Happy Fall!

Or last of the summer sewing, however you’d like. It’s hard to accept today is the first day of fall, because here in Houston we’ll be pushing 100 for a high, and will be close to breaking record highs later in the week (which is really sad to think about, because the record highs were in the 100’s – in September – which is just, wow.)

I’ll be going to the beach with my grand-nephew soon, and since he’s eight that means playing in the sand and water. I wanted a coverup that would be easy to wear, and get on and off, especially over a wet swimsuit. I thought a two-piece would be nice, so I pulled out Kwik Sew 3203. It’s nothing to look at – about as boring a pattern photo as you could pick. But with a pull-on pant and pull over tunic, it was just what I needed. A quick note on pattern alterations: the sleeve and pant leg both taper; I changed them to be straight because I thought getting them on over damp skin would be easier. This gives the sleeve and pant a very box look, but the fabrics are so lightweight, it doesn’t affect them much.

I used a cotton double gauze from Roz of Sew Much Fabric for the pant, and a printed voile (?) lawn (?) from my stash for the top. I don’t remember from where or when I got it, I just remember thinking it was acceptable for pink, and then when I washed it, the pink ran into the white, so now it’s two shades of pink… yeah, I should use color catchers more. Again, both fabrics are very lightweight, and will dry very quickly too while wearing.

The printed fabric doesn’t need any embellishment, but plain white pants needed something, so I embroidered all over them! I picked a variegated thread that matched the colors from the top, and chose a nice tropical feeling design. Only problem was, I couldn’t decide which design I wanted, so I did all five. These designs are in-machine on my Solaris, but if you have a newer Baby Lock (and I think Brother) embroidery machine, you’ll probably have them too. The designs are of hibiscus and anthuriums, birds of paradise and one other plant whose name I can’t remember.

Embroidering on the gauze was actually very easy; choose a lightweight pattern and use a sticky wash away. I didn’t even use a topper, but you could if you wanted to be careful. My sample turned out really well though, so I didn’t feel I needed one.

If you want a heavier design, you’ll need a permanent stabilizer, like heavy weight cut away, that is left in after embroidery. But this will leave a very lightweight fabric with very stiff areas which might make wearing the garment unpleasant. Don’t forget to save your fabric scraps for hair accessories! Your metal barrettes and combs will not thank you to be in salt water (or chlorinated pool water for that matter.) So do yourself a few headbands and scrunchies while you’re at the machine. There are many, many tutorials online for those.

Fixing Block Bubbles

When you’re making blocks in the hoop, whether for a wall hanging, a quilt, or really any composite project, the regular order of operations is: stitch a placement line, place then trim batting, place background fabric, then stitch out the design.

I’m not too worried about this bubble, since the project is for my own home and won’t be terribly noticable when it’s in place at the top of a tall wall.

Sometimes the batting has enough “grab” to hold the background fabric, sometimes not; the photo above is what can happen.

To fix that, you have a couple of options: the first is tape. There are several embroidery-specific tapes, like OESD’s Expert Embroidery Tearaway Tape or Floriani’s Pick Perfection Tape. And some like to use paper medical tape or low-tack painter’s tape. I like OESD’s when I use a tape in embroidery, either their tear away or their wash away. Depending on the weight of the fabric and the density of the stitches, you may need a little or a lot of tape.

For keeping background fabric in place on embroidered blocks though, I prefer a second option: adhesive spray. It can be a bit messy, but I’ve done it enough that I can get sufficient adhesive on the back of the fabric without too much over-spray. I like it because it’s quick, I don’t have to worry about placement – not getting it under any stitching – and I don’t have to remove anything afterwards.

This happens to be my favorite brand, but there are many options out there; try your local quilt shop if your embroidery store doesn’t carry any.

In case you forgot to use either of the above options, here’s what you can do (if you catch it before your main design stitches out, that is.)

Forgot to put the sticky stuff, so the fabric bunched up

Flip the hoop over. I learned early on from a dealer that embroidery stitches are easier to remove by cutting the bobbin thread first. Clip the bobbin thread in several places, with either tiny scissors or a seam ripper. Be careful not to puncture the stabilizer.

You probably only need to clip the outer line of stitching that’s holding the background fabric. Depending on your design, it may be different.
Tweezers can help with the little bits of thread left.

Flip the hoop back to right side up. If you clipped enough bobbin stitches, the placement/ tack down thread should pull right up. Realign your background fabric, adhere with your preferred method, and go back to work.

See you here next time!

Marking Blocks

Many embroidery projects are composed of multiple blocks – like my current project, Golden Tapestry by Anita Goodesign. The blocks often need to be trimmed down to the same seam allowance. This makes assembly easier; if all the bocks have a ½ inch or ¼ inch or whichever measurement you like seam allowance, then you can sail through and chain-piece your blocks.

The extra stabilizer and fabric needs to be removed from the edges

Sometimes though the project fabric makes it difficult to see the outer border of the block. With this dark fabric, I’m using white chalk to mark the corners; now I can see through the ruler. It may not show up well in the photo, but it’s much easier to see in person.

A simple thing, I know, but sometimes we forget to do these simple things to make our lives easier – ask me how many blocks I tried to trim before I thought of marking them! Too many….

See you here next time!

Bobbin Cleaning

Well I thought I was all set on auto pilot for the past month with my blog posts; unfortunately, technology continues to elude me. As you may know, I injured (or rather, re-injured) myself a couple of months ago, and after several weeks rest I started physio, as the British call it (I watched a lot of British shows during aforementioned rest…) Since I was going to be on a sewing hiatus, I wrote up and (so I thought) posted for future publication a few quick tips on embroidery. But nothing was posting, and I didn’t notice until this week – oops.

But here there are now, in rapid succession, starting with cleaning your bobbin case…. See you here again soon!

The picture’s a bit blurry, but you can see how ragged the edge of the satin stitch looks.

If your embroidery designs are getting a little long in the bobbin stitches, i.e., lots of bobbin thread is showing on top, it’s probably time to clean your bobbin case. As far as I know, all multi-needles come with a vertical bobbin – the kind all machines used to have. The bobbin case looks like this:

It’s a quick and simple fix; take piece of stiff paper (I’m using the corner of a piece of tearaway stabilizer), and run it under the little spring that holds the thread down.

That’s it! Doesn’t look like much, does it? But that tiny bit of build-up stops the spring from keeping tension on the thread, thus allowing the bobbin thread to get pulled to the top side. While you have it out, you might want to run a cotton swab around the inside of the case too, just to pick up any bits of threads or lint.

If you were stitching a satin stich as I am here, you can just back up your machine and stitch right over it, no problem. See, looks much better now! In fact, most stiches will be fine if you go back over them, just make sure to clip any loopy threads or nests on either side of the fabric before stitching over it again. You can of course, remove any previous stitching instead.

Machine Embroidery Sagas….

Lots of fun things happen when you’re doing large embroidery projects! You’re sailing along on your 30-something-th block, when you go to check your machine and for some reason, it’s stopped. You press start, and it won’t go; you use the thread cutter, it won’t go; you check the upper thread path, but nothing’s out of place. You only just replaced the bobbin, so you hit start anyway – and it still won’t start back up. Then you decide to check the bobbin just to be sure and – the hoop is sewn down onto the machine…. So you sit there, cutting through masses of thread to free the hoop from the machine, fingers crossed you don’t cut your project; then once it’s free you open the bobbin case, and see an absolute bird’s nest (or is it a rat’s nest at this point?) and start pulling and cutting away at that wad of thread too.

Imagine this wad of thread…
… in this bobbin area. Not fun to see!

I didn’t take photos of either, but I did get a photo of the wad after removal, and here’s a shot of the bobbin case too, so imagine at least that much thread wound around things in there, and a second wad between the hooped fabric and the machine bed… you can imagine what a mess it was – you’ve probably even had it happen yourself! And of course after I get it all cleaned up – there is no obvious reason for it to have happened. No broken needle, no broken thread, no slub in the fabric… just backed up the machine, re-started it and, it finished just fine. Can’t even tell there was a problem.

The scissors are pointing to the design element that chocked my machine; you can’t even tell it messed up, unless you run your finger over it; then you can feel it’s thicker. The machine then finished the remaining three circles, no problems. Go figure.


Well that was all, I just wanted to share that sometimes weird things happen with the machine, and there’s nothing wrong that you can find. Next time, a tip for marking and cutting blocks…

Summer Updates

We all know it’s hot, so I won’t say much about that. But I will ask if the squirrels in your yard are melting too? This poor little fella comes and sits on the porch outside my office window every afternoon and just spreads out like a hot dog on cold tile – you know what I mean if you’ve ever had a dog.

I can’t imagine brick is terribly cool in this weather, but the porch faces north, and there’s shade behind the pillar, so I guess it’s comparably cooler….

He did remind me of a squirrel we had at our previous home; I called him Licky the window washer. (No, I’m not creative at naming things.) We had a skylight in our kitchen, and each morning in spring it’d be covered in dew. This squirrel would come and lick a considerable portion of the window each morning, thus earing his appellation.

In other news, I have injured my ankle again. I have a stern admonition from my doctor to not “stand on it, walk on it, or do anything else that hurts…” (yes, it’s the old joke – if it hurts to do that, don’t do that.) Easier said than done of course. So, four weeks of putting my feet up (which is a little boring) while doing things that can be done sitting – which does not include sewing, because using the foot pedal hurts….

But before that I did get several garments cut out, and made good progress on my Golden Tapestry project, all of which I have a few quick posts about.

Enjoy one last photo of my poor melted squirrel, and I’ll see you here next time.

Yes, I see you!

A Cautionary Tale Regarding Dye Lots

Well not much of a tale, but a bit of a gripe and some mild self-kicking, and advocacy for buying “the fabric” when you see it…

I’m planning my next home décor project, which is this – Golden Tapestry by Anita Goodesign. I spent time in January and February auditioning many different color and fabric combinations, and decided on – wait for it – navy blue and gold silk dupioni, ha.

Sadly I won’t be able to use my sample blocks in my project, darn.

But the navy blue and gold I sampled is not the navy blue and gold that was available this week when I ordered. In the case of the navy, it was a matter of dye lot, which as anyone who has worked with fabric in any way can tell you, can vary wildly depending on the quality of the manufacturing process.

There’s not enough left of the samples to do the whole project

As for the gold, it was a matter of product change; I didn’t notice when, under My Account and Previous Orders, I clicked on the link of my previous purchase, I was taken to a page with the label “New” at the top. So even though I thought I was ensuring that I was getting the same product, the store changed the link on me. Curses. It’s not really the store’s fault; I didn’t notice, and they couldn’t get the same item anymore (I’m assuming), thus the “new” label.

All of which is to say, or rather encourage you, to buy it when you see it! Especially when you’re doing a big project like this and are making samples with specific fabrics and threads.

I guess they match well enough, but I’m none too happy

I’ve Been Reading…

Wasn’t that the name of a book review show? And I have been reading, or re-reading, a book by Linda Przybyszewski – The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish.

A really good book, especially if you like fashion history

I’ve been on a mini hiatus the past few weeks, and was reading to pass the time. You see, I’m in the generation that is currently middle aged, so the mantel of care has been passed to me, and I have a number of older friends and relatives who need to be checked on regularly, so between phone calls and travel, I have been busy with other things this past month or so.

(And yes I am middle-aged, as in, no longer young. I’m sorry to disappoint my good friend of 30 years and my doctor [who are my age] but we are not-young-any-more. They both get so upset when I say that… but it doesn’t either mean we are old, or that older people are necessarily old, but none of us are still young, deal with it.*)

Which brings me back to the book. In it, Ms. Przybyszewski talks about the women who used to be “Dress Doctors”, those who, not so much dictated what women should wear, but who used art principles to help women decide what to wear, what was becoming and age appropriate. She also explores how we as a culture came to the idea that young is good, old is bad, and we need to look young all the time. And in my lifetime American culture has more than bought into the idea.

I won’t get into too much detail – Ms. Przybyszewski does it better, get her book – but I very much like the idea that there are things, styles, colors, jewelry, that are more appropriate for the mature woman. Not old woman, but mature; the woman who has life experience. And that experience gives her the mien to wear more sensual clothing, clothes that have gravitas a 20-year-old just can’t pull off.

So I will let my sense of self inform my own personal style – and that self is squarely middle-aged, thank you – along with a little guidance from the Dress Doctors. I hope what I convey is that I am an experienced, worldly, adult woman, and I don’t need to wear a mini skirt to prove it.

I love the idea that only an older woman could have worn this dress! If you can’t see in the photo, she’s also wearing strings and strings of pearls… coupled with the yards and yards of chiffon, it makes for a very luxurious effect.

*As an aside, I’m reminded of an episode of Frasier, where he is complaining to Niles that he’s 51, and that’s only middle age… Niles quips back, “so you’re planning to live to be 102…”

More Adventures in Curtain Tie Backs

Well not really, I just thought it’d be a fun title. But I did learn some things, so it could have been an adventure….

In my bedroom I have some very long and heavy light blocking curtains. And while they work to block the light, they have grommets in the top and are a little difficult to pull open and closed every morning and evening. I thought it’d be easier to use tie backs to keep them open.

Since they’re so heavy, and so long, I decided on a very wide tie back – 8 inches. And of course I was going to embroider them! I wanted to try something a bit different, so I used a “thread velvet” or cut thread design from OESD.

Here’s my test run – always test it first! As you can see, my chosen stabilizer didn’t work well and there are wrinkles and pulling galore. I thought a fusible cutaway stabilizer would be enough, but there’s a lot of stitches (31,671) going into a fairly small area, about 5 by 7.

Instead I used good ol’ Décor Bond. It’s fairly firm and will help such wide tie backs keep their shape, but is still thin enough to embroider through.

And here’s the final result, with all the threads cut to create a velvety look. (OK, I actually think they look a little like wooly bears, but you know, I think weird things.)

Oh, and there’s another reason to make a sample – you can audition your colors! If you notice in this side-by-side, the first sample has a darker brown than the second. I didn’t care for the darker one so I changed it out and like it much better.

But wait you say – there are still wrinkles! Why yes, yes there are – because I pressed the Décor Bond from the back. It does not like to be pressed, let alone steamed heavily; at least not directly. Adhere and steam it from the fabric side of your project. So lesson to learn: normally you press embroidery from the back, but if you use something like Décor Bond (which I suspect contains nylon), press from the front. And use a pressing cloth!

Alright, second tie back, pressed from the front – ooh, so much better!

Normally I would have flipped one design so they would mirror each other after installation, but I forgot so I just hung one upside down; it looks different enough.

Sorry for the poor picuture; it’s a south facing window, so never a good time of day to take a photo. But you can see the shape I was going for with the tie backs.

And here we are, new tie backs for the bedroom. The fabric was a silk dupioni I had left over from another project, the Crane Tapestry, and since it hangs in the same room I thought it would be nice to try and match it. Light blue on periwinkle may not be terribly chic, but I can always change them!

Sewing Room Storage – Yet Again

The before…

Hello everyone! I’m back with the final final storage for my sewing room. When we moved last year, we just took it all with from the old house and I used what we had and made do. And it was fine; it worked, and somehow I got everything stored (despite having more to store; see below.) But I was never happy with it, my husband was never happy with it, and I finally decided on what I did want for storage. I think it was just the oppressive feel of those big, dark cabinets in such a light-colored room. They worked really well in the old house, both as storage and as furniture but they felt out of place here.

Lots of boxes to unpack

So, out with the old, in with the new – we got a closet storage system to cover one entire wall. This particular one is by Easy Track, and I like it because it hangs from the wall, allowing you to use the space underneath as well. The units are 24 inches wide, 30 inches for the corner units, and come with your choice of shelves, rods, drawers or doors. You can also get 15-inch-wide units; 35-inch selves to use with plain vertical panels; baskets, shoe shelves and hampers if you’d like.

Nearly done…

It went in over one long week; we did two or three hours after work each day, and spent the weekend before breaking down the previous storage and rearranging the room, packing up everything that was inside the cabinets and other storage; the weekend after putting everything away again. I also made space in my office for the bookshelf and a majority of the books and my embroidery designs, though I left in the sewing room the books that I tend to use in there.

The fashion fabric is in…

The boxes come flatpack, so you do have to assemble it yourself. That wasn’t so bad though. The bad part was they sent the wrong doors, so I had to hang curtains to protect my fabric while I waited on them. And in fact they shorted me one set of doors, which I’m still waiting on…. The doors and drawers come with brushed nickel knobs, but I found some pretty clear acrylic ones to use instead. They’re a little “boudoir”, but I like them.

Finally finished!

Otherwise it’s up and done and working so very nicely! I’ve finally found the storage system that works best for me and my sewing room.

Around the corner to the left is yet a little more shelving.

As for having more to store… I was not entirely honest with myself at my old house. I was always saying that I had everything in my sewing room, except my 10-needle machine. Not true! I had at least half a closet of things that necessitated additional storage when we moved to the new house, if I were to keep everything in one room. Which I still don’t in fact; I have some lovely vintage actual cotton velveteen (which just means cotton velvet) that I keep stored by hanging in a closet. But I know that’s there, so it’s alright. Happy Spring, and see you here again soon!