Sunday, January 27, 2013

Picking out and moving on

My seam ripper was my best friend this weekend. It started Thursday, when in a burst of productiveness I began making an iPad case to carry on my next trip. Unfortunately, when I started sewing, I stopped thinking and wound up with a mess. The flap wasn't long enough, the lining couldn't be sewn in correctly and the handles were crooked. I went to bed.

As I slept, I dreamed about my sewing disaster. I needed a bag for my trip, which begins in a few days, and the fabric I was using was special. I had made it myself 7 or 8 years ago from a paper piecing kit my mother had given me, and I liked how it turned out. I didn't want to chuck this project and start over with something new.

The cat woke me at 3 the next morning (as he has done all week) and since I was too alert to sleep, but too tired to get up, I got the seam ripper and started ripping away before work.

Friday night, I resolved to stay up past 7, so that I could sleep past 3 am. I popped a 5-hour historical mini-series into the DVD player and started stitching on my resolution sampler. I stopped stitching around 10, but since the miniseries wasn't over, I caved in and started stitching again at 11. Big mistake. I didn't get to bed until after midnight and when I woke in the morning, I found that all the late night stitching was perfect, but in the wrong place. Out came the seam ripper again.

Thankfully, in both cases, the seam ripper worked well and didn't rip anything it shouldn't have. It is nice to be able to start over with a clean slate and have another go at a project that didn't turn out right. The result for me, was a pretty, functional iPad case that will be perfect for Friday's trip and some satisfaction that I was able to fix my mistakes and move forward. We don't always get that chance in life, but sometimes we do in sewing thanks to a seam ripper.

My finished iPad case is useful and pretty!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My go to embroidered baby gift

So what do you do when you find out that a friend you didn't even know was pregnant just gave birth to twins? I pop out my sewing machine. For several years, my go to baby gift has been a flannel baby blanket with an appliquéd and embroidered motif.

I first saw the idea in Teresa Layman's wonderful book Handmade Baby Gifts. Her motif is a rabbit that looks like a snowman with ears surrounded by swags of flowers. As a rabbit lover, I made many of these, but eventually I branched out to use other motifs.

After appliquéing the motif in one corner, the basic blanket is made by taking two lengths of flannel and sewing them together right sides together. I like to sew them together before trimming the edge in order to ensure the two lengths match up well.

You can have a curved corners or square. Then, turn the blanket right side out and approximately 6" from the edge sew a decorative stitch around the boarder. It is a quick and easy homemade gift.

Here are just a few of the blankets I have made.

This blanket is based on Layman's pattern with a few extra flourishes.
I used a quilt pattern from Grandma's Bunnies by Darcy Ashton on this blanket. If you shrink the pattern, you can apply these motifs to burp cloths as well.
On this blanket I tried my hand at design and machine appliqué, making a sleeping moon and smiling sun.
For a baby shower last month, I appliquéd an elephant onto a blanket, using the backing fabric for inspiration. I made a psychedelic stuffed elephant to go along with it, but forgot to take a picture.
Here are the blankets for the twins made in a weekend. Their parents are avid sailors.

So if you need a quick baby gift, try this. They work up in about 3 hours, depending on how much hand work you do, and are warm and wear well.

Happy stitching!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

First Day

First Day is the name of this stump work design from Inspirations Magazine.

Here is one of my New Year's resolution projects. It is a 8" by 6" stump work partridge in a pear tree featured in issue 67 (2010) of Inspirations Magazine. I've wanted to try this piece since I first saw it.

My Brazilian embroidery instructor and local stitching shop owner ordered the threads for me over a year ago. Since then, they have been sitting in my embroidery basket as I worked on other projects. Many of the techniques are new to me, the thread is new to me (I've never worked with silks), and I don't know for sure what wire I am supposed to use. But no more excuses. I am going to stop fretting and start stitching.

I bought three types of wire for this project. In the photo from left to right is a length of 6-stranded cotton floss to judge size next to 26-gage paper covered florist wire, 28-gage beading wire, and 32-gage fabric covered wire. The project calls for 28-gage beading wire, but I may use the 26 gage since I am told that the covering keeps the thread from sliding around.

A list of just a few of the techniques in this piece (some of which I have tried, but am not proficient in) that scare me to death include:

  • stump work leaves done on wire
  • raised stem stitch over cording and over padding
  • corded detached blanket stitch shapes done over a cordonnet and later attached to the piece

A full list of stitches include:

  • couching
  • overcast
  • split stitch
  • blanket stitch
  • satin stitch
  • stem stitch
  • detached chain
  • corded detached blanket stitch
  • raised stem stitch
  • straight stitch
  • stab stitch
  • bullions
  • colonial knots
  • needlewoven picots
  • Ghiordes knot
  • open chain
  • fly stitch

I don't even know what all of these stitches are. Good thing that Inspirations has such clear instructions. I will tackle them one step at a time.

I haven't bought the fabric yet, so I am going to start small with the detached leaves. There are seven of them, which should keep me busy as I build my confidence.

I'll post progress updates throughout the year. By going public with this challenge I know I'll work on it. I'll need all the support I can get to finish this project during 2013!

The threads themselves don't look too intimidating, but what a lot of greens!


You know you are embroidering too much...

when your pets stage a sit in.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Stitcher's Gift of Giving (and Receiving)

I heard recently that the careful selection of a gift makes the giver feel closer to the recipient, but that this doesn't necessarily translate to the recipient feeling closer to the giver. This is especially true of needlework gifts. This holiday season, one of my guild members was re-gifted a large framed cross stitch of a sewing room, because the original recipient claimed it didn't go with her decor. She must not be a needleworker. That cross stitch picture took dozens of hours to create and over $100 to frame. During the time she worked on it, the stitcher thought about the recipient and their relationship and hoped she was making something that would adequately show her regard. She did, but the recipient couldn't see the gift's real value.

This is a scary reality, because most of us give our creations away on a regular basis. We want the love we put into these creations recognized, but once they are out of our hands, we have no control over how a non-stitcher may value them.

Of course there is the opposite dilemma. Should you give handmade gifts to a stitcher? Will they judge your work and find it lacking? I know people who won't make things for other stitchers because of this fear. But I say go for it! A stitcher will understand.

Over the years I have received remarkably few hand made gifts (except from my mother, who I wish would make me more)! Two gifts, though, have special meaning.

My friend's first cross stitch has a place of honor over my sink.

The first is a small 4" x 6" cross stitch. Years ago, a friend asked me to teach her how to cross stitch. For me, cross stitch is the entry drug to embroidery. The most important thing when starting out is to find a pattern that isn't too difficult. So we went together to the store and found a kit and I gave her a few tips. Later that year on my birthday, she presented me with the finished product, unframed because she didn't know how to lace it up. It is perfect. I can't tell you how much I value having her very first cross stitch. I framed it and it hangs over my kitchen sink where I see it every day and think of her.

The second is a large framed cross stitch of an an angel carrying an American flag. This was made by a temporary roommate and expert stitcher. We were both going through a rough time. I was getting divorced and she had been waylaid in her medical residency due to health problems. We roomed together for six months and spent a memorable 4th of July on a whale watch and viewing fireworks on Boston's Esplanade. The next year, for my July birthday, this elaborate tribute to that day arrived in the mail. The angel hangs in my sewing room as a reminder of a good friend during a bad time. Even though we lost touch, we will always be connected through these stitches.

This angel is more than wall hanging. Each stitch is a binding reminder of friendship.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Blood and Guts of Sewing

Except for a broken front tooth when, at 7 years old, I face planted into a sidewalk, all of my major injuries have been sewing related. The first occurred a few years ago. My mother bought me a new Bernina sewing machine as a combination birthday/Christmas present to replace the very old but very sturdy machine I had received for my high school graduation. What to do with the old machine?

I decided I would try to inspire a new generation of sewer, so I packed up the machine and brought it to my cousin in Connecticut, who was then in high school. I can sew, but I am not well versed in tailoring or in pattern fitting, so the dress we made together that weekend was a bit big for my petite cousin. I know she was disappointed, and I am not sure she ever tried sewing again, but I left with a permanent reminder of our sewing weekend.

While rushing to finish the dress before Emily left for dance class, I got up to press the hem. On the way back to my seat, my foot entangled in the cord and down I went. I finished the hem, and acted brave, but driving back to Boston with a broken big toe was excruciating!

More recently, I was home from work sick. Even after sleeping away most of my weekend, I was exhausted. By 9:30 Monday though, I felt as though I could get up. A nap later would work out well, but I could make a start on the pillow I wanted to sew for my husband's Christmas present.

I ironed the fabric, calculated my measurements, and lined the piece up on my cutting board. The fabric was wider than the board, but no problem, a few quick cuts would take care of that. Or not. Instead of cutting the fabric, I ran my rotary cutter into the palm of my hand. I watched the blade sink into the fleshy part of the base of my thumb and wished my husband hadn't left for Massachusetts the day before.

Thankfully, the wound didn't bleed much. I wrapped my hand in a towel, drove to my doctor and got six stitches. After that, I decided to go back to bed. I should have stayed in bed to begin with, but who knew sewing was a contact sport?

Five weeks after the injury, I have a permanent sewing line adjacent to my life line. How appropriate!

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Two years ago my Brazilian embroidery guild in Denver, Colorado began this JDR Brazilian Elegance "Welcome" as a guild project. I started the project, but the gold thread frayed so much that I put it aside to work on samplers instead. In an attempt to inspire myself to finish this project, which is really lovely when complete, I brought it to my husband's house in Massachusetts to work on.
The entire WELCOME. The pre-printed pattern lines wash off.
My husband and I currently live 2000 miles apart, but we see each other every month, each spending two weeks during opposite months in the other's home. This "Welcome" is destined for Massachusetts and by leaving it there, I will always have a project to work on without the hassle of carrying sewing supplies, hoops and scissors back and forth. Unfortunately, although I was in Massachusetts in August, September and October, I never picked up my embroidery. Between, work, vacations, birthdays, and enjoying our time together, the embroidery bug didn't bite
But I spent a month home in Massachusetts in December and caught the bug again. I finished a large project just before Christmas, and needing a new project, I pulled out my "Welcome." To my surprise, the gold work wasn't half as difficult as I remembered. The thread still frays, but my problem in the past was that in an effort to be sure that I had full coverage, I was cramming too many lines of stacked stem stitch together. By spreading them out a touch, I've saved my sanity.

When I brought this embroidery to Massachusetts, I had finished the embroidery (although not the finish work) on the "L" and the gold work on the "M." Look what I've done since Christmas! The gold work on the final "E" and the "C" is done, and all the greenery on the "E" and "M" is also complete, in addition to most of the greenery on the "C". When I come home in February I will likely pick back up with the greenery on the "C" before starting the flowers. It is nice to see some progress already on my New Year's resolution!
As I worked on the "Welcome" this week, my husband asked when I would be doing something for us. He was VERY happy that this was for him, and has encouraged me to keep working on it. That's nice too.
There will be more updates on this project as it proceeds.
The "M" is ready to embroider the rolled and stacked roses.
Buttonhole, alternating satin stitch, stacked stem, fly stitch, lazy daisy stitches and french knots compose the greenery on the letters.