Monday, September 15

Come and join me in some Furry Stitching

Polar Bear stitched by Jorie
Preparations for the second Furry Nice Class are in full swing (you can still sign up but hurry!) so I thought I'd share some of the fabulous things my students made in the first Furry Nice Class and tell you a little bit about the class. Just in case you were interested in joining in. Pictured above is Jorie's version of the Polar Bear pattern that students receive at the start of the course. All the elements I talk about in the class, such as stitching animals furs, how to create depth in your embroidery and basic shading techniques, come together in this small design!

Polar Bear in Progress stitched by Kim
Throughout the class students get to download additional patterns (a sailor fox, a lucky bunny and more) to practice their newly learned techniques. The Beetle is part of the Shading Practice Pattern Sheet for example. A beetle may not be furry but it's a good design for trying out shading techniques. Central in the class is the Polar Bear design though, step by step I explain how I stitched my version and why I use certain stitches, colours or techniques.

Beetle stitched by Michelle aka Mooshie

Teaching an online class has advantages as I'm able to reach people all over the world (from Colombia to Sweden and from the US to Australia) without having to travel all over. On the other hand it's more difficult to connect with students when you are not literally in the same room. I do like to give the students the feeling that we are in a (cozy!) class room situation though and that I'm there for them to answers questions and encourage. From a survey about the first class I learned some things that I used to tweak the upcoming class and I was happy to some very impressive results from Furry Nice students. :)

The new Furry Nice class starts the 25th of September and you can reserve your spot here.

Monday, September 8

Owl Embroidery Finished

Embroidering this owl was an interesting journey. I started out with the idea of stitching a quite natural looking owl but in came the crazy neon floss and that made it so much more interesting. The French knots weren't in the original plan either. A flowery border was meant to frame the owl, but it didn't look right. Then I was a bit unsure about adding the dark green background but again I think it was the right decision. It's finished now (at least I simply stopped embroidering) so on to the next furry (or feathery) embroidery! :)

Saturday, September 6

IKEA Sewing Machine Review

When my youngest daughter turned six (she's 9 now) we bought her a Mini Janome sewing machine. For the 100 euros it cost I expected a simple but good machine from a well known brand like Janome. Sadly the Mini Janome has never worked properly, made a terrible noise when it did work and using it was frustrating for both Luna and myself. Because it's no fun trying to teach or learn how to sew when the machine jams all the time! We ended up practising on my own sewing machine (a Husqvarna Sapphire 835) and I wish I hadn't traded in my simple but perfectly fine Huskystar E20 when I bought my own machine a couple of years ago. Because it would have been perfect for my daughter.

Ye Olde Huskystar E20. I even made a stuffed turtle with it. 

Fast forward to 2014. I was at IKEA with a shopping cart full of stuff I didn't know I needed when I left home that morning, when I stumbled upon 'Sy' (it means Sewing in Swedish) the IKEA sewing machine. It was a little under 80 euros*, looked pretty sturdy to me, with all the basic stitches etc you would expect on a simple machine so I decided to take a chance and take it home with me.
* I later checked and in the US and the UK the Sy is much cheaper, about $80 (50 euros) and 45 GBP (55 euros), wish I could have bought it for those prices!

And while I bought the Sy for my daughter I really want to stress that this isn't a kid's sewing machine. It's a proper-grown up machine, so you will find no extra kid-friendly or safety things on this machine. Luna is very careful when she sews and has been watching and learning for a few years now which is why I trust her with a 'big' sewing machine.

Obviously I wanted to try it out immediately (before handing it over to my daughter) and after an initial misunderstanding on my part about the front loading bobbin case it was ready to go. Here's my (and Luna's) experience with the machine so far.

The machine is quite heavy, about six kilos, which is good as it doesn't 'walk away' from you while you sew as smaller and lighter machines sometimes do. It has all the basic stitches and then some. Like most people we just use the straight stitch and zig zag stitch. You can't adjust the stitch length on this machine but there's three straight stitches on the dial with three different lengths. I find the smallest one (A) rather tiny and the third one (C) is nearly regular in length but we use the middle one (B) the most :)

There are also various zig zag options so we're good with the most basic stitches.

There is a back stitch option and (yay!) a thread cutter on the side. It also has a light which is good. The bobbin loads in the front, something I'm not used to, so it's always a surprise when the thread runs out. On the little metal plate there's a seam guide too.

The Sy comes with a pedal (which is quite small and very plastic-y) and several extras like a seam ripper and some bobbins. I forgot to take a photo of the accessories when we just had the Sy (and by now some have gone MIA in the sewing room) but you can see them here on the IKEA website.

The one thing that I noticed right away is that the machine sews very fast, even if you can control the speed a little bit with the pedal it still goes quite fast. If you try to go slow it tends to jam. This is clearly something Luna still has to adjust to. It's also important to guide the fabric until the last bit of your sewing or it will trail off and leave you with a crooked seam. My Husqvarna which was about 800 euros more expensive does that too by the way...

For most of your straight line sewing (paired with a little sewing experience) the speed isn't a problem but sometimes you need to sew slowly, when you sew curves for example, and that would become tricky on this machine.

Winding thread on the bobbin was an interesting experience. The manual was very clear and easy to follow but it involved pulling out the hand wheel on the side which was a new to me action. The end result was a quite loosely wound up bobbin. However that didn't give us any problems when we started sewing with it. I only just found out IKEA has some excellent Sy instruction videos on YouTube including one for the winding up bobbins.

Currently Luna is making Log Cabin blocks for her very first quilt on the Sy and it's going very well. The actual quilting will probably be done on my Husqvarna though as I don't expect the Sy is quite up to that task.

If you are a beginner and you have a little more cash to spend then you might consider buying something like The Huskystar E20  I mentioned earlier. It was about twice the price (perhaps a little more) of the Sy and in my view definitely in another league. A good second hand sewing machine is always option too of course... However if you only sew every now and then and if your projects are quite straightforward (pillows, simple curtains and bags etc) the no non-sense Sy is good value for your money in my opinion.

Hope this review was useful!

Friday, September 5

On the Cover of a Magazine

I'm so excited that my 'Wave Goodbye' embroidery (as it's now called) has made it to the cover of this month's Australian Homespun magazine!

I had this idea to make an embroidery with a Volkswagen Van for quite a while. I even had a fairly detailed drawing of it on my 'must make a pattern of this one day' pile. As it turns out production of these VW vans ended last December but at least you can now still make your own with needle and thread! Anyway, I'm glad Homespun liked the idea as well so I went on and adjusted the original sketch quite a bit to give it a bit of a Surf and Beach theme. That maybe an odd theme in September for us in the Northern Hemisphere but in Australia it's nearly Spring! Maybe it would be fun if I'd made a wintery version as well...

Tomorrow I am finally posting a review of the IKEA 'Sy' Sewing machine I bought for my daughter earlier this year!

Monday, September 1

Double Dutch Random Sampler Quilt Along: my Crazy Quilt Block

The Double Dutch Random Sampler Quilt Along is a very relaxed Quilt Along. There's no pressure, no deadlines and anyone can join in. That's my kind of Sew Along :)  Every two months or so one of the ladies of our local Double Dutch Quilt group posts a new block suggestion on their blog. All of these posts are in English (just in case you were wondering...)

Previous Double Dutch QAL blocks

The first one was Lotje's House Block (very cute, I made several). Next was Muriel's Diamond Cross Block (made several of those as well) EvaMarie chose a very appropriate Windmill Block and the most recent block was Mari's Improv Curvy block (I haven't tried that one yet, sounds intriguing though). Today I'm adding a 'Crazy Quilt Block' to the lot!

What is a Crazy Quilt Block?

While I was researching Crazy Quilt Blocks on the internet I saw two different types of 'crazy'. One is where you use a pattern, well that's not 'crazy' enough for me and sounds rather restricted. So I'd rather do the improv version where you simply start and built up your own block. When I made my block (the one pictured above) I didn't use a tutorial, I just started sewing one scrap to another. Later I found out that it's far more common to use some sort of foundation for your improv Crazy Quilt Block, like paper or muslin. My block is doing fine without foundation but I can see the advantages of using foundation paper or fabric. Some quilters even add some batting to make a 'Quilt as you go' type of block.

How to make a Crazy Quilt Block

I was going to make a tutorial to show how to make a Crazy Quilt Block but I noticed there are already a few good ones out there. My &Stitches colleague Julie has a tutorial for a Crazy Quilt Block with foundation. She has even added some decorative trims and stitches to her block, something I'd love to try too! On Completely Cauchy I saw another Crazy Quilt Block tutorial in which paper from the Yellow Pages (or is it a phone book?) was used as foundation! Aneela's Crazy Scrappy Block tutorial is for a block without foundation and pretty much sums up how I made my block. So there's lots of different options: sew with foundation or not, add embellishments or keep it simple. Use lots of different colours or a limited palette. Make it 6, 9 or 12 inch. It's all up to you. :)

I started with a very cute Charley Harper fabric and as you can see I roughly followed the shape of the bird and started with five sides. After that it's much like sewing a crazy log cabin block. You keep on adding strips all around and -important!- cut them at interesting angles after you've added them. Continue until you have reached the size you want. I made a 9" block using a limited palette of blue, grey, orange and red as these are the colours I chose for my Sampler Quilt.

On Flickr I found this lovely 'Bunny Vortex' block Maritza Soto made for a Quilt Bee. Julie Frick made the Bee Blocks into this amazing quilt. If I didn't already have more than 5 (possibly nearly 10 I lost count/am in denial) quilts 'in progress' I'd start my Crazy Quilt tonight! Hope you will enjoy making this block as much as I do.

Don't forget to join our Double Dutch Sampler Quilt group on Flickr if you want to sew along with us and share your progress with us.

Friday, August 29

How to Pixelate a Photo (without using Photoshop)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my Big French Knot project  which basically is a pixelated Rose stitched in French Knots. Today I will show you how I pixelate pictures in a photo editing program called GIMP.* GIMP is free software and comparable to (but not the same as) Photoshop. If you can't afford Photoshop, GIMP is a good alternative.

First download GIMP

Open the photo you want to pixelate (or pixelize as GIMP calls it) by clicking FILE > OPEN. Some pictures 'translate' better to a pixelated image than others. If there is little variation in lighter and darker shades in the original photo it might just end up as a bunch of coloured squares in the pixelated version. Also: the less pixels you choose (we'll come to that in the next step), the harder it'll be to recognise whatever is on your photo.


You can change the size of the pixels by using the little up-and-down arrows. The width and height are linked automatically so when you adjust the width, the height will be adjusted simultaneously. The higher the number, the larger the pixels will become.

When you're done pixelating, you can export the image (in a PNG format for example) and save it for future reference. Go to FILE > EXPORT.  I always use the standard settings in the export process.

Et voila: you've created a pixelated picture! Although obviously not as sophisticated as dedicated quilt or other design programs (such a cross stitch design software), I figured this could be a nice free tool for some to prepare work on pixelated embroideries and quilts.

*Disclaimer: I'm not tech savvy at all so don't throw any too technical questions my way. :)

Friday, August 22

I'm in the new Mollie Makes Embroidery Book!

My Cloud pillow project. Photo by Vanessa Davies
Just two weeks ago a new Mollie Makes book was released, it's simply called Mollie Makes Embroidery.  I was very pleased when I was asked to contribute to it last year and I was even more pleased when I received my copy and saw how wonderful it has turned out!

My project in this book is the cloud shaped pillow embroidered with a cat and a polar bear, you see pictured above. The umbrellas are really mini-samplers, featuring some of my favourite stitches like the Bullion Knot and the Wheat Ear Stitch. I'm really happy with the result although making the cloud-shaped pillow 'cloud-shaped' was a bit of a challenge but I got there in the end.

The grey-and-white-socks cat in my Pillow design is inspired by my own cat Milo. :)

Carina's project. Photo by Vanessa Davies
The first half of the book features 15 projects from (amongst others) my &Stitches pal Carina, Mollie from Wild Olive, Sophie from What Delilah Did and many more embroidery designers. The projects and designs are 'typically' Mollie Makes: charming, fresh, modern but with a retro feel to them. Even a technique that seems a bit outdated (at least to me) like Silk Ribbon Embroidery gets an impressive, new look in Mollie's Pretty Posy Ribbon Runner Project.

Many different embroidery techniques are highlighted in the different projects: from 'free form' hand embroidery to Cross stitch and from Crewel to Stump work.

Mama and Baby Owl by Michelle Galletta. Photo by Vanessa Davies

The second half of the book consists of an extensive 'how to' section (about 80 pages) and many stitches and techniques are explained in words, pictures and with diagrams. Obviously the 'basics' are there but also less obvious stitches and techniques like the Raised Fishbone Stitch and Bargello are included. As is a section about Machine Embroidery, often overlooked in Embroidery books.

I think the great projects and incredibly useful techniques section make this book a 'must' for new embroiderers and more experienced stitchers alike. Mollie Makes Embroidery is published Pavilion Craft (UK) and Interweave (US) and now available in bookstores and in online shops.