Friday, May 30, 2014

Machine Applique using Blanket Stitch

Machine blanket stitch can be used on turned applique as well as raw edge applique. (For fusing raw edge applique tutorial, please go here) If you’ve never done machine blanket stitch I hope this post will help you get started.

p.s. if you own one of those sewing machines that has built in functions specifically for applique such as cornering, pivoting, you should refer to your own machine instructions on how to use them.

What you need
An open toe foot (if you are sewing through several layers, you can also use a walking foot)
Blanket stitch on your sewing machine (I use a Janome)
(Note that on my machine, my default setting is needle down - this means when the machine stops sewing, the needle position is always down)

Learn how your blanket stitch is sewn on your machine. Refer to your sewing machine manual to select the blanket stitch option.

Next try out the stitch on some scraps. Observe how the stitches are formed and figure out what the repeat pattern of stitches is.

On some machines, it’s one forward stitch, left stitch, right stitch and this is one repeat. We'll call it Scenario A.

On my machine, it’s one forward stitch, one stitch back and a second forward stitch (that’s 3 straight stitches), left stitch, right stitch to make one repeat. We'll call it Scenario B.
One other thing my machine has is it starts with a locking stitch - up/down on same position a few times. My machine also remembers where it left off and will continue the blanket stitch unless I do a reset.

If your machine allows you to change the size of the stitch, you should try different variations and see which one appeals to you.

If you change the width of the stitch, you are only changing the stitch that goes left and right. If you change the length of the stitch, you are only changing the stitch that goes forward/backward.
I start with the default settings and then reduce the width (zigzag). On my machine, my default length is 2.5 and can only be adjusted down and not up. 2.5 to me is pretty short so I stick with it. I find that I like my stitches to be 2 to 2.5 for width and 2.5 for length.

Here I will tell you a few things I do which you don't necessarily have to follow but they work for me.

Thread: I use average weight thread, meaning the same thread I use for sewing bags, clothes - I use it for my applique as my top thread and bobbin thread. I always use the same thread for top and bobbin, including using the same colour. Some people use a special bobbin thread. Some people use fine thread for top thread. Some use thicker thread for top thread. These are all personal preferences. What's important is you use the right needle for the kind of thread you are using.

When it comes to colour of thread, I want it to show and I go for black or something contrasting. If you want your stitches to blend in, then match them to the colour of your applique instead of the background.

Needle: I use 80/12 sharp needles which suit average weight thread.

Tension setting: I use Auto.

Stabilizer: I usually use stabilizer because I only have the applique over one layer of fabric. When I don't use stabilizer, I see some puckering. If you are sewing through several layers (like a quilt), a stabilizer might not be necessary. You need to try it out and see.

Speed: I sew slowly.

Beginnings and ends of thread
- you could bring the bobbin thread up (needle up and needle down will bring it up so you can keep it out of the way) or you could leave the bobbin thread as per normal as long as you keep it out of the way

- when you are finished with stitching around one motif, leave some thread

- from the back, pull whatever front thread you can to the back

- whatever thread left in front which you can't pull to the back, thread it into a needle and bring it to the back

- from the back, knot off the threads and cut

Where to start the first stitch?
Generally, I would choose to start where I could hide that it's my starting point. If the applique has no sharp points or corners, I would start on the straightest or least curvy path. If I have corners, like a square/rectangle or a leaf with pointy ends, I like to start right at the tip. Once you have sewn a number of appliques, you will have your own preferences on where to start.

This is how your needle is positioned when sewing a blanket stitch. Notice that only the left/right stitch pierce the applique. The forward/back stitch lie on the perimeter of the applique.

Why do you pivot and when do you pivot?
When the edge of your applique is a straight line, you won't need to pivot until you reach a corner or until it's no longer a straight line. For applique with curved lines, you need to pivot a lot. The general principle is we always want the forward/back stitch to lie right next to the raw edge of the applique. When the needle takes a stitch forward or backward, it does it in a straight line. So the goal is to align the edge of our applique such that the next forward stitch sits next to the raw edge.

For me, the best position to pivot for curves is right after you have completed the right stitch and your needle is right snug against the edge of the applique. (see image below)
In the image above, you can see clearly that if I didn't pivot the applique, my next forward stitch will not be snug against the edge of the applique and we don't want that.
In the image above, I did a pivot (needle down, presser foot up, shift applique slightly to the right) Now I'm confident my next forward stitch will lie snug against the edge of the applique.

Practice on an applique that looks like this. There isn't much difference between sewing on the outside curve and the inside curve. Sew slowly. Each time you finish with the right stitch, see if your next forward stitch will lie snug against the raw edge of the applique. Pivot to line up. When you reach where you started your blanket stitch, end with the right stitch.

Below I have captured how I handle the corners of a simple rectangle/square. Some people may handle the square corners differently but for me, this way works every time consistently.
At step 5 (in above image), I "hid" my left and right stitches by sewing over the previous stitch (which lie snug against the applique). You will notice that at each of my 4 corners, I will have one stitch being crossed.

Below I have captured how I sew blanket stitch on a leaf with 2 pointy ends.

Although in step 6 (in above image), I manually moved my needle up to re-position my applique, I'd like to caution you that if you move your needle up too much you could end up using one stitch. So if you think your next stitch is a forward stitch, it could end up being a left stitch. On my machine, if the next stitch is a left stitch, if I manually move my needle up, it will just go left so I can't manually move my needle until the next stitch is a forward stitch. Another thing which might happen if you mess with the needle position is if you pull up too much bobbin thread in the process, you could end up jamming your machine. You really need to try it out and see for yourself.

Below I have captured how I sew blanket stitch on a heart. In case it's not obvious enough, in the image below, in step 3, after you pivot, you need to make one stitch.

Although a heart has a pointed tip, I did not start at the tip as it is a bit fatter and has room for me to stitch on instead of hiding the left/right stitch like how I did for the leaf.

Before you start sewing on an applique, you want to take a look at the shape and decide where you want to start and the tricky areas you need to pay attention to. If I were to applique a star, I can see that the tip of the stars is a good place to start as it's almost like my leaf except with straight lines. The star has inside corners like the heart and I would use the same method. I would end the same way I end the leaf.

I hope this is helpful to some of you.

Bag patterns at my Etsy shop

Applique patterns at my Etsy shop

For more Applique Resources
For more Tutorials

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How May got pissed away


1. I started May really well by finishing all 10 of the bags I had set out to make. I exchanged the 10 bags for money and with some of the money I went and bought a 40mm prime lens. I needed the lens to take photos for my tutes. Taking photos is a bitch. A total freaking bitch. So many parameters to consider and I tend to shake. Anyway, prime lens are not exactly cheap and I'm quite happy to discover my friend has another prime lens to lend me. So just now I had been trying out the new lens and I still have a lot of trying out to do.

I took these two images using my 50mm lens. What do you think of them?

2. I have been spending far too much time checking out dolls. It is my secret wish to own a range of dolls. I'll probably write a post another day to let you have a peek at my doll collection. Singapore isn't exactly a good place to buy dolls so looking online is the solution. I recently found a doll I really like. It's a Tuesday's Child by Rosen Lied. It's a BJD which means it's expensive. I have some money leftover from the sale of my 10 bags and I really want to blow it on the doll. Unfortunately my girl took one look at Tuesday's Child and screamed. She's not into dolls. I'm still hoping she will get over her fear. Well, it's a good thing I couldn't get this shop in UK to sell me a Kidz n Cats doll (Sophie) for whatever reason. Sophie is much larger than a Tuesday's Child and will surely give my girl nightmares. I haven't given up on owning a BJD. I'm sure there's one out there that won't creep my girl out.

3. Recently I spent a fair bit of time writing up tutorials for applique related stitching. These tutes are meant to support my future patterns. More are coming. I try my best to give all the information I feel is relevant to each topic. So do go through these tutes if you are interested in the specific topics covered. I should be able to publish my appliques soon.

4. My son turned 17 and we were busy looking for presents for him. One of the many presents he received was Monopoly Deal which is a spinoff card version of Monopoly. It's not the Monopoly you know but a different delightful game which I totally recommend if you can get hold of it. My son requested for this game as he had played it before. We played it last night and I am such a bad loser.

5. For a while, hubs and I had become foodies trying food at different places. Sometimes I post food photos to my Instagram account here. Last week hubs suddenly announced he wanted to stop eating meat completely. What?! He's a meat eater. He even grunts when he eats meat. He lets meat juice drip down his chin when he eats. Yep, that kind of meat eater. He seemed quite serious about it so I decided to join him. Except I still want to eat fish and prawns. You know I've been down this vegetarian road before and I never succeeded. So I felt we would fare better if we wean ourselves off slowly. Anyway, hubs felt that he needed to give up more. So less sugar is going to be our next goal. It hasn't been easy the past week or so with our new diet. It's a lot of adjustment. Hopefully we won't give up so easily and finally succeed in losing our middle age flab. Today I had vegetable curry with rice for lunch and it's not even 5pm as I type and I'm starving to death already.

6. With all that foodie eating, it's no surprise I've lost my fitness totally with not running and exercising. The occasional swim is nothing. I keep wanting to regain my fitness but it's always one thing or another and somehow it's May and I've not made any progress. I'm unable to lose any weight and it would be nice to be able to wear my tight jeans again. The lack of exercise is greatly affecting my well being. I am constantly tired. Exhausted even. And so goddam sleepy. I believe if I exercise regularly, my health will improve and I will feel so much more alert. We are going for a family run in June so by hook or by crook, I had better start running because I'm the slowest runner in my family.

7. Sadly, my pattern sales has greatly declined. No, I'm not going to moan and groan about it. I do have myself to blame. I didn't really promote them and I was unable to put out new products. And my blog - the main driver of traffic to my pattern sales wasn't quite as active as I had wanted. Many reasons for zero new patterns - waiting for hardware, software, time, energy, lots of excuses. This year I try very hard to feel like a winner and think like a winner. Instead of just feeling sad about it, I will need to market more and produce more. I have invested a lot of money and time in my patterns so I do need to keep going no matter what. Today I'm finally feeling that all the stars are aligned and now that I have 3 camera lens to work with, so no more excuses. In June, I am going to buckle down to work on more patterns. No more distractions.

8. This month has been flooded with giveaways in the blog world. So I decided not to hold a May Giveaway.  I will hold one in June and there will be two winners. So stay tuned.

Bear says Hi.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Machine applique using free motion

I first read about free motion in the 90s and back then I had a Singer sewing machine. It was a basic machine and no matter how I tried, I couldn't figure out how to lower the feed dog. In all the books I had read, you need to be able to lower the feed dog in order to do free motion.

Years later, I bought a Sakura sewing machine and this one was a cash and carry deal and I forgot to check about the darn feed dog. I tried to explain to the old man who showed up at my home to teach me how to use the machine. He had no idea what I was talking about. Well, the feed dog stayed up and one day I discovered that if I lower the presser foot number to zero, I could free motion. Even with my regular foot. In the old days, I never bought extra machine feet. I had no idea where to buy them.

Then I bought a Brother sewing machine and I remembered to ask about lowering the feed dog. Yes! This machine not only had a switch to lower the feed dog, it came with a special foot for it. It's what most people use for free motion - a darning foot. That was 2007. Many of my early bags had free motion stitching on them. When I was selling the bags, customers would ask me to explain how I made the stitches. Well, either I got tired of explaining or the bags were hard to sell. I stopped including free motion stitching on my bags.

I forgot when I bought my current Janome. It was around 2011 or 2012. It came with a switch to lower the feed dog and I already had the darning foot. So I started doing free motion again. The thing is I completely forgot to lower the feed dog and I managed to do free motion as well. So that's pretty much how I do my free motion now. I don't change any machine settings but I use the darning foot. Without the darning foot, it won't work. Remember I mentioned earlier that in my Sakura I could change the pressure on the presser foot to zero? My Brother and Janome couldn't do that. The lowest number is one.

So here are the possible settings for free motion:
1. Cover the feed dog manually, use darning foot/free motion foot
2. Lower the feed dog, use darning foot/free motion foot
3. Change pressure on presser foot to zero, use regular foot
4. Don't lower the feed dog, change stitch length to zero, use darning foot/free motion foot
5. Don't change any machine settings, use darning foot/free motion foot

Some people do free motion by not lowering the feed dog like me but they change the stitch length to zero. When you change the stitch length to zero, you'll notice the feed dog does not move. For me I don't even change the stitch length but you do understand what I'm doing is not free motion quilting with all the swirly lines and stippling. What I do is a little more rigid as I sew outlines on applique and maybe some doodles of drawings. I'm no expert on free motion quilting and I don't even quilt so I'm not even sure if not lowering the feed dog and not setting the stitch length to zero is workable for sewing on quilts.

So what I think is this. There are different ways to do things and you need to find out what works best for you. Lower the feed dog, don't lower the feed dog. You try it out and see for yourself. The feed dog is honestly the least of your problems. To do free motion, you need to find the right combination of machine, needle and thread. There is no formula. You have to try it out and see for yourself. What works for me may not work for you.

The general guideline is this. You try to match your needle to your thread. If your thread is thick, use embroidery or topstitch needle otherwise your thread will shred and you will be very frustrated. Your bobbin thread should be the same or less weight as your top thread. When starting out, just use the sewing thread you use for regular sewing and use the exact same thread in the bobbin. If you're not using a special thread, a sharp 80/12 needle will be the go to needle. If you find a mass of bobbin thread building up on the underside of your fabric, you've got the wrong tension. My machine allows me to adjust the thread tension but if I use anything other than Auto, things go nuts. So for my machine, I have to use Auto. In my previous machines, I was able to modify the tension to my liking. Like I said, you have to see what works for you.

Fyi, I have tried Aurifil Mako 50wt and man, this thread sews like butter! Unfortunately, my sewing supplies shop doesn't stock Aurifil.

Before I show you how I do it, if you have a needle down feature you should activate it. Mine is on by default. Needle down means when you stop sewing, your needle is always in a down position. If you don't have this feature, you need to manually rotate the needle to be down when you stop sewing.

Starting and ending your thread.
Hold on to your top thread, needle down through applique where you want to stitch...

Needle up. Use top thread to pull up bobbin thread. Pull it up...

Top and bobbin thread to one side, insert needle right back where it came from. Take a few small stitches to anchor the thread. If you're confident you can snip off the excess thread. Otherwise leave till later to check if thread is truly anchored.

 In order to free motion, you need to use your hands to nudge the fabric along.  In the image above, I have shown only one hand nudging the fabric because I used my other hand to take the photo. But I do use both hands to move the fabric along. Even if you haven't lowered the feed dog, it won't do much for you. So you have to move the fabric yourself. Follow the edge of the applique and move the fabric at a moderate speed. Your sewing speed should not be too fast. To pivot, you can just spin the fabric to go any direction without having to stop/lift presser foot/pivot. This is the best part about free motion!

You can use a heat erasable pen to draw details on the applique and sew over the drawn lines. Or you could just sew freehand without following any drawn lines.

You don't need to cut off your thread when you want to start somewhere else. Just end the previous stitch by doing a few back and forth small stitches to anchor. Then drag the top thread to wherever you want to start and start all over again. Always remember to start and stop the same way with a few back and forth small stitches.

You can also sew outside the applique but it is important never to sew through one layer of fabric. You will get puckering.

In this applique, I've tried to sew outlines on the really tiny areas. It's not perfect but I feel with free motion, you want the child-like sewing. At least for my case, I do.

Here's another one where I did some freehand stitching outside the applique. Occasionally my hands slip and I get a large stitch. What I do is I go back and stitch over it.

The most difficult part of free motion has to be moving the fabric around. There are tools available and if you google for them I'm sure you'll be able to find them. For me, if I find my movements jerky, I stick a piece of plastic over the sewing area. I cut out a space for the needle to go through. This plastic is something I get from the stationery shop. It helps a little. If I can get something smoother, I would.

Some people wear special gloves but I don't have such gloves. What I've tried is these rubber gloves cashiers wear. It makes some difference but I find it weird to wear them. If I do wear them, I wear them on the thumbs and the middle fingers.

Finally, remember all the pivoting we do? I rotate the fabric in so many directions that sooner or later the thread gets twisted. What I do is before I start sewing on a new project, I cut off the top thread and re-thread the needle. I find that when I do this diligently, everything goes smoothly.

Bag patterns at my Etsy shop

Applique patterns at my Etsy shop

For more Applique Resources
For more Tutorials

Monday, May 26, 2014

Machine applique using straight stitch

Machine straight stitch can be used on turned applique as well as raw edge applique. (For fusing raw edge applique tutorial, please go here) Straight stitch on applique is really easy. You only need to know how to sew in a straight line and pivot around corners. You don't really need to change any machine settings.

What you need
An open toe foot (if you are sewing through several layers, you can also use a walking foot)

(Note that on my machine, my default setting is needle down - this means when the machine stops sewing, the needle position is always down. You want the needle to be down when you pivot which we will cover later.)

Foot Pressure
If your sewing machine has adjustable foot pressure, try adjusting to the number meant for applique. On my machine, I have 1 or extra fine fabric, 2 for applique cut work, drawn work and basting while 3 is for regular sewing.

What kind of thread do I use?
For my top thread, I have used a thicker thread, embroidery thread and regular sewing thread. I prefer to use black or something that pops. If you prefer to let your thread blend in, then match it to the colour of your applique instead of the background.

For my bobbin, I use average weight bobbin thread which is what I use for sewing clothes or bags. It's okay to use a finer thread for bobbin but don't use thick thread because it would cause a lot of tension issues.

What kind of needle do I use?
When I use thicker top thread, I use embroidery machine needle and it only comes in size 75/11 and 90/14. I find 75/11 is good for up to medium weight fabric. For thicker fabric, I would use 90/14. I have never used Topstitch needle but I've read that they work for thicker thread as well.

When I use average weight top thread, I use 80/12 sharp needle.

Tension setting: I use Auto. Refer to your sewing machine manual if you need to adjust tension setting.

Is stabilizer necessary?
I don't use stabilizer because my stitches go through the applique as well as the background fabric. That's 2 layers of fabric. But if my stitches were to go through the background fabric only, then I'll need stabilizer.

If you are sewing through several layers (like a quilt), a stabilizer might not be necessary. You need to try it out and see.

What stitch length do I use?
This is not absolutely necessary but I find that I much prefer using a slightly shorter stitch length. My Janome default stitch length is 2.2. I go down to 2.0. However when I use Aurifil 40wt thread, I like my stitch length to go up to 3.0. Stitch length is definitely a personal preference.

Beginnings and ends of threads
You could back stitch the beginnings and ends of your stitching. For me, I prefer to do it manually. I leave a tail in the beginning and keep it out of the way. When I end, I leave a tail as well. From the back, you should be able to pull 2 threads to the back. From the front, you should have 2 tails left. Use a needle to bring the threads to the back. Tie off (twice to be secure) and cut off the tails.

Sew about 1/8" away from the edge of the applique. You just have to eyeball it. If you need a guide, you can use a heat erasable pen to draw an outline on the applique and follow it.

When you pivot, what you actually do is this. Have needle down in the applique when you stop sewing. If your sewing machine doesn't have a needle down function, you need to manually rotate it to be down. Lift presser foot. Rotate the applique to whatever position you want.

Every time the sewing needle takes a forward stitch, it does it in a straight line. As long as your applique has a straight line, you won't need to pivot. But you will come to corners, curves, sharp points and these are areas where you need to pivot. The principle of pivot is very simple. Try to imagine the straight line the sewing needle will make. The edge of the applique needs to be parallel to that straight line. Visualise the next stitch on your applique. Will your needle hit the applique right where it should? If not, your applique is not aligned with the needle and you need to rotate the applique so that it will.
Above you can see I have reached the tip of the heart and if I keep sewing, I will go outside the applique.

Here I have rotated the applique to the right such that my next stitch will be parallel to the corresponding edge of the applique.

Sometimes it's not so obvious you need to pivot especially for curves. Above, can you visualise that if I continue sewing, the sewing line won't be parallel to the edge of the applique?

My pivot is very small. I rotated the applique just a little to the right. But now I feel more confident my next stitch will lie exactly where I visualised it.

Above I have not done any pivot and I can already see my stitches are too close to the edge. I'm going to show you what happens if I don't pivot and let the machine keep sewing.
The sewing machine sews in a straight line. It is programmed that way.

Below I have captured a few steps in sewing around a rabbit applique.
For an applique like a rabbit, it has many tight corners like the ears and feet. You might have to pivot for every single stitch.

Straight stitch applique is also perfect for felt!


Bag Patterns at my Etsy shop

Applique patterns at my Etsy shop

For more Applique Resources
For more Tutorials

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Free motion doodling

Last night I was doodling on my tablet thingy and a thought came to mind. Now, if you've been reading my blog long enough, you'll know I'm a fan of The Far Side and the one panel comic strip. I decided to turn my doodle into a one panel comic strip except to make it even more challenging, I decided to stitch the doodles - with my sewing machine!

It was already 11pm when the "brilliant idea" came and by the time I was done sewing the hens, it was midnight. I am not so good at free motion sewing that I was able to do it without any guidelines. I transferred the doodles to the fabric first. 

Hubs and my girl said they couldn't tell that I had sewn the stitches. Why did I choose to use free motion? To give it a child-like look. The words were too small and I decided to hand stitch them. That took another half an hour. If you don't get the humour, it's alright. I do have an odd sense of humour. I guess this is another piece of art for my wall.

p.s. has anyone done free motion doodling? are you stitches nice and regular or not at all like mine?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

April 2014 Giveaway winner


A big Thank You to the 33 people who entered my April 2014 Giveaway. There are so many blogs out there that I really appreciate those of you who took the trouble to come by my little blog to leave a comment on my giveaway posts and on regular posts as well.

Without further ado, the winning number picked by is THREE.

And the winning comment is by Amy's Crafty Shenanigans who said:

Congrats Amy's Crafty Shenanigans!

This little pouch is what you won, in case you forgot. (flowers and can not included) Please reply to my email regarding your win and the pouch will be sent to you.

Amy blogs over at
And she has a giveaway too!!!

Btw, today is a public holiday in Singapore. It is Vesak Day, This day commemorates the birth, enlightenment and nirvana of Siddharta Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha. It is celebrated by Buddhists. I may not celebrate Vesak Day but I love public holidays.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Top zipper shoulder bag

Just when I thought I was getting better at my photography, I messed it up. The first thing I did wrong was I left it till the very last minute when I had only 5 minutes at most to take all the photos. And it didn't help that the sky was dark and so what I did was create a very poor environment for photo taking the last 3 bags I made. And then in my rush, I only took photos of 2 bags. I'll show you the photos of the 2 bags as I think these might be the last bags I'll be making for quite a while. Yes, this bag-maker is taking a bag break. It's been around 1,300 bags or so by now. But who's counting?

I'm really pleased with this bag. It's simple and it has a top zipper.  If you know me, you'll know this is the kind of look I usually go for. I don't like cluttered looking bags.

I took great pains to get the placement of the fabric print. This is quite embarrassing - a very blurred photo.

I interfaced the fabric lightly to avoid getting the creased look around the curves (and yes, I clipped the curves) but the weight of the fabric still created some ripples. Ah well, can't fight gravity.

I love this bag. I think people are going to ask the owner of this bag, where did you get this?

And so I love the zipped shoulder bag so much I made another one - this time using the nursery rhymes fabric. Oh, I absolutely love this one as well. Rain, rain, go away is so apt as the Singapore sky is doing nothing but that. Interestingly, I discovered that not every part of Singapore gets rain. Mostly where I live. Ain't I the lucky one?

Oh my April 2014 giveaway is still going on. It will end on May 12th 2014, Singapore time. I'm disappointed that so few people have taken part. :( Only 23 when I last checked. I'm now wondering if I should carry on with the next 8 more giveaways? Well, something to think about. If you wish to throw your name in the hat, enter the giveaway here.

Have a good weekend. Over here, I'll be working on my appliques patterns (to be published soon), a few tutorials, a haircut for son, lots of sleeping and I'll see you on Tuesday Singapore time to tell you who won my April giveaway.

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