Sunday, June 30, 2013

Taking stock

When I began this blog with the new year, my goal was to write one post a week and hopefully have at least my mother and husband read what I wrote. Now, six months later, I've written 41 posts and had over 3500 hits on my blog. Never did I think that would be possible. Thank you!


On New Year's Eve, I also made a list of projects to accomplish this year. I think that unlike my writing, I am woefully behind in my stitching! Let's take stock.

  1. I wanted to finish a sampler meant as a Christmas gift. This I did and it should be framed by the time I get back to Massachusetts in August.
  2. Christmas towels. I wanted to make some for some special people. I forgot about this goal. I'll have to get busy on it!
  3. The pillowcase for my nephew is still being designed in my head, but I want to start it soon. I think I may resort to finding a coloring book to help me with some of the motifs I want to use, but I have a poem for it and I know I will use a combined crayon and embroidery technique. Once the crazy pumpkin is done I will start it.
  4. Embroidered Christmas card. I've been thinking a lot about this goal lately. I even thought that if I could finish the Partridge in the Pear tree this year (see goal 6) that I could use that for our Christmas card. That is not a practical idea though. Neither is the first design I had in my head. My newest idea is to use some poinsettia patterns designed by Maria Frietas and arrange them in a wreath. THAT I can do. I will start that in August or September.
  5. I have made lots of progress on my WELCOME. It will definitely be finished this year.
  6. Partridge in a Pear Tree. UGH! I DID start this, but didn't even get half a leaf done. I will make progress on it before year end, but it will not be done this year. Maybe it can be next year's Christmas card.

So, I have made some progress on my resolution projects, but not enough.


Of course, I HAVE done other things. I stitched a second sampler that will be given as a gift, I embroidered a multitude of baby blankets, I am half done with my crazy pumpkin, and I am about half way through my Blumen Needle Brazilian project. In addition, I've finished several small sewing projects. Not too bad since I work full time and travel between Boston and Denver every other month.


If I concentrate on my resolution projects during the second half of the year, I think I will make a lot more progress.


Thanks for sticking with me! What do you hope to accomplish in the next six months?


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Crazy pumpkin deadline extended

It turns out that I am not the only one who was having difficulty finishing my pumpkin by June! With six panels, six month was just not enough time to piece and stitch the whole pumpkin before the finishing class. So I got a reprieve. Finishing class will be next month. But, having a deadline did inspire me to get more done. I finished two of the three all-over embroidered motifs and made headway on the third. I started the crazy panel as well, but I will save that for next week, since I hope to make more progress by then.

These marigolds were done with felt, beads and Cosmo stranded floss. Not well executed, but done. I certainly need to practice curves!

I like my execution of the rosehips better. I may add a yellow bead on each fruit to make it a little less dull.

Autumn will represent sunflowers--although they don't really look like sunflowers on finished pieces I've seen. More work to do here. I am split between doing felt or beaded centers. Another thing to practice is obviously back stitch! I ought to do some sort of sampler when I am done to practice these basic stitches!


Somehow I just haven't found this project that enjoyable. It should have been, but I am itching to try a real crazy quilt block. A few of the women in my guild have decided that that is what they want to do to. So starting in August, they propose to turn pumpkin class into a crazy quilt group, where different people provide instruction on different techniques that they have learned and can apply to crazy quilting. I hope that other people taking this class decide to keep on stitching. I can't wait to get more involved!


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Review: Making Vintage Bags

Handbags inspire many sewers--especially those of us who don't do a lot of tailoring. When I was an exchange student in Costa Rica, my host sister asked me to help her sew a school bag. We didn't have a pattern, but it isn't all that difficult to make a tote bag with a flap--good thing, because my Spanish was far from perfect! It turned out well though. It was hot pink with bright green straps and huge green button on the flap. Her Dad made a thin wooden panel for the bottom and she was golden.


Since then I've found making handbags satisfying. They are small and less intimidating to make than a tailored dress, and they make great gifts. I've donated many bags that I've made to charity auctions--especially those in support of house rabbits and cats. Oddly though I have never made myself a fancy bag! Somehow it is easier to think of the perfect bag for someone else.


There are a lot of wonderful books out there for people who want to make handbags. My favorite is Making Vintage Handbags: 20 Original Sewing Patterns for Vintage Bags and Purses by Emma Brennan. This book was published by the Guild of Master Craftsman Publications in 2005, so you would expect it to be well done.

What I like most about this book is the detailed, illustrated instructions. The first chapter provides fantastic instructions on bag construction, such as insetting zippers, making soft and hard handles, and using linings. Some of these things may sound basic, but they are well illustrated and when you follow their guidance, you get superb results.

In addition to the basics, there are detailed, easy to follow, step by step instructions on constructing each pattern. The clear photos make this a particularly good resource for learning about bag construction in general. What you learn in constructing one bag is easy to translate to other bag patterns.


Being an archeologist, I have to admit to also being very partial to the wonderful range of historically inspired handbag styles in this book, but I don't limit myself to reproducing the pattern in the book.

For example, here is the 1940s inspired "Patricia" made up similarly to the book, in denim, and in an asian brocade with a frog closure replacing the bow.

Both of the following bags I made using the "Grace" pattern and fabric and trimming found in the upholstery section of my local fabric store.

Finally here is a bag I was inspired to make based on what I learned in this book, but altering the Grace pattern to make it larger and adding a clasp closure.

This fantastic book is still in stock on Amazon, but, as with most craft books, it probably won't be republished once it sells out. If you are looking for a good reference book, on handbag construction, I highly recommend getting it while you still can!


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Embroidered prayers for Dad's garden

Growing up, my Dad always had a garden. It wasn't a big garden and it shrunk over the years as the many trees he planted in our small yard filled out, but it was always there. The yard was also full of flowers he started in the basement during the gloomy winter months of western New York. They were mostly marigolds and impatiens, and although my parents have moved from the house where I grew up, the pots and pots of overflowing impatiens make the new patio familiar. The garden still isn't big, but there is more light and it is always abundant.


Dad gets his gardening genes from my grandfather. My grandparents had an extra house lot--the whole of which was a victory garden. Grandfather had apple trees and planted beans, cucumbers--which my grandmother pickled--radishes, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and corn. There was probably more, but since my sister and I never weeded for more than a half hour at a time before wondering off, I didn't pay close attention. I did, however, love the greenhouse he and Dad built out of old windows. It was actually painted dark green and smelled like earth and old clay pots


Neither Dad nor grandfather talked a lot about their gardens or made a big deal about them, but when you couldn't find them elsewhere, that is where they would be--there or listening to AAA baseball on the radio.


So, for Father's Day this year, inspired by the "To Boston With Love" exhibit, I decided to make my Dad prayer flags for his garden. His office has a porch overlooking the back yard, so even when he isn't actively getting his hands dirty, he should be able to watch them flutter and know that even though I am 2000 miles away, I am still thinking about him.


Happy Father's Day Dad! Here is a preview of your gift--the flags go to the post office tomorrow!

"Soil" is my first attempt at Palestrina stitch! Other stitches include whipped chain, interlaced back stitch, and stem stitch in "Sun", buttonhole in "Soil", and buttonhole, lazy daisy, feather, and back stitch in "Eat".


"Grow" includes whipped stem stitch, buttonhole and fly. "Rain" is my first attempt at oyster stitch as well as whipped buttonhole and chain stitch filled with backstitches.


Here are the finished flags knotted together and hanging over my patio. I think I'll have to make myself some since I haven't been successful at growing anything in the high heat and low humidity of Colorado. I can't wait to see them in Dad's garden!


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

To Boston with love

My recent sojourn to Boston is over, but while I was there, my husband and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) to see an exhibit of prayer flags sewn by people all over the world and sent to Boston to provide hope after the Boston Marathon bombings in April. The exhibit, called "To Boston With Love", is on view through July 7.

Prayer flags come from Buddhist tradition. Special practitioners paint prayers onto the flags, which are then strung together and left outside to flutter in the breeze and send the prayers heavenward. The idea to send healing prayers to Boston in the wake of the explosions came from Berene Campbell of Vancouver, Canada, who worked with Amy Friend of West Newbury, Massachusetts to bring it to fruition extremely quickly. The project was publicized and organized by the Vancouver Modern Quilt Guild whose web site provided directions and ideas for making prayer flags and whose members took on the responsibility of gathering flags from around the world and getting them to Boston in time for Memorial Day

I first heard of the project through Faye C. on Stichin' Fingers, a social networking site for embroiderers. Believe it or not, she lives in Australia! It was strange, but gratifying to hear of something going on in my own backyard from someone all the way around the world. She made some lovely prayer flags to hang at her home, and posted the project web site so that people could participate. Unfortunately, I heard about the project too late to contribute my own flag.


My husband and I didn't know what to expect when we arrived at the MFA, but we were quickly steered toward the Shapiro Family Courtyard. The courtyard was enclosed when a new museum wing was added. It is light and airy and surrounded by views of natural greenery. Strung across the expanse were approximately sixteen hundred brightly colored flags, each 6" x 8" and tied together by knotted binding. It was as if the world were holding hands above our heads.

The most popular motif was hearts--so many hearts in so many forms bringing so much love to the city. But there were also birds and rainbows and motifs from the stitchers' home countries. I even found a string of flags from Colorado. The exhibit materials said that there were flags from Canada, Brazil, France, Australia, South Africa, and Japan in addition to all 50 states.


This is my favorite flag--an embroidered outline of the city skyline showing Boston landmarks old and new--such as the Longfellow and Zakim bridges, the Hancock tower and our beloved Citgo sign which marks the last mile before the finish line of the Boston Marathon and where many people were stopped, unable to finish the race.


I also liked this flag. "See Jane Run." That's just what people did--organizing a "last mile" run a few weeks after the bombing so that the people who were turned back were able to finish the race.


It was nice to see so many people looking up at the flags, taking pictures and finding a way to process this tragedy. The courtyard rise three stories tall and although we were indoors, with the light and airiness of the room, you could almost see those prayers flying out to comfort the city.


Thank you to everyone who contributed to this wonderful exhibit. I wasn't in Boston for the marathon this year, but I had friends caught up in the craziness of the man hunt in Watertown and felt the fear, hurt and betrayal keenly. This exhibit is a reminder of all the good in the world and it will help our city heal. Thank you.



Saturday, June 8, 2013

Needlework Fiction--A Vintage Affair

A Vintage Affair Isabel Wolff (2009)

**** 4/5 stars Check out GoodReads for more reviews of this novel.


While not strictly about needlework, this novel's emphasis on vintage clothing and its cut, repair and meaning makes for a satisfying read for any needleworker. When her best friend dies, Phoebe is thrown into a tailspin. She quits her job at Sotheby's to open a vintage clothing store in London. As she builds her business, she simultaneously rebuilds her life with a web of new friends. Curiosity about a blue coat and its meaning for a dying client leads Phoebe to reexamine her own life and learn to embrace the good with the bad. It is a story as beautiful as the clothing Phoebe so lovingly refurbishes.


Resources about places and things featured in the novel

The Fashion Historian blog has a short biography and lovely photos of dresses designed by Madame Gres--a courageous and groundbreaking fashion designer whose dresses have a special place in this novel.


The Vintage Fashion Guild has a great article on how to buy vintage clothing, but more than that, it provides a fashion timeline, a photographic index of fashion house labels, biographies of select designers, a list of clothing shops and more. It is a great resource for people wanting to collect vintage clothing.


The Mad Stitchers Blog or Adventures in Restoring Vintage Clothing provides wonderful tips and tricks on working with vintage clothes and Fashion Era provides in depth information on cleaning vintage clothing.


Looking to see what is out there? Vintage Textile is a high style online vintage store with stunning clothes. This is what Phoebe would have sold in her shop.


Finally, for images of "cupcake" type dresses, which also figure prominently in the novel, see this wonderful Pintrest board. They truly are "happy" dresses as one customer calls them.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Plane projects

I flew home to Massachusetts just prior to Memorial Day. For my flight back in February, I packed a stump work project for the plane. I thought that because the pieces were small, it would be easy to work on my tray table. Was I ever wrong! the pieces threatened to go everywhere, there were too many thread colors, and the light was too poor for that type of intricate work. I had given up by the time my beverage came.


This trip I resolved to do better. A few weeks before I left, I started a monotone sampler on 28-count linen. It was a straight forward pattern, so I decided to stop stitching and save the project for the plane. It was perfect. I worked about quarter of it during my flights. The fabric holes were big enough to see in dim light and it was contained enough that I didn't elbow my neighbors even though I was in the middle seat. Plus my sewing kit was much simpler. Here you can see it. I carried a tin with my floss, scissors and needles, and kept it, my hoop, pattern and fabric in a woven envelope my mother once gave me. Perfect!



Only one problem. I stitched so much of it, I got a little addicted. When I found out that my stitching shop in Massachusetts would be closing in a few months, I decided to stitch faster so that I could finish it and bring it to the shop for framing during this trip. It is a gift, so I can't show it all yet, but needless to say, it is at the framers along with another sampler I finished last month--one of my resolution projects.


Unfortunately, this means that I've been in Massachusetts for two weeks and haven't yet stitched on my WELCOME. That may be coming home with me so that I can finish it up before Hoops and Needles closes for good. Ellen, the shop proprietor, says that she may still keep framing on the side. She does the best work around, so I am encouraged, but want to finish the WELCOME as quickly as possible. Besides, my husband has a blank wall ready to hang it!


One additional comment about my travels. I sat between a man and a woman on my first flight, and as I often find when I stitch in public, the man was the more curious of the two. Men inevitably say something like, "no one does that type of hand work anymore" and it always takes me by surprise. In this case I was wondering who might have done the hand work that he was recalling, but as I was thinking up a suitable reply he said something that really threw me. After watching for about 30 minutes, he declared, "I guess I could take up something like that if I were faced with a long prison term and could really concentrate on it." Wow! Good to know he is prepared for anything! He looked like a nice man though, so I don't think he will be taking up stitching soon.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Disaster planning

It is fire season again in Colorado, and since it was a dry winter, it could be extremely bad. Last year wild fires threatened two of the largest metropolitan regions in the state. They destroyed 600 homes and took several lives. My guild meets in Denver, which was spared the worst of the fires, but it wasn't unaffected. One of our most accomplished stitchers lost her home during the final weeks of the High Park fire near Fort Collins. She was in Australia at the time visiting family, but her husband happened to be home. When he got the evacuation notice he had time to make three salvage trips. He saved the pets, and Mary's embroidery--all except for the work she was still stitching. Nothing else.


Recently I was talking to some guild members about their plans for their collections of quilts and embroideries after they die. These women had only boys who weren't very interested in their mother's embroidery and clearly would have no idea of the value of the stashes and tools these women had amassed over a lifetime, or the family pieces they were custodians of. Although they aren't in danger of dying next year, they were worried about their stitching legacy. I understand. Having no children of my own and only a rambunctious nephew to will things to, I'm not sure what will happen to my own stitchery. I find it so depressing to see framed stitchery abandoned in second hand shops--but at least they have a chance at a new life if they make it that far.


The discussion made me remember Mary's husband--the man who chose to save his wife's stitchery, even when he knew that they would soon have nothing left. The house could be replaced, but a life recorded with a needle and thread is a treasure that insurance could never cover. May we all be blessed with people like him in our lives.


What plans have you made for your stitchery and stashes? Let's share our own disaster planning.