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

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Memories of Gramps

I’ve been thinking about Christmas’ past and memories from my childhood lately. It’s funny how an object can become such a token of a time and place. My Dad grew up in a wonderful rambling federal style house on a hill in the Sauquoit Valley of New York State. The place was called Wyndmoor Farm, which always sounded somehow romantic to me – like Wuthering Heights could have been written about a place with that name.
Those two ground floor windows on the left in the picture where in my Gramps’ study. It had a wonderful old cobblestone fireplace in one corner, and a huge oak roll top desk by the window. Because it was also the only room in the house with a TV, we kids spent a lot of time in there when we visited. On the chair at Gramps’ desk was a chair pad made my by Gramma Stephenson. I never gave much thought to it as a child. It was just colorful and soft and always there.
After my Grandfather died (at the ripe age of 97), my Dad and his last surviving brother took a few special mementos to keep, and I was surprised to see that he saved that chair pad. He took it home and put it on the chair in his office/den – the place he paid the bills and watched sports on TV.
In 2006, I lost both my Mom and Dad, and as we were packing things up to sell the house, I found myself drawn to that chair pad. I took a close look and realized that – ever thrifty – my grandmother had knitted that chair pad from little bits of leftover wool, and stuffed the rows with old nylons. What a great way to use up those little bits of yarn at aren’t enough to make anything; how bright and cheerful the clash of colors.
I had recently finished a Christmas ornament project – making a zillion little wet felted ornaments – and had plenty of yarn left over. I decided it would be fun to replicate the chair pad with my own leftovers. Of course, first I had to teach myself how to knit in the round. I tried circular needles, but I couldn’t get the tube small enough for my purpose. I tried the knitting spool from my childhood, and the tube was too small. Finally I bit the bullet and bought a set of five double point needles. I started. It was hard. I set it down. I picked it up. I decided I didn’t like it and ripped it out. I set it down again for a long time. Then one day this year I picked it up again because I needed a some hand work I could do while sitting in meetings, watching TV, etc. Low and behold, it was easy. In short order I had a tube that was over 200 inches long, and after some hemming and hawing about how to assemble the whole thing into a chair pad, here it is.
When I look at the original and mine side by side, I have to concede that I like Gramma’s better. Her yarn was all worsted weight and mine is fingering, so the texture is not so obvious. And, in retrospect, I don’t think she knit a tube after all. I think she used plain old knit stich turning her work at the end of each row, then seamed it when she was done. When you knit in the round, your work is never turned, so the texture is different. 
Live, love and learn. Even though Gramma has been gone since I was six years old, she still was able to teach me something about the crafts that I love. And now I have something special on my desk chair that reminds me of Gramp, Gramma and my Dad.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Room Full of Inspiration at the Georgia Quilt Show

My poor cell phone photo doesn’t do Leona Harden’s “Serengeti at Twilight” justice. But one look at the detailed machine quilting, and you begin to understand why it won best in show.

I didn’t elect to take any classes at the show, but my two hour stroll around the show floor did prove educational. Quilts where entered in three categories (bed quilts, large wall hangings, and small wall hangings), and I took pictures of a few favorites. Though I am drawn to art quilts in my own work, Some of the very traditional quilts are still inspirational, and can teach us techniques that carry into any style.
The appliqué on this traditional quilt caught my eye. Every bit of the basket, flower petals, leaves and ribbon are hand appliquéd, and I regret that I didn’t make a note of the quilter who made it.

Given my own investment in crazy quilting, I was also delighted to see that a crazy quilt won the large wall hanging prize. This offering from Dot Vaughan. It’s called “Crazy Quilt Xtraordinaire”, and makes mine look downright spare. I especially like the beadwork she has done on this piece.

I’m sometimes surprised at the things I’m drawn to. "Sun Dancer" “Sun Dancer” by Gail Eberle is, in many ways a traditional bed quilt using native American motifs. But I am really drawn to the colors and central vignette.
I really love this little girl on the beach. Beach Baby by Molly Samuels won an honorable mention from the judges. Can’t you just feel the wind whipping her hair this way and that?
And what fun to happen upon a quilt made by someone you know. Karin Husty’s “Spring Foliage” is the work of  a very talented member of the Atlanta Modern Quilt Guild, a group I have recently joined.
You can view some official quilt photos here, and a list of all winners and honorable mentions here. All in all it was a great way to spend an afternoon for someone who aspires to be a serious art quilter, and I would definitely go back when the show comes to town again. 
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Sun on the Sea

The crazy quilt I mentioned last has served as a dramatic focal point for anyone entering the house, but after two years I thought it might be time for a change.
Voila! I’ve finally finished the quilt I’m calling “Sun on the Sea”. I know it’s totally pretentious to name my quilts but it helps with the illusion that I’m and artist.
I am a huge fan of embellishment, which is a way to add layers of detail to a piece. For this quilt I combined traditional quilt piecing and stippling (more about that here), with appliqué, thread painting, and embroidery.
The body of the quilt is composed of two by two inch squares (1½ x 1 ½ finished) of Kona Cottons solids by Robert Kaufman Fabrics. Though I bought larger pieces, something like the Classic Kona Cotton Solids Charm Pack - Robert Kaufman Fabrics would work well for a project like this. The entire background area is stippled and varies from dark turquoise and green “sea water” at the bottom to blue “sky” and light fluffy clouds at the top. Overlaid on this background is a large sun appliqué composed of a round center and sixteen rays. In addition I used thread painting techniques to add additional rays and then outlined and bisected some of the rays with stem stitch embroidery.
This project was a learning process for me, especially in the area of thread painting, a technique I’m just beginning to learn. I learned that thread painting and embroidery needs to be done on the quilt top prior to layering with batting and backing. And, if possible, the work should be done on small pieces that are joined later. Thread painting on a full or queen sized quilt top involves manipulating a large and heavy piece of fabric which can be quite a challenge.
This quilt make no less a dramatic statement than my crazy quilt did for those entering our home. Don’t expect this one to stay up here for two years though. I have a spare bedroom that is calling for this quilt on the bed, and ideas for a dozen more quilts in my head.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Crazy About Quilts

For the past couple of years I’ve had my crazy quilt (a tribute to the needlecraft of the women in my family), hanging in my living room. Growing up I was fascinated by a crazy quilt my mother had. It had belonged to her mother, and was composed of several sections; perhaps one was made by each woman in the family and these were assembled into a bed sized quilt. Such a quilt would have been made as a wedding gift or trousseau piece and intended for display in a parlor. If made for my grandmother, that would date it to the turn of the century, though I don’t know for sure how she came to have it. offers an interesting article on how this style of quilting caught on in this country during the Victorian era.
Though I knew I would someday end up with my grandmother’s quilt, but it was already too fragile to display, so I thought to reproduce it. Not long before my mother died I visited her and took pictures of her quilt and began planning my project.  I bought bundles of fabric on E-bay, cut up old clothing and purchased more new fabric too.
My quilt, pictured here sharing the room with our Christmas tree, is composed of sixteen squares. Each sixteen inch square is a traditional crazy patchwork with embroidered seams. 
In the center of each square is a black silk velvet patch with an embroidered vignette. Several of these are replicas of embroidered motifs on my grandmother’s quilt. The others are just images that appealed to me. 
In the center of the quilt I embroidered a thistle and a harp. These are the national symbols of Scotland and Ireland respectively, the two predominant nationalities in my somewhat mongrel ancestry.
The finished quilt is 82 x 82 inches, and made of silk satins, dupoini, and velvets. The backing is plain cotton. Each of the crazy quilt squares is worked onto medium weight muslin. Given the weight of the fabric and stitching, and the fact that the piece was intended more for show than use, I skipped batting. Still this is the heaviest quilt I’ve ever made.
With all the handwork (every stitch and decoration in the quilt was done by hand), it took me more than two years to finish. Sadly my mother never did see it, but I think she would have approved. In addition to everything else she taught me, she gave me my first lessons in embroidery back in the late 60s. Back then I employed this knowledge to embellish blue jeans and army surplus jackets. I think she might find this quilt a more fitting use of my “womanly skills”.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I have Issues!

A whole month has passed without a post. I have been busy working on that dratted quilt but I've had some issues. I decided to do quite a lot of thread painting around the sun appliqué.
Thread painting is a technique, typically applied to a quilt top (or other work) before batting and backing are added. Basically one uses different colors and shades of thread to create a design or image on the piece. Some can be quite detailed, and to achieve these effects, most crafters will want to use free motion quilting. However, I just wanted to create some additional rays of sun that were more subtle than the ones rendered in fabric. As a result, I used my trusty 1950's straight stitch Singer set on the longest stitch and about a dozen different colors of Gutermann thread. Gutermann is expensive by comparison to something like Coats & Clark, but for a project like this, it's well worth it to me. I find it is much less likely to break and split. I also chose all cotton thread because all of the other components of the quilt are cotton. Did you know that polyester thread can saw away at the cotton fibers in a quilt causing them to break down and tear? That's why even quilter's polyester threads are usually cotton wrapped poly.  Anyway I'm honestly quite happy with the result so far.
My next decision was to stipple virtually everything else on the quilt. What was I thinking? Stippling is a technique of free motion quilting that is generally used for background areas. Because the stitching is very dense and close together, it tends to make those sections lie flat and recede, while other areas are more puffed up and noticeable. However, I decided that along with this quilt being a blend of many different small blocks of fabric from different shades of the same color families, I would continue this impressionistic approach and use different shades of threads to blend one area into another.
I might have underestimated just a tad on the amount of labor I was letting myself in for. I've quilted on this project for many hours over the past two weeks and I still have about a third of the quilt to go. Not only that, I ran into a real snag with my stippling technique.
Basically stippling is like meander except that the lines are never supposed to cross and the stitching lines are much closer together - typically 1/4 inch or less. Well I went great guns for several hours a day for several days and all of a sudden the machine started skipping stitches.
What was wrong with my machine? Believe me I was deep into the inner workings of my machine - completely dismantled the tension assembly and put it back together - before I decided that the problem was me. Just like with knitting and crochet, the tension of the quilter will have an effect on the quilt. Nothing had changed with the machine - same tension, settings, bobbin and top thread, etc. But from one day to the next, I was more tense. As a result my motions moving the quilt under the free motion darning foot were faster and more jerky. What you want is slow, and smooth with nice little tight loops. Once I figured that out, I decided to set the project aside for a few days and work on something else. Next up I'll post about the project I used to relax and put me back in the mood to quilt. And hopefully by then I'll be closer to a finished quilt too.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Little Pieces: A Song by Gomez, and My Quilt

I was listening to this song today and it made me think of the current quilt project.

Part of the lyric for the Gomez song Little Pieces
Though you try your best you never find
There are pieces that are left behind
Last piece of the jigsaw
While the others are scattered across the floor
So you try to get them all up
There are pieces falling in the dust
That’s the way this one has felt for many days, but I am finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Today I finally reduced over 3000 two by two inch squares into 195 six inch blocks.

Now to scatter them on the floor, much like a jigsaw, and figure out just how they should go together.
That’s a pretty bad photo with the sun spot causing glare, but you get the idea.
If you remember, my vision looked something like this. I think it shaping up, but really it’s still to early to tell. How will it all end?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Working with Stablizers: The Embroidered Gauze Shawl Revisited

Remember the gauze shawl I was nattering on about back at the beginning of May? Well I finished it a couple of weeks ago. Of course now it is far too warm in Atlanta to even think about a shawl, but it will be ready for fall. Wish I had a pretty model to help with the photos - or even a dress form for that matter, but alas, I don't.
I did end up sewing two pieces of fabric together to cover all the ugly knots, and to keep from catching threads on rings and things. And, since the fabric has a really nice ravely selvage, I decided to leave the piece with a raveled edge all the way around, which gives it a really soft look.
As I mentioned in the earlier post about this project, when working with something as flimsy as gauze, stabilizer is essential. There are three basic stabilizer types for embroidery. First there are sheets of paper-like fabric that is intended to be torn away from the stitching after the project is complete. I decided this would be a problem since the tearing with such a lightweight fabric and delicate stitching could stretch everything out of shape.
The other two alternatives are a water soluble roll of fabric that is layered on the back of the piece and washes away by soaking in water or machine washing, and a spray-on type of stabilizer that also washes out after the piece is finished. I decided to try both – one on each end of the shawl. For the spray on I used PerfectSew liquid wash-away stabilizer, and used Sulky water soluble roll stabilizer on the other. My conclusion is that I far prefer the liquid spray on product. The Sulky roll does stabilize well enough, but if you aren’t very careful it will bunch up and shift around. With PerfectSew you simply spray it on to saturate the fabric then wait for it to dry. You can accelerate drying time with a blow dryer. Once you iron it with a dry iron to remove the last bits of moisture, you are set with a stiff piece of fabric ready for the hoop.
The particular fabric I used is called bubble gauze, which means that it has been treated to shrink up and be really crinkly when washed. However, the washing did some interesting things to the stitching. Since the fabric shrank up and the thread didn’t, what was a tight row of stitches is now quite loose and a bit loopy. I’ve decided I like it, but let me know what you think.
Next up? I have a beautiful piece of red bubble gauze. I think I’ll try some machine embellishment on that. Metallic thread would make something pretty for the holidays.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Snap with Scraps

Everywhere I look lately I see cute coffee coozies selling for $8 to $12 each. Whether made of yarn or fabric, reusable coffee coozies are a great way to save a tree. Instead of grabbing a cardboard holder when you run through your favorite coffee shop in the morning, just slip your cup into a cute handmade and reusable cover.
But would I pay $8 for one? In typical “I can make that” mode, I decided to experiment.
First I snagged one of the cardboard coozies and pulled it apart to get the dimensions and shape I needed.

Then I traced the cardboard piece and added a ½ inch seam allowance.

Next I found a scrap of fabric – literally a piece that is 12 inches wide by 10 inches tall will do, so stop throwing away scraps. I laid out my pattern piece on this scrap and cut out two of the pattern. I found a scrap of batting and cut out one pattern piece in the batting. I used Insul-bright, a batting with an insulating layer sandwiched inside. However, any batting you have on hand will provide sufficient insulation to keep your hand from becoming uncomfortable from the warm cup.
To assemble the coozie, I layered the two fabric pieces with right sides together and added the batting on the bottom. Sewing all the way around on the seam allowance, I left an opening to turn the piece right side out. After stitching I clipped the seam, turned it right side out, and pressed and turned in the seam allowance at the opening. The opening was closed with a bit of fabric glue. I used fabri-tac but any fabric adhesive will do. Then I top stitched around the margins ¼ inch from the edge and finally folded the piece as shown in the original cardboard templar.

To secure the edges, I just tacked it in two places on the machine.
Start to finish this project took less than 30 minutes, and cost me nothing. Now I can think of lots of modifications. You could close the coozy with Velcro or a button. You could even make it reversible with different fabrics on each side – especially helpful if the scraps of fabric you have saved are even smaller. You could even make a patchwork coozy. Just piece together small squares of the scraps you have saved until you have a piece large enough to cut out the pattern.
Not sure you want to go to the trouble to make your own pattern; you can download a pattern with detailed directions and a pattern piece you can print out at my shop on

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coffee Buzz...

Today I was supposed to give a friend a sewing lesson. She had a baby a few weeks ago and to save her sanity and for my enjoyment we get together (with him) every Wednesday for lunch and something. A few weeks ago we checked out a new fabric store called Whipstitch. We saw some really cute fabric from the Coffee Buzz collection by Kathy Hall for Andover, the American (North and South) division of Makower, UK, ltd. Wouldn’t this fabric make really cute napkins?
Another project is born, this one for my friend to practice her cutting, pressing and hemming skills. We planned to work on them last week, but then she remembered an appointment, and it was Cinco de Mayo so there was a margarita with lunch, and then somehow it was just too late to get back to the studio.
So this week we decided that she would come straight to the house with lunch in tow and we would make them up. No problem. But the fabric still needed to be washed, and the baby was fussy, then hungry, then napping on mom’s chest in his cute little carrier. And we had so much to talk about over ice tea. So here we are again with the afternoon pleasurably spent but no sewing done. Next week for sure…

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

That Quilt I’ve Been Meaning to Make

For several years I’ve been noodling on a quilt idea for my spare bedroom. It was born out of a project I took on way back in 2006. A friend was opening a yarn shop and asked me to design and make some unique project bags for her to sell. I came up with several prototypes. One of the ones that I didn’t follow through on has a quilted front and back. When I was auditioning fabrics, I bought ½ yards of several shades of blue, aqua and teal. When I saw the pile of scraps, I thought they would make an interesting sort of variegated quilt top. But I did move forward with another bag design, and so for the next six months or so I was busy making project bags, and matching accessory bags. The fabric sat in the bottom of a chest, nearly forgotten, while I kept buying new fabric for new ideas.
In 2007, I bought a bunch of yellow fat quarters for the star on a Christmas wall hanging. Of course I couldn’t be content with just two colors; I bought eight different fabrics and again was left with a pile of remnants. About this time I started thinking about that pile of blue scraps as sky colors, and these yellow as sun colors. Now this idea was really starting to take shape.
I decided I didn’t want a regular pattern to the quilt; I was going to go for something more abstract – dare I say even cubist. So I started cutting those blue scraps into 2 x 2 inch squares. Now a 2 x 2 inch square yields a 1½ x 1½ inch block once joined with all those other squares. I calculated I would need about 2,000 of those little babies to make a full size quilt. Low and behold I didn’t have enough material, so I went to one of my favorite online fabric websites, and ordered about a dozen more ½ yards in assorted colors. When they arrived I eagerly cut them into tiny little bits. Then reality set it. I was going to have to sew all those tiny little bits together. It was going to take days and days. It made me so tired just to think about it that I stuffed all those little pieces into some of those plastic baggies that all crafters can’t see to do without, piled the lot into a lovely project bag and forgot about it.
Time passes. About a month ago I realized I was spending an awful lot of time working with yarn and sewing for other folks, but not doing much of the sewing I wanted to do for myself. Maybe it was time to pull out some of those quilt projects I had designed and cut out but not assembled. Yes, I actually have several of these projects sitting around. First on the list is that spare room quilt. I’m not much of a computer sketch artist, but I’m hoping it will end up looking something like this. For those that care about such things, the quilt will be 13 blocks wide and 15 blocks long. Each block will be comprised of 16 of those little 1½ by 1½ squares. That’s a finished quilt top that is 78 x 90 inches – perfect for a full size bed. And yes, that is 3,120 tiny little squares. Sigh… I have started. I have ten of the 195 six inch blocks completely. Wish me luck won’t you?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Doing What You Should Do and Doing What You Want To Do

Yesterday I did what I should do. I wrote up a pattern, published it on, promoted it on Facebook, twitter and this blog, blah, blah, blah. It’s the price of underwriting my hobbies by selling patterns. Of course I also did the laundry, washed dishes, cooked dinner, and walked the dog. These are the things I have to do. Somewhere in there though I found a little time to do something I wanted to do.
I’ve had an idea for a lightweight gauze shawl or scarf rattling around in my head for months. I even bought gauze in a couple of different colors. My idea was to somehow embellish the scarves with thread painting or embroidery. Then a funny thing happened.
I was shopping online for an outfit to wear to a wedding. One outfit had a recommended wrap to go with it. I didn’t examine it too closely, but it was navy and appeared to have some sort of design on both ends. I ordered it and to my surprise, when it arrived it was navy gauze with same color embroidery designs. Hmmm.
I know. It’s a terrible picture, but hopefully you get an idea of what it looked like. Of course the outfit didn’t fit and I ended up wearing something else to the wedding, but after that shawl went back in the mail, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would do something similar but unique.
So I prepped one of the gauze pieces. First I washed it and thankfully I washed it separately and in cool water because the color ran like mad. After it was dried and pressed, I split the piece lengthwise and sewed it end to end to make one long piece (about 72 inches by 26 wide) and hand hemmed it.
Next I sat down with a sketch pad and started to draw design ideas. This is the rough design I came up with
It’s not a great image because my scanner isn’t at big as the sketchpad I was using, but you get the idea. The solid dots were to be French knots and the open dots would be beads. I even had some beads that I thought might work.
Initially I just used a large embroidery hoop and started stitching, but it soon became apparent that, gauze is almost as stretchy as jersey knit.
So I ripped all of that out and started over with some Sulky water soluble stabilizer backing it up. Oh, and I always split a 6 strand embroidery thread in two and work with three stands at a time. It makes a more delicate design and is easier to get through the eye of the needle, but some might object. At any rate, yesterday afternoon I finally found a couple of hours to sit down and work on the embroidery, and here is what I have so far.
Like many occasional embroiders, I’m a knotter. I have never mastered the art of making the back look as good as the front, and my stitches aren’t nearly small enough, and, and…. Anyway, because this fabric is so light, I expect I will sew two pieces back to back to cover the mess, but who knows when I will get around to that? Now I’m off to order flowers for the Mother-in-law. Something I know I should do.