Qustom quilts for baby, crib, lap, and wall.

image3(4)Quilting can be a methodical thing if you let it. It is, after all, one of the many ways in which we quilters are using that high school math we never though we’d need. It can also get redundant in the use of ages old patterns or if you have a preferred color palette. If you’re not careful, you can end up with an armoire full of quilts all in shades of pink. In order to avoid, these issues, you have to do what I like to call, thinking outside the blocks.

I don’t see many people using the pre-printed embroidery blocks any more. At least not where I live presently. Where I was born and raised, it’s a little more common, but still is waning. If you’re not sure what these blocks are, take a look at Jack Dempsey’s selection. These blocks typically come in 9” or 18” and come in sets of six or twelve. The designs range from nursery themes to childhood images to flowers and hearts and tractors. They’re made with the primary thought in mind of creating quilt tops by either sewing the blocks together once embroidered to setting them like you would a patch-work with a strip of fabric separating the blocks. If you live in a community where this craft is popular, before you know it, everyone has a quilt on display in their home featuring roses. A few years ago, I began to ponder, what else could I create from these blocks?

My first venture outside the blocks was a baby bag made from 9” nursery themed blocks. I was home for some reason or other and Mom and I started brainstorming and tinkering at the craft table one day. My sister was pregnant with her youngest and I came up with the idea to create and gift her a handmade baby bag. It took a set of six blocks, three for each side of the bag. We created a bottom and side from 6-8” strip of fabric and fabric stabilizer to make it sturdy. We attached some handles and voila, we had a bag. I wish could find a picture of that first one, but alas, it escapes me where it is. Nonetheless it was a cool project!

image5(4)After that, I was in all crafty quilty mode. We’ve made market totes out of the 18” blocks, curtains out of quilts, and you can create some nifty toss pillows with two 18” blocks and a piece of pillow foam. My latest adventure is making table cloths/runners from the embroidered blocks. I’ve created a couple of them this week. One is for the store and the other is a gift. The 18” block is surrounded by eight 9-patch blocks, then it’s quilted and hemmed. It is about the size of a lap quilt and fits perfectly angled on a small dining table. It looks very elegant with some lace draped beneath. I’m excited to be making these and can’t wait to share more of them with y’all.

Until next time, always remember to think outside the blocks.

image2(1)As some of you may have noticed, if you’ve been by the Etsy store and had a look around, in my product descriptions I always note that each piece has been machine washed prior to being listed. That’s absolutely true. Each and every one of my creations is washed in the gentle cycle with a hypoallergenic detergent free of dyes or scents then tumbled dry on low with no fabric softner. There are a few reasons for me doing this.

First and foremost, I want to ensure the integrity of the item; the stitching and embroidery work. I want to make sure that even after a cycle in the washing machine, the stitching and embellishments stay intact. There are times, especially when hemming blind, I might run off an edge and a bit of hem will flip out during the cycle. Washing prior to listing an item for sale helps me to know I’m selling a quality product and if I do happen to come up with a raw edge somewhere, at that point it is totally repairable. Now, the embroidery embellishments are another story. If that stitching happens to come loose during the initial wash cycle, there isn’t much that can be done. That particular piece is called a loss. Once the hand-embroidered top is quilted to the backing, there’s no taking that apart to re-stitch the design. Aside from it already being quilted, there is a secondary problem with not being able to recreate the design, and this same issue serves as another reason I pre-wash items.

The blue ink used to print the pattern onto pre-printed embroidery items will normally wash out during the initial wash cycle phase of production. Cold water normally takes the blue residue right out of the fabric. You can see how that’d be a problem with being able to recreate a design that came apart at the stitching post-wash. However, another issue that can arise from this blue ink is that it actually doesn’t come out of the fabric. It doesn’t happen often, but last week I had a case of it here in the studio that turned into a disaster, to be quite honest.

I usually wash two or three pieces together as I normally never have a problem with the blue ink. I’m fully aware what can happen, I just try to have faith it won’t. I’ve also never in the years and years I’ve been doing this ever had a case of it anywhere nearly as bad as this was last week. The ink from one single piece bled not only all over that piece but transferred to two other pieces I was washing with it. I’d done everything I know to do to prevent this transfer of ink. I washed in cold, rinsed in cold, used the right detergent, and used the color-catchers you can toss in your laundry. Everything was going along well, then I opened the washer after the cycle was done. To my dismay, the quilt that was responsible for the bleed pretty much had a blue background rather than the white it started with. The other two pieces had transfer marks along the edging and hemlines.

So, what’s the answer when this disaster strikes?

image4(1)I separated the items by severity of the issue. The problem causing piece went into the deep sink for a soak in cold water for a couple of hours. In the meantime, the other pieces were sprayed with a stain remover and put back in the washing machine. After a couple of rounds of this method and using a Tide pen as well as an old wives’ method of vinegar bath, nothing worked. In effect, the three pieces are now in the total loss bin.

I’m still unsure as to why this particular piece caused this issue. I don’t know if the printer was extremely heavy handed with the printing, or if the ink itself was defective. I’ve never had a piece that I couldn’t get the bleed out of before.

The takeaways from this experience? Thank goodness I do go through the extra step of washing prior to listing an item! I’d be appalled if a customer received an item then washed it and opened the machine to find what I did. And, no more washing multiple items. I always saw washing one single item as a waste of water, electricity, and time. From now on, this final step will be taken more carefully regardless of cost to ensure nothing ends up in the total loss bin and my customers continue to get the quality they expect and deserve.

After just a sewin’ the blues…lesson learned.

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My ratty old beach quilt. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So many times, I’ve come across folks who are terrified of actually using their quilts. Now, while I do understand some quilts are award winning, heirloom, show pieces, for many their quilts have been made or purchased for them by a loved one. Trust me when I say, they didn’t make that quilt or purchase that quilt with the intention that you’d tuck that precious creation behind glass to be stared at. They intended for you to use it. How you use it is up to you, but please don’t be afraid to do so. The possibilities for using it are endless and, as far as I’m concerned, no idea is out of bounds when it comes to creative ideas regarding the use of it.

How I use it? I know you might be asking yourself that very question. And the answer is, yes, how you use it. Quilts aren’t just good for covering up on a chilly afternoon with an engaging book and cup of tea. They aren’t just meant to be draped over the bed to be peeled of carefully before going to bed, or displayed across a rack, either. Quilts can and should be used in a wide variety of ways.

When I was a little girl, I can remember in the spring and in the fall, our gramma would often pack a picnic lunch and take us little gals out for a stroll through the woods. We’d sometimes end up at the bottom of the holler where a dry creek bed was and a fantastic hill that was good for sliding down when covered with leaves. I can remember in vivid detail the musty smell of the decaying dead fall as we’d whisk down it, usually tucked between the legs of our mommas, squealing in delight. These treks into the wilderness were such adventures! Sometimes we’d find special trinkets to carry back; leaves, twigs, moss covered rocks. Sometimes we’d be out mushroom hunting and the next day we’d have fresh fried mushrooms for our lunch. We’d always see some type of wildlife. And there was always that packed picnic to nourish us. That picnic was most usually set out on an old quilt. One that was normally considered too ratty to be used as a bed cover any longer.

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I recently noticed this piece had some repair stitching on it. I honestly have no idea exactly how old it is.

Somehow over the years, I came to be in possession of one of those ratty old relics. I’ve toted it around throughout my adulthood, overseas and through several states. It’s hosted many a picnic on the sands of Onslow Beach. It’s been my comfort during the long deployment cycles when my husband was away on business. I’d curl up under it, sometimes on our sunporch with a cup of coffee in hand and stargaze, knowing that half-way around the world my husband could see the same sky I could see, although while mine was dark, his was sunny. I also knew he’d be curled up at times under the quilt I’d made for him to take with him, a small creature comfort from home. I’ve never been afraid to use that old quilt, even in as bad a shape as it is. Truth be told, it could be repaired, but I prefer it ratty and worn. It speaks to the use of it and all the memories embedded in the weave of its fabric. At some point, it will probably be too worn to use at all anymore, and at that point, I might consider stashing it away. That day has not yet come. Right now, it’s draped over my office chair.

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Consider using a quilt as a table covering paired with lace. The pretty pitcher belonged to my Aunt Mae and was gifted to me as a wedding present.

No, I’ve never been afraid to use my quilts, and to be certain I have many. Some are newer, some are embroidered, some are patch work. Some are patterns I have no idea the name of. One such older quilt I have is a patch pattern made from clothing I’m sure my mother and her siblings may have worn. I’m sure gramma could have told me where each piece came from, but it’s far too late for me to take it to her now and pay attention where I should have years ago. I’ve carried this one over several states, too, and it’s had many uses. One use I found for it simply appalled one of my neighbors at one point. We were living in base housing aboard Camp Lejeune and I was hosting a holiday meal as I often did in those days. It was nothing for me to have upwards of twenty-five or more single troops, married senior enlisted and their families, and whoever else needed a place to enjoy fellowship and home-cooking. When one of my neighbors walked in and discovered by table dressed in an antique quilt with an overlay of lace, a lovely bouquet adorning the center, she cringed. She insisted we needed to take it off because I was running the risk of something getting spilled on it.

And? So what if something does get spilled? That’s what stain remover and the washing machine is for, as far as I’m concerned. The quilts my gramma gave me weren’t meant to be tucked away behind glass and stared at. She meant for me to use them and cherish them. For me to have a piece of her on my holiday table was something special. It was something I wanted to share with my guests.

After some amount of explaining and reassuring that all would be well and the quilt was in no danger of being ruined because even if we did make a stain it wasn’t just a stain, it was a memory, my neighbor acquiesced and the table-scape remained intact. As we were eating, I caught glances of her touching the stitching between bites or looking especially hard at some piece of fabric or other, probably wondering where it came from, what that piece of fabric’s purpose was before it was a patch quilt piece.

Friends, don’t be afraid to use your quilts. Get creative with them! Share with me and my other followers and readers in what unconventional ways you’ve used some of yours.

image7(3)I have to tell you, while my family seems to be on the shrinking side of things over the past few years, at one time they were quite a fertile people. I’ve recently begun researching my family’s geneolgy, and as a result of this research I currently have an application filed with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). During my hunt, I’ve discovered some quite large groups of sibs. My maternal great-grandfather was one of over a dozen siblings. And that’s not even the largest grouping I found! A couple of generations further back I located a sibling group of nearly twenty. Consequently, each generation since then had fairly large families, until mine. My generation slowed things down a bit with the most children being born to we first-cousins at a grand total of five. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon these days, this paring down of family size. The reasons are many and some quite obvious. Nonetheless, it’s been interesting trying to wrap my head around the hugeness of my branches and the depth of my roots.

You might be asking right about now, what the heck any of that has to do with the art of quilting. Well, it’s from these very roots my love of the craft sprouts and grows. My mom recently visited and she brought with her my baby quilt that my maternal great-grandmother had hand-pieced and hand-quilted for me when mom was pregnant. It’s a treasure! I already had in one of my many keepsake boxes the quilt this same woman hand-pieced and hand-quilted for my son, her great-great grandbaby. Quilting is something that’s been passed along in my family for generations. I’m sure at first keeping warm was the driving factor for all the quilts I’ve seen pass through the hands of the generations, but at some point the necessity of warmth became less a factor and the actual art and entertainment of that craft moved more front and center. During the transition is when the art of hand-embroidering became a more prominent factor in the quilting in our family. And this sort of ties back into the breadth and width of our family population.

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The baby quilt Great-Grandma quilted for Mom when she was pregnant with me.

I can remember when I was very young, the wonder and amazement of hearing the announcement of another family member being “on the way.” While the mother-to-be was busy growing the new tiny human who’d join the ranks of our brood, the rest of the hens would be busy piecing and embroidering quilts. Being the recipient of one of the handmand quilts was an honor and highly anticipated. I don’t know many in my family who don’t have a handmande treasure tucked away somewhere, either that was theirs when they were a baby or was made for one of their own children and they’re waiting until the right time to pass it on to that child’s keepsake box.

It was kind of with these memories in mind, I wanted to share with the world the beauty of not just pieced quilts, but also something many have told me they’ve never seen, the hand-embroidered quilt. The art of quilting, and most especially hand-embroidered blocks and tops, seems to be waning. Not as many people make these treasures to present to the mother-to-be at the spring baby shower. But through services like mine, gift-givers have the chance to present a handmande heirloom that can be passed down for generations to come in the form of an art that’s been passed down in my family for generations.

This week I’ve quilted five new baby quilts which still need hemming but will be available for purchase in the Etsy store beginning in April. Have a mother-to-be in your family? Have a spring shower coming up? Why not hop over to the store and take a look? You might just find the handmade quilt for baby that’ll be appreciated for years to come.

What’s a tradition in your family that seems to be waning but you’d love to preserve? Share with me! Be sure to find and follow me on Facebook for more frequent updates on what I’m working on.

image1(1)I recently had the opportunity to visit with my momma for a few days, and she commented more than once on the color combinations I’ve been using on some of my projects. Right now, those projects include embroidering some 18×18 inch pre-printed quilt blocks which won’t be used to make quilts at all, but rather be used individually as the centers for a table topper I’ve been concocting in my mind’s eye. The premise is that the hand-embroidered block would be surrounded by hand-pieced blocks of some sort. Currently, I’m digging on the tossed nine patch concept, so we’ll see how this all plays out. However, back to the color part of the show.

image2(4)I don’t know about you, but I’m really into vintage and shabby chic with a little bit of country and patriotic thrown in for good measure. I guess that all sounds a bit eclectic and scattered, but when it comes to the vintage colors, I just love the way you can combine shades that seem like they should totally clash but once put next to each other they are the perfect complement. For instance…purple and yellow with a bit of gray thrown in for good measure. With the right tones chosen, these look like a spring tea party on your table. Or, take peaches and blues. These together remind me of mason jars and pearls. Anywho! While momma kept complimenting me on my color schemes, she also asked where did I come up with some of the combos and how did I manage to make them work. That depends…

image3(2)Sometimes, I’ll take a stroll through the paint department at my local hardware store and snatch swatches, a big ol’ handful of random colors. Then, I bring them home and arrange them on my table until something clicks. Other times, I go through design magazines and when a room displayed within catches my eye, I try to mimic it through chosen floss colors. Department stores, particularly the kitchenware sections are great places to find inspiration for color. What’s the current trend in dish patterns? What colors are available in linens? What flowers are popular this season? What’s the current deco piece of choice among shoppers? Are birds in or out? Which birds? Peacocks are all the rage right now. All the bold shades of blue, gold, and purple combine to make some really amazing palettes. Yellow and gray are a thing. While that might seem drab, find just the right shade and pop! What I in essence try to do is take current trends, and make them my own by reimagining how to use those colors to create my embroidery patterns. It’s not that complicated, really and it is so much fun exploring and finding new ways to see color, not just on the art wheel and obeying the rules that say warm and cool clash.

What color trends are you digging on right now?

 

hoops8Hand-embroidering is one of those crafts which doesn’t actually require a whole lot of tools. In fact, in the grand-scheme of crafting, it requires pretty much the least number of tools to pull off. You basically need scissors, needles, and your hoops. I don’t count the actually fabric or design to be a tool. While scissors and needles are important, they’re pretty basic in nature and really almost any brand will do. But the hoops? For me, they’re a bit of a different animal and really rely on one’s personal preference when choosing and purchasing.

There are basically two models, or types, of hoop. There are the “free” hoops which are hand-held and the “stand” hoops which either sit on the lap or sit on the floor when in use. I much prefer the hand-held version. I feel as though I have more control over the piece I’m working on and can turn the hoop at angles not possible with a stand version. Hoops come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. They can be oval or round, as small as 4” in diameter to 30” in diameter, or larger. hoops7They typically are wooden or plastic, but some of my earliest hoops from childhood were made of metal and had a piece of cork attached to the inside hoop which prevented slippage of the fabric. The problem with the metal hoops was that in adverse environments they were prone to rusting and the springs often wore out. They were also terrific finger-pinchers. I got more than one blood blister attempting to secure my project in a set of metal hoops.

The brand of hoop I prefer today is from Yarnology. I have a variety of sizes from the smallest to the largest and I have an oval shaped hoop I use to do trim work around the edges of projects. They come in a wonderful array of colors which makes them that much more attractive in my opinion, and they are reasonably priced, starting at around $2.00 for a smaller size. hoops9The thing about this particular brand of hoop I like the best, though, is that the inner hoop has a ridge which fits into a groove on the outer hoop making for a tight fit and little slippage when working on a project. I’ve found this system also cuts down on stretching of the fabric. So far, I’ve only found these gems at Hobby Lobby.

If you’re thinking of taking up the craft of embroidery, I recommend beginning with a smaller size hoop until you’re used to handling them then moving up to a larger size. Holding and controlling a hoop can cause quite a bit of hand fatigue and this is one of those cases starting small and working up can be beneficial in the long run. Starting small is also less expensive so you’re out less start-up cost to try something new.

Are you a crafter, needle-worker? What’s one of your favorite tools?

There have been some new items added to the Etsy store. Be sure to stop by and find the perfect gift or addition to your own home.

IMG_3516When we bought our retirement home in late summer 2017, we knew we were sort of getting a two-fer in the deal. The original listing cited there was an apartment in the backyard of the main house. While the property wasn’t everything we had in mind when we put together our “dream list” of wants, needs, and desires for the retirement home, it did hold a great deal of promise and quite a few perks. The home shown in the listing was of brick construction, there was a sunroom (yeah!), there were mature trees, and there was a pretty huge yard. It had three bedrooms, two baths, and a fireplace. It was a bit dated, but in our mind that meant a blank slate, of sorts, for us to do with as we pleased. All this was within no more than five miles of amenities and city services. While we weren’t going to get five or more acres of land, it was a fair trade in our mind to get all else we could with this property. We did an initial drive-by before booking a walk-through with our realtor, and that was when I had my first glimpse of what wasn’t actually an apartment, or a MIL quarters, or a FROG. All fancy words for extra space. It was none of those things, but instead a circa 1940s carriage house.

During our initial scoping out of the property, we discovered a renter currently lived in what would become our little carriage house, and she wasn’t willing to let us have a peek, but it was in those initial moments of looking around that I became quite intrigued of the “apartment.” I knew that space had just as much potential as the main house did in becoming ours in every way we could make it so. We called our realtor and the next day we were allowed inside the home, but still not the carriage house, and sixty days later, we were the proud owners of “the old *redacted name* place.”

Boy, howdy! It was a struggle the entire way. There were issues hunting down the executor of the property who was on vacation, so we weren’t even able to place an offer for two weeks. There were issues with the initial paperwork. There were issues with the VA. Then the last straw presented itself by way of an oversight in whether the property was or was not on city sewage and how to rectify the findings without having to begin the process all over again. We were anxious to buy as our window of opportunity was closing and the executor was anxious to sell as the property had been on the market for over 18 months at that point. We crossed all those hurdles, and wouldn’t you know, one more presented itself less than a week from closing. We had agreed to purchase a renter-free property as the woman who’d been living in the carriage house was due to vacate three weeks prior to our closing by way of her lease running out, as we wanted. However, the executor thought she’d be doing us a favor by hunting up a new renter. We declined and the new renter was informed we would not be hosting them.

Folks, I could do days’ worth of posts on buying a house and all the pitfalls and weird things that can happen, but I digress. I want to share with you what we discovered after all was said and done and the house was finally ours. Well, it will be in another twenty-nine years or so.

It wasn’t until a few months after we moved in and had the main house in fairly decent running order that we got the full scoop on what we’d been referring to as the cottage since we’d moved in. In casual conversation one day, a neighbor informed us we were in possession of a piece of history.

In the mid to late-1940s, the county and a few generous residents got together and decided to honor the returning World War II veterans to our area by building them small homes on gifted plots of property. (At least this is local lore. I’m in the process of confirming this account.) Our carriage house happens to be one of those small homes. In fact, it’s one of the few surviving carriage houses in the area. According to what we’ve learned, the hillside behind us was once filled with them. Now, as far as we can tell, three remain. (A fourth one is in question. We believe it’s been built around and the lower level of a neighboring house is the bones of what was a carriage house from the architectural nuances.) These confirmed three which remain have had such good care taken of them, one would never know just be looking at them they’re pushing upward of seventy years old. Ours is the only one, however, with the original “foundation” showing and is the most original, from what we’ve been told, inside. You can still see the cinder blocks which make-up the work-shop/garage beneath the living quarters. Inside the carriage house are the original wormy chestnut bead-board walls which shine as if they’re brand new.

Since figuring out the significance of the carriage house, we’ve tossed around a few ideas for its use, but we really want to honor the history which came with the structure. My husband being a history buff and a retired veteran, we want to make sure we preserve the integrity of the meaning of the cottage while still making it functional and useful for years to come. After tossing around a few ideas, we’ve decided to do a few upgrades and create a studio space for me and all my crafty/quilty things by way of Bee Darned, as well as give me a place to write when I need a bit quieter space than the main house affords.

We’re set to begin the renovation and upgrade process early this summer with the first project being a new electrical box. The original, complete with its glass screw in fuses, is still in the kitchen. Obviously with a free-standing quilter going in the living room, electricity is foremost on the list of things to do. Other projects will include new steps and a porch facelift, ripping out some ancient carpet and refurbishing the hard-wood floors beneath, and figuring out a reasonably priced heating and air conditioning solution. I’m really excited to be undertaking the preservation of a piece of history, one we had no idea we were going to be in possession of until after the fact, and can’t wait to share this journey with y’all through posts and pictures.

If you haven’t been by yet, be sure to stop by the Etsy shop for all the latest offerings I’ve listed.

Have a crafty day!

 

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