Archive for the ‘Projects and processes’ Category

On July 19th I’ll be flying to Vashon Island for a 16-day visit with my family there. It’s a six-hour flight, plus the time I’ll be away from home. So I’m making myself kits for needlework. Today I’ve been working on design ideas for a needle book. For the past 18 years, I’ve been using this disgraceful needle book. It’s just some pieces of felt hand-stitched along the fold.

High time I had a worthy needle book, and this would make a good small project for traveling. As I thought about ideas, I remembered the fabric postcard Sharon Boggon had made in August 2006. Inspired by her use of paisleys, I looked for some paisley fabrics of my own. I found remnants of the scarf I had cut up and embellished on my jacket and a necktie of Ernie’s I had saved. I scanned both.

After some tracing on the light box, scanning, resizing, simplifying, and other fiddling,

I now have these designs, for the front and back of the book, traced on linen fabric.

Next, choosing threads.


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When I last wrote about this project, I had just finished embellishing the seams on what would be the front of the bag. That was on May 24th! Good heavens! Much has happened since then, including lots of time with family; but when I could, I was “still stitching” on Tangie’s bag. Now it’s just about finished.

Step-by-step: after I had embellished what would become the back and the flap, I decided to add beads and sequins to the patches which I had used with some on them.

You can see the need for them here.

More needed

Having used all the beads and sequins I had harvested from the patches I’d cut,

All gone

I had to go back for more. You wouldn’t believe how long it takes to get those tiny bits off the fabric and the threads removed from them.

The patches filled with more beads-on-sequins, I was ready to remove the work from the frames and stitch the front and back together.

Seams finished

Then I lined the bag and the flap and made a shoulder strap. I have not yet attached one end of the strap because I want the length to suit Tangie.

Flap liningLining

And here’s the finished (almost finished) bag.

Finished front

Closer look

Here’s the back and bottom.

Back and bottom

And the button that doesn’t really close the bag. There’s Velcro inside.


I found this button when I was shopping for beads and a button for my black jacket. Works perfectly here.

Here’s what’s left of Tangie’s top, from the front, the back, and one sleeve.


And here is Tangie herself, having just adjusted the shoulder strap to the right length. I’ll stitch that tonight and she shall have it to take to Atlantic City this weekend.

(I’ll be  in New Jersey myself, this weekend.)


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Though  I haven’t posted about it in a while, I am still stitching—on something very unplanned and unexpected.

A few weeks ago I saw one of the care center receptionists with whom I’ve had many conversations. When I saw the top Tangie was wearing, I exclaimed that I loved it. She said, “Oh, this is so old. I don’t even like it any more.” But I loved the colors. “When you’re done with it, don’t throw it away. Give it to me. I don’t want to wear it; I want to use the fabric to make something.”

“You may have it sooner than you think,” she replied. I thought we were just bantering, but then I thought, what if she’s serious?

Well, the next week, as I passed the front desk, Tangie handed me a bag with the top in it. OMG, she’s given it to me. Now what do I do?

I hung the top where I’d had Josh’s jacket hanging, so that I could see it all the time and hope for an idea to come. Here I show the back of it with some fabrics I was considering using with it. Unfortunately, I inadvertently deleted permanently the original shots I took of the front and back of the top. If you look closely, you can see sequins and beads on the ends of the sleeves and on the shoulder. The front had a yoke  of these clear glass beads on silver sequins.


The idea that came to me was to make a small shoulder bag of crazy patchwork. The first thing I did was to construct a mockup using a bit of an old bed-sheet to make sure I could do it.

Bag shapeFlap closing

It’s just two rectangles, the back longer than the front so it can flap over it, and stitching over the bottom to make square corners. It will be lined.

Then I began sketching some patchwork designs as thumbnails.


After settling on one,  I enlarged it on the computer and used it to make patterns for patches. This is for the front and back


and this is for the part of the back that will be the closing flap.


Next, because the fabric, though pure cotton, is thin and rippled, I fused part of it to fine Pellon interfacing. Then I traced the designs onto my foundation (old bedsheet remnant) using the light table. I also prepared stretcher bar frames.


Not necessary, but I like a firm foundation to work on when stitching, especially with beads. This goes back to the course I took in silk and metal thread embroidery where I learned to frame the piece for working.

I’ve repeatedly acknowledged my ineptness at piecing. Although I carefully pinned the paper patterns on to the fabric and cut leaving plenty of seam allowance, as I began to put the patches in place on the foundation, I wasn’t at all pleased with the effect, and machine stitching and flipping made it worse.

I wasn’t getting the parts of the fabric design and the direction of that design as I wanted them to combine.

In the end, I discarded a lot of patches and cut new ones.

Rejected patches

I cut them one at a time, making a paper pattern for each and pinning it in place before choosing the part of the fabric from which to cut the next one.

Pin piecing back

My worktable at this stage:


I returned to my method of last resort–hand basting the patches. Here’s the pinned and partly hand-basted front.

Partly basted

As you can see, I kept some of the beads-on-sequins. To do that, I had to secure them with my own stitching. Talk about fiddly work!

Here are some of the beads and sequins I had to remove to allow for seams. This took forever.


Both sides stretched and ready for seam treatments.

Stretched on frames

I was finally able to think about how to embellish the seams. I did that first on paper—a scan of the work on which I sketched some ideas.

Eventually I actually got to the fun part. Here’s the front of the bag with all the seams embellished. I don’t know whether this is enough, or whether I’ll add to these seams.

Front stitched

For now, I’m working on the back. I’m re-stitching all the beads-and-sequins to make sure none come off. As usual, this is slow going. It takes me so long to finish any project. So much unnecessary work because I don’t have the skills and experience to do what I want to do.  I wish I were more productive.

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Josh posted this shot on his Facebook page with the caption “Gram’s Graduation Present :)”

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It’s not all kayaking; I’ve been stitching, too. I couldn’t blog about it because it’s a gift. Grandson Josh is graduating high school this spring. He has everything on earth he could want or need. He definitely doesn’t need money. Casting about for what I could give him, I thought about embroidering an article of clothing for him. He likes my needleart a lot. When I asked him, he said that he loved the idea and he would be thinking about what he would want me to embellish with stitching.

On April 2nd  he showed me two jackets and told me I could choose which I wanted to work on.


I chose the military-style tunic. It is dark brown, sort of grayish-brown. When I asked Josh whether he had any ideas, requests, preferences, or specifications, he said he wanted me to do whatever I wanted with it, as that is the way he does his best work. He did mention, however, that maroon is the color of College of Charleston, where he will matriculate this year. To my question about wearability, he said it had to be dry-cleanable, as he likes to wear it regularly.

As soon as I had decided on the tunic, I got out all my darkest red threads and draped them over the jacket. DMC cotton pearl 902 looked wonderful against the dark brown—subtle and rich. Putting stitching on the button tabs and epaulettes seemed obvious. But to do that, I’d have to be able to remove the tabs from the tunic. Immediately I set to work to see whether I could do that. It was scary. What if I damaged the tunic? What if I got it off and couldn’t get it back on invisibly?

With my seam ripper, I cautiously, slowly, found the stitching behind the cording and clipped the stitches.

Removing tab

So far, so good. At this point I was trying out ideas to see whether they would work. Just to find out how stitching through this very dense, heavy fabric would be, I began to chain-stitch with DMC pearl cotton #8 along the cording, over the line of visible stitching you can see above. It looked great so I continued, but the pre-existing stitching began to come out. What effect would this have? Was it necessary to the construction of the tab? I just kept on. It was the stitching I had snipped.

First border

Next I thought about trying a row of diamond stitches down the middle of the tab.

Now the diamond stitch is a complex stitch requiring seven steps to complete. The examples below are from Sharon Boggon’s TAST 2010, where I learned it.


As you can see, working this stitch precisely requires evenweave fabric on which you can count the threads. The jacket is definitely not evenweave fabric.

Since I needed to refresh my memory of how to do the diamond stitch, and because I wanted to see how it would look, I got out a piece of brown raw silk noil—the  fabric closest in color I found in my stash, and practiced the stitch. Since it is not evenweave either, I used waste canvas to keep my stitches even. Waste canvas is an evenweave material. You stitch over it, then remove it—one thread at a time, from under the stitching. I tried two weights of thread—pearl cotton #5 and #3.

Practice cloth

This project is a learning process, technically challenging, all the way. At each step, I’ve had to figure out how to do what I wanted to do. Tweezers were an important tool for this project, as you will see—tweezers and magnifying lenses.

Eager to see how this stitching would look on the jacket, I pinned waste canvas to the tab I’d outlined in chain-stitch and began making diamond stitches. But the waste canvas had shifted a bit and the line wasn’t straight.

Trimmed waste canvas

That was very obvious after the waste canvas had been removed. I unstitched and tried again.

Removing waste canvas, one thread at a time:

Removing waste canvas

After I had stitched the row of diamond stitches on the second tab, I saw that it was not identical to that stitching on the first tab, which I had spent 1 1/2 hours re-attaching to the tunic. Uh-oh, I thought, I may have to re-do this stitching, too, and so I pinned the tab to the tunic. Then I unattached the next tab and chain-stitched the border.


Okay, this was good. I decided to keep doing that—getting the tab off the tunic, tweezing out the snipped threads, and putting in the chain-stitched border. In production mode, I chain stitched around all the tabs.

Then I went into production mode for the diamond stitching—attaching waste canvas to all the tabs and putting diamond stitch on all of them. Once I had figured out how to get perfectly straight rows, it was easy to do; but it took me a long time to get there. I know. It looks so easy.

First to last_edited-1

When I’d stitched all the tabs, it was clear that the second tab was, in fact, not acceptable.


I unstitched it and did it again.

Taking out

Here, all the tabs have been embellished and attached to the jacked.

Tabs done

Next I embroidered the epaulettes, using #3 pearl cotton and making the stitches larger. The thread is not this red. It is deep maroon, but I couldn’t get that with my camera.


These are the threads I used in truer color.


Around the collar and cuffs, I chain-stitched a line of #8 pearl cotton against the cording. Getting the needle through this tough fabric sometimes required pliers. And making sure the stitches went only through the outer layer of fabric was fiddly work. Very slow.


Okay, the exterior was finished. Inside, I wanted to put Josh’s name and mine. I tried several ways of stitching the names:

Label trials

On the black fabric (which had had a previous life as the lining of a suede belt) I stitched over Sulky tearaway foundation, then found out I couldn’t get the Sulky out of the inside of these small letters. Not for love nor money nor an hour of trying. Why didn’t I think of white transfer paper first, instead of last?

After I finally got Josh’s label satisfactorily stitched, I struggled with my signature, having to completely unstitch the tiny single silk floss stitches I’d used to couch #8 pearl cotton in trailing stitch.


But success came at last:


I made my labels match the original jacket label.


Done at last.

All done

I gave it to Josh yesterday. He loves it. Here he’d just discovered the detail of the stitching on the cuff  and was exclaiming over it.


With the jacket closed:


I think it looks terrific on him.

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The “year of living on the edge” continues. While I’m dealing with Ernie’s “transition” (Charlestown-speak) to the care center (and breaking down in the process), I had an occasion to celebrate.

A few weeks ago I received this invitation:

Ara, you may remember,  is my Nigerian friend. She’s been in America as long as we have lived at Charlestown, and she works here. In 2009, we both participated in the Charlestown mini-triathlon.

In January 2010 Ara, her boyfriend, and two sisters took me to a movie theater to see Avatar. It was my first time in a movie theater in 20 years. And to see Avatar in 3-D! What an experience. In fact, when I said the experience had been too overwhelming and I wanted to see the film again, they took  me a second time. Since Ara and Yemi had already seen Avatar twice, this gave 12-year-old sister Ebun a chance to see the film a second time, too. Ara and Yemi saw another film. So much fun doing that with Ebun.

Last spring Ara and I were teammates in the mini-triathlon, and Ara won the gold medal as fastest runner.

The invitation was to celebrate three special events–Ara’s graduation from nursing school, her 23rd birthday, and her sister Ola’s 21st birthday. Ara already has a baccalaureate degree, and she aims for a doctorate in nursing. Last week she became licensed as an R.N. so we were celebrating that, too.

As soon as I saw the invitation, I began thinking of what I could make for Ara and Ola. I blogged about that but can’t link to it.(Why?)

How to make a fabric card the hard way

Here’s the finished card.

Of course, I signed it. And I added the edging after this scan.

Here’s Ola’s card.

I finished it at 3:30 Saturday afternoon–just in time!

Not only am I not good at piecing. I am even worse at edging. I have repeatedly put heavy stitching or beads too close to the edge, making it very difficult to finish. For Ara’s card, which was too stiff and resistant for me to stitch through, I added three rows of gold Raj cord.

I used Tacky glue and this tool

to painstakingly apply narrow strips of glue to the edge of the card. It took three hours.

For the edge of Ola’s card, which had lighter backing, I thought I might be able to do machine stitching. I made myself a practice piece with the same materials and tried it.

With more practice, I might have been able to do it. I also tested hand stitching at the bottom and I could do that. But I couldn’t use the sewing machine because after I cut the card to size, there were beads too close to the edge. This is how I buttonhole stitched the edge.

It took four hours. I have friends who can machine-stitch the edge of a fabric card in a minute or two. If there’s a quick, easy, simple way to do something, I am incapable of it. If it’s slow, hard, tedious, and time-consuming, I go for it.

Here are some details of Ara’s card. A grid made using waste canvas.

Raised chain stitch

Some details from Ola’s card. A seam treatment

Beads, beads, and more beads

While I was working on these cards, Ernie had two brain attacks and admission to the care center became urgent. I was a wreck, and by Friday I was very sick with severe cold/flu symptoms. On Saturday I had laryngitis and couldn’t speak. But I was determined to show up at the gala and present the cards to Ara and Ola.

Of course I was going to go. This was my first opportunity to wear my black jacket and the earrings Nina made for me to wear with it.

Never mind the black eye. More stress, I guess. Doesn’t hurt.

I arrived early for the party. Ara and Ola with some other early guests.

This was definitely a party for their friends. No other 73-year-old great-grandmothers there! Me with Ara and Ola.

I managed to stay long enough to dance a little, then home to bed. Sorry I missed the real partying.

I feel honored to have been included among Ara’s and Ola’s friends.

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Second card

This piecing for the second fabric card I’m making took about an hour and a half, maybe less. No design. I just cut and pinned patches before hand basting them. It will be interesting to see how these two crazy patchwork pieces turn out.

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