confessions of a fabric obsessive

Sewing outside the lines

You might already have spotted that I’m following the Craftsy Block of the Month course, and you may have read where I describe what I wanted out of the course. Basically, I want to improve my accuracy as well as learning new (quilting) skills.

So is it weird that my striving for accuracy in my cutting and sewing also comes with a flip side – a yearning for the creative randomness of free-motion embroidery?

Most quilting (apart from improv quilting) is precise and structured (OK I mean the piecing together of the little bits of fabric into a pattern), and it’s this precision and structure that I love most about the beautiful quilts that I blog about occasionally and pin to my boards on pintrest frequently (my “quilts I want to make” pintrest board has over 500 photos, no duplicates that I can find, and is still growing!).

But the quilting together of all the layers in a quilt, unless done as “stitch in the ditch” or straight lines, needs me to have some control with free motion stitching.  I’ve seen some beautiful quilting and some incredible and   intricate designs, and while I’m realistic about my skill, the thought of only ever being able to quilt straight lines doesn’t work for my creative self.

I adore free motion embroidery and have tried a few times with limited zero success, partly due to the fact that my sewing machine needs servicing, and partly to a mystery tension problem.  I have been reading and watching youtube demos of FME for months and I have the basics in my head but I really want to produce gorgeous stuff like this (as always, click to view photos in their owners’ blogs):

and these


and this


and of course, the wonderful Raspberry

Yes, I could embroider by hand (or hand-quilt), but it takes soooo long and I have arthritis in my fingers that is only going to get worse.  I’m worried that if I sew too much by hand I might worsen the arthritis to the point where I can’t hold a needle at all (and that would make me very sad).

One of the lovely ladies at the networking group I go to once a month owns a sewing shop and runs classes in FME, and has suggested that I go to one of her classes (she also kindly made a few suggestions about how to get around my tension problems). I’d love to, but money is tighter than tight at the moment and it’s not even a possibility, so I have been exploding with frustration and pent up wanting-to-drop-those-feed-dogs. Last night I just went for it and look what I did:

First-time-ever kind-of-successful free motion embroidery.

If you’re wondering why it look like it’s been done on a tissue, I’ve also been reading a lot about textiles and using unusual mediums (like dryer sheets) to sew on. This has intrigued me to the point where I grabbed one of the wipes that I use on my spectacles (the closest thing I have to a dryer sheet, and the closest non-woven fabric I had by my sewing machine), sat at my machine and went for it.

Of course if it had worked out as badly as like my previous attempts, you wouldn’t be seeing it (I don’t show all my failures to people, just the ones that are useful).

It needs work obviously, I need to slow down (I have a heavy right foot), swap the normal throat plate for one with a tiny hole (apparently it can reduce the amount of fabric that gets dragged down into the machine if things go worn) and find a darning foot. Also, I didn’t actually drop the feed dogs on this, it’s a bit of a faff to do and to be honest I didn’t think that the free-motion would go any better than the last few times I’ve tried it. I think I need to put the fabric in an embroidery hoop as well, as the satin stitch (which is really cool when you move it sideways instead of boring forwards and backwards like normal) kind of puckers the fabric.

I know that to most experienced sewing people, this bit of tissue with random stitches on it looks rubbish, but I started this blog to record my journey to sewing excellence. This tiny scrap of stitching may only be a first step on the road to competency in free-motion embroidery, but it is a major breakthrough and one that I am proud of.

Happy Claire Bear

4 responses to “Sewing outside the lines

  1. Oh Sew Tempting May 5, 2012 at 21:48

    I like everything on this post but particularly the planets 🙂

  2. Maggie May 7, 2012 at 03:01

    Way to go Claire! That was one of my first experiments with free motion embroidering and I was so nervous about it. Dropping the feed dogs is seriously the way to go – I actually popped on my free motion quilting foot too – even though it scared me to death. All I can say is lots of practice and patience is all it takes. Try drawing (chalk or otherwise) the lines for yourself to practice on. That’s the best way to practice! Thanks for sharing my pillows!

    • Handmade by Claire Bear May 10, 2012 at 10:19

      I searched through my collection of feet and it turns out I don’t have a free motion/darning foot so I just held my breath and went for it! At the moment I’m just being spontaneous, but when I come to stitch a specific design or shape I will be drawing it on with my beloved disappearing ink pen. I love all your work, it was hard just choosing one or two or your creations.

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