Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wedding placemats

I made these as a wedding present for some friends. The wedding was in July, but I didn't finish the project until last weekend. I extended their celebration, right? The inspiration for this project was a set of books my aunt gave me called the Alabama Stitch Book and Alabama Studio Style. The books feature beautiful hand-stitched garments with a variety of different stencil and applique techniques. Here is the website for the company that makes the clothes and the books. I do not have nearly the patience for hand-stitching, but the leftover purple silk I had from the bridesmaids' dresses was just begging to be made into something special. The reverse applique technique intrigued me, and I decided that the purple would be a nice contrast color for reverse applique, and eventually I came up with this project.

The idea of reverse applique is to cut away the outer layer of fabric to reveal a contrast layer underneath. I decided that cream would be wedding-ish with the purple, and linen would be a nice contrast to the silk. Both fabrics are elegant in their own ways. I plan on making this project again, but I will never make it with linen again. Or at least such a wide weave of linen. It gave me fits. I am pleased with the end result, but I think I will be more sane if I use a nice polyester or cotton broadcloth next time.

The thing I found most unexpectedly beautiful about these was the back. I had originally planned just to topstitch the silk to the linen, but it would not feed right at all in my machine, so after some experimenting, I decided that I couldn't ever feed the fabric through with silk on the bottom and linen on the top, so I settled for having the stitching show on the bottom. I also considered using a bobbin thread that matched the linen so it wouldn't show as much, but I love the way the purple looks on the back.

I was very worried about doing things in the wrong order on this project, so I actually wrote out directions for myself. So here is how you can make these yourself. The directions below will make one placemat. I recently purchased a rotary cutter and cutting mat, and I highly recommend them. This would have been very difficult to do with scissors.

For all steps, I used a very narrow stitch, about halfway between a 1 and a 2 on my machine, which goes up to 4.

1) Cut two 12" x 15" rectangles of base fabric. I cut the first one and used it as the pattern for the others so they would be as close to identical as possible.

2) Make your stencil. I used a stencil from the Alabama Stitch Book for one of them, part of a stencil I had downloaded from Alabama Chanin for one of them, and clip art for the other two. If you use art from the internet or something you've drawn, print out the picture and cut it away. You will have to stitch around every cut out portion of the stencil, so don't make it too intricate.

3) Trace the stencil onto the top piece of base fabric. You could also just cut it out, but I liked to make sure it looked OK before cutting. Don't put it too close to the edge because you will lose about 1/2 an inch on the edge eventually. After tracing the stencil, cut it out.

4) Put the top fabric over an upside-down piece of the contrast fabric. Trace the stencil. This will help you know how much of the contrast fabric you will need. Place the top fabric over the bottom base fabric. Trace the stencil. This shows you what you need to cover up with contrast fabric.

5) Leaving at least 1/2 inch on every side of the traced design, cut a piece of contrast fabric. Sew it to the bottom base fabric, being sure to cover up all of the traced design. Try to keep the stitching away from the traced design on the bottom fabric. Otherwise it will show through when you put the top fabric on.

6) With outsides together, sew top piece of base fabric to bottom piece of base fabric with a 3/8" seam. Leave a portion of one side open to turn. Trim corners. Turn. Press edges.

7) Topstitch each portion of design about 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch from raw edge. I found that lifting the presser foot and rotating the fabric was better than trying to turn the fabric as I sewed, even for rather gentle curves. In some places, I had to lift and rotate every two or three stitches, but that was OK.

8) Fold under the open part of the edge you used for turning. About 3/8" from the seam, topstitch all four edges.

You're done! If you use fabrics with very different properties like I did, be careful when you're pressing. I put a cotton cloth over the silk and used the cotton rather than linen setting on my iron when pressing.