Blackcabbit's World

Blackcabbit (aka. Dionnie Takahashi) is an illustrator living in Japan. She loves drawing whimsical animal characters, as well as doing handmade crafts to beautify the world she lives in.

Embroidery Project – Travel Pillow Cases

A year ago, we travelled oversea with our newly-bought travel pillows. Despite of their manufacturer’s claim, micro-beads started oozing out of them easily. Mine totally did not survived the trip and it was chucked into the nearest bin at the airport immediately on arrival. I had to buy a new one (with conventional stuffings) for the trip back.

Since the tiny deserters in my husband’s pillow made lesser escape attempts, his precious headrest was salvageable. With no urgency (we have no plans to go anywhere) and slightly increased self-time (my toddler is less clingier recently), I decided to make coverings for the two pillows. I had two fleece turtlenecks all worn and seemingly the perfect upcycling material for the sewing project.

Embroidery project

Free Embroidery Patterns

Free embroidery design

Click on image to access the PDF file.

Well, I decided it’s about time that I practice on my embroidery skill too. My husband and I have distinctive travel interests. I wanted the pillow cases to reflect that. With our differences in mind, I got ambitious and drew more doodles than I can stitch. In order not to “waste” the un-embroidered designs, I decided to share them here freely. Click on the image to access my PDF file. You can enlarge or reduce these embroidery patterns to fit your project using a photocopier or by changing your printer settings.

It’ll definitely make my day to see your work with any of these doodle critters. Please send me a link or a photo coz I’d love to feature it too!

Tackling the Embroidery Transfer Problem

All in all, I had one major downside with this stitching project. It was largely due to my fabric choice and limited stash of embroidery transfer tools. Since my chosen fabric was dark-colored fleece, I had a hard time trying to trace the designs onto the fabric. Logically, I should venture into a craft store to explore my options but instead I decided to experiment with whatever is available at home.Fabric markersHere is a quick rundown of my “home-remedies”:
a. Dressmaker’s carbon paper (チャコペーパー)
>>> Only work on the “wrong side” of the fleece.
b. Plain pattern copy paper (パターンコピー用紙)
>>> To trace the pillow shape.
c. Tracing paper (トレーシングペーパー)
>>> See details below.
d. White chalk marker
>>> Fairly readable on dark-colored fleece.
e. Water soluble fabric markers
>>> These only work well with light-colored fabric.
f. A supposedly-out-of-ink pen (that strangely omit ink occasionally)
>>> To “write” on white carbon paper & trace the pillow shape onto the fleece.
g. Thin tissue-like packaging paper
>>> See details below.

My Tissue Paper Transfer Experiments

As figured, my only option would be to use the tissue paper transfer method (sometimes referred to as needle tracing, thread tracing, or the tear-away transfer method). However, I don’t have the “RIGHT” paper, (i.e. embroidery tracing paper or any of the lightweight tissue paper used in craft). Hence, I had to tryout these materials instead:

Using Facial Tissue

Thinking that the facial tissue is the next closest thing to the tissue paper used for embroidery purposes, I used one-ply of the soft thin material. (Oh yes, it comes with a few pros and cons!)Transferring Embroidery1a. The design was effortlessly traced and the embroidery hoop held the tissue pretty close to the fabric. 1b. However, sewing onto such thin material was a nightmare as it teared easily, and design visibility became a problem. 1c. Removing the facial tissue was easy. The problem was with the tiny bits stuck between the floss and fabric, which made the embroidery looked rather fuzzy. I was unable to “clean” it out completely. 1d. Finally, no matter how gently or carefully I nudged off the tissue, my stitches became loose. So I had to reinforce my line-works with various embroidery techniques (e.g. backstitch + outline stitch + whatever stitch-types that work). VERDICT: Not a good transfer method at all. Too time-consuming to remove the tissue fray bits.

Here is a few more examples:embroidery tissue paper

Using Tracing Paper

Next, I tried the tracing paper. The one I used had a rather waxy feel to it (very much like freezer or baking paper).
Transferring embroidery pattern2a. Once again, the pattern was effortlessly traced. The tracing paper is rather stiff but the embroidery hoop was able to hold it fairly well. 2b. Stitching on this paper was easy and neat because it was almost non-tear and I could see the holes. 2c/2d. However, removing it without loosening the stitches was a long, tedious and near-impossible task. 2e. At the end, my stitches became so loose that I had to reinforce my line-works as well. At this point, I realized that I had to continue to do so in order to keep the consistency in my embroidery style. VERDICT: I will NOT want to stitch on this material ever again. Embroidery was a breeze but removal was a kill-joy.

Using Thin Packaging Paper

It was getting frustrating and I was at my wits’ end. Looks like a trip to the craft store was inevitable. Then, it occurred to me that I have a pair of new shoes somewhere in my closet. When I found the thin tissue-like packaging paper that wrapped around my spotless sneakers, I was filled with hope. This could work!
Embroidery transfer3a. This paper allowed me to trace the pattern effortlessly too, and was soft enough for the embroidery hoop to hold it close to the fabric. 3b. Though it ripped easily when I wasn’t careful, it was definitely tougher than the facial tissue. It made my embroidery transfer so much more bearable than the ones I tried earlier.  3c. Removal was also manageable compared to the tracing paper. 3d. To keep the consistency in my embroidery style, I continued to reinforce my stitches. VERDICT: If the pattern/designs are simple, I will continue to use this packaging paper (until I run out of them; or maybe an excuse to get new shoes). It does feel good to be eco-friendly too.

Here is a few more examples:
Embroidery pattern

The Overall Sewing Process

Finally, I added these handwritten text designs by writing directly onto the fleece with my white chalk marker, and completed the embroidery. Here is the overall sewing process: I added zippers; elastic band for the lightweight carabiner (to hang the pillows on our bags); cut V-shaped notches out of the seam allowance to reduce bulk (especially at the inner curves).
Sewing project


Doodle stitching

Ta-da! Here is my finished works, all ready for the next well-deserved trip.

FINAL VERDICT: Though I love the end products, the transfer experiments left me rather exhausted. For my next trip to the craft store, I will make a point to check out embroidery tracing paper, heat-away / melt-away or water soluble stabilizers, and any other COOL embroidery transfer methods. Hopefully, I will find some great products that will enable me to undertake future embroidery projects with ease.


Blackcabbit’s Handmade Adventures


6 comments on “Embroidery Project – Travel Pillow Cases

  1. Kim
    August 24, 2012

    I can see that it took a lot of work and a lot of experimentation, but they turned out so cute!!! Great work! I found you on craftgossip. :)

    • blackcabbit
      August 24, 2012

      Welcome Kim and thank you for your encouraging comment, so glad you found me at craftgossip, which is such a great site!

  2. Choo choo Jie
    July 24, 2012

    Wow Mimi fantastic, I love your craft… Can I know why do you need the paper for? Is it to make it nicer on the other side or…

    • blackcabbit
      July 24, 2012

      Thank you so much Choo Choo Jie Jie. (BIG HUG)

      Usually, if you are using light colored fabric, you can use water-soluble fabric marker to transfer (trace) the design directly onto the material. Then, stitch accordingly and use water to remove the markings afterwards.

      However in my case, I used a dark fabric and to make matter worst, it was a fleece (felt will have same problem). So the markers or my dressmaker carbon paper do not work with this fabric type. I had to draw on a paper and use it as a guide, sew over it accordingly, and remove the paper after I’m done. Therefore, the paper had to be thin, easy to tear-away without loosening my stitches. Craft stores usually have embroidery paper that is made for this purpose.

  3. Lentina
    July 24, 2012

    Very detailed comparison! I think you can buy those thin tissue paper from PARTY stores too! I might be able to get some cheaply and send to you if you like? :)

    • blackcabbit
      July 24, 2012

      Oh yah, thanks for the great reminder (A big slap on my own forehead)… I totally forgot about Party stores (or packaging stores). You’re truly very resourceful and thanks for offering to send me some but i RATHER go to the PARTY stores with you! :P

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This entry was posted on July 24, 2012 by in Art & Illustrations, Craft / DIY Projects and tagged , , , .
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