A very good friend of mine (I'll call her E, since this is a surprise, so I didn't check to see if she's OK with me using her name) is a minister in the United Methodist Church. In the UMC, becoming a minister is a pretty extensive process. After three years of seminary (minister school), you (hopefully) get commissioned to be a probationary minister, then after another three years, you (again, hopefully) get ordained. Ordination is kind of like tenure. You're not allowed to wear a stole until you're ordained, and my friend is getting ordained this spring, so of course, I had to make her a stole.
I'd never made a stole before, but my mom is a minister, and she has a friend who is an amazing quilter and has made a few stoles for my mom. So as soon as I heard that E was approved for ordination, I emailed my mom's friend for any advice. I already had an idea planned of what I wanted the stole to look like, which I mocked up in Gimp (free Photoshop-like program), so I sent her that too.
Here are the main recommendations:
- For the main fabric, use something with a bit of body to accommodate the appliques. Avoid lightweight poly/cotton blends and anything containing spandex. Look for fabric used for making pants or skirts, like twill or poplin.
- The appliques can be a different fabric, but should be 100% cotton.
- Use Steam-a-Seam 2 to attach the footprint appliques to the main stole fabric
The denim was wide enough that I would be able to get all four pieces out of it.
I took all my fabric home, pre-washed it, and started cutting. Well, first I measured everything out for the denim, and then I started cutting.
The part where the two sides come together in the back was a bit tricky, but I just started with a shallow angle and slowly made it sharper, pinning and trying it out each time, until it seemed to lay nicely.
Next, I printed out my footprint pattern in a couple of different sizes and chose the one that seemed the best. Then it was time for the Steam-a-Seam 2. I followed the directions, tracing the footprint pattern onto one side of the paper, then peeling off the other side, sticking it to the applique fabric, and cutting out the footprint. I did this for all the footprints and laid them out on the denim to get the spacing figured out. I marked the bottom of each print with chalk to remember where they all went. Then I started ironing. The Steam-a-Seam directions said to put a damp piece of cloth over the applique before ironing. At first, I used a towel, but the terry-cloth left little dimples in the applique fabric, so I switched to an old t-shirt. Also, as the denim got wet, the color bled onto the ironing board, so I put an old towel underneath.
Once all the appliques were ironed on, it was time for the hard part -- sewing around each applique. I'd done zig-zag stitches before, but they always looked very zig-zaggy, whereas stitching around appliques always looks very smooth and solid. After much Internet research, I went to my sewing machine manual, which, it turns out, has a section on sewing appliques! I probably could have saved myself some surfing time if I had thought to look in the manual first. It's a little bit of trial and error, adjusting the pressure of the presser foot, the main thread, and the bobbin thread, but I soon came up with a combination that seemed to be capable of creating the look I was going for.
Now it was time for practice. I practiced a lot. Having never done this type of stitching before, it took awhile to get a feel for how to make it work. The key seems to be running the machine sort of fast (not crazy fast, but not snail-slow either) and moving the fabric slowly. This keeps the stitches close together to get that smooth, solid look. After a few practice runs on scrap fabric for the main footprint part, I felt confident enough to go for the real thing. I decided to do all the sole parts first, then go back to the toes, since after much practice, they were still pretty tricky.
I used silver thread to add a little sparkle, and I LOVED the look. For awhile, I debated whether or not I should bother stitching around the appliques, since it would be difficult, it wasn't really necessary due to the Steam-a-Seam, and I thought maybe it looked OK without it. But I'm really glad I did it. It just made everything look a little more finished, plus it added the aforementioned sparkle.
Now for a slight tangent. When I had 2.5 toes left, my sewing machine started jamming. At first I thought it was the bobbin, but I took out all the thread, and it had the same problem. I went to JoAnn and got some sewing machine oil. Using my manual, I opened up and oiled every spot indicated for oiling. It definitely seemed to move better, and I was very optimistic that this had solved my problem. Then I started sewing again. It did better, but it still jammed up some, though I was able to get it going again each time. In this way, I was able to finish the toes, which was very important since it had taken a lot of trial and error to get the settings just right for doing the applique stitching. However, when I tried to switch back to regular straight stitching with regular thread, the jamming continued, and I sadly admitted that my Kenmore Ultra-Stitch 6 had sewed its last stitch. Even though I still had plenty of time before ordination, I was antsy to get the stole finished, so I borrowed my in-laws' sewing machine for the last step of sewing the denim pieces together. It worked OK, but I was used to my machine, and I had trouble getting used to the different feel of theirs. Luckily, there wasn't much more sewing left.
First, I sewed the two front pieces together and the two back pieces together. Then I sewed the front to the back. This is pretty straight-forward and standard -- put the right-sides facing each other and straight-stitch around, leaving a reasonable-sized opening, through which everything will be pulled to turn it right-side-out. After turning it right-side-out, I hand-stitched the opening closed.
I had initially envisioned writing the names of the churches that have been important to E's spiritual journey in between the feet. However, once it was done, I thought that might seem like too much. I solicited opinions from several friends and the overwhelming vote was to instead write the church names on the back of the stole. That keeps the sentiment without overcrowding the front and detracting from the feet. It also leaves plenty of room for additions as the bishop moves E to new churches over the years. I used a silver Sharpie paint pen to carefully print the names. Then I declared the stole complete.