Machine Embroidered Greeting Cards or Just Stitched?

One of my college girls has a birthday coming up and her sister is at the same college, so when I was preparing a birthday box, of course, I had to make a second one for her sister. I had already purchased a set of birthday cards to be sent on just the right day to arrive in time, but I wanted a card to go in the box too.  Initially, I thought I would do a printed birthday banner, but my husband did not look like he was going to give up the printer any time before I wanted to mail the package, so plan “B.”

Michael’s had a wonderful deal on gold-foil cards – 60 cards for $5. That is eight cents a card.  You cannot get them that cheap anywhere! They are a very nice quality, not at all flimsy like I thought they would be. They looked very young and just what the girls would like. However, I wanted to take them to the next level – embroidered cards.

Gold-Foil Note Cards from Michael's

Gold-Foil Note Cards from Michael's

Machine embroidering on paper was one of the first things that I tried when first received my machine.  I am not sure why I was so intrigued that I put it above so many other fabulous features, but I did. I had hooped a piece of medium cut-away stabilizer, sprayed adhesive on the back of the paper and ta-da! It worked beautifully.  Somehow, I had enough common sense not to use a dense design, so it did not cut through the paper and make it pop out like a cut-out.

Stitched Alphabet with Guidelines and Jump Stitches

Stitched Alphabet with Guidelines and Jump Stitches

This summer, I was experimenting with the standard built-in stitches on my sewing machine, as I wanted to know which ones were compatible with the sewing machines that I was going to teach   on at the Fairfield Library (also see Fairfield tag below). During that process, I played with the built-in alphabet characters.  These are different from the actual embroidery characters, because they are generated using the utility function for stitches and the foot pedal. It does not use a hoop or an embroidery foot. It does not sew automatically, the foot pedal must be engaged and I must guide the fabric. This is truly a sewing function, not embroidery and yet they are alphabetical characters.

Reverse Side of Stitched Alphabet with Jump Stitches

Reverse Side of Stitched Alphabet with Jump Stitches

These built-in alphabet characters are so much fun and they are so quick to produce a word and the best part is that they can be done without hooping or stabilizer.  They were just what I needed to make these cards a little more personal. Besides, the birthday girl is the only one in the family who knows how to machine embroider and I know how much she loves machine embroidery.

Finished Greeting Cards

Finished Greeting Cards

So the question is, what do you consider the built-in alphabets – embroidery or stitching?

Sewing Camp - Project Four of Four

Four days of sewing. What can you accomplish in four days? 

The teens at the Fairfield Woods Branch Public Library accomplished an incredible amount in the their four days.  Most began with no sewing experience at all and by the the end of four days they had received their driver's license from the library's sewing studio and sewn four projects: rice heating bag, round cuddle pillow (so cute & soft), pajama bottoms, and small zippered bag.

Many sewing techniques had been acquired to get to the point of being able to make these four projects.  They had sewn straight seams, enforced faux serger seams, sewn with plaids, sewn with a napped fabric, hand sewn a button onto their pillows, sewed curves, clipped curves, sewn an elliptic casing, and then to finish they learned to sew a zipper.  That is amazing in four short two hour days.

The most amazing part of this fourth day was the way they all soaked up the project instructions with needing very little guidance.  They could see it!! That is such a big part of sewing - being able to see how it is all going to work together. It is a practical puzzle. 

The zippered bags were made from repurposed blue jeans and men's dress shirts. The best! I love repurposing and these fabrics are a dream to work with  - no slipping. We started out with 4 pieces of fabric that were 9 1/2" by 6 1/2" and we used a 1/2" seam allowance.  The only cost involved was a 9", but the library had many of them donated and they purchased a roll of red zipper tape from eNasco. They are so economical when you need to buy in bulk. We also added an optional 1/4" red grosgrain ribbon for a zipper pull.

The construction of the bag is so simple and you can see the instructions at The Purl Bee. While the idea and method were my own, as with all the projects, but he pillow, I wanted some clear pictures with instructions to provide the library when I presented my proposal.  The clear explanation with pictures at The Purl Bee are great, just what I wanted.

This bag is so versatile and can be used for so many things, but from what I heard from the teens, they will be using it as a pencil bag when they return to school. 

How will you use your bag now that you can create so many at relatively no cost?

Sewing Camp - Project Three of Four

Day three of the sewing camp at the Fairfield Woods Branch Library was the most intense. The teens learned about patterns the day before and had actually cut out their fabric for pajama bottom shorts. There was so much to accomplish and they did it all so well.  

2015-06-03 16.34.40.jpg

Pajama shorts look pretty easy, but believe it or not, the biggest obstacle is knowing which piece is the front and which is the back.  Sounds so basic and simple, but from a quick glance it is hard to tell the difference. Upon careful comparison you can see that the back piece is slightly wider to allow for our derrieres. Then there is the issue of knowing what is the right side and the wrong side.  With many fabric choices this is not an issue, but our fabric was a soft cotton in a solid light blue that the right and wrong side could only be perceived when examined very closely. To combat both of these issues and because the pieces were cut the day before, I labeled them before the next class with four strips of blue painters tape: front left, front right, back left, and back right.  The side that had the tape on it was the right side. This made the whole process so much easier and did not cause any confusion when putting them together. 

The teens concentrated hard on the challenge of keeping all those seams straight and within the seam allowance, to insure a proper fit and to make sure those elastic casings were not too narrow. These teens were awesome and were so industrious all day long. They were practicing to be so precise in everything that they did, including clipping those curves and pressing everything. 

Amazingly, no one complained that we did not finish them that day as planned. We gave them the option to come in an half hour early and to our surprise, some were so eager that they were there almost an hour before.  What desire and motivation!  

Congratulations on a job well done. I am so incredibly proud of them. They worked hard and succeeded. 

Sewing Camp - Project Two of Four

Once you learn the basics of using a sewing machine, it is merely a matter of practice and learning new techniques, which is quite vast, but you can accomplish much with just the basics. However, the world of garment and other textile construction is quite complex. 

The sewing camp teens at the Fairfield Woods Branch Library progressed very quickly with respect to the types of fabric with which they sewed.  Their first project involved plaids. For an experienced seamstress, she would never have considered plaids for a long time since they can be quit difficult to line up when cutting. To save the teens that anguish, we did the cutting for them. The flannel was so beautiful on both sides so we did not concern them with the right and wrong sides.  We did the cutting and put the two pieces together in their kits so there would not be any chance of the plaids not being lined up. 

Cuddle/Minky Fabric generously donated to the Fairfield Woods Branch Library 

Cuddle/Minky Fabric generously donated to the Fairfield Woods Branch Library 

The second project was a plump round pillow made of cuddle material, also known as minky (minkee). This cuddle material was so soft and lush that it won their hearts with being their favorite project, but it was a challenge because it has a very deep nap.

Once again, the library was blessed to have had this lovely fabric donated and there was no issue of cutting as the pieces were generous wide one yard cuts. The fabric choices were in lively modern colors of lime green and bright pink, with trendy designs of chevron, damask, stripes, paisleys, and dots. Just the cutest fabrics you could imagine.

To overcome the obstacle of a difficult fabric and to allow the maximum amount of sewing time for the teens, we opted for cutting and pinning the two circles together.  This guaranteed that the fabric naps were going in the correct direction. It worked perfectly.  Now the teens could concentrate on sewing a circle.

The pattern instructions were courtesy of Shannon Fabrics in CA. While the teens used this predominately, I did deviate when it came to cutting the fabric circles.  

I made a thick cardboard circle template with a pin, marker and a ribbon.

I cut the ribbon the length of the radius of the finished circle's diameter which included the seam allowance.

I stuck the pin into the ribbon and the center of the cardboard and attached the ribbon to the marker with blue painter's tape, then drew a perfect circle on the cardboard. 

The template allowed me to use a rotary cutter and cut several pieces of fabric at one time, a true time saver when having to cut 28 large circles.

Here is the link to create your own pillow. Please share your pillow pictures with us.

Sewing Camp - Project One of Four

Sitting at the driver's seat for the first time behind the wheel of a sewing machine can be pretty daunting.  It is a real electrical running machine that seems to have a mind of its own when you put your foot on the pedal.  The motor runs so fast and the wheel starts turning so quickly you cannot even see it turning, then the fabric begins to pull uncontrollably under the feed dogs. With haste, you must gain composure and take control by placing your hands in the correct position and adjust the foot pedal speed to just the right amount - not too fast - not too slow, all while keeping that fabric in the same position on the stitch plate so you end up with a straight seam. 

A loomed sample of knit on the left and woven ribbon as a sample on the right.

A loomed sample of knit on the left and woven ribbon as a sample on the right.

The thirteen teens at the Fairfield Woods Branch Library sewing camp did just that - they conquered the sewing machine. They began with all the visual introductions of learning the difference between wovens and knits, types of fabrics, sewing notions, safety, the anatomy of the sewing machine and then hands-on with threading the machine and loading a bobbin.  They progressed to practicing on paper using templates from the book, The Best of Sewing Machine Fun for Kids. The paper practice allowed them to learn to keep a straight line as well as pivoting through their paper maze.

Now they were ready for their first project.  This was the easiest construction project for them, but with respect to the planning, it was the hardest.  The library was given a generous donation of gorgeous flannel cuts.  That was the challenge - they were curvy cuts - not the ends of bolts or straight cuts - curves.  What can you make out of curvy fabric? Got it! Small sized flannel rice heating bags.  The flannel was so thick and warm.  It was perfect for such a project.  

The project was made with two rectangles cut 11" by 4". Instead of using a straight stitch they sewed with an imitation serger stitch (as I like to call it) - a straight stitch combined with a zig zag stitch.  This combination stitch was to prevent the rice from falling out of the bag (believe me this happens). Once all three sides were sewn, they filled the bag with a half pound of white uncooked rice. It was easy to pour as we had pre-measured the rice and put it in quart size plastic bags.  When it was time to fill up the heating bags, they snipped the bottom corners of the bags and poured from the newly created funnel. It worked great - no one spilled their bag of rice. The hard part was keeping the rice at the opposite side from the closure so they could sew up the opening.  Success! Everyone had a functional rice heating bag. 

These bags are so practical and can be molded to fit your body.  Put them in a clean microwave for about one minute and the gentle heat lasts about twenty minutes. The next day some of the teens reported them lasting up to an hour.  It will vary based upon the strength of your microwave.

These bags are also so versatile and can be used without heating them.  Just use your imagination on all the different ways they can be used: 

~ warmed to soothe an aching neck ~ a book weight ~ a prop for a techy device ~ a smaller square can be used for a toddler's game of hopscotch ~ a large heated bag can be sewn for an old cat to lie on ~ small bags for a toss game ~ even tinier bags for pattern weights ~ a game of tic-tac-toe ~ sewn in a variety of colors for young toddlers ~ juggling ~ etc.

How will you use these bags?


Have You Made Your Bed Today?

Well, did you? Did you make your bed today?  Now what does that have to do with sewing? That is exactly what thirteen teens thought when I asked them the first morning of their sewing camp at the Fairfield Woods Branch library.

Naval Admiral William McRaven, ninth commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, told thousands of people at the commencement of the University of Texas on May 17, 2015, "Make your bed every day!"

To have a navy seal admiral tell you to make your bed is even more alarming than a motherly-type woman at a sewing class.

This was the first of his ten tips to the graduates. He said, “Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

The little things in life do matter.  Sewing is the prime example.  Everyone wears clothes that were made from thousands, and some millions, of tiny little stitches.  We all take them for granted, well unless, you were not wise and pulled that bobbin stitch and the whole seam unraveled.

Each teen in the sewing class learned that each stitch mattered.  If they went off track, they could see it.  They could visibly see when their item had some misaligned seams or if the seam was too tight to allow the elastic to slip through easily and then they had to use their seam rippers to start all over again.  It was a lesson well learned.

This lesson is important in our day-to-day lives.  We must learn to complete the little tasks well so we are ready for the big tasks.

So have you made your bed today?

Sewing Camp at the Library

Libraries are branching out into different venues, as seen with the “branch” public library of Fairfield, Connecticut, where they offered a free four-day sewing camp during mid July to the patrons of the library who were entering grades 6 – 8. 

It was an exhilarating four days.  I had the privilege to be their instructor for two hours each day, and astonishingly, with almost three hours on the last day for many who willingly came in early to finish their projects from the day before. There were thirteen wonderful teens, who came to have fun creating on the six sewing machines in the library’s sewing studio.

Sewing Machine image courtesy of the Fairfield Woods Branch Library

Sewing Machine image courtesy of the Fairfield Woods Branch Library

It all began back in April, when I was contacted by LinkedIn with a “link” from who thought my credentials would be a good fit – current volunteering and sewing skills. The library had listed their need with that organization.  It was a great match.  Not only did I volunteer, but three other women volunteered to help with the sewing camp. The sewing class would not have been as successful without all their hard work and that of the two awe-inspiring staff members from the library.  They were all invaluable and I am so grateful for them.

Sewing Notions from the Fairfield Woods Library Sewing Studio

Sewing Notions from the Fairfield Woods Library Sewing Studio

During the four days, the teens learned how to sew on the sewing machines, all about sewing notions, how to cut fabric, iron seams, sew an elastic waistband, insert a zipper and all the other skills needed to complete four sewn projects. They made a flannel heating pad, cuddle-soft pillow, pajama bottoms, and zippered pencil bag (I will show you each project in a separate post).  That is an incredible amount to learn in just eight to nine hours. They all just soaked up all those skills so quickly and just kept up with the fast pace of the class. They were an awesome group of teens!

The goal of the four projects was to use existing fabric – you know what I mean – their stash. Even the library had a fabric stash.  Who would have guessed! This goal is what drove the specific projects so that the class could be offered at no charge to the students.  The library did purchase a few items, but nothing over their budget, and the students were requested to bring in a 16 ounce bag of polyfil for their pillow projects.  That was quite a feat – four great projects for just the cost of some polyfil that I hope they purchased with a 50% off coupon at their local chain sewing store.

Graphic used on the Sewing Camp Student Manual

Graphic used on the Sewing Camp Student Manual

We did not use a purchased curriculum, but I designed one specifically around the four projects.  If you are interested in setting up a sewing camp for your library or another organization, please contact me and I will send you the proposal and the sewing manual.

Thank you Fairfield Woods Branch Library for a wonderful four days.  I will never forget each one of the teens that greeted me each morning with eager smiles on their face.

What do Sewing and a Public Library Have in Common?

What do sewing and a public library have in common? Why, anyone who knows what a public library is can answer that question – books!  Of course!  The public library has every possible book on sewing that you could ever imagine.  While not every library will have them all, put them together and anything that has been written on the subject is there.

Public libraries are evolving though.  They do not just contain books as our forefathers first envisioned them.  They started out slowly with the onset of books on tape, then CDs, then DVDs, to today with just about anything you can imagine can be borrowed.  Libraries contain items that you never would expect.

Would you expect your public library to offer sewing lessons? Maybe. You could see a person coming in and providing sewing lessons for an hour or two to introduce the public to the concept of sewing since libraries are a place where knowledge is discovered.  Well go a step further.  Would you be surprised to find a sewing studio in a public library?

Photo courtesy of Fairfield Woods Branch Library

Photo courtesy of Fairfield Woods Branch Library

The Fairfield Public Library in Fairfield, Connecticut has a sewing studio with not just one, but six modern sewing machines. This sewing studio resides in the Fairfield Woods Branch Library that is “Fairfield’s neighborhood library.” The idea was conceived by one of the enterprising staff members who presented her proposal fearlessly to the Friends of the Fairfield Public Library, which in turn graciously funded the sewing studio.

The sewing studio abounds with all the amenities of an individually owned sewing studio with all the necessary sewing notions for each station. It would be the envy of any sewer with its own fabric stash stored in a shelved closet with another room breaming with stacks of donated items such as buttons and zippers just waiting to be used. Fabric and other donations have come from all across New England from generous individuals as well as a national sewing magazine company, a manufacturer of fabric and a clothing manufacturer. Each donation is a grateful addition to the studio.

The new sewing studio was announced in the library’s Winter 2015 newsletter with classes beginning later that month.  The classes have been quite successful and have been expanded to include a weekly “open sew” on Thursdays and a mini summer camp for teens during the month of July (but that is for a later post).

Congratulations Fairfield Woods Branch Library on your new venture!

What does your library offer in the way of sewing?