Aug 30 11

Adventures in Machine Embroidery

If the title of this post scared you, please don’t pick up your remote and switch channels on me! I am just starting out on an incredibly fun journey that will enrich my quilting life and I want to share the thrill of discovery with you. (Don’t worry, you’re going to see tons of plain old quilting posts all along the way, but I’m having so much fun with this that I want you to see it and perhaps you will become as enthralled as I now am.)

About 9 years ago, I won a Babylock Ellageo embroidery machine. At the time, this was a top of the line model and I had no idea what to do with it. Like all of us, I have a finite amount of time that I can spend sewing, and I love quilting so much that I couldn’t imagine giving up any of that time to learn embroidery. Hence, the machine sat in the box but I had every intention of learning how to use it once I could get a huge chunk of time. (Anyone who knows me will laugh at this, because time is my life issue and I always have this hope that a huge chunk of time is “just around the corner,” yet it never is.)

Fast forward to late last year. My New Year’s goal was to learn how to use my embroidery machine because I wanted to learn how to do machine embroidered applique. (If that term has no meaning to you, stick with me over the next few weeks, because you’ll be blown away by what’s out there!) My initial lesson was to be in January but then my left wrist developed severe problems to the point that I could not use my left arm. Then I had the honor of meeting Sarah Vedeler at Spring Quilt Market. If you do not know of her, you should, because she is the Queen of machine embroidered applique. At the same time, I had just developed a line of cutting dies for fusible applique and I was now creating quilts so quickly that I could not keep up with all the thread work that is required. Think of it, quilts like:

…all have intricate applique shapes that require some type of edge finishing, and sometimes, decorative edge finishing, and this takes lots of time. What I pictured above is a mere taste of quilts from earlier this year, and let’s not forget about the 2 that I’m freehand embroidering/trapuntoing now, each of which is taking hours and hours of thread work before they even make it into the final quilt sandwich stage:


There are other tops that I haven’t even shown yet on my blog, and of course there are the thousands of quilts I have marinating in my head! What I’m trying to impress on you is the fact that I cannot keep up with my own work. This has weighed heavily on me for the last many months, yet I just could not find the time to learn machine embroidery. It’s not that I wanted to give up free motion embroidery, but if I could learn machine embroidered applique, I could have an embroidery machine working on one quilt while I was working on another quilt and maybe get my self caught up. Then, the straw that broke the camel’s back came when I read this blog post by Sew Cal Gal. (Again, this is another blog you should be reading, so bookmark it if you’re not already following her blog!) If you scroll through this post, you’ll see photos of some appliqued tulips that Darlene made with intricate embroidery inside them. She created these using Sarah Vedeler’s embroidery designs. I kept going back and looking at those photos, and frankly, the lovely detail kept me awake at night. I knew I just needed to make time to learn machine embroidered applique. This was the very beginning of my journey!

I got a 45 minute basic lesson on how to use my embroidery machine on a Friday afternoon, and began playing right away. My first attempt was to embroider this wreath, using a digital embroidery file that was installed on my machine:

I couldn’t believe how easy it was to do, and I raced back to my dealer with this wreath in hand because I was so proud of myself…I think he thought I was nuts! Next up, I thought I’d really extend myself, and I embroidered this iris that had all of 3 different thread colors:

Whoa! I was really smokin’ now! I decided it was time to graduate and try a digital design file from a source outside my machine. I had also won an embroidery card with lots of designs on it, so I embroidered this pumpkin off of that card:

You can see there are some stabilizing issues in these and design-wise, they’re really not challenging if you know how to embroider, but they fueled my interest in learning and brought me closer to being able to start learning about machine embroidered applique. By now, I had ordered Sarah’s Hearts Quilt CD and it had arrived, but alas, I had to leave town for 2 weeks and that meant being away from my embroidery machine. Drat!! I spent those 2 weeks dreaming of what was to come next, and couldn’t wait to be reconnected with that machine! This is where it all began to fall apart, though. Although my machine was only 9 years old, technology has advanced so quickly that my machine was actually somewhat of a dinosaur. The only way digital design files could be transferred into my machine was either through an embroidery card (that holds a whooping 6 designs maximum!) through a transfer devise called “The Amazing Box” or though a floppy disk. You’re surely asking yourself, “Did she just say a floppy disk?” Yes, I did, and that was my reaction as I had given away all my floppy disks many years ago when they went the way of the dinosaur!

When I got back home, my husband and I spent about 30 hours installing/de-installing/re-installing/trying everything we could think of to get “The Amazing Box” to work, but the software is old and just would not work on my computer. It turns out my amazing box wasn’t so amazing after all! I was about to give up when I joined a Babylock yahoo chat group and learned that I could purchase a very inexpensive ($20) floppy disk drive and leave the amazing box out of the equation. Suddenly, the sun was shining once again! I spent this past weekend over-the-top excited as I had my first experiences playing with Sarah’s designs. Here is my first embroidered applique heart:

Now Sarah was very clear in her instructions about the importance of stabilizing, but I just had to see what I could get away with! I stabilized the background fabric with a layer of fusible interfacing but I did not stabilize the applique itself. Can you see there’s some puckering around the edges of the heart? Big “no-no,” so I learned to listen to what Sarah says! Next up is another applique heart I embroidered, but I followed the rules this time:

Can you see the difference?…no puckering this time! Next up, I wanted to try embroidering an applique badge. (Don’t I sound official using embroidery terms like “badge?!”) A badge is a free standing embroidery, in this case, a free standing embroidered applique that I can later applique to something else. If we go back to our first photo,

you’ll notice that it is not appliqued to fabric…that white background is 2 layers of dissolvable stabilizer. (That means that once it’s placed into water, the stabilizer disappears and all that’s left is that heart, but it won’t have been appliqued to anything yet.) If you’re new to this, here’s a hoop that holds one embroidered heart on stabilizer and the outline for where to place the next heart can be seen:

By placing the applique shape exactly within that outline, all the embroidery will line up perfectly…genius! The machine stitches a lot faster than I do, so you can make a lot of these pretty fast:

I think I’ve created a monster!


  1. Sally Bramald Says:

    They are wonderful, very very pretty. I fear we have lost you. You have gone over to the dark side and become an embroiderer.
    Come back!

  2. Lynn Says:

    I’ve worn out 2 home embroidery machines in the last 10 years and finally bought a commercial machine! You are on a journey that will take you places you can not imagine. Can’t wait to see what you create.

  3. Rosalind Pollock Says:

    ——and if you get the Bernina Cutwork accessory and software you will be able to cut multiples of any shape you wish to design and add your own outlines and embroidery!!!!!

  4. a1angiem Says:

    OMG Patsy!! Is there no end to your talent? Don’t turn me on to something new just yet…still working on the basics which has already cost me (and poor DH!) more than I budgeted for!! lol! Christmas? Birthday? So…the machine works on it’s own? Would love a video about this when you get it all down pat(sy)! tfs…

  5. Leslie McNeil Says:

    And Patsy… you’re in good company. Signed, another ‘monster’ — ain’t it all just grand?! NICE JOB!!!

  6. Elsie Montgomery Says:

    Oh, this is another new world. And do not tell Audrey and my local sewing machine shop. She can sell refrigerators to Siberians, and has been after me trying to sell me an embroidery machine. AGHHHHHHHHHH!

  7. Linda E in AZ Says:

    I recently acquired an older embroidery machine and went through the process of buying an external floppy drive and some floppies. I did find a bunch on clearance at Target, but if you ask around your friends you may find some of them have floppies sitting in a closet or desk drawer somewhere.
    The Sarah Vedeler work is beautiful. Such fun!