Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sometimes My Embroidery Machine Hates Me

The project I'm working on now is Vogue 7828 (see my last post for a picture). After the fitting muslin, my next step is choosing thread color for the embroidery. (Note that I didn't use the embroidery I showed in the last blog entry.  I went with the Flowerful design set instead.  My friend, T used the other set and I wanted to do something different).

I was happily surprised that I took only three tries to come up with a combination I liked. Usually, choosing the exact right colors is a process analogous to how I imagine Michelangelo approaching painting the Sistine Chapel. I see him pondering color samples and throwing on trial strokes of color. My usual process consists of days of sorting through threads, stitch-out after stitch-out, agony over the multitude of choices, then finally a decision, my hair noticeably sparser with clumps sprinkled around the sewing room floor from my unconscious pulling.

However, this process was quite fast for my current project with only 3 stitch-outs and one clear winner.

With the colors settled, I commenced the embroidery. In my own tart-it-up style, I chose to have lots of embroidery on the blouse. Queen Victoria would be proud of my lack of restraint when it comes to decorating my pieces. I planned a line of embroidery running next to each of the seam lines on one of the fronts, a line down one sleeve and embroidery strewn quite liberally across the back.

I have a pretty good relationship with my embroidery machine. It trusts me to use good thread, stabilize correctly and to use designs that aren't too dense for comfort. In return, I trust my embroidery machine to stitch each color of a design from start to finish without breaking thread or needles or stopping indiscriminately.

The system works most of the time. Usually I can set a design stitching and walk away to do something else. When I'm really on a roll, I have all 3 embroidery machines going at once, my own team of sewing elves working independently while I finish something different. Unfortunately, today the elves rebelled. Maybe it was commentary on my color choice or the sheer amount of embroidery for the piece, but during the last quarter of the third line, things began to go wrong.
The first two lines were challenging. The top line had to follow a stitching line which bends up at a 30 degree angle. (The stitching line's angle creates a dart, pulling the edges together at the armhole.) To make sure I was sufficiently challenged, the next two lines required precise placement so they would each be centered between seams.
Line 1 stitched perfectly, even the bend. Ditto line 2. It was in the middle of the third, that things headed downhill.

First - I left  the room for just a few minutes to take a shower and dry my hair.  When I came back the machine was stopped with a broken needle dangling on the thread. Why, Machine? Why?  Of course there was an answer. The thread had twisted around the thread stand freezing up the feed. The thread pulled tight and zip - the needle broke.

Never underestimate the power of me as a disgruntled worker. Before I broke the second needle I had a major "operator error." I changed out the needle and rebooted the machine as I usually do. Unfortunately, I was particularly spacey when I fast forwarded the machine to the color I thought should sew next and I skipped color 3. It wasn't until I was totally finished with color 4 that I realized the rather major error. At first I thought I could stitch color 3 after color 4 but machine embroidery is not that simple. There are bunches of places where color 3 stitches from one part of the design to another. These stitches will be hidden under the flowers of the later colors, many of those flowers are color 4 flowers. So... if I stitched color 3 after color 4 it would stitch right over the flowers.  Shoot.  Time to break out more fabric and start again. Good thing I purchase fabric in leviathan amounts.

I re-threaded and started up again. I wasn't 30 seconds into this stitch-out when I heard the dreaded ka-thunk.  Needle number two was in two pieces. This time it was because I was at the end of my bobbin. The last teeny bit of thread clung tenaciously to the bobbin causing resistance and another broken needle. Unfortunately, this needle breakage jerked the fabric out of the hoop which meant starting yet again. My pile of extra fabric wasn't looking quite as massive.

Needle Number Three's unfortunate demise was a direct result of Needle Number Two. In the process of finishing off the late Needle Number Two, the threads had tangled around the bobbin and nudged the throat plate just a little out of line. Funny, the reaction of a needle hitting a solid surface like a throat plate.  That Poor Number Three didn't have a chance. Ka-thunk again.

Sometimes I think the machine breaks needles just to tell me to change my needles more often.

I'm pleased to say that I've finished the embroidery and I love it. I did finish with three versions of the left back panel, which enabled interesting comparisons. When I first started this project, I sewed out a couple of color options. Now I have two more variations and I like them both. I'm not unhappy with the final product but I like the other two as well.

Kind of put a crimp in my feeling of omnipotence as far as color choices. Looks like there were lots of other ways I could have gone. The obvious choice doesn't seem so obvious anymore.

Stay tuned for the next installment from the Needle Graveyard, with plenty of pictures.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Fitting Story - Vogue 7828

The adventure began with a frantic call from a friend, T who has just finished a blouse and wanted help fitting it.  Now T is not a strong proponent of the fitting muslin. No, let me restate that, T couldn't be bothered with the time it takes to make a fitting muslin.

So T walked in the door with a spectacular blouse, Vogue 7828, made up in a silver gray silk organza upon which she had added embroidery designs. The designs were from my Lines and Flowers

collection so I was predisposed to like them from the beginning. (Hers were in shades of gray and white on a silvery gray silk organza). The blouse looked fabulous. Well, it looked fabulous on the hanger. Then she tried it on.

Hmm... fabulous was not the word to use, the thing just didn't fit. The sides didn't pull all the way to the side, the neckline gaped, shoot, it was just wrong. So we started in. What happens if you put the buttons here? The overlap looks good but the gape at the neck now resembles a swinging cable. When you move the buttons over a little to the left, the lines look cockeyed. What if you leave it a little looser? Can you pull the top down more to lessen the neckline gap?  We messed around with it for several hours. We pulled it one way, pushed it another tried finesse and tried brute force. It was like physical abuse to fabric. The answer was, she should have done a muslin. 

So I've done a muslin for the pattern and am ready to sew it up. It's tempting to use the same exact designs T used but I think that every time I wear the top I'll have one of those little devils perched on my shoulder whispering in my ear, "You copied, you copied".

So off to a plan B - different designs placed in a spot other than the one T chose to use.

More later.

Monday, December 13, 2010

In Praise of the Muslin

I admit it, I'm a muslin groupie, one of the 7 people in the world who publicly takes a stand in praise of the muslin. I am a true muslin believer.

We all  know people who don't sew garments because of the fitting issue. These same people will spend a million or so hours making up a quilt with a zillion or so pieces, each requiring perfectly matched points, yet they won't sew clothes because it takes too long to sew up a muslin.

I recently spent time with one of those, a friend who didn't believe in wasting time on a muslin. She visited me with a perfectly constructed, embroidered and crystalled blouse that she can't wear because no amount of changes will make the neckline not gap and the fronts meet correctly. Ah... the case for the muslin.

Anyway, I am a believer. I've drunk the muslin Kool Aide.

So it doesn't make sense that I would make up a top without making a muslin first, but I did. In my own defense, Friday I was at a wonderful little fabric store in Diamond Springs California where there were samples of many of their patterns made up in a variety of sizes. As I watched my friends shop, my hand clasped over the top of my purse (did I mention I'm very poor) I decided to try on a few of the samples to pass the time.

And therein lies my mistake. One of the samples was magnificent. Well, the sample was OK, but the pattern it was made from was magnificent. So I bought the pattern. Never mind that I sell patterns for a living (but not the Christine Jonson patterns). Never mind that my queue of proposed projects is longer than Richie Rich's Christmas list. I noted the size of the sample (X small) bought the pattern, took it home and traced it out.

The pattern is Christine Jonson's Princess Wrap top. It's a simple T- top with a wrap front. I had a compelling reason to move this pattern to the front of my sewing list; I could use it to make up the last two presents on my 'nice' list. As both of the people requiring gifts conveniently wear the exact same size as me, I was ready to sew. I had lots of knit fabric in the house and  I knew this would fit both me and my friends because I had tried on the sample.

The pattern is delightful. It takes NO time to make and it looks wonderful on. Well, let me re-phrase that, it looks wonderful on when you make the right size, which unfortunately I had not.

My initial try was with a delightful heavy black knit covered with little white nubs. Too bad I had cut out an extra small and I (and my two friends) wear a small. After construction I tried on the top. I should say I tried to try on the top. I pushed and pulled and squeezed and finally got it on. The word sausage comes to mind.

Yikes! I had thought that I had my last two presents complete. Thought that that stress and pressure of the holiday gift race was over, yet now I had two more presents to make. And there was a time crunch. The clock read 3 pm Saturday afternoon and the next gift giving occasion was Sunday at 4.
The end of the story was that I did make up both tops with plenty of time to spare. I didn't have enough of the black and white to make third and fourth tops so I had to find something else. Luckily, the hall closet has taken on a new name, the knits stash closet. Hiding at the bottom of the pile under puddles of slinky and poufs of polar fleece lurked a silvery, shimmery gray knit. Voila! Enough for the two tops.  I was ready to sew.

I went to my first choice of sewing techniques, I waved my wand and called the sewing mice from Cinderella. Unfortunately they didn't show. Guess it's a pretty busy time of year for sewing mice. No way around it, I was going to have to do it myself. I traced the pattern again, this time in size small (I guess that X on the label at the store was really a schmear or scribble or something. That top in the store couldn't have been an extra small, must have been a small.)

Luckily the top sews up very quickly (as I've already said).  I finished it with time to spare. Even got in a bicycle ride after I finished. Here's the top on me. Look fast - it's already out the door and in another home.

So now to make one for myself which means adding embroidery. I haven't been working with embroidery on knits much. Time for that to change.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I do love sewing and part of what I love is the endless possibilities. I think the love  of a fabric stash comes from the unlimited potential.

One of the pieces in my stash was a gorgeous remnant I liberated from Britex fabrics many many years ago. It's a 3/4 yard piece of a wool boucle with a black base with brown and metallic gold threads woven in.  At first glance 3/4 of a yard seems limiting, but with these new, shorter jackets three quarters of a yard can be the body of your jacket and still leave enough for part of the sleeve.

The back side of this fabric was more subtle than the front and it was tempting to stand things on their head and use the fabric in reverse, but this was foiled by my discovery of some tied threads on the back side.

I've been eying a jacket in the August '08, 2010 Burda World of Fashion, in the section on Jackie O (pattern 115).** It's a simple jacket with princess seams and a slight funnel neck topped with a Peter Pan type collar. I decided to ditch the Peter Pan collar because 'sweet' is not my style. Several weeks ago I ran up a muslin of this pattern. Fitting was fairly easy, just needed a little more space in the bust and little less space in the shoulders. (Curses to narrow shoulders, the bain of my jacket fitting existence).With the muslin done I was ready to go this morning.

I always do my embroidery before cutting so that was the first step. Unlike most of my work, I visualized a piece with very subtle embroidery. (I know, you're thinking, who is this woman, but is really is me.) I chose a design from the set I'm releasing next week, Celebrations!. The design is a bell but set on it's side it was perfect for the jacket; waist high on either side of the front opening. The embroidery design is a subtle gold and copper on an applique fabric (black in this case). I placed it at the natural waistline to emphasize mycurves. 

As usual, I went through multiple iterations of the embroidery - the first border was a chocolate brown that matched the fabric's brown, and ended up too subtle. The second was tan and too light. My final choice for the outer border was the same gold tone I used within the embroidery.

I'm often asked the best way to embroider with metallic thread. First, find out what thread your machine likes. I swear, each machine has likes and dislikes on brands and types of metallic thread. And don't believe that because your friend's X machine likes a particular brand that yours will. Not so. Your machine might like a different thread. It's really machine specific.  For this design I used the metallic gold Superior Thread's Glitter line in Gold 201. It seems to be more forgiving than a lot of threads.

My best tip for working with metallic thread is to extend the thread by holding the thread between my fingers rather than to let it go through the machine's normal thread path. This reduces the natural kink found in metallic threads and eliminates troublesome breakage that is so common with metal threads, saving hours of frustration and "do-overs." While you might have avoided using metallic thread in the past, this tip can change your experience.

Here's the picture of me holding the thread. Nothing high tech about this. The longer the thread path, the more chance to get the evil kinks out of the thread.

Here's the embroidery.  It was designed to be a bell but when you set it on it's side, stitch one on a front and mirror it on the other side,  it's the perfect accent at the waistline of the jacket. This is a free design on my website.

The jacket went together really quickly, once the embroidery was finished. The alternating multicolored and black panels work well and I think the jacket is flattering.
Next, I'll make it again in another fabric.  Hmm... which of those wonderful pieces of potential in my stash should I use?

** I've just found out that many of the patterns from Burda World of Fashion are also available on the Burdastyle website.  You can find this one here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I've Been Pantsed

Today's project should have been quick and easy: the first of a series of sample pants for an article proposal I'm putting together. The article will feature multiple pairs of pants, each uniquely embellished with embroidery. The operative phrase here is 'should have been'. The reality was a little different.

Let me explain that I love making pants. I really love making pants. Once you have you have a pattern or set of alterations that fit, pants almost make themselves. Unfortunately that lesser known ancient pant god, Bracchaeos, was not smiling on me today.

My goal was to use an embroidery design of mine from the Cutting Edge design set.  You might have seen these designs before because I use this set often. It's versatile and adaptable to all kinds of clothing.

Here's a picture that was published in Designs in Machine Embroidery magazine. No false modesty here - I love the designs and I love the vest.

Today I had another vision for these designs; using them to tart up the side seam of a pair of pants.

Because my goal was to produce pants that didn't resemble clown pants (or emphasize my, shall we say, low center of gravity), I wanted a color combination that would be less bold than the one on the vest. A quick search of my internal resource center unearthed a woven cotton with a little lycra in a quiet beige. The cotton/lycra meant the pants could be close fitting. 

My closest fitting pants pattern has a seam down the front of the pants, offering an additional design opportunity. I decided to put a stripe of a coordinating fabric in that front seam.

I spent quite a bit of time auditioning fabrics for the stripe. I tried an animal print, a stripe set on a bias, some wonderful men's wear fabrics.... on and on.  I sent pictures of my auditions to a few select friends seeking input on what fabric to use.

I thought I was so clever, coming up with this idea of using the embroidery and the stripe. I made the pants and took pictures.

The pictures made me humble. The stripe looked terrible.

You don't have to tell me. I know. The pants don't look good.  Here are a few of the captions I came up with for the picture.  Feel free to add your captions below.

"Surrender your wallet and valuables. We're putting you in cell 3."


"Where's the striped shirt to go with those convict pants?"


"The black and white forest shirt, found in the temperate regions of Kazakhstand, is known for sending out root tendrils that navigate the length of the pants to sink into the earth, eventually rendering the wearer immobile and planted."

I have memories of a movie usher selling cigarettes and I'm pretty sure he wore pants with a stripe down the front but so far I haven't located any pictures of the guy.  Does the phrase 'Call for Phillip Morris' ring a bell?

No matter how I sliced it I wasn't going to wear these pants in public.

So I removed the stripe. It took less than an hour. That was an hour well spent. I was right about the embroidery, though.

Now, if it were as easy to get the wrinkles out of my neck!

In case you're interested, here's a closeup of the embroidery:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Quilt Show Entry

As a fiber artist I often feel compelled to enter quilt show competitions in the wearable art category. I do this even though I know that my entries are in a unique niche that seldom gets recognition.  I'm a little to the side of the usual wearable art entries. You would think that my work, being so different, would be considered cutting edge and would earn a first place here and there. Well, that's my hope. So far I've won ribbons but none with prizes attached.

Despite that, when the call for entries for one of the largest quilt shows in the country came around, I decided to try again. Unfortunately, the entry deadline fell in the week that Randy and I would be out of town on vacation. 

So, the night before our long awaited vacation, I scurried around to get my project ready for pictures so I could send in my entry.

At 11 PM, I thought I was doing well. I had my entry jacket finished except for closures and crystals. I knew that a few carefully placed straight-pins would discreetly hold the jacket closed,  so I wasn't too worried about that, but crystals were non-negotiable.

I was enamored of my handiwork! It was gorgeous!  I hadn't tried it on in a couple of months, but I loved the way it seemed to beam down at me from the hanger. I was an artiste extraordinaire! My plan was to wake up early, early, Saturday morning, apply crystals and whip up a skirt to wear with it for the pictures. The Callisto Skirt from LaFred was a perfect choice; two side seams  and a hidden zipper. The skirt requires cool stuff at the hem but that could wait till later. 

So, 4:30 Saturday morning found me hunched over the jacket, applying crystals. Did I mention that this jacket requires lots of crystals?  Lots and lots of crystals? 

A mere four hours later and the crystals were attached. Four sweet hours of blinging. Next task, the skirt. As expected, the skirt went together very quickly. Unfortunately, when I slipped it on, the waistband was more than ten inches too wide.  I had expected some stretch from the bias, but not that much. To inhibit the stretch I had stay stitched before I started any work. Obviously that didn't work. OK, not to worry. I could tuck the skirt top under my bra, the bra and the top of the skirt well hidden under the jacket. Ahh, the bra-belt!

At 9:30 am Randy stopped packing the car (a task which he had been doing somewhat annoyed-ly by himself, as I was buried in the sewing room) to take pictures of me in my outfit. 

Down to the wire, and I still hadn't really evaluated how the thing looked on. (Did you notice that by this time my masterpiece has now become 'the thing'?)  It was not until I saw the downloaded pictures that I realized that this jacket is the perfect example of disaster in wearable art. The thing looks great on the hanger, incredible, exquisite! Unfortunately, on me it looks less than stellar. I look dowdy in the thing, like I've gained back all of the weight I'd lost. It's kind of the Queen Mother look. I've become a solidly built rectangle somewhat resembling a fireplug.

Why?  I can't even tell you why. Analyzing the fit problems at this point would mean the ice melting in the car, and escalating irritation from Randy. Maybe I should have named the piece "Frumpy" and run with it.

But with the vacation clock ticking, there's no time to turn back. This is it. On to the next step, the application.

The application required a printed photo as well as pictures on a CD. At first I tried to upload the picture to Long's Drugstore in Placerville. After 10 minutes I sigh a big sigh of relief. The picturewas uploaded.

Hold on, wait a minute, Long's doesn't have one hour service. Photos take four to six days. I try to upload to Raley's. No, that won't work. Raley's has no on-line uploads.  Here's where I could actually use a corporate merger  so I could have both online and one-hour photo service.

Finally I just printed the doggone thing on my own printer. A year or so ago, I did all of our photo printing at home until I discovered Costco photo printing, which is easy and cheap. If only we were going by a Costco.  In theory, the new photo printer should be better than the one of yore. It was the same brand, HP, and it WAS a photo printer, and it was a newer model. So I hit the print button.

Yikes! The print came out kind of dark. Like the flood was "kind of wet." Or like we were "kind of running late."

I couldn't try printing again. I couldn't. Randy, bless his heart, had put up with doing all of the work. He had packed the car, filled the cooler, assembled our hiking and snowshoe gear and gathered the groceries. We also had a stop at the Placerville post office.  I wrote up a formulaic Artist's Note and popped the whole thing in an envelope.

Next stop, the post office. Knowing that the application was due the next Wednesday I grilled the post office worker, "What's the estimated delivery for an Overnight Letter?"

After fiddling with her terminal she answered, "Tuesday."  (When you live in the boonies there is no overnight mail). That worked, the application was due on Wednesday.  Just for laughs and giggles and to save fifteen dollars I asked about delivery for the Priority Mail option. True to the unerringly bizarre nature of the post office, the answer to that was "Monday."  Well, one thing was working for me.

The whole thing is now hopefully winging it's way to the folks at the quilt show. I'm hoping they think that I'm just a dumpy looking person wearing exquisite clothing. Not often do I hope to be thought of as built like an outhouse, but there you have it.

Thus ends the saga of my latest quilt show entry.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On the Blog Again

It's been really a long time since I've posted a blog. It's funny, Every time I sew, I mentally compose a blog. As I work, I start a conversation with myself saying things like, "When I put this in the blog, I'll make sure I make a note about how hard it is to xxxxx.....".  My answer might be "Make sure you mention that it helps to .... whatever".  Unfortunately, for the last 5 or 6 months these conversations have been internal. I haven't gone from sub-verbal chatter to blog posting.

Today I started a new project and I began the same type of mono conversation. The chatter began, "when I post this on the blog, I need to make sure I mention how much I want the embroidery to be appropriate for the subtlety of the stripes." and  "How, cool, I'll get to play with the angle of the stripes on the collar." and "Maybe I should mention my internal debate about whether or not to underline in silk." and "If this is lined, the inside will be hidden so I can use a cutaway stabilizer, that makes life easier."

Instead of just saying these things in my head I decided to head to the computer and start the chatter here - in my Blog. This is probably a good thing.  Surely typing in a blog is a better sign of mental health than talking to one's self.

So, as I make this jacket, I'll also log the process here in the blog.

The Project - a Jacket:
I'm making a jacket to add to my trunk show. In addition, I can use a new jacket, so a jacket it is.

My usual sequence is to start by pulling fabric out of the closet and this project is no exception. For quite a while now, a lovely black silk woven with a slender stripe of salmon and tobacco yarns has been calling my name whenever I get anywhere near the fabric closet.  When I saw this fabric for sale it, was very reasonably priced, probably because there was so little left on the bolt. I bought all there was, maybe a yard.  Of course, that's not enough to really do anything, but that just means I have an opportunity for creativity. I do have a solid black woven that will work with it.

Even as I was pulling the fabric down off the shelf I knew which embroidery designs I would use; a continuous line of designs from the latest design of the month club mini set, Cadeau. I'm really happy with these design and have plans to expand the mini set into a full set later this month. Using them on the jacket can only help when I do put the set on the market.

My choice of pattern is Sewing Workshop's new pattern, the Verona Jacket. It's a cute, short, double breasted jacket that includes a front dart. It has lots of potential for embellishment.

Today I made a muslin to see the fit and was pleasantly surprised to find that the size small fits almost straight out of the pattern. The only adjustment will be to lower the front darts a half inch. Considering that my breasts seem to be plummeting down my body faster than a sled on an icy hill, a half inch felt pretty good.
Tomorrow I start experimenting with thread colors.

So that's all I'm typing for today.  Don't worry, I'll be back.  No more 4 month gaps in blog postings for me.