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Embroidery and Love

It was a few months ago when my wife, Terri, made the decision about what she wanted to give our oldest son, Claude, as a wedding gift. She decided that she wanted to make him a quilted wall hanging. That is she wanted to create a wall hanging with quilting in it. The wall hanging would be the story of their courtship. Different squares would have different important moments of their love so that when their marriage got tough they could look back at the wall hanging and remember how they fell in love.

She enjoys sewing and had done quilts in the past so it was a natural fit. She had an older Singer Quantum XL-1000 sewing machine that did embroidery but she didn’t have any of the cards for it with patterns – she had the basic fonts on the machine and that was it. Her idea for the wall hanging was appliques, fabric, and the limited embroidery her machine would do.

I looked at this problem and wanted to find a way for me to enhance it. So I looked at how we could do more embroidery than what her machine supported. The first stop was to look at embroidery cards. They’re still selling the embroidery cards on eBay so that was an option – but the real problem with the cartridges that are available is that they have a fixed set of embroidery patterns that were made for the machine so the things that we wanted to do weren’t a part of the list of things that you could do. I wanted a way to get any embroidery pattern to go on to the machine. And I found a way to do that. It’s Amazing Box.

Creating Embroidery Patterns

Amazing Box is a USB interface for programming sewing machine cards. It allows you to download patterns from existing cards and write embroidery patterns to a rewritable card. In our situation I had to get an adapter and a rewritable card for the Singer. It wasn’t cheap – but it was well worth it. Once we got this we could do any embroidery pattern we wanted.

So now we’re cooking. Except that means that we’re buying embroidery patterns out of a much larger library now. We could buy the patterns that others created but we couldn’t make our own. Some of the things we wanted to do included the places of their first date and those are logos. We won’t find those in a library. We needed to be able to convert images into embroidery – The way that we found to do that was S & S Computing’s SewArt program. You give it an image and a wizard walks you through turning it into a sewable embroidery pattern. So now we can take any image and turn it into an embroidery pattern.

What I found is that some images were more suitable for conversion to embroidery than others. The smoother the lines and the less colors we were dealing with the better. I knew a way that I could smooth some line art. I’ve got Adobe Illustrator CS6. In Illustrator there’s a function called Image Trace. You put an image on the Illustrator art board and then do Image Trace to get a line and representation of the image. If you do this with an existing line art image it converts it into a vector drawing that you can scale. So I’d take in the images that I’d find for what we wanted to embroider and run them through Illustrator and image trace. I’d then export the resulting file back to a raster (PNG) image to take into SewArt.

Whew! I’ve now got a pretty long process. Find the image, run it through Illustrator Live Trace, run it through SewArt to convert to an embroidery pattern, and use the AmazingBox software to transfer it to the card that would go in the sewing machine.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t done yet. There were a few images we wanted that we just couldn’t find. We wanted to have a square of Claude and Kelly lying in bed watching TV. So I needed to draw/create that. That meant learning Illustrator to a much greater level than I have ever had to learn it. And the way I did that was Digital Tutors has an expansive library of creative training that covers PhotoShop, Illustrator, etc. So I took some courses to learn enough about Illustrator to draw the scene.

Terri took the patterns that I created and turned them from mere electrons into atoms. Here’s the result of all of our hard work – and what hard work it was.

Hard Work

What you’re looking at represents over 200 hours of total effort – we honestly don’t know how much work it really was. We know that it was easily 200 between the two of us. We also know that for the 12 squares that we got – plus the center square – it took 31 failed attempts and trial runs. We had to learn how to get the backing to stay, how to get things to line up, how to deal with threads breaking and bobbins that ran out.

There’s no way that we would do this if it weren’t a labor of love. You can’t put a price on the amount of love that went into the piece. There are so many fine details that got refined and refined again. Consider the square of their dog Chief. We tried different backgrounds and colors of thread before settling on that look. The key for their first apartment uses a metallic thread that was much more sensitive than the other threads we were using so we had to slow the machine down to its slowest setting and reset the automatic tensioner in the sewing machine.

Oh, and I also got to build another new skill –I learned how to repair sewing machines. It’s amazing how bad things can get when a thread gets wound around one of the bearings. It wasn’t really an option to send the machine out for a few weeks to have it tuned up.

In the end everyone is thrilled with the results – and there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that we love Claude and Kelly and are looking forward to their marriage.

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