First, it's True Confession time. Let me stand up and be the first to say to one and all that I am an embroidery snob. From the time before dirt, I've been doing hand needlework. I've always done hand needlework. I can't remember a time when I haven't done hand needlework. I love doing hand needlework. And without a shred of false modesty, I can claim that there are projects that are pretty doggone good! I've done embroidery, crewel embroidery, counted cross-stitch, needlepoint (including on 52 stitch/inch silk gauze!), Blackwork, applique (although it's not my all-time favorite), Brazilian embroidery, tatting (with needles ... I never quite mastered using a shuttle), and smocking. Smocking has got to be my favorite. My girls, when small, were THE best dressed kids around, I tell ya! Their smocked clothing was exquisite. [sigh] But, they grew up and smocking went out of favor. [sigh]

So, when I say that I'm an embroidery snob, I have some experience in hand embroidery to back me up.

Machine embroidery? Pah! A pox upon it! Cheaters! False accomplishments! It isn't "real" embroidery. Allow me to raise my nose a little higher in the air as I exult in my snobbery.

Then came November 2004. That was the year that I was able to attend the Houston Quilt Show for my second time. I almost didn't go ... I really hadn't made plans to go, but an acquaintance couple of mine lived in San Antonio. She was middling pregnant with their first child and had never gone to the Houston Quilt Show. She figured this was her first, last and only time for years and years and years to be able to do something while she was still a single body. [grin] They also had been after me for some time to visit them ... this seemed to be a good opportunity.

So, off to Houston she and I went. I must say that although my current passion in life was (and continues to be) quilting and while one must never pass up an opportunity to increase one's stash, this was at a time in my life when I had more fabric than a decently sized fabric store. I really, I mean really, didn't need any more fabric, patterns, magazines, books, gadgets, gizmos, implements of destruction or toys. So, I stocked up on batteries for my digital camera, fully intending on not buying a blessed thing ... well, maybe at least a modest little thing.

You may now wipe that silly grin off your face. It's not in the least amusing to make fun of those of us who have impaired judgement. You might remember the saying that "pride goeth before a fall"? Well, that big thunk you heard was me falling. [wry smile]

We arrived at Houston on Thursday and began winding our way through the exhibits and vendors. It was late Friday afternoon that I happened to come upon the Zundt Design booth. Yes, for those of you who know of Zundt Designs, it was literally a time when the heavens opened up, choirs of angels sang and I was struck dumb. For those of you who know me in Real Life will realize that me being left speechless is a Momentous Occasion and should be celebrated as a national holiday.

One of the representatives was creating the most exquisite, incredible, superlative lace motifs on her sewing machine. I had NO idea anything like that could be made on a sewing machine. I immediately asked how much such a machine cost. She must have thought I was a complete idiot, as she informed me that they didn't sell the machines, they sold the designs. She then further explained that the sewing machine was her own, but that I could buy CDs of the designs at the booth. Imagine the blank look on my face at that response. Say what? I didn't have a clue what she was talking about. I had sewing machines at home, but they sure didn't do anything like she was doing.

However, I finally understood that her machine was a combination sewing/embroidery machine; that the designs were loaded into the machine and then stitched out. OH. MY. GOSH. Remember those choirs of angels? This is the point they started singing. All intentions of not buying anything completely left my head, as I was now focused on obtaining one of those incredible embroidery machines.

Under normal circumstances before I buy anything, I research it. After all, I'm parting with my (husband's) hard-earned money and I want to get the best value for it. Unfortunately, since I was in Houston and computer-less, I didn't have access or time to do the sort of research I would have liked to have done. However, I did have the next best thing .... friends! Another quilting friend of mine (who owned an embroidery machine) was also at the Houston Show and happened to be at the same hotel, so I picked her brain about what sorts of things I should be looking for, what features were nice, what features were marginal, what things to avoid. She very graciously gave me lots and lots of information and never once pushed her own brand of machine.

Back at the Houston show, I was now intent on visiting all the sewing & embroidery machine vendors .... the places I had avoided heretofor. Goodness knows I had enough sewing machines at home .. why would I have been looking at these vendors for more?? Silly me. However, I really didn't want another sewing machine, even if it did have an embroidery component. What I really wanted was just the embroidery part, but I was such a neophyte that I didn't know if such an animal existed. Fortunately ... very fortunately ... I discovered that Janome did make an embroidery-only machine, model 300e. Not only that, it had 2 sized hoops: 4x4 and 5x7, where a number of the combination machines only had the one small hoop. I already had a good impression of Janome, as I owned the Jem Gold. So, the Janome rep showed me how the 300e worked and I filed all the information (and brochures) away for future comparison. It's just plain stupid to buy the very first thing you see ... you have nothing to compare it it. I visited the other machine vendors, but no one had an embroidery only machine .. and since they were combination machines, the price was substantially higher.

Still, I didn't immediately return to the Janome dealer. This was a major purchase for me and I wanted to discuss this with Mr. Pirate. Now, I usually did the ET thing ("call home") in the evening to discuss what I had done that day and to find out what the family was up to. However, this time it was mid-afternoon on Saturday when I called back home. Upon hearing my voice, the very first thing out of Mr. Pirate's mouth was (and I am NOT making this up), "all I wanna know is .. how much?" Boy, does he have me pegged or what? :-) After discussing the embroidery machine with him and establishing that we did have enough funds to cover the purchase (yippee!), I went back to the Janome booth and made my purchase. I was pleased not to have had to pay the retail price for it .. I kind figured that they'd have a show special going on .. and they did. They even shipped it home to California for me on their dime (or two). And there was no sales tax. Woooo hoooo! Two days after I returned home, my new embroidery machine turned up on my doorstep. I was one happy camper.

Since the designs from Zundt had completely turned me around, I bought 2 CDs of their designs: a collection of "corner" designs (i.e. motifs that fit into corners) and the Classic Alphabet. While I still completely dislike many of the fully-embroidered, cutesy cartoon figures and patches, I completely adore and covet the intricate heirloom embroideries and laces.

Since then, I have been busily downloading all those incredible FREE designs (!) and occasionally buying designs. I now have a hard drive full of embroidery designs ... the quantity of which rivals my fabric stash. I am now a card-carrying member of SADD: Seriously Addicted to Downloading Designs. I have more machine embroidery designs on my hard disk than I will ever be able to stitch out, but that doesn't stop me from prowling for more. :-) I must admit, this is a terrible, terrible affliction! [smile] I bought an embroidery design manager (Embird) and eventually purchased the digitizing component. I have subscribed myself to various digitizing clubs, taken hands-on seminars on how to use Embird and have purchased (or downloaded) all the tutorials I can find on how to best use my new-found hobby.

I have found myself in the curious position of stockpiling designs but being somewhat of a coward in actually using them on in a real application! I'm scared to death of horribly mucking up an article of clothing! Slowly, I'm getting over this ridiculous phobia .... I have so many pretty designs I want to use ... somewhere! [smile]

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