Slow But Steady

I am making some progress on the Polka Dot tree.  Getting the basics right is always slow going…and the truth is, I am making this up as I go along so we’ll see how it turns out.

The shape of the tree was first drawn on freezer paper.

treedrawingAs you can see, I had to tape several rows of freezer paper together.  Freezer paper is cheap.  Large format drawing paper is not.  I can work with almost anything.

Next I took the garment wool, which was half-price at the local shop, and I attached Wonder Under 805 to the back.  Any double sided adhesive paper would work, especially Steam-a-Seam Lite.  However, my experience is that once I attach the wool and iron it into position, the Wonder Under causes fewer problems with the sewing needle getting loaded with glue gunk.  Every project is slightly different so we’ll see how this goes.

Next, I laid out the wool with the fusible on the back right side up over my cutting mat, and placed the freezer paper drawing on top.  Then I simply trace the drawing with a rotary cutter.

tree1Next comes the tricky part, as the tree then is just a squiggly bunch of fabric that has to be switched over and laid out on the red twill.  Once it is moved into position, then I carefully remove the backing which allows me to fuse the tree to the background.

This is where you have to get creative.  I happen to own a small flat ironing pad which I literally move around under the flat tree, and iron/fuse a little at a time until the tree is attached to the twill.  It doesn’t have to be perfectly fused, as I will be stitching down all the branches and the trunk.  The fusing just has to be enough to hold everything in place while I am moving it around under the machine to stitch it on.

Next I spread it out over a layer of quilt batting to act as stabilizer.

This is NOT the quilt sandwich!

I will eventually trim off the edge of the quilt batting and attach more fabric to the sides of the quilt (I think…if all goes as planned). But I will be fusing polka dot leaves on top of all the branches – 60 of them, one for every fabric I received in the exchange.  Then I plan to do some embellishing and then once all is finished on the top of the quilt, I will add ANOTHER layer of quilt batting and the backing and then quilt the whole project.

Whew!  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  But everything follows one step at a time.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you make progress.  Just like life.





Warble Me Now, for Joy of Lilac Time

lilacs1by Walt Whitman

WARBLE me now, for joy of Lilac-time,
Sort me, O tongue and lips, for Nature’s sake, and sweet life’s sake,
Souvenirs of earliest summer—birds’ eggs, and the first berries;
Gather the welcome signs (as children, with pebbles, or stringing shells);
Put in April and May—the hylas croaking in the ponds—the elastic air,
Bees, butterflies, the sparrow with its simple notes,
Blue-bird, and darting swallow—nor forget the high-hole flashing his golden
The tranquil sunny haze, the clinging smoke, the vapor,
Spiritual, airy insects, humming on gossamer wings,
Shimmer of waters, with fish in them—the cerulean above;
All that is jocund and sparkling—the brooks running,
The maple woods, the crisp February days, and the sugar-making;
The robin, where he hops, bright-eyed, brown-breasted,
With musical clear call at sunrise, and again at sunset,
Or flitting among the trees of the apple-orchard, building the nest of his mate;
The melted snow of March—the willow sending forth its yellow-green sprouts;
—For spring-time is here! is here! and what is this in it and from it?
Thou, Soul, unloosen’d—the restlessness after I know not what;
Come! let us lag here no longer—let us be up and away!
O for another world! O if one could but fly like a bird!
O to escape—to sail forth, as in a ship!
To glide with thee, O Soul, o’er all, in all, as a ship o’er the waters!
—Gathering these hints, these preludes—the blue sky, the grass, the morning
drops of dew;
(With additional songs—every spring will I now strike up additional songs,
Nor ever again forget, these tender days, the chants of Death as well as Life;)
The lilac-scent, the bushes, and the dark-green, heart-shaped leaves,
Wood violets, the little delicate pale blossoms called innocence,
Samples and sorts not for themselves alone, but for their atmosphere,
To tally, drench’d with them, tested by them,
Cities and artificial life, and all their sights and scenes,
My mind henceforth, and all its meditations—my recitatives,
My land, my age, my race, for once to serve, in songs,
(Sprouts, tokens ever of death indeed the same as life,)
To grace the bush I love—to sing with the birds,
A warble for joy of Lilac-time.


Baby Steps Toward a Project

I’m getting ready to start working on the polka dot project.  I have an idea about creating a tree with the different polka dots as the leaves.  I am starting as a base fabric some absolutely lovely twill which I ran across on, which had an advertising link to Honey Be Good. Honey Be Good sells premium organic cotton.  I’ve only purchased this red twill there so far, but wow, the twill is yummy.  I need some clothes made out of this stuff.

I’ll be adding wool as the trunk of the tree, and I wanted to outline it in white.  I’m never sure how it will all turn out, but that’s the thought right now.

So I experimented on the machine using white perle cotton, size 8, as the blanket stitch thread.

perleAs you can see, the perle has a lot of dimension, jumps off the fabric and generally adds a lot of pop. But size 8 is just too large to go through the tension disks properly.





backside  I used a 90/14 needle and reduced the tension somewhat.  But you can see that the back side was looking like it might get knotted and nested at any moment.  Considering the size of this project, I just don’t want to be worrying so much about the  thread.


aurifil 28


I switched to Aurifil, size 28, and used the triple blanket stitch.  I made the blanket stitch a little wider for visibility, since the thread is so much finer.  Aside from having a more “machine-stitched” look, it does the job with the same “eyeball impact”.


finalSo here’s where I’m eventually headed.  I will be using much larger pieces of wool on the twill, with the white blanket stitch around it.  Eventually the whole project will be machine quilted, but not until I get all the details that I want.

I urge you to really experiment with your machine and some of the thicker threads.  You can get a hand-stitched look, and even when it does not look quite as hand-stitched, you can certainly add texture, dimension and detail to your project.

Be bold.  Nobody is writing the rules.

Rediscovering Our Hands

Everything old is new again.  Almost.  I’ll never be ready to turn in my sewing machine (like, when they pry it from my cold dead hands), but this trend toward more work being done by hand is therapeutic, charming and totally exciting.

I recently ran across Jane Austen’s book “Emma” from Penguin Publishers, and they have released it with hand stitching illustrations on the front and back covers.  It’s actually a photo of the stitching, but the work is so lively and fresh, it’s alone worth the purchase.  The commissioned embroidery is done by Jillian Tamaki.

Front cover.

Front cover.

Front cover detail

Front cover detail

Back cover

Inside back cover.

Inside back cover.


One of the big trend setters and players in the new hand embroidery movement is folk artist Sue Spargo.  Her work is colorful and, well, just interesting to look at.  I think we’re reaching a point where we actually want to appreciate details again.

Sue Spargo bird

Sue Spargo bird

I think the re-emergence of wool applique and some of the new hand-dyed colors in wool is another inspiration.  Wooly Lady keeps it fresh with their designs.

Wooly Lady

Wooly Lady








Just for fun I dug out the first and last hand embroidery I ever did.  I think it took me months and was from a very simple pattern.  I had it stuffed in a drawer, and I think the best part is the bag.  Venture stores has been out of business entirely since 1998.  The one where this bag came from was one that had originally been a TurnStyle store.  Oh, c’mon all you midwestern oldies but goodies, you know what I’m talking about!  Retail at it’s finest…hand embroidery from Venture.  I’m such a time machine.

Hand embroidery from Venture