Thursday, February 6, 2014

Machine Embroidered Applique, Without Panty Lines

Machine Embroidered Elephant Applique Pillow
I figure everyone's probably sick of seeing my Jingle BOM quilt project over and over again, so I thought I'd switch gears and write a machine embroidery blog post today.  I did some custom machine embroidery a few months ago for an interior design client's nursery project, and I thought I'd share with you how I worked out some of the technical challenges that arose along the way. 

Panty Lines!  Base Fabric Shows Through Applique Fabric
My client had selected the Graham crib bedding collection from Serena and Lily and I designed a window seat, upholstered cornice, and a diaper stacker to complete this modern nursery.  (Coincidentally, the baby's name is also Graham, so we also did a custom monogrammed pillow for the glider rocker with his name on it).  Serena & Lily sells their crib bedding fabric by the yard, and I planned to use it for a sweet little appliqued throw pillow.  My base fabric, Skittles in Blueberry Sky colorway, is from F. Schumacher's Lulu DK Child collection.  As you can see in the photo above, the embroidered splatter dots on this fabric not only show through the thin quilting weight cotton sheeting fabric, but since they are embroidered rather than printed, they also created raised bumps that I didn't want on my applique. 

I sourced the machine embroidery design for this cute elephant applique from Applique Corner Design, an independent Etsy seller who created the design using Bernina digitizing software -- software that I own, but never digitize with.  I can almost always find a professionally digitized design that suits my project and only use the software to edit, combine designs, and tweak things.  I did need to make some adjustments to this design in my software after I stitched out a sample embroidery.  I added underlay stitching to the ear applique because the satin stitching didn't meet up exactly for me when the circle was complete.  Also, the original design file instructed the machine to stitch the entire outline of the elephant first and then go back and do the tail separately.  In my test sew, the elephant pulled in ever so slightly, just enough that the tail ended up not being attached to the body.  Like pin the tail on the elephant, but without the pin.  I easily corrected that by programming the tail and body outline as a single embroidery object to stitch out at the same time.  Finally, I enlarged the design to completely fill the usable portion of my Mega embroidery hoop. 

Tracing Applique Shapes Onto Fusible Web
Another reason I can't live without my digitizing software (even though I rarely digitize) is because I use it to print out actual size templates of any embroidery file.  This is crucial for an applique design, so that I can precut my applique shapes precisely before stitching them down.  I used my light box to trace the shapes onto lightweight fusible web, trying to keep my pencil line in the middle of where the satin stitching will be.  Note that it's important to trace a REVERSE image of the applique shape -- this photo was an "oops" that resulted in an elephant pointing the wrong direction!

Initially, I had planned to use Dry CoverUp, a vinyl topping product designed for machine embroidery, to prevent the embroidered dots of my base fabric from showing through the finished elephant applique.  However, I tried it in my trial run and I didn't like how stiff it made the finished embroidery.  This was, after all, for a baby's room, and I wanted this pillow to be super soft and snuggly when it was finished.  So I used temporary spray adhesive to hold two layers of my thin cotton elephant fabric together, and then I treated the doubled fabric as one layer.

Fusible Web with Window, Adhered to Reverse Side of Applique Fabric
As you can see in the photo above, my enlarged elephant shape was wider than my fusible web so I had to use two pieces.  Those little asterisks I penciled in are registration marks to make sure I aligned the two pieces of fusible web properly when I ironed them to my fabric.After tracing the elephant shape onto my fusible web backing but BEFORE ironing it to my applique fabric, I carefully cut a "window" out of the center of the fusible web shape.  Again, my goal was to keep the finished applique embroidery as soft and snuggly as possible.  I only needed the fusible web to adhere those outer edges of my elephant in place until the machine satin stitches permanently secured the applique to the base fabric.  Not only does this window technique eliminate a lot of the bulk and stiffness of the fusible web, but it also enables you to carefully trim away some of the backing fabric behind the applique shape after the design has finished stitching. 

Test Fitting Applique Shapes to Printed Template
After fusing the fusible web to my applique fabrics, I carefully cut out my two shapes and laid them on my actual size printed template to ensure that the shapes fit properly within the column of satin stitching along all of the edges.  (That's the smaller test stitchout that you see draped on the pillow form in this photo.  I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but there was a definite contrast between the soft, slightly puckered texture of the background fabric and the stiff, rigid applique).

Fusing the Applique Shape to the Background Fabric
Once the applique shapes have been prepared, a machine embroidered applique design stitches out much like any other machine embroidery design.  The machine stitches an outline placement line for an applique shape, and then stops as it would for a color change.  That's when you carefully remove the hoop from the machine, line up your precut applique shape along the placement line, and fuse it in place.  With this large design in my Mega hoop, I'm able to fit my full size iron inside the hoop to fuse my applique in place, but if you're doing a smaller design in a smaller hoop, a travel iron would be a better choice.  With the applique fabric fused in place, you reattach the hoop to the embroidery machine and then it stitches a zigzag tackdown stitch followed by a satin stitch all along the edges.  WAY faster than the hand stitched applique project I've been working on recently, but of course it's a completely different look.

Tackdown Stitching Completed, Satin Stitching In Progress

 Here you can see how, after the entire design finished stitching and I removed the fabric from the hoop, I not only removed my tearaway stabilizer from the project, but also cut away the background fabric inside the body of the elephant, using duckbilled applique scissors to ensure I didn't snip into the applique fabric by mistake.  Note that I would not have been able to remove the backing fabric if I had fusible web permanently adhering the entire elephant shape to the background fabric -- that's why I cut that window in the fusible web before I fused it to the yellow fabric:

Excess Backing Fabric Trimmed Away Behind Elephant Applique
Notice that, when I trimmed away the backing fabric, I got a slight puckering to the applique shape that wasn't there before.  For some projects that wouldn't be acceptable, but it's exactly the effect I wanted to achieve with this one.  Now my elephant applique was as soft and pliable as the background fabric, and if I scrunched the whole thing in my hand there was no obvious stiffness to the applique.  It looked and felt as though the applique had always been there, as if this is how the fabric came from the mill.  Perfecto!

Finished!  Soft, Snuggly Applique with No Embarrassing Show-Through

Here's the finished pillow:

Finished Elephant Pillow
Isn't that adorable?  Just the way I had envisioned it!  The yellow chenille throw pillow fabric and the gray matelass√© bench cushion fabric are from Fabricut, and all of the trims are from Samuel & Sons. 

The other embroidered pillow for this project was a custom monogram.  When I design monograms for very young children, I like to use very clear, legible fonts.  Although this is for a newborn's nursery, I'm thinking about this baby growing into a preschooler, recognizing his name and his initials on the pillow once he starts learning the alphabet and learning to write his name.  I know I said that I never digitize anything with my embroidery software, but I do use it quite a bit for monograms.  I spelled out the child's name in lower case letters using a TrueType font that I digitized for embroidery in my software.  Then I combined the first name design with a large capital initial "G" that I purchased from Embroidery Arts, my absolute favorite source for machine embroidered monogram designs.  This letter is from their Moderne Monogram Set 5, and I used my embroidery software to enlarge it significantly and changed the satin stitch to a step fill stitch pattern.

I was using that same pesky Schumacher Skittles fabric that already had splatter dots embroidered all over it, so there were "panty line" issues with this design, too -- especially since my large "G" needed to be stitched in pale yellow thread over top of dark blue embroidered splatter dots.  This time, I did use the CoverUp product, and it worked like a charm, making my yellow G stand out boldly against the background fabric and completely eliminating show through.  Since the letter "G" that needed CoverUp was skinny, the stiffness of the vinyl CoverUp was negligible with this design.  I just had to go back and very carefully trim away the little whiskers of yellow vinyl that remained around the edges of the embroidery after I tore the excess product away.

Monogram Test Embroidery Completed
Automatic Basting Function
This design fit nicely into my Large Oval embroidery hoop.  As you can see, I use the built-in hoop basting function of my Bernina 750 QE as added insurance to keep the fabric and stabilizer from shifting during the embroidery process.  With this feature engaged, the machine automatically sews a long basting stitch along the perimeter of the embroidery hoop before it begins stitching the embroidery design.  These stitches are easily removed once the design has completely stitched out, and I use this basting function with every single project.

Finished Pillow: "G" is for Graham
I also did a custom diaper stacker for this project, which doesn't have any embroidery on it, but I just had to share it because it came out so cute:

Custom Diaper Stacker
I used flannel drapery interlining behind that thin cotton sheeting fabric to give it some body and a padded satin hanger inside at the top.  With a diaper stacker that cute, I'm ALMOST nostalgic for the diapering days...  No, not quite!

And here's the whole nursery:

Completed Nursery
The upholstered cornice fabric is Conifer Modern from Kravet and the leather glider chair is Natuzzi.  We also added some Samuel & Sons Dolce Pom Pom border trim to the readymade Serena & Lily crib skirt, to give it a more custom touch and to tie the bedding in with the custom items.
Here's the initial design rendering I made for the client:

 I was really happy with how this project turned out, and more importantly, the new mom was thrilled with it.  All's well that ends well.  Back to that hand applique medallion!


Shelley: the Dread Pirate Rodgers said...

The main focus of your blog that *really* impressed me was the *HOW* and *WHY* you did what you did! What a great teaching moment and I truly appreciate that!

And the other part that just impressed the heck out of me was the final shape of your pillows. Why? The corners. They are SQUARE. *No dog ears*. I can't tell you the sheer number of throw pillows I see on blogs or webpages that have those gawdawful dogears! It is such a SIMPLE correction to make .. I've even talked about it on my own blog and gallery webpages ... and I just find it so distracting to see dogear corners.

So ... bravo! terrific! fantastic! Simply wonderful throw pillow construction!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Shelley. I tapered the corners on some of these pillows and did a soft, unstructured Turkish corner on the others. I almost mentioned that in this post, but then I realized I didn't have any good pictures showing the corners and it's hard to explain without a photo. Plus the post was SO LONG already... :-) Thanks for stopping by.

Barb said...

WlOW! What a beautiful job! As a beginner MEer with my new 780 I truly appreciated your detailed solutions and your product recommendations. Just one question, do you download a file as Melco exp and use that, or a different file and change it in your software? Again, thank you so much!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Barb! Since I monkey around with the designs in my Bernina embroidery software before taking them to my sewing machine, I don't worry too much about what format I start out with since I can choose any file type when I save the revised design in my software. I think that this elephant design may have originally been an ART format design -- I know that there was something about it that let me know it was originally created with Bernina software. With my 7 Series machine, I usually choose commercial file format DST when I purchase professionally digitized designs and then I save them as Bernina EXP files when I write them to the USB stick for my 750 QE.

lw said...

I love how that nursery turned out-- one couldn't help but feel cheerful in there, with all the light and the lovely pillows and the soft colors.

Val's Quilting Studio said...

I ooohhhhh and auuugghhhhed as soon as I saw that adorable elephant ...then to read on that you created this whole little nursery sweet!!! Thanks for sharing at Tuesday Archives!

Digitized Embroidery said...

Love that Elephant Applique Pillow.. Keep up the great work Rebecca...!