Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tips for Using Iron-On Emroidery Transfers

While I love embroidery - the stitching part, that is, I don't much like all the decisions about design and the preparation before stitching. I especially don't like the design transfer step, but it has to be done. Iron-on transfers seem to be the easiest way to get the design on the fabric, except when you can't get a good transfer, then it's just frustrating! The following tips come from my own hard-won experience. I hope they help. Some of these tips seem obvious, unless you are a beginner - then nothing is obvious.

First of all, follow the directions for the transfer. Each type is a little different, so follow the instructions the pattern company gives you. With one *exception, which appears below.

  • Use a good iron. Sometimes old irons develop hot spots and won't deliver the heat evenly over the plate. You probably won't notice it if you're sliding the iron back and forth over fabric, but it is a problem when you want a even transfer. A classic, dry iron with flat sole plate actually works the best.

  • If you only have a steam iron, don't use steam! Turn the steam off and even empty the water from the reservoir. Steam will cause the lines to be blurry or thick and you want clean, crisp lines. Get rid of the steam.

  • Put the dial on the proper setting, as per instructions, and let the iron heat completely.

  • Check to make sure the iron temperature won't harm the fabric. Most transfers direct a high temperature, usually cotton or wool. Test the fabric in an inconspicuous area to see if it can tolerate the temperature.

  • Speaking of tests, there is a test design on the pattern page for a reason. If you use the test design on a scrap of the same kind of fabric, you can determine how long to hold the iron in place to get a good transfer. Since you want to get it right the first time on your project, you'll get better results if you use the test design and gain some valuable information. Depending on how dark the test transfer is, you can adjust the amount of time you leave the iron on the paper.

  • Press the fabric first to remove any wrinkles and make a smooth surface for the transfer. Pre-warmed fabric will take the transfer much quicker and more evenly.

  • Use your fingers to hold the paper in place. Obviously, keep your fingers away from the iron, but your fingers are better than pins. Why? Because the thickness of the pin creates space between the paper and the fabric and your transfer will be patchy. Seriously, your fingers do a better job - just be sure to keep the paper from shifting.

  • Place the iron in one position over the design until the ink transfers. But don't leave it on any longer than you have to as this creates a dark transfer with more ink than you really need. Keep placing the iron over the design until it is transferred. *Some directions say to move the iron back and forth on the paper. This is likely so that the heat doesn't "burn" the transfer too dark or darker in one place. The problem with moving the iron, though, is that the paper can shift ever so slightly. This makes for blurry lines and, particularly with a cross-stitch pattern, the movement can distort the design. I think it is better to hold, lift and place the iron on a new section, rather than sliding the iron back and forth. If you'll use the test pattern, you can determine the length of time to hold the iron, without causing problems.

  • Be very careful not to shift the paper! Before you move the iron to a new spot, carefully lift an edge of the paper to see if the transfer has taken place.

  • Use a padded hard surface. The ironing board works unless it has a nice cushy cover. Cushy again creates thick, blurry lines. If you do a lot of embroidery, you might want to make a surface from a thin board covered with wool felt. (Don't use acrylic craft felt as it will melt at high heat.) Or, use a very thin cotton batting, like Warm n Natural, covered again with a muslin top. This creates an ideal surface for the transfers and you won't ruin your pretty ironing board cover. In a pinch, I use a scrap piece of foam core board that I covered with a couple of old dishtowels.

  • If you choose to use your ironing board, protect the cover somehow, even with an old cotton dishtowel. The ink will likely come through and you don't want to spoil your cover. I sometimes think I can be careful or quick and I so often have a bleed through onto the cover. Seriously, just protect it to begin with.

  • You may not even realize that the ink is likely permanent. Sometimes it will fade with time, or wash out eventually, if the fabric is 100% natural fiber, but if there is any synthetic fiber in the fabric, the ink cannot be removed.

  • Remember that all of the ink on the pattern page is transfer ink. I mention this so that you can be sure to cut off any lines that you don't want to appear on your design. Even the words and directions. Cut those off so that you don't accidentally transfer them to your project. Also check for smear marks from the design being folded and stored or other, unwanted lines of any kind.

  • Cut the paper away from the design close to the edges. This makes it easier to position the design on the fabric. You'll know better where the edges are and get the design positioned just right.

  • Go for as light a transfer as you can manage. Obviously, you need to be able to see the pattern, but thin, crisp lines are better than heavy dark lines. It is harder to cover up thick lines and a thick, underlying color of ink will make your embroidery look muddy.

  • If you are working with 100% natural fabric, don't transfer the design until you're ready to embroider the piece. Sometimes the transfer will fade a little and it may then be harder to see. Keep the project folded and away from bright light until you finish the embroidery.

Do any of you have experience or other tips to share about this process?

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Milestone: College for Miss Abigail

Well, today is a milestone for both Miss Abigail and I. Abigail is starting classes at the community college in Santa Fe and I'm finished with homeschooling. What a change for both of us. She is excited and a little nervous and I am kind of heartbroken that my serious, hands-on mothering is at an end. All of my children are adults! Honestly, if it were possible, I think I'd have another baby and begin again. This is the first time in 24 years that I'm not beginning a year of homeschooling! That was quite a commitment and Abby is the last little chick to try her wings. I'm so proud of Abigail. She's such a sweetheart and we're excited to see what the future holds for her now. Excuse me while I go find some chocolate!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tutorial: Microwave Baked Potato Bag

You may not know that August 19th is National Potato Day! So this tutorial is just in time to celebrate potatoes. I love them all ways, especially scalloped, but I also like them baked.

On my last trip to Idaho to see my mom, I bought potato print fabric to make a microwave baked potato bag for Miss Abigail's hope chest. You couldn't find a better print for this kitchen item and it will be perfect to remind her of family "roots." I grew up on an Idaho potato farm! While you may not be able to find the potato print fabric, here's the tutorial so that you can make a bag with any other cotton print. Just make sure the materials are 100% cotton so that you don't have problems with the microwave. Directions for using the baking bag are at the end of the post.

Materials: 2 pieces of 100% cotton fabric, 1 piece thin 100% cotton batting, basic sewing supplies, including 100% cotton thread.

Measure and cut both pieces of fabric and the batting 9 x 21 inches.

 Place both pieces of fabric, with right sides together, on top of the cotton batting. Use a 1/4-inch seam and stitch across each short end.

 Turn the fabric right sides out. The batting will be between the pieces of fabric. Press. Top stitch across each end, about 1/2-inch from the edge.

 Arrange the bag with the outside fabric facing up. Fold the top down about 3 inches and pin on the edge. Fold the bottom up and overlap the top by about 1 inch. Pin securely.

 Use a 1/4-inch seam to sew both sides.

 Finish the seam edges with a zig-zag stitch or use a serger.
 Turn the bag right side out and press well.


Microwave potato baking bags are designed for use in a microwave to cook any type of baked potato, including sweet potatoes. The bag works best with 2 or 3 regular Russet potatoes. Simply wash the potatoes and leave them damp. Don't pierce holes in the potatoes. Tuck the potatoes into the bag and close the flap. Cook on high, 6-10 minutes, depending on the number & size of the potatoes, and the power of the microwave. You can also interrupt the baking halfway through and turn the potatoes over, but it isn't necessary. Sweet potatoes will need about 30 seconds to 1 minute longer than regular white potatoes. You'll have to adjust the time for smaller round "salad" potatoes. After cooking, remove the potatoes. Be careful of steam as you open the flap! Simply let the bag air dry. Remember to let the bag cool completely before using it again and remember to use caution and proper supervision. The bag is machine washable, but don't use fabric softener or other additives.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tutorial: Tucked Tea Towel

This post is a tutorial for another very easy tucked tea towel. The towel requires only straight stitching. Although it is simple and unadorned on the front, it does have a surprise on the back with a finished faced hem using a matching printed cotton fabric.

Materials: 7/8 yard of 100% cotton "bottom weight" or decorator fabric, (2) 1/8 yard of matching 100% cotton print fabric, basic sewing supplies, measuring mat and ruler, disappearing ink pen.

Cut the towel fabric into two pieces and square up ends and edges. Cut the printed facing fabric into 4 strips 2.5 inches by the width of towel.

Pin one strip to each end of the towel, right sides together. Sew 1/4-inch seams on each end.

Press all the seams open.

Fold the long sides in 1/4-inch and press. Fold over again to form a hem. Press and pin.

Stitch close to the edge to finish the sides.

With the towel facing up, use the measuring ruler and place the 2 1/4-inch marking line directly over the seam separating the print facing fabric from the towel fabric. Draw a mark across the width of the towel. If you don't own one of these wonderful rulers, just use a regular ruler and yardstick to measure and mark a line 2 1/4-inches up from the seam.

Turn the towel with the back side up. Fold the facing toward the back with the raw edge towards the middle of the towel. Press carefully. Fold again, completely enclosing the facing within the fold. This step will allow you to catch the raw edge of the facing, making a nice finish on the back. Press along the previously marked line, across the width of the towel. Pin and repeat this step for both ends of each towel.

Decide how large you want your tuck to be and make a mark on the throat plate of the sewing machine in order to guide your seam. I just used the 5/8-inch marking. Sew the tuck across the width of the towel. If you sew with the right side of the towel down, you may want to check your tension before you start sewing to make sure the bottom stitching will look good on the right side of the towel. Repeat for both ends of each towel.

Open up the towel and press well again. The raw edge of the facing will be enclosed in the tuck, making a nice finish on the back of the towel.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Removing Ink from Iron-On Transfer

If you've worked much embroidery, you're likely familiar with iron-on transfers. And, you have probably discovered that transfer ink doesn't always wash out, even after several times through the laundry. I've discovered two reasons for this.

First, many people don't know that the transfer ink is considered permanent. However, the content of the fabric does play a role. Transfer ink may eventually wash out, given enough time, if the fabric is 100% cotton. Unfortunately, the ink typically doesn't wash out of a poly/cotton blend - at all, ever. Yikes! Most pillowcases are a blend, even those that are called "cotton-rich." So, if you're using a blend, you need to be extra careful to use a light touch with the iron and then use enough embroidery thread to cover the ink entirely. I have pillowcases that, after thirty-seven years of washing, still show the ink under the slightly threadbare designs. Haha, you're probably wondering why I'm still using those pillowcases! I can only admit to being sentimental. And, remember that fabric was much better in those days and the pillowcases are still useful, if somewhat shabby.

Secondly, when you transfer the ink, sometimes you will end up with a very dark transfer that bleeds through both layers, ruins your ironing board cover and won't wash out. Follow the instructions on the transfer envelope carefully. It does take some practice and "finesse" to get a clear transfer and to know when to quit.  I will post my best tips for using iron-on transfers in a couple of days. I always err on the side of a lighter transfer even though I sometimes end up with spots that I have a hard time seeing.

So, how to remove the ink? That's the subject of this post because Miss Abigail has a particular set of pillowcases for the hope chest that needs an answer to this question. The design is unfinished. That was deliberate, I think. Miss Abigail's grandma just got tired of working the design and wanted to leave the ends. It doesn't take away from the design at all, but there is remaining ink on the fabric. My sweet mother-in-law finally decided she was just finished with embroidery. She doesn't see well anymore and she just doesn't enjoy it. So she passed the last of her unfinished projects on to me, along with tools and threads. This set of pretty pillowcases was in that box. The fabric is a really nice, quality percale blend. So I know I'm going to have a hard time removing the remaining ink from the transfer. In fact, I'm not sure I can get it out at all.

However, because I use a clothesline to dry all of our laundry, I do know one secret -- sunshine. Yup, sunshine fades all kinds of ink! Sadly, there is more experience talking here. So, I'm trying direct sunlight and hope that it will fade the stamped ink. It's worth a shot, but so far it isn't working very well. I could try to finish them, but the threads won't match and that will look awkward. While I know it is probably a lost cause, I'd rather remove the ink somehow.

Does anyone else have experience or suggestions for removing this ink?
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