Thursday, November 16, 2017

"In the Garden"—Oak Leaves and Acorns

I (Teri) was afraid that the only autumnal color we were going to get this year would be that which I stitched. Here in Maryland, the days stayed warm and the temperatures didn't drop as much at night much later than normal, resulting in an October of primarily green trees. In the past few weeks, we have finally been seeing some color, though it was sadly short-lived, as many of the leaves have already begun falling.

While I love green, the autumn palette is my favorite, so it was with great pleasure that I stitched this month's block in our In the Garden Block of the Month series, Oak Leaves and Acorns. If you missed our first block, it is available on our website. You can read about Cornflowers by clicking here.

November block: Oak Leaves and Acorns

Our BOM class was held at Primitive Homespuns Wool & Needleworks on Sunday afternoon. We had a delightful time—lots of stitching and lots of laughing. As you can see in the photograph, there were moments of nearly silent concentration, with only the sound of needles pulling thread through our wool. And then the conversation would begin, as we got to know new stitching friends. This quaint shop offers such a charming setting for our classes!
We began by stapling our leaves and stem in place onto the background. Around each leaf, we blanket stitched with The Gentle Art Simply Wool™ thread, which blended into the wool beautifully, giving the leaves a crisp edge. Variegated Valdani Pearl Cotton 12 gave the veins a bit of pop and sheen.


I have been intrigued by the new Rustic Wool Moire™100% wool threads. I had bought several spools but hadn't tried them yet. The branch seemed to be the perfect opportunity, as I had a color that blended with the wool I used precisely. It was a little fussy to work with, needing gentle handling and a short stitching piece, but I loved the way it worked with the wool. The natural slubs in the thread give the branch a little texture, but it sinks right into the the wool fabric. I didn't, however, choose the wool for the acorn caps. 



To make the acorns, I cut out a piece of gold the shape of the entire acorn. I blanket stitched around about 3/4 of the acorn, and then I stuffed it with polyester fluff. You could as easily use batting scraps or shredded scraps of wool for stuffing. Then I finished blanket stitching the acorn. For the cap, I choose Weeks Dye Works™ Pearl Cotton 8, but you could use size 5 if you want bigger and fewer knots. I first outlined the cap with knots and then filled it in—with hundreds of knots. I use a pillow when I do knots, so that after I wrap the thread around the needle, I can stick it straight into the pillow, and pull the wraps tautly, as in the photo above. I then pick up my work, holding the thread at the base of the knot with my thumb, and I gently pull the needle through from the back, keeping my thumb at the knot. Easy, uniform knots!

So many knots! You can use French or Colonial knots.

Pick a great movie or TV show to binge-watch, and knot away! They give such a realistic textured effect to the acorn caps.


I also met with the Margaret Potts quilt BOM group this past weekend. We are embellishing the blocks with ribbon and embroidery. To read about the ribbon flowers we learned last month, read the post "Potts" of Ribbon Flowers. Several people brought their blocks in to share what they had accomplished thus far. We had some lovely and creative flower centers! Not only are the flowers centers different, but each block has a different kind of veins in the leaf. It is such fun to see the modifications that are made to reflect the makers' own tastes and styles. 

A circle of knots and one of seed beads

Filled with knots to complement the color of the vase

A mixture of French and bullion knots
This month, we used River Silks ribbon to embellish our flowers, playing with several stitches—a straight stitch and the ribbon stitch. The buds were made with folded wired ribbon, and the thorny stem was created using the wheat ear stitch. I can't wait to see how these flowers look on all the blocks next month! 


What a fun-filled, stitching weekend! The only thing that could be more fun than two stitching classes would be to end the weekend with a birthday party for a two-year-old princess. Which I did! I know this grandma is a bit biased, but I think she is a darling little princess!

Admiring herself in her princess gown 


But I digress! If you haven't ordered your Cornflowers pattern, they are available on our website (click here). And our new pattern, Oak Leaves and Acorns is now available as well! We'd love to have you join us In the Garden!




Thursday, November 9, 2017

Stepping Out of the Box

True confession time: I (Kara) like to live in a box. Not a real box, although with moving I could have had plenty to choose from, but one of my own making. I like doing the things that I am comfortable with and straying too far from that makes me a little nervous. It's not just in my day to day living  that I like my box, but in my quilting life as well. Appliqué, embroidery, crazy quilting;—those are all quilt techniques that are in my comfort zone. I control the needle, and it doesn't beep at me when I break a thread, and my hands don't quit working for no apparent reason. That is why I have looked at my new Bernina sewing machine with fear and trepidation. 

A friend here asked me if I wanted to take a class with an excellent teacher, but it would be all machine work. I nervously said yes, because I knew I needed to take a step out of my hand-stitching box and learn how to use my machine. The class was Playing on the Surface, with Gloria Loughman, from Australia, and would be two days. I signed up in July and didn't give it much thought until all of a sudden it was November, and the class was in three days! All the supplies were gathered together, and off I went, not sure what to expect. 

From the moment we started, I knew that I was in good hands with Gloria. She made us all comfortable right from the beginning, as she shared what we would be doing in class. We would be using machine appliqué and embroidery to create abstract designs that were one of a kind. I was a bit nervous about my  design capabilities as abstract is not my forte, but Gloria's methods made it seem achievable. She began the class by showing some of her work to help us get an idea of what we would be doing.

The tiling on the background fabric adds so much depth.

Incredible detail
Gloria sometimes uses painted fabric to add detail.


This was one of my favorites!


An interesting skyline
This one reminds me of butterflies.

What spectacular use of color!


A colorful facade
So many different techniques were used in this piece.

I love this color combination!


Gloria enjoys using fabric with original Aboriginal designs.

Now that we were suitably impressed and just a slight bit intimidated, we got to work. Gloria's instructions were clear and simple. We started with a large sheet of paper to begin our designs, and she guided us through the process, so we really didn't get too stressed. 

Each technique was demonstrated clearly.
We spent most of the first day just figuring out our design and color schemes, choosing fabrics and shapes to incorporate into our piece. I was aiming for a fall theme; in hindsight, I should have made my design a bit smaller, but I will make it work.

Some of my fabric choices  being auditioned

Gloria also hand-dyes fabric and had some shipped over for us to buy—and of course I couldn't resist, even though I had brought what seemed like half my stash.

Such beautiful eye candy!

By the time we left for the day, our minds were swirling with color and design decisions. Ready to get started on day two, we continued putting our pieces together. I re-worked a piece, because one of the colors wasn't playing nicely with the rest, and added some things to another piece that needed some oomph. Gloria's method is to divide the quilt into sections and do the stitching/appliqué on the pieces while they are small, so they can be manipulated easier. Some of the ladies were speedy and by the afternoon, had their pieces ready to put together. Others, like me, were still trying to finish the design in order to actually put it all together.

Everyone hard at work with Gloria, on the left, encouraging us


My hot mess of a work station!

My friend Angela started all over again the second day and made these gorgeous sections.

Taking a class or going on a retreat in Germany is awesome, because they set up snacks! We had pretzels in the morning and cake in the afternoon, as well as coffee, tea, water, and sparkling apple juice.


Apple Schorle: kind of like apple soda
A German staple

The second day drew to a close, and it was time for a little show and tell of our progress. I was still fighting with mine, and so was my neighbor, but we put them up anyway. Others were further along, but there was no pressure at any time to be at a certain stage in the process. That's what I call a good class. 

Water was the theme for this artist's work

Aren't the elephants perfect?

My work after two days.  Not as far along as I had hoped but I will finish it someday.

Stepping out of my comfy box was a bit of a stretch for me, but I'm glad I did. Abstract may not be my strength, but it was a treat to take a class from such a wonderful teacher and to challenge myself to learn something new. Gloria's work is inspiring in so many ways, but what was most inspiring to me was the way she taught and encouraged the class. It is my hope that someday Teri and I can become teachers just like her. I hope you have enjoyed coming to this class with me. If you would like to read more about Gloria Loughman and her amazing work, you can go to her website here




Thursday, November 2, 2017

In Praise of Jane Austen: An Album Quilt


Nearly a year ago, this stunning quilt made its journey from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Baltimore, Maryland. Mildred Tahara, who placed every stitch into this quilt, generously donated the quilt to the Baltimore Appliqué Society (BAS), with one request: that it be used as a model for teaching. The quilt, In Praise of Jane Austen, tells quite a story. I (Teri) asked Mildred if I could share the story of her quilt with you. Her narrative follows, in italics:

I began to think of a Jane Austen quilt around the years I was following Downton Abbey seasons on Masterpiece theater on PBS. Pat Bauer of California, a hand quilter in Elly Sienkiewicz’s Empty Spools class at Asilomar, in Pacific Grove, California, was very fond of the Jane Austen novels. Chatting with her in the evening while appliquéing and reviewing what was taught in Elly’s class, we would discuss Jane Austen’s novels. I ended up taking several years of Elly’s week-long classes with Pat, during which time I read the delightful and thought-provoking Austen novels, set in England during a period of horse-drawn carriages and charming country houses. In my mind, I contrasted the Downton Abbey years—the first quarter of the 20th century of WWI, trains, the earliest automobiles, silent films—that was being recreated on TV—with the years a hundred years earlier of horse-drawn carriages and relatively quiet domestic life, described in the Austen novels. My Downton Abbey quilt was completed a few years later.

I was deeply interested in Crazy Quilts, having read that these quilts were inspired in part by the Japanese art works on display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. I asked Elly how I could use Crazy Quilting in Baltimores. One suggestion she made was for me to consider using them as cornerstones when I worked on wide borders. What a perfect solution! I was absolutely thrilled. I could embellish and embroider to my heart’s content while working on these colorful squares. I have used Crazy Quilt cornerstones in several of my large Baltimore quilts. You see them in the Jane Austen quilt, and the suggestion was first made by Elly, a truly inspiring and encouraging instructor. I also began to embellish the appliqué in my album blocks with embroidery, ribbon flowers, and beads. All this was at once challenging and great fun!

I think that most of us who work with our hands in fashioning an album block or in planning a quilt find our minds wandering while we ply our needle. I came to quilting around the time I turned 60. Much of my thoughts go back through all the years I’ve lived, the books and poetry I’ve read, the music I so enjoy listening to, memorable movies I have seen, the magnificent works of art I’ve enjoyed in art museums, etc.

While working on the Jane Austen quilt, I reviewed the Austen novels, thought of the memorable scenes in movie versions of the novels, and decided that all I needed in six blocks were the names of the two, who after many trials and tribulations, marry at the end of a long, complicated courtship. If you had read and enjoyed Persuasion as I did, you would recall the pain Anne Elliott experienced throughout the novel before Captain Wentworth finally proposes to her. Remembered are scenes taking place in Lyme and Bath.

Persuasion (1817)— Anne Elliott to marry Wentworth

I could have selected just one Jane Austen novel instead and have in the album blocks inscriptions about favorite scenes and episodes in a single novel. I chose instead to cover all six complete novels by Jane Austen.


Sense and Sensibility (1811)—Elinor Dashwood to marry Edward Ferrars

Pride and Prejudice (1813)—Lizzie Bennet to marry Mr. Darcy (Fitzwilliam Darcy)

Mansfield Park (1814)—Fanny Price to marry Edmund Bertram 

Emma (1815)—Emma Woodhouse to marry Mr. Knightley
Northanger Abbey (1817)—Catherine Morland to marry Henry Tilney



Only Yesterday, by Mildred Machiko Tahara of Honolulu, Hawaii; a Baltimore Album Quilt inspired by the characters and memorable scenes in "Downton Abbey," set in North England during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The hand appliqué in the nine blocks is lavishly embellished with embroidery and beadwork.  

Mildred sent the photo above of her "Downton Abbey" quilt, Only Yesterday. As she mentioned, she worked on these quilts at about the same time and reflected on the two time periods, a hundred years apart. If you are interested to learn more about the world during the time Austen wrote her books, click here to read Pride and Prejudice and the Regency World. You might also be interesting in seeing a quilt thought to have been made by the Austen women, in Barbara Brackman's post, The Austen Quilt.

The BAS is honored to receive this lovely gift from Mildred. In fact, in June, we held a tea to celebrate her beautiful work and learn more about her and her quilt. I loved studying Mildred's  embellishment techniques in her quilt, and I am privileged to teach the workshops sponsored by the BAS on these ribbon and embroidery skills. The first workshop will be held this month, when we will begin to stitch the Flower Basket, the center medallion In Praise of Jane Austen. Elly Sienkiewicz has kindly given us permission to use her patterns for the workshops, inspiring us as she inspired Mildred. 

Velvet leaves, ribbon-stitched stems, folded rosebuds, ultrasuede acorns and calyxes


Ribbon ferns, beaded ribbon trumpet flowers

Gathered wired-ribbon flowers with beaded centers

I have been working diligently to finish my version of the block, which I will share when I've finished. You may have seen glimpses of parts of it on our Instagram or Facebook pages. It will be exciting to see our Flower Baskets come to life!

Many thanks to Mildred Tahara, both for sharing her gifts of lavish stitchery through donating her quilt to BAS as a teaching tool, and for telling us the story behind her quilts. I love how she was thinking about the history and cultures of each era as she stitched. Stitching can be such a calming time for thoughtful reflection.

What about you? What do you think about when you are stitching?




Thursday, October 26, 2017

Free BOM Block 3: Fly Agaric

Welcome to Block 3 of our free Block of the Month Stitch-Along! This month's block is the Amanita muscara or the fly agaric. It is definitely one of the most iconic mushroom varieties out there; it even has it's own emoji!🍄  I really wanted to see one of these on our walks so that I could take a picture of it and turn it into a block for the Stitch-Along. One parameter that I set for this series was that each block would always be designed based on something I had seen here in Germany on my walks with the dogs. Having a real picture side by side with the block was part of the plan for each blog post. 

I see a lot of different mushrooms and toadstools on my meanderings with the furry beasts, but I had not come across this particular one on our local trails. My eyes were always scanning the woods for a sighting, but to no avail. On one of my walks, I did spot this cute little guy, but he wasn't the classic red and white spotted mushroom of storybooks.

This mushroom was almost hidden by the moss.

At my local guild meeting, I was sharing my mushroom issues and received all sorts of advice as to where to find them—most of those places were quite a distance away. I despaired of seeing any this year, as many told me it was late in the season for them, but one of the ladies from the guild heard my plea and took this lovely picture for me. 


What good eyes to have seen this one!

Hooray! I may not have taken the picture but the point was to use a picture of the mushroom taken here in Germany. I was thrilled to be able to offer this as our next block, but before I prepared the design, my husband and I took a trip to the Black Forest. We took the pups with us on our hike, and then planned to have a slice of Black Forest cake as our reward for our exercise. While we were walking, I looked down...and there were the mushrooms I had been seeking! Right there in all their red and white glory. The dogs didn't understand my excitement, but my husband did, since for the last month, I had been talking about finding them. On to designing the block, with plenty of pictures now for inspiration.

In the bright sun, these almost looked metallic!

Cotton Block

Finding just the right fabric for the cotton block was going to be a bit of a challenge, or so I thought. I selected three good possibilities, but I thought there was just enough of a red section in the sunset fabric to fit the pattern, so I decided to go with it.

Doesn't seem like it would work?
All good options.






Another challenge I faced was how to get the cream colored stem to stand out on a light background. I chose a piece of ombré cream ribbon for the stem as it had a different sheen than cotton, however it still blended in a bit too much. Thinking it needed a some more shading, I got out my oil pastels, and with a piece of muslin, lightly shaded one side of the ribbon.

I gently wiped the cloth onto the ribbon until I had just enough.

Did the sunset fabric piece work? It sure did, and I was really pleased with the way the colors gave the mushroom top some depth. Even with the pastels, the stem needed to stand out a bit more, so I used one strand of light tan floss to stem stitch around the stem (no pun intended!)

The sunset fabric was perfect for this!

Then it was time for the copious amount of French knots. I used The Gentle Art Simply Shaker Wool, in Toasted Marshmallow, for the knots. The white spots from the real mushroom are scattered haphazardly and vary in size, so I tried to do the same. Some of the knots have two wraps and some have three, and I also varied the tension of the wraps to change the shape up a bit.

So many knots!

A little greenery using three rows of stem stitches

The finished mushroom.

Stitches and Threads used (cotton block)
Cream wool, The Gentle Art Simply Shaker Toasted Marshmallow for French knots on mushroom cap
Tan floss, 1 strand Weeks Driftwood for stem stitch around stem
Green #12 pearl, Valdani O560


Wool Block

On to the wool block we go! I really only had one choice of wool in my stash for the cap, so that made choosing a color easy. My freezer paper didn't make the move so I finally restored my supply, as it is my go-to method for cutting out wool appliqué patterns. I like to glue my pattern pieces to freezer paper, cut them out, and iron them onto my wool for cutting out the appliqué pieces. I could probably run the freezer paper through my printer but I save some paper this way as I can use scraps.


Ironed onto the wool.
Pattern pieces ready to cut out.








Cut out and ready to be placed on the background.

The cream wool for the stem showed up a little better on the linen background, but I wanted it to give it a little more depth. A little shading, again with the pastel, did the trick.

Just a little color on the edge helps.

Padding the cap with a little batting, cut slightly smaller than the wool, added some dimension.

I cut the batting the same size as the wool, and then trimmed it smaller.

I stapled the pieces down and proceeded to sew around them using one strand of Weeks Parchment for the stem and one strand of Weeks Red Rocks for the cap. Matching sewing thread would work as well.

The stem sewn in place

And once again it was knot time. For the knots on the wool, I decided to use floss instead of wool thread to add another texture, so I used two strands of the Weeks Parchment for knots. Again, I varied the size of each knot by tension and wraps; sometimes two wraps, sometimes three. As I finished each knot, I made sure not to yank too tightly as I brought my thread to the back, in order not to compress the batting with all those knots.


The finished wool block

Again, I used a light, tan thread (Weeks Driftwood)
around the stem to highlight it. 

Stitches and Threads used (wool block)
Tan floss, 1 strand Weeks Driftwood for stem stitch around stem
Cream floss, 2 strands Weeks Parchment for French knots on mushroom cap.
Green #12 pearl, Valdani O560


This block will definitely be one of my favorites since finding the mushrooms to take their picture was such a challenge. A friend of mine mentioned that I might be obsessing over a mushroom that isn't even edible, but it was worth the hunt. Hopefully, you will enjoy stitching this woodland gem that led me on such a chase. If you have made either of the two previous blocks we'd love to see pictures!

Download the Fly Agaric pattern here

To see the other blocks in our Stitch-Along: