My grandma was one of my favorite people on the planet. I wanted to celebrate the gift she passed down to me and my mother – the wonderful love of sewing.

In 2019 we visited the Frida Kahlo dress exhibit in NYC where I read that the embroidery on her different dresses was created with a chain stitch machine using free motion embroidery. I wanted to learn this technique and make my own dress.

I scheduled 30 days with 30 practices to buckle down on learning. By Christmas I was taking those skills to a new level and making patches for some close friends.

Inspiration. In Oakwood, Ohio there is house that has swans in a lovely little pond. I always enjoy walking by and visiting the swans and I find their beauty has often become my muse many times over.

Okay Okay, the dress. I combined my growing skills with some knowledge of grandma’s Spanish culture and along with my inspiration I was on my way. I started with a sketch. I used colored cotton for placement, baste spraying it in place.

With free motion embroidery anything can go wrong. Basically, you hoop your art, drop your sewing machines feed dogs, interface the back of your piece and then manually push your fabric around like you are coloring in a space. It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds and staying inside the lines can be very difficult.

Things I did wrong. Next time I will not cut out the bodice. I will also leave the bodice WAY bigger. While embroidering the shoulder parts I couldn’t  fully hoop it so it has some puckering. The stitches also made the overall area of embroidery art shrink.

The secret to free motion embroidery is not giving a damn. I know nothing will be perfect. This looks very handmade and I think that is better than perfect.

For the dress I used tinsel from Sew to Speak in Columbus, Ohio. I did not use a pattern. I figured out how much trim I had and decided how wide hemlines should be. I was surprised how fast this big two part project came together. I thought it would take more than a month in the making. My heart must have really been it.

Grandmas are so special. I hope I made her proud. I will be wearing this dress to my Abuela’s funeral in Puerto Rico later this month.

Behind the scenes~

Volunteering at Art on the Commons. I did a live demo of my upcoming Adult Bootcamp class that is almost full.

Thank you for reading,

Tracy McElfresh

Dream it, Sew it!


Tracy McElfresh
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