Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Christmas Stocking Chronicles

In theory, making a Christmas stocking is easy. Decorate a piece of material, cut it out in a stocking shape, sew on a back and voila! A fiber art masterpiece. OK, I knew it would be a little more than that but compared with my usual sewing, elaborate garments covered with embroidery, one little stocking should be a cinch.

Well, sometimes theory and reality are not synonymous.

When the folks at Designs in Machine Embroidery asked me if I’d be interested in making a Christmas stocking for the holiday issue I jumped on it. The requirements were simple; make a Christmas stocking using machine embroidery. To spice it up I could add as many other embellishment techniques as I wanted. Oh yes, one more thing, I had to use one of three color combinations: gold and white, silver and light blue, or red and green. Well, it seemed easy. That is till I actually started the project.

Though I am truly the queen of procrastination I had a flash of rational thought and began this project 4 weeks before the deadline.

Getting Started

I began with a search of my internal resource center. Surely with the thousands of yards of fabric tucked into every nook and cranny around my house I would have something that would work for my stocking masterpiece.

I chose to make a gold and white stocking. This was an easy choice for me as I have lots of white fabric, very little red and green and I’m pretty sure there isn’t even a tiny bit of light blue fabric anywhere. To add to the appeal of gold and white, I have a quilt that is all white with gold embroidery that is stunning. Surely I could get the same effect as in the quilt in a Christmas stocking. OK - gold and white it is.

Despite an intensive search I couldn’t find any metallic gold fabric. Yes, I looked under the bed and yes, I looked in all the closets and yes, I did look in the boxes of fabric in the spare bathroom shower. No gold fabric.

But that didn’t stop me. I had something just as good, gold Paintstiks. Paintstiks are crayons made from oil paints pressed into a stick. The metallic Paintstiks can color fabric and add a beautiful sheen. Let's see, gold Paintstiks on white fabric, Voila! gold fabric.

How to use the gold Paintstiks? Hmm... My first thought was to show off some of my rubber stamps by placing a stamp under the fabric and rubbing the Paintstik on top. I loved the way this looks. I pulled out a Christmas-y stamp, a Christmas tree consisting of little gold stars stacked up. Houston, we have lift off.

I spent the next few hours working with stamps and Paintstiks.

I began by practicing the rubbing technique. Great, I haven't lost my touch. Obviously I’m on the right track. The trees are gorgeous.

I carefully marked up a grid and systematically placed trees on a line, and then repeated on multiple lines creating an over all pattern. I didn’t have to make a full rectangle, only enough for the stocking.

The gold was beautiful, the trees interesting, the overall pattern was just what I expected. I covered the space for a stocking and then repeated on some more fabric so I would have extra fabric for experimentation.

I was feeling good. I was on my way to creating a stocking and not even close to the deadline. Who was that person occupying my body?

But where to put the embroidery? I tried appliquéing a Christmas tree design in the middle of the patterned fabric. Hmmm, nice. But ‘nice’ is never the goal for me. Stunning, spectacular, gorgeous, moving… that’s the goal.

Next try. What if I filled the triangles between the trees with embroidery? OK, easy enough. I digitized little textured triangles the right size. I tried a variety of textures.

Again, nice. But nice is not good enough!

Next I digitized a little satin stitch triangle to highlight the space. This worked, but the embroidery was definitely from the minimalist camp. Not exactly showcasing machine embroidery.

So Where Could I Go?

Back to the drawing board, literally the drawing board. I next spent some quality time with a sketch book. I doodled stars and snowflakes and lines and arrows. I tried flowers and swirls and just about everything. What about leopard print and gold silk matke? No, not unless the leopard is white, Nothing struck me as just right for a gold and white stocking.

Days had passed and I was no closer to making a stocking. Maybe I should wait till that deadline pressure kicks in.

Around this time my sister, a wise and wonderful woman, gave me some very sage advice, “Forget the color constraints,” she said. “Think of something beautiful and then worry about the colors.”

Ok, that sounded so good. My next doodles resulted in some beautiful designs. I had several but one of the drawings spoke to me. “Me! Me! Me!” it said. So I decided on the simple design of continuous lines of embroidery pieced between vertical lines of fabric.

The Embroidery

Finally I could begin stitching. I knew just what embroidery designs to use, a lovely line of Asian flowers from my Crested Beaut design set sewn in shades of gold.

I set up the machine and started to go. I sewed one set, then moved the hoop for the next. A beautiful bouquet created itself before my very eyes. Unfortunately my instinctive attraction for color overcame my good sense. A spool of rose pink thread had pushed its way into my hand and onto the machine. What’s a little pink between friends? Surely I could slip that into the embroidery as an accent to the gold and white.

I loved it! The flowers were gorgeous. I laid the completed strip of embroidery on my work table to admire.

I gloried, I gloated, basked in the magnificence of my work. Every time I passed the table I admired these gorgeous flowers.

Then the cold hard truth set in. As much as I wanted this line of flowers to be the centerpiece for the stocking, it would not do. With that much pink the stocking would no longer meet the ‘gold and white’ requirements. *!#*##!

Back to the embroidery machine. I needed a new line of embroidery At least I didn’t have to go back to the drawing board.

I did an instant replay on the stitching—only this time in shades of gold. And what a nice surprise, the gold version was just as pretty as the pink!

Now for the piecing.

Stripes Between the Embroidered Strips

When I laid the embroidered strips on the white fabric I wasn’t overwhelmed. The best way to describe the piece was ‘Blah’. What could I do to perk the thing up? Time to pull out the Paintstiks again.

This time I wanted an over all pattern that wouldn't overwhelm the embroidery. I decided on texture plates.

Texture plates are squares of plastic molded with a texture They’re sold in sets of 5 at your local craft and hobby store.

You use texture plates with Paintstiks the same way I used the Christmas tree stamp. Slip a texture plate under fabric and rub lightly with a Paintstik. After the fabric has cured for 24 hours press it using paper towels over the fabric to protect your iron.

My work with Paintstiks produced lightly spotted fabric which perfectly complimented the embroidered panels.


That wasn’t the end of my decisions. I pulled out the trim box and found a variety of possibilities to use between the fabrics. That one trim box held a line of gold sequins, a tiny line of white dotted with metallic gold pieces and a wide gold braid.

My final option was fabric I created using the gold Paintstiks, pressed into decorative trim.

Creating a Stocking From the Pieced Fabric

After drawing stocking shapes I liked I created a pattern. Because it was so important that the piecing and embroidery be aligned perfectly relative to the stocking, I cut out the center of the drawing and placed the tissue paper over the fabric, adjusting until I liked the final placement.

I then drew around the edges of the stocking. Removing the paper I cut on my drawn lines.

I repeated the whole process for a stocking back.

I completed the stocking in a traditional manner using some fake fur trim for the cuff.

I did add a finishing touch, Bling! I don’t call myself the Self Proclaimed Queen of Bling for nothing. I added hot-fix crystals, and crystals and more crystals. They did it. They added the perfect finishing touch.

So, am I happy? Yes. I love my finished stocking. Did I meet the deadline? Yes, with two weeks to spare.