Embroidery ambitions

I love crazy quilts. Although patchwork quilts can be quite beautiful, I seem to lack the “precision” gene needed for equal angles and clean lines, and I suspect I would find it aggravating. However, crazy quilts are on the table.

Many of the lovely historical quilts have themes, such as fans or flowers. I once entertained the notion of a quilt about my history: schools, hobbies, places I’ve lived. That idea never got off the ground, however, and the project that did is the Children’s Book Quilt.

I have a couple of shelves’ worth of children’s books despite having no children, and a few favorite illustrators – Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak, Tove Jansson. The children’s book quilt will have embroidered versions of illustrations from specific books, as well as applique images and motifs, and possibly even some painted images (for Leo Lionni’s books, in particular). I will give a complete rundown of the ideas I have next time I finish an embroidery piece, but for now I want to share the two I’ve done so far and talk about the process.

I use tracing paper to copy the images out of the book with a pencil, darken the main lines, and then trace them again onto wash-away embroidery stabilizing paper. Then I cut them out and pin them to fabric, stitching on the lines. I use my beloved DMC color card (I am so glad I got one before they switched from actual floss samples to photos – the sheen is different; I can’t imagine it’s as accurate) to pick floss colors if appropriate. All the embroidery is just freehand straight stitch or backstitch; when I finally put the individual pieces together I’ll use fancier stitches for edges.

The more recent is Shel Silverstein’s bearded man, from Where the Sidewalk Ends:

Shel Silverstein's bearded man in embroidery

I realized after the fact that I fig-leafed him a bit, covering his bare behind with beard, but I am still thrilled at how well he came out – especially his feet. In the tightly-stitched areas, however, the wash-away paper is not living up to his name. It withstood rinsing in water, soaking in white vinegar, rinsing in water again, and two trips through the washing machine pinned flat in a mesh bag. Ideas are welcome.

Less recent is the Dodecahedron from Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, illustrated by Jules Feiffer.

Phantom Tollbooth's dodecahedron in embroidery

His stitching is not as good as the bearded man (possibly I used too many strands; I can’t remember), but it will do. He had the same problem with the wash-away paper, especially in his eyes. However, the fabric, though it’s hard to tell, is white with pastel circles stitched into it, so I just re-stitched the pupils that were hidden by paper. I only noticed as I was re-stitching the eyes that his right arm is perfectly aligned with the underlying circle.

I’ve been trying to stick to books I actually had as a child. I have We Were Tired of Living In a House (the beautiful illustrations by Doris Burn, not the lame and generic new ones) in progress and something from Finn Family Moomintroll (Tove Jansson) set up but unstitched. I am dissatisfied with the fabric for the latter, though, and would probably prefer a different image, so I may break my rule and use an image from a more recently-acquired Moomin book. My first multicolor embroidery will probably be Bananas Gorilla from the Richard Scarry books, because he’s the raddest. I am a slow embroiderer, but hope to complete this quilt before I am of retirement age!

Note: the copyrights to the illustrations in Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Phantom Tollbooth are held by Evil Eye Music, Inc., and Jules Feiffer, respectively.

Bonus Post: Iron Craft Challenge #16

ribbon purse front view

My sister and brother-in-law went to Japan last year, and one of the many gifts they sent me afterward (solar-powered dancing sumo wrestler!) was a five-yen coin. It added to my collection of coins from New Zealand, Canada, Iceland, and various Euro-using countries.

Through Dollar Store Crafts I learned of the existence of Iron Craft, a weekly crafting challenge. I’m minimizing my craft expenditures, at least through April[1], and so I passed on the Peep-crafting challenge, but the following week was money-related crafts. Perfect! I have wanted to try making a ribbon purse for a while now, and had the perfect ribbon to go with the yen.

ribbons and yen

I’ve structured the rest as a tutorial. You’ll need a wider ribbon, a narrower ribbon, and some coordinating lining fabric. My wider ribbon was about twice as wide as the narrower ribbon (7/8″ vs 3/8″), so if yours isn’t your bag will have different proportions. I don’t recommend my sheer wide ribbon, as it did not want to stay squared, which made it hard to work with. The amount needed will vary, of course, but mine used less than 2.5 yards of the wider ribbon and 2 yards of the narrower ribbon.

Let W be the width of the wider ribbon and N be the width of the narrower ribbon. Cut 5 lengths of the wider ribbon: two of length 3W + 10N + 1.5 inches (“shorter”), and three of length 2W + 15N + 1 (“longer”). Cut 9 lengths of the narrower ribbon: five of length 10W + 1.5 inches, and four of length 3W + 1. [If you are working in metric, 1 can be 3cm and 1.5 can be 4cm. It is not important to be exact.]

For me, the height of the bag is 5N. Take one shorter and one longer wide ribbon and pin them at 90 degrees, the shorter ribbon centered on the longer one with one edge 5N + 1/2″ away from the end of the longer ribbon (or a bit further). Weave the remaining wide ribbons in a grid, pin, and stitch in place (I stitched along both edges of each of the two shorter ribbons).

initial weaving weaving the second side

Weave the narrower ribbons through the longer loose ends of the three wide ribbons. Put the longer narrow ribbons closer to the middle, and line all of them up so there is 1/2″ overhang on one side. Stitch along the outside edges of the wide ribbons.

Continue to weave the narrow ribbons through the wider ones. Work with the bag inside-out – that will make the final corner easier. You shouldn’t need to sew more than the far edge of each side (so, no maneuvering the sewing machine in the inner corner).

Of course, if you’re me, and you cut your narrow ribbon to be 8W instead of 10W, you might utter some unladylike words and have to cut new lengths of ribbon to cover the fourth side of the bag. I cut them much longer than necessary so I could line up the ribbon pattern in the corner.

fixing my oversight box-shaped

When you get to the last corner, pin the narrow ribbons right sides together and stitch, just far enough out from the corner to avoid catching the wider ribbon. Trim to 1/2″ and press open.

Now you need to cut out lining pieces. Follow my directions for the flap; if you prefer for the rest futuregirl has a tutorial complete with worksheet. The flap piece should be (flap height + 1)” by (flap width + 1)”. The other piece is (2*(bag height) + bag depth + 1)” by (bag width + bag depth + 1)”, where “depth” is the front-to-back measurement. [Here, precision is more important, so in metric, replace 1″ by twice your desired seam allowance, and in the following, replace 1/2″ with your seam allowance.]

lining pieces

Center the flap lining on the right side of the flap and stitch around the outside, catching only one of the two kinds of ribbon in your stitching but otherwise stitching as close as possible to the weave. You may need to scrunch the ribbons down on the middle wide ribbon, since they are not sewn in place. If you want fancier corners, as I did with my angled cut-off, I found it easier to stitch squarely with the ribbon side up, and then turn it over to stitch the angles. That way you know you are not stitching too close in, but you don’t have the visual distraction of all the ribbons.

Trim the seam allowance and turn. My ribbons didn’t take well to ironing, so I topstitched close to the flap edge to keep the lining from puffing out.

lining pinned to flap sewn and trimmed

Fold the larger piece of lining material so that the bag width is preserved (fold the 2height+depth direction in half; you are making a seam that will run up the center of each side of the bag). Stitch the two edges perpendicular to the fold, with a 1/2″ seam allowance. Press the fold into a crease. Cut along the fold line outside each stitch line.

Open the seam allowance and fold the side down so the seam line runs along the bottom crease. Mark a line (bag height + 1/2)” down from the top edge, perpendicular to the seam line. Pin and stitch along that line. Do the same on the opposite side, cut the corners off at about 1/2″ from the stitching, and press them up toward the side seam. (If your wide ribbon is not sheer, pressing down toward the bottom of the lining is also fine.)

one edge folded down corner marked

Fold the top edge of the lining down 1/2″ all around, with the raw edge and seam allowances to the outside, and set the lining into the ribbon bag. Line the lining seams up with the center sides of the ribbon bag, pin, and topstitch all around the bag. Again, you may need to make sure the narrow ribbon hasn’t arced up on the middle wide ribbon in front.

You may want to turn the bag inside-out and stitch from the ribbon side, to make sure that on the back of the bag your stitches line up with the ribbons.

pinned and ready

To make the bag fold in at the top and improve its shape, turn it inside-out, pinch the sides in half vertically, and stitch close to the fold line for 3/8″ to 1/2″. Turn the bag right-side-out again, pinch the four corners (try to catch the lining in the pinch all the way down) and stitch vertically close to the fold top to bottom.

stitched to pinch inwards corner stitching

Finally, sew your coin (or button, or beads) centered at the edge of the flap. A snap or magnetic closure could be added underneath, or a button could be sewn on the front of the bag and a loop sewn onto the flap. I did none of that, so my bag does fasten shut. But my remaining international coinage has a prettier place to live now!

front-profile view back-profile view

[1] edit: apparently Dollar Store Crafts took down their “April is Stash-Busting Month!” page after April. The idea is to buy nothing new for the month; craft only out of your existing materials.

Webcomic coasters

My brother-in-law writes the webcomic Binary Souls / Other Dimensions, starring the hapless robot Hondo. I wanted to give him a personalized Christmas gift – one that he would literally not be able to get elsewhere – so I made him Hondo coasters. A tutorial on making fabric coasters will follow in a later post.

For these coasters, I found appropriate images in the comic, and used thin white fabric like tracing paper to draw the images with fabric markers and (when necessary) paint pens. I let them dry for 24 hours and heat set them. I had to flatline (a.k.a. underline) with a second layer of the white fabric to avoid showing through (though there was still a little bit of that), and I backed them with black fabric.

They came out better than I expected. Here are the originals with the tracings:

blue and white Hondo

green Hondo

pink and red Hondo

I had a little trouble fitting the pink/red one on the coaster because I was too close to the edge of the fabric, but it worked out:

BS/OD finished coasters