Saturday, 22 December 2018

Celtic Owl Notebook Cover - In the hoop machine embroidery design

I’ve been enjoying playing with my embroidery machine, finally. I’ve found this easier than trying to dressmake while I’ve been less mobile than usual. Now I have my moonboot off but my foot is still sore (and could be for up to 6 months apparently) and less mobile than previously. So I need to keep going with some mobility exercises.

By now I may have posted about a couple of the projects I’ve done - presents for my grandsons. This depends on me having taken photos which I haven’t managed up until now. I’ve been busy but next week should be a bit clearer, I hope! When I’ve been at home, the weather has not been good for photography. Or dark. Or both. The photos I am including in this post all show wide angle distortion - that's why all my straight lines, including those on the cutting mat, are curved. Apparently you can correct for this but I've just cropped most of it away. Next time maybe.

My latest project was a Celtic owl notebook cover. I bought an embroidery pattern for notebook covers of various sizes. I absolutely love it - and so does everyone who has seen it.
The lines are straight! This is the 1:1 printout of the design to be stitched;
you can just see the lines showing the centre of the design. 
I decided to start with the A6 size. There are two owl designs, one denser than the other so I decided to start with the simpler of the two. I started with the front cover - the front and back covers are stitched separately and joined together using a quilt and go technique; the spine is made to the thickness required. The instructions directed me to a video which was very helpful.

I love the effect with the gold lame.
This of course is my second attempt
The photograph with the instructions was what attracted me in the first place, so I followed the use of the same fabric. I used a gold lame fabric.  Behind the fabric was a layer of batting, and both were loosely mounted, using glue, on cutaway stabilizer. This is called floating as the fabric is not actually inside the hoop. I was a bit wary of the process, but the design stitched out beautifully. The gold lame is slightly raised between the black and dark grey stitches and gives a beautiful embossed leather effect.

I had to put the lining and the sleeve on the back of the hoop and join the two together then trim away all the excess fabric from top and bottom. I used too much glue, I believe, and made this process harder than it needed to be. 

I used my duckbill scissors to trim away the excess fabric (the stabilizer to which the design is stitched is still in the hoop and needs to stay there so I didn’t want to cut it) but in retrospect realise I probably could have been closer to the stitching.

The step after that is that the edge is then stitched all around with a satin stitch border. It looks lovely.

My cutaway stabilizer was white as was my batting and the former in particular showed at the edges. This is inevitable really, since this is not cut away until after the design is finished.

In theory the batting shouldn’t show as the excess batting and fabric is trimmed away before the satin stitch border is stitched. Having the batting set back a little would help enormously.

I’ve bought black stabilizer to solve that problem. I also bought some black batting while I was at it.


My A6 notebook front cover would not fit inside the front owl cover. My embroidery turned out the right size but it needs to be a bit larger to take account of the border which takes away from the space available. When I checked the sizes of A6 and the embroidery quoted sizes, it looked as though there was enough - but this was the outside measurement of the cover not the internal measurement

A6 notebook cover and A6 notebook - you can see the notebook is too big
I even had to trim the notebook for the bigger design in the end

I could make the embroidery the bit bigger it needs to be. There are many sizes provided with my purchase - trouble is, these don’t necessarily equate to our sizes. The one I sewed was labelled A6, though. Perhaps I should have realised when at one point the instructions suggested there might be some need to trim the notebook used.

Another issue was that the pocket didn't work properly - I think because the lame interacted with the glue. I used too much.

Anyway, I love the design and felt I could get around the issues I had come across.

I have put my original front cover inside the plastic cover on an A6 cover and it looks great!

I did ask some questions on an embroidery group I’m part of. That's where I became aware that black stabilizer existed. They also said that the batting should ideally be within the stitching line, which makes sense - however, this particular design does not do that and the way of making it within the hoop leaves me rather bewildered as to how to achieve that better finish. The group advised that I email the seller. (I've since realised that I could print out and then cut the batting slightly smaller and adhere to the design)

The seller responded after a few days asking for further details and after a few further days saying that
  • I needed to trim MUCH closer - recommending a particular type of scissors that I cannot source.
  • Best to use really thin batting - I don’t have enough experience to know where in the thickness/thinness spectrum my batting comes - it was the only black batting I could source.
  • Best to use black stabiliser and batting - I found a source for black stabilizer, which is thicker than the white stabilizer I previously used
  • I could burn off any stabilizer still sticking out, using an ordinary lighter
  • Might have to trim the edges of the notebook as maybe the cover on mine was too thick (no, it wasn't)
  • I could increase the size of the design using (free) software recommended
  • I also asked about using just the background design on the reverse, but this question wasn’t responded to.

Next try

I used black stabiliser and batting. I also increased the size of my design so that the internal measurements matched up with A6 rather than the external as previously. I had to use my own software as the one recommended didn’t work for me, as I couldn't save in an appropriate format. I used much less glue than on the previous occasion and this worked much better except that part of the lining turned over so I had to unpick and redo part - this was much easier than I expected as the lining hadn’t been stitched at all and had the advantage that there was an extra line of stitching to make me feel more confident about close trimming.  

This time, I used black Kona cotton as my lining - this is perhaps a little thick but it works much better than the lame I used last time. I trimmed REALLY closely. However, while I trimmed right up to the stitching, as close as I could manage, there is still stabilizer outside the stitching line as of course it is removed after the stitching is done and the satin stitch is actually further in than I feel it should be - that is, rather than stitching across the original line, it only stitches up to it. I can’t alter that, sadly. I do feel it needs to be about 1mm further out.
The covers before they are attached together. This was black cotton cut to make the spine binding.

I wondered about burning off the bits showing but no, I can’t bring myself to do that. David feels there is no need for the level of perfectionism I wish to achieve - this design is for him in the first instance and that I certainly shouldn’t burn off the excess - too much chance of things going wrong.

I have run out of A6 notebooks and wasn’t able to get any in my local shops. Loads of A5 but not of A6. I can get online and tried a couple of supermarkets and WHSmith but didn't get any. I  needed to know the size of the spine in order to finish. I decided to use my existing test A6 notebook - I did have to trim that ever so slightly, by the way.

Final update

Well, I was unable to buy any suitable notebooks and ones I bought online arrived to day but are not suitable and others may be okay but haven’t arrived yet and my time for embroidery - or any other kind of sewing - has run out. So I went ahead with my existing notebook, with the few used pages torn out. This is for David!

I followed the instructions for binding back and front cover together. I was directed to watch an excellent video on 'quilt as you go' as the seller said he/she couldn’t explain it any better.

I then followed the instructions on the PDF accompanying the pattern. This did not work!! The pieces cut were far too narrow for my notebook with a spine of only ¼” and the back and front were overlapping. On re-watching the video, I realised that to abut the quilt pieces, the joining piece is 1” - so that’s the minimum starting size.

So I worked it out mathematically and redid and this appeared to work. However, the very narrow spine means that the notebook is pushed forward by the seam allowance edges - remember, these have dense satin stitch around them - so I had to trim ¼” off the long edge of the front and the back cover to allow them to fit in the sleeves. I guess the spine needs to be wider than the notebook spine to allow the notebook to slip between the front and back.

The inside of the cover

I was far from happy with the finishing instructions.
The tips of the wings are cut off

As the owl wings go right up to the satin stitching, and I have to stitch ¼” in from the edge you will see that this cuts off part of the owl wing. The satin stitching is 4mm wide (the mix of measurements is all around in machine embroidery and quilting!) Also - what’s the point of having satin stitch that’s going to be covered in a seam allowance and just creates bulk? I couldn’t bring myself to cut it off but tbh that’s what’s required, I think. It shouldn’t have been stitched in the first place. Why couldn’t the design have created a suitable blank area at the side to be joined? After all, this is a notebook cover


I still love the owl
But I won’t be doing further notebook covers until I can work out a better way. The specific issues are the satin stitch being too far into the design and the poor finishing instructions.

Post script

I found a beautiful notebook, with a sparkling gold but smooth cover, smaller than A6 which would fit nicely into the cover but unfortunately its spine is wider so no can do for this rendition - it get pushed too far forward.

Then today, one of the notebooks I ordered online arrived - although the spine is thicker, because the notebook is smaller, it fits well as is. I need to decide whether Joanne is getting it with this new notebook - not perfect but okay - or David with the old notebook. I think David, as I can improve the notebook cover for Joanne. 

Helen and Anthony are coming late tomorrow (Saturday) night after their return from Argentina - I'm not sure how much they're going to be affected by the problems caused by the drones around Gatwick - they're flying into Heathrow but the repercussions are widespread.

I'll be busy tomorrow as Alison and family (including Thomas, the cat) are arriving. My mother arrived today. Joanne will be coming Sunday. So I've scheduled this post - hope that works!!


  1. What a shame you've had such technical difficulties, your owls are absolutely gorgeous. On screen the finished books look great, and probably the lucky recipients won't even see any imperfections, but we makers do like a perfect finish! Sue

    1. Thank you. I love the owls. I'm sure I can improve the spine. It's true that we makers like a perfect finish but this is a bit less than acceptable to most, I'd say.


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