Monday, November 10, 2014

Holiday stitching with little people….

With eminent approach of the holiday season, every minute counts! If you are looking for an easy craft to keep young hands busy over the Thanksgiving holiday (or any time between now and the holidays) here are a couple of projects that might fill the bill. Any time we can spend together with young hands teaching them the art of needle work fills our hearts with joy and furthers their interest in the art as well.

These ‘cookie cutter’ ornaments can be the stepping off point for many others.  I’ve given you the outline for a mitten. Other shapes you might consider are a tree, gingerbread ‘person’, a bell, a wreath and so on.  If you already have cookie cutters trace them onto paper and use them as a pattern or look in a colouring book or storybook for inspiration. These patterns can be copied and enlarged to the size suggested or to whatever size you wish.

My felt decorations measure about 11 cm (4” – 4.25”) in height. You can make yours any size you want but keep it simple and large enough for little hands to cope.
Each shape is reversible so you will need enough felt to cut two of each shape.
Supplies: paper to trace off the shape(s),
scissors for cutting,
thread to match the felt,
a fading marker to draw the embroidery design,
embroidery cotton for the embroidery,
hand sewing needles,
and a bit of stuffing to puff each decoration.
The designs photographed feature little seed beads for accents but you need to judge if your artist is old enough to handle beads. For beading you will need on or two colours of seed beads and a needle that will pass through the holes easily.
I added a strand of a metallic sewing thread to the embroidery thread (such as “Sulky”) to add a bit of bling.

For the embroidery, I used the Fern Stitch and the Reverse Chain. You could use a French knot or Colonial knot if you don’t want to deal with beads. All these stitches can be found in a good embroidery book if you cannot follow my instructions.
Fern Stitch

Reverse Chain Stitch

Begin by making a pattern of your chosen shape. Stack two pieces of felt and cut two of each shape so they are exactly the same size. “Open” the shapes like a book, draw your embroidery lines on the felt and embroider in the colour(s) of your choice. Add beads now as indicated in the photograph or make knots in a contrasting colour.
Stack the shapes together again. Place a small amount of stuffing between the layers and then stitch around the edges about 0.6 cm (¼”) in from the cut edge.  Add a hanging loop and you are done! Set the ornaments aside to let the marker fade (24 – 48 hours)


Design ideas/suggestions:
Reverse colours from side to side (one side green, the other red);
Cut out the shapes with pinking shears;
Join the two pieces with a simple “Blanket Stitch”! 
Have fun and see where your creativity leads you.
Meanwhile keep stitching…..

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Square Collar is easy to draft

In my previous post I discussed how to add a box pleat to the centre of the skirt of a basic smocked dress. One of the yoke treatments was to add a square collar. Now I would like to address the collars.

First you want to take a critical look at where the yoke/skirt seam falls to be sure the collar has good proportion. Let me tell you a little story why…

Looks good at first glance.
Years ago when I was learning to smock I bought a pattern for a basic dress with a lovely square collar. I eagerly smocked the skirt and assembled the dress. I found a poly cotton wale pique locally and stitched up the collar adding triple needle top stitching as an accent. I loved the dress and my daughter did also. She wore it for ages and I had to let out the growth tuck hem to allow her to go on wearing it!! 

There was one little problem. The collar was covering about a quarter of the smocking, ouch! No one else seemed to notice. Thankfully it was a geometric design and I hadn’t lost part of a picture smocking motif.
The collar was down to about the pivot point on the armhole - a very nice length for this garment. But the yoke seam was way up there under the collar. I checked and rechecked all my pattern pieces and measurements. The yoke was 1 ⅝” deep and the collar was 2 ⅝” deep in the CF. I trusted the designer and just went ahead to cut and sew.
So years later, you can learn from this experience. Check your measurements first if you are about to make up a new pattern.
See how much smocking is missing when the collar is in place!

Drafting your own collar is so easy.
Start with your yoke pattern pieces. For ease of working, remove the seam allowances. If these are not marked on your pattern pieces, trace off the front and back yokes onto fresh paper.
Unthread your machine and with a shorter stitch length than normal, stitch on the stitching line for all the seams.  This will perforate the paper, making it easy to trim off the seam allowances. Be sure to include the grain line on all pieces. (This way you can see the finished size of the collar and know the direction of the grain.)

For your collar, make sure that the corners are at right angles to the horizontal edge of the new pattern.
It is now decision time. You can make the collar with shoulder seams and simply add back seam allowances (see above). In this style the CB will be on straight grain.
Or, you can make the collar from one full piece of fabric, eliminating the shoulder seams. To make this type of draft, match up the shoulder seams as in the diagram. If you are using a striped fabric, this can create a very interesting chevron effect. Will it be a problem though for pressing this after washing? Adding an interfacing should help.
Do you wish to add piping, ruffles or lace to the collar edge or will trim be added to the interior of the collar (e.g. top stitching or soutache braid or other trim)?
If you are adding trim such as lace edging, you will need to know the width of the trim and subtract that from the outside edges of your collar draft. Piping is usually pretty narrow but to be safe measure and take it into account.
Believe it or not both halves of the collar are the same length - the photo is deceiving!

Collars should always meet at the CB (another good reason for drafting your own from the pattern yokes). If you are adding lace you will need to decide if the lace will go up the CB or end along the bottom edge like the top stitching does.
When you have made all your decisions you can trace off the new collar pieces onto a fresh piece of paper and add back seam allowances. ¼” seam allowances are standard for the collar edges. (Maintain the original seam allowances for the shoulder seams if you are using them.) For ease of stitching the neckline seam on the yoke and the collar should be ¼” also (much easier to stitch on a curve). You might want to alter your yoke pattern in this area to match.
Perfectly straight parallel lines of top stitching!!
A quick note about the top stitching used on my little collar.
I threaded a triple needle (sometimes called a drilling needle) with red and navy thread. People who sewed took a second look and usually comment on my perfect rows of stitching. I just smiled and took the credit!! If you like top stitching, these needles are worth the investment. You can experiment (if you have the wider needle hole) with very narrow decorative stitches. Be very careful to walk your machine through a full pattern repeat lest you break a needle!! If it works them you can add power but still go a bit slower.
My machines are older so I can not help you here. If you do try this please let me know if you can get patterns with these needles.
Hope these notes inspire you in some way.
Meanwhile, keep stitching.....


Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Basic Smocked Yoke Variation

Once you have mastered the Basic Smocked Yoke Dress you might want to try making a variation - just to keep things interesting.
You don't need a new pattern, just a little courage to change things up a bit.

Add a box pleat to a piped yoke garment

Inserting a box pleat in the centre front of the skirt is a fairly simple thing to do and cuts down on the amount of smocking you will have to do.

You can do this with almost any basic pattern.
Pleat the skirt and leave long gathering threads so you can flatten out an area in the centre of the skirt.

Find the centre valley between the centre pair of pleats or the centre pleat. Mark it with a pin. Decide how big a pleat you want in the CF. Below I have chosen to make my pleat 1".

So, you will need 1" for the pleat, 1" for the back side of the pleat and 1" for the underlay of the pleat. You will need to clear a  total of 3" in the centre of the skirt or 1.5" on either side of C.F.

Do this as soon after you have pleated the fabric as possible to avoid the pleats becoming set in the fabric. Clear the gathering threads from the fabric.

You can press the area for the pleat and give it a shot of spray starch as well to give it a bit of body. If you want to embroider a monogram or add some embroidery design to the pleat do it now and then carry on with the construction.

Refold the fabric on the CF line but do not press it in,  just finger press it lightly enough to mark it temporarily. Stitch a line of machine stitching 1" from the CF fold to the depth or length of your smocking design. The pleated area to be smocked should start 1/2" beyond this line of stitching.

Now open the box pleat and line up the CF fold to the line of stitching. Now you can lightly press the box pleat and remove the CF line.

You will also want to clear the armhole and seam allowance at both ends of the pleating.
Your smocking should mirror image one side to the other. So set the design working from the centre going towards the armholes.

If you are not doing embroidery on the box pleat perhaps you have decorative buttons that tie in with your fabric or smocking design. These are such an easy accent.

Hear are a couple of other ideas to go with the box pleat:

Add a lace edged square collar!

Use a Swiss embroidered edging for the yoke and let the decorative edge sit atop the seam. Tack it in place so it seems to float in place.

Here's a dress I made about 30 years ago! It has an Austrian embroidered edge for the yoke and I machine stitched through the embroidery to attach it. Looking back it probably would have looked better if I had tacked it in place through part of the design. I also didn't lower the smocking design  so the whole design would be visible. Funny how we see these things years later. However I expect the addition of the fancy yoke was after the smocking was finished!!

Not sure how to draft a square collar? Watch for the next installment..
Till then, keep stitching....

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Adding a little fullnes to the skirt...

I love it when people write with questions about patterns or how to do some technique. Recently I had two ladies ask about adding fullness to a garment without making huge changes to the pattern.

When you lengthen a garment like a bishop dress which is intended to stop at the knee area, it can become skimpy-looking. The longer a garment, the more width it requires to maintain good and pleasing proportions. 

It isn’t hard to do and just takes a small alteration to bump up the hem circumference. And doing this you shouldn’t have to do any other alterations to the bodice front or back unless you want to add a lot of fullness.
My Baby's Breath pattern as it would be without box pleats

Add a box pleat and the whole garment looks better

By adding inverted box pleats in the under arm area of a garment you can easily increase the width of a skirt. Most patterns of this type have straight side seams rather than flared as straight are easier to hem!

Begin by tracing off the armholes of your garment. Add about 2” depending on the fabric and the garment size to the width of the underarm area. Now this will also be determined by the width of the armhole curve.

Mark the point of the original side seam so you can stitch straight down for about 1” – 1.5” (again depending on the garment size – shorter for newborn, of course). Backstitch at the bottom as reinforcement. Then stitch the new side seam. (There is no seam finish in these photos.)
Press seam allowance open or towards the back of the garment in the case of a French seam.
Match up the seam stitching to the first row of stitching.
Catch the pleat thus formed in the armhole stitching.

From the outside

Note: the wider the pleat the more likely you are to have to test this with paper and shape the box pleat folds so you can be sure they catch in the underarm seam.  When opened out flat they will have a ‘wave’ appearance with a peak where the fabric folds.
If you are working with light weight fabric you might be able to form a double box pleat for even more fullness and yet still keep the pleat narrow enough to be securely caught in the underarm seam.

So here are some photos of two different garments.
First is View C, from the Grace Knott ‘Pinafore and Sundress’ pattern. I added this View when I updated the original pattern. It also features a growth tuck hem.

You can see both the inside and outside of the underarm tuck
The second is my ‘Baby’s Breath’ done in heirloom dimity with heirloom touches – pin stitched tucks, embroidery and a scalloped hem. This pattern has a set in sleeve so if you were to smock, it would be seamless in the neckline area. The box pleat at the bottom of the armhole curve controls the fullness of the armhole but allow a fuller skirt.
From the inside of the baby gown
From the outside of the gown
Baby's Breath spread out flat
So there you have it. Inside, outside and laid out flat. This can be the step-off point for you to experiment further.
Have fun and keep on stitching......

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Round up before fall

I've been putting the final touches to the new pattern now named
Lullaby, An Infant Sleep Sacque
and it is  off to the printer's this morning for a test run. If all goes well then it should be ready within a week! This is always the scary part because there is always a difference between computers and sometimes things don't come out just as one wants! When this happens it is back to the keypad and tweaking.....

And here it is!
My new little granddaughter wears one every night. I've sized this pattern like my other infant patterns - according to weight and chest measurement rather than age. It just makes so much more sense to do it this way. The pattern is very easy to adjust if you want to smock it using a pleater. But I've found it looks just a cute without smocking and takes a lot less time.
We will get it posted to the web site ( and the order form as quickly as possible. There is always so much to do when a new pattern launches. You can sign up for the newsletter on the home page of the web site. That way you don't miss out on the release of new patterns etc.
Now, my husband donated a Dolly's Bed and Clothes Rack recently and decided to paint this one for fun.

couldn't let it go without a mattress cover and got a bit carried away and made up a little pillow. I used some light weight flannel left over from another project - perfect with the cloud theme for bedding.
Of course I didn't know who was getting this little bed or whether someone would sew for the child or the doll so I added a little pillow and a sheet/blanket to match and just serged around the edges of the sheet. All in all it only took about an hour and a bit.
Here is the clothes rack. The angle from which I took the photo is a bit off but we almost forgot to record these pieces. If I had had time, I think I would have liked to stencil a design on both pieces but I am sure a little girl will love these with or without the artwork.

Watch for the pattern, order lots and keep stitching....

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pin gathering technique

There are loads of ways to gather fabric onto flat fabric but years ago, as a students, we were taught this method, often used by tailors to set in suit sleeves with nary a pucker. It has held faithful over the years and I thought you might find it useful as well. It takes a bit longer but the end product is worth the time taken.

As I was working on the last sample for this pattern I photographed the procedure. In this sample the fabric is a light weight cotton and the fabric is gathered between two notches on the curved yoke front.
Run two rows of gathering threads, one and eighth of an inch above the stitching line and one and eighth of an inch below.   
Reduce the tension on the upper thread so you can more easily pull the bobbin thread.
Set the stitch length to 3 (if your normal is 2.5) to give finer control of the gathers.
I sometimes use up ends of coloured threads for contrast - if they won’t mark my fabric with traces of colour. When removed they are thrown away so it won’t matter.
If you are using thread matching your fabric, to avoid pulling the wrong thread and locking the stitching, clip off the tail of the top thread so the bobbin thread is the only one long enough to pull.

Here you see a horizontal view (as you would hold the fabric.)
Now pin your pieces together. Begin by pinning the ends where the gathers will begin and end, then the CF. The 3rd pin from the left is the CF (Sorry, I was in a hurry to photograph this as the camera's battery was running very low!) On the left of CF is the first division of fabric and to the right you see how it progresses.
Fold one side of the yoke and fabric in half matching up the pins to find the centre of this section.
Mark the centre of these portions with pins or finger press a fold into the fabric. (In the photo above, the first pin and second pin are marking the halfway points and pins three and four are the CF and the far end.) 
Match up the first and second pin, re-pin and then repeat to divide each of these portions. Keep dividing and pinning until you had pinned right across the seam and the area has been 'broken down. as much as possible.
Now you can pull up the gathering threads. The fabric is evenly divided and the fabric doesn't have far to go.
Here is a second view from a different angle.
Here you see the progression of steps. Pull up the gathering threads from one end to the middle and even out the gathers between the pins. Repeat for the other half. Pulling up half at a time ensures that the thread won't break or pull out the far end.
Machine stitch with regular stitch length and tension. Do not stitch over your pins - remove them just as you approach each one.

Check the other side to be sure everything is as is should be. Make any repairs now.
Notice how perfectly gathered the fabric is.
Remove the gathering threads and press. Below is the finished sample.

Note: Here is a little tool that would be so easy to recreate. A student gave me this little laying tool many years ago and it has become so handy. It is a short bamboo skewer with a painted bead glued onto the non-pointed end. Something so simple but so handy when it comes to controlling the fine details when dealing with gathers.

Hope you found this helpful and that you will give it a try. It goes faster with practise but takes loads of pins. 

So till next time, keep stitching!!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sunbonnet - Take II

So here goes a second run at this sunbonnet hat.

This time I decided to make the pattern crown in the original size and skip the lining.

Instead of lining the crown I made it up with French seams.  In this technique the first seam is sewn with wrong sides together and normally trimmed down, flipped so right sides are together and then the final row of stitching.

Using my quilting foot, first row of stitching at 1/8"

Since this was an item not going through the pleater the final width could be a bit wider. Thus the first row of stitching was at ” which avoided the need for trimming when I stitch the second seam at ¼”! Total seam allowance was  ”.

One section down, second one pinned to start 

Two down, half way there

From the right side of the crown

This time around I followed the pattern’s suggestion of doing 3 of the 6 crown sections and then joining the two halves.  Great idea and it worked really well (had to be very accurate to have the points work out perfectly but they did!).

Joining the two halves - ” seam allowance

Points line up but too much fabric for a good part 2 of seam!

A problem arose when I attempted the final row if stitching – part 2 of the final French seam.  There was so much thickness I had to walk the machine through the seam and even then there was a ‘gob’ at the apex. Well that would be easy to cover with a flat button.

The finished crown still looked too shallow compared to the height so once again I cut a bias headband of the seersucker and one of lightweight contrasting white cotton.

Bias bands pinned in place. Leaving and opening in band lining to insert elastic.

I could already tell that the sizing was going to be way too big as it measured 18” and baby’s head is just over 14”! I left the contracting white headband open where the ends join so I could insert some elastic which could be adjusted when the time comes. Well if it doesn’t fit this year we will have it for next summer.  And on I plowed….
Once again I cut the brim of beautiful white English cotton broadcloth cut so it would be double fullness.

A tip here for gathering up ruffles like this:
Reduce the tension on the upper thread and don’t use a long stitch length. You get better control of the gathers if you only use a 3.0, 4.5 or 4.0 stitch length – depending on the thickness of your fabric. Divide that flat fabric in half then quarters, eighths and so on. Repeat for the fabric being gathered. Match them up and keep pinning and dividing the fullness in half until you have worked the fabric down to just a small amount between pins to pull up. When you do pull up the gathering threads, you will be surprised at how little room there is for the gathers to go astray. Remove the pins as you stitch. Tailors use this method to set in sleeves in wool suits and steam out what fullness remains for perfectly set-in sleeves in suits! 

Right sides out and band lining pinned in place, ready to be stitched in place.
To finish off the hat all that was left was to hand stitch the band lining in place and top it off with a button. There will be an elastic chin strap but it can’t go in place until we fit it on the babe.

Done! Just a touch up with the iron to smooth out the headband.

Well now that I have used up all the seersucker, I will try this one more time in another fabric but with 5 crown sections rather than 6 – I think the proportions will work better. I will let you know if it turns out. But that is another day.

So till next time, keep stitching…….