Category Archives: Machine Sewing

This is the parent category for machine sewing

Sulky Zen II Machine Embroidery Seminar

Embroidered Mini-tote

What a fun break – traveling with my sewing room to Hanover, MD with friends and a fabulous couple of days of just sewing and forgetting the rest of the world is out there. Would love to have stayed for a couple more days, but it is time to get back to reality.  Now comes the task of putting my sewing room back together again.

I just attended the Sulky Zen II machine embroidery seminar.  It is always fun to gather with those of like-minds and spend the hours sewing.  Now here is a shocking reality – I actually completed 3 of the projects at the seminar.  That NEVER happens.  I usually spend my time experimenting with some of the new techniques and socializing with the other students, picking up new ideas along the way.  One of the projects was a cool mini tote and being the original bag lady, I had to finish that project.  Good thing I did because when it came time for our class photo, our instructor wanted all of us to display our completed totes.  I was able to stand with the rest of the class and be photographed with my tote – finished!

Some of the students from my previous years of Sulky seminars were there and it was great seeing them again.  We learned a lot of fun things and made our annual trip to Timbucktu for dinner.  Our instructor, Ellen Osten, was superb and we learned that the Sulky cotton threads are bleachable.  My favorite Sulky stabilizers are still the water soluble collection and the heat away.  We stitched over puffy foam for great padded monograming and over  felt to make a fun little in-the-hoop scissor holder.  We stitched over organdy to make free standing butterflies and over toil to make a lace pocket.  We stitched on commercial products like the mini-tote and jewelry case and created fun tea towels with free standing appliques and a tea-time poem.

I am ready to pack up my sewing room again and return next year.  Who knows – I might complete 4 projects!

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.

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.

Christmas 2012

What a wonderful trip.  It was awesome visiting with all 3 of my grown-up kids and their spouses and my 6 delightful grandchildren.  Can’t believe I have been gone for almost 4 weeks – that is a new record for being away from my home and pets.  Getting to take another painting lesson with my 2 daughters was priceless – well, at least for me it was – that was part of my Christmas gift from them.  We went to an upscale theater with very plush seats (Violet Crown) to see the story of Alfred Hitchcock’s life during the making of Psycho.  Now I want to see Psycho.  I learned to play some new games (Suspend and 10,000 – commonly called Farckle) and had the wonderful opportunity to paint on the windows using Magic Markers for windows – what a great invention – all kids should have a set of these markers.  Actually, I want to get a set for myself – I’d love to paint on my windows here at home!

I spent most of my time in Texas, when we were not eating and sight-seeing, in the family sewing room making PJ’s and robes for the boys.  After touring the Festival of Lights, on the way home, my 6 year old grandson announced, “No sleeping, Grandma, until my robe is finished.”   They were having a Polar Express Day at school the next day and the kids were to wear PJ’s and robes to school.  Yes, it was a long night, but his robe was finished by morning.  (Growing up, my favorite children’s story was “The Elves and the Shoemaker”.  It was fun playing the part of the Elves!)

We visited Fredericksburg, Texas, since I live near and work in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  What a fun little town – we enjoyed some great German dining and wonderful hand-made chocolates. 

Happy New Year to everyone – it’s nice to be back home and begin planning my next G-ma trip to see the wee-ones again.  Due to some plane malfunctions, in-flight detours, and long waits in airports, I now have a travel voucher to help defray the cost of my next trip.  Texas/PA – here I come again!  Thanks, family, for hosting and putting up with me – what a great holiday!

Multi-functional Traveling TV Tray

To increase the functionality of the traveling TV ironing table, add a cutting mat under the removable ironing board cover and attach a small bag for rotary cutter and ruler, and your ironing board becomes a handy personal cutting table.  Remove cover and cutting mat, add a cup holder clamped to the side and your snack table is ready when you are.  Sewing classes, here we come!

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.

Never more at home with their own hearts…

Traveling Treasure Catchers

To all who sew with a passion:  “It is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their own hearts than while so occupied.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

My daughter sent this quote to me and I wish to share it with all of you.  Thank you, Christina.

Sulky Teacher Certification 2011

Dedicated to my Love of Lace Making and Sewing


I have just returned from my second Sulky Teacher Certification Class – what fun!  This was a perfect diversion in the midst of a challenging week – first we were “all shook up” by the earthquake and then we watched as the tree limbs fell and the rains blew sideways when Irene passed by!  As soon as I re-organize my sewing room and unpack my sewing gear from the trip, I will start working on the tips and tricks I can’t wait to share.  I have new products to try and new techniques with which to experiment – all to enhance my teaching skills.  I can’t wait to go to the drawing room and dream up new designs and ways to use all this new found knowledge.  I will be adding some stabilizer tips to my website by the end of the week.  Thanks for the many letters of interest I have been receiving via my web page.  I’m glad there are others as enthusiastic about sewing and needlework as I.

From T-shirt to Draw-string Tank Top

From T-shirt to Tank Top
Modified T-shirt to Draw-string Tank Top

Here is a cute idea for modifying a T-shirt in order to make these extremely hot days more comfortable.  

  1. Cut the sleeves from the shirt.
  2. Draw a line straight across the top of the shirt from arm hole to arm hole, even with the lower edge of the ribbing on both the front and the back of the shirt.  (Note:  The line on the back will be higher than the line on the front of the shirt.)
  3. Cut away the back and front of the shirt on these 2 lines, removing the ribbing, neck edge, and shoulder seams. 
  4. Turn under and stitch a narrow hem around the arm holes.
  5. Turn under and stitch a ¾ – 1” hem on the top of the shirt front and back to form a casing.
  6. Thread a long cord or ribbon through the casing, connecting the front and back.
  7. The part of the cord/ribbon that passes over the arm holes creates adjustable shoulder straps.  
  8. When the shoulder straps are the desired length, tie a knot in the cord/ribbon.    

Variation:  Thread 2 separate cords, one on the back and one on the front.  Tie the cords together with a decorative knot to form the shoulder straps with a designer touch on top.  Cords of different colors may be interchanged to alter the accent color of the new top to match coordinating pants and skirts.

By all means, save the ribbing from the neck edges – these “collars” may be stitched onto terrycloth towels to form baby bibs, and beach robes.

Now – for the creative challenge:  What shall we do with all those T-shirt sleeves that we have removed?  Do you have any suggestions?   I will look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks, Jocelyn, for the tip and photo.

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.