Measure twice, cut once

Today was a “learning from my mistakes” sort of day.

I have been dialing back on things a little to give my wrist a rest (since I worked all through Memorial Day weekend), but after a trip to Aldi I thought I’d do a little something for myself.

Aldi requires a quarter deposit to free up its shopping carts. There are no cart returns in the parking lot, and no employees running around collecting abandoned carts. It’s a small store and a small lot, and you just take your cart back yourself or, if it’s busy, someone will come up to you as you’re unloading, brandishing a quarter and offering to “buy” your cart from you.

Occasionally they sell little official quarter keepers, and I bought one which I hate. The quarter goes all the way in and a little past the slot, and requires prying back out with fingernails. Plus, I always want *two* quarters, because you’ll often run into someone fumbling for a quarter or just staring at the chains in newbie confusion. So I made a little bi-fold quarter keeper.

My first draft (the white one) was a little large. Clearly I’ve been traumatized by my too-small official keeper, but I wanted to make sure the quarter didn’t get stuck. Instead, the quarter falls out too easily and unpredictably when you’re opening it. I also decided trimming the curves was too finicky, so I opted for a more angular design. Lastly, since I got hold of some Gritty fabric, I decided to make an applique window.

Here’s where I started making mistakes. Quick and dirty little thing, right? Good time to try out wax paper on top of the vinyl to see if it keeps things from sticking. It does, but it is kind of a pain to get out of the stitching so it’s fine for fill embroidery, not so much for topstitching.

Then I was in too much of a hurry and forgot to put in the ribbon until it was almost up to that point in the stitching. I didn’t have any black or orange or even white ribbon narrow enough, so I cut a piece of vinyl and stuck it in without taking the hoop off, and of course it didn’t end up straight.

Then I was too lazy to walk across the room and get the good applique scissors (the Mundials 📦) and so I used Mom’s Ginghers, which are much coarser, so the (reverse) applique window isn’t as neat as it could be.

I also lined the quarter pocket with more of the Gritty fabric which was probably a mistake; it’s going to fray around the edges in the 1/16″ between the topstitching and the edge. I could have gotten around that with some fray-check (and still can, but the stuff is nasty) or by ironing some Heat-n-Bond onto the back of it. The fabric only had the words in one size and they were a little too big for the space, but it still amuses me.

I also realized, come snap insertion time. that the vinyl “ribbon” was almost down to the snap insertion point. Since I only have regular orange snaps instead of longs (and only round, when 🧡 would have been ideal), the snap came together at an angle and broke off instead of inserting. After trying (and failing) with three of them, I finally gave up and put in a black one.

All of which is to say: the design is fine, but I’m going to make a nicer version before I write up the instructions. It’ll go on the free embroidery design page when I do.

More dragonrider snap tabs

I sold the last of the Pernese dragons in the Etsy shop this weekend; there are still a couple of non-Pernese ones left. I’ll restock a little when I make the instructional photos for the design, but that’ll probably be it (though the kid has expressed a little interest in piecework, and presumably they’ll be available from other sellers using the design).

In any event, it was to a repeat buyer so since she already had a Renegades of Pern key fob, I needed a second. This one’s the primary dragon of the cover of Dragonquest so he’s a little more detailed (more than the stitching can capture at this size). I’ve put up all four variations on the Dragonrider Snap Tab page.

Flower Bear In The Hoop (sort of)

As much fun as I’ve had doing (relatively) conventional things on the embroidery machine, my real intention has been to use it as a sort of CNC machine. One of the first tests I did of this capability was with a single-color version of the venerable Flower Bear pattern.

Teddy bear with flower ruff in front of flower arrangement

A large part of teddy bear/jointed plush sewing is simply putting two flat pieces together and sewing around them. That makes it ideally suited to in-the-hoop work. Of course, the rest of the sewing means matching some very different pieces together — foot pads, head gusset. This can be challenging on a sewing machine, virtually impossible on an embroidery machine (I’m still trying!), but pretty easy when hand-sewing. In the small scale of Flower Bear, it’s not too onerous.

Hoop up a piece of stabilizer, then put down two pieces of fabric right-sides-together on top. Although it’s hard to see here, I’m using an upholstery velvet — what you’re seeing is the coarse white woven backing.

A smarter person would have gotten a picture of the stitchout without all the clutter, but not me. Clockwise from the upper left is the body (with a turning opening), the ears, the arms, and the legs. In the middle there’s a little S-squiggle that is the chin seam. That’s the only part of the head that is sewn flat. You’ll need the pattern from the link above, because you’ll have to transfer some markings to the fabric. The arm and leg joint centers are pretty easy, but the head is a little more challenging.

There are two ways to transfer the head markings. Either way, you’ll want to match up the pattern to the chin seam, so I cut the seam allowance on the pattern away. If you want to transfer the cutting line, perhaps because you have a light-colored fabric, trace that like this.

I recommend transferring the stitching line, though, which means cutting on that line on your pattern and tracing around it. I use a Sharpie here which seems counter-intuitive but on this fabric it just rides on top of the backing fibers and doesn’t come through to the pile at all. Test your fabric first, though. Worst case, if you end up with Sharpie on a finished piece, guess what? “Permanent” markers aren’t all that permanent: rubbing alcohol will re-dissolve the ink. If you work quickly, before the alcohol evaporates, you can rinse the color out.

You’ll need to transfer the foot pads and gusset to another piece of fabric.

Now cut around everything. Don’t forget whether you’re cutting on the cutting line, or around the seam line. Starting at the bottom of the chin should help remind you.

Most of the rest of the instructions are in the link above. Exception: you may have noticed that the arms and legs have no turning opening. Cut a slit just big enough to get the joint disc through, then whipstitch the slit closed around the pin.

If you’re making a proper Flower Bear, or if you have a 4×4 machine, you’ll want to shuffle the pattern pieces around. The SVG is in the archive. If you have trouble using Inkstitch, let me know and I’ll generate a version with the changes you need.

Cheater Bear 5×7 Embroidery Files (ZIP archive)

A star is born

Marvel Star Snap Tab

Wait, wrong movie. This one was much better.

I spent most of today bouncing back and forth between failing to get the Etsy shop up and running and failing to get Mew’s tail turned. (Long skinny tubes of very plush faux fur are no fun.) I needed a quick little success.

I’m not thrilled with the colors, but I picked from what I had already unwrapped, and as you can see my first round was worse. I’d go with a gold clasp, and more bronze/less rust in the darker color, which you can do yourself with the Marvelous Star free embroidery patterns. Tag me if you post a picture of your version.

Back when I made the Black Panther (no, not the Marvel version) someone on Mastodon observed that the embroidered paw pads would make good key fobs. So I stitched up a few: cat, dog, and fox. And then tore off a fingernail unsnapping one. It’s been a Monday, you guys!

I’ll add a few more critter paws (ferret, wolf, whatever else strikes my fancy) and soon I’ll put those in the free pattern section too.

Stash panda, guardian of the fabric

Did I work on the hand sewing yesterday? Nope. Did I work on Mew today? Nope.

Instead, I worked on getting some bookshelves cleared off and rearranged. And I thought to myself, “I’m going to take this tall one out of the living room where it doesn’t fit, and use it to store my active fabric stash so I’m not burrowing through tubs of fabric.

“Fabric… stash. STASH PANDA! I MUST MAKE A STASH PANDA!”

(Karen’s brain, ladies and gentlemen.)

The pattern needs a little fine-tuning (gonna make the hind feet more properly trash panda-ish) and then I’ll publish it, but this one will be the guardian of my fabric stash… as soon as I figure out where to put that shelf.

Book bands

Although I keep telling myself I didn’t get the embroidery machine to do conventional embroidery, I keep finding myself doing conventional embroidery. In large part it’s learning how the thing behaves with different materials, and also yielding to the temptation to make cute stuff for my nieces.

It started when I sent my sister a link to a possible teacher gift and she sent back a link to a unicorn book band on that site, for one daughter’s school agenda.

I asked her what she wanted for her planner, and she said a heart, so I went all-in on hearts.

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The Jumping Spider pattern

In-the-hoop jumping spider plush

I wrote about the origin of these spiders on Monday, so I’m happy to say I have a finished pattern and not just another unfinished item to add to my to-do list. It’s designed as an in-the-hoop pattern for an embroidery machine but you can also sew it with a conventional machine and use safety eyes.

After the upgrade to WordPress, I moved the pattern to a permanent home in the Free Patterns section: The Jumping Spider. Look for it there now.

If you make a spider, let me know! Send me an email or tag me on Instagram (don’t forget the underscore in the middle there) or on Flickr

The distractability spider

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:

Dragon and failed embroider

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.

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Uploading embroidery files over wifi with a Raspberry Pi

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.