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Yesterday’s pattern development kind of encapsulates how I work.

I decided to release the in-the-hoop dragon as a pattern on Etsy, which meant I needed some pictures for the instructions. I cut some kelly-green minky squares and went through the process. I gave it orange eyes because St. Patrick’s Day is coming up and I was thinking Irish flag. And the more I worked with it the less I liked that green, until I realized it was the unnatural green of a plush Cthulhu. It only took encouragement from one person to get me haring off on an in-the-hoop Cthulhu, even though there are already way too many chibi Elder Gods out there already.

I rushed things a little too much and, in the process of changing the pattern entirely between colors, managed to mis-align the eye-shines:

The tiny plush dragon next to a failed embroider of six weird clustered eyes.

As I went to throw away the goof, I went “ha ha looks like a cute little jumping spider instead” and, well, my heart really wasn’t in Cthulhu anyway.

A plush jumping spider with a heart-shaped mark on its back.

My work table has a close-up work light on the cutting mat and there are two more ceiling spots pointed at it which were turned all the way up, plus two more ceiling lights in the (admittedly-large) room, so you’d think there would be enough ambient light to light up all sides of the spider, including all four of its eyes. Obviously this is wrong.

A poor close-up of the spider's face

The plush spider in my hand. It's about 4 inches across.

Anyway, this is Phidippus audax, the bold jumping spider. They’re probably my favorite spider; I used to have one (more likely a series of them) living in the crevices of the storm door on the back of the house in Wichita. Despite the name they’re very shy and I sometimes had trouble persuading it to get out of the spot it “hid” in so I could close the door without smushing it. The ones in Wichita had boring rectangular white spots, but some of them really do have orange to red hearts on their backs.

Soon as I make a second one, and take pictures for its instructions, I’ll release the pattern here on the blog. I’ve learned from my mistakes: the one in the instructions will be in brown minky.

Certificate of Trade Name for Silver Seams in Camden County, New Jersey.

It’s official!

My experiments with the ice dragon had come close to using up the yard of white upholstery velvet from Fabric.com, so I ordered some more. While I was at it, I picked up a yard of silver on a whim (and also two yards red, which I’m not sure what Past Karen was thinking). Despite the projects already on my plate, “I wonder what surface sewing belly scales on upholstery velvet would look like” turned into… this.

Silver dragon fabric sculpture in progress.

Silver dragon fabric sculpture in progress, slightly closer.

Proper nerds may recognize this dragon as the current style of silver dragon in D&D: frilled head with a “goatee” type chin section. I’ve put my own stamp on it a bit; the official art shows kind of a bloated round nose profile but I toned it down quite a bit. It came out a little more dinosaur-ish than I was shooting for, especially in the above pictures where I forgot to pin the ear on.

I also haven’t decided whether I’m going with the carved-bone horn (black, below) or the smaller icicle-trim horn (chrome, above). The problem with both of them is that they only come in one direction of spiral, so I may come up with something else entirely so they can be properly mirrored.

Silver dragon fabric sculpture in progress, earlier stage (and ear-ier stage).

I can’t say how excited I am that the embroidery-machine plans I’ve had in my head for the last year-plus actually work. At least, they work after a yard of experimentation and fine-tuning on that yard of white. Now the real challenge begins: finishing a project.

A Raspberry Pi Zero attached to a computerized embroidery machine.

Transferring embroidery files to the Brother requires writing them to a USB stick, carrying it over to the embroidery machine, and plugging it in. Doesn’t seem hard, right? Except there’s an annoying bug in my Linux desktop that means ejecting the USB drive sometimes disables the entire USB port. A normal person would just use the command line, but no, I have to make things complicated.

A Raspberry Pi Zero is a single-board computer. Add a case, a microSD card (its “hard drive”), and a USB cable or connector and it’s around $20-30. It has a mode called Mass Storage Gadget in which it pretends to be a USB stick to anything plugged into its USB port. It also has onboard wifi, meaning I can log into it from my desktop machine. Put those two together, and I can just transfer files to my embroidery machine via wifi.

Right now it’s still super-nerdy (it involves a lot of command-line, uh, commands) but when I put together a drag-and-drop interface for it I’ll post the how-to and a downloadable image.

Diagram of compartments for first "page" of cats

Last year, it belatedly occurred to me that my mother-in-law was excited about the time my father-in-law’s sister sent him fifty little presents for his fiftieth birthday. And that she had given my husband forty ducks for his fortieth (we kept a flock of Khaki Campbells at the time)… and that we’d never done that for her.

Since I have entirely too much felt, the logical thing to do was make seventy tiny felt cats. (For the record: if you’re going to do this for someone I recommend getting it out of the way when they’re younger.)

Diagram of compartments for second "page" of cats

I started with the five tiny cats on Runo’s blog and for the most part just made variations on those patterns. I experimented with varying types of embellishment (and with varying degrees of success), and made cats with whatever theme struck my fancy. The black winged cat came about when I heard the news of Ursula K. LeGuin’s death, for example.

In my head, I expected the cats to be a throwaway thing, or perhaps she’d let guests take them home. But for the party, my husband and his siblings strung the cats as a banner over the living room couch… and they’re still there, a year later, somewhat to the unhappiness of my father-in-law. “If they get put in a box, no one will ever see them,” my mother-in-law explained to me. Clearly, the solution is a display box.

Diagram of compartments for third "page" of cats

Enter an even more ridiculous project for this year’s birthday: a custom box with a compartment for each cat. I had a couple of sheets of 1/8” Davey board, and for some reason decided it would be a good idea to make not only the box but its dividers out of that. Overkill? Well, yes.

The diagrams above came from my kitchen-table photo shoot of the finished cats, four hours before putting my husband and them on a flight at 5am - not only was the lighting terrible, the pink heart cat somehow didn’t make it into the shots and the only picture I had of it was on a red tablecloth. I was just trying to document each one so I could make a list of the inspiration for each before I forgot them.

Moire fabric

Naturally, I should have shipped this thing out Wednesday or Thursday, but turns out that lining all those little compartments with book cloth takes awhile. I picked up some discontinued home dec fabric at JoAnn, and used Heat-n-Bond to fuse it to some rice paper because it was a little too transparent to Heat-n-Bond directly to the bookboard. For proper archival book cloth it should have been pasted to the rice paper, but let me remind you this is for “throwaway” felt cats.

Compartments

A cat playing with tied-together strips of fabric.

I have seen some amazing selvedge* projects, but this remains the most popular one.

  • the edges of fabric as it comes off the loom; print fabrics usually have alignment checks and text there, the pile stops or at least changes there on pile fabrics, and almost all fabrics have sprocket holes and whatnot there.

Little dragon plush curled up on a plush gold bed.

Look at this little dragon curled up on its pile of gold. LOOK AT IT!

But Karen, you say, why would you buy one of @quietsnooze ’s little dragons when you are making your own? BECAUSE NONE OF MINE HOLD DICE is why.

Surprise! The plush dragon is the top edge of a drawstring bag.

(yes it should properly be the polyhedrals but the Fudge dice were closer to hand)

Olivia at the boarder

Traveling for the holidays, another death in the family, racing up the learning curve on the new machine, and researching what it will take to restart Silver-Seams-the-business as well as Silver-Seams-the-blog have meant I’ve been really bad about updating Silver-Seams-the-blog. Doubly so since I had decided I wasn’t going to make it a blog full of unfinished projects and, well, all I have right now are unfinished projects.

If you follow me on Mastodon, you’ll get to see all my experiments as they happen. I’ll roll up the best of the process pictures into some making-of posts after I have the projects finished, but Mastodon is for all the gory details and the occasional semi-crowdsourced design choice. You can subscribe via RSS if you don’t have a Mastodon account, or sign up for one if you want an account. They’re like email accounts: no matter where you signed up you can follow me, so choose a site that appeals to you, check a hashtag like #sewing for some people to follow, and you’re off!

I’d like to say I’m going to finish the ice dragon I mentioned there this week, but first I have to dust off my bookbinding skills and finish the shadowbox for the seventy felt cats I made for my mother-in-law’s birthday last year. My husband flew back and he, his brothers, and my sister-in-law hung them as a garland the length of her living room for the party and… they’re still up. So really this is a present for my (fairly tolerant) father-in-law. After that, I’m hoping to get a few Valentine dragons put together for the Etsy shop in time to actually ship them for Valentine’s Day.

At least the cats have recovered from their week(!) at the boarder… who sent us these pictures with the boilerplate email “I miss you, but I’m having so much fun” which probably works better for the dogs they board than for the cats.

Ramses at the boarder

Embroidered patch with Overwatch's D.Va bunny

I got an early Christmas present (or maybe a very late one, since I have been pricing them out for a year): a Brother PE800 embroidery machine. If you follow me on Mastodon you will have seen me flitting around like a butterfly with ADHD from trial project to trial project, none of which I’ve finished:

Aside from the plushie — a soapybacon pattern — all of the embroidery files are ones I made myself. I think I’ve sung the praises of Inkscape before, but I’ll do it again. It’s a vector drawing program. Think Adobe Illustrator, but… free.

(Well, donor-supported. I threw in $60 this year which is a quarter what Illustrator would cost. But there’s no nag of any kind.)

I use it as a sort of CAD program to draw patterns. I can measure seam lengths to make sure pieces will fit together, even if the seam lines are completely different paths. I can re-color designs by changing a single value, to get variations on pegasus wings or whatever else I’m having Spoonflower print these days. And now, with the Ink/Stitch plugin, I can generate embroidery files to sew those patterns for me.

My husband has suggested I also use it to produce files to have the Cameo cut the fabric, but I’m not ready for a complete robot takeover yet. But yes, I used Inkscape to create the cutting files for the papercraft Lego.

At any rate, it’s a Friday, so here’s a free “sewing” pattern: the D.Va badge. It’s a single color, so it was a good learning process. I didn’t have stabilizer yet so my sample stitch drifted slightly (the ear on the right is properly centered in its border in the file), but otherwise it came out nicely. Here is the original SVG file so you can look at the process. Ink/Stitch does a pretty fair job automatically but I fixed the sharp corners on the border, which otherwise don’t make a clean turn, and added the underlay which for some reason Ink/Stitch doesn’t default to. If you look at the comparison of the badge with someone else’s embroidery you can see the difference when an underlay is used in satin stitching.

D.Va badge, in SVG

Here it is in Brother PES format for a 4x4” hoop.

D.Va badge, in PES

Ink/Stitch can export in a lot of different embroidery formats so if you need something different or if you want to re-size it go ahead and install Inkscape/Stitch and give it a try.

(Or okay, send me an email and I’ll do it.)

Here’s a brief detour into papercraft with an Advent calendar. Probably too late to do anyone any good this year but honestly I finished filling this one sometime after midnight last night just in time to throw it in a suitcase and ship it with my husband back to Wichita. And didn’t get a picture of the stacked “bricks,” just of this lonely leftover. This is SOP for me, never mind that I had the pieces cut weeks ago.

Papercraft lego brick in progress

I got my twin nieces a couple of Lego/MegaConstruxx advent calendars. Problem: the Lego Friends one was a LOT more robust than the MegaConstruxx American Girl one (even allowing for the price difference and the Aldi discount on the latter, grumble grumble) so I couldn’t just ship them off as is. The pieces will go into the communal toy collection, sure, and I guess I could have said “alternate opening the kits” but still. The solution: gut both calendars, and alternate filling the drawers from each set with an on-theme building-brick calendar.

I will confess to not having invented this at all. I first saw it on paper, plate and plane back in 2010 (alas, the blog stopped updating in 2014) as a printable to be hand-cut. I don’t know if that’s the original. At any rate, with some tweaks to make the boxes fit together a little more nicely, I built a cutting file. Here it is in 12x12 SVG:

Paper Cutter Lego-like Bricks

The PP&L instructions involved using a hole punch on craft foam, stacking three punched pieces for every stud, and using a pencil to enlarge the holes so that the studs fit properly. For two calendars, with an extra four studs in the Christmas-ornament layout, that would work out to 1212 punches. AIN’T HAPPENING. And then I had a small epiphany: Perler beads come in an amazingly broad range of colors, and they’re small enough to easily fit in the holes made by a standard paper punch. (Sure, I could make larger holes since I was cutting them on the Cameo, but still.)

Hot-melt glue grabs nicely onto the beads, so I sacrificed one of the excess pieces as a template, glued down “studs” through the template’s holes, and lifted off the template. Then I creased the boxes on their score lines, ran a line of white glue along the tab, and folded up the box. You could do this with scrapbooking “glue” dots, but it’s better to be able to reposition the tab so the end flaps fit precisely.

The boxes are an inch deep and 3/4” tall, and the MegaConstruxx calendar pieces fit easily with the exception of two long rods which both fell on 2x2 days. I could have shuffled the order so they went in larger boxes, but things were already complicated enough. Sadly, when I opened up the Lego calendar, I realized I had seriously underestimated the number of bricks going on there. (It felt like a lot more bricks than the Star Wars calendar we had last year, but I haven’t looked up the brick count. Maybe not having to pay the licensing fee makes for more of the price going into actual bricks?) So as many bricks as would fit went in, and the rest went back into the slot on the original calendar. It’s not entirely satisfying, but on the other hand they’ll be referring to that for the build instructions anyway.

If I had it to do again, I think I’d just buy a regular Lego kit and allocate a few pieces to each day. Lego has a PDF of all of their instructions, so a day-by-day printout would preserve at least some suspense about the finished project.

And now I have to clean up after my feline assistants, who evidently resented the fact that Perler beads being poured into a pyrex bowl sounded kind of like kibble being poured into a metal cat food dish, and knocked both the bead bowl and the paper-scrap bowl on the floor when my back was turned.

Advent aftermath