Friday, January 27, 2012

The Murphy Crest

In my efforts to make handmade Christmas gifts for those I love, I came to a stumbling block in the form of my dad. What does one embroider for a guy? I put on my thinking cap and eventually decided I would make him a framed embroidery of our family crest.

Having the most common Irish surname is sometimes annoying (especially having to attend high school with someone who had my exact same name), but the upside is that there's no shortage of Murphy family crest paraphernalia on the interwebs. I did a little searching, but couldn't find just one crest I really liked. Some were too cartoony. Some looked too medieval. Some looked like they were done in MS paint. So, I ended up merging the designs of my three favorites and doing a bit of drawing by hand.

It took a few weeks of embroidering on the train and every evening when I got home, made complicated by the fact that my dad and I sometimes ride the train home from work together and I couldn't get any work done on it in his presence. But I was eventually able to finish:


Once again, outline stitches were just not going to work. The little lions were too detailed. So, I used about a million stitches to fill it all in. After my first attempt, I ended up redoing tops of the sheafs with some tight herringbone stitches (look at me, using fancy stitch names!) and I like the effect. I used regular quilter's cotton for the fabric. It pulled a little bit, which you can see towards the top, but I find it much easier to work with than linen. The top of the crest is a little wonky, and I don't like the font of the motto that much, but I was pretty happy with the way it turned out and I think my dad liked it.

I bought a nice 8 x 10 frame (which also happened to be on sale!) and ended up getting a red mat to showcase the embroidery a bit better. Here's the finished product:

I'm not sure how the Murphys ended up with the motto "brave and hospitable," but as far as mottos go, I suppose it's not so bad! I should also note that there's another Murphy crest featuring an apple tree and the motto "vincere vel mori" ("victory or death" -- yikes!), but that's supposed to be from a different clan. It's hard to know for sure which clan my ancestors actually came from, but the apple-tree clan is supposed to be much smaller. The lion/wheat crest is the one most Murphys affiliate themselves with and can be traced back to the area where I know some of my ancestors actually lived. It's also the one my cousin got a tattoo of, so if it's not the right one -- oops!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Christmas Embroidery

It's taking a while to recap all of my crafty endeavors over the past few months, so I'm going to speed things up a bit!

I purchased the pattern for this little bunny from The Floss Box. They have some really cute and inexpensive patterns. I changed the colors a bit from the recommended color scheme and opted not to use beads for the berries/cones. (I used french knots instead, which are fun to do!) The embroidery is on some fancy embroidery-specific material I bought from the craft store, but I think I like working on regular old cotton a bit better. I did find this nice wood-grain-looking hoop, though. I glued down the back of the fabric over some cardboard and felt, and put some felt on top of that to finish it off. I gave it to my aunt as a thank you gift for having me over for Thanksgiving, and she loved it! (She's actually thinking about getting back into sewing and knitting now, too!) Most of this piece was done on the train. (Hooray for commuting!)

I made the Rudolph and Santa tea towels using Christmastime patterns from Sublime Stitching. The handwriting is my own, and I added the red buttons as a final touch. I was planning on giving these as a gift, but I ended up keeping them. :)

(I bought these white floursack tea towels from Amazon and I wasn't a big fan. The weave was too loose and some of my stitches weren't staying put -- I couldn't do french knots here, for example. I wouldn't buy them again. They were also a little on the pricey side. I just found out that Target sells floursack towels, so I'm going to give them a shot next time.)

This folkart-style Christmas tree is based on a free pattern from Badbird's. (I made a few changes based on the limitations of the fabric.) I made this as a gift for my aunt and uncle, as well as this bird:

This is another pattern from The Floss Box. I decided to do this all in red, both for simplicity's sake and curiosity about redwork. I wasn't sure what the big fuss was about -- why not "purplework" or "orangework"?  (Apparently, it has to do with the novelty of red thread back when varieties of colorfast thread weren't so readily available.) But it was kind of nice to only stitch in one color. It keeps the focus on the stitches themselves. I also added buttons to this one since I couldn't do french knots on this fabric. I thought the green tree and red bird looked nice together.

I fell in love with these snowflakes from Polka & Bloom as soon as I saw them. I had to be patient for the formal pattern release, but it was worth the wait. The patterns call for a variety of bright colors -- turquoise, gold, purple, and pink -- but I wanted to stick with silvers and pale blues to give it more of a wintry feel. This was my first time using metallic floss, and it's kind of a pain, but I like the final look of it. These towels are still hanging on our oven door. Again, the handwriting is mine. (It's not very neat this time around, but that's okay...)

This little penguin is another free design from Badbird. I wasn't sure what to do with him after I embroidered him, so I ended up making a quilted door hanger. The quilting isn't great (it was my first attempt) but I love the embroidery and I think it made a festive addition to our otherwise boring white door/white wall area.
And finally, my favorite holiday embroidery project: Charlie Brown's sad little Christmas tree, complete with Linus's blanket around the base! I drew this myself, based on a few animation stills I found online. I'm not all that artistic, but I can handle cartoon or doodle-type drawing pretty well. I outlined all of the embroidery in black to make it more Peanuts-esque, and I finished it off with a hoop I had painted green. It hung from the doorknob to our coat closet.

So, as you can see, my embroidery was off to a running start! The holidays were a good excuse to jump right in. I'm not sure I would have been so ambitious if I had started embroidering at any other time of year. :)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Adventures in Hand-Sewing (aka What Led Me to Purchase My First Sewing Machine)

Over the past few years, my extended family has grown as my cousins and their significant others started adding to their family. My cousin Becky and her husband Paul have two boys, Ryan and Trevor. Ryan is my Godson and was the first of the new generation. He's turning 5 next month. Trevor is 1 1/2. My cousin Chrissy and her husband Rich have two kids, as well. Sienna is 4 1/2 and Shane is 2 1/2. All four kids are ridiculously cute and I've been enjoying watching their personalities develop. I see them pretty often, and I knew I wanted to make them each something special for Christmas.

After the success of Sean's LSU pillow, I figured I'd make some more pillow covers, personalizing them with some sort of design each of them would like. I immediately knew that I wanted to make Sienna a princess pillow. She's a total girly-girl and is going through a pretty serious princess phase. But I didn't want to embroider a Disney princess or anything, so I found a coloring page of a cute clipart-like princess online. I traced it onto a pink fat quarter I picked up at Jo-Ann. (Pink is her favorite. She is exactly the opposite of how I was at that age!). Then, I embroidered it with shades of pink and purple. I made the princess's hair and eyes brown so she would look more like Sienna. Finally, I added a little frame based on Aimee Ray's Doodle Motifs and stitched Sienna's name at the bottom.

All was going well until I actually had to start sewing the pillowcase together. The pillow forms I bought (from IKEA -- so cheap!) were larger than the pillow I had made for Sean, and hand sewing ended up taking ages. Also, since it was light-colored fabric, I was really paranoid about the stitches showing through. After I finished 3 sides, I put it over the pillow form to stitch up the bottom. But for some reason, this came out lumpy and I had to do a second row of stitches to try and tame it. I think that part of the problem stemmed from the fact I cut the fabric with regular old scissors, so it was pretty uneven in parts. (I didn't have a rotary cutter at that point. Man, whoever invented the rotary cutter deserves a medal!) I was kind of annoyed that after all of this careful hand sewing, the bottom looked so weird. But I wasn't about to start over! I eventually got it to a point where it didn't look terrible, and I didn't think Sienna would be critiquing my work anyway.

However, I dreaded the thought of having to make three more pillow covers by hand. Sienna's pillowcase took me the better part of a week, diligently sewing every night! Would I even finish the rest in time for Christmas?

Then fate stepped in. The day after I finished Sienna's pillowcase, I was perusing (a site that links to sales all over the web) when I saw a listing for refurbished Brother sewing machines on eBay. They came with warranties, seemed to be from a reputable store, and most importantly, they were only $50 each! So, I treated myself to an early Christmas present. I bought the LX-2500.

It's nothing fancy, and if I stick with sewing, I'll probably have to upgrade in a few years. But it does have 17 different stitches and can do buttonholes. (I have no idea how, but the potential is there!) Also, it has a pretty design!

(I haven't given it a name yet. This is something that crafty people do, right? I am thinking Miss Marple might be fitting. In Agatha Christie's books, Miss Marple is always knitting or stitching while crime solving. She seems sweet and unassuming, but she knows how to get the job done. I think this is a good thing for my sewing machine to aspire to.)

I hadn't used a sewing machine since my 7th grade sewing class. My mom never used one, so we never had one at home growing up. It took me few days to get familiar with it and feel comfortable threading it. Things like bobbin winding were completely new to me. Luckily, the instruction manual was pretty helpful in this capacity. I ordered a quilting foot, walking foot, and free motion foot online to give me some more options than the regular old foot that came with it. I had no idea how or when to use these, but I took the advice of some more experienced sewing bloggers and ordered them anyway. (Most feet are under $10. The walking foot can be up to $50, but I got mine on sale for $22!) I also had to run out and buy things like... thread. Silly as it may seem, I didn't think about the fact a machine would require a different kind of thread than what was already in my sewing box. But there you have it.

My first task was to make a dust cover for the machine. I had some fat quarters I bought at Jo-Ann that I wasn't sure what to do with, but they match the color scheme of our living room and I thought they would work nicely. I did some very rough measuring, stitched the top and 2/3 down each side, and hemmed the remainder. Then I added some ties made from brown fabric, and... voila!

Then, I finished off the pillow covers that I had already embroidered for Ryan, Trevor, and Shane. The machine made life soooo much easier. I was able to sew each pillow cover together in about a half hour. I also figured out that I should probably make them removable, since kids can be ... you know ... messy. So, I overlapped two pieces of fabric to make the back of the pillow. The pillow forms can slip right out! (I feel kind of bad Sienna's doesn't do this, but she's also the neatest of the bunch!)

Ryan is obsessed with superheroes and he likes to pretend he's Batman, so his pillow has the bat signal. I printed out an image of the bat signal I found online and used a black iron-transfer marker to put the image on the fabric. The font comes from a Word document. (I tried to choose the font that was most comic book-esque without being Comic Sans...)

Just as Sienna is a girly-girl, her brother Shane is a typical boy. He loves sports and playing outside. His pillow is football themed. I drew this one myself and transferred it with the iron-on marker. I thought it could be a little more colorful, so the red and yellow lines were last-minute additions.

Since Trevor is only 1 1/2, it's a little too early to tell what he really likes. But he always seems to be playing with race cars (usually, ones that belong to his big brother!), so I used a coloring page of a race car and driver  for Trevor's pillow. (There are a ton of free coloring pages online that make for really awesome embroidery designs!) Trevor's name is in a font from Word, too. The checkered flags are my favorite part!

And thus ends the story of how I acquired my first sewing machine. Two months later, and it's already paid for itself. I only regret not buying one sooner!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Small Victory!

So, I promised myself I would tell my tale in chronological order, but I need to jump ahead a bit to share some news: I finally figured out how to put a walking foot on my sewing machine! It took three separate attempts over the course of about a month, but once I realized the instructions were being completely unhelpful, I tried doing it my own way and it worked!

There was an extra little screw that had no apparent purpose and I was getting frustrated while trying to figure out where it went. Then, I  realized that it didn't pertain to my sewing machine at all. I guess it was included for different models, but the instructions didn't make that clear. Once I decided to proceed with my regular old screw, everything worked just fine.

Maybe I was just uneducated, but I had no idea that sewing with a machine would require me to actually be somewhat mechanically minded. You kind of have to know how the machine works in order to get anything out of it. I always just figured you'd thread the needle and go! But no... you have to switch the feet (the little pieces that hold down the fabric and allow the needle to pass through) depending on what kind of sewing you're doing. (And I had NO idea there were so many kinds of feet! I currently have four, and I'm just a novice. I still have no clue what I could possibly use the rest of them for.) You have to unscrew and rescrew the needle holder if you want to change needles. And the walking foot... well, let's just say I was pretty close to having one of my mechanical engineer friends take a look at it.

The walking foot is its own beast. (It kind of reminds me of an AT-AT from Star Wars...) It's supposed to be immensely helpful when quilting, since its job is to move thicker fabrics through without jamming. Hopefully, it will be worth the effort!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The LSU Pillow

My brother Sean just graduated from Louisiana State University in December. (Don't bring up the BCS Championship game. We're not talking about it!) I knew I wanted to make him something LSU-related, so I figured I'd try a pillow with one of the logos on it. Originally, I was going to shoot for just a regular old "LSU," then I thought I might get a little adventurous and do the fleur-de-lis with the tiger's eye inside it. It's pretty cool looking, but I couldn't find an image of it that I would be able to trace. I opted to go with the tiger head logo.

This was my first really ambitious embroidery project. Until this point, I had only done outlines. But I had purchased a black transfer marker, meaning that all I had to do was print an image out backwards, trace the image, and iron it on the fabric. Couldn't be too hard. I used some leftover tea towel-weight fabric I had and I ironed on my traced image. However, the marker lines ended up being really thick on the fabric, so I couldn't just do an outline. You'd see all of the marker lines. I'd have to fill in the whole thing with stitches.

I wasn't sure how to begin, so I just kind of attacked it, one color at a time. Black first, then gold, then white, then the purple "LSU." It took forever, probably about 2 weeks of stitching for a couple of hours every night, but I was pretty impressed with how it turned out. Once you start filling in an outline with stitches, it doesn't really matter how you go about it. All of the little stitches just contribute to the big picture. The fabric puckered a bit with all of the stitches, but perhaps that was unavoidable. After all, there were so many stitches.

The problem then became, "How do I get this onto the pillow fabric?" I bought some black cotton yardage at JoAnn -- nothing too impressive, but it would serve the purpose. I hand-stitched the embroidered material onto the black fabric, but then I had all of those stitches showing. I decided to cover them with a border of purple ribbon, but the ribbon was pretty uncooperative. It was more like craft ribbon -- not great for stitching.  I tacked it on with embroidery floss (as shown below), but I wasn't confident it would stay put. So, I ended up doing satin stitches all along the border of the ribbon, on both sides, just to keep it secure. This part of the project took me the longest by far. It was also difficult to get the needle through so many layers of fabric. But I did it for my little bro!

Once I was satisfied with the embroidery/ribbon situation, it was time to make the pillow cover. I followed a tutorial I found online (wish I had saved the link), but actually making the pillow cover was pretty simple. I had purchased a small pillow form from the craft store, so I just measured using that, allowing a little extra room for the thickness of the pillow. Since this is was in my Pre-Sewing Machine Era (PSME), I hand-sewed the whole thing. I cut the fabric in one long piece to save me from having to stitch one side. (The fabric is just folded over the top of the pillow.) This ended up putting the embroidered square slightly off center (it's a bit low on the pillow), but I wasn't about to start over! All in all, it wasn't the most efficient process, and it may not look too pretty (especially the part I had to stitch up after I turned the whole thing right side out), but it's finished. I figure no one will be paying attention to the pillow's stitching, anyway. It's all about Mike the Tiger.

Here it is, in all its purple-and-gold glory:

Sean seems to love it, and it's taken a place on the couch in my dad's rec room. At first, he made fun of me for my new embroidery/sewing hobby, but after receiving this, he seems to have laid off a bit. In fact, he's been showing it off to anyone who comes to visit my dad's house! I think its safe to say it was a success, but I won't be rushing to make another one any time soon... unless I find myself with a few free weeks and an overabundance of patience to spare!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Beginnings, Part 2

Thanks to my friends and family for the positive feedback on my first post. You guys rock!

After my first tea towel, I figured I should get in a little more practice before attempting to make any gifts. (By this point, it was mid-October, and I already had a bunch of Christmas ideas.) I stitched a little butterfly from an Embroidery for Dummies kit. (Easy with the jokes! It was on super-duper sale!) I also ended up buying this Martha Stewart kit which has turned into my embroidery supplies bag. (UPDATE: Pictures below!)

It looked simple enough -- just stitch along the lines -- but the floss that was supposed to be included was missing from the package. I had to use my own, which wasn't a problem, but it was my first frustrating embroidery moment. The bag is also made of canvas, which is pretty thick and difficult to push a needle through. My fingers were pretty sore by the end of that adventure. However, I ended up with a cute little bag to hold my needle case and floss.

Then, I had a revelation. Having a small kit that could fit in my work bag meant that I could embroider ON THE TRAIN! This was huge news. For those of you who don't know, I commute every day from suburban Philadelphia to New York City. It's not as bad as most people expect, but since at least 2 1/2 hours of my day are spent on the train, I'm always looking for ways to keep myself occupied. I've gotten some funny looks from fellow commuters when I pull out my hoop, but it really does help to while away the hours. I usually just pray that no one sits immediately next to me, for fear of elbowing them or accidentally sticking them with a needle. (Lord knows I stick my own fingers enough!)

My first commuting project was an awesome peacock design from Jenny Hart's book:

It was an iron-on transfer, which worked like a charm. (And each transfer is good for multiple uses!) I had previously picked up some plain quilting-weight fabric quarters at Joann (on sale for 99 cents each!), so I embroidered on one of those. I chose jewel tone floss to match the decor of my bedroom. When I was finished, I put it in a frame I had purchased on sale at Target a year or two ago. I loved the raspberry color, but it was hard to find a regular picture that would look right in it. This seemed like a perfect match! I just wrapped the fabric around the edges of a piece of cardboard and taped the back. (Technically, if you want to preserve your embroider for posterity, you're supposed to avoid using tape or glue on the fabric, as it can age the fabric over time. This is just for me, though, so it didn't matter!)

The design required a few sequins, which were harder to find in a craft store than I had expected (you generally have to buy them in packs of 1000, and I only needed a handful), but I was able to get them in a little set of buttons and other potentially-useful doodads, so it worked out. Stitching them on was a cinch. I just used a piece of regular sewing thread and anchored each side down. And no, I didn't work with sequins on the train. I saved that part for home. (I'm still finding sequins in my couch!)

Next up was a framed embroidery for a friend's daughter's 2nd birthday. I used some designs from Aimee Ray's book:

I'm not crazy about the font. I used the one in the book, which is meant to look a little scribbly, but I think it actually looks a bit too childish. In future endeavors, I would opt for my own handwriting or a printout from MS Word. But this was quick to do and came out pretty cute overall. Here's a closeup:

[At this point, I should probably tell you that my embroidery and sewing pictures are pretty awful. My camera is about four years old and seems to have lost its oomph. (Umf? Oumf? You know what I mean...) Also, we have TERRIBLE lighting in our apartment. The only natural light comes through the French doors into the living room, which is blocked by a big tree. Lamps can only do so much! So, until I get a better camera and/or figure out the lighting situation, you will have to put up with some underwhelming pictures. My apologies!]

I mainly used back stitches, split stitches, satin stitches, and French knots on these. In fact, those are the stitches I almost always use. I find them to be the easiest to work with and the most adaptable to the shapes and designs I work on. I know a few fancier stitches, but sometimes I find that they aren't worth the effort that goes into them. Perhaps I just need some more practice, but these suit me for now.

Next up: My favorite embroidery I've done so far. (HINT: Geaux Tigers!)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A New Hobby

I recently started a new hobby that some people have been asking about, and I figured it wouldn't be a bad thing to have a record of all of the things I've been making. So, here goes...

The backstory: In early fall, I realized I was bored. I was spending an inordinate amount of time watching TV, and I felt the need to do something a little more productive with my free time. Throughout grade school and college, I spent most of my extracurricular life as a musician, but my work schedule doesn't really allow me the chance to play my clarinet or sing in the same way that I used to. I always enjoy reading, but as an editor, I read all day for work and sometimes I just need to turn off my mind. I also went through phases of being a gym rat (which is difficult to do when you get home from work at 8 pm) and researching my ancestry (you can only get so far when everyone in your family has last names like Murphy and Petersen), but those activities ended up dying out, too. I kept my eyes peeled for something new to take on, but nothing really sparked my interest.

Now, a friend of mine from high school, Lindsay, started a blog a while back that details her adventures in sewing, knitting, and embroidery. I always admired her dedication to her hobbies and enjoyed reading about them, but I never figured I'd be able to do that sort of thing myself. For starters, I'm not what you would call "domestic." I only know how to cook a handful of basic meals, loathe doing laundry, and really only clean when people are coming over. I'm also an impatient person by nature, so the thought of making a quilt or knitting a scarf seemed way too daunting. Despite my efforts to remain open-minded, I found it hard not to associate these hobbies with old biddies and the Amish. Lindsay always seemed to make really cool, useful things, but I just figured that was more her own style shining through. I doubted I would have the ingenuity or skill set to create the same kinds of things myself.

Then one day, Lindsay posted pictures of some awesome-looking tea towels she had embroidered with a link to the pattern. I clicked through to Sublime Stitching and discovered a whole world of modern craftiness - embroidery patterns with themes such as flappers, pirates, and sexy librarians. I was in love. After some more searching, I found several other contemporary-minded stitchers who were making some pretty fabulous things  - Polka & Bloom, Comfort Stitching, and Badbird, to name a few. I had no idea that there were so many crafty people around who had a design sense similar to my own.

So, I decided to give embroidery the old college try. I actually learned some embroidery basics as a kid, thanks to a constructivism-oriented 4th-grade teacher and some patient lessons from my best friend's mom. My own mother taught me how to hand-sew when I was very young, so I had an arsenal of basic stitches to work with. However, it had been years since I actually did anything with this knowledge, so for all intents and purposes, I was starting over.

Embroidery seemed like a good choice for a hobby, though. The supplies were relatively inexpensive, so if it didn't pan out, at least I wouldn't have spent too much on it. (This would go on to change in subsequent months!) I made a trip to the craft store to buy some basics, and I ordered a few patterns from Sublime Stitching. I ended up getting impatient for the patterns to arrive (surprise!) and perused the web for some free patterns. I found these cute Halloween bunnies. I slid the printout under a tea towel I had purchased for this very endeavor, traced the pattern onto the towel with a pencil (I didn't have anything as fancy as a transfer pen at that point), and began stitching away. Two days later, I ended up with my very first embroidered tea towel:

I was hooked. I could embroider while watching TV, and I found that it really helped me unwind when I got home from work. It was also great to have a hobby that had tangible results. I could actually make things that would be both pretty and useful. I kept finding all of these patterns I wanted to stitch and ideas for new ones wouldn't stop swirling around in my head.

I picked up a couple of books, Embroidered Effects by Jenny Hart (the founder of Sublime Stitching) and Doodle Stitching: The Motif Collection by Aimee Ray, to help me out with some embroidery basics, such as selecting embroidery-appropriate fabrics and practicing different kinds of stitches. (I really recommend both of those books for anyone looking to get started with embroidery! Jenny's book comes with a bunch of fun pattern transfers, and Aimee's comes with a disc of all of her patterns so you can arrange them and print them out on your own.) I was off to an awesome start, which would soon spiral out of control with an impulsive purchase of a sewing machine and a new-found obsession with fabric patterns. But I'll save that story for next time. :)

I'm not sure what this blog will turn into - how often I'll update it, what kinds of things will be on it, or even how long I'll stick with it. But there you have it. My first post. Thanks for reading!