Making It Up as You Go

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Shopping the stash… always fun!

… or Making your In-Laws Look Better.

My sister-in-law dropped by for a nice visit last week; we were happy to spend time with her. She was kind enough to bring us a photo she found while cleaning out – it’s of my husband’s parents from oh-so-long ago. There’s no date on the photo, but my husband figures he was five years or younger.

Anyway, he wanted to frame it, so I started looking at 11 x 14 frames. After a bit of searching and not finding anything appealing, I got smart (maybe too smart) and thought, hey, I can make one with fabric… and after two hours this morning I have a framed photo.

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Graph paper has always been my favorite – and so convenient for sewing

I started by measuring the photo, then deciding how much overlap I wanted for the frame, then how wide I wanted the frame to be. It’s really more of a matting technique at this point, so you could use this as a mat inside of a regular picture frame too, just leave off the final backing.

Next I cut down a piece of Peltex® to the dimensions I settled on; after that I fused the fabric I was using to the Peltex frame and trimmed it to fit. I did leave a ½ inch allowance so I could wrap it around the frame; ½ inch was a bit small to work with, you may want to consider leaving a bit more of an edge. I used my clapper to help set the fabric around the backside.

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Since the fabric I chose was a silk dupioni, I knew it was going to shed and I didn’t want to spend time cleaning up threads that might stick out later on, so I used a basting spray, stuck down a piece of muslin, then stitched around the inner and outer edges.

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I used a decorative stitch on the inside, and simply top-stitched the outside edge. Once it was all stitched in place, I clipped away the excess (your appliqué scissors will work better here.)

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Now to center the photo in the frame – and discover the small but repairable mistake I made. When I initially cut down the frame, I forgot to cut the width to size – and didn’t either check my final measurements before proceeding to the next step. So instead of a lovely one-inch overlap, I got free-hang edges of photo! Ah well, it just fits inside the frame and with archival tape I was able to affix it into place.

To enclose the whole thing, I used plain muslin again, backed with DécorBond® for a bit of stability. I decided to just sew around the whole edge, but if you think you’d like to reuse your frame, only sew down the sides and bottom, leaving the top edge open – you’ll probably want to fold it over and finish it with a straight stitch to make it nice.

I then topstitched around the whole frame again, and trimmed down the excess fabric. I also sewed in a strip of fabric for hanging, you can do that too or add one by hand later, how ever you prefer. Just to make sure the photo didn’t move in the frame, I edge-stitched right along the two sides, can’t even tell it’s there.

And now, here are my in-laws – don’t they look better?

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Needle Pads

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While I’m one for changing needles with each project, maybe you only sewed a couple of quick seams or replaced a button on a shirt – we all need a place to keep our needles that aren’t quite used up. I was keeping them, machine and hand needles, on a magnetic pin cushion. Well, that got to be a mess. Not all machine needles have a nifty color code system for size and type; hand needles don’t have any system – and I’ll be darned if I can tell the difference between a size 8 appliqué and a size 9 sharp.

At our last Fashionista meeting, our member Nateida showed us her latest notion: a needle pad. So much tidier than my old system! But nice as a pre-made one is, it didn’t quite fit my needs. I have three machine stations where I use multiple needles, but I don’t necessarily need all those types at each station. And I wanted one for hand needles as well so I made my own! I made of list of which type and size of each needle I wanted at each station; I then used my embroidery software to create the lettering for each pad, and then embroidered them on my new machine, Sunny.

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For the main fabric I used a white sateen that was laying around, and I stabilized it with Décor Bond. I then floated each onto cut away mesh stabilizer in my hoop. Next I cut it down to size, and backed it with a foam product (I don’t know the name or where I got it from, but it’s very similar to ByAnnie’s Soft’n’Stable) followed by another layer of the sateen.

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On my first attempt I tried to sew the layers together, turn it out and topstitch it – that did not work well, the foam was too thick.

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So I rearranged the layers and bound it with a very pretty batik I had just gotten – much better! All of them are the same, except the serger needle pad; I placed a large washer in the back so it would stick to the magnetic spot in my serger table. And there we are, custom needle pads!

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There’s a washer in there!

Changes in the Sewing Room…

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Wow, it’s April already! Happy Spring – I hope you’ve all got bright, fun new projects to work on. I kept busy in March between spring cleaning, a serger demonstration for my local sewing club, and – getting a new machine!

I have to say, at the beginning of March I was not quite planning on that! Meet Sunny, my Baby Lock Solaris (yes, a rather obvious name but I’m not imaginative.) It was and was not a spur of the moment purchase; how’s that? I’ve been looking at a new top of the line machine for a little over a year now, but the Solaris was not on my radar. I won’t go into it here but suffice it to say, after several serendipitous events at my local dealer I decided to get the Solaris.

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How is Sunny? Well, he’s big, and complex; I took a new owner’s class after getting him, and he can do a lot. But in two short weeks I’ve only made two things; I finished a shirt for my husband and made myself some needle pads – I’ll post about those soon. Sadly I’ve been busy and haven’t been able to really try out all the wonderful things he can do (as soon as my house guests are gone I’ll get to delve more deeply!)

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Poor Sunny has to live on the foot rest until the new table with a bigger lift comes in!

What to Do with Leftovers

What do you do with your leftovers and scraps? Generally, if I have enough left over for another project I hold onto them; but if it’s not enough or I don’t want to do another project with that fabric I cut it down into quilt blocks (if they’re cotton) or I just toss them.

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I recently made myself this lovely, rather luxurious robe from a terry velour, here from Vogue Fabrics, in this pattern from Butterick. There was a bit left over, not enough for anything much, but I wanted to play with some decorative threads I recently purchased for my serger – pearl crown rayon and décor 6 from Uncommon Thread. They were just enough though to make some nice face cloths for myself, and I got to play with fun thread!

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I used a three thread overlock narrow stitch, with pearl crown or décor 6 in both loopers, and a white polyester serger thread in the needle.

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What’s on the pockets? I tried out my Sashiko machine just to see what it would do on terry – turns out not much. It’s pretty fluffy fabric, so the Sashiko stitches get lost. But, that’s why we try out new things, to see what else we can do, what we can create next. What are your sewing plans for Spring?

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A tatami-style stitch with a topper helps keep the velour down and improves the stitch out

When Embroidery Goes Wrong/ Tips for Stitching on Silk

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Happy New Year! How were your holidays? Did you make any fun projects? How about gifts for anyone (including yourself?) I made a gift for someone, and there was a glitch with the embroidery….

I made Decades of Style Pattern 5006 in a cozy wool and silk bouclé (sold out), and lined it with a lovely red charmeuse, both from my local fabric supplier Sew Much Fabric. DS5006 is a fast and fun make, a 1950’s shawl with a sleeve. I wanted to personalize this gift with a monogram so I did a practice stitch-out, no problems. Well when I put the lining fabric into the machine – problem! It seems the bobbin thread was being pulled to the front and because my practice run was done on white fabric, I couldn’t tell. But I didn’t have enough of the red charmeuse to completely remake the lining, so what to do?

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Well, I could have used another color altogether, but I felt red was the best for the black and silver bouclé. At first I tried using a fabric marker to touch up the small white spots; this turned out horribly, as the red was just enough of a different color to look bad, and the marker seeped into the rayon thread and made it dull.  I decided instead to re-stitch the design on scrap fabric and create an appliqué; I even wound a bobbin with the same color thread I was using on top, so if it got pulled through it wouldn’t matter. Unfortunately I forgot to place the topper on my second try and the silk got pulled threads, yikes! In addition, the stitching was lumping up on the back and front of the design – was the 40-wt. thread too heavy for the bobbin? To heavy for this design?

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I decided to try again, but made a few more changes: First, I cleaned out my bobbin case – always clean out your machine when you have problems stitching! It really is this simple most of the time. Second, I changed the needle, just in case; third, I used a black pre-wound bobbin; and lastly, I changed the design. In the end I decided that the original design didn’t look good in monotone, and I wanted to use a design I had successfully used before. A little while later I had a successful stitch out and was ready to sew on my appliqué. Here’s the finished monogram:

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I think it came out just fine; some may think it’s not the best solution, but an appliqué is often used to cover up old monograms instead of putting in a whole new lining, and in a way it frames it and helps it to stand out. Here are some tips for embroidery in general and silk in particular:

  • Always do a test stitch out with precisely the fabric, thread, bobbin, stabilizer and topper you intend to use. It seems like overkill, but if I had used the red silk instead of white in the practice run, I would have seen the problem before I ever touched my lining.
  • If you’re having a problem, clean out your machine and change the needle! As a friend recently reminded me….
  • Always use a topper with silk charmeuse; even a new needle can pull fabric threads because of the satin weave. A topper keeps it from pulling.
  • Try 60-wt. thread for lettering, and use 90-wt. for the bobbin. My software manufacturer confided that most lettering, though digitized for 40-wt., turns out better with the thinner thread. The original design was a lettering design, and the 40-wt. thread in the bobbin was not working. The second design was a very large satin-stitch design and worked fine with the 40-wt.
  • Even if you’ve “ruined” your fabric, you can still salvage your project: try a different design, use an appliqué, replace that part of the pattern with a new piece, etc. There’s usually something you can do to fix it!

Just a Quick Holiday Post

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I don’t do much personal sewing after Thanksgiving and most of my embroidery orders are complete by the first week of December, but I wanted to share a recent gift that was also a quick project.

This cute wristlet/ cosmetic bag is the Little Glam Bag from Pink Sand Beach Designs; they have a wonderful collection of bag and purse patterns, all made to use fat quarters – which means you can use up the scraps from your stash. You can buy patterns direct, or even from your local quilt shop.

The recipient of this bag is a gregarious older woman who loves red and bling, so I took the time to have a little fun with the embroidery and rhinestones. All told the project took me two and a half hours, from cutting to last stitch. If you’re just making the bag, it’ll take you less than an hour.

I chose a large monogram so it would stand out against the patterned fabric, but traditional satin-stitching doesn’t work well with large letters; I used a textured design instead. If you have embroidery software or a top-of-the-line machine it can probably do this too. Consider it next time you have over-sized lettering.

And don’t forget the decorative stitches on your sewing machine, almost all of them have at least a few these days. People often ask “but what would I use them for?” here’s a perfect example! I used a “hand quilt stitch” for the topstitching along the zipper, and a repeated fan shape to construct the strap – that’s just two places you can use them!

I hope you’ve all had a fun a productive 2018 and will have many more projects in the coming year!

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Crimes Against Couture?

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Can you tell there are serged seams?

For those who are not familiar, couture sewing has some expected (or antiquated) techniques and parameters: multiple muslins and fittings, generous seam allowances, using the stitching line as opposed to the cutting line, and a lot of hand sewing. A LOT of hand sewing…. This makes couture sewing unappealing to many modern sewers; no short cuts, no new techniques, and definitely no sergers.

But I really enjoy couture sewing, there’s something almost meditative about the process. And of course, not every garment has to be full on couture all the time. Some of my fellow Fashionista’s and I do what we call “demi-couture”: we use the techniques that we find most enjoyable, give the best finish or are the most practical – and couture sewing is nothing if not practical.

So what to do when your designer bouclé remnant leaves you with scant 5/8-inch seam allowances (and I mean scant as in more like 3/8-inch) and the edges are raveling faster than you can sew them? You bust out the serger. Yup, there are serged edges in my mostly couture a-line skirt. I stabilized not only the edges of my pattern pieces with the serger, I cleaned up the hem as well. This to me is not much different than whip-stitching the entire edge to stabilize it; I just did it by machine instead of by hand.

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Hot off the serger – the edge is now being held securely

The most fervent adherents will claim that Madame C is now rolling over in her grave, but I think if she had a serger she’d’ve used it if she needed to. Because you see, couture also teaches us to do what is needed when it’s needed. For instance, I wound up with a strange hole in one of my side seams; it looks like a little notch was cut out of the hem allowance – I’ll blame it on a gremlin. But my otherwise nice and even 2-inch hem has a very shallow spot; what to do?

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I took a scrap of organza and zig-zagged it to the wrong side of the hem, then folded it over and zig-zagged it down. I now have a lovely stabilized edge to catch-stitch down with the rest of the hem. Won’t it show? It shouldn’t, especially with the lining in place. Only someone being nosy would see it, and if someone is that nosy then I have way more to worry about than them seeing my little organza bandage….

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All Patched!
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A silk lining is lovely and hides all the stitching

Save the Wool! (Or, you may not have ruined it yet!)

I’m in the midst of finishing my winter wardrobe projects; I finished several sweaters and fall-colored tees last month, and this month I’m working on skirts – I finished the first one last week. This week I’m working on my woollies: one designer cashmere, one designer bouclé, one acrylic/ wool blend, and one that’s a cotton/ acrylic/ viscose.

Everything washed fine, except the designer bouclé: it’s a wool blend, but it shrank much more than I thought it would (I suspect it was actually a cotton fiber in one of the yarns that shrank the most.) I had washed the two wools on my machine’s hand wash/ washable wool cycle, and hung both to dry. The cashmere lost barely a half inch width wise and nothing lengthwise, but the bouclé went from a barely-enough-for-an a-line skirt 56” wide and one yard long including the frayed edges, to 53 ½” wide and 28” long… yikes! While I was laying out my organza underlining yesterday morning, I realized my mistake.

But then I remembered that wool stretches (the reason for the organza underlining to begin with!) So I sent the piece back through a rinse and spin cycle with liquid fabric softener (I’ve heard hair conditioner works too) and while wet I stretched it gently but firmly across my shower’s grab bar. I was able to get it stretched to a decent 59” wide and 36” long, not including the frayed edges. I weighted it with trouser hangers across the bottom and left it like this to dry.

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The final measurements? After being hung to dry for twelve hours, and left to completely dry for another twelve it is now 56 ½” wide, by 35” long, not including the frayed edges. And now I can finish making my skirt…

Sashiko Stitching – By Machine

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I just finished a skirt for winter, using a faux suede from my favorite local purveyor, Sew Much Fabric. I wanted to take advantage of the thickness of the fabric and use lapped seams, topstitching and of course embroidery!

For the topstitching, I used my Baby Lock Sashiko, a specialty machine that imitates the look of hand quilting. I have to say, I really love this machine, especially since I can’t do as much hand work anymore as I would like to!

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Don’t forget to test!

While it’s a spaced stitch on the front, it’s a locked running stitch on the back. And it certainly compliments the lapped seams on my skirt!

For the embroidery I used a cut away mesh stabilizer on the back, and a wash away stabilizer on top to prevent the stitches from sinking into the pile of the suede. That’s right, a wash away – faux suede can be washed! If you want to use a topper on a fabric that can’t be washed, try a heat away. Definitely test a sample with your fabric to make sure the heat is safe for it.

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For more details on how I constructed the skirt, read my guest post, coming soon at .

Would you like to add Sashiko stitching to your next project? Contact me for more information.


Heavier Embroidery on Knits

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I’ve finished a wrap dress to go with my little jacket from last fall (read about it  here.) Since my jacket had a peacock-embroidered lining, I decided to use those designs again on the dress.

peacock embroidery

The dress is made of ponté, a very stable, well-behaved knit. Even so, to embroider a heavy, satin-stitch design you need to give it all the help you can.

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I used a sticky wash away as the main stabilizer, but I also wanted to leave a lightweight layer so the embroidery didn’t distort too much, so I also used a mesh cut away underneath.

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I hooped both of these, then decided on placement using a template, adhered my dress to the sticky stabilizer, then added a wash away topper. The topper allows the stitches to form over the knit instead of sinking down into it.

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Afterwards I trimmed the excess stabilizers, and used a fusible tricot to back the design. This does two things: it covers the stitches to prevent irritation of sensitive skin, and also gives just a little more body and stability to the design.

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And now I have a cute and comfy travel outfit! Would you like to add embroidery to your self-made items?  Contact me for pricing and information.

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