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!

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!

I May Be Out for a While…

A lace poinsettia for the holidays

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

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

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

Yet Another Filler Post… And a New Neighbor

It seems the permits department had a three-week delay in getting permits and inspectors out, so I have a three-week delay in getting back to my sewing studio – which will hopefully be the first full week of June.

In the meantime, we met one of neighbors last week (if you’re squeamish about these things, I apologize.)

Are you looking to see who moved in?

He (or she) is a very pretty Texas rat snake – who strangely seems to eat more birds that rats according to my source. Ah well. And judging by the next picture, the information that these snakes are very comfortable in trees seems true:

It was a good sunning spot that afternoon…

After spending several minutes twisting and twirling in-and-out of our wicker furniture, he climbed up on this pallet and sat for quite some time.

We’re taking it as a sign of a healthy mini ecosystem in our backyard, and are happy to meet this and all of our non-human neighbors. What kinds of animals do you see in your backyard?

Another In Between Post…

The perfect photo to depict my personal style – it only took me a year and a half to find! This photo is from Vogue Magazine

My last post was about “My Numbers,” a list I use to keep track of my general yardage for sewing patterns. The other side of that paper is “My Colors/ My Style,” another list I use to keep me on track with the colors I prefer, and patterns I like best.

I used to have a lot of trouble with purchasing fabrics that, while lovely, weren’t really my style. They had colors that I don’t like to wear, or that didn’t go with anything else I owned; worse they would be in fibers that I’m allergic to, like wool. I also collected a lot of patterns that were for garments I would never wear: sheath dresses, sleeveless tops and dresses, pencil skirts… just things I knew I would never wear. Why was I buying them? Sometimes I just liked a detail, or the fabric, or the styling. At some point I realized what I was doing, so I was able to reform.

Our wonderful local fabric purveyor, Roz, of Sew Much Fabric, held a year-long personal style series for the Houston Fashionistas group. In it, we did exercises to help us define and refine our color and style preferences, so we could make a chart to reference, as well as style and mood boards to help us create a direction for our sewing.

And the results of those exercises for me are the above list. Now when I go fabric or pattern shopping, I can compare it to my list, and stop myself when I’m about to buy something that doesn’t work for me.

The photo at the top of the post perfectly represents my style: from the kitten-heel sandals to the Breton tee, the full long skirt to the handbag – it’s me! I call it “comfortably, classically feminine – but not girly,” Roz says it’s actually Classic Parisien – or was it Classic French? Well, we know what she means.

Do you have a personal style chart to help you with your fabric and pattern choices?

An In-Between Post

Lovely large, red tomatoes just begging to be made into a sandwich; I thought it’s be nicer to look at than a piece of paper…

It’s another sewing hiatus for me; my home is well into a kitchen renovation, which also happens to include my new sewing studio. Why? The home we bought had a party room, which had a kitchenette – or summer kitchen as the contractor calls it – and it’s this room that we’re converting into my sewing studio. So, out with the kitchenette, and on with the sewing… in another few weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve been cooking on a hot plate and raking through piles of sewing notes, which I never seem to manage to file in my binders. And in that pile of notes I found this sheet: can you guess what it is?

They’re “My Numbers,” the general amounts of yardage I need for a variety of garment patterns. These are of course specific to me; everyone will have their own yardage amounts, which will also depend on what pattern you’re using.

I came across the idea rather early on in my sewing career. I won’t say I made it up myself, but I decided to make a list for myself after reading a few online posts. I kept coming across the same questions over and over again in sewing forums: “how much fabric do I need to make X” and of course, the answer is always “it depends” which of course the original poster never wanted to hear, but it’s the truth.

For instance, I was at Quilt Show once, buying some yardage for shirts for my husband (yes, there are many, many vendors at Houston International Quilt Show selling garment fabrics, trims, beautiful laces, jewelry, leathers, etc. it’s not just quilts! Though those are lovely to look at…) I know that I need 3.5 yards of 42 to 52 inch fabric to make him a short- or long-sleeve shirt. If I’m lucky enough to come across fabric that’s at least 58 inches, then I can by 4 yards and get one short- and one long-sleeve shirt for him.

A lady approached me while my fabric was being cut and asked what I was buying the fabric for, so I told her, shirts for my husband. She then asked me how much was needed to make a shirt; so, I explained “my husband needs X-amount of Y-wide fabric for Z-type of shirt.” And depending on which shirt she was making and whom for, that would determine what she needed. She got frustrated with my answer – I think she wanted to say, why can’t you just give me a single number – but the vendor overheard us and explained “you see, her husband is very tall, and needs this much fabric (I had mentioned my husband’s height previously to him) and since I’m a much shorter man, I need this much fabric.” I think she finally accepted that she really needed more information, but she still was a bit miffed about our “no answer” answer.

A variation on that question is “how much of a fabric should I buy for my stash” and the answer again is, it depends. What do you want the fabric for? Do you think you’ll make a blouse, a pillow? Frame a panel for a wall hanging?

Most of us have some idea of what we’d like to do with a fabric, even if it’s only a vague idea: garment, or quilting, or home décor, etc. And knowing approximately how much we need to buy is great help if we’re trying to build a stash. Even when you have a specific project in mind, it will be good to know how much you may need. It’s always best to consult your pattern of course, but we may not have the pattern to hand, and we’re not likely to remember how much the pattern specified. So when we come across a really great fabric, we can guesstimate how much we’ll need if we know our individual yardage numbers.

So how do you figure out what your numbers are, especially if you haven’t done much sewing? Gather some patterns and check the charts on the back. You don’t even need to own the patterns, most pattern companies list the yardage on their websites. Then based on your size, write down the yardage. I would take the average of a good dozen patterns that are pretty similar and you have a good number to start with.

If you’re more experienced, you can adjust the numbers as you know you’ll need to; for instance, I know that I can reduce the amount for pants by about a half yard because I’ve always had at least that much fabric left over. Thus, I arrived at my yardage for pants. Creating your own chart is a very useful exercise, and won’t take you more than an hour or so; I encourage you to make one for yourself.

A teaser for the next post: the other side of the page!

Curtains and Other Window Treatments, Part 2

Some puddlin’ goin’ on at the bottom…

I have a lovely window seat in my new kitchen; it’s 11 feet long, and has three large windows. And I have enough space to put in box cushions (a future project for a future post!) But right now the curtains are too long, they puddle on the bench. That can be an OK look if it’s what you’re going for, but I don’t want the curtains to get caught up in the cushions, nor do I want anyone to sit on them, possible bringing down the curtains and rods.

I bought panels from the store, which were supposed to be 84 inches long, but as you can see, they’re more like 82. Which is fine, but with purchased panels, just be sure to measure them for an accurate adjustment.

You can get an extra-long tape measure at the craft store for home decor projects

These curtains didn’t come with tie-backs, but hemming them will give me the fabric I need to make them. I cut the excess fabric from the top of the panels (I’ll explain why the top in the next post), then serged the cut edge to make it clean. Then I pressed down a hem at my ironing board: first a one-inch underlap, then a three-inch hem.

I’m a press-to-hem-at-the-board type; this clover tool makes it easier

…and sewed a straight stitch across at my regular machine.

(Apparently I did not get a photo of my finished hem, and as the curtains were already on the rod, they were gonna stay there. Here’s a photo of the original, upper and lower hems, which are pretty much the same hem I gave them after trimming.)

A quick tip: I had a fairly new needle in my machine (I had only done a quick hemming job on a pair of pants), but after the first panel, my thread kept breaking. I changed my needle, just in case there was a nick or burr, but the thread continued to break every few stitches. I suspected the extra slubby nature of the fabric wasn’t setting well with cotton thread, so I switched to a polyester. Bingo! No more thread breaks. I sailed right through the remaining panels.

Ahh, that feels better – room for cushions now!

And now my kitchen curtains are complete! All of my curtain panels went through a similar process; measure to fit the window, then trim and hem. When you don’t have time to custom-make your window treatments, purchased panels can be altered to fit your needs.

I’ll see you next time for part three – tie-backs!

Curtains and Other Window Treatments, Part 1

One thing you have to think about when you move into a new home is, how are you gonna cover the windows? If you’re lucky, the house comes with blinds or draperies. If you’re lucky enough, the new windows are roughly the same size and number as your old home, and you can just move the old treatments to the new home. If you’re me, then you wind up with a new house that has twice as many windows as the old house, almost none of which are the same size as any of the old windows….

The old house had one sky light in the kitchen (which I miss so dearly!), and twelve other windows: eleven floor-to-ceiling and one high up with privacy glass, so no curtain needed. The new house has, let’s see… twenty-six – no, twenty-seve… no! oh my, twenty-nine! – and of varying sizes. I not only used up every curtain from the old house, but has to scramble to get rods, curtains and sheers for many of the remaining windows. I say scramble because: why are curtains and rods never anywhere near the size of the windows you have? But I made do, and now we get to the mend part – shortening curtains and sheers for windows that are shorter than my old house. Not to mention making tie-backs as well.

For sheers, I really like to use the rolled hem – also called merrowed hem – on my serger. It’s a three-thread stitch, and when you use wooly nylon, you get a lovely finished edge all in one pass.

Since most of these sheers are quite a lot longer than I need, I will be cutting the excess before going to my serger. If it were only a couple of inches, then I would just cut and hem at once. But twelve inches or more is a lot to keep a straight line on the serger, so two steps give a more even hem.

It’s OK to fold it up to cut, it’d be too wide otherwise

After cutting off the excess length at my cutting mat, I fed one end of the curtain into my serger. To get a clean start to the hem, I slowly worked the leading edge up to the needles, and just as the fabric caught, I pulled the chain of thread straight back to clear the stitch fingers, then pulled it forward and across so the end would be caught in the hem.

See? Nice clean start.

If you have speed control on your serger, now’s the time to crank it all the way up, especially if you have 20-plus panels to get through!

Now we’re at the other end: how to finish? First, run your thumbnail along the entire length of the hem. This will help redistribute the stitches, and cover any little bald spots you have. There’s nothing wrong with your machine, it’s just the nature of the rolled hem, especially when you use woolly nylon. This fabric is a polyester, about the same weight as organza, so the fibers are bit stiff, and can make little “pokies” if the fabric is off grain (it’s a store-bought panel, it’s definitely off-grain.) If running your thumbnail along the hem doesn’t fix all the little pokies and bald spots, grab the hem on either side of the spot and circle them gently, that’ll work any fibers back in.

To finish the other end of the hem, I like to use Fray Check or something similar. I put a small dot right at the edge of the fabric, letting it absorb into the threads. After it dries enough in a few minutes, I clip the thread right at the edge of the fabric – you’ll never see it. You could otherwise try to turn the project over and capture the end of the thread tail as for the beginning, or you can knot it or use a needle to run the tail back under the stitching, but I find the fray check method is the simplest.

Now I have lovely sheers in all my windows, that float just above the sill.

I like to use a contrasting color for the wooly nylon, I think it adds a nice pop. And yes, I do use a while needle thread, and yes, you can see it in the hem; but I like the looks it gives, a small bit of white against the color. It’s not really noticeable, but you can always match your thread colors of course!

That’s all for part 1; join me next time for part 2 where I discuss hemming curtain panels.