Newest Endeavor

A while back, dressmaker Colleen Murphy contacted me about collaborating on a very cool project: an ID dress reproduction of a full sized, hand embroidered velvet dress…for an American Girl doll!  I was intrigued so, of course, said yes.

The original dress is unbelievable!  Black velvet, orange crocheted collar, and some of the most interesting & beautiful Celtic/Irish hand embroidery I have ever seen.  I will admit to being intimidated on SOOO many levels, but the challenge could not be ignored.

Colleen is game for me to write about this, and I will include pics of my work, but I will not post pics of the original dress until I am sure it is ok with the owners.

Photos arrive…and I sit there and stare…and stare…and stare some more.  So many things are going through my head about  colors, stitches, faithful reproduction, artistic license… have I bit off more than I can chew?  I dreamed about this dress and how the gryphons and lions chased me while I was trying to thread a needle! 

My biggest obstacle was dealing with my “feelings,” my philosophy on faithful reproduction.  Besides the fact that neither my embroidery software nor machine can manage a chain stitch, there is the integrity of someone else’s artwork to consider.  As you may know, I am a retired dance professor/dancer/choreographer/artistic director…the issues of artistic integrity are part and parcel of who I am on so many levels.  My master’s degree encompassed directing and Labanotation/movement analysis, and it is this training in Labanotation in particular that honed my focus on/obsession with faithful reproduction. 

Labanotation is dance notation, a logical though complex system of symbols and rules used to first record dance and then to reconstruct it again on new people, sometimes decades later.  If you are interested, you can learn more here: Labanotation.

Not long after I got to grad school at Ohio State, I changed my concentration to include Labanotation.  I was fascinated by and drawn to this extremely logical approach to dance.  Now, I am sure my professors would tell you they shook their heads many, many times at my emo approach to dance in general, but I will never forget the day I let the logic take over…Vera Maletic gave me a very rare smile and nodded her head before turning away to bark at me to do it again!  Not only did my symbols need to precisely record illogical movement, but when I read notated scores and performed them, it better look the way Doris Humphrey demanded decades before!  It was a very intense LOVE/HATE relationship.

So, here I was 24 years later, looking at someone else’s beautiful art with the intention of reproducing it.  I swear I felt Vera thwack the back of my skull.

The animals were glaring at me, so I chose a knotwork braid to start with.  That I could handle easily.

vertical braids by you.

Now, I have not ever done anything as small as was going to be required here, but I knew that I could not do this the way I would if it were going to remain full size.  So, even though I did the original digitizing in a decent size, instead of outlining all of this with a satin stitch, I chose a backstitch to approximate both the look of the chain stitch outlines and to accommodate what I knew would end up being very narrow lines.  But, after doing this design, I knew I was going to have to do a test dress to get a real feel for the size and to get a sense of stitch density for something as small as the designs on an AG dress.

Colleen sent me pics of her pattern pieces & dimensions so I could digitize the outlines to use as templates.  I then used one of my designs.  Even though I have not done mini-designs, I have enough experience by now to know that if I used the same stitch density that I use for the ID designs, I was going to be tunneling to China!!  Too many stitches in such a small area was only going to pull in, and perhaps make holes in the fabric no matter the pull compensation, so I lightened the density a lot.  Here’s the result:

dolltestdress 011 by colmurph2000.

And here is it finished…I am so tempted to buy an AG doll for the youngest Diva!

AG test dress by you.

(I feel the need to say here that I so admire that Colleen likes doing these little dresses, and she does them so well!  I have this psychotic aversion to sewing things with small pieces which is why I am not a quilter…these dresses qualify as beautiful small things that make me twitch!  I know I do applique with small pieces, but like every other psycho, it is the context…it goes on a BIG dress.)

So, I learned I was right about stitch density.  The test turned out well…and everyone in my family got a big kick out of this tiny little dress.  Even the macho hubby talked to it like it was a gerbil…

The next design I tackled was what I call the Nessies:

nessies by you.

This design took me days.  Why?  Because I kept finding myself mired in choices…colors (decided Colleen can match colors since she has the dress, but still wanted to match as closely as possible so the client could have a visual); stitches (leave plain or play with texture?); overs and unders (fix them so that they make sense or keep them as they were originally stitched?); symmetry (make things perfectly symmetrical as I imagine they were intended and as I can with the computer or stay true to the actual pics keeping in mind that over the years the fabric changes and hangs differently now?); handmade look versus computerized perfection…haven’t there been more than a few artists driven insane by the demands of their art?!?  Ya know Van Gogh and that ear…???

I cannot count the number of times I would find myself just sitting in front of the computer contemplating the photos…I imagined how much of it was done in the company of other women doing exactly the same thing.  I wondered how many mistakes occurred and were then simply incorporated because the embroiderer got caught up in a conversation with her fellow stitchers.  I wondered how often the zen of the repetitive needlework sent the embroiderer on a quiet journey of her own…and then I would start.

I decided that if this were me doing the hand stitching, I would work for symmetry.  I would work for the logical progression of the overs and unders, but I would get over myself when the logic failed.  I decided I would follow the handmade lines but clean things up when unique moments took on the aura of a mistake.  I decided I would try to keep the look of its handmade beauty while using my technology to enhance it where applicable.  I decided less was more…and that was hard!!

And this is what I have so far:

vertical braids by you.birds by you.

nessies by you.

winged lion by you.

serpent braid by you.

eagle by you.

braid by you.

waist braid by you.

griffins by you.

And here are the dress pieces:

reproduction front skirt by you.

reproduction skirt back by you.

reproduction bodice by you.

This weekend, I will do another test.  I will post pics of it, succeed or fail.

Stealing Designs and the “IDEA” of Custom

There is a new thread on Celtic Flame about stealing designs.  A dressmaking mom writes that another mom in her school told her she was wasting her time coming up with her own designs because there was so much to COPY on the internet.  When she first wrote, she alluded to a website that sells embroidery, so I wondered if she might be talking about Taoknitter Arts.

An answer that she just posted to another reply makes me think she is talking about my website.

Big sigh. 

Susan and I have hashed out the pitfalls of posting clear pics of the designs since I started.  She has dealt with this issue far longer than I have, and I respect her viewpoint, her advice and her experience.  I will not bore you, or myself, by re-visiting  the mental gymnastics (complete with teeth gnashing) that helped me arrive at the current presentation of the designs on my website.  If you look at it, I think you get it.

But, I do want to say that I know I take the risk of people copying things.  I have this tendency to believe that all folks are inherently honest and honorable.  I do, routinely, get blind-sided by self-serving idiots with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, and I sometimes finally get really irked by stupidity and mean-spiritedness, but I have yet to see a change in my basic trust.  I now know what it sounds like when Susan shakes her head at me over the phone.

It would make me crazy to try to police things or try to find a more complicated way of managing the designs.  But let me be clear, copying a design is stealing and I am not shy about approaching the thief and making it public if I have to.  I did, by accident, see an exact copy of a dress I made for my daughter.  Susan designed it for us.  The design was never made available, but there it was, perfectly copied on someone else’s dress.  When I contacted the overseas dressmaker, she was great about it, very sorry, and told me that the design had been given to her by the dancer. 

I get contacted rather often by dancers who send me pics of designs from other dresses, even BN dresses, wanting THAT design digitized.  Sometimes I get a design “created by the dancer” only to be led by the dressmaking gods to pics of the EXACT design on a finished dress…that blows my mind.  Once I explain that I will not copy because it is both unethical and illegal, they usually calmly explain that they did not know that and we go forward.  Only once did I not hear back after my refusal…I think that was embarrassment.

I do think most folks either do not know or really do not think about it.  One poster on CF wrote: ” I think the problem is that most people don’t equate “appropriating” someone’s design as stealing because they don’t physically take something.  It isn’t like shoplifting where you actually take something in your hand.

It’s more like cheating on a test.

Ask your friend if she encourages her dd to copy her neighbor’s answers on exams in school. Why not? It is just what she did. She used someone else’s work and passed it off as her own.

Ask her if she’s going to brag about how she aquired her designs – Wow look what I copied off of the internet and I didn’t have to pay for it! If someone asks her where the design came from, is she going to say “Oh I digitized it myself” or something equally evasive. If she’s so proud of her cleverness, why not tell all?

Ask her if she thinks the TC will be happy if she finds out the design was lifted. Is she OK with her school being known as the one where it is OK to rip off other people’s dresses?”

Interesting viewpoint.

Susan made me laugh when she pointed out that truly, the only thing I should worry about is if someone else’s poorly digitized “copy” was thought to be mine!  Now that would be a drag!

There was also a point made by someone about using designs from a site on the internet.  She wrote: “While there are a couple of sites out there that have drawn up several dress designs specifically for irish dancing use, you have to remember then, that your dress won’t be an original. Chances of running into another dancer with the same pattern are slim but just something to keep in mind.

That mind set has never occurred to me!!  Yes, yes, I know that the conversation about whether or not a BN dress is really custom when they re-use designs in part or in whole pops up routinely.  But, it has always been my assumption that each dressmaker brings a totally different perspective to making a dress and so it will be rare that 2 dressmakers will use the same design the same way let alone the same fabrics.  In fact, what I love about my clients is that they always do something I did not envision.  Very often, they ask me to modify the designs by taking something out, putting something else in, taking it apart or trying something new with a piece of something else!  I love it.

Still, I guess that is a concern for some people.  I appreciate that.  And I also thoroughly appreciate my creative dressmaking clients.  Thank you for spurring me on!

I thought that the above might have been a rant…I guess it was just a bit of mental popcorn…

There are a couple of links in this brief post about Copyright Law: Substantial Similarity

Splitting a digitized design

As a few more more dressmakers have learned in our IDD group, learning to digitize can be quite a frustrating experience.  I know that the one “lesson” in using the software that I had at my local Bernina dealer was a joke…the woman went so fast that there was no way for anyone to truly understand what she was doing.  The woman next to me cried…if I hadn’t already figured out most of what she was zipping through, I would have cried, too.  I went expecting to learn the magic “word” and that did not happen.

One thing that was very clear to me when I first got my Bernina was that I was going to have to learn to split designs because even the largest hoop is still not big enough to accommodate the large designs used on the 3 panel Irish dance dresses.  Nowadays, many of the dresses are 4-10 (or 21!) panels which means more full panel designs can fit into my big hoop, but I still have to split the bodices and usually the sleeves.

I was ecstatic when the Bernina Designer Plus Version 5 came out because it had a design splitting feature.  I bought the expensive upgrade and was thoroughly disappointed as it is a ridiculously designed feature.  Now, if I had not figured out for myself beforehand how to split a design efficiently, I would probably have looked at ALLLLLL of the steps that the split design feature gives you and thought it was brilliant…because it takes so many steps…and looks so complicated…which means it must be brilliant…right?  Wrong.

I have gathered some info here that I have written before about splitting designs I have digitized.

First thing I do is digitize the entire design and make sure it is to the correct scale.  Then I decide which hoop I am going to use because I have different considerations.  I do not know about other machines, but my largest Bernina hoop is the mega-hoop which is 5.9 x 15.75 inches  (150 x 400 mm).  I can do many bodices in this hoop with only 1 rehooping.  The following is such a bodice.

This is a pic of the Flower Solo Dress bodice in the software after I finished digitizing.

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(I am not always diligent about using the correct colors of thread when I am digitizing…the blue here should be green…but I know what I want. If I were doing this for someone else, I would use all the correct colors. )I digitize in a center line (faint white above).  The single stitch curved lines down the center are placement lines for the green ribbons. Then, I digitized the blue at the top because its ends must lie under the appliqued flowers. The appliqued flowers are digitized as follows: placement stitches for the applique fabric, tack-down stitch that runs after I have secured the cut applique pieces within the placement lines, then satin-stitches with underlay.As you can also see in the pic above, there is a black, single stitch black cross which is placed after I have decided which hoop to use and how many hoopings I need.  In this case, I will only need 2 hoopings and the black cross will appear in both split sections.



Below is the first section I did.

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In the center of the design, is the single stitch cross of black… I actually stitch it out in white in a 7mm stitch and then remove it when I am done embroidering the whole bodice.  I add this basting stitch to help me line up the designs when I re-hoop.Below is the second section. The top of the cross matches the cross above.


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So, how do I re-hoop? I use sticky stabilizer. I attach the sticky stabilizer to my inner hoop. I put another layer of stabilizer, usually a tear-away, behind this and put it in the outer hoop. Then to hoop for the second section, with no thread in the needle, I “sew” the line of placement basting stitches, the cross in the 2nd pic above. I remove the hoop from the machine and then carefully line up the cross of basting stitches on the fabric from the first embroidered pass with the holes I have punched in the sticky stabilizer. Once it is lined up, I make sure the fabric is secured to the sticky stabilizer by rubbing it down. Before I begin stitching out the second design, a series of basting stitches secure the fabric into place so there is no shifting.  I explain that here: Embroidery placement. This also helps to make sure the fabric does not pull up which will happen when I am embroidering larges pieces of fabric like this:

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This is how I did the Rose of Tralee sash .

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Here is the digitized front sash. In the center, running left to right, there is a black line. This is a line of long stitches I added to mark the long center of the design, a center that would not change when I split the design. There are also 3 red crosses: 1 after the flower, 1 on the bottom of the “g”, and 1 above the “r” in “Tralee.” These reference stitches were digitized to stitch out first.

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Above and below you can see the crosses more clearly and a bit of the stitches for the applique process.
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Below is a pic of the entire front sash as I begin splitting .  I set the hoop placement to manual so I can determine how to split the design and how many placement stitch crosses I will need.
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The HIA Super Giant-long hoop has a vertical sewing field of about 21 inches… this front sash was a bit over that, so first I stitched out the flower in the oval hoop and then began using the HIA.  In order to split this design into separate files, I copy what I need out of the original full front sash file and create new files, 4 in all for this front sash.

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Here’s the flower with 1 red reference cross and a shortened black center reference line. This black line works in 2 ways: 1) all the split parts of the design are centered on the same line so that I can line up the parts in the oval hoop manually in the software on the center line of the grid; and 2) before I lay my fabric down on the HIA sticky stabilizer when I begin the rest of the sash, I run this line without thread so it punches holes in the sticky stabilizer for a reference line that I can align my marked fabric with. This line is not stitched out onto the fabric.

After the flower was finished, I attached the sticky stabilizer to the HIA, opened the next design (the beginning of the words), tightened the hoop into the correct placement on my machine, and punched the black and red reference lines in the stabilizer by, again, running the machine with no thread. Then, I lined up the center of the fabric (that already has the flower) and the first red cross that was stitched out (in white thread onto the flower portion) with the lines punched into the stabilizer. You can see the red cross in the pic above and then vaguely in the pic below centered on the broken blue center line at the top of the hoop above the “R.” I then centered the rest of the fabric onto the center line of the stabilizer (which matched the center lines of the design files), threaded the machine and off I went.
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The stitch out above includes another red reference cross which sits in the crook of the bottom of the “g.” (Cannot really see it here.) This was stitched out in white onto the fabric in the design above so that when I was moving the hoop to the new position for the next design, I could line up my designs by using the cross as reference points for my needle. I do this by advancing the stitches on the Bernina computer screen to find the appropriate stitch, and then move the HIA until the needle pierces a corresponding needle-point. Then I tighten the HIA into place, and the next portion begins. Sometimes I did use the knob on the machine that shifts the design in the hoop by tiny increments to get it lined up horizontally.
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I repeated the process for the back of the sash, though it was more involved because of the overlaps. I still used the reference lines, but this one involved more movement up and down of the hoop.   Continue at your own risk here!

The parts of this design were numbered from left to right as follows: 4,1,5,2,6,3,7. We did decide finally that the back sash would only include the first 5 parts so I numbered these as 3,1,4,2,5. This all fit in the hoop. But there was another challenge…this design stitched out by moving the hoop down then up then down two then up 1…damn. So, here is what I did- I attached the fabric onto the sticky stabilizer and then stitched out the reference line & crosses (in white) as follows: 1) the short, straight black line at the far left which marked the top of the design and the first red cross; 2) then I opened each design in the finished order you see below so I could line up the first cross to then stitch out the second cross. When I was done, I had the reference crosses stitched out in the appropriate places on the fabric. Then I started over and began stitching out the actual designs, beginning with designs 1 and 2 which were the green vines and then 3, 4, & 5 which were the flowers. And it was so easy because everything was already lined up!
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And here is the finished sash:

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 I hope this was clear. If not, please ask questions. It is good for me to have to articulate this.



New ID School Dresses: Design, Digitizing, & Finding Fabric

Susan and I have been working with an existing ID school to create new dresses.  I have really been enjoying those process.  Good folks.

We sent them first to read these two posts: ID School Dress Design  Chapter 1 & Chapter 2.  I don’t think I have ever finished organizing the info, but the process is there.

So far, the focus has been on getting a new design.  Lots of talking, critiquing, tweaking, and then the design is ready for me to digitize it.

I am not going to use the actual design here (don’t want to steal the school’s thunder for the unveiling day), but I can still talk about my approach using Dana’s design from her tunic dress.  Dana’s design was digitized with the same stitch ideas in mind that we are using for this school.

Here is Dana’s finished bodice.  We used a satin-look step stitch for the black and then a narrow satin-stitch for the silver.

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In a nutshell, I get the design from Susan in either a jpg format or as vector graphics.  We have experimented with the vector graphics format to see if the auto-digitizing function would work to make things go faster, but I have NEVER been happy with that function.  The logic of it on complicated designs like this one is NOT logical, and I spend so much time cleaning it up that I might as well have done it by hand in the first place.  Vector graphics can be a cleaner pic to follow, but these days I have gotten good enough at this that clear lines are no longer mandatory in the pics.

Susan has always sized the designs correctly, but sometimes in the translation from her computer, thru email to mine and then opening them in my software the dimensions have changed.  I re-check dimensions and re-size the graphics accordingly.

In the past, I have whined until Susan has put in tremendous time to show all of the overs and unders.  Again, because I have gotten pretty good at this, this time I told her I really did not care if it was drawn correctly, just indicate!  So she indicated!

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Then, I choose a starting point and get busy.  Here is the finished design.  (The lavender stitches making the box outline are basting stitches to hold the fabric in place since I use sticky stabilizer more than I actually hoop the fabric.  More about that here: Embroidery placement.)

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Not really interested in going through my whole approach to digitizing something like this, but I will say that making the overs and unders true overs and unders is important to me.  When the auto digitizer is used, this does not happen…lines just butt up against one another with weird gaps and even stitches filling angles in odd ways.  What I do takes time, but the end result is worth it to me.  This pic shows a close-up of the end result.
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My process for the new school dresses will be the same.  A big part of this process is doing test stitch-outs to see if it looks the way I want, to check thread tension, coverage, and any consequent pulling, puckering, tunnelling, or drilling.  I am expecting a full round of stitch tests on this new design because the fabric is completely different than Dana’s even though the stitch combination is the same.

Once the initial middle-range size is digitized, then I create files for each size dress.  Time-consuming, but once it is done we are set!!!

During all this time, I have also been researching fabric sources to find not only the kind of fabric we want (durable and washable), but also the quantity.  Since this is a new dress for an established school, we have many, many dresses to make.  And, another consideration for a source is that they will have this same fabric far into the future.  Heading off to JoAnn’s or Hancocks is not the solution this time.  Even my favorite online stores cannot be counted on for this kind of reliability.  But, Susan suggested Raymond’s Textiles, and I think I am set!

Susan is also creating a custom set of patterns for this school because the skirt is a bit different than the regular three panel.

So now I am doing a few wash tests to see how the fabrics react.  If all goes well, then the prototype dress made for the school director is the next step.

Dana’s Tunic Dress

We at Feisdress (Susan and I) have been contemplating a different approach to making Irish dance dresses for a while now. As I have said before, I love making 2 piece dresses for a variety of reasons (ease of skirt attachment onto soft cotton bodice, ease of dealing with dropped waist look, dancer can remove jacket in between dances to avoid stinking it up!!!), so this was part of thinking about a different dress. Susan and I both wanted to try a soft skirt but were not interested in ruffles or tulle (brings back the horror of making a tutu for me!). And we were both interested in maintaining that slimming, wonderful drop waist look and combining it with a narrower silhouette…but of course you need dancers who want to try this with you!

Well, we found not one but two dancers who were game to go on this journey with us!

The first was Dana.  She is in the “& Overs” and wanted a dress made just for her.

Here it is: the 21 panel!
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The 10 top black panels are part of the black tunic.  There is no waist seam.  The 11 pink panels that were a particular challenge to attach so that they moved freely but were also secure in the correct hang angle…I attached one of those buggers 6 times before I got it to behave!!!!

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This is the totally separate, totally soft underskirt.  I am particularly enamored of this pic…I call it “Skirt with Tail.”Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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This is a pic of the dress before the pink panels were attached.  This works, too!

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I love this design.  It was a particular challenge to digitize this one.  There were several test stitch-outs of the pieces and parts until I found just the right way.  I am very happy with the way it turned out.
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More later if there are questions.  One more dress to put up, but must go to the hometown Christmas Parade!

Basting Boxes

 Rebecca left a question for me on IDD:

I was looking at your blog, and studying your work. I have a question. Why do you sew rectangles around the embroidery? It looks like it’s machine sewn. What does it accomplish?

Those are basting stitches. 
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Because Gina sent me pieces to be embroidered, I did not hoop the fabric pieces.  Instead I attach sticky stabilizer directly onto the inner hoop, put a good tear-away behind that and then put both into the hoop ring that tightens.  Then, part of my design is a set of placement stitches that get sewn onto the hooped stabilizers…I remove the hoop from the machine and then, using lines that I have drawn on the back of the stabilized fabric pieces that correspond to the digitized placement lines, I line up the fabric piece.  The next thing to get stitched out is a long basting stitch around the design area.  This ensures that the fabric will not move or pull or come away from the sticky stabilizer.  I have also found that it helps eliminate any puckering.

Here is a pic of the digitizing…you can see the dark blue placement lines in the middle…this only gets sewn onto the stabilizer in the hoop or even just punched in with no thread.  I have marked the same lines on the back of the fabric.
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I very rarely actually hoop fabric anymore.  I am so freaking picky about puckering that I use this method for just about everything.

For a rather intense look at doing this so I can use my hoop-it-all for a long project, click here: Embroidering in the Hoop-it-all

Embroidery Heaven

See this beautiful thing?
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Maggie’s eyes say it all…

This is Gina’s embroidery…that I did…on a friend’s commercial machine.
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I am in heaven…the clarity of the stitches… the speed, the ginormous hoop…the amount of work I got done in one day…the speed….the speed…oohhhh, I am in heaven!
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 I am in love with that machine.  We have done a couple of school dresses, and our new school account is designed with this machine in mind.  And while I do have to interrupt my hermithood to go use this machine, it is SO worth it.
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The bodice embroidery is on this incredible, plush purple velvet (I have not run the lint roller over it in the pic so it looks…well…linty). Interesting stitching issue to solve…I knew that the stitches were going to sink into the velvet so I tried a couple of things. First, I knew that I would have to use a topper to help keep the stitches up. Gina sent along a relatively thick plastic topper (what brand is it, Gina?)…not a solvy, but it ripped fairly easily. I had also digitized in a pretty dense underlay thinking that it would help the top stitches stand up and out, but the test stitch-out ended up dipping, diving, and waving like a bad trip!!! So, I made the underlay very sparse, stabilized the back of the velvet with 2 layers of decorbond, and used 2 layers of the topper. Mission accomplished…clean-up still in progress.

The embroidery on the lavender fabric is for the sleeves. No topper needed. What you see has not been ironed yet…and there is no puckering! Another reason to love this machine!!!!

So, I will finish the front panels, back skirt, and crowns and ship it all back to Gina for assembly for her daughter.  I am liking being the embroidery lady…have 2 more to stitch-out for my 2 in current production…

This was all digitized using my Bernina Designer Plus V5 software. Converts easily into the format needed for the commercial machine.

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