Happy Blog Hop, my fellow machine embroiderers! Today it's MY turn to strut my feathers in the week-long Spring Machine Embroidery Blog Hop hosted by SewCalGal and I Have a Notion, and sponsored by the embroidery digitizing gurus of Anita Goodesign.
I suggest that you get up right now and go to the bathroom, and then get situated with a cup of coffee and maybe even some snacks. This is going to be one of those blog posts that rivals Tolstoy's War and Peace (in length and wordiness, if not in literary genius), but unlike War and Peace, my lengthy post will at least be broken up with lots and lots of PICTURES.
NOTE: Those of you who soldier through this entire post will be rewarded with multiple chances to win the Special Edition design collection of your choice, valued at $99.95, from our generous sponsor, Anita Goodesign. I am not going to tell you how to enter the giveaway until the end, though -- I'm gonna make you work for it! ;-)
|Tutorial Photo of Appliqued Quilt Block Technique|
I was delighted when I was invited to participate in this hop even before I knew who the sponsor was, but when I found out it was Anita Goodesign, I was delighted! I attended an all-day embroidery seminar with Anita Goodesign at my local Bernina dealer's shop several years ago, and not only was I wowed by their beautiful, high-quality designs (yep, I spent lots of $$ that day), but I was also impressed by the extent to which these folks work to make their designs and projects as accessible and hassle-free to home embroiderers as they possibly can. In fact, despite how ornate and elaborate many of their projects and designs appear, Anita Goodesign is actually one of the best digitizers for those who are brand new to machine embroidery. These collections are all designed with projects in mind, thoroughly tested so the designs work perfectly in the project application, and each collection comes with thorough instructions. My Fantasy Birds collection came with a 72-page, full color PDF tutorial that thoroughly explains all aspects of the project from stabilizing your fabric all the way through assembly and the final binding stitches. The tutorial PDF includes scores of full color photographs like the one above to guide you every step of the way. All the guesswork and confusion is eliminated, and even beginners can easily achieve professional results. I have not seen any other company do this, and it's a huge value add.
|48" x 48" Fantasy Birds Tiled Quilt Project in Silk Dupioni|
I chose to showcase Anita Goodesign's Fantasy Birds Special Edition Collection because this tiled quilt project is a perfect example of an embroidery project that looks impressive and intimidating, but is actually easy to create if you read through the tutorial PDF and follow the instructions. Always keeping novices in mind, Anita Goodesign includes three different sizes of each design as well as mirror images of each design, so you don't need to have embroidery software in order to create the project, and there is a version of every design that will fit the hoop of any home embroidery machine without resizing. (However, just in case a customer who doesn't own software wishes to tweak the size of these designs, Anita Goodesign includes a resizing program on the CD as an extra bonus). This collection allows even embroiderers with smaller hoops to achieve impressive, large scale designs by splitting the larger rectangular designs into two separate appliqued quilt block designs that fit together perfectly when seamed together. How cool is that?
Not only do I love the concept behind this design collection; I also really love the way these designs combine very realistically digitized birds with fanciful, stylized Jacobean floral and botanical motifs, amost as if a real bird flew in the window and alighted on an embroidered fabric branch. I knew I would have fun playing around with that. This time I'm using brighter jewel tones for the Jacobean floral motifs, but next time it would be fun to do the birds in full color but do the Jacobean motifs in grayscale.
The original project I had planned for this blog hop was a 16" x 78" quilted table runner using all four of the large rectangular bird designs as well as four smaller square bird designs, with the blocks laid out as you see them in the image at left. Except, as great as I think the split bird block designs are for making the designs accessible to every home embroiderer, I'm not every home embroiderer -- I'm a home embroiderer who recently spent a good chunk of change on a fancy Bernina 750QE machine and a snazzy Jumbo Hoop to go with it, primarily because I have always longed to be able to embroider large, beautiful embroideries all in one hooping. I am also a home embroiderer who has invested in the v6 Bernina Designer Plus Embroidery Software, and I almost NEVER stitch out a stock embroidery design without tweaking it in my software first. No way was my first big embroidery project with the new machine going to have seams running right through the middle of the birdies!
So my grand plan was to stitch the square birdie blocks at the ends the way they were digitized, as applique blocks, but to sew out the larger bird designs seamlessly in my Jumbo Hoop. In addition to the 25 quilt block designs in 3 sizes that are appliqued and embroidered in the hoop, Anita Goodesign also includes 48 individual embrodery designs from those blocks with the collection, each in 3 different sizes -- and including the four large bird and flower designs WITHOUT the split, in 3 different sizes, as shown below:
|Individual Blue Jay Design from Fantasy Birds Collection|
The largest size of these individual designs is 6.75" x 11.75", so I planned to enlarge them in my Bernina software to fill the sewing field of my Jumbo Hoop, which is a little over 8" x 15" on a 7 Series machine (you can sew a design up to 10 1/4" x 15" on a Bernina 830 with the Jumbo Hoop due to the longer free arm on that machine).
Here's what this design looked like when I opened it up in my Bernina software, after enlarging it but making no other changes:
My Fantasy Birds look pretty ugly, don't they? That's because I imported the design in the commercial format EXP, which doesn't contain any information about thread colors so the software assigns colors randomly. Bernina software will save an EXP design with an additional two files -- one contains the thread color information, and the other is an image file of the embroidery, like an icon. If this was a simple two or three color monogram, I'd leave the design the way it was and disregard the colors shown at the machine during stitchout, but with a design of this complexity it's very easy to get confused about which color is going where and which portion of the design is stitching next -- I wanted to work out the colors ahead of time and have the correct color numbers displayed on my sewing machine's screen for each color change.
So my next order of business was to go through the thread chart for this design in my software and individually assign each of the Madeira rayon embroidery thread colors specified by Anita Goodesign for this design. There are only 13 thread colors in the design, but there are 34 color changes in order for each component of the embroidery to stitch out in the correct sequence. Although Anita Goodesign specifies Madeira thread, I already own almost every color Isacord makes and I wanted to use what I had on hand. So, once I had manually entered the Madeira colors, I simply chose "Isacord 40 Numerical" from the drop-down menu, clicked "Match and Assign All" and, in seconds, all of my thread colors had converted automatically to the equivalent thread colors in Isacord polyester embroidery thread. No need to hunt down a thread color conversion chart online or try to match up the colors manually!
I still wasn't finished with the software stage yet -- I spent another hour or so playing around with different thread colors for the Jacobean floral portions of the design. I left the blue jays alone because I loved how realistic they looked and didn't want to mess that up, but I wanted to do something brighter and more vibrant with the "fantasy" part of the design, so the flowers wouldn't blend into the background as much and so the design would coordinate better with the assortment of silk remnants in my fabric stash. This is what I finally came up with:
By this point, I was really getting really excited about the project! I put my son Lars, the best 12-year-old embroidery assistant ever, to work digging through five large bins of embroidery thread until he had located all of the appropriate thread colors and lined them up for me in stitch order. (This task was assigned to him as penance for falling asleep with silly putty in his bed a few nights ago. Laundry will be EXTRA fun this week!)
So I was ready to start embroidering, and I was going to start with this blue jay design! I knew it would take awhile to stitch out, and I figured I could use that time to enlarge and edit stitch colors for the subsequent designs. I had assembled all of my supplies and notions, cut out Jumbo Hoop sized pieces of silk fabrics, and prepared my fabric pieces as per Anita Goodesign's tutorial instructions.
|Silk Dupioni (above), My Kravet Glittered Silk Shantung (below)|
My base fabric is a gorgeous, very unusual glitter-embellished 100% silk shantung drapery remnant from Kravet -- the pattern is called Sparkle, the colorway is Ivory, and it retails for a sickening $121 per yard. I have several odd-sized scrap pieces of this fabric that were left over from one of my interior design clients' projects several years ago, and I have been saving them just for a special project like this!
Silk shantung is a lightweight, flimsy silk that is similar to the silk dupioni that Anita Goodesign used for their quilt samples, except that it's a bit more refined, with a smoother surface, a tighter weave, and a much less pronounced slubbed texture than what is characteristic of silk dupioni, as you can see in the photo above. So I thought it best to follow Anita Goodesign's recommendations for stabilizing my silk for these dense designs. I fused Pellon Ultra Weft interfacing to the reverse side of my silk first. Then I cut a piece of plain cotton muslin large enough to fit comfortably in my Jumbo Hoop, and adhered a piece of Pacesetter Midweight Tearaway embroidery stabilizer to the back of the muslin with my 505 spray adhesive. I then sprayed the top of the muslin with 505 and adhered that to my interfaced silk. Finally, I spray-starched the right side of my silk with Niagara Original spray starch. My fabric sandwich was as crisp as cardstock when I hooped all of my layers. I intended to use my sewing machine's hoop basting feature to secure all four layers around the perimeter of the hoop prior to stitching, but alas, I could not find the screen with that option, and I was impatient about getting started...
Well, I plugged that USB stick into my sewbaby, opened up my design, attached my hoop, and pressed the start button -- and almost fell on my ass when I saw that the estimated stitching time was 220 minutes. I grabbed a calculator to check my math -- yep, this baby was going to take almost four HOURS to sew out, not counting the additional time involved in rethreading and trimming jump stitches between color changes, or the time I'd spend removing stabilizer and cleaning up the completed embroidery design once it had finished. Eek!
My enlarged design was 13 1/4" x 7 3/4", had 69,639 stitches, and was going to burn through an estimated 161 meters of bobbin thread and 4-6 hours of my time. And, considering that it was already 5 PM on Tuesday evening when I made this discovery, I realized that not only would I be unable to complete my entire table runner project for this post, I wasn't even going to be able to sew out the entire first design in one evening. Dinner and bed time stories with my children trump sewing projects any day in the week. So I embroidered about half of the design after I put the kids to bed on Tuesday night, and when I stopped at 11 PM I put my sewing machine in Eco Mode to conserve power while ensuring I could pick up right where I left off on Wednesday morning.
Finally, around 2 PM yesterday, my blue jay design had finally finished stitching:
Well, I now truly appreciate the value of owning a machine that can embroider up to 1,000 stitches per minute. Even if my old Artista 200E/730E could have embroidered a design this size (which it couldn't), at its maximum embroidery speed of 680 stitches per minute it would have taken approximately FIVE hours and forty minutes to stitch this design. (I've been practicing Pre Algebra with Lars -- this would make a good word problem for him!) Uff da! Clearly, a large, densely-embroidered quilt project like this is a major time commitment, not the quilt-in-a-day scenario I had envisioned. After all, other than embroidered quilt labels, occasional monogram projects, and quilting "in the hoop" with speedy outline quilting designs, I really don't have much embroidery experience, and I've certainly never tackled any designs of this size before.
I really love how beautifully this design stitched out, and I'm looking forward to continuing my project. Above are some of the other silk fabrics I'm considering for borders and/or for the appliqued fabric strips on the smaller blocks. Wouldn't it be fun to cut out the big butterfly from that silk Robert Allen print and fuse it into this design as an applique, secured by satin stitching?
After unhooping the design, I carefully tore away most of the tearaway stabilizer. Then I sat down with a bright Ott light and tweezers and painstakingly removed the stabilizer from all of the nooks and crannies. Next, with a duck-billed applique scissors for safety and holding my breath the entire time, I trimmed away most of the cotton muslin fabric from the back of the design, as though the muslin was a cutaway stabilizer. I really wanted to restore the soft hand and drape of the silk now that the embroidery process was complete. When I was finished, the back of my design looked like this:
|Back of Design, Tearaway Removed and Muslin Cut Away|
Now that I've stitched out this design, I keep thinking of other applications besides table runners, quilts, or pillows. Wouldn't this design be gorgeous on the flat sections of a box pleated or pelmet-style window valance?
|Can You Imagine These Designs on a Window Treatment?|
Of course, as soon as I got that idea, I had to import the photo of my completed embroidery design into my interior design software to try it out. Why do I suggest embroidery for the valance, but not for the drapery panels? Well, with a top treatment, you wouldn't have to embroider 15 yards of continuous fabric and drive yourself nuts trying to space the designs with an accurate pattern repeat like you'd have to do for a pair of drapery panels. You would just overcut each flat section, embroider the design, and then trim the piece to the appropriate size afterwards. If you're really ambitious, you could even use some of the other standalone designs in this collection, maybe some of the Jacobean floral elements, to embroider banding for the lead (inside vertical) edges of your drapery panels in place of the solid brown banding in my rendering.
You know, embroidered silk drapery fabrics that look like this go for hundreds of dollars per yard, yet you're limited to the thread colors chosen by the mills. By embroidering your own silk base fabric, you can have your dream fabric with embroidery thread colors custom selected to match your oriental carpet, your other fabrics, or anything else that tickles your fancy. Just add English bump interlining, a heavy cotton sateen drapery lining, and you'll have a gorgeous custom window treatment unlike anyone else's, anywhere.
It's probably a good thing I didn't finish my table runner project, because I've been going on forever and I still have dozens of photos and three more pages of notes that I had planned to include in this blog post, just from sewing out the first design. So, expect a follow-up post within the next few days where I will share the Trouble-Shooting Journey to Eliminate Thread Loops with an Unusual Needle, my Three Favorite Embroidery Tools that Don't Come With Your Machine, and My Final Verdict on the Final Steam Pressing of Embroidery Designs. In all honesty, I probably won't finish my project until several months from now, considering that it was just last week that I finished the project I began for the Fall Machine Embroidery Blog Hop I participated in back in November!
So, have I lost everyone, or are you still with me? Because I did promise a giveaway! Anita Goodesigns is giving away FREE Special Edition design collections worth $99.95 each (winners choose which of the 15 Special Edition collections they want to win).
For the Cheeky Cognoscenti giveaway, you can earn ONE chance to win by visiting Anita Goodesign's website here, drooling all over your keyboard at their gorgeous designs, and then commenting on this post to tell me which Special Edition design collection you would choose if you won and what ideas you have for using those designs in your own project.
You can earn a SECOND chance to win by following Cheeky Cognoscenti via either Networked Blogs or Google Friend Connect (on the side bar at the right side of this page, scroll up) and then leaving a second comment telling me that you're following. Important: If you are a "No Reply" blogger or an Anonymous commenter, be sure to leave your email address [eg. Sally(at)hotmail(dot)com] in your comment so that I can contact you if you're the winner!
That's right -- not only am I giving away a free Anita Goodesign Special Edition design collection, but each of the other eight bloggers in the hop is also giving away a free Special Edition design collection this week as well. If you haven't done so already, be sure to stop by each of the other blogs before the end of the week so you can see more beautiful embroidery projects, pick up more embroidery tips and tricks, and collect even more chances to win. Each blogger sets their own rules for when they will choose a winner, so if you missed any of the blogs from Monday through Wednesday you might not be too late to enter!
I plan to select a random winner from all comments on this post on Monday the 25th.
Here's the lineup with links, one last time:
Monday, March 18th:
ME! ME! ;-)
Once again, I want to extend a
HUGE thank-you to SewCalGal and I Have A Notion for organizing this hop and for inviting me to participate, and
an even bigger thank-you to Anita Goodesign for
graciously agreeing to sponser the event, for supplying the designs featured in all of our blog hop projects, and for donating such generous prizes for our lucky winners.
Well, folks, I had glorious plans of not only finishing the entire table runner yesterday, but I also planned to complete this blog post before my kids got home from school and schedule it to publish automatically at 7 AM. Since it is now after 2 AM on Thursday morning. I'm going to do one thing AHEAD of schedule -- I'm going to go ahead and publish it right now and then head straight to bed. Happy Thursday, everyone, and good luck in the giveaways! May the best stitcher win. ;-)
UPDATED 6/17/2013: I didn't make this into a table runner, but I did finally layer it with batting and quilted the piece, and it came out so beautifully that I was doing a happy dance all over the sewing room! You can see those results in this post.