Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Textiles – Grant Johnson

During these weeks in lab we worked with textiles, sewing, and embroidery. I happened to also be in a fashion class this semester, so I was excited to get the opportunity to learn some new things that could add to my clothing construction repertoire. I’ve also never been around embroidery machines before, so that was an exciting prospect.

During the first week of this lab we had to make small drawstring bags. Since I missed the actual lab section, I ended up constructing this on my own at a separate time. I was definitely still getting a hang of dealing with the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ sides of fabric during this time and as you can see in the pictures, some of the parts of my bag ended up in the wrong spot. I decided to make the most of this and have a bag that has outer pockets instead of the lining that it was supposed to have. I decided to hand sew some parts of the bag for practice as well (although now that I know a little more I always try and avoid hand sewing). Making this bag actually ended up kind of helping me in my fashion class as well, later down the line. When making two whole(!) outfits  for my final project I needed some way to secure the waist of some shorts I planned on creating. I thought back to this assignment and realized I could make a similar drawstring (coming out of the sides of the shorts) that would both be functional, as well as stylistically unique.

The following week in lab, we learned to use the embroidery machines to sew vector images into fabric. This is something I’ve wanted to learn about and play with for a really long time since I draw and have created vector images in the past that I think would be really interesting to sew into clothes. In lab I got the opportunity to make myself the majority of a squirrel patch (side note: embroidery can be really time consuming). I was really impressed by how accurate and clean everything looked with my squirrel. I realized there were probably a ton of really cool things I could do for my final embroidery. I didn’t really experience any serious issues with this patch in lab, but when it came to making my final piece I ran into a totally different set of problems in making a patch work out, which I will discuss a little later.

Build Process

For my final textile product I decided I wanted something that could be useful to me and serve a function instead of something that just looked cool (especially since I was still working on upping my fabric craftsmanship). When I looked through all of my options I eventually came across a pencil bag that I thought would be super helpful because I’m always searching for all of my different art pens, pencils, and other tools which can be spread across my apartment, throughout my backpack, etc. With this bag I would be able to keep everything contained and in one place.

I immediately thought of a drawing I had done a while back that would make the perfect embroidery to put on it and I thought about all the extra clothes I had at my apartment that could possibly used for fabric. I ended up deciding on a tie-dye shirt as the fabric I would use for the outer lining. Once I started working on the actual bag, however, I realized all the mistakes I had unwittingly made. My original drawing, vectorized, turned out to be too much for the embroidery machines to handle. The file size was too large, even when trying to reduce the density of stitches, turn outlines into running stitches, or trying to simplify the vector image. This was a major bummer for me as I really wanted to see that image in fabric form. After I gave up and decided to create a new vector image I began starting into my patch for the outside lining. This is when I ran into even more problems!

I soon found that the embroidery machines don’t quite work with t-shirt material by itself, not matter how taut you get it on the hoop. The fabric I had cut from my t-shirt ended up getting sucked down into the bobbin pit and getting all caught up in everything. I decided to suck it up, cut a new piece (the last I could get out of the t-shirt), and try it again with some stabilizer. The stabilizer did help some, but with my specific design having the heavy filled areas, it still ripped and ended up letting the fabric get caught up in the machine again. I tried one more time to no avail and just decided to get my patch made so I could move on.

I grabbed a piece of canvas and started into it. One of the types of fabric I tried to use to embroidery immediately broke and I couldn’t get it to work no matter what I tried (it was pearlescent and I think it just wasn’t strong enough for the tension the embroidery machine needs). What happened then is still somewhat of a mystery to me. When I started into my canvas piece it was late into the night and I was unable to finish before the fab lab closed up. I left my machine until the next day and started back into the patch. Somewhere along the way it got unaligned which ended up being the final patch you see on my bag. I decided that I was fine with just using that patch to try and get this whole ordeal over with. As per usual, I decided to try and work with what I was given and decided to try and use the patch as a little pouch on the front of the bag, to help give it some utility. After attaching that to the outer lining I ironed some interfacing onto the outer lining to help give it some rigidity. I then attached my inner lining and a zipper to enclose the whole thing. My bag ended up being a little different than what the guide was looking for, but I like the way it looks personally and think it is much more unique than the standard pencil bag.

Final Reflection

I had a lot of trials and tribulations in the process of making these objects, but I think that’s a lot of what getting good with textiles takes — experimenting and trying things out until the process makes sense in your head. I definitely think I need to spend some more time around embroidery machines to try and really get my skills up to par there and test out how you can make different fabrics work out with them. I also think that designing projects to be cut into pieces and aligned later takes a certain level of organization skill and planning that I still might not be at yet. Either way, I was still really happy with the items I produced and plan on getting as much use out of them as possible. That’s one thing I really love about textiles — the opportunities are so limitless and it’s instantly gratifying to make an object that can serve some kind of real purpose for people.

I learned a lot about handling machines through these weeks and in conjunction with my fashion class, this time period was a time where I really upped my skills in textiles a visible (at least in my opinion) amount. Being able to figure out ways to turn mistakes into benefits was definitely a skill I pulled out of textile work quickly. I actually bought my own sewing machine recently due to how much fun I have had with all the textile prospect I’ve taken on now and hope to make lots more stuff soon! Since I’m a little late in turning in this write-up, I’ve decided to include some other projects I took on in my fashion class in hopes for a little credit or at the very least to show that I do kind of know my way around textiles. There are more, but here are the highlights:


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