Tips on Hooping Your Embroidery Project

Samina asked me to list some tips for hooping embroidery, and I’m more than happy to share what I know on the subject.

Now, let me preface with this: I am not an embroidery teacher, nor am I an expert on hooping; I do not have knowledge of every embroidery machine there is, nor have I tried every possible combination of fabric, stabilizer and thread. Having said that,

-The first place you should look for info on hooping is your machine’s manual, as well as the manufacturer’s website; you can often find at least the basics there.

-The next source of good info is the stabilizer manufacturer’s website. They’ll have charts, videos and other information about which stabilizer to use in which context.

-Another potential source is your dealer. Now, as much as they know about the machines, they may not actually do much embroidery, especially on a variety of substrates, so ask very carefully about their experience. A dealer may only regularly run tests with embroideries that come with the machine, and on plain cotton on a tearaway stabilizer – not a lot of room to mess up there!

-Run a test first, using the exact fabric, stabilizer, topper, needle and thread, in the manner you intend to embroider. Yes, I know you know to do this, but almost no one does it. Or, they don’t do it with all the materials they intend to use.

For example, you just bought a pair of boots for winter, and want to add a design to the shaft – OK, fine. But don’t test your design on a piece of cotton with tearaway stabilizer and a ballpoint needle. Does your boot have an integrated sock? Is it a vinyl boot with a fabric backing, or canvas backing? Is it microsuede; is it a knit microsuede? You’ll need to get a piece of leather, vinyl or other fabric in a similar weight and backing to the boot, and you’ll need a leather or microtex needle depending on the material. Your stabilizer will depend on the density of the design and whether you’re leaving it in place or removing it from the project.

Now, does your boot have a zipper to open up the shaft? If not, you’ll need to sew your practice material into a tube of similar diameter to the boot, to make sure you can load it onto your machine. Now hit start – did the stitch-out go as you planned? Probably not, but that’s why we’re doing a sample….

Is this an extreme example? Yes, but I want you to understand that taking a bit of time now will save you even more time later. As Major Freedman replied to Colonel Flagg’s suggestion that he do himself a favor, “who deserves one better?”

-Hoop smooth and firm, but not taught. What’s the difference? When I first started embroidering, other people – students and teachers alike – were always recommending that I get my fabric “drum tight.” Well, we’re embroidering, not making tympanies, so that isn’t necessary. In fact, if it’s too tight, when you unhoop it and the fabric relaxes back, it’s going to bunch up against the embroidery, since it can’t go back to its original position. Remember fabric is flexible, and try to keep the grain in the correct position.

-But don’t either hoop loosey-goosey. If the fabric is too loose, then it may wrinkle or even pull loose from the hoop, no matter how much you’ve tightened it. This is more likely to happen with multi-needle hoops, but can happen with single needle hoops.

-Make sure your fabric and stabilizer are smooth – if you put wrinkles in, you get wrinkles out!

-Use the right stabilizer. I know several people who are still using the same jumbo roll of medium weight tearaway they bought 30 years ago, for all their embroidery projects. While I realize that’s about all they had at the time, there have been real innovations in stabilizers since. Yes, some of it is probably a “scam” designed to get you to buy more stuff, but I don’t think it’s any more of a scam than using the right type of needle. That and, paper doesn’t last forever, it may have lost some integrity over the decades. I know for a fact that sticky stabilizers don’t last all that long (the adhesive changes; some get stronger, some get weaker), and clear toppers can go bad too. Buy what you need, keep your stock rotated!

-Some items can’t be hooped; you’ll need to float them. This means laying the item down over the hooped stabilizer. You might use a sticky stabilizer; you might use a fusible. You might also use the basting stitch if your machine has one to hold the item in place. You might use clamps, or pins, or tape. You will likely use several of these techniques together on one project!

-Once in a great while, you’ll hoop the item and float the stabilizer underneath. This mostly happens with cutwork embroidery, but if you’re having a time with your project, it won’t hurt to try.

-Make sure you’ve opened your hoop enough. One reason fabric and stabilizer get misaligned when you hoop is that you’re trying to force the inner ring into the outer ring, so the layers slip. You shouldn’t have to force anything; the inner ring should slip easily into the outer ring. Once it’s in place, tighten the screw.

-You may need a leave-in stabilizer. Most people are keen to remove the stabilizer from their project, even when it can stay in. Yes, I know it’s called tearaway, but if removing it is causing your fabric or stitches to deform, you may need to use a leave-in (often called a cutaway.) Or, use a washaway if you really need to take it out, if appropriate for your project.

Let’s look at some photos!

This first set of photos shows loosey-goosey vs. smooth and firm. On the left, note how the fabric dips below the hoop. You may also notice that the bottom of the outer ring is level with the bottom of the inner ring; in this type of hoop, that is incorrect. The inner ring should be proud of the outer ring – note the photo on the right. To correct this, just push the outer ring on a bit further (try turning it upside down); it takes out the slack and gives you correct tension.

In this next photo, on the right is our well-hooped fabric; on the left, I have “fixed” it by tugging the fabric at both sides of the hoop. I used a stripe so you can see: even when you pull evenly on both sides, you’re still pulling the grain out of alignment.

When I unhoop both pieces of fabric, you can see that, though both have a bit of “hoop burn” (which is normal and will press out of most fabrics), the center of the fabric on the right is still quite smooth; the one on the left, even though the tension has been released, is still catawampus. If there had been embroidery in place, the grain would be stuck in this position.

The hoop in the next set of photos is what most of us will have on a single needle machine. On the left, I have only pushed the inner ring down into position, and it is well aligned. All I need to do now is tighten the hoop. Because of bad habits, most people will tug on the fabric after tightening the hoop – don’t do that! As you can see in the photo on the right, the grain is now misaligned.

In this next photo, all I have done is to loosen the hoop. As I slowly loosened, I could see the grain going back to its previous alignment – see the straight stripes again?

Now, in the above photos the fabric was hooped without a stabilizer; this was for simplicity’s sake, so you could better see the fabric. But all the above still stands when you use stabilizer. In fact, you will almost never not use stabilizer. Even if you’re embroidering on something as stable as oilcloth or a heavy leather golf bag, you will use stabilizer. Why? Because extra firm items will likely slip in the hoop, the stabilizer will help reduce that. Also, the stitches need support on non-woven substrates; firm things like vinyl, leather or pleather can perforate, which means you stitching will pull out.

Let’s look at a few more photos!

I found this test stitch-out when I was cleaning out a drawer. Apparently I started to remove the stabilizer at the time, but didn’t finish.

As you can see, where the stabilizer has been removed, the fabric is puckering a bit. (I’m holding the piece up so you can better see the puckers.) What’s happening here? Is the design too heavy for the fabric? Did I hoop the fabric and stabilizer wrong? Did I over-tighten the fabric in the hoop? Maybe it just hasn’t been pressed yet – did you know, you should be pressing most of your embroidery after it’s finished, just like all good sewing. Let’s remove the rest of the stabilizer, press it, and see what happens.

Well, not much. I used an embroidery pressing cloth and steamed, and left the iron in place while it dried, but got bupkis.

(This cloth from OESD is nice and inexpensive. You can also get a larger size for your ironing board – it makes a nice pad under your cover for all your pressing. You can also use a nice, fluffy towel to press on. Place your embroidery design side down, then steam and press gently from the back.)

Well not quite bupkis; the right(hand) side of the design looks better after pressing. The left side however, still puckery.

If I lay it down flat, you can see the ripple along the outer left edge of the fabric. What does this tell us? I probably pulled the left side too tight while I was hooping. It could also need a different stabilizer, or, it could be too heavy of a design for this fabric. I can change the stabilizer, change the design, or change the fabric and see what happens.

I hope you found some good tips to try today – don’t forget to experiment to see what works best for your project, and good luck!

I May Be Out for a While…

A lace poinsettia for the holidays

…but I’ll be back. I’m having a procedure done later this month (no worries, nothing serious) but it will require a somewhat lengthy convalescence, which convalescence will then run into my annual winter holiday (Thanksgiving to New Year’s.) If I’m up to it, I’ll write, but I’m planning on not being up to it. I’ll have one or two more posts this month and may or may not have some non-project posts for you in November – we’ll see!

But to keep up on local Houston sewing, don’t forget to stop by Roz’s blog here, Samina’s here, and keep up with Ms. Andrea here – these ladies always have fun and inspiring things to share!

Thanks for reading and if I don’t see you, I hope you enjoy the upcoming holidays!

How to Incorporate Embroidery into Your Sewing Projects

Embroidery can go anywhere you want!

Hello everyone; I was reading over at Samina’s blog and came across a comment on one of her older posts (she had invited us to read some of her earliest posts to see how far she’d come, so I did!) It inspired me to share my thoughts about it.

They said that although they had an embroidery machine, they had trouble incorporating designs into their projects. I hear this a lot from my fellow sewers, especially after they’ve seen my own work.

It can be hard to incorporate embroidery designs – you have to think about them all the time, and plan for them, figure out when and where to use them. Planning and executing a sewing project can already be fraught, especially when it’s one you haven’t done before, which brings me to my first tip:

  • Use it in a project you’ve made before. For one, you won’t have the stress of an unknown project, and you’ll also have a good idea where in the process to add the embroidery.
  • Don’t necessarily pick a complex project. It’s not that you can’t add embroidery to a complex project of course, but if you’re starting out you may want to make it as simple on yourself as possible.
  • Start with traditional placements. What’s traditional? Pockets, hems, necklines, upper left bodice, shirt yokes, cuffs – places where you might normally have a monogram or small crest. From there, branch out to collar points, sleeves, the front or back of pants and skirts, hat brims, even scarves.
  • Don’t forget hidden places. Just because you’re using embroidery, doesn’t mean anyone has to know about it! I did the lining panels on a dress of mine – no one knows it’s there except me. And I embroider my husband’s initials on the inner yoke of all his shirts, so consider unusual places for a design.
  • Embroider during the sewing process; this allows you to hoop just the fabric or pattern piece you’ve cut out, and you can probably do it in the flat instead of trying to hoop a finished item. Really think about where you want it to be in the finished item (easier if you’ve made the project before) and where in the process you’ll need to stop and do the embroidery.
  • For heavy designs, embroider the fabric before you cut it out. Any time you decorate a piece of fabric, whether with shirring or embroidery or pintucks, you are altering the size of the fabric.  Imagine if you cut out your shirtfront first, then put the pintucks in – you’re gathering fabric, so it won’t be the same size when you’re finished.

You may remember the design in the photo from my evening jacket project here; I placed embroidery on the sleeve vents, the center back bodice, and along the bottom border. It took a bit of planning, deciding on a design, and some practice runs on the fabric to get the stabilizer and thread choices right, but in the end I had a piece with quite a lot of embroidery.

Take your time and do a little planning – and even if you do forget, you can probably still embroider something on your project after you finish. With some patience you’ll be embroidering on all kinds of things!

Book Suggestions – And a Tip

My go-to sewing reference, and it’s quick look-up companion

I frequently see posts on forums and other sites bemoaning the lack of instructions in sewing patterns. People ask how they should finish a seam, or how to sew on a button, or what kind of treatment to use – fusible interfacing? Sew in? And how in the world do you do even do hand stitches?

Well the answer is – your library is incomplete. Or perhaps your training is, but it can be supplemented by adding certain books to your library. You see, sewing patterns are really more of short hand, especially patterns from the well-established companies; the Big 4(5) as they call them. That’s because long ago when learning to sew was a more everyday occurrence, you were taught a lot of basics – like choosing a seam finish, buttons or snaps, how to sew in a hook and eye – and myriad many more things in the course of learning to sew. That’s not to say you learned everything, though, and that’s why many companies put out books – sewing companions or primers – with sewing techniques.

My favorite is Vogue Sewing, Revised and Updated, ISBN #1933027002. It’s no longer in print, but if you come across a copy for less than $40, grab it. The price can get crazy online, so be careful. I would say this was an excellent book, except for one tiny thing: it has some, “health” advice? in the introductory chapter. Nothing bad, but telling people if they don’t like the way they look in their clothes that they should diet, well, really doesn’t belong in a sewing book I think. Getting your clothing to fit well is a much easier and more productive use of your time to look better in your clothes, and this book can help.

But my goodness, the amount of information this book has – about so many things. It will help you choose a seam finish, explain all the types of fasteners and when it’s best to use which, what the pattern instructions mean when they say certain things, a lot about fabrics and notions and tools, types of sleeves, types of bodices, types of necklines, types of pants… it really has so much!

Another good one is The Complete Book of Sewing by DK Publishing ISBN #0789496585. While not as detailed as the Vogue, it’s still an excellent reference. Unfortunately I lent mine out a while back, and I don’t think I’ll see it again. Sigh.

Singer also has great books too, like Sewing Essentials. Actually, most of the Singer books are really good.

Sadly, all are out of print, so you’ll be scouring those tiny little out of the way books stores in each small town you visit, looking to see what they have. And you never know what you’ll find – I scored an excellent book about draperies and other window treatments.

And don’t be afraid because the pictures are old or seem dated – the fashions may have changed but the techniques are still very useful, and can still be used.

But back to my tip, which is – you need a companion book. Where the pattern instructions stop, these books pick up. I share the rest of my library below; what are your favorite sewing references?

Older reference books that have some different and interesting techniques
I use this one a lot to refer to hand stitching
Other books on various subjects to round out my fashion sewing
Books I find very useful for home decor sewing, as almost no contemporary guides exist
And finally, just fun and informative books I’ve found on subjects that no modern sewing instructors touch on – I guess they think we only want “basic” sewing

Designer Duds for the Garden and a Tip

Who says gardening can’t be fashionable? I recently finished a second pair of overalls for myself and my husband, and I used designer fabric to boot. It’s a Ralph Lauren denim (sold out?) from our local fabric maven Roz at Sew Much Fabric.

They’re a bit big to photograph together; I tried to lay them out on the sofa.

Here are mine again pinned to my dress form.

It’s the same pattern I used last time, Kwik Sew 3897. It says misses but when I compared it to a men’s pattern, it was pretty much the same, so I used it for both of us.

I embroidered my pockets with a cute little gingko design from Urban Threads,

and did traditional topstitching on my husband’s pockets.

,A quick tip: turning denim as for the straps here, can be a bit difficult, most “tube turning tools” aren’t designed for heavier fabrics. So, I created my own: I used a rod from a HangIt DangIt© quilt hanger. It’s very sturdy and has a much larger diameter than most turning tools.

After you sew, press and trim your tube, get it started at one end by pushing in your thumb a bit, then push it down onto the device of your choice, then keep pulling until your tube is turned. It’s kinda like those water toys we used to have, they continually turn themselves inside out – do they still make those?

Then once it’s right-side-out, you can straighten it, poke your corners out and press before topstitching. Try it next time you have a heavy fabric to turn!

Some of you may have noticed a small hole on either side of the bib in the second pair of overalls; this is because I mis-placed the buttons; they actually needed to be a little closer in. Unfortunately bachelor buttons leave holes in the fabric, so after removing them I used a little fray block to keep the fabric from unraveling.

I’ll have to make a note on the pattern so I don’t do it again!

The New Sewing Studio – a Tour

Organizing in progress; that’s Rosie in the middle. He’s OK with the vacuuming but doesn’t do baseboards or the mopping…

It’s hard to believe we moved in seven months ago – time is really flying for us this year. All the remodeling is done, I’ve moved back in to my new studio, and everything is fairly well in place and organized.

It’s a single, large room – 19 ft x 19 ft – with my main sewing table holding my Solaris, Sunny, along with a second sewing table that holds my Sashiko machine, in the center of the room. With the leaf left in place, I have a 70- by 53-inch work area, where I can sew large items like curtains, do quilting on my regular machine or Sashiko, and have space for cutting and layout. When I need extra (though I can’t imagine it!), I can deploy the side tables and extend my worktop to an amazing 102 by 53 inches – wow!

Under the main table on both sides, I have my “in progress” project drawers, as well as table leaves and inserts.

Just behind the main table is my serger Gargantua, a Triumph, sitting cozy in his own table. I can easily turn from my main machine to my serger with a spin of my chair – it makes using both machines together a breeze.

On the other side of the main table is a side table, used for storing equipment and paper work, among other items. Also on this wall are the bookcase and main storage cabinets – four “pantries” that are 24 by 24 inches, and seven feet tall. The majority of my fabrics, as well as notions, cutting dies and a few other things are stored here. The top of the cabinets is a good place for large, lightweight things like batting.

Across from the main table are two windows looking out on a side yard, where I hope to have my future kitchen garden, and can have something really nice to look at while I sew. My dress form Duplicate O’Neill and a tall storage cabinet are in the corner.

Also across from the main table are a small sofa for when I do hand work, and a TV to play ‘Anne Girl’ DVD’s when I have very long projects to get done. (Anne Girl being Anne of Green Gables, based on the books by L.M. Montgomery. And if it’s not Anne Girl, then it’s Inspector Lewis or Star Trek… my taste in TV runs very wide.)

The storage tower on the other side of the door holds all of my sewing patterns, which I talk about here.

The main feature on the other side of the room is my 10-needle machine, Enterprise G, as well as my first machine, an Elna 540, who is officially named Jarvis but mostly goes by Good Boy.

For my 10-needle I have a wide variety of hoops, some in multiples as well for when I’m doing large projects with multiples. My husband hit upon the idea of a pot rack to hang them all from the ceiling since floor space was so precious, and I have to say it has worked out very well. Below the hoops are a short a cabinet with serger and decorative threads, and on top is a set of drawers for my embroidery threads, which is joined by a smaller set of temporary drawers with yet more threads, sewing and otherwise.

My Elna has its own cabinet too, and I usually leave it setup to practice template quilting, though perhaps that’s more aspirational than I’d like to admit. But it was put through its paces recently as the topstitching machine for two sets of overalls – see here for my post.

And what sewing room is complete without an ironing station? Mine is here, behind the 10-needle, with my Reliable i400 boiler iron ready to go any time. The little storage piece has my ironing accoutrement on top for easy access.

Thanks for taking a tour with me; I hope you’ll share your own sewing space soon.

Staying Organized in the Sewing Room, Continued

My pattern cabinet also holds my “sound system”; and old iPad mini and stereo speakers. I also have a lovely Patty Palmer original sitting on top.

Recently nursing a twisted ankle allowed me to finally catalog my paper patterns. I don’t remember how many boxes I needed for them when I moved, but pulling them all out of the file cabinet that week I needed six 12-in boxes. That’s six cubic feet of patterns! Turns out, I have 342 paper patterns – quite a collection.

Finally, nice and tidy!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I catalogued them in an Excel file, and cross referenced them with the pattern photos.

This is the cabinet I keep all my sewing patterns in; when I put them all back, I organized them by company, then by number so I can quickly find them when I need to. I keep my cut patterns in clear plastic string folders. Which for the moment all fit in the bottom drawer, but eventually I’ll need to find more storage for that size folder.

Share your ideas for pattern storage in the comments!

No, I’m Not “Ready for Fall”

Nothing like white linen to give you cool thoughts… even if it isn’t cool out.

I guess our fellows in the north get excited around mid-August, maybe they even feel a change in the air; but here, in Houston (and the New Orleans area where I grew up and used to live) it’s still hot. Damn hot. And will continue to be hot for weeks, if not months. So no, I’m not ready for fall sewing, fall fashion, fall baking – and I’m really not ready for holiday plans.

But it’s not just people in the north, people here get into this, I don’t know, false-fall mode? Media, the news, stores, restaurants – there’s even a pseudo-holiday when Starbucks announces its pumpkin latte flavor is back on the menu… I hope they serve it well chilled.

Why can’t we embrace our own seasons here in our part of the country? Why do we have to follow trends and declare that it’s fall, and start trying to wear sweaters and boots and coats, and drinking hot coffee that tastes like melted pie?

Do not mis-understand me; as an amateur astronomer, I am especially appreciative of the wonder that is nature and am happy to celebrate its cyclical nature, and acknowledge the shortening of days with the summer solstice, and then to later acknowledge the more quickly lengthening nights with the autumnal equinox… and I love pumpkin pie, but only serve it if it’s going to be cold on Thanksgiving, which it so often is not here.

I feel though that fall is forced on us, that we’re left celebrating or at least moving to a schedule that isn’t really our own. Perhaps a hang-over from our culture centering on trends from places like New York and Paris? I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest this, but maybe we should have our own seasons, and call the coming months second summer – or at least acknowledge that autumn for us is decidedly not cold, and is usually even warm.

Maybe I can rally my fellow Houston Fashionistas (our local sewing club) to create a style or wardrobe that is unique and specific to us, instead of looking to the northern climes for boots and sweaters and coats – and whatever other inappropriate things show up in our stores come the beginning of September.

What do think? What should we put in our closets to reflect our local seasons? Share with us in the comments!

Why I Have a Fabric (and Pattern, and Button, etc.) Stash

My stash at my old house – the stash looks pretty mcuh the same, photos to come!

It’s been noticed – and noted – that I have a very large stash. Yes, I do. Like most humans and bowerbirds, I’m a collector at heart. I tend to collect around my hobbies, like sewing and cooking. I also think it’s part and parcel of being creative – we collect things around us to inspire us. And so it is with my stash; it’s meant to inspire me.

I also keep a stash because I’m lazy and forgetful, as well as easily distracted: when I go to work on a project, I want to work on the project. And, because certain things aren’t in constant production, like fabric.

When I first started sewing, I would see a project or idea or fabric that I really liked. But I would get home and forget about it, or decide to buy the fabric later, only to find it sold out, or forget what the pattern was or where I saw it, so couldn’t go back and get it. I also hate having an idea and not being able to act on it immediately – my inspiration is fickle and fleeting! I also really, really dislike going out to get supplies for a project. If I don’t have the ingredients in my pantry, or the supplies in my sewing room, I’m likely to skip it and choose to do no project instead.

So, I have a store of ingredients in my pantry, and a stock of fabrics, patterns and notions in my sewing room. Some may enjoy coming up with an idea, then figuring out what they need, then running around town getting it together, but I don’t. As I said, I’m lazy, find crowds and driving exhausting, and even with 2-day shipping that’s too long and I’ll get distracted by something else and the project will get pushed to the backburner, and I’ll find the components stuck in a drawer months later and wonder what I wanted all that stuff for.

What do you keep in your stash and why?

Which Door is Which? – A Quick Project

The photo above is the foyer in my new home. There are three doors on one wall, looking very much like each other; can you tell which is the garage, which is the coat closet, and which is the powder room? No, I couldn’t either, it took me a few tries after we moved in.

Now can you tell? I found this set of cute designs from Anita Goodesign. I just did it as a quilted panel, then put binding on the edges, with a little cloth hanger. Notice the serpentine stitch on the binding?

That’s called “I calculated the width of the binding way wrong and needed a way to hold it down” decorative stitching. Actually outer borders and bindings often have decorative stitching, it’s just that in this case, it was also necessary.

See how it catches it on the back?

Quick product review: if you notice, I used a command hook to hang this. I used to think these were the bees’ knees. In my old home I used them to hang all of my embroidery hoops on the wall. Well, since moving they’ve come down a little in my estimation.

Apparently, the sticky pad can get old. This makes it either very difficult to remove years later, or, they cannot be used if you’ve kept them around for a while. I had a tough time getting all the hooks off the walls in my old house, and when I went to rehang them in the new house, I used the sticky pads I’d already had for some time.

After a couple of weeks, I started hearing noises from my sewing studio: turns out, the hooks – and hoops! – were falling down. At first, I thought it was because the walls were a bit more textured than usual, but I had tried to place them where the texture was low. Every few days another hoop would fall – don’t worry, none were damaged. By the time I went to take them all down to do the remodel, I was having trouble getting them off the walls.

It was then I realized two things: most of the ones that had already fallen were the old pads I had purchased long before moving, and thus fairly old. And the ones that I had trouble getting off the walls – pulling up paint and paper from the drywall and breaking while trying to pull – were also the old ones. The new sticky pads I had purchased to hang the remainder of my hoops were holding fine on the walls, and were very easy to remove.

So I recommend these with a few reservations; if you’re going to buy sticky pads as you need them, and are going to move the hooks around fairly often, then they work as advertised. If you plan on hanging a hook and leaving it there for years, it will last but will be a bear to get off the wall without damage to the wall or to the pad. And if you try to use pads you bought years ago, the hook may just fall off the wall.

See you at the next post…