Embroidering on washable paper

embroidered washable paper

This week’s 20 Flower Embroideries tutorial is more of an experiment. I had been really intrigued by washable paper*, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’d seen pictures of a few things made with washable paper, but I had yet to see anybody embroider on it, so that got me thinking, “is there nobody embroidering on washable paper because you can’t embroider on it?”.

So, not wholly convinced that this would work, I picked a simple design from 20 Flower Embroideries, the red rose pattern, and made it simpler by making the pattern monochrome and replacing the pattern’s original satin stitching with a back stitch outline.

I couldn’t think of any other way of transferring the pattern reliably than Sulky Solvy, which by the way is a pain in the neck to get in the UK at the moment, I can only seem to get it from US sellers, and the shipping takes ages. Ignoring my rant about why do Americans get all the good craft supplies, Sulky Solvy, if you get the right type (see link, also not an ad), is this stuff that you can put in your printer, print out your pattern and then stick onto your fabric. You do your embroidery and then wash off the Sulky Solvy. Using Sulky Solvy isn’t perfect, it has a tendency to make fabric feel hard, once you’ve washed it off, it can make your stitches stick up a little from the material and if you’re using red floss in your embroidery, embroiderer beware, red floss often runs when in contact with water, even when the brand claims to be colourfast but it is fantastic for transferring patterns where more conventional methods would be a lot more tricky. Going back to the washable paper, I suppose you could try carbon transfer paper, but I’m not sure how well the transfer would show up on the washable paper’s shiny surface.

So, I transferred the design and got stitching; embroidering washable paper is very much like trying to stitch ordinary paper or card, you don’t really need a hoop, and it’s more of an effort getting the needle through the paper, but it was doable. The big reveal was when I washed the Sulky Solvy off, which luckily did wash off (I wasn’t entirely sure it would) but I had to scrape at it with my fingernails to get the stuff to budge.

The label that comes with the washable paper recommends to wash and tumble dry the paper first before doing anything with it, I didn’t, this was part laziness and part curiosity about what the stuff was like to work with before any sort of ‘pre-treatment’. I was also concerned that if I washed it, measured it out, embroidered it, then rewashed it to get rid of the Sulky Solvy, would it possibly shrink more, get so wrinkled, it would distort the embroidery too much. Anyway, when you get washable paper straight off the roll, it’s smooth, shiny, quite hard and difficult to flatten out. Once I’d washed it to get off the Sulky Solvy, it got gently creased and felt a little softer but still fairly cardboard like.

I sewed the embroidery into a pouch, using what’s billed as a jeans zipper (which is 10cm long) and another piece of washable paper for the back. Sewing it together was interesting. I didn’t want to pin the washable paper, for fear of leaving visible holes in it, so everything had to be held together with my fingers, which was easy enough for a small purse, it might be trickier for larger items, I suppose you could use small bulldog or quilting clips, to keep stuff together. I wasn’t sure how my sewing machine (which can be on the temperamental side) would respond to sewing through what felt like cardboard, but it was okay. Now if you’ve never made a zippered purse before, I suggest looking for a proper tutorial elsewhere but to put it basically, you sew one side of your purse to one side of the zip, right sides together, then the other side of the purse to the other side of the zip, again right sides together. Then, making sure that the zip has been left open, sew the two sides of the purse together, trim the seams at the corners, then pull the purse the right way round through the open zip. This last bit, with washable paper, was tricky, at first a little like trying to pull a thick paper envelope inside out, and I was slightly worried that I was going to tear something. I guess that it would have been easier if, as suggested, the washable paper had been through my washing machine and tumble drier first. But I persisted, and I eventually managed it, without tearing anything. It’s difficult to get proper corners at the bottom of the purse, even with the trimming of the seam allowance at the corners, the seam is just too bulky, but I can live with the rounded corners.

So, verdict, yes you can embroider on washable paper, I’m not sure that I’d do anything too complicated, there is a little bit of satin stitching at the centre of my rose, but I’m not sure that I’d do anything covering a much bigger area. I think with how shiny the washable paper is as well, I personally think sticking to monochrome patterns in black, white or grey, would work best. The washable paper does get increasingly more leather-like as you wash it and just with general handling, as you work with it to make whatever you’re making. For me personally though, the purse does feel a bit like one of the cheap, shiny purse things that I used to like as a teenager in the 80s and 90s, I think what I’m trying to say, is that it doesn’t feel (for me) that ‘sophisticated’. I am also personally a bit annoyed with the purse as the flower is off kilter (I have no idea how that happened, as I thought I’d been careful with my measurements). Still, I think that this will get used, on its own, it’s a bit too bling for me but I think the contrast of the shiny material with other accessories that I used, will be a nice contrast and tone things down a bit. Will I make more things with washable paper (I still have quite a lot of the roll left), maybe, I like how washable paper has structure, and I’m curious about how that could be used in bigger projects. I’m also interested to see how washable paper works when sewn together with other fabrics.

* I got my washable paper from M is for Make, this isn’t an ad or anything, I just thought I’d put a link in for those who hadn’t heard of the product before. I’ve also seen the same brand of washable paper elsewhere in quite a few places, so it’s worth a search for.

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