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!

 

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?

If I Were Tolstoy’s Editor

“We are forced to fall back upon fatalism to explain irrational events (that is those of which we cannot comprehend the reason). The more we try to explain those events in history rationally, the more irrational and incomprehensible they seem to us. Every man lives for himself, making use of his free-will for attainment of his own objects, and feels in his whole being that he can do or not do any action. But as soon as he does anything, that act, committed at a certain moment in time, becomes irrevocable and is the property of history, in which it has a significance, predestined and not subject to free choice.

There are two aspects to the life of every man:  the personal life, which is free in proportion as its interests are abstract, and the elemental life of the swarm, in which a man must inevitably follow the laws laid down for him.”  –Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

I did it.

I finished reading War and Peace.  And I loved it.  (You can read about my failed start.)

In fact, after reading it, I was tempted to go back and start re-reading from the beginning, in order to capture more of the nuance, the brilliance of Tolstoy’s staging, foreshadowing and character development.

The book is 1386 pages long. And I would not cut a single word…except possibly one tiny little change.

If I were Tolstoy’s editor, I would have asked him to leave out Part Two of the Epilogue.  I can imagine the conversation between the artist and the editor:

Tolstoy: But I wasn’t finished!  All of this NEEDED to be said!  It’s the entire reason I wrote the book!

Editor:  My friend, the story was over.  Leave the rest to the reader. The novel is magnificent.  In their thoughts they will ponder your piece of work for years to come.  They will write books themselves about your epic.  Let it end.

Tosltoy:  I will not.  I insist on the last part.

Editor:  What if we include it at the end as Part Two of the Epilogue…a kind of Author’s Notes?

Tolstoy:  Hmmph.  Whoever heard of Part Two of an Epilogue?

I can imagine this conversation going on for many months.  I recently read somewhere that it took Tolstoy over a year to write the opening scene.  (It introduces many of the characters.)

I find it hard to believe that anyone living today could weave such a tapestry of thought. The best-selling novels currently in production, while gripping and suspenseful, take me about 2-3 days to process.  War and Peace took me 3 months.  I savored it.

On the cover of the book, Virginia Woolf writes, “There remains the greatest of all novelists–for what else can we call the author of War and Peace?”

I am afraid very few readers take the time to read novels like this any more.  Do kids still read this in high school? When I tell my own friends or acquaintances that I have just finished War and Peace, in the hopes of meeting someone else who may have read it, I am met with raised eyebrows and shaking heads.  They back away slowly.  The general consensus is that I either have nothing else to do with my life or that I am just plain weird. Now it’s possible that I am weird, but I assure you, I have many other things to do in my life including working, raising a teen, caring for an aging parent.

As Churchill once said, “Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

Celebrating art is life for me. I do it in between trips to the middle school (and sometimes read in the middle school parking lot). I create in the evening, and at work.  I think of things to make while lying in bed, in the shower, preparing a meal.

What is life if not to celebrate art and the work of fellow artists and artisans?

By the way, I finally finished the red scarf I started well over a year ago.  It’s not a masterpiece.  But it was made with patience and persistence.  And I eventually gifted it to my sister, who accomplished a huge goal.

Bravo. Prodolzhat…

 

The Trouble with Wool

The trouble with wool is…

There is no trouble.

Sorry.  It’s just lovely to work with.

Let me take that back.   The trouble with wool is…

It interrupts all the other projects I absolutely have to get done (because I’m sick of looking at them.)  I found a new project that just fascinated me because it is fairly complex.  I never start with an easy project.  I fall in love with the idea of a project and find out as I go along that maybe I bit off more than I can chew.

But this particular one is lovely.  Shown below is just the start of some of the pieces.

This pattern is from Wooly Lady.  The instructions suggested copying everything onto freezer paper, tracing it, ironing it onto the wool, cutting it out and then peeling away the paper.

I bought the whole wool kit from Wooly Lady (not cheap, OK?) I found that I just did not have enough of the fuscia wool.  So I substituted a rich red, which I think will be just fine.

Here is the whole thing cut out and pinned down.  I realize that I will have to take it apart in order to start stitching, but of course, I really wanted to see the layout. I wasn’t going to fuse anything down, but soon realized that the pins will cause distortion, so I’ll be using Misty Fuse to hold down the pieces while I stitch. I’ve never tried it on wool, but I think it’s all I’ll need, since everything will be stitched in place.

So after all that cutting, the fun begins. The pattern calls for a blanket stitch on basically everything, with some decorative stitching throughout.

Can I finish in time for spring?  I certainly hope so.

What do I still have to complete?

  1. My splendid sampler quilt.  I still have some blocks to do, even if I skip some.  I have ordered the book and am waiting for it to come in.
  2. My queen size hand-quilted quilt.  Yeah.  What was I thinking?  I am not Amish.  I will never be Amish. But it sits on the floor in my sewing room taunting me. The truth is, the quilt is more than 2/3 done.  A little bit of effort would get me over the top.
  3. My improv quilt.  At least I have a good idea as to how to finish this.  All I need is another 15 hours a day, and the energy to fill those hours.
  4. My knitted scarf.  Oh, so close!  Just a few more rows and cast-off!  Geez, I need to just DO IT!

As all quilters know, I have  another 10 projects in bags and containers that I have never started. Those new placemats for spring and summer?  I’ll probably squeeze them in.  A simple Magic Inch quilt from those fantastic people at Modern Quilt Studio?  Yeah, I can get that done in no time.  The cute throw pillow idea I just saw while out shopping this morning?  How easy is that in machine embroidery! And I’m getting sick of my old pillow cases and duvet cover…those are fast and easy…

The trouble with wool is…probably me.

 

Kraft Tex, Transfer Artist Paper and Living on the Island of Lost Tools

Me: “I’ve lost my mind.”

Husband: “Now what?”

Me:  “I no longer know what I own. And even if I know what I own, I can’t find it.”

Husband: …(no response)

Me:  I’ve looked everywhere for my edge punch that I bought last year to do favors for Auntie Geri’s 80th.”

Husband: “OK. You know you just haven’t looked deep enough. We’ve been through this.  It’s in a bin somewhere. It’s in a shoebox in a bin. It’s in a plastic bag in a shoebox in a bin.  It’s in a paper bag in a plastic bag in a shoebox in a bin.  Look deeper.”

I hate it when he’s right.

When I went back to the place where I would put it away NOW if I had it and looked inside a few bags…there it was.

My main sewing machine needs a new part, so I am working on some sewing-related projects (even though I have another machine that works just fine.) Above, with the “Martha Stewart” logo is the punch I could not find.  She doesn’t make it any more, so it’s not even available online anywhere that I could find.

Been playing with both Kraft Tex and Transfer Artist Paper to make cards and Valentines and to just see what I can do with the combination.  Both are readily available online and I’m sure your local quilt shop can get them in too.

The beauty of working with these products is:

  1. Kraft Tex doesn’t fray at the edges, so it doesn’t need any finishing.
  2. It’s washable.
  3. So is anything that’s been transferred via the Transfer Artist Paper.
  4. TAP can be used on cloth, wood, glass, basically anything you can iron …and on Kraft Tex too.
  5. I can sew on any of this, and I can mix in some card stock tools like the paper punch.

So conceivably, I should be able to wash any of these finished cards.

This  little cherub is from my own photography.

This one reminds me of the scene from Holiday Inn, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart…” Free clip art is all over the place for Valentine’s Day.

And in this one, I used some free vintage art and added a pic to personalize. A good place to try is thegraphicsfairy.com.  I think this one will end up as this year’s Valentine. It will fit perfectly into one of the lace envelopes I recently created.

On this card, the transfer of our pic was on top of the first transfer, and I probably would not recommend that. I should have used a graphics program for that work and only transferred once.  Still, the photo looks old and worn and I love it.

Hmmm…so when I throw all these in the wash, they should come out whole.  I know that they will soften and get a little wrinkly like the Levi jeans tag.

Even so, I can’t wait to play around with this more. I’ll share some after a washing…should be interesting!

 

‘Tis the Season…Or is it?

rosesRunning around doing errands yesterday, I stopped in my tracks.  I pulled the car over and began to take pictures.  It’s a miracle.  Who sees roses this beautiful at Thanksgiving?

I did what I always do. I documented it.

The weather has been very disconcerting.  It was the warmest Nov. 17 in 40 years.

I remember being in Miami during the holidays one year.  It must have been around 20 years ago now.  I was about 2 blocks from South Beach, and we had been doing a photo shoot. But we wrapped a bit early and I had a free evening and found myself…midwestern girl…in a Walgreens in Miami Beach a couple of days before Christmas. I had received a call from friends who had gone sledding and skiing and were spending the weekend in Wisconsin.  Could I get home in time to meet them there, they asked.

I wandered the aisles, listening to the holiday music, taking in the lights, the decorations.

I was so lost.

I couldn’t imagine anyone being able to celebrate the holiday without at least the CHANCE of snow, and a cold breeze and a winter coat.  Walking outside, I was greeted with the soft warm breeze, and the tealest of teal ocean colors. It was breathtaking.

But not Christmas.

I had that same feeling again today, even though I am playing holiday music. The weather report calls for storms tomorrow and snow flurries on Saturday.  Maybe then, just maybe, things will start to feel a little bit more normal.

I have been working on the knitting that had me turned inside out.  I spent 45 minutes just studying the scarf, trying to recognize my mistakes.  Finally, in what seemed like a breakthrough, I realized that I was not paying attention to the wrong and right side of the pattern.

Once I had it figured out, I decided to continue and not rip out the incorrect stitches.  I decided that this scarf would be a great reminder of a difficult time.  Things leave scars.  My scarf would have a scar.  It’s not horrible.

right-side-knitting-mistakeAs you can see, on the right side of the fabric, it’s hardly noticeable.

wrong-side-knittingThe wrong side is much more obvious.  I decided that I didn’t want to go backward.

The only way to continue is to go forward.

I think I just might have a scarf by the time the snow falls.

And it’s time to get back to sewing too.

 

War and Peace and Knitting

War and Peace and KnittingRight before my mom went into the hospital for the last time, I began reading War and Peace. Honestly. I was about..oh, maybe 100 pages in. I had it at the hospital with me.

That was last February.

(I should mention that I love the Russian authors.  War and Peace is one of the great Russian novels that I haven’t read yet. Tolstoy is very different from Dostoevsky, but if you are looking for characters that embody the totality of the frail human condition, you can’t beat the Russians. They understand pain.)

Anyway, after she died, I put the book down and couldn’t look at it again until summer.  At that point I decided to throw it into a box headed for charity. Then I fished it out again. Then threw it back in. Fished it out. I wasn’t ready to walk away completely.

So it’s been sitting on my bedroom floor ever since.

At that same time last year, while in the waiting room at the hospital, I also started knitting a red scarf.

Now you should know a few things:

  1.  My mom taught me to knit.
  2. I am not very good, but find it very relaxing.
  3. I do OK with a simple pattern, but I don’t really know how to un-knit if I make a mistake.
  4. I made a mistake.

Not right away, you understand. I didn’t make the mistake in February.  Like War and Peace, I put the knitting project down and couldn’t look at it again.

The day after the election, I picked it up and tried to knit.

But I did it wrong.  Somewhere along the line, I was supposed to knit and I purled.  And where I was supposed to purl, I knitted.

An experienced knitter would know how to go backward, to reverse the stitches and fix the problem.  I can remember hundreds of times when my mom would rip the yarn out. But I am afraid to do that.

I am afraid I won’t be able to pick up those ripped stitches and continue.

I am left with something that feels like garbage and I don’t know how to fix it.

If I could go back in time and change it all, I would. If I could just abandon both projects I would.  But something in me longs for continuity, for clarity, for perseverance, closure, fortitude and maybe just a teensy bit of hope.

Now what?

 

Machine Embroidery Valance

I love one-of-a-kind.

If it  hasn’t been done before, I’m in.  Even if it has been done before, but it can be done slightly differently, I’m in.

What I’m not really interested in doing is creating exactly what someone else has already created.  Let’s be honest, here. Nothing under the sun is really new any more.  We all receive our inspiration from someone, or something, or some technique.  Original ideas come from many places, but they almost always require inspiration from somewhere, and we all learn from one another.

That’s OK.  As long as it’s new to you. I don’t judge people who take a pattern and re-create it exactly as the book dictates. That’s how we learn. We aren’t all designers. I’m not…at least I don’t get paid to be one.

But my favorite projects come to me like a whirlwind, and I have all to do to scribble them down before they disappear.  The end product is not always exactly what I had planned, but I know when I have a starting point.

My challenge:  To create a project based on some digitized rulers created in Artwork Canvas within Bernina Embroidery Software 8.

I started with the 3 black ruler shapes, wondering how to place them in an interesting project.

I knew I wanted to use a sewing theme, and I also wanted to incorporate Amanda Murphy’s Sewing Room embroidery designs. I thought they were cute and fresh. (See the link below).

Sitting at the computer one day, I had an idea.  I don’t ever design on a computer.  It’s just not fast enough to capture the idea before I talk myself out of it.

So I grabbed the back of the closest sheet of paper and scribbled out this initial design.

valance-plan2I thought I’d make a table runner, with all the embroidery designs lined up in a row.   I thought about adding buttons scattered around the design, since the theme has thread spools, scissors , rulers, etc.

I didn’t have any fabric at home that was close to my reach that was in the right shape to hold all the designs.

So I stitched a number of half fatquarters together (fat-eighths).  I think they were leftover from this project.

And I printed out some templates to see if I was getting close to my original thought.

valance-plan1It was going to work.

I began embroidery, and once the embroidery was complete, a friend at work (hey Bobbie!) asked if I was making another valance…this time for my sewing room. (You can check out the last time I made a valance here.)

I had actually been thinking of it as a table runner, but when she said valance, I suddenly saw that too!

I continued with the quilting which for some reason was a part of the original scribble and I couldn’t depart from it.  Here are a few of the detail shots.

sewingvalance3sewingvalance2sewingvalance1

 

I’m sure you can see why I wanted to use Amanda Murphy’s embroideries…but it actually works pretty well with the digitized rulers.

Here’s what it looks like complete.  It’s quilted all over using a walking foot, and the back is turned down to form a rod pocket.

sewingvalance4It will be at the shop for a while, but I can’t wait to hang it on the window in my sewing room. I moved the random-sized buttons to the middle to give it a look of continuity. I love the Barbie-style dresses.

You can make the rulers if you attend Bernina’s November Software Inspiration class at your local dealer.  And if you don’t have software, I’m sure you can find a measuring tape embroidery or replace it with another design.  The point is not to make the same valance I made, (although you certainly are welcome to do that) but to make it your own!  Have fun with the idea, and create something new and original for your own home.