Four Ways to Embroider Sea Corals

In my last post I promised more sea plant stitches. OK, so corals aren’t technically plants. And neither are sea anemones. They are still beautiful sea life that can be interesting to stitch.

1.  Chain stitch

For a many branched coral with a complex profile, chain stitch gives a strong outline that makes sharp curves well. The thread I’ve used is a hand dyed pearl cotton named “Garden Path” from Fiber on a Whim.

DSCN29572.  Feather stitch

Lacy and airy, this sea fan utilizes a variation of the traditional feather stitch. Only the first stitch at the top has legs of equal length. As I’ve stitched down the center of the fan, the outer legs have become especially long. Too long in fact. As this will be a wall hanging and not be subjected to wear, it will do.

DSCN29993.  Overcast stitch

Multicolored yarns and fibers are grouped together and stitched to the foundation fabric with a type of satin stitch. To help hold the fibers in a clump, I first wrapped the bottom end with a short piece of sewing thread. Then I lay the bundle on the foundation and stitched the overcasting in a pearl cotton #8.

DSCN29604.  Tete de Boeuf stitch

These little cuties don’t scream for attention like most of the other embroidery on this piece. They are small and delicate and give just a little bit of texture to the sandy bottom of the Caribbean Sea.

DSCN3001By now, I’ve been stitching on this piece for over a year. It started out as a sampler for a sew-a-long with some friends using Sue Spargo’s book Creative Stitching. Lately, I’ve added Judith Baker Montano’s book Free-Form Embroidery as a reference. Both of these books have some great stitches with good illustrations. No one else in the group has kept up with the sew-a-long, so there’s been no rush to work on this piece. And yet, finally, it needs completion.

I’d planned to add a pieced border and make it a bit larger. But with the last of the sea life finished, this embroidery is telling me that it is complete. It needs an edging of some kind and a backing and maybe some quilting. If I keep up with it, it could be finished by the end of the summer.

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Three Ways to Embroider Sea Grasses

Exploring the different colors and textures of sea grasses is half the fun of snorkeling. Fish dart in and out of vision range, not letting you get too close. The plant life, however, is another matter. It’s usually easy to get a close look at them. They come in a variety of colors and shapes. They dance in the current with graceful rhythms. They are pretty to look at. They also make good embroidery subjects.

It’s fun to use some different stitches to portray sea grass. I’ve got three examples here. Next post, I’ll show four stitches to use for other types of underwater plants.

1.  Threaded running stitch

This is really simple. The running stitch in my example is a deep red violet. I’ve got a variety of novelty yarns threaded, double threaded, and triple threaded through the stitches. The yarns are pulled through to the back at the bottom and knotted. They  are loose, but tacked down, at the top end.

DSCN29562.  Couching

If threaded running stitch is simple, this one is super simple.  Couching involves laying decorative thread on the fabric and stitching it down with tiny stitches to hold it in place. The decorative threads I’ve used in this blue and green grass clump are thrums. Don’t know what those are? Neither did I when I first saw them. Thrums are the leftover ends of the warp threads after a weaving is cut off the loom! I get the most unusual little tidbits when I go to the Houston Quilt Festival!

DSCN29643.  Knotted buttonhole stitch

When done up in a variegated pearl cotton, this is quite pretty. For an organic, grassy look, the stitches are all uneven in size and placement. I’ve clumped up the legs of the stitch and even crossed over some of them.

DSCN2996These are just a few of the many stitches that would make suitable sea grasses. What stitches have you used?


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Green Banners for Ordinary Time

Every now and then, I get a commission for a set of church banners. This year has been unusual in that I’ve made three sets. I like making them because they are so different from what I usually make. My usual art is rather small and three dimensional. These are large, very large. They are 65″ wide and 16′ long. Each banner has approximately 17 yards of fabric in it. As you can imagine, they are heavy, too.

The banners are carefully planned out; however the execution is all free-style. Give me my scissors and I gleefully cut strips free hand. From there, it is like putting together a puzzle that has more than one solution. One thing I love is my puzzles! What I don’t love is the crawling around on the floor. These banners are so large that the floor is the best work space.  Having Martha to help with the design and fabrication was a huge help. I couldn’t have made these really big banners without her.

IMG_1677Father Beck wanted this set of green banners for ordinary time to complete his collection of church banners for St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in New York.

IMG_1695He especially liked the glimmering fabric that we used in the Feast Days set made of gold fabrics. See the gold and purple banner sets here on my blog. The purple are vertical and the gold are radiating in line. He wanted the green to also have the radiating pattern. Rather than copying the same design, Martha created a combination of the radiating lines with horizontal lines.

IMG_1693It’s hard to tell that many of these fabrics are shiny satins, damasks, taffetas,  and lame. Green is a difficult fabric to find in a broad range of hues, especially shiny ones. In all, there are 24 fabrics on the face on the banners.

IMG_1705I could not have made these without my daughter, Martha’s help. Not only was she responsible for the designing, she made the physical aspect of moving around all this fabric possible. She is a great partner to have. I look forward to future joint art projects.


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Baby Clothes

Making baby clothes is pretty quick for the most part. All the pieces are small; seams are quick to sew and there isn’t a lot of details to slow down the process. When Alison was visiting in April, she bought some fabric and I volunteered to sew up the shorts and shirts  for her baby, Michael. She also left behind a ratty pair of bluejeans that she no longer wanted. Add to that one of PaPaw’s oxford cloth shirts and I had plenty of raw materials for baby clothes sewing.

I started out with one shirt and one pair of shorts to test out the size. It was a good choice. The shorts were way too big. The shirt, however, was great. The paisley print was one of Alison’s choices. The white twill was left over from my own shorts.



Cutting up the parts of the old blue jeans and reusing them was kind of fun. When I cut off the front pockets, the belt loops were in the way and not easy to rip off. I opted to keep them. The front and back pieces were cut together using the inner leg seam where the side seam should be. I would have lined the pieces up to make use of the hem; however, the hem was in really bad shape and didn’t look good. I cut it off and made a new hem.

The tan and khaki shorts have a side slash pocket and fake fly. Details that Alison insisted upon. They do make the shorts adorable.

DSCN2782Back view showing more reused pockets on the blue jean shorts.

DSCN2784An old button down collar shirt yielded enough fabric to make a match for Michael. I reused the front pockets and buttons.

DSCN2785And the hanging loop from the back.
DSCN2787PaPaw didn’t want to be left out of the fun!  Matching shirts for Michael and Burton!


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Summer Sewing

Setting goals is important for getting things accomplished. Otherwise, it’s too easy to mosey along, dabbling here and there and getting sidetracked by the demands of chores. For my summer sewing, I decided to get all my clothing sewing done by the end of May. We were going on a beach vacation for a wedding in the family, and what better opportunity for motivation is that? I needed more clothes! A recent purchase of linen from Hancock Fabrics made two new pairs of shorts.

This first pair was something of a challenge. The fabric motif is not only large and very predominant, it is a one way design and couldn’t be reversed. This shouldn’t have been a problem because the fabric was wide and I should have been able to lay the front and back next to each other. Unfortunately, the fold of the fabric didn’t go through the center of one of the motifs. This would have broken up the pattern at the center front and back seams. To get the mirror image I was looking for, I had to shift the fabric fold over several inches, thus wasting much of the needed width of the fabric. To compensate, I had to eliminate the side seam and pockets.

DSCN2724With an elastic waistband, I didn’t need the sideseams anyhow. I used the same technique to make the second pair of shorts. They are the same except for the length and the belt loops.

DSCN2741Last up is a new swimsuit. As much as I liked the stripe on the bolt, I’m afraid it is a little too busy for a two piece suit. I think a one piece would have been better. I do prefer the comfort of a two piece however.

DSCN2775For this suit I raised the waist line of my boy cut pants pattern. I also shortened the legs. Then I changed the top to a halter and cropped it to meet the bottoms at the waist. There are some other changes I’ll make if I make this one again, but over all, the fit is pretty good.

DSCN2771I was sewing up to the last minute, but I did get everything sewn that I was hoping to finish. The beach vacation is now over. The wedding was beautiful. My whole family was there and we had a marvelous time.

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Summer Blouse

My daughter Martha has inspired another garment for my summer wardrobe. It’s a blouse with gathered cap sleeves that have a unique twist. Martha says she was going for unusual construction techniques like those that were common in the 1930’s. Those dresses often had seams and pleats in unusual places that added dimension and shaping. Martha’s blouse has a sleeve band that is cut connected to the main body of the blouse. It is not a separate pattern piece. In effect, there is a dart at the sleeve bottom that is gathered on one leg and straight on the other.


The neckline band is sewn in the conventional manner.


My blouse is not quite the same as Martha’s. Hers is cropped to her waist. I went for a longer look.


Read all about Martha’s blouse at her post here, on her blog madeonmyfingers.

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Skirt and Culottes

Drafting my own patterns for my clothes is part of the challenge that I love about sewing. I love the planning and structuring of all the pieces that need to fit together in just the right way to achieve the final shape. By starting with a simple pattern that fits me well, I can make almost anything I want.

Some things are easy. Take this skirt for instance. Martha had a design for a yoke that is narrow in the center front and back and wider on the sides. I used her design and drafted a pattern for myself using a basic skirt pattern.

DSCN2631The fabric was a sarong I purchased on vacation last year just for this purpose. No pockets on this skirt. With a zipper on the side, there was no place for pockets.

Martha also made a pattern for a pair of culottes that I thought were really cute. They are full with lots of drape and an easy fit. She let me borrow her pattern and I made my own! This one was also easy.  I didn’t have to draft the pattern; I just made a few adjustments.

DSCN2550The best part of these is the side seam pockets!

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Pants and Shorts

I’ve been on a sewing binge again. This time for clothing.

Life comes in spurts and it’s no wonder to me that my creative urges also come in spurts. Sometimes I coast along and sometimes I find myself all aflutter with new projects or rather new energy for old projects. When the weather changed for spring, I broke out my fabric stash and went on a sewing frenzy. So far I’ve made pants, shorts, culottes, a top, and a skirt. When I get busy, I get crazy. There is more cut out and ready to sew both for me and for my grandson Michael.

First up is pair a stretch teal skinny jeans! I love colored denim.

DSCN2570These pants were made back in March. It’s just taken me a while to get the pictures. Unlike the photos of my embroidery, I have to have a helper for the clothing shots.

DSCN2568My own tag! Free-motion embroidery

DSCN2584And some shorts in white twill. I need more shorts for the summer. All my old ones are getting ratty. These are a basic white that will go with almost everything.

And so the sewing frenzy continues. I won’t rest until I’ve depleted my stack. or until the end of the month, whichever comes first.

Do you go through spurts of creativity? Or do you follow a steady course of keeping to a schedule?

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Snorkels and Masks

So far, all the swimmers in Swimming with the Stingrays have been faceless. Their blank heads have been taunting me from the beginning. As a doll maker, I should be able to draw the faces. It’s just that I didn’t want faces. They need to wear masks and snorkels. Not quite sure how I was going to create those masks and snorkels, I’ve skipped over that part. Until now. The time has come for the swimmers to get their faces. Well not really faces, just the masks and snorkels.

I played around with several different fabrics from clear vinyl to organza to white satin. The white satin won. I didn’t like the see-through look and went with the opaque mask. I stretched the satin in a hoop and did machine, free motion embroidery to draw the masks and snorkels. So far, they are the only machine stitching in this embroidery. Because the satin is polyester, I used a woodburning tool to cut them out and seal the edges at the same time.





BurtonDSCN2612and me.

For now, I think the swimmers are complete.

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Embroidered Stingrays

Our stingray adventure took place at Stingray City off Grand Cayman island twelve years ago. This snorkeling expedition was the highlight of our cruise.  The water was crystal clear. The weather was warm and not too hot. The snorkeling was good. The stingrays were plentiful. They were very tame and swam without fear among the many people swimming in the area. We were allowed to feed them and also to hold them in a certain way.  You had to stand up with your arms outstretched and stay quietly still with the stingray resting on your arms. It was quite exciting and over all too soon.

There are three embroidered stingrays swimming in our little corner of the Caribbean Sea. I had gotten carried away with the embellishing on the fish and the turtle. Surely the stingrays need lots of bling, too. But no, they are content with something a bit simpler.

DSCN2601This one has a fancy stitch for his central spine. It is the Spanish knotted feather stitch. This is a repeat of the stitch used on the lobster’s antennae. See my lobster here. I’ve used a simple variation of the blanket stitch around the perimeter of the stingray. It is the closed blanket stitch. It forms nice little triangles in a row. And then there is the most versatile running stitch for texture and two little beads for eyes.

DSCN2602The pink stingray has a spine of loop stitch, a border of herringbone, and two rows of running stitch.

DSCN2603Another variation of the blanket stitch, long and short blanket, makes this stingray a little different from the others. He has thorn stitch for his spine. The thorns are stitched over a fly stitch with a very long tail.

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