Friday, October 16, 2009

A Ringing Endorsement

Last Friday I decided to make up a new project using the Bell Choir Embroidery Designs. It’s obvious now that what appeared to be a compulsion was an avoidance technique as my to-do list rivals the national census. But that didn’t matter, I wanted, no, needed, to make up a wall hanging using these delicate bells. The seed was planted when I received my copy of the latest "Through The Needle” magazine (Winter 2009) which features my article on the mantel scarf shown here.

The seed germinated when I saw the pictures of those golden bells stitched across those pristine white rectangles. I wanted - no, needed - to use these designs again.

I won’t go through the excruciating details of choosing my fabric.I’ll just mention a trip to a local quilt store and the ravaging of the closets in my ‘internal resource center.’ At one point our house was covered with multiple stacks of fabric, all auditioning a particular color/print combination. No room was left untouched - not the living room, the kitchen or even the downstairs bathroom. After tripping over fabric for two days it became clear to me that the bells wanted to be sewn on my collection of cream and gold silk dupioni silks.

I decided that, like the mantel scarf in the article, this would be another Quilt as You Go project. The Quilt as You Go method is a method of quilting in which you finish individual quilt squares, including batting and backing, then assemble the squares into a quilt that bypasses the free motion quilting step. (I have free Quilt As You Go instructions on my website on the Bell Choir page. They will be there for no charge for a while.) You can use the Quilt as You Go method with the Bell Choir embroidery designs because there is a version of each bell that includes a rectangle of stippling surrounding the bell. It’s easy to make the quilted rectangles. Here's how:

  • Hoop your top fabric and batting and stitch out all of the colors of the design the last color (the stipple stitch). Remove the hoop from the machine but DO NOT REMOVE THE FABRIC FROM THE HOOP!
    Turn the hoop over and cover the back of the hoop with a rectangle of fabric.I use masking tape to temporarily attach the edges of the fabric to the edges of the hoop.
  • Turn the hoop over so the right side is up again and place the hoop back into the machine and stitch the last color.
So I created quilted rectangles, lots of quilted rectangles. I chose a deep gold thread and cream dupioni and stitched 12 of the designs.

I love the contrast of the luscious dupioni and the embroidery. I think its stunning. Nevertheless, after stitching 9 of the suckers boredom set in. Luckily, boredom can breed creativity. The appliqué version of the design, I started changing fabric combinations.

First was the original cream dupioni on a gold silk background. Next, I used the cream again, but this time with a checked gold dupioni as the main fabric. I liked that pretty well so I pulled out another background – a striped textured silk, again with the cream as an appliqué. Then I used a white dupioni with the striped fabric from the last square as the appliqué. I have more; a pale yellow dupioni for the background, a white with a brocade appliqué.

I've begun putting the wall hanging together so I have more fun and games and pictures. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Out of the Depths of the Scrap Hamper

Utilizing Your Embroidery Stitch-Outs

I recently discovered that I have accumulated wealth. In my sewing room I have a softsided hamper, overflowing with orphaned sample embroidery stitch-outs and pieces of fabric too small to fold.

I would guess that I'm not the only sew-ist who has a collection of very small pieces of fabric and / or samples of embroidery not associated with projects. Still, I feel I need to explain why I have this hamper. It's not just that I am a fabric hoarder (though I am). I'm a fabric addict. But the scrap-embroidery addiction all started in a class I took from my friends the Pixeladies. I was commanded to keep all scraps for future free piecing works! Call that my first taste of the drug.

The vessel of choice for collecting these small pieces of fabric and unused embroidery designs is a bright yellow soft-sided hamper. When I began my collection, the hamper seemed like a good choice; standing about 3 feet tall, with a 24" diameter, it seemed as though it would hold all of the small pieces I could possibly collect.

Naturally, as with so many things, the collection expanded to fill all of the available space and now my hamper is not only full but overflowing.

The hamper stood unmolested for almost a year. But then, the siren song called to me, and first I tasted...then repeated...and soon it fed off my own genetic tendencies to fabric addiction...until I was completely powerless and out of control.

Of course, I could never weed through it and discard some of my valuable fabric pieces, small though they might be. For me, the queen of fabric hoarders, it seemed that a better idea was - gasp - to start using these pieces!

My first foray into the "use-what-I-have" scene was fairly innocent: I took pieced rectangles from the Piece Party class and combined them with a sample stitch-out from Crested Beaut 2 and made up the Travel Documents case from my own Quick Gifts 1 Booklet.

Ahhhhhhhh....the first rush of using something from a forgotten stash!

But it wasn't enough. While digging, I came across so many beautiful stitch-outs nestled in that bed of little scraps. The urge was upon me!

Oprah had guilted me into carrying my own bags to the grocery store. I could always use more shopping bags. "It's good for the environment," I reasoned. Call it justification, call it rationalization, or be realistic and call it my drug. Out popped one of the flowers from the Flowerful design set. Put that together with the Stitch-N-Flip method and...a star is born.

(OK, a grocery bag star, but a star never the less.)

Arghhhhhh! Ahhhhh! Groan! The scrap junkie woke! "Use all this gorgeous crap! USE IT! MORE! NOW!" I broke out in a cold sweat. My digging in the basket became more frantic.

What about using the pieces from the hamper in a more formal setting? It's easier to justify things if they're classy and upscale.

Enter 4 stitched-out designs (from the Savannah set) added to the front of an in-progress sewing machine pad with pockets from the Quick Gifts 2 booklet.

"MORE! MORE!" the addiction roared! It was time to get serious. No more "one scrap here, another two there..." If I really wanted to set these pieces free from their hamper-dungeon, I would have to get more pieces than that out for my next project. And it would be hard to stop me from doing just that.

I noticed that the colors in the hamper were heavily weighted in the oranges and reds. I started pulling and Voila! I had a lead for my next fix! Even though all of the colors were in the red/orange/yellow family, some of the pink toned reds were a little abrasive when placed next to the more orange reds. The problem was solved when I did some neutral brown lines.

It took a lot more work for this fix than the previous ones, but I loved the results*. All of the fabrics for a blouse came from the piece hamper. The designs had already been stitched as samples and the only place I had to work with yardage was the dividing lines. Luckily, I had the deep brown print in my main fabric stash. (Could I interest you in a hit from your own stash?) The designs are again from Crested Beaut Design set.

Just then, Randy found me, bent over, head deep in the hamper. He grabbed me by the back of the neck and pulled me out. "Look! We've got a business to run! How is anyone going to get their embroidery fix if you're stuck there with your head in the scraps!" He slapped my face with a wet remnant and shook my shoulders. "C'mon! You've had enough scraps for today! Get out here and start shipping orders!"

I knew he was right, that my scrap project addiction was interfering with my livelihood. I got myself together, took some deep breaths, and went back to work.

But don't tell - that hamper is still over half full...and the moment when nobody's looking...

you might find me rummaging in there again...making...who knows? A pet-cosy? Car organizer? Remote control holder? There were some turquoises in there with crystals that would be perfect for a...

Stay tuned until the next time I fall off the scrap wagon.

*I'm not the only one who loved the Scrap Hamper Blouse. This blouse was accepted into the juried show, PIQF 2009.

Don't forget, you can see more of my embroidery designs on my website.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Release Your Inner Peacock

I know that most people who sew, embroider, and even embellish do not make clothing. Even at sewing shows, I seldom see hand-crafted or embellished clothing.

Although I happen to believe that sewing clothing is easier than quilting, many find garment sewing intimidating.

But... sewing your clothes from scratch is not the only way to clothe yourself in your own work. Want to wear the fruits of your labor without setting a sleeve? Consider adding your own touches to purchased clothing.

So, Where Do You Start?

First - Start with 'dispensable' clothing.

Choose something of little value to you to test on. You can choose unloved items from your closet, very inexpensive pieces from your favorite discount store or something from a thrift store. Working on something that has little or no value emotional or financial alleviates the pressure of turning out something perfect on your first embellishment foray.

Second - Be creative on a separate piece to attach after completion.

Paint or piece or embroider or bead on a square of fabric. When you've completed your composition, trim it to the size of a panel of your garment. Tack the edges of your masterpiece to the jacket or blouse. Once you're comfortable with the embellishment process and end result, you can move to working directly on the piece of clothing.

Third - Play, play, play!

This is supposed to be creative and FUN! You're working on unattached fabric. Don't be afraid to experiment. Try a variety of combinations. You can work freely until you attach your fabric to your garment.
And Last - Enjoy yourself and wear your new creation with pride!

Monday, January 19, 2009

From the Depths of the Drawers

The drawers and shelves of my sewing room are populated with countless treasures, all purchased at sewing shows, many of them in their original packages. At the time of purchase, each of these items offered unlimited potential for making my sewing so much easier. Yet, somehow these little orphaned tools sit untouched and alone in the bottom of my drawers.
Imagine my surprise when this week, while immersed in the creation of my latest project, I pulled out one of these heretofore unopened treasures.

The Project:
Because I am an extreme multi-tasker, it is never a surprise when I start new projects even when I have, well, too many works in progress. This week I began a new quilt. My goal is to have something to enter in juried quilt shows. Despite the fact that I’ve only made five qu
ilts, I’m positive I can produce something that will be accepted. As a founding member of the ‘Too Stupid to Be Afraid’ club, I often take on goals beyond my current skill level and this quilt is an example par excellence. I am using my Round To It embroidery designs. These designs use the embroidery machine to produce New York Beauty arches embellished with perfectly positioned machine embroidery. The ‘paper piecing’ is actually done on a tearaway stabilizer on the embroidery machine.

After all the pieces are attached, the machine embroiders around the triangles in the arches. It might be possible to duplicate the end result in another way but not without high levels of frustration.

I already have a quilt made with these designs and I’m quite happy with it. Unfortunately it doesn’t pass the ‘made in the last two years’ test. I even considered fudging the age on a quilt show entry form (who would it hurt to show a quilt that is 3 years old instead of 2?) but for this quilt there’s documented proof that its beyond the two year age limit as it's been in a magazine editor’s hands for longer than that.

For the new Round To it quilt I’ve chosen a rainbow of hand dyed fabrics to for the spikes and a mottled cream for the background. I am very happy with the color/texture/embroidery combination. The first step was embroidering/piecing the arches for the first four squares.
The Learning Experience
In my directions for the embroidery designs I suggest that you piece the quarter/circle arch to a center piece and an outer edge to complete a square that is one fourth of a New York Beauty quilt square.

In the past I had found this technique to be quite challenging. However, a few weeks ago, the owner of a new LQS (local quilt store), Shared Stitches, led my sewing guild group in a session on piecing curved edges. Sharon used the method she had learned from the author of a book on the Winding Ways quilt, Nancy MacDonald. Sharon’s directions were excellent. Everyone in the class produced beautiful, smooth, perfectly curved seams.I am certainly no expert; I’m actually kind of new to this curved piecing thing. But, having attended Sharon’s session, I can now produce acceptable curved seams. My take on the technique is that if your pieces are cut accurately, seaming is easy.

The key seems to be having identical sewing lines on both the concave and convex pieces, and the piece cut exactly one quarter inch from the sewing line. (Is it any surprise I'm more of a garment sewer?)

If the pieces are cut accurately, and you match the ends and the centers of the pieces, your seams will be perfect. If you want detailed instructions you can get the book, Winding Ways Quilts, A Practically Pinless Approach by Nancy Macdonald.

With the confidence built from this lesson on piecing curved seams I approached attaching my paper/embroidery machine pieced arches to their background square.First, I decided to sew the 4 arched pieces together to make a circle and to piece the entire circle into the background fabric. I carefully trimmed the seams on both the inside and outside of the pieced circle to ¼” outside the stitching line. Next I cut a square from the outside/background fabric. I cut a circle in the middle of that square that had the radius of the outside of the pieced circle minus ¼.

The New Gadget
That’s when I decided to break out my secret weapon. Buried in my drawer of not yet embraced gadgets was a foot designed for piecing curved seams; the Curve Master Presser Foot. This presser foot is designed to enable anyone to produce perfect curved seams. As I felt competent in the curved seam process even without this foot, I was sure that I would now become a superstar of curved piecing. After all, two years ago at a sewing show in Novi, Michigan, I had stood with mouth open, watching perfect curve after perfect curve being sewn by the company demonstrator.
Of course I had to buy! In retrospect the company demonstrator was sewing the curves using the method I had just learned, the ‘practically pinless pieced curves’ described in the Winding Ways book.
So I approached the drawer of unused sewing gadgets and began the great search. There it was, next to the fabric circle cutter, under the beads presser foot, behind the template for the uneven quilt squares, my Curve Master Presser Foot. I cracked the plastic case on a new gadget, a presser foot designed to sew curved pieces together. It was a good day.

Before sewing the circle to the background square I marked the top, bottom and each side of the pieced circle and the circle cut out of the background piece. I pinned the circle to the background piece, matching the marks. Using the special presser foot I sewed the two together.
Comments on the Special ‘Curves’ Presser Foot
The piecing went very smoothly. I can see how the curved foot makes the piecing a little bit easier than using a regular quarter inch foot. I think I’ll enjoy having this presser foot, but only because I have a lot of curved piecing to do with this new quilt. And, its probable that I would get just as proficient sewing curves with a regular quarter inch presser foot. My grade for my new gadget is B+; good but not great.

Back to the Quilt
I’m still plugging away at the quilt. I’ve totally completed the first four squares and even as I type the embroidery machine is stitching out the first of the pieces for number five. I was not able to use a sewing machine to piece in the centers of each circle. The hole was just too small. If I had constructed the square one quarter at a time I probably wouldn’t have had a problem. My solution was to hand appliqué a center circle into the middle of each quilt square.

I’ll try to log more as I get further in the decision making process.

As for the Multi-Tasking

I am working on a large number of concurrent projects. I'm a third of the way through creating a an embroidery oriented Block of the Month product. My goal for that is to introduce new embroidery/quilting techniques in many of the months' blocks.

And watch for my newest design set, another of the projects in process. (You do know that I design embroidery designs, don't you?)

I'm frantically preparing for my next big show - Sew Expo in Puyallup Washington at the end of February. I'm excited about the classes I'm teaching there. I have great new ideas to introduce.

Stay tuned.