Leftover Fabric: The Toss Across Edition

Leftover Fabric: The Toss Across Edition

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have quite a bit of fabric leftover from the top layer of my quilt, right? Well, I do, and it’s interesting to come up with practical, usable projects that could give that fabric a purpose. This week, I did exactly that, and I’m going to share the idea that was a two-fold win for me: Using a little bit of fabric and creating something that I had a genuine reason for making.

Frozen Toss Across set , and it comes with simple blue throwing bags.

Frozen Toss Across set , and it comes with simple blue throwing bags.

So, my niece has this Frozen Toss Across set , and it comes with simple blue throwing bags. The idea is to tic-tac-toe with Anna or Elsa (whichever character you are) to win, but the thing is that we currently only have three throwing bags out of the original set that we can use. What that boils down to is that the two of us would play the game one toss at a time, and we’d have to keep going over to the board to retrieve the bags for the next round. Sure, it’s doable, but it isn’t as convenient as only having to go bag-retrieving every third toss or so!

Get resourceful

Yesterday, it occurred to me that I have small pieces of material and fewer throwing bags than we used to have. Why not use some of that fabric to make new throwing bags?

It’s a simple idea, and the process was fairly to-the-point. All I needed beyond the sewing essentials of fabric, needles, thread, and pins was something to fill up the bag, which I honestly had to think on for a while — maybe until I was ready to fill the throwing bag. I thought about trying small rocks, but I was sewing at night. Since I didn’t want to wait until morning to finish my trial sewing bag or go rock hunting at night, I needed another option. At some point, it dawned on me that I have blue sand that could work, but you might find something just as fitting for the purpose around your house. Just think a little outside of the box, and the fillings might take shape!

Time to begin

I took one of the pieces of fabric & folded it in half since the fabric size was nearly ideal to make two separate throwing bags.

I took one of the pieces of fabric & folded it in half since the fabric size was nearly ideal to make two separate throwing bags.

Now that we have the list of supplies, it’s time to get into how all of them came together into a Toss Across throwing bag. First, I took one of the pieces of fabric and folded it in half since the fabric size was nearly ideal to make two separate throwing bags. These bags needed to be small enough to flip spaces on the board, after all! Once I cut the fabric in half, I again cut it in the opposite direction so that what started as one piece of material was now four individual pieces — two for each throwing bag.

Luckily, these are small products, so I only needed about three pins to hold them!

Luckily, these are small products, so I only needed about three pins to hold them!

Then it was time to pin them. Luckily, these are small products, so I only needed about three pins to hold them! I took two pieces of the fabric and placed them together so that their printed sides were facing one another and pinned them on three sides to hold them steady. Note: This is also a good time to trim off any excess fabric on the ends if they’re terribly uneven with one another, though these seams will be inside the bag anyway. You don’t have to be too careful to make things perfect!

From there, it was time to sew, which was a pretty straightforward process! Three sides needed to be closed up completely, but I needed to keep that fourth side open to fill the sewing bag before I closed it as well. I simply sewed one side, then the next, and then the next. Then, it was time to flip the bag so that the printed fabric was now on the outside and add in what I decided would be blue sand to fill it. Again though, you can try a different tactic to fill the throwing bag — sand, beads, etc.

You can try a different tactics to fill the throwing bag — sand, beads, etc.

You can try a different tactics to fill the throwing bag — sand, beads, etc.

Be sure though while you’re filling the throwing bag that you don’t fill it too full. It’s important that it’s weighty enough to be able to turn one of the Toss Across spaces, but if it’s too full, you might have a hard time sewing that final side together. As it happens, I ended up towing the line, so for future projects, I might use a little less filling!

Once I’d finished with the filling, I sewed that final line together. I did this by folding the edges inward, kind of like I was wrapping a present, then folded the line downward to pin it in place. After that, I just had to sew what I’d pinned and cut the thread.

I did this by folding the edges inward, kind of like I was wrapping a present, then folded the line downward to pin it in place.

I did this by folding the edges inward, kind of like I was wrapping a present, then folded the line downward to pin it in place.

I have plenty of fabric to keep making these, but already with this one bag, I’ve evened up the throwing bag numbers so we can play two rounds at a time!

Do NOT iron minky directly!

Tips for Sewing with Minky Fabric (Cuddle or Plush Fabric)

Tips for Sewing with Minky Fabric (Cuddle or Plush Fabric)

I know a lot of people that shy away from sewing or quilting with minky but I’m here to tell you that minky is not the bogey-woman some people make it out to be, as long as you follow some important tips to make your sewing with it a success.

1. Pre-washing is not needed. Well, at least for the minky that is. Plush fabrics are made from polyester so they don’t shrink. If you’ll be pairing with fabrics that do shrink, then pre-wash the other fabrics in advance.

Minky bumps

2. Nap! Minky has a nap. Nap is the raised or fuzzy/bumpy parts you find on certain fabric (think velvet). If you brush your hand one way on minky, it will be soft, if you brush it the other way, it will be rougher. Take the direction of the nap into the consideration when cutting out your project.

Take the direction of the nap into the consideration when cutting out your project.

Take the direction of the nap into the consideration when cutting out your project.

3. Minky can STRETCH! But only from one direction. Take a piece of the fabric you are working with and stretch it one direction and then the other. You’ll find the stretchy side very quickly. I make sure to not ever leave my hole for turning on the super stretchy side.

Minky can STRETCH! But only from one direction.

Minky can STRETCH! But only from one direction.

4. Use the right needle and correct sewing foot. A lot of guides will recommend a universal needle size of 12. I prefer size 14, but find what works for you. Additionally, if you have a walking foot, use it! If you are too lazy to use your walking foot (or don’t have one), I find minky sews better when you place it on the bottom and the regular fabric on the top.

Use a walking foot. I find minky sews better when you place it on the bottom and the regular fabric on the top.

Use a walking foot. I find minky sews better when you place it on the bottom and the regular fabric on the top.

5. Seam allowance and stitch length – I tend to give myself more room with minky and usually use a 1/2” seam allowance. I also use a longer stitch length, around 4.

6. DO NOT IRON MINKY DIRECTLY. It will melt. I promise you. You need to even be careful ironing with another fabric placed on top as pressing too hard or with too much heat will ruin the nap or little bumps of the minky underneath.

7. Pins, clips and washable basting spray or this Wash-A-Way Wonder Tape are your friends with minky. Use them excessively and you’ll get much better results.

https://www.sewingmachinesplus.com/tacony-BT14.php

Pins, clips and washable basting spray or this Wash-A-Way Wonder Tape are your friends with minky.

Pins, clips and washable basting spray or this Wash-A-Way Wonder Tape are your friends with minky.

8. Top stitch!! Top stitching minky will really help to remove bulk, keep the seams in line and make your project look more professional.

Top stitching minky will really help to remove bulk, keep the seams in line and make your project look more professional.

Top stitching minky will really help to remove bulk, keep the seams in line and make your project look more professional.

9. Use a rotary cutter and a vacuum. Rotary cutters help make very exact cuts with minky. I also suggest having your vacuum nearby to clean up after cutting and to clean out your machine as you sew. SewingMachinesPlus.com has a variety of vacuum cleaners for your sewing room.

https://www.sewingmachinesplus.com/tacony-fb-gim.php

10. Practice! You’ll get better the more you use it. Soon, you’ll be wondering what all the fuss is about when others say they shy away from sewing with plush fabrics.

Do you have any tips for making sewing with cuddle fabrics a success? Let us know what works for you in comments!

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.
Costume Department Positions for Movies and Television Shows

Costume Department Positions for Movies and Television Shows

Last week, I wrote about how it takes a whole team of individuals to make a television show or movie, often more than most people realize. Then I got to thinking about all the conversations I’ve had throughout my life trying to explain to family, friends, acquaintances and sometimes strangers, what I do at work and what others in my department do.

One of the daily call sheets for Blindspot which lists the positions with call time (time to report to work). O/C means on call and is what is used for those who do not need to be on the actual shooting set.

One of the daily call sheets for Blindspot which lists the positions with call time (time to report to work). O/C means on call and is what is used for those who do not need to be on the actual shooting set.

Here’s a list of some common positions found in costume and wardrobe departments of films and television shows.

But first, the difference between the costume and wardrobe departments. Theses terms are basically interchangeable but, if a dividing line were to be drawn it would separate the costume and wardrobe departments by union locals.

The labor union for theatre, film, television and live events, founded in 1893, is IATSE or, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, its Territories and Canada.

Designers, assistant designers, shoppers and coordinators are normally members of Locals 829 (United Scenic Artists) or 892 (Costume Designers Guild). There are various locals across the country that are wardrobe specific. In New York City, the wardrobe local is 764.

Common costume and wardrobe positions on movies and television shows

Design/Costume Department:

Costume Designer

This is fairly self-explanatory. The costume designer is responsible for developing the look and feel of a show. They usually spend time talking with producers or the creators of a show, reading scripts and discussing character with the actors and actresses, as well as researching. They conduct fittings and manage the entire department.

Assistant Costume Designer

Again, pretty self-explanatory. Often, the assistant designer is the one who dresses the background actors. They also often deal with the budgets.

Shopper

The shopper spends his or her day out in the world, shopping. Being a shopper in NYC is completely different than being a shopper anywhere else because well, you can’t get around NYC efficiently in a car. NYC shoppers spend a lot of time walking, schlepping and taking the subway. There’s often a costume department driver who will meet them to pick up purchases.

Wardrobe Department (764 positions):

Wardrobe Supervisor

This position is the department head. He or she manages the day-to-day execution of the designers vision. They are responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly on set. They spend a lot of time looking ahead and anticipating problems and catastrophes before they arise. They are also very good at putting out fires.

Set Costumer

A set costumer takes care of the actors on set. He or she is responsible for continuity (making sure the correct outfit is worn at the correct time in the proper manner). Shows are rarely, if ever, filmed in order. A set costumer watches during filming and makes adjustments as needed. He or she pays attention to things like: How many buttons are buttoned, are the sleeves of the shirt supposed to be rolled, should that bag be over the right or left shoulder.

There is usually more than one set costumer on a show. Some actors have personal set costumers who only take care of them but most television shows don’t have the budget for this. Some high paid, “famous” actors have a personal costumer written into their contracts.

In Europe, a set costumer is often called a stand by costumer.

Production Assistant

Every department tends to have a production assistants who are usually people just starting out in the business. They do all sorts of things. In the world of television they spend a lot of time returning unused clothing and organizing receipts.

Costume Coordinator

I always think of the Costume Coordinator as the glue that holds the entire department together. They should really be paid more money than what they are.

They are the accountants of the department, the phone call makers, the calmer of nerves, the birthday party planners, the detectives, the soothsayers, the joke makers, the ice cream and alcohol buyers, the lunatic whisperers and the magicians. A costume department with a shoddy coordinator will most certainly fall apart at some point.

On Blindspot, we are very lucky to have an amazing coordinator named Sade.

Tailor

Most contemporary television shows have one full time tailor who is responsible for alterations and clothing construction. Big, costume heavy shows often have a full in house costume shop.

What to Consider When Purchasing a Sewing Machine

What to Consider When Purchasing a Sewing Machine

You’ve finally decided to make the leap and buy a sewing machine. The only problem is when you walk into the store there are so many choices and price ranges. You’re not sure what you need or how much you should really spend. Without getting into a bunch of technical details and specifications, there is a way to narrow down your options.

What to Consider When Purchasing a Sewing Machine

Usage

Think about what you’re going to be doing with the machine. Are you planning to quilt? Make basic clothing and home décor items? Embroider? What you’ll be making and how frequently are important factors. Some machines are more multi-purpose than others. For basic sewers with a few interests, these can be a good option.

Complexity and ease of use

The more settings and options a sewing machine has, the more complex it likely is to use. Unless you’re planning to use your sewing machine to start a business, you don’t need a machine with too many options, no matter how good they sound in theory. It’s far more likely that a sturdy, basic machine with easy to use and understand controls will be best for your needs.

Price

Many people shop by brand name. Singer is a long-standing reliable brand, but they can also be on the pricier side. Instead, I suggest you eliminate the cheapest and most expensive options. Make your selection from the ones remaining in the middle using the tips above.

Embroidery Software and Designs Guide

Embroidery Software and Designs Guide

There is a wide array of embroidery software and design choices available

Embroidery Software Pin

Embroidery Software Pin

When I shared an embroidery machine buyer’s guide last week, I did not touch on the subject of embroidery software and downloadable designs. That’s because you don’t need to buy any software or additional designs to start creating on an embroidery machine.

But once you have gotten comfortable with your machine, chances are you will want to expand your capabilities and design options by investing in more designs and/or software.

Without a good understanding of the different options, this subject can be just as confusing as choosing a machine. Let’s look at the different types of embroidery software and additional designs available in order to gain a clear view of the different types of software and other options available for extending your possible embroidery designs. Your choices include:

  • Design collections
  • Membership club
  • Digital downloads
  • Editing software
  • Lettering software
  • Digitizing software
  • Thumbnailers
  • Cataloging programs

Designs on disc

An easy investment to start building a larger library of embroidery designs is to purchase collections on CD-ROM. There are a ton of options to choose from in this category. Each will include many designs within a particular theme.

A great choice for these is Anita Goodesigns, which offers a huge collection of gorgeous designs. Sewing Machines Plus has fifteen pages of different Anita Goodesigns to choose from, including:

  • Baby designs, from vintage to cartoon-style, and everything in between
  • Holiday, seasonal, and religious motifs
  • Animal designs, both whimsical and realistic
  • Butterflies, dragonflies, and bugs
  • Fruits, vegetables, and baked goods such as cupcakes and donuts
  • Foliage and flowers galore
  • Faeries
  • Customizable designs for your sewing club
  • Mandalas
  • And plenty more
Anita Goodesigns Sun

Anita Goodesigns Sun

These collections work for many different machine formats: ART, DST, EMD, EXP, HUS, JEF, PCS, PES, SEW, SHV, VIP, and XXX.

You may also like to check out design collections from Amazing Designs, Dakota Collectibles,  Michelle’s Designs and Notcina.

VIP Club

Individual design collections on disc are an inexpensive way to start expanding your design library. But if you are like me, you will want them all! Buying all the individual collections separately would require a tremendous investment. But luckily, the folks at Anita Goodesigns realize that we will want them all, and so they made it easy for us to get them with their membership club.

The VIP club gives you ALL of the designs previously released, and then sends you the new designs that are released throughout the year. Plus, they include more member benefits, such as all the quilt and cutwork designs, as well. To read about all these benefits and extras, head over to the Anita Goodesigns Club page.

Digital downloads

You can find many designs online, through Etsy and elsewhere, available as digital downloads.

You need to know which file format your embroidery machine requires before downloading designs. Different machines require different formats and other formats are not compatible. For example, most Janome machines use .JEF files, Singer uses .XXX, Brother and Babylock generally use .PES format. Be sure to choose the correct format for your machine when downloading designs. However, if you own editing software, which we will discuss next, you can convert design formats.

You can find some free designs for digital download online. It is also possible to get premium designs for free. For example, Floriani includes a POP coupon code for a free design download on the label inside each package of their stabilizers. Once you collect ten of these codes, you can redeem them for ten design downloads. You will need stabilizer for all your embroidery designs. Floriani stabilizers are high-quality and are available in all types and weights. So the free download bonus packaged inside makes choosing these stabilizers a no-brainer.

You can also get five free Floriani downloads every month after you buy their Total Control software, which we will discuss soon.

Embroidery software for editing

Editing software will allow you to do many things, such as:

  • Resize designs and recalculate stitches
  • Merge designs
  • Convert thread brands
  • Colorize
  • Add lettering, including large letters
  • Convert design formats to the type your machine accepts
  • Overlap designs
  • Change or remove individual colors in a design
  • And more

Editing software is available in a wide range of prices. Embrilliance Essentials is an awesome option that is super affordable and will allow you to easily do all of the above, plus more. This program works on both Windows and MAC operating systems, too.

Embroidery software for digitizing

If you want to stretch your creativity further and make your own designs, then you need digitizing software. This type of software will take a piece of clipart, a vector drawing, or other image and convert it into an embroidery design.  Digitizing software will also convert fonts from your computer into letter embroidery. They can do lots of other amazing things, too; for example, you can use them to convert regular embroidery designs into cross stitch.

Many folks consider Floriani digitizing software to be the best. It is a super high quality all-in-one program which covers every possible editing and digitizing function. It also comes with the added benefits of having tons of tutorials and other help available online, and the five free design downloads a month that I mentioned previously here.

I prefer a different option, however.  I’ll be going with the Artistic Suite and Artistic Premium upgrade for my own embroidery software, and here’s why:

The Artistic Suite and Premium software costs less and includes more. This software goes beyond embroidery and includes a slew of helpful applications for quilting, appliqué, reverse appliqué, fabric cutting, heat transfer, and making elaborate rhinestone designs.  It is also useful for scrapbooking applications, and will make cut-outs from most anything, including paper, foam, and even balsa wood.

Artistic Suite does all these things as an editor, and the Premium upgrade adds digitizing capabilities. I’m amazed by everything I can do with these programs, and I can buy both of them without spending an arm and a leg! The Artistic program is available for both single needle and multi-needle machines.

Embroidery software: thumbnailers and cataloging

The Embrilliance thumbnailer is a little program that you won’t want to be without. And the price is so nice that there is no need not to pick this up right away.

This program collects all your embroidery designs into one place on your computer and lines them up as thumbnail images so that you can easily them all. Without it, you have to search and view every design individually, which can cost a lot of time and cause much frustration. But there is no need to waste any time or be frustrated at all when this solution is so simple. It is compatible with both PC and MAC.

There is another option for cataloging your designs into categories on your computer. That is Floriani’s My Design Album. This program is easy to install and will find all the various embroidery designs on your computer and compile them into one easy-to-find place. Then you can set up categories to find these designs more easily. The Design Album includes some editing capabilities as well.

Now is the best time to buy

February is National Embroidery Month, and Sewing Machines Plus is celebrating by offering big discounts on all embroidery equipment and supplies. So now is a great time to invest in additional embroidery designs and embroidery software. Take advantage of these great deals and expand your design library and capabilities today!

Raggedy Coasters

Raggedy Coasters

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and as you might know from previous posts, I’m a holiday fan! In fact, I spent time researching Valentine’s Day projects for a post, and I chose one specific sewing craft that I thought was a cute idea. That concept is a raggedy coaster with a heart in the middle, which seemed simple and pretty. It was also useful since I have a Valentine’s Day party coming up with my nieces and nephew. I have plenty of leftover fabric from my latest quilt, so using it for homemade décor for the party sounded like a good notion!

That concept is a raggedy coaster with a heart in the middle, which seemed simple & pretty.

That concept is a raggedy coaster with a heart in the middle, which seemed simple & pretty.

Unfortunately though, one detail of the project did get derailed because I decided I didn’t like the Cupid cutout that I had planned to use in the center of my coaster. It looked amateur and out of place, so I made the executive decision not to use it. That meant that the coaster wasn’t very Valentine’s Day-ish since the top portion is a general floral pattern, but I was still interested to see how things would play out. And, as I’d been wanting to try a rag quilt for a while, this was a good time to test the waters. If I didn’t like the process of making one rag coaster, an entire rag quilt might not be something I wanted to dive into!

Stock up

The needed supplies are fairly minimal. All you really need are the bare essentials of a sewing project, like a needle, thread, fabric, pins, and scissors. Once you have those, you’re ready to start work on your coaster!

First, pick out the material you’ll use. Ideally, you would have batting in between the top and bottom layers because this raggedy craft can be, in truth, a miniature quilt sandwich. For me though, I didn’t have any batting available, so I decided to layer four pieces of fabric together. That way, there’s more thickness than what I would’ve gotten from just three pieces of thin fabric.

Let’s get started

Once you choose your material, make sure the pieces are cut into similar-sized bits that are more or less quadrilaterals. This is actually one benefit of a rag coaster or quilt. You’ll be shredding the ends anyway, so it doesn’t matter if they’re the exact same length at every point. Just make sure they’re close enough that, with the raggedy edges, they’ll look the same!

You’ll need to allow extra space beyond where you sew the pieces together for your ragged edges.

You’ll need to allow extra space beyond where you sew the pieces together for your ragged edges.

From there, you layer those fabric/batting pieces in the correct order and pin them together — but not necessarily right at the ends of the material. You’ll need to allow extra space beyond where you sew the pieces together for your ragged edges. Also, if you find after pinning that you have a bit of extra material that’s going to really stick out once your coaster has been shredded, feel free to trim off those ends.

Feel free to trim off those ends.

Feel free to trim off those ends.

Time to sew

Then you can start sewing! Remember to try for a box shape within your block of fabric, and to keep that space away from the edges. After you’ve sewn all the way around to finish that box shape, cut off the excess thread and get ready to do some shredding!

Be careful to give a decent number of cuts as you go around the fabric because the more you cut, the more thorough your raggedy quality could be!

Be careful to give a decent number of cuts as you go around the fabric because the more you cut, the more thorough your raggedy quality could be!

Now, shredding happens to be a bit more time consuming than I expected, but it’s a simple process! All you do is take your scissors and cut from the edges of the fabric inward, but never so far that you cut your stitches since that can seriously damage your final product! Also, be careful to give a decent number of cuts as you go around the fabric because the more you cut, the more thorough your raggedy quality could be!

Common mistake

Another tip on shredding is to make sure that you’re cutting through all layers of your coaster or quilt. I noticed a time or two that I’d left the bottom layer uncut for some of my shreds, so missing a space here or there is an easy thing to do! For a thorough job, check your results as you go along!

Once the shreds are finished, you’re ready to throw your product in the washing machine! Believe it or not, the washing and drying process makes those simple cuts attain that raggedy appearance!

What I learned from this experience is that making a rag quilt is going to be more complex than I expected. I’ll need to cut fabric, layer it, sew it, then shred it, and shredding is pretty tedious! I honestly wasn’t mentally prepared for what awaited me, and I think I have a better idea now. Although it’s different than the quilts/blankets I’ve made before, I’m still interested in making one. So, basically, the hunt for a Valentine’s Day project worked out differently than I thought — but still well!

Embroidery Machine Buyer’s Guide

Embroidery Machine Buyer’s Guide

Which embroidery machine should you buy?

Here’s an embroidery machine buyer’s guide to help you decide

Which embroidery machine should you buy? Here’s an embroidery machine buyer’s guide to help you decide.

Which embroidery machine should you buy? Here’s an embroidery machine buyer’s guide to help you decide.

Choosing an embroidery machine can be confusing. There is a dizzying array of model choices and feature options available.

But there is no need to be overwhelmed. For the last several weeks, I have studied this issue to get a clear idea of how to choose the best embroidery machine. I have tested and played with every machine I could get my hands on. I also poured over the details for most every embroidery machine on the market.

And I talked to Torrie Root, the super helpful Sales Manager at Sewing Machines Plus. We talked more than once for a long time and I asked her a ton of questions.  She answered all my questions in depth. She also sent me more info so I could study this question further.

I have compiled everything I learned into this embroidery machine buyer’s guide. Hopefully this will help you decide which embroidery machine to buy to suit your needs best.

Embroidery machine considerations

There are several things to consider when buying an embroidery machine. These include:

  • Cost and Value
  • Embroidery field and hoop sizes
  • Design library
  • Connectivity
  • Display quality
  • Embroidery only vs combo machine
  • Extra features

Cost and value

Because embroidery machines tend to cost more than regular sewing machines, you want to get the most value for your money. You also want to ensure that you choose a machine that will serve you happily for many years. It would be a waste of your money to go for a model that you will soon outgrow.

Your embroidery machine is an investment and you want to choose the best machine you can afford.

For me, I know an entry-level machine will not satisfy me for long.  I will want more and better features than a basic machine comes equipped with. So I would rather save up for a little while to be able to afford a higher quality machine that I can grow with, rather than one I will soon outgrow.

Embroidery field and hoop sizes

Many embroidery machines are limited and can embroider only a small area. Some of these lower priced machines have an embroidery field of only four inches square!

I know I will want more creative freedom than a four inch square field, and I bet you will too.

There are many options for machines that come packaged with multiple hoops in different sizes. And most of these machines offer other hoop sizes and shapes that you can purchase separately to use with these machines, too. I definitely recommend choosing a machine that offers you multiple options for hooping.

Design options and connectivity

Different machines are loaded with different sized libraries of embroidery designs. Some have many more than others. And some offer prettier and more useful designs. I looked at a few machines that had boring designs and nothing much that I would actually want to use. Of course you will want to choose a machine that offers you plenty of embroidery designs that you like and will want to use.

However, you can also download and/or purchase additional designs online or on disc, so you will not be limited to the design library that comes with your machine.

Some machines make this easier to do than others, however. There are some embroidery machines which require an actual computer connection for additional designs, while others have a USB port so that you can use a little flash drive for transferring extra designs, instead.

This makes more sense if your computer is a desktop in the den, for example. I wouldn’t want to have to connect my embroidery machine in the den; that computer desk doesn’t have enough space for an embroidery machine. So I’ll definitely buy one with a USB port so I can sit at my computer in the den to shop and download designs and then easily bring the designs to my sewing room on a thumb drive.

Display

Here’s another reason why I know I don’t want a basic model embroidery machine: there is a drastic difference between the displays of different machines. Some offer only a tiny window and no clear picture of the designs to choose from.

I want a clear view of the design I am embroidering, and I don’t want to have to consult the book or connect to the computer every time I use my machine. This is an important consideration when you are making multi colored designs, for example.  I want a display where I can see at a glance an actual picture of the design in full color.

Take a look at the difference between the displays on these two machines, for example, and you’ll see just what I mean:

Embroidery only or combo machine?

Since I already have a sewing machine that I really love, I was thinking that I would be able to get the best value for my money by going with an embroidery only machine. I figured I didn’t need to spend money on sewing capabilities when I am already well equipped for sewing. I also thought it would be more efficient to switch between two adjacent machines for two functions rather than having to switch functions on the same machine between tasks.

I’ve changed my mind about this, however. That’s because most of the better machines are combination sewing and embroidery machines. This is great because a machine that both sews and embroiders offers more bang for your buck. And these machines are larger with more sewing features and space than most regular sewing machines have.

If you are a quilter like me, you will really appreciate the extra space these machines offer. It is not likely that your favorite sewing machine is as nice as your new sewing and embroidery machine will be! So in addition to adding an embroidery machine to your collection, you will be adding your new favorite sewing machine, too.

There is one reason you might prefer to go with an embroidery-only machine, however. If you plan to operate a home business and do a ton of embroidery, you may want to consider a multi-needle machine.  This kind of home embroidery machine will complete your designs more quickly.

Multi-needle embroidery machines are also the only machines that will do a good job with embroidering hats. Torrie told me that all the combination models have a little trouble with this task, so if you think you will want or need to do embroidery on hats, you will want to consider this type of embroidery-only machine.

Helpful features:

Some embroidery machines are complicated to use. Extra features ensure ease of use and add a lot of extra value to some machines. Here are some helpful features that you might really want your machine to have:

  • Automatic thread tension – When your machine automatically adjusts the thread tension, there is no chance of mistakes due to improper tension.
  • Thread trimming – Trimming all your threads by hand can be a pain. A machine that automatically clips all your threads for you will save a lot of time.
  • Embellishment capability – In addition to regular embroidering, you may also want to be able to do sequins and beadings. Some machines offer attachments that will enable you to attach these.
  • Archable fonts – Allow you to curve your lettering. This offers more design freedom and can look a whole lot more attractive than straight monogramming when combined with other designs.
  • Onscreen editing – On some machines, you can’t edit designs much, if at all. Many machines allow size editing of no more than 20%. A few machines offer greater size editing, and some allow you to create your own designs by offering corners and borders which can be combined with other design parts.
  • Variable speed – Some machines have variable speed controls, which you can set to start slowly and gradually speed up.
  • Knee lifter – This handy gadget lets you use your knee to lift the presser foot, leaving your hands free.

My choice:

I thought I was in the market for an embroidery-only machine, but after carefully considering every option available, my choice for the best machine for me is the Janome Memory Craft 9900 combo machine. On this machine, you can sew with the embroidery unit attached, so you don’t need to reconfigure the machine when switching between functions.

The Memory Craft 9900 offers 175 different embroidery designs, including pieces and parts for creating your own designs, and 200 sewing and quilting stitches. It has archable monograms, a knee lifter, and all the other helpful extra features I have already listed. Plus a full color display and much more.

This exceptional machine is packed full of value with way too many extra features for me to list here. Instead, I’ll invite you to check out this page at Sewing Machines Plus to read all about it.

I am a Janome loyalist because I have consistently found Janome machines to offer the most user-friendly features and best value for my money. Though the MC9900 is not Janome’s most expensive machine, it offers top-of-the-line features. And Sewing Machines Plus is throwing in hundreds of dollars worth of extra attachments, for free. All this is why I see this model embroidery machine as clearly the best choice for me.  If you are looking for a great value for an exceptional machine, I recommend that you choose this one, too.

Do My Seams Have to Be Perfect?

Do My Seams Have to Be Perfect?

I hear this question a lot from my sewing students. Beginning sewers are nervous about their ability to sew along the line without small bobbles. They’re worried that any imperfections will ruin their sewing project. I’m going to tell you the same thing I tell them.

Do My Seams Have to Be Perfect?

Do My Seams Have to Be Perfect?

Do your seams have to be perfect? No. Ninety degree jogs in and out probably won’t look right, but a slight wavering here and there usually isn’t a problem. If you’re making something that’s skin-tight kind of fitted, it matters a lot more than if you’re making something loose fitting or flowy.

Since the first project I have my sewing students make is a bean bag or pillow, I tell them to play around with it. PURPOSELY mess up a seam and see how it looks on the finished project. I suggest you try it too. You don’t have to make a beanbag, use a piece of scrap material that’s the same fabric as you’ll be using for your finished project. Pull the seam really tight – you’ll be able to see exactly how any imperfections in the seam line will appear. Most of the time, it’s not noticeable.

A few exceptions: skin tight clothing, spandex or other elastic materials, seams sewn in a contrasting color that are seen on the outside of your completed work. In each of these cases, the seams are quite noticeable. Take your time with them.

Don’t forget, if you sew a seam and discover you’re not happy with it, you can always rip it out. I know it’s not ideal, but one of the things I love about sewing is there’s nothing that’s not correctable. For me, it takes away some of the stress.

If fear of not having perfect seams has been holding you back from starting a sewing project, or learning to sew at all, set that fear aside and give it a try! You’ll be glad you did.

It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village

I was thinking about writing a post this week about some of the favorite things that I’ve made throughout the years. But, once I really started trying to decide, I realized I had way too many ‘favorites’ to put in just one post, mainly because I’ve made a ridiculous amount of stuff. Truth be told, I can’t remember a lot of it.

Also, ‘favorite’, is a bit of a shifty word. I have favorites for all kinds of reasons: favorite fabric, favorite pattern, favorite last minute construction miracle, favorite vintage piece, favorite thing made without a pattern, favorite complicated pattern, favorite funky design detail, favorite sewing technique.

So, I decided instead to write a little about some of the most memorable things I’ve made. Most (perhaps all) of them listed here were for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, designed by John Dunn and Lisa Padovani.

And speaking of designers…

I just want to clarify that every show and movie has a Costume Designer. Sometimes, on low budget and indie or college productions, the costume designer is the same person who also makes and shops the clothes. This is not the case on any mid to high budget shows. It takes a village to create the finished product. I didn’t design anything for Boardwalk Empire or any of the other major television shows and movies I’ve worked on as a tailor and pattern maker. I just make what is in the designer’s head.

How do I know what’s in the designer’s head?

Sometimes I get a sketch, sometimes pictures and photos from magazines and catalogues, sometimes vintage garments to use as a starting point, and sometimes it’s just a conversation with a scribbled line drawing on a manila oak tag.

And one other thing about the village: I made the patterns for all of the pieces to follow but, most times, I had the help of very talented tailors in the construction of the finished product.

A (partial) list of most memorables:

Outfit from an existing vintage pattern.

Outfit from an existing vintage pattern.

I used an existing 1930s vintage pattern for this ensemble. I altered the pattern slightly for fit. It’s a bit hard to see in the photo, but the jumper has an asymmetrical over lap opening in the front (that button is functional.) If I recall correctly, I did put together the blouse but I know that the jumper was constructed by one of the tailors in the shop, Amy.

Showgirl ensemble:

Showgirl ensemble.

Showgirl ensemble.

We made quite a few showgirl ensembles for Boardwalk but the sailor girls were my favorite. The trickiest part of any of the showgirl things was always the time constraints. We routinely had a week (at most) to construct the outfits, and this was on top of all the other things we were making and altering. Thankfully, the actresses playing the showgirls remained the same throughout the season so once I had their measurements I was able to pattern (relatively) efficiently and go straight to fabric without doing any sort of mock up. Any showgirl extravaganza was always a true group effort, as in the day before the costumes were needed, almost every single person in the shop was working on them.

Costume involving fish:

Costume involving fish.

Costume involving fish.

We made two of these for the final season of Boardwalk Empire. The fish have batting and wire in them to make them slightly three dimensional, and there are two more on the back. These took an especially long time as all the pearl trim had to sewn on by hand.

Complete outfit in shortest amount of time:

Complete outfit in shortest amount of time.

Complete outfit in shortest amount of time.

I will always remember this one. I had literally two days to get this done. On the morning of the first day, the actor came in for measurements. I started patterning as soon as he walked out the door. John (designer) found fabric he wanted to use that we already had in house so I was able to cut as soon as my patterning was done. I handed off the jacket pieces to one person and the pants to another and I put together the vest. The very next afternoon, I did the fitting. As you can see from the photo, the only changes needed were a sleeve and pant hem. This illustrates the importance of proper (and extensive) measurements.

Strangest costume:

One of the oddest costumes I’ve made were these lobsters, again for Boardwalk.

One of the oddest costumes I’ve made were these lobsters, again for Boardwalk.

One of the oddest costumes I’ve made were these lobsters, again for Boardwalk. I think the over bodice and sleeves were attached to the tail bit and it was put on like a coat, snapping and tying center front. I do remember the use of quite a large amount of wire.

Most adorable:

Most adorable.

Most adorable.

I patterned all of the boys’ things for Boardwalk. The principal men’s suits were made by Greenfield’s in Brooklyn but the in house shop that I ran always did the suits and jackets for the younger boys.

So that’s a short list of some of my most memorable projects. There are definitely many more though. One of the best things about my job is that there is always something new to make.

How to Sew a Square Pillow with Piping

How to Sew a Square Pillow with Piping

While conceptually the idea of sewing a square pillow case sounds easy, there are several things to consider when you undertake this task.

While conceptually the idea of sewing a square pillow case sounds easy, there are several things to consider when you undertake this task.

Go smaller

The cardinal rule of making your own pillow cases is to make them approximately an inch smaller than the pillow form you want them to cover. If you have a 22” x 22” pillow, you need to make the case 21” x 21”. Of course, don’t forget your seam allowances. If you use ¼” seam allowances, than you would cut a piece of fabric that is 21.5” x 21.5”.

The cardinal rule of making your own pillow cases is to make them approximately an inch smaller than the pillow form you want them to cover.

The cardinal rule of making your own pillow cases is to make them approximately an inch smaller than the pillow form you want them to cover.

Fussy cut

I normally wouldn’t advocate for drawing your lines on the front of your fabric, but this fabric by Hawthorne Threads needs to be cut to the size of the panel you want for your pillow case. When fussy cutting, sometimes drawing on the front of the fabric is necessary to ensure correct sizing. Haven’t heard of the term ‘to fussy cut?” It means to carefully cut out a piece of fabric for a specific purpose.

It means to carefully cut out a piece of fabric for a specific purpose.

It means to carefully cut out a piece of fabric for a specific purpose.

See the center pieces of these quilt blocks by Amy Gibson of The Cookbook Quilt Along? These are prime example of taking the time to fussy cut your fabric.

These are prime example of taking the time to fussy cut your fabric.

These are prime example of taking the time to fussy cut your fabric.

Choose your pillow back

Once you’ve cut your front panel, you’ll need to cut your back. You can finish pillows many ways. Check out my post from last fall on different options for pillows. I chose to do an envelope close, so I made cut two panels the same height as my pillow, but each was 13.5” wide. That allows for a folded, sewn hem on each of the ‘opening’ portions of the back panel.

That allows for a folded, sewn hem on each of the ‘opening’ portions of the back panel.

That allows for a folded, sewn hem on each of the ‘opening’ portions of the back panel.

Consider interfacing

For added pop, I fuse lightweight interfacing to the front panel fabric. It has such a gorgeous design that I want it to stay crisp and firm while it sits on my bed looking fabulous.

Curve your corners

This step is so important!! I have a small piece of cardstock that I’ve cut to help me round the corners of my square. Why would I do this, you ask? Because pillows are 2-3. They are big and fluffy and when you attempt to sew straight sides of a square you often end up with starfish points instead of nice, square corners.

I have a small piece of cardstock that I’ve cut to help me round the corners of my square.

I have a small piece of cardstock that I’ve cut to help me round the corners of my square.

This is an example of a pillow cover that didn’t have rounded corners before it was sewn. Trust me on this, it makes all the difference!

This is an example of a pillow cover that didn’t have rounded corners before it was sewn.

This is an example of a pillow cover that didn’t have rounded corners before it was sewn.

To pipe or not to pipe?

That is indeed the question. I love the contrast that piping gives pillows. If your machine has a piping foot, now is the time to install it.

If you are new to this step, consider pinning the piping in place. This is not my first rodeo, so I just sew and go.

Consider pinning the piping in place.

Consider pinning the piping in place.

Make sure your piping follows those slightly rounded corners. Don’t forget to snip the piping edge just up to the seam so that if folds nicely around each corner.

Don’t forget to snip the piping edge just up to the seam so that if folds nicely around each corner.

Don’t forget to snip the piping edge just up to the seam so that if folds nicely around each corner.

Now place your two backing pieces on top of the front panel, right sides together. Pin, and sew.

Now place your two backing pieces on top of the front panel, right sides together.

Now place your two backing pieces on top of the front panel, right sides together.

Not so fast

Once you’re done, YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY DONE. No. Unpin everything and flip the cover right sides out. Carefully inspect all along the seams and make sure no thread is showing from the piping like you see here. If you find anything that needs to be tightened up, flip the pillowcase inside out again and resew the hem, making sure to sew just to the edge of the piping for a nice clean finish.

Carefully inspect all along the seams and make sure no thread is showing from the piping like you see here.

Carefully inspect all along the seams and make sure no thread is showing from the piping like you see here.

Flip the pillow right sides out and again carefully inspect it. If all looks good, turn it inside out AGAIN and then then trim the edges, especially around the corners so that the corners will fully turn out when you flip the pillow cover to the front again.

If all looks good, turn it inside out AGAIN and then then trim the edges.

If all looks good, turn it inside out AGAIN and then then trim the edges.

Finishing touches

Once you’ve turned your pillow case right sides out, run your fingers along the inside of the seams and fully push out the piping and corners, then iron to get out any wrinkles from the sewing process. Slip it onto your pillow form and voilà, you’ll have a wonderfully plush and SQUARE pillow case.

See the difference rounding those corners made?

See the difference rounding those corners made?

See the difference rounding those corners made?

Do you have any secrets for making the perfect pillowcase? If so, share them in comments!

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.