Finished Project: Landscape Christmas Table Topper

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Here’s my finished table topper; while it was for last winter, it will just be early for this coming winter!

Several people wrote to ask how long this kind of project takes, but it’s a little tricky to get an accurate estimate. One way of course is to track how much time it takes each time you do a project like this. While probably the most accurate, it does take some planning and perseverance because you have to write down stop and start times, consider the time for things like pre-washing and pressing fabric, cutting down yardage, the placement of appliques, replacing bobbins, and of course keep remembering to write all this down. If you’re very organized (and I am not) it can work.

Another good way to get an estimate is to look at total stitches. The total stitch-count for this project is 262,532 – and that’s just the embroidery remember. You also have to know how many stitches your machine is set to run at. You then divide the total stitches by the stitch-per-minute (spm) speed and you get a fair approximation of how long it might take. Let’s say you set your machine to 500 spm; you then get an estimate of 525 minutes, or 8.75-ish hours.

Let’s not forget, you might set your machine to run at 500 spm, but depending on the type of stitch it’s doing it may not actually be going that fast. If it’s a wide satin stitch, it may be going very slowly. A regular running stitch will go that fast, but a triple run or bean stitch will not.

Let’s also take into account what else needs to be done. If you’re hooping the fabric and stabilizer, hitting start and using a single color on a running stitch design, then you can be confident that the time estimate will be close. If however you have lots of appliques, lots of color changes, and other similar things, that will slow down your progress.

This brings up another question I received from a sewing acquaintance; she was frustrated using her combo machine (single needle sewing and embroidery machine) to do one of these projects, and assumed my having a 10-needle made them much easier. Well yes and no; this particular project was done on my own combo machine, Sunny. Why? Because of the number of appliques per block. If I have to be there to add an applique every one or two steps, then there’s no difference in effort using the single-needle or the 10-needle. Yes, having all the colors set up on the 10-needle saves some seconds per color change, but not enough that it matters to me.

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Sunny, my single needle/ combo machine

So where do you use a 10-needle (or any multi-needle)? My current project is a good example, the Crane Tapestry. It has one base fabric, possibly one or two appliques, and the rest are just stitches in only three colors. I especially save time here because this design has very long run times, so I can let the machine go completely and not have to be too attentive to color changes that might have 30 or 40 minutes between them. I do have to set up the machine to stop at the first few appliques, but then I hit start and walk away.

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My 10-needle, “Enterprise-G”

(There are of course other reasons for multi-needle machines, but I won’t go into that here.)

So how long did this table topper project take? Approximately 7.5 hours of run time, plus two to three minutes per applique at seven to sixteen appliques per block, let’s say another 5 hours; then time to assemble and press the blocks, sashing, backing and binding, another 3-ish hours… I would say 15 to 17 hours, give or take, as I’m sure there are several steps I’m forgetting. And then there’s time to plan the project, select the materials, prep the materials… it wouldn’t be unfair to say maybe 20 altogether.

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First ten blocks, with number eleven just off the machine

How long will my current project take me? Whew; it’s got 1.6 million stitches, so run-time alone is about 44.7 hours at 600 spm. And the time to set up each block for 64 blocks, call it 10 to 15 minutes, another 16 hours… so just creating blocks will be about 60 hours.

Another Quick Tip for Large Projects

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Cover Art from Anita Goodesign

This particular project, Crane Tapestry, is very large, 64 blocks. And while technically all the bocks are unique, some of them can start to look quite the same. The instructions came with a grid that labels each block, and I can mark them off and match them as I complete them.

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You can see the included grid on the left, and my pencil markings on the lower left corners of each block

I have also though decided to mark the back of each block with its number (or something similar) so I can keep track of which order they go in.

Another easy thing to do of course is to assemble the blocks as they’re created, but with several projects going at once right now, I will need to wait a little while before I can start assembly. I will though take the time occasionally assemble the finished blocks just so I won’t have so much to do at a later time.

Llama Mama Sleep Sack

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Here’s another quick project I did recently, a sleep sack for my niece. I’d never hear of a sleep sack before, but it’s basically a sleeping bag with arm holes, I imagine so little ones don’t get tangled in the blankets.

I found a pattern here, from Peek-a-Boo Patterns. It was unfortunately PDF only, so you do have to spend time printing, trimming, taping and tracing – thankfully it’s only a small pattern.

Her Mom requested I make Lil’Bit’s sleep sack without foot-holes, so I traced the larger size straight across the bottom and proceeded as for the other sizes. (My niece is known to me alternately as Lil’Bit, Sweet Pea and Goober Girl, for when she’s really acting up.)

The fabric is a cute Riley Blake print I got From Harts Fabric – my niece is now a llama mama!

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I also embroidered her initial on the shoulder, and since it’s for her to wear while sleeping, I thought a little extra itch-protection would be nice; I used a fusible tricot to cover the back of the embroidery. Most stabilizer manufacturers sell a product just for this, something like Gentle Touch or Light ‘n’ Soft Fuse-On. The truth is, they’re all just fusible tricot, and if you’re a garment sewer, you probably have some at home already. The specialty stabilizers tend to be pricey compared to garment interfacing.

I like the one my local fabric maven Roz sells here in black and white (temporarily out of stock); hers is great for knits, light wovens and is excellent for home décor, especially if you’re using a quilting or fashion fabric for your home dec project. If you’re using a very light weight or sheer fabric, the elegance fusibles from NY Fashion Sewing Supply are excellent as well.

For this flannel, I used a 3 oz cut away stabilizer. I didn’t bother with a topping because the flannel was pretty smooth, and I used a tatami-type stitch for the monogram, instead of a traditional satin stitch.

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For those of you who noticed, yes, the fabric is upside down on the front of the sack. I figure Lil’Bit will just get to see the llamas right-side up from her point of view for a change – it is a good reminder though to always double check your pattern placement when using directional prints!

Managing Large Embroidery Projects

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The wall hanging I made a couple of years ago

Most of our embroidery projects are small or quick – something we can turn out in a few minutes, or in a few short sessions: a monogram, a single-color design. We’ve got plenty of thread and stabilizer hanging around, and our project is there waiting to receive the design.

Occasionally though we want to do something grander: an embroidered quilt, a wall hanging – something with some square footage to it. So how do you plan for that? I find the keys are to be prepared and to stay organized.

One of the first things to do – the first thing to always do with any sewing project – is read the instructions. Not just a glance to see if you have the materials, or what notions you’ll need to buy; but sit down and go step-by-step and really understand what the project is asking for.

Once you’ve done that, the next thing is to make a list: what fabrics, battings, stabilizers, applique scraps, needles, threads and bobbins are required? Do you need spray adhesive, additional types of stabilizer or toppers, other notions like a zipper, ribbons or buttons? Just like a sewing pattern, you want to write down everything.

You’ll also need to make sure you have enough fabric and stabilizer; do you have the size of stabilizer you’ll need for the hoops you’re using? Remember the design will dictate which size hoop you use – always use the smallest hoop that will hold the design. Sometimes the company will tell you how much fabric you need, sometimes the design is not set and you’ll have to figure it out.

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I keep threads for an embroidery project together on a tray

Two examples of projects I’m doing now; Landscape Christmas and Crane Tapestry, both by Anita Goodesign. Crane Tapestry is fairly set: you have two sizes to choose from, there’s a background fabric, two applique fabrics, and three thread colors. Since it’s so simple, they’re able to tell you approximately how much fabric you’ll need.

Landscape Christmas however, is not a set project; you choose which blocks you want and how you want to arrange them. I wanted to make a table topper to match a wall hanging I made a few years ago, so I first measured my table, then decided which arrangements of blocks in which sizes would best cover the table. I made a list of these blocks, the size I was using, the number I needed of each and a sketch showing the configuration I decided on – because I would never remember what I had chosen later. This allowed me to get an approximate square footage of fabric and batting I’d need.

 

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My diagram, and the probably inaccurate math I used to calculate my fabric needs

I next print out the design sheets; these tell you which threads and appliques you’ll need, and in which order. They will also have either a photo of the design or block, or a full-size diagram that you can cut out as a template. Some embroidery designs come with both, it depends on the company you’re using.

I then make a list of the colors or thread numbers that are used; this usually turns out to be a very long list. Sometimes I find that across a dozen blocks, eight or nine shades (or more!) of a color will be used. This often has to do with the designer’s ideas about what color an object should be – street lamps are this color grey, car wheels are this color, door knobs are yet another. Then within these objects, there’s shading and highlighting, and you can wind up with two or three colors per object. (Sometimes too I think they just have a whole set of thread colors to choose from, and use as many as they see in front of them!)

 

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The list of colors on the left – it gets long! The embroidery design sheet on the right

For myself, that’s a lot of unnecessary differentiation. I look to see whether the similarly colored objects are next to each other; if they are, then I try to maintain some differences in color. Usually though, they’re not even on the same block, so I just re-use the colors where I can, reducing the total number of colors needed. I often get a reduction of one quarter to one third this way. So instead of seven shades of red, twelve shades of blue and eighteen (yes, eighteen!) shades of grey, I can get it down to three or so of each.

Having narrowed down my list I bring it to my own thread collection. I match the colors as best as I can, assuming I’m using similar colors. But this is where you also get to choose which colors you want and what you’d like to change. Maybe you’re doing a quilt with roses, but instead of all one color, you’d like each one to be different. Or maybe the opposite; you want all your Sunbonnet Sue towels to use the same appliques and fabrics for each one. Whatever it is you’re deciding to change, take the time to write it down on the design sheets and your list of colors; trust me, you won’t remember later what you had decided to use for which, and you’ll be frustrated trying to figure it out all over again.

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All the fabrics for my appliques, waiting their turn

I then gathered the remaining supplies; fabrics, applique scraps and anything else specific to the project. Because I had taken the time to do all this work in advance, I was actually able to put this project down a couple of months ago and pick it back up just recently.

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Cutting mat, ruler and rotary cutter for trimming down finished blocks. There will be quite a pile of finished blocks when I’m done

In fact, I do this will all my sewing projects; I keep the fabrics and notions together in a bag or box, I keep a list of the steps and where I am, any adjustments I need to make, and I mark the steps off as I go. This comes in handy whether I need to put a project aside for a few weeks, or even a few months – or years, as I describe here on the blog of Roz, our lovely local fabric supplier!

Finally Done!

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I started this project in winter of 2018 – yes, that long ago. I couldn’t remember why I put it away, but I pulled it out, finished it, and even made the matching cardigan.

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I posted about it on Roz’s blog, here and here. The fabric, sold out, is from her shop but she has a variety of other knits and wovens to use with this pattern.

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I embroidered my initials on the shoulder, and I made the mistake of forgetting what I had learned in class just weeks ago; I should have used a fusible mesh cut away with this knit, instead of a regular mesh cut away.

It still turned out OK; a quick steam with a pressing cloth and it was fine. But it would have been better had I used the right kind of stabilizer. There’s a little pulling around the bottom curve of the S, but you can’t really tell, especially in this fabric. And since this is just for me to get sweaty in, I’m not at all worried.

 

Crawfish for a Cutie Pie

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My adorable little niece G turned two this February. Living in Texas, I thought she could use more crawfish in her life (my husband and I are from New Orleans.)

I made this quick little dress for her; I found the fabric at All Stitched Up by Angela in Slidell, LA.

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Technically, it’s crawfish, shrimp and lobsters, but they are all delicious!

I added some big pockets so she can fill them with leaves, rocks, frogs – whatever she finds!

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I used my Sashiko machine to topstitch the pockets, and embroidered a double-G on one side.

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I even got to use a fun tool – a ruffler foot! A quick hint about the ruffler; you really need to do a lot of practice runs with your fabric to make sure you get the size and spacing right on your ruffle. In addition to the adjustments you can make on the ruffler foot itself, the stitch length you set on the machine also affects the results. So test, test, and test some more until you find the right combination of settings.

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If you look at the edge, you can see I also got to use another fun setting: the rolled hem on my serger.

So have fun with quick projects, they’re often the best place to try new techniques, new accessories and your specialty machines.

Holiday Sewing Plans

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What are your Holiday sewing plans? Or have you already finished? I made someone a cute little tote bag for trick-or-treating out of this fun glow in the dark fabric (get it at Quilter’s Emporium or your local quilt shop!) I also used glow in the dark thread for the monogram.

No, I don’t have a photo of the finished bag – I’m notorious for not photographing the gifts I make. But I did still have the sample monogram, which was done with puffy foam so it really stands out. I got both the thread and foam from Uncommon Thread, who carry quite a number of Sulky products.

After this, I have two Christmas gifts to finish, and then my sewing plans are about done for the year! I tend to wind down my personal sewing so I can really enjoy the Holidays. What’s on your sewing queue for the rest of the year?

Fixing a Designer Mistake

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Or how to delay mowing the lawn, even on a nice day.

I used to have respect for fashion designers, especially of handbags and luggage, but I’ve lost some of that respect recently.

I finally bought a really nice bag, not the biggest designer, but one I had been looking at for several years. It’s a lovely, faux alligator in a deep brown, just the right size for weekend trips or as a carry-on bag for the plane or train. It’s really lovely – except it’s poorly designed. Apparently they don’t bother to actually use the products they design – or they have underlings struggling to carry their bags for them.

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You see the pad for the shoulder strap is made from the same, shiny, hard, slick leather as the rest of the bag – which means it slides right off your shoulder. Ironically, the bag is lined with exactly the material that would have kept the bag on my shoulder had anyone bothered to sew it on – a flocked, velvety material.

What to do? Well my first thought was pull out a leather needle and sew on a patch of faux suede that I have. I tried to take the pad off the shoulder strap, but apparently it’s not made to come off – another point of poor design. So then I thought I just could sew along the edge, working around the strap.

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But then I thought again: wouldn’t it be easier to sew a wrap to put on there? Handle wraps for luggage have become very popular, more so as identification than as a comfort measure. I had two choices readily available in my stash: a nice fabric with a bit of no-slip sewn on, or a piece of faux suede. While the faux suede would have been OK on its own, in the end I decided to use both.

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I cut the suede to the length of the existing strap pad, then cut it wide enough to wrap around comfortably. Then I cut strips of the no slip, and of Velcro to close the wrap. I sewed the no-slip in place, sec –

Wait a minute, shouldn’t we be embroidering this? Of course we should – is that even a question? I searched on my machine for a fun little design, duplicated it three times, then added my initials to the bottom of the wrap. Don’t forget to use a topper with suede, so the stitched stand out better. I used a wash away topper as faux suede is washable, but if you use real suede or leather use a heat away topper instead.

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OK, back to the story… I sewed the no-slip in place, secured at the ends with a bit of double-sided adhesive stay tape so it wouldn’t move. Then I flipped it over and sewed the Velcro on opposite sides of the wrap (you can use the double-sided stay tape here as well if you’re having trouble holding it in place.) You’ll notice in the photo I had to add a piece of stitch-n-ditch (or you could use a spare piece of pattern paper) on top of the no-slip because, well, it stuck to the machine like it’s supposed to, didn’t it? You could sew on the Velcro first, or not use the no-slip – either way. In any case, you will want to use a walking or roller foot with the Velcro to help it feed through your machine.

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Seventy-five minutes later, I have a fun, pretty, personalized solution to a dumb-as-mud designer handbag problem. (And yes, the lawn got mowed after that.) What kind of fixes have you made on the fly?

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Quilted Machine Covers

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I think all sewing machines should come with instructions for making a cover; it would give new owners a quick project that allows them to get to know their machine, and the satisfaction of a completed project!

My machines did not come with instructions for covers, but I found these from Just Sew Patterns, who have an Etsy shop. I made one each for Sunny and Gargantua. Yes, I could have made my own patterns, but I also know myself; if I waited around for me to make the patterns, the covers would never get made.

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The covers fit fairly well, though Gargantua’s needed some adjustments as he lives in a serger table. I just left the sides open as flaps – it fits well enough I think.

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I chose an embroidery design set from Urban Threads, the Mendhika Pack. I think I used every design too, embroidering the front, back and sides of each cover.

To embroider on the quilted fabric, I used a clear wash away topper and a mesh cut away for the back.

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It was easiest to embroider each piece before assembly; sometimes I hooped the fabric with the stabilizer, sometimes I floated it on top. To affix the topper I used the basting stitch that comes with many embroidery machines.

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Quick tip; the basting stitch comes out easiest when you clip the bobbin thread from the back first, then pull the excess topper away from the front side.

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Just a few hours later and I have some lovely new covers to reduce my dusting time in the sewing room!

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Needle Pads

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While I’m one for changing needles with each project, maybe you only sewed a couple of quick seams or replaced a button on a shirt – we all need a place to keep our needles that aren’t quite used up. I was keeping them, machine and hand needles, on a magnetic pin cushion. Well, that got to be a mess. Not all machine needles have a nifty color code system for size and type; hand needles don’t have any system – and I’ll be darned if I can tell the difference between a size 8 appliqué and a size 9 sharp.

At our last Fashionista meeting, our member Nateida showed us her latest notion: a needle pad. So much tidier than my old system! But nice as a pre-made one is, it didn’t quite fit my needs. I have three machine stations where I use multiple needles, but I don’t necessarily need all those types at each station. And I wanted one for hand needles as well so I made my own! I made of list of which type and size of each needle I wanted at each station; I then used my embroidery software to create the lettering for each pad, and then embroidered them on my new machine, Sunny.

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For the main fabric I used a white sateen that was laying around, and I stabilized it with Décor Bond. I then floated each onto cut away mesh stabilizer in my hoop. Next I cut it down to size, and backed it with a foam product (I don’t know the name or where I got it from, but it’s very similar to ByAnnie’s Soft’n’Stable) followed by another layer of the sateen.

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On my first attempt I tried to sew the layers together, turn it out and topstitch it – that did not work well, the foam was too thick.

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So I rearranged the layers and bound it with a very pretty batik I had just gotten – much better! All of them are the same, except the serger needle pad; I placed a large washer in the back so it would stick to the magnetic spot in my serger table. And there we are, custom needle pads!

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There’s a washer in there!