Tuesday, December 23, 2014

T’was the night before Christmas….

“Silent Mice©” is a smocking design plate by Little Memories, a wonderful company that creates the cutest smocking plates. This has been one of my favourite Christmas designs since I first saw it way back in the 80’s!
When I saw it first I decided that I was not going to all that work to have a child outgrow the outfit I had smocked. So I smocked the design on a Christmas ball. 

When we were blessed with a wee granddaughter this year, I wanted to create a Santa Sack just for her and of course, a smocked Christmas ball. This design was the first one I thought of for her first Christmas.

 And then I decided that I could create a motif to match on her Christmas Santa Sack.

I sketched the mouse and made a copy to use as a pattern. Then I cut him out of grey felt to appliqué on the red corduroy. I added a red Santa hat and made a twisted cord of Pearl cotton to represent Santa’s hat’s fur trim. Final touches of embroidery were added to complete his eyes and whiskers. We looked everywhere and I finally ended up buying a bag of 72 little bells to get the right size! I wanted something special for the end of the Santa hat.


The sack is lined in Black Watch tartan (her great grandfather was a member of this regiment!) and I used a piece of tartan to appliqué a little tag to the sack. I found twist ties that looked like evergreen branches and couched a cou0ple of these to the sack for the mouse to be sitting upon. And voila! a pretty good representation of the design plate.
So don't wait till the last minute as I did, get working on your special Christmas needlework projects right after Christmas while the ideas are fresh in your head.


I’ve always subscribed to the idea of crossing from one technique to another. This is a perfect example of doing so. I do encourage you to check out the company Little Memories and order some of their smocking design plates. You will love them!

So until next time,

Keep on stitching…..

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Another go at "Lullaby" pattern

It always surprises me that new ways to use a pattern keep evolving. 

I had a “Lullaby”, my infant sleep sacque pattern, all cut out before I went to visit little Sweet Pea last month. It was in a rather stretchy t-shirt type knit fabric and I had intended to interface the yokes for stability. It was meant as a test of a finer stretchy knit rather than a woven fabric – just to see if I liked it or ran into any problems.

Well of course, Sweet Pea just keeps on growing and now she is in her own bed – a huge empty space compared to her bassinet.  The knit fabric although very soft and comfy felt cool to the touch and with it being late fall, I just felt the sleep sacque should be warm and cozy.  In my stash I found a lovely soft flannel that coordinated beautifully.



So I cut a new set of yokes, a sacque and base from the flannel to make a full lining. Since flannel is woven, it works perfectly as a stabilizer for the knit. Then I chose a pretty pink satin to make a bias binding to finish the neckline/armhole edges.

I tacked the bases of the two fabrics together. (We shall see what happens when the sacque gets washed – will they cooperate or become a tangled mess.) Then I slip stitched the lining to the zipper tape.  This made the whole thing nearly reversible.

The double layer of fabric was not that thick but I still cut the bias strips 1.25” wide as they stretch and grow narrower and every bit is needed to encase the cut edges. 
(Did you know that 12” of fabric will yield almost 18” of true bias.)
So this time I hand basted (Yes, hand-basted – it isn’t a dirty word. It didn’t take that long and I was sure that all the little potential tucks were smoothed out before the machine touched it.) This time I stretched the bias slightly in the armhole areas and eased in a little extra fullness over the shoulder tabs. When I turned the bias it was a perfect fit! I went back and stitched an accurate quarter inch seam with the machine. The rest was a snap.

Inside - the binding is hand stitched with tiny little stitches

Smocked in pink with Surface Honeycomb stitch - 2 rows full space high, 3rd row half space high, all stacked.

 Just to be on the safe side, I’m going to make an extender lest in case the armholes be a bit tight. This will also give a bit of extra length as well. To do this I will cut a new double ended tab for each shoulder with a set of snaps for fastening to the original snaps.  I will have to blog about this later once I see if it works.

This Lullaby was smocked with a pink floss to match the satin binding. One last touch – a concertina ribbon rose completes the picture! 

You can find the pattern at www.amberlane.ca under Atelier/Patterns. Then go to Children's Patterns. Click on the pattern cover for more photos of Lullaby!


So till next time, keep stitching…..

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 (www.amberlane.ca) 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!!