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.

Sewing Tip: Decoy Scissors

One pair of scissors left out all the time

Everyone at home needs scissors at some point. And everybody at home knows where to find them – your sewing room. For those of us who saved up to get some really nice shears, this is unfortunate. Because, even when they’re in the kitchen and know you keep a pair of scissors in the junk drawer, they still go all the way to your sewing room to get scissors. Why? ‘Cause they’re cool, or extra sharp, or pointy, or, just because, I imagine.

But wait, what’s this below?

Many of my sewing associates have told me stories of loss and damage to a highly valued (and valuable) pair of scissors to a family member, despite “all the times I’ve told them not to touch my sewing scissors!…” I decided to take a different tack. I know my husband, and however much I love him he would never remember not to use my sewing room scissors, so I put out a pair just for him to use. They sit there, left out on top of the sewing table, ready for him to grab. And he does, all – the – time. They’re sticky from packing tape, scratched from opening boxes, and may even be a little bent from being dropped many times, but that’s what they’re there for.

Shhh! This is where the good scissors live…

 If you have little ones in the house, you may want to try hanging your decoy scissors higher up on a wall so they can’t reach them, but you definitely want them to be out and obvious as soon as someone goes into the room. Well I’ll just put them away you say; no, then they start looking for them and then they find the good scissors and now they know where the good scissors are and they go right to them every time – ask me how I know! So find a new hiding place for the good shears and scissors, then put out a decoy pair for the household to use.

Why I have a 10-Needle (and a Preliminary Photo)

 

I’ve finished the Crane Tapestry, and the preliminary photo is above. Why preliminary? This isn’t the final placement for the tapestry, I have to do a bit of rearranging on that wall first. When it’s in place the lighting will be much better and I can post a more detailed photo. The final size is 60×75 inches – definitely big! It took about 70, 75 hours to complete, including the piecing, quilting and binding. For those who are interested, the price for this piece (or rather a similar, as this one is for myself) is just above $3000. It can be made in much smaller sizes as well; this is the largest size. It’s done in silk dupioni with a cotton batting and cotton backing. The design is Crane Tapestry by Anita Goodesign, as well as the supplemental design from Geisha, also by AG. A border can be added to change the framing, as well as different sized bindings (the outer-most edge.)

Did I do it on my 10-needle? Yes I did, as I discussed briefly here. I’ve often been asked why I have a multi-needle machine; I’ve also been asked why I have a domestic multi-needle instead of a commercial one. A lot of different reasons, but mostly because this is the machine that suits me and my sewing best. In my next post, I’ll go into more details about why I chose my machine, but for now, I’ll give a brief overview about why a home sewer might want a multi-needle.

So, you walked into your local sewing machine dealer and saw this fantastic wall hanging and asked how they did it? Or you went to a demo at the store for new machines and you became entranced watching that combo machine whip out lace and buttonholes and greetings cards? And you went home with one: you can sew on it, it’s nice and large for quilting, and most of all, it embroiders!

You’re giddy with ideas swirling ‘round your head, all the possibilities for new projects. Then you buy one of those big wall hanging designs, load them into your machine and – sit, and watch, and change the thread color; and sit, and watch, and change the thread color; and sit, and watch, and change the thread color; and sit, and watch, and change the thread color – and repeat for that block. Then repeat for the remaining blocks: repeat; repeat; repeat. Yeah, most home sewers with a combo machine (a regular sewing machine with a single needle that also embroiders – thus, combo) only do one or two big projects in the lifetime of their machine. If they even finish it.

No really, I’ve talked with them. Now, there are those who don’t really mind, and don’t do much actual sewing, they just do the embroidery. And space and budget limit them to a combo machine and they’re happy. But most home sewers only have the one machine, so they can’t do anything else while they’re embroidering. Or they get frustrated that it’s taking so long (sooo looong) to finish one. stinkin’. project. That would be me. I had my trusty combo machine, had an armload of big embroidery projects, and either had to sell all those designs at a loss or find a way to do the projects. So I found a way, by getting a multi-needle machine.

Now I can do big projects, whether they’re single color free-motion designs, or big, long, complex multi-color designs that look more like tapestries than quilts. And I can do them more quickly, and I can do multiple projects at a time. My machine has ten needles, but there are machines that go up to 16, or just six or seven. And yes, once in a great while I wish I had more than ten, but so far it’s worked out fine.

Next post I’ll talk in more detail about why I chose my particular machine – see you there.

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

2020 08 07_0522
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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!

New Tool in the Sewing Room

We’ve all done it, cut our appliqués a little too close to the tack-down stitch. If we’re lucky our design has a nice, thick satin stitch that can cover our boo-boos, but sometimes the fabric still comes up. At middling, it’s a loose edge that you have to tack down; at worst it’s loose enough to let the presser foot catch and then gets itself sewn into the design, and then we have a real mess.

Can you see? I placed a pin under the edge of the tape, it’s just peeking out from the stitches

I learned about this product during an OESD online embroidery event, hosted by Sew Special Quilts in Katy. It’s used for holding down items like zippers that are added to in-the-hoop projects, but it came in handy when I recently clipped my dupioni too close to the tack-down stitch and it started to fray. (Fabrics like dupioni and organza seem like they’re just waiting to unravel, don’t they?) I knew if I could get the loose edge to stay in place I had plenty of satin stitches coming to hold it all down. Luckily I remembered the tape I had just bought, and it worked very well!

The seam is split and pressed flat

It’s not just for embroidery though; I used it recently in a sewing project too. I’m making a skirt out of ponté knit, which is a pretty beefy fabric. The pocket on this skirt is sewn into the seam, which gives me several thick layers to deal with. I like to split the difference part-way down the seam, then press it open and topstitch it in place. (The edges aren’t finished since ponté doesn’t ravel, and it reduces the bulk a bit to leave them nekkid.) (Yes, that is a word in the South. A little further north in the South, I believe it’s pronounced nekkit. Both are acceptable here.)

Tape to cover the split

If I were using my sewing machine to topstitch, I would have sewn with the wrong side up to make sure this clipped area stayed tidy. But I used my serger/ coverstitch to topstitch, which means sewing blind. To make sure each seam allowance stayed where I wanted, I used the wash away tape.

Topstitched without a hitch!

If you’re like me, you’ve been using painter’s-type tape to tack down the parts in your in-the-hoop projects, and while it pulls away from fabric OK, it makes a horrible mess with batting. And, it never quite all comes out from under the stitching so you’re left with little dots of pink. But I really like this wash-away tape; it sews easily and there are no worries about leaving it in your project, so no fighting to get it off batting. The pink tape still has it’s uses and I will keep it in my toolbox (it’s a tool!), but it will be sharing space with this new tape.

A Boo-Boo, A Fix, A Tip

You can see to the right of the seam, the topstitching had pulled out; I’ve fixed one row already

Just a quick post; recently while topstitching a skirt, a bit of the topstitching came out at the bottom of a seam and I didn’t notice until I had finished the project. Instead of going back to my serger to coverstitch all of one inch of seam, I decided to fix it with my sewing machine instead.

I wanted to drop my needle in exactly the same stitch hole for continuity’s sake, but my Baby Lock Solaris has one annoying problem: when you lower the needle bar enough to see exactly where the needle will penetrate the fabric, it lowers the presser foot slightly, thus blocking the view of the needle’s position. Did I say this was annoying? Very Annoying.

The open toe foot lets you see the whole area

I decided to defeat Baby Lock’s illogic altogether and used my open-toe foot. Now I can see the needle drop position no matter how far down the machine moves the presser foot, and I can fix my unfortunate little mistake.

The topstitching is fixed with a few threads left to clip

How Long is Your Wish To-Do List?

Almost the entire of my fabric stash; will I sew it all?

We all have them, a “wish” to-do list, that running list of things (or maybe a paper or digital list) in our head that we’d like to get to, someday, eventually…. If we live long enough…. Aside from the general life list, I have a sewing list. Last December I wrote down everything I could think of, mostly because I had some time to kill while waiting.

It wasn’t as long as I thought, only 37 or so items. Of course some of those items have multiple parts so it may be as long as 50-plus individual pieces. And in fact, I have achieved some of those items, so I got to cross them off when I reviewed my list this morning. But I’ve also added some items, mentally anyway. Not that I can remember them right now to write them down… they may even be the same things I’ve already written down (that’s the problem with mental lists, can’t see whether we’ve gotten it down already or not!)

A small part of me wants to be very alarmed by this list – it’s so long, when will I ever finish! And what I see on websites and forums is that others are just as worried about their lists too: is my list too long, how do I manage it, how do I get all of it done? They seem to think they’re a bad person if they don’t.

But I remind myself of the things I’ve learned from my other lists over the years – my travel list, my cooking list, other similar lists. The first one is, I don’t actually have to do everything on the list, sometimes it’s just fun to have a fantasy or two.

The next thing is, things change. Out lives change, our financial situations, our personalities, and thus, our dreams and desires change too. Sure, when I was twenty and had nothing else to do, I wanted to see the world. Now that I’m older, have a husband and home that I love, I don’t need to see everything. I have done some traveling and lots of cooking, and I will do some more before my time is done. But other things interest me now.

So, I may have dreamed of visiting the entire of Asia (and the entire of Europe, all of the Pacific Islands and most of North Africa…), but maybe one trip to Japan or Thailand will suffice, or a European river cruise. I have over 1900 (!) digital recipes on my computer, not to mention the couple of dozen (after a cull, still a couple of dozen) cookbooks on the shelf. I’ve made many dozens of these recipes over the years, and I will make many more, but I know I will never make them all. Some are for inspiration, some are just to make me happy. And that’s OK, as long as I have the space and mental energy to deal with them.

So don’t feel bad about your lists, your pattern stashes, your fabric collections, your dreams – have fun playing with them instead.

The rest of my stash, waiting to be washed and put away.

Finished Project: Landscape Christmas Table Topper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunny, my single needle/ combo machine

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

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My 10-needle, “Enterprise-G”

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

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

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First ten blocks, with number eleven just off the machine

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