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, November 25, 2012

It's Good to be Home

It's Sunday and we arrived home from a Thanksgiving visit with family in Southern Illinois last evening. As I sat catching up on email, I took a break for a quick visit to my friend Susan's blog The Spice Garden to see what she and her family were up to. That set me to smiling about our own feast and the quirky spin that combining a large family with crafty hobbies brings about. Yes that groaning board is set up on two vintage treadle sewing machines. Never mind that these are just the two prettiest ones kept in the living room for show. The real workhorses, longarm,  and featherweights are elsewhere.
There is so much in this picture that makes me smile and remember a story. Take the stone you can see in the background. It was hauled all the way from Arkansas, where my husband's family has roots. It forms the core of the house with fireplaces on the ground and basement level (quilt studio) in this home his aunt and uncle built on their farm in the 1960s.
On the far wall there is a crazy quilt hanging on a quilt hanger fashioned from an old headboard. This same aunt is the one who I credit (blame?) from getting me back to the sewing machine and invested in quilting. At first I was just going to make one crazy quilt, but I don't think that one was even finished before I had ideas for a dozen more.
Seven years later I have made more quilting projects than I can count and actually made a bit of cash selling patterns for my designs.
Did I mention that we stopped in Paducah, KY on our way to Illinois so that I could visit the National Quilt Museum? I was blown away by the current traveling exhibit from the Manhattan Quilters Guild, "Material Witness". More ideas for more quilts.
Perhaps the best part of the trip is that I had the chance to help Pat get started on a knitting project. She has been wanting to learn to knit for some time and I've bought her books and often said I would help her, but somehow we've never found the time. This year we made the time on Friday afternoon to sit quietly in the kitchen - well as quiet as that kitchen ever is with people and dogs wandering in and out all needing something. Before I left she had completed several rows and I'm optimistic that she is really getting the hang of it. Can't wait to see the finished product and to know that I've finally been able to give back a bit of craftiness to one of the women who set me on this journey as a quilt maker and fiber artist.
It really was a wonderful trip. But now I'm taking stock of all the projects waiting for me in the studio and itching to get back at it. There are ornaments to be made for the annual holiday party, gifts too, and a holiday themed quilt that really must be done quickly. Busy, busy, busy. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, food and at least a bit of craft.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Is it Fall Yet?

Having grown up in Northern New York State, I still expect cool weather and turning leaves to arrive in September.  Here we are days before Halloween in Atlanta and the maple in the front yard is finally starting to turn. I even had to turn the heat on for an hour this morning to take the chill off the house. Two days ago I was still wearing shorts and sandals, but I know that fall is here because the Bottle Gentian Gentiana andrewsii is blooming.
As are the New York Asters Symphyotrichum novi-belgii
And the Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus quincquefolia that rambles over the fence is turning such a lovely shade of red.
Just never mind that the Plumbago Plumbago auriculata still thinks it’s July.

Despite all those green leaves out there, in two days munchkins will be ringing the door bell and I’ll be wishing I could still eat enough candy to make me sick without gaining an ounce. In anticipation of the fall colors that will eventually come to the maple tree and the pumpkins pies that will be topped with real whipped cream (no cool whip in this house), I made this simple table topper.

Want to make one too? It’s pretty easy. I had about a yard of a fall themed focus print fabric that a family member had left over from another project.
From this  I cut a rectangle that was the size of the repeat with an extra ¼ inch on all sides – in this case the repeat was 12 by 12 inches, but yours might be smaller or larger.

Next I dug through my stash and pulled out a variety of solid and small print fabrics that echoed the colors in the focus print. With these I started building up borders. In addition to the solid black and white borders, I cut the assorted fabrics into three inch by the width of fabric (WOF) strips. These were sewed together and then subcut into more border strips. I cut four corner squares from the focus print, picking out details (in this case leaves and sunflowers) and assembled all of these in a design that was pleasing o me. I love improvisational projects like this, figuring it out as I go. Don't you?
Oh, and while I was at it, I made this…

to hold a nice bottle of cognac for a friend. Sidecar anyone?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Everyone Needs Real Cloth Napkins

I’m sure there are good reasons for using paper napkins. Small children eating spaghetti comes to mind. But don’t we all deserve the touch of real cloth once in awhile? Over the past couple of years I’ve made many sets of napkins for my own home and for others. Some are full size dinner napkins, which are easy to make from standard quilters cotton – four to the yard with a bit left over for another project.
I  have napkins to match my everyday placemats.
Friends and Family have napkins to match the insulated table runners I’ve made for them.
I made some holiday napkins to go with a wall hanging… fa la la.
And napkins just because this Kaffe Fassett fabric washes up so soft and the colors are so warm that it seemed to want to be at the table.
And then there are the cocktail napkins - so handy when friends drop in for snacks.
Finished with either a hand sewn whip stitch, or a straight stitch on the machine this is a quick and easy project, and the more you wash them, the softer and more absorbent they become. Depending on how much your chosen fabric shrinks up, you can get 4 large dinner napkins (roughly 16 inches square after hemming) or 12 cocktail (about 9 inches square after hemming) from one yard of fabric. Best of all you won't need a pattern. Just wash and dry your fabric, square up the edges and subcut into equal squares. Press and stitch 1/4 inch hems (doubled over so you loose 1/2 inch on each side). If you want to be fancy you can even make neat little miters at each corner. Voila, a quick hostess gift or a practical item that you can use for years.
What’s that you say? Do I iron them? Nope. Oh maybe if extra special company was coming... like the queen. For friends and neighbors I always think guests are more comfortable if it doesn’t look like you fussed. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

More Iron-on Vinyl Questions

Over the holiday weekend I had a question from a visitor to my blog. She was reading my post about working with iron-on vinyl and wrote:
I am wondering if there is a way you can make bigger projects, like an adult full apron, by bumping 2 pieces of the iron on vinyl up against each other on the fabric in order to have a wider section covered. Will this work? Should it be slightly overlapped? Or is it, sadly, only for smaller width projects?
Unfortunately the iron-on vinyl made by Therm-o-web only comes in 17 inch widths. That’s very limiting, so my reader posed a great question. It was one I didn’t have the answer to, so this morning I headed to the studio for a bit of experimentation. Since I didn’t plan to do anything with these samples other than test the idea of applying multiple pieces of vinyl, I cut two small scraps of fabric left over from another project.
I also cut out two scraps of Therm-o-web for each test, two to match up side-by-side, and two to overlap. I really expected the side-by-side to be challenging – lining up to pieces of material with a sticky side and positioning them perfectly always it. However I expected this method to work better than the overlap.
Well I was in for a surprise. As expected the side-by-side sample doesn’t look very good. The edges seem to want to pull away from each other and it just doesn’t provide the waterproof seal that using this technique is all about. Put this bib on the baby and the berry juice would soak right through that crack.
On the other hand, the overlap worked much better than expected. You may be able to just barely see one line of the overlap running through the heel of the skate, but the two pieces of vinyl fused not only to the fabric, but to each other providing a really strong bond. If you look closely in good light you can see the join, and you can feel the slightest bump when you run your finger over it, but I really do think this is a workable solution for using this product for larger projects. Just overlap by to a ¼ of an inch.
One other thing this test demonstrates is how easy it is to get unwanted hair, lint, and thread under the vinyl. Take good care to be sure that your fabric is completely free of anything you don’t want between it and the vinyl because once the sticky side touches the fabric it is very difficult to lift it and remove these items. After it has been bonded, it’s impossible.
What will I do with these samples? I think I'll cut out the skates, snowshoes, etc. and turn them into cute little holiday gift tags. Waste not and all that...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On the Road Again!

It's that time of year and we will soon be heading off to the beach for a week of sun, fishing, and dog play. While busily planning what to pack, dithering about a new swim suit and whether the cover-up covers enough, and the other minutia of vacation prep, I have also planned a good road trip project. Several years ago I became enamored with the idea of non-traditional yarn. First I tried making yarn with grocery store plastic bags. A couple of years later I made a cute bag with fabric scraps and included the instructions for making fabric yarn. This year I'm attacking the fabric scrap box to make rag rug style chair pads.
It couldn't be simpler. First follow the link above to make your yarn. What a great feeling that is for a Yankee-at-heart girl like me to use up all those scraps.
Now select a really large crochet hook. I used my US N/9.00 mm aluminum hook from Boye. Because the quilter's cotton fabric I used tends to be a bit sticky, the slippery aluminum works quite well. A Bamboo hook might offer a bit too much resistance for smooth crocheting.
If you don't remember your crochet in the round technique, take a refresher here. You may have to play with the increases a bit to make sure the pad lies flat. In this first sample I made ten stitches in my first round, doubled each stitch on the 2nd round, doubled every other stitch on the 3rd, ever third stitch on the 4th, etc. And if you find yourself running out of yarn before the chair pad is large enough, don't worry. Just add more strips of fabric as you go along.
A perfect "on the road" project. All you need is a bag of scraps, a crochet hook and a pair of scissors. Enjoy

Monday, April 9, 2012

Holy Hexagon Bat Girl!

Over the Christmas Holiday Craftsy started promoting a class by Amy Gibson titled " The Craftsy Block of the Month ". Now honestly this type of project has never appealed all that much to me. I'm not one for following other people's patterns as I like to make up my own. But, I saw that she was going to teach a couple of techniques I had yet to try and the class is free, so I signed up. We made several fun blocks in the first three months, but one of the techniques I was itching to try was English Paper Piecing.
April is the month and the designs Amy chose where all about hexagons. Now usually I knock out the blocks for the month within a days or two of the class module being published, but despite the apparent complexity of the blocks for January, February and Mark shown here, they are really quick and easy to put together using the machine and a rotary cutter. This month was an exception.
If you are familiar with the technique you know that one of the reasons quilters love English Paper Piecing is that all of the work is done by hand which means it's a great take along project for long car rides and peaceful vacations on the beach. If you are familiar with the technique you also know that one of the reasons quilters hate English Paper Piecing is that... all of the work is done by hand.

The two patterns that Amy designed (Hexi Stripe and Sunny with a Chance of Hex - my versions shown at left) were fairly straight forward with good sized hexagons. The sun is a 2 inch hexagon (measured as 2 inches at each side rather than the overall width and height dimensions of the shape) and the hexagons for the stripe are 1 1/2 inches. OK those little sunbeams are made up of 3/4 inch hexagons, but even those weren't bad.
I did discover one time saver. Through a little trail and error I found that if you cut a piece of freezer to size you can run it through your inkjet printer to make multiple of the paper hexagons much more easily than tracing them onto computer paper. After that it's a fairly mindless task of affixing the paper to a scrap of fabric, basting the fabric around the shape to hide all the raw edges, joining the hexagon's together, removing the basting stitches and paper pieces, and then hand stitching the designs onto your background fabric. That took a fair number of hours in front of the TV. But that wasn't so bad either. The real problem started when Amy challenged us all to use the technique to design our own blocks.

Now I have been working with a palette of holiday colored (though not necessarily holiday themed) prints so it seemed natural to design a Christmas Tree and some Snowflakes. The problem came in when I realized that I needed to make the shapes really small in order to get a clear enough representation. I ended up making them about 1/2 inch to a side and sister I made a lot of them - nineteen for each snowflake, and of course you have to have two so that the one won't look lonesome. For the Christmas tree I made 48 of those little beasties. Whine, whine, ouch, ouch. Why haven't I ever learned to be comfortable with a thimble when hand sewing.
For all the complaining though, I have to admit that I like the way they turned out. And this quilt is sure going to be colorful. Can't wait to see what comes next.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Guernsey Scarf Update

Remember this scarf? More than a year later I finally wrote up the pattern, so even though I said in my last post that it was the last blast for winter, here is just one more winter weight scarf pattern. Find it on If you are looking for an excuse to learn some fancy post stitches, this is a great project for that. Think of it as a sampler where you will learn to crochet three different post stitch patterns - parallel posts, tall cables, and steps.
Now I'm off to work on the pattern for something lightweight and lacy for spring. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

One Last Blast for Winter!

With the temperature predicted to clime to 80 today here in Atlanta, I must be mad to be writing up a pattern for a wool scarf. I guess sometimes I just like to be contrary. The truth is, I finished this scarf at Christmas time, but it was such a simple pattern, it hardly seemed worth writing up. Today though, as I was packing up some of my winter accessories it occurred to me that some of my readers up north are still hearing the wind howl around the corner of the house and watching snow fly by the window. So for all of you, I've written up the pattern and posted it for free on, and here. If not this spring, perhaps in the fall you will decide to pull out the hook and have a go. Enjoy!

Chunky Ribbed Scarf Pattern

Project Specifications


Looking for an easy crocheted scarf for beginners? This one couldn’t be simpler.  The whole scarf is made with back loop single crochet and works up in a few hours. Chunky yarn and a large hook size are part of the magic. Best of all, this scarf is extra long so you can wrap it around and around to keep you warm and look fashionable.
Skill Level:
Beginners will learn single crochet stitch and to crochet in back loops.
Finished Dimensions:
Scarf is approximately 5 inches wide and 96 inches long.


13 stitches and 15 rows – 4 x 4 swatch



3 skeins KnitPicks[1] Wool of the Andes Bulky (100 grams, 137 yards, bulky weight). This is a 100% Peruvian Highland Wool yarn that can be hand washed and dried flat. The color I used was Vinca.
If unavailable, any bulky weight soft wool yarn will do. On the yarn label look for yarn that calls for size 10-11 knitting needles[2] However, substitution will make checking your gauge even more critical. To achieve the desired dimensions, you may need to go up or down a hook size, and add or decrease the number of stitches and rows to achieve the finished dimensions of the pattern.


Crochet hook US size K/10.5 (6.50 mm)

Abbreviations and symbols used in this pattern[3]

bl – back loop
ch – chain
chs – chains
fl – front loop
lps - loops
sc – single crochet
st(s) – stitch(es)
tch – turning chain
yo – yarn over
*__ * repeat directions following * as many times as indicated

Special Stitches

The single crochet stitch is quite straightforward. With a foundation chain started, turn back and insert the hook into the 2nd stitch from the hook. Yarn over from back to front (that is, take the ball yarn and bring it from back to front over the hook) and pull that loop through the chain. You now have two loops on the hook. Yarn over again and draw that loop through the other two loops on your hook. This completes the stitch. When you come to the end of a row, you will turn your work, chain one for height and insert your hook into the first single crochet stitch in the row below, continuing in this manner across the row. 
The back loop single crochet is worked in exactly the same manner with the exception that the stitch is worked in the only the back loop of the stitch below leaving the front loop untouched. As you work back and forth in successive rows, this use of the back loop only will create the ribbed texture of this scarf.

Crochet Directions

Chain 301, turn.
Row 1: sc in 2nd loop from chain, sc across, turn.
Row 2: *chain 1, sc in bl of first sc. sc in bl across, turn.*
Row 3 - 19: repeat * to *
Fasten off and weave in ends.


Generally I would recommend blocking your finished crochet project. However, due to the texture and weight of this scarf, I didn’t find any blocking necessary. If you do find the corners curling a bit and want to block the scarf, try this method. Heat a steam iron to the highest temperature. When it is warm enough to make abundant steam, lay the scarf out flat on your ironing board. Pass the iron a couple of inches above the scarf being careful not to actually touch the fabric. The steam should help to set the shape of the scarf and eliminate curling. Allow the scarf to cool before handling. Also, I generally store hand crocheted scarves loosely doubled and then hung over the rod of a sturdy coat hanger (wood, aluminum, plastic) rather than stuffing it into a drawer or hanging it on a hook. This keeps the weight of the scarf from stretching it too much and helps the scarf to retain its shape

[1] KnitPicks is an online store which can be found at
[2] This will correspond to a US size K or M crochet hook, but recommended crochet hook sizes are rarely noted on yarn labels.
[3] This pattern is written in American terminology. For British users, treat single crochet as a double crochet.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Craftsy Patterns has launched and I have already sold two patterns this morning. What a great way to start the day!
Now back to the salt mines of pattern writing. Arrgh. Love to design; like to make up the samples and photograph them; not so thrilled about writing up the patterns. Today I'm working on the pattern for a crocheted set of hand warmers and a matching cowl or neck warmer. The set is all done up with cute post stitch cables and columns. Pay no attention to the model in the picture. We are going to be working on that before we go to print. In the meantime, go have a look at all of the patterns on Craftsy, or just check out my store!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Celebrating the Online Craft Community

Have you heard about Craftsy? I discovered it a few months ago and it has quickly become my favorite destination on the internet for all things craft. Don't get me wrong. Ravelry is great if you are a knitter or a crocheter, and Sew What's New isn't bad if you like to sew. I love Etsy for selling craft patterns and finding other interesting designers and their products. There are all kinds of online magazines (Crochet! Magazine, and  Quilting Arts)  and their spin-offs like sew daily. Though some of these last are little more than online storefronts for selling their books, magazines, patterns and tools.
Craftsy is something different. It's an extraordinary online learning platform for all types of craft including needle arts like knitting, crochet and quilting as well as food crafts, gardening, paper crafts, jewelry making and more. They offer very reasonably priced online classes in all of these areas, and after taking a class myself (I tried Machine Quilting with Wendy Butler Berns) I have to say it's a great way to learn something new. You can complete the class at your own pace in your own home - no lugging a sewing machine to the craft store. And you can go back to the class for a refresher as often and for as long as you like. Once you purchase access, it's yours forever. 
Members can also post photos and descriptions of projects which is an endless source of inspiration. There are even some free classes, like the Craftsy Block of the Month project being led by Amy Gibson. But enough of the commercial.
Aurora Coffee - Virginia Highland
The best thing Craftsy did was to organize a worldwide Craftsy meetup party. Last Thursday crafters from all over the world met at local destinations and forged new friendships - not online but in person. Eight people signed up for the gathering I set up at a local coffee shop and despite torrential rain and a bad parking situation, all but one made it. What fun. We had knitters, crocheters, sewing enthusiasts and quilters, even a jewelry maker. Several of us were interested in more than one craft which made for a lively "show and tell". We each brought either a current project or something we have made that we are especially proud of. I fully intended to take lots of pictures, but I was so engrossed in our conversation that I completely forgot! You will just have to imagine a big group of women gathered around that farm table. We were having so much fun we even enticed a young women who was in the coffee shop studying for grad school to join us! Hopefully this is just the start of new friendships and craft sharing!

Felted Wool and Fabric Project Bag with Matching Accessories
What could be better? Funny you should ask. Very soon Craftsy will also open an online pattern store where member designers can sell their patterns. And in the spirit of true community, Crafty is not accepting a dime. All sales of patterns go straight to the designer. I can't wait! So check it out and let me know what you think. Have a favorite online craft community you want to share? Post a comment and I will check it out!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What a Busy Month It's Been

Finally a chance to catch my breath. Yesterday I even found time to have lunch with a girlfriend -- I had the Cubanito at Super Pan and those that live in Atlanta know why Top Chef, Hector Santiago's sandwich shop is worth writing about -- but I digress.
I've also been quite busy with a new undertaking. I've decided to offer private lessons in crochet. I thought initially to just offer a one-on-one "learn to crochet in two hours" class, and set about putting that together. It turned out to be a more challenging task than I expected. How to limit class to just those very fundamental skills the student must master to go away and make a simple dishcloth or scarf is not easy. But I persevered and came up with a lesson plan that I thought would work.
Now to find some students. While hopscotching around the internet one day I stumbled on a new web service called Betterfly. Though the service is still in beta (that means test mode for non-techies), it is already a fantastic tool for people with expertise to connect with students who want to learn. I listed my "learn to crochet" session, made an announcement on Facebook and my neighborhood electronic message board, and within days had two students. One was a true beginner and the second wanted to book a lesson to address specific problems she was having and learn some new stitches. I now have several private session options set up and after teaching my first two classes, I'm sure I am going to really enjoy this new way of sharing with other crafters.

In between prepping, promoting and teaching classes I have found time for a few quilting projects as well. I'm working away at the hand quilting for this zoo themed baby quilt or play mat. It's hard to tell from this photo, but I'm trying lots of tight echo quilting around the animals so that, when it is washed, they will really pop up. I also used some chocolate brown for borders - partly to make it a bit larger, but mostly to give the quilt a nice soft cuddly edge. The fabric is from the Wild Friends collection by Leslie Grainger for Robert Kaufman. Here's a link to a free pattern from Robert Kaufman which uses the same center panel.

And I've pieced this simple "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" throw (fabric also from Robert Kaufman). I'm not sure if I should admit that it is late for 2011, or just pretend I am way ahead for 2012. But since I'm still pondering how I want to quilt this one (machine or hand; all over design or customized for each vignette) I guess I should go with the latter. Would love to hear quilting suggestions from my quilty friends out there.
Now back to the studio. As much as I might try to convince you that spending time in the studio is hard work, I just can't. I love my job!