Stitching Times serves up stories, examples and tutorials about needlework related crafts, especially quilting and crochet. Almost all of the projects shown have been designed by Kay Stephenson

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Out of the Vortex

Those of you who follow my other blogs may remember that we started renovations on our house in late winter. Many months and more gray hairs than I care to count later, we are finally about to wrap up the work we contracted – just waiting for the final inspection. We still have lots of landscaping and a few small projects left to do ourselves, but it does feel like we made it out of the vortex. Life is returning to normal, which means I’m sewing again, and ready to write about it.

The new quilt for our bedroom was finally finished this week, and though the stripes pop a bit more than I expected, the husband has given it a thumbs up. Lady, our dog, doesn’t mind it either. She was delighted to be the first to check it out. Obviously, this isn’t going to turn into an heirloom, as it will need to be washed on a regular basis. That is one more truth about living with dogs. By the way, that sweet little pillow on the bed is actually a throw that fits into its own pocket. It was made for me by Harriett (Pat) Gilliland without ever seeing the quilt. The woman must be psychic!

The design for the quilt is my own, and unlike some patterns it is square (80 x 80 inches). The sizing works out perfectly for this queen sized bed since I like to let the wooden side rails show. If you would like to make one, the pattern will be available on my store in a week or so. I’ll post a note here when I get it listed.

I’ve also been busy with a few projects around the house. I salvaged some chairs and tables to convert our front porch into an outdoor sitting room. A neighbor left the tables in the street for the junkman. With a bit of touch up paint on the wrought iron legs, a coat of red on the top to match the front door, and a few funky flowers in shades of blue, gray, and white, we are now ready for a tray of snacks and a shaker full of cocktails.

For this sort of folk artsy project, you don’t need to worry about your artistic skills. Online clipart provided the idea for the flowers. Using paint that was intended for model cars and airplanes (an inexpensive way to get a very small amount of several colors) I took a stab. Only one thing turned out really hideous – my attempt at a lady bug. I used some mineral spirits to erase it and then repainted that section with the same base red.

The chairs have a longer history. Ten years ago, I had the sad task of closing down the Atlanta division of a software company. Somehow, I ended up with four of these office side chairs with upholstery so 80s it makes me cringe. I thought I would recover them, but before that plan could be carried out, the basement flooded with four and a half feet of water. Though the chairs were quickly hosed off and dried out, the thought of adding new fabric over the old (and possibly mildewed) padding wasn’t very appealing. So they sat. Fast forward to this summer. While looking online for inexpensive chairs to use on the front porch, I remember these gems sitting in the basement. I set to work to remove the old fabric and padding. After pulling about 500 staples, some really rough bent plywood seats and backs were revealed. The wood was none the worse for it’s dousing, so I filled the cracks with wood putty, added uncounted coats of polyurethane (plywood can really soak it up), made some cushions and voila! The fabric is intended for outdoor use, and while I was at it, I made a cushion for the glider to match.

What else? I made an outdoor bed for Lady complete with pillow, which she has not deigned to use yet. I even made a goofy pillow to match, but she’s not going for it. A project that was cut out a year ago is finally finished too. Late last summer I decided to make a project bag for a friend as a birthday gift. I had plenty of fabric, so at the same time I cut out one for myself. The bag is the same basic design as my original Lady Bags produced for Knitch. Working on that gave me some ideas for a new series of project bags and a line of crochet needle cases. But then there are the three other quilts I have planned, and the Ansel Adams quilt tribute, the felted leaf bowls, the book I’m supposed to be writing, and the garden…. We will have to see what wins out.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My new book, The Home Sewer’s Reference: Fabric and Notions, is all about the materials used in home sewing. It answers the questions of how fabric is made and what raw materials are used in these processes. It also explains how to select, prepare, and store fabrics. Most importantly, it demystifies the terms used to describe fabric and notions – terms which are often more confusing than helpful.

Even as experienced sewers we still have questions. Should I be using all cotton thread when I’m working with quilter’s cotton, or is it ok to use cotton wrapped polyester? And, what is the difference between cotton flannel and brushed cotton anyway?

Envisioned as a series of books, the first is planned to be available this summer. It addresses fabric (both natural and synthetics), and notions (things like thread, fasteners and elastic). Additional books in the series will cover equipment and tools, patterns and alterations, sewing techniques, and specialty needlework.

I’ve been having a great time researching the book and for the past couple of weeks have been focused on fabric finishing techniques. Fabric is treated after manufacture for many purposes. In general, these can be divided into finishing techniques to apply color, change texture, increase durability or easy of care, and to add decoration.

Though it may not be necessary for the home sewer to have a deep understanding of all these techniques, the terminology is often attached to fabric descriptions, so it is useful to have this background when purchasing material. These finishing processes can be wet or dry and often involve the addition of different chemicals and coatings. These coatings can include resin, wax, oil, varnish or lacquer, etc. Application methods include dipping, spraying, brushing, calendaring (the use of heavy rollers or plates to compress the fabric), etc.

For example, fabric may be treated with a type of resin, which creates a film on the fabric. This can be done to make the fabric firmer, more stable or to add wrinkle resistance. It may also be done to reduce shrinkage, or to prepare the fabric for embossing or other texture treatments. Since these treatments can significantly change the properties of the fabric, it is not enough to only know fabric by the fiber and weave. Some of these treatments are temporary, so for instance if a fabric is used for a garment that will be washed often, it is also important to know if it will retain the properties exhibited at the time of purchase.
Keeping watching this space for examples of some of the more unusual things I’m learning in my research. For example…

Kalamkari [kuh-lahm-kahr-eee], also spelled Qalamkari, is a hand-painted or block-printing technique in which fabric is treated and then dyes are used to draw a design on the fabric. After the addition of each color, the fabric is washed. Quite complex designs can be created. The original term is derived from Persia and the word for pen and craftsmanship (drawing with a pen). This craft is still practiced in India, and Kalamkari fabrics can be purchased at specialty shops.

See some examples from Bhavna Bhatnagar’s fabulous blog, An Indian Summer. Learn more about the production process of kalamkari textiles at URVI Weaves & Crafts.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Where Have You Been?

Ok. I realize that I’m the one that went missing, but hey. I’m a bit amazed that more two months have passed without a single post. The truth is that I’ve been caught up in the beginning of spring here in Georgia, and writing articles about spring ephemerals on one of my other blogs – Native in the City. I’ve also been busy with new projects including lots of felting, and new adventures in filet crochet and chenille. Setting up a web store on Etsy – check it out at – to sell some pieces have rounded out the time.

Here are a few of the crocheted and felted bowls, all based around the same basic techniques described in the chair pad project.
The only real difference is that when you feel the base of the bowl is large enough and you want to start building the sides, you simply stop increasing. To create the ruffled edge on a few of the bowls shown here, start increasing again, but double or triple it up. The more you increase, the more exaggerated the ruffle.

Creating the multicolored designs was really fun. This method is sometimes called tapestry crochet, and you just carry the second color along as you crochet and switch colors whenever the mood strikes. There are many good tutorials online that show how to work with two colors. A few include Tapestry Crochet, Chrochet N More, Art of Tangle, and the crochet pages at As for the flower that adorns the top of the felted bowl cover, I found the pattern on Meilynne’s Yarngear blog.

Unlike the chair pad, which had to dry flat, bowls need to be dried around something that helps them to retain their shape. I used everything from an empty mayonnaise jar to wadded up grocery bags. The whole point here is to be creative and have fun. Some projects will turn out better than others and in the beginning nothing will turn out just the way you expected, but that can be a good thing!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Project in Crochet and Felting

All of the projects I been crocheting and felting involve crochet in the round. Even if you have never tried it, with understanding of a few basic stitches, this technique is pretty easy to master.

There are several websites with directions for how to crochet in the round; however, I initially had problems with the ones I tried. First, it seemed that I always ended up with too noticeable a hole in the center of the fabric. And second, it seemed like I ended up with a distinct hexagon rather than a circle. As a result, I have modified these other methods to achieve something that met my needs.

Learn the technique with this simple practice exercise.

ch 3, sl st in first ch to close ring. Draw up tightly.
Row 1: sc eight times in first ch (total of 8 sc). Sl st to first stich in previous round. Ch 1.
Row 2: sc twice in each sc around (total of 16 sc). Sl st to first stich in previous round. Ch 1.
Row 3: sc in first sc, sc twice in next sc around (total of 24 sc). Sl st to first stich in previous round. Ch 1.
Row 4: sc in first 2 sc, sc twice in next sc around (total of 32 sc). Sl st to first stich in previous round. Ch 1.

Note: most crochet in the round directions will tell you to continue in the manner increasing 8 stitches in every round (i.e. row 5 would direct you to sc in first 3 sc then sc twice in the 4th and so on). However, with this method of increases you always increase in the same place resulting in the hexagonal rather than rounder shape. Also, I found that for the yarn and hook I used and the tension I maintain on the yarn, the increases were too extreme resulting in what my husband laughingly called the sundial rather than a round shape that will lie flat. Instead, I recommend the following.

Row 5: sc in first 7 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 8), sc in next 4 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 13), sc in next 3 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 18), sc in next 7 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 27), sc in next 3 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 32), sc in next 3 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 37). (total of 38) sl st to first stitch in previous round. Ch 1.
Row 6: sc in first 3 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 4), sc in next 9 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 15). Sc in next 4 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 21), sc in first 4 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 26), sc in next 9 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 37), sc in next 4 sc, sc twice in next sc (stitch 43). (total of 44 sc). sl st to first stitch in previous round. Ch 1.
Row 7 and following: Continue to add six stitches per round and to shift the location of the increase around the circle so that the shape does not become too regular.

If it helps, you can imagine the circle divided into eight pieces of the pie. In each round, six slices of the pie will receive an increase, and two will not. In order to ensure that the increases are distributed evenly but without creating a distinct pattern, the increase should come in pie slice 1 and 5 in the first round, 2 and 6 in the second, 3 and 7 in the third, and so on. Also, the location of the increase within the pie can be varied.

Continue to add rounds until the desired diameter is reached. Also the use of a stitch marker to indicate the beginning/ending of a round may be helpful.

Note: I have worked these directions with single crochet and half double crochet and it works well for either. I have not worked it with longer stitches such as double or triple crochet, but anticipate that it would work much the same. You may need to play with the increases and decreases to achieve exactly the effect you want for your project.

Chair Pad

Description: a chair pad consisting of two round layers of crocheted and felted fabric. This one is made in two colors and reversible, but you could work it with any pattern or colors you prefer.

Skill level: beginner (with knowledge of basic crochet stitches and help for felting) or intermediate.

Dimensions: Finished 15 inch diameter – before felting approximately 18 inch diameter. Talk with felting experts at your local yarn shop to determine how much shrinkage you can expect from the wool you have chosen.


  • The yarn used is from the Queensland Collection at Nova, a Canadian yarn company. Specifically I used 4 skeins (50 g. or 1 ¾ oz balls at 104 yards each) Kathmandu Aran, which is a wonderful combination of merino wool (85%), silk (10%), and cashmere (5%), that felts beautifully. Here is a link to the online shade card where you can see what a fabulous array of tweedy colors is available. I used two each of colors 143 and 144.

This yarn is also available in a DK weight, and I have used it for making some of the felted bowls and flowers I mentioned. Of course, I’m lucky to have Knitch in the neighborhood, but if you don’t live close by, check out their online store.

  • I used a Boye Size K / 10 ½ - 6.40mm aluminum crochet hook – generally you want to use a hook that is one size larger than the hook that is recommended by the yarn manufacturer or pattern when crocheting fabric for felting.
  • G /6 4 ¼ mm aluminum hook for weaving in ends.
  • I used a bit of quilt batting between the two layers for a bit of extra padding, but in retrospect, I don’t believe this was necessary.
  • Yarn darner (a big darning needle with an eye large enough to accept yarn) for stitching the two rounds together. If you don’t use the batting, you could also use a tapestry needle, but with the batting you need a needle with a sharp point to pierce the bat.
  • If you are lucky – you can use the felting studio at your local yarn shop. Otherwise, a washing machine with a hot water setting and laundry soap, or a large pot, some water and a stove can be used. I even know of people who have felted by hand with water from the tap at the hottest temperature they could stand, but this is a tedious and time consuming way to felt.

Note, I completed the entire project using the single crochet stitch, but I have since decided that a half double crochet stitch would be a better choice. It is a looser stitch and therefore felts a bit better. Notice that the stitches on this pad are still quite distinct.

Follow the instructions for crocheting in the round above and make a total of 30 rounds. If you are using more than one color of yarn, try to change colors at the beginning of a new row.
Save the little bits of leftover yarn for stitching the two pieces together. Once you have achieved the desired diameter of both rounds, simply whip stitch them together around the edges.

Because I used cotton batting to fill between the layers, I also used the left over yarn and a yarn darner to “quilt” through the center of the rounds so that the batting would not sift while being washed.

Next, I placed the finished pad in my washing machine on the normal hot water cycle along with a small load of towels and a small amount of laundry soap. At the completion of the cycle, I measured the diameter of the pad and found that it had not yet shrunk up to the size I wanted, so I ran it through again.

After the spin cycle, a good bit of the water had already been extracted from the pad. Next, I placed the pad between layers of plastic wrap and weighted it with a heavy book to ensure it dried flat. After 24 hours, I removed the weight and plastic wrap and allowed it to dry flat way from sun and heat for an additional 24 hours. At the end of this time, it was ready to use.

It is up to you to decide how much of a felted (or fulled) effect you want for your project. In some cases you may just want to it be a bit fuzzy. In others, you may want to obliterate all evidence of the yarn and stitch pattern leaving a solid smooth fabric. Many factors affect your results. These include the yarn selected, the openness of the stitch (a more open stitch causes more friction during the felting process). Also, the temperature of the water, amount of agitation and length of time in the machine all contribute to the outcome.

If this is your first felting project, I recommend experimenting with a small 4 x 4 square (or round) of the yarn and stitch you plan to use. Try felting this test piece and then adjust your process accordingly.

Next time I’ll give the instructions for the felted bowls and the flowers.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A New Year a New Project, But First…

Seriously, the holidays are a wonderful time, but I’m itching to get back to sewing and writing. It seems I have been consumed with decorating the house, cooking, shopping & wrapping, attending gatherings with family and friends, and then the sad part of breaking it all down and packing it away for another year.

Somewhere in there between Thanksgiving and New Years, I did manage to complete a few projects though, and I need to tell you about them. What have I been up to? Well, mostly tatting, felting, and quilting.

Back in November, I showed you the tatted wreaths that I intended to give away as party favors at our annual holiday party. Well I ended up making wreaths, snowflakes, and icicles (a basic josephine knot with beads). These are exceptionally bad photos because you can’t see any of the detail in the tatting – I’m going to have to figure out how to do better close-ups with my digital camera soon – but they might give you an idea of what is possible for a novice tatter (me).

The felting projects include a chair pad for my office chair, some decorative bowls, and flowers (haven’t decided what to do with those yet). Tomorrow I’ll give you detailed instructions on the felted projects.

As for the quilting, the big project was the wall hanging I turned into a table topper. This dining room table is always piled high with food for our annual holiday party, and I wanted to do something special to decorate the room. As you can see, I have a glass top for this table, and normally I just place a cream colored tablecloth under the glass for the party. This year it occurred to me to us a quilt instead.

I would give you the directions for this but frankly, the design was very closely inspired by a photo on a flyer I received in the mail. I did work out the quilting math on my own to fit my table top, but still feel that I should give credit to the original designer. Unfortunately I can’t find the flyer anywhere, so have no idea who to credit. If anyone recognizes the design, please post a comment, and if you are the designer and want me to provide a link to your pattern, I will be happy to do so.

Anyway, now you know why I was making all of those placemats to practice machine quilting. The star and tree on this quilt are quilted in-the-ditch, and the light colored background is stippled.

I also made a holiday camel ornament for a friend’s party. The theme of the party was “how dry I am” since Georgia has experienced record drought in 2007. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture before I gave it to her. Imagine this guy made out of Sculpey® polymer clay (the stuff you shape and then bake in the oven) and painted gold. He's about three inches across (in your imagination silly). Then imagine a little red and green tatted blanket on his back made out of metallic thread, and a halter made of the same thread. The whole thing was then affixed inside a copper wire hoop (had to learn how to solder for that one), and hung by another hank of metallic thread looped at the top of the copper hoop.
Well that’s a quick update on what I’ve been up to. How about you? Post a comment and let us hear from you. I’m happy to answer questions, or point readers to your own website if you have something to share.