Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Which Otto, My Rottweiler, Teaches Machine-Embroidered Applique on the Bernina 750QE

Otto Supervises Embroidery on the Bernina 750QE

So my Rottweiler has been doing a bit of embroidery with my new Bernina 750QE...  :-)  Otto was fascinated by the noises and movement of the embroidery module.  It was very cute.
I came up with an Inaugural Project to help me get to know the new sewbaby.  It's going to be a mini quilt, smaller than a place mat, with our last name appliqued in large capital letters. It's the I'm Too Cool for School Carpool Tag to replace the boring, laminated name tags that were distributed to us by the school.  After I do the machine-embroidered applique I'll add some borders, layer it with batting and backing so I can test out the BSR function with some free-motion quilting (maybe can incorporate one of the 2012 Free-Motion Quilting Challenges that I still need to complete).  Finally, I'll test out the dual feed feature when I attach the binding.  By the time it's finished, I should be pretty comfortable with my new sewing machine.

Applique 4 Alphabet from Embroidery Arts
I selected the Applique 4 monogram font from Embroidery Arts, and I combined the letters in my Artista Designer Embroidery Software, sizing the letters to completely fill the Mega Hoop (which I have owned for at least 7 years and have never taken out of the box!) and using the vertical alignment tool to fine-tune the spacing. 

Disclaimer: I am not what you'd call a frequent machine embroiderer.  In the past, my embroidery module has only come out every 6 months or so, for quilting "in the hoop" or a monogrammed baby blanket gift.  The actual embroidery process is very easy -- all you have to do is thread the machine, press the start button, and then clip the thread and rethread with the next color when prompted by your machine.  The tricky part of machine embroidery is getting your fabric into the hoop properly so that it is taught, but not stretched, correctly stabilized to support the density of your chosen embroidery design, and positioned in your hoop so that your design can stitch out exactly where you want it to go. 

See that pesky puckering?
I hooped my solid black, quilting weight cotton fabric with one layer of lightweight tearaway stabilizer, and noticed puckering around the very first letter as the design began to sew out.  Grr!  The puckering didn't look too severe, and I figured I could probably steam it out with the iron later, so I kept going.  I floated an additional layer of the tearaway stabilizer under the hoop for the last 3 letters of our name, and that almost completely eliminated the issue.  Yay!

Completed design.  Additional stabilizer was used with the "MPF" to eliminate puckering.  Not bad, right?
...Except, NOT yay.  It turns out that inadequate stabilizing was only part of the problem.  I must have stretched the snot out of my fabric when I hooped it, because once the embroidery was complete and I removed the hoop, the fabric relaxed and even MORE puckering appeared!  I was able to steam most of it away around the letters that had the additional layer of stabilizer, but the first two letters look pretty bad. 

Stretched In the Hoop -- See all those awful wrinkly puckers now that the hoop is removed?!
Could I "quilt this out?"  Maybe -- but the point of this whole project was supposed to be a learning exercise, so I'm decided to start over.  I'm not wild about how severe the lettering looks against the black background, anyway.  Puckers aside, I'm just not loving the combination of fabrics, thread color and font style.  I chose those fabrics based on the need for the name to be visible and legible from a distance, viewed through the windshield of my car -- but I think it ended up looking like a neon sign at night.  I didn't realize how heavy that satin-stitched edge was going to be.  The letters looked really cute in that fabric when I cut them out:

Pre-Cut Applique Letters, Prior to Stitching
So the next day, I tried again.  This time, I hooped my fabric along with TWO layers of OESD Clean and Tear tearaway stabilizer, and tried to be more careful about stretching.  I chose a red Eiffel Tower print for the background and a black and white stripe for the lettering.  This particular alphabet was inspired by the Art Nouveau artistic style that was very influential in Paris around the time when the Eiffel Tower was conceived and constructed for the 1889 and 1900 World Fairs, so it felt appropriate to pair them together. 

Second Attempt with 2 layers of OESD Clean & Tear
Still not perfect, but much better, don't you think?  I was really careful to keep my towers straight.  Also, I should mention that I printed out full-size templates of each applique letter from my embroidery software, then traced them (upside down!) to Wonder Under fusible web.  I cut each letter out as a rough square, fused that piece to a scrap of striped fabric -- carefully aligning the stripes -- and THEN carefully cut out each letter with a small, sharp scissors prior to starting the machine embroidered applique.  I took some photos of this process with the original applique fabric:

Lettering Traced BACKWARDS onto Fusible Web, then Fused to WS of Applique Fabric
That way, after the machine has sewn the placement line, I carefully remove the hoop from my machine, place it on my ironing board, positioned my pre-cut letter inside the stitched outline, and fuse it in place with my mini iron.  Once the letter has been fused in place precisely where it belongs, I reattach the hoop and the machine is ready to do the tackdown, underlay, and satin stitches with no additional fabric trimming required. 

The directions for machine embroidered applique designs usually call for putting an oversized scrap of fabric down over that placement line and trimming the excess fabric away in between the tackdown stitch and the satin stitch, but I think it would be a nightmare to try to cut these letters after they were already stitched down in the hoop.

See, I still have a bit of a wave at the edge of this piece, but it's much better than the first attempt and I think I can work with it.  I really, REALLY love the way the fabrics and font style work together.

Mega Hoop has TWO screws, not just one!
I should mention at this point that, when I was packing away my Mega Hoop, I noticed that it has TWO adjustment screws -- the one at the top left that I had been loosening and tightening to hoop my fabric (near the R), and ANOTHER adjustment screw at the lower right corner that I hadn't even noticed.  Did I mention that I've never used this hoop before?  Now I'm thinking that, if I had loosened BOTH screws the way I was supposed to, it would have been much easier to get the fabric into the hoop smooth and taut WITHOUT stretching it.  Note to self: the Mega Hoop has TWO SCREWS!

So, to sum things up: today I learned (again!) that I probably need more stabilizer for embroidery than I think I do, especially when I'm working with light weight fabrics and heavy satin-stitched designs.  I also learned that I need to loosen the outer hoop more (with BOTH screws) before I cram the inner hoop, fabric, and stabilizer into it so the fabric isn't stretched and distorted in the hooping process.  In fact, since I'm planning to quilt this piece anyway, I probably should have layered a thin cotton quilt batting between the fabric and stabilizers prior to hooping it -- the batting would have provided even more support for my embroidery design.

Next time I show you my Too Cool For School Carpool Tag, I'll probably be adding borders of some sort.  I haven't decided what I want them to look like yet.


PJ said...

I love seeing what you are embroidering with your 750. Great project. You probably quilt out most of the puckering. My tip is to not press until you have removed the stablizer. Press on a bath towl with a press cloth.

Jenny K. Lyon said...

Love your idea-I would be too cool also! My favorite is the Eiffel tower tag.

Ivory Spring said...

BEAUTIFUL embroidery, Rebecca!!!!

Joann Mannix said...

Whoa. And I thought I was creative, when I made my carpool tag out of glitter glue. That sign is gorgeous! Love the Eiffel Tower print. Although, the first one, also looked pretty spectacular to me. As I was reading your post, I almost cried. I would have gotten frustrated just sizing the letters, not to mention the puckering and the stabilizers and everything else that sounded very much like French and German combined to me. I envy your ability to make such beauty out of basic material. What a gift.