Sunday, November 8, 2015

Dracen's new pillow

It has been a long time since I picked up a needle, but I am back in Denver for three weeks and realized that if I want any home sewn Christmas gifts, I will need to make them before I return to New England. My first project was a new pillow for our two and a half year old grandson.

Last month he stayed over night at our house, but his usual soft pillow was in the laundry. We gave him a small pillow, but it was quite firm. As a result, he didn't sleep well. The next morning I vowed to make him a new pillow to leave at our house.

I decided to try to make this pillow using only my stash. I didn't quite make it. I was out of fusible webbing, and while I was at the fabric store I decided that rickrack would be a good addition. Other than that, I had everything on hand. The fabric for the pillow actually comes from an old pair of fleece pajamas that never fit right, but is nice and cozy.

The little dragon appliqué is inspired by Dracen's name. It is an English name that means dragon. I looked online for pictures of sleeping dragons and free-handed a cartoon dragon that appealed to me. My version is simpler than the online dragon, but perfect for machine embroidery.

I am not a great machine embroider, but this actually worked pretty well without a lot of heartache. I'm pleased at how it turned out. A few hand embroidered details and, in about an hour, I had the first home made Christmas gift of the year!


Sunday, August 30, 2015

My first sewing project

When I was in 4th grade, my teacher kept a box of fabric scraps, laces, thread and needles for kids to use during recess. It was during one of those recesses that I sewed my first real project. Maybe I had a little help from the teacher aid. I don't really remember. My mother sewed almost every evening after we went to bed, and so I probably thought I knew what I was doing despite not ever having any instruction.


The project was a Valentine's Day heart pincushion for my mother. I cut the hearts out, whip-stitched the sides together and then turned it right-side out. I realized that sewing something wrong sides together was the right way to do it, but whip stitching the seams was a mistake. My stitches were huge, so when I turned the heart right side out, the fabric gapped. I appear not to have been deterred by this development, however, and proceed to stuff the heart with fabric scraps before whip stitching the gap together. Then I embroidered "LOVE" on the stuffed heart. Yes, I think I embroidered it after sewing it together. Finally, I added some bows and a hand-writtenValentine's Day greeting for my Mom. Don't you love my cursive writing?

Mom pinned the heart to the bulletin board behind her sewing machine and it was there until they moved, when over 20 years later. After that, it went missing for many years, but last week, Mom sent me a care package and nestled in with the needlework articles and a FULL SET of EXTRA knitting needles was the pincushion. She sent it expressly so that I could share it with you.


Although my first piece of self-inspired embroidery was made when I was about 5, this heart was really the beginning of my love of needlework. It was that year that Mom started teaching us to sew--even getting my sister and me a heavy duty sewing machine to share. Not much remains from those early years, but in the months to come I will see what I can recreate in writing if not in reality.



Sunday, August 23, 2015

Needlework fiction -- Button Box Mystery Series

Button Holed Kylie Logan (2011)

**** 4/5 stars Check out Goodreads for more reviews of this series and individual book'd

Kylie Logan's cozy mystery series is not about needlework specifically, but the next best thing--notions. When Josie Giancola gave up her job in finance to open a button shop in Chicago, the last thing she expected was a murder on her doorstep. After all, buttons are boring. At least they bored her handsome ex husband. Even so, Josie gets her big break when a starlet chooses her to help find buttons for a royal wedding dress. At least she thought it was a big break until the starlet winds up dead, stabbed with button hook.

The cocky characters in this series are a lot of fun. The charming ex husband who is chronically loosing money on "sure bets," the fatherly ex-cop neighbor, the distracted detective who can only talk about police work, and Josie, who is happiest alone with her buttons, make an unlikely company of investigators, but it works extremely well. I've even laughed out loud at their antics. But even better, you will learn a lot about buttons while reading this series. Logan includes a history section at the end of each book that discusses the types of buttons the mysteries revolve around. It is fascinating.

There are currently 4 novels in this series. I hope that there are many more.

Information about this series

You can find a synopsis of each book in the series on the Kylie Logan's website.

A nice article on buttons.

National Button Society website. Be sure to look at the NBS Pintrest Pages for pictures of gorgeous

The second novel takes place at a national button conference. Click here to see examples of competition button trays.

If after seeing all these wonderful button, you are inspired to make one for yourself, see one of these death head button tutorials. Someday I will try this!



Sunday, August 16, 2015

Needlework Fiction -- Threadville Series

Dire Threads Janet Bolin (2011)

***/* 3-4/5 stars sdepending upon which book in the series you read

Check out Goodreads for more reviews of this series and individual books.


Janet Bolin writes a wonderful cosy mystery series set in Elderberry Bay, Pennsylvania on the shores of Lake Erie. Threadville is a small group of shops set up by an enterprising young woman sick of New York City scandal, her three weird mothers and her best friend, Willow. Each woman has her own shop dedicated to yarn, buttons, trims and notions, quilting, fabric, or machine embroidery. It is a stitcher's paradise and they bus themselves in every weekday to take classes from the different shop owners. But not everyone is happy with the transformation that Elderberry Bay has gone through. When Willow's dogs stumble upon a corpse in her back yard, the newby shop owners must defend their businesses, their innocence, and maybe their lives.

What I like most about this series are the characters. The three weird mothers (best friends who decided to raise an out-of-wedlock baby together) are truly wonderful in their eccentricities, wearing only clothes that they have made and bumbling around after their daughter trying to rescue her from imagined danger while real danger waits just down the street. The setting on Lake Erie also appeals to me. Having grown up a few miles from Lake Ontario, Bolin's description of the Great Lakes region is like going home. The most unique aspect, however, is the wonderful and creative descriptions of what you can do with machine embroidery. In the first novel, Willow sets out to do simulated stump work with her sewing machine, and solves a murder in the process. It makes me itch to try the technique myself! There are currently 5 books in the series, with the first, Dire Threads, having been published in 2011 and a new book every year since. The novels follow the general formula for cosy mysteries, but the sewing twists--especially machine embroidery--make them worth the read for stitchers.


Resources about this novel

You can find a synopsis of each book in the series on the Threadville website, along with a string of short updates on the characters and what goes on in their lives outside of and between books--a clever little extra for those who can't get enough of Threadville!


Friday, August 14, 2015

Pennants in the garden

We've been working hard on our garden, learning the ropes of what it takes to make a high yield organic garden produce to its maximum extent. We're still trying to figure out what grows best with what and how to keep our plants from bolting, but we have a bumper crop of tomatoes. While I was in Colorado, I was missing the garden and decided that we needed some colorful pennants to celebrate all of our hard work. Mine are simplified from the ones I made Dad last year. Instead of embroidering them and finishing the seams, I just used pinked triangles sewn together back to back and strung on twine. But don't they look festive? I've been home for a week and a half, but guests, rain, and work kept me from stringing them up until today. I think that they look pretty good--and so did the hummingbird who came along to admire them right after I finished! Next year I'll make a few more to decorate the expanded garden section behind the garage.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Needlework fiction-- Crewel World Series

Crewel World Monica Ferris (1999)

**** 3 to 4 stars depending upon which book you read in the series


Crewel World, the first book in Monica Ferris's popular needlework series set in Excelsior, Minnesota, begins when Betsy Devonshire's sister and proprietor of the needlework shop, Crewel World, is killed and Betsy is accused of the murder. As Betsy, at loose ends in her life, frantically tries to clear her name and find Margot's murderer, she develops friendships with Margot's friends and employees. After being cleared of the murder, she decides to take over Crewel World and anchor her life in the legacy that Margot left her.


Thus begins the Crewel World cosy needlework mystery series. At 18 books and counting, it is arguably one of the most successful of the the cosy needlework series, and deservingly so. Although any other small town would be reeling with the large number of murders that take place there, Excelsior remains populated by down-to-earth, caring small town folk, from Godwin, Betsy's naive gay assistant, to Jill, the town's statuesque police officer. Betsy's new friends support her and develop in complexity as the novels progress. And Crewel World has something for everyone-- wool, surface embroidery, cross stitch, and even knitting supplies are sold here, and Betsy's clients do everything from design to conservation work. Plus, Ferris is tuned in to the needlework world. Two of my favorite books take place first at a Needlework Market and discusses wonderful details about the design and sale of needlework patterns, and second with a visit to Nordic Needle in North Dakota. The fresh perspective of the challenges of a small business owner, plus Betsy's struggles to learn and become competent in different needlework techniques, makes the series appealing. Although at times I tire with Betsy's methodical approach to investigation, I read on because I would simply love to shop at Crewel World and immerse myself in this needlework haven.


Link to the author website


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Opera in the mountains

So last week I promised to blog regularly, and I am already late. BUT I am late for a good reason. Last weekend was my birthday, and even though I am in Denver, I made the most of it. Making the most of it left little time for blogging, however!

My two favorite things to do for my birthday in Denver are to go the arboretum or the opera. Last year I stitched in the arboretum, so this year I drove up to Central City to see La Traviata, which was absolutely beautiful. The Soprano who played Violetta had the clearest most beautiful voice I've ever heard, the sets were impressive, the costumes lavish, and the music a dream. Plus I love tragedies. They play to my melodramatic side and I cried all the way through the second act. It was perfect!

The historic interior of the Central City Opera House. every seat is a good seat.

Central City is a Denver mining town. In the mid 1800s it was the richest square mile in the United States because of all of the gold they were exporting. The only way to reach this tiny little mining town clinging to a hillside during the gold rush was via a switch back dirt trail called Oh My God Road. But when the opera house was built in 1878, people made the trek up from Denver. It was a sparkling jewel in the Old West, even amid the dirt and grime of the mines. In fact, the 750-seat opera house was "the grandest theater between Chicago and San Fracisco"!

Oh My God Road is not something I will EVER drive on!

As the gold became harder to extract,people left Central City and the opera house fell into disrepair. It was saved in the 1930s, however, by Denver philanthropists and has hosted a summer opera season ever since. Famous people have played here, including Mae West and Lilian Gish, and the summer opera training program helps develop new talent every year.

Central City in 1863.

Thank goodness that in recent years a better road has been built (Oh My God Road is still there, but I would never drive it!). I went up (it is over 8,000 feet above sea level) early, had a picnic, and then explored the old mining town. Much of it is now casinos. Central City and its sister town Black Hawk are only one of two places with legalized gambling in the state, but there are also nice antique shops and the architecture is definitely western.

Central City Opera House today.
In one antique shop I was besieged by butterflies and wound up leaving with a hand stitched dresser scarf and guest towel. The dresser scarf is long--49 by 14 inches. The hand towel is delicately stitches on gauze. I just love these, although I am not sure where I will use them!

The rest of the weekend I spent reading, stitching and having dinner with my husband (via FaceTime). Since I have been frustrated with my stitching ever since returning to Denver, having something turn out RIGHT, was very satisfying. Of course, nothing is finished yet. It is close to 90 degrees in my sewing room, so I could only sew an hour or so at a time before having to retire to the shade on the porch to read a book. I had a great weekend though and the stitching (and blogging) is definitely kick-started.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Back to blogging

It has been a few months since I've blogged on a regular basis. That is because I've spent an unprecedented 12 of the last 15 weeks home in Rhode Island, and there is so much to keep me occupied there. Cooking for more than just me, gardening with my husband, playing with the cats, seeing friends, birthdays, graduations, and weddings, holidays and family. The weather was perfect and we were busy. Our garden is bursting with life--there are green tomatoes growing abundantly and we are close to our second planting of salad greens. Our flowers are flourishing and the bunting is all hung. In fact, all the hard parts of the spring clean up are over and it is time to relax and enjoy the bounty of summer. Unfortunately, it is also time for me to return to Denver, where the weather has been violent--flipping between too much rain and too much heat. In Denver I have no garden, no family and few friends outside of work. The friends I do have, however, are all embroiderers, so I will be back at my handicrafts and I have a lot to do

I have promised to make some purses for a silent raffle to benefit a local school, and I want to work on some projects that I have prepped, but not started, as well as some that still need prepping. I'm itching to do another landscape and may set up more than one. The next one I have planned will have an abundance of French knots, and even though french knots are fun and easy, they can get boring. Having two landscapes to work on will help keep me going.

It was only last week that I even picked up a needle in my whole time at home. I stretched the linen onto a frame for a wedding sampler to commemorate my husband's and my wedding, and then found that without magnifying glasses I couldn't see the threads. So that project went into a closet to start when I return. I also traced my fish pattern onto linen. I am looking forward to trying a full color version of the blue fish I did in February. Then, feeling guilty for my sloth, I also finished embroidering three easy baptismal bibs. I have three more to do before I turn them in and get new ones. I had expected all six to be done before the end of April!

My only needlework success over the last 12 weeks, is locating and reading more novels about different needlework related themes. So over the next few months I'll review some of the novels and series that I've been reading. It's summer, so the reviews will be a little heavy on cosy mysteries, but who doesn't need a good needlework beach read?

I expect that I am back to blogging for the remainder of the summer and I can't wait to catch up and see what everyone else has been working on in my absence.
Below are just a fe highlights of my time home.
My husband with our grandson.


The patio set up for summer meals.
The tomatoes were 3x this size when I left last week!
The cats get their own garden.
Cooking good food together. Yum!


Finding fresh food is a good way to explore our little state.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Happy Birthday Dracen

Today is our grandson's second birthday! I'm a lucky grandma--falling into the role a few years after I married my husband. I've got all the fun of being a grandparent and none of the pain of raising my own children. Unfortunately, May is my Colorado month, so I wasn't home for his party yesterday. He did not go without a homemade gift, however. I was thinking ahead this Spring. I made his present in March and brought it home in my suitcase in April.

I hope that this car caddy is useful. Dracen's car seat will be turning around to face front soon and I have my fingers crossed that he will be able to reach books and bottles in the caddy. The bad thing about never having been a mother is that I am really not sure about the abilities and usefulness of this type of thing for kids and mothers. I made a caddy for my nephew when he was little, but I don't know how it faired--my sister never told me and she lives in yet a third state, so I don't see him often. It may not be the most exciting present, but I think that two year olds have short attention spans, so maybe useful is as good as fun. Besides, he has two other grandmas who are all about fun! This little boy is very blessed to have so many people loving him.



Sunday, May 10, 2015

A failed project?

What do you think? I made this trupunto pumpkin for a friend and I loved it until I stuffed it. The stuffing strained the stitches and made the pumpkin misshapen. I cut the backing and pulled out stuffing, slicing some of the decorative stitching at the same time. Then I redid the stitching and mounted it, but I am very unhappy with how it turned out. I think I will start again and not stuff it this time. What do you think?


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter

I'm back in New England for April. Spring is tentatively looking around and trying to decide whether or not she is going to stay awhile. She is still not sure. People say that they have seen the tips of bulb flowers peaking out of the ground, but we don't have any bulbs in our yard and even the forsythia is asleep. But the snow is almost gone and that is progress.

So for Easter, here are a few cheery things. First a delightful little bunny ornament hanging on my mantel. It was made by Starr White who blogs at Wonderland Woods about her backyard woods in Alabama, where Spring has definitely visited. She recently opened an Etsy shop of the same name to sell her woodsy creations--pretty little toadstools swaddled in moss. Her worlds are beautiful and I love my little bunny, so perfect for Easter.

Second, a little embroidered bunny next to some bunny scissors. Anyone who knows me knows that I love bunnies and last week I was in a meeting that was scheduled for one and a half hours, but lasted three and a half hours. When that happens, I doodle, and one of my doodles was a little bunny that was too cute not to embroider. I think I will cut her out and apply her to a book jacket when I go back to Denver.

So wherever you are, happy Easter or Passover and my your day be peaceful.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Happy Spring!

Even though the leaves are just starting to come out and the patio furniture is still covered, it is spring at my house. The little embroidery that I teased you with two weeks ago is done and back from the framer early. I'm so excited because it turned out wonderful.

This tiny landscape was was a multi step process--painting silk, stiffening fabrics and threads, embroidering backgrounds, and working with water soluble fabric. It was all new to me, but I love the results. My landscape may be a little overwhelmed by flowers, but that is because I was trying all of the techniques outlined in Creative Hand Embroidery and Hand Embroidered Country Scenes by Sue Newhouse. Since this is a practice piece, I wanted to practice as many flowers as possible.

The finished piece is just 3 inches by 4 inches.


I've had these two books for at least a dozen years, but it was working on the Inspirations piece that I did in December that made me want to explore landscapes in a more determined way.


Sue's books are fantastic. My piece is a conglomeration of the meadow practice pieces that she has in each book. Between the two books, she goes step by step with you through the process of creating your own little scene. I loved the details on making grass and flower heads with stiffened thread. I had no idea how they would turn out, but they are fun to do and really fun to work with. I also loved embroidering the daisys on water soluble fabric, washing out the fabric and then attaching stems and re-stiffening them. It was a lot of steps, but worth the effort. Now that I've tried the techniques I can't wait to do more, and just one look at the wonderful projects her students have done, which fill her books, provides plenty of inspiration on dealing with tricky subjects.

I've plucked half a dozen landscapes off the internet over the last three years that I eventually want to explore in stitches. They range from what I think are easy subjects to much more complex. I'm looking forward to the challenge and since I bought three more shadow boxes, I'm ready to start.


Finally, I am giving a shout out to Michaels in Belmar, west of Denver. I was quite nervous about dropping this piece off to be framed there, but since it was a practice piece, I figured I would try. They did a FANTASTIC job and it was inexpensive since I bought a ready made frame. I'm thrilled! You will definitely be seeing more little world's come to life this year.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Needlework Fiction--The Tenth Gift

The Tenth Gift Jane Johnson (2008)

*** 3/5 stars Check out GoodReads for more reviews of this novel


When Julia Lovat is given a seventeenth-century embroidery pattern book as a break up gift, her life changes in more ways than she can predict. The book once belonged to young Catherine Ann Tregenna, who used the spaces between patterns to record her hopes and dreams of being a master embroiderer. Kidnapped by Barbary pirates along with her Cornish church congregation in 1625, the diary takes a black turn as Cat records the terrors of the voyage and her attempt to begin a new life as a slave in the Moroccan city of Sallee. Julia gives up her own struggling embroidery business to follow the lead of this intrepid young woman and finds more than she hoped for on the northern coast of Africa. It is a tale of love, loss, friendship and fate beautifully told, with some interesting descriptions of seventeenth century embroidery. For obvious reasons dictated completely by the plot, the embroidery takes second stage at points. For those of us who can't get enough of the stitching life, however, it provides plenty of inspiration while showcasing a little known time in history when millions of Europeans were systematically being sold into slavery in Africa.


Resources about places and people in this novel

Jane Johnson provides some historical perspective on the inspiration for her novel at the following link.


Kenegie Manor, where Cat lived before being kidnapped is a real place. It now boasts holiday cottages where you can stay.


The castle where Cat dreamed of living is also a real place.


A little history of Sallee.


And a 17th century map of the port.


Sallee is across the river from Rabat, but not as much of a tourist destination. It was difficult to find photos, but you can see some here.


Before Cat is kidnapped, she is working on an altar frontal. This link has a picture of a Spanish or Italian frontal from the same time period.


The novel discusses Embroidery in Africa as well as England. Use Amazon's "Look inside this book" feature to see some wonderful photos from Moroccan Textile Embroidery.


This short article provides some interesting history of English men who joined forces with the Sallee Raiders.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A little preview

I am so excited having just finished my first Corded Brussel-stitched wired slip! This is for a project I've been working on over the last two weekends. It has many new techniques I've never tried before. In addition to my little slip, I've been painting and stiffening silk and threads. I'm eager to show you how it is all going together, but you will have to wait until I am all done! It won't be long. I hope to have it framed by Easter.

I've always liked detached buttonhole stitch. Now I am in love. This was good practice for my First Night partridge in a pear tree--but that is not what it is for.


Painted and stiffened silk and stiffened knotted threads. I was surprised at how crinkly the silk feels--like a thin version of a cereal box liner!



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Finished sampler with pulled-work border

My recent work trip to Virginia went well. Beautiful weather, relatively short flights, and well- defined working days left me with time in the evenings to embroider in my hotel room with no distractions. As a result, I finished the trellis, pulled-work border on my little sampler. Having never done pulled thread work before, my attempt wasn't without mishaps. For example, I finished pulling the first line of threads, secured them and cut them, only to discover the next morning that I had only pulled up to the inside edge of the vertical border. It was a little harrowing unweaving the secured threads, pulling six more and re-securing them, but I had just enough thread. After that, I pulled from each direction before securing any threads at the corners. The trellis work was challenging as well. The directions I was following weren't detailed, so I wasn't sure if the working thread stayed to the outside or the inside of the loop that hugged the groups of fabric threads. I worked it both ways and didn't see much difference, but finally decided that the working thread stays to the outside. After I finished the entire inside border, the stitching became easier and easier, until the last two sides flew by. I very much enjoyed the repetitive stitch, but I will admit to hating the pulling and securing of the threads. It probably wouldn't have been so bad on a lower stitch-count linen, but on 32 count, it was hard on the eyes. Still, I love the result and look forward to working this technique again.