo-yos in the 1960s and used television advertising to market them. Over 600 million wooden and plastic yo-yos have been sold worldwide since the 1920s, making it the most popular toy in history.
Handmade quilt projects with fabric yo-yos were popular during the Depression Era because the yo-yos could be made from small pieces of fabric, making them a thrifty sewing project. Yo-yo quilts were made with randomly placed fabrics or their colors and fabrics were sewn together to mimic quilt patterns or to make pictorial designs. Large projects were sometimes made with as many as 10,000 tiny yo-yos. Smaller projects were used as table toppers. The following photo is a small table topper I own. It is in the shape of a star and was made with feed sack fabrics from the Depression Era.
Similar to Cathedral Window quilts and Crazy quilts, yo-yo quilts are not true quilts in that they generally do not have batting, backing or quilting. Yo-yo dolls were made by stringing yo-yos together to make their arms and legs. In the British Isles, fabric yo-yos are called “Suffolk Puffs.” Normally yo-yo quilts are fragile and heavy so the hand stitching used to hold the yo-yos together often comes apart.
The following photo is a vintage yo-yo quilt that I purchased in 2004. It had been made in Minnesota during the Depression Era. It measures 70” x 74” and has 2,856 tightly made yo-yos, each measuring 1 ¼″ across. The yo-yos were hand stitched to each other and to a muslin backing. The backing on this quilt helped to make this a stable bed covering so it has remained intact over the years. The pink and ivory yo-yos were used to frame and sash the 30 “quilt blocks.” Each “block” has 56 yo-yos. Five pink yo-yos in the sashing and one ivory yo-yo near the bottom right corner were misplaced. Perhaps the maker did this intentionally to add interest to the piece.
Today, yo-yos are used to decorate vines in appliqué quilts and clothing. Here’s a photo of an appliqué block I made in 2012. Single yo-yos were used on the vine around the house. A small button was attached to the center area of each yo-yo and each yo-yo was hand appliquéd in place. The yo-yos measure 1″ across.
Steps on How to Create Yo-Yos by Machine
Making yo-yos entirely by hand is time-consuming. Today, we can speed up the process by using the BERNINA Circular Embroidery Attachment #83 to create the gathering stitch of the circle. Yo-yos that are as small as 1 ½″ or as large as 5″ can be made with the attachment. Here are the steps for making a 2″ yo-yo using the attachment:
Start with a 5″ x 5″ square of fabric and a 5″ x 5″ piece of lightweight tear-away stabilizer. The stabilizer is necessary for stitching the gathering circle. Without the stabilizer, the fabric will not lay flat and tends to pucker up while being stitched.
Finger press the square vertically and horizontally to find the center of the square.
Place the center of the fabric and the stabilizer on the positioning pin of the attachment. Note, the fabric should be right side up with the stabilizer under the fabric.
Use a 40 weight hand quilting thread for the top thread and a 50 weight matching bobbin thread. The thread color should match or blend with the color of the fabric. I prefer using quilting thread because it is stronger than cotton thread and I can gather the circle without breaking the thread. If you don’t have a spool of hand quilting thread, try using machine quilting thread, polyester thread or embroidery thread. The point is to use a thread that is very strong and won’t break when you gather the thread. I had my best gathering results with the hand quilting thread. My machine didn’t complain about stitching the heavier thread as the top thread. I used a size #90/14 top stitch needle and threaded the needle by hand because the thread didn’t like being folded by the needle threader. The thread went through the needle just fine when I threaded it by hand.
Adjust the circular attachment to create a 4″ circle. The positioning pin should be 2″ from the needle of the machine. Use a straight stitch with the stitch length set at 4.5 to create a gathering stitch.
Do not use the machine’s tie-off function or use a back stitch at the beginning and ending of the circle. You need to have beginning and ending thread tails that are at least 5″ in length to pull the gathers.
Use the BERNINA Open embroidery foot #20C so you can see the stitching as you create the circle. Stitch the circle. When you are within 1/4″ of the starting stitch, stop and raise the needle out of the fabric. Adjust the needle one needle position to the right so the ending stitches are just outside the beginning stitches. Note: I used a dark thread for the photo sample so you could see the stitched circle.
Lower the needle and stitch ½″ beyond the beginning thread. Raise the needle and presser foot and gently pull the fabric and threads out from the machine. Trim the top and bottom threads so you have at least 5″ of ending thread.
Lay the fabric and stabilizer on a flat surface with the stabilizer facing up. While holding the stitching line, gently tear away the stabilizer from both sides of the stitching. Take your time while doing this so you don’t break the gathering threads. It is important to remove all the stabilizer from both sides of the stitched circle so it doesn’t create problems when you try to gather the circle.
After removing all of the stabilizer, trim the fabric circle ¼″ outside the stitching line. Be careful that you don’t cut the beginning and ending threads.
Gently pull the beginning and ending top thread to gather the circle. Pull the beginning thread to start the gathering and then switch to the ending thread. Alternate back and forth until the circle is gathered and there is a small 3/8″ hole in the center. Be careful to not pull the threads too forcefully because even though you used quilting thread for the top thread, it will break if you aren’t gentle while gathering the stitches.
Adjust the shape to create the circular yo-yo. Tie the top and bottom threads together with a double knot to hold the gathers in place.
Hand or machine tack the center of the yo-yo to your project. Attach a button or large bead to cover the center hole. Attaching the button and tacking the yo-yo to the project could be done in one step using your machine. The directions for attaching buttons by machine is in your BERNINA sewing machine manual. The edges of the yo-yo may be left loose to create a dimensional look or they may be hand appliquéd to help them remain flat against the background fabric.