Category Archives: Sewing & Design

“Stuck in a rut” or “Variations on a theme”?

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I have had scissors on the brain lately.  Maybe because there are always several pairs of them on the dining room table.  (And yet, never any when you go to look for them.  But that’s a rant for another post.)

I started drawing this set of scissors to make earrings.  I do a set of fiber art related jewelry for a local shop.  Button earrings, zipper earrings, earring made from snaps.  And I wanted to add something new to the collection.  I love making laser cut doo-dads and I had a brainstorm to make little tiny scissors from mirrored acrylic that look like Gingher sewing shears.

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Those were so much fun that I also drew some little embroidery scissors and stork embroidery scissors.  I did all the artwork in Adobe Illustrator because I was making vector shapes.  That’s what you need for laser cutting.  But the cool thing about vectors is that once you get them drawn, you can scale them up and down without anything getting rough and jaggedy.  So then I thought, since I have these scissors I should also make a fabric design.  So that’s the design at the top.  Which I think will make really great project bags and I might even make a t-shirt.  Why not?

So then I made it in another colorway.  And then I got on a roll and did a knitting design to match the style of those scissors.  And then a design for lacemakers with bobbin lace and tatting.  (I get a lot of requests for lacemaking buttons through my Etsy shop, so I know they are out there looking for things!)  And then when I showed off these designs to a friend at Textile Center, they gave me a hard time about not having a design for crochet and weavers, so those are in the works.  I’m even considering a skirt design all made of scissors shapes.

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So one drawing of one pair of scissors has now turned into 9 different designs and more in the works.  Stuck in a rut?  I don’t think so. By taking the time to draw those vector shapes, I have now added them to my toolbox.  It’s like finding a new color in the crayon box.  I did the tedious work of making the vector shapes but now I can just drop them in anywhere and play with them.  I am sure that I will get tired of them at some point, but for now the variations seem to just keep coming.

Upcoming Class: Digital Keepsake Tea Towel

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This is a recipe written in my Grandmother’s handwriting, which I turned into a linen tea towel.  Cool huh?  This was inspired by a post a couple of years ago on Spoonflower’s blog and I have turned the idea into a class, which is coming up in March.  We will scan a recipe card and learn how to scale it up so it fills a fat quarter of fabric, perfect for a tea towel.  Don’t have a recipe?  You could also use a handwritten note, a signature, a quote, or a poem as long as it is something about the size and shape of an index card.

My recipe cards weren’t quite the right size ratio to fill the whole fat quarter – there was a little white space around the edges – so I made this simple gingham pattern to fill in the gaps and add a pretty border.  You will learn how to do that too!  This class is broken up into 3 class sessions.  There is a gap before the last session so we have time to order our fabric and then meet back one more time so we can show and tell (or troubleshoot) and then I will demonstrate how to hem them (with pretty mitered corners) and show you some more great designs based on this same scanning and scaling technique.

You can register at Textile Center.  Dates are Wednesdays March 25, April 1 and April 29 from 6-8 pm.

Infinity Scarves

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I am getting all kinds of new things ready for the show I am doing at the American Craft Council Library on December 13.  So excited!  This is the first large collection of my digital prints that I will have for sale.  Last week I finished the cowl scarves.  I know that the “giant infinity scarf” is a major trend, but I just don’t think they are that flattering.

(stock photo)

(stock photo)

These are made with a more simple and elegant kind of silhouette.  More like a necklace.  These are all made from polyester crepe, which is soft and lightweight and drapey and the colors are vibrant and gorgeous.  I haven’t used this fabric before and I am in love.  Each design also has a story:

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Meh to home dec and some great tutorials

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I have spent the last 4 weeks making a variety of home dec type objects for a variety of reasons.  Placemats, table runners, pillows.  And the thing is, I just can’t get in to it.  It’s relatively easy sewing as those things go.  Mostly straight lines, lovely fabrics, but I just can’t get excited about the finished objects.  How many throw pillows does a person need exactly?  How about you?  Love it or hate it?  Do you redecorate for every season?

Meanwhile, I did find some fun, helpful and inspiring tutorials while I was working out all of the details on these projects:

Sometimes the best tutorial has no words

photo(5)I had a vast quantity of tiny rolled hems to do this week.  The project is something I can’t really share yet, but I can talk about rolled hems and what I learned.  So I have done both machine stitched and hand stitched rolled hems before and although I am pretty good at the machine variety, I hadn’t really mastered the hand stitch. I could make it work, but they were fiddly and so very slow.  It was frustrating.  So I started to do a little research.  Maybe there was a better way to do the stitch?

The tips that really helped?

Rolled Hem Hankies at the Purl Bee.  Not only are the photos beautiful and clear, but the tip about slobbering on your fingers is essential.  I did just grab a damp washcloth and throw it on the table in front of me, but it’s amazing how much of a difference that made in getting the roll to happen.  She also does the stitch just slightly differently than what I was taught (with much of the stitch hidden in the roll) and this is much nicer.

It turns out that the best “tutorial” I found has no words.  But just by watching an anonymous and skilled seamstress hem a Hermes scarf, I picked up another really helpful hint or two.  If you watch the video you will see how she pins the scarf to a heavy pincushion.  This is genius.  It’s like having an extra hand to put some tension on what you are stitching and I could go twice as fast.  My tomato pincushion isn’t heavy enough.  I ended up weighting it down awkwardly with a pair of scissors.  But the next time I have a batch of hemming to do, I will take a few minutes and make a heavy weighted pincushion.  You can also watch how she does the corner. I am not sure exactly what she did, but based on my observations, I folded just the tiny tip of the corner at 45 degrees and then double rolled to make a neat little miter at the corner and secured it with a couple of tiny stitches.

My own trick is to use a beading needle to do the stitching.  Although this one was a little long (I couldn’t find my short ones), I really like working with tiny needles.  When you are only trying to make a stitch that catches 2 or 3 threads of the fabric, it is so much easier with a small needle.  I almost always hand stitch my hems.  I like hand stitching and I like the way a hand stitched hem can just disappear and not draw attention to itself.

If you want to learn more beautiful hand stitched hems, the Coletterie blog has been posting a really great series about all kinds of hem finishes.  Here is their take on the hand rolled hem.

A Saga of Sewing Machines: Review of Bicor, Viking, Bernina, Babylock and more…

I have bad luck with sewing machines.  Or maybe that should be recently I have had bad luck with sewing machines.  I sew a lot.  As with most tools, I really think that you and your machine need to have a relationship.  There is no one “perfect machine” and there isn’t one you can call the “best”.  But there are machines that work better for each person than others.  I am the same way with computers.  I name them so I can talk to them and they can learn to behave themselves.  (This machine right now that I am typing on is named Carson.) But my recent sewing machines and I have not had very good relationships.

The very first machine I learned to use was my mom’s 197X Singer that she bought from the Family Thrift grocery store.  It is a solid tank of a machine.  I sewed painted theater curtains and costumes and who knows what else on that lovely machine.  It isn’t pretty, but it was a workhorse.  They don’t make Singers like this anymore.

When I was 17 and had my very first paycheck from my very first summer job, I bought myself a Bicor VX1005.  This beautiful girl was $100 from Walmart and has been the single only consistently running machine I have had for 20+ years.  To this day, when the others croak she is always there and ready to go.  Bicor was made by Brother and I will always love Brother because of this machine.  Her strength is mostly with straight stitch.  Tension is always beautiful, stitches are even.  She does not do a good job with chiffon or anything too thin and the zipper foot is mediocre, but I can hem and do basic stitching all day.  I made my prom dress and my wedding dress on this machine.

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After I started doing costuming and teaching sewing, I bought a new fancy machine to replace this one and give myself some more bells and whistles.  That was a Babylock Quilters Choice. At the time these machines were made by Brother.  So I was really excited to get this upgrade to my little basic Bicor machine. This one is affectionately called “The Lemon”.  It is a super cool machine and I paid a lot for it.  Fancy buttonholes, alphabets, thread cutter.  And it did sew beautifully.  It ends up that it has a software problem.  The software problem gradually lets the timing get out of synch and then suddenly your needle goes through the bobbin case with a big ga-smash and you have to have a $100 repair.  After several times of hauling it in for this repair, I started to see the same story appear on blogs and learned that it’s not just me, it’s a design flaw.  It self destructs.  So this one sits in my studio and collects dust.  I can’t sell it or give it to anyone in good conscience because I know it is a ticking time bomb.  Sigh.

I then had a brief affair with a 1952 Singer, which is lovely but only does straight stitch and nothing else.  Not quite enough, but a great old machine when I need it.

I auditioned a lot of machines in the meantime.  I read reviews, I stitched on things and I asked everyone I knew what they loved. I tried friend’s machines.  And then I bought a Viking Emerald. Which now belongs to my sister. (And by the way, B, I found the owner’s manual, which I will send to you!)

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I was so fed up with the computer system, that I went for a full-on manual machine.  It is basic, solid, sturdy, it works great and the price was right.  My only complaint with this one is that it was too basic for the kind of sewing I wanted to do and I had gotten spoiled with the Lemon.  I had outgrown this machine (which I didn’t realize) before I even bought it.

So I passed that along to my sister and went shopping again. This time, I listened to what everyone else told me and bought a Bernina Activa 230. Many people had owned multiple Berninas and loved them. This one was on sale and it seemed like it was just what I needed and so many people loved Berninas.

This machine was the biggest disappointment of the bunch.  I hate the Bernina.  I had it for 2 weeks and I was already yelling at it.  The tension was finicky.  It ate thread.  Anything too thick threw all of the stitches and tension out of whack.  The zipper foot was stupid and I couldn’t stitch a zipper to save my soul.  (This is why I learned to hand pick them.  Which I like better anyway.)  I wanted to love it, but it’s seriously underpowered and undersized and way too picky for me.  I think probably Berninas can be great machines, but I am not feeling it.  This one came down with a tension issue about 2 weeks ago and I cleaned it and babied it and I have put it in time out rather than yell at it some more.  I will take it in and get it repaired (I am sure it is nothing major), but it is available if anyone wants it.  I have just accepted that it needs to go.  We don’t get along.

(Somewhere in here while fighting with the Bernina, I bought a Brother 1034D Serger on a whim for $200 on Amazon and I love love love it.  Never owned a serger before.)

So today, I bought a Pfaff.  It’s an Expression 3.2 and I haven’t even unpacked it yet.  Why a Pfaff?  At my former job, we owned 6 basic Pfaffs and they survived 12 years and hundreds of kids sewing on them and they are STILL RUNNING.  They have been banged around and abused (thread octopi in the bobbin case) and  threaded incorrectly and had crummy thread used in them and buttons pushed and needles broken and although they squeak and rattle, they still stitch beautifully.  I scoffed at them when I first saw them 12+ years ago.  They were pretty basic.  They thread kind of funny.  The bobbin winder didn’t really work after a while.  But the more I thought about my own sewing machine saga, the more I thought I just needed a machine that just worked.  Like those Pfaffs.  No matter what you do to them.  We gave them all names during summer camp this year to help them get through the summer.  We figured if they had names we could keep track of their issues better (they are getting pretty elderly) and they would feel loved.  So we (the teachers) named them after our grandmothers and the ladies who taught us to sew: Helen, Muriel, Ruth, Grace, Nancy and Barb.  Good karma.

So I bought one that is a couple of steps up from those student machines and I can’t even tell you about it because I have only stitched 8 inches on it so far.  It has plenty of bells and whistles.  Pfaff makes this built in walking foot gizmo that I just think is brilliant (our student machines had it) and they have the best zipper foot ever.  (Trust me.  You teach a class full of 9 year olds how to put in zippers with just any zipper foot and you will see.)  So I am hopeful.

In order to have really good karma, I am taking nominations to name this machine.  (My dress form is named Dolores.  My computer is Hippolyta.  I named the Bernina “Scarlett” because it made me say Damn! a lot.)

I want your best name suggestions.  Let’s make sure she feels welcome.