Give Cushions a Chance

I’m halfway through Book 5 of my ‘How to…’ series of craft books. The working title is ‘How to Design and Make Fabulous Cushions’ although that may change, as they usually do..

But, believe it or not, this blog post isn’t a sales pitch, it’s about my thoughts and sympathies for the humble cushion.

Cushions don’t even get a bad press. They’re more or less ignored. Lined up by the hundreds in department stores, dumped in trolleys and baskets, taken home, placed artfully on the matching sofa and never really noticed again – until it’s time to change the colour scheme.

As I’ve been writing, I’ve begun to realise that cushions don’t have to be dull, boring and unnoticed. They can be used for more than slouching, sleeping and receiving dribble. They can be fun, interesting, educational, inspirational and informative.

They can convey your feelings about your favourite possessions…

'Don't Mess With My Camper'

‘Don’t Mess With My Camper’

They can remind you of a favourite place…

My Favourite Tea Shop

My Favourite Tea Shop

They can remind you of those that are no longer with you…

A family photo quilt

A family photo quilt

They can remind you of your holidays…

What I Did on My Holidays

What I Did on My Holidays

They can remind you of where you used to live…

My Childhood Home

My Childhood Home

But cushions can also be an education aid for children and those with disabilities. At the Industrial Museum where I volunteer, we regularly have visits from groups of deaf/mute children and their carers. Children like this only have touch as a means of communication and, as I was told by several of their carers, tactile cushions and soft toys are an invaluable education aid.

So as I work through my book, I will be rethinking the role of the cushion and its place in modern living. If you have any ideas or thoughts on how cushions could take a more active role in our lives, I’d love to hear them.

All my craft books are available on Amazon in eBook format, and, by the end of this week, in print format. You can find details of these and get lots of free sewing tips and videos on my website at  http://www.time4me-workshops.co.uk/

How To Dye Your Own Fabrics – Why I Dye

Why Do I Dye?

I have been teaching machine sewing for over twelve years and have been dyeing my own fabrics for most of that time, both for my students and for my own creations.

Margo_bookshelflarge-200

My nearest, decent, fabric shop is an hour’s train ride away. They sell a wide selection of plain and printed fabrics in most of the well-known ranges, but often I cannot find exactly what I want. This is no reflection on the shop, but since I have discovered fabric dyeing, shop-bought fabrics seem pale and uninteresting. They just cannot deliver the zing that my home-produced, procion-dyed fabrics can.

The variety and intensity of the coloured fabrics you can produce are entirely under your control.

Wall hanging for the local Brickworks Museum shop

Wall hanging for the local Brickworks Museum shop

A Whole New World of Colour

When you visit a fabric shop, or even buy on-line, your choice is limited to whatever is on offer. But once you get the hang of dyeing, you can create whatever colour you want and even a good many that you didn’t want – at first…

One of the most exciting things about dyeing is the element of surprise. When you’re not in need of any particular colour and you just allow yourself to experiment, you will be amazed at what you can come up with. Some pieces you may not like at all, but you can change them. If you’re using a good quality fabric – and we’ll get to that in a minute – you can overdye any that are not quite your thing, until they’re just right.

A Safe and Easy Process

Dyeing is not difficult. There are chemicals involved, and a fair amount of mess, but with a bit of care and attention to detail, home dyeing is easily achievable by almost anyone. Very little specialist equipment is required and you probably have most of the general equipment already. Anything you don’t have can usually be picked up cheaply at a supermarket or discount store.

Economy

Commercially-dyed and printed fabrics are expensive and, as long as labour prices in the Far East continue to rise, the price will keep on rising. High quality mercerized cotton fabric, ready prepared for dyeing and printing (PFD), if you buy it in lengths of at least 10 yards (or metres), can work out at less than half the price, per metre, than commercial fabrics. And it is usually 60” wide; instead of the traditional 45” width of those you buy.

I buy my dyeing fabric, in 60m bolts, from a former mill town in the North of England. I am not under any misapprehension that it is woven there any longer, but it is heartening to be able to buy it in the same country!

Initial outlay for dyes and chemicals, can be quite expensive, but you need only three basic primary colours to begin with, and black. I say begin with, but I have been dyeing for over five years now and still only buy basic primaries and black. I may buy a different shade of primary occasionally to mix things up a bit, but I still prefer to experiment with mixing my own colours rather than buy ready-mixed.

The Procion dyes I buy are very economical and a little goes a long way, as you will find when you start to clean up after a dye session.

All the other equipment you will need is cheap and readily available, if indeed, you don’t have it already.

So give dyeing a go – you’ll love it!

This post is an excerpt from my new eBook ‘How to Dye Your Own Fabric’. If you’d like to get the book for yourself I’ve given you the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Dye-Your-Own-Fabric-ebook/dp/B00K5VCUAW/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399575598&sr=1-6&keywords=dyeing+fabric

 

How to Get Started in Machine Embroidery – What threads to Use

On some of the sewing and embroidery pages I follow, there have recently been questions and comments on the best thread to use for machine embroidery.

Those of us who sew a lot probably have lots of conflicting opinions on this but, just for the record – here’s mine!

The Importance of Good Thread

Thread is very important. It’s particularly important in free-machine embroidery. When you’re moving that fast, and once you get the hang of it you will be going pretty fast, the thread will reeling out very quickly and the least little problem with the thread, is going to cause it to break. And that’s a real pain. So if you’re going to buy thread for machine embroidery, make sure it’s the best you can afford.

Use Good Threads

Use Good Threads

What Not to Use

Your Sewing Box Inheritance

Lots of us have been left sewing boxes by aunties or grandmas. We have become known as the stitcher in the family and they very kindly leave us their sewing box. It’s usually quite old, lots of reels of threads, bits and pieces, some useful, some not so. The trouble is with old threads is they tend to become flattened on the reel and, if you use them on your machine, they’re not going to run very smoothly. The quality is not going to match that of modern threads and they are likely to snap. So I would suggest that you keep these old threads for hand sewing. As you can imagine, I’ve upset a few people by telling them this. Being left something as personal as a sewing box can be very meaningful and hold lots of memories but, unlike antique furniture, wine and paintings, thread does not improve with age. So be kind to yourself and your machine and use a good modern thread.

Threads from Auction Sites

You’ve probably been on some popular auction sites and seen machine embroidery ‘silk’ from Thailand or somewhere in the Far East. It’s usually very cheap. But there’s a reason for that. I’ve tried them myself, from several different vendors, but at anything other than a snail’s pace, they snap, shred and leave you thoroughly fed up. It’s really not worth it, save yourself the pain and get something decent.

three threads

Bargain Basement

Buying bargain threads from markets, car boot sales, the post office (unless it is also a haberdashery as my local one is) or the corner shop is also a potential road to disaster. Remember at all times, they’re cheap for a reason. And the way to tell if a thread is really no good is to unwind a short length from the reel, hold it up to the light and, if it’s a bit fluffy or hairy, reject it as that fluff is going to clog up your needle and ultimately, your machine.

Types of Threads

Threads are gauged generally by their thickness. Some manufacturers (I use Madeira but there are many other good brands) indicate thickness by numbers. The higher the number – the thinner the thread. The profile of the thread is also important. Now the profile of a thread can be seen if you snip a bit off the end and look at the thread end on. Standard all purpose polyester threads have a round profile. They generally have a have a dull appearance, on the reel, as when light hits them it is scattered in all directions and very little is reflected back to your eye. Rayon machine embroidery thread has a flat profile and so reflects a lot of light back to your eye, making it look shiny.
Obviously even the best threads will shred or snap occasionally but you can lessen the chances of that happening by buying something good.

So What Threads Do I Recommend?

All I ever use is three types:
• a standard all purpose polyester for general sewing and for bobbin filling when machine embroidering.
• a good quality rayon thread for embroidery.
• a 100% cotton quilting thread for embroidering on quilts and throws.

This is an excerpt from my craft eBook ‘How to Make a Living From Crafts’. If you’re interested in getting the whole book, here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Get-Started-Free-Machine-Embroidery-ebook/dp/B00HHCTPW8/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1393270037&sr=1-1&keywords=free+machine+embroidery

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 www.time4me-workshops.co.uk/shop.

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:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Get-Started-Free-Machine-Embroidery-ebook/dp/B00HHCTPW8/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1392897303&sr=1-1&keywords=how+to+get+started+in+free-machine+embroidery

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.

Bernina

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:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Get-Started-Free-Machine-Embroidery-ebook/dp/B00HHCTPW8

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 www.facebook.com/pages/Margo-Price-Author/1400866683481343
  • Share this post on Twitter

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

It’s Manipulate not Annihilate

Hello everyone.

This post is really an addition or appendix to my recent post ‘The Secret Photo’. In this post, I talked about preparing fabric for photo printing and the actual printing but never actually talked in any depth about digitally preparing the photo before printing it on the fabric.

There are many wonderful  graphics packages out there now, the most popular being Adobe Photoshop. The latest CS versions have a wonderful array of masks and filters and are so powerful that, in the right hands, anything is possible. Unfortunately, in the hands of the less experienced, such as yours truly, they can also be rather destructive. Just a few clicks of the plastic wrap filter and an over-zealous swipe on the saturation and hue sliders can turn your Mother-in-Law into a unrecognizable, jellied mass.

If you are in the throes of a family feud and feel that digital mutilation of your relatives is wholly justified , then perhaps Photoshop is the tool for you, but for the majority, there is another way.

Since I came to the realization that over-manipulation and subsequent annihilation of my digital media was not really a good thing, I have started to use the free download version of Photofiltre. This is much simpler to use than many other graphics packages and it’s free!

I have given a few examples of the most popular tools on Photofiltre and the ones I use the most.

This is the brightness tool and one I use for over-dark photos – but don’t overdo it as too many clicks can quickly wash the whole thing out.

Brightness Tool

The next one, and the one I use most for colour photos is the Saturation tool. This is particularly important when you are printing onto fabric as when the ink seeps into the fabric (rather than sitting on top as it does with paper) a lot of the colour is lost, so you need to compensate for this by increasing the colour saturation.

Image with Increased Saturation

As you can see, the tomatoes are really overdone in this picture, but this is about the level of saturation I would use for a good image.

The next tool, and again one of my favourites, is the Grayscale Tool. This, with one click, will transform your coloured images into black and white. Despite the bright colour images I have shown you so far I much prefer to use black and white photos. I find that colour photos can clash with the fabrics I want to use while the black and white images will often complement a whole range of coloured and patterned fabrics.

Grayscale Tool

Black and white images, whether originals or converted using grayscale, often need a tweak in contrast to give them the definition needed for a good image on fabric.

Black and White Image with Increased contrast

For the sake of demonstration, I have rather overdone the contrast on this image, almost achieving a poster-like effect. But it does make for an unusual, other-worldly atmosphere which I rather like. And remember the effect will not be quite as strong when printed onto fabric.

The last tool I want to show you is the Old Photography tool – one which I don’t personally use that often but which can give a rather pleasant vintage sepia effect to the right sort of photo.

Image using the Old Photography Tool

I hope this short missive has been useful to those of you wanting to manipulate your own photos.

Just remember – when manipulating photos, less is definitely more. Walking through craft fairs and art exhibitions I see so many images that have that ‘over-photoshopped’ look. The sea is too blue, the sand is too golden and the people…are people really that colour?

Try this and see – any questions are welcome…

Bag Worship from the Old to the New

I love bags. Or to be more precise – I love making bags. I look on them as a portable canvas to display my ideas and inspirations. But they are not just ornamental as a wall hanging would be, but useful too.

Here are a few that I’ve made. The first one is a recent make put together after a shopping trip in Chichester where I saw some lovely soft leather bags made of off-cuts arranges in a tessalated pattern. But this one is made in my hand dyed fabrics from the ‘Brights’ range using Cerulean Blue, Acid Lemon and Magenta.

Tessalated Bag in Bright hand dyed fabrics

 

This bag has boxed corners and a blue lining and says – no shouts – summer to me – a phenomenon that is at last happening in the UK after the deluges of April!

The next bag is one made several years ago when my dyeing skills were still in their infancy. I used calico for everything and could only afford the basic primaries. But I loved freearm embroidery and covering all my projects in fanciful images of fruit and veg. I had the idea that I might ask our local fruit shop to sell them but didn’t think that the customers would pay more for the bag than the merchandise so chickened out and kept them for myself.

I have many more ideas for bags from the buildings of British towns that I am so fond of to the drawings of Wildlife illustrator, Charley Harper to the Traction engines that surround me in my Brickworks studio. I love to make and I love to share those makes and ideas.

Watch this space!