Sunday, December 29, 2013

Santa was reading!

For all of you doubters out there, Santa, or at least his elves, was reading my blog! I received buttons for Christmas, just as I wished for! I already have ideas. Some of them will become fish on my crazy quilt block and I am looking forward to looking through the rest and finding all sorts of uses for them. THANK YOU!

Here is just a small selection of the buttons I received. The ones in the top left are calling out to be flower centers. The ones next to them are perfect purse closers. Beneath them are a small selection that will definitely make it into my crazy quilt, and I am still mulling over ways to use the Scottish thistles and military uniform buttons. They are a fantastic find!



Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas to all

Merry Chistmas and all happiness to you in the new year. (And thank you again to Mary Corbett whose tutorial on embroidering holly leaves I still find intriguing!)


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Embroidering Kent for Christmas

Isn't it funny how the best ideas for Christmas presents come when there isn't enough time to execute them to the best of your ability? That happened to me shortly after my first marriage. I had moved from western New York State to Massachusetts and would be spending Christmas with my in laws. I wanted to make something special for my parents and I started thinking about their favorite artist--Rockwell Kent. I couldn't afford a Rockwell Kent print and they had many books with his illustrations, but his etchings were done in such a way that I thought they would make a wonderful embroidery.


Quickly I went to my local library to find a book of Kent illustrations. I picked out two that I thought would be perfect and bought some fabric and black floss. By then it was Thanksgiving and when I looked at the illustrations I despaired. There was no way I could finish these by Christmas. Back to the book. This time I found a tiny pattern of a new pine tree growing out of an old stump. It was less than 2 inches square, but simple enough that I was confident I could adapt the etching into an embroidery.


Using one strand of floss and cursing that it was too thick (I never thought of using sewing thread instead) I started embroidering. I used stem, straight, seed and satin stitched to copy the lines from the etching as closely as I could. Some areas became more interpretation than exact copying, which I found exhilarating. When I finished, I laced it up, framed it and mailed it to my parents, along with a photocopy of the original etching so they would know what it was.


I'm not sure my parents knew what to think of it. The embroidery was life-size, but it was still tiny. Even so, it has been on display ever since and I think that they have come to appreciate it. I still enjoy seeing it when I go to their house. It is tangible proof for me that I could execute an idea as well or better than I thought I could. Still, I should find those other two etchings to embroider. I probably owe my parents that--especially now that they know they were somewhat shortchanged after all!


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ready to mail

The coasters I embroidered during the government shutdown are all sewn together. Here is a photo that shows each design with its backing fabric.

And here they are ready to mail!


The fifth set was a little off centered. I should have pulled threads out of the linen to make the coasters all exactly the same size and help me with the placement of the motifs. I'll definitely do that next time. In the meantime, we get to keep these!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review: Beading Artistry for Quilts: Basic Stitches & Embellishments Add Texture & Drama

Beading Artistry for Quilts: Basic Stitches & Embellishments Add Texture & Drama Thom Atkins (2012)


Last month I had an idea that I might want to do some bead work on my crazy quilt square, so before I left Colorado for Thanksgiving, I ran to the library for a beading book, and read it cover to cover on the plane. Beading Artistry for Quilts is a stunningly beautiful book with clear and concise directions for fastening beads to fabric. Thom Atkins describes just 4 basic stitches (seed stitch, back stitch, couching, and lazy stitch) along with some fancy edgings and fringe directions. The magic of this book though is not the stitch directions, but the inspiration he provides. The photos of his work and the process by which he is inspired is fascinating and works well with my own creative process. For example, I like that he sometimes simply embellishes the fabric he is working on, while other times, he lets the beads drive the design. His detailed, yet casual approach to beading, makes it so much less scary than other beading books I've looked at that teach you how to create specific things and require you to have certain beads. Just looking at the photos of the quilts he has embellished has inspired me to try to use beads in new ways. I know, for example, after seeing one of his mermaid quilts that I will be beading seaweed onto my crazy quilt, and I can't wait to try. The basic instructions are just enough to make me feel confident that I can use beads exciting ways, and his folksy description of how to do a beaded bezel, takes a lot of fear out of that prospect as well. It is a great book for beginners like me.


To see many of the quilts he depicts in the book, as well as additional inspiration, check out Atkins' website. His work is magnificent.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Vintage embroidery symbolizes friendship then and now

Today my husband and I are going up to New Hampshire to see a close friend of mine who I've only seen once in the last five years.

Last Christmas she sent me the most precious set of vintage pillowcases. She knows I am a huge rabbit fan, so these silly little rabbits conducting their private orchestras were a perfect gift--sure to make me go gaga. What I didn't realize until I went to use them was how very very well they are stitched.


Look closely and you will see that the rabbit is not done in straight stitches, as I had assumed, but in itty bitty stem stitches. Even the music clef is done in stem stitches so small that you can't see any stitch tails (those annoying stitch ends that stick out when you try to stitch a curve). There are no loose stitches that could get caught on a sleeping body or in the wash. Whoever did this embroidery, stitched it to last.


She also made them with great precision. Look at the back. It is almost a mirror image of the front. And the fine crocheted edging is gorgeous and expertly applied.


I think that this was a very special gift for a special person. And even though I am not the person they were embroidered for, I know my friend took just as much care picking these pillowcases out for me, as the stitcher took with her embroidery.


Now, they grace our guest bed. It is my way of continuing to share the friendship they so vividly display with our friends and family.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What I want for Christmas is...

Sometimes it is hard finding the right presents for family and friends since I live so far away and am never sure what they have or need. Additionally, as we all get older, we just buy what we need and have specific requirements for what we want, which makes it even more difficult to find the perfect gift. I really don't want people to spend a lot on me or have to worry about gift giving.


What I REALLY want for Christmas this year and next year and likely the next, is buttons! Buttons have gotten so expensive and so cheap looking, that it is hard to find interesting ones that you can afford. Yet, I’ll bet that there are canning jars and candy boxes full of buttons hidden away in antique and thrift stores, and garage sales going for a few dollars. That’s what I really want. I want buttons for purse closures, but more importantly, for my crazy quilt! I found the cutest book full of crazy quilt motifs, with several revolving around buttons. I’m dying to try some of them.


Of course when you WANT to find buttons they aren't anywhere to be had. I recently scoured my local antique store and found one jar of buttons--but they wanted $45 for them! Maybe it is still a deal, but I think I'll try a thrift store first and ask my friends and family to keep an eye out for stray ones.


I do have SOME buttons. Years ago I bought a bag of assorted old buttons and I have used them for tons of different projects, but my supply is running low. So little 50 cent bag of buttons—or lace trimmings, or old upholstery discards—THAT is what I really want for Christmas!

Ten years ago I made Christmas ornaments for coworkers using my stash of buttons. This one is coming apart a bit I probably should have sewn them on the machine andjust used the blanket stitch for decoration.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

A pillowcase for Simon

Earlier last month I gave you a sneak peak into a project I was working on with crayon and stranded DMC cotton for my nephew's birthday. Simon turned 6 on Friday and here is the pillowcase I made him with all of his favorite things embroidered on it to encourage sweet dreams!


As you can see, he really loved it! So did I. It was one of those rare projects that turns out even better than the vision in your head.

I first conceived of this project last year with a poem I made up:

Simon says, "It's time for bed!"

Simon then lays down his head.

Simon will have happy dreams

'til the sun again does gleam.

I printed the words on my computer and then embroidered them in back stitch with 3 lengths of stranded DMC cotton.


Then I looked on the internet for coloring book pages of things Simon likes. Trains were his favorite thing for years, but they now pale in comparison to tigers! And since my sister and brother-in-law own a cottage in the Adirondacks, hiking is a big part of his life. I traced these images onto the pillowcase using a light stand. Because the pillowcase was white I was actually able to see the lines through both layers of fabric.


I then colored the images with regular crayons. At first I colored too lightly and had to go back and color them again. Some people have told me to color with a white crayon first or with fabric crayons, but regular crayons work well. The pillowcase went through the laundry once with no loss of color.


Once they were colored, I sandwiched each image between two pieces of printer paper and ironed them on the cotton setting to set the color and melt out the wax. Then I embroidered each motif.


Sleeping Simon is outlined with two strands of cotton in stem stitch, with details in chain and back stitch.


The mountain lake is just stem stitched, with back stitch for the sun's rays.


The train was going to be outlined like the rest, but I got carried away! The freight cars and caboose are satin stitch with straight stitch and french knot accents, but the engine body is mostly stem stitch, with some chain stitches thrown in for accents. It took longer to do than I envisioned, but turned out so much better than I had hoped.


Finally, the tiger is all stem stitch. First I outlined him with two strands. Then I filled in the stripes with three strands. I really wasn't sure how he was turning out until I put in his green eyes. Then I knew he would work.


This was an extremely fun project to stitch. It was like being a kid myself to color these images. AND since two pillowcases came in the pack, I gave the second one to Simon to color for himself. I'll embroider it and send it back to him.

Happy birthday Simon!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A WELCOME farewell

At last the WELCOME has come home, stretched and framed to hang on the wall. I have to admit to being disappointed with it though because of all the wrinkles in it. My husband picked it up last month, but I only saw a photo of it last week. I may have to take it elsewhere and have it redone--even if it means pinning it. At least we have it for Thanksgiving. Here are a few final photos to document the completion of this project and the start of our enjoyment of it in our every day lives.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

November celebrations

November is my big month for celebrations. I have four friends with birthdays in November, my sister, sister-in-law, step son and nephew are November babies, and my sister, I and another friend all have November wedding anniversaries. Needless to say, I have been stitching madly trying to get birthday and Christmas presents done--although I think I have hit my limit for what I can do this year. If it isn't done by Thanksgiving, it will turn into a "next year" gift.


But, the November trend isn't over. My friends are now having their own November babies. It seems to be a perpetual cycle! Because I can't show you gifts that have yet to be given, I am instead going to show you gifts I made several years ago.


For a first birthday gift for a good friend's first child, I decided to experiment with laser printing on fabric, and I was was quite pleased with how it turned out. I printed Isabel's name and birthdate on pre-treated fabric and then back stitched around the letters and sewed it into a pillow. Quick, easy, fun and, I think, particularly cheerful. I'd like to do more with technique, although I need to experiment with treating my own fabric. I think it could be a lot of fun to use other colors or types of fabric in this way.


Here is another birthday gift made a few years ago, after I moved to Colorado and started learning Brazilian embroidery. This pattern by Anna G Brazilian Embroidery is called "Christian" and measures 6" by 8". When I had it framed, the turkey work at the center of the daisy was so hight it almost touched the glass.

So happy birthday to all those Scorpios out there! The world wouldn't be the same without you.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Crazy quilt WIP (work in progress)

Back in August I went to a fellow stitcher's house and learned how to sew my very first crazy quilt block. I have dreams of turning this first block into a whole quilt depicting the seasons. I anticipate it will take me years to finish--especially if I work on it as sporadically as I have worked on this block. But, after a few months of finishing other projects, I am getting back to my crazy quilt. This will be one of four "summer" blocks and it represents summers sailing on Narraganset Bay in Rhode Island.

I am planning to stitch a little sailboat in one corner, but as you can see, I am just about done with my first motif, a crab, which is my zodiac sign. I've been carrying this pattern with me for 20 years and I am happy to have finally found the perfect project to stitch it on.

I intend to have fun with this project and will share it with you as I progress.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Quilters in space!!

If you follow DMC's blog, you've likely seen the video of Karen Nyberg, an astronaut on the International Space Station, explaining how to quilt in space. If not, you have to see this video! It is one of the coolest, nerdiest things I have ever seen and it makes me want to whip out a needle here on earth.


Karen Nyberg is an engineer and an astronaut. She is also an avid quilter who has teamed with the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas to challenge quilters to make star-themed quilt blocks. All blocks submitted by August 1, 2014 will be used to make star-themed quilts, along with the blocks Nyberg sews in space. The quilts will be featured at the fall quilt show (October 30 - November 2, 2014). Blocks must be 9.5" square. They can be made from any fabric and in any color and must be signed on the front by the stitcher. Attendees will also hear Karen speak about sewing in space.


As a child I spent a lot of time at our local planetarium, so this challenge is particularly interesting to me. My Dad coordinated educational programming with the planetarium and all of the guys in the basement were "uncles." I remember the big concrete room where they all worked creating graphics and electronic music for the shows and programming the room full of computers that ran the projector (now it's all done from one desktop computer). It was always exciting to visit. My sister and I even liked the hallway, which was textured grey concrete, with black walls lit with spotlights. We'd happily jump from one lighted spot to another while Dad conducted his business.


We always had space stuff in the house, and that crept into our needlework. When I went to college, the laundry bag Mom made me featured signs of the zodiac. And I once tried to make a baby quilt that simulated a starry night. I don't have a photo, but it was strips of blue diamonds on a white ground, with occasional yellow diamonds for twinkling stars. I was proud of my creativity, but my quilting left a lot to be desired. I forgot to stretch the backing fabric and it turned out quite crooked.


For more inspiring space themed projects, check out DMC's blog and Michelle Hamill's Stichin Fingers page. She is a creative embroiderer who stitched a truly magnificent blackwork piece depicting the inner solar system, as well as beautiful chain stitch Jupiter.


Quilting in space is one the coolest and most unexpected hobbies I've ever heard of. For those of us who are earthbound, though, you may want to consider putting your personnel touch on the solar system by submitting a star block to the Houston International Quilt show.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Precious memories from a difficult time

After my recent post about the quilt that I loved to tatters, my mother informed me that she had begun hand piecing it while I was in the hospital. I have many memories associated with that quilt, but not that one, which is perfectly reasonable since I spent the first week in the hospital begging for morphine and the second week figuring out how to walk with a cast that went from the top of my head to the bottom of my hips. Surprisingly, however, I do have some needlework memories associated with that time.


It was the summer that I turned 14 and school had just ended when I went into the hospital for scoliosis surgery. Two years of exercises and braces hadn't corrected the S-shaped curves in my spine, which by then measured approximately 47 degrees on top and then twisted back into another 27 degree curve. The only choice I was given was to have surgery then, or to take a year off before college. I elected to have it right away since I would have to wear my brace another 3 years if I decided to wait.


Being in the pediatric ward, I was entitled to a toy. Mine, for teens, was a 1-foot square rug hooking kit. The pattern depicted a rainbow coming up and out of a raining cloud, which, thinking back, was somewhat inspirational. I enjoyed working that kit since there was very little to do in general, and even less that I was allowed to do. I've never hooked anything since, but I still remember how therapeutic it was.


My second needlework memory is of my sister. Both of us emulate our parents in many ways. I inherited my father's love of history and my mother's passion for needlework. My sister inherited a love for music. In fact, she teaches string instruments to Junior High students and has a successful string quartet that plays weddings and other functions. That summer she decided to make me a present--a stuffed sun bear. We had sun bears in the local zoo, so I recognized it right away. But there was something not quite right about this one. His white chest patch was perfect and his face was adorable, but his arms were sewn on upside down! I could never quite get used to that, and looking at him in the hospital made me feel a little broken too. Being a self-centered teen, I never did thank her properly, but 30 years later I can still recall exactly what he looked like. So, better late than never. Thanks Jennifer! It may have taken me 30 years to say it, but I appreciate the time that you spent sewing that little bear and he really was cute! (And happy birthday to you too!)


It is funny when I think back on that time. Most of my memories are ones I want to forget, but these few are precious.

There are very few photos of me in my cast. I had to dig up my high school year book to find these!
I made my jumper in this photo. Not too fashionable, but it fit over the cast!


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday's work in progress

I'm traveling for work this week and crossing my fingers that I may have some time for needlework, although it seems unlikely since the days will be busy. Even so, I brought my latest project with me--one of my resolution projects done with crayon and DMC floss. I spent much of my guild meeting working on it last weekend. It must be done by the end of the month for my nephew's birthday. Here is a glimpse of what I am working on. I'll show you the rest after I finish and find out how well Simon likes it!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

A whale of a used book sale

One of my all time favorite things about living in Colorado is not the mountains--the heights and sheer drop offs scare me to death--but the Jefferson County Whale of a Used Book Sale. Held twice a year at the Jefferson County Fair Grounds, there are over 90,000 used books for sale. All proceeds go to fund children and teen programming at the county libraries.

Aren't the crowds amazing? And this was only 15 minutes after the sale opened!


The fall book sale was last weekend and I waited to go until Sunday, which is $6 bag day--all the books and audiobooks you can fit into a grocery bag for $6. This year's sale was particularly good. After 30 minutes I was making my way to the cash register because there were just too many books I wanted. I had to get out of there or risk running out of shelving.

Books fill up the entire hall--and downstairs too!

They had an especially good selection of audiobooks--and surprisingly few people looking at them! I came away with 17 new selections to listen to while I stitch, sew and cook. They are really my favorite entertainment and it is always good to have some on hand in case I finish one while the library is closed!

My haul of books!


I also came away with a nice selection of mysteries and history books and some fantastic deals on stitching books, including one of Erica Wilson's books! Just glancing through it has given me some good ideas that I will be developing next year. Additionally, seeing her on the cover makes me realize that SHE was the woman on PBS all those years ago that first inspired me as a little girl to pick up a needle. I can't wait to read it!


I also got a nice survey book on embroidery styles and history, a pattern book that looks like it will be a lot more fun to read than my Vogue pattern fitting book, and an audiobook with a story revolving around a sewing circle. I'm in 7th heaven surrounded by books and stitching! I only wish my friends and family would plan their visits around the book sale--they would need an extra suitcase to bring all their finds home!

An illustration from Mother Pletsch's Painless Sewing. Who can honestly say they haven't tried this or something similar?!