I guess all of us have favorite things in our wardrobe that are easy to wear and go with just about any outfit. One of mine is a short embroidered vest with a scoop neck and simple lines.
What makes it a favorite are the embroidered flowers and twisted vines that cover the midnight-blue fabric. The vest is easy to make -- without any shaping at all -- so any simple pattern will do. I made mine even brighter by lining it with a contrasting-color fabric -- one that coordinates with the embroidery on the front.
Trace the front and back pattern pieces to your fabric and mount the fabric in an embroidery hoop or frame. Now that your "canvas" is ready, you can begin to "paint" it with flowers. If you have a washable tracing pen, -- my own brand is called "Trace-Erace" since the blue line disappears with a dab of cold water -- you can sketch a few simple round flowers right on the fabric itself. If you are not that courageous, work out your design on tracing paper and then transfer it to transparent, fusible web called "Stitchwichery" or "wonderunder." Pin this web to the vest fabric and stitch right through the two layers. When your embroidery is completed, simply tear the web away -- it will disappear without a trace.
Don't worry about making a floral masterpiece. Childlike round flowers, connected with curved stems and surrounded by plump leaves, are all you need. Try drawing the design with a crayon to force yourself to keep the shapes simple.
The embroidery on my vest is done in a dramatic combination of bright raspberry, burgundy, teal, turquoise and slate blue cotton floss on a blue-black background. The flower and leaf shapes are filled in with solid color, using three strands, without any shading or outlines at all. I used Romanian stitch for the leaves, stem stitch for the vines and solid button-hole and Romanian stitch for the flowers. Romanian stitch is a wonderful variation on the satin stitch and seems especially appropriate since the vest's total effect is one of a romantic, gypsy costume. Romanian stitch (from Romania, where else?) is really a sort of satin stitch with a little stitch that just holds it flat in the center. So you can do long stitches -- from one side of the leaf to another -- and hold each one down securely. If you like, let your vines and flowers grow right around the sides and over the shoulders to cover the back of your vest as well.
Once your "canvas" is filled to overflowing, remove the fabric from the frame, cut it out, line it and sew it all together. Close it at the front with a braided and tasseled tie in colored floss. You have made a romantic addition to any costume -- worthy of many a gypsy violin serenade.
Q. I was most impressed when my daughter gave her new husband a sweatshirt appliqued with a colorful sailboat for his birthday. Although she seldom finishes anything, this, she claimed, took only a little over two hours; she painted it first on muslin and then quilted it. But I noticed that the acrylic paint she used left the fabric a little stiff. Have you any tips? I'd love to try, but I'm a little timid about painting on the cloth.
A. You should use Versatex, that ideal fabric paint, though acrylic paint mixed with water to a thick cream and stored in a baby food jar can be excellent. Otherwise, Pentel makes a great wax crayon that becomes permanent when you press it on the wrong side into a thick cloth. If you stretch your fabric on artist's stretcher strips, you can trace your design outlines through the sheer muslin. You will find painting on cloth is easier than you thought. It's just like a coloring book and equally as much fun.