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Free fabric scraps at this funky Chicago fabric store: The Needle Shop!

The Needle Shop - Chicago, IL
The Needle Shop – Chicago, IL

Anyone who does appliqué knows the value of a scrap. A small piece of fabric is all you need to make a big impact.  But if you rely on using scraps from your own projects AND you do a lot of appliqué… you start to run out of fresh options. So when I walked into The Needle Shop in Chicago and saw a large bin of free scraps, I got pretty excited!

What a fabulous concept! I have never seen such an offer in any fabric store, and I think it’s absolutely brilliant. After rooting through the scrap bin for a good 10 minutes, and feeling very grateful for my finds, I WANTED to find something to purchase from this totally awesome store. And this was not a problem.

The Needle Shop has tons of modem (primarily) cotton printed fabrics and many examples of garments made from their stock to provide lots of inspiration. I didn’t even go near their trims for fear that it would be just too tempting (and I haven’t done ANYTHING yet with my $40 trim purchase from Geneva.)

Don’t know how to sew? Not a problem – The Needle Shop also offers an assortment of sewing classes and from the looks of it – it’s not your grandma’s sewing school.

So if you find yourself in Chicago – make sure you drop by and help yourself to the free scraps. Just save a few for me!

Learn more about The Needle Shop, Chicago

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Use your old t-shirts to make groovy appliqués like this funky gecko sweatshirt!


There’s nothing I like more than making a custom item of clothing for my kids and their friends. But the last thing I want to do is dress them in something dorky just because I think it’s cute.  So I’m always asking  for their opinion on what they think looks cool. Unfortunately I don’t always have the perfect materials on-hand to make exactly what they have  in mind.

Right now I have a little boy who is six (Thomas), and he’s a big fan of the t-shirts I make for him.  So he has a lot of ideas for garments he would like me to stitch for him and his friends.  But when it comes to little boys – I think it’s a bit tricky finding an age appropriate design for boys his age.  I tend to favor raw edge appliqués on garments I make for little boys.  Some of my favorite designs for little boys include my fishbone appliqué and the rodeo cowboy design. These make great T-shirts for little guys.

But for his friend, Johnny (who was celebrating his 6th birthday), Thomas had a new idea.  He informed me that we needed to make a gecko shirt for his friend. You see Johnny has a pet gecko, so Thomas thought it would be the perfect emblem for a sweatshirt.  Alright – a gecko sweatshirt is it – with a raw edge applique to make it a little more boy-appropriate.

When I make right at edge appliqués I like to use a knit fabric so that the fabric doesn’t ravel around the edges when the raw edge is exposed.  The only problem was that I didn’t have any green knit fabric to make the appliqué. But what I did have, was a green t-shirt that was waiting to go to Goodwill.

t-shirt applique
An old t-shirt can be a great source of applique fabric.

Old t-shirts make great knit fabric applique. In fact, I frequently use my husband’s old white undershirts (when I find a clean patch) and use it for an appliqué design. Unfortunately –  he only wears white T-shirts so that deprives me of other color options. I suppose you could dye parts of his white T-shirts in a rainbow of colors or simply save pieces of junkie T-shirts that you’re going to get rid of anyway in different colors?

Stitching the gecko

Anyway – back to the project.  I took this hideous green t-shirt, cut out a small piece and used it for a lizard applique on a blue sweatshirt, then I I added some initials  to personalize it a bit.  I chose a blue sweatshirt because they are “uniform acceptable”  at the Catholic school they attend. I realize that the gecko may be pushing the dress code a bit but I think sister Diane will let it slide.

Want to make it yourself?  Check out my lizard applique on Etsy and don’t forget your applique scissors so you don’t cut your finished product!

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Varsity style number appliqué – a super sporty and versatile design

Thomas getting funky in his number four applique t-shirt (and his angry birds undies)
Thomas getting funky in his number four applique t-shirt (and his angry birds undies)

A few months ago I digitized some large varsity-style numbers for towels I made for my coworker, Bryan. Bryan’s football number was 77, which remains his favorite number, and his favorite color is red.  These towels were the PERFECT gift.

Since I made this embroidery file and present for Bryan – I realized that the varsity number applique would be a very versatile design, so I digitized all of the other numbers between zero and nine.   The opportunity to stitch out this design came last week.  I had made Fourth of July t-shirts for my two girls (the star t-shirt and the firecracker t-shirt) so, of course, Thomas (my little one) needed one as well.

A t-shirt with the number four appliqued on it was perfect for Thomas because a) it was almost the 4th of July and 2) he’s almost four and VERY excited about it.  I made the “four” t-shirt with the Kokka fabric I purchased from Citycraft in Dallas and it turned out super cute.  Most importantly – Thomas likes it.

The set of machine applique files of all 10 digits in a varsity style are now on the Machine Embroidery Geek Etsy store.



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Rose appliqué t-shirt for a young girl: super quick and easy!

Rose applique design
Rose applique design

My daughter’s good friend, Evelyn, is having a birthday party this weekend which presents a fantastic opportunity to make something with my embroidery machine. But what to make at the last minute. I needed something quick and readily available in my sewing room.

Evelyn is a pretty sophisticated little chickadee. Her parents are British and she is lovely like a little English rose. So why not make her a modern applique rose t-shirt?

A few weeks ago I digitized a rose design and test stitched it out, (which was inspired by a book on traditional embroidery designs) and I actually turned out pretty cute.  I was ready to test it out on a t-shirt.  And I just so happened to have a girls t-shirt laying around and tons of scrap fabric.

One of the great things about this design is that stitches out very quickly. It makes a big impact with a very low thread count. And all the trimming of the appliqué fabric happens after the stitching is done, so there is no need to remove the hoop from the machine and place it back on throughout the process. For these reasons I love this design. Hopefully Evelyn will too!

The rose applique design is available on the Machine Embroidery Geek Etsy store.

Evelyn's rose appliqué t-shirt
Evelyn’s rose appliqué t-shirt



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How to keep your appliqué from buckling after you wash it.

One of my machine embroidery Facebook friends recently posted a completed project and asked the group members what she had done wrong with her appliqué. The appliqué looked fine after she took it off the machine, but after she had washed it, the appliqué was all puckered and frankly  looked pretty bad.  So, what gives? How did washing screw up the final project?  Or – she wondered – can you simply not wash appliquéd clothing?

I knew from experience exactly what was causing her problem.  A few years ago, my sister made a darling dark brown corduroy jumper with an appliquéd Yorkie in Burberry plaid on the front for my little daughter.  But as soon as it came out of the wash – it looked like crap – all puckered and wrinkled up.  So I asked her, “did you wash the fabric before you did the appliqué?”  Her answer: “no.”

And that is the problem.  You should always wash your garments and your appliqué fabric BEFORE you start to appliqué.  The appliqué fabric and the garment may shrink a bit after the first washing.  If they are different fabric types, they might shrink differently.  You want to get all this shrinking out of the way prior to starting your project.

Yes – this can be incredibly inconvenient when you are trying to complete a last-minute project with a t-shirt you just picked up at the store.  But – take the time to wash it first.  I now have two different areas in my sewing room where I store new t-shirts and ones that have been washed.  I often stick a straight pin in the collar of washed shirts to remind me of what has been washed and what hasn’t.  The same goes for new fabrics.  As soon as it comes home, I try to remember to wash it.

And about that Yorkie dress.  My daughter wore it once, and never again.

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Preppy whale machine appliqué design

Now that my daughter is in 3rd grade – I often am reminded of my life as a 3rd grader in the early 1980s.  Back then we loved the preppy handbook and dressed in ridiculous colored pants with fairisle sweaters.  In fact – I actually owned this sweater (below)… and about three different other versions.  I probably wore all of them with some dorky Dickies pants and a braided ribbon barrette in my hair.  Barf.  Anyway….

Preppy whale sweater
Preppy whale sweater

While the whale design was a hallmark of the preppy culture in the 1980s, there is something retro and charming about it now.   And whales are turning up everywhere… you can even buy whale iPhone cases.

So I decided to jump right on that retro preppy bandwagon and create a preppy whale appliqué design – which actually leant itself quite well to machine appliqué.  I can see this design preppy-ing up a tote or stitched out on a little preppy baby or kid t-shirt.

Hope you enjoy – I just added the whale appliqué design (in two sizes) to my Etsy store.  For it’s debut week – it’s just $1.

Whale applique design
Whale applique design
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Supertoken: the quasi-superhero machine appliqué design

Supertoken - the quasi-superhero t-shirt for moms
Supertoken – the quasi-superhero t-shirt for moms

My friend, Alix, has had this crazy idea for making t-shirts for mostly moms that have a superhero flavor with a big abstract superhero-like symbol on them. So she came up with some designs for emblems that she thought looked somewhat superhero-ish and sent them to me so that I could digitize them for her. She calls the design the “super token.”

Alix is a good friend of mine – in fact she is my best friend – so I wanted to honor her wishes, and I  digitized and stitched out her “super token.” I even stitched it on a black tank to make it look even more superhero-like. I probably should have done the stitching in red to give it even more super hero flair. But I didn’t want to go too overboard – because I am just not sure of what exactly she had in mind.

To be honest with you I don’t totally get the idea, but she seems to think the super token concept is really cool. She tried to explain it to me.

Like people would look at it and think that it looks like some type of superhero emblem, but think “I’m not sure what that means but maybe I should… But it looks powerful.” And when you wearing you pretty much feel like a superhero, even though the iconography is meaningless.

Ummmm… okay.  So there you go, Al! The first ever super token T!!

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Western star machine appliqué design – Monday’s free embroidery design

Western Star Applique Design
Western Star Applique Design

Once again it is free machine embroidery design Monday, and today – the file that I am offering is a triple-stitch appliqué design of a western star.  I created the file over the weekend and stitched it out on a t-shirt to make a birthday gift for a little boy (friend of my daughter’s).

The triple-stitch applique design is ideal for knit fabrics.  You stitch down the appliqué pieces and then trim – leaving a bit of excess fabric outside the stitching line.

If you have been following the blog or have checked out my designs on Etsy, you probably have noticed that I like Old Western iconography, and this Western star design fits squarely in that category.

The only caveat with this design is that it requires a bit of careful trimming.  I actually laid the white inset star pieces down separately, because I though it would be easier to trim.  This required me to stop the machine after it tacked down each piece and then set down the next one.  After doing this I think it would be easier to lay down one piece of fabric covering the five inset pieces and then trim around all 5 of the small pieces.  It’s a quick design to execute but does require some trimming.

I hope you all like it.

Download the Wester Star Design.

Oh – and if you like bargains… I am offering 2 new $1 designs on my Etsy store this week.   The Mr. and Mrs. pillowcase embroidery design, and the star in heart appliqué design.

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Star in heart machine appliqué design: the $1 Design – this week only!

Star in Heart Machine Applique Design
Star in Heart Machine Applique Design

I have been meaning to complete a long overdue birthday present for my friend, Alix’s daughter, Paxton. Pax turned four a few weeks ago. The date kind of snuck up on me but I didn’t want it to slip by without some type of acknowledgement. But what to make?

Pax’s older sister, Helen, turned eight back in January. For her birthday I made her an appliqué t-shirt with a heart on it which apparently Paxton has coveted. So I thought a little heart t-shirt would be the perfect gift, but I didn’t want to do the same thing twice.

Paxton is quite a little character. Alix has regaled me with stories about Paxton sneaking into all sorts of inappropriate places. A heart with a superhero flair seemed to suit her personality.

The appliqué design that I created for Paxton turned out very well. I used some fabric that I purchased at the Fabric Nosherie for the heart shape, and a simple white undershirt fabric for the star. The green in the trim of the t-shirt is reflected in the color of the appliqué fabric.

I hope that Paxton likes her T-shirt, but I also hope that it does not give her an inflated sense of her super powers.

The star in heart appliqué design is now available in the Machine Embroidery Geek Etsy store in two sizes for $1 – this week only.

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Tarantula machine appliqué design

Tarantula Machine Applique Design
Tarantula Machine Applique Design

Several years ago I remember having an interesting chat about bug designs with one of the store clerks at my favorite home decor fabric shop in St. Louis. I was telling him how I was learning how to digitize and shared some of my ideas about what I thought would be cool machine embroidery and appliqué designs.

Well this guy was either a really good actor or he was actually interested in talking about machine embroidery and appliqué. He told me that he thought it would be very cool to have a tarantula appliqué design stitched out on the cushion of a seat. At the time I was not good enough of a digitizer to be able to execute such a design. But I do remember thinking that the idea sounded pretty bitching.

I was reminded of this idea recently as I have been racking my brain trying to think of cool appliqué designs for little boy t-shirts. We are currently in a rush of little boy birthday parties in the upcoming few weeks, so I thought it might be the perfect time to stitch out this design.

My first little guinea pig for the tarantula t-shirt is my nephew, Wilson, whose birthday is this weekend.  And either HE is a really good actor or he actually liked it.

Check out the tarantula design on my Etsy store.