Revisiting The Secret (or Not so Secret) Photo

This is not, strictly speaking, a new post.

Just lately some of the embroidery and sewing pages that I follow have had a few requests asking for help in printing photos on fabric for memory quilts.

So I thought it might be helpful to drag out this old post and update it in the hope that it might be of some help.

Hope it’s of use, but if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

We crafters are a savvy and often financially-challenged bunch and usually like to tackle things in the most cost effective way possible – even if it does mean a lot of hard, time-consuming work. So it is with printing photos on fabric.

A Photo of my Mum in the 50s Printed onto Fabric

I particularly like old black and white photos printed onto fabric. The texture of the fabric emphasises the graininess of the photo and adds a wonderful sense of antiquity.

A Photo Quilt made by one of my Students

So here’s how to do it.

For a good image you need a good tight weave fabric. I use a pre-shrunk mercerised cotton that has been prepared for dyeing and printing – that means any sizing or dressing has been washed out.

I then cut out however many pieces I need a little larger than A4 (8 1/4″ x 11 3/4″), to allow for any further shrinkage and to allow you to trim the pieces cleanly before printing. I find 9″ x 12 1/2″ is adequate.

Cutting the Fabric

The next stage is to soak your fabric to prevent the photo from fading. Now I used to use Bubble-jet Set for this, but it is rather expensive for a bit of formaldehyde and water and doesn’t go very far. So a short trawl on the internet revealed a marvellous recipe for home-made photo set.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups of hot water (not boiling but quite hot)
  • 2 1/2 oz of Alum (potash) – available from chemists in the UK and, I’ve been told, drugstores in the US.
  • 2 x tablespoons Soda ash or washing soda – available from supermarkets or hardware stores
  • 1 x teaspoon of fabric conditioner

Dry Ingredients for Home Made Photo Set

Add the dry ingredients to the water in a large jug or bowl (at least twice the size of the amount of water) and stir until the alum crystals dissolve. It will bubble up but fear not, the bubbles will subside after a few minutes.

Photo Set Bubbles

For the next part, ideally, you will need a large flat tray, about 3-4″ deep, but if you’re only doing a few pieces, a washing-up bowl will do.

Pour the photo set into the tray and check there are no undissolved alum crystals (if there are just pour back into the jug and stir a bit longer).

Lay your fabrics in the tray and press to submerge – you should wear rubber gloves for this.

Soaking the Photo Fabric

Leave the fabric for 5 minutes. then place the tray under a clothes line or clothes horse and lift each piece out one at a time and hang at an angle to drain for a minute or so.

Then hang all pieces up to dry overnight – leaving the tray in place to catch any drips of your carefully prepared photo set!

The next day, decant the photo set into a sealable bottle and store in a cool place to re-use for the next project.

Cut some sheets of freezer paper (this, I’m told is readily available in retail outlets in the US but is not so easy to find in the UK being deemed more a craft than a kitchen item – I, of course get in on the internet…), the same size as your soaked fabric and iron them onto the back of the fabric.

Now lay these pieces face down either under a large cutting mat or between the pages of a large book until completely flat. If you try and put them through the printer curled up, you are asking for a smeary paper jam.

When flat, usually the next day, place a piece of A4 paper (or whatever size you want to print) on top of each fabric/freezer paper combo and trim carefully to the exact size. Ensure there are no loose threads or frayed edges.

The next bit depends on your printer. I use an HP and it gives me the option to choose ‘other speciality papers’ in the paper option menu which works fine. I always print on ‘Normal’ quality rather than ‘Best’ as it gives the best image.

Only place one piece of fabric in the printer feed tray at a time.

While printing, keep a very close eye on the passage of the fabric as the corners do tend to flip up and get caught in the roller resulting in a smeared image.

Of course, the alternative is to go out and spend good money on  a pack of those ready soaked and backed printer fabric sheets – but where’s the fun in that?


How to Get Started in Machine Embroidery – Getting Wound up

In a recent post I talked about the best type of bobbin arrangement for machine embroidery. Today, I’d like to talk about the bobbins themselves.

Getting Wound Up

The thing about bobbins is that they must be correctly wound. A bobbin that is not correctly wound will cause you no end of problems.

So how can you tell whether it’s wound correctly?

First of all you will have read your sewing machine instruction manual to make sure that you’ve threaded it right for bobbin winding. You must wind enough thread onto the bobbin; too little and the wind will be too loose causing slippage on the reel and a poor stitch construction, too much and the bobbin will not run freely in the case causing tension problems.

Bobbin winding on a Bernina 230

Bobbin winding on a Bernina 230

So how do you know its wound properly? The depth of the thread should be even from the top to the bottom of the bobbin and not bunched up at either extremity. There should be no ends or loops of threads poking out and it should look completely smooth. If that’s the way yours looks, you’re doing it right.

Correctly Wound Bobbin

Correctly Wound Bobbin

But if it looks like the one below, there is something wrong.

Incorrectly Wound Bobbin

Incorrectly Wound Bobbin

If your bobbin doesn’t look quite right, don’t just tell yourself ‘It’ll be OK’, because it won’t. You’ll suffer thread breakages, you’ll risk a bird’s nest of threads under your needle plate and it will all be a pain and may put you off before you’ve even got started. It really is worth getting this bit right.

The other really important thing is, and this causes a myriad of problems, is bobbin threading. Now in most drop-in bobbin machines, the threading is similar, it’s easy to do and there are even a few little arrows to help you. Some even cut the thread off for you and automatically bring it to the top of the needle bed when you start sewing. But you must make sure that the bobbin is in the right way round or there will be no tension on the bobbin thread. This may cause poor stitch construction and thread or even needle breakage. Take time to check.

Fixed drop-in Bobbin Threading

Fixed drop-in Bobbin Threading

The same is true of vertically mounted bobbins, they must be properly threaded. There are no arrows to help you here but it will all be in your instruction manual. Please take time to check.

Bobbin Case from front

Bobbin Case from front

On a final note, if you have one of the bobbin cases that has a separate little lug specifically for free-machine embroidery, please use it, despite its small and insignificant appearance, it will make a huge difference to your bobbin tension.

Bobbin Case with Lug Threaded for Machine Embroidery

Bobbin Case with Lug Threaded for Machine Embroidery

This post is an excerpt from my craft eBook ‘How to Get Started in Free Machine Embroidery’ If your interested in getting a copy, here’s the link:

How to Get Started in Free-Machine Embroidery – Laundry Bag Project

In this post I’d like to share one of my favorite projects with you – a stylish and useful laundry bag. This project is great for practicing applique and free machine embroidery and, if you customize it with your family’s names – you might even get them to put their laundry in it!

Laundry bag1

Make this fun laundry bag in any colour or size you want. If you want to make one for everyone in the family, why not personalise it with their names?

Washday Laundry Bag

 You Will Need

1/2m strong cotton fabric

Fabric scraps for washing appliqué

Fusible web for washing appliqué

Machine embroidery and polyester thread in black

2m cotton cord

Embroidery hoop

Hand-Dyed Fabrics

A range of hand-dyed cotton fabrics are available from

Machine Setup

All seam allowances are 1/2” (1.25 cm) unless stated otherwise.

A 2.5mm stitch length is used throughout except for the addition of appliqué images.

A standard zigzag foot is used throughout unless otherwise stated.

To Make Your Laundry Bag

Cut Your Pattern Pieces

1        From the cotton fabric, cut 2 x rectangles 19” (48cm) x 16” (41cm).

2       From the remaining cotton fabric, cut 2 x strips 2” x 20”.

Appliqué your Front Panel

3       Choose one of the rectangles to be the front panel and lay it on a flat surface with one of the shortest edges at the bottom.

4       Measure 8” from the bottom edge of each long (19”) side and mark these points.

Marking position of washing line

5       Using a dressmaker’s curve or curved ruler and some tailor’s chalk, draw a curved line between these points. This will be the position of the washing line.

6       On the paper side of your fusible web, draw an assortment of clothing or soft toys you might find on your washing line. These do not have to be artistically correct – have fun!

7        Roughly cut out each shape.

Note: If the recipient has a favorite toy, pyjamas or t-shirt, you could make one, or two, of the pieces a similar shape and color.

8       Choose the colors of your washing items from your fabric scraps and iron each piece.

9       Referring to the instructions for the brand of fusible web you are using, fuse each clothing shape onto the wrong side of your chosen fabrics and carefully cut out.

10   Arrange your washing with the top edges just slightly below the curved line until you are happy with it.

Placing washing items on line

11     Fuse in place.

12    Refer to your machine instruction manual and set your machine up for machine embroidery, fit an embroidery or darning foot and thread the top with black embroidery thread and the bobbin with black polyester thread.

13    Hoop your fabric, so a number of complete washing items are encircled (this will depend on the size of your hoop). Ensure your appliqué is on the recessed side of the hoop.

Hooping the washing items ready to embroider

14   Embroider around each article of clothing, adding details as required.

Embroidering washing items

15    Add pegs to each clothing item or toy.

16   Refer to your instruction manual and set your sewing machine for normal stitching. Fit a standard straight stitch/zigzag foot to your machine and using a 3mm length straight stitch, stitch several times over the line marked earlier for the position of the washing line.

Add your Writing

17    Using a ruler and tailor’s chalk, draw a straight line connecting the two ends of the washing line.

18   Mark the central point of the line and from this point, draw a box 7” x 3”, so the bottom 7” edge of the box rests on the line. Your embroidered word, whatever you have chosen, should fit inside this box, but if you are using a longer name or several words you may need to increase the size of the box accordingly (and the size of your hoop!).

Marking position of writing box on laundry bag

19   Now, on a sheet of paper, draw out the 7” x 3” box and write the word you are intending to embroider inside in a neat copperplate. Try to ensure there is an equal amount of space above and below the word.

20  Once you are happy with your word, trace over it a number of times with your finger as described in the previous section.

21    Place your front panel in the hoop, centralising the box as accurately as possible.

22   Set your machine for free machine embroidery as before, and embroider your word. Don’t worry if you go off a little here and there, this will only add a little homemade charm!

Embroidered Laundry bag word

Assemble your Laundry Bag

23   Place the bag front and back panels right sides together and pin round the two sides and the bottom.

24  Set your sewing machine for a 2.5mm straight stitch and stitch round the three sides.

25   Diagonally clip the two bottom corners.

26  Press open the side seams.

27   Turn over ¼” all round the top of the bag and press.

28  Turn over another ¾” and press again.

29  Place some pins at 90 degrees around the top of the bag and stitch close to the lower fold. Turn the bag right way out, pushing out the corners.

30  Now stitch together the two 2” strips along one of their short ends and press the seam open. Trim the length of the strip to 32”. This strip will be your cord casing.

31    Turn in ½” on each short edge of the strip and press.

32   Turn in ¼” on each long edge of the strip and press.

33   Using tailor’s chalk, mark a line 2” below the top edge, all the way round the bag.

34  Starting at the right hand side seam (with the front panel facing you) pin the pressed strip, with the raw edges facing the bag, all round the bag, finishing back at the side seam. Try and place the seam, in the pressed strip, at the rear of the bag.

Placing of cord casing on laundry bag

35   Stitch all round both long edges of the cord casing about 1/8” from the edge, working a few reverse stitches at the beginning and end of each seam to secure.

36  Apply a piece of sticky tape to each end of your cotton cord to prevent fraying while threading it through the casing.

37   Using a large safety pin, fastened to one end of the cord, thread it through the casing and knot the ends together securely. Remove the tape as fraying is limited by the position of the knot.

The bag looks better filled, so get your family to fill it with their laundry!

This project is from my eBook ‘How to Get Started in Machine Embroidery’. If you’d like to buy the book, which has all the instructions you’ll ever need for free machine embroidery as well as more projects and ideas, Here’s the link:

How to get Started in Machine Embroidery – Part 2

So now you’ve got some thoughts on the sort of machine you’ll need for free-machine embroidery, let’s look at some specifics.

As far as I’m concerned, the most important thing to think about is bobbins. The sort of bobbin arrangement in your sewing machine can make all the difference between success and ‘could be better’.

Vertically-Loaded Bobbin Cases

The most important thing to consider when it comes to bobbins is the bobbin case.
Machines with vertically loaded bobbins have removable bobbin cases and, in my opinion, this is best for free-machine embroidery.

Vertically-loaded Bobbin

Vertically-loaded Bobbin

If you can get a machine with a vertically- mounted removable case, it will make your life so much easier when it comes to free-machine embroidery. It’s important to have adjustable bobbin tension as well. On a removable bobbin case, this is done by a single screw on the side of the case.

Bobbin Case

Bobbin Case

It’s very easy to adjust but never adjust it by more than a quarter of a turn at a time or you will end up over-tightening or losing the screw. With fixed, drop in bobbin cases, the bobbin case has to come out and there are two screws to adjust.

Fixed Drop-in Bobbin Cases

With fixed, drop in bobbin cases, the bobbin case has to come out and there are two screws to adjust.

Fixed drop-in Bobbin

Fixed drop-in Bobbin

I’ve tried this on several of my customers’ machines and found it quite a pain. So, if you have a choice, go for the vertically loaded bobbin option.

Types of Bobbin Spool
Different types of machine take different types of bobbin spool. Usually, the drop-in type takes plastic spools. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these although they are obviously not as strong as the metal ones. Recently several base model machines have come onto the market with plastic, drop in bobbin facility and these are adequate for starting off in free-machine embroidery. Ultimately, it is up to you to try several machines for their free-machine embroidery capabilities and buy the one that suits your needs the best.

My old Bernina uses metal bobbins. I like these for their durability and ease of winding, but that’s just personal choice.

Steel Bobbin

Steel Bobbin

Bobbins, of course, need to be wound correctly for any sort of sewing to be successful. See my next post for details!

This post gives you a flavor of my eBook ‘How to Get Started in Free-Machine Embroidery’. If you’d like to purchase the book in full, I’ve given you the link below!

How to Get Started in Free-Machine Embroidery – Part 1

In these posts, I want to share some of, what I consider to be, the main points in my three craft eBooks.

Today I want to talk about free machine embroidery and quote from my book ‘How to Get Started in Free-Machine Embroidery

Lots of people who want to give free machine embroidery a try worry that their sewing machine is not up to the challenge. If you have an older machine with the facility to drop the feed-dogs (the little serrated teeth under the presser foot) – then the chances are that you’re good to go.

Here’s what How to Get Started in Free-Machine Embroidery has to say:

“Basic is Best

Now I may be accused of being old fashioned, but when it comes to sewing machines, for machine embroidery, I have to say that basic is best.

I can speak from experience as I have had a wide range of sewing machines, from the top-of-the-range all-singing-all-dancing, embroidery machine, to the very basic hand-cranked Singer.

Hand crank Singer

The embroidery machine was capable of free embroidery but changing tension was a battle of wills and the least little infraction was greeted with a stall and multi-coloured warning message. The little hand-cranked Singer was willing and able, but two hands are definitely better than one when it comes to free machine embroidery.

I now have a base model Bernina which is a sturdy, uncomplicated workhorse and does everything I need.


Machines that are going to be best for machine embroidery need to be quite weighty models. You’re going to be doing a lot of fast sewing and it’s going to be taking a bit of a hammering, so it needs to be quite stable. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of lightweight budget models are not really up to the job.

It would be easy for me to say that any basic sewing machine would be fine for machine embroidery – but that wouldn’t be true and, as I want you to get the most out of this book, and your introduction to free machine embroidery, I want to be honest with you – right from the start.

In my opinion, sewing machines which have a vertically-loaded bobbin and are strongly built, with a metal frame, are best for machine embroidery. It is no coincidence that so many well-known free machine embroiderers swear by older or industrial-style machines for their work. There are also many people who prefer the original Singer treadle machines for their embroidery. I have one myself, but I am thinking about getting it converted to electricity. Its current mode of operation may be a great workout for the legs, but starting and stopping takes quite a bit of practice.

The Clean Machine

I’ll be giving you a taste of ‘How to Get Started in Machine Embroidery’ in these posts but if you’d like to treat yourself to the full version, here’s the link:

If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning a free download of the book, here’s all you have to do:

  • Comment on this post
  • Like my Facebook Page at
  • Share this post on Twitter

The winner will be drawn on Tuesday 4th January. Good luck!

Apologies for the lack of posts this week but my father was unexpectedly sectioned under the Mental Health act and I have been up in the frozen North making sure he is settling in to his new surroundings. He is slowly getting used to his new surroundings and is being well looked after.

Hope to get back to regular postings very soon!

How to Make a Living From Crafts – Part 4 – Group Sessions and Parties

In these posts, I want to share some of the main points of my ebook, ‘How to Make a Living From Crafts’ with you. The book is available on Amazon and I’ve given you the link at the bottom of the page.

You can also catch my trailer video at:

Group sessions – (sewing sessions that is!) are a great way to earn some extra income for your craft business and a great way to give customers a great day out. The traditional hen night where everyone gets roaring drunk and makes a fool of themselves seems to be becoming less popular. Lots of hen groups are looking for themed days where making or doing something as a group will be a day to remember instead of a day forgotten the next morning… I have had several hen parties of between 6-10 people come along for a full day on a Saturday. One group made a couple of  patchwork squares each which I then helped them join into a wedding quilt for the bride. One group wanted to learn how to make Roman blinds so they could help the bride furnish her new home.

How to Make a Living From Crafts has this to say about Group Sessions:

You might also be able to offer special rates for groups or parties of friends. Offering workshops to readymade groups has many benefits. You will instantly have a full class, which has saved you a lot of time and advertising costs. The members of the group already know each other and are likely to tell other friends and groups. You may even find that some of the group want to join your regular weekly sessions.

But it doesn’t have to be a special occasion. Some groups of friends just want to get together and do something different from their usual hobbies. I had one group of upholsterers who, deciding they wanted one afternoon a week doing something other than cover chairs, booked a 6-week session on curtain-making.

I’ve just given you a flavor of my book ‘How to Make a Living in Crafts’ in my posts as it is too long to reproduce completely but if you want to buy the book in it’s entirety, here’s the link:

Front Cover3

If you’re in the US:

or if you’re in the UK: