Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Sad Story

So many of you had made comments, and all positive, about the cat in my photo. Well sadly, she disappeared on Sept 7 and we have not seen her since. We are afraid she became some coyote's meal. Her name was Mother Cat (inventive, isn't it?) and she had been with us 12 years, coming to adopt us with her three kittens. They are long gone, having either been adopted out or lost, but she had remained. We miss her very much, but Oscar, our other cat, doesn't at all. It will be some time before I will be able to change the picture for one without her. She managed to train my husband to give her treats whenever she wanted, so you can never say that men can't be trained. I had hoped to get that secret out of her but now that opportunity is gone. Many times were the night when she slept on my lap while I was reading.  She was a lovely friend to our family.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pink Heirloom Baby Quilt

This post is about an heirloom baby quilt I made around five or six years ago. When my daughter got engaged I really got into the heirloom sewing thing. I learned smocking, and with it, many heirloom techniques. At our local quilt shop was a class in making an heirloom baby quilt, and I just absolutely had to make it. This class was taught by Kathy Awender, who also taught us the Smocked Pockets Tote Bag, (now called French Smocked Tote Bag),  Bashful Bunny Diaper Clutch, and several other items I haven't yet mentioned.

The quilt is made of the palest pink lawn, Savannah pink blush by Kaufman fabrics. How on earth did I remember that? I have no idea. It consisted of 12 blocks, a few of which I'll show you below:

This heart block has a piece of a vintage handkerchief in ecru that I happened to have and didn't mind cutting up for this quilt.

Another bit of the handkerchief set in a crazy quilt block. It has scraps from this and quite a few other projects. This is about the closest I'll get to crazy quilting. Not that I have anything against crazy quilting, I'm just not enamored of it the way so many others are.

Sharks teeth! And ribbon roses on the sides of the basket.

Another block with some of the handkerchief and a bit of the quilting on the lower sash.

I made this quilt several years ago, while I was just learning all the heirloom sewing techniques by machine. It makes a great sampler quilt, with all the various techniques, such as lace shaping, puffing, and so many others. I'm sure you are asking if I hand quilted this, but no, I didn't. By the time I got around to putting it together I was so tired of it I just machine quilted it so I could be done with it. What is interesting is that it may have been very nice to hand quilt, as the batting is made of silk. I happened to attend Road to California, a quilt show held in Ontario, California every January, and came across a gentlemen from Michigan who sold silk batting. I ordered a queen size batting and used just a bit for this quilt. It is unbelievably soft and lightweight.

So, have you picked up on the fact that I made this quilt before my granddaughter was born? So how did I know it should be pink? I didn't, so I made a duplicate set of blocks in blue! They are all packed away (somewhere) with lavender sachets to keep them sweet while I await a baby grandson.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Monogram Napkin #4 Finished

I finished the fourth monogrammed napkin a week ago, threw it in the wash, and finally got it out and ironed it.

I think this one is the best looking of all. I was much more careful making sure that the outline wasn't extending beyond the lines, so the thinner areas of the letter look much better.

I did start on #5, but decided to use pencil instead of the blue washout marker. This is looking better already, notwithstanding the tiny wobble in the center column. I'll fill that in with a stitch later.

One thing I have noticed is that compared to the vintage napkins I bought in an antique store in Michigan, this fabric is somewhat coarser.  I think, but am not quite sure, that this is affecting my ability to place the needle exactly where I want. Look at the outer curve on the left side of the G. The uneven stitch placement really annoys me! It could be that I'm just not skilled enough at this. The other thing I've noticed is that the monogram on the vintage napkins is much firmer. I suspect this is due to a few things. First, the embroiderer probably used coton a broder, not floche as I'm using. And it was likely a fairly fine weight, say 25 or even 30. Second, with the finer fabric, the embroiderer was able to pull the threads harder without worrying about enlarging the stitching holes. Third, initial on the vintage napkin was much narrower than this one, enabling the embroiderer to make it much firmer.

Things to try on #6: I may try using coton a broder on one or two of the napkins just to see how it looks, and I will starch the daylights out of the napkin before tracing the letter. This should keep the fibers firmer, in theory at least. One thing I've learned, the pencil is definitely better than the washout pen as it is so much thinner. But adding in the stitch direction lines with the pen really helps.

Practice makes perfect, or at least better, I hope.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A New Bed Quilt

Late last year I promised my son, Matt, a new quilt for his bed. His current quilt was one of the very first I had ever made and had been seen much, much better days. Luckily, I had several log cabin blocks left over from a previous project (another bed quilt that I will write about some day if I can ever get a photo). These were all black/white and black/grey with a gold center, and as it turned out I had around 125 blocks. I had no idea I had so many.  I made them following the instructions from a book called A Log Cabin Notebook by Mary Ellen Hopkins. She used to own a shop in Santa Monica, California, but I don't think it's in business any longer. Sadly, many fine quilt shops have folded in this economy lately.

All together, the blocks looked pretty good. Here they are laid out on the living room floor. Each one is 6 inches square. The block sitting up in the right hand upper corner is a rogue block, which didn't quite follow the correct pattern. All of the strips are cut 1 1/4 inches so they finish at 7/8 inches wide. This definitely won't be a hand quilted quilt with all those seam allowances! I'll either machine quilt it myself or send it out.

This is an example of a black/grey block,

While this is one of the black/white blocks. They pretty much all have the same black/gold center. When I laid this quilt out on the floor I discovered that I only needed around 25 more blocks to make, which is pretty good for using up the fabrics lying about in my sewing room. It took only a day and a half to make up the rest of the blocks.

The big challenge is yet to come - sewing these all together and making the sides come out straight. I have to admit I'm not looking forward to that part of it. What will be really challenging is that the quilt is laid out on the living room floor, while the sewing machine is upstairs. So the big dilemma: do I painstaking label all the blocks, bring upstairs to sew and press, then downstairs again to check placement, or do I bring the sewing machine downstairs and set up on the newly refinished dining room table?

Wish me luck - this will definitely take a while. I can only do so much machine sewing before I really need to stop and go back to my embroidery for a while to "rest up" and get my mind back into gear. Since sewing blocks together is not exactly newsworthy, I may not post on this subject again until it is sewn together.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Baby Bonnet from Tea Towel

Several years ago I attended a SAGA convention and learned to make this super simple baby bonnet from a tea towel.

Isn't this just adorable? It is made from the pattern Pricilla's Layette by Jeannie Baumeister of Old Fashioned Baby, which seems to be discontinued. However, the Scaque, Wrapper and Embroidery Designs looks as though it would work. It is available on Jeanie's website. The pattern requires a 12 - 14 inch wide tea towel, ours had this lovely cutwork on the edge. We used silk ribbon for the gathers in the back and for the rosettes and ties in the front. A year or two after this class, Sew Beautiful Magazine published a article by Jeannie describing just how to not only make the bonnet but a complete sacque as well. The sacque requires four tea towels, but it can be pretty difficult to find five matching tea towels. You could probably get away with using three matching towels for the bonnet and fronts, then two other matching towels for the back. This was published in Issue No. 99 which is no longer available, but you can find it on ebay from time to time.

Doesn't this make a lovely, sweet gift? And quick to make; you could make several in advance to have on hand when you need a quick gift.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Some Hand Quilted Items

While cleaning out the sewing room (where have I heard this before?) I came across some quilted items I thought I would show you.

Several years ago, I don't know how many, I took a hand quilting class from Juanita Swarts who lives in Orange County, California, and teaches locally. She is a fairly famous hand quilter here in Orange County who excels not only in hand quilting but also in hand applique and is also an excellent teacher.

This is the design we worked in the class I took from her. the padded parts are trapunto, which is a bit unusual as it is not worked in the traditional method of stuffing the quilt from the backside in a slit and then sewing up the slit. She had us use a large chenille needle threaded with white yard to add the stuffing to the right side of the fabric. We were instructed to leave little tails on the entrance and exit holes, then cut them off at the fabric, and scratch the yarn in between the fabric layers. And it worked! It looked pretty horrible with all the holes showing, but once the piece was completely quilted and washed, the holes disappeared and the trapunto was intact, looking absolutely beautiful. The large puffy areas have no quilting, so I may do something with it at some point in the far distant future. This piece is a 24 inch square quilt edged in lace and used sometimes as a dresser scarf, when it's not hiding in a closet.

After taking the class I was so inspired to hand quilt something, so I made two pillow covers, one of which is shown above. I'm not showing you both of them because, well, they are identical. The outer border consists of some rose motifs with a lot of stipple quilting, which can drive you absolutely nuts in no time at all. 

Hand quilting can be very peaceful and meditative, as your pattern is completely marked and very little difficult counting and thinking is involved. Wow, this is right up my alley! But I don't do too much of this any more, preferring the challenge of colorful (or white!) embroidery. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Monogram Napkin Project

Several years ago, actually, I think it was 1996, how time does fly, I attended a family reunion in the Detroit area. My family migrated from Italy to Detroit in the 20's and 30's, so that's where much of the family is still located. While hitting the antique stores (one of my favorite, but expensive, pastimes) with my cousin, I came across a set of 12 linen napkins with the initial G embroidered on them.

And of course, I just had to have them. Isn't the monogram lovely? And executed beautifully! These are huge napkins, measuring 24 inches square. See the few holes? As I come across them, I darn them on my sewing machine using Madiera Cotona No. 80 heirloom sewing thread, size 60/8 needle, and the darning stitch, No. A33 on my Husqvarna Viking Designer I. The monogram is centered on the napkin, making folding options fairly limited.

For several years now, I have taken many Whitework Monogram classes and haven't seemed to build my skill very much, probably because I take the class, finish the sample, then drop it. My mother had been to Ireland and brought back an Irish linen tablecloth and napkin set, so I finally decided to monogram them.  These napkins aren't quite as luxurious as the others, being only 18 inches square.

I'm using the G from the Old English Alphabet in Monograms, by Susan O'Connor available through Chadwick Heirlooms. There are also a few used copies available on Amazon. I haven't checked eBay. I am centering the monogram on a corner, which will allow me several options when folding them.


Here is is traced out on cardstock with the stitch directions sketched in. I've embroidered three napkins so far:

I decided to embroider the dates in backstitch on the opposite corner from the monogram so I could check progress. Pretty ragged looking aren't they? Although I do detect a noticeable improvement on napkin No. 2.

While cleaning out the sewing room, a very long and extended project, I came across napkin No. 3 that I started some time ago and decided to finish it up quickly.

I finished this on the anniversary of a very sad day in our history. This is also pretty ragged looking, probably because I finished too quickly and didn't pay enough attention to all the details. So I'm sure you're thinking, why on earth is she showing such awful work? Because I hope to show some improvement as I progress through all 12 of them.

To work the embroidery, I am using white DMC floche and #7 betweens for the emboidery, and white floss for the padding. I used to use #10 sharps, but now I think the the #7 betweens work a bit better, by making larger holes and thereby reducing the rubbing of the floche through the fabric.

I think my embroidery  problems are that 1), I'm not tracing accurately. I am using a blue wash away pen, which tends to bleed on the fabric. Although on this last one, I did use pencil, then botched the embroidery so badly I picked it out and worked it on another corner. 2) I am not outlining the initial as accurately as I could, and 3) I am padding too much. So I resolved to mark more carefully, and outline it just inside the marks. I've been rereading the book, and am being more careful to follow the padding directions. I am making sure the second layer of padding is inside the first, so as to make a dome, not just a fat initial.

And here is napkin No. 4. This is much better looking, and will be even more so upon burnishing the threads and washing the napkin. These monograms can be so addictive, especially if I have a good book I'm listening to on the iPod.  I hope to finish them and eventually will have a complete set of 12 monogrammed napkins for my table.

If any of you have any tips, comments, or better directions, please leave a comment! I need all the help I can get!

I'll keep you posted as I embroider more of them!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

June Baby Finished!

I finally finished June Baby two weeks ago, but have been so busy I clean forgot to write about it.

I made it somewhat long, as the granddaughter is  tall for her age, and I want it to last an extra season if at all possible.

It looks so much better when cleaned and pressed, don't you think? The granddaughter has come and gone, and I'm sure you are asking why I don't have a picture of the her in it? Because it is just a smidge too big for her! It is definitely not too long, but too big in the shoulder area. So it gets put away for next summer, and I'll have a photo then.

I mentioned earlier that I lost the buttons that came with the kit, found five heart shaped buttons, but managed to make six buttonholes. I really need to work on my counting skills.

 I went to the fabric shop, bought the heart shaped buttons, but saw some lovely violet buttons that match the organdy and scallops beautifully. Since then I found a sixth heart button, so I didn't need to go to the fabric store in the first place. But the ones that came with the kit are still missing. If I were to clean out the sewing room as I said I would, undoubtedly I would find them.

Now for the likes and dislikes:

I really love the pattern, it's so nice and simple, and the use of DMC Coton a Broder, especially for the scallops on the violet organdy. I really like making pintucks by hand, they make the dress look somehow more relaxed. I also like the linen, which makes this dress truly an heirloom. I was a bit worried about the seam on the hem staying up, but it seems to stay put once ironed well.

The one and only thing I don't like about this dress is that it is made of linen. Wait, I said that in the likes portion just above!  I love the look and feel of linen, but I don't like the fact that it wrinkles as soon as it's worn for about a minute. My daughter is not a great one to iron, so I don't think it will get worn as much.

Still, it's a lovely pattern, and worth making again, maybe in a poly cotton blend to keep the wrinkling down.  And we did have such a great time in Santa Barbara during the class for this dress. Thanks to Vaune Pierce, our teacher!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tee Style Featherstitch Dress

The latest kit in the Wendy Schoen Embroidery Club arrived last week, and as usual, it is just adorable. It is called Tee Style Featherstitch Dress, and I chose the color option of lilac.

This is the photo of the sample in the instructions included in the kit. It can be made up in a size 1 or 2, as it fairly unstructured, probably so it can last more than one season. It has lots of featherstitching which applied so it almost looks as though the front T panel is an insert.

This is the kit, packaged so lovely as usual. The embroidery is worked with DMC floss, an departure from Wendy's normal use of floche. This is a lovely, simple dress which almost cries out to be handsewn, but I doubt that I will be that ambitious. Since I'm so far behind on the last dress, I may just put this away for a future granddaughter. But when I do get it out, you can be sure I'll post my progress.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Counted Cross Stitch Biscornu - Finally Finished!

It's been a lovely Labor Day Weekend here in Southern California. I had planned on doing some very serious cleaning of the sewing room, but I realized that I was on the home stretch of finishing my Counted Cross Stitch Biscornu that I had started way back in February.

I finished the border on both sides, then steamed each piece well to get out the very slight puckering caused by the pulled thread border.

Since there is a lot of open work on this piece, the directions called for making an inner lining so the polyfill stuffing wouldn't leak out. I used some scraps of ivory silk dupioni to make it. Notice how there is no needle on thread? It fell on the carpet and was waiting to be stepped on by my bare feet. Luckily I found it shortly after taking this photo. 

In spite of my ignorance in how the actual pieces get sewn together, and having to look up the instructions online, the lining went together fairly quickly.  Here it is all stuffed and ready for insertion into the outer shell.

Putting together the outer shell was definitely a challenge. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out from the directions how to sew the pieces together. Four false starts and three broken needles later, I finally settled on this. It consists of whipstitching the pieces through the picot edges of the turned border. It doesn't quite look like the photo in the magazine, but I rather like the look of it.

Sewing the outer shell took quite a bit longer than the lining, but here is the final edge being sewn together.

I added buttons to the top and bottom and voila! It's finished! So now what do I do with it? It's too light to be a pattern weight, and too pretty to be a pincushion. But I think that is what it's final use will be, I'll just have to be careful to place the pins where they don't pierce the embroidery.

So, now for the likes and dislikes:

I really like the pattern. I have never done any cross stitch before but somehow this piece appealed to me. It's a fairly simple design and has two different alphabets to work. I really, really love the Au Ver a Soie threads, especially the Soie Gobelins used on the letter E in the above photo. All the other designs were worked in Soie d'Alger floss, except for the pulled thread border, which was Soie de Paris. The colors were light and delicate and went together beautifully. The fabric was Ricamo 40-count linen from Needle in a Haystack in Alameda, California. This is definitely my favorite needlework store. They are very helpful and give great customer service, besides having absolutely wonderful stock.

What I didn't like was that the instructions were somewhat difficult to figure out. But that may be because I'm such a novice at cross stitch. I could not figure out how to put the biscornu together (which side gets sewn to which other side) until I looked it up online. Here is one site, called Own Two Hands. Follow the link to see how to put together the cute Halloween biscornu. I never did understand how to whipstitch the pieces of the outer shell to make it look like the photo. While I really like the 40-count linen, I had to stitch the whole thing under magnification! My poor eyes! The other thing, and this is pretty minor, is that the buttons go right over the design - in the middle of the crown on one side and the date on the other. I would prefer to have a design that leaves a space for the button.

While I'm not exactly hooked on cross stitch, I do think I'll try it again. I've picked up some really cute design from some French firms and have plenty of the linen left over. Of course the designs are in French but the shop where I got them put together a little dictionary to translate the main terms.

But now it's back to cleaning and working on projects that don't require so much magnification.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend is upon us here in the States, and with my schedule of having every other Friday off I managed to get a four day weekend out of it. So Friday morning I worked on cleaning the sewing room, but realized I need to have a few things to work on over the next two months while the makeover is in progress.  We are taking a road trip in October to Texas, and then up to Colorado to visit my daughter and granddaughter.

Several months ago I decided to make this doll from Inspirations No. 65 for my granddaughter. Don't you just love that hair? This should be a great project to work on in the car. There is a lot of empty road between Southern California and Texas, so I won't have to do much navigating while hubby is driving.

I had found some fabric for the doll and had even gone so far as to mark it up for the embroidered face. But in looking for fabrics for the dress, I found that I really don't have fun, bright fabrics in my stash. They all tend to be pastel heirloom linens and batistes, or rather sedate quilting fabrics.

But after some serious searching, I came up with these. I won the middle fat quarter during an open house at a local quilt shop years ago, and always wondered what on earth I could make with it. (can you tell I don't really like it?) This dress seems the perfect solution. I might try to find a bit of yellow to punch up the colors a bit.

Did I mention that hair? It's long and extremely curly, very much like my daughter's hair. To make it, two 50 gram balls of woolen yarn are knitted together, then washed and dried. Each strand is pulled out and sewn individually to the doll's head.  Years and years ago I did a bit of knitting, and have a few UFO's that are literally over a decade old. Some of my knitting friends are telling me they really like to use the Continental style of knitting, so I decided to give it a try.

Luckily I have A-Z of Knitting from Country Bumpkin Publications which has some pretty clear instructions. You can get this book from Country Bumpkin, but shipping from Australia is pretty expensive. It's also available at Chadwick Heirlooms, who is having a Labor Day sale - 20% off everything.

Learning a new style of knitting isn't easy, but since I'm not a great knitter with years of knitting to overcome I figured I could manage it.

Not exactly perfect, is it? But I'll be taking it all apart, so this is a great practice piece. I can only knit a few rows at a time as my left had gets sort of achy. But as I keep going it should progress a bit faster as my hands learn what to do. Now all I need to do is to gather the embroidery threads, all cotton of course, as this doll will need to be washed frequently, then package everything into a project bag for the trip.

On a side note, I've been planting butterfly friendly flowers hoping to attract butterflies to the garden.


It seems to be working! This gorgeous fellow spent over fifteen minutes flitting from flower to flower with a friend. I think these are Mexican Sunflowers, but don't really know as the packet of seeds was a mix and is long gone.

Have a great weekend and happy stitching!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Stumpwork Berries

Several years ago I took a class with Jan Kerton from Australia, who taught us the Embroidered Stumpwork Bag that I posted about previously. She actually taught us for two days, the first on the bag, and on the other day she taught us these lovely berries.

The fabric is silk dupioni, with embroidery in silk and cotton threads. And lots and lots of beads! So why does it look so wonky? I had it mounted on an oval box cover, but it was somewhat wrinkly and very dusty so I decided to take it apart and have it cleaned.

This close up show the beads in more detail. Don't you just love the blackberry on the left? I could almost pluck and eat it! And the little beads in the raspberry gives it so much sparkle. Notice the blueberries and the crab apples. They are made of beads with floss wrapped around them to give them their color. If you look hard on the right side of the lower blueberry you can see a slight stain.  Some day I will learn how to add arrows and circles to the photos. It is still fairly wrinkly from the adhesive I used to attach the fabric to the base. I won't do that again - next time I lace it with thread!

I keep a "Jan Kerton" plastic storage bin with all of the leftover threads, beads and fabric, and all the kits I haven't yet started, so was able to locate the same green thread used in the original project. It's a lovely Madeira silk floss and I had three 18-inch lengths left over.  I added a longish stem on the right, and pretty much managed to cover the little stain. Then I decided the design was unbalanced and added a small stem on the right hand side bottom.

I then added some batting to the underside of the stitching and laced the edges together with polyester thread.  It doesn't look too neat as I kept crossing sides to make sure it was tightly laced.

This is the finished top, mounted on the oval box. What do I keep in it? Stamps! I still use stamps here and there, and even have a few left over from my trip to Beating around the Bush in Australia last year. Stumpwork is much easier than you would think from looking at the photos of the finished products, and Jan's excellent instruction certainly helps take the fear out of it. Now to start some of those other kits I have piling up.