Some sweet friends of mine were married this summer. I was sad I couldn’t attend their wedding, so I knew I wanted to do something extra special for them in addition to a normal gift. I decided to finally try my hand at an embroidered portrait.
Lucky Jackson did 365 days of awesome portraits awhile back. Personalized family portraits are also big right now on Etsy and Instagram (see examples here and here and here and here). I decided to combine the concepts for this hoop art:
I actually gifted the couple with the portrait at my own wedding because it was the only time I expected to see them this year. It felt tacky to me, but I was too excited not to share! The down side is I didn’t manage to take detailed photos of the finished project because I was too busy doing other wedding-related things.
A few details:
Her dress and his tie are painted with watered-down watercolor paints. I didn’t paint right to the edge because I worried the paint would bleed. It was fun to watch as the paint moved outward from the area I’d painted.
The buttons on his vest and jacket sleeve are real, miniature buttons! They were left over “eyes” from Christmas ornaments shown here and here.
I chose a rose fabric for the background to imitate the actual background of their engagement photo.
I used an iron-on stabilizer behind all but the background fabric to reduce fraying. I actually used two layers behind the cream-colored fabric so the other fabrics wouldn’t show through as much.
It was a lot of fun to make, and I’m thrilled it went as well as it did. As always, I learned a few things I’d do differently next time… if there is a next time! I worried the portrait could be received poorly, especially if my poor art skills meant one of the two looked deformed when I was finished; the final few stitches can ruin hours of work. I’m happy with this portrait, but I’m not sure I’d put myself through the mental anguish again!
Two of my great-aunts have supported my blog and are accomplished sewers/crafters themselves. Over the years, their projects have included cross-stitch, dolls, scrapbooking, costumes, and crochet. I have received a number of gifts from them, from handmade items (like the hand warmers below, teddy bears, and dolls) to family heirlooms.
(The hand warmers came with adorable paper cutouts of hands inside to indicate they were NOT beer cozies, haha.)
I wanted to show my appreciation, but what do you give someone who can make things with more skill? –especially when I didn’t want to send something that would just collect dust.
For one of the two aunts, I decided on a pillowcase, but not just any pillowcase… an embroidered steampunk pillowcase!
My aunts have attended steampunk events the past few years. Since I have no experience with steampunk and a pretty fluid concept of history, I didn’t want to make a mistake and include items from different decades/centuries that didn’t make sense together. Then it dawned on me: I could embroider an image of my aunt in the costume she made!
The second of these two great-aunts makes incredible scrapbooks. For her, I made a scissors-themed mug rug. The block was inspired by the one in the book Patchwork 318 (see a similar block here), although I had to make my own pattern since the book is unfortunately no longer in print.
Also included in the package was a cute necklace I bought at a craft fair in D.C. called Crafty Bastards. The chain is tiny, but I couldn’t resist.
I attended my first-ever quilting event that involved talking with other quilters: the Crystal Lake Modern Quilt Guild monthly meeting and sew-in. Unfortunately, I missed the show-and-tell portion. (I was late for a variety of reasons. I HATE being late for anything.) I had most been looking forward to that part of the meeting, but it was at least fun to look around the room and see what kinds of projects others were working on.
The prospect of talking with other people about quilting scared me. I only know what I have found on the internet, and some of my methods are “non-traditional.” In other words, I anticipated more judgment for some reason. I am far less secure with my creative abilities than my professional abilities. I needn’t have worried; everyone I talked to was nice. I received only kind comments about my Marcelle Medallion, which was the project I brought to the meeting. Since the quilt pattern is all over the internet, I was surprised not everyone knew about it already. I was happy that I could share useful information with quilters who are more experienced than I am.
Proof I was sewing in public:
I finished the piecing for my first “extra” border to convert the quilt to full-size but didn’t quite have time to sew the border to the quilt top. Instead, I took a small break this week to make my dad a gift for Father’s Day.
My dad grew up in rural South Dakota and has been going back to the family farm a few times a month for as long as I can remember to help with things like mowing the massive lawn (it’s a house in the middle of the prairie, so I’m sure you can imagine), putting up hay, fixing things, etc. My grandma recently sold the house she and my grandpa built together, but the family still owns some land. What this means for my dad is he still had the responsibility of farm work but no place to stay. It wasn’t a huge deal since my parents’ home is within driving distance, but when a used camper came on the market, my dad decided it would work perfectly as a home-away-from-home. It stays on the farm property and gives him a place to stay when he’s helping out. I made him this to make it a little more like home:
The hoop is tiny, just 3″! The pattern is Sublime Stitching’s Camp Out.
What are you doing for Father’s Day? Does your family have any traditions? I had a hard time thinking of what to make or do, as I do every year. I thought a fun project another time would be to make a Dresden plate pillow out of all the ugly ties we gave my dad when we were kids. How many M&Ms ties can one man wear?!
As my blog name implies, if there is a project I can’t figure out on my own, I run to Google or Pinterest for help. I found lots of helpful tutorials for embroidery stitches online, including this series by Rocksea (links on the right).
Most tutorials do a great job of showing where the needle should go into and come out of the fabric by using an A-B-C method. I found it was a little difficult to follow for knots since knots are created by winding the floss around your needle, not by the order in which you pull the needle through the fabric. Photo tutorials can be difficult to see. I also found there is a lot more content about French knots than colonial knots. Here’s my tutorial, which I hope clarifies some of the questions I had when I first tried to make a colonial knot:
The descriptive version is:
From the embroidery piece, place the floss over your needle. Continue to pull it under the needle then back up toward the needle tip. Loop the floss around the tip of the needle. Put your needle back into your embroidery piece a few strands away from where the floss came out of the fabric. I like to pull the floss until the knot is up against the needle (instead of in the middle of the strand of floss), then press my thumb gently against the needle to prevent the knot from moving up the strand of floss. Otherwise, you can end up with a knot in your thread instead of where the knot is intended to be.
This is a photo of the floss placement:
This is what some finished knots look like:
Now that I am finished with my Gatsby embroidery (I’ve seen the movie, and thank goodness I still like the book!), I have been working again on my Barn Quilt. I used the full six strands for the Gatsby piece, but I am using only three strands for the Barn Quilt.
I was cutting an arm’s length of floss, separating it into two sets of three strands each, then using one set while trying not to tangle the other. I wished I had multiple, pre-separated strands ready to use. I saw this post on the PrettyByHand blog about some beautiful Lecien embroidery floss bobbins that hold 3+ skeins of floss and decided to recycle the idea for my Barn Quilt project. I cut a cardboard piece (it came with a fat quarter of fabric) into these simple cards/bobbins:
Each slot is smaller than a typical embroidery floss bobbin, both because there are fewer strands and because the length is much shorter. The cards have been working great so far!
I remember seeing the preview. When I saw the bright colors and all the excess, I thought, Finally! A movie where CGI glitz actually makes sense! I want to see it! Then I looked over at my boyfriend, Johann, expecting to see his face disfigured with a nasty expression. It wasn’t! We even decided we would re-read the book together before going to the movie.
That was months ago, and I am still waiting to see the movie! Since then, Johann started teaching and has revitalized his family’s business. (Read: I don’t even get to complain about the delayed movie premier except on this blog since what he’s doing is productive. Grr.)
In the meantime, I think I looked up every photo from the movie that was available online. Eventually, I moved past movie-specific infatuation and found myself admiring the era’s clothing. I decided to work on some Gatsby-related project to alleviate my stifling anticipation. Here’s the embroidery design I came up with:
I didn’t decide whether this is supposed to be Daisy and Gatsby, Nick and Jordan, or some other couple at one of Gatsby’s parties.
I’ve never been a great drawer, so I used some engagement photos to see what it looks like for couples to walk side-by-side, a Robert Redford movie shot to determine I should have his hand in his pocket, and countless other photos of clothes from the Roaring Twenties to help with the beads, feathers, and dropped waistline. I always thought original drawings needed to come straight out of someone’s head. I found my method is actually more like making a collage — and it worked!
I wanted to photograph the piece outdoors. I drove to a forest preserve near my office over lunch, thinking how great it would be to prop it against a tree and include the textures of grass and bark. Know what? They don’t mow the grass around trees! And I should have known because I grew up in the country with an enormous yard; I mowed the lawn all the time. Here’s the best I could do:
I typically use three strands of floss for embroidery, but since this is 8″ x 10″, I used all six to make the lines thicker and to fill the space. I used fewer strands for the facial features to keep them from getting bulky.
Most of the embroidery is done with backstitching. Exceptions are the eyes, buttons, and necklace (made with colonial knots, tutorial to follow), and…
…the skirt trim and headband (made with chain stitch).
The outline is nice, but I think it still looks a little blank. What do you think? Should I try using crayon to fill in the image? (I’ve had success with this before, even after the stitching was finished.) I am especially concerned about his hair.
True to spring, the April weather has been unpredictable, but the fluctuations became even more drastic when I traveled for work the past few weeks. I went from a partly cloudy 88 degrees in Dallas one day to 22 inches of snow in Minnesota the next!
Ever since I saw this post by Dana of Dana Made It, I’ve been wanting to see the Mustangs of Las Colinas (a fountain), which I discovered is just minutes from my company’s Dallas office. Who knew?! I went one day over lunch:
My photos don’t do it justice. You can walk right up to some of the horses, which are bigger than life-size, and you can cross the water in a few places, too. When you step back, you notice that the little fonts by the horses’ hooves make it look like they are splashing through the water. I loved it. I will say I had a little trouble finding it because I didn’t expect it to be in an office park!
Because of all the travel and a nasty bout of the Plague, I didn’t get much done on the creative front, so I photographed some works in progress instead. First up are the two embroidered quilt blocks I finished for my barn quilt:
Ultimately, the quilt should look something like this:
The images on the quilt include those places that are dearest to me: my grandparents’ house, my childhood home, my grandpa’s tractor, etc.
The on-point setting made the quilt blocks awkward to photograph, however. So did being in public. Do other bloggers live in more rural areas [than Chicago], or do they just have a ton more confidence when taking photos? People walked by me every 5 seconds or so, and several had comments, which ranged from “That’s cool!” to the incoherent and/or hostile. (I live in an “interesting” neighborhood.) Still, I saw two really amazing places I wanted to use as backgrounds but just didn’t have the guts. I was really glad I skipped one of the two since a guy who glared at me walked past me into the building a second before I’d planned to photograph it with my quilt blocks. Eek!
I complained a few weeks ago that most of my poor photos are due to getting home too late to catch the natural light. For the photos above, I did at least have the last shreds of light for the day. I think the photos are still mediocre at best, so… I think I’m taking my first-ever photography course! A community college near where I work offers it as continuing education. The course is on Mondays, which would leave the rest of the week free for work travel, and it’s late enough in the day that it shouldn’t conflict with most of my meetings. I am really excited.
With that bit of info, perhaps you can excuse the poor lighting of the following late-night shots. Since I’m sewing a million little blocks together, I’ve been doing them in strands, and they make the cutest banners:
I like looking at the colors in even the unfinished state of the quilt:
When I was designing the quilt, I was on a lunch break and couldn’t actually touch the fabric. I made this little doodle while I daydreamed about the colors:
With any luck, the blog will soon go from shady instagram sketches to magazine-quality photos!
I chose “craftprowler” as a blog name because I never, ever thought I would be able to design my own projects. I figured I would just make minor alterations to the projects I found on Pinterest. However, I’ve spent a lot of time designing projects since the last time I posted photos. The burst of creativity feels amazing, but there is blessed little to show for my efforts so far!
I bought the notebook featured above at Target. It is responsible for maybe 30% of the projects I’ve designed so far. (Another 40% is Pinterest, and 30% is me.) The reason? It has gridlines, with heavier lines around every 8 boxes. It’s perfect for sketching out quilt ideas.
I haven’t gotten far with sewing the Marcelle Medallion quilt, but I selected all the fabrics and cut out the middle pieces already. This is the layout so far:
(Confession: I actually did start sewing the middle, but the Y-seams stopped me short. I am going home tonight to rip out some of the seams and try again. Apparently, marking is important. Oops! I like the pattern enough that this is the first time I won’t just plow forward with the awkward, first-try version.)
I’ve also drawn several more templates for my Barn Quilt, including this 1982 Buick LeSabre:
I drew a fox to grace either a purse or a pillow – haven’t decided just how to use it yet. Embroidery? Appliqué? Both are possibilities. If you want to use the image and end up making something before I do, please email to let me know! I’d love to see your projects.
After seeing some neat images at the Etsy store of cheesebeforebedtime, I tried doing a self-portrait with the intent to post it as my thumbnail here on the blog. The first result was embarrassing. The second definitely looks like a person, but not like me. Let’s just say it might take a few more tries before it’s worth posting online.
I have also been scheming the past few weeks about how to take better photos for my blog. A major issue is my work schedule. My evening commute is around 2 hours, so even if I get out at a decent time, there’s not much daylight left by the time I get home. The windows of my apartment also face directions/buildings that are not conducive to natural light. My new goal is to work on projects a week ahead of time so I can photograph them on weekends. (Disclaimer: Procrastination may still mean low-resolution iPhone photos.)
Since the new projects I’m working on aren’t quite ready to be revealed, I thought it might be fun to do a book review this week.
Background: I decided to do my first embroidery project in September 2012. I found a pattern I liked and completed it as the first square of my sampler quilt. I did stem stitch for the entire thing since instructions came with the pattern, and I used all 6 strands of my embroidery floss. Since then, I’ve been poking around on Pinterest and finding many new projects that would require enhanced skills. (Check out my Embroidery board on Pinterest!) I’ve read about different techniques and how most embroidery experts use fewer strands of floss. When I found The Stitch Bible by Kate Haxell, I was really excited. I admired it online for months before deciding to buy myself a copy. A major reason for the hesitation was that, due to copyrights, the only photos I could find were of the cover; I wasn’t sure what to expect inside. I didn’t see it at my local stores, although I have to admit I didn’t look especially hard.
Pros: There were some things this book did really well. First, it had really detailed stitching tips. The stitches themselves appeared in the usual A-B-C format graphically, but there was plenty of supporting commentary. Not only did the book cover each stitch extensively, but it also included a wide range of stitches. Finally, the book did a good job of laying out the more basic aspects of embroidery, such as selecting the correct fabric, which needles to use, how the different threads/yarns compare, history of each type of embroidery, etc. Some of the tips were things I’d already read, but many were new.
Neutral: I thought this book would cover many filling stitches for traditional embroidery. Instead, the book split its time among freestyle, hardanger, blackwork, crewelwork, goldwork, pulled thread, canvaswork, and drawn thread–in addition to the basic overviews I’ve already described. I personally would have preferred less of the canvaswork, for example, and more of the blackwork section (featured on the cover). But I do understand this is a matter of personal preference.
Cons: The book covered a limited number of projects: one for each topic. Each project might incorporate a few of the different stitches in that genre, but the photos were so pretty and the stitches so well-described that I found myself wishing for more project ideas. (Internal dialogue: Now that I know how to do the stitching, where would I use this technique?) The other disappointment for me was the lack of photos. Most of the book was comprised of stitch diagrams with just a few photos to show the technique. The photo on the front is a good example. It shows various filling stitches and a fade-out effect and represents almost the entire blackwork section. The photos were so pretty, and I really would have loved to see a photo of each stitch next to the diagram. (Once I have followed the directions, I want to know: Did I do it right?!)
Conclusion: This is the only sewing, craft, or embroidery-related book I have purchased, and I don’t regret my purchase. I find that, combined with the internet, it will be very useful. The book names the stitches and diagrams how to create them. I can supplement with the internet to see what the finished products might look like and how the stitches have been used in other projects.
I paid to have both of the quilts I’ve pieced so far quilted for a variety of reasons: my domestic sewing machine is old , I didn’t want to bunch up the quilt under the arm, I was afraid I would ruin my patchwork by sewing crooked quilting lines, having someone else help was too inexpensive to pass up and a time-saver… But I wanted to take a new level of ownership with my sampler quilt. I wanted to do the piecing and the quilting. Plus, I wanted to highlight the shapes of some of the blocks with the quilting, and I thought it might seem lazy if I had someone else do it within such specific parameters. So I needed to learn about quilting.
Somewhere on Pinterest in the last year, I found an article that said rows of quilting should be 4-6″ apart. I am planning to use this quilt-as-you-go method with my sampler quilt, and I figured the 6″ guideline would be close to what I was planning. Some squares might be a little farther apart, some closer. Could it really be that big a deal? Having determined my quilting method, I promptly put the issue out of my head.
Now I have only a few of the 49 blocks left to piece. That means the time for quilting is almost upon me! Terrified, I revisited my previous research. I found this excellent article on Sew Mama, Sew! about the requirements for different types of batting. The article says most cotton battings (which I’d planned to use since I have leftovers from some baby quilts I made to practice) require quilting every 2-3″ because cotton shifts much more than polyester. That really doesn’t fit with the quilt blocks I made, which will be [about] 12″ finished.
My new plan is to use a blend: the Warm & Natural brand Amy suggests in her article. It was 50% off when I went to the store last week, and it says you can go 10 whole inches (!!) between quilting lines, so I bought 3 packages of queen-size batting. I plan to make my quilt 3 layers thick for extra warmth if I can manage it in my sewing machine. (For some reason, this makes me a nut job to other quilters.) The lady behind me in line at checkout couldn’t help telling me how amazing the brand is… and about the rag quilts she’s making for her granddaughters, one of whom is picky and a teenager. I love fabric outings where everyone wants to tell you about their current projects!
All that said, I wish I could use the batting I already own. My boyfriend (Johann) was funny the other day when he asked in a nonchalant way, “Oh, is this fabric new? It looks good…” He was quiet a minute, then added, “Didn’t patchwork quilts traditionally used to be made with leftover fabric from stuff like clothes?” Nuance is not normally his thing, so I found this endearing–not that it stopped me from buying 10 yards of fabric for the sashing and border. At this point, I figure I’m in so deep with fabrics and batting, I don’t want to ruin the whole thing by putting some ugly, low-thread-count sashing all over. I selected Moda’s Warm Memories in Chocolate Brown. I had an amazing afternoon looking at all of Moda’s fabric collections, past and present.
Embroidering – Barn Quilt
In the same way I have traditionally not quilted my own things because I was scared I’d ruin the patchwork, I was worried I would ruin a piece of embroidery I’m working on when it came time to add knots. I am making a tractor for my barn quilt, and I wanted to include rivets. Too many rivets. I’ll be a regular Rosie the Riveter by the time I finish!
French knots aren’t my thing. When I do them, they look floppy. Below are some French knots I did on the first quilt square I completed for the sampler quilt. They’re buttons on a coat. They’re ugly and really uneven.
Since the next-most-popular knot seems to be the colonial knot, I decided to try that for my tractor rivets. No practicing first, of course. (How often I have regretted this enthusiasm!) The finished product isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than the coat buttons!
I had read that colonial knots consist of figure eights around the needle (with the thread) and that you need both hands. That advice was useful on both counts. I used the graphic from this website to make the knots, and I pressed the knot against the fabric while pulling the thread through to keep the knots tight. Whew! Much more even than the embroidered coat buttons, which I have chosen to consider “charming” and homemade.
Another concern is the traced lines. Each block will be based on a photo from my childhood. Once I’ve finished drawing the template, I size it and trace it onto the fabric. (Wish I could freehand it, but let’s be serious.) I tried air-soluble ink, but that left me with NO LINES when I let the project sit for a few days. Not good. So I switched to water-soluble ink. I read that even water-soluble ink can dissipate in time due to humidity in the air. Since I don’t want to wash my quilt right away, even though the DMC floss I’m using is supposed to be color-safe, I am going to try to use the humidity concept to my advantage and take out the water-soluble lines with a steamer. Wish me luck!
Block Arranging – Sampler Quilt
While I don’t spend much time practicing the more critical techniques like knots or quilting, I spend all the time in the world drawing and computer imaging what the finished quilt will look like. I want to see the result well before the pieces are finished. Below is an image that shows where I started with my sampler quilt (a grid on two different-sized pieces of paper where I drew every quilt block I liked that didn’t have circles or applique or otherwise look too difficult) to where I was mid-stream (closer color approximations since I didn’t have the correct colored pencils when I did the drawing version) to how I expect the finished quilt to look with sashing, using a combination of finished block photos and computer images for blocks I’m still working on.
I didn’t post last week because I was home for my grandma’s funeral. Although I am still grieving, it was nice to see family, and I was so glad I worked on putting photos into albums the week before. My grandma’s next-oldest sister was able to identify most of the people in the hundreds of photos, including some from the early 1900s! Having the photos on pages we could flip through made for quick work, and I’m sure it meant getting through photos we wouldn’t have had time for otherwise.
This past weekend, I really craved quiet time, but I didn’t want to sit around my apartment and dwell on things. My boyfriend suggested we go to his former professor’s second home in South Haven, Michigan. It was perfect. I worked on embroidering the first block of my barn quilt while it snowed Saturday morning. We also visited the town’s lighthouse and kitschy/antique shops.
After I dropped Johann at his dad’s house Sunday evening, I went home and worked on two new blocks for my sampler quilt. I hurried home after work again yesterday to add four more. (Note the ironing board cover has been updated since the Sunday Brunch Jacket.)
Looking back over the past two weeks of projects, the embroidery especially was therapeutic at a difficult time. As an added bonus, some of the photos I shared at my grandma’s funeral are ideal candidates for my barn quilt, now that I know what they depict.