Rainforest Rings placemats
and coordinating napkins

placemat size: 12" x 18"; napkin size: 17" square

March 2010

Note: this project has both a Quilting and a Machine Embroidery component. If you're interested in only one, click on the links provided and you can skip the other part.

The Quilting Part

In February 2010, I ran across a fabulous pattern, "Rainforest Rings". That ombre shading in the rings immediately caught my interest and I bought the pattern. When it arrived, I was disappointed to realize that the beautiful gradation of color in the rings was due the to the FABRIC being shaded, not the piecing! Ah well .... a little disappointment is just part of life. Since I wasn't going to learn anything new and different from this pattern (as striking as it was), I put it away for "sometime later".

Later in February, I attended a quilt retreat in Phoenix, AZ (capably organized and put together by the incredible 7 Phoenix hostesses of About.com's Quilting Forum). This was my 9th year in attending and it's one of the highlights of my year. :-) This year, our goodie bag contained a gift card to the quilt store, 3 Dudes Quilting, which is across the street from the hotel. Although I had made no plans to buy any fabric this year (Lord knows I have enough of my own stash), I did need to use that gift card. So, during one of our forays to the store, I went looking for ombre fabric.

Quilt stores are very individualistic and reflect the taste of the owner(s). Unfortunately, a quick run through the store revealed that 3 Dudes Quilting didn't have any obvious ombre fabric. I made a much slower tour of the store, looking carefully at the stock they did have to see if ANYTHING would work for Rainforest Rings. Happily, I found two bolts that were vaguely ombre and would work, although they sure weren't like the pattern cover.

Upon my return home, I went to work on the placemats. The instructions are clear and offer different techniques, depending on whether you want fussy cut fabric in the middle or not. If you don't want to fussy cut, then you don't have curved piecing for the center sections ... and this is the version that I chose. Since my ring fabric was to be the star of the show, I needed a unobtrusive background fabric for the center of the rings, as well as the surrounding borders.

The fabrics for the placemat itself, as well as the binding are quilting cottons. From past experience, I knew that a thin batting is needed for placemats; batting with any kind of thickness will make glasses wobbly. To reduce that possibility, I used plain white flannel as the batting. The backing was simple muslin.

The pattern also offers directions on how to sew the rings to the border fabric, depending on whether you want to applique by hand or by machine. I'm in a needleturn applique mode these days, so that is how I chose to attach the rings. These are big rings with gentle curves; making all six placemats didn't take very long. I'm getting much better with needleturn applique and I was pleased with my efforts.

That being said, I wasn't in love with the final result. Oh, the workmanship was fine (what?? you expected anything less???) but the cover image of the vibrant, ombre rings was what was in my mind and what I really wanted. The fabric I bought was much more subdued and while the placemats turned out very nicely, they just weren't the same image as in my mind's eye. I put them aside to be another UFO.

As the month went by, I received a bridal shower invitation for one of Mr. Pirate's nieces. It occured to me that eventhough *I* wasn't overwhelmed with a burning interest in them, the niece just might. I know she had previously expressed an interest in my quilting, so with an intended recipient in mind, I had a renewed interest in the placemats. It really is amazing that with a focus for the placemats, my enthusiasm rose and I found myself becoming eager to see the completed set! :-)

I sized a graphic I found to create a quilting design for both the center and corners of the placemats. (The corner design was slightly smaller than the center design). I copied the sized graphics onto crisp tracing paper, then "sewed" the traced design with an unthreaded needle in the sewing machine. The perforated paper was then used as a stencil. When I used the Quilt Pounce, the powdered chalk went right through the holes to leave the design on the fabric. For the rings, I just freehand drew a feather with a chalk pencil. The chalk marks gave me a "road map" to follow for the quilting.

All of the placemat quilting was done free-motion on my home sewing machine. I didn't use any sort of frame set-up. Placemats are so small, you really don't need anything. I know there is a nifty way that Cindy Roth of Longarm University uses to quilt a set of placemats on the longarm, but I had already cut out the backings before I remembered it.

The center design and feathers in the rings were stitched in Superior's Metallic gold thread. I've tried various metallic threads over the years and have found that for my machine(s) (previously, a Singer and currently, Janome 6500), Superior Metallics really *are* superior. They don't break and they feed evenly. I didn't want the corner design to be noticeable, so I stitched those in black Masterpiece (also by Superior).

Here's the final version of the quilted placemat and a close-up of the corner quilting (which, as you remember, was intentionally stitching in black so as to be less visible). As a tie-in to the rings, I rounded the corners of the placemats.

The Machine Embroidery Part

As I was working on the placemats, it occured to me that coordinating napkins would be a nice touch. I bought a linen/rayon blend yardage and made 6 napkins. I want to point out, at this point, that as with all fabric napkins that I make, these have mitered corners. Mitered corners on napkins are *flat* .... none of that bulky nastiness that results otherwise. Yes, I *am* smug about those corners. :-)

I have made a tutorial on how to make those mitered corners for napkins; no webpage, just a PDF (verbage & photos) of directions.

After all the corners for all the napkins were nicely constructed, I went through my stash of machine embroidery designs. I found one that was circular in nature ... coordinating but not matching to the placemat rings. This one is from Artistic Designs through the Oregon Patchworks Mall and is the free sample of her Creative Floral Quilt collection. Let me say with unbridled enthusiam that Irene (she of Artistic Designs)is an incredible digitizer! Her work is simply flawless. The satin stitching is smooth, the outline stitching tracks perfectly, back-tracking retraces itself exactly. I've stitched out several of her designs on different projects and every single one was perfect. They are absolutely exquisite. :-)

There have been designs (from others) that I've stitched out with less than stellar results, which have left me wondering if it was the design, the thread, the stabilizer, my machine, the hooping process, the moon being in the 7th house but Jupiter not being aligned with Mars, excessive dust bunnies under the bed or something else that caused me to be unhappy with the stitchout.

Not so with Artistic Designs. I can't wax enthusiastic enough and can say with complete confidence that you won't be disappointed with any of her designs. :-)

To personalize this design, I put the initials of the happy couple in the upper rings. It's difficult to find small alphabets that stitch out nicely but Sew-N-2-U's Tiny Cursive Font is absolutely THE BEST. In fact, all of Sew-N-2-U's tiny font collection is superlative. Eventhough the letters are small, they are perfectly formed and stitch out wonderfully. The result is a fantastically LEGIBLE small alphabet. I thought briefly about putting their surname initial in the bottom ring but wasn't sure if the niece was going to take her new husband's last name, keep her maiden surname or hyphenate their names. Lest I guess wrong, I opted to not do anything about the last name initial at all. :-)

I chose the embroidery thread colors to coordinate with the colors of the rings. I have a variety of embroidery thread manufacturers on hand; I don't have a loyalty to any one in particular (except for Superior Metallics; they are the only metallics I like to use). For these napkins, I used Floriani polyester, Smart Needle polyester, Superior metallic, Mettler Poly-sheen polyester.

Some fabrics will tend to retain the shape of the embroidery hoop if they are hooped directly. Linen is one of them. To avoid "hoop burn", you need to hoop the stabilizer ONLY, then afix the fabric to the stablizer. You can do this with spray adhesive, pining or basting. In this particular case, I happened to have Floriani Wet-n-Gone tacky water soluble stabilizer on hand. This is pretty nifty stuff: a water soluable (fibrous type)sheet has a sticky, adhesive surface, covered by a protective paper. When you peel off the protective paper, the adhesive is exposed and then you can stick your fabric to the hooped stabilize. The adhesive keeps the fabric from moving around, yet you don't need to hoop the fabric! Best of all, once the embroidery is finished, the stabilizer disappears when soaked in water! Having a stabilizer that doesn't show on the back is important when you have items where the reverse side will be seen.

My embroidery machine is a Janome 300e ... one of the very first stand-alone embroidery machines. Janome has an updated version now, but I have no inclination to buy a newer model. My machine stitches beautifully and I just love it. :-)

And that leads me to the final pièce de résistance ... the pirate tag. :-) As all quilters know, you should always put a label on the back of the quilt to identify who made it and for whom. It's part of the quilt's provenience. When I was sewing garments for my girls, there were very small, woven garment labels, "Little Labels" by Jane MacPherson of Atlanta, GA that said stuff like "I love you", "Made with love", "I need a hug", etc, etc, etc that you could sew into the garment. It made the garment that much more special. (Just Google for "Little Labels" "Jane MacPherson" and you'll get several hits. However, one site says they are out of production; other sites say nothing on that topic. Garden Fairies, Martha's Heirlooms and Chadwick Heirlooms all seem to have a nice supply as of this date.)

Recently, I saw another, different small, sew-in, woven label, "Tag-It-On's" by Wendy Price of Irvine, CA ... these labels said "P.S. I love you" ... absolutely darling! I promptly purchased a package of one dozen at a reasonable price. Neither "Little Labels" nor "Tag-It-On's" sell directly to the customer; you need to buy them through a retailer.

SewForum.com is a machine embroidery forum that I participate in. They have a section where participants can upload designs that they have created for the use by the rest of us. There are some very, very talented amateur digitizers out there! One such generous person digitized a VERY small skull-and-crossbones. Well, I collect virtually everything piratey and I've had this one for some time. Sadly, I can't find it on the forum any longer, so it might have been removed. In any case, it's VERY small ... less than 1/2" square.

In times past, I have embroidered a long label on a ribbon but I didn't want a large anything for these placemats. Besides, putting a label on quilted items like placemats would be obnoxious and obtrusive. And none of the supply of small labels that I own have appropriate verbage. BUT .... BUT .... I got to thinking! (yes, you may be afraid!) I could MAKE MY OWN TAGS by embroidering that small design onto a ribbon, fold a small section over to create my own pirate tags! Dang! but I'm clever! This way, I could put my own tag on the placemats and our niece would remember that her piratey aunt had made them. :-)

I promptly created a embroidery design file that would stitch out a bunch of them at once ... and my results are above .... on grosgain ribbon and satin picot-edged ribbon. Since I can use any color ribbon and any color embroidery thread, I can color-coordinate my tags to the item. The white grosgain ribbon has a tradtional black Jolly Rodgers; the pink picot-edged ribbon also has a black Jolly Rodgers and the ecru picot-edge has a tan design. I used the ecru ribbon with tan embroidery on the back of the placemats; it was sewn in as the binding was put on. :-)

Here's the complete set of 6 placemats and 6 napkins.

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