Sewing Through the Midwestern Blizzard

#SNOWVEMBER, is what I’m told.

Actually, it’s just raining. but they say the snow is coming…and plenty of it. I am skeptical, but that’s nothing new.

These little ornaments on the tree are made from Kraft Tex. (See my previous post for more details.) I think they turned out cute, and I am anxious to try stitching them out on fabric and turning them into little stuffed ornaments. I think that would be adorable. These have designs on both sides, because I just wanted some flexibility. I’ll need to make some minor adjustments to the software file I use to stitch out the designs on fabric. On the new ones, I’ll add a seam around the outside, leaving an opening to turn them. Then it will be just a matter of stuffing them.  I’ll share when I start that.

But for this task, I wanted to show you the greatest little tool I got at the shop as it was closing. I didn’t think I’d ever need it, didn’t really have any idea why I might use it, but of course I purchased it anyway.

And it sat in my sewing room for over a year.

(Incidentally, as we speak, the rain has turned to snow out my window. Maybe they are not all liars after all.)

It’s called a Circle Rotary Cutter from Olfa. I finally decided to try it out for this project and I am in love with it. I guess I just didn’t know how desperately I needed to cut accurate circles. It has a ruler attached so you can set the radius. You basically use it like a compass, with the sharp point in the center, and a blade instead of a pencil at the end. Suddenly I am imagining all the wool projects I’d like to invent using circles, as well as paper, Kraft Tex, felt, and basically anything a rotary cutter will go through.

In minutes I had beautiful, ACCURATE circles. Do not discount the significance of getting a circle perfectly round.

I am off now, to work on a quick quilt that I must finish before the holidays. We all have those last minute projects. For those of you in the Midwest, Happy Blizzard-Sewing!

The Ubiquitous Old Red Truck — And Other Holiday Icons

C’mon. You know you’ve seen this truck everywhere.

I’m not sure when it became the definitive retro/vintage/holiday symbol. But somewhere along the way it did. I’ve seen it in catalogs, in charming shops, on TV (Hallmark Channel has at least one movie where the truck is a co-star.) I’m sure this old truck obsession is a simple longing for tradition, simplicity, home-baked cookies and the scent of actual pine. But let’s remember: this cute, sentimental old truck could put out enough dangerous fumes to choke a horse pulling an open sleigh. We are excellent at suspending reality during the holidays.

That said, my grandfather had a dark green/blue one just like it on the farm. (You can see it in the pic with Mom and me below.)

Since I’m as sentimental as everybody else around the holidays, I found myself purchasing the truck machine embroidery shown at the top. Buy it here.

I stitched it out on Kraft Tex.  If you’re not familiar with Kraft Tex, it’s the miracle textile that the Levi’s logo is made of.  It doesn’t rip.  It’s washable. It lasts forever and takes a beating and doesn’t show wear and tear. And you can sew with it and on it.

I wasn’t sure how it would hold up with 22,000 stitches on it, but I used Stabilstick Cutaway stabilizer and it was perfect.

Then I started getting more ideas about holiday decor using Kraft Tex and machine embroidery. You can find some cute and simple designs here.

I stitched them out, again using the Stabilstick cutaway stabilizer.  I put a design on the front and on the back, trimmed them to size, rounded the corners, and stitched in black around the outside.  They are the perfect shape for mouse pads.  But I added ribbon and will give them out on Thanksgiving as a holiday decoration.

Once I did those, I started testing ornaments.

CAUTION: Don’t just resize the designs.

I tried to take them from 7 or 8 in. wide down to 4 in. Even in software, they did not size down properly.  They were not originally .ART files, so the software was struggling to reduce stitches. I tried it anyway, but…

Yuck. Big mistake. So I went back to the website and ordered some new ones in smaller original sizes.

These turned out just fine.  I’ll be adding ribbon and using them as ornaments. They will have different designs on each side. I’ll share more when I get them completed.

For now, I’m wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving and a relaxing weekend with loved ones. My holiday will be spent with 10 close family members and 2 dogs. That’s charming and sentimental enough for me.

 

Machine Embroidery Cross Stitch for Halloween

I found this cute embroidery in Cross Stitch Magazine, Halloween edition.

I am not someone who is into cross stitch, but I think it looks so charming around the holidays. My way of handling this is to digitize it and then use the machine to embroider it.  I use Bernina Embroidery Software 8, which has a cross stitch application within the program. If you are not familiar with it, the sub-program has its own “help” section and manual.  I find that it is really pretty simple if you know a few basics.

I will share with you what I did to create this design, and you can explore another of my Halloween posts right here.

The first step is to scan the pattern at its original size.  This design was approximately 7.5 in. x 6 in. Shown above is the black and white scan of the image, but you can see that this image is enlarged enough to show that I can see the markings of all the different thread colors. That will be important later when I manually add them.

A few basic steps:

  1.  Crop the image right up to the outline of the grid.  You want it to be cropped as perfectly as possible when you load it into the cross stitch program. I use Adobe Photoshop to do this, but Corel is built into the software program and you can easily use that instead.
  2. Count the grid.  The heavy lines indicate ten spaces, so you can get an accurate count. You’ll need that later.
  3. Open the cross stitch program in applications.
  4. Click the “picture” tab and load the picture.
  5. Right click on the picture (this is an important step!) and plug the dimensions of the grid in the width and height. These are the number of grid boxes you counted in the second step. This aligns your image with the grid in the program.
  6. Begin adding in your stitches by clicking on the pencil.  At the bottom you can choose the type of stitch…I almost always use a full cross, but you have a number of options.
  7. Choose a color, and you’re ready to fill in your stitches using the image as your guide.
  8. Left click on each grid box to add in your stitches.

In the image above, you can see what it looks like after I added all the stitches.  This did not take long at all, maybe half an hour to get them all filled in.

Save the file as  filename.arx. .arx is the extension used by the cross stitch program.

Now you can close the whole cross stitch program and your embroidery software will still be open. When opening this file, just be sure to choose the .arx extension or “All Files”.

This is the great part. The software will digitze those cross stitches and turn the whole design into an embroidery file. Above, you can see how it turned out on my screen. I exported it then as .exp as I would any embroidery design file and saved it on a usb stick.

The first time I stitched it out, the ghost in the background was just a little too faded. I switched to a slightly darker fabric and the ghost appears more clearly on the right (although I think the picture is a little fooled by the lighting.)  In real life (!) the one on the right lets the ghost show up much better.

I had fun with this project and it’s actually a lot less time consuming than cross stitching by hand — though I have great appreciation for those who do that!

This way, I can stitch it out over and over again…on a pillow, as an ornament, on a bag, etc. I used Isacord thread for these, which is 40 weight embroidery thread.  But I am curious how it would turn out if I had done it with 28 weight, a heavier weight thread. I think that would be really sharp.  The cross stitch program would allow me to adjust the size of the grid as well, so I have lots of opportunity to go deeper and try new things.

Hope this inspires you. The cost of one magazine provides you with so many cute patterns to try. And cross stitch is a program that is so often overlooked in digitizing software.

It’s really worth some experimentation.

More Freestanding Lace

Boo!

Machine embroidery has so many uses, but the one I’ve been dabbling in the most lately is freestanding lace. I’ve blogged about it a few times in the past. You can read those posts here and here.

Lately, I tried something new and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I took a simple lace embroidery, meant to be a small doily.

Then I stitched a number of them together after creating a design in software to see what it might look like.

Freestanding lace, Bernina Software 8All you have to do is use a simple zigzag with an open-toed foot on your machine.

Just pin the multiple pieces together and sew the zigzag in various points to hold it together.

Keep the zigzag stitch narrow and tight, and it will be hardly visible on the finished piece. I went forward and back-stitched, just to make sure it would not unravel.

The finished product turned out better than I had expected.

While I am using it now for Halloween, it obviously will be gorgeous for the holidays, as well.

I also have to admit that I am in love with these tiny LED lights, lit by battery packs. Of course, they cannot stay on all evening as my orange lights do around the fireplace, but the teensy ones on the Halloween tree and surrounding this ceramic pumpkin are just perfect.

Like those ornaments? I’ve made them over the past couple of years in machine embroidery.  You can search “Halloween” on my site or view one of the posts right here.

I hope I have inspired you to make more use of your machine embroidery.  It’s fun and festive and the ideas are endless.

FreeStanding Lace Embroidery

It’s been awhile since I’ve done any freestanding lace. A friend recently gave me a few spools of white Isacord thread and so what else would I do with it?

I immediately purchased a few designs from OESD. Collection 12724 was perfect for what I had in mind.

When you are working on freestanding lace, you’ll want to use 2 layers of wash-away stabilizer.  I used AquaMesh from OESD. Not to be confused with Aquamesh PLUS, which is also a wash-away stabilizer, but has paper, almost like contact paper on one side, so the stabilizer is sticky.  You’d use that on towels or something where you want the stabilizer to disappear, but don’t want to hoop your fabric.

A quick look at the machine in action:

Now comes the finished product.

Once the design is complete, remove it from the hoop, trim away as much excess stabilizer as possible, then rinse it in warm water until the stabilizer has dissolved.

Next, pin it down to a piece of styrofoam or floral foam.  Cardboard will work as well, but it will get a little soggy. I invested in this piece of styrofoam years ago in the floral department of a Michael’s, JoAnn’s or Hobby Lobby. I don’t remember where. The point is that it will last for years.

When you pin, feel free to use all those pins that are bent or just not perfect for quilting or intricate sewing. These pins don’t matter much, they just have to hold the design in place. It WILL curl and stick up in strange places if you skip this step. Overnight is usually the perfect amount of time for a design to dry completely.

machine embroideryIt’s a perfect accent to a delicate teacup or a small jewel box.

I have been working on a larger project and I planned it out in Bernina Software 8. It requires a few of the pieces repeated and arranged and sewn together. I don’t know how it will look when it’s done, but I’m envisioning that it will make a nice centerpiece on a round table with a festive color underneath. It’s about 18 inches across. (It’s over half a million stitches, so…yeah, we’ll see.)

Freestanding lace, Bernina Software 8

For some of my previous postings on freestanding lace, you can click here.

And here.

My Wife Quilts…Tips on Embroidering on T-Shirts

Do you have someone in your life who loves t-shirts?

I do.  My husband is what in the old days, they used to call a curmudgeon. He doesn’t care what he wears, as long as it’s comfortable.  Being clean is preferable, holes are optional.

I do a lot of repair work on his stuff.

One day, many years ago, I was at some sort of quilt show and I ran across a t-shirt:

“My wife quilts, therefore I’m broke.”

I bought it for him and he has worn it ever since.  In fact, the first time he wore it, he said that women of a certain age were giggling at him. I should mention,  he also has a t-shirt that says:

“You read my shirt.  That’s enough social interaction for one day.”

And so, we have a sort of running gag.  As t-shirts wear out, I am always on the lookout for others that, I don’t know, fit his character. (He has Homer Simpson and the Grinch, if that helps.)

This past week, I found an embroidery design that I thought would be perfect, and decided to add to his collection.

A couple of tips for embroidering on t-shirts:

  1. Use a ballpoint needle. You should make an effort to do this any time you sew or embroider on anything stretchy.  It really does make a difference.  A Microtex or Sharp will cut right through the fibers and it might not happen right away, but after a few washings, you can end up with a hole.  Knits don’t like to be cut. A ballpoint needle will move the threads aside as it penetrates.
  2. Use cutaway stabilizer.  I had a nice polymesh.  But this design, at approximately 8 x 10 inches, had almost 38,000 stitches.  That’s not a huge amount, but it’s not low density either. I used two layers of black polymesh cutaway.  I just happened to have some black cutaway from a sweatshirt I did awhile back.

3.  Use your ironing board to help you hoop.  Just slide the t-shirt over the end of your ironing board as if you were going to iron it. Take your one or two layers of stabilizer and insert them under the shirt, taking care to lay them very flat under the design.  I also print out the design so I can get a good look at positioning, and pin it in place. You can then just insert you hoop underneath the layer to be embroidered and place the top part of the hoop on top. Easy.

 

4.  Remember not to pull on this fabric.  My experience has been that lots of people love to hoop their fabric and then pull it tight all they way around the hoop. DON’T DO THAT. Especially with knits. You want the design to lay flat after the hoop comes out.  Your cutaway stabilizer will help you, but not if the fabric is distorted and stretched when you start. The fabric should be flat, not pulled.

5. Clean and oil your machine before you start, and load a fresh bobbin.  This should go without saying before every project, but sometimes it helps to be reminded not to cut corners.  Take the time to clean out your machine NOW, make sure all the parts are oiled and the bobbin is full.  Why start out with issues?  Make your life easy by taking care of any obvious problems before it really gets rockin’.

6. You can use Gentle Touch to fuse to the back of the design when it’s complete, to keep the stabilizer from rubbing against the skin.  People use this a lot for baby onesies and kid’s clothes.  My husband won’t care.

Finally, you can see in this last shot how helpful it is to use a black stabilizer against black fabric.  It just keeps everything neat.

T-shirts like this are very cheap at Michael’s or Wal-Mart.  You can also purchase pretty decent t-shirts online, especially if you google “blank t-shirts.”

Maybe you have someone in your life who has great t-shirt “attitude”.

I hope so.  It’s entertaining.

Hello Sunshine! Machine Embroidery for the Season

I wanted something cheery for my basement door, and finally took down all the “Rules of the House” in pictorial form.  If my 15-year-old doesn’t know the rules of the house by now, like brushing your teeth, not jumping on the sofa, not throwing superballs, we have truly failed as parents.

Anyway, I had a nice blank door that was screaming for something to hang on it.

A while back I found these embroidery designs from Kimberbell, part of the “Hello Sunshine” quilt collection.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and didn’t really want to purchase any fabric

I had a teensy memo notebook on my desk and scribbled out a few ideas.  I printed out the embroidery designs and laid them out on some linen fabric I already owned  It was an awkward amount…not really enough for a quilt but enough for a decent wall hanging.

On the last bicycle, my machine locked up and I had to bring it into the dealer for a cleaning and tune up.

My machine is now running smooth as silk and I was able to complete the design.

I wanted something simple and cheerful.

I love these bikes as they remind me of the possibilities of the summer season.

It also gives me an excuse to create something in machine embroidery for that spot every season.

Ready for fall leaves and holiday yet?

What’s Happening in Machine Embroidery?

I’ve been scrounging around on my machine embroidery sites looking for the most interesting projects and new ideas.  I’ve found that with machine embroidery, there’s always a new way to do something that’s been around awhile, or an old way to do something very fresh.

We have snow on the ground here this April, but I just KNOW that spring will get here eventually.  So I focused my search on all things inspirational for spring.

Enjoy!

Embroidery Library

Although they always have new product, I found their Garden Party Lookbook to be charming and full of spring-like ideas. You’ll want to check out all their lookbooks.  But the Garden Party book had an interesting technique (something I hadn’t seen before) for embroidering on straw hats.

 

Embroidery Design Studio

They are featuring a strong graphic spring collection called Grow Love. These cute little flowers and butterflies would be great on jeans or anything denim.  They also have their washaway stabilizers on sale through April 13.  If you are someone who loves freestanding lace (which I’m thinking about for Halloween) now’s the time to stock up on Aquamesh.

 

Urban Threads

So the big trend I’ve seen lately and it’s reflected quite a bit at Urban Threads is embroidery on garments everywhere.  Jeans up and down the legs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, everything.  This trend extends far beyond just the embroidery world.  The newest Dolce and Cabbana runway collection is just loaded with over-sized, all-over embroidery.  The kitschy-er, the better.  Urban Threads has some great examples in their Fashion Look book.  But it’s everywhere.

 

Kreations by Kara

OK, I was drawn to these lovely purple flowers in her sale bin.  I need them along the hemline of a summer skirt.  Wouldn’t that be lovely?

 

Kimberbell

Kimberbell, if you’re not familiar, is a wholesale design distributor. Their store locator is actually pretty accurate so feel free to use that to find a dealer near you.

Their products are always cheerful and sometimes over the top for me, but I fell in love with the designs on Hello Sunshine quilt. The quilt itself is a bit much at the moment, but who can live without the charming bike design, the mason jars, the watermelon?  Not me. I bought the collection and am already laying out something for a wall hanging for this spring/summer.

 

I recognize this list is not comprehensive, just a little tour to get your creative juices flowing about machine embroidery again.  I hope you find something that inspires you to dust off that embroidery module and rev it up for spring!

Buttoned-Up Valentine

Every year, I make something silly as a Valentine for my husband. I’m not sure what inspired this project, possibly something on Instagram which I then added to embroidery software and used the supplies I had at home.

This year the theme was buttons.

The world is exploding with buttons these days. I tend to gravitate toward the antique ones. I’ve been known to hang out in an antique shop and just sort through all their old buttons, searching, searching. When you find the one that’s perfect, it’s a real treasure.

Bernina makes a button sew-on foot that I’ve used many times. The holes on buttons are set a standard distance apart. Therefore a stitch set at the right width will just sew it on, and most Bernina machines have this stitch in the buttonhole section of stitches.  However, I’ve taught the use of it to others and, honestly, some people get it immediately and some people just have a harder time, and need more practice.

Here’s a link to the Bernina instructions.

Some tips:

–If you are just learning, choose a medium-sized standard button which is relatively flat. This is the easiest type of button to sew.

–If you have a 7 Series machine with “hover” you may want to turn it off in settings. The button can move around otherwise, and that’s not helpful. Use the freehand system (the knee-lift that lifts the presser foot) so your hands are free to adjust the position of the button.

–You can continue to use the hover if you are good at holding the button in place until the first few stitches are taken.

–ALWAYS run the first few stitches slowly by using the handwheel to check needle placement. I usually use the handwheel until the needle pops over to the second hole to make sure it fits nicely in both holes.

–Run the buttonhole stitch twice per button. The first time never seems to be quite enough for me.

–The screw on the foot allows you to adjust the height of the rubber pad for thicker buttons.

–Smaller buttons, though they may still be standard-sized, often benefit from reducing the stitch width slightly.  After you do this enough, you’ll get a feel for the sizing.

Once you get used to using this foot, I promise, you will never want to sew a button on by hand again.  If you break a needle or a button (it happens) don’t worry.  It’s scary, but don’t be afraid of your machine. I do wear glasses when doing this because you can break a needle doing just about anything on a sewing machine. And I also need to see!

Have fun with this.  If at first it seems a little tricky, don’t give up! These feet are engineered to make your life easier.  Take advantage of them!

Splendid Sampler on the Move!

Finally, I am moving forward with my Splendid Sampler quilt.  I wrote about it here and here.

I would like to say that I completed all 100 of the blocks, but alas, life happens and I am a firm believer in stopping while I’m ahead.  At first I did every block that came my way, regardless of the techniques.

I quickly realized that I never want to sew hexies.  I mean *never*. Especially not 1 inch ones.  And I realize that I may make enemies this way, but not everyone likes the same thing and that is just fine.  If you love tiny hexies, bless your heart. If you like bunnies and squirrels on your quilt, bless your heart as well. And if you really love tiny paper-piecing, you’re probably going to heaven too.

It is laid out in our foyer, and I am finalizing the way to finish it.  As you can see, I was pretty strict about the color palette.  Thankfully, I still love the colors.  Something about the neutrality of it makes it slightly less traditional.  As you can see, I’ll probably stick with the dark inner border and a “piano key” outer border. I have so many scraps left over, I will easily be able to use them up as the border. I gain a little size there too.

I vowed a long time ago not to make quilts that are larger than twin size because:

  1. I have no room to store them.
  2. I don’t want to pay someone else to quilt them and I absolutely cannot handle queen size on my domestic machine, at least not with any quality.

But I did learn some new techniques.  And I reignited a love of hand embroidery, which is quite popular right now.

 

It really does take a lot of time.  As you can see, the left side is done by hand, the right side I just digitized and stitched out in machine embroidery.  Sometimes the new block would be announced and I would think (I’m being honest here), “Not another hand embroidered block. I don’t have time this week.”  At that point I was reminded of  Indiana Jones in the scene with the Samarai wielding the giant sword. Indy, exhausted,  whips out his gun and shoots him. After days of finishing one hand-stitched block, if another came up, I just went to the computer, digitized it in software, and within an hour, machine embroidered the next block.  It’s cheating, I know.

But it looks great.

Over 20,000 quilters started this project back in February 2016.

I would love to know how many finished a quilt!