Memory/Inspiration Throw Sewing Saga
Finally – the last CHRISTmas present I’ve sewn this year is finally DONE, but only after MANY necessary changes! Even my hubby said that I was very persistent with this gift project. Sew…feeling others can learn from the failures I experienced, AND have answers as to how to avoid them in the future, I’m sharing this experience.
As a soft, cozy ‘Memory Throw’, my concept was to do photo transfer (something I’d never done before) using photos from the extended time our teenage grandson spent with us earlier this year. He’s really into ‘soft’ so I knew this would be something he may well treasure. While with us, he participated in a huge youth musical at our church, and I had kept a couple of the T-shirts and program from it. These are what you see in the middle, in color. We have a black & white HP laser jet printer here at home, and finding that commercial printing places didn’t want to even try feeding through the freezer paper-backed white cotton fabric, I edited all of my photos to black & white – a look that I actually liked. I worked VERY hard coming up with placement and the specific photos I wanted to use.
The Photo Transfer Process
A dear friend was kind enough to try the picture of my grandson and the play poster on her colored printer. THOSE worked out just perfectly (aside from a few wrinkles in my grandson’s hair). However, when her printer started to jam, I panicked and definitely decided to stop with the 2 copies we’d made and go with my black & white plan for the remainder of the photos. These color transfer photos held their color beautifully throughout the construction – so they remain.
Before ever starting, I searched for and watched several YouTube videos on the process, and even tested one. The freezer paper method seemed to be pretty fool-proof, so that’s what I went with. Freezer paper has a plastic backing that somewhat melts, adhering to the fabric (which I had preshrunk to remove any fabric finish). Per one of the videos, I cut and fused the fabric to freezer paper in larger pieces, then very accurately cut the pieces to 8.5×11″ paper size. It beats me how I did it, but somehow the rotary cutter slipped up over the ruler and gouged a healthy piece off the side of my finger. OUCH! (One week later, it still hurts, but it’s also amazing to watch God’s healing process). I may always have a reminder of this project!
Setting the Transferred Photos
I noticed a bit of residue from the printing coming off at this point, so back to YouTube I went regarding ‘fixing’. First, I let them all sit a good 24 hours. Then, I heat-set with pressing with a hot, dry iron. There still seemed to be some residue, so I tested other ‘prescriptions’ I had seen on YouTube. I was glad I had made some extra transfer copies for testing at this point! One video said to set the ink with full-strength white vinegar. THAT did NOT work – the photo disappeared altogether. Another video said to set with Retayne dissolved in water, 1 capful per pan of water and soaking for 20′. Testing seemed to show that this worked – so that is how I proceeded. These air dried overnight, and then I pressed them again.
Feeling things were going along fine (except my finger), the next decision was how to attach to the fuzzy Minky-type striped fabric (double layer).
Attaching Photos to the Throw
The fabric definitely had nap, so I cut it in half, and turned one side so that the ‘nap’ went was going down on both the front and back of the throw. The backside of the fabric is a slick knit (100% polyester), so I knew that to keep it all together when attaching the photo fabric pieces, I needed to baste it together. I did that, by hand, with 6 lines of hand basting, top to bottom. My plan was to permanently attach the 2 layers together AS I stitched on the photos.
I also went ahead and bound the edges of the double layer throw at this point. I used 1.75″ wide cross-shirt cut pieces of the orange T-Shirts from the play. I stitched the right side of the strips to the wrong side of the throw. Mitering the corners, I turned under the remaining edge and zigzagged on the ‘right’ side of the throw – the side to which the photos would be attached. If I were to do this again – I would cut the strips 2″ wide. I’m finding how VERY much I utilize my left ‘tall man’ finger as I feed fabric into the sewing machine.
Next decision: to turn under the edges of each photo, OR ‘frame’ them somehow with either fabric or…how about a serged edge? Again, I tested, and a 4 thread serged edge, with a pretty close stitch length seemed to frame each photo really nicely.
However, once I got started, I noticed markings on the photo of the serger feed dogs. See above: on the right side, the Pointer/Creaser is pointing to the track marks. I decreased the foot pressure AND topped the edge with strips of Solvy water-soluble stabilizer, and that seemed to work, as you can see on the left edge. (Don’t confuse the spots on the photo with the tracks…the photo is of grandson standing on a bridge over the Mississippi.)
Feeling this was successful, I decided to go ahead and serge each edge of all of the photos…which was quite a job in and of itself! I did NOT turn corners, but serged on and off each of the edges, knowing I could just tuck those ‘tails’ under as I stitched the photos to the throw.
Here is how things looked once I stitched them all on, through both layers, using black thread on the top, and grey thread in my bobbin. With manipulation, my nails were black and the photos were FADING, as you can see in this picture. I was heart-sick!
Then… after just 1 night, everything was fading – DRASTICALLY!
I knew at that point that I may well have to go another direction…
A New Direction
Not quite ready to totally chuck the photo side, I decided to cut various different heart shapes of the remaining orange T-shirt ‘fabric’, on which I would write motivational, up-lifting ‘words’ from Nana. These would be put on the back – which I knew may well become a new ‘front’ of this project. Oh well – at this point, it was worth a try. I did alot of thinking, praying, and research to come up with the exact quotes and sayings and scripture that I wanted to include. Even that took hours.
I decided to hand-stitch these ‘Nana Hearts’ of wisdom on by hand with a running stitch, going through just that back layer of the grey furry fabric. I did use Steam a Seam 2 to stabilize the t-shirt fabric for my hand printing using a permanent Pigma Pen. After testing, it did seem that fusing these to the back of each of the stitched ‘photo’ areas worked pretty well – at least it didn’t mash/melt the pile of the furry fabric. Actually, it wasn’t that hard, but it was also obvious that the ‘goo’ of the fusible agent of the Steam A Seam was goo-ing up my needle. I grabbed one of the BoNash Iron Cleaning sheets to have on the table beside me to stick my needle into to remove the goo. I used 2 strands of DMS embroidery floss in orange, with a running stitch. I really do love hand stitching, so this was actually pretty enjoyable – taking me 2 Christmas movies to achieve.
At this point, I was getting excited again, thinking I was making ‘lemonade’ from ‘lemons’. AND it would be a lesson for my grandson on persistence, right?
Discussing this ‘process’ with a sewing friend at church, we realized that if, indeed, I decided to remove the photos, that since the stitching of the photos that went through all layers…the layers of the throw would no longer ‘work’ as one, but move all around.
Sew… at this point, I decided to ‘tie’ the throw layers together right outside of each corner of each of the black and white photos with the orange embroidery floss. This would also scatter orange ‘tufts’ of thread on this ‘blank-except the colored photos and orange t-shirt pieces’ side of the throw. Yeah – I’d purchased 4 skeins of orange DMC floss.
The blank spot on the lower row in the above photo was due to removing one of the absolute worse faded photos. Though time-consuming (of course!), I decided to do just that – chuck all of the black and white photos. Another 2 movies later….. below you can see the ‘back’ of the throw with my Nana Hearts of Wisdom.
I was concerned that the fusing and hand-stitching of the Hearts might not hold up over time. Ughhh! Perhaps I needed to stitch around each of them by machine. Yep – that is what I did, using orange thread in the needle and grey in the bobbin. That only took me an hour and the ‘tying’ tufts of embroidery floss served well to hold the layers together in many places, so there really was no weird shifting and pulling of the 2 layers of the throw. YEAH! This did put a ‘heart’ right over my grandson’s face, but that is just fine in my book!
At first, I thought that the stitching ‘channels’ from the black & white photos would remain. But, later on, using the textured rubbery end of the Seam-Fix tool, the threads all came right out and the heart side of the throw looks just fine.
I snapped photos of each of the Nana Hearts of Wisdom, and will include them here. All-in-all, it was an ‘interesting’ project: both aggravating, disappointing, yet victorious in the end. Please please please comment below with any and all suggestions, and wisdom regarding your own experience with photo transfer – done at home with a home printer. I’m convinced that the laser type printer we have is the culprit. I believe ‘ink jet’ is the other type? Hey – sewing is my thing, not printers, but at this point, I’m eager to learn so that the NEXT photo transfer project I do will end up to be actually that, photo transfer. Thanks in advance for your help in revealing the cause of my failed photo transfer! On my computer, if you click on each of the following photos, they come up larger – that way you can read them all.