Gathering Threads

Online Sources for Whitework Supplies in Canada

Posted by on Oct 11 2016

Over the summer, I started another embroidery course through the EAC.    My first experience with EAC correspondence courses was pretty underwhelming (see this post and this post for my review of my experience with the Beginners Crewel course).  But I won’t deny that my stitching improved and I learned a lot about working with crewel wools.  In fact, my biggest beef was with the course *design*, not the actual stitching.

My samples are off being evaluated by my course counsellor right now – when I get them back, I’ll be sure and take pictures so you can see what I’ve done so far.  But a big part of my reasoning for taking the crewel course in the first place was because it was a prerequisite to the course I was really interested in: the Intermediate Whitework course.  So earlier this year, when I saw that the EAC offered a scholarship that covered the cost of enrollment, I threw my hat in the ring.   I learned over the summer that I was one of five EAC members to receive a Pauline Glover Educational Grant this year, which will cover my enrollment and my binder review.   So with that in mind, my first stop was to start gathering my supplies.

Thread shopping.  What a hardship!  said no stitcher ever.  Hee, hee.

I thought you might find it helpful if I detailed where I sourced my various materials, threads and tools from.    Of course, I could order a lot of this from the States but with the dollar the way it is right now, and the sometimes stupid shipping rates, I really try and support Canadian businesses whenever possible.   No duty, cheaper shipping, no credit card exchange fees.  Win, win, win.

First stop was of course my own supplies and I gathered together all of the threads and fabrics already in my stash that would work for whitework.   I’ve already got lots of white linen, white batiste and white handkerchief linen, so I haven’t had to shell out for those.  The only thing I will have to order is the cotton jean fabric when I come to the unit on Montmellick embroidery.  It’s a specialty fabric and something I definitely can’t get locally.  I plan on ordering it from Tanja Berlin in Alberta – she’s a wonderful embroidery resource for fine needlework, including thread painting, blackwork, goldwork and Mountmellick, among other pretty things.

One of things I found as I was sourcing the various specialty threads and materials I needed was that it can be quite tricky to locate these.  Shops have them classified every which way and the websites are very rarely optimized for search engines, which means they get overlooked.  It’s also hard to restrict your search to specific countries.  So I took a little time out from my dissertation writing (oh, the endless dissertation!) to cshare my findings with you in the hopes that it will help cut down your own search times.

None of the sites I’m reviewing and suggesting here have paid me or given me any sort of compensation; my views are my own, based on my experiences with them, and offered in the hope that you’ll find them helpful.

Golden Threads

Michelle’s shop is my go-to source for needlework supplies.  I’ve shopped with her for years.   She use to have a lovely storefront on Upper James here in Hamilton but has since shifted to an e-commerce only model.  I miss the shop but still love Michelle’s service.  She carries a wide range of threads, the website is easy to use and the shipping is very reasonable and super quick (although, that’s not a big surprise since we’re located in the same city).   I ordered all of the Appleton wools for my crewel course from her last year and I ordered my skeins of No. 16 and No 25 white and ecru coton à broder this time.   She also carries some smocking resources like patterns and dots.

L’Atelier de Pénélope

This is a true thread lovers paradise, located in Quebec.  I’d never ordered from L’Atelier online before but I have bought from them when they were at the Creative Festival in Toronto and when they attended the EAC’s Seminar in Kingston a number of years back.   She carries the widest range of threads of any needlework shop that I’ve found in Canada, including supplies for goldwork and silk threads and more.   A dangerous place for your credit card, in other words.

The most exciting discovery was the fact that she carries coton à broder in sizes from 12 to 35!! and offers it in 80 different DMC colours.   Finding it was a bit of trick though.  English stitchers call this thread coton à broder; but in French, it’s called it Broder Spécial.  So if you were googling the former, you wouldn’t find it.   La grande solitude apparently extends to stitching?!   This is the only needlework shop in Canada that I could find that offered coton à broder in these sizes and in colour.   I went a little nuts!

Trillium Lace

This is a shop also based in Quebec.  The site is in French, with an option for English.   This was my first time shopping here and I was pleased.  On the surface, the website looks like its geared to lacemakers, not embroiderers, and they certainly have a huge range of threads and tools for that.  But she also offers some really hard to find books on regional and ethnic needlework traditions, like Hedebo, and many of the threads work equally well for tatting, crochet and surface embroidery.   If I ever want to make coloured tatting, this is where I’ll go first, in fact.    I’d never heard of some of the threads she carries – DMC Tobino?  Venus? Lizbeth? – so I ordered several spools, just to to play.   I’ll let you know how they pan out.  The order interface is not the greatest, I’ll admit (you have to send an email and type in your selections and there’s no ‘basket’ function, so it’s clunky) but the shipping was prompt and everything was very nicely packaged.

Marie Suarez

This Belgian site has the finest whitework threads currently available on the market.  She carries white floche in sizes 60, 80 and 120.  To put that in context, DMC and Anchor’s floche are both sz 16, or slightly thinner than one strand of No. 25 coton à broder.  This is the only international source I used while I was sourcing my threads.  The threads she sells just aren’t available *anywhere* else that I’ve found and I’m really looking forward to trying them out.  The site is in French, so if you don’t read it, you’ll need google translate.  Definitely check out her kits and her gallery of work is well worth a drool.  The standard of work is really inspiring.

Guild of Needle Laces

Finally, I treated myself to a new set of tools from the  in the United Kingdom.  All of the tools are of the highest quality (seriously, they feel incredible.  They’re the nicest needlework tools I’ve every owned!!).  I got the Beginner’s Needlelace tool set, which comes with two sizes of ring sticks, a lifting stick (although I still don’t know what I’m supposed to lift with it?), a lovely stiletto and a superfine crochet hook.   There are a variety of tools for stumpwork, needlelace and more and the Guild sells them to help offset their costs.  Worth every penny!

My Quilts at the Quilts in Bloom Show

Posted by on Jun 03 2016

I had a lovely day with my mom, visiting the Hamilton Quilter’s Guild annual show, Quilts in Bloom, today.   I had two quilts in the show (Spring Bouquet and Oh, My Tangled Stars).  Both were quilted by Alison MacDonald, my long armer extraordinaire.  She’s a member of the guild, so she was able to enter my quilts into the show.


Alison and I, causing trouble

It was really nice getting to see all the quilts, which ranged from huge king size quilts to itty-bitty art pieces to everything in between.  The event took place at the Ancaster Fair Grounds and it was wonderfully laid out, in the main fairground building, with wide aisles and easy access.  Getting around was a breeze.  The organizers did a wonderful job!


Me, myself and I

I received many compliments on both of my quilts (and if there were any comments that weren’t kind, I didn’t hear them :)) and enjoyed striking up conversations with the show’s visitors, as we all circulated and admired the many spectacular quilts, and swapped tips and techniques.  It was also interesting seeing the same pattern interpreted by different quilters – it really is amazing how different a design can look in another colour way.

Here are some shots of my quilts on display.


“Oh, My Tangled Stars” Pieced Claire Meldrum, Quilted by Alison MacDonald

Look at Alison’s stupendous quilting!  The feathers, the curved cross hatching, everything.  There are two layers of batting in this (an 80/20 cotton plus a wool batt).  This gives it tremendous loft and an almost bas relief quality.


And Spring Bouquet.


“Spring Bouquet” Appliqued by Claire Meldrum, Quilted by Alison MacDonald


Detail of “Spring Bouquet” Appliqued by Claire Meldrum, Quilted by Alison MacDonald

But it wasn’t all about me!  Here are a few of the more than 200 quilts that caught my eye:

This quilt was really two quilts in one.  The label says that the quilter helped make the original Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt when she was 11.  After many years, and many owners, it was very worn.   But by mounting it on a new, larger background and including a beautiful embroidered history around the perimeter, it helps to preserve the quilt for many more years of enjoyment, while ensuring that its history isn’t forgotten.  So clever!

“This Old Quilt” Pieced, Quilted and Embroidered by Catherine Schuler


Detail of “This Old Quilt” Pieced, Quilted and Embroidered by Catherine Schuler

This was a striking modern quilt that really caught my eye because of the vibrant purple and fuschia background.  I liked the enormous scale of the blossoms.  Simple but striking.


“Gloria” Pieced by Robin Lane, Quilted by Red Red Bobbin Quilt Shop

This was a beautiful sampler style quilt done in lovely tones of red, cream, tan and black.  Each block was meticulously pieced and the harmonious colours tied all of the disparate blocks together.   These are colours that always attract my eye.


“Celebration Sampler” Pieced by Jill Walton, Quilted by Lucy Rowntree


Detail of “Celebration Sampler” Pieced by Jill Walton, Quilted by Lucy Rowntree

This quilt combined the colouring book craze with quilting with really tremendous results.  The quilter first doodled the wild floral design on a plain white expanse of fabric before colouring it all in with fabric markers.  I think it would be a great way to introduce kids to quilting and there are so many ways you could personalize it.


“Electric Doodle” Quilted and Coloured by Debbie Winn


Detail of “Electric Doodle” Quilted and Coloured by Debbie Winn

A really effective use of grey as the neutral background.  We saw a lot of quilts with black backgrounds and even more with white, but this quilter’s use of grey really struck me.  It tied together these really bright, disparate colours and made them soft and inviting.


“Midnight at the Oasis” Pieced and Quilted by Barbara Mahaffy


Detail of “Midnight at the Oasis” Pieced and Quilted by Barbara Mahaffy

And there’s a reason they call them classics.  This wall hanging was as simple as they come but the pattern, colour and quilting all appealed to me.


“Cactus Rose” Pieced and Hand Quilted by Denise Neufeld

This was a sculptural quilt.  Each of the petals erupts from the quilted background.  It definitely took my vote for coolest technique!


“3D Spoon Petal Flower” Pieced and Quilted by Luci Ronald

From the side, you can see just how much depth the quilter was able to create.


“3D Spoon Petal Flower” Pieced and Quilted by Luci Ronald

Finally, this Great Blue Heron was incredibly lifelike.  There were layers and layers of fabric to create the wings and all of the bird’s details.  It reminded me of a Robert Bateman painting, but in fabric.


“Great Blue Heron” Appliqued and Quilted by Beth Horyn

All in all, a very nice show!

Upcoming Workshop: DIY Bishop with the Forest City Smocking Guild

Posted by on Feb 17 2016

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be teaching a workshop for the Forest City Smocking Guild in London, ON on April 23, 2016.


In this fun, one-day class, I’ll be teaching students how to make the world’s easiest bishop: no pleaters, no pattern pieces, no problem!  This is a great class for beginning smockers, too, as it doesn’t require previous smocking knowledge and only basic machine sewing skills.  The DIY Bishop was featured in Sew Beautiful in 2012.  

Students can choose from one of two kits, containing all of the fabric, notions and floss you’ll need to complete the DIY Bishop in sizes T2, T3, or T4:  a pink floral print or a modern geometric kit.  Kits will cost $45CDN.

Class:  DIY Bishop
Date:  April 23, 2016
Time: 9-4
Cost:  $60 Registration + $45 Kits
Location: The Church of St Jude,
1537 Adelaide St N, London, Ontario  N5X 1K6

Everyone is welcome.   If you’re interested in registering for this one-day class, please contact the Forest City Smocking Guild’s Karen Try  karentry [at] .  You can also check out their FB page to find out about their regular meetings, guild events and more.

Lunch will be a Potluck, so bring a tasty dish to share (and if you think these ladies can smock, wait ’til you taste what they can cook!).

Crewel Monogram

Posted by on Jan 28 2016

Remember my foray last year into crewel?  I signed up to take the Embroiderers’ Association of Canada Basic Crewel correspondence course last January.

Crewel Monogram

My initial impression wasn’t great.  Although my counsellor was very helpful, the lessons themselves were really an uphill slog and the way the course is designed is really off putting, with a level of expectation that very few people, and certainly no beginner, could realistically be expected to meet.  The amount of stitching and research were incredible.  I hope they’ll consider making some serious updates and I’ve expressed that in my review of the course.

That said, I decided that I had enough invested in the course, between the registration fees and the the materials that I ought to finish it.  So I continued to slog away over the summer and fall and finally sent off my last three samples last week.

The one project I really enjoyed though was the monogram component.

I was tasked with stitching my initial.  I knew immediately that I wanted to do a design based on an illuminated letter.  I looked at several.  I really liked the colours of this one, and I used it as a starting point for my colour palette, but I thought it would be too hard to stitch.


I finally settled on this design (and no, I can’t remember what book I used but it did come from the Internet Archive)  It’s a much simpler design and the black and white outline made it simple to transfer.  The design itself is 5″ square.


I kept to a fairly small group of stitches:  Long and short stitch and satin stitch for the four-petal flower.

Crewel Monogram detail 1

The berry is padded satin stitch, bullion and satin stitch.  The stems are, logically enough, stem stitch.

Crewel Monogram detail 2

I stitched the daisy twice.  Initially, I’d worked it in off white but there wasn’t enough contrast between the creamy twill background and the flower and it got lost.  So I ripped it out and worked it in a soft pink.  Each petal is padded with a detached chain, before I worked horizontal satin stitch across it.

Crewel Monogram detail 3

I also changed my mind about the leaves.  I’d started working them in long and short stitch, like the blue flower.  I’d intended to give them shading and a central vein.  But they were just too small (for instance the leaves at the bottom of the stem are only 1 1/2″ and an 1 1/4″ long) and the complicated shapes made it almost impossible to get smooth or convincing shading.

So I started from scratch and ended up outlining the leaves in split stitch and using contrasting texture, rather than contrasting threads, to give them interest.  The seed stitch gives some balance and openness against the density of the satin stitch details.

The initial also went through several versions before I settled on the navy blue outline and french knot filling.  I particularly like the piece of fuzz on the side of the letter.  I managed to photograph it so nicely…!  so clearly!  Well, it isn’t cat hair, so I guess i should be grateful for small mercies.

Crewel Monogram detail 5

My plan is to finish this by mounting it in a box as a decorative lid.  I’ll also add some gold beads, scattered here and there to add a bit of richness and contrast to the matte wools.  I haven’t added them yet because they aren’t strictly ‘crewel’ and I didn’t want it to count against me in my evaluations.



Another Peep at Bo Peep

Posted by on Jan 23 2016

I’ve finished Bo Peep.  Finally.

When we last left our animal-herding friend two years ago, she was in the early stages.

bopeep (1)

Now all of the picture smocking is complete and I think it looks good, although there are a few things I will be tweaking when I smock it again.

Little Bo Peep smocked

Why, you ask, am I smocking it twice?  Because this project is intended to fulfill some of the requirements for my SAGA Artisan submission and not all of the things I experimented with in this version worked out exactly as I’d intended.  That’s OK – it’s a creative process and changes are to be expected.

One of the things that will be different second time around are the sheep.  Turns out that in order to fulfill the artisan guidelines, they have to be identical, not mirror images.  So next time, they’ll be facing forwards.

After I finished picture smocking, I hmm’d and haw’d about whether or not to add the french knots.

Smocked sheep detail

As you can see, I went for it.  It just looks more ‘sheepy’ to have the knotted surface.  That said, due to the density of the embroidery, plus the weight of the thread, there is zero stretch to the sheep.  So if you’re thinking of doing a similar technique, make sure your insert is blocked to its finished size,  because one you’ve committed, there’s no stretching things out afterwards.  I won’t be working the French knots on my final submission because the adjudicators need to see my stacked cables.    Frankly, that’s not a bad thing – I was making knots in my sleep!

The sampler is 31 rows.  I hand-gathered it, to keep the stripes perfectly even.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to find this exact fabric again but I’m going to try!  If not, I’ll likely go with a solid blue instead.

Here’s the back, in case anyone is interested.  You can see from the undulation in the backsmocking that this hasn’t been blocked yet.  If I was submitting it, I would be doing that to square everything up but since this is just a working piece, I’m not going to bother.

Bo Peep smocked back view

The rows of grass & sky are a mixture of closed herringbone, surface honeycomb and Van Dyke, with feather stitched grass and a feather stitched zig-zag.  Obviously, my feather-stitching isn’t centred.  At this point, I’d been lugging this UFO around for the good part of two years.  I tested about four or five different fillings and ripped them all out.  This simple feather-stitch done in variegated floss was my final choice.  Once I knew it would work, that was enough for me.  D-O-N-E!!

Little Bo Peep smocked detail 1

I’ve also worked five rows of honeycomb at the top of the design.  BTW, when honeycomb is worked on pre-pleated fabric, it is the slowest smocking stitch known to man.  Seriously, I’ve had appointments at the passport office that moved more quickly than these rows, which seemed to progress at glacial speed.  I’d stitch along for an hour and find myself saying things like “Yes, only 4/5th of the row to go!”

I have to show about a dozen different smocking and embroidery stitches between all my elements (two smocked dresses and this sampler).  I joke that it’s a bit like playing tetris, and getting all the stitches to fit.   I have both my dresses done.  Once my points are verified, I’ll be able to pleat my samplers, restitch Bo-Peep and get everything off to the adjudicators.  I’m aiming for May.  I’ll let you know if I make that deadline or not!