Lilacs and Chaos

When the chaos in my mind and in my sewing room reaches the breaking point, it helps for me to get out and smell the lilacs.

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This is my favorite time of the year.  The promise of warm weather, the anticipation of wonderful, summery things.  Those last few days before the kids are out of school, when expectation runs way ahead of itself.  Lemonade and carnivals and rides on golf carts.

Green leafy things and colorful blooming things, and thunderstorms and sprinklers and fresh sweet corn and tomatoes.  Farmers markets, and sandals, swimming pools and vacation adventures.  Road trips and plane trips and hikes in the woods.  Barefoot feet and long conversations on patios, decks and kitchen tables with air conditioners humming.

Trashy novels with no deep meaning, except maybe a lovely or surprisingly sweet ending.  Grilled chicken and kabobs and sun on my painted toes.  Lawn mowers and bicycles and screen doors.  Red, white and blue, or basically white with any color.

Big juicy watermelons and fruit salads for breakfast with a warm croissant. Sunsets and bug spray, sparklers and beach towels.  Water slides, hoses, and ice cream trucks.

Parades, tears, laughter, dirt.

Lilacs open the door to it all.

Sewing room chaosMy sewing room is in chaos.  I have at least 3-4 projects running simultaneously.

But all is well and all will be well.

The lilacs are in bloom.

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Fun With Chalk Cloth

Chalk ClothI’ve been meaning to work with chalk cloth again for awhile now.  I had made a table runner at work with “Chips”, “Dip” and other appetizers scrawled on it in the chalk marker. It turned out great and has inspired many others to try their hand with chalk cloth.

I made this one to sit on our kitchen island. With a busy household, we all come home at different times.  This way, anyone can make the grocery list right on this cloth and text me a picture, or I can leave another non-urgent message…(Hint: Clean your room!)  It also serves as a decorative table runner.  I could easily add a dowel across the top and hang it on a door so no one can miss it.

Chalk cloth markerI added a little holder for the marker so it doesn’t disappear as so many things do in our house.  The thing to remember about chalk cloth if you’re thinking about using it, is that you do need the special marker that washes off with a damp paper towel.  If you choose not to use the marker, you can certainly use regular chalk, but that involves a lot more chalk dust…and you must first prime the cloth by covering it entirely in chalk.  Use the side of a piece of chalk and run it from end to end.  Once all that is erased, your chalk cloth will then be ready for use with chalk and an eraser.  In the kitchen, I prefer the markers, which you can get in multi colors if you are so inclined.

chalkclothlaceI had a lot of lace from my mom’s stash, and so I added a little border.  Also, as you can see, I added a binding.  I do have a backing, but no batting in the middle. I added the binding by sewing it first to the back side, and then bringing it around the front and using a simple straight stitch along the front.  Fast, simple, easy!

Chalk cloth embroideryI used the Chalk Cloth florals embroidery designs from OESD.

They stitched out beautifully, although were a little denser than I expected.

Chalk cloth embroidery

This was a simple and inexpensive project that functions well in our house.  Don’t be afraid to try some new things with chalk cloth. Just a few other ideas:

  • Use as a wall hanging
  • Frame like a picture with a saying or just a cute embroidery design
  • Fun placemats for kids (and give them each their own marker)
  • Hostess gifts
  • Wedding shower gifts (Wouldn’t it be great to embroider Mr. and Mrs So and So on it as a table runner when they entertain?)
  • Little gift bags made of chalk cloth personalized with someone’s name

The possibilities are endless…and if you run out of ideas, don’t forget to head to Pinterest to be overwhelmed with them.  Have fun with this versatile and quirky product.

Machine Embroidery News

I have long thought that someone needs to create a place where we can all share news and ideas about machine embroidery.  All the information seems so scattered online.

It’s a lot of work to find out what designs are new out there on all the different sites and to see some inspiration.

So I thought that once in awhile, I might put together a bunch of links to things that are new, or hot, or just inspirational in machine embroidery.  I come across things regularly in my online travels, so I thought it would be fun to share…even if I haven’t had time to stitch some of it out yet.

Chalkboard ideas:

I’ve seen this in a number of places, and by now most of you are familiar with the chalkboard fabric out there.  It’s easy enough to purchase at your local quilt shop or hobby shop.

Embroideryonline.com has some great new chalkboard floral designs. These are next on my list of embroideries to try.

Here’s another link to chalkboard ideas from emblibrary.com.

Need some ideas?  Chalkboard creativity is everywhere on Pinterest.  Check out this and this.

Machine Cross Stitch:

Here’s something else that’s fun.  I made a few cross stitch designs last Halloween and loved it.  I think the cross stitch look for the holidays is charming.  Here’s a peek at my previous Halloween post.

But I found a site that specializes in machine embroidery cross stitch. They have designs for all occasions. They are appropriately named machinecrossstitch.com.

Again, on my list to do.  I am intrigued by the possibilities.

New Releases as of May:

This is obviously not a complete list, but I hope to be able to build on this list every time I publish a Machine Embroidery News blog. So many times I have wished that someone would organize all this info for me.  So now I’m doing it, and sharing it with you. And I’ll update it as often as I can.

embroideryonline.com (new releases)

emblibrary.com (new releases)

urbanthreads.com (new releases)

amazingdesigns.com (new releases)

I prefer to stay with major digitizers until I have some idea of the quality, but I am happy to publicize the place where you purchase your designs if you want to share.

In fact, if you have something you’d like to see with regard to machine embroidery, feel free to leave me a message in the comment bubble at the top of the post.  I’d love to hear what you want to see more of in machine embroidery…whether it’s in the hoop, freestanding, contemporary or all of the above.  Let me know, and I’ll try to do a little homework on it for next time.

For now,  happy stitching!

Splendid Sampler Update

splendidsamplermapI love a good visual.

So I thought I would open with a map of all the participants in this project.  Pretty impressive, right?  Here’s a link.

According to Pat Sloan and Jane Davidson, the coordinators and people who apparently never sleep, we are now somewhere between 20,000 – 30,000.  Could that be right?  Many are not following on Facebook, but are making the blocks at their own pace.  (Just an aside, I ran into Pat Sloan at the local Panera while in Paducah.  She is absolutely as tireless and upbeat in real life as she seems online…and she looks just like her pics!)

A few observations…Japan and South Korea are in the house, but no one from China…a reflection of their internet access? So odd, because a disproportionate number of modern day sewing machines distributed here and around the world are built in China.

And no one from Greenland. Or Kazhakstan. (I know there are quilters there.) No one from Mongolia or from the middle of Africa. Much of the middle east is silent.

A surprising number from South America.  I did not know we had so many quilters in that area.  Australia and New Zealand, no surprises there.

Still not on board?  If you are mildly curious, here’s a link to all the block patterns so far They come up every Sunday and Thursday. If nothing else, it’s a great way to become familiar with new designers and block patterns.

We are somewhere around 22 blocks at this point.

splendid sampler 23Those are 6 1/2 inch blocks.  As you can see, they are getting harder and harder for me to fit into one frame.

Lessons I’m learning about myself:

  • I like to piece.  Easy, repetitive, simple piecing is unbelievably relaxing for me.
  • Paper piecing needs to be done in the morning or afternoon, but not after a big meal or if I’m tired or stressed in any way.  I need all my focus on getting everything in the right place.
  • I didn’t realize how much patience I have lost for anything done by hand.  Hand embroidery seems like it takes a lifetime.  All I can think of is that I could have digitized this and had it done days ago. And yet, I love the way it looks and I love the threads.

hand embroideryThis little design took me weeks.  Of course, I’m not working on it every minute, just a bit of time here and there.  Yet I am loving the texture of this thread.

wonderfilI found this thread at the Wonderfil booth in Paducah.  I’m sure many of you have heard of it before. It’s called Razzle. (Yes, they have a metallic looking thread that is called Dazzle).

Razzle has the weight of about size 8 perle cotton, but it’s a rayon.  So for those of you who are cotton purists, you’ll just have to look away.  Me, I fell in love with the sheen and the weight of it.  It was a pleasure to use for hand embroidery.

closeup This project is only about one fifth of the way done.  Eighty or so more blocks to go.

Will my stamina hold up?  Will I have the patience to learn more new techniques?  Will I lose interest in the color scheme half way through?  Will I actually create a setting for these blocks after the project is complete and finish the quilt instead of leaving the blocks neatly in their cellophane pockets in the binder?

I don’t know. I really don’t. A lot of life can happen in the next 8 months.  We’ll both have to wait to find out.

Stay tuned.splendid_button_4

Paducah in Springtime

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For the first time ever, I headed out to Paducah for AQS QuiltWeek.  It’s almost impossible to get a hotel there during that time. But a local expert who teaches every year had a conflicting teaching engagement and offered her room to me and a fellow quilter, with the request that we book it again for her next year….a great chance to see the show!

This opportunity came up fairly quickly, so I didn’t book any classes.  The two of us were free to roam around the town in addition to the convention center and National Quilt Museum. Paducah is an industrial town, with a lot of old world charm and history…cobblestone streets, cozy shops and restaurants, and a beautiful riverfront area with a flood wall painted in murals that tell the town’s history.

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The convention itself is enormous, with vendors spread out on two floors and a separate pavillion.  This made it a bit confusing to find everything, and certainly a lot to walk through.

Along the way, we found local art quilter Emily Parson, with her quilt on display in the gallery.

quiltweek5Is that teal color stunning or what?  The quilt pattern – Windy – is available now at Emily’s etsy shop.  Check out her website or contact her at info@emilyquilts.com for more teaching information.

No trip to Paducah is complete without a stop at Hancock’s of Paducah.

quiltweek7I tried to take a panoramic shot of the store, so you could kind of see how enormous it is, but I don’t think it captures the whole thing. It’s an overwhelming adventure in itself and women were going by with cartloads full of bolts.

Finally, I highly recommend a stop at Kirchoff’s Bakery downtown.  What a place to have a special treat–old fashioned bakery goods with artisan breads, muffins, and cookies.  (Of course, you don’t want to miss the boy scout strawberry shortcake just outside at the convention center either!)  Whatever else happens, you won’t starve in Paducah during QuiltWeek.

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Daffodils Should Rule the World

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They’re stunningly gorgeous, reliable, and resist pests.  They require very little maintenance and they promote peace.

They don’t feed the hungry, but most world leaders don’t either.

Yes, daffodils should rule the world.

Until the peonies and irises come along, and then the duties will be shared.

But for now, we live in a daffodil world.

I started a couple of years ago with a cheap bag of bulbs from Costco. It produced lovely little yellow daffodils.  So the next year, I turned to a catalog and purchased a few more varieties.

Now I am hooked, and these quiet, yet lovely little early risers of spring are enough to give me signs of hope every year.  They cautiously poke from the ground when the frost is still in the air, when flurries are still flying, having full trust that the 70 degree weather will appear. And it does.

dafodils2daffofils3daffodils4daffodils5daffodils long shotBut look out daffodils, the hostas are not far behind, and I hear they are willing to redefine world order.  They are fresh and green and itching to unfurl.  Uh oh. Peace out.

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Needle Punch Felting with Machine Embroidery

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I’ve been playing with wool lately, and was reminded by the upcoming Bernina Inspirations class, that I can do needle punch using my machine embroidery.

For anyone who is a Bernina software user, Designer Plus allows you to do needle punch.  All you need is the needle punch accessory (which you can use with or without embroidery).

needle punch toolWhen you set up your machine for needle punch, you need to do a few things:

  • Inset the needle punch needles in your needle holder in place of your regular needle.
  • Change your stitch plate (there’s a special one for needle punch) and be sure to tell your machine that you made the change.
  • Put on the correct needle punch foot.  This not only helps to glide over roving and other wool or fabrics, but it also keep your fingers away from those needles.  You’ll often want to hold the roving in place to keep your design intact.
  • Completely remove your hook system, not just the bobbin.  Take everything out, and close the bobbin door.
  • Turn off your top and bottom thread sensors.

needle punch feltingIn the software, you literally just go to the Digitize toolbox, click on the PunchWork icon and digitize a shape.  Any shape.  And the software will generate one thread color to outline the shape, and then fill it with needle punch.  It’s amazingly easy.

I digitized the shape of this tree, measured it out and laid out the roving within the parameters of the shape.

And then I watched the machine do all the needle punch work.  Pretty impressive.

However, I did follow along with my fingers positioning and re-positioning the roving to be sure it stayed where I wanted it to be while the needle was punching.

Next, I layered an embroidery design on top.  Since I had gone with a tree shape, I was reminded of the tree of life embroidery design in the Sepia Petals collection from OESD. I ended up using the tree background file.

The result was interesting both visually and texturally.

Still exploring my love of wool.  It’s freeing and almost unpredictable as an art form or craft.  I think that’s why I enjoy it so much.

If you are interested in learning more about Bernina Embroidery Software or needle punch, think about attending your May Software Inspirations at your local Bernina dealer.

You just never know what you’ll be inspired to create!

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My Love Affair (with wool!)

wool trees 5I’m not really used to working with wool.  It really doesn’t behave like cotton.  Yet, its rich textures have just been a delight.  I love the way thread sinks into it.  I love the way thread can sit on top of wool, as well.

It inspires me.

I’m also a fool for anything hand-dyed and much wool is currently hand-dyed. (And not cheap, I might add.)

wool trees1This project really has been one of texture.  I experimented with a number of different Aurifil threads, but kept falling back on a nice 30 weight in different shades of neutrals.  It has just enough substance to show up, but is not so thick that it starts to cause problems in the machine.

wool trees 2I wanted this to feel a lot like a walk in the woods near the house. Twisty, gnarly branches — barren, waiting for spring.

Here’s a peak at the back side of this project, for those of you who appreciate a look behind the scenes.  I think it’s every bit as interesting as the front, maybe even more so.

wool trees backI have done some projects with wool and roving before. This floral below was one of my favorites. Something about wool is much more free-form for me than rigid piecing in cotton.

You can read more about the roving project here.

If you find you are interested in experimenting in wool, there are plenty of places to start.

Wooly Lady has joyful patterns and plenty of hand-dyed wool.

Sue Spargo also has a lot of hand-dyed fabric and beautiful threads for hand embroidery.

Need to get the creative fires burning again? I recommend a quiet little rendezvous with a few different shades of wool…ooh la la.

Final piece.

The Splendid Sampler — An Update

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Since this project goes on for 100 blocks, I thought I would give an update every 10 blocks or so.

For now at least, I am really looking forward to every block, searching for the time to make it before the next block rolls out.  (New blocks come out every Sunday and Thursday). Even more than that, I am enjoying seeing all the other work that others are creating, on the Splendid Sampler Facebook page.

Here is a look at my blocks so far. This grouping includes one of the bonus blocks which I did before the group even started.

IMG_0397 They include everything from hand embroidery to digitizing and machine embroidery, as well as needle-turned applique and raw edge applique.  I have not done any paper piecing, though some of the blocks have made that available.  I am holding out for a slightly more complicated block…one that would be more difficult to piece traditionally than to paper piece.  Maybe a little flower or something like that.  With 90 or so blocks to go, I’m sure something will come along!

Luckily, I’m still finding time to do some of my own work as well, which I will share in an upcoming post. I’m really into neutrals these days, with a pop of color, so I see a theme emerging. A peak at my next project.

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Vintage and Ribbons and Lace…Oh My!

I seem to be the curator of all the textiles in our family (and also the antique photos and other historical family memorabilia.  Please don’t ask me why I have Grandpa’s tax files from 1968.  I truly don’t know.  Furthermore, I don’t know why I keep them.)

This blog is not about my mother-in-law who in her own right was a spectacular quilter and craftsperson/artist. I do have some of her quilts and have already informed my 13-year-old son that if he ever decides to get married, if his bride-to-be does not lovingly cherish family quilts and heirlooms, then she’s simply not the girl for him.  No pressure.  My first-ever blog post was about my mother-in-law.

The cedar chest in our bedroom holds treasures from the beautiful, meticulous and patient artist-women who came before me — the women who taught me to use my hands to make things.

samplingI literally have hefty-size bags full of handmade doilies, table runners and dresser runners.  Grandma was the expert, but my mom made them as well

A friend of mine referred to it as tatting.  I don’t think it’s exactly the same, as my family never ever referred to tatting…they worked exclusively with a teensy crochet hook for hours, days, months, years.  I believe tatting sometimes requires something called a shuttle.  A word of caution:  when you google tatting, you can expect to learn about the tattoo process. Oops.  Try lace tatting instead.

Anyway, the most impressive piece I own — to me,at least — is the tablecloth handmade by my grandmother.

tablecloth wholeIt fits the standard kitchen table.  But that’s not the most endearing part.  It comes complete with a few gravy stains I can’t seem to remove.  But that’s not my favorite part either.  My favorite part is that at one point she apparently ran out of one thread color and finished it in another.  Mom told me that Grandma finished the last bit of it in white, which you can clearly see in some of the photos.

I love this.

Upon closer examination, I think she started in white.  And then changed her mind about the color, just judging by the way it is assembled. She switched to a taupe — apparently she had a lot more of that thread. Or maybe she really did run out at the very end.  If you are a craftsperson, you know this feeling. For heaven’s sake, I’m almost done, who cares, this is fine.

tablecloth detail2I’m so glad this happened, because I’m not sure I would have believed that a human being actually created this.  It is meticulously stitched in some of the tiniest little crochet stitches I have ever seen.  And I am trained enough to recognize crochet stitches.  Of course, I saw Grandma working on things like this, but when you’re a teen, it hardly makes it onto your radar.

grandmas tablecloth detailThese days, I’m awestruck by its beauty.

My mom made beautiful works of art in yarn. She was a master knitter, at least until she had a stroke 15 years ago. While I love the yarn, I have no space for all that, so my sister will have to pick through it.

I, however, poured over her sewing notions.

In the last few years, she made little homey decorations for the kitchen.

mom's decsThe trim says charming things like “You are the apple of God’s eye,” and “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

moms decs 2ribbons and laceI’m not ready to let any of this go.  The women who came before us had real lives of creation, sharing, loving and giving. We honor them by appreciating their handiwork. All handmade. All the time.

grandmas crochetgrandmas doily1