Today I got my new sewing machine going again. I say “new” but it is in fact now nearly two years old! What with one thing and another I’ve never really got to grips with it yet, and apart from a bit of basic sewing last year, it has sat there gathering dust in the corner of my ARTHaven.
My lack of confidence in this very complex and modern machine (compared with my old one which died aged 40 years!) has held me back somewhat in my creativity. One of my plans for last year was to get more into textile art in my mixed media work, and had I not been ill, maybe I would have bitten this bullet sooner, but yesterday I felt I could not hold off any longer and I just had to get on with it, because the machine was becoming the elephant in the room.
As before, I struggled with it, and had to get the book out for even such a basic task as threading the machine! I wasn’t prepared to give up this time, though, and forged ahead. Time to start investigating the fancy stitches!
On a piece of scrap cotton sheeting, I sewed a few samples of the fancy stitches, making a note of their number and any stitch length and width settings.
I had one epic fail with one of the cross-stitch samples – this stitch obviously does not respond well to being done with too small a stitch length/width and before I knew what was happening it was sewing on the spot, and the machine jammed, with a piece of heavily sewn fabric being trapped under the needle plate. I spent a long time sorting this out, and could not pull it back through the hole. I was anxious not to lose the piece in the workings of the machine and after I had managed to cut away the main piece of fabric, with great difficulty I managed to unscrew the needle plate in its two sections, and remove it. Part of the problem was that the upper part of the machine made it impossible to get the length of the screwdriver underneath, so in the end I resorted to using a coin to remove the screws, which did the trick very well.
Once the needle plate had been removed, it was a simple matter to cut the offending lump off the back. Further problems arose when I screwed the needle plate back on – the needle would not go down! Off it came again, and I replaced it again, and this time the needle did go down, but it was making a slight noise as if something was rubbing. Removing the plate again and testing the needle without it, it ran smoothly, so obviously the positioning of the plate, even with the screw holes determining its location, was critical. I took more care replacing it this time, and after this all was well.
The result of all this was several hours of wasted time as far as actual sewing was concerned.
I replaced the regular needle with a “metallic” needle (yes, I know, all needles are metallic! – but these are specifically designed for use with metallic threads, having a somewhat larger eye), and threaded the machine up with gold thread, with the existing white bobbin thread, and began to experiment with a practice piece.
I selected three fresh teabags and tacked them onto a piece of scrap cotton. I put this piece in my machine embroidery hoop but this proved unnecessary in the end.
Here is the practice piece with some fancy stitching around the edges, and some free machine embroidery inside. Unfortunately, as usual, the gold hardly shows up on the photo, but it is quite sparkly. I shall keep this piece to use in another project sometime.
To do this I used the free quilting foot, which has a spring assembly which makes the foot go up and down when you sew. The machine’s feed dogs are lowered and you guide the fabric under the needle in any direction you choose, and determine the stitch length yourself. This does require some practice but I think I am gradually improving! It is many, many years since I did free machine embroidery and had forgotten everything about it. My machine has a sewing speed control – a sort of speed limiter – and I set this to medium – slow was far too slow, and fast made me think I might let the machine run away with me if I wasn’t careful!
I then felt confident enough to move on to my painted teabags. I tacked them onto a piece of tea-dyed fabric before beginning stitching. I started with the free embroidery first, since the machine was already set up for this, and used the gold thread that was already in the machine.
I then re-threaded the machine with copper metallic thread, raised the feed dogs again, and replaced the foot with the fancy stitches “monogram” foot. Unfortunately the copper thread doesn’t show up as well as I’d hoped. I used a Greek key stitch instead of the leaf one I’d used on the practice piece because I thought it might be a bit bolder.
I cut the teabags out of the backing fabric with a pair of fine sharp scissors.
I darkened the edges somewhat with some Antiqued Bronze distress stain.
Here is the piece stuck down onto the page using regular matt gel medium. You can see that the copper thread doesn’t show up much. Actually in the photo none of the machine embroidery is making much impact, but in real life this is quite sparkly and does add something to the design.
While I was working on the page I noticed that the piece of chicken packaging was lifting. It is very stiff and on a flexible page, the gel medium was proving inadequate to hold it in place, so I removed it completely, and re-stuck it with Pinflair gel adhesive. The clips are to hold it firmly in place until the glue has fully set.
Another finishing touch was to add catchlights to the water droplets on the left-hand page and on the droplet coming from the tea cup on the right-hand page, using my Uniball white marker pen. I also added a little touch with this pen, to the petals of the flowers on the painted tea branch, to brighten them and make them stand out a bit more.
I am still debating whether to add a border, and I think I may need a little shading around the teabags to give them a bit more emphasis against the background.