Thursday, January 23, 2014

Easy Machine Stitching Techniques for Applique

I have always loved applique, and I've spent most of my sewing life looking at applique with envy.

I mean, just look at this antique quilt. My gosh, thousands of tiny hand stitched pieces!  

I have a friend who does hand applique. Her stitches are so tiny and so perfect that I watch her in awe. I've tried over and over to imitate how she sews, but the ability to produce tiny, even stitching still eludes me. 

Tiny, neat stitches? Totally impossible!
I can't even get blanket stitches to come out even when I try to sew them by hand.

It took a long time and a new sewing machine before I figured out how to stitch appliques in place with the sewing machine. A few years ago I traded my limping1980 sewing in for a new one. The poor old gal was spending more time in the shop than in my house. I found a lovely little machine that I could use for free-motion quilting. The zigzag stitches on the new machine were not only more flexible, but there was a much larger variety of stitch options.  I suddenly found that I could applique with my sewing machine! Wow! One little project and I was completely addicted!

My "fancy", new machine - nothing at all like the 1980 machine.
It's perfect for applique and for free motion quilting, but nothing will ever  convince me
to part with  the reliable  1952 Singer  201 that I use for straight stitching. 

These are my three favorite techniques for machine applique stitching ... so far
(New tricks will come. I'm sure of it.)

Blanket stitch. This is the stitch I use most often. 

Sometimes I use a dark color thread that imitates vintage hand applique beautifully. 
And the stitches come out even every time!
Elephant Walk Bib and Burp Cloth

More often, though I'll match the thread color to the fabric piece. 
It doesn't disappear, but it's very subtle and well camouflaged.

Detail from "New Toys"

Zigzag stitch. I've learned more and more about how to use zigzag stitching this past year. In the past few months I've figured out that narrow, very tiny zigzags, almost a satin stitch, work best for me.
I use zigzag stitching for all of the silhouettes.

Detail from "February Valentines" mug rugs

The same zigzag stitch is the best way to attach slippery, satin appliques that might 
otherwise unravel easily when laundered.

Satin ears nose and tail from "Doggy in the Window" baby blanket

Raw edge applique.  This is a straight stitch that secures the applique in place on the background, and, as the name implies, the cut edges are left raw. Eventually, those edges will fray a bit, and that fraying will add a different artistic touch to the piece. Flowers and leaves, for example, will look even more realistic. I've used two different raw edge techniques on mug rugs this year.

a. The first technique uses raw stitch applique close to the outside edges of the applique. I could have used matching thread for these pieces, but since there were so many colors involved I chose invisible polyester thread instead. This saved me from having to change thread every few minutes. The pieces were first attached with fusible web, then stitched close to the cut edge. 

Detail from "Pansies" in the "Baskets for Mom" mug rug trio

b. Sometimes the pieces are so very small that another approach is needed. I used another raw edge technique when attaching flowers and leaves to my March House and April House quilts..

An unmarked section of fusible web was first ironed onto the wrong side of the chosen applique fabric. The paper was removed, turned over, and fused to the wrong side of a second piece of the same  fabric. Now, the fusible web was sandwiched between two pieces of applique fabric. The flower and leaf shapes were then traced directly onto one side of the sandwiched fabric and cut out. Pieces were reversible.

A few stitches made by machine or by hand will secure the appliques to the background fabric. In this photo you see both machine stitches and french knots used for that purpose. With this technique, the pieces become three dimensional, and add wonderful texture to the project.

Detail from "March House" mug rug

I hope you take the time to experiment with several of these techniques. They are each unique, and each is quite lovely in its own way.

Happy Stitching!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sigh... It doesn't always go perfectly.

I hate to admit it, but I'm not at all perfect. There, you have it. A confession from a sewist who has had a frustrating day with stitching.

I'm working on a new mug rug design - ducks engaged in gossip. I really like this this idea, and I thought I had it almost finished and just right. Reminder to me - don't ever assume the pattern is perfect!

That little yellow blob is a duckling, and this was when the trouble started. The feet and bill were very tiny, so I thought I'd just embroider them in. I sketched them in and sat down with my lovely orange embroider floss, all ready to start.

In case I haven't told you this little secret, I need to get it off my chest. My hand stitching skills are, well, less than wonderful. Hanging my head in shame, here. This is my greatest flaw as a sewist. Well, one of them. One of multiple flaws, if I'm being completely honest. 

I didn't take a photo of the mess. That would have been really embarrassing! 

So, there was no choice. Seam ripper time. 

Take out much of the machine blanket stitch. (Not exactly a picnic.) 

Separate the fused yellow chick from the background without destroying it. (Yikes!)

Cut teensy, tiny feet and beak and fuse in place. (Had to use two pins, one in each hand, to position these pieces in place and shove them up under the little spaces made by removing stitches.)

Restitch the body. 

Use a very, very tiny, tight, zigzag stitch to finish the newly added pieces.

Not beautiful, is it?

So, I'll be starting over with a brand new mug rug. I've redesigned the duckling and made him just a bit larger with slightly larger feet and bill. Ducklings do grow!

Isn't he cute? I may have to widen the legs and still make the feet just a teense larger, but I think there's a good chance this will be easier. 

I may use a different fabric this time. I won't throw out the first one because I love the background, but if I show it on my pattern page I can show more than one color choice. 

Fingers crossed!

I borrowed a pretty, young hand for this photo. :)

Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Coming Soon - A Quilt Along Quilt Project

The silhouette series is finished, so I'm off and flying with something very different. It will be a mystery, block of the month,  cooperative design, quilt along quilt. That's right, a bit of everything all rolled up into one!

Here's the breakdown of all those quilt elements.

  • A mystery quilt: It will be a mystery to me as well as those who join me in making it. A design-as-we-go project.
  • A block of the month: There will be at least one block every month, but I don't expect it to last a whole twelve months. The first block will be ready by March 1st, others will follow on the first of every month after that. I hope the last will be finished by November or December. Fingers crossed!
  • A cooperative design: I don't know what kinds of images or pieced patterns will go into every block. I will rely heavily on input from folks who joining in on making the project. Ideas are more than welcome, they are seriously needed!
The theme is "home".

We'll start off with a house in the middle for our first block. Other blocks related to house and home will surround the large house block. Perhaps a line of laundry and a pot of flowers, maybe a birdhouse or a sewing machine or both. What will we put in all of those blocks? You will have to help me with that. I really hope you share lots of comments and ideas in the comment section of this page. Makes me smile just to think about it.

This is the starting point.

The basic layout. Subject to changes as we go. :)
Patterns: Blocks made from patterns that don't require templates will be free, and instructions will be posted on this blog. I'll post the patterns containing templates on Craftsy and they will be reasonably priced. I may group some of the smaller blocks into one pattern.

I'll sew up two versions of each block and prepare the patterns. One block will be made with warm, traditional fabrics, the other with fabrics that are brightly colored and modern. I have two very different kinds of fabrics in mind for making my pairs of quilt blocks. I hope these will give you some ideas - and I'll wind up with two quilts! (Smiling again!)

For the quilt made in traditional fabrics, I'll likely combine some pieces from Moda's French General fabrics with bits of 19th century reproductions. I love the new line of the French General that comes out in March. Until it's available I can use coordinating fabrics from my stash to get started.

I love these colors! I"ll definitely add some greens and browns.

The other quilt will be bright and modern. I may go with scrappy from many different fabric lines and my stash, or I may use some of these new fabrics from Moda. I won't be sure about this line until I see it up close. It's called "Daydreams", and I've ordered a 10-inch layer cake. If I don't think it will work for this quilt I'll use it for something else later.

This needs the addition of darker greens and smaller print blues and pinks  for sure.

Wow! How different these two quilts will be!

I've been working on the first block for the last several days. This will be the large, center block. The templates are almost all made and I'll be ready to begin stitching on the first pair of blocks next week. 

This is the preliminary sketch for the house block. Many minor changes have been made,
but it  remains basically the same.
This block could also be used in a wall hanging or placed into another quilt. My hubby thinks I should make four of these houses, change them up to show the four seasons, and turn them into a wall hanging. Something for the future, maybe?

And that's it! 

I hope you'll join me in this adventure!

 Now, I'm headed downstairs to clean and oil my sewing machine.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Year of Learning About Silhouettes and Mug Rugs

Earlier this week I posted the last of the patterns in my silhouette mug rugs series. I can't believe I actually completed a year's worth of children and their pets! Two mug rugs for each of twelve months - twenty four mug rug patterns in all!

Together at Last!

It's a good thing I didn't know from the beginning that these little characters would develop into a full year of active children and animals. But there they are, one after the other, playing together and making their way through changing seasons and across holidays. Had I been aware, the task would have been so intimidating that I likely would have been scared away. Drawing little people and animals so they come to life is hard! So is coming up with appropriate scenes for every month. Thank goodness I had so much support from my Craftsy friends and that they volunteered wonderful ideas at crucial moments. I would have been in quite a pickle had I been stuck on my own.

I started making patterns with absolutely no prior experience. Designing for myself and making patterns for others are entirely different procedures. It's been quite a learning curve. Along the way I made mistakes, like forgetting to reverse the template for the boy in the July pair and drawing the template of one of the dogs a bit strangely. Then there was the pattern I posted with missing template pages! Yikes! Thank goodness, I heard about those errors right away! My feelings do not get hurt when mistakes are pointed out! I'm just grateful to know so that I can make corrections right away.

Two of my best friends!

 A Few Things I Learned About Mug Rugs:

1. Mini-quilts take patience. That goes for designing and preparing templates as well as for stitching them up. I've changed a number of procedures in template making and in construction.

2. Don't lay the fusible web upside down on your fabric when you're ready to iron. Trying to clean a badly gummed up iron can ruin your day.

3. Always use a stabilizer behind small applique pieces or you may find gathers in the fabrics.

4. Starch is good, especially on binding. When you press and turn starched binding for final stitching, that pressed fold will be crisp and clean and will need little or no pinning.

Tricks Specific to Silhouettes

1. Double the patience with silhouette mug rugs. Never, never pick up the scissors when you're in a hurry. Cut carefully and slowly. Zigzag stitch around the applique pieces patiently. Small errors tend to magnify on little people and animals.

2. Use a very sharp, very small scissors for accuracy when cutting out the templates.

3. Never cut or stitch silhouettes when you are tired! A child might lose a finger, a dog might get a deformed nose, and you just might wear out your seam ripper or use words you don't want your children to hear.

Above all, have fun when making mini quilts. They finish very quickly even though you work slowly, and each little completed work of art is something you can enjoy privately and share proudly.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Year of Online Adventure

It's the end of my very first year designing little quilts and sewing patterns. I can't believe I posted my very first pattern for sale just a year ago this week! What a year it has been! I really hadn't planned to start a business.

My fist pattern - "Coffee Break Apron"
I'd been enjoying the Craftsy website for over a year when it finally dawned on me that the "Indie" designers on Crafsy were not all professionals. Some were just ordinary folks who liked to make things from their own designs - like me. I wondered what would happen if I tried to design a pattern. I'd recently made a child's apron pattern for my niece, but would anyone actually be interested in purchasing my designs?

There was only one way to find out. The worst that could happen would be that no one would buy anything. I could live with that. So I designed a little apron and posted the pattern. A few patterns sold. Nice! I think that even one sale would have been enough to encourage enough to try more. Pattern designing was exciting!

I added more patterns to my little store. Maybe I could find a magic formula. "Spring Table Runner" was the second pattern published in January. 
"Spring Table Runner"

I followed up with mug rugs in February, "March House" and the "March Wind" silhouette.  I picked up a few more customers and friends. I was on a roll!

"March House"
The business started very slowly at first, but I was meeting new people on the Craftsy website and making cyber-friends from around the world. It was lovely. The, with the "April Showers" silhouette mug rugs something happened. My pattern shop suddenly blossomed with business and I met so many new friends that I was overwhelmed. Wow! Some people really liked my little stitchables!

Well from there, a Facebook page evolved, and eventually this little blog came into being.

This month marks the end of an amazing year for me. I'm still in shock!

Most of all, I'm so glad to have found all of you!!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Flavorful Minestrone Soup for a Cold Winter's Day

The sun may be shining, but it is COLD outside! Brr... Temps are below zero, winds gusting up to 35 mph.

View from my window
There's something about winter's chill that makes us yearn for comfort food. When I was growing up my mother served grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell's tomato soup for lunch on days like this. We usually had hot cocoa and stovetop popcorn for snacks, and dinner was likely to be a macaroni casserole with made with onions, ground beef and tomato sauce.

But, I'm doing something different today. I'm baking up some whole wheat French bread and cooking a huge pot of minestrone soup. My kitchen is getting all nice and cozy and our tummies will be warmed up, too. I'll share the bread recipe in a future post.


One of the best things about minestrone soup is that you don't have to follow any particular list of ingredients. There isn't just one recipe. The essentials are onions, green or red sweet peppers, tomatoes, Italian spices, and pasta. Add veggies, mixing and matching your favorite flavors. Toss it all together into a big pot and let it simmer.

So this is minestrone soup made my way. Nothing is measured - I just tossed in whatever I found that looked good. If I'd had peas and okra on hand instead of carrots and celery, they would have made fine choices.

This is what went into my soup:

  • 1/2 onion, chopped 
  • 1 small zucchini chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic  
  • a couple of stalks of celery, chopped
  • a few baby carrots, sliced (these were aging and needed to be used up)
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 can of chicken broth
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes  
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • about 1/2 cup small shell pasta
  • basil (about 1 teaspoon)
  • parsley (about 2 tablespoons)
  • bay leaf (1)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • water

Step 1: Fry the onion on medium heat in olive oil, stirring often.

Step 2: When the onion is just lightly browned, add the zucchini. Continue frying on medium heat until the zucchini begins to brown.

Step 3: Toss the rest of the chopped veggies into the pot. Continue cooking and stirring often for another several minutes.

Step 4: Add herbs. I chose these.
A generous portion of parsley (I dropped in about two tablespoon of dried parsley.)
A pinch or two of basil to suit your taste buds
One bay leaf

Step 5:
Pour in a can of chicken broth, a can of chopped tomatoes, and add some water. 
Turn temperature to medium low, and let it all simmer for awhile.

Step 6:
When the veggies are tender, but not overcooked, drop in the pasta and any frozen veggies you might add. The soup will need to cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.

Step 7: Serve it up, nice and hot!

Quick and easy and full of flavor!

Keep Warm!!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Come Into My Parlor"

"Will you walk into my parlour? said the Spider to the Fly,
'tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've many curious things to shew when you are there."

from "The Spider and the Fly" by Mary Howitt

My daughter likes spiders.
She really does like spiders!

When she was a little girl she was afraid of all kinds of flying and crawling "bugs", spiders included. I really tried to teach her that most of these critters were completely harmless, but after the experience of sitting on a bee when she climbed into a small tree, it was pretty much a lost cause.  It didn't help that she has a severe reaction to mosquito bites, as well.

Somehow, though, she could appreciate a spider as an artist. She was fascinated by the symmetry and beauty of delicately spun webs. She also liked the idea that spiders got rid of creepy, scary insects.

And then came the experience with wolf spiders. 
Scary looking creatures, aren't they?

Wolf spiders sometimes come indoor as weather turns cold. As autumn approached we noticed that our house had absolutely no insects anywhere - nothing. Not a fly, not a cricket, not even the little spiders that like to hide their webs in corners and on ceilings. Nice! 

And then we found the wolf spiders. A pair of them had found a home in our basement. They were calm, and pretty much harmless as long as you didn't try to pick one up, so we kept them as pets. They lived in our basement for over a year, rarely seen, but working hard for their keep. 

So, my daughter likes spiders. That's why I made this mug rug for her for Christmas. 

Oh, do come into my parlor!

Happy Stitching!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Home For Christmas - Tutorial

It's Christmas Eve at my house and all is calm and peaceful. Christmas chores complete, no noisy children underfoot, only soft holiday music in the background, and no wet birds, thank goodness.

I pulled out this Christmas quilt a few days ago and settled it on my couch by the fireplace. Of all my quilts, this one may be my favorite.

I love the log cabin pattern and the fabrics, but most of all I love how it reminds me of my mother. It was made to remember her. She was so heartbroken after my father died and wanted only to join him. Less than two years later, on December 15, 2005, in a house beautifully decorated for the holidays, she passed away. Her prayers were answered and she had truly gone home for Christmas. That's how the quilt got it's name.

People often ask me what I did to make the flowers look like they are dancing around vines. I'm sharing the trick with you. You might consider it a Christmas gift.

The finished log cabin blocks are 9" squares. This quilt is rather long and narrow, 4 blocks wide and 6 blocks long. If I were to make it again I think I'd either make it 4 blocks by 5 blocks or 5 blocks square. There are 3 borders, 1/2", 1 1/2", and 2".

The finished dimensions are 44" x 62".

It's all about the fabric choices. It begins with a very large floral background on a light or white background. The petals have to stand out individually with lots of light colored spaces in between. Then, a green leaf print. Again, the leaves should be rather prominent, though the light background isn't required. The rest of the fabrics in the log cabin blocks should be light or rather neutral.

The fabrics I used.
Only this one block is used, throughout the quilt. The numbers on this diagram show the order in which the strips are added.

Cutting measurements for one block. Multiply the number of strips of each fabric you will need for one block by the number of blocks you choose to use.
Strip 1: 1 1/2" x 1 1/2"
Strip 2: 1 1/2" x 1 1/2"
Strip 3: 1 1/2" x 2 1/2"
Strip 4: 1 1/2" x 2 1/2"
Strip 5: 1 1/2" x 3 1/2" 
Strip 6: 1 1/2" x 3 1/2"
Strip 7: 1 1/2" x 4 1/2"
Strip 8: 1 1/2" x 4 1/2"
Strip 9: 1 1/2" x 5 1/2"
Strip 10: 1 1/2" x 5 1/2"
Strip 11: 1 1/2" x 6 1/2"
Strip 12: 1 1/2" x 6 1/2"
Strip 13: 1 1/2" x 7 1/2"
Strip 14 1 1/2" x 7 1/2"
Strip 15: 1 1/2" x 8 1/2"
Strip 16: 1 1/2" x 8 1/2"
Strip 17: 1 1/2" x 9 1/2"

This diagram shows how to assemble  the blocks. They are turned in only two directions for this quilt pattern. 

The finished layout of the blocks after being sewn together. The dancing petals don't show up in this diagram at all. The main reason is that I couldn't find a picture of poinsettia fabric that had leaves as large and a background as light as it needed to be.  The inner green computerized design is also too solid. It should have a very light background with little green showing at all - more like the fabric I actually used. 

This photo shows the borders. The red is 1/2" wide, the floral is 1 1/2" wide, and the green is 2" wide. 

Merry Christmas from my house to yours. Whether home or away from home, may your holiday be filled with joy.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Eve: A True Story - Honest!

Christmas Eve - in the morning, I was bustling to and fro,
Stitching this, baking that, making piles of presents grow.
A needle jabbed into my thumb, clock hands were swiftly turning.
While searching for my Christmas list I smelled the cookies burning.

My kids were blasting music (not the kind that I would choose),
Their father yelled for quiet, then turned up the TV news
My head was really throbbing, but I could not slow my pace.
To leave something unfinished would have been a huge disgrace!

The telephone began to ring, my daughter raced her brother,
Not noticing that in their haste they'd nearly killed their mother.
I chased out of the kitchen to answer knocking at the door,
And I tripped upon the carpet and fell sprawling on the floor.

The florist smiled, "Good morning! Please just sign your name right here.
A poinsettia from the neighbors to bring you Christmas cheer."
I sat down on the lowest step, the flowers on my lap,
I couldn't deal with any more until I'd had a nap.

I retreated to my bedroom and stretched out on my bed.
Quiet peace flowed over me ... then my eyes flew wide with dread!
From the bathroom in the hallway, the children's, not my own,
Came a sound I'd heard before, one I wish I'd never known.

I tiptoed very slowly, till before the stool I stood,
Wishing it would go away. Praying that it would.
One gurgle. Then another. My body swayed with fright,
What I imagined underneath the lid, was a plumber's true delight.

My first thought was to flush it. Maybe it would come unplugged.
Then I visioned murky waters overflowing on my rug.
So I raised the lid so slowly, peeked to see what I had heard,
And there, splashing in the toilet, was a wet a frightened bird!

This was not what I'd expected, and I slammed the lid back down,
As I screamed so very loudly that my voice was heard downtown!
Well my husband, he came running, and the children followed suit.
"There's a bird in the toilet!" They just stood, three statues, mute.

I repeated in a softer voice, and I motioned with my hand,
But they looked upon me blankly like they didn't understand.
"There's a bird in the toilet! Do you think that I am blind?"
I heard my husband whisper, "Son, your mother's lost her mind.

"Dear, it's been a trying day," soothed my husband with a frown.
I just shouted, "Go do something - or that bird will surely drown!"
So they looked, just to humor me, and guess what they found there -
Yes, a bird, flopping desperately! Not a moment left to spare!

My son retrieved the dripping thing and wrapped it in a towel.
He placed it in a spot of sun to dry the soggy fowl.
Did it fall down the chimney? No, we had closed the flue.
Then how did it get there? I really wish we knew.

Did it swim up the sewer? That seems quite absurd,
But stranger things have happened close to Christmas. So I've heard.
After awhile we took it out, and watched it fly away.
And I thought, how very fitting as an ending to this day.

Merry Christmas, everyone!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

One of Those December Days!

What a glorious, sunshiny day! My backyard is blindingly white and beautiful.

I wish I could just sit and look out the window, but it is December, and it truly is one of "those" days that seem to comprise most of this month. I'm not sure if I'm multi-tasking today or if I'm simply running around like the proverbial headless chicken.

Crazy choice of days to be writing this blog.

Let's see. First off, this is the day of the "big clean" in my sewing room. I couldn't put it off any longer. I've made a good start. I've piled everything on a table so I can clean the floor and get behind things. It's a beginning, right?

What else? 

A while back my daughter gave me a tub of fresh dates. I'm not kidding! A tub! At least a quart! I really need to use these and I needed a quick recipe. So this morning I got online and found a recipe for date nut bread. It had 5 stars! That means fabulous, right? I'll let you know when it cools off enough for me to try it for a morning snack. 

This is the piece I've cut for my snack later on. It looks yummy enough, doesn't it?

I had my snack a while ago. Not bad. I wouldn't give it 5 stars, though. Maybe four. :)

Okay, what else? I have five - that's right, FIVE - new mug rugs in the works. These are the little gifts for family. So am I making them one at a time? That would be boring! I've been doing them all at once. Here they are on my design board, waiting for applique stitching, quilting, binding - all that stuff. 

My son-in-law gets the truck rug. That's a story in itself. He has this old truck, the first vehicle he ever bought for himself. No one really knows why he keeps it. It's badly rusted and has been sitting unused in the driveway for several years. Last summer he decided to fix it up. Now it's in two pieces - the main truck in the garage, and the topper on the driveway. I'm sure he'll get it up and running someday, but not during the cold of winter. 

The football is for my grandson. Typical 15-year-old boy. I think I'll work on finishing that one up first because some of you may want the pattern before football season is totally over.

My son is a reader - always has been, always will be. Thought I'd give him a stack of books. 

My granddaughter is involved in way too many activities, but music is a huge part of her life. She's been playing the violin for the past 7 years.

As for my daughter who reads my blog ... well that's not going to be visible till after Christmas. She's the one who, through blatant snooping absolutely everywhere, discovered the stash of Santa toys the year she was eight. I'll just let her guess. 

That's it. Time for my mid-morning snack, then down to the sewing room - clean first, sew after.

Have a super day!!