Sugar Skull Planning

My two daughters both like sugar skulls, so I thought to surprise them with some embroidery- maybe on a shirt or the back of a jacket? These pillows I saw in a museum gift shop helped inspire me!

What design to use? The internet has about a zillion answers to a search for sugar skull image- even some purchase-able embroidery patterns. But I generally like to make my own designs, unless I am trying a new technique.

I thought about drawing a design of my own- but I am not a good sketcher. It takes me a long time to get proportions right- and even then, I never get things quite symmetric. Aha! I’ll go back to the anatomy books, thought the retired ENT surgeon that I am.


Here’s a photo from an anatomy book, with different colors for the different bones making up the skull.

I’m learning Adobe Illustrator (AI), and seeing more and more uses for it in my fabric adventures. Here is the skull placed into AI, cropped of the anatomy labels.

Here it is dimmed to about 30% opacity.

And here it is, printed out.

I’ll make a few of these to experiment with different designs and motifs. One I get a few designs that I like, I’ll add them to this website as downloadable PDFs for anyone else who might like to use them!

More Appliqué Experimentation

I continued experimenting with appliqué technique, this time glue basting and starch basting.

I’ve used a small glue stick successfully for glue basting hexagons, so I expected to like it for turtles too.

But no. The perimeter of the turtle shape was jerky. Where there should be gentle curves on the turtle’s side, there were short straight sections joined by points. The feet and tail were also jerky.

Conclusion: In my hands, glue basting works well for straight lines and for simpler shapes without acute curves or points. For a more complex shape like my turtle, it doesn’t work well.

On to starch basting. Demos of this technique look awesome, so I was really pumped to try it. I set myself up for success with some new equipment.

I’ve been wanting a mini-iron, so this was a good reason to buy. While shopping for the iron, I found this clever little finger stiletto (hopefully to avoid finger scorching!). A large bottle cap to spray the liquid starch into, a small paint brush, and I was all set.

Such disappointment. Painting the starch onto the fabric was easy. But even using my new fingertip stiletto and mini-iron, I could not manipulate the fabric into the gentle curves and acute angles of the turtle shape. (Look particularly at the two magnified areas.)  I simply could not get the fabric to cooperate into curves without points.  Experiment aborted without being finished.

Conclusion: Starch basting is probably useful for larger or less complex shapes.

I’m putting together my personal favorite pearls for hand appliqué in my next post. See you then!!

Improving Hand Appliqué

A little detail, a big appearance improvement in my applique!

I was looking at my little white turtles on their bright backgrounds. Why, I thought, do they look so uneven and sort of spiky? After staring fixedly for a while, I noticed that some of the ‘spiky-ness’ was from the little white applique stitches.

But wait! I could improve that! I did a little more applique focusing on tucking each stitch into the background material just a thread or two under the edge of the applique piece. Et voilà, a slightly smoother appearance.

I hope this turns out to be just one insight in a chain of future insights taking me closer to mastering hand applique!