Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thumbelina Dance, Thumbelina Sing

In our post, Fairy Tales Through the Needle's Eye, we showed you our fairy tale quilt and shared the story of its creation. We just found out that it has been accepted into the Houston International Quilt Festival in November! Let's just say there was a lot of screaming, dancing, and jumping up and down going on yesterday. We are still in disbelief that we are going to Houston to see our quilt.

Beauty from Beauty and the Beast
While the quilt top was with the quilter, we decided to work on a few other one-block projects using our patterns and different fabric choices. Teri is working on a baby quilt using the Cinderella pattern, and she will share that project soon. I (Kara) decided to tackle the Thumbelina block, but I planned on stitching it in wool. The Thumbelina fairy tale is by Hans Christian Anderson and tells of the travels and travails of a tiny girl, no bigger than your thumb, hence the name. The block incorporates various elements from that story. You can read the tale here.

This past August, Teri and I went to the Four County Quilters Guild Quilt Show in Frederick, MD. There were amazing quilts to be seen, as well as some wonderful vendors. One vendor that kept our attention was Shakerwood Woolens out of Rock Hill, South Carolina. We fell in love with the colors and the texture of Cathi's wools, and I bought enough for a design that I hoped to create based on a friend's coat. While I haven't made the project yet, at least I have the supplies ready.

This pattern is begging to be done in wool

As I began planning the Thumbelina project, I remembered Shakerwood and immediately went to their website. While it can be difficult to pick colors for a project from a website, the wool color from picture to reality was pretty true. Getting these luscious colors was like an extension of Christmas, and they were packaged so nicely!

I had never worked on a wool project quite this large (15"), but as it was winter when I was stitching, it helped to keep me warm.

And the stitching begins!

Once all the pieces were stitched onto the background, I began the fun part: embellishing the block with embroidery. I knew I wanted to use the Hungarian chain stitch for the cattail stems, and I also went back and did an outline stitch around the chain stitch to give it more definition. Just a few French knots in two shades of brown gave the depth I was looking for on the cattails.

I wasn't as sure about what to do for Thumbelina's hair, so I auditioned an upholstery trim-piece but decided it was a little too crazy.

For her hair I used two different colors of Gentle Arts wool thread and was quite pleased with the way it turned out.

I re-worked the stitching on the swallow about six times and finally went back to my original plan of keeping it simple.

The butterfly received a little bling in the form of a beaded body and some metallic silk stitching.

The beautiful shading of the pink wool meant that I really didn't need to do much embellishing on the lilies. Just a little outlining with a matching floss and a few details using a variegated silk thread were all they needed.

Once the embellishing was finished, I needed to decide on a border. When Teri and I were in Lancaster last year, I found these Moda Regent Street charm packs of lawn. Lawn comes in the most beautiful florals, and these were no exception; however, I didn't know when I bought them how perfect they would be for the Thumbelina project.

The colors in these lawn squares matched the wool perfectly

I wanted a delicate border that didn't overwhelm the piece, so I went with a one-inch blue inner border and two rows of one-inch lawn squares for the outer border.

I enjoy working with wool and the change it brings from regular fabric appliqué, and this project was so much fun. It was nice to see how well our patterns transitioned from fabric to wool, and I hope to do more of them. Do you favor wool or cotton appliqué, or both? Let us know your favorite!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Stitching for Sister

When I (Teri) was young—as in the age of bickering with brothers—I always wanted a sister. I remember my mom telling me that women "make their own sisters." I thought that was easy for her to say: she has a sister! But as I've grown older and wiser (like my mom), I have realized the truth of that counsel. In addition to the blessing of my two brothers—with whom I no longer bicker—I have acquired sisters from my school family from my years as a teacher, sisters from my church family, and sisters from my stitching family. But one special sister has gone from being just a sister-in-law to simply being a "sister." To my children, she is their beloved "Aunt Millie." To me, she is my sister.

About ten years ago, when Millie bought her current home, she asked me to make her a table runner for her new dining room set. She told me the colors she wanted, and I set to work, finding a pattern and creating her runner. I chose batiks, which were lovely in the autumn palette she had chosen. Machine quilting is definitely NOT my thing, but I practiced and persevered, figuring this was the perfect size to manage.

A bit of meandering: not my favorite quilting activity

She was so thrilled with that one, she asked if I would make her a Christmas runner, so she could decorate for the holiday. This time, I simply chose a block pattern and used that as the basis for the runner design. I ramped up the quilting a bit, and crazily chose to do some of the quilting with metallic thread. What was I thinking?! But we both loved the effect of the metallic touches on the gold-flecked fabric.

Metallic sparkle in the stars

Free-motion filler in the background

That winter, I took a class in Hampton, Virginia, with Virginia Walton, learning to sew curves. We used gradient hand-dyed fabrics to create curved stars set amidst batik squares. I remember spending a bit too much time in class arranging my stack of 48 batik squares, so that the colors were just right. I never have been able to master "random." I have to carefully work to achieve the random look I want—I call it plandom. Anyway, my husband loved the quilt, so it went to his office. And Millie loved the stars, so I designed a table runner for her. Win, win!

Class quilt on curves: I worked hard to place the warm colors on the diagonal down the middle.

Resulting star design for table runner, and yes—more metallic quilting. Stars need sparkle!

The following summer, I took a class in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on stained-glass quilt designs, with Carol Blevins. The project was a one-block piece, which Millie liked, so I finished it and gave it to her. I then made four more blocks and arranged them to create her "summer runner."


With most of the seasons covered, Millie thought perhaps she should have a wintry design. She chose fabrics that she liked, again batiks, (notice a pattern, here?) and I used Electric Quilt to create the pattern. And now, she had one for each season, and she could change her table runners accordingly. We thought we were finished.

But then I found this line of fabric that screamed at us. We both come from Pennsylvania Dutch (German) roots. The designs in this fabric line tugged on my heart, so I naturally bought yardage, knowing I would find ways to use it. When I showed it to Millie, I knew she would want another runner. And she did, of course! 

We both loved this fabric, so reminiscent of the fraktur and distelfink designs we saw growing up.

Not long ago, I was at her house for lunch, and as we reminisced and I took pictures of her table, she started pointed out colors she liked, just in case I might want to make her another runner . . . 

After all, what are sisters for, anyway? I guess I'd better start designing a new table runner!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Potts" of Flowers

As I (Kara) sit here at my computer typing this post, I am basking in the spring sunshine, enjoying the sounds of the birds, when the sound of an Accuweather bulletin breaks my peaceful mood with a frost warning! At least it isn't snow this time, but spring has taken her sweet time in arriving—not just here in Maryland, but across the country.

Photo Credit: Only in Your State

Though spring has been delayed, there are signs that she is on her way. My tulips, daffodils, and carefully cultivated dandelions are showing themselves, and the flowering trees around here have been beautiful.

While we have been waiting for warmer temperatures, the Baltimore Appliqué Society has been helping us with thoughts of spring flowers through the Margaret Potts Quilt. This quilt was made by Margaret Potts and her family, friends, and neighbors from 1851-1858. It was given to her son, Ellis P. Miller, who recorded all the quiltmakers' names and their relationship to the family. The 85 appliquéd blocks are made of cotton fabrics with cotton and wool embroidery and are charming in their simplicity. The quilt was donated by Priscilla Hart Miller and currently resides in the Winterthur museum where it will be treasured as an important part of women's history. The BAS was given permission by Priscilla to create the patterns and share them with quilters everywhere. Mary Lou McDonald, Margo Cramer, and Eleanor Layman did an exceptional job of creating these patterns.

The Margaret Potts Quilt Pattern

As a way to help BAS members who don't live in the Baltimore area feel connected, the BAS is doing a Block of the Month for its members, featuring the Potts quilt. Each month, a new block is showcased with the pattern, a picture from the original quilt, and a color chart. You can join the BAS here if you would like to stitch along with everyone, or you can purchase the pattern here.

Teri and I were asked to teach an embroidery workshop for the BAS members, and as we were throwing around some ideas about how to structure it, Teri came up with the idea of embellishing a Potts block with embroidery. The simplicity of the blocks lends itself to embroidery, so we picked the December block and started to work on our sample. I did the first sample, so we would have some advertisement for the workshop in March.

Teri did the same stitches for her sample with just a few variations in placement and thread color. We chose to use a fused appliqué method since we would be making kits for the workshop, and all the pieces would be anchored with the buttonhole stitch.

Since I had already finished my sample, I thought I would do another block since the first one went together so quickly. I chose to do the February block and used a bit of silk ribbon embroidery for the flower centers and a piece of French ombré ribbon for the bud. This second block allowed us to show how versatile these blocks can be with regard to embellishment.

We had 24 ladies for the workshop, and it went so well that we forgot to take pictures! We learned various embroidery stitches and even played with the ribbon stitch as part of the acorn cap.

When I first saw the Potts pattern for sale a couple of years ago, I thought it was pretty, but I chose then not to purchase it. Now that I've done two of the blocks, I've not only purchased the pattern (currently on sale for 50% off), but am hoping to work my way through all the blocks. In fact, I've just started the February block in batiks.

Fused appliqué or needle-turn, I think you will find that these blocks are mildly addicting. Other stitchers around the country have caught on to the Potts block attraction. Fellow BAS member, Nanette Chopin Cook, has started a few blocks and tells about them on her blog, Chopin—A Passionate Quilter.

If you would like to see the quilt in person, you can visit the Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, Delaware. If you can't visit in person, check out these blogs for more pictures and details of their visits to the museum: Jacquelynne Steves, The Art of Home and What a Load of Scrap.

When we were stitching on these blocks, they provided us with thoughts of the spring flowers to come. Now as I stitch on my latest Potts block, I can look out my window and actually see those spring flowers. Hopefully, we have inspired you to take a closer look at this lovely quilt and to maybe begin stitching one for yourself!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Crazy Quilts, Session 3: Ribbon Fun

Could there be any better way to begin a class on crazy quilting than to have a 125-year-old crazy quilt to study, up close and personally? We don't think so!

One of the members of our monthly class brought this beauty to class for us to admire and examine. Her sister had inherited it from her husband's family, and she allowed Sue to borrow it and share it with us. We spent a good deal of time taking pictures and gleaning inspiration from this lovely old quilt—trying all the while not to drool on it. We were so thankful for the generosity in giving us the opportunity to see it. 

This lovely quilt had it all: fancy fabrics, amazing embroidery, ribbon flowers. Since we would be making flowers with ribbon that day, it was a perfect way to begin our class. 

Made in 1890, this quilt was in excellent condition. What wonderful ribbon flowers, made with a simple ribbon stitch—one we would be learning in class. Note the name embroidered here; there are several different names and/or initials throughout the quilt.

          Daisies: stem stitch              
Goldenrod: silk ribbon knots

More ribbon flowers. Note the fraying silk on the right, the only real sign of wear on the quilt. This border was made with long pieces of satin ribbon stitched around the quilt. 
Detail: ribbon border, front, with decorative stitches
Detail: ribbon border, back

Initials "LR" are satin-stitched.

This horseshoe was a favorite motif. Aren't these flowers
exquisite? [Ribbon and satin stitch, with chenille calyxes]
The black velvet circle was attached simply with the decoratively stitched stars.

We finally parted from the quilt to get down to work. We had several ribbon techniques to learn in class. As hard as it was to stop admiring the quilt, everyone was excited to play with ribbon. We were going to be working two different kinds of flowers: one with silk ribbon using the ribbon stitch, as we had observed on the antique quilt, and a gathered rose with French ombré silk wired ribbon.

We decided to start with the gathered flower. I (Teri) think this is one of the simplest ribbon flowers to make. You can make a gathered flower by doing a running stitch along the edge of the ribbon and gathering it. However, we used wired ribbon here, so it was even simpler. A gentle pull on the wire (after securing the wire on one end) gathers the ribbon into a spiral, which can then be manipulated into a flower shape. I gathered the outside edge just a bit to turn the edges under, but as you will see, it would have a much different look if you didn't. My rose, from our fairy tale crazy quilt, is on the left.

Gathered tightly on one edge only

Gathered on one edge, a bit less tightly

Also gathered on one edge only

Gathered on one edge, with a more open center

One edge gathered; an even more open center

One edge gathered more tightly; the outer edge very lightly gathered; beaded "dew drops" 

Both edges gathered; the outer edge just enough to turn under the edges; beaded center with metallic thread

Everyone started with the same 15" piece of ribbon, but the variation in color and how tightly the ribbon was gathered resulted in much different looking flowers. I thought it was fun, if not a bit exciting, to see how different our flowers were, depending on how they were gathered and manipulated. Creativity soared!

The next flower we created was made using two widths of silk ribbon, 7mm and 4mm wide. The one Kara stitched is pictured here, on the right. Again, there was a good bit of variation in the resulting flowers, due to color choices, size, and placement of the petals. It was fun to see how everyone approached making their blooms. Some just eyeballed and stitched, and some carefully measured each petal; some sort of combined the two methods. A few modified their plan as they started stitching and seeing how it looked—the most enjoyable and exciting part of creating, in my humble opinion!


Everyone was so focused on creating their flowers, it was the quietest class ever.
(Until the giggling started... )
We do have a lot of fun!

We had a wonderful class, from beginning to end.

The most thrilling thing about studying a quilt like this antique is the inspiration it provides. As everyone in the room worked on their projects, I could see the different plans in place, and everyone was eager to create their own unique works of needle art. One can only wonder what the story of this antique quilt is. We can see that there were apparently several makers, due to the different names and initials on the quilt. But oh, how we would love to know the details! This is a great reminder to us to record the stories of our quilts, so that in 125 years, when people are inspired by our stitches, they are also inspired by our stories.