Friday July 13 2012
In 2005, when I last made a multitude of smocked balls, smocked dots were not an option because they didn't show up well on the brightly printed fabric. Instead I used a soft pencil to draw the gathering lines on the back of fabric. Though this may sound very time consuming I was able to do it quite quickly by laying the fabric over a grid printed on paper. The grid showed on all sides of the fabric and I could line up my straight edge with the lines on the paper. I didn't want to do that this time because I didn't want to chance marking directly on white fabric. Not even with air erase or washable markers. Plus I thought I might be able to figure out something even faster. Previous to today I have tried two things.
For the first ball I used the yellow smocking dots. They did not wash out.
Next I used my printer to print a 3/16" x 5/16" grid onto freezer paper and ironed that onto the front of the fabric. Because I could easily see the lines through the fabric I was able to make my gathering stitches. However, the stiffness of the paper made it quite awkward and by the time I got to the last rows the paper wasn't well adhered. (I gathered 25 lines so I could use it to make 2 ornaments.)
Today I tried a different method and it is the best so far. I placed clear adhesive vinyl (including the backing paper) over the grid printed on the freezer paper and used a fine point Sharpie marker to draw the grid onto the vinyl. Then I removed the backing paper and stuck the adhesive vinyl to the right side of my fabric. When I hold the fabric up to make the gathering lines I can easily see the lines and make my stitches. And it isn't as stiff as the freezer paper. We'll see how long it stays stuck but if it becomes too loose I can always baste the vinyl to the fabric. Hopefully I'll be able to use the same piece of adhesive vinyl to mark several pieces of fabric. (Experience tells me that when it almost completely loses its "stick" I won't have to draw the lines again because it will still stick it to another piece of vinyl.)
If you would like to download the 3/16" x 5/16" graph paper, that I generated at incompetech.com, it is available from the following link. (When you print the paper make sure that the page scaling is set to "None".) (When you print the paper make sure that the page scaling is set to "None".)
3/16 inch x 5/16 inch graph paper.
I taped together two pages of this paper to make a grid big enough for 27 rows of 114 pleats One could print more pages for large pieces of fabric.
P.S. After I had stitched about 8 rows I felt that the vinyl was beginning to shift a little so I quickly basted around the edges. And that caused me to consider that one could draw the grid on stiff interfacing and baste it to the smocking fabric. I wonder if I could print the lines on interfacing using my printer. I wonder if the needle would be apt to snag the interfacing?
I found it easiest to see the lines through the fabric when the fabric was between me and a bright window.
I also decided that from now on I'm only going to make the gathering stitches for one ball at a time. With the vinyl on the fabric it was a bit awkward to stitch the rows in the center of the fabric.
Monday July 16 2012
For my next ball I wanted to replicate the look of my half step double chevron ball by using a slanted stitch that zigzagged up and down between the top and bottom row. With 96 stitches I should have gone around the ball once and ended up where I began. When I ended up 4 pleats to the left of my starting point I knew that I had made a couple of errors. I immediately decided that this was good luck because I knew that if I kept going I wouldn't be back at my starting point until I had filled in all of the zigzags. It would be similar to the orbit of some satellites.
To do this properly I should have started with 100 pleats but for this experiment I decided to keep fudging my way around the ball.
As I was stitching this ball it occurred to me that the buttons, that I am using as temporary covers for the top and bottom of the balls, could work as a design element on just the right project. I envisioned ribbons or threads pulled through the button's holes to make a hanger and a tassel.
I put down my smocking and tried this on the ball that had the silver bead cap on the bottom. I inserted 4 ribbons between the prongs of the bead cap and bound them together just below the bead cap.
I had envisioned maybe using green silk ribbon, like the stems of the pansies, but I like the way the white tassel seems to flow from the fabric. I used thick polyester satin ribbon and I think the effect would be even more pronounced with a finer silk ribbon.
When I finished the ornament I was working on I applied the same treatment to the buttons.
Then I removed the button and ribbon tassel and made a new one using the button and some fine crochet cotton. I didn't take the time to make a big fluffy tassel but it does give me a sense of what one might look like.
My original plan was to use the white fabric to make covered buttons for the top and bottom of this ornament. But I may try some tassel options when the time comes.
And what of my original experiment? Well, the slanted zigzags are much easier to stitch but not quite as neat as the double chevron pattern. If I use an "easy" thread I'll probably stick to the chevron pattern stitch. If I use something like the Pearlescent thread I may choose the easier slanted stitch pattern
Tuesday July 17 2012
The ball with the gold bead cap decided that it needed a ribbon tassel too.
Thursday July 19 2012
Ever since I saw a photo of a smocked ornament that appeared to have a tassel made by unravelling the fabric at the bottom of the ornament I wanted to see if this could be done. For this first trial I used polyester lining, because it is woven with light weight threads. I thought that I might even be able to pull the threads through a wooden bead that I had on hand so I decided to smock this ornament with embroidery floss that matched the bead.
As I unravelled the fabric I noted that it was much lighter than the unravelled fabric, but I doubted that it would fit through the bead. When I had the fabric unravelled right up to the base of the ornament I wrapped some thread around the loose end of the unravelled fabric and pushed it into the bead. With a bit of twisting I soon had the bead snug against the bottom of the ornament. (I wasn't sure that I could accomplish it a second time so I backed the bead off a bit, applied some glue to the unravelled threads and pushed the bead back up into place.)
I know in time this polyester fringe will become a tangled mess but I am happy the way it currently looks. I was less happy with the colour of the floss. It made it look like the ball was stuffed into mesh shopping bag. So I removed the yellow floss and redid the ornament with white Perle.
Thursday July 26 2012
My ribbon order arrived today. This ribbon is not silk. It is 1/2 inch wide rayon ribbon from The Ribbon Retreat. It is thicker and stiffer than the silk ribbon I have tried before but as soon as I opened the envelope I was convinced that I had finally found the colours I was looking for.
I made the first pansy, as planned, with the lighter ribbon (approx. DMC 335) petals in front of the darker (approx. DMC 325) petals. (Because of the stiffness of the ribbon I used 3 inch pieces of ribbon for the back petals and a 6 inch piece for the front petals.) I was disappointed when I tried it on a smocked ball because the flower was much more washed out than I had wanted. So I made a second pansy with the darker petals in the back and a third one with all dark petals. (In the first photo below the flower closest to the top is the light over dark pansy, the one on the right is the all dark pansy and the one on the left one is the dark over light pansy.)
The darker pansies are much closer to what I am aiming for but they make the leaves look too washed out. (On my monitor the leaves in the photo below are closest to their actual colour. In fact they are a bit paler and greyer, almost like DMC 524.)
As you can see by the above photo I tried a 5/8 inch covered button on this ornament. The thickness of the button makes it look clunky and I don't think I would like a smaller button any better.
I had a sample of a darker shade of green (approx. DMC 3345) and I made a leaf out of it. It is better but not quite right and I still prefer the more softly rounded leaf that I made from the bias cut ribbon. The blue green bias cut ribbon I have doesn't work with these new rayon ribbons but perhaps I'll find some bias cut in a more suitable colour.
I think that I will be able to work with this rayon ribbon and maybe I'll be able to make the flowers look a little more natural if I edge dye some of the ribbon.
But in the meantime I thought I'd play with a few of the other sample ribbons...
Monday July 30 2012
I played with a couple of things over the weekend. I was reading up on rayon and I learned that it is prone to water spotting because of the dye and sizing. I decided to give some red ribbon a hot wash to remove the sizing. When it was dry I was happy to discover that the ribbon was noticeably softer and it seemed to be a slightly darker and less brown colour. I doubt that the colour difference will show up well on the following photo but in any case I used the freshly washed ribbon for the back petals of the flower that is laying on the work surface.
I also played with some new leaf shapes. The stiffer rayon ribbon doesn't work as well as the bias silk ribbon for the type of leaf I planned to use. No matter what I tried it became very pointed and stuck up in funny places. So I tried a leaf that is gathered in a circle at the end. For this ribbon it looks more pansy like than the other style of leaf.
In making these leaves I discovered that the darker green ribbon is 9/16" wide while all the rest are 1/2" wide. It makes them look proportionally too big. I wonder if I can find the dark green in the narrower width. Though it would be even better if I could find the red ribbons in the wider width.
I also prepared another ball for smocking. This one uses an antique white fine polyester crepe. I really like the colour and has a nice shimmer to it so it would work really well with silk flowers. I'm not so sure it will work as well with the rayon flowers. And I can't decide what kind of thread I want to use for the smocking.
Thursday Aug 2 2012
While I was dithering over what thread to use on the crepe covered ball I gathered another piece of fabric. This is a quite densely woven cream coloured cotton fabric with a design printed on it. The piece I had was not quite big enough to make an ornament and tassel but I decided to play with it anyway.
The only thread I had in a matching colour was a Coats & Clarke heavy duty thread. It is finer than DMC Perle#12, and it even seems to be finer than Finca Perle #16.
The cream coloured of the fabric worked well with the ribbon flowers and it even made the pale coloured leaves look good. The thicker stiffer fabric made for quite a big opening on the top of the ornament and a substantial tassel on the bottom. Though the fabric seemed to have a nice glint as I was smocking it, after the flowers were added the overall effect was more like unbleached cotton. This won't be the fabric I use for my gift ornaments.
I decided to smock the crepe covered ball with DMC Rayon thread. I had been avoiding using the rayon because it is a pain to cross stitch with but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to use for smocking. It certainly is easier to use than the Pearlescent thread. And it adds a bit of shine to the ball.
I think this crepe and rayon thread combination is what I will choose for my gift ornaments. Because the fabric is polyester, and each woven thread is made of many fine strands, it won't be suitable for making a tassel. I could use some ribbon or thread to make a tassel, but it may be difficult to match the antique white colour. Therefore I'll likely use some kind of bead cap or covered button. Because I don't think I'll use any gold or silver on the flowers or smocking I would rather not use gold or silver bead caps. Experience has shown me that metal bead caps painted white don't look nearly as nice as the originals. For this experiment I covered a gold bead cap with some of the crepe fabric. The gold colour of the cap makes the fabric of the cap look a little darker than the fabric on the ball but I believe that the difference would disappear if I used two layers of fabric on the bead cap