Thursday, April 30, 2015

Made With Love and Good Intentions

Making a quilt for a specific someone is one of my favorite parts of quilt making. I (Kara) find it hard to put together a quilt without having a specific person in mind while making it. There is definitely a story to be told when making a quilt for someone else. Usually we try to find out a bit about the person or if we know them well, try to infuse that person's personality into the quilt. Most times a finished quilt given as a gift is received with joy and gratefulness. But sometimes the recipient's reaction is not what we were expecting.

About 15 years ago, I decided I was going to make each of my children a quilt. McKenna, my younger daughter, was about 8 when I began the quilt and got to be the first to have a quilt made for her. She liked purple and dragonflies, and I asked her if she liked the Trip Around the World pattern (a pattern that I loved). She liked the pattern so I set forth on a quest to find as many purples as I could find. Now if you have ever collected purples that will blend together, you know that there are many types of purple out there. Red-purples, blue-purples, lavenders, plums and more. Since I am a little Color OCD  (not a medical term), it took me quite some time to gather a collection of purples that satisfied me. "Some time" meant about a year. Then there was the time it took to order the colors in a pleasing manner and more time to figure out the borders, quilting, and binding. Needless to say, the quilt from start to finish took about 2 years, and I began to love purple in a whole new way.

During the process, I noticed that McKenna wasn't quite as excited as I hoped she would be about the quilt. She was and still is my peacemaker child, so she didn't say anything. The quilt was finally finished, and I was so thrilled to be able to give my daughter the first quilt that I had made for one of my children. She accepted it from me in a subdued way, and I was a bit perplexed. I asked her if she liked it and she said, "Yes Mommy, it's pretty, but I don't like purple anymore."
Now that she is an adult we have talked about this and laughed. Purple is still not her favorite color, but she loves the quilt and can appreciate it far more now than when she was 10.
The quilt is a traditional Trip Around the World pattern made by strip piecing. I stitched in the ditch for the pieced areas and free-motion quilted the borders. The corner dragonflies were made by creating each dragonfly with fused appliqué and then I laid a piece of batiste over that and quilted around them. It gives a shadow-effect similar to shadow embroidery, but not quite as time consuming.

The binding was made from leftover strips.

I did free-motion McKenna's name in the border, although it is hard to see.

These are some of the lessons I learned while making a quilt for someone else:

1. Be prepared for any reaction, positive or negative, and accept it.
2. Make sure you like the colors and fabrics that you are working with, too.
3. Be flexible when making a quilt for a child.
4. Try not to take two years to finish the quilt.

Feel free to share the stories of quilts you have made and given. What types of reactions did you receive? Remember that our love of quilt making is what's important, no matter what the reaction to our quilt gift might be.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

SIsters Tied by Needle and Thread

This past week, we had the privilege of attending Janice Vaine's Tea and Stitches retreat in Jacksonville, Florida. We were most excited to learn some new skills in embroidery, which was the focus of the spring retreat, but we were even more thrilled to be able to spend the weekend with some dear friends. Rather, these women have become our stitching sisters. It had been over a year since we were all together, and we came from California, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to join our friends in Florida for this stitching reunion.  

We thought it would be fun to share the story of our weekend in pictures.

Jasmine covered the walls of the hotel, its fragrance permeating the air.
Outside the hotel, on our way to the campus to begin our weekend of stitching. Sadly, we missed a repeat photo with the other two of our group who arrived later.
A lovely tea was set up for us each afternoon.
Jan introduces the pincushion we would make, applying new stitching techniques learned throughout the weekend.
Time to start stitching!

Plenty of shopping opportunity: threads, ribbon, beads, oh my!

We put together a notebook of practice pages with instructions for each new stitch we learned. Our workstation held a new little treasure each day, with the strawberry theme. From left to right: a project envelope, a mug rug, an ort jar for scraps, a scissor holder, and a bag full of threads, ribbon,  and a charm pack. Other treats and doorprizes were given all weekend long.
Bette taught us her technique for using the cast-on stitch to make flowers. Kara's example on the left below uses #12 perle cotton, while Teri's on the right, uses 2 strands of floss on the outside row and #5 perle for the inside row. What a difference the thread can make!

Comparing the cast-on stitch effect with different threads.
Time to play with ribbon! The top two flowers were made with River Silk, the left using the ribbon stitch and the right one with the ribbon loop stitch. Below, we made a rake-ruched rose using hand-dyed Cotton Twill Tape by Threadnuts.
We used wired ribbon to make "Mom's Yellow Rose."
On the last morning, we had to stop to smell the roses before our final stitching session. They smelled better than our ribbon roses, but were a lovely reminder of the natural beauty that inspires us in our craft.
Pincushion tops by all members of the class. Such fun to see the different methods used!
Kara's pincushion
Teri's pincushion
This sign on the deck where we enjoyed our meals is not one often seen in Maryland! Thankfully, we didn't need to heed the warning, as we saw no alligators. Just a turtle, a lot of lizards, and....
...many Canada geese. This mama watched her nest closely, and at the end of our day had just settled down onto her eggs. No doubt she was glad when we left!
Jan with her mom and sisters.
While some of us who gathered for the weekend were sisters by birth, the rest of us became sisters through our love of stitching. But the kindred spirit we feel with fellow stitchers—the love of fiber and the art we can create with them—forms a bond that is deep, for we are sisters tied by needle and thread. A bit sappy, perhaps, but that's our story, and we're sticking to it!!

We would love to hear about some of your "sister" stories. Please share in the comments below, or on our Facebook page, Through the Needle's Eye. We are looking forward to meeting many new sisters, and perhaps some brothers, along our journey. Please join us!

Note: For more information about Janice Vaine's Tea and Stitches Retreats, visit

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Eye on Elegance

A couple of weeks ago, I (Teri) had the opportunity to join several other members of the Baltimore Appliqué Society for a tour of the current display at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC. The Eye on Elegance exhibit displays early quilts from Maryland and Virginia, most dated from the late 1700s to the mid 1800s. It was a privilege to have Debby Cooney and Virginia Vis share their expertise and knowledge of these quilts with us. I encourage everyone to visit this exquisite exhibit, which will be featured until September 5.

Unfortunately, at the last minute, Kara found that she was unable to go with me, so she requested lots of pictures. I did my best with my trusty phone camera (not ideal in the low museum lights,) but I can tease you with a few jewels from the day.

Being the lover of stories that I am, I was as intrigued by the history of the quilts as by the beauty of the stitched artwork. The museum has done a superb job of researching the provenance of the quilts. As I listened, I found myself picturing the families passing down these treasures from generation to generation, telling about the maker who lived so long ago.

One such tale involved the maker of a collection of counterpanes, a type of bed covering. Here is the center of one Chintz Appliqué Counterpane, made around 1820 by Achsah Goodwin Wilkins, possibly with the help of her mother or sister. The museum has three of the known eleven quilts that are attributed to Achsah. The center of this one, done in a cotton chintz which she apparently used in several of her quilts, really drew me. I can just imagine how magnificent it would be to appliqué and embroider the design of that basket of fruit! Part of Achsah's fascinating story involves discord with her family when she joined a church of a different denomination, and married someone from that church. In time, the family reconciled, and her brother even named a daughter after her.
This sampler was done by Achsah's niece, Achsah Wilkins Goodwin. I like to picture the two Achsahs sitting and stitching together, the younger mentored by the elder. Even knowing something of the story of the quilt, my mind conjures a vivid image of details that well may exceed reality. For a more comprehensive retelling of the story of Achsah's quilts, I encourage you to read the museum's Exhibition Catalogue, Eye on Elegance: Early Quilts of Maryland & Virginia, by Alden O'Brien, 2014.

The following photos are from the center  of a Framed Medallion Quilt, made in 1823 by Amelia Lauck for her daughter. The quilting is incredibly stunning, as seen in the closeup of the quilted eagle. Note the initials of Amelia's daughter and her husband, stitched into the eagle's banner. 

Kara and I love appliqué, especially in the Baltimore Album style, and there were quite a number of quilts included in the exhibit to study and inspire. The history of Baltimore Albums is probably the subject of another blog...or book. This is a pretty awful picture of quite a stunning quilt top, a "Mary Simon-Style Baltimore Album," from 1846.
There were several styles of blocks in the Baltimore quilts, and there was some discussion about the meaning of some the the blocks. This quilt indicates that there was likely some kitting involved in these blocks, as many of them show up with the same or similar fabrics in other quilts. Sometimes the blocks were inscribed, giving us some of the story of the quilt, but sometimes we are left to piece together a story, based on historical events of the times. Some of them hinted at political statements or sentiments. 

Curator Virginia Vis gave an illustration that I thought was particularly interesting, as it related to our previous post "What's Your Story," where we encouraged you to record the stories of your stitched heirlooms. Vis pointed out that as we try to discern what certain motifs in a quilt could have represented, we can only ascertain what the needle artist might have been saying, based on how symbols were interpreted in that historical context. She suggested that if someone today were to see the Twitter logo, not knowing
what it was but just thinking it was a cute little bird, that stitcher might choose to appliqué it onto a quilt. If the needle artist has no record of what her quilt elements represented, or what story she may have been trying to tell, someone a hundred years from now could be studying her quilt in a museum and determine that she was "tweeting" how important Twitter was as a form of social media. Historically conceivable, but possibly nothing to do with the maker's intent. 

On that note, here is some eye candy for you to enjoy...just a few blocks from various Album quilts on display at the DAR Museum.
Interesting fussy cutting of the fabric for the flowers in this wreath.

The center of the heart wreath is ink inscribed with a quote about the "Blessings of Government," the name of a local printer, and a date.

The padded flowers and embroidery add to the effect of this basket.

The design and bright colors in this lovely urn of flowers are strikingly different than the style of the previous blocks.

How I love these little birds on this charming wreath!
I hope that gives you just an inkling of the stunning display of quilts at the DAR Museum, and you will be enticed to pay the museum a visit. If the location proves to be too far, fear not! We live in the digital age and you can visit via the cyber world. To see the DAR online exhibit of Eye on Elegance, click here. To order the Exhibition Catalog of Eye on Elegance: Early Quilts of Maryland & Virginia, click here. This book is an excellent resource and gives a thorough account of the quilts in their display. I am finding it quite informative and interesting. (In fact, I referred to it when writing this post!)
Starburst Quilt, 1830s, unknown maker

Thanks for stopping by! We do hope that you will visit the DAR exhibit. We've given you but a tiny taste of the beauty to behold. Whether you visit in person, online, or with the book, you will be in for a visual treat—excellent quilts and/or pictures and the stories to accompany them. Enjoy!!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Into the West

One of my favorite story series of all time is the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Tolkien had a masterful way with detail that brought the characters and their surroundings to life in vivid imagery in my mind.  Because I (Kara) am such a visual person, his style of writing appealed to me.  However, it was not for everyone, and Teri was not a fan. When the Lord of the Rings movies began, I mentioned to her that I wanted to reread the books but didn't have copies.  She promptly gave me her book set because she knew she wouldn't be reading them anytime soon.  When she gave them to me they were in much better shape, but as you can see from the picture I have loved them well.

Fast forward five years to a quilt challenge presented by our local quilt guild.  The challenge was to make a quilt based on a favorite song. The last installment of the Lord of the Rings movies, Return of the King, had just come out and I had been moved by the closing song.  The movie ended with a poignant scene where Frodo went off in a ship to the Grey Havens with the wizard Gandalf and the last of the elves to live out the rest of their lives.  The song "Into the West" by Annie Lennox was sung right after that particular scene, and that was the song I chose to use for the quilt challenge. I felt that the closing image of that movie would represent the song quite well and since I loved landscape quilts, I decided to give it a try.

The fabrics used were batiks, cottons, and a piece of moire upholstery fabric for the sun. As I gathered the fabrics, I was missing just the right piece for the sky but I had a batik that was close.  I submerged a test piece of the batik in a light solution of bleach and voila! I had my perfect sky fabric. I liked it so much that I used it for the border.

Teri and I had recently taken a thread painting class, and this project was a perfect choice to try this new-to-me technique. I was a novice at thread painting (still am) but I was able to get the effect I wanted.

I think it may have been a requirement of the challenge to have the words of the song somewhere on the quilt, so I printed the words onto iron-on paper and attached it to the back.

Most people who are fans of the Lord of the Rings books and movies will probably guess what part of the story my quilt tells, as it is an iconic scene in both.

Making a quilt based on a story has its challenges.  It can be difficult to get enough elements of the story into the quilt so that the viewer understands what the story is about.   There are many quilting techniques that can be used when making a quilt about a story; raw-edge appliqué, needle-turn appliqué, paper-piecing, piecework, and many others.  The method you choose will depend on which technique allows you to most accurately share your story.

As with most of the quilts I made long ago, (that makes me sound quite old,) I look at them now and think of ways I could have done something differently or look at some part of the quilt and think how much I've improved my skills since then. Being content with our works of the past is a good thing, because we used the skills and the materials we had at the time and it worked for us then.  That, and I am happy that I finished something and it isn't sitting with my pile of UFOs!

Every quilt has a story, and sometimes our quilts are based on stories.  We hope to share with you in the coming months more of our quilt stories, and eventually we will be sharing our story quilt project.

Stay Tuned!

Kara and Teri

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Thing 1 and Thing 2

Two years ago, when I (Teri) found out I was going to be a grandmother, the first thing I did was to shop for fabric to make baby quilts. I was to have two grandsons about six weeks apart, one locally and the other in Okinawa, Japan. What could be better than making quilts for my new grandsons? And even better...Dr. Suess quilts with the story of The Cat in the Hat! My fabric for two quilts arrived, and I washed it, folded it, arranged it, fondled it...and put the pile in my sewing room until I could decide how to design the quilt. (BIG mistake!)

At baby shower time, I thought it would be nice to have them ready when the boys were born. But they were born in July and August, and it's so hot they wouldn't need quilts, so maybe Christmas would make more sense. Then they'd be older and appreciate them more. Do I need to tell you that my next thought was of course a first birthday gift? 

Why was I putting off this wonderfully delightful quilting experience?!  Design woes: I wanted to make it perfect, and I couldn't settle on a design.

The first grandson's birthday came and went, and I'm again thinking Christmas is a better time to give a quilt. (Pathetic, I know.) Then I planned a trip to Alaska (my Air Force son's family having relocated from Okinawa) to spend a week, which happened to coincide with my second grandson's first birthday. Hmmm... When my daughter-in-law said she was having a Cat in the Hat birthday party for him while I was there, what was I to do? I had about a week and a half before my trip and no perfect design.

The Cat in the Hat, wonky style
About a week before leaving for Alaska, I decided that there was no way that I could go to Isaac's Cat in the Hat birthday party without taking a Cat in the Hat quilt. My work was cut out for me (pun intended.) Now I should probably mention that just prior to this time, I suffered from a sudden hearing loss, which my doctor was treating with a round of steroids. So I was suddenly feeling a great deal of energy to devote to this quilt, and no task seemed insurmountable. I had a brand new mindset, one quite unusual for me: it's a Dr. Seuss quilt, and Dr. Seuss is a bit wonky—especially the Cat in the Hat—so maybe that's how I should design my quilt. I put up the design wall and started cutting. I just cut and stitched as I went, forging into the unknown land of spontaneous quilt design.  I finished the whole quilt top in one day, with a bit of help from a dear friend who wasn't quite sure what to think of my sewing frenzy.

Quilt back
Originally, I had planned to just piece a few fabrics together to make a simple Suess backing, but my friend had mentioned something the day before about including my picture in the label, since Isaac didn't get to see his grandma very often. Before I even thought about it, I had printed several pictures of me with him, his grandpa, and his daddy on photo fabric and incorporated some Air Force fabric, as well as a fabric I had bought in Okinawa where he was born. The quilt actually had another story on the back; pretty cool, but it was going to make for some challenging quilting so I didn't stitch through the photos of our faces. At the end of the second day, I was layering the layers of the quilt preparing to quilt it. 

By the next evening, I had finished quilting it and another day completed the binding. (Need I remind you that the steroids were making it difficult to sleep and giving me exuberant energy?!) But there were sections that needed a bit of quilting or something to hold the layers together, since I had to carefully avoid stitching through the photos. So a trip to several stores to purchase ribbon for Cat's and Sally's bows, chenille yarn for the Things' hair, and buttons. And the fun began with a vengeance: embroidering and sewing bows and buttons all over the quilt.
Example of button pattern activities
A bit of kite embellishment

Thing 1 and Thing 2
Three looped bows are challenging!
My vision for the quilt had come to include a fun, tactile experience with much to explore and learn. Amazingly, I finished the quilt before I left and was pleased that Isaac enjoyed exploring it as I'd hoped. I have a video of him studying his daddy's picture on the back and laughing. It warms my heart!
Now, I am counting on you all to hold me accountable to make the next quilt...before Jacob turns two. He's getting a double story quilt with the Cat in the Hat and Thomas the Tank Engine on the back. I'd better get busy. I'm pretty sure I can't do another one-week quilt, and I'm not certain I can muster "wonky" in my normal state of mind, with no steroidal assistance. Time to make a plan...of course they can't look alike, even if it is the same story. I've decided the perfect names for these quilts: "Thing 1" and "Thing 2."

Expect a report by July!