Saturday, February 22, 2014

Caribbean Blue

Sometimes, when the sun hits the lake at the right angle on a day like today, it almost looks like a Caribbean blue. Almost? Well...

There decide. This is Willemstad, Curaçao, and the photo is courtesy of this website. Willemstad is the inspiration for a new project that has totally jumped the queue despite my best efforts to suppress it. This pile of fabric has been sitting on the corner of my sewing table for over a week now:

It is clear that I won't get anything else done until I deal with it. Although it was published in 2005, I just bought Home Sweet Home by Barb Adams and Alma Allen a couple weeks ago after I saw a finished version of the quilt over on the Den Haan & Wagenmaker's blog here. So I have some "Double Dutch" inspiration to blame! Did the Dutch blog give rise to the Willemstad connection? Maybe. All I know for sure is that I really wanted to use a supersaturated blue background, and some bright Caribbean colours:

The weather forecast for Toronto is well below freezing all next week, but I'm hoping these colours will keep me warm! Now that I've bowed to the inevitable, I'm hoping to get the houses blocked in quickly. I needed a real applique project, after all. Wasn't it one of my New Year's resolutions? ;)

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Awl Saves the Day

So, as you can see, my embroidered wall quilt L'Herbier is back on track. In the last post I'd had a challenging day stitching the ribbon embroidery through the two tightly-woven layers of fabric in the circles.

In the introduction to one of my silk ribbon embroidery books, one of the recommended tools is an awl, so you can "pre-drill" the holes for the ribbon. After the first day, I remembered that I have one!

A year or two ago I bought this for $1.99 at a hole-in-the-wall fabric store that mainly sold lycra and sequins for costumes. I recall that I thought it would come in handy one day. It sure has! Today's stitching was a piece of cake.

I'm so relieved! The muslin lining was otherwise so nice and useful, with a great hand, that I really didn't want to give it up. So now it can be full steam ahead! Whew!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Another Year on Sweet Hearts

Back in November I realized with a chill that on Valentine's Day, 2013, I wrote that I hoped to have all nine of my Sweet Heart redwork designs finished by Valentine's Day, 2014. I knew then that there was no way that was going to happen! Not after I'd spent so much time on Best Friends Forever. But I made a push, and finished this little guy, who may well be my favourite:

With the spats on the shoes and the striped outfit, I'm pretty sure this is a boy. But he feels quite familiar all the same...

Yes, that's me on the right!

I've realized that I stitched all the singles first, and now I have all the couples left. In general, the couples had more detail, so I guess I started with the easier ones. The first couple is well underway:

And here's a layout of all nine to give you a sense of where things are going:

I really do want to finish them and move on to the next steps with my plans for some pieced and applique borders. Too many projects! In any case,

Thursday, February 13, 2014

First Embroidery for L'Herbier

I spent a challenging but rewarding day yesterday working the first embroidery for my new L'Herbier embroidered wall quilt. Yesterday I wrote at length about my process for preparing the applique circle prior to starting the embroidery. "The final test," I said, "will be the embroidery." I am so glad that I didn't go ahead with all the circles before starting the embroidery!

It was brutal. The muslin is far too tightly woven for ribbon embroidery. I dug out my grippy rubber thimbles, and you can see I managed, but I can't do all 16 embroideries that way. Live and learn! I will have to find something else with a looser weave for the backing.

But otherwise, everything else worked perfectly! With the two layers appliqued together, there was no problem at all with them shifting around. It was easy to hold, stable, and stayed flat. I did not use a hoop at all, as it turned out.

This was my very first time doing ribbon embroidery. Maybe it will be better with a different backing, but it is not as fast or fun to stitch as I expected. I do have to admit, though, that the ribbons are pretty. They pick up other colours from their surroundings, which gives them a lot of depth. The flowers are made with 7 mm ribbon and a single-wrap French knot. Then you go back and squish it down with a bead. Simple but effective!

The stems are worked with fine wool and embroidery floss held together. I was interested to learn that in French, all the small stems are called "ramifications." It's a good visual for the meaning of the English word too!

The main stem is 8 strands of thread held in a chenille needle. I thought that was hard to stitch, but the ribbons proved to be far, far worse. The last two stitches on the stem are done twice to give some extra thickness to the base. It is a nice effect that I will remember for other projects!

I am very pleased with how the leaves turned out. Aren't they elegant? They are just ribbon stitch with the 4 mm green ribbon, and angled blanket stitch for the burgundy veins. The designer, Nathalie Méance, has such creative ideas! Looking ahead, I can see many interesting combinations in the other embroideries too. Soon, I hope!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

L'Herbier Applique

The day after my last post, I did take a run at the applique on my new project L'Herbier, and I was quite pleased with the result, but I didn't take any photos of the process. Yesterday I did a second one, and I think I got carried away with the photos! But, I have never seen this exact combination of techniques anywhere else, so I might as well show all the details. Be warned, this will be a long post!

First, why am I going to all this trouble? There were quite a few considerations:
  1. Some of the embroidery that will go in the circles is quite heavy, with beads, etc. So, a backing is required. 
  2. I decided on a muslin backing because a) I prefer not to use a fusible stabilizer in a piece that I want to last a long time, and b) with my chemical sensitivities I need to wash everything before I work with it, so nothing with a lot of starch or sizing would work.
  3. The kit came with just the bare minimum of fabrics for the circles, and then I had to wash it as well. So I really couldn't do the embroidery without sewing it into the blocks first, because the pieces would be too small to hoop, and finishing the edges to prevent fraying would leave them even smaller.

These light card 5" circles from Paper Pieces, one of my favourite stores, are what made this whole idea come together. Although the circles in the pattern are about 5.5", I reduced them slightly to 5" so that I would have a comfortable seam allowance to work with.

To help centre the circle on the four patch blocks, I started by carefully pinching the four compass points on the circle.

Then I used a hole punch to make holes for the pins to go through later.

For the fabric, I cut 6" squares of both the top fabric and the muslin lining.

The top fabric and the muslin are layered together, and the prepared circle is lined up so the folds follow the grain line. Lining up the grains is not strictly necessary, but it seems to follow naturally from the process, so I thought I may as well do it.

To start the basting, I took at tack stitch at one of the folds in the paper, and then ran a loose running stitch through both layers of fabric, but not through the paper, about 3/16" outside the edge of the circle. I made a second tack through the paper at the next fold, and pulled the running stitch tight to gather it around the paper.

Here's a close up of the basting. On my first circle I used some old polyester thread for the basting, but I found that it was too stretchy to hold the two layers of fabric firmly. This time I went with the same strong cotton quilting thread I used for my yoyos (embarrassingly long ago).

Here you can see that the only threads visible on the front of the circle are the tack stitches at each fold. I continued with the running stitch and tacks at each fold all the way around.

Now the basting is finished. I leave the wide seam allowances in place until after I take the circle to the ironing board and steam press a crisp edge all the way around. That way I don't burn my fingers!

After ironing I trim the seam allowance down to about 3/8". After the applique is finished I will trim it again to about 3/16".

Then I repinch the fold lines at the compass points to help position the circle on the block. Even though the paper has been ironed, it "remembers" the original folds.

The folds at the compass points are lined up with the seams in the block background.

The circle is pinned down through the holes that were punched in the paper circle. You can feel them through the fabric, so you know where to put the pins.

Now I was finally able to sew! I was careful to catch both the top fabric and the muslin in the applique stitches. I admit it was heavy going!

I used 50 wt cotton sewing thread and a Clover embroidery needle for the applique. I have been using an embroidery needle for all my heavier English Paper Piecing, such as the Best Friends Forever blocks. I find it is easier to thread, easier to hold, and sharp and strong enough to pierce several layers of fabric.

In this photo you can just see the line of applique stitches around the edge of the circle. When the stitching is finished I trim away the backing fabric behind the circle. That's when it's particularly nice to have the cardboard in there, so you don't cut through the top fabric!

The backing is trimmed to about a 3/8" seam allowance. There was a lot of bulk in the seam allowance, so I graded it by trimming the muslin and top fabrics down to 3/16". It lies wonderfully flat!

The paper circle, though, is completely mangled by the time you are done. Most of the damage is done by the steam iron, but I like using the steam so the fabric edge stays crisp while you applique

The final test will be to see how the block holds up for the embroidery. That's next! I want to make sure it's all good before I prepare any more blocks.

Now, what do you think I should do with these?:

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