Gathering Threads

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!


Quick Summer Sewing Update

Posted by on Jun 18 2015

Here’s a cute pair of capris that I made for my niece, Ellie.

blue linen capris

I started these back in February during Laura Johnson’s stash buster contest but didn’t get them finished up until recently.    Laura owns Ellie Inspired, which does a lovely range of downloadable patterns, many of which include smocking.  I was inspired by Kari Mecca’s heirloom cargo pants from the book Sewing with Whimsy, but modified the final product based on what I had in my stash.  Ellie (my niece Ellie, not Laura’s Ellie) is a busy, active girl and I didn’t want her to have to worry about skirts while she’s zooming around.  I think this is a good compromised for heirloom sewing.  Classic materials, classic details, modern pattern.

linen capri pocket detail

I used leftover linen, three different white laces from my stash, 1 yd of blue twill tape and some not-so perfect entredeux and then made corded pintucks.

I used the bottom pants from EI’s Lil Bluebird but I made a couple of changes to the pattern.  I added pockets, removed the cuff at the bottom edge and made a sew-on waistband instead of a simple fold over casing like Laura’s pattern indicated.     I made the top several years ago in a toddler size, and it’s very flattering, too.  I just didn’t have anything in my stash that would work and I know Ellie has lots of cute white t-shirts.

corded pintuck detail

The pintucks around the pocket and the legs came out really well.  This linen is more substantial than a batiste and when I sewed an uncorded sample with my 2mm double needle, it just looked like top stitching.  It didn’t pop or give the fabric texture.  So I used #10 crochet cord (the same stuff I use to make my super fine piping), ran it in the groove of my pintuck foot underneath the fabric and it was exactly right.  Now I just need to finish up a little smocked dress I made for Celeste. Not much to do there: just the neck binding and the trim on the sleeves.  Maybe I’ll try and fit that in tomorrow.  Maybe.

I’ve also started on my Baltimore album quilt.  I have one border and four blocks traced, all of the fabrics washed and pressed, and I’ve started on my first block.  By the end of the summer I’d like to have at least 2 blocks done.  The basket was very easy to do but I’m struggling a bit with the leaves.

friends of baltimore block 1

They have very round, curvy points.  It’s much easier to make a leaf with the starch method when something has a sharp point because it’s a fold.  You fold over one edge and press.  You fold the other edge and press.  Here I’ve got to deal with teeny weeny curves that fold and bulge.  I’m going to keep trying but if I don’t like the results, I may just redraw the leaves to give me easier points.

friends of baltimore leaf

I’ve been working away at my EAC crewel course, too (sigh.  are we there yet?).

deerfield crewel sampler

I have learned a fair bit but I still find the instructions dreadful.  Not that my tutor hasn’t been very good, and she’s given me very favourable feedback but I really feel I’m making progress because I’m already a strong stitcher who’s not afraid to improvise.  If you were a true beginner, you’d be lost!  I’ve got two more samplers to finish (my initial and the big end design).  I’ll get them done over the summer, too although I’m already ready to be done.

18th century crewel sampler

Planning my Trip to Baltimore (Quilt Style)

Posted by on May 14 2015

*Waves* I know I’ve been MIA for a while.  I taught a full four courses this term, and started reading for my next round of exams in August.  Sewing time has been limited and blogging even more so.  But now that the winter term has wrapped up, I can focus on the things I’ve let slide.

I haven’t spent a lot of time at my machine recently.  Although I dropped off my Tangled Stars quilt and a cute lap quilt that I made for my sister over Christmas to Alison a few weeks back, made a few quick outfits for my nieces, and even started a quick sundress for myself, I’ve really dialed back on my smocking and sort of cleared the deck.  I’ve still got a few small projects on the go,  but the last little while, I’ve tried to get all my loose ends tied up in preparation for my next big, BIG undertaking…something I’ve been planning for for over a year.

A full size Baltimore Album Quilt.

If you’re not a quilter, you might not be familiar with the term.  It’s a type of applique quilt, usually worked on a white background, with really elaborate baskets, flowers, vines and tendrils.  They’re often red and green and gold, but not always.  Here are a couple of period examples.

Some are symmetrical or nearly so, some have a different design in every block that showcase things like local buildings or little quilted people. They were a popular quilt style on the East Coast, especially in seaports likes Baltimore in the 1850s and 1860s.  The MFA in Boston and the Baltimore Museum of Art both have sizeable collections online for you to admire.

I’ve wanted to make one for a couple of years now and when I came across this modern recreation by Sue Garman, called “Friends of Baltimore“, I knew I’d be making it.  She’s an extraordinarily talented quilter and many of her quilts are applique.  I am in love with the borders on her design.  Seriously, aren’t they gorgeous?  Well, everything about this quilt is gorgeous but for me, it’s the borders that make it.

friendsofbaltimore (2)

Of course, I will be making a few changes to some of the blocks and swapping out a few more.  For one thing, I don’t want an eagle on my quilt (I’m glad it’s the longest undefended border and all but I don’t really want a big ol’ symbol of America in the middle of my bedding).  And I am eliminating all of the cornucopias.  I hate cornucopias – I think they look like unformed worms.  I don’t know if it’s a childhood trauma from kindergarden or what but they aren’t going to be making an appearance on my quilt.  I’ll use vases instead.

I was determined not to start this quilt til I had caught up on all my unfinished projects.  Of course, that didn’t *entirely* happen but I’m close enough that if I squint everything looks done-ish. 🙂  So as soon as I marked the last assignment, I ordered the pattern from Sue’s website.  You can order the blocks as individual blocks or in one fell swoop.

friendsofbaltimore (3)

I went with ordering the entire quilt pattern.  In a binder, it’s a good 1 1/2 thick!  That’s a lot of instructions and I won’t lie.  It’s a bit daunting.  But the directions are impeccable and I’m confident I’ll be able to handle this quilt.

In addition to clear patterns for each block, Sue includes a plethora of tips and suggestions and breaks down this incredibly labour intensive quilt into very manageable chunks.

friendsofbaltimore (5)

Each block also includes the fabric list so you know how large each piece you need and how many shades of each colour you’ll use.

friendsofbaltimore (4)

The directions are really, really thorough.  I even toyed with the idea of hand applique but after a long hard talk with myself I’ve decided to go with invisible machine applique instead.

I’m going to be using freezer paper for the applique pieces.  I used mylar very successfully with my Spring Bouquet but unlike that pattern, which only had a limited number of standard, reuseable shapes, the pieces of this quilt are entirely irregular.  I found 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of freezer paper at a local quilt shop, and I’ll copy, reverse and print off the freezer paper, which will save me having to trace off every piece.  I got the idea from Simple Bird Applique’s blog.  She’s been working on a gorgeous hand-stitched version of FOB for a couple of years, and I’ve been following her progress avidly.  She’s just embarked on the quilting.  It’s very inspiring.

friendsofbaltimore (6)

So that’s where I stand on this monumental project.  I have most of my fabrics (I just picked up the backing fabric yesterday) and have ordered the last few tools I’ll need before I take the plunge.   So…much…fun!

friendsofbaltimore (1)