After owning a fancy new sewing machine that does embroidery for nearly half a year, I finally got around to testing said capabilities just this week. I was spurred on by two things: 1) I was finished with Collegium so I had time & 2) a new group popped up on Facebook devoted to historical machine embroidery. Coincidence? I think not!
The FB group mentioned several pages of free downloadable files of digitized blackwork (one & two) that come from the amazing work of the Blackwork Embroidery Archives (which have free patterns for those who wish to hand-embroider). I had previously looked on EmbroideryDesigns.com & found some fonts that I liked & a bat — since my SCA device features a bat, & my longterm goal is to put bats on all my household linens. So a-downloading I went.
Caveat: While both the free & purchased patterns are all fantastic to embroider (I’ll get to that in a minute), none of them display very well on my machine. Ugh, it’s kind of guesswork! While the designs preloaded on the machine show up crisp & clear on the LCD display, all of the downloaded ones appeared as either blobs or as sketchy connect-the-dots-like images. Updating the file names doesn’t help, since those don’t display. I have no idea how to fix this. I may have to take cameraphone pix & stitch out each pattern to make a sample book of all the downloaded files I like, then cross-reference that to the file number (since that displays). Anyway, do beware of this problem, at least if you have a Babylock machine, since it may be different with other file types.
That said, once I tested out some designs, WOW, how freakin’ cool??? Omg, I love it. See, I do not embroider by hand. I’ve tried, & I hated it. Most I ever did successfully was my initial. I did a fair amount of cross-stitch when I was a kid, but proper embroidery eluded me. And yes, many people have said if you can cross-stitch, you can do blackwork. But whatevs. I have a machine that can do this now!!! Holy crap, it’s amazing. It’s magic. It’s brilliant. It’s totally worth the money spent on the machine.
The hard part is the setup — you REALLY have to plan where you want the design, & then you have to keep fussing with the placement so that the repeat lines up. I sense a steep learning curve, plus each design is a little bit different. So no, I won’t have it down for a while.
I decided to make a square-necked smock as a test garment because I actually need one (all my smocks are round-necked, but I have several square-necked gowns). I copied one of my smocks for the pattern; it’s super-basic & sleeveless because sleeved undergarments irritate me. I made it in a soft, thin cotton, which I knew would not be ideal for embroidering (a heavier linen would be better), but linen feels like sandpaper on my skin. I don’t care how historically accurate it is, I’ve tried so many types, & unless it’s a blend with cotton or rayon, it rubs me raw. I’m so much more comfortable with cotton.
Of course, I made a rookie mistake that I knew the second after I made it: I cut everything out before embroidering! Doh. When embroidering near an edge, like a neckline, if you cut fabric away, you won’t have anything left to put inside the embroidery hoop. I usually bind the neck & arm edges of my smocks, so I cut it & then realized the problem. So I had to make a neckline facing just to give me enough fabric for hooping. Still didn’t have enough fabric to hoop the arm holes (tho’ I suppose I could have if I put sleeves on, but see above re: hating sleeves), so no embroidery there. Ah well, this is only a test.
Definitely a test … some misunderstanding of how the pattern fit within the hoop space meant that one side has poorly aligned motifs — let’s just call that the back. And the motifs aren’t as tightly closed as they should be on either side. Still, it’s kind of pretty & was a good, wearable experiment. Or it would be for someone else … because after I finished it, I found that somehow the smock is about two sizes too big for me! Yeah, even tho’ I copied it off a garment I’ve been wearing for years. I’m guessing that something in cutting the square neck & adding a facing instead of binding put off the measurements just enough to be slipping off my shoulders. Oh well — it was a learning experience! And the result can go to the garb exchange at 12th Night for another lady to wear.