Getting Back in the Swing

I’ve been monogramming some bath sheets as a wedding present for some friends of mine since last summer. This has been an ongoing saga of mishaps and learning experiences, but I am finally making some real progress so I’m sharing the the hope that it will save others some trouble with similar projects.

The original plan was to have the embroidery completed by the end of August 2010 since the wedding was Labour Day weekend. Even with the best of intentions and making some major progress over the summer, the towels were not finished in time for the wedding.

Lesson the First, in Two Parts

Part One:

You cannot resize a monogram designed for small-sized bath towels to fit on a bath sheet and use the same stitching methods.

I am using two different monogram patterns that were both designed to be stitched at a height of 4-5 centimetres. Because the towels on the wedding registry were bath sheets, I decided to go ahead with my original plan and just enlarge the pattern to match the size of the towels. This resulted in letters 12-15 centimetres high. Because I was originally planning on satin stitching the towels with cotton floss (to match the fibre content of the towels and leave them machine-washable), I attempted to do this with the resized monograms as well.

Part Two:

Satin stitching does not work at large sizes with thin thread.

Satin stitch is the one that you usually see on machine-stitched embroidery. It’s a bunch of parallel stitches that fill in a space, placed close together to create a smooth satin-like finish. Hence the name. But one thing I didn’t know before undertaking this project is that satin stitching cannot be worked effectively to fill outlines larger than 5 milimetres or so, especially when you need the lines to be wide and follow sharp curves.

Lesson the Second:

The fabric base of regular bath towels is extremely loosely woven.

This is something I hadn’t considered extensively before. How often do you really look closely at the weave of a towel? The focus is usually on the loops that you can see, not the structure beneath them. Even so, I had planned for this to a certain extent by using cut-away interfacing to support my stitching on the underside of the towels, and water-soluble interfacing on top so I could see the pattern and keep the loops of the fabric flat while stitching. Despite all of that, it’s still extremely difficult to stitch evenly on terry cloth.

Lesson the Third:

Upsized patterns do not work well with the same thread called for for the original pattern.

Two strands of cotton floss works well for 5cm high monograms, but barely does anything on a 15cm monogram. Just saying.

The Solutions:

  1. Use an alternative filling stitch instead of satin stitch if you are going to upsize a pattern so drastically.
  2. Use tear-away interfacing underneath the water-soluble one to provide more support while stitching. This means from top down you’d have: water-soluble interfacing (with the design traced onto it), tear-away interfacing, bath towel, cut-away interfacing. It’s quite the sandwich, but you want to be able to stitch effectively and also have the design hold up once the towels are in use.
  3. Choose a surface stitch instead of one that goes through the fabric. Otherwise you’ll be stitching through all of those layers of interfacing and the towel. It’s hard on your hands and makes for slow progress. I’m using detached buttonhole. I still had to stitch the outline through all of the layers, but the majority of the stitching after that is on the front of the fabric only.
  4. Use more strands of the thread you were planning to use, or use a thicker thread entirely for your stitching. This will scale the stitches to match the new size of the design.

Since I’d already started my towels, I did not add the extra layer of interfacing or upsize my threads, but I highly suggest anyone attempting to stitch on terrycloth towels do this. It will greatly reduce frustration and keep your project from becoming a chore.