Gadget Guru: Fabric PreparationAnyone who’s been around here for long probably knows I am a minimalist when it comes to embroidery tools. For instance, I own just one pair of embroidery scissors. It’s possible I am the only first-world stitcher with a single pair of small, pointy scissors.
Becky and I are the Odd Couple of stitching: While I have few tools, she has many.
This is the column where Becky introduces me (and you) to her extensive collection of stitchy gadgets and explains how she uses them. It’s the Gadget Guru series!
The jury is still out on whether I will abandon my minimalist ways and adopt assorted gadgets for improved needlework results, ease of stitching, or convenience.
This week, Becky shares some of her fabric-preparation gadgets.
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Fray Check / Fray Stop / Fray Block (We’ll talk about sergers another time.) You need something to keep your fabric’s cut edges from fraying. I’ve heard that some needlework shops will serge the edges of your fabrics for you; although, I’ve not actually seen that happen. I like Fray Check best of the three liquids listed; it’s a little thicker and stays where I put it.
Just be really careful using any of them; if it drips in the wrong spot on your fabric, it’ll show. And it’s permanent. Ask me how I know.
Jen: I have Fray Check, but I never use it. For small projects, I may just let the fabric fray. For large projects, I’ll serge or zigzag the edges myself. But Becky says we’ll talk about sergers later.
Gridding Thread Easy-Count Guideline has saved my life. If you grid your fabric, this stuff is great. It’s a solid polyester thread, so you can’t split it with your needle. Ever try to pull out a guideline that you’ve stitched through? Oy! I’ve also used Coats Transparent Black thread, it’s a lot thinner, and I think it’s harder to stitch with. And if you use a lot of guideline, go to a sporting goods store and buy 8# red fishing line; it’s a whole heck of a lot cheaper than the Easy-Count.
Jen: I’ve never gridded my fabric. I’ve never felt it was necessary, but I can easily imagine many stitchers finding it useful. Maybe I’m just lazy.
Fabric gauge A necessary thing for figuring out the thread count of your fabric. Many varieties and styles.
Jen: I just use my regular old ruler.
Stitch Starter I got mine in a class by Belinda of Blue Ribbon Designs. It’s a 3” square of clear plastic, marked on three sides in ¼” increments and on the fourth side in 1/16” increments. There are also markings for a 1” square and a 2” square. It’s great when you know you purchased enough fabric for a 3” margin, you can just whip this out to measure where to start stitching. It’s also small enough to carry in your stitching kit as a small ruler.
Frames / Q-snaps / scroll rods / Evertites / Hoops Many different types of fabric holders that do the same job in the same way. Mostly. I don’t use hoops anymore, they just didn’t keep the fabric snug enough for me and I just didn’t like them. Scroll rods are okay, but I don’t like the ones with Velcro or that I have to stitch my fabric to. I like q-snaps because they’re easy to put together and take apart for travel. I have some hand-made covers for them to help contain excess fabric.
I’ve heard that slate frames are great, especially for needlepoint. I’ve never used one so can’t comment on that. But my all-time current favorite is the Millennium Frame, from Needle Needs in the UK. I have two sizes, they keep my fabric nice and tight, yet they come apart easily to transport. I bought a poster tube (for transporting rolled up paper posters) large enough to hold my biggest set of Millennium Frames including the fabric; I just take off the side adjusters, roll the frame and fabric up, and tuck them into the poster tube along with the side pieces, chart and threads. It’s unfortunately not cheap, especially the shipping since they’re in the UK and I’m in the States.
For one thing, [on a stitching frame] the project is permanently set up and accessible. For another, it makes parking threads on this type of project much easier. A frame goes a long way to ensure even tension. A frame gives you room for your chart, so that it’s right in front of your eyes. A frame allows two-handed stitching, which means you make progress a little faster.
But there are disadvantages to a frame, too. They take up room. They require a specific posture, to reach the stitching area. (You can’t always cozy down on the couch with a project on a large frame!) And it’s more difficult to pack the whole project up and away, tidily, in a small space.
Jen: Tools to keep stitchy fabric taut are things I have and use. I’m a hoop gal because I was stitching before Q-snaps existed, and I’ve never felt the need to try something new. I find the (newish) plastic Susan Bates Hoopla hoops with the little lip on the inner ring keep the fabric nice and tight. That lip really helps. However, I much prefer my homemade floor frame because it keeps the fabric nicely taut, and there are no hoop creases to deal with.
Jen again: Well, all of these things are, indeed, useful. Do you have these things—and do you have multiples like Becky? Do you use them? Do you have different favorites?
Becky and I want to know!