General · Home Dec · Vintage · Whimsy

Hand Embroidered Dishtowels

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I’ve taken a small break from fashion sewing to work on a few just-for-fun embroidery projects. Over the holidays I had rediscovered how much I love old hand-embroidered things for the home when my Mom showed me some items she had embroidered when she was a girl. They were so charming and sweet.

I thought about the trend for adult coloring books. Coloring as an adult is supposed to be a relaxing activity that relieves stress and restores calm. I think working on simple embroidery projects can do the same. You choose the colors you like and the designs you like. It’s easy and something you can do just for pure enjoyment.

One of the easiest ways to get started is with dishtowels. I love using flour sack towels to dry my dishes.  As a child, my mother embroidered many of these and I was eager to make some of my own.

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A scrap I saved from one of Mom’s well-worn towels. They were always machine washed in hot with bleach! The embroidery outlasted the towels.

My first effort was the kitten in the knitting basket. I found the design on a google images search and just printed it onto regular paper. I already had a stack of plain unembellished towels in my drawer, so I grabbed one of those. Using my favorite sewing notion, blue painter’s tape, I taped the printout to my table. Then I positioned my towel above it and taped it down as well. Since my towel had such an open weave, I was able to trace the design onto the towel with a soft lead pencil. I had a 6-inch embroidery hoop, embroidery needles and needle threader already, so all I needed was some thread. I bought a variety pack of good quality embroidery floss and was good to go.

Once I got started, I had a lot of fun playing with different colors and types of stitches. Some of them I knew already. Others I found in my Reader’s Digest Complete Book of Needlework or in one of the many online resources out there. The kitten uses back stitch, french knots, lazy daisy (my favorite), stem stitch and satin stitch. I consider the final embroidery a success although I would have used a more tightly woven dish towel if I had thought about how much the reverse side would show through.

Now that I knew a little bit, I was ready for more. I researched dishtowels and landed on Mary’s Kitchen as my choice. They are large, hemmed, on-grain (!), tightly woven bright white cotton towels. For patterns, I decided to go the tried and true iron-on transfer route. People have been buying iron-on designs since the late 1800’s and they are still a great option. The Aunt Martha’s brand seems fairly easy to find in retail stores and online. I bought a selection of patterns that I thought I might like – they were less than $2.00 each, so why not? I also got a little more organized with my materials by adding a floss box, plastic floss bobbins, winder and ring. My total investment so far was about $35. This is one inexpensive hobby!

Supplies in hand and fully committed, I stamped 7 flour sack towels with a days of the week birdhouse series. It was a fun project to work on whenever I wanted something small and portable. It went surprisingly fast and I love the results! I will definitely have one or two hand embroidery projects ready to go from now on.

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Project 2: Days of the Week Birdhouses on Flour Sack Towels

If you would like to give embroidery a try, here are a few resources to get started:

Patterns and Transferring
  • Iron-on transfers: I found Aunt Martha and a variety of others on EtsyCreateforLessAmazon and EBay
  • How to transfer designs – Here’s a nice overview of various methods from Mary’s Kitchen
Skills
Materials
Home Dec · Useful Thing

Quickie Serger Coasters

While Mom and I were were picking through her fabric stash last November (see where I get it?), She came across some upholstery scraps.

Me: “That piece is pretty small. Do you still want it?”

Mom: “I always wanted to make coasters out of this.  I was going to just serge around the edges. But I don’t have my serger anymore.”

Me: “Do you still want coasters out of it?”

Mom: “Yes, but I don’t have my serger anymore.”

I took that as a hint that Mom wanted coasters for Christmas, although I suppose I could have also taken it as a hint that Mom wanted a serger. I took the piece home with me, fairly confident that she would forget all about it. Then I got to work.

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Start with a couple of tiny scraps.

It really was a small piece. I was able to squeeze just  8 5-inch squares out of it.

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Cutting 5-inch squares is easy with a 5-inch quilting ruler
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Ready to begin

I had read about using wooly nylon to make decorative edges. The little coasters seemed like a good way to test out the idea. I looked through my collection of stretch serger thread. I have a few different kinds. Some are Wooly Nylon, some are textured nylon, some are textured poly. The tan color that matched the best was textured nylon.

I learned a lot more than I expected to with this little project.

I’ve become fairly proficient at setting up my serger. I’ve figured out that the best way to thread the fluffy nylon is to use a needle threader. It’s faster to bend the little wire on the threader to go through the serger’s tiny holes than trying to pull it through with another thread.

I set up the machine with a two-thread wrapped edge overlock stitch, with the needle in the wide position. The nylon is in the lower looper and coordinating regular serger thread is in the left needle. Luckily, my machine has a preset tension setting for this purpose, so I didn’t have to mess around with that.

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How do I cover those corners?
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Ugh. Another view of my first attempt.

The first attempt was pretty discouraging. The edges didn’t get covered completely and the corners were not covered at all.

Part of the problem was that the textured nylon is not as fluffy as the woolly nylon. But I thought I could still make the edges fill in by making the stitch length as short as possible and being careful. But those corners? Hmm….

When I thought about it, following my manual’s instructions for turning around a square corner probably worked exactly as they intended. They probably assume that the stitch is to be used on the inside of a garment, so it doesn’t matter if the coverage is less.

For my next attempt, I changed my strategy.

  1. Stitch the edge to the end
  2. Keep going past the edge for about .25 inches, making a short “tail.”
  3. Lift the presser foot and reposition the square, wrapping the extra bit of stitching around the corner.
  4. Place the needle in the down position close to the to edge. Lower the presser foot.
  5. Stitch the next side, stitching over the tail

This method worked pretty well for me, although the first few coasters made with it look pretty rough. It took some practice to get the hang of it.

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Edge filled in nicely after second pass and shorter stitch length
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Some corners are better than others, but they all got some fray check to prevent unraveling

Finally, I wrapped them all up and placed them under the Christmas tree.

Oh, and Mom? She did not guess what was in her gift. And she thinks the coasters look nice. Thanks, Mom.

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Home Dec · Useful Thing

Ironing Board Cover

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Yuck!

How about a quickie project?

I spend a lot of time with my ironing board.  Lately, the deplorable state of its cover has been getting under my skin.  Why not make a new one?

Making a new cover couldn’t be easier.

First, remove the old one.

Choose a tightly woven, colorfast material for the top.  I pulled a cheerful plaid from my stash.

Using the old cover as a pattern, cut the new material.

Set up the serger for a 2 or 3 thread overcast with the knife up.

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Three thread overcast encases the drawstring cord.

Lay about 6-8 inches of cord to the right of the fabric edge (next to the foot) and draw to back of machine.

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Yay!  So much better!

Starting on one of the long sides stitch a wide overcast around the edge, feeding cord through at the same time.  Stop about an inch from where you started sitiching. Leave another 6-8 inches of cord at the end.

Alternately, serge without the cord.  With a tapestry needle, thread the drawstring cord through the overcast stitches.

Pop the new cover on the ironing board and gather in place.

After so many relatively complicated projects, it feels great to have a little instant gratification! This project took about an hour (not counting blogging).

Home Dec · Whimsy

Rooster Pillow (Nap-a-doodle-doo?)

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Original drawing with pillow supplies

Did you know that the Rhode Island Red is the state bird or Rhode Island?

When I am not sewing, I enjoy drawing.  Some of my favorite subjects are animals, such as this handsome rooster.  I really liked how his portrait turned out.  It occurred to me that it might make the focal point of a really neat throw pillow, if I could figure out how to go from a piece of paper to a piece of fabric.

Spoonflower is a company that specializes in custom textile printing for the independent designer.  People can upload their own designs or choose from an immense collection submitted by others.  Designs can be printed on over 20 different types of fabric, wrapping paper, and wallpaper.  I have shopped the spoonflower website in the past, but had never tried making my own design.

The spoonflower website has a lot of helpful tutorials, so I won’t go into the nuts and bolts, but they have made the process fairly simple.  I scanned my drawing, made a few edits, then uploaded it to my spoonflower account.  I used their editing tools to center and scale the image.  At this point, I could have my design printed or even publish it for others to use (and get a small royalty for sales).  I chose to get a fat quarter of plain quilting cotton as the base, and clicked the Order button.  Easy!

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It doesn’t have to match to go

It took about 2 weeks to get my order.  Everything arrived looking just like the digital preview.  The only fault I could find was that the part of the fabric that was not printed was pretty thin.  Any color placed behind it showed through.  To make it opaque and give it a little more stability, I fused lightweight interfacing to the reverse.

I went through my scrap heap to find a nice coordinating fabric for the pillow back.  The material left over from my vintage apron was perfect.  Other supplies included a zipper, some bright yellow pom-pom trim, and a 14×14 pillow form.

I love how my pillow turned out.  Now that I know how easy it is, I know I will be printing my own designs again.

 

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With interfacing, the background is much brighter
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Reds and browns look good with the drawing

 

 

 

Home Dec

Mid-Century Modern Pillows

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This rug really pulls the room together

I have a kind of unusual color scheme in my living room.  I have a dark orange sofa, grayish-green armchairs, and walnut mid-century style tables.  The whole thing is pulled together by a crazy rug which has splotches of all of those colors and more.  I wanted some throw pillows for the couch, but finding something commercially that works with my colors has been difficult.  Time to DIY!

When I was on the spoonflower website working on my own design, I took some time to look for throw pillow fabric.  Even limiting my search to mid-century and orange, I was kind of amazed to find that there were pages and pages of choices.  This design was absolutely perfect.  It had all of the colors I wanted, kept the mid-century theme, but was simple enough to harmonize with my chaotic rug. (If you love this pillow and don’t want to make it yourself, Spoonflower’s Roostery business will make it for you.  They charge between $35 and $41 per pillow depending on fabric choice.)

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All 3 pillows piled on a recliner.  I love how the pattern harmonizes with all of the colors!

I figured a yard would give me enough material to make covers for two 16×16 throw pillows.  I considered the fabric options and chose the Cotton Sateen Ultra.  The tight weave and slight sheen lend it a high-end feel.  Cotton Sateen comes a little wider than I thought (yes, the website does say how wide it is… I just didn’t look), so I was delighted to find that I could cut three pillow covers, not just 2.

I purposely sewed them a little small, taking one inch off the pillow measurement (so 15×15 for a 16×16 pillow form).  I like having my pillows a little overstuffed. I used invisible zippers because that’s what I had laying around.  I think the hidden zipper works well with the smooth fabric, but it’s one of those things that only the person doing the sewing really notices.

There are plenty of tutorials out there on how to sew pillow covers with zip closures, so I’ll get straight to the results.  Ta-da!  Quick and simple: three new mid-century style throw pillows! Don’t you just love those instant gratification projects?

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Putting in a zipper makes it possible to quickly change covers or just take the cover off to launder.

Cost to Make:

$11.01 Pillow Forms

$24.30 + $3 shipping Fabric

$1.50 Zippers

priceless My time and energy

$39.81 TOTAL or about $11.30 each

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Dog approved!