The Seed Stitch

I’ve been delighting in a new stitch in the past few months, the seed stitch.  It is a simple little stitch which is carefree and easy, but adds an amazing punch to textile work in many situations.

If you are a stitcher and haven’t used this versatile stitch lately, give it some thought.  Directions and video tutorials are abundant online.  Just search “seed stitch for embroidery”, or you’ll learn knitting.

seed stitch on floozieIn recent years, I used the seed stitch in this block of Floozies, a quilt I made using a Sue Spargo kit she called Bird Dance in 2013.  In this case, the stitch was done as an embellishment. The seed stitch can be seen in the area under the bird’s feet.

detail of Mourning Flight

In Susan Lenz’s class I took in May and wrote about it in detail here, I realized that this stitch could be used as a quilting stitch, to secure several layers.  In this case, I used a heavy black thread making the stitch itself quite obvious.  This photo is one from Mourning Flight, detailed here, where all the hand quilting is accomplished using this simple stitch.

seed stitch in carBut recently, I’ve used the seed stitch on another piece, this white baby dress on blue, still untitled. Here I’m using a fine thread (30-weight cotton) which matches the background.  The stitch is rather small, so all that is visible is the dimple created when the stitch secures the top, batting and backing.  The photo here is one I took while riding in the car. (The seed stitch is in the area of the white in the lop left quadrant of the photo.)  On a road trip yesterday to see and photograph a rare bird, I got a lot of stitching done.  I was not the driver.

The seed stitch is rather random in nature, neither the length nor direction of the stitch having to be consistent, making it a great travel project.  Much of the seed stitch on Mourning Flight was also done in the car, this time on a birding trip to Florida.

seed stitch intended pink basketAnd remember the pile of vintage linens I brought home here?  Well, salvageable parts of one of those old tablecloths has become this piece. After quilting the inner pink border and the setting triangles densely, the striped center is a bit puffy.  So, I’ll be adding some seed stitch in this area.

One caveat:  the seed stitch does not produce an even result on the back of the piece, so an additional back will be needed.  But if you plan an additional layer on the back, or you intend to frame the work, the seed stitch is an interesting one to consider for securing layers.  I’ve planned for that on the white baby dress, using an extraordinarily thin fabric (harem cloth) as the backing now. And on the pink/green piece, the label will be placed over the seed-stitched area of the back of the finished product.

My Threaded Needle

bluebird on linenSaturday night finds me stitching through layers of delight:

A photo of Eastern Bluebirds made by Jim Gilreath  is printed on a vintage linen tablecloth.

The photo is layered on hand-dyed Osnaburg fabric the color of the male bluebird’s breast.

These are atop a remnant of vintage linen dipped in my indigo vat.

My needle is pulling smooth cotton thread through these layers and wool batting.

I am accompanied by live music from the photographer and his stringed instruments.

Are there really people in the world who would prefer to be anywhere else?  I can’t imagine.

Loving the Blues

indigo fabricsI’ve been playing in my indigo vat for the past few days.  The pile you see here includes some of the results.  I’ve dipped pieces large and small of old vintage sheets, old hankies and napkins, doilies, placemats, purchased commercial fabric, bits of lace, and a cotton Matelasse bedspread.

Fabrics are cotton, linen, silk, and combinations of those.  Some have been dipped once, some several times.  I love to watch the magic as the oxidation process occurs.

indigo vatWhen first removed from the vat, the cloth appears green.  As the dye oxidizes, the blue appears.  If a resist is applied to block the dye absorption, interesting patterns can be created.

The only resists I’ve tried are some tying of the fabric and a bit of folding.  Already I can see how addictive this process can be.  And though I’ve already peered into the rabbit hole of staining with tea and blackberries, and then explored the browns, this lover of all things BLUE is tumbling headfirst into the indigo dye.

indigo stitchingThis third photo shows that I’ve started some projects using this most delightful fabric.  I’m loving the work I’ve recently been doing with vintage linen; it’s so deliciously soft to stitch by hand.  The photo shows a vintage baby dress appliquéd on linen now ready to embroider and quilt and some squares prepared for piecing.  Both pieces use techniques I’ve learned from that amazing artist, Jude Hill.  Her invisible basting stitch and paperless piecing technique have changed my stitching forever!

I haven’t limited myself to playing with yardage.  If I took a selfie right now, you would see a cotton knit shirt and a silk scarf which have both spent some time in the indigo vat.

Hartwell Commons

Hartwell CommonsKits to make quilts are wonderful.  They are a great way to make a quilt if you don’t have a large fabric stash, if you aren’t comfortable selecting fabrics, or if you just want to jump right in with a ready supply of coordinated fabrics in the right colors.  A good friend advises that they are great for travel or retreat projects, because they are packaged ready to sew on the go.

Hartwell Commons was made from a kit.  I ordered the block-of-the-month kit early in my quilting career, I suppose it was in 2002 or so.  When the first package arrived, the schoolhouse block, I opened it ready to jump right in.

Instructions were given for two techniques; paper foundation piecing, and appliqué.  I did not know either one.  So I bundled it all back up and put it back in its big ziploc bag.  It waited month by month as its companions arrived in the mail and the charges were added to my credit card bill.  I paid the bill knowing that maybe someday I would have the skills to make the quilt.

My friend’s advice came to light a couple of years down the road when we were preparing for a girls’ getaway to a friends’ lake house.  I was lamenting that I didn’t know what project to take, and Dale said, “do you have a kit?”

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I did.  I grabbed the first couple of month’s packages, some substitute fabrics (I had already realized that using someone else’s idea of fabric combinations was not my way of working) and off we went to Lake Hartwell.

Hartwell Commons churchBy then, I had learned both techniques of paper foundation piecing and needleturn appliqué.  I love to do handwork and don’t like to travel with my sewing machine, so appliqué was the approach I used.

Once started, I quickly finished all the houses, but uh-oh, I didn’t know all the embroidery stitches and had never worked with silk ribbon.  So the blocks sat again waiting.  The next retreat with the same group of gals to the same place meant the embellishment phase could begin.

The embroidery was done, blocks were assembled by machine, and I was ready to do the quilting.  I referred to Leah Day’s 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs website for ideas and video instructions on filler designs for the background.  All the varied filler designs are still favorites of mine, and I often run downstairs to look at this quilt on the wall when I need ideas on another project.

Hartwell Commons labelQuilt details:  Finished size is 85” x 88”.  The pattern is called The Quilted Village by the City Stitcher. Cotton fabrics, silk thread embroidery.  Completed 2010.  Cotton batting. Quilting thread DMC machine embroidery thread, two-ply, 50 weight cotton.  Free motion quilted on home machine.  Since there are lots of goat farms around Lake Hartwell, I made the label in the shape of a goat.

Old Churches

Old Churches fullI can hear joyous voices raised in song when I see an old church.  A well-proportioned steeple reaching to the heavens is pleasing.  Stained glass windows are nice.  But even without those finer details, old churches thrill my soul.  I know there are stories within those walls.  Stories of peace and solace received there, of friendship and loving support in hard times, of comfort in grief.  There are stories of gossip and scandal and intrigue, too.

We often stop the car on our backroad jaunts to photograph an old church.  But on a recent Saturday, we went on an expedition with a local camera club to photograph a select group of historic churches in a rural county nearby.  My husband has recently joined this group; thus the title of my latest quilt, Old Churches, New Friends.

Jim’s photos are of the highest resolution, with crisp details.  I often print his photos on silk fabric which conveys this sharpness.  But I wanted these photos to reflect the historic quality of the adventure, so I printed them on pieces of a vintage linen tablecloth, most of them in black and white.  I loved the result – the coarseness of the fabric conveyed a grainy effect on the photos.  Perfect.

old churches sunI continued the primitive look by hand stitching the photos to another old piece of linen.  The rough weave of this background fabric did not allow me to write on it successfully, so I printed the names of the churches on commercially prepared cotton fabric, and stitched memorable words using free motion stitching on the sewing machine.

Old Churhes treeProvidence Baptist in Shady Dale was founded in 1810 and included some Revolutionary War soldiers as some of the first members.  As I walked through the cemetery, I found a very old section and one grave with a magnificent cedar tree growing at its head.  My thought was, “when this soldier died, he became a tree.”  So, that photo grew into a tree on my quilt.

Hopewell Baptist Church was covered with a tarp as it is awaiting a new roof.  But the architecture of it was amazing; not because of towers and turrets, but because of its simple beauty.  The windows and shutters spoke volumes to me and to the other Sandy along on the trip.  She and I photographed them from every angle and I drew sketches of them as we stood there sharing our love of their structure.  Then we noticed the shape of the vent in the front of the church.  Not the square, rectangle, or rhombus that is often the case, but a kite.  So, a geometry discussion was included in the day as well.

Old Churches rolled upThe block on the outside of the quilt is an appliquéd version of one of the windows of that church.  I made another one of these replicas for that week’s block in my journal quilt for 2106, Fifty-Two Wednesdays.  That image seems to symbolize the day to me.

 

Old Churches Queen Anne's LaceSince beginning work on Fifty-Two Tuesdays, I’ve wanted to make other journal quilts, some which chronicled a single trip, or a single day.  This example will just say to others, “nice. They photographed some old churches.”  But to me and to Jim, when we see it, we will remember the friends, the back roads, Queen Anne’s Lace blooming all along the roadsides, and fried chicken.

Old Churches labelDetails of quilt:  Finished measurements are 17” x 38”.  Vintage linen, commercial quilting cotton fabrics.  Label is made from a vintage woman’s handkerchief.  Hand stitching, machine stitching, free-motion quilting.

Another note:  There is a website with beautiful photos and stories related to this adventure, Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.  I’ve found details about some of the ones we’ve visited, and added to our list of “want to visit”, too.

Dyeing to Make Something Brown

Brown is a new favorite color of mine.  Blue has always been at the top of the list for me, but in recent years, I’ve come to love brown.  Maybe there is a reason.

Brown vignetteThis photo is one I made a few years ago to use on the invitations to my family reunion.  Pictured are a platter and pitcher from the Tea Leaf dinnerware which was my grandmother’s pattern.  On the evening of Ollie Jane’s wedding in 1890, her mother hosted a supper for family.  She served the meal on those dishes and gave them as a gift to the bride and groom. These two pieces in the photo were later purchases, but I do have one plate left that was on Ollie Jane’s table that night. The large pitcher was one she used and I still use it, too.

Also in the photo is a piece of brown and white checked fabric.  I’ve been accused of “adding a little brown check” when a quilt needs a spark of something different (as in GBI Blues), or when I don’t know what else to use (as in Seven Black Birds). [Photos of those two quilts are in the gallery.] I included that fabric in this photo because it looks like the apron I remember Ollie Jane wearing a lot during the last years of her life.

When I printed the photo of Bunk Bates for the Flag Bearer quilt I wrote about yesterday, I printed the above photo on linen as well.  In thinking about a composition using that photograph, I decided to pour some dye in a bucket and dip some things.  Here you see them drying.brown fabric drying

Stay tuned for the final result, but suffice it to say, I’m having a lot of fun!  I ordered some indigo dye today; I can’t wait to play with that.  Oh, I like blue and brown together, too.

You can read more about Ollie Jane’s wedding and her quilts here.  And more about her influence on my quiltmaking here.

Wandering Vines

Wandering VinesIn February, I was quite busy with several demanding projects.  Some of them kept me occupied at the computer, others at the sewing machine,  preparing for our guild’s imminent quilt show.  What I needed was some hand stitching to soothe my rattled nerves.

I had these vines already cut from an assortment of fabrics, having planned to use them as a border on another quilt.  Once they were vetoed for that project, I saved them thinking I would just use them alone on a solid background.  I do love needleturn appliqué and find the process restful to my brain.

Wandering Vines backI found three colors I liked, chose a solid fabric for the background, and stitched them over a few evenings in front of the television.  Recently, I layered the top with Dream Wool batting and a piece of hand-dyed fabric from Wendy Richardson as the back.  I outlined the appliqué and stitched several rows of echo quilting using a variegated thread.  The various edge designs; pebbles, straight lines, and continuous curves were stitched using a neutral color thread of the same weight.

All quilting was hand guided, free motion stitching on my domestic machine.

four little pitchersThis whole project was based on revisiting something I had liked from an earlier quilt.  Four Little Pitchers was my entry in our guild’s annual challenge in 2009.  The challenge was to make a four-block quilt.  I drew the shapes of the pitchers based on some pieces from my pottery collection, used needleturn appliqué to stitch them to the black background, and separated the four blocks with a tiny (1/4”), subtle sashing of black with silver dots.  Then I appliquéd the vine using the pattern from Emily Senuta’s basket book, and continued the design with the quilting motif.  In that case, I continued the vine in green, then echoed all with a black thread.

four pitchers detailThe sashing turned out to be so tiny and so subtle that it became invisible, but I always liked the result of the vine motif and wanted to work with that design again.  Especially after I began using wool batting, I wanted to use it to give extra dimension to the leaves in the quilted vines.  The vine in the latest project is twice the size of the original pattern.

I still have more of the larger vines cut, so  I would like to explore even more possibilities with this simple, elegant shape.

Details of quilts:  Four Little Pitchers measures 38” x 43”.  Fabrics for pitchers is all hand-dyed Cherrywood fabric, vines are Fossill Fern fabrics.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  All threads are DMC Broder machine embroidery thread; 50 weight / 2 ply cotton.

Wandering Vines measures 21” x 28”.  Appliqué fabrics are all commercial quilting cottons, the background fabric is hand-dyed Cherrywood cotton. Threads are DMC Broder embroidery thread; 50 weight / 2 ply cotton.

The Calm that comes with Needle and Thread

blocks in blue work on porchThere is something soothing about the pulling of thread through cloth.  I find myself out of sorts if days (okay, even one day) go by without some time spent stitching.

Some say it’s a prayerful experience to sew.  Some liken it to Zen meditation.  Maybe it’s the rhythmic motion of the needle penetrating layers of fabric.  Whatever it is, it soothes my soul.  The ritual of pulling needle and thread through fabric has been a part of my life since childhood.  Even when very busy with demands of family and motherhood, I had some sort of needlework project in the works.  Then days might go by without much time spent with a needle in my hand, but just knowing it was waiting promised serenity.

During years that my mother and later my mother-in-law were in failing health, I learned to keep a sewing basket in the car at all times.  Since each of them had also been seamstresses, I saw it brought peace to each of them to see me with a project in tow.

In the basket was always a project with a threaded needle in the midst of a stitch.  That is still my strategy – without having to find the spot where I stopped, match the thread, locate the needle threader, I’m ready to take the next stitch.  In preparing for a trip, I sometimes spend more time ensuring that I have enough to keep me busy than I do planning my wardrobe.  I might not ever open the basket while away from home, but most times I do find some stitching moments.

I look at Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden and remember visiting with my mother while sewing those hexagons together.  I look at Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets and remember sitting with my mother-in-law as I stitched the fabrics she had kept from her mother’s stash.  Both of these mothers of mine were suffering from confusion and dementia, but if words weren’t to be had, we communicated through our love of sewing.  I stitched my soul to each of them during their last years of life.

blocks in blueThe top photo is one of me working on Blocks in Blue while staying at the Inn at Iris Meadows in Waynesville, NC.  That quilt was hand pieced and machine quilted in 2005.  It finished at 27” square, and was one of my early attempts at free motion machine quilting.  I used invisible nylon thread in the top, a matching cotton thread in the bobbin.

 

Skinny-Dipping Quilts

mimi's boys skinny dippingChildren are so observant.  They see details that we adults pass right by.

Some of the first quilts I made were for grandsons.  There are now three teenagers, but at the time of the quilt you see pictured at the end of this post, there were two toddlers.  I saw an episode of Simply Quilts in which Judy Martin demonstrated the large block which dominates this quilt.  I had bought some Tom Sawyer themed fabric and companion pieces, and I went to work.

I made the largest block, (24” square, I believe) using two different scenes from the toile print in the center.  One was of the boys fishing, the other of them painting the fence.  I made smaller blocks using the fabrics I had in the collection and coordinates from my stash.  Now that I think about it, I was using my version of improvisational piecing from this beginning.  I laid blocks on my design table (otherwise used for eating dinner; the design wall came much later in my quilting life), measured spaces, and inserted filler pieces or blocks.

Now I sometimes lay out such a design on grid paper, calculating dimensions using the squares, but in 2002, I wasn’t so deliberate.  I gave the two quilts titles based on the toile, “Mimi’s Boys Fishing” and “Mimi’s Boys Working” and presented them as Christmas gifts.

Several years later, one of the grandsons attended a quilt show with me. I’m not affirming or denying if bribery was involved.  I saw a quilt with familiar fabric, and exclaimed, “look, this quilt has fabric like yours.”  I was quickly corrected, “Well, not exactly.  This boy has pants on.”

“Yours aren’t wearing pants?”

“Not the ones going swimming.”

His mother was as surprised as I was.  She hadn’t noticed either.

Back at their house, we all examined the quilt to see that, yes, indeed, the fabric I bought prior to 2002 had skinny-dippers.  I don’t know the manufacturer’s storyline, but I’m guessing someone was offended, and subsequent yardage was more modest.

Yes, I have scraps of the risqué print, even a bit of yardage.  Hmmm, I think there’s a story quilt idea.

Mimi's boys quiltQuilt details:  Finished measurements: 36″ x 50″, batting was probably 80% cotton, 20% polyester, quilting was straight lines with walking foot.

Quilting Sisters

Hilda's art quiltI had the pleasure today of visiting with not one, but two, of my favorite quilting sisters.  Joyce and Hilda are great friends. Friends to each other and friends to everyone they meet.  To visit with each of them separately in their homes today was a rare treat.

Joyce and Hilda are seldom still.  They are often not at home waiting for visitors, but instead are out galavanting about.  They participate in several small stitching groups that meet about town, they are active in guild meetings and go to several quilting retreats every year.  And, when they aren’t engaged in a church or stitching activity, they might be out shopping, in the pouring rain, looking for that perfect quilt backing to finish a project.

Does this sound like your typical image of more-than-90-year-old friends?  If not, you’d be wise to revise your stereotype.  Joyce and Hilda are dynamos. Their minds are sharper than a size 14 straw needle – I learn something every time I talk with either of them.

Hilda lives alone in the two-story house she’s occupied since 1990 or so.  She now has her sewing studio downstairs because her children worried about her climbing stairs so much while she was home alone.

Some of the approximately 100 bed quilts she’s made since she began quilting in 1987 are still here, others have been given away.  She’s hasn’t counted all the art and wall quits she’s made, but they are numerous and spectacular!  An avid student, Hilda has about a dozen trips to the John C. Campbell Folk School on her resume.  There she has explored topics such as basket making as well as quilting.

Her children and grandchildren are artistic too.  Her house is filled with art she likes and art they have made.  Pottery, wood turning, jewelry making, fabric printing, drawing, painting, all are in the family DNA.

The sewing studio is a haven for any stitcher.  There’s a cutting table open on all sides for easy access, and at a comfortable height for the statuesque lady.  A machine, tv, design wall, comfortable chair for hand stitching in front of the tv, cabinets to house the fabric overflow, and a fireplace for cozy wintertime work.  A serene workspace for a quilter of any age.

My visit with Joyce was not focused on stitching today.  We sat on her glorious wrap-around porch overlooking the lake.  Her luscious plants were a topic of conversation, as well as her recent experiences as caregiver for her 95-year-old sister.  We discussed her work with Western Union during WWII, her civilian work at our local Air Force installation during its early years, and her 33-year career at a wholesale pharmaceutical company.

Joyce was one of the charter members of our quilt guild in 1985.  Hilda joined the group in 1987.  Just think, each of these women was a career woman before being such was expected.  And, since retirement, each has had a long and productive career as a quiltmaker.  Many ribbons and awards have decorated their quilts along the way, and we are all still learning from them.

I’ve written before about missing the opportunity to explore quiltmaking in depth with my grandmother.  But with the quilting sisters now in my life, I’m reclaiming some years of experience and love.  Oh, how I love these women!

The photo is of an art piece made by Hilda.  It hangs over the mantel in her studio.