“Hoop Ease”

Once you’ve made the decision to purchase an embroidery capable machine, you begin a journey of creativity and of purchasing a variety of accessories for your machine!  A variety of hoops makes so many more things possible, but sometimes they come with extra parts whose use is not immediately obvious.   One of those extra parts is Hoop Ease.  This is a tacky material that comes with some hoops and is used to add grip to the hoop, especially for thin fabrics or, in the case of free standing lace, non-woven water soluble stabilizer.  These very thin materials are not as easy to embroider as other more traditional materials and challenge the hoop’s grip under the pressure of the needle’s action while creating the design.  In case you have some of this Hoop Ease and weren’t quite sure how to use it, here is an example from my lace making adventure this past week.

This is how the Hoop Ease looks when you first take it out of the package.
Unfold the Hoop Ease completely.
Here I have inserted the Hoop Ease into the hoop.
The tabs have been inserted into their corresponding slots and I’m ready to start my embroidery.
Here is the lace beginning to stitch out. The Hoop Ease keeps the water soluble stabilizer from moving in the hoop allowing the lace to stitch out without any puckering.
Even as the lace grows in length, the Hoop Ease keeps everything in place.
See the small registration stitches at the top of the lace? This is how each section is lined up with the next so the lace appears to have been stitched all at once in a continuous line.

I hope you enjoy sewing whatever you are working on this week!

“Stitch Width Safety”

During the machine classes I teach, while exploring the machines’ Settings Menu, we talk about Stitch Width Safety.  Most customers have never heard of the setting and don’t know when they are supposed to use it.  Since most of you probably have this feature I wanted to take a moment to explain it:  what it is, why it’s needed and when to use it.

Most machines that have a Settings Menu have a Stitch Width Safety option.  This feature limits your needle position to the center only, so you can only choose a center position straight stitch.  The selection of this option is done to tell the machine that you either have a straight stitch plate on your machine or you are using a presser foot that has only a center needle position opening through which to sew.

The stitch plate on the top is the zig-zag plate and the one below is the straight stitch plate. These are both Pfaff stitch plates.
These plates are from Husqvarna Viking. The top zig-zag plate has a much wider opening, allowing for decorative stitches and different needle positions whereas the bottom plate is the straight stitch plate, allowing only the center needle position straight stitch.
These feet are examples of those used with the zig-zag or standard stitch plate. They all have a wide needle opening, allowing for different needle positions, twin needles and decorative stitches.
These presser feet are some of the many examples of feet that need to have the Stitch Width Safety option chosen in the Settings Menu. All of them have a small hole in the center, allowing the needle to only stitch in one position……the center!
Row 1: yarn couching and invisible zipper feet
Row 2: stitch in the ditch and 1/4″ piecing feet
Row 3: Ribbon couching feet

It’s important to give your machine this information since it has no way of knowing what you are sewing.  (In the case of the straight stitch plate:  top of the line machines {such as the Husqvarna Epic and the Pfaff Creative/Performance Icon} do have a sensor that lets them know when this specialty plate has been attached and will select the Stitch Width Safety setting automatically.  These machines cannot, however, tell when a straight stitch only foot has been attached).  The importance of selecting this option becomes immediately apparent if you have ever been using, say a ¼” piecing foot, without setting the stitch width safety and then chosen a zig-zag stitch that you are only going to use for a moment.  There will be a loud noise and a broken needle that will probably go whizzing over your right shoulder at astonishing speed……just ask me how I know this!  By turning on the Stitch Width Safety, the machine will know not to allow you to choose any other stitch besides a center needle position straight stitch.  The only time I do not recommend you use this feature is if you are using the Adjustable ¼” piecing foot.

Notice the opening on the Pfaff and the Husqvarna Viking Adjustable 1/4″ piecing foot has a slightly oblong needle opening. This allows for that scant 1/4″ seam allowance.

If you use the Stitch Width Safety option while using this foot, you lose the ability to change the needle position to achieve a scant ¼” seam allowance, which is the whole reason you bought the foot in the first place.  In this case, you simply have to keep your head on and remember not to change the stitch to anything other than a straight stitch.  You will also need to test the needle position for the adjusted straight stitch with that foot by using the hand wheel to carefully move the needle through the stitch before you start full speed sewing.  I have found while using this particular foot, the best way to make sure I don’t do something I’ll regret is to put on the “Lock Screen” feature, also found in the Settings Menu.  This option is found on machines that have an interactive display screen.

“Design Choices”

I finished the last of the floor pillows for my niece and her husband and have moved on to designing the table runners I will be making as Christmas gifts.

Yeah! The floor pillows are done! They are each 24″ x 24″ and are a bit overstuffed, to be extra comfy on the floor.

I am basing my designs for the table runners on the fabric I picked out; only one piece of fabric for each table runner.  The piece of material I picked out for each runner is the inspiration fabric and will be joined by other fabrics as the design evolves.

I’ve begun the embroidery for the gingerbread runner….
…and will soon start the embroidery for the snowman runner.

I already shared with you that I was creating my embroidered blocks for the runners and am almost finished with that task, but now I am working on the runners construction design (how the blocks be assembled) and on stitch design (what decorative and/or quilting stitches will I use?).  The two runners I have left to design will use the gingerbread man fabric and the snowman fabric.

Here’s a closer look at the gingerbread fabric.
This is the snowman fabric.

Did you notice that each fabric has a recipe area?  I am considering using those words to go around the border of the runner or make a separate block with those words as the focal point.  What a terrific way to use the programming/sequencing capabilities on your machine! Did you also notice that each fabric has hearts and uses a cross stitch motif?  These are great ideas to use when looking at the decorative stitch options you have on your machine.  I have a picture of my machine’s decorative stitches that I have downloaded from the online owner’s manual which I can take to the store with me.

Taking a picture of the decorative stitches you have on your machine with you while you’re shopping can help spark ideas for the finished product.

I just have to reference the pictures of the stitches I have on my machines and I can get a good idea of what I might want to do, guiding my fabric choices almost as much as the fabric’s color and texture.  I hope you are coming up with some original design ideas using the stitches on your machine for your sewing this week!

“Working With Upholstery Fabric”

As I shared with you in an earlier blog, I have begun my Christmas sewing.  I am still working on the embroidered blocks for my table runners, but I thought I would also start work on the floor pillows for my niece and her husband at the same time.  They have a very small apartment with only about 650 square feet, so I wanted to make them large pillows but not so large that they would be a problem to store.  I settled on a size of 24” x 24” and since they would be used for seating, decided on upholstery fabric as heavy enough to hold up to use over time.  If you have not worked with upholstery fabric before, I thought I would share a few tips that might make that venture a little less intimidating should you decide to try it.

Upholstery fabric cannot be pre-treated by washing.  It sometimes will hold up to dry cleaning, but generally should only be spot cleaned and under an iron a minimum amount.  There is usually a definite right and wrong side.

These fabrics usually have a definite right and wrong side. In this picture, the left shows the right side and the right shows the wrong side of the fabric.

You will need very few tools to work with this fabric.  I only used a yardstick, tailor’s chalk and a pair of sharp scissors.

These are the basics tools you will need. Remember to keep track of the lengthwise grain of the fabric once you have cut your pieces. Your grain direction needs to match from piece to piece of the project.

Work from the back of the goods as much as possible as the marks made on the right side of the fabric may not be able to be erased.  Once I drew the dimensions I needed for the pillow, I used a template to round the corners.

This template gives just the right amount of curve to the pillow’s corners.

On all pillows, if you will round the corners in some way, you will be much happier with the results.  Sharp corners will produce “dog ears” on the corners that hang down and are a tell-tale sign of a homemade pillow!

Remember to pin all around your pillow before sewing. Upholstery fabrics tend to slide against one another, making it difficult to accurately sew the edges together just by holding them.

To center the embroidery I marked everything on the back and then hand basted with contrasting thread along those markings so I could have accurate placement on the front of the pillow.  After cutting out the fabric and before working with it, I ran a triple zig-zag overcast stitch along every edge.  You will find that upholstery fabric frays very easily.  Once the embroidery was complete, I stitched up the pillow, put in the form with some extra stuffing added and voila!

One pillow complete……three more to go!

“Advanced Techniques”

Every once in a while I like to practice the advanced techniques available on my machine, just to be ready when I want to use them in a project.  For me, the Omnimotion stitches on my Husqvarna Viking machine have always presented an alignment challenge.  They are perfect when I bring them into the Embroidery Mode, but when I want to use them in the Sewing Mode, I always have a tough time keeping the patterns aligned as I sew on the project.  I like to use the optional Multi-line Decorative Foot instead of using the S foot that comes with the machine.

This foot gives me multiple lines off which to guide my stitches.

When using the foot, I first mark the lines I am going to use to keep my stitches lined up.

First, I just put a dot at each place I want to use as a guide line.
Then I draw lines using different colors of the Frixion pens: one color for the outside lines and another color for the middle line. Once the pattern is finished stitching, the ink can be removed with heat from my iron.

Next, I put stabilizer under my fabric and move to the machine.

The blue outside lines line up with the wings of the foot and the red line shows where the center needle position will stitch.

Today I have chosen a curly pattern since I find those to be the most challenging to keep aligned.

These curly stitches move in every direction, making them especially challenging to stitch in a straight line.

As you can see, the pattern starts to leave the lines by the time I get to the second one.  By pattern #3, I am way off!  Now, how to solve the issue.

Looking at my pattern’s drift to the left, it becomes very obvious why I spend time practicing, doesn’t it?!

I started on a new piece of fabric and marked the lines that are a bit closer together on the foot.  I went into my Set Menu and changed the presser foot pressure from the level 6 that was chosen by the machine to the highest setting it would allow; an 8.5.  I then slowed the machine’s speed to the lowest level and stitched the pattern again.  I was much happier with the results.

I am much happier with this! In case it’s too hard for you to see in the photo, I’ve stitched it again……

Since I thought it might be a bit hard to see the second stitching on the blue material, I stitched it again on the pink, to the right of the first stitch out.

The pattern on the right begins and ends exactly on the center red line!

You can now see how the pattern on the right side of the fabric is much straighter than the one on the left, but you may also have noticed something else.  Do you see it?

Did you figure out how my first and second patterns are different?

Because I increased the presser foot pressure by 2.5 levels (from level 6 to level 8.5), the pattern on the right became more compressed.  It’s not as tall as the first stitch out.  If I were going to use this pattern on an actual project, I would take the time stitch it out a few more times while adjusting the presser foot pressure until I was happy with the results.  What will you be  practicing this week?

“Assembly Line Prep”

Each year about this time I begin thinking about what I will be sewing for the holidays.  The optimum word here is “thinking”.  I am rarely pulled together enough to actually start sewing for the holidays this early.  This year though, in honor of National Sewing Month, I decided to put my thoughts into action and started working on the embroidery parts of my projects.  Once those are complete, I can then put the individual projects together, assembly line style.  I have already had two requests for table runners and one request for some floor pillows for a very small apartment that really doesn’t have a lot of room for much furniture!  I haven’t exactly designed the table runners or the floor pillows yet but I do know what embroidery designs will be used, so I began the process for the table runners by using a large piece of material supported by batting.  One reason I love working on table runners is because I am able to use up all of my left over batting from other larger projects.  I sprayed the batting with a high quality temporary fabric adhesive and then smoothed the fabric down onto the batting, preparing for a standard hooping.

A standard hooping for design number 3.

(Please remember to never spray fabric adhesive on the fabric itself.  It will, most likely, leave a very nice stain that will never come out.  Only spray the batting.)  Each Christmas tree design is 20,102 stitches with 4 color changes which at 100% speed, took exactly one hour each to stitch out using my 200 x 200mm hoop (8” x 8”).

Make sure the embroidery arm is able to move freely!

Stitching like this on a large piece of material actually saves material in the long run since you can hoop the designs so much closer together than if you cut the material for each individual hooping.  If you decide to try this technique, remember to make sure the material and batting is light and does not interfere with or hinder the embroidery arm.  Once all of the trees were finished stitching, I cut them out using a squaring ruler and my smaller 28mm rotary cutter.

All four trees when finished with the embroidery.
Each tree was cut out using the 8.5 x 8.5 inch squaring ruler.
When squaring up blocks, I prefer to use my 28mm rotary cutter rather than my larger 45mm cutter. I find it gives me more control.

Remember not to erase the alignment marks you made until after you have finished squaring up the blocks.!

The alignment marks you made to center your embroidery in the hoop will also allow you to center the embroidery within the squaring ruler. Don’t erase them too soon!

As you can tell from my cut marks, my trees did not line up on the large piece of fabric.  They didn’t have too.  Because of the material I was using the trees only had to be individually straight in their own block.  Once the blocks had been cut, they were steamed and the alignment marks were erased.

Remember, your blocks only have to align within the hoop, not on the larger piece of fabric.
All four blocks: steamed and squared up!

When all that was done, I added seam sealant to the back of the embroidery where all of the thread knots were and I put them into a zippered storage bag to keep them clean until I am ready to use them.  Time to start the next embroideries!

“Using What Works”

Usually, when one begins their sewing journey, they concentrate in one area.  For many people today that area is quilting. For others it is garment sewing and for still others, home décor.  There are many companies today that sell notions and tools marketed to specific sewers, such as quilters, but their products should be thought of as much more universal.  While my parents were teaching me how to sew, I was lucky enough to have them instill in me the thought that you use what works; whatever that may be.  I have carried that thought through the years and use my notions and tools in a very eclectic manner.  Garment sewing tools get used in my quilting, home décor tools in my garment sewing and quilting tools in all of my sewing.  Case in point:  this weekend my nephew got married and I needed an outfit that was, according to the invitation “afternoon wedding casual”.  I decided to make a top and pants that included both lace and embroidery.  As I was sewing the top, I needed to fold over the front band to cover the seam used to attach it to the top’s front.  The directions asked me to slip stitch the band over the seam by hand, but because I was running short on time (me…. making something at the last minute…..no way!), I decided I would stitch in the ditch on the front by machine and catch the back of the band in that sewing.   If I used pins to hold the band in place, I would have a slight bulge in the fabric where the pin went into and out of the fabric.  I was afraid I would miss the edge of the material on the backside if I did that, so I decided to use quilting clips to hold everything together.

The clips held everything in place, keeping everything flat.

They held everything firmly, they created no bulges and they did not snag the material.  Perfect!  I was then able to use my Pfaff Sewing Star foot so I could see well and I slowed the machine slightly so I could watch the ditch carefully.

Because everything was held so securely and so flat, I was able to keep my needle in the ditch with no wavering. This is how it looked from the front…..
…and this is how it looked on the back. I was able to catch the front band all the way down the front and cover the seam. No hand stitching required!

Bottom line:  I was able to stitch exactly in the ditch on the front while catching the edge of the material on the back since the material saw no distortions from pins.  How might you use tools of your own in a different way?

The finished top from the front. The lace is a free hanging overlay.
This is the embroidery I added to the back. It is from the Husqvarna Viking embroidery collection #263, “Line Art Flowers”.

“Something Cool”

My Designer Diamond Royale machine is now about 4 years old.  I have always liked the stitches that came on the machine, including ones I had never heard of nor thought of with my past machines.  One of those stitches is the special basting stitch that can be found at the end of my Utility stitch menu.  This stitch changes the machine to a loose basting zig-zag and drops the feed teeth so only one zig-zag stitch is made before the machine automatically stops allowing the material to be manually advanced as far as you need.

Stitch #43 is the zig-zag basting stitch. Do you have this one on your machine? Notice how the top tension has dropped from the normal 4.6 to 2.4 (look in the upper left of the picture).

Think of it as free motion basting.  This is especially helpful when keeping layers of fabric together without taking out rows and rows of regular straight stitch basting.  I use it when putting quilt layers together.  By using this stitch I am able to pin the quilt layers together with fewer pins, then use the special basting stitch in between the pins to securely hold everything together.  This allows me to take the pins out before the quilting is finished so they’re not in the way of my stitch in the ditch, quilting stitches or embroidered quilting.  Since the feed teeth are not involved with the basting stitch, there is no stress on the fabric and no shifting. 

The horizontal stitch is the zig-zag and the vertical thread is how far I moved the fabric in between stitches. Once you start basting this way you tend to fall into a rhythm so all your basting stitches become pretty regular in their distance apart.

If you don’t have this stitch on your machine, it is easily replicated by dropping the feed teeth, choosing a zig-zag stitch and decreasing the top tension by about half (If your tension is normally about 4, change it to about 2).  This should create a loose zig-zag that is easily removed when you are finished with the final stitching.  Sew only one zig-zag stitch then move the material and sew one zig-zag stitch, and so on and so on.  With the feed teeth disengaged you are able to advance the material over distances long or short, depending upon what is needed.  Any machine that has feed teeth that can be lowered and a zig-zag stitch can perform this basting technique.

“Making Adjustments”

While spending another Sunday afternoon sewing walker bags for my local rehab center, I started thinking about the adjustable foot I was using for the overcasting of the bags and the handles.  I was teaching the second class for “Sewing Machine Basics” yesterday and we were talking about how to adjust this very foot.  Customers who are becoming familiar with their machine and presser feet often ask for specific adjustments when using an adjustable foot and they are always a bit unsatisfied when I answer them with a rather vague answer:  how you adjust depends upon your project and your fabric.  It’s absolutely true.  You have so many ways to adjust your machine; upper tension, bobbin tension, presser foot pressure, Set Menu items, stitch length and width, mirror image as well as adjustable presser feet.  All are designed to give you the opportunity to configure the machine for the exact task you are asking of it.  Take the foot I was using today for example.  I was using foot 3, the adjustable blind hem foot for my Pfaff machine.

By changing the red guide from blind hem position to overcasting position I was able to run my fabric edge quickly through the machine, chain sewing style, with a beautiful overcast.

I was using it to stitch a 3-step zig-zag to overcast the raw edges of the walker bags and handles so fraying would be at a minimum.  Since this is a charity sewing project and since the material is all donated, the quality isn’t always high.  The foot’s original purpose is to blind hem, but adjusting the screw on the right of the foot allows me to line the red guide up with the pin of the foot to run right along the edge of the fabric to give a great overcast that won’t roll to the wrong side of the fabric. 

The presser foot seen from the top, set for it’s intended use as a blind hem foot. Notice the red guide is to the left of the pin that runs along the right inside of the foot.
The blind hem setting as seen from the underside of the foot.
This is how I set up the foot today. I used the screw to move the red guide to the right of the foot’s pin.
This is the overcast adjustment as seen from the underside of the foot.

I was able to run right along the edges so quickly that I was finished with all the overcasting for all 30 bags in under an hour.  Not bad.  If I had had to guide the fabric myself, it would have taken me much more time.

I bring this up because I meet so many customers who say they have never made any adjustments to their machine in the 20, 30 or more years they have owned it.  Many express a fear they will not be able to get their machine “back to normal again” if they make any changes.  Remember, your machine and feet come from the factory set to generic settings.  You paid for the ability to adjust the machine and the adjustable feet, so don’t forget to use those features!

“A Cindy Thing”

While teaching the machine classes I try to share tips that I have found helpful in my own sewing.  Most of the time, I will share with the class the way the manual says something should be done and then I also share the “Cindy Thing”, meaning this is the way I do it, but it’s not set in stone.  If my way is helpful, please use it.  If not, I’ll never know you decided not to use my idea!  One of my “things” is in winding the bobbin.  If your machine uses a bobbin that has a “ledge” on the inside that separates the lower and upper parts of the bobbin, thread can start winding in the top portion of the bobbin first before filling up the lower portion.

Many Husqvarna Viking and Pfaff machines have this “ledge” on the inside of the bobbin.

Since the bobbin sensor only looks at the middle of the lower portion of the bobbin, the sensor can tell you the bobbin thread is running low when it really isn’t. This can be a bit annoying, especially if your machine stops every couple of stitches to remind you the bobbin thread is running low.  I solve this problem by tapping the thread as it is winding onto the bobbin. 

The bobbin is ready to start winding.
Start winding and stop immediately, so the thread is only wrapped around the top portion of the bobbin a couple times.
Gently tap on the thread as you continue to wind the bobbin.
The thread will now start winding on the lower portion of the bobbin first and will make it’s way up to fill the entire bobbin.
This technique gives you a nice full bobbin that will honestly need refilling when the bobbin sensor alerts you.

While watching one of the Heirloom Creations videos, I saw that Sara uses the same technique.  In the linked video, Sara is using the technique while winding a bobbin on a Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.2, but the practice holds true for any bobbin that has the “ledge”.  I hope this proves helpful to you!