Gathering Threads

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!


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