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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Selvage Talk

I’m working on ideas for that wall hanging made of selvage strips. Something long and narrow to hang in this space,
Because, really, that painting that I got talked into buying at one of those art-by-the-yard house parties doesn’t do anything for me.
I can’t decide if I want to try for a conscious color scheme or just make it a jumble. Here are a few of the combinations I’m auditioning

The orangy, yellow, brown, red pile in the background probably works best in that space to compliment glimpses of adjacent rooms. It will hang in a hallway. But I’m so drawn to blues, limey greens and aqua lately. I might just have to make both.
This leads me to a question for my quilting friends. Someone asked me the other day if I sell my quilts or if I have a warehouse someplace. He obviously thinks I’m far more prolific than I really am, but still it’s a fair question.
I have to make at least one example of everything I design just to have pictures for the pattern. Some are destined to be gifts for family and friends.

Some we use every day,

and still others sit on shelves and in trunks hither and yon.
I’ve never tried to sell my quilts, and I’ve only sold bags when they were commissioned in advance. Often enough I hear that the quilt market in the United States has been ruined by cheap imports from overseas. Do you sell your quilts? Leave a comment and let us know your secrets of success.

Monday, February 25, 2013

February Blocks

The February blocks finally made it to the top of my to-do list. Here is the block for the Craftsy Block of the Month 2013 (three as requested by the instructor and three extra to play with). The block requires a technique called partial seams that I have used before without actually knowing what it was called. I’m thinking that I should have picked this color scheme for March though. Very St. Patrick’s Day don’t you think?

And with the blocks from last month it’s shaping up to look more like Christmas.

Amy Gibson’s Sugar Block Club this month was a fun paper pieced block, and I continued my neutrals with more gray, tan and cream.

It’s called Northern Star and I think it works well with last month’s block.

But to be honest, the best part of the month was Amy’s flourless chocolate cake recipe.

Gotta love a club that gives you quilting and cake! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fabric Friday: Bengaline

Bengaline [beng-guh-leen or beng-guh-leen] was first made of silk in Bengal India, thus the French name of Bengaline (from Bengal). It has distinctive crosswise ribs, which are rounded and raised, often due to the use of course weft yarns and fine warp yarns. It is a lustrous, durable plain weave fabric used for apparel, draperies, and ribbon. Grosgrain and Petersham are bengaline made in ribbon widths. Bengaline may also be made of wool, rayon, synthetics, and cotton.
The fabric became popular in the late nineteenth century here in the United States when the composition transitioned to the use of cotton and other less expensive fabrics for the weft yarns, with the warp continuing to be silk. In this combination the fabric still appears to be all silk, but is considerably less expensive.
I have a favorite bengaline skirt that (believe it or not) hubby bought for me a year or so ago. At the time I wasn’t familiar with the fabric but my first thought was, “this is grosgrain ribbon woven in a wider width”.  My skirt is not silk but rather cotton fill with Rayon warp. Bengaline is known as a sturdy fabric that wears well, but mine is kind of a party skirt, so I don’t wear it all that often and durability is not the primary concern. As you can see, wrinkling is. I wore this skirt a few days ago, and it will need to be pressed before I can wear it again.

I have not sewn this fabric myself, but many sources suggest making buttonholes is difficult. Not surprising if you think about how easily grosgrain ribbon frays at the ends. Another consideration is the obvious crosswise rib in the fabric. Regardless of the application you will need to be aware of this and allow extra fabric to make sure everything lines up and is going in the same direction – much as you need to do for fabric that has an nap.  

One odd fact: At the inquest in 1892, Lizzie Borden is reported to have said that she was wearing a dress made of bengaline silk on the morning she was accused of murdering her father and stepmother.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Said Selvage, not Salvage!

I saw a great post for beginners on the American Quilt Society blog this morning. Sylvia Thomas wrote a piece called Don't Let Your Selvage Languish. While it provides a good primer on the selvage edge as defined by a quilter or anyone who sews (along with diagram explaining fabric grain), it also got me thinking about the pile of selvage strips I've saved.

I generally cut a 1 ½ inch strip so that I remove all of the selvage and just a bit of the fabric print as well. This also leaves a sufficient margin to actually join the strips and make something of them. 

But what to make?

Cute tissue holder or eyeglass case Cute tissue holder or eyeglass case.

So many great ideas. I think I’ll make a small wall hanging, and maybe a basket. More to follow…

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fabric Friday: Batiste

Batiste [buh-teest] is a very fine and light weight balanced plain weave fabric, which is opaque. It is breathable and lends itself to pleating and pretty gathers, and so is prized for high end summer weight blouses, and lingerie.
Photo courtesy of 

Made of cotton or a wool cotton blend (though now often made of rayon and polyester as well) Batiste is also used for window panels, and baby items - especially christening gowns. It is believed that Cambric was the predecessor to batiste and was at that time always made of linen. 

The name derives from the Flemish word Cambrai and was made in the region that became part of France in 1677. The French word for the same fabric was batiste. Batiste is often said to have been invented in the 13th century (or later) by Jean Baptiste, a French linen weaver. However, we find no historical evidence to support this connection.

Our modern day fabrics are often misnamed and further confused by the wide array of fiber contents. Batiste made of all cotton (especially combed or carded cotton) is finer and more expensive than synthetic products. Organdy, which is the same fiber content and weave as batiste, differs in the finishing. It receives and acid wash which makes it more transparent and lustrous.
You may also be familiar with ribbon called organdy. Though there are some high quality ribbons woven and processed just as their larger fabric counterparts. Most of the ribbon you will see in craft and fabric shops is going to be synthetic polyester and for many decorating applications that is just fine.
Organza, another similar appearing fabric, is actually made of silk. Cotton lawn is also similar to batiste, but is generally made of a slightly looser weave resulting in a softer fabric. The name lawn, by the way, comes from the French Laune and was originally produced in Laon in France.

The history of this fabric is even more complicated by the fact that England banned the import of batiste from France at one time in favor of imports from their colony in India. This change resulted in the Indian fabric called Nainsook [neyn-soo k], which is similar in fiber content and weave, being called batiste. 

And then there is voile [voil; French vwal]. Voile, from the old French word for veil, is more like lawn than batiste (that is a looser weave and perhaps the thread is not quite so fine), but it is a bit stiffer than lawn. Both lawn and voile take dye well and are more likely to have printed designs, where batiste is almost always a solid color (white, ivory or other pastels are most common)

All of this history is interesting, but the most important thing to know is that fine cotton batiste and less expensive synthetic substitutes are readily available, and ideal for clothing, sheer draperies, and lightweight linings – especially for clothing that must be lined but where maintaining breathability is desired. It is also suitable for fine needlework, handkerchiefs, etc. Today some of the finest come from Switzerland, and organic cotton fabric is also available.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Mug Rug Madness

Somehow I've managed to miss being caught up in the mug rug craze that has swept through the quilting world for the past few years. What's a mug rug you ask? Well it's part oversized coaster, part undersized place mat, and mostly an excuse for quilters to use up scraps and make small quilted objects to share like trading cards.

No, not those kind of trading cards, though I will point out that the Atlanta Braves reported for the start of spring training today.

Artist Trading Cards (ATC's for short) are the size of baseball cards (2 ½ x 3 ½ inches) but are handmade works of art. The only real rule is the size and they are often traded in craft clubs - especially among scrapbook folks.

Enter the mug rug. Here there really are no rules. Sewists and quilters have been snipping, stitching, and sharing these small treasures for about three years. I was a bit late to the party, but used the idea to make a fabric birthday card for a special little boy back in March 2011. I had a new machine and was playing with stitches. Not too impressive that. But wait...

Don't you love men that know the roses
don't always have to be red?

If I missed the party, why do I find myself with a table full of them now. Last month a new modern quilt guild was born in Atlanta.  The West Atlanta Modern Quilt Guild held their first meeting in January and decided to swap mug rugs at the next meeting. So here I am making tiny quilts on which to rest a cup and a little piece of something - a piece of candy, a cookie, certainly nothing as healthy as a piece of fruit.

I've played with appliqued hexies

strategic positioning

Small scale wonky log cabin

Embroidery to echo the design in one fabric... too bad that french knot unraveled on me.

They certainly make great practice pieces for machine quilting. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't quilt curvy lines on an old Singer 15-91 (circa 1955) with a walking foot.

I think it might be time to start drawing on the fabric before I quilt it. I have some luscious Copic Markers and a little stack of white, red, and pink scraps that are calling to me from the studio, so I'm off. 

Happy Valentines day everybody!


Quick and dirty. Lame job on the machine quilting and the binding isn't even finished (just pinned in back) but can't you imagine some fun projects with this. I have an idea for a twelve block quilt with one block for each month of the year. Each block would feature something that is blooming in my garden that month. I think a combination of applique, these markers, and thread painting could make some really striking images. Can't wait to get started!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Log Cabins and the Quilts of Gees Bend

Before I was doing much quilting at all a friend and I went to see the “Quilts of Gees Bend” exhibit at the High Museum here in Atlanta. That was in 2005 I think. I was making a crazy quilt inspired by one my Mom had from her mother – the first and, I thought, the last quilt I would ever make.
Annie Mae Young, b. 1928
Work-clothes quilt with center 
medallion  of corduroy strips
ca. 1976 Denim, corduroy, 
synthetic blend 108 x 77 inches 
That exhibit touched me deeply. I was inspired by the stories of these creative women and the simple beauty they brought to the necessities and realities of life: a warm blanket to keep the children warm, the need to use what came to hand, and the loss of a loved one remembered in the quilt made of his old work clothes. It made me want to make more quilts and ones of my own design.

I believe that exhibit was the first place I learned of the “log cabin” design, so I can perhaps be forgiven if it took me awhile to realize that most log cabin quilts aren't wonky.

Through magazines and books I taught myself the basics and before long I was hooked. Since then I've made many quilts, some modern, some traditional and even a few wonky log cabin throws.
I have tended toward the modern, but recently I've become more curious about traditional quilt designs and blocks. I suspect the stars in this early quilt I designed have a name. Surely I didn't invent something totally new. That is pretty hard to do when working with the basic shapes (squares, rectangles and triangles).

Today I've been learning more about just a few of the traditional “sets” used with the log cabin block. A set is the way that the blocks are laid out to make different designs. I've also been reading a bit about the history of log cabins.
Many histories suggest that the log cabin was an American design inspired by the western movement onto the prairie. The traditionally red center block represented the hearth, and the light values on one side represented the sunny side of the log cabin, while the darker values represented the shady side. It certainly sounds right.

However, it seems that the design has been around at least since the time of the pharaohs.  When the tombs in Egypt were opened by British explorers, they found mummified animals (cats, etc.) that had been wrapped in fabric with the distinctive alternating light and dark strips – some even dyed different colors. It is certainly possible that this design sprang up independently in multiple locations and times. Who is to say.

More fascinating to me are all of the different designs you can make with that simple block shown above.

The Straight Set

The Barn Raising

Straight Furrows

Streak of Lightening or Zig Zag




And then there are the variations on the basic log cabin block. This block is called Pineapple, and when laid out on the diagonal, it makes a dramatic pattern

Another variation is called Court House Steps.

I love learning about all of these traditional designs, and I like the idea of working some of that tradition into modern quilts – as long as I don’t have to be bound by rules. Seriously , that center square doesn't have to be red. It doesn't even have to be square. In fact, It’s unlikely that most would look at my wonky quilts and see the log cabin in them.

Lillie Mae Pettway, 1927-1990
"Housetop"--twelve-block "Half-Logcabin" variation
ca. 1965, cotton, wool corduroy, 77 x 65 inches. 
But I know it’s there. And I know that Lillie Mae Pettway’s Housetop quilt (a twelve block Half-log Cabin variation) was the quilt that started me on this path. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Fabric Friday: Fabric Manufacturing Process

Modern Single Treadle Spinning Wheel
available from Heavenly Handspinning
I thought it might be interesting to cover the basics of how fabrics are made, and to introduce you to a couple of tools you can use to make your own. 
Fabric is commonly defined as cloth made up of fibers using one of three processes: weaving, knitting, or felting. Before the fibers can be woven or knitted, they must first be made into yarn (sometimes called thread in thinner yarns).
Large commercial spinning machines
Yarn made of natural fibers such as cotton, or wool is made into yarn by a process called spinning. Manufactured fibers such as nylon or polyester are generally converted into yarn by a process called melt spinning. Yarn can also be made by the division of a sheet of material such as metal foil (metallic thread), polymer film, or other material.
Large commercial Loom
Weaving is the process of interlacing threads of the weft and warp on a loom. The warp represents the lengthwise threads that are strung on the loom and the weft (also sometimes called woof or filling) makes up the horizontal threads, which cross the warp to make up the woven cloth.
Small loom available from
Plane 'n Grain on
Knit fabric consists of loops of yarn (called stitches) pulled through each other. Fabric created on knitting machines also use the terms warp and weft. A weft knit will have more stretch than a warp knit, but a warp knit will be less likely to run (when stitches come undone or unravel) if a thread is snagged.
Felt is a cloth that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers and is a method of making fabric that pre-dates either weaving or knitting. Traditionally made of wool, today inexpensive felts are made with a minimum of 30% wool fibers combined with other synthetic fibers.
What these definitions ignore are fabrics without fibers, such as plastic films and foam, which are used for accessories, shower curtains, and in upholstery applications, or interfacings made with a non-woven process different from felt. These types of fabric have more industrial than home uses, but are used often enough for home sewers to be aware of them.
These definitions also do not address natural fabrics that have not been manufactured such as fur and leather. The manufacturing of fur clothing involves obtaining animal pelts where the hair is left on the animal's processed skin. In contrast, leather made from any animal hide involves removing the fur from the skin and using only the tanned skin. These fabrics have application to home sewing in both fashion and home d├ęcor.
Many fabrics made from natural fibers (wool, cotton or silk especially) have been imitated with synthetic fibers. A fabric will often be described as being made of one fiber or another. It is generally safe to assume that synthetic variations have also been produced. In some cases, the synthetic may yield desirable characteristics. In others, it may be a poor (but less expensive) substitute. The home sewer must consider the intended use for a fabric before deciding which to purchase.