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Embroidery Tips & Techniques

Turn of Cloth – A Humbling Experience

Recently, I was inspired by a sweater I spotted in a high-end ladies clothing store and digitized the flowers, testing, tweaking and finalizing the designs. Then, I started the embroidery on the collar. I loved it! It’s everything I had hoped and envisioned. Frankly, I was excited about wearing it.

But first, I had to finish the jacket – you know, sew it together, the part where I’m not such an expert and I had to do it in one evening.

The jacket front and back, pockets, back and front yokes were pieced and draped on the dress form and had been for a week…waiting so patiently for sleeves, collar and facing. It was time. I had no choice but to sew the upper collar to the lower collar and attach it to the jacket, piece the facing and add it to the jacket. The pattern was adorable but slightly lacking in detailed instructions. No worries, I’ve made tons of garments. Hmm, but actually, it’s been a really LONG time since I tackled a garment like this. I’ve been embellishing blanks and the occasional from-scratch simple frock but a collar with facing? It’s been quite a while. In fact, I rarely WEAR clothes like that in my rather casual Texas lifestyle.

On top of the unfamiliarity of the required steps to attach the collar, I recently moved my sewing room to the first floor of my home. My sewing reference library is not as accessible as it once was, meaning, I really don’t know where the heck the information is that I needed to complete this project. And my own closet did not have one decent, similar example for me to examine. And it’s getting late, like 8:00 PM and the shoot is tomorrow, at 8:30 AM, model coming at 9:00 and the cash register starts to tick at 9:00. It has to be complete and beautiful in about 14 hours, during which I should try to catch at least 6 hours of sleep. Hopefully.

I was working with wool, a thick, luxurious cloth. The key words here are thick and luxurious. I chose it because it was luxurious. I hated it because it was thick. The seam allowances at the neckline would be cumbersome. I remembered the term, ‘grading.’ Great, that’ll do it, I’ll just grade the seam allowances and everything will lie flat. Fair enough. Of course, once you ‘grade’, it’s gone. No redos allowed – nothing more final than cutting, wouldn’t you agree? But it did lie flat after pressing with a lot of steam. But oh yeah, what about the roll of the collar? Hmm, the pattern doesn’t mention anything about that. But they also don’t have thick wool as a recommended fabric, just quilting cotton. Hmm, wonder why.

Of course, by this time, I’ve had the garment on and off my figure about a dozen times (because my one dress form lives in the office, not my home). And I’m trying to roll the collar on my figure (now I know why they don’t make the contestants sew for themselves on Project Runway) but I know I’ll burn myself if I try to press it while I’m wearing it but I am tempted. So it’s off, on, pin, off, press, on, pin again, off, wipe the sweat off my neck, on, pin, off and press. It’s gorgeous – from the front.

From the back…not so much. The under collar is peeking out beyond the upper collar. Of course, for the photo shoot, it won’t matter because we know the magic of double-stick tape. But I know it’s wrong and it’ll bug me every time I wear it.

I collapse into bed around midnight and set the alarm for 5:45. I still have to add buttonholes (oh joy) and buttons. I didn’t want to tackle that exhausted. In the wee hours of the morn, I attempt to cover buttons with the wool fabric. I have tons of buttons but the fabric-covered shank buttons will be the perfect finishing touch. I’m a little stubborn when it comes to the finishes – it really has to be perfect. But the wool is too thick for the flimsy, do-it-yourself button blanks. And I really need a hammer to force the metal back onto the button. I can’t find a hammer – ANYWHERE! And I’m getting older, my hands hurt! I keep thinking about the photography studio and all the tools and muscle that are there. They’ve bailed me out before; I’ll count on them to do it again.

Frustrated, I mock up a button so I can measure how large the buttonhole needs to be. I make the buttonholes – not perfect but good enough – and head to the studio.

The absolute highest complement we receive here at Designs is when the photography studio gushes over an embroidered project. They have high standards and are used to seeing beautiful things – and people – everyday. They loved the jacket. I was thrilled. Sheepishly, I said, “Well, I need a little help on the buttons.” Steve Woods, the head photographer and dear friend, jumped right in. He had a hammer. But ha, it wouldn’t work for him either. Eventually we succumbed to hot glue and told the model to be very gentle on the buttons.

Later that evening, I researched a solution to my problem and stumbled upon the term: turn of cloth. Duh. The under collar must be cut a bit smaller than the upper collar to accommodate for turn of cloth. Really, I should have known better, for heaven’s sake, I learned about turn of cloth ages ago. That’s what I get for focusing on the fun part – the embroidery!

How about you? Have you had a similar experience? Tackled something that you thought was going to be easy but instead was humbled by the challenge? I’d love to hear about it! This week we’re giving away Machine Embroidery with Confidence by Nancy Zieman.

Last week we wanted to know what your favorite embroidery blanks are.  The winner of  Contemporary Machine-Embroidered Fashions is…Mitzi Barker!

“I enjoy creating very personalized t-shirts, working from 50/50 blank shirts – your tip on decreasing the density of the design solves a problem for me! Thank you for the great ideas, tips, and inspiration I get from your newsletters, magazine and blog.”

Congratulations, Mitzi!

Didn’t win the giveaway? We have something else for you this week. We’re excited to announce we now have a Facebook page! Head on over to Facebook, become a fan of our page and get a coupon code for $5.00 off any purchase from our website,




  • Bev Passwaters

    Hi Eileen

    I decided to make one of those really neat loose fitting tunic tops and put a nice emboridery on the sleeves. Had everything all cut up ready to put together and then did the embroidery on the sleeves before sewing the tuni up.

    The sleeves came out gorgeous. Sewed the tunic up and was finished about the wee hours of the am. Tried the tunic on even though I chose the size according to my measurement to my dismay the tunic was still toooo tight.

    I’ve got the tunic torn apart now and my beautiful sleeves are awaiting me to put them on a larger bodice. Luckily I was smart and bought extra fabric. This time though I’m going to make a sample before cutting into my fabric. Needless to say mysleeves are still waiting.

    Bev Passwaters

  • Enis

    Oh the challenges we put ourselves through. Why do we do it? I don’t know.

    Well, I’m not the most skilled of seamstress, but I do try. One day I decided to make myself a lovely pink boucle knee-length jacket. The jacket did not call for bust darts, and I was thrilled because I always have trouble getting tops I make to fit right in that area and fussing with bust darts almost always puts me off. So, I cut out all the pieces to the jacket, carefully planned placement of beautiful embroider designs to run down the front of the jacket on both sides and began stitching away. The designs were beautiful and I was so pleased. I finished basting the jacket together and then tried it on for adjustments. Aarrgghh!!! It hung terribly on my body. I took it with me to my next sewing guild meeting to get tips from the experts there.

    Lo and behold, they all recommended adding bust darts. Well, try to add a bust dart AFTER you’ve done all the embroidery right down the front of both sides. Sorry, can’t be done and look right.

    Needless to say, the jacket never got finished. It is still sitting in a heap along with a few other UFO’s in my sewing room. And I thought I was so smart to choose a pattern with no bust darts!

  • Bernie Webre

    I had to laugh about your comment about not wanting to tackle a difficult part of a project late at night. I remember working on a jacket in the wee hours. I was taking a class and had homework to complete for the next day. My set in sleeves were perfectly eased – the best I had ever done. The next morning I realized that I had put the sleeves in backwards. They were hanging the wrong way! It’s funny now but I was not a happy camper then.

  • Pat

    I know that feeling. I want to have something ready for photo taking – no big studio, but photography just the same. Then something goes a little bit wrong.

    The best time to remember a little detail like turn of the cloth is just about 10 minutes after you have completed your project.

    I guess that is what they mean by ‘timing is everything!’


  • Annette Barker

    I have jacket with a “crazy log cabin” look . I haven’t made jacket in a LONG time. I’m going to finish it soon. It will be beautiful when I finish it

  • Karin

    OK, it’s probably not politically correct to take comfort in knowing that even the experts sometimes stumble, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    Due to a mail order catastrophe, I had 3 days to make my mother-of-the-bride dress for my daughter’s wedding. Luckily, I’d had the pattern for ages, just ‘cuz I liked it. And, like Enis, I don’t care for the bust darts, so I chose it specifically for the princess seaming it called for. Of course, it was a fancy one, too, with a lace overlay & lace sleeves and the fancy loopies instead of buttonholes.

    Well, first off, ya gotta know, I’m not the same on both sides up top. So, I’m following all the directions and fit (pin AND sew) the bodice top on my figure, inside out. Ummmm….when I turn it right side out, well, it’s fit backwards. Obviously. Luckily, I had chosen a poly-knit that hid the holes well & had not yet trimmed the seam allowance, so it was fixable.

    And somehow, when I was making the loopies for the buttons, they seemed to grow larger and when the garment was finished, some of the buttons wouldn’t stay in the loops. Certainly didn’t have time to deconstruct & correct, so used a needle & thread to close ’em up some, but it made the buttons a little wonky instead of nicely lined up down the front.

    Even with it’s flaws, tho, I must say, except for the bridal gown, it was the prettiest dress there!

    My other challenge has been a fake-fur on one side, suede on the other side hunk of $35 a yard fabric. It’s supposed to make a vest. I got the fabric on sale, for only $25 a yard. I’ve had it for almost 10 years now, afraid to cut into it, knowing fur will fly, in so many ways & on so many levels. I’ve vowed NEVER to purchase expensive fabric again!!

    • eileen

      Aren’t you glad we’re not surgeons? The fear of cutting into expensive fabric pales into comparison to muscle and bone! I count my blessings that I chose this occupation – in reality, it’s quite risk-free!

    • eileen

      It may not be poitically correct but it sure is human to take comfort in the bumbling efforts of ‘experts’. I remember my relief when Nancy Zieman showed me how to hide a mistake with my thumb during my first taping on Sewing with Nancy! You can imagine how intimidated I was at the time. She assured me that her thumb has baled her out of many a snafu!

  • Susan Spiers

    As a child I watched my mother smock dresses for me & my sister. When I was grown, I decided to smock a dress for my granddaughter from a beautiful pattern I found. Confident in my ability as a mature adult, I set to the task. Right from the beginning, it was really obvious I had taken on a task far beyond my abilities as an embroiderer & sewer. I considered myself prolific in these areas, boy was I wrong! Somehow, I did end up with a pretty dress, but not nearly what I had envisioned. I learned a humbling & valuable lesson!

  • Gail Beam

    One of my biggest challenges was a dragon costume I made for my grandson for Halloween . I am not a seamstress by any means, and my only sewing instruction has been limited to a 7th grade semester of sewing some 51 years ago! I had chosen two different types of a tapestry upholstery fabric for the dragon because the fabric resembled scales. The fabric was heavy, but things went pretty well until it came to attatching the tail. The tail was about three feet long and at least 18 inches wide, and had to be stuffed to the hilt. This not only made it very heavy, but worst of all, extremely awkward. I must have tried to attatch it to the body of the dragon about 10-12 times trying to hold the tail up over my shoulder while sewing it to the dragon’s body. After unpicking it after each try, because I could not get it to sew on correctly, I enlisted my husband to hold up the tail while I tried to attatch it. After about another 5-7 attempts, I was fianlly able to attatch it with my husbands help. It turned out great, and my grandson got some great comments on it.

  • Beverly

    Hi , Well I’m sew happy that I am not the only one that has done some outlandish OOPS!!! I see even the best of the best have (Nancy hmmhmm) made some bloopers. I’m seriously not a seamstress ( my friends will tell u) Nacy we were doing a sweater like the one on your magazine cover the red one, all we had to do was embroidery the flowers (border) on the top. Everyone was doing great and they had finished and they were showing off there beautiful projects. Now me I couldn’t even finish the sew out….You may ask why? Well I’ll tell you , somehow the sweater folded over and stitched the embroidery on one side and then there was no more sweater to embroider on hmmm. I think there was a seamstress fairy that just wanted to make a fool out of someone and she picked me LOL. I’ll make the rest short. Have you ever tried to take thread out of a sweater stitched through 4 pieces? Till this day we have no idea how I did this but we all have a great laugh when we get together..Happy Holidays, and God Bless Bev ^j^ sorry it was sew long…

  • Denise

    Wow – your collar on grey jacket is spectacular – how did you achieve this effect – wld love to try something like this on a hem of a straight dress.
    Take care – kind regards denise

    • eileen

      The instructions for the collar will be in the January/Feb 2011 issue of Designs. And get this…all of the designs will be a free download! Look for it in late Decemeber!

  • Mitzi

    I’m thrilled to learn that I am the winner of last week’s drawing! Really enjoyed the tale of your jacket – I often find that my reach exceeds my grasp of technical skills and it’s comforting to know that it’s all part of the learning and improvisation that make for some amazing results!

    • eileen

      HI Mitzi,
      “My reach exceeds my grasp”. What a great way to put it – I confess that seems to be my motto!

  • Linda Kwolek

    Yep, I’m their. My current project is making shoulder patches for a friend at work for his Salvation Army Unit. What started out as one, became 3. He only has pictures of what he wants, colors, size and dimension. I’m just getting into digitizing and said I’d be happy to volunteer my time and would enjoy the challenge. Little did I realize how out of my territory I really am. He has come up with many diiferent ideas for the now 3 different patches. I’m happy to say, they are ready to be embroidered out.

  • Vicky Morrow

    Recently I was working on a project and came to a dead stop. Not only was the term used in the instructions to accomplish the next step new to me, but the reference to a specific section of the garment was new. I’d never heard of it before.

    I closed up my sewing room for the day and moved into my office and my computer. I started pulling up websites that I knew had great tutorials. Nothing. By this time I’m getting madder and more frustrated – the fabric in this jacket is really expensive, and I absolutely hated the idea of making it into a UFO just because I couldn’t figure out how to accomplish the next step.

    In something close to a panic, I called a friend and asked if she had heard of either the term for the next step or the term for the section of the jacket it was to be applied to. She drew a blank, no ideas at all. But she did suggest that I check a couple of blogs, explaining that sometimes a blog had more information than a website.

    She was right!! Yeah, I could finally continue! Even though Great Britain and the US speak the same language, sometimes their terms are totally different from the names we give the same thing here in the US. My jacket is now completed and has been given to my niece as a birthday present/anniversary present – 44th birthday and 25th anniversary. I had created a crazy quilt jacket in her favorite colors, and the pattern I used had a much more fitted silhouette than I normally make.

    I’ve been making clothes for the better part of almost 60 years. I’ve been a quilter for about 7 years, and the more complicated a pattern is the better I like it – I’m a glutten for a challenge. But once in a while, I’m totally stumped.

    • eileen

      I’m intrigued. What was the term and pattern section?

  • Tammy

    A few months ago I was told we were going to be grandparents again …for the 4th time. In September while away on vacation I started a baby quilt. I figured I could easily cut out the squares and triangles without a rotary cutter and ruler. How difficult could it be to get things straight? Well i quickly found out straight was not as easy as it seemed, neither was getting the pieces square. So I made another shopping trip while away from hope and purchased my necessary supplies even tho I already had a set at home. This quilt was not going to wait. The top turned out beautiful (first few blocks werent useable tho). Then after I got home, it was time to start the hand quilting. I figured such a small thing, I could easily pin baste the quilt together and get to work without a frame.I only had a large 6 foot long antique floor frame. Again, I had too much confidence in myself. So went on another shopping trip at the fabric store, and found some large wood embroidery hoops. This worked out great, until I ran out of room to get to the border. So I had to do the border out of the frame. It wasnt perfect, but turned out very nice, and was very much appreciated. I am going to machine embroidery baby’s birth info and name on the quilt after her birth. I was humbled by this job, and finally accepted that having the right tools to work with can make a huge difference in quality of a project.

    • eileen

      hand quilting? Oh my, I’m very impressed!

  • Paule-Marie

    Let’s see, lots of stuff comes to mind. Probably the most spectacular was the Bicentennial costume I made. There are a series of books with patterns of actual garments from museums. So I scaled the drawings up – using the WAG method and managed to get the sizing correct (Yeah… I knew what I was doing. I had taken a pattern drafting class) No instructions on how to put it together. No problem…!!! I had been sewing for 18 years. In spite of sewing by the seat of my pants, using drapery fabric, having no idea what so ever about how to make the proper underpinnings (hoops, underskirts, etc.), it actually turned out pretty darn good. My only problem now is I have no idea what happened to that dress. I know I didn’t give it away, but I sure can’t find it.

  • Betsy

    Well, I’m famous for looking at something and saying, “I can do that” without any instructions. My UFO basket is full of those projects I attempted…bargello, quilt as you go, and I could go on. When I get stuck, I go online or to my books to find answers to what is stumping me….and, therein lies my biggest stumbling block. I find so many interesting quilting and embroidery ideas that by the time I finish my “research”, my sewing/quilting time is over! Oh well, eventually those UFO’s will get completed and my surfing/blog time is well spent. After all, I AM learning !

  • Alma Lou

    After seeing the lovely collar you created, there is a new trend these days that this would lend itself to perfectly.

    Stabilize the collar well, and extend the embroisery to the outer edge., maybe finishing the edges with a satin stitch, then trim the edges carefully. Put the collar on without the undercollar, having the unfinished edges under the collar. Then using either a piece of contrast fabric cut on the bias–here I’d use the pink shade in satin! and carefuly cover the trimmed seam, hand stiching on both edges of the bias hems. If desired as you satin stitch the edges of the collar, place a piece of contrast lining fabric–satin maybe–under the hoop for the last step. Leave a seam width on the lining, which you will then press under and stitch to the underside by hand.

    In any case the flowers are stunning!

    I think sometimes innovation gives a garment a special look even though YOU know it was a mistake.
    I was making a lovely cafe au lait raw silk suit jacket, that used very large buttons. I wanted to use bound button holes but when the first one went in, it didn’t look good in the fabric! The material was already cut and marked with needle holes! Mid-course I decided to do sewn button holes, but how to hide the previous errors? For each button hole I cut 3 squares on the bias about 1/4″ larger than the size of the button hole I needed. I left the edges raw. Then I stacked the three squares, each slightly askew, and placed them over the marking for the buttonhole, and proceeded to stitch the holes! Voila, a really unique detail that saved the day.

  • Linda Kwolek

    Thank you very much. I am so excited to read, find answers and see where my questions come into play with my embroidering. Yes, I’m ready for some more fun.

  • Joy

    My daughter asked me to make her wedding dress. Yes I would love to what was the problem I had made our dresses for years but not wedding dresses. Purchased the beautiful lace fabric only just enough available on the roll with absolute precise cutting. Anyway I cut into it skirt first because that was the feature of the dress, sleeves next again with special features then the bodice. OK all cut out with only scraps and I mean scraps left. Sat back to look at my handywork OH dear do those flowers only go one way and which way is up. In a panic trip to my local sewing shop please tell me there is no top or bottom to these flowers. We settle on the fact that I had cut everything the one way that all was OK. Dress was beautiful even if I do say so myself received many compliments

  • Gwen

    Yikes!! I don’t even have my tree up yet, but I will decorate in burgandy and gold.

  • judit z

    My very first attempt to sew for myself after finishing home eonomics was a beautiful robe worn by Loretta Young as she would walk down the staircase. Love floral print, shawl neckline full sleeves, cirlcle skirt. purchased fabric and had a pattern that did not have shawl collar.
    I of course, figured I knew what to do. Got all done accept collar. Frustrated I put it away and four years later after I married took it out to finish. By then I had attended severa Cooperative extention sewing classes. Once again thinking I got it all figured out tackled it. After a few mishaps of sewing collar on backward top collar on bottom, forgeting interfacing, I finished.WHEW Wore the robe for 5-6 years till the body would not fit into it anymore.(I am sure wash machine shrunk it) 😉 Now I have learned to buy pattern and premeasure and make fit changes as learned from Nancy’s classes. Still do a lot of research before making anything. And yes I too had the experience of the turn of the cloth. Amazing what that 1/8 of an inch can do for your fit. Judit

  • Karen T

    Humbling- yes. Frustrated -yes. I was making the cowl neckline t-shirt of yours. Used stabilizer on bottom, I keep the info on stabilizers inside the tubes so I know what they are. I have two kinds of wash away stabilizer, one is a clear see through that I love, but decided to try the “new” kind I had purchased. Everything came out looking perfect, pulled some of the wash away off, then let it soak for a bit. We’ll, if I don’t put my glasses on it really looks good, I love this design. But, the “new” wash away stabilizer didn’t completely go away so the designs have a “feathery” affect, plus there are some areas it didn’t wash away at all. I did go back and double check that what I had used was wash away and it still says it is, but, I will not use it for topper again. So when the winds die down I am going back to get another matching t shirt and do it again with the topper that I know will wash away.

  • presentation binders

    I’m curious to find out what blog system you have been using? I’m having some small security issues with my latest blog and I’d like to find something more safe. Do you have any suggestions?