Thursday, November 23, 2017

Give Thanks

In my family (Kara), the Thanksgiving meal has a lot of must-haves. Stuffing is probably the most critical element, but you can't have stuffing without good turkey.

With all of that, you have to have gravy, which is my personal favorite. Our must-haves are so important that we once stopped a Thanksgiving meal just as we were sitting down, because I forgot to make the green bean casserole, which is my son's favorite.

Over here in Germany, today is just like any other day for obvious reasons, but living where we do, there are a lot of Americans who are celebrating this day. While the commissary is well stocked with turkeys and all the fixings for the traditional meal, Thanksgiving is not just about the meal.

Now that we live in a military community, I am far more aware of the service our men and women in uniform give to us on a daily basis. Many are here with their families, but many are without, and many are stationed in more remote areas where even communication with family is challenging. This Thanksgiving, I am especially grateful for the men and women who serve our country. 

This post has nothing to do with quilting or stitching, but just some thoughts as we sit down this year to our meal, or maybe spend time with family. As we remember the things we are thankful for, I hope that the men and women who serve our country come to mind.

May you and yours have a blessed Thanksgiving. We are so grateful to all of you who read our blog and support our work.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"In the Garden"—Oak Leaves and Acorns

I (Teri) was afraid that the only autumnal color we were going to get this year would be that which I stitched. Here in Maryland, the days stayed warm and the temperatures didn't drop as much at night much later than normal, resulting in an October of primarily green trees. In the past few weeks, we have finally been seeing some color, though it was sadly short-lived, as many of the leaves have already begun falling.

While I love green, the autumn palette is my favorite, so it was with great pleasure that I stitched this month's block in our In the Garden Block of the Month series, Oak Leaves and Acorns. If you missed our first block, it is available on our website. You can read about Cornflowers by clicking here.

November block: Oak Leaves and Acorns

Our BOM class was held at Primitive Homespuns Wool & Needleworks on Sunday afternoon. We had a delightful time—lots of stitching and lots of laughing. As you can see in the photograph, there were moments of nearly silent concentration, with only the sound of needles pulling thread through our wool. And then the conversation would begin, as we got to know new stitching friends. This quaint shop offers such a charming setting for our classes!
We began by stapling our leaves and stem in place onto the background. Around each leaf, we blanket stitched with The Gentle Art Simply Wool™ thread, which blended into the wool beautifully, giving the leaves a crisp edge. Variegated Valdani Pearl Cotton 12 gave the veins a bit of pop and sheen.

I have been intrigued by the new Rustic Wool Moire™100% wool threads. I had bought several spools but hadn't tried them yet. The branch seemed to be the perfect opportunity, as I had a color that blended with the wool I used precisely. It was a little fussy to work with, needing gentle handling and a short stitching piece, but I loved the way it worked with the wool. The natural slubs in the thread give the branch a little texture, but it sinks right into the the wool fabric. I didn't, however, choose the wool for the acorn caps. 

To make the acorns, I cut out a piece of gold the shape of the entire acorn. I blanket stitched around about 3/4 of the acorn, and then I stuffed it with polyester fluff. You could as easily use batting scraps or shredded scraps of wool for stuffing. Then I finished blanket stitching the acorn. For the cap, I choose Weeks Dye Works™ Pearl Cotton 8, but you could use size 5 if you want bigger and fewer knots. I first outlined the cap with knots and then filled it in—with hundreds of knots. I use a pillow when I do knots, so that after I wrap the thread around the needle, I can stick it straight into the pillow, and pull the wraps tautly, as in the photo above. I then pick up my work, holding the thread at the base of the knot with my thumb, and I gently pull the needle through from the back, keeping my thumb at the knot. Easy, uniform knots!

So many knots! You can use French or Colonial knots.

Pick a great movie or TV show to binge-watch, and knot away! They give such a realistic textured effect to the acorn caps.

I also met with the Margaret Potts quilt BOM group this past weekend. We are embellishing the blocks with ribbon and embroidery. To read about the ribbon flowers we learned last month, read the post "Potts" of Ribbon Flowers. Several people brought their blocks in to share what they had accomplished thus far. We had some lovely and creative flower centers! Not only are the flowers centers different, but each block has a different kind of veins in the leaf. It is such fun to see the modifications that are made to reflect the makers' own tastes and styles. 

A circle of knots and one of seed beads

Filled with knots to complement the color of the vase

A mixture of French and bullion knots
This month, we used River Silks ribbon to embellish our flowers, playing with several stitches—a straight stitch and the ribbon stitch. The buds were made with folded wired ribbon, and the thorny stem was created using the wheat ear stitch. I can't wait to see how these flowers look on all the blocks next month! 

What a fun-filled, stitching weekend! The only thing that could be more fun than two stitching classes would be to end the weekend with a birthday party for a two-year-old princess. Which I did! I know this grandma is a bit biased, but I think she is a darling little princess!

Admiring herself in her princess gown 

But I digress! If you haven't ordered your Cornflowers pattern, they are available on our website (click here). And our new pattern, Oak Leaves and Acorns is now available as well! We'd love to have you join us In the Garden!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Stepping Out of the Box

True confession time: I (Kara) like to live in a box. Not a real box, although with moving I could have had plenty to choose from, but one of my own making. I like doing the things that I am comfortable with and straying too far from that makes me a little nervous. It's not just in my day to day living  that I like my box, but in my quilting life as well. Appliqué, embroidery, crazy quilting;—those are all quilt techniques that are in my comfort zone. I control the needle, and it doesn't beep at me when I break a thread, and my hands don't quit working for no apparent reason. That is why I have looked at my new Bernina sewing machine with fear and trepidation. 

A friend here asked me if I wanted to take a class with an excellent teacher, but it would be all machine work. I nervously said yes, because I knew I needed to take a step out of my hand-stitching box and learn how to use my machine. The class was Playing on the Surface, with Gloria Loughman, from Australia, and would be two days. I signed up in July and didn't give it much thought until all of a sudden it was November, and the class was in three days! All the supplies were gathered together, and off I went, not sure what to expect. 

From the moment we started, I knew that I was in good hands with Gloria. She made us all comfortable right from the beginning, as she shared what we would be doing in class. We would be using machine appliqué and embroidery to create abstract designs that were one of a kind. I was a bit nervous about my  design capabilities as abstract is not my forte, but Gloria's methods made it seem achievable. She began the class by showing some of her work to help us get an idea of what we would be doing.

The tiling on the background fabric adds so much depth.

Incredible detail
Gloria sometimes uses painted fabric to add detail.

This was one of my favorites!

An interesting skyline
This one reminds me of butterflies.

What spectacular use of color!

A colorful facade
So many different techniques were used in this piece.

I love this color combination!

Gloria enjoys using fabric with original Aboriginal designs.

Now that we were suitably impressed and just a slight bit intimidated, we got to work. Gloria's instructions were clear and simple. We started with a large sheet of paper to begin our designs, and she guided us through the process, so we really didn't get too stressed. 

Each technique was demonstrated clearly.
We spent most of the first day just figuring out our design and color schemes, choosing fabrics and shapes to incorporate into our piece. I was aiming for a fall theme; in hindsight, I should have made my design a bit smaller, but I will make it work.

Some of my fabric choices  being auditioned

Gloria also hand-dyes fabric and had some shipped over for us to buy—and of course I couldn't resist, even though I had brought what seemed like half my stash.

Such beautiful eye candy!

By the time we left for the day, our minds were swirling with color and design decisions. Ready to get started on day two, we continued putting our pieces together. I re-worked a piece, because one of the colors wasn't playing nicely with the rest, and added some things to another piece that needed some oomph. Gloria's method is to divide the quilt into sections and do the stitching/appliqué on the pieces while they are small, so they can be manipulated easier. Some of the ladies were speedy and by the afternoon, had their pieces ready to put together. Others, like me, were still trying to finish the design in order to actually put it all together.

Everyone hard at work with Gloria, on the left, encouraging us

My hot mess of a work station!

My friend Angela started all over again the second day and made these gorgeous sections.

Taking a class or going on a retreat in Germany is awesome, because they set up snacks! We had pretzels in the morning and cake in the afternoon, as well as coffee, tea, water, and sparkling apple juice.

Apple Schorle: kind of like apple soda
A German staple

The second day drew to a close, and it was time for a little show and tell of our progress. I was still fighting with mine, and so was my neighbor, but we put them up anyway. Others were further along, but there was no pressure at any time to be at a certain stage in the process. That's what I call a good class. 

Water was the theme for this artist's work

Aren't the elephants perfect?

My work after two days.  Not as far along as I had hoped but I will finish it someday.

Stepping out of my comfy box was a bit of a stretch for me, but I'm glad I did. Abstract may not be my strength, but it was a treat to take a class from such a wonderful teacher and to challenge myself to learn something new. Gloria's work is inspiring in so many ways, but what was most inspiring to me was the way she taught and encouraged the class. It is my hope that someday Teri and I can become teachers just like her. I hope you have enjoyed coming to this class with me. If you would like to read more about Gloria Loughman and her amazing work, you can go to her website here

Thursday, November 2, 2017

In Praise of Jane Austen: An Album Quilt

Nearly a year ago, this stunning quilt made its journey from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Baltimore, Maryland. Mildred Tahara, who placed every stitch into this quilt, generously donated the quilt to the Baltimore Appliqué Society (BAS), with one request: that it be used as a model for teaching. The quilt, In Praise of Jane Austen, tells quite a story. I (Teri) asked Mildred if I could share the story of her quilt with you. Her narrative follows, in italics:

I began to think of a Jane Austen quilt around the years I was following Downton Abbey seasons on Masterpiece theater on PBS. Pat Bauer of California, a hand quilter in Elly Sienkiewicz’s Empty Spools class at Asilomar, in Pacific Grove, California, was very fond of the Jane Austen novels. Chatting with her in the evening while appliquéing and reviewing what was taught in Elly’s class, we would discuss Jane Austen’s novels. I ended up taking several years of Elly’s week-long classes with Pat, during which time I read the delightful and thought-provoking Austen novels, set in England during a period of horse-drawn carriages and charming country houses. In my mind, I contrasted the Downton Abbey years—the first quarter of the 20th century of WWI, trains, the earliest automobiles, silent films—that was being recreated on TV—with the years a hundred years earlier of horse-drawn carriages and relatively quiet domestic life, described in the Austen novels. My Downton Abbey quilt was completed a few years later.

I was deeply interested in Crazy Quilts, having read that these quilts were inspired in part by the Japanese art works on display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. I asked Elly how I could use Crazy Quilting in Baltimores. One suggestion she made was for me to consider using them as cornerstones when I worked on wide borders. What a perfect solution! I was absolutely thrilled. I could embellish and embroider to my heart’s content while working on these colorful squares. I have used Crazy Quilt cornerstones in several of my large Baltimore quilts. You see them in the Jane Austen quilt, and the suggestion was first made by Elly, a truly inspiring and encouraging instructor. I also began to embellish the appliqué in my album blocks with embroidery, ribbon flowers, and beads. All this was at once challenging and great fun!

I think that most of us who work with our hands in fashioning an album block or in planning a quilt find our minds wandering while we ply our needle. I came to quilting around the time I turned 60. Much of my thoughts go back through all the years I’ve lived, the books and poetry I’ve read, the music I so enjoy listening to, memorable movies I have seen, the magnificent works of art I’ve enjoyed in art museums, etc.

While working on the Jane Austen quilt, I reviewed the Austen novels, thought of the memorable scenes in movie versions of the novels, and decided that all I needed in six blocks were the names of the two, who after many trials and tribulations, marry at the end of a long, complicated courtship. If you had read and enjoyed Persuasion as I did, you would recall the pain Anne Elliott experienced throughout the novel before Captain Wentworth finally proposes to her. Remembered are scenes taking place in Lyme and Bath.

Persuasion (1817)— Anne Elliott to marry Wentworth

I could have selected just one Jane Austen novel instead and have in the album blocks inscriptions about favorite scenes and episodes in a single novel. I chose instead to cover all six complete novels by Jane Austen.

Sense and Sensibility (1811)—Elinor Dashwood to marry Edward Ferrars

Pride and Prejudice (1813)—Lizzie Bennet to marry Mr. Darcy (Fitzwilliam Darcy)

Mansfield Park (1814)—Fanny Price to marry Edmund Bertram 

Emma (1815)—Emma Woodhouse to marry Mr. Knightley
Northanger Abbey (1817)—Catherine Morland to marry Henry Tilney

Only Yesterday, by Mildred Machiko Tahara of Honolulu, Hawaii; a Baltimore Album Quilt inspired by the characters and memorable scenes in "Downton Abbey," set in North England during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The hand appliqué in the nine blocks is lavishly embellished with embroidery and beadwork.  

Mildred sent the photo above of her "Downton Abbey" quilt, Only Yesterday. As she mentioned, she worked on these quilts at about the same time and reflected on the two time periods, a hundred years apart. If you are interested to learn more about the world during the time Austen wrote her books, click here to read Pride and Prejudice and the Regency World. You might also be interesting in seeing a quilt thought to have been made by the Austen women, in Barbara Brackman's post, The Austen Quilt.

The BAS is honored to receive this lovely gift from Mildred. In fact, in June, we held a tea to celebrate her beautiful work and learn more about her and her quilt. I loved studying Mildred's  embellishment techniques in her quilt, and I am privileged to teach the workshops sponsored by the BAS on these ribbon and embroidery skills. The first workshop will be held this month, when we will begin to stitch the Flower Basket, the center medallion In Praise of Jane Austen. Elly Sienkiewicz has kindly given us permission to use her patterns for the workshops, inspiring us as she inspired Mildred. 

Velvet leaves, ribbon-stitched stems, folded rosebuds, ultrasuede acorns and calyxes

Ribbon ferns, beaded ribbon trumpet flowers

Gathered wired-ribbon flowers with beaded centers

I have been working diligently to finish my version of the block, which I will share when I've finished. You may have seen glimpses of parts of it on our Instagram or Facebook pages. It will be exciting to see our Flower Baskets come to life!

Many thanks to Mildred Tahara, both for sharing her gifts of lavish stitchery through donating her quilt to BAS as a teaching tool, and for telling us the story behind her quilts. I love how she was thinking about the history and cultures of each era as she stitched. Stitching can be such a calming time for thoughtful reflection.

What about you? What do you think about when you are stitching?