Here's the end result of my free-motion embroidery efforts, ready to layer and quilt. It measures about 12" x 21". I have mixed feelings about it but since this was a first effort, I am not displeased. Much to take forward into the next rendition. For those who might like more technical information, here are some details about the process and my opinions about them:
- I marked the leaves on the background fabric with a soapstone marker. This is one of my favorite marking tools because it can be removed so easily but doesn't rub off too quickly as some chalk markers can. So if I didn't like a leaf placement, it was easy to rub it away and reposition. On this dark fabric, it was easy to see while I stitched.
- I used Sulky Super Solvy Heavier Water Soluble Stabilizer spray-basted to the underside of the background. I've used this before and really like how it works, and because it is water soluble, I know I'll be able to remove all of it easily (as long as I am willing to soak the piece before it is finished). The only thing I didn't think about beforehand was that by spray-basting, I'd have to smooth the marked fabric onto the stabilizer, risking removal of my markings. I flipped the piece after laying on the fabric so I could better smooth things in place.
- I also used a hoop to prevent puckering. This is still a mystery why you have to use stabilizer with a hoop and vice versa, but having tried it both ways, I know the best results come with the use of both. I started with a spring hoop which was easy to use and guide under the needle. That is, until I'd done enough embroidery that the stitched parts were ending up between the inner and outer hoops. The teacher who taught me the basics had warned not to use these kinds of hoops because she felt you couldn't get the fabric as taut in them and because if the fabric/embroidery was thick, they would suddenly spring apart. Well, she was right. So when I got to that point, I switched to a simple wooden hoop with screw tightener, the inner hoop wound with cloth tape for extra grip. I found it clunkier and harder to control than the other hoop but I had no choice but to use it.
- I used 40 wt rayon thread and a #75 embroidery needle for most of the stitching. I changed to a #90 embroidery needle when I tried blending two different colors of threads. I ran both threads through the single needle and thought I'd have to loosen my tension, but found that I was getting odd loops of one or both threads when I did. On my Lily Viking, a #2 tension setting seemed right. Although I liked some of the shading I got doing this, it seemed to give the leaves a "furry" look compared to those done with a single thread. Better I think to just have more thread colors on hand. I also tried a Mettler silk thread which is about the same thickness as regular cotton sewing thread and not shiny, but I felt I couldn't get as refined of an effect with the thicker thread.
- The piece seemed fairly pucker free before I removed the stabilizer. I cut away the excess before soaking according to manufacturer's directions. Some places were a little tricky getting into because of tight quarters and the spray-baste. I thought duck-bill applique scissors would be the safest, but in the end I switched to a short pair of embroidery scissors and watched my step. Once I laid the piece out to air-dry, I could see that something was causing puckering around all the leaves. Can rayon thread actually shrink? Because something was causing the leaves to draw up. I decided to press the piece while still damp - from the backside on a slightly padded surface - but not all the leaves were willing to cooperate. I re-wet the worst offenders and aggressively ironed them into submission. In the future, I think I would try ironing the embroidery while it was still quite damp.