Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Smocking and Stitching

My sweet grandbaby
The kids with the grandbaby left yesterday, leaving me with an empty house after a weekend of family and grandbaby-love. Boo!

On our Saturday trip to Bella Quilts, I was talking with Raven Parris, the shop owner, about some instruction in hand-piecing quilt blocks. So as the kids were leaving, I toddled over to my little piece of heaven.

The front of a hand -pieced block -- unpressed
The back of the block
I got expert instruction on hand-piecing. I love how the hand-quilting thread works. It doesn't twist or pull. I learned how to make a quilter's knot to start off my stitching, learned to pleat the fabric onto the needle, and to run my fingernails over the completed stitches to keep the fabric from puckering, back-stitching in certain places to keep the seams strong, as well as a lingerie knot when I need to tie off my thread. What I loved most was how much control you have with the fabric when you piece by hand. The rocking motion of pleating the fabric on the needle is really comfortable once you find your rhythm. When I get more practice with this piecing method, I'll pass on the love through a tutorial.

The Amanda Jean pleating machine
Raven, the owner, told me I needed to learn how hand smock.  She said that no beautiful grandbaby should be without a pretty smocked outfit, especially a little girl. I have to admit, that I've been buying issues of Sew Beautiful to ogle over. So Raven said she'll bring her pleating machine and give me some one-on-one training.  I'll do my best to tell you how to do it. This is the machine she uses for pleating (an Australian-made Amanda Jane pleater). It's really cool. The needles are curved just right to fit into the rollers. And it's easy to change the needles if one breaks.

Threaded needles (threaded with hand-quilting thread)
You thread the needles with a contrasting thread. The fabric I was working with is a light pink, so we chose to work with blue thread. This makes it easier to see the thread. She uses hand -quilting thread, as the glaze helps to move the fabric on the length of thread. Here I was pulling on the threads a bit to ensure it stays put in the needle eyes.

Pleating the fabric -- it's so easy and fun!
I rolled the fabric onto a wooden dowel, taking care to wind it evenly and straight. This is important to ensure that the fabric goes into the machine properly. Then I slowly fed the fabric through and pulled the pleated fabric from the needle onto the thread. Trust me when I say that this part is so easy and so fun!

Blocking and distributing the pleats.
After the length of fabric is pleated you take it to the ironing board and block it (so to speak). I took a measuring tape (you can also use a ruler) to stretch it to the desired measurement. For example, my piece, according to the pattern I'll be using, called for a 12-1/4 inch length. I pinned the fabric down, distributed the pleats (I was told you can use a plastic hair comb to help) and tied off the thread ends two at a time (down to the  fabric to set the length).  Whew! That was a major run-on sentence...LOL! Then I shot the pleats with a blast or two of steam, let it dry and then knotted off the excess thread on each side into one knot. This will help keep it away from you as you work the smocking with your hands.

I'm sorry I didn't get pictures of the this step. I took the blocked and pleated piece and inserted pins into the valley following every tenth pleat. This helped me to locate the center point of the design to start your hand stitching. Once you find the center point, mark it with some contrasting thread, and remove the pins.

The pattern I'm using (biggify for more detail)

Floss above the needle

Floss below the needle
Then I started my smocking  from the center point according to the pattern. Right now I only know one stitch, the cable stitch.  I gotta come back when I finish that for more instruction. You can learn about the different stitches here. I need to remember to keep the needle parallel to the pleating thread. That is very important for a consistent design.

I had lots of fun with the ladies at Bella Quilts yesterday. For five whole minutes I had the shop to myself and declared it 50% off, but no one dropped by to take advantage of my sale... Boo! We laughed, cut up, and just had a big old time! There's a reason why I love these wonderfully incredible women.
My favorite place!
Let me close by saying that a good local quilt/shop is gem for the community. Personal service at these places is second to none, and the lessons learned are priceless! Thank you, Bella Quilts, and Raven, for taking me under your loving wings!


Sandy B said...

Baby girls do need a smocked outfit or two or ten:) Especially Gabbiegirl. I foresee her as a future fashionesta. Great job, Jeanie Weanie!

Big ole hugs, my friend...

Joy said...

I LOVE to smock! I have a pleating machine (packed away in the basement right now but to be unearthed if granddaughters ever arrive!) and used to do a lot of it. Did some for my son, too, just not as much as for the girls. You're doing great, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

IHaveANotion ~ Kelly Jackson said...

Oh your smocking is beautiful girl....very even and nice...great job :) It is addicting...and you can do little pictures too...how those are just too sweet. Bullion roses are next...little girls gotta have that too :)