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.

Another Quick Tip for Large Projects

Cover Art from Anita Goodesign

This particular project, Crane Tapestry, is very large, 64 blocks. And while technically all the bocks are unique, some of them can start to look quite the same. The instructions came with a grid that labels each block, and I can mark them off and match them as I complete them.

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You can see the included grid on the left, and my pencil markings on the lower left corners of each block

I have also though decided to mark the back of each block with its number (or something similar) so I can keep track of which order they go in.

Another easy thing to do of course is to assemble the blocks as they’re created, but with several projects going at once right now, I will need to wait a little while before I can start assembly. I will though take the time occasionally assemble the finished blocks just so I won’t have so much to do at a later time.

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.

Llama Mama Sleep Sack

llama sleep sack-1

Here’s another quick project I did recently, a sleep sack for my niece. I’d never hear of a sleep sack before, but it’s basically a sleeping bag with arm holes, I imagine so little ones don’t get tangled in the blankets.

I found a pattern here, from Peek-a-Boo Patterns. It was unfortunately PDF only, so you do have to spend time printing, trimming, taping and tracing – thankfully it’s only a small pattern.

Her Mom requested I make Lil’Bit’s sleep sack without foot-holes, so I traced the larger size straight across the bottom and proceeded as for the other sizes. (My niece is known to me alternately as Lil’Bit, Sweet Pea and Goober Girl, for when she’s really acting up.)

The fabric is a cute Riley Blake print I got From Harts Fabric – my niece is now a llama mama!

llama sleep sack-2

I also embroidered her initial on the shoulder, and since it’s for her to wear while sleeping, I thought a little extra itch-protection would be nice; I used a fusible tricot to cover the back of the embroidery. Most stabilizer manufacturers sell a product just for this, something like Gentle Touch or Light ‘n’ Soft Fuse-On. The truth is, they’re all just fusible tricot, and if you’re a garment sewer, you probably have some at home already. The specialty stabilizers tend to be pricey compared to garment interfacing.

I like the one my local fabric maven Roz sells here in black and white (temporarily out of stock); hers is great for knits, light wovens and is excellent for home décor, especially if you’re using a quilting or fashion fabric for your home dec project. If you’re using a very light weight or sheer fabric, the elegance fusibles from NY Fashion Sewing Supply are excellent as well.

For this flannel, I used a 3 oz cut away stabilizer. I didn’t bother with a topping because the flannel was pretty smooth, and I used a tatami-type stitch for the monogram, instead of a traditional satin stitch.

llama sleep sack-3

For those of you who noticed, yes, the fabric is upside down on the front of the sack. I figure Lil’Bit will just get to see the llamas right-side up from her point of view for a change – it is a good reminder though to always double check your pattern placement when using directional prints!

Quick Tip – Managing Yardage

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I have a new project I’m starting, as you may have read about here. It requires a good bit of yardage though, 11 yards or more altogether; the main fabric is a good 7 yards.

Most fabrics come folded in half length-wise on a bolt, but silk is usually rolled on a tube the width of the fabric – so the dupioni I bought for my project came folded up in a square, rather like a bedsheet.

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To make cutting down the lengths for my blocks easier, I completely re-folded it in half length-wise, then folded it again to make something roughly 10” wide, then wrapped the whole length around a fabric organizer. They’re a plastic board that comes in different sizes, and they allow you to very neatly fold, organize and store your fabrics, interfacings, ribbons, etc.

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Now that I have my fabrics rolled up, I can easily move them around from storage to cutting table, and unroll as I go, only cutting what I need for that day. And once I’m done, they’re easy-peasy to put back into storage.

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Many – but not all – of my silks, waiting to be chosen as a blouse or lining

I really like them, and have almost the entire of my fabric stash on these boards. They provide support for delicate fabrics like silks, and I can even wrap bulky fabrics like bouclés with ease.

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There’s seven yards of the mint green boucle, and 5 yards of the blue and cream, both neatly contained on a fabric organizer

Managing Large Embroidery Projects

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The wall hanging I made a couple of years ago

Most of our embroidery projects are small or quick – something we can turn out in a few minutes, or in a few short sessions: a monogram, a single-color design. We’ve got plenty of thread and stabilizer hanging around, and our project is there waiting to receive the design.

Occasionally though we want to do something grander: an embroidered quilt, a wall hanging – something with some square footage to it. So how do you plan for that? I find the keys are to be prepared and to stay organized.

One of the first things to do – the first thing to always do with any sewing project – is read the instructions. Not just a glance to see if you have the materials, or what notions you’ll need to buy; but sit down and go step-by-step and really understand what the project is asking for.

Once you’ve done that, the next thing is to make a list: what fabrics, battings, stabilizers, applique scraps, needles, threads and bobbins are required? Do you need spray adhesive, additional types of stabilizer or toppers, other notions like a zipper, ribbons or buttons? Just like a sewing pattern, you want to write down everything.

You’ll also need to make sure you have enough fabric and stabilizer; do you have the size of stabilizer you’ll need for the hoops you’re using? Remember the design will dictate which size hoop you use – always use the smallest hoop that will hold the design. Sometimes the company will tell you how much fabric you need, sometimes the design is not set and you’ll have to figure it out.

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I keep threads for an embroidery project together on a tray

Two examples of projects I’m doing now; Landscape Christmas and Crane Tapestry, both by Anita Goodesign. Crane Tapestry is fairly set: you have two sizes to choose from, there’s a background fabric, two applique fabrics, and three thread colors. Since it’s so simple, they’re able to tell you approximately how much fabric you’ll need.

Landscape Christmas however, is not a set project; you choose which blocks you want and how you want to arrange them. I wanted to make a table topper to match a wall hanging I made a few years ago, so I first measured my table, then decided which arrangements of blocks in which sizes would best cover the table. I made a list of these blocks, the size I was using, the number I needed of each and a sketch showing the configuration I decided on – because I would never remember what I had chosen later. This allowed me to get an approximate square footage of fabric and batting I’d need.


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My diagram, and the probably inaccurate math I used to calculate my fabric needs

I next print out the design sheets; these tell you which threads and appliques you’ll need, and in which order. They will also have either a photo of the design or block, or a full-size diagram that you can cut out as a template. Some embroidery designs come with both, it depends on the company you’re using.

I then make a list of the colors or thread numbers that are used; this usually turns out to be a very long list. Sometimes I find that across a dozen blocks, eight or nine shades (or more!) of a color will be used. This often has to do with the designer’s ideas about what color an object should be – street lamps are this color grey, car wheels are this color, door knobs are yet another. Then within these objects, there’s shading and highlighting, and you can wind up with two or three colors per object. (Sometimes too I think they just have a whole set of thread colors to choose from, and use as many as they see in front of them!)


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The list of colors on the left – it gets long! The embroidery design sheet on the right

For myself, that’s a lot of unnecessary differentiation. I look to see whether the similarly colored objects are next to each other; if they are, then I try to maintain some differences in color. Usually though, they’re not even on the same block, so I just re-use the colors where I can, reducing the total number of colors needed. I often get a reduction of one quarter to one third this way. So instead of seven shades of red, twelve shades of blue and eighteen (yes, eighteen!) shades of grey, I can get it down to three or so of each.

Having narrowed down my list I bring it to my own thread collection. I match the colors as best as I can, assuming I’m using similar colors. But this is where you also get to choose which colors you want and what you’d like to change. Maybe you’re doing a quilt with roses, but instead of all one color, you’d like each one to be different. Or maybe the opposite; you want all your Sunbonnet Sue towels to use the same appliques and fabrics for each one. Whatever it is you’re deciding to change, take the time to write it down on the design sheets and your list of colors; trust me, you won’t remember later what you had decided to use for which, and you’ll be frustrated trying to figure it out all over again.

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All the fabrics for my appliques, waiting their turn

I then gathered the remaining supplies; fabrics, applique scraps and anything else specific to the project. Because I had taken the time to do all this work in advance, I was actually able to put this project down a couple of months ago and pick it back up just recently.

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Cutting mat, ruler and rotary cutter for trimming down finished blocks. There will be quite a pile of finished blocks when I’m done

In fact, I do this will all my sewing projects; I keep the fabrics and notions together in a bag or box, I keep a list of the steps and where I am, any adjustments I need to make, and I mark the steps off as I go. This comes in handy whether I need to put a project aside for a few weeks, or even a few months – or years, as I describe here on the blog of Roz, our lovely local fabric supplier!

Finally Done!

Walking Skirt-1

I started this project in winter of 2018 – yes, that long ago. I couldn’t remember why I put it away, but I pulled it out, finished it, and even made the matching cardigan.

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I posted about it on Roz’s blog, here and here. The fabric, sold out, is from her shop but she has a variety of other knits and wovens to use with this pattern.

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I embroidered my initials on the shoulder, and I made the mistake of forgetting what I had learned in class just weeks ago; I should have used a fusible mesh cut away with this knit, instead of a regular mesh cut away.

It still turned out OK; a quick steam with a pressing cloth and it was fine. But it would have been better had I used the right kind of stabilizer. There’s a little pulling around the bottom curve of the S, but you can’t really tell, especially in this fabric. And since this is just for me to get sweaty in, I’m not at all worried.