Thursday, August 30, 2012

Guest Post: Struggle Sews a Straight Seam!

I'm probably not eating haggis right now in Scotland, but that doesn't mean things are going to be quiet over here at Cation Designs! I've had some spectacular guest bloggers filling in for me over the last few days. We're wrapping up with one of my absolute favorite sewing bloggers, Leah of Struggle Sews a Straight Seam. I totally identify with all of her struggles, and she regularly makes me laugh out loud with her hilarious writing. This, of course, is not popular with Walnut, who would prefer to nap undisturbed...
Now, it’s really a good thing that on of my favorite sewing bloggers, the fabulous and talented Sewasaurus Rex, proud mother to le Walnut, i.e., Cindy, is on vacation, because what I’m about to say would shock her to her core. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, I get into a sewing slump. Cindy, being the rockstar that she is, has probably never experienced such a thing. I lose my mojo (my…sewjo?), and I don’t know what to do with myself. And here is the thing, it never happens after a project goes awry. When I’ve spent hours and hours on something only to have it just be a hot mess, that’s actually MOTIVATIONAL for me because A. I’m an odd person and B. I just want to vindicate myself with a success. But while I’m a fairly active sewer, sometimes, somehow, I don’t feel like sewing.

For example, right now, my life is a bit of a mess. I moved, oh, 20 days ago, and in 5 days I’m moving again, this time to a new city. My stuff is all in boxes, I’m using my old machine which I don’t like as much, and I feel very discombobulated, as opposed to pleased, when I sit down to be crafty. Usually sewing and making things makes me soothed and focused, but right now with everything scattered and the stress of the move (I do so hate moving) I’m just not ready to jump into a project.

But, when I am, I know how to get myself back in the game. And I will share my secrets for breaking a sewing slump with you, in the hopes that you too might benefit from them. Of course this is all wildly personal, but hey, you never know!

So here are my 5 tips from getting your sewjo back:

1. Take a class! Classes are great, and they are excellent motivators. If you don’t have a class in your area easily accessible, you could take an eclass, though honestly, it’s the social pressure of the class that really works for me (and I enjoy meeting new people). Right now I’m taking a quilting class, and not only am I enjoying learning new things, but I get some uninterrupted sewing time once a week in a nice clean cute studio on beautiful machines. And my quilt is coming right along:

Though of course it immediately attracted some feline attention...

2. Organize your stash! Because of my move I was required to do this, and it reminded me of how much great fabric I already own for the season ahead (hello, wool, you darling you) and how many wonderful patterns I also possess. It’s so easy to forget what you have and mope about wanting liberty of London lawns and better patterns, but if you take a moment to examine what you already own you might find some gems, or at least, something you see with new eyes.

3. Do some other creative act! I find that when I am creative in one direction I’m creative in every direction. So when I cook it helps my sewing, and when I sew it helps my writing, and so on and so forth. If I could paint or draw I’m sure that would be good, too, but honestly I’m stick-figure-ville.

4. Explore your closet and look for gaps! Or go to Pinterest, or Vogue, or whatever. Make lists of what you want! Fantasizing about wearing something wonderful if a big way for me to remember how much I enjoy sewing, because when I’m done sewing I get to wear something wonderful! (Sometimes…). So it’s helpful to remind myself that I really did mean to make some trousers or a wrap sweater or a pencil skirt (I’ve got Fall on the brain, as you can see) because that’s a great way to get me back on the machine, as it were.

5. Cut yourself some flipping slack! Okay, that last one is really from me to me. This is supposed to be fun, not a source of stress or guilt. So if getting your sewjo back makes you anxious, take a break, have some tea or some wine or some chocolate, and remember that the sewjo comes when least expected.

Don’t tell Cindy I told you this stuff, okay, guys? It’s our little secret….

I'll pretend I didn't read that. No but really, this is perfect, since when I get back tomorrow, I'm pretty sure I'll have lost all my sewjo, having been away from my machine for two weeks! Good thing I'll know exactly what to do, thanks to Leah!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Guest Post: Meg the Grand!

I'm probably not eating haggis right now in Scotland, but that doesn't mean things are going to be quiet over here at Cation Designs! I've got some spectacular guest bloggers filling in for me over the next few days. So let's say that after yesterday's post, you're inspired to sew with chiffon...but you need to get a chiffon-appropriate pattern. How should you go about it? Thankfully, Meg the Grand is here to tell us all about smart pattern-buying. And when I say Meg the Grand, I mean it. This lady is everything I would wish to be if I were a Dr. Who fan. Alas, I am not, but I think it's only a matter of time before I go Whovian, what with grand ambassadors like her!

First of all, many thanks to the wonderful Cindy for having me over to play!  I adore Cindy - she is a kindred spirit in so many ways and her blog posts always light up my day.  Have a great vacay, my dear!

Today, I am going to talk about my pattern addiction.  Patterns are like candy to me; I love seeing all the pattern options on a clean envelope, the agony of choosing the perfect fabric, and the moment of reading the directions and thinking, "Why, it all seems so easy!"  All of the fabulous patterns available to us out on the Internet are enough to make my head spin, not to mention all of the options that can be found in craft stores around town.  Lately, I have been on the hunt for patterns for knit fabrics (since I made quite a large purchase of knits as a birthday present to myself), and I thought, "Maybe I could share the method to my pattern finding madness?"

Tips for Pattern Purchasing:

1.  Know what you already have in your stash.

I cannot tell you how many bow blouses I have in my stash (I think three), but I know I definitely have one bow dress pattern that I plan on using this Fall.  I've personally been using Pinterest to categorize my patterns, and I'm pruning my stash to include only the patterns I've made and loved, or the patterns that I've yet to make.  I want to make room for patterns I love, not keep those that didn't work out.  For more tips on tracking your stash, the Sew Weekly has some fantastic tips as well.

2.  Know what styles you are drawn to.
I have tried to wear looser fitting dresses, but I know these don't work for the style I want to rock.  I like clean lines and defined waistlines, so this definitely affects what patterns I purchase.  I know that the Cynthia Rowley patterns will be a long shot for me, but I might be drawn to something in the Project Runway collection.  I like to keep a list in my day planner of patterns that I would like to add to my collection - it's easily accessible whether I'm in a store or in front of a computer.

3.  Subscribe, subscribe, subscribe.
I am part of the BMV club over at the Vogue-McCall's website, so I know that when a pattern sale pops up, I will be paying even less than the already discounted price. I paid $5 to be part of that club last December, and I've gotten that amount back four-fold at this point (UPDATE: Vogue-McCall's is having a huge sale at the moment, with discounts extending to BMV membership).  The e-newsletters are also great ways to find out what new patterns are coming out, so you can budget accordingly. Whenever Sewaholic sends out a new pattern announcement, I immediately set aside the money for that pattern if I love it.  Sometimes the e-newsletters include special discount codes for free shipping or a discount on your final total.  Subscribing to sales ads via snal mail can be a pain, but I am always excited when Joann's has a $1 Simplicity sale.  If I see a sales flyer with discounted patterns on my "wanted list," I'll try to get to the store to pick some up before the weekend is out.

4.  Consider buying from an independent pattern company
While I love getting discounts for Big 4 patterns (especially because the shipping adds up so quickly), I don't hesitate to spend full price on an independent pattern that I love. You can find an enormous list of independent designers here.  Keep in mind that this list is expanding all the time, and new designers are working right this minute to get their patterns out there.  We sewists tend to be in our own special corner of the interwebs, and I am all about supporting those who want to publish their own patterns.  If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by the extensive list, I recommend checking out Craftsy and their excellent selection of patterns from independent designers.

5. Consider buying from Etsy and Ebay
Occasionally, I will peruse Etsy and Ebay for good deals on vintage patterns.  Some of the sellers on both of these sights offer very fair prices for vintage patterns.  I prefer buying from Etsy because I cannot be outbid on an item (I still bemoan the loss of that lovely vintage dress pattern on Ebay for $4.50), but I have purchased items from the "Buy Now" list on Ebay.  These are mostly impulse purchases - I'm looking for a good deal and for a vintage pattern in my size.  I keep in mind what I am willing to spend before logging onto these sights - an important thing to do!  On Etsy, the most I will spend for a pattern is $12-15, depending on the pattern, how badly I want it, if the made item will fill a wardrobe gap, and if it is in my size and I do not need to alter the pattern to fit.  On Ebay, the most I will bid for a "lot" of patterns (depending on the patterns) is $30.  Again, the patterns will need to fit the same requirements as an Etsy pattern in order to entice me to buy.

6.  When all else fails, Frankenstein.

I will be the first to admit that I am a lazy sewist.  I want to have instructions laid out for me for the pattern I am working on.  Lately, I've been feeling a bit restless in the creative area and I've started "frankensteining" patterns together to create the item I want.  Frankensteining is the combining of two or more patterns to create the final garment you've envisioned.  I've been having fun switching out sleeve designs for various shirt patterns, and I'm considering altering skirts and sleeves on some of the dress patterns I own.  The options are endless and budget friendly, especially for someone like me who doesn't have a disposable income but loves the idea of new patterns.

Friends, I hope some of these ideas help you in your sewing adventures, and thank you again to Cindy for having me over!!  XOXO, Meg

Thanks for all the tips, Meg! I'm going to really have to keep #1 in mind, seeing as how I keep acquiring more fitted bodice, full-skirted 60s dresses. I am also a big believer in Frankensteining, so if, even after all of Meg's help, you still can't find that pattern you're looking for, give it a try! And when you're done reading this post, be sure to go check out some of her brilliant scrapbusting creations of late!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guest Post: Andrea of Four Square Walls!

I'm probably not eating haggis right now in Scotland, but that doesn't mean things are going to be quiet over here at Cation Designs! I've got some spectacular guest bloggers filling in for me over the next few days. Andrea of Four Square Walls is an expert at sewing practical everyday wearable garments -- the kind I wish I made -- and the color blue. I wish I could just steal her closet, and of course her witty analysis of pattern envelope models is spot-on! Anyway, yesterday you got a taste of 1930s bias-cut awesomeness, so how perfect is it that today, Andrea teaches us how to sew with a fabric that works beautifully in bias-cut garments: that spectre that haunts us, the dreaded chiffon!

Hi there! I'm Andrea from a blog called foursquarewalls that has nothing to do with the number four or squares or walls. Just sewing and grumblings about sewing. I'm a little shy posting over here on Cation Designs while she's away, as it feels like I have some big shoes to fill. That girl can SEW. Plus she's a hoot and is generous with photos of her fabulously fluffy cat, which makes a perfect blogger all in all.

First let me share a gripping tale about how I unintentionally bought some chiffon last week. I was wandering around the "fabric row" of my new city (Philadelphia), exploring some of the options and disappointingly noting how most of the stores primarily carry home decor/drapery/upholstery-weight fabrics only. As my parking meter was about to expire, I stumbled across something sheer and polka-dotted in a barrel marked "$1.95/yd." I was just so excited to find fabric that could be turned into clothing (blue clothing, no less (I love blue)) that I bought three yards with no project in mind. Hey, let's get wild.

Then I realized I knew nothing about sewing with chiffon. I did know, from all the horror stories out there, that it's slippery, shifty and sheer. It frays, warps and snags. It also makes nice-looking clothing, though, right? So as with anything related to sewing, you really just have to jump in and try it out for yourself. I know Cindy has worked with chiffon before (like this epic Girl on Fire dress) but not without some gripes about its difficulty. I thought I'd share with you what I've learned about working with this fabric for the first time, and hopefully it will help some other newbies out there gain confidence to tackle it.

This seems like the most difficult or daunting part of working with chiffon and other slippery fabrics. It shifts as you fold it, it shifts as you smooth it out, it shifts as you lay pattern pieces on it, it shifts as you pin it and it shifts as you cut it. Let's avoid all that, eh?

Tip #1: If you're using a pattern, prepare your pattern pieces so that you can cut the fabric in single layers instead of double layers. This creates double the cutting work upfront, yes, but is crucial for ensuring that you cut the fabric on grain. For pattern pieces that are cut on the fold of the fabric, you'll need to trace a new piece that incorporates both sides of the fold so you can cut everything in just one layer. The fold line will then become the grainline guide. I use Swedish Tracing Paper for all my pattern tracing, fyi. The Swedes have a monopoly on red gummy fish as well as tracing paper, apparently.

Tip #2: Starch it up. Fabric starch has become my new BFFL (best friend for life, obvi). I first made my own when I was trying to stabilize some cotton jersey. And guess what? It stiffens chiffon, too! You can buy your own starch or DIY (see my ingredients and recipe here). This time, though, I decided to dunk a whole length of fabric into the starch, instead of spraying it section-by-section. I used two cups of distilled water and six teaspoons ( = two tablespoons) of corn starch -- called corn flour in other parts of the world. I squeezed out the water a bit and then immediately began ironing it. It dried quickly and became crispy enough that it was much easier to handle. If it drips on your floor, don't worry. It wipes right off.

Tip #3: Use an under-layer of fabric or tissue paper when cutting the chiffon. This helps stabilize the chiffon even more so it keeps its shape as you cut. The pattern piece will go on top so the chiffon is sandwiched in between. Pin and cut through all three layers (pattern piece, chiffon, underfabric). I used an unwanted bedsheet here for my bottom layer (the cream and brown thing).

Also, it definitely helps if you have a rotary cutter and cutting mat. This way you don't have to lift the fabric as you slide your scissors underneath, creating less opportunity for the chiffon to shift. Make sure your rotary blade is sharp enough to cut the fabric without dragging it. I guess I had a bad blade in my rotary cutter when I first bought it, because I was not very impressed with the tool. Then I changed the blade and it's like a Hallelujah chorus in my heart.

If you starched your chiffon before cutting, it should be much easier to sew, too. If you didn't, cool, but DO IT NOW. You can just spray the edges of your garment pieces and iron it as you go, instead of dunking whole pieces in a bowl of starch. The starch will help the fabric hold a crease, keep it from warping as you pin or stitch, AND will reduce some of the fraying along the raw edges. So, just do it.

Tip #4: Change your needle. To sew chiffon, you need a new, sharp, fine needle, like a size 70/10. Otherwise it will snag and create unsightly lines and marks all across your fabric from where the threads snapped. I learned this the hard way.

Tip #5: Avoid fabric suction. Chiffon is so lightweight that it can be easily jammed into the machine by the needle. To prevent this, I removed my presser foot then place a piece of tape over the hole, leaving some room for the bobbin thread and keeping clear of the feed dogs. The needle pierced the tape easily, so I didn't have to worry about losing the edges of my fabric to the dark depths of my hungry machine. Don't forget to put your pressure foot back on. You wouldn't forget, though, right?

Tip #6: Since chiffon is sheer and frays easily, it's ideal to use French seams where you can. See a French seam tutorial here.


Tip #7: Chiffon needs a narrow hem, or else the folded fabric will show through to the right side. Use a rolled hem foot if you have one, or make a narrow hem yourself. This is simple enough to do, IF YOU STARCH YOUR FABRIC FIRST. Sorry I keep mentioning it, but it's just amazing how well it works. I sprayed some starch on the raw edge to be hemmed, which then made it a breeze to press crisply and sew without even needing to pin it.

Here's how I did my narrow hem:


Then press up 1/2 inch:

Sew close to the folded edge. I used the 1/4 inch line on my machine as a guide for the fabric edge, but moved the needle all the way over to the right (6.5 setting). My finger's behind the needle here so it's (kinda) easier to see how close I moved the needle to the edge of the fabric:

Trim close to the stitches, being careful to only cut the seam allowance and not the garment.

Then press up narrowly so those stitches can't be seen on the right side.

Stitch the hem in place. Here it is on the right side:

So, as you may have noticed in some of the photos above, I was initially trying to make a garment (blouse), but I couldn't finish it in time for this post. I did, however, successfully make a scarf using the tips I shared with you above. A long rectangular scarf with a narrow hem all the way around. Oh I'm fancy, huh.

Ready to sew chiffon yet? It's really not that bad! ...As long as you use starch. I expect to see each and every one of you whip up some tiered chiffon gowns now.

Thanks for having me over, Cindy!

This is the post I needed when I made my chiffon nightmare dress! Why oh why didn't I go on vacation back in March, so that I could've forced this post into the sewing blogiverse before I lost a year of my life on sewing chiffon? Thank you for the excellent tutorial, Andrea! It looks like I'm going to have to go acquire more chiffon now, because you make it look so doable!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Guest Post: Justine of Sew Country Chick!

I'm drinking tea in England, but that doesn't mean things are going to be quiet over here at Cation Designs! I've got some spectacular guest bloggers filling in for me over the next few days. So, remember how I said I wanted to do something 1930s-ish, preferably with bias-cut fabrics and the resulting lovely drape? Well, what do you know, Justine from Sew Country Chick is here to tell us more about this style, and prep us all for the Great Gatsby movie-inspired dressmaking that's sure to happen this winter.

Hello Cation Designs Readers!
I'm Justine from the Sew Country Chick blog and today I am Cindy's guest poster!

I hope she is having she is having a restful and fabulous vacation!

Today I am guest posting about a designer whose technique has influenced me over the years.
Madeleine Vionnet (June 22, 1876 – March 2, 1975) 
Vionnet designed her dresses on miniature mannequins shown.

I am so inspired by the French designer Madeleine Vionnet and would love to share her with those who might not be familiar with this legendary French designer.

The gowns that follow were designed by M Vionnet and are courtesy of the Metropoliatan Museum of Art.

Madeleine Vionnet was a revolutionary designer of her time: not as universally well known as Coco Chanel but just as influential to the world  of fashion.

 She basically discovered the bias cut gown, a technique of cutting fabric on the diagonal grain of the fabric which creates a sinuous  and slightly clingy silhouette. She had fabric custom made for her as wide as 180 inches to have her gowns cut out of. Bias cut dresses use up a lot more fabric so they are more expensive to produce. 

 It seems like a simple enough process but there is an art to it. For instance, a bias skirt can cling and tug in odd ways if it isn't cut right or pressed properly during construction. The seams can stretch out of shape easily and it's not unusual to have a garment stretch by as much as four inches after letting it hang on the hanger for a few days. There are many techniques  for working with bias to be learned.  I learned on one website that it's easier to make a bias skirt with a center seam so it hangs evenly on both sides. 

Madame Vionnet was influenced by ancient Greek statues and wanted clothing to move and flow with the wearer. It's not surprising she made dresses for  Isadora Duncan, the avant-garde modern dancer of the twenties and thirties . 

In today's world, with all of our stretch fabrics it's easy to overlook how revolutionary it must have been to wear something that draped to your body the way her dresses did after the boxy and loose fashions of the 1920's.

The seaming on this gown is so amazing.Masterful.
A 1930's Vionnet gown being worn in our times. Good design is never out of fashion!

Unfortunately Mme. Vionnet had to close her couture house in 1939 with the beginning of World War Two. Fashion was put on the back burner to concentrate on the war effort and the country's resources were reallocated. She never did reopen.

Above is a dress pattern from the thirties from the Customized Pattern Company. Vionnets' widespread influence on fashion is evident here.

I have had my own small obsession with working with dresses cut on the bias and have my share of triumphs and failures.

This velvet dress looks OK, but it was cut in a thick woven velvet which tugged uncomfortably while wearing!
Perhaps it wasn't cut on the true bias. it's so important to make sure the garment is laying perfectly on the bias. the tiniest bit off grain can result in tugging and pulling.

If you would like to try your hand at bias cut dresses Colette Oolong above is a good pattern to start with.

I would recommend letting bias hems hang on the dress form or hanger for a day or two. Above is how much my skirt stretched out on the dress form after hanging for two days !

This wedding dress above I made for a friend is my piece de resistance when it comes to bias dress making. It was lined with china silk, sewn of silk charmeuse and had an Alencon lace overlay.
It was all cut on the bias, thus using several more yards of fabric than if it had been cut on the straight grain. There was a center seam under the lace overlay, making the dress lie more smoothly.

A linen bias cut dress above I designed with godets, which add a nice flare.

Both of the dresses above were made from the same pattern, but I raised the waistline on the second pattern and cut the second skirt with a center seam.
You can see how different choices in fabric can really influence how a bias cut dress lies!

I hope you have enjoyed my little report here and just so you know, I am a little biased about sewing on the bias! haha...

Thanks so much Cindy for having me by and posting today!

Thank YOU Justine, for sharing with us about dresses that utilize bias-cut material! Those dresses of yours look lovely, and are definitely a more everyday-wearable form than a 1930s evening gown. That said, I wouldn't mind swanning about London in one of those Vionnet gowns...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Guest Post: Puu's Door of Time!

I'm drinking tea in England, but that doesn't mean things are going to be quiet over here at Cation Designs! I've got some spectacular guest bloggers filling in for me over the next week. Devra would be a prime example of  someone I would want to be friends with IRL: she's got the same geeky interests as me, an adorable cat, and excellent taste in wall murals. I suggested that my guest bloggers write a little something related to sewing and/or traveling, and she totally followed directions and turned in her post early. As a teacher, I love that! Devra, take it away!

i think my crowning achievement, packing-wise, is not how many books i can fit into my carry-on bag...

yeah, that is my carry-on for a one-day trip.

...but how many me-made combos i can fit into the wardrobe planning.  i knew i had succeeded last summer when, as i was leaving for las vegas to celebrate my grandfather's 86th birthday (true story), my boss looked at my weekend bag and said, "you packed for the entire weekend in that bag?  my wife's carry-on wouldn't even be that small."

you bet i did.  booyah.

so my typical strategy for the time-honored mini-break is a mini-wardrobe, usually inspired by one of my 50s playsuit patterns:


butterick 8170

and vogue 7967

i always cut my fabric stingily and save the scraps so that i have plenty left over for little tops and tricks to go with solid color shorts and skirts.  my go-to 50s top patterns are vogue 6453 and advance 8309, which give me a fairly endless combination of tops and bottoms.

of course, planning for a real trip, not just a weekend of fun, sun and shopping, gets more complicated.  i mean, the shoe combinations ALONE...

how exactly does one fit a pair of thigh-high boots into a suitcase for a 4-day trip, anyway??!

Thanks for giving us a glimpse into me-made wardrobe planning for traveling, Devra! Color me carry-on for this trip, which I was pretty proud of, suddenly pales in comparison to your skills. Oh, and I want to steal your boots! Hmmm, have you all noticed a pattern here? I want to make off with items from all of my guest bloggers!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Guest Post: Tina of Down the Retro Rabbit Hole!

I'm drinking tea in England, but that doesn't mean things are going to be quiet over here at Cation Designs! I've got some spectacular guest bloggers filling in for me over the next two weeks. If you enjoyed yesterday's geek out over a professional costumer's kit, then today you'll have a chance for a totally different kind of geeking out, courtesy of Tina. She blogs over at Down the Retro Rabbit Hole, and has sewn up some lovely things for the Sew Weekly challenges that I occasionally also participate in. Oh, and she has two adorable cats! That in itself is enough to endear her to all of us, right? But it gets even better than just cats -- there's Star Wars, too! Read on:

Hello friends!
I am so very honored to be posting at Cation Designs today! Cindy's blog is one of my favorite blogs of all time--she's a classy geek girl after my own heart. Star Wars snowflakes? Lord of the Rings Valentines? Not one, but TWO super hero dresses?!! And who can forget her Hunger Games Girl on Fire dress?  *Sigh* Color this girl envious!

After my initial squee of delight and bout of Snoopy dancing, I immediately settled on a project. I was going to use Simplicity 3503 to make a maxi-length dress out of this delicious white organic cotton jersey I'd purchased for a song ($2 a yard!) and, once the dress was completed, I was going to ombre dye it using this dark purple Dylon dye I'd won in an online giveaway.

Secretly, I was already calling this my Miami Beach Dress--I pictured myself walking barefoot down the beach with this dress flowing breezily behind me as the warm ocean water occasionally lapped at my feet:

Like this... only in purple. 
Or like this in my sexier moments!
(But, you know, in purple! )
It was a GLORIOUS dream, friends, that was clearly never meant to be.

I totally had enough time to finish this dress, friends, DESPITE lollygagging. Friday (August 17) I traced the pattern and cut out the pieces with plenty of time to sew the bodice portion together. I had grand plans to attach the skirt portion Saturday morning and then dye the thing. Sunday was reserved for picture taking and post writing.

And then, as I was winding my bobbin, my machine -- my beautiful little darling of a machine -- went KA-CHUNK. I panicked for a moment, but felt some-what better when the bobbin continued to wind in a *seemingly* normal manner. Yet... the machine wouldn't thread.  The short version: the hook thing on my bobbin casing fails to meet with the needle so the bobbin thread and needle thread aren't making a loop. I suspect this has something to do with the bobbin casing (which was missing a piece of thing metal on the side) or the small nut I found when I used my magnificent muscles Mr. Retro used his magnificent muscles to unscrew the bottom of my machine (as I sat to the side uselessly flapping my hands and practically sobbing). I harbored brief delusions using the serger but ultimately decided against it.

And I regrouped.

One of the things Cindy suggested for a post was me-mades while on vacation. Which got me thinking about how to take my/our little hobby with us while on vacation. Flight/airplane regulations make it impossible to take things like knitting needles (though I've had great success accidentally "sneaking" wood needles) and pins and needles on the plane. And I imagine that taking a sewing machine presents it's own sort of logistical nightmare. But there's nothing that says one cannot CHECK a project, right?

Summer is definitely too hot to knit, so I tend to embroider a lot (okay, some). There are a plethora of really awesome ideas on how to incorporate embroidery into clothing sewing projects --I personally love Casey of Casey's Elegant Musings Bumble Bee Circle Skirt and Lauren at Lladybird Colette Ceylon:

Take a look at the rest of Casey's photos here
See more of Lauren's beautiful work here
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention, as well, Cindy's BEAUTIFUL "I Carry Your Heart with Me" dress. I absolutely love the idea of embroidered words on a garment!

Now, as my machine has taken ill, I sadly won't be whipping up a dress to embroider. However, friends, I thought I could share some tricks and tips for getting started on your own embroidery project!

The Supplies
  • Fabric. You can embroider on any sort of fabric, really. All it requires is the right kind of needle and thread. However, I find it easier to use a thinner fabric like cotton, cotton broadcloth, or maybe a fine muslin fabric. 
  • Hoop. There are pretty much two hoop options: wood or plastic. I highly recommend wood over plastic. My experience with plastic is that the screw portion--necessary to tighten the hoop--through multiple uses ends up stripped; once it's stripped you can't tighten the hoop. I prefer a smaller hoop to a larger hoop, but really the size of your project should dictate hoop size.
  • Floss/Embroidery Thread. There's a whole section of this in the stores in a ridiculous Crayola Crayon array of rainbow colors (some sparkly! OOOO!). Usually, before I start a project, I take a moment to print out, copy, or sketch my design and tap into my inner grade schooler and have some fun coloring! This helps me plan my color scheme. 
  • Needle. Needles depend on the fabric. You're not going to use a fine needle on say, burlap, and you definitely wouldn't use a yarn needle on silk. Just make sure the needle is sharp!
Still with me friends?

Good. This next part is my probably my favorite step in the whole process...

Selecting an Image 
When I select and image I look for something that doesn't have a lot of really tiny details and has a decent amount of empty space UNLESS I'm specifically making something that's a bit more "artsy"--as in will be framed so that sharp little kitty claws don't snag and pull threads that were lovingly sewn over many many (manymanymany) months and may or may not have resulted in more than a little loss of blood, sweat, and tears. I typically look in the following places for inspiration:

  • The internet. Lets be real, friends. I totally acknowledge that I rip off borrow a lot of stuff from the webnets. Google search is my best friend. And don't even get me started on Pinterest.
  • Sublime Stitching. Jenny Hart runs this little phenom of a business out of Austin, TX. Her designs are funky, fabulous, and easy to replicate. She provides both PDF versions as well as iron-on transfers. Also, she provides a number of tutorials to get one started.  I <3 her.="her." li="li" nbsp="nbsp">
  • Urban Threads. They're kinda the same deal as Sublime Stitching.
  • Hoop Love on flckr. This is a vintage(ish) collection of embroidery images. Some of them would look cute on things like circle skirts, others look like things you might find on pillows at Grandma's house (which is not a bad thing!). 
I'm really obsessed with mermaids right now so, for this project (a tea towel that'll probably be converted into a pillow), I chose this image:

Transferring the Image
Make sure to wash and iron your fabric prior to transferring your image! When the prepwork is done, there are a number of ways to transfer an image onto the fabric. If you've got mad drawing skills, I recommend using a disappearing ink or water soluable pen to draw your image onto your fabric. I do not have mad drawing skills so I do one of the following when transferring an image that I printed from my computer:
  • Use a tracing wheel and dressmakers transfer paper
  • Heat transfer pens act as a sort of one-shot deal to create your own iron-on transfer. Trace the image using one of these pens on the BACKSIDE of the image you printed out and then iron onto your fabric. PRESS the image, not back-and forth it with your iron as it *just might* cause the pattern to smear all over your fabric and, as a result *just might* cause one to swear like a sailor. 
  • Print out the image on t-shirt transfer paper, iron to fabric, and embroider. This isn't my favorite method as you then have to deal with the iron transfer itself (it leave behind a plastic-y surface) which requires some extra steps to get rid of. (Mostly washing and ironing until it's gone). Therefore, friends, I only really use this if I'm embroidering something large on something that doesn't get a lot daily use. 
  • Pouncing is the old fashioned way of transferring. After you print out your image, poke holes at regular intervals along the pattern. Secure the paper to your fabric and using a soft cloth or paintbrush work some sort of powder (chalk or special powder found in the needle craft section of your sewing store) into the holes. Et voila! 
The method I use the most, however, is the good old light-source tracing trick. I tape the printed out image to a window (I suggest doing this at a height that is comfortable), tape my fabric over top, trace with a fabric pencil!

Final Thoughts Before You Begin
  • Keep your scissors handy. I always end up with frayed ends of thread that need clipping. I hate having to search for my scissors. 
  • Keep the fabric INSIDE the hoop taught and the work will go much more quickly. Saggy fabric leads to yucky stitches. 
  • I wrap the ends of my thread around their little bundles and put everything--scissors, project, thread--into a large sized Ziplock plastic bag for travelling. It fits nicely into my bag and doesn't get all mucked up. 
  • Use a variety of stitches to achieve the look you want! In addition to the Sublime Stitching link above, there's this one, this one, and this one. I also suggest using a combination of thread thickness. Most floss comes in six strands. Sometimes, such as when I'm doing features on a face or outlines, I use only two or three threads instead of all six. 
  • Embellish! I love using beads, sequins, and sometimes ribbon or lace to add a little pizzazz to my projects.
Now the fun begins! 

Unfortunately, my mermaid design isn't done in time for publication. However here are some shots of the embroidered Valentine's Day valentine I made for Mr. Retro. We don't really *do* Valentine's Day -- the commercialism really bugs me as does the concept in general -- so we give each other cheesy/funny little gifts instead. It works for us and some how ends up being more meaningful. This year I made him a "Yoda One for Me" pillow for his office chair. It's not done (as in I have not yet made the tea towel into a pillow case, but whatev... I'll have it done by next Valentine's Day. What? Stop looking at me like that! I SWEAR.). He's a HUGE Star Wars fan--like ridonkulously huge Star Wars fan. He can quote all the movies forwards and backwards and kicks my butt every. single. time. we play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. Seriously, he can answer the "Who was the best boy key grip in The Empire Strikes Back?" type of questions.  I was worried that it was *too* cheesy but he LOVED it (or at least was very good at pretending he did...). Gives me hope for next year's valentine surprise! 

So there you go, friends. So sorry this is so...word heavy! Regardless, some tips and tricks to get you started with embroidery! What will YOU embroider first? Something for these last days of summer or something fall/winter-ish?

Tina, I could not love that pillowcase any more -- that Mr. Retro is a lucky guy to have you! And I do hope your machine recovers soon from its temporary incapacitation. Readers, I've done some geeky embroidery myself, but nothing so ambitious as this pillowcase! Thanks for sharing your work with us, Tina!