“Second Hand” Machine Embroidery Fun

It’s another sleepy “Fogust” day here on the CA Central Coast. After our smoky air quality in recent days as a result of the devastating forest fires North of us, the misty fog comes as a welcome relief this morning.

Yesterday I received a package of second hand items I ordered online including a $5. blue and white striped button down shirt from Old Navy. Even though I purchased a size that would fit me well through the upper torso, as is often the case with clothes I buy, I was prepared for it to be too tight in the hip area. Amazingly, though a bit snug, I was able to button this particular shirt all the way down. Adding a couple of four inch side slits would easily give me a bit more ease and result in a smoother drape.

Side seams all picked out and ready to top stitch.

Then I had another inspiration. I wondered about the possibility of an embroidered vertical spray coming up from the hem on the front side of the shirt, opposite the side with the pocket. After laying out several designs, I finally decided on a feathered, swirling pattern that was included in a Pfaff “Featherwork” Embroidery design collection I purchased a couple years ago.

Like several options included in the Pfaff design collections, this particular design stitched out beautifully. I was so pleased with the result, I decide to flip it in the opposite direction and embroider it down the center back of the shirt, just below the back yoke. Lovely! Then I thought, how about the sleeve? Fortunately I stopped myself before going a bit overboard….always a danger when something is going well. 🙂

Right lower front design facing up.
Center back design facing down.

In the final analysis, I find that I really like the juxtaposition of the swirling feather design with the vertical stripes, kind of a yin and yang effect.

Stay tuned for my next post. It will include a follow-up on my “All things bright and beautiful” entry a few months back and I am planning to share photos of my newly-finished Morrocan-inspired quilted throw.

Be safe and well.

When life gives you holes…

After my foray into machine-embroidered lace described in my last post, I’ve been experimenting again, this time in an effort to camouflage some holes in the front of one of my favorite tee-shirts.

Holes in lightweight knit tee shirt.

Since the holes were located in the front lower half of the tee, I originally thought it would be nice to create a paisley border design along the hem.

Initial design placement.

I chose two layers of “no-show mesh” for stabilizer and a thin, water-soluble “topper”. So far so good.

No-show mesh.
Kind of mesmerizing to watch this pretty design emerge before my eyes. I was concerned about potential “hoop burn” so I used a metal hoop with magnets. Such a worthwhile investment and game changer when embroidering on already-assembled garments or other hard to hoop items.

The crosshair placement lines for the second design I used yielded somewhat unpredictable results. So I decided to change my game plan from a border to an asymmetrical paisley cluster. Again, not perfect placement, but I will definitely wear this tee in future. Suffice to say, it’s now an original.

Playing with placement.
Just prior to soaking away the water-soluble topper. (See shiny bits)

I’ve learned a lot in this process, including embracing the notion of random imperfection as a thing of potential beauty, a stretch for my perfectionist tendencies to be sure.

Final takeaway? It feels wonderful to have prolonged the life of this simple garment in a fun and creative way.

Lace Showcase

One of the things I’ve been wanting to try for some time is making my own machine-embroidered lace. Thankfully one can find a wealth of video content currently available on this inspiring topic, both on embroidery design websites and YouTube for a start. My most recent inspiration came from an online webinar I watched entitled “Camouflage with Lace” presented by representatives from the Dime Company (dzgns.com).

A reoccurring theme in my ongoing education where all things machine-embroidery is concerned includes the following: effective and appropriate stabilization is at the forefront of achieving ultimate success. Machine-embroidered lace is no exception.

Among many things I’ve learned about machine-embroidered lace so far is that there are different design characteristics to consider. First, “free-standing” lace designs have a built-in, overall structure (hence the “stand alone” description) and are sewn directly onto water-soluble stabilizer which is later soaked away. Another type of lace design requires stitching onto a sheer foundation such as organza, tulle or “no-show” mesh. A third option is sewing a lace design directly onto fashion fabric, (as opposed to attaching on top) and using either a cut-away or tear-away stabilizer underneath. Depending on the fabric, some sort of “topper” layer of stabilization might be used as well.

The cautionary tale here is that in the absence of a built-in design structure or appropriate foundation, your lace will (even if sewn on water-soluble stabilizer) most likely disintegrate or in the case of a knit, shrink and pucker before your eyes.

With fresh inspiration gleaned from the recent webinar and armed with a new roll of high-quality water-soluble stabilizer, I decided to dive into lace-making at long last.

My project involved altering a secondhand, Coldwater Creek tee I acquired via Thredup com. I really loved the colors in the print and hadn’t seen anything like it in my recent fabric shopping efforts. As is often the case with my pear-shaped figure, the neck and shoulders of the tee fit reasonably well but I needed a couple more inches of circumference at the hem. Lightbulb moment=side lace inserts!

Side seam

I found this variegated teal thread in my stash so I used this when stitched out my first design:

This is a pretty lace design, but is at odds with the scrolled curves on the tee shirt print. Polyester thread proved too stiff to use with the knit fabric. I also did not like the brown color in the thread color mix or the stripe effect in satin stitches.

Next I tried some free-standing lace in a gray rayon thread. (I ran out of one thread and replaced with a similar color…)

Post soaking, stabilization removed.

Ultimately I decided to order some matching teal rayon thread and chose a third design which is meant to be stitched on tulle or similar. In this case I chose a navy organza. Within minutes of stitching out this design I knew it was a keeper.

Love this.
Beautiful! Would make a great neckline embellishment.
For my purposes I cut the design in half
Positioning on a dressmakers ham proved handy for lace placement.
Ready for prime time.

In conclusion, creative inspiration is everywhere around us. Research, ongoing education, the process of trial and error, solving puzzles and not worrying about the outcome of any given project continue to motivate me with each passing day. My ultimate take away? One’s efforts do not need to result in being masterpieces to be worth time well spent. Until the next adventure…

All things bright and beautiful

In the midst of all our global current Pandemic challenges, the month of May has included some rewarding and time-filling activities including discovering the healing power of working with a bright color palette. As it happens, our daughter loves a broad spectrum of bold hues (think “Fiestaware”) and has expressed a desire to have a Moroccan-inspired quilted throw for her living room. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to make one for her. This particular project will replace a relatively tired High School Musical Theater Tee-shirt single-size quilt I made for her circa 2004 which has served as a picnic blanket, college dorm bedspread among other things) The fabrics for the new throw are now collected and cut. The piecing process has also begun in earnest with a projected completion target date sometime before Christmas.

With a Moroccan theme as my inspiration, I finally landed on two block designs that are new to me, Jessica Van Denburgh’s “Gaslight” from sewmanycreationsny.com which is a clever variation of a traditional “drunkard’s path” block and reminds me of some shapes I’ve seen in various tile designs and “Moraccan Star” from Shelley Cavanna of Corasquilts.com which features a handy sew-cut-flip-press piecing method for all the little triangles included in each block. (Soooo much easier!) Both blocks require precision cutting and piecing followed by careful trimming to achieve the desired size and consistent effect. It’s been a slow process, but what I’m discovering is that working with all the beautiful and bright colors brightens my mood and gives me an abundance of joy on a daily basis.

After my initial blocks started to come together, it was exciting to see how each color combination would emerge and be brought to life with each passing day.

Beginning the piecing process for the first two “Gaslight” blocks the quilt top.
“Moroccan Star” blocks to be interspersed throughout the underside, background fabric. My hope is that the back of the quilt will be as appealing as the front resulting in a “reversible” throw when all is said and done.
Can you tell I LOVE batik fabric?

I’m already thinking ahead about how I want to quilt this bold little throw. Unlike my last two quilts, which include straight line grids and lots of “stitch-in-the-ditch” quilting detail, for this project, I plan to employ “free-motion” quilting throughout. I’m still on the fence regarding whether or not to change thread colors to match each gaslight fabric color. Using one uniform thread color such as matching the royal blue background fabric, might be faster to quilt, but I don’t want to risk defusing the striking brilliance these bright pops of color afford. While it’s ultimately more time-consuming to change thread colors as I go, I’m thinking it might be fun to employ free-motion elements inspired by the fabric. For example, free-motion “pebbles” for the teal and royal blue fabric with all the little circles within the print or a sunburst pattern for the orange batik with a similar motif. As for the thread itself, I’m venturing into new territory, exploring the “So Fine” 50 weight 100% poly thread by Superiorthreads.com. Free motion quilting maven and author, Angela Walters swears by it along with Aurifil for a 100% cotton thread option.

As much as my back and shoulders would love my bringing this project to someone with a long arm quilting machine, the creative design challenges described above inspire me to do the whole process on my own.

Speaking of my back and shoulders, I’ve started taking more frequent breaks as I sew and cut out fabric, both to stretch my body and to engage in deep, relaxation breathing. This practice has proven a real game-changer where my overall stamina is concerned. Not only do I have more physical energy as a result, but my mind and ability to concentrate are fresher when I return to the task at hand. Admittedly it is always hard to stop what I’m doing in the middle of an inspiring project, but implementing this brief, periodic gift to myself yields such positive and lasting benefits. I expect this habit will remain a regular part of my creative process moving forward.

The next installment in this current current odyssey is soon to follow.

Sewing Therapy

I am a self-described introvert, homebody and someone who loves staying busy and creating things. I am also a social being who loves getting together with friends, sharing the process and experience of learning about new subjects, methods, expressing and creating.

Thankfully, most of our population still has technological means of communicating with society at large. I think this ability to remain connected, albeit primarily cyber-based at this point, will prove a saving grace for the world during this time. This said, living through the reality of the last few weeks of sobering pandemic statistics and country-wide mandated social-distancing has proven challenging on many levels. While it’s true the majority of us (save our sainted healthcare workers, law enforcement, military personnel and those working in the farming, grocery and trucking industries) have a lot more time on our hands these days, many individuals I’ve communicated with have also struggled with achieving a healthy sense of balance; between staying informed about the latest “breaking news”, fear-inducing, sometimes addictive saturation of press conferences and news briefings in connection with our present Coronavirus situation, and remaining mentally, emotionally and physically healthy; continuing to be productive and maintaining a sense of purpose.

One thing that has helped me feel like I’m making some sort of difference is making face masks. I’m using a pattern that pattern-maker, Peggy Sagers of Silhouette Patterns, designed. She consulted with physicians and Department of Health professionals to determine optimal features and provided shipping addresses and distribution portals where to send them. For links to the pattern and construction guide see the “features” section at http://www.silhouettepatterns.com

Here are photos of some of the face masks I made and that were shipped out last week.

Two layers of batik fabric (outer) and one layer of tee-shirt cotton knit (inner layer next to face.

It turns out many people in our country, including theater costume shops, are making face masks using a variety of patterns, materials and construction methods.

Second batch.

Some people who haven’t sewn anything for years are pulling out their sewing machines from storage, dusting them off and sewing masks to contribute to the effort.

It is rewarding to be making something useful during this present health crisis to be sure.

This said, it is discouraging to read negative, alarmist posts by nay-sayers on social media, criticizing everything from materials used, mask designs, practical application and potential threat of spreading disease. I’m guessing many of these same individuals are not making masks themselves, choosing instead, to criticize and complain about all of the above. Perhaps a better use of their time might be to brainstorm about practical solutions to the issues they raise.

I was telling my husband the other day that our current global struggles will (and already the case) surely bring out the best in people but also the worst. We will all need to heal, in several ways, when this current health crisis has run its course. Fear of what we know, the unknown and loss of control often breeds irrational behavior at times like these.

I also believe we will learn a lot about many things when we look back on this time in history.

Back to balance. Last week I was in mask-making “factory assembly” mode.

Over the weekend I decided to take a break from making masks and set my sites on finishing quilting the Queen-size quilt I had to put on hold just before Christmas last year. Happy to say I’m almost done.

Best wishes to all for optimal health-physical, emotional and mental well-being. We will get through this.

Look out everyone, the woman has an embroidery machine!

It’s a beautiful day here on the Central Coast of California. Bright sun, not much wind and relatively mild temps. I do not take our move here for granted, not for a second.

Although I try to live with a sense of balance from week to week throughout each year, the month of January always seems to inspire an added feeling of renewal, hope and resolve to improve all areas of my life.

Now on to the subject of today’s blog entry.

Among certain sewing circles it has been said in jest that one of the dangers of acquiring an embroidery machine is that using it becomes so addictive that the owner will want to embroider everything in their house. I will go one step further to say that one might feel compelled to embroider a gift for every member of their family.

I indeed have my fair share of embroidered, seasonal tea and bath hand towels in my home linen storage at the moment. (Oh yes, and a couple of pair of embroidered jeans in my closet as well) But the extent of my enthusiasm for all things machine embroidery really came to the fore when, with some amusement on my part, I looked around the room during our family’s recent gift exchange gathering and realized that I had embroidered gifts (tee-shirts, tea towels, pillow cases, shirts) for everyone in attendance!

Here are both a video and photo from a design I embroidered onto a shirt pocket of a brand of sport shirt our “passionate for all things fishing”, brother-in-law really likes.

This second image is the back of the shirt pocket before I tore away the stabilizer from the design and top-stitched the pocket back in place.

He was thrilled. Hooray!

Which brings me to my last topic, sourcing “canvases” for machine embroidery.

Since I’m still learning about best practice, methods and the variety of stabilization needed for embroidering various fabrics, I have no guilt in sourcing used clothing, blank canvas tote bags, aprons, shirts, old jeans, etc. to experiment with. My general rule is that the items I use must be clean and gently worn to fit the bill. It also feels great to give a piece a second life and often the price for such an item is more than reasonable.

All the above said, the purist in me still enjoys the challenge of making something completely from scratch. In addition to my new-found love of up-cycling, I intend to continue creating pieces anew, well into the foreseeable future.

And look out, the woman has an embroidery machine!

The Satisfaction Of Making Things For Others

While it’s true that I love sewing my own clothes and making things for our home such as quilts, pillows etc…it also gives me great pleasure to make things for others; Christmas and birthday gifts and donations to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Quilts of Valor.

Today I want to write about making things to donate. On this front, two such opportunities came to light last Fall. My first inspiration stemmed from an article I read in the October/November 2018 issue of Quilting Arts magazine, entitled “Artists Give Back” (pg. 29), in which the author, Jamie Fingal, described her “Hearts of the Home” quilt wall hanging project in conjunction with the Habitat for Humanity organization.

At the end of Ms. Fingal’s article there appeared a “reader’s challenge”; to make house-themed, 12×12″ quilted wallhangings with the intent of presenting these to Habitat for Humanity families upon the completion of their newly-constructed homes. Several of the reader’s challenge creations were to be featured in the Spring issue of Quilting Arts magazine and a firm submission deadline was set for December 1. What a joyful and inspiring prospect!

With this fresh inspiration in mind, I figured it was time to get cracking. My first attempt at the prescribed “Hearts of the Home” theme featured a simple house design including machine embroidery elements such as flowers and script. I chose a line from the Crosby, Stills and Nash song, “Our House” and realized well after the fact that I added an extra “very” to the lines of text. (it was definitely a “keep off off the grass” sign moment, where the mind corrects and erases redundancy while reading) I also incorporated some hand-embroidery elements for the cat facial features and whiskers.

My second attempt for this particular project I titled “Home Safe” and was inspired by the 1922 Craftsman bungalow, “Elmdale” design. I chose batik fabric scraps from my most recent “Storm at Sea” quilt and using this as the background, wanted to create the feeling of everyone being safely inside the house for the night. The night sky fabric reminds me of Van Gogh’s iconic “Starry Night” painting. My tendencies to get a bit carried away with attention to detail definitely came into play here, especially with the house detail and the bicycle. When the Quilting Arts Spring issue was released in late February earlier this year, I was delighted to discover this second piece was chosen as one of the featured submissions in the follow-up magazine article. (Quilting Arts, April/May 2019 issue, page 77)

The inspiration: The “Elmdale”

I first heard about the “Quilts of Valor” organization (see qovf.org) during an informative presentation given by our CA Central Coast regional representative, Mary Carnegie, at our local VFW chapter last November. I learned that quilters from all over the U.S. are creating patriotic-themed Quilts (approximately 60×80″ in size) for specially- nominated veterans on an ongoing basis. Sewn with love and appreciation for our Vets and their years of service, these lap blanket-sized quilts are presented to numerous nominated candidates at commemorative patriot ceremonies throughout each year. As it happened, my maternal grandfather fought in WWI (Army), my father-in-law served as a Chaplin’s assistant (also Army) on the battlefields all over Europe during WWII and my father and his brother (Navy and Army respectively) both served in the Korean conflict back in the 50’s, so for me, contemplating making a “Quilt of Valor” is personal as I’m sure it is for many of the quilters sewing quilts for this particular cause.

At this point I have purchased the fabric and chosen the design for my first Quilt of Valor and look forward to sharing the finished piece here in a future post.

Design Inspiration At Large

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve approached a stranger to either compliment them on their beautiful item of clothing or, even more bold on my part, ask if I could take a photo of the garment they are wearing. One day I may receive a less-than receptive response to the above social interactions, but so far the subjects of my inspiration have been friendly and seemingly flattered by my interest in their wardrobe choices especially when I share the fact that I make my own clothes.

Here are some of my favorite inspiration photos:

1. A “Moto Jacket” with a combination of leather pared with knit center panels and sleeves.

2. A herringbone tweed sport coat with unique piecing detail in back:

3. Fixed, looped lacing detail on a woven v-neck top.

I’ve also been inspired by architectural elements for potential quilt design themes. Here are some floor tiles from Sainte-Chapelle in Paris that caught my eye the last time I visited this beautiful landmark:

Lastly, I’ve found that museums provide wonderful design inspiration as well. I love Sashiko embroidery and plan to incorporate this Asian style of embellishment on a garment or perhaps a quilt sometime soon. Here is a sample of the “real deal” I saw at the textile portion of the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco:

I look forward to what inspiration may present itself in the future.


A couple of years ago I jumped onto the Pinterest train in earnest and suffice to say it’s been an education! Although I’d previously experimented with Pinterest when it was first introduced several years ago, I didn’t spend much time adding things or cultivating any real collections other than a pinning a few photos here and there.

When I started educating myself about how to use my new embroidery machine, I noticed someone’s Pinterest “pin” about an embroidery design they liked and where they found it. This prompted my subsequent Pinterest search for the design source and suffice to say, Pandora’s box was opened.

I loved seeing what other people were pinning for embroidery design inspiration and relished exploring options beyond the stock designs that came pre-loaded with my machine, I frankly didn’t have a clue where to begin sourcing quality embroidery designs up to that point. What a wonderful resource for sparking additional design ideas the Pinterest site proved to be.

On a whim, I decided to enter a search for “Antique Singer Sewing Machines” and was astounded when the Pinterest floodgates opened wide. In addition to Singer sewing machines, there were hundreds of additional varieties, brands and manufacturers to behold, so much so that I was inspired to create my own board on Pinterest entitled “Antique and Vintage Sewing Machines”. This, along with my “Sewing Inspiration” and “Extraordinary Recipes” boards have proven a very time-addictive research pastime. The whole activity now feels akin to being an electronic stamp collector, especially when learning about international brands of machines, such as my most recent discovery the “Tula” model from Russia.

I knew from my previous sewing machine restoration research that Singer sewing machines were widely popular throughout the late 19th and the majority of the 20th centuries. What I didn’t fully realize was how many hundreds of different brands and manufacturers of sewing machines existed early on. I knew about Pfaffs, Berninas, Vikings, Brothers, Whites, Elnas, and Necchis to name a few, but the Pinterest search engine quickly educated me that those machines were only the tip of the iceberg.Photo credit: New York Sewing Center

So far, I’ve created more than 185 different sections of sewing machine manufacturers within my Antique and Vintage Sewing Machines Pinterest board. Some of my favorites include the old anchor-shaped British-made machines, the earliest Singers and Pfaffs of course, but what also delights me is seeing the Art Deco-inspired Morse Machines, space-age/Flash Gordon-influenced Singer “Rocketeer” models, the mod colors of machines from the 60s and 70s.

Photo credit: Stephanie Moore

Photo credit: Possumjimandelizabeth.com

Some machines made in the 30s-50s seem to mimic the look of vintage radios complete with tuner dials and frequency-gauge details.

Photo credit: quiltingboard.com

Many sewing machines seem to reflect the decor and characteristics of their specific time and era. If you enjoy exploring Pinterest, I hope you will check out several of my boards there. I’m sure I’ll be adding more pins sometime soon.

“E&W Automatic” American History Textile Museum

Here is a link to my Antique and Vintage Sewing Machines Pinterest board:


Another restoration tale

In my previous blog entry entitled “The Singer and the Singer”, I wrote about my earliest sewing experiences using my mother’s Singer 221 “Featherweight” sewing machine.

What I didn’t mention was that after my mother and I acquired newer sewing machines in the early 1970s, the trusty 1953 Featherweight was loaned to one of my aunts with a loosely-specified, long-term use arrangement. As it happened, many years elapsed during which time both my mother and aunt subsequently passed away. I never knew what happened to this special little machine. I do remember my mother telling me she thought my aunt had loaned the Featherweight to a friend in the late 1980s or perhaps eventually donated it.

Fast forward to a recent visit to my uncle’s home, where a major move was imminent including the packing up of decades-worth of accumulated possessions. Upon entering each room, it was apparent that a major attempt at “down-sizing” had begun in earnest. Near the end of our visit, my uncle asked me if I wanted what he thought to be my grandma’s old sewing machine. I told him I would. At that point my uncle pulled out a familiar-looking little black case and low and behold, it wasn’t my grandmother’s sewing machine after all, (hers was a circa 1935 Singer machine with a bentwood case). The sewing machine my uncle presented to me was actually my mother’s original 1953 221- Featherweight! What a delightful and unexpected surprise!

Upon returning home later that afternoon, I unpacked the little 11 pound wonder and took an initial inventory, noting that though the original presser foot was still on the machine, none of the extra feet, tools or attachments were there. I rotated the flywheel by hand and the needle/hook mechanism still seemed operational. There didn’t appear to be any rust and the machine decals seemed to have favorably stood the test of time.

The electric power supply and foot pedal were still connected to the machine and both cords were cracked in several places, revealing exposed wires. I elected not to plug anything in to any electrical outlets and resisted trying the machine’s on/off switch until taking everything to my trusted local repair tech who faithfully services my other machines.

As for the manual, I already knew I wouldn’t find it within the case. Thinking my Mother’s Singer 221 Featherweight machine was long gone, I sold the original manual on EBay four years ago!

And so began the process of bringing my Mother’s Singer 221 Featherweight back to her previous glory.

After dropping off the Featherweight at the repair shop, my second order of business was to source out a replacement manual which, after a comprehensive search on EBay, I’m happy to report proved ultimately successful. It’s a reprint and larger in scale than the original, but I like the larger photos and print. The next step was to look for a box of Featherweight accessories. Thankfully a couple of options were available on that front as well. I also found a source for bobbins.

This most recent search activity felt a bit like a scavenger hunt and fondly reminiscent of my previous Singer 66 part replacement quest undertaken during that machine’s restoration process described in my earlier post, “The Singer and the Singer”.

If all the accessory gathering activity described above wasn’t fun enough, I discovered a favorite vendor of mine was running an extraordinary special on “Sew Steady” tables. As luck would have it, there was an option for a Singer Featherweight cutout. Since I’m planning to be using my little vintage machine for quilt piecing and top-stitching after she returns from her restoration adventure, I decided to add a “Sew-Steady” table to my new setup with the idea that it will be great to have an extended sewing surface option to work with.



After over four weeks in the shop, she’s back in her new home at last! Thanks to Paul Howell of Howell’s Sewing Machine Repair in Paso Robles, CA. Lots of TLC and patience later, here is my Mom’s little Featherweight, all polished and ready to fly into action.

Not only did she get all new rubber feet but also an updated power cord.

An unexpected bonus was thrown into the mix, a vintage button-hole maker with templates!

Lastly, here she is with her custom “Sew Steady” table, ready for some serious quilt-piecing in the near future.