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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

Plush sun conure's head

Who’s a pretty bird?

Elefriend preview

Fun with custom-printed upholstery velvet!

Book cover

Making Adorable Button-Jointed Stuffed Animals by Rebecca Ruth Anderson sums itself up on the cover as “20 Step-by-Step Patterns to Create Posable Arms and Legs on Toys Made with Recycled Wool” and, well, that mostly covers it.

I first spotted this in a JoAnn book rack, leafed through it and was impressed by the cuteness of the patterns. I decided I had enough projects at the moment, and put it back but later they had a 30%-off sale on books and my resolve faltered.

The critters are made from felted wool sweaters rather than conventional felt (though the latter works too), sewn with seam allowances and not turned. The button joints (which despite the cover blurb sometimes also include necks and tails) make assembly easy while the quality of the patterns means the finished products don’t scream “over-simplified beginner pattern.” The horse, for instance, has a well-shaped muzzle even though it’s two-dimensional.

The patterns are reminiscent of Sewing Tiny Toys but are much larger - I was surprised when I opened the book and saw the size of the patterns.

The book includes generous instructions. It spends many photographs covering types of felt and felted material, what to look for in thrifted sweaters for felting, and so forth. It’s a very photo-heavy book in the construction steps as well.

My only gripe is a big one, and it’s this:

Pattern enlargement instructions

The patterns are a mix of print-at-100% and print-at-110%. Why? My first thought was that extra 10% won’t matter, I’ll just trace the pattern onto freezer paper and make a slightly smaller animal. Nope! Most of the two-page patterns have half of the pattern at full size, half of it print-at-110%. I understand the limitations of fitting patterns inside a standard book size but if you have to reduce one page of the pattern, print them both at that scale so if your customer goofs up at least the pieces are consistent with each other. And print the scale message in bright red or something when it isn’t 100%

Overall, the book is a definite keeper, especially after I scan and print every “110%” page at proper scale and insert it into my copy with library tape.

Happy November!

By now I’d hoped to have had a finished sun conure to show off, but as you might have guessed by the condition of its instructions, that hasn’t happened. My mother passed away a little over a week ago, which threw things into disarray. Let me wrap up some loose ends:

  • The winner of Sunflower Bear contacted me, and I (eventually) got the bear shipped up the Jersey Turnpike to Samantha. Congratulations!

  • I entered the sun conure in Spoonflower’s cut-and-sew competition, and ordered the revised one on a fat quarter of basic quilting cotton. It didn’t win anything, in part because I didn’t get the FQ in time to sew one and put the picture onto the actual pattern. It was still kinda fun to see the “likes” come in though.

Hopefully things will calm down a little (although holiday sewing will start up soon) and I can get a couple of patterns out this month. The elephant for sure, and maybe a sweater dragon. (No, that was not a typo.)

In the meantime, I have a nifty book review - a modern one, this time! - coming on Monday, so stay tuned.

Hi! If you’re here from the Spoonflower competition, watch this space for the final instructions - my own version of the fabric hasn’t shown up yet.

In the meantime, you can enjoy the original 2006 version of the Sun Conure pattern, designed for felt. This version has an open bill, a jointed neck, and compromise wings; the fat quarter version simplifies some of this and has full open (but much more accurately colored!) wings. As soon as mine arrives, I’ll sew it up and take step-by-step pictures.

Here’s a semi-preview: a test print of the jointed/open bill version in Spoonflower’s Celosia Velvet, cut and ready for sewing. The gray parts of the inner wings came out much darker than I’d expected; that’s fixed in the fat quarter version.

Sun Conure preview

And here are some of the instruction pages, showing the general assembly.

I’ll add more instruction pages as I finish them, as well as the all-important picture of the finished bird!

Felt sun conure

This version is designed to be made from felt; it has an open bill, a jointed neck, and compromise wings. The cut-and-sew quarter version simplifies some of this and has full open (but much more accurately colored!) wings.

Felt sun conure back

The 2006 Pattern

These patterns are 75dpi, for an 8x10 image size.

If you’re sewing felt, cut your pieces without a seam allowance; otherwise, add one appropriate to the fabric you’ve chosen (including between color changes). Some pattern pieces are shown with folds - double the pattern (or flip it after tracing one side instead of folding the felt.

The wings and tail will require stiffening. Either use a pre-stiffened felt such as Eazy-Felt, or make your own by saturating felt with thinned white glue.

Head

Cut two of each of the bill pieces from black or charcoal. Cut one inner bill (the diamond shape), and one cere from off-white. Cut two eye patches from white - they will be appliqued onto the head side. Cut two head sides from orange and dark yellow, and piece the colors together. Cut one head gusset from dark yellow. Cut two neck circles from dark yellow.

If the open bill is too daunting, combine the patterns (the point of the lower bill will overlap the upper) and cut each side as one piece.

Sew the bill pieces together along the outside seams (just the simple curve). Insert the inner bill, beginning at the fold line and working to the tip of the bill each time.

Sew the head sides and gusset together, then insert the beak and sew it in place. If you’re using safety eyes, insert them now (remember, the eye patches will be added later). Stuff the bill and upper head carefully, making sure the beak is evenly stuffed and that the “forehead” is properly shaped.

Punch a hole in the circles for the joint hardware. Sew one circle onto the base of the head, halfway around and insert the upper half of a 1 1/2” doll or bear joint, then put the second circle on, followed by the other half of the joint, making sure the lower circle moves easily but not too loosely. Finish stuffing the head and make any final adjustments, and sew the rest of the upper circle on (adding stuffing as you go to keep the joint area well-shaped).

Wings

If I have my bird anatomy correct, the pattern pieces are marginal coverts (yellow), greater coverts (green), secondaries (green), primaries (blue), and more coverts (yellow) for the underside. Colors vary, and this is somewhat of a simplification - in particular, the primaries should be green on the underside, but it’s the terminology I’ll use.

Cut the primaries nearly to the top, then overlap them and stitch in place. Sew the yellow coverts together along the outside line. Insert a plastic doll joint through the underside piece, and finish sewing around the edge of the upper yellow coverts, through the green coverts and secondaries. This will leave part of the lower covert unsewn - position the blue primaries, and sew the lower covert, green secondaries, and blue primaries together along the outer edge, then sew the rest of the lower covert to the blue primaries (only).

Body

Cut one underbody and two inner legs from light yellow, and piece two body sides from dark and light yellow.

Sew the legs to the underbody, then sew the two body sides together along the back line. Sew the underbody to the body top, leaving the ends of the legs open, the tail area open, and the neck open. Stuff the body loosely so the neck opening is opened up into a circle, and attach the head assembly by sewing the lower circle carefully into the neck opening. You may want to turn the head occasionally to make sure you haven’t caught it in your stitching.

Attach the wings to the body. When parallel, the wings should be about a quarter of an inch apart, and the wrist should come up past the neck joint.

Feet

Cut two each of the front and back upper feet, and two feet bottoms, from light pink, gray, or cream felt.

Bend a piece of wire to make the feet, with the segment in between long enough to pass through the middle of the bird’s body stuffing and the toes close to the tips of the felt pattern (shorter toes on the inside), and insert it into the body (you’ll have to fold the toes together to slip them through the leg openings). Ideally, use galvanized or aluminum wire so it won’t rust through the felt, and make sure it’s stiff enough to hold the bird up. Don’t twist the wire together - you want support, not a spring! Wrap the wire with yarn and secure the ends with a bit of glue.

Sew the front and back upper feet together around the leg wire, just to the points on either side. Open the feet out flat, matching the toes to the wires, and sew the feet bottoms on.

Alternately, instead of sewing felt over the leg wires, wrap them a little more heavily with yarn, then sew the leg bottoms into the yarn at the foot tops.

Tail

Liberties have been taken, since most of the color changes are within single feathers. Cut two long central feathers from blue, layer four feathers in green, and two top feathers in olive green.

Finish stuffing the body, making sure the inter-leg wire is well supported, and sew the tail area closed, catching the tail feathers in the opening and making sure the long feathers stay properly aligned.

Finishing

Applique the cere to the top of the bill.

Sew on two round beads for eyes (if you haven’t used safety eyes). Cut an opening in the white eye patch smaller than the eye bead (start smaller than you think you’ll need, as the felt will stretch and you can always trim it later). Applique it over the eye, then sew the eyelids - a piece of white embroidery floss (all six strands) or Perle cotton in through the head (anywhere), out one corner of the eye, in through the other corner and back out through the head. Use white thread and a couching stitch to sew the floss down to the lower edge of the white eyepatch. Gently pull the ends of the floss and trim so the tails disappear into the head, then repeat for the upper eyelid. Repeat for the other eye, being sure the eyes are symmetrical.

In a perfect world (where I had blog entries queued up in case of schedule disruptions) I’d have another pattern here - probably the sun conure. But I don’t and my Spoonflower order arrived today so I’ll just Part-II Monday’s review by saying: the fleece makes me much happier than the minky.

Closeup of printed fleece

The yard of Halloween owls arrived and it is very nice. The colors are intense and while the print isn’t quite as sharp as the Celosia velvet it’s very sharp for fleece. The black is very black though the fabric has a significant sheen that somewhat counteracts it.

Closeup of printed fleece

As I mentioned, Spoonflower makes it clear that it’s a “thin fleece.” It is, but it’s not a cheap fleece. I’d call it “low-loft” rather than “thin” but maybe that’s not the correct terminology in the fleece business. Pulling a quarter-inch strip makes a nice curl - this is a neat trick to do for fringe in fleece. Cheap fleece will come apart if you pull too hard and this fleece doesn’t. Cheap fleece will also stretch out of shape easily and this fleece doesn’t. It also feels nice to the touch - not exactly plush but still soft.

I already spent part of this afternoon taking pictures of a soft-sculpture dragon in my backyard so I decided not to wrap myself in a yard of cut-and-sew and go out there to see how well the fleece stands up to wind. It seems about as warm as I expected when I did it inside which is to say: not very warm but still pretty good considering its thickness. I’d expect it to fluff up a little more on washing, and the unprinted side is already little fuzzier than the printed side, so if the color doesn’t fade it would be a nice fleece to work with for clothing. I might use a thicker conventional fleece as a lining if I wanted a fleece coat but it is pretty much perfect for sleep pants and such.

It’s also pretty nice for plushies, if you don’t mind the complete lack of any significant pile. Fleece is super-easy to machine- or hand-sew, especially compared to slippery, stretchy minky. It’s not as good for more structured things like most of my patterns which are more soft sculpture than plushie, but for fun squishy critters I think I like it better than the minky.

Cut-and-sewn plushies by Choly Knight/Sew Desu Ne?

A while back, I ordered some Sew Desu New cut-and-sew designs to sew up for my nieces; if you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen that I’ve sewn non-printed versions of some of her designs, from both her free and pay-for patterns. I don’t have an embroidery machine, though, and doing applique eyes and markings on slippery, stretchy minky is tedious. The pre-printed faces make sewing the designs much faster, and I highly recommend it.

I was very impressed by Spoonflower’s upholstery velvet, as I have mentioned before - they included a swatch in the order with this minky, and it was a black-background pattern. Very sharp, yet the color is very deep in the very dense pile. The minky… not so much. It’s a thin pile, not even as dense as the JoAnn basic minky much less the Shannon Minky I’ve gotten from fabrics.com. The printing is sharp, but not deep - you don’t have to look too closely at that picture to see the white base fabric showing through at the black cat’s chin seam, or both cats’ tail fin edge.

Granted, the use case for minky is more often blankets, in which situation the main printed part is going to be lying flat and not showing the unprinted “underfur.” But it’s still kind of a mediocre minky. I’d definitely only use it for cases where the printing really adds something. Which I’ll admit: the multicolored mermaid kitty tails definitely do.

Choly also recommends fleece as an alternative, so I have to admit I bought a yard of her Halloween owls to see how that works. (Sure, I could have just ordered a fleece swatch, but where’s the fun in that?) Spoonflower is very up-front that it’s a “thin fleece,” but we’ll see what the hand is like. I don’t have high expectations, but it was still worth it for the cute pattern.