Thursday, September 29, 2016

From Denali to Richmond

I (Teri) love to write, and I rarely have a problem coming up with an idea of what story to tell. This week, my mind was in stitching mode, and the writing ideas just weren't coming to me. But then I remembered that my daughters had recently sent me some cool photos while on their journeys. For good reason, when they see quilts, they think of me.

In July, my daughter took a trip to Denali National Park in Alaska and sent me a photo of this stunning quilt that was hanging in the Murie Science and Learning Center in the park. I was fascinated by it and did some research about it. The center is created with over thirteen thousand 3/4-inch squares, which represent the pixels of a satellite image of the six million acres of Denali National Park. It is surrounded by 22 blocks that represent flora and fauna found in the park. It took four years to complete. For detailed information about the making of the quilt, read "Stitching together the life of Denali."

Quilted Landscape, made by the Denali Quilters

"In 2000, a satellite captured a moment in time. The image it sent back to Earth showed Denali's six-million acres as a patchwork of plant communities sewn together into a quilted landscape. The image took only an instant to create, but it was powerful enough to inspire local quilters to devote 1,100 hours recreating it using fabric and thread. 

Today, this quilt serves as more than just a representation of land cover at a point in the park's past. It also raises questions about the park's future. The plant communities represented on the quilt are shifting as the climate changes. Permafrost is thawing, glaciers are melting, wildfires are increasing in size and severity, treeline is advancing uphill, and shrubs are taking over what was once open tundra.

Given how climate change is affecting the park today, step back and imagine: 

What might a similar quilt look like one hundred years from today?"

What an amazing piece of artwork! To think of the thousands of hours spent creating a scientific map/quilt of this most beautiful place is absolutely inspiring. I'm just sorry that we missed it on our trip in June; I would have loved the opportunity to study this quilt—up close and personal!


More recently, another of my daughters took a trip to Richmond, Virginia, and she spent some time in the Virginia State Capitol. She also took some pictures to share with me, as she knew I would love the story of the quilt that she saw hanging inside. The quilt includes several of the state symbols, including the state tree, bird, and dog. Here is the story of The Governor's Quilt, as printed on the display board below.

"On Dec. 18, [2015,] this 12x8-foot Virginia-themed quilt that Roy Mitchell's students at DJJ's Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center had worked on for nearly a year was presented as a gift to Gov. Terry and First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe at the Governor's Mansion.

DJJ's quilting program at Beaumont, probably the only quilting class in the country in a juvenile corrections setting, teaches not just the hard skills involved in this difficult craft—planning, design, measuring, geometry, sewing—but also critical life skills such as goal-setting, patience, frustration management, public speaking, and the value of precision. Instructor Mitchell instills the notion that 'You Are Somebody' in all his students when they walk into his classroom. 

Hundreds of quilts made by DJJ residents have been given to local hospitals and homeless encampments, and have been featured in art galleries in Virginia, Michigan, and California. 'This is the best and warmest gift I've ever received as Governor,' Gov. McAuliffe said upon seeing the quilt for the first time."

State tree: Flowering Dogwood
State bird: Northern Cardinal

State dog: American Foxhound
Above is the the coat of arms of Virginia, which is found on a blue field in their flag.
And, of course, a Virginia license plate.

The Governor's Quilt, Richmond, Virginia
To see some more photos of the quilt, click here

I love the story of this quilt! How wonderful that the art of quilting is being used to teach so many valuable skills. And I love that my daughter even took this photo of a dome in the Capitol building, thinking I might like to use it for a design inspiration.

At this point, none of my children have chosen to jump on board my quilting bandwagon and join me in stitching, but I'm happy to say that they support me and are always on the lookout for inspiration for me . . . and of course, stories about quilts! Thanks, girls!!

And how about you? Have you ever come across a quilt that told a story about the place you were visiting? Or a place where you weren't expecting to see a quilt? We'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Needlework and Paper: How They Worked Together

"All things needlework" should be our motto and when Teri and I (Kara) visit an antique store. We have trained our eyes to scope out anything that looks like it was created with a needle.

Our laser vision in antique stores
Last summer, while visiting Hershey, we visited a few antique malls with Teri's wonderful and very patient mom. As Teri and I exhaustively scoured leisurely perused each booth, we both zeroed in on a lovely collection of embroidered pieces.

A typical sentiment

Such bright colors!

Upon examining them, we realized that the background was actually paper, as opposed to the traditional cloth used for cross-stitching or needlepoint.

A close-up of the paper backing

Teri took a few pictures thinking that it might be fun to do a post on these, once we researched more about them. Although we didn't buy any of them, Teri did find an amazing sampler that she purchased; you can read more about that here.

I had forgotten all about the paper samplers until this past June, when my mom gave me my birthday present.

My birthday present

She had purchased it from a friend of hers, who collected these perforated paper needlework mottoes. Needless to say, I was thrilled that now I owned one of these gems, so I needed to know more about them. I went to my trusty friend, Google, for information. Here are a few things that I found:

1. These samplers can be called perforated paper needlework, Berlin work, Victorian paper punch, or punched paper needlework.

2. It was often called the "poor stitcher's pastime," because of the minimal cost involved in creating such pieces.

3. Most of these pieces were created between 1860–1900.

4. The designs were typically sentimental sayings or scripture and could be found in many different languages.

5. Most of the threads used were wool, usually variegated, but sometime silk was used. Most likely, it was whatever the stitcher had on hand.

6. Not much is known about the stitchers, because most of the mottoes were not signed or dated.

7. Pre-printed sayings to stitch became available starting in the 1870s.

*If you would like to read more about perforated paper needlework, check out this article by Dutch Treat Designs or this one at Victoriana Magazine.

The piece I have is framed with a typical frame used for this type of needlework and is quite sturdy. The stitching itself appears to be in decent shape, with just a few spots where the wool has worn away. Considering its likely age, the colors remain surprisingly vivid.

Common frame type

An example of the variegated wool and a glimpse of the pre-printed paper

"He Leadeth Me" is the motto that I have, and my framed piece currently resides on our mantel. Every time I dust (which should be more often), I start humming the hymn. It is such a wonderful saying, and I am so glad my mom chose this one for me. 

What a wonderful reminder that stitching can be good for the soul—in more ways than one. Whether it's creating an inspirational saying or just the act of using a needle to make something beautiful and functional, people through the ages have found the comfort that stitching can bring.

Do you own a piece of perforated paper needlework or have memories of one in a loved one's home? If so, let us know about it and share a picture if you can. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Marcia's Flowers

In July, Kara shared The Story of an Inspiring Jacket with you. Today, I (Teri) will show you what we have each done with the design created from that jacket. These projects have been such fun, and we hope to share the joy with you. We are excited to teach this class at Primitive Homespuns Wool & Needleworks in October, in Frederick, MD. 

When we first met Kathy, the owner of the shop, she asked if we could design a wool appliqué piece that could be used to top a wooden box. Kara had already started working on this pattern in bright colors by Shakerwood Woolens, and we took it in to show to her. Kathy thought that the design would be perfect, so I selected a palette of colors from her shop to stitch my model. As I love warm colors, my model has a very different look from Kara's. Our two examples show how the same pattern, with the same embroidery stitches, can look so very different! 

Here are a few side-by-side detail shots for you to compare. 


Sometimes a different look is achieved because of different thread choices, or even because of the density and weave of the wool. The purple wool on the outer petal of the above flower, left, held the scalloped cut. The teal, on the right, however, was a looser weave, so I chose to fray it with the back of my needle, so it would look more feathery.

For our class at Primitive Homespuns, we will be using the warmer palette and making a lovely box that would be perfect for storing sewing supplies, threads, or even used as a project box for appliqué or embroidery pieces. I went to the shop yesterday to work with Kathy to secure the finished piece on the top of the box, which she had painted a lovely brick red. First, I backed the finished piece with muslin, using SoftFuse Premium™ as my fusible. Then I trimmed it to size, and we backed it with Shurtape® double-sided carpet tape. Kathy has this process down to an art; I was impressed watching her trim the tape to the size of the appliqué, and methodically remove one strip of backing paper at a time to carefully secure it to the box with proper placement.


We auditioned several examples of trim, including discussing a blanket stitch around the edge of the block, but we settled on a lovely vintage chenille yarn, which we glued down using Aleene's® Original Tacky Glue®. The color matched the pale yellow used in the block and gave it a nice, finished look without distracting the eye from the design.


While I was stitching up my model, I put a photo of my embroidery on a Facebook group and was astonished by the number of requests there were for the pattern. So we decided that it only made sense to write up directions and create a formal pattern. We have been working hard to get it ready, and it should be up on our website by October. But in the meantime, if you live in the Frederick area of Maryland, come join us for some Saturday fun! (For more information about the class, please check our website, by clicking here.) 

We thought it would be fun to put our two projects together for a photo session; here they are sitting on a chair together in the shop. You can see that Kara decided to stitch hers into a pillow, and she just happened to have the perfect fabric to match her appliqué! What would we do without such an extensive fabric stash?!

Marcia's Flowers

Thursday, September 8, 2016

In the Beginning

I (Teri) never know where my inspiration for a blog post may be found. This post comes from an unlikely source: my visit to the dentist last week. While I was making my next appointment, I ran into an old friend, who works in the office. We chatted for a minute, and as I left, I realized what a huge impact she had had on my life. (I hope you are reading this, Jan!)

Twenty years ago, I had just purchased my first sewing machine. Other than in home economics class, I had never done much sewing. But I had a yearning to make a quilt, so I bought a machine. A couple of years later, the above-mentioned friend, Jan, said she would teach a few of us that worked at the school where I taught how to make a Quilt in a Day, a log cabin pattern by Eleanor Burns. I was naive enough to think it would really take me only a day, and I was quite excited. 

My first quilt, 1999
I had crocheted afghans for each of my three children, and I was planning to try to make quilts for my two soon-to-be step-daughters. I went to Jo-Ann's and chose some fabric that I thought went together. I had no knowledge of the pattern, of light and dark values of colors, or of design. I just picked material. Jan taught us how to use the rotary cutter, strip-piece, sew a 1/4" seam, and press the seams to the darker fabric. I think I got two blocks finished that day, and it took me a few months to finish the quilt, but I had learned the basic skills required to get me started. I stitched around the quilt, turned it, and tied it. And then I made another one, with lights on one side and darks on the other—a more traditional log cabin. (That one is packed away in the midst of a move, so I don't have a photo of it.)

Truth be told, when I look at this quilt, I'm tempted to see everything I would do differently today. But I force myself to look at it as a learning experience, for every stitch taught me something and started me on my journey of loving the art of quilts. And this quilt has wrapped love around my step-daughter for years.

Several years later, my daughter was about to graduate from high school. I had come across a piece of flannel that her late grandmother had purchased many years ago, probably to make a nightgown. I thought it would be nice to make a quilt using that piece of fabric, to include this grandma that my daughter had never had the chance to meet. Her favorite color was yellow, so I knew I needed to incorporate that color into the quilt, and since it was flannel, I thought I would try a rag quilt. This picture is old and poor quality, but it gives you the idea.

Arranging the blocks on the floor for placement before sewing them together.
The white print was the flannel from her grandmother.

A few months ago, I asked my daughter to send me a photo of her quilt, and she promptly replied with this photo. As I remember, it was a snowy day, and she was working from home. How nice to know that she stills sleeps—and sometimes works—under this quilt.

Soon after my older son went into the Air Force, I asked him what kind of quilt he wanted me to make for him. He chose a Disappearing Nine Patch, but he wanted it to have fish, not flowers. Knowing that I needed to make a masculine quilt, I found a couple of fish prints that both had brown, so they got me started. I also used a Civil War print, because he likes history. When I visit him in Alaska, I sleep under that quilt, which covers the bed in their guest room.

The fish prints are the dark outer border, and the lighter center print. Here it is before quilting.

This quilt has traveled to Texas, New Jersey, Turkey, Japan, and Alaska!

When my younger son reminded me that he was the only one who hadn't yet gotten a quilt, I was surprised that he wanted the same type of quilt as his sister—a flannel rag quilt. He was a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan, so he wanted it to be blue and gray, which are that football team's colors. Collecting a variety of blues and grays was a bit of an adventure. Those quilts are easy and fast to make, so I knew I could finish it for him quickly, but my hand wasn't looking forward to all that snipping of the seam allowances. 

When I finished this quilt, I would have completed quilts for all of my children. 

Grandson jumping on the bed in their guest room 

As I made that first quilt so many years ago, as well as the other quilts for my children, I would never have imagined where my quilting journey would take me. When I left the dentist's office last week, I realized how much I appreciated Jan sharing her talents with us that day. I remembered her showing us some of the projects she had stitched; I sat there thinking that I could never do that kind of work. But I was wrong. I had to take the time to learn many skills along the way, as well as to learn how to take risks and try newer, more difficult things. While I have grown to love the more intricate work of appliqué, embellished with embroidery, I still love the quilts that I've stitched for family and friends that were made to keep them warm. And I'm so grateful to the many people who have taught and inspired me along the way.  And it has been my honor to share that passion with others, as well!

Teaching a friend's daughter her first lesson in designing and hand-piecing a doll quilt

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Labor Day Excitement!

"Observed on the first Monday in September, Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers." Labor Day brings to mind different things for different people. For many school children, it means their last day of summer vacation and freedom. For most, though, it's the last hurrah of summer before fall leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, and Christmas decorations are evident everywhere you look. It is nice to celebrate a day about working by not working. But there is something you can do this coming Labor Day that will allow you to not have to cook and clean for a week—all while learning new appliqué skills and making new friends.

This could be you!

On September 5th, 2016, starting at noon EST, registration opens for classes at the Academy of Appliqué! Because we wanted to make sure you don't miss the registration day and time, we have included all the links you might need in this post. Barbara and her team have set up very detailed instructions as to how you can register, and you can begin the sign-up process here on the registration page starting at noon on September 5th.

Click here for the catalog!

We've shared some details about the classes we will be teaching at the Academy in our post, A Floral Wreath, The Secret Garden, and a new website! but we thought we would show you the blocks again, along with the class descriptions. 

The kit for the Floral Wreath class includes everything you will need, including your background!

Floral Wreath class with be held on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 28 - March 1, 2017.

A walk through the garden is the perfect inspiration for this lovely wreath of flowers. Lilies, pansies, roses, and jasmine welcome warm thoughts of springtime. Silk ribbon and embroidery add dimension, making these blooms come to life. In this class, we will explore a number of techniques, including back-basting appliqué, gathered ribbon flowers, ribbon boat leaves, and the ribbon stitch. You’ll learn the embroidery stitches—using a variety of fibers—that will add realism to your flora. Inking techniques will be demonstrated for those who wish to inscribe the center of the finished wreath. Come join us for some flower arranging!

All you need for our Secret Garden block is your background, as all the ribbon, threads, and appliqué fabric are included in the kit.

The Secret Garden is our main conference class, held Thursday-Saturday, March 2-4, 2017.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 classic, The Secret Garden, is the inspiration for this block. As we follow the robin—and stitch one too!—we will create our own secret gardens (sans weeds), using a variety of techniques and fibers. Back-basting appliqué will build the garden walls; embroidery and ribbon work will fill it with blooms; a creative use of sari silk will give our gnarled wisteria trunk dimension; and gathered ribbon flowers will frame the it all. Inking techniques will be taught for the block’s finishing touches. Come discover how to cultivate a garden with your needle, and leave your shovel at home!

Hopefully you have all the information needed to register on Monday. If you have any questions about the process, Barbara Blanton and her team of representatives are just a phone call away at 757-565-5299, or you can email her at 

We hope you will be able to join us in Williamsburg. It's going to be an amazing experience!