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

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!

An Update on MDA Software

Image from Floriani’s website

You remember my previous post reviewing Floriani’s My Design Album Software; I thought it was OK, but not terrific. My biggest disappointment was that it was such a basic software for the price. Well I decided to streamline my review a bit and post it on the company’s website, where it garnered a response.

They were open to my suggestions, though, perhaps predictably, attempted to counter and “correct” my thinking about the software. But no amount of “but it works this way” will ever change my experience of “it doesn’t quite do what I would anticipate this type of software to do based on its description.” But I did feel heard, and they did state that many of my complaints are going to be addressed in an upcoming update. They also said that they will be making more educational videos for MDA, and will have a look at their manual for it as well. Hopefully future purchasers of MDA will have an even better experience.

As for what else is up for February, it probably won’t be much, because guess what, I re-arranged my sewing studio again. Not a lot, but I did finally get new storage, and only a whole year after we moved in, ha! But everything is back in place now, and I’ll be working on a new project soon, so I’ll have lots of embroidery and tips to post in March. Take care and see you here soon!

Altering a Pattern – Knit Tops, Part 2

I’m back with the finished top; here are my notes about the rest of the process.

I’ve extended the back shoulder seam line on the pattern, and used my curve ruler to match the outer edge of the sleeve. (I keep calling it a sleeve; it’s more of a dropped shoulder, but you know what I mean.) You can also see through the paper that I marked the location for a dart (two short lines on either side of a longer line perpendicular to the shoulder seam.) When I sew up the top with a dart, I’ll drape the pattern piece on my dress form, angling it towards the bust point, and deciding on the length at that time.

For now I’ve chosen to sew the top with a tuck, and to leave the back sleeve the original length. You can see the tuck in this close-up:

The finished top is looser than I would like, so I may remove one of the inches I added to my bodice front. The fabric drapes nicely, a cuddly, cotton-bamboo blend French terry. It’s a little sheer in this off-white color, so you’ll have to admire it on Duplicate O’Neill instead of me, but maybe I’ll remember to model the next one.

As for finishing the edges, I just folded them over as per the instructions, using my coverstitch set to narrow. I did find with this fabric being so light, it made a better stitch to sew just beneath the edge of the fabric instead of catching the edge between the rows of stitching. I also used a bit of stay tape in the shoulder back neck seams for stability.

Now I just need to pick a fabric for my next muslin – I certainly have several to choose from!

Altering a Pattern – Knit Tops

The first of several new tops

I finally sat down and did the exercises for the wardrobe project that the Houston Fashionistas did a while back – only took me two years! My assessment revealed that I need more tops to wear around the house. Since I only need tee shirts, I tried purchasing them as I have done in the past from a box store (though I really like Samina’s suggestion that we need luxury PJs instead; Just because we’re at home, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have nice things to wear!) Buying from a store didn’t work out well: the quality was terrible, the fit was horrific – high necklines, too tight of sleeves, too boxy and short of a bodice – not to mention that several were sewn quite off-grain. So, I pulled the knits from my stash, mulled my patterns (had a few on hand, bought a couple more) and will be making my own tops because I am worth my own time.

I’m starting with my “Jennifer Beals” top, Vogue 1835 – you know, Flash Dance? Well some of you are old enough to remember… and I thought it’d be a good opportunity to show how I do some of my “kinda-muslins.” Samina had talked about muslins a little while back, and I chimed in that I often do kinda-muslins. Someone wrote me to ask what I meant, so let me show you.

Now, I will preface with, I am not a fit instructor, or a professional fitter, or a fashion/ home economics/ or any other kind of professor. If you’re in the Houston area and need professional help, please see Ms. Andrea. She’s a wonderful person, and excellent seamstress – and a certified fit expert!

Part of the reason I do muslins is that I have so many/ such large fit adjustments to make. No, it’s not that hard, and yes, it’s worth it. When you first start out it will be time intensive and difficult; you’ll probably mess up a lot. But that’s why we practice isn’t it?

Anyway, my first step in adjusting a knit pattern is to pin it to my dress form, see how it compares. This pattern goes up to XXL. Even though the pattern says that the XXL size has a 50 ½ inch bust measurement, it’s not nearly enough for me. Firstly, my bust measures 52 inches; secondly, while the completed garment may have a total circumference of 50 ½ inches, it’s 25 ¼ in front, and 25 ¼ in back – not what I need.

My back measurement is only 18 inches from seam to seam, which means the rest of my 52 inches is all up front. This means the back is 7 inches too wide and the front is 8 ¾ inches too narrow.

And we haven’t even discussed that this pattern is supposed to have a bit of ease. If the finished bust (which in this case matches the width of the lower edge) measurement is 50 ½, and the body measurement for size XXL (24-26) is 46 to 48 inches, then it is giving approximately 2 ½ to 4 ½ inches of ease, quite a bit for a knit pattern, which usually has negative ease. This silhouette of course is a bit slouchy, and the reason for all the extra.

Pinning the back pattern piece to my dress form shows that the XL size will suffice

I have decided I don’t want that much ease, and want it slightly fitted, so I’m going to make my first muslin with as size XL for the back, and a size XXL plus two inches for the front. How will I do that? With what I think of as the trace and slide method. Since this is a knit, and not a fitted woven bodice, I’m not going to go through all the folderol of tracing the pattern piece, doing a proper FBA adjustment, then re-tracing and re-fitting the result. As shown above, I held up the pattern pieces to my dress form to gauge how much more room I need.

For the back I chose size XL, and made a straight tracing. But now it’s time to Franken-pattern! For the front, I was short a few inches on the side, and the neckline was too high, so I traced the lowest neckline, and I traced half of the front, or one side of the pattern piece. I then slide the tracing two inches out from the center front, aligning the lengthen/ shorten line to keep it all straight. Then I just finished tracing. Yes, you’ll have to connect the two sides, but a curve ruler will help you find a nice shape for the enckline.

Don’t forget to label your pieces! I learned that from Susan Khalje; write down the name and part number of the pattern, as well as the date and whom the pattern is for, and any adjustments you made. (Sze 10 with a 2 inch long-waist adjustment for example.) This way if you have to leave your project for any reason, you’ll know who it was for, when you did it, what pattern you started with, and what adjustments you’ve already made. You should also of course transfer any markings from the original pattern piece; hem length, darts, grainline, etc.

Now let’s match up our pieces, and check out the connecting parts; for a bodice it’s usually the shoulder and side seams. Do these side seams match? Yup, the sides are good to go.

How about the shoulder? Nope, not happening. Remember, I moved the pattern piece two inches while I was tracing. So what are my options here? The typical option is to put a dart where the extra fabric was added. I can also extend the back shoulder seam to match the front. Since I have more than one fabric to make this top in, I’ve decided to do both.

Come back for part two, where I show you the details of the first top!

Sewing Room Tip – Labels for Discernment

Quick – can you tell the difference between black wool tricotine and black rayon crepe? No, I can’t either. Luckily, I cut off little samples and taped them to a page with a description in my fabric binder oh so long ago. Between the slight difference in weave and the different selvages, I was able to tell them apart.

To help myself the next time I’m looking through my stash, I added labels to the boards my fabric is wrapped on – can you tell the difference now? Yup, me too. I used these folder labels that we all probably have a half-packet of lying around somewhere… well, us older folks anyway. If you don’t have any and want to give them a try, any discount-department or office-supply store will have them.

Next test – can you tell the difference between dark navy, midnight navy, dark blue and black thread?

Nope, still can’t do it myself. How about on whites?

Which is 80wt and which is 40wt? Which is poly and which is cotton? Yeah, makes you feel really smart when you have seven different shades of white and no idea which is which.

How about now? Yippee for labels… these are the hole-mender labels we used to need for our three ring binders…

I found some a while back and they’re perfect for bobbins. I pull off the old label when I reuse the bobbin, and even if the sticker doesn’t come off cleanly, the new one sticks really well. They don’t interfere with the bobbin at all in my machine, and I can even wind more of the same thread onto it because there’s a hole in the label.

Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season – see you here next time!