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Embroidery Tips & Tricks…
q To make it easier for your technician to do a thorough and timely job, download this handy checklist to help make sure that you bring everything needed to service your machine.
q To make hooping your fabric easier, instead of laying your hoop out as it would fit on your machine (which is usually—but not always— with the mounting bracket on the left), try rotating the hoop 90° clockwise, so that the mounting bracket is at the “top”. This way, it’s not in your way as you insert the inner hoop to the outer, and… on larger hoops you are better supporting the fabric. Easier all around—as long as you remember to orient the design and fabric correctly overall!
q When hooping for Janome machines especially, if you aren’t using the Clothsetter, make yourself a little “hooping platform”. Because the mounting bracket on the Janome hoops has a latch that protrudes downwards, the hoop doesn’t lie flat on the table. This can present a challenge for accurate hooping. So… find an 8”x10” plastic cutting board—even the dollar-store ones. Use that to hoop over, and allow the mounting patch to “hang” off the back edge of the board. Wanna make it even easier? Grab some of that “anti-slip” carpet lining and adhere it to the top and bottom of the board. The board won’t slip around on the table, and the hoop won’t slide around on the board! (Pssst! A “hooping placemat” of that same stuff will hold any brand of hoop stable as you hoop your fabric…)
q For richer-looking monogramming on napped fabrics such as towels, top the towel with water soluble stabilizer (WSS), and stitch the monogram. Immediately when done, hit the start button and stitch it a second time. This makes the stitching look fuller, stand off the fabric somewhat, as well as adding enough density that “poke-through” is nearly impossible! (Poke-through is when the nap works its way through the stitching after the item has been washed a time or two…)
q To easily rip out satin-stitch embroidery… don’t remove the stabilizers! Slip the point of a seam ripper under the stitching on the right side and carefully slice the stitching. Flip the embroidery over and pull out the bobbin thread – it should come out with little effort, leaving little behind! For any little “pokies” that are left, gently rub a white eraser over them, and any loose threads will slip out of the fabric like magic. If you still have some tiny understitching left, grasp it with sharp tweezers and gently wiggle it out. A little bit of patience can work wonders—or so I’m told...
q Stabilizing Lettering: Recently I heard someone commenting that her embroidered letters looked jagged and coarse, no matter what machine adjustments she made. She was working on a simple cotton broadcloth, and couldn’t understand what the problem was. I reiterated (and for those of you who’ve take my Embroidery Stabilizers class – reiterated is probably and understatement…) that she needs to consider her stabilization. Because lettering holds such a concentrated yet detailed layout of stitching, it often needs not only a topping (water soluble stabilizer) to provide a smooth surface for the stitches to form, but likely also a permanent stabilizer plus a tear-away behind the fabric to offer a stable enough surface to prevent distortion and fabric damage. A wobbly base… wobbly stitches.
q When embroidering – especially large designs, or when using the larger hoops – you may find that your hoops don’t grip your fabrics as well as is optimal. Remember, you should hoop all layers if at all possible, but if not, the stabilizer is more important to hoop than the fabric! The stabilizer is the foundation for your stitching, so it is crucial that it be hooped securely. Once hooped, tighten the hoop screws as tight as you can by hand – don’t use a screwdriver or you will end up stripping the screw threads, and then you’ll have to replace parts. Don’t know about you, but I’d rather buy thread than replacement screws...
q Your fabric is hooped, the screw is tightened, but you can still feel give in the fabric – it slips a little in the hoop? If not, great – you’re ready to embroider. But if you do feel that give, here’s a great solution – go and get a few binder clips – you know those black and silver clips for holding stacks of paper together – from Staples, or your husband’s desk drawer (just don’t tell him I told you to do it!). Use them to clip the inner hoop ring to the outer hoop ring along the top, bottom, and sides. If you are using a particularly large hoop, you may need to use more than one per side – you be the judge. This will clamp the hoops together along with the fabric, holding everything stable while you embroider.
q Another thing I like to do is to use the hoop basting stitches – many machine brand web sites have them available for free download for each of their hoops (if not, go to my free downloads page—I have a few there, and more to come). These are simply outlines of a frame, sized to fit your hoop. They are stitched with a long straight stitch that overlaps slightly at the start and end—just enough to hold—and will tack all stabilizers and fabric layers together, which will help prevent movement and slippage. (These are especially helpful when doing ‘hoopless’ embroidery.) Send the appropriately size frame to your machine and stitch it before stitching out the rest of the design. When done, simply pull out the basting thread and voila! All done!
q Hmmm… nothing here yet… guess I’d better come up with some soon. Anyone have a favourite tip they’d like to share? Drop us a line...
q When fusing interfacing, one of my favourite tools is Teflon™. I have an “appliqué pressing sheet” that I’ve never used for appliqué, but it’s wonderful just the same! What I do is this: I cut out my pattern piece, then rough-cut my interfacing. I place the Teflon press cloth on my ironing board, my fabric on top of it, and top it with my interfacing. You do have to pay attention that you are getting the wrong side of the fabric and the glue side of the interfacing together, then press. (By the way, I have a Teflon “shoe” on my iron, too, which I highly recommend. In fact, I never take it off my iron. If you don’t have one, or can’t get one, top with a second sheet of Teflon – they’re truly worth every penny!) Remember, too, when fusing interfacing, that you are pressing, not ironing! Place the iron down, hold it for a full count – usually 10 to 15 seconds (follow the manufacturer’s recommendations), then lift the iron, reposition it and press again. Repeat this until the interfacing is completely fused down. Don’t sweep the iron over your fabric, this can cause shifting and distortion, as well as inhibit a proper fuse. When complete, allow your pattern piece to cool completely before peeling if from the Teflon (no glue will remain on the sheet). Then trim your interfacing to match the fabric.
q Used Needle Disposal: If you’re like me, you dislike throwing used sewing machine needles in the garbage – inevitably I stab myself when I need to rummage though the bin for something I didn’t mean to throw out. Here’s a safe, simple solution: Bore a small hole in the top of a film canister (or pill bottle cap or even use a Tic-Tac container) and drop used needles into it. When the canister is full, you can seal it with a small piece of tape and throw it out, or, my preference, bring it to a scrap metal recycling depot.
q When applying narrow fusible bias, try using your open-toe presser foot – more often than not, the opening is just the right width to guide the tape perfectly! Just offset the needle position to the edge of the bias, and sew! When you reach the end, just turn it around and sew again, or if you prefer to sew both rows in the same direction, reposition the fabric and adjust your needle to the opposite side... Nice and easy... of course, I like to use my edge stitch foot for this technique; I find the accuracy is second-to-none. Don’t have an edge stitch foot? Then do try the open-toe foot – it also offers great visibility!
q I’m a stabilizer freak… not so much that I use all the different ones out there (there are only five in my must-have “stash”), but that I would rather over-stabilize than to suffer the results of poor-looking embroidery. An “aid” that I like to add to those five is spray sizing. Difficult to find in Canada, I like sizing because it adds body to any fabric quickly and easily. While spray starch will also do the trick, I hesitate to use starch because much of my embroidery is framed, and not washable. I’m concerned that starch is food for bugs. So, while it’s great to keep your shirts and blouses (they get laundered regularly) looking crisp, I’m not comfortable with the thought of it hanging on my walls. So... I use spray sizing. If you're interested, I did bring in a few cases, and have it available for purchase; email me if you wish a can or two.
q Here’s something I learned from my hubby (a top-notch sewing machine technician—no bias from me, of course...): I was complaining that I had a hard time loosening my needle screw on my machine sometimes, to the point of having to use pliers (Aaaargh!). I asked if he could find me a pair of small, rubber-tipped pliers to keep in my sewing kit. Can you imagine the look he gave me? Anyhow, being male, he had to show off his superior strength and undo the screw for me – like that helps when I’m sewing during the day and he’s at work! But here’s the trick – he turned the flywheel to lower the needle halfway! Okay... that moment was like an epiphany! Yes, I have DUH! moments too... lowering the needle gave me room and leverage to actually get my hand in there and turn the needle screw. Since then, I haven’t much trouble. I love it when light bulbs go on in my brain... the room feels so much brighter! Some more tips for the needle screw issue:
· First, don’t tighten the needle screw too tight – you don’t help your situation any – in more ways than one: too tight to loosen, and the needle screw is part of the needle positioning system – if you tighten it too much, you can damage the screw, which affects the needle’s location (which causes chain-reaction damage under the needleplate), or you can actually bend the needle bar, which will in turn lead to other problems (read: expensive problems!)
· Second, if you do have trouble with the needle screw, snip off the fingers of a rubber glove (or use some of those rubber printer’s thimbles); either slip these “thimbles” over your fingers or over the needle screw – this gives you some grip when loosening it off.
q Lately I have been playing with a number of decorative techniques with double needles, wing needles (aka hemstitch needles), and double wing needles. Here are some tips I have discovered “ob(li)vious” though some may be:
· Thread carefully – if your thread catches anywhere along the threading path and pulls, that could be the premature end of an expensive needle.
· If you have your threads fed directly from two upright thread posts, place the spools on the posts so that the thread winds off in opposite directions (one clockwise and the other counter-clockwise) to prevent the threads from tangling with each other. If you are using a “thread tree”, position your spools away from each other and use a separate tree guide for each.
· If your machine has a divided tension disk setup, such as the Bernina machines, guide one thread on each channel for more consistent tension.
· Thread both threads through all guides on your machine, even the last one just before the needle. This is an important one, because omitting this with even one thread increases your chances of needle breakage.
· Don’t use your automatic needle threader on these specialty needles or with very small sewing needles (size 60/8). It simply won’t work properly – it isn’t meant for specialty needles: it won’t line up to double needles, it can’t work around a hemstitch needle’s “wings”, and using it on very small needles will often stress the mechanism, likely requiring it to be replaced sooner than necessary. However, we have an excellent needle threader available here at TSP (worth every penny!!!) that I highly recommend. It works beautifully on standard sewing machine needles, including double needles and even serger needles! A light touch with this baby is all that’s needed to push a loop of thread through the needle, and it even sports a little hook at one end to pull the thread all the way through. I love it!!!
· Avoid using your automatic thread cutter when you are using specialty needles, too. It can stress the needles unduly, which will cause you stitch hassles. And hey – we’re in it for the fun, right? Who needs hassles?
· When working with double needles and wing needles, BE CAREFUL OF YOUR STITCH WIDTH!!! It is far too easy to break these needles by attempting to sew too wide a stitch, and the needle can easily hit the foot or the needle plate. And with these needles, or any needles for that matter, CRUNCH is not a good sound! Several machine brands on the market have a “double needle setting” which can help protect your needle by limiting how wide you are able to set your stitch width. I recently found out (Thanks, Mary!) that some machines will limit what stitches you can sew with this function turned on, though. You can turn it off, but then limiting your stitch width is your responsibility. It’s worth it, though – some of the results you can achieve are gorgeous!
· When working with double needles, you may find, as with many other embellishment techniques, that you need to use some stabilizer. Experiment to see what works best for your application – sometimes a tear-away is not the best choice; try interfacings, or even wash or heat-away stabilizers.
· With double needles, avoid stitches that go backwards in long jumps, or those that stitch very densely. If you must use such stitches, test them well: adjust your stitch length or width appropriately, and sew slowly to avoid needle breakage.
· When working with a wing needle, starch or size your fabric so that it is fairly stiff, and don’t be afraid of adding stabilizers. I have found that the stiffer the fabric, the more pronounced the hole made by the needle is, which is, of course, the purpose of the wing needle.
· PLAY, PLAY, PLAY! These needles are fun, and the results are exquisite!
q Scissor-Safe: years ago I picked up a long magnetic knife rack (saw them recently at Home Hardware for about $5 each)… my husband attached it to the wall in my sewing room, just above my cutting table, and it neatly holds my scissors, rotary cutters, thread snips, etc – all the cutting tools I use at my cutting table. Of course, I have scissors and snips at each machine station, and at my ironing board, but I love the knife rack especially for my rotary cutters – the big nut on the back of the cutters holds them in place securely, out of the way of little hands. Storing them there also means I can grab the one I want at a glance, without risking injury to myself (I can be a real klutz!), and the blades don’t get dulled from bumping together. (I liked it so well I made Fred put another one up in the kitchen for my knives!).
q When purchasing a packaged roll of anything – fusible web, fusible binding, seam binding, etc. - rather than removing it from the package, cut a slot in the side of the package. Ease a bit out of the slot (use a bodkin or a seam ripper) and the package becomes a neat dispenser - protecting the contents from soiling, tangling, etc. And... it’s already labelled for you! What could be more ideal? I heard this idea on Sewing With Nancy—loved it!