Chasing Cats with Machine Embroidery

Doesn’t everyone have a Halloween tree?

It’s a silly thing, I know. But we get a kick out of it.  I make all the ornaments in machine embroidery as in-the-hoop projects.

First, the actual embroidery design is stitched out.

A placement line is stitched, so I can see where the backing will be placed. Before the backing, I tape down a ribbon for hanging. Then the backing is laid down with right sides together.

The backing then gets stitched down with an opening at the bottom which allows for turning the item inside out. Once the backing is stitched down, I can take the whole thing out of the hoop and trim 1/4 inch around the outside, clipping the corners, and turn it inside out.

Just add a bit of stuffing, stitch up the bottom and you’re done! Three at a time at this size. When I make them even smaller, six at a time is just as easy!

Finished and ready to hang on the tree.

I hope this gives you some ideas for the holidays. Happy stitching!

 

Chicken Soup and Embroidery Software

It’s a chicken soup kind of day.

My son came home after his first few days of high school with a nasty cold.  I’m not surprised.  The place is a breeding ground for experimental teenage germs.

On top of that, the weather turned cooler today…for how long, I’ve no idea.  But it’s cloudy and cool right now.

Furthermore, like everyone else in the sewing industry, I read Nancy Zieman’s latest blog with a heavy heart. Whether you watched her show or not, you know Nancy.  You buy her notions or you attend Quilt Expo in Madison. I’ve learned many tips from Nancy along the way, but my favorite line was this: ” I sew at least one quilt a year for charity.”  She never said “You should…”  She told us what she did, and then she did it, among all the other wonderful charitable contributions she made within the industry (and outside of it).

So, yes, it’s a chicken soup kind of day.

While the soup bubbled away, I sat down with my laptop and organized some of the Halloween designs I want to make in the very near future.

I use Bernina Embroidery Software 8, and I’m planning on making tiny pillow-like ornaments to hang on my Halloween tree.

The designs I’m using came from urbanthreads.com, a favorite of mine for cute and/or spooky embroidery.

It’s hard to see the design in this shot but it is a single thread color of a cat.  I used a feature that people rarely take advantage of in the ‘design” menu. Click on “background” and change the background color in the hoop.

Now you can actually see what the design will look like stitched out on dark grey or black fabric. In the prior shot, you can see where I added stitching in a square around the outside.  Before I stitch that, I will add a square of fabric and a ribbon for hanging.  I’m not stitching out today, but I promise to share when I do.

In this design, I’m stitching the profile of this cat, but it has multiple thread changes for each cat.  For some reason, the.exp file I’m using has changed all the colors from shades of purple to random colors.  I did not take the time to fix the thread colors on screen because I will just use the correct ones as I stitch out.

The important thing to note here is that on the side, in the color film, I used the “Sequence by Color” tool.  This way, I’m able to stitch all the same colors at once instead of changing threads each time for each color on each cat. Whew!

It makes a big difference in the amount of time it takes to stitch out.  Also, I will have to cut the jump stitches in between each thread change, as I have the thread moving around quite a bit.

 

Still, I have loaded all this onto my USB stick and am ready to stitch as soon as I prep some fabric, stabilizer and fabric for the backs of these cute little ornaments.

Can’t wait to get started, but I won’t have time for a couple of days.

My Halloween quilt is complete, and ready for its debut! Stay tuned. It may be early September, but it’s already time for a cool change.

When That First Cool Wind Blows…

And it happened this week.

Never mind that it’s the middle of August.  Never mind that the tomatoes are just starting to come in.  When you work in marketing/advertising/retail you get the urge to plan for that next holiday.

It’s the same way in quilting.

The other day the temps stayed in the sixties, and that was enough for me to start thinking about Halloween. (Of course, I’ve been thinking about back-to-school already…that goes without saying when you have a kid in school!)

Nevertheless, as soon as the temp dropped for a day, I turned to some Halloween fabric I’d been holding for a few years and thought, “Now’s the time!”  This is not a complicated quilt.  But it’s made from a charm pack purchased several years ago and tucked into a drawer.  Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean.

This is all fun stuff.  It’s bright, it’s cheery and it still has that Halloween vibe.  The charm pack was from a line by Deb Strain for Moda.

I supplemented with a couple of other random fabrics from Cotton and Steel, Andover and Wyndham.

I cannot quilt it yet, even though it’s layed out and pinned.  I thought I had a Halloween design from Amelie Scott that I could use to quilt in machine embroidery.  Turns out I only had some vines and leaves.

This quilt absolutely requires pumpkins for quilting.  So I purchased another design pack, and I will start quilting as soon as it arrives.

Until then, I found some terrific Halloween ideas from  urbanthreads.com that I can’t wait to try.

I know you don’t remember from last year, but I have a Halloween tree that I fill with embroidered ornaments.

Every year, I look for something I can make to add to the collection.  Well, I found a few new things.  But you’ll have to wait a bit until I have the chance to work on them.

Temps are in the seventies here today, with clear skies.  But in my sewing room, there’s a cool spooky breeze a-blowin’.

A Trip Down Folk Art Lane

I’ve been whipping out a quick little piece designed by Amanda Murphy.  It comes from her fabric collection Folk Art Fantasy. 

The design is basically done with raw edge applique (my favorite kind.)

I used Wonder Under as my fusible.  I prefer it, because it stays pretty lightweight, and keeps the edges from fraying as you work.  With large all-over appliques such as this, you really also need some support stabilizer behind the whole thing as well, to do the blanket stitch work.  I used a medium weight tearaway, Ultra Clean and Tear from OESD.

I saw Amanda’s fabric line at quilt market, and came back and really made a recommendation to our shop owner to purchase this fabric. I just fell in love with the graphics and the cheery brightness of the whole line. Just a small sample is shown here.

I also appreciate that the design elements carry through to the patterns.  Notice the checkerboard in the flower in the fabric above.  It shows up again in the pattern I worked on, and the other elements appear in more of her patterns (the bunny is themed as well, and the houses too). I appreciate the thought that goes into that. Some of her fabrics even echo her quilting designs.

I used the folksy aqua blue town fabric on the back of the project…because I love it and wanted it to be seen.  It all just feels cozy — but with a modern twist.  I tend to dreamily become a little Amish/Mennonite during the summer.  Or at least I am attracted to the charm and simplicity.  Just don’t take away any of my modern conveniences.

Speaking of conveniences, if you are someone who owns a Silhouette or other cutting machine, her pattern includes a link to svg files.

I don’t think I’m done with this fabric yet.  I might have to do a larger quilt.  As usual, it has to get in line behind many other projects.  Still, it’s all a joyful distraction from reality.

And who doesn’t need that these days.

Women, Sewing and Art

We had some family in from out of town this week, and a day-long trip to the Art Institute of Chicago was on the agenda.

Let me start by saying that I checked with the information desk and they had no problem with me taking a few pics and posting them to a blog.  So that’s what I did.

As you know, the Art Institute is an overwhelming and inspiring experience. After a bit of roaming, I came across a painting of a woman sewing. On a whim, I took a picture.

(Just as an aside, I hate when I see people running up to a painting and taking a picture.  That is not how it is meant to be enjoyed. Look at it. Study the brush strokes. Discover the color palette. Contemplate it. Enjoy it. But whatever you do, don’t run up and take a picture and then run to the next.  That’s silly.  Lecture over.)

That said, I decided to record what I could of women sewing.  A few samples:

Renoir was the first I happened to see. It’s lovely…with such movement.  I did, however, study her hands.  What was she sewing that was so bunched up?  That’s not really how one would hold something for embroidery or detailed stitching.  Though her right hand is perfectly positioned to pull a needle through the fabric, her left is a bit awkward.  The white lace near her left arm is, I suspect, entirely an afterthought.  Go ahead, hold your finger over that piece of white lace. The whole painting recedes into mid-tones. While it is still gorgeous, it lacks enough contrast to draw your eye somewhere.  With that touch of white, your eyes go directly to her work and her hands, and it even lights up her face.

This one is done by Camille Pissarro around 1895.  Titled “Woman Mending.”  I studied her hands once again.  She might very well be sewing.  Or she might actually be knitting in some way.  Her project is rather amorphous.  Yet, I recognize her expression.  I have the same one when I’m trying to figure out what I did wrong.  After these two paintings, I started to wonder if male painters truly understood in any way how women work. They recognize that women are doing SOMETHING with fabric or yarn. The detail is so precise in every other aspect…down to the carvings on the leg of the table.  But what this woman is actually doing?  Based on this painting, it’s a mystery.

Ahh. Diego Rivera, 1936.  The Weaver.  As we move into the 1900’s, we see that women’s work becomes a bit more of a fascination.  It’s not just pretty things in a young woman’s hand, but a skill, a craft.  He even pays homage to her by including the tools of her trade. He admired this woman, I’m sure of it.

This last one I saw was from the 1800’s, St. Rose of Lima. She was a patron saint of the Dominicans, and the story says that she embroidered to raise money for her family and for the poor. In this painting, she is creating the symbol for Christ. (This pic is taken from a pamphlet I brought home from the museum.) I love that her work is clearly shown, and that her sewing was her employment.

I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt through the Art Institute. If, like me, you haven’t been there in over 20 years, I encourage you to visit again with new eyes.  While you’ll see plenty of women as subjects — in portraits, as madonnas and mothers, lovers and muses — these are the women I found that had a project. A purpose.

A reason to create.

 

Dueling Woolies, and a Couple of Tips

I’ve been working on these two wool hand embroidery pieces. One is for the shop, the other for home.  By the time I finish them, I will either have gotten wool completely out of my system, or I will have started a dangerously addictive habit.  I really like working with wool and have learned a couple of things.

(An acknowledgement of the patterns:  The first comes from a Moda book called Moda Mini Marvels. The second is a Wooly Lady pattern called Kaleidescope. Sadly, it no longer seems to be available.  But check out their site as they have many more patterns and kits that are similar.)

 

 

 

Tip Number One:

Use a long-arm stapler to attach the pieces of wool and hold them in place while you stitch.  Seriously. Skip the fusible. Skip the pins. They add bulk and distortion and take all the fun out of the smoothness of attaching wool to wool.  I  was struggling with it and our tech came over and said, “Do you want to know what the Australians do?”  Now, honestly, who doesn’t want to know what the Australians do. She suggested the stapler and I was struck by the simplicity and brilliance of the idea. Why didn’t I think of this?  Try it.

Tip Number Two:

You need this tool.  Clover Press Perfect Roll & Press. Your local quilt shop will have it and if they don’t, ask them to order it!  If you ever do piecing, this is one of the best investments you can make. I work in a quilt shop and try a lot of tools.  I like them for different things, and we all get addicted to different gadgets…it’s part of the process.

But the project I’m working on requires 1 in. half square triangles, finished size 1/2 in.  I need 84 of them.  That’s a lot of sewing, cutting and pressing of tiny pieces. But this little roller works SO WELL!  I did not need to use the iron once…it lays the seams so flat. Get it, try it, find out for yourself.

I continue to carry on, with more fun projects on the horizon.  But I find that at this time in my life, a little handwork is cathartic and soothing. I like my wool to be bright and cheerful, but who knows?  That can change at any time.  When all is said and done, we’re all evolving, aren’t we?

Mother’s Day Blooming

I’m always charmed by the peony tree in my backyard.  When I first planted it, it stayed basically bloomless and green for 5 years…an oddity, with it’s twiggy branches and mini-trunk.  Very different from your normal peony bush.

Then one year, and I’m not sure why, it developed a bloom.  A big, beautiful 7 in. diameter bloom.  But just one.

The next year, the plant had 7 giant blooms.  I’m not sure what gave it the courage to erupt.  More sunshine as I cut away some of the brush?  Another nearby plant which helped it to polinate?  An adjustment to the soil? No idea.

I don’t know enough about plant dynamics to understand all the factors involved.

But I can enjoy it while it’s here. And every year, it is just stunning. This year, it bloomed on Mother’s Day.  Have a happy one.

If You Have a Little Girl in Your Life

Oh, it’s irresistable.  If you have a little girl in your life, and you sew, you will want to make something for her with ruffles…or a little bit of lace, or some gathering, or bows or frills.

You won’t be able to resist, I’m not kidding.

I have a wee one in my life. But she lives far, and I don’t really know her size.  She’s two years old this week, but I decided to make her a 3T dress.

Isn’t that pattern cute?

Anyway, garment sewing is not really my thing, but I am more and more interested in it as I would prefer something that fits and is one-of-a-kind, than something store-bought and cheap.

I found these great fabrics, and in my head I had it all created before I even found the pattern.  You know how that is…then you have to go looking for a pattern that comes close to what you already had in mind.

Then the fun begins.  And frankly, the older I get the more difficult it is to follow a pattern. Sew this on the straight of grain, this on the bias, flip this piece backward, and this one sits on the fold.

Ugh.

(Not to mention that sometimes patterns have mistakes, so it helps to know a little about what you’re trying to do.)  Moreover, I usually just want to do something my way and not the way it shows in the pattern.  For instance, on this dress, I replaced the waistband with a ribbon, and I used a ruffler foot to gather the bottom ruffle.The pattern called for the more traditional method of manual gathering.

I also changed my color scheme a bit from the original layout.

My tip for sewing any garment pattern:  Read the pattern from start to finish.  (Every pattern will tell you this.)  But read it again.  And read it again if necessary.  Unfold the pattern pieces and stare at them as well. Get comfortable with the whole process in your head before you even lay out your fabric. Trust me on this one.

This turned out almost exactly the way I pictured it.

I learned a little about the zipper on the back…I would raise it a bit higher.  But all in all I am happy with the result.

 

 

 

I found out this week that they are coming in to town, so I will be able to give it to this little one in person.  I know at two years old, she won’t care.

But what can I say?  I couldn’t resist.

I only hope it will fit her for at least a few weeks so she can wear it. The matching bag is an in-the-hoop project in machine embroidery, and I added her name there.

Maybe we can get a few pictures of her wearing it before she eats her birthday cake!

Hand Quilting Takes Time — Nevertheless, I Persisted

I started this quilt in 2014.  My original estimate for getting it hand quilted was 4 months. 4 years would have been much closer.

It’s not that I didn’t know it would take work.  Each block was about an hour…no matter how efficient I got at it, I had to re-thread a certain number of times, turn the whole quilt, shift positions, etc. It took an hour no matter how much I tried to reduce the time.

My husband approached and asked, “So if you’re going to quilt by hand, why do you have an expensive machine?”

Please.  Between the time I started this quilt and the time I finished it (yikes, I still need a label!) I completed countless other projects using my “expensive” machine.

Still, I don’t regret a single minute of the hand work. I listened to podcasts, I watched my DVD’s of Downton Abbey. And sometimes, I just sat quietly and used it as a meditative practice.

Why do anything by hand?  Why bake bread when you can pull it off a store shelf?  Why paint a picture when you can capture it all on a cell phone?  Why talk to anyone in person when you can text? Why walk down the street, for heaven’s sake, when you can get in your car and be there in no time?  Why grow a tomato at home when you can get it at any store, or, more virtuously, at the farmer’s market?

I’m not old-fashioned. I love my technology.  I use it to the hilt. While I’m typing at this very moment, I’m also listening to Harry Connick Jr on Pandora. (OK, maybe that’s a little old-fashioned.)

But doing things with our hands teaches us something.  It teaches us patience.  It teaches us that all the products around us take energy, resources and time to produce.  It teaches us to respect process, and maybe, just maybe, to recognize our culture’s love of instant gratification.

If someone had told me when I started this quilt that I wouldn’t finish it for three years, and along the way I would face life and death and sorrow and joy and pain and frustration, I would have told them no thanks. I want things to stay peaceful and uneventful.

Instead, I put it into the stitches.  That’s what we do, you know…those of us who try to do things by hand from time to time.  We put the tears, the laughter, the anger, the frustration, the love, the humility and all the emotions right there into the work.

But I don’t have to tell you that. If you’re a quilter, you already know it.