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.

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

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!

Working with Waffle, Part 3

The future final placement for my patch

Moving on to the embroidery; as I mentioned I decided to do a patch for it. I did a test on the waffle weave, and while it came out pretty nice, I thought a patch might be fun to do. A quick tip: when you embroider on a heavily textured fabric like waffle, one, use a design with heavy stitching. This will “knock down” the fluff and keep your design visible. Also, don’t forget to use a topper! This will help keep any nap or fluff flat so your machine can stitch over it. I used a tear away stabilizer under the fabric, and a heavy water-soluble topper. I don’t think you’d get hoop burn with this fabric as it’s cotton, but you could float the fabric over the stabilizer just in case, as I did here.

I created the patch using my in-machine software on my 10-needle. I selected a design, then crated a circle of single-run stitches around it to size it, then deleted and added back the design (most machines have a first-in, first stitched order to the programming; you don’t have to stitch the circle first, but it’s typical with appliqué. If your machine or software can re-order the design elements, it won’t matter.) Then I added my initials withing the circle, then added the satin stitch outer ring.

You can see by my sample in the lower left, that I forgot to trim my appliqué (which is the badge in this case) before my satin stitch. And, you can also see on the lower right that my trim job was not great, lots of fuzzies sticking out.

Luckily I remembered to save my design – hit that memory button! – and I can easily stitch it out again. I hooped a heavy water-soluble topper (something like Sulky Ultra Solvy or OESD Badgemaster) and a piece of heavy cutaway (2.5 to 3 oz) to have as my badge support; the fabric is a plain weave white cotton. The satin stitch perforates the topper, and it pops right out after it’s finished. Then you just have to rinse or tear away the rest of the topper from the back – easy! And just fun… after I make the next one, I’ll use a small whip stitch to attach it to my robe.

The four in the center were used in the design

The color choice has a short story to it; a few Fashionista meetings ago, Roz gave us the low-down on this season’s colors. She said one trend is pairing unusual colors (that still look good of course.) I decided on these colors by accident; I passed my machine after doing some test stitches after using some random threads for machine maintenance, and saw the pictured angle. Somehow those colors just seemed to go together – I think they came out nicely!

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!

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!

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!