Hello and Happy Spring

I love a chicken in the Kitchen!

Hello everyone! It has certainly been a long time! I believe I last left you over at friend Roz’s blog, with a five-part series describing my latest fashion project.

What have I been doing since then? As you know, I take the holidays off – so much cooking to do and so much family to visit! Unfortunately no one was able to do much of that this past year; I instead busied myself with the search for our new home. My husband has been furloughed to a more permanent work-from-home, and trying to have meetings all day next to a room full of embroidery machines running at top speed – and sound! – was not happening.

So, I spent most of fall searching and we found our new home. After a quiet holiday season with just us, we bought our new home, moved into the new home, sold our old home, and now my husband has his own, quiet office upstairs at the front of the house, and I have my own sewing studio downstairs at the back of the house.

Still, I intended to be back at my machine by the second week of February, but as they say, even the best laid plans…. You see, we did not buy a fixer-upper, but it turned out to be one. The poor house was unoccupied for over two years, and was not well cared for in that time. We’ve had to have most of the major systems attended to, and that did not allow for setting up the new sewing studio. Between carefully letting contractor after contractor into our home, and waiting for the last of the drywall dust to settle, it took an extra seven weeks before I could even uncover my machines. But now the dust is gone, the house is functioning well, and I have a fantastically- large new sewing studio to share with you!

In addition to the usual details on my embroidery and sewing projects, the coming months will also bring some tips on moving your sewing room to a new house, setting up and organizing a sewing room, and other related items I’ve learned along the way.

In the meantime, why not take a look at what some new and old sewing friends are up to (I had to do something with myself besides unpacking boxes!) Roz has introduced us to a new sewing friend over at her blog, K.C., who will be sharing her entry into sewing with us. Old friend Ann (who is not at all old!) is continuing to share her wardrobe journey with us – I know I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from her posts. Samina is on hiatus this month, but left us with lots to read about before she left (and a nifty guest post and project!), and will be back soon with her always fun and thought-provoking ideas on sewing. And of course, friend Andrea has, as always, great video classes, patterns and other tutorials at her website and YouTube channel.

Take care, Happy Spring, and be with you soon!

Why I have a 10-Needle, Part 2

My 10-needle, “Enterprise G”, ready for the next project

Here I continue with my reasons for the multi-needle machine I chose. It’s really long, and if you aren’t interested in buying a multi-needle, then you may want to skip this post. But if you’re on the fence or want more information, I invite you to read my experience below.

Firstly, the domestic vs. commercial argument; yes, per unit, commercial machines are less expensive, offer more embellishment options, and have as many as 15 needles. And yes, if you have the space and are going straight into the embroidery business, then getting multi-head embroidery machines (most companies offer single head and compact machines too) makes sense. They can not only embroider, but couch sequin tapes, thicker decorative threads and yarns, and do cutwork and chenille techniques.

But they are commercial machines; you usually need a separate (sometimes proprietary) software to run and/ or use them, they’re meant for large-scale production, and they often have manual adjustments. For myself, the interface of these machines is not something I like – little to none, just a small screen that has the basic information of the design you’re using, or you use a computer you’ve networked with the machines. Some manufacturers have created full-color screens similar to domestic machines, especially for their single-head models, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

And then there are things like sales and maintenance; you work with a regional sales rep who I imagine gives you some information about how the machines work, then you (as I understand it) have a regional maintenance person who comes to you when you need. But mostly you rely upon yourself and any staff you hire/ train to figure out how to use and maintain the machines. And there is nothing wrong with any of this, absolutely nothing; it’s just not what I want.

I started as a home sewer, and I enjoyed embroidery. I had a combo machine, and if I only did very simple or occasional embroidery, that would have been enough. But I really enjoy large, complex embroidery designs, so getting a multi-needle made sense. And I started taking orders for embroidery right around the time I got my 10-needle, so it worked out very well. I didn’t intend on going into business, but that’s where I am now.

I was able to get training from my local machine dealer, and I can take all of my machines to them for maintenance. And whenever I have a problem they’re only a phone call away. As fellow sewers, the people at the local shop understand the type and level of embroidery I’m doing. And I like the interface much better on my domestic machine; it’s a large, full color touch screen that doesn’t require software to use (you do need a computer to load designs onto a USB pin.) I can change the design in the machine – colors, sequence, resizing, etc., and this particular model has a camera for background scanning and placement.

And a lot of professionals do have domestic machines; they’re like me, working from home, maybe don’t have a lot of space, and offer what I call bespoke embroidery. When you go to most embroidery stores, they have a minimum number of units you have to buy, usually won’t take your items to embroider, and you have to order what they offer, in the numbers they specify. This has to do with the number of heads they have on their machine, i.e., if they have a 12-head machine, they have a minimum order of 12, and you order in multiples of 12. An embroiderer like myself though is able to take your own items for embroidery, and can embellish as few as one item.

In short, since I don’t take large orders, mostly use my machine for my own sewing, and am short on space and wanted something with a much lower learning curve, I chose a domestic multi-needle machine.

Embroidering on Linen Part 2

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Here we are again with my new linen jacket. It’s a familiar pattern, Simplicity 8464, made in a lovely mid-weight linen in Ruby Red from Roz at Sew Much Fabric. The lining is from Roz too, but this color is no longer available. This time I added a stand collar for something a little different.

I pre-washed the linen and charmeuse so I can clean the jacket at home if needed. And yes, you can wash silk; it’s not the fabric that’s un-washable, it’s the finishers on the fabric that spot and stain from water. By pre-washing your silk, you remove the finishers and the problems. I wash mine on gentle in the machine, get it half-dry on low in the dryer, then hang to finish drying. Yes, sometimes darker colors like black or chocolate brown or deep navy can come out looking “sueded”, but you can always test a swatch and see if you care for it. I kind-of like the look myself. There are also fixatives you can get (try Dharma Trading) to keep dark colors from running.

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I didn’t want to change the hand of the linen too much, so I underlined the area of embroidery with a fusible tricot knit. First I used the sample embroidery stitch-out for placement. I used a white wax tailor’s chalk to mark the middle.

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Then in order to make sure I was placing the tricot in the right area, I marked the center with pins so I could see it from the other side.

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After I fused the tricot – use a pressing cloth! – I extended the chalk marks and hooped the fabric with a mediumweight tear-away. Yes, even with the interfacing/ underlining you still need to hoop stabilizer with the fabric. I also used placement stickers since my machine has a camera; just a little extra insurance.

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I used a black pre-wound bobbin, but you can also wind a bobbin from the thread you’re using. In this case, the thread is a DMC cotton machine embroidery thread. (I get mine from Uncommon Thread.) I didn’t want the shine of rayon for my jacket and the cotton was good match, as I was going for texture almost more than a stand-out design here.

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And now the completed design. And after the other side is finished, I place them together to make sure I get a mirrored design on each side.

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A bit of picking and poking later (you can use a wash-away instead) and I have two nicely, subtly embroidered pieces for my new jacket.

Embroidering on Linen, Part 1

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Well it’s the first week of August already – hope you’re staying cool! I’m back from my summer break and have been busy catching up on my projects.

This project is one I completed just before my break, a quick little jacket that is part of my first wardrobe capsule. This capsule was planned with travel in mind, something coordinated that I could pack quickly for a long weekend.

I wanted a nice but casual jacket that I could carry on a plane or for long car trips, that wouldn’t mind getting a little travel-worn – i.e., wrinkly. Some people like their linen to stay crisp, but I’m in the less-work-is-better camp, so I’m OK with a few creases.

I also wanted it to coordinate with the fabric I was using for the blouse and skirt set that is part of this capsule. My first thought was to line it with the same fabric, but I didn’t want it too matchy-matchy. So I chose silk charmeuse in a medium shade of navy: it lets the jacket glide on nicely, and makes a nice layer for warmth in an otherwise lightweight jacket (I am far more often cold on planes and in restaurants, so a good choice for me.) It will also cross seasons well too.

Instead of using the print fabric for lining, I decided to trace the pattern and turn it into an embroidery design – because I can! My combo machine, Sunny, can scan line drawings and photos and turn it into an embroidery design with IQ Designer software.

I can go from this print

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To this design

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To this embroidery in no time!

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In the next post I’ll show how I embroidered the linen itself.

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Lovely Summer Linens

Cocktail napkins and coasters made of handkerchief linen

Just a quick post before the month of July slips away… I was talking this week with my fellow sewing enthusiast Samina about table linens. (Find her blog here; she’s always got fun and unique things to show!) I told her what a great job she did recycling some voile into napkins, and making them extra-pretty with different trims. She had wondered whether voile was too lightweight to make a good napkin, but I reminded her that in the grand scheme of linens, very lightweight materials are not that uncommon, especially for those very fancy tea sets.

I have a tea set I received from an Aunt who also enjoys linens, as much as I do! It’s four napkins and a table cloth. I say they’re a tea set because of the size; the napkins are not more than 12 inches square, and maybe only 9. And the table cloth wouldn’t fit more than a 20 to 25 inch table. The set is made of organza with Madeira shadow work in pink, I’m guessing batiste.

Now, I would love to show you this set; I know I kept it especially because it was so pretty and from my Aunt, and I have looked in every place in the house that I keep linens, but, no joy! That means it’s in the attic. Folks, it’s summer, and it’s Houston – I will not be going into the attic no matter how much I might want to share, sorry.

But I did a little research and found many fine examples of similar things: napkins, hankies, table runners, placemats and table cloths.

Some lovely Pinterest boards came up, like this one by Ruby Sabino, and this Etsy listing by ShurleyShirley. (sorry no direct images, since these were from others’ websites.)

This website has some lovely examples of vintage hankies, and also helps explain why I’ve always called this kind of shadow work Madeira – it seems the island of Madeira is known for this type of work – I love learning something new!

But as you can see from any of these sites, even table linens were made from the daintiest of fabrics: organza, organdy, voiles and batistes. The set in the photo above is one I made of handkerchief linen, a very lightweight linen.

Stay cool, stay safe, talk with you soon!

Does your mindset change to match your sewing?

luncheon napkins and coasters 2I really enjoy sewing, all aspects of it: garments, quilting, embroidery, heirloom, couture – anything sewing related!

I started a garment project today, for the first time in a long while, and I realized my mindset was completely different – almost meditative. I was cutting out an underlining, which will get marked and then used like a pattern piece to cut out the fashion fabric, and it seems like parts of my hands are already feeling the basting thread and making their own notes of where hand stitches are going to go.

I don’t get this way with other sewing; maybe because it’s usually quick sewing. I think I’m experiencing is what’s called flow; being in a mental groove and everything else seems to disappear. But with garments, even when I don’t go full-on couture, I seem to enter this altered mental state.

Maybe because I had such a pleasant experience learning garment sewing from the wonderful and lovely Susan Khalje; she teaches couture technique to small groups of sewing enthusiasts in multi-day classes all over the world. Susan is a very calm and generous teacher; instead of telling you that you can’t do something because it’s “advanced” or not for beginners or too hard, she simply teaches you how to do it, it’s never a big deal. I liken it to those old maps that used to say on the edges of the unknown “beware, here there be monsters…” Susan just says, Oh, a monster? Here’s how you deal with monsters – doesn’t even blink.

Couture sewing is also a process; you trace out your pattern, make a muslin, alter the muslin, try the muslin on again; then you look at your fabric, get to know and understand your fabric. Then you think about your garment: does it need underlinings, linings, what reinforcements, interfacings, what finishes and other treatments will you use? Then you lay out your underlining if you have one, mark it; next you decide how your pattern is going to be laid out on your fabric; then you cut out your fashion fabric, then your lining, then you mark the lining and re-mark the fashion fabric/ underlining, then there’s basting, another fitting, then construction, maybe another fitting to be certain, then finishing… yes, couture garments take a while to construct!

But not every garment gets full-on couture, sometimes just demi-couture as I call it. Mostly though I think it’s the process, the mindset: step – pause. Step – pause. Step – pause. Right now, I’m pausing; I placed all the pattern pieces on my underling (just a few as it’s an a-line skirt) and stepped away; when I go back I’ll double check that all the pieces are there, then I’ll cut them out. After that, I’ll pause again, probably re-read (or rather quintuple-read) the directions, re-count the pieces. Then I’ll mark those pieces, then pause again, maybe re-admire my fashion fabric (I’ve already determined that the pattern is repeating and omni-directional. I could try to pattern match at the seams, but I don’t have lots of yardage, so I won’t worry about it.)

I like this mindset, and I’d like to bring it to more of my sewing. Not always, because sometimes we just need to get those coasters embroidered for a gift in a hurry! But some of my frustration with other sewing seems to come from missed steps, missed opportunities, and slowing down will help. That and, it’s just a pleasant feeling, being in the flow.

When Projects Are Disappointing

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You may remember this fabric from a post last year, on keeping organized. Well I finally (finally!) got around to making it this past December. Kinda. I started it before we went on a trip, then we came back rather ill, and I was laid up the last two weeks of December and didn’t get that poor little tote finished.

Just all kind-of ugly going on….

Well, I tried to finish it last week. I mean I really tried. Kudos to Sunny, he was trooper and stitched through all those layers as best he could, but after straining my neck and shoulders wrangling it, breaking several needles (at least three) and finding the last few steps of instructions to be wanting, I decided this was a bad project. I’m going to finish it; I’ll complete the binding by hand when I have time in the next couple of days, but I am done.

These layers were horribly thick; I had trouble maintaining a ¼ inch seam allowance, let alone getting the binding to cover the edges. There were seemingly unneeded steps and excess notions, turning the curved corners wasn’t that hot, and frankly, I don’t think there could be a more difficult way to construct this bag. Was it pilot error? No doubt, I’ve never done anything like this before. Was a it a bad pattern? That is up for debate, but is the theory I’m going with for now.

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Since I only meant it as a garden tote, it doesn’t need to be pretty, let alone perfect. I scrapped the “helper handles” and tied them off in knots on the ends to finish it. If I hadn’t desperately needed a new garden tote I would have chucked the whole thing. But I doubt I’ll be making this pattern again.

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What’s up with the Dye?

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I hope you all had a relaxing, enjoyable holiday. Are you ready to get back to it?

My year starts off with a question; why would dye start to leach after years being of washed? Is it a green thing? A denim thing? If you have an answer, I’d love to hear it!

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What happened is this: I made this apron in January of last – no, 2017 – three years ago. At the time, I washed the denim in hottest water not once, not twice but three times to get out the shrinky-dinks as well as any excess dye. I have washed this apron, always with other towels, always on hottest water and never had a problem – until last month. I washed it with a batch of dark and red towels, so I didn’t notice anything, except the chicken – see how he’s no longer white? The next time I washed it in December, there were a couple of white towels in the load, and they are definitely no longer white!

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Well, not a big deal, the towels that are no longer white were getting a little agèd, and now I have an excuse to spruce up the powder room with new towels and new embroidery! (pictures to follow…)

What’s next in your sewing queue?

How Was Your National Sewing Month?

I attended a few sewing seminars at local stores; saw lots of holiday sewing inspiration; got to see – and play with! – some of the new machines, as well as other new products; and got a fun new upgrade for my new Solaris machine, which includes embroidery couching!

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I used a contrasting thread so you can see how the yarn is attached to the fabric.

But mostly with this post I want to thank my local sewing stores, who put on these wonderful seminars and classes for their customers – for free! I don’t get anything from these stores, except excellent customer service and wonderful support.

Humble Sewing Center in Humble, Tx

Quilter’s Emporium in Stafford, Tx

Sew Much Fabric in Sugar Land, Tx

And a new store I found for you Bernina sewers in Houston,

Sew Special Quilts in Katy, Tx

Support your local sewing shops, not just buy purchasing but attending classes and seminars.

And next month is Quilt Show in Houston – don’t forget to stop by your local shop’s booth while you’re there. Not a quilter you say? It’s not just for quilters! If you have a passion for any of the fiber arts, there’s something there for you too! Garment fabrics, machines, accessories, hand embroidery, hand-dyed fabrics, yarns, laces ribbons – just go down and be inspired!

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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