Crimes Against Couture?

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Can you tell there are serged seams?

For those who are not familiar, couture sewing has some expected (or antiquated) techniques and parameters: multiple muslins and fittings, generous seam allowances, using the stitching line as opposed to the cutting line, and a lot of hand sewing. A LOT of hand sewing…. This makes couture sewing unappealing to many modern sewers; no short cuts, no new techniques, and definitely no sergers.

But I really enjoy couture sewing, there’s something almost meditative about the process. And of course, not every garment has to be full on couture all the time. Some of my fellow Fashionista’s and I do what we call “demi-couture”: we use the techniques that we find most enjoyable, give the best finish or are the most practical – and couture sewing is nothing if not practical.

So what to do when your designer bouclé remnant leaves you with scant 5/8-inch seam allowances (and I mean scant as in more like 3/8-inch) and the edges are raveling faster than you can sew them? You bust out the serger. Yup, there are serged edges in my mostly couture a-line skirt. I stabilized not only the edges of my pattern pieces with the serger, I cleaned up the hem as well. This to me is not much different than whip-stitching the entire edge to stabilize it; I just did it by machine instead of by hand.

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Hot off the serger – the edge is now being held securely

The most fervent adherents will claim that Madame C is now rolling over in her grave, but I think if she had a serger she’d’ve used it if she needed to. Because you see, couture also teaches us to do what is needed when it’s needed. For instance, I would up with a strange hole in one of my side seams; it looks like a little notch was cut out of the hem allowance – I’ll blame it on a gremlin. But my otherwise nice and even 2-inch hem has a very shallow spot; what to do?

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I took a scrap of organza and zig-zagged it to the wrong side of the hem, then folded it over and zig-zagged it down. I now have a lovely stabilized edge to catch-stitch down with the rest of the hem. Won’t it show? It shouldn’t, especially with the lining in place. Only someone being nosy would see it, and if someone is that nosy then I have way more to worry about than them seeing my little organza bandage….

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All Patched!
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A silk lining is lovely and hides all the stitching

Save the Wool! (Or, you may not have ruined it yet!)

I’m in the midst of finishing my winter wardrobe projects; I finished several sweaters and fall-colored tees last month, and this month I’m working on skirts – I finished the first one last week. This week I’m working on my woollies: one designer cashmere, one designer bouclé, one acrylic/ wool blend, and one that’s a cotton/ acrylic/ viscose.

Everything washed fine, except the designer bouclé: it’s a wool blend, but it shrank much more than I thought it would (I suspect it was actually a cotton fiber in one of the yarns that shrank the most.) I had washed the two wools on my machine’s hand wash/ washable wool cycle, and hung both to dry. The cashmere lost barely a half inch width wise and nothing lengthwise, but the bouclé went from a barely-enough-for-an a-line skirt 56” wide and one yard long including the frayed edges, to 53 ½” wide and 28” long… yikes! While I was laying out my organza underlining yesterday morning, I realized my mistake.

But then I remembered that wool stretches (the reason for the organza underlining to begin with!) So I sent the piece back through a rinse and spin cycle with liquid fabric softener (I’ve heard hair conditioner works too) and while wet I stretched it gently but firmly across my shower’s grab bar. I was able to get it stretched to a decent 59” wide and 36” long, not including the frayed edges. I weighted it with trouser hangers across the bottom and left it like this to dry.

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The final measurements? After being hung to dry for twelve hours, and left to completely dry for another twelve it is now 56 ½” wide, by 35” long, not including the frayed edges. And now I can finish making my skirt…

Sashiko Stitching – By Machine

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I just finished a skirt for winter, using a faux suede from my favorite local purveyor, Sew Much Fabric. I wanted to take advantage of the thickness of the fabric and use lapped seams, topstitching and of course embroidery!

For the topstitching, I used my Baby Lock Sashiko, a specialty machine that imitates the look of hand quilting. I have to say, I really love this machine, especially since I can’t do as much hand work anymore as I would like to!

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Don’t forget to test!

While it’s a spaced stitch on the front, it’s a locked running stitch on the back. And it certainly compliments the lapped seams on my skirt!

For the embroidery I used a cut away mesh stabilizer on the back, and a wash away stabilizer on top to prevent the stitches from sinking into the pile of the suede. That’s right, a wash away – faux suede can be washed! If you want to use a topper on a fabric that can’t be washed, try a heat away. Definitely test a sample with your fabric to make sure the heat is safe for it.

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For more details on how I constructed the skirt, read my guest post, coming soon at .

Would you like to add Sashiko stitching to your next project? Contact me for more information.


Heavier Embroidery on Knits

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I’ve finished a wrap dress to go with my little jacket from last fall (read about it  here.) Since my jacket had a peacock-embroidered lining, I decided to use those designs again on the dress.

peacock embroidery

The dress is made of ponté, a very stable, well-behaved knit. Even so, to embroider a heavy, satin-stitch design you need to give it all the help you can.

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I used a sticky wash away as the main stabilizer, but I also wanted to leave a lightweight layer so the embroidery didn’t distort too much, so I also used a mesh cut away underneath.

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I hooped both of these, then decided on placement using a template, adhered my dress to the sticky stabilizer, then added a wash away topper. The topper allows the stitches to form over the knit instead of sinking down into it.

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Afterwards I trimmed the excess stabilizers, and used a fusible tricot to back the design. This does two things: it covers the stitches to prevent irritation of sensitive skin, and also gives just a little more body and stability to the design.

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And now I have a cute and comfy travel outfit! Would you like to add embroidery to your self-made items?  Contact me for pricing and information.

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Embroidery on Knits – Something Fun for Summer!

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I recently finished this white ponté skirt – something fun and quick to sew. Before I finished construction though, I thought, wouldn’t some embroidery be nice? I took the pocket panel, hooped it with some sticky fabric-like wash away, and placed some regular wash away on top. I have a regular and heavy weight and didn’t know which would be better, if either, so I tested both. I didn’t think it made a difference, so I used the regular-weight wash away topper. I also took the opportunity to try different thread colors; I thought the pearl metallic on the bottom left would be my choice, turns out I liked the iced grey-blue better!

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Does your embroidery machine have a basting stitch? Mine does – and it helps a lot with toppers!

Don’t be afraid to try something new this summer – take away the fear by testing, testing, testing! Test your fabric, test different stabilizers (or combinations of stabilizers) test different threads, test different designs! What will you try that’s new?

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Quick Summer Project

It’s so hot outside – how about a quick embroidery project inside? I had some old, boring napkins lying around and decided to spruce them up a bit for next week’s holiday. An hour later and I have something “new” for my 4th of July table!

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This is a set of purchased napkins; had them for years, was considering getting rid of them. Then I thought, why not play around a bit? I chose a cute little hibiscus design (this one from Embroidery Library) that would be fun for summer.

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Where to put them on the napkins? I wanted all of them on the lower left corner, so I laid them out to make sure I had the correct position. If your napkins are square, this won’t matter so much. Mine are “hand woven” and were cut before washing so they shrunk into a rectangle.

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Let’s pick a color; it’s a hibiscus, so something bright – maybe one of these?

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Four napkins, four embroidery runs – how to make this quicker? Well if you have a large enough hoop and a small enough design, you can lay all four corners into one hooping and have a single run on your embroidery machine.

For these types of projects I like to use a product called wash-away tacky. I believe that’s a proprietary name for a Floriani product, but almost all stabilizer companies have a similar product. It’s a mesh, wash-away stabilizer that has a very sticky side. You could also use a similar product that lets you iron your stabilizer to the napkin, if your napkins are heat-safe. They usually come in wash-away and tear-away types.

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Here’s a tip: hoop your wash-away tacky, then peel off the paper backing – don’t try to peel off the paper and then hoop the stabilizer! You’ll have a stuck-together mess.

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I like to use a small cutting mat to help align multiple items; see how this stabilizer is translucent? I can line up my hoop, then lay down the individual pieces. No need to hoop the napkins, this stabilizer is pretty sticky. You want to overlap some, but not so much that your napkins will be stitched together.

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Now for your design: I have software that let’s me duplicate and rotate and then save it as a single design, but most embroidery machines have this function too. Just duplicate and rotate your design, and space it out enough so you don’t stitch through multiple napkins.

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If your machine is very new, it may even have a fancy camera so you can see just where your design will be!

Press start and watch your machine go – 40 minutes later mine was done.

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Now pull up your napkin from the stabilizer and cut very carefully around the design; you can leave a bit of a border to be safe. You can now rise out the remaining stabilizer, or be lazy like I am and just toss them into next week’s wash and wait to get the extra out.

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A note on stabilizer: I chose a wash away for this project because I had a light design that was going on a fairly stable and thick fabric. If you have a very heavy design, or you have very lightweight fabric you may want to use a leave in stabilizer instead.

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And here we have it – four “new” napkins for next week’s barbecue!



Gift Ideas for the New Mom

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Embroidery designs from the Nautical Damask Collection by Embroidery Library

What’s the best gift for a new, busy Mother? Well when “just getting to wash your hair feels like a spa treatment” how about a beautiful, personalized hair turban? As most women know, hair turbans – as distinct from hats, wraps and other forms of head gear turbans – are generally used after washing the hair, but could be used before to keep it dry(ish) while bathing.

I filled an order for one last week, a gift for a new mother who recently had her first child. The giver wanted to make it as lavish as possible, so chose much larger embroidery designs and single letter monogram, with real shell button. As I was making one, I made another in the larger size to show the difference; this one would be better for those with longer and/or thicker hair. The smaller is suitable for those with very short to shoulder length hair.

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5×5″ designs with a 3.5″ single letter monogram (bottom product)

As mentioned, the giver wanted extravagantly large designs, and also chose to have both sides embroidered. The final cost of these hair turbans was in the $75 range. A more typical 2 inch tall single letter monogram, or 3 inch single floral design embroidered on this very nice 21 oz. cotton is included in the regular price of $32 for the small and $38 for the large. Of course, you can always upgrade yours!

Fun with Checks and Plaids

Or, how to save on fabric when you didn’t quite buy enough

One of the best parts of sewing for yourself is deciding how to use the fabric: will you put the stripes vertically, horizontally or on the bias? Will you fussy cut the motif from your print and make it the focus of your project, or even align your pattern pieces so the print repeats in a way to make the seams look invisible?

Two types of print I really have fun with are checks and plaids. And the best place to have fun with them is in a tailored shirt. I’ve made many shirts for my husband and whenever I get a check or even plaid I go a little overboard with my options. (You can do all the following with an uneven plaid, but keep in mind you won’t have the symmetry of an even one.)

I like to put any pieces I can on the bias; did you know most shirt pieces can be cut on the bias? No, it’s true! The only pieces you wouldn’t normally cut on the bias are the bodice front and back (and even these can be cut on the bias if you’re careful.) Everything else is fair game – the sleeves, cuffs, collar and stand, yoke and front band are all there for you to have fun with. Here are some example below:

Inner and Outer Collar Stands

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Outer Cuff; the inner cuff in this example is on the straight of grain, but you can cut both on the bias or reverse them

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The Front Pocket

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The front pocket can also be cut on the straight of grain and then placed so it “disappears” on the front for a clean look

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The Tower Placket is also a good place to cut on the bias for contrast

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The Collar – Upper or Under. In this case, it’s the under collar, which is pieced

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The Yoke, Inner or Outer is a favorite of mine – and the inner yoke is the best place for embroidery! Note the inner yoke is also pieced here

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Here are a few tips for using pieces cut on the bias:

  • Treat them gently – the edges will fray more easily with handling
  • Starch heavily – small or narrow pieces such as the collar stand or tower placket will retain their shape better if you starch them well first
  • Stay stitch long edges. Just as you stay stitch curves to prevent stretching (because it’s usually a bias edge) stay stitch long edges like the sleeve seam to prevent stretching

So how does this save on fabric? Well when you put pieces on the bias, especially smaller pieces, you can fit more pieces on less fabric. Say you needed an extra quarter yard of fabric to cut out the yokes, but you ran short. If your try placing the pattern piece in a different area on the bias, you can usually fit it in. This works especially well with wider fabrics, 54 inches or more.

Some other tips for saving on fabric when you don’t quite have enough:

  • Cut on a single layer of fabric. You’ll have to trace out a second set of pieces but you can get a much tighter fit with most patterns this way
  • Piece your pieces – instead of cutting a piece on the fold, cut it in two pieces – don’t forget to add a seam allowance where the fold would have been. Sew up the new seam and use the piece as usual. This works especially well with hidden pieces such and the inner yoke, under collar and inner collar stand, and can be used on the bias or straight grain
  • Have fun with contrasting fabrics – use a different but coordinating (or not!) fabric for small or hidden pieces such as the inner yoke, inner collar stand, under collar and inner cuff; or be bold and use the contrast on the front band, pockets, or outer cuff, collar or yoke. One great way to match and contrast at the same time is to use the same print in different color ways
  • Piece your sleeves – if your pattern has a single-piece sleeve, make it a two piece. Draw a line parallel to the grain line, about halfway between the center and back edge of the sleeve pattern. Add a seam allowance to each side of the cut and sew them back together – you’re right back where you started! This allows you to put the smaller piece – now the undersleeve – in a different area so you fit more pattern pieces on your fabric. You can even put the undersleeve on the bias or in a different direction if it helps you save on fabric.
  • Piece your sleeve 2 – cut your sleeve right down the middle, parallel to the grainline. Draw a new grainline 45º to the old one (don’t forget to add a seam allowance to the cut edge!) and now you can put both pieces on the bias. If you have a plaid, stripe or check you can put the pieces on opposing bias and create a chevron pattern for your sleeve. The outer yoke is another fun place for this chevron technique

And you can do any of the above with plain fabric of course, it’s not just for checks and plaids!

Sewing Room Tour

Sewers seem to have an especial love of seeing other sewing rooms – I know I do! We like to see how others organize their space, or arrange their workflow. Too we just like to see what fun toys others have that we don’t (yet….)

My Sewing Room-01
View from one direction…

I am lucky enough to have a very large space for my sewing room. It was a little used dining room until last summer when I realized I was spilling out of the spare bedroom. So we donated our dining room set, repainted the walls “Pernod” yellow and I moved in!

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view from the other direction.

The space is about ten by twelve feet; there are only walls on two sides so it feels very open and airy. One of the remaining two sides is a half wall that allows me to view our back garden and the last side is more of an extension of the foyer. In this hallway area I placed four very large cabinets, which hold all of my fabrics and much of my notions and other supplies.

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I have 5 work stations arranged in a U-shape, and two chairs that are shared between them. The main sewing table is a countertop height Koala table with electric lift and back extension which is easily erected when I need a large surface for cutting, layouts or sewing very large items like curtains or quilts. My main machine is an Elna 900, a combo sewing and embroidery machine. He is named HAL because of the big red spot on his touch screen, and because he scarily knows more than I do about his operations sometimes…. I recently got the extra-large foot pedal and love it! I keep my most needed tools and notions in the drawers of this cabinet.

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Back Leaf extended; love the floating side leaf!

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Directly behind the main table is another Koala cabinet which matches in height and width. There are two sets of storage drawers; the larger set is where I keep the accessories for my 900, as well as my Westalee quilting templates. On top are cups and containers for pens and marking tools, as well as pin cushions. Charity sewing projects are in the open cubbies, as well as bobbin and thread cases. My Accuquilt electric cutter also lives on top, with plenty of counter space when I’m using it, and folding away neatly in the corner when I’m not.

Next to the storage cabinet is a set of three drawers where I keep all the materials for current projects. I have two sets of these drawers, and love them for that purpose! The drawers are very large and I can put away any project I’m working on when I need to work on something else or when I’m just tired of it and want a break. On top of these drawers is a basket that holds a queue of future or potential future projects, as well as any household mending.

My ironing station is across from my main sewing table, against the half wall. I purposely put it there so I would have to get up every so often and stretch my legs. Yes, when I’m deep in a press-intensive project it’s a little annoying, but worth the bother. I have a great 18” wide ironing board (learn about his current cover here) and a Reliable Corporation i400 boiler type iron.

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Around the corner to the right of the ironing station is the second set of project drawers, as well as my 10-needle embroidery machine, a Baby Lock Enterprise (Enterprise G is his full and proper name.) This machine also sits on a Koala cabinet, the smaller embroidery station. The hoops for this machine are hanging on the wall to the right, above a Koala cabinet with a corner shaped top. There’s plenty of space for stabilizer in the open shelves as well as other embroidery supplies in the shelves and drawers below the unit. (On top of the set of project drawers is basket holding fabrics waiting to be washed.)

My Sewing Room-04

The Koala cabinet in the corner holds the accessories and supplies for my behemoth serger, a Baby Lock Triumph. It also has its own table, a Koala serger station. On top of the corner cabinet my Baby Lock Embellisher is sitting under his pretty blue toile cover, and next to the corner cabinet against the wall is my newest machine, a Baby Lock Sashiko. He also has a table which is shared with the Embellisher. No, neither the serger, embellisher nor sashiko have names – I guess they know who they are when I need them! Sashiko and embellisher supplies are kept in both the corner cabinet and the smaller set of drawers in the storage cabinet behind my main sewing table.

This wall holds the embroidery hoops for my 900, as well as my seasonal wall-hanging – this one is “Quiet Oasis” by Anita Goodesign made with a print fabric from Moda’s blushing Peonies collection.

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Across the “hall” are the large cabinets we put in; they’re called pantries and are available at the home store. As mentioned before they hold all my fabrics and most of my notions.

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Next to these cabinets are two Koala storage towers, on top of which sits my 7th machine. This is my Elna 540, my first sewing machine and now my travel machine for classes. He name is simply “Good Boy” as he always gets it done, though Jarvis was a possibility for a while. In these two cabinets are my patterns for clothing, quilting and other projects, as well as smaller or odd notions that don’t fit in the larger cabinets. Between these I slide my cutting mats for storage.

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Around the corner and across from the storage towers is my bookshelf holding rulers, books, notes, fabric swatches, sewn samples and other odds and ends. Next to the bookshelf lives my dress form, named duplicate O’Neill. (Yes, all my sewing things are “he’s” so no, I don’t do girly-girl names. And yes, I like science fiction and similar for those of you who’ve figured it out!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour of my sewing room, I certainly had fun sharing!

What’s New

Rooster Apron-2
Embroidery on Denim

The new year is well under way – spring is just around the corner! – and there are some exciting changes here at Embroidery and Gifts. Over the past year I have found that the majority of my clients are fellow sewers: home sewers, quilters, garment makers – all kinds of sewers! And one thing they all have in common is the need for specialty embellishments. Perhaps they don’t have an embroidery machine, or want custom quilt labels, or simply don’t have time or equipment for a new technique.

That’s where I come in! Whatever project you are working on, don’t feel limited by time or your ability – I can help you create something special! Need a matching handbag for your new cocktail dress? Want a supply of your own quilt labels? Would you like to embroider the lining for your new jacket but don’t have a large embroidery hoop? Have a wedding coming up but don’t have time to personalize the towel sets? Let me do it for you!

In addition to embellishment services, I will be posting tips and featuring projects on this blog each month to show that every sewing project can be made truly unique and special.