Sunday, September 14, 2014

Evy's Favorite Sewing Tips

Isn’t it awesome that we have a WHOLE month to celebrate sewing? I know! I looked up a bit of the history (which you can read yourself here) and one of the things recorded in the proclamations is this statement - speaking about home-sewers: “Their efforts demonstrate the industry, the skill and the self-reliance which are so characteristic of this Nation.”


Makes you glad and proud to be a sewist, doesn’t it! One of the things I love so much about our sewing community is that not only are our people skillful and smart and industrious – they are also willing to share. I’ve yet to meet a sewer who didn’t mind showing me how to do something I didn’t know how to do or just showing me how to do it a better way.  

So, my self-reliant and skillful friends, in honor of this wonderful month’s celebration, I want to know what YOUR favorite sewing and embroidery tips are. I will share some of mine here in this week’s glob of blog. (You know, the ones I learned while flying by the seat of my pants or doing the “unsewing” necessary after a moment of “well shoot that didn’t turn out so good.” Yeah, those.)

Unsewing – my least favorite thing to do. I was taught to sew by a dear, wonderful Irish lady who happened to be my mother’s aunt. She told me once (probably after listening to me whine for ten minutes about having to rip something out) that if you didn’t take out at least three stitches for every nine you put in you were doing something wrong. Okay, she was a perfectionist and she TRIED to teach me to be one too, bless her heart. But here’s the best tip she gave me on that dreaded task - Use a sharp seam ripper and when it gets dull, throw it out and get another. So, how long have you been using the seam ripper in your sewing kit? Uh huh.

Buttons & Buttonholes – another “bit of a pain” to deal with in sewing. I know, they can be really easy, especially with machines like my sweet Baby Lock that have that great buttonhole foot and function that makes this job so simple. Yet sometimes I just mess up, usually because I’m not paying attention. Here are some rules of thumb that help me out and maybe you’ll find them helpful too.

I always stitch out a sample buttonhole on a scrap of my project fabric. That way I can make sure the button I have chosen will fit nicely in the buttonhole and the thread color I've picked actually looks good on the fabric. (For instance, did you know that on black and white fabric such as a hounds tooth check, a dark gray thread will look better than black?) AND it helps me know exactly how long the buttonhole will end up being so that I can mark my buttonhole position accurately. This is especially helpful when sewing the top most buttonhole on a shirt placket.

If you have a buttonhole attachment foot you might find it helpful to either use a slightly larger button or slightly smaller button (than the one you plan to use on your project) in the holder that measures the length of the buttonhole. I don’t like too much extra buttonhole extending past the edges of my buttons, so I usually use a slightly smaller button. When I stitch out my sample I can make sure the button will still fit in the opening.

I use a seam ripper to cut open my buttonholes. (Those little wooden blocks and chisel looking cutter-opener things are pretty cool, but I don’t have one and I’d probably miss and chop off the thread anyway, or my finger.) Seam rippers (sharp ones, heh) work really great as long as you don’t rip right through the end. So I put a pin at the end to keep that from happening.

Have you ever tried to button a button that was stitched too tight to the fabric? Or needed extra buttoning room for buttons on coats or such? I like to make some room under flat-no-shank buttons by creating a bit of a thread stand there. All you need are two safety pins placed on either side of where you will sew on the button. Prop the button on the pins, sew it on and then wrap the thread around the stitching under the button a couple of times before bringing your needle to the back and securing the thread. A thread shank! Voila! Makes buttoning lots easier.

I also love using buttonhole weight thread to sew on buttons. If I don’t have a thread color in buttonhole weight that matches then I’ll double double my sewing thread instead or use embroidery floss.

Did you know that ironing along (beside not on) the teeth of an invisible zipper before installing it helps keep the teeth riding in the groove of the invisible zipper foot properly? I learned that little trick from my high school Home EC teacher. (And, ahem, I'm proud that I can still remember that.) She also taught me to pre-shrink my zippers. NOT that I always do so, but it’s a good idea.

Another thing I learned about installing invisible zippers is that it’s easiest done before you sew up the seam. (Except for matching prints or plaids of course.) Then if anything goes catty-wampus you've got some fudging room.

For instance, if you are planning to put one in the center back of a skirt, sew it in before you sew the center back seam of the skirt. Then sew up the seam, using a regular zipper foot so you can get close to the teeth at that part and switch to a regular sewing foot for the rest.

I always tack the ends of invisible zippers to my seam allowances too. Helps keep everything flat and neat looking on the outside and keeps those want-to-curl zipper ends from getting fresh with me. :-)

Sewing small things can get my neck all out of whack. That’s because my shoulders come up to meet my ears while I’m struggling to take a tiny seam around a tiny bit of fabric. Like wee collars for baby shirts or little lined pockets. Now I trace my pattern shapes on blocks of fabric, sew the seam and then cut them out, leaving seam allowance past the seam stitching. I find it's lots and lots easier to cut ¼” away from a seam then it is to sew ¼” away from the edge on something really small. It's easier on my hands too because the bigger block of fabric is easier to hold and maneuver. Plus it keeps me from saying things that scare the cat.

Now it’s YOUR turn - what favorite sewing tip will you share with me? I can’t wait to hear them! Inform me, educate me and entertain me! Who said this glob blogging stuff was going to be all one sided? WHAT, you didn't know you needed to work too? :-)

Till next time, Happy Sewing!


Friday, September 5, 2014

Going Undercover!

Let’s go undercover! (Yep, I’m shamelessly exploiting my grandson’s cuteness here, and isn’t he the cutest? Pardon this grandma, please - she just can’t help herself!)

Have you ever stitched a white snowman on a red shirt and ended up with a pink snowman? Or have you ever stitched a pretty appliqué or embroidery design on a boldly printed fabric and ended up with a design that looked like it had the measles? If you said yes, then you need to go undercover!

Most satin or fill stitch embroidery designs include underlay stitching. That’s the few stitching lines that run around the perimeter and across the shape of a filled stitch design area. They help support the stitching, keep the fabric from distorting as the machine stitches the fill area and also cover up the fabric underneath. Usually that’s all you need. However when stitching light colored designs on dark colored fabric - or bold prints - sometimes the background fabric shows through anyway. That’s actually a good thing. When designers add too much underlay stitching (trying to compensate for what you might choose to embroider their designs on) you end up with “bullet proof” embroidery. I see you nodding. We've all stitched designs that can stand on their own and stop a speeding train and it’s no fun.

So, when the underlay stitching cannot do the job right, you need an undercover material between your stitching and your fabric.

Two of my favorite undercover materials are silk organza and polypropylene. You can purchase the polypropylene undercover material in my shop - click HERE to find it.

Silk organza comes in many colors and if you don’t have the color you need, you can dye a bit in a bowl using Rit Dye. It doesn't add to the weight or change the drape of the fabric. (I dye some for my shop and sell it in fat quarters - you can check that out HERE.)

Most polypropylene material is marketed as a stabilizer. But it has one big problem when used as a stabilizer – it melts when you iron it. And where do we iron our embroidery designs? ON THE BACK. Yep, right on top of that stabilizer. But that quality makes it a great undercover material because it’s lightweight, white and it melts when heat is applied to it. (It also works just fine for knit projects that do not need ironing.)

Using polypropylene undercover material is simple. Just place it on top of the fabric after you have stabilized and hooped your fabric and then sew your design on top of it. Rip away the excess and touch the tip of a hot mini-iron to the bits that stick out from underneath the stitching.

See how nicely those light colored designs “pop” on that black background!

If your design has little running stitching details or tiny satin stitched lines that swirl out and away from the fill areas like the water lines in the beach scene below, remove the undercover material before you sew those. Those areas will most likely not need any undercover and it’s a pain to remove undercover material from tiny running stitched areas.

I used polypropylene undercover material to keep the striped fabric from shadowing “stripes” in the sandcastles of this design. After I stitched the sand castles I ripped away the polypropylene and then melted the bits that remained.

(Oops, there's that cutie again!)

Sometimes you need to stitch a design on an area that will go across two very different colors. For example, the little purse on this Traveling Girls design – half of the purse ended up on the white fabric and the other half on her dark shirt:

I placed a small piece of black silk organza over the area where the purse would stitch. I allowed the machine to sew just the outline stitches of the underlay stitching beneath the fill stitch purse (highlighted by the white dashed line in the photo below). Then I stopped the machine, cut the thread, removed the hoop and trimmed away the excess silk organza very close to the stitching outline. Then I resumed stitching. No two tone purse!

What happens when you are appliquéing designs on fabric that is boldly printed, or seamed where the appliqué needs to go? Well, you CAN apply a layer of some thin fabric to the wrong side of your appliqué fabric with fusible webbing and then apply fusible webbing to that and complete your appliqué with the double layer of fabric. However that can make for a pretty stiff appliqué. If that’s not a problem, that is the easiest way to prevent show through on appliqués – but what if it IS a problem?

That’s when it might be best to actually remove the fabric that will be beneath the appliqué. Yep. Cut it out.

For instance, I decided I wanted to make this little dress using a sheer cotton organdy fabric. And because I am clearly insane, I wanted to use the same sheer fabric for my Elegant Roses appliqués. Heh.

Sheer cut-away stabilizer behind my project fabric came to my rescue. It became my stabilizer AND my fabric in some places. Yeah, that’s not confusing! Okay, a picture is worth a lot of words, here goes…

I had already sewn the green border on the white skirt. Time for the appliqués. I ironed (very lightly) a piece of fusible cut-away stabilizer to the wrong side of the skirt in an area slightly larger than the hoop I was using. Then I hooped my stabilized fabric.

Next I used my excellent (ahem) trimming snips to cut away the skirt fabric within the design’s appliqué outline. This is best done on a hard flat surface. (Which is not your lap, unless your lap is hard and flat, ha!) You don’t want to disturb the fabric in the hoop while you are trimming. I let about 1/8” of fabric remain on the inside of that appliqué outline knowing that my satin stitching would cover it.

Then I put the hoop back in the machine, floated an additional layer of soft tear-away stabilizer under the hoop (to support those satin stitches) and finished the design just as I usually would with an appliqué. That means - I placed my fusible backed appliqué fabric over the outline stitching and continued from there as I normally would, stitching, trimming, fusing and then satin stitching the design. When I was finished with my applique I removed the soft tear-away as completely as I could and then gently peeled up and trimmed away the excess sheer cut-away stabilizer from around my rose appliques. A good firm press on the wrong side finished it up.

Pretty, isn't it? And no two-tone flowers! I should note that as the leaves were green too, I didn't worry about the underneath fabric for them unless they crossed the line - half in the white, half in the green.

Go forth and go undercover my stitching friends – you will love your embroidery designs even more!