Sunday, May 8, 2011

Trepidation, Terror & Triumph: Test Monogram of the Lee Jofa Cut Velvet Fabric

Even the most seasoned sewists -- a group which does not, by the way, include me -- have occasional stage fright when it comes time to cut into expensive fabric. When my mother made my sisters' wedding gowns, she spread the fabric out on the dining room table and left it there for weeks before she did anything with it. Each day, she'd go into the dining room, circle around the table and just look at the fabric, picking anxiously at her fingers and wondering what on Earth made her think she could tackle a project of such magnitude... But eventually she mustered up the courage to cut into that fabric and sew two beautiful gowns.

I'm not sewing any bridal gowns, but I've been procrastinating a bit on a monogram project for a client. I designed a 20" square monogram pillow as part of a client's custom bedding ensemble, and although I don't typically sew for clients anymore, this particular pillow is a new-and-improved version of one I did for the client a couple of years ago and since I monogrammed the fabric myself last time, I figured I should do it again this time. I still had the Victorian 12 "M" design from Embroidery Arts that I had enlarged and saved in the correct format for my Bernina Artista sewing machine on my hard drive. All I had to do was stitch it out again on the new fabric, with the new thread color. Piece of cake, right?

WRONG! The new fabric, Penzance Velvet in Brass from Lee Jofa, costs close to $400 per yard. I have only one yard to work with, and two 20" pillow squares need to be cut out of that piece of fabric. There's not much room for error. Since I don't have much in the way of extra fabric for experimentation, I decided to practice on the memo sample I checked out of the showroom. Shhh... don't tell anyone! This fabulous, yummy fabric is going to be a challenge to embroider for a couple of reasons. First, it's a velvet -- that means I can't hoop it, or I'll have a permanent oval shaped "hoop burn" indentation in the finished project. Plus, similar to a terry cloth bath towel, the velvet pile is going to have a tendency to want to poke up through my embroidery stitches, particularly since my design uses long satin stitches. I'm also concerned about the uneven surface of this cut velvet fabric, since the flat areas between the velvet pile squiggles are like little valleys in the fabric.

So here's the plan: I hooped a single layer of OESD Clean and Tear stabilizer, which I then sprayed with 505 Temporary Spray Adhesive so I could stick my velvet fabric down without actually hooping it. I then laid a sheet of a pretty thick clear topper (don't know what it is exactly, since the label is missing off the roll and I've had it a long time). It's not a water-soluble stabilizer like Sulky Solvy, though; I need something permanent that will remain beneath the embroidery stitches to keep the velvet pile under control indefinitely. I didn't risk using spray adhesive to secure the clear topper either, because I had a bad experience doing that once with a plush terry pile -- when I tore off the topper after embroidering, little clumps of fuzz were ripped off the towel with it and the poor little towel looked like it had mange.

So I decided to try a basting stitch just inside the hoop to hold down the topper and secure all three layers in the hoop: stabilizer, fabric, and topper, crossing my fingers in hopes that the basting stitch wouldn't leave a line in the fabric once I pulled out the thread.
This is my finished sample. The topper and stabilizer combo worked well, and thankfully, I was able to fluff the velvet pile back into place with my fingernail to "erase" the line from the basting stitches after I pulled them out. I am about 90% satisfied with the way this test stitched out.

...Here's the 10% Room For Improvement factor. Even with the topper trapping the velvet pile, I still don't have a clean enough edge to the embroidered areas. See how it looks a bit feathered up close? So I opened the design up in my embroidery software again, changed the fabric settings, and increased the stitch density of the design. Whereas this test sample had a total of 8052 stitches, the tweaked design is going to have 8559 stitches. Hopefully that will fill the design in better without creating so much thread buildup that I get giant thread nests and broken needles. If the denser design still has sparse areas here and there, I'll thread up a hand needle and fine-tune the embroidery by hand after the machine work is done. Another change I'm making is to increase the basting stitch length from 2.0 mm to 3.0 mm. That should still hold the layers together nicely, but will be easier to pick out after the embroidery is finished.
So now, it's 9:30 PM. I really want to bring this embroidered fabric to my drapery workroom tomorrow morning with a batch of other fabrics I'm dropping off, and I don't want to be up all night. I still have work orders to write, too. Do I stitch another test sample to see how my changes affect the way the design stitches out, or am I going to be a gambling woman and just go for it? Keep in mind that I don't do machine embroidery very often, and I haven't really used my embroidery software at all since I upgraded to the newest version and took the mastery classes. It's entirely possible that I screwed something up (which is why I saved the revised design under a new file name and retained the original). I wonder if I have enough of the real fabric to do one more test and still have enough for the front and back of the pillow? I guess I'll find out when I get upstairs to my studio. Wish me luck!


Ivory Spring said...

I would be nervous working with fabric that expensive too! Love that monogram.

It's great to hear from you.... Happy Spring/Almost Summer to you. :)

Marie~Window Designs Etc. said...

I LOVE this monogram Rebecca. It certainly looks like it came out PERFECT!
I didn't realize you do monogramming.

Have a beautiful day!