Gathering Threads

O Canada

Posted by on Jun 28 2010

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve been able to post any thing really new beyond an article update. Between school wrap up and home renovations and four – yes, four! – Christmas articles, I’ve been swamped.

I’ve finished a raft of play shorts for the boys but busy as I am haven’t had a single chance to photograph them. I’ve also been working on a smocking experiment (or three!), a correspondence course and various other projects.

In the interim, while I wrestle with concrete block (we’re rebuilding our back porch this month and it’s a mammoth job!), here is a quick and easy picture smocking plate for the Canucks among us, since Canada Day is only a few days away. Click Here for a pdf download.

maple leaf

For those not lucky enough to live here :), this would look lovely in a fall-themed project. Imagine it worked in overdyed flosses, for instance: rich, burnt umber and pumpkin shades, with the veins worked in stem stitch on a bag or maybe it could be a motif on the yoke of a beautiful fall dress. Let your imagination run wild.

Hope everyone has a great Canada Day and eats lots of buttertarts, poutine and pancakes with maple syrup in celebration! (just maybe not at the same time) 🙂

Create & Decorate August 2010

Posted by on Jun 27 2010

I’m on newsstands again this month, with a quick and easy applique wall quilt that’s featured in Create & Decorate Magazine.


I enjoyed quilting this project but I’m very, very glad they don’t show the back of this quilt because I’m not winning any blue ribbons any time soon. The quilt features a combination of applique and hand embroidery, all based on a great fish print fabric I found at a local quilting store. I got lots of the fish fabric but I ran out of backing fabric at 9pm on a Sunday night. The stores were closed and there was nothing remotely useable in my stash. So I pieced the leftover scraps I had from my other quilting efforts and managed to get my poor fish into the water, so to speak. But it wasn’t pretty, let me tell you!

I have no doubt that Fons and Porter would string me up by my toes if they could see just how catch-as-catch-can the behind the scene bits are. 🙂 Because the day they start photographing the backs of things along with the front is the day I’m in serious trouble.

Free Vintage Smocking Plate

Posted by on Jun 09 2010

I have a hodge-podge collection of vintage smocking booklets, picked up from Ebay, yardsales and friendly donations (the classic “You smock?! Here, take these!” followed by a thrusting armful of paper). Many of the designs are very basic – a few rows of cable and wave stitch in a couple of simple colours that were meant to be quick, not elaborate, wearable details.


But they do have their appeal. Besides some cute illustrations and creative colour combinations (brown, orange and gold on aqua, anyone?), they do have some charming vintage patterns and I have plans to post some of the early patterns here on the site, translating the terse written instructions of the period into our more familiar chart form.

The first of these is a lovely little design that is worked over 11 rows. It comes from an undated Australian booklet from the early 1930s. Click Here for a PDF version you can save to your computer. Of course, it is easy to see it divided into even smaller bands on a coordinating sleeve. I can see this working equally well on a bishop or a square yoke dress.


Row 1: Beginning with an *over cable, work 11 cable stitches, a four-step trellis down to row 3, under cable, four-step trellis back to row 1, over cable, four-step trellis down to row 3, under cable, four step trellis to row 1*. Repeat from ** across row.

Row 3: Mirror image of row 1.

Row 2: After the diamonds and blocks are completed, work a pattern of 9 cable stitches, starting with an under cable, and three french knots in a contrasting colour through the centre of the band.

Row 4-6: Work in the same manner as Rows 1-3 except that the blocks and diamonds now alternate from the band above.

Row 7-9: Work identically to row 1-3.

Row 9-11. Work a four-step trellis down to row 11, under cable, four-step trellis back to row 9 between each of the outer points of the diamonds on the last row. Tie off between each point.

The booklets rarely give floss colours, so I’ve followed their lead and made my plate black and white, the better to free your imagination.

You are free to share the link to this plate with smocking friends and use it for personal or charity sewing. Please credit my website and don’t repost or resell the chart on your own site.

Ebele finished up

Posted by on Jun 03 2010

I’ve got a sick boy at home today. After a nice long stretch ear-ache free, I had to claim him from school yesterday afternoon when he came down with a fever and painful ear. We’ve got the routine down pat now since he’s prone to them . He’s also well on the road to recovery, thanks to a full day of rest and all the popsicles he can eat (which is a startling amount, frankly! :))

I stayed and puttered about home today as a result and was able to finish the last of my niece’s summer sewing: a three-tiered halter dress from AS&E #83 called Ebele.


I’d given a sneak peek a few weeks back and it only took me a few hours to put all the pieces together when I sat down and took a solid run at it, since I had many of the components done but of course, I’d put it off, moving the pieces from dell to dale as I worked on other projects, cleaned up my sewing supplies and otherwise pretended that the half-finished dress was invisible. LOL.


It’s a nice little dress and I think the pattern would work for many different types of fabric and styles, not just the dark shades the original was worked in. I chose a cowboy/bandana print that resembles the inspiration fabric but rather than mixing my fabrics, I used the same fabric for the pleats and tiers because otherwise it was too difficult to match all the shades and avoid visual overload.


I also like how the designer handled the back of the halter dress. It’s a smooth, buttoned finish that works very nicely. Often, I see this type of dress done with elastic shirring or an elastic casing (that’s how the back of pink and white batiste top I made was done). Of course, it’s not buttoned on Stanley – he’s too big – but on my niece, it should look very finished.


The halter straps are simply bias strips so they sewed on very quickly. I wasn’t as careful as I ought to have been, since it is only a play dress, and so I have to admit there are a few small ripples 🙂 But I figure no one looks closely enough to be able to see it on a wiggling toddler that I can probably get away with it just this once.


Happy Camper, Indeed

Posted by on May 26 2010

It’s always fun to see an idea that was only a sketch on paper make it into print, like the child’s quilting sleeping bag in this month’s issue of Sew News.


This was a really fun project to do. I will admit, quilting is not my first love – there’s something rather Sisyphisian to me about taking lots of lovely fabric and cutting it all up before you sit down and sew it all back together again. But I enjoyed this quilt because there was just enough random mash-up-ness to the colours and the piecing process that it was very enjoyable.


As I mentioned above, this sleeping bag was done to accompany a magazine article. Writing for craft publications can be a funny process, where the ability to convey ideas clearly is as critical as the sewing. As a result, long before I start sewing, almost all of my articles start with a sketch that goes to an editor for review.

For instance, here’s the sketch I submitted for the sleeping bag last summer.


As you can see, long before I sat down at my machine, I’d made notes, detailing fabric choices, possible colour palettes and size. This process lets me audition multiple techniques and materials, without committing time and resources. It also lets me ‘walk’ through a project in my head and make notes about problem areas or techniques I need to bone up one etc.

Of course, it goes without saying that changes occur. Sometimes, I have a colour-way in mind that simply doesn’t exist in the fabric shops when I’m sourcing my materials. Sometimes, the technique I proposed was too detailed or labour-intensive and I need to pare it down. Othertimes, I just got it wrong and don’t like the way it looks. Sadly, that happens more than I’d like to admit and my seam ripper and I have a very close working relationship. 🙂

I have four or five notebooks filled with sketches and ideas. Some are full blown plans, with lots of details and specifics, other times it’s nothing more than a quick pencil sketch, inspired by something I saw in passing, that never goes beyond that. But I know for me at least that the creative pondering process that my sketching and drafting encourages is a pivotal part of my creative work, especially because I’m so visually-oriented. I need to see something before I can fully understand how to construct it myself or explain it to others.