So Many Books, SEW a Bookmark,

Oh, we have so many books in our house.  There is not a room without a book. We even have so many bookcases that every time my father comes to visit (a former city inspector), he warns me that houses were not built to withstand that much weight in any one room. 

In our house it is forbidden to write in a book a dog-ear one, so with so many books, you know that most of us love bookmarks too and are always on the hunt for that favorite one. 

Machine Embroidery Design by Embroidery Library

Machine Embroidery Design by Embroidery Library

This darling bookmark was so cute that I could not resist buying the design from Embroidery Library.  It is an in-the-hoop design that stitches up so quickly. 

The best part of this project is that it did not cost anything to make, other than the design which was on sale through one of Embroidery Library's fabulous sales, as the fabric was from my stash (well, stash of old sheets, not yardage) and the thread was from previous projects. But, I must be honest, when I want to close a book, I am usually in a hurry because someone wants my attention and I do not take the time to place the page neatly into the little corner pocket and I wind up just sticking it in the book like a normal bookmark. At least it is better than grabbing whatever is nearby. You name it, I have used it for a bookmark.

In-the-hoop Bookmark

In-the-hoop Bookmark

What is the funniest thing you have used for a bookmark?


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?

How to Replicate a Monogram Placement

Two of my college daughters adore monogramming everything.  Can you tell that these northern women are attending a southern college? Those southern girls have influenced them and for the good. Well, they do get teased about that southern drawl that creeps in when they first come home, but that accent does not last long.

Thankfully, one of them loves machine embroidery too and usually monograms her own, as well as her sister’s garments. As to be expected, mother and daughter have different techniques when it comes to embroidering, but we do compliment each other.  Things she does not like to do, I love, and vice versa.  She usually does my trimming, especially on applique (love those young eyes) and I usually do any precision placement.

This time the girls wanted to replicate an appliqued monogram and its placement on a t-shirt, but in different colors. Normally, I would have kept notes as to where I placed it on the t-shirt, but my daughter had done it and documenting is not in her vocabulary. Sure we could have just put the t-shirt on and re-measured it, but there was so much discussion as to whether it would be exactly in the same spot, so mom to the rescue.

The trusty light box came in handy in lining up the two t-shirts.  The monogrammed shirt was placed on the bottom and the other shirt on top, and then I found the center of the design by using the centering ruler by Designs in Machine Embroidery.  It comes in an Embroidery Tool Kit several other great measuring devices (no this is no paid endorsement). Once the center was found, it was all down hill from there. I put on my trusty snowman-centering sticker and then my daughter was able to center the design on the embroidery machine.  The t-shirt crisis was saved with a light box. 

The original t-shirt and another larger version on the back of the t-shirt

The original t-shirt and another larger version on the back of the t-shirt

How have you replicated a machine embroidery design for which you had not kept notes? 

Army T-Shirt Repurposed

Re-purposing is so much fun and so green.  It is so me. I love to use things that would normally be discarded and use them again, but it is even more fun when it is for your son.

We are so proud of our oldest son who was a drone pilot in the Army.  While he was in flight school someone made these embroidered t-shirts for them. 

He came home for a transition time to the civilian world and when he was preparing to move out, he asked if anyone wanted this t-shirt.  My first response was to inspect the quality of the embroidery, the type of stabilizer and of course, the last stage trimming.  You know, I gave it once over. Then I gave him a hard time because he told me that he would never wear an embroidered shirt.  His come back was that he never did and said, “Mom, did you ever see me wear that shirt?” Well, okay, but I could not throw away someone else’s embroidery and a memento at that. The easiest solution was to make a pillow.  To my surprise he loved the idea.

The t-shirt surprised me though when I was planning what size pillow to make it.  The design was really tucked in the upper corner, very close to the sleeve.  A rectangle pillow would do the trick by offsetting it a little bit in the upper corner as planned; it would look like it was meant to be there.

The embroidery needed as much room as possible so I used the rotary cutter and ruler to make the first cut as close to the neck as possible. 

Then I fussy cut the sleeves out. I could have cut them out first, but by leaving them in tack, allowed me to keep the shirt front and back straight and lined up for that first cut.

After the sleeves came out, I cut down one side and cut the remaining three sides on the front and back. I could have cut the front with the back by keeping them together, but when I had measured I noticed two important things.  First, that the back was larger than the front. Secondly, that the front was not going to make a 12” + 1/2” seam allowance by 16” + 1/2” seam allowance to fit the pillow form that I purchased. I decided to make the front as big as possible 12 ½” by 16” and add the extra seam allowance to the back.  I knew that no one would notice that the seam was slightly pulled forward. The corners were rounded so this knit would not pucker when squared and it would give fullness where the polyfil was lacking, since it did not have the material for a flange or any other time of edging.

This pillow was just to be used as an accent in his bedroom that was grey and with the t-shirt material so flimsy, I opted out of not using my standard zippered closure for a pillow. 

If the pillow was dirty, I just assumed that the pillow form would be too and it was small enough to wash the entire pillow in the machine. Of course, that was the first thing my son pointed out. “Mom, where’s the zipper?”  Technically, that was a good response.  It means we as sewers have done our job well when our family notices when we cut corners. What has your family noticed?

How to Machine Embroider with Metallic Thread

We all have our opinions.  You ask ten people a question and you will get ten different answers; even if they agree, they will answer it differently. Well, how to machine embroider with metallic thread falls into one of those controversial areas that generates lots of opinions and most machine embroiders love to share their thoughts.  However, many of them are not pleased with their metallic thread process and are always on the search for that magic way to handle the trickiness of metallic thread, so here is one more opinion on the matter.

The experts seem to all agree on the basic standards for handling metallic thread:

1.    THREAD - Buy good quality thread (always a given with machine embroidery).

2.    NEEDLE - Use a large eyed needle, usually 90/14.

3.    DESIGN - Make sure the design is not too dense. If it is, consider using regular thread underneath and using the top stitches with metallic thread.

4.    SPEED – Slow the speed to the lowest setting.

Some machines need to have their tensions adjusted, but most modern machines, do not this coddling.

When I was thinking of writing this blog, I did a little research beforehand to see if I could find the name of a device that someone told me about that handled metallic thread and found this YouTube on how to determine the quality of metallic thread.  It boils down to whether the thread loops or drops neatly into a “U” shape when three yards are released from the spool.  Since metallic threads by nature are metal, they are going to retain their “spooled” shape when released. I have some very expensive, trust-worthy threads that do not loop nicely, but I would not dare call them low quality.

Another criteria for quality metallic thread that I have heard and read about, is whether or not it is smooth.   Once again, this appears to be a matter of opinion, because some very reputable manufacturers produce metallic thread with slubs.

There is a net on the market that you place around the spool that slows the thread down from unraveling. This is a very popular method of handling metallic thread.

The part that seems to be in contention is how does the thread come off the spool when it is embroidering. Does it feed horizontally or vertically? In other words, do you embroider with your spool standing up or lying down?

Metallic thread must not under any circumstance have any bends or kinks in the thread. The ideal is to make sure that none are created during the embroidery process while allowing it to feed off the spool slowly without looping.

HINT:  I stand my spool up horizontally and before I begin to thread it, I place the thread through a felt washer. 

The felt washer works as a light weight and straightens the thread.  Think of taking the thread off the spool and running your fingers down it before you embroider. The process straightens the thread.  The same idea works with the washer.  It is putting a little pressure on the thread to straighten it and a little bit of tension to keep it straightened

Felt washers are standard equipment in most sewing boxes that come with the machines. I use one that came with my Baby Lock sewing machine for my alternate spools.  You can see this clearly in the pictures. Look how beautiful the thread comes off the spool – nice and straight!! That is just what we want to accomplish so the thread does not loop and kink.  This method allows me to embroider so successfully – no thread breaks!!!

However, this felt washer is just a tad too big and every once in a while it will get wedged between the spool and the pedestal next to it.  I really should make one for this purpose, but until then, I have been happy with just one or two breaks per project.

Recently, someone told me that there is a device that was developed just for metallic thread and it allows the thread to flow off the spool just perfectly, but I have not seen it and the person could not remember its exact name, so if you know of this well-sought after device, or if you have your special method of handling metallic thread, please post a comment here.

Built-in Camera Features in Embroidery Machines

Machine embroiderers have sophisticated computerized sewing machines.  That is just the nature of machine embroidery.  In order for the machine to embroider, it needs that assistance of a computer to direct all those minute little stitches to the perfect place on the fabric to make the intricate designs. Many of these machines can function as a standard sewing machine and some are dedicated embroidery machines. Just as sewing machines have different levels of technology, so do embroidery machines.

The higher-end embroidery machines have built-in cameras. These cameras can take a picture of your hooped fabric and place the needle just where you want it to begin.  Maybe it is on the edge of a princess seam on a garment or inside the design on the fabric. 

The machines also have the ability to center the design so that the embroidery begins exactly where you placed the centering sticker. This is great when you are placing a logo or design on a shirt pocket. You know exactly where you want the design to be centered. In my machine the sticker is called a snowman. The smaller top allows the computer to know the top from the bottom – ingenious!

Even though I have been using both of these features for years, it still never ceases to amaze me when I use them. I love watching the camera scan the fabric and then show me a picture. The process is really something that you need to see to believe and yet Youtube does not seem to do it justice. If you are curious to see how it works, here is a link to a YouTube done many years ago for the Baby Lock Ellisimo (no I am not endorsing this product).  It is a seven-minute video.  After two minutes it starts with the positioning of the snowman and a little after four minutes it shows the camera-scanning feature.

Even with both of these features, believe it or not, many times I still try and center my design in the hoop, not using the camera features.  When the storeowner that sold me my embroidery machine heard that fact he just shook his head.  He could not imagine why anyone would not use that feature. Well, let me give you my two main reasons for my insanity.

1.    Most times it is because my design is so large that the design is right next to the edge of the embroidery hoop.  If my positioning sticker (aka as my snowman) was miss-centered by just an eighth of an inch, the computer would tell me that it cannot be sewn and that I would have to re-hoop my design.  This would be so time consuming. It is better to start with it in the middle – completely aligned.

2.    Sometimes (okay, many times) I am just being frugal.  I want to use the smallest hoop possible so that I do not have to use too much stabilizer. However, my machine thinks that the design cannot be moved within the hoop just like in the first scenario and I get the same error message.

Hooping is the most time consuming part of machine embroidery and probably the least appreciated step. Yet this step is so vital to a beautiful piece of embroidery.  It can make or break the final outcome. Sometimes an item needs to be hooped several times before it is just right, but all the time spent in this process is well worth it. The camera really is an excellent resource that saves lots of time in this step, if we use it. Maybe I will rethink being so frugal as my time is as important as the cost of stabilizer and save my hooping stress for just the large designs.


Going from Ready-Made to Unique

Buying garments and accessories today is so ordinary. You can walk in a mall and see several women with the same item and their style is all so similar. Talk about cookie-cutter. I really think that is why I sew and machine embroider. While my style may not suit yours, it is unique.  I can craft it just the way I want and the best thing is that my garments fit my particular body measurements.  You cannot get that in your local department store or even at a high-end retailer.  They must accommodate the shape of the majority.

Pashmina scarves at one time were quite unique and not very many women could afford to buy them, but today it is a different story. Amazingly, in New York City, the street vendors sell them for as little as five dollars.  Sure they may not be the highest quality as the ones of old, but they are still beautiful. While I am so very thankful that this is the case and that I can own not just one, but many, it does pose a bit of a problem when you want to be individualistic. 

However, in five minutes, the embroidery machine can transform a common pashmina scarf into something truly one-of-a-kind. 

Swirly Initials Font by Anna Bove Embroidery

Swirly Initials Font by Anna Bove Embroidery

Anna Bove Embroidery has a full selection of machine embroidery fonts.  Her specialty is beautiful older styles like Victorian and art deco, but this swirl initial is quite modern and appeals to the younger generation. My college daughter loves it and I have had several people ask for it once they saw it.

Swirly Initials Font by Anna Bove Embroidery

Swirly Initials Font by Anna Bove Embroidery

The thread can make all the difference in how the design looks.  Here it is quite subtle.  The thread is a silver metallic by Floriani.

Swirly Initials Font by Anna Bove Embroidery

Swirly Initials Font by Anna Bove Embroidery

It really pops with a contrasting color such as black or like this navy blue with gold metallic on a white silk scarf. It all depends upon the individual's personality (especially if it is a gift), what it will be worn with and its purpose - warmth, attention grabber, subtle color, etc.

Swirly Initials Font by Anna Bove Embroidery

Swirly Initials Font by Anna Bove Embroidery

Always be as unique as you are!

Machine Embroidery for Men

Those of us who machine embroider regularly are usually a little obsessed with it.  I know I constantly look at things and think, "Can I duplicate that?' "Can I monogram on that?" Then there is the ultimate challenge - men!  

We love the men in our lives and our machine embroidery is an expression of our love, so we naturally want to gift our men with our embroidery. 

Embroidering for husbands is a challenge, but they love us so dearly that they will usually just smile and say, "Thank you, dear."  But try embroidering for the young 20-something men. I have six adult sons (well, one is still a mature teen) and I am constantly asking, "Can I make this for you?" Only to be disappointed again with the response, "No, Mom. Men don't do embroidery." 

One of my sons travels regularly, so when I saw this cute - oops - handsome collapsible tray for in-the-hoop projects, I just knew I had to try one. Now how to make it manly. A manly design in the center should do the trick.  The project that I purchased had four options - channels, grid, maze, and stipple. The channels were very manly with a khaki fabric and black thread when I gave it as a Christmas gift to a young professional man, but I wanted my son to have something that was uniquely him and a monogram was out - not his style.  In college he was in the equestrian club and his favorite horse is a Friesian.

Friesian Horse Sketch Design by Embroidery Library

Friesian Horse Sketch Design by Embroidery Library

My search for the Friesian horse design started at my favorite website for downloadable designs Embroidery Library. Unbelievable! It was there. They are the best.

The actual in-the-hoop tray was digitized by Zippy DesignZ. It stitched up just great and had no problem with substituting the design for the center part that quilted it together.

In-the-Hoop Tray Design by Zippy DesignZ

In-the-Hoop Tray Design by Zippy DesignZ

The best part of this project was that my son actually loved it and uses it when he travels.  Success! Love expressed tangibly!

A New Twist on Handbag Handles

Eileen Roche and Nancy Zieman are so creative! They devised a way to make the difficult task of constructing a handbag into the easiest process ever by creating it with machine embroidery.  The embroidery machine does all the work for you.  If I had to sew each stitch myself on my tote bag, I would have given up a long time ago, but take a look and see how much their designs ease the process.

Their book, Designer Handbags, comes with the CD to download the machine embroidery designs.  When you first look at the back of the book with the embroidery designs illustrated, you cannot believe your eyes.  They look so simple.  They took a complicated process and simplified it.

So that you will understand the different parts of this process, here is a picture of my finished tote bag that I created using their CD. The twisted cord handles are not really handles at all.

The design on the front of the tote bag was an Urban Threads Parisian Bee design that I had in my digital library and wanted to use for a long time.  Since the leopard fabric was bolder than my usual comfort zone, I decided to go all out and add the design. I convinced myself that it was just a tote bag that I was using to practice their designs.

Since I was going all out, why not add a bold monogram on the inside.  I used the Family Tree font by Anna Bove Embroidery.  I just loved it.  It added the touch of class I wanted.

The corners were the first part of their process.  They are a combination of applique and designs. The main black part is black fabric that has quilted stitches on top of it. The tan line is also fabric that has been appliqued, but the black satin lines and darker tan dots are all machine embroidery designs.

The bottom seam, side seams and the corner seam perpendicular to the bottom seam that gives the tote its depth, are all sewn on the machine, but the insides are well constructed so that they will keep their shape. I will keep that a secret so that you buy the book. Actually, if you go onto Nancy Zieman’s website you will find all her tips there. Adding the feet gave it that designer touch!

The book gives instructions on how to make your own handles, but I love the feel of handles on my purse (so kinestic!) and I wanted something special. Plus, I was feeling really creative.  I had two black-corded curtain tiebacks that were just sitting in my closet - just the trick. Ugh! They were trickier than I thought.  My bamboo stick came in pretty handy as I held my breath trying to get the loop of the tiebacks to stay in place while it stitched close to the main part of the cord. This was very difficult and at the top of the stitching for the handles, I had to slow the machine down to its slowest speed and at a certain point I would stop the stitching, readjust, start, and do that several times.  I loved the look and feel, but it was stressful.

The rest of the construction was a breeze with a bias trim around the top and while they recommend sewing it with the machine, this is one process that I just love doing by hand even when I quilt.

Eileen and Nancy, thank you for such an easy process. I cannot imagine how many times you had to practice before you got it right for us.

Your Wedding Should be as Personal as You

Weddings are unique to each couple and this should be reflected in every detail of the ceremony and reception. Some people just exude their style every minute.  You know these people – they stand out in the crowd.  There is no doubt that their wedding will continue in their own unique genre, but what about the rest of us?

 Monogramming is the most personal expression because it reflects your name(s) and it is so trendy.  The wedding venue is just the place for such personalization. Just about anything and everything can be monogrammed.  For every type of product there is practically a different method of monogramming.  You can print, decal, paint, stamp, machine embroider, etc.

Machine embroidery stitched by Colleen Bell and initial designed by Embroidery Online

Machine embroidery stitched by Colleen Bell and initial designed by Embroidery Online

 Maybe you do not want to go all out and personalize everything in your wedding, then think of different areas that are important to you that you want to reflect the personal you: the bride’s accessories and gown, the bridesmaids, the groom, the groomsmen, gifts, decorations for the ceremony, the reception, etc. Just like planning your wedding in general, just take one area and concentrate on that, making the project of personalization much easier to handle. 

Take a look at each area of your wedding focusing on all the items that can be monogrammed.  Then set up a plan for personalizing your wedding. Reflect on making your special day as just that - as special as you. 

Mono-Gram : One-Letter

If you judge by Pinterest, monogramming is very popular. You can monogram anything and everything.  It truly is a reflection of the person.  Are the monograms ornate or minimalistic? Maybe you even think it is quite egotistical to monogram and would never wear one.

 When you think about monogramming, how many letters do you think of – three – two, maybe even four with families of today?  Well, technically “mono” is a Greek word in its origin (“monos”) and means “one” or “single” and yet it has come to mean any number of initials. One definition I saw even defined “monogram” as two or more letters.  Well, they clearly forgot the origin of the word!

Machine embroidery stitched by Colleen Bell and designed by Sonia Showalter

Machine embroidery stitched by Colleen Bell and designed by Sonia Showalter

You would think that the “grams” part of the word had to do with math or science and was a weight of measure, but not when it is combined with the word “mono” and has a Greek origin too. The Online Etymology Dictionary ( sets us straight by showing us that it comes from “gramma,” which means “letters” or “written,” like learning your grammar.  Now I know that is going too far for some of you.

Whatever your opinion is of monograms, they have been with us for many years, dating back to the ancient of days, and they are here to stay at least for a little while.

We all have one – A Name!

Your name – is it unique to you? Probably not. If you are like most of us, your name is not as unique as you are as a person.  Just try googling it.  You will be surprised how many people have exactly the same name as you. So what makes it unique? It is you that makes it unique.  There may be other people in the world that have exactly the same name, but none also look like you, unless, of course, your twin was named exactly the same name.  Seriously! Who would do that!

So how popular is your name? Check out the Social Security website to find out exactly.  Let’s take the name Rachel.  In the year 2000 it was ranked as number 21, but in 2013 it had decreased to 138 place.

Machine embroidery stitched by Colleen Bell and font designed by Embroitique Embroidery Designs

Machine embroidery stitched by Colleen Bell and font designed by Embroitique Embroidery Designs

 Maybe you named your daughter Rachel thinking it was a beautiful name, but did you really look at the meaning – ewe.  This is the meaning according to A Dictionary of First Names by Oxford University Press (2006).  Do not feel bad most of us have animals in our family.  We have a cow and a gazelle in our family and believe it or not, we knew that when we named them.

No matter what you think of your name, it is the way that we are identified in this world.  It is your name that represents your reputation. "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.." (Ps. 22:1 KJV) So much is wrapped up in those few words, so cherish them.