Category Archives: Just Ask Rita

This category is for questions and answers relating to sewing and embroidery.

My Grandson the Dolphin

My Grandson the DolphinNice dorsal fin and the flippers really work

After a little time off – away from my desk – traveling around the country turning my grandson into a dolphin and other such wild sewing activities, I am now back home in Virginia setting up a pretty aggressive sewing class schedule.  We will be hosting some Fabulous Free Furlough Friday Fun Festival (F6) demos beginning in July at Quilt and Sewing Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I have set up some beginning sewing classes that should be fun for everyone.  I am also continuing my series of  Heirloom Notebook Classes and offering some heirloom projects along the way.  One of the most fun project classes is our Heirloom Christmas Stocking with a Twist.  The twist is, if you decide not to make a stocking, we will show you how to take the techniques and design whatever is your fantasy – it might be a pillow, table-runner, baby coverlet, bell-pull – you decide and we will help you design and complete it.  As an added incentive, after the 20 hours of class instruction and some home sewing on your own, we will have a special little wrapped gift for your stocking (or whatever) for everyone who finishes the project by the last class.

Our beginning sewing class schedule is filled with mini-one-day (3-4 hour) classes where you can complete the project before leaving (or with minimal sewing left to do when you get home).  We have placemats, tote bags, sachets, bell-pulls, table runners, etc. planned that will delight your creative side.  If you are in the area, drop by the shop and sign up for some of these little min-classes.

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Mini Wine Glass Lamps

Mini wine glass lampWine glass, battery tea light and a shade

Here is a fun idea for that 4th of July backyard Bar-B-Q or tailgate party.  All you need is a couple of wine glasses (I use plastic ones for outdoors), some battery operated tea-lights, and a little time in your sewing room with the new Quilt-Smart pattern for wine glass lamp shades.  Whip some shades up in red, white, and blue fabric, add a little trim if you like, and you have a very simple, fun decoration for your party.  Do them in white lace and you have a perfect addition for your wedding reception tables.  Why not some pastel “shades” for the baby shower?  These are sure to get comments – and they are fun and easy to make.  Bright colors will add a magic glow to that special birthday party.  Check out your local Quilt-Smart dealer (or buy them on-line if you can’t find them in a store near you) and start designing your next party.

No More Waiting in Lines for Me…

Sewing Traveling Ironing Board

Wooden TV Tray Is Perfect Traveling Ironing Board

Here is a cool tip I just heard the other day.  I love traveling to take the myriad of sewing classes that I “sew” enjoy, however, packing up the sewing room and organizing all those little essential pieces of equipment is always a challenge.  I always think I will need everything in my sewing room.  To make packing easier, I have worked hard to support my true title – “The Bag Lady”.  I have made bags for everything from the small bobbins to the large serger table top.  I have even made bags to fit inside other bags.  When my car is finally ready to roll, there are so many different bags in the back of my jeep, it is a good thing I am the driver because that is the only bit of space left in the car.   

The problem is, no matter how much “stuff” I take, there is always that one singular item that slows down “in class” progress.  There are never enough ironing boards and irons for all the students.  Over the years I have bought every type of mini iron and folding pressing board I could find in order to avoid having to wait in the long “ironing lines”.  Trouble is, there is never enough table space to open the boards and I am always afraid of burning something (or me) with the hot iron next to my machine.  Problem solved!  A wooden TV tray with padding and a nice cover makes a perfect traveling ironing board.  The TV tray can be set up next to the sewing chair without taking additional table space.  The iron can sit on the TV table without fear of burning anything on the cluttered sewing table.

Sew…this year’s classes will find me packing one more item into my jeep – an $8.00 wooden TV tray with some padding and a cover and I am ready to roll.  Now all I have to do is make another bag to hold the TV tray and the new little traveling steam iron I just purchased for $10.00.  No more waiting in lines for me – and, oh yes, those who take classes with me know I don’t sew in those classes anyway, so that TV tray will double nicely as a lunch/snack table.

Many, many thanks to my friend, Iva, for sharing that wonderful tip for a traveling ironing board.

Sewing – Temporarily on Hold…

Just Ask Rita:  OK – so here’s the thing – yesterday, while I was taking an early morning shower (OK, not so early) a few tiles fell off the wall.  I searched the internet for a way to re-tile the bathroom myself.  I found a site that listed the difficulty level as ‘easy’.  Now, 24 hours into my self-remodeling project, I have a few tips of my own to share with anyone interested. 

Yes, it is an easy process if you follow these 3 simple steps:  first, heat a pot of water; second, call your local handyman; third, sit down to a freshly brewed cup of tea and a good book while your handyman re-tiles your bathroom.  You know what they say about hind-sight?  I must now return to my up-close and personal relationship with wallboard, tiles, mud, and grout!  Oh, what I wouldn’t do for a nice hot shower right about now…and my sewing room is calling me!

Just Ask Rita – Swiss Nelona vs Swiss Cotton Sateen

Ellen writes:  

Rita,    I’m going to make a christening gown and I’d like to know which is heavier:  opaque, swiss nelona or swiss cotton sateen.  I have better luck smocking on a heavier fabric but I like the shinny look.  I may not be able to get both in one fabric!?  Thanks for your assistance!

Ellen, Thanks for writing.  Swiss Nelona is lighter weight than Swiss Cotton Sateen.  Nelona Batiste is 100% Pima Cotton and is made in Switzerland.  It is a soft, light, fabric with a gorgeous sheen.  It has a very soft hand and a very shiny finish.  It has a little body, but is still translucent.  It usually has about 129 threads/inch.  Martha Pullen carries a very nice quality of Swiss Nelona Batiste.  I checked several sources and they all questioned the term opaque.  They refer to the Nelona as translucent.  I’m not sure if this is the same fabric you are calling opaque.

Swiss Cotton Sateen is a heavier weight fabric – almost broadcloth weight.  It is made of 100% Swiss cotton with a slight sheen.  Either fabric would make a lovely christening gown. 

Martha Pullen is an excellent source for heirloom fabrics.  She also carries a Victorian Batiste and Martha’s Favorite Cotton Batiste.  The Victorian Batiste is a nice substitute for Swiss Cotton Batiste.  It is slightly heavier than Nelona.  Martha’s Favorite Cotton Batiste is more lightweight than the Victorian batiste and slightly heavier than the Nelona.

Hint for smocking on lightweight fabrics:  If you are using a lightweight fabric, press and lightly spray starch the fabric before pleating the fabric on the pleating machine.  This gives the fabric extra body and makes it easier to run through the pleater and also makes smocking on the lighter weight fabric easier.  I love using the Victorian batiste for my English Smocking heirlooms, however, there is definitely more sheen to the Nelona and the Swiss Cotton Sateen.  I hope this helps – good luck with your heirloom sewing.

Just Ask Rita – Smocking vs. English Smocking

Question:   Stephanie writes:  Could you please explain the difference between regular smocking and English smocking? My mom loves to sew and I know she has done some smocking in the past but I don’t know what kind. I would like to impress her with my knowledge.

Answer: Smocking refers to the beautiful embroidery that is used to decorate as well as gather fabric. The difference between regular smocking and English smocking is the method used to create the gathers and the embroidery.

Regular smocking is a one-step process: the embroidery stitches are worked over a grid of evenly spaced dots to create the gathers and the embroidery design at the same time.

English smocking is the art of embellishing pre-gathered fabric with embroidery stitches on top of the gathered pleats. English smocking is a two-step process: first the fabric is gathered and then the embroidery stitches are worked over the pleats.

For more detailed information, refer to my page “Stitching Tips and Tricks”.

Just Ask Rita

Do you have a question or problem relating to sewing, lace making, or hand embroidery?  Just Ask Rita will provide research and answers.  No problem is too small or too large to tackle.