Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Stitch

I've put together photos + words that detail how I go about hand quilting. Quilting is such a vast topic with various approaches. This here is simply addressing the very stitch itself, as in how I start, stitch and finish each thread. To me there always seemed to be some mystery to the actual stitch and that classic motion of making it. Then I learned that you just have to begin. Right or wrong, start somewhere. I hope this post helps you do that. A lot of this info is in Handmade Beginnings (almost here!) but I didn't get the luxury of this much photo space in the book. So here you go, and thanks to Alexia for helping me take the pics! Have fun!


Alexia and I both like to use big chunky thread for hand quilting. I use the little Perle Cottons that come wound in a ball, usually a size 5, 7, or 8 (the smaller the number the thicker the thread). DMC also has these gorgeous skeins of variegated cotton that Alexia is using in these photos. As for needles, I use embroidery needles cause they're nice and sharp but has an open enough eye for threading the chunky threads. Crewel needles work well too, they are typically just a little shorter than embroidery needles.


Alexia also very cleverly cuts through the skein loop at one end to create several perfect length pieces for your quilting all in one snip. This way you don't have to unwind and cut the perfect length each time. Smart girl.


Many quilters like to use a quilting hoop or frame to keep all the layers nice and smooth as they stitch. I have a square laptop hoop that is made from plastic tubing that I find more useful than a round or oval frame that is harder to make use of once you get to the corners. I also like to sit up to a table when I quilt to have something to lay the frame against. Stitching will be easier with a frame if you don’t tighten the fabrics so much that you can’t press gently on the quilt layer. This square frame with the snap-on sides adjusts tautness easily by just twisting the fitted outer pieces in towards the center or out towards the edges. I feel like I am putting less stress on the quilt fabric with this process than I do when tugging fabric through a wooden hoop.


Whether you use a frame or not, you should always start at the center and work your way out with the quilt stitches. (And working stitches towards yourself tends to lessen the stress on your neck and shoulders.) To begin with, you shouldn’t be able to see any knots from the outside of the quilt, either the top or the back, so you’ll need to hide them. To do this, knot the thread within 1/4" to 1/2" of the end of the thread. Insert the needle into the quilt top just about 1/2" away from where you will begin your first stitch. Do not, however, push the needle through to the back, but instead come up where you want to begin stitching.


You can then pull the needle and thread slack through until the knot is sitting on the surface. Place your fingers on the end of the pulled-through thread slack and tug until the knot pops underneath the top layer. (It might take a few tries before you can get the knot to only pop under the layer once, and not pop it out through both layers! The secret is in grabbing the thread slack at the very base of where it is coming out of the quilt top.)


Once popped through the quilt top, the knot will then be hidden in the inner layers and not visible from either side.


The goal of the simple running stitch is that it is generally straight and that each stitch is equal in length, equally spaced from other stitches, and equal in its distance from a seam if you are following along pieced seams. Enter the quilt top with the needle at a perfect vertical angle.


Then as soon as you feel the needle from underneath, angle the needle back up as close to a vertical line as you can to push the tip of the needle through. Focusing on this motion will help keep the stitches on the underside consistent with those on the quilt top.


With practice, you will be able to load a few stitches onto the needle at once, in a sort of rocking motion. So you could try to head back down through the quilt with the tip of the needle again at a vertical angle. It's fine to go ahead and pull slack through after only one stitch. Take your time with your technique.


As shown above however, you only need to pull through enough slack to give you room to load a few more stitches (or one stitch) onto the needle. You don't have to pull through the entire length of thread with every stitch. This is particularly good to keep in mind if you are only going one stitch at a time. Conserve your time and energy by not pulling the whole length through every time, but maybe only every second or third time. And I definitely encourage going one stitch at a time! I can't stress that enough. You should not feel like you need to master several stitches at once from the beginning. The better your stitches look the better you will feel about returning to the task. So while loading several stitches with one hand above the quilt and one hand below the quilt is very efficient, use whatever method gives you the prettiest stitch for now. If you are performing one stitch at a time really well for a while, you will naturally begin to try a few more.


Stop stitching about an inch or two from the inside edges of the frame to prevent skewing the layers at all. Rather, continue to reposition the frame once you get that close. To make a finishing knot, the concept is similar to the beginning knot. When you are about to perform your last stitch into the quilt top, knot the ending slack of your thread about a stitch length (or 1/4") from the quilt top.


Insert the needle to finish the stitch, but just through the top and then back out the top again an inch or so away.


Pull the slack until the knot is lying against the top. Tug and pop the knot into the batting layer.


Cut the thread close to the top, being careful not to clip the quilt top in the process. A curved pair of embroidery scissors is perfect for this. To start the next thread, this whole process would begin again on the underside, picking up where your last stitch left off. And instead of doing a full stitch ending up at the underside again, you would just poke through to the top, where you would continue your quilting from the quilt top side.

Okay, so maybe I should be doing an egg dyeing tutorial today, but take what you can get! Speaking of, I need to go check my eggs. Busy week here of pre-Easter festivities coupled with some special little girl sewing which I'll share next week.

Happy Easter! xoxo, Anna

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday is brought to you by the color Yellow


I hosted my supper club last night. I let a local restaurant do the cooking this time, but I managed to buy flowers. I know, it was exhausting. (Lest you think me lazy I should say that I was a single mother of 5 for 4 days while Jeff and Juliana were in NYC school-looking (and eating, and shopping and generally having lots of city fun without poor ole country me). And I cooked for 60 people at church on Wednesday night. Now that was exhausting. More than you needed to know to describe a vase of tulips but you're the one who decided to start reading this.)


A close up of my favorite quilt that I think I've ever made but haven't shown you yet. Just seeing those stitches reminds me that you might be waiting for my quilt stitching post...still in the works. It's coming, promise. See parenthetical excuses above.


I don't believe you've met Lemon the canary. He is our sweet, little, somewhat aloof, tweety bird who sings so beautifully. We adore him, but he is hard to get pictures of through that cage.


Not new vases. But I like the way they are looking on a deep peacock blue wall that used to be pink.


This is one of my new old paintings. I'll show you more soon. I bought this one and a few other florals simply because they remind me of the way my dad paints.


This is one of my new embroidered velvet pillows that I designed for Peking. Very cozy and a nice compliment to homesewn goods.


This isn't another pet, but rather a shaggy soft pillow that I scored at anthro for 19.95 (was $98!) while there on an unrelated mission. Of course.


I put my books in color order. I don't remember the couple of different sources that I've seen similar done, but have always loved the look of it. This is the yellow section. Not too many yellow books. Hmpf. OH! I think the spine of my new book is going to be yellow! I gotta check on that. Very important.

Hope your weekend is sunny yellow regardless of the weather, xoxo, Anna

Monday, March 22, 2010

Baby Zigzag


Hello Spring! Who likes taking pictures outside where you are not freezing, where you are not getting blown over by sideways rain, or you where you are not standing in snow but rather standing in spongey, new, weedy, flowery grass? Me! Me!


Okay, now that that's resolved. Using Little Folks voiles and dobby dots, I made a baby zigzag quilt using the same pattern as my big Folk Dance quilt. These little zigs and zags run across the quilt's width instead of on the length. The finished size is 36 x 45" and I used only 5 different fabrics for the quilt top. The fabrics repeat above and below the center instead of every zigzag being a different fabric, which I really enjoy in this smaller scale. The triangular pieces in the center zigzag were cut from the large squares of the Square Dance dobby dot panel fabric, and then you'll notice that a few zigzags further the smaller squares of the same fabric were used. I love how this makes the centered bouquet motif of that fabric peek out here and there.


(oh, hello little weed blossom!)

I chose to do the binding in the same dobby dot that occupies the edge zigzag position of the quilt's design, which I also did for the larger version. I enjoy how it visually holds it together. And I always like using a bias cut stripe on the binding.


The backing is Folksy Flannel, which makes it all the more cushy-wushy sweet and soft. I used one layer of bamboo batting and I think the result is really the perfect weight for a baby quilt. Not too heavy or stiff, moves around and cuddles well. I hand quilted each edge of every other zigzag in rather bold stitches from hot pink Perle cotton (the cotton balls in size 8). In addition to how much faster large stitches work, I just really enjoy the look of them. More on hand quilting later this week- I have a stitch-y post that I'm working on for you!

Though its not hard to figure out the pattern variation from the larger size to this one, we're putting together a another free pattern download for you that'll take care of the guesswork. And as long as our supply of Little Folks holds up (becoming a little scarce and many bolts are on back order until May!) we'll also put together a limited number of kits for this quilt, fingers crossed! Promises, promises~ a good, optimistic way to start the week, no?

xoxo, Anna

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Meet Alexia


This is an overdue post to officially welcome Alexia to the studio! She joined us a few months ago to help with sewing pattern testing, trunk show support, sample sewing and in general to help keep this place a happy, humming business! You may have also, of course, seen her modeling on my Roundabout Dress pattern cover. And if you've frequented either the City Quilter or Textile Fabrics in recent years she may have just cut your fabric or offered you expert sewing advice! She is so talented, clever, and helpful and I couldn't be happier to have her working with us. There are few people in life who will geek out over certain sewing techniques with you or who can quote all the best lines from Elf, not to mention interject those lines into everyday work situations so effortlessly. I know. I am so lucky.

And just as with Allie, beauty was not a requirement. However being thrown into photo shoots because of said beauty just becomes a way of life when working with me!

Welcome Alexia!
xoxo, Anna

Friday, March 12, 2010

All Voile

I've collected my thoughts and experiences of the voiles here for you that includes my mindset in developing the collection and my experience with sewing and living with them- I hope you find this helpful!

Voile is most always defined as a sheer woven material, usually cotton, and taken from the French word for veil. (I also find that while the pronunciation varies between VO-yul and vwal, that this has most to do with whether you choose to say it in French or in English. Most people, including me, say toile in French so I tend to do the same with voile, not important, just the kind of thing I lose sleep over. Amen.)


My Voile
While I know that other designers at Westminster will be using this substrate in the future (Kaffe and Valori that I know of so far), I am choosing to call this my voile. Not because I am territorial, but because I kept FedEx in business by shipping back and forth every voile sample overseas that I could and feeling, rubbing, blowing my breath through (its weird but I do this with fabric- its tests how "breathable" it is for me), hanging it up, pondering and ultimately deciding which voile I was going to print my artwork on. Some were just slightly too papery, some slightly too slick, and others definitely too sheer.


Quilting with Voile
I was literally asked why I printed voile over and over again at Quilt Market, and it sort of surprised me. Usually this could be answered without a word but just a feel of the fabrics. Realizing though that I was presenting these goods to mostly quilt shop owners who have had one single substrate in various qualities given to them for a few decades, I answered like this: I love quilting cotton, I really, really do. But I don't necessarily really want to wear it all that much. I very often just think it does not work for a lot of clothing patterns that I want to sew for myself. Nor do I really want to sleep under it and roll around with it against my face as I sleep. There is a certain chunkiness to the standard quilting cotton once washed that just doesn't suit my taste for every project. It was time to start being honest with myself and I had the feeling that I was not the only one who felt this way. Not everyone will agree with me. I am not out to convert anyone, but to offer beautiful options that make me happy. But another thing. For an enormous group of creative, resourceful and brilliant quilters, whether tradition loving or modern, how could an industry which was built upon making art of any and every available scrap of cloth come to rely upon only one variety of fabric from which to create its' art form? I find that the most gorgeous examples of early quilt making are a result of not just the combination of fabrics and patterns but also textures. So to answer the other popular question - Can you quilt with voile? - the answer is OF COURSE! Not only can you quilt with it, but you will be so glad that you did! The softness and livability of this fabric is unparalleled. Should I remind you that I love our standard quilting cotton? I do, I really do. But.


Those of your that live in warmer climates, a quilt from voile doesn't have to be left at the bottom edge of the bed all the time to avoid burning up. Simply making a hand tied, patchwork coverlet with an added layer of muslin or an extremely lightweight batting inside is a gorgeous and supple bedding alternative. Ashley at Film in the Fridge has made some gorgeous quilts from Little Folks that are making me jealous for quilting time. The voiles also present a perfect opportunity to do foundation blocks, such as with a string quilt, because you have that extra layer added into your sewing for stability, but all the seams don't prevent the quilt from moving freely around like it might with heavier fabrics.
(project in my upcoming book, Handmade Beginnings - pre-selling now!)

Texture and Sheerness
I settled on what I felt was the very best option for a fabric that would be used for clothing, quilting, craft, and other home goods. 100% cotton, the texture of this fabric is as soft as it could possibly be without it being slippery. The word butter is used a lot after people feel it for the first time. As most voiles go, I would say that mine are less sheer that what many who know voile, would consider typical. The sheerness factor in my collection is directly related to the color factor. The lighter color the fabric the more sheer the appearance. I wear clothing from the darker printed shades without a lining or camisole unless its a skirt or dress, because you can definitely see light through them. So in many ways the fabric is similar to cotton lawn, but not quite as crisp or papery as most lawns that I am familiar with.


And because this fabric is 100% cotton, it can be washed just exactly like your other cottons. I daresay the voile seems less affected by the first pre-washing than do the quilting cottons. These are higher thread count fabrics that are very tightly woven so I notice less fraying as well when I wash. I get asked a lot about pre-washing because folks feel for some reason that they will fray more because they are lighter weight- not so. Regarding shrinkage, I experimented by cutting two fat quarters exactly the same size and washed (cold water, gentle) and dried (delicate cycle) only one of them. The difference is shown above. As you can see the color and texture look almost completely unchanged, the fraying minimal, the shrinkage is almost none on the lengthwise, but it did shrink about 3/4" on the width. This is good to keep in mind as you sew.


As with any higher thread count, tightly woven materials, I would switch to a smaller needle like a 9 or an 11 at the largest. This does of course also depend on what you are sewing the voile to. If you are combining other substrates use your best judgement. A larger needle will not hurt the fabrics but the goal is always to make the smallest hole possible as you sew without breaking tons of needles. Your ironing should typically be on the same setting as with your quilting cottons, but I have found it easier to smooth wash wrinkles (which are minimal to begin with) than with the other cottons.

(another new pattern, the Sidewalk Satchel available now!)

You can interface and fuse with this fabric like you would any other cotton. One really helpful tip if you want the voiles to act just exactly like the quilting cottons in weight and body: use an extremely lightweight woven interfacing, fused onto the wrong side of the voile yardage after pre-washing and before beginning your cutting and sewing process. I have done this with pillows and with handbags and I have had excellent results! (My friend Amanda has just made some gorgeous pillows too.)

Another frequent question that I get is with regards to the durability of this fabric. While I haven't been able to sample and test it over a very long period of time, the clothing, quilts that we have made and washed frequently in this family have held up beautifully. Is the life of the fabric as long as the life of the quilting cotton? I don't know. But we don't tend to drag our quilts and clothes around on the cement and over rocks so it depends on what you do with your sewn items always. I would say that if I were going to make an outdoor-use picnic blanket I wouldn't use the voiles, I would go for our heavier substrates. But there are some things that you can do with this fabric that you simply can't (as easily at least) with quilting cotton, such as the tightly tucked, gathered and sculpted flowers above. Happy. Happy.

(another new pattern, the Roundabout Dress & Slip available now!)

I don't like that this fabric costs more. It is, of course, a consideration as I plan collections. But I do LOVE that the goods are 54/55" because this so often means you can buy less length and end up saving money when sewing from a particular pattern. Here is the inch by inch breakdown of the cost of these goods as compared with the quilting cotton:
-One yard of quilting cotton is 36" x 44" and the suggested retail is $9.50 which is 6 cents per square inch of fabric.
-One yard of cotton voile is 36" x 55" and the suggested retail is $15.00 which is 7.5 cents per square inch of fabric.
Looking at it this way just exemplifies that comparing the price per yard alone doesn't factor in how much more fabric you are getting per yard.

I hope this has been helpful. I've been meaning to do this forever, but have also benefited by having my own sewn voiles around the house for awhile to be able to offer you the best insight that I can. If you have further questions or comments, please feel free to leave them here or over at the Little Folks Flickr group.

Have a great weekend! xoox, Anna

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

That only took a year


Well the dress itself didn't take a whole year- we've made several in the past year! But creating the sewing pattern with all the options that I thought (and rethought) it should have and getting it all fine tuned, published, printed, shipped, etc. That took a year. But it was worth it. I love, love, love, this dress. I originally jumped into the design here, when I was all about zigzagging, which I totally still am. The humble beginning of this dress was simply that I had made two Folk Dance Quilt tops, a warm version and a cool version, and couldn't decide which to photograph for the free pattern download. While we were preparing a shoot for the Good Folks collection I picked up the warm toned unfinished top and, this would make a great dress. And it did. I simply wrapped the raw edged unfinished quilt top around Juliana, took a few quick measurements, fashioned a quick bodice that echoed the triangle design, pinned it all around her, clamped it tightly in place and had a fun photo shoot. And then the emails started. Why didn't I see that coming? I never see that coming.


Depending on your level of devotion to all the patchwork-y love though, there are four different options in the sewing pattern with various doses (or no dose at all) of the zig zag motif. Not to mention numerous combinations of making the dress strapped or strapless, short, mid length, full length and so on. All options are designed for the dress to be lined with an invisible side zipper. Strapless versions are designed to have a clever invisible elastic channel at the upper back bodice for additional support. Don't ever say I'm not supportive. I am here for you.


And after a year of working on and off on this one with all of its intricacies, I have to say, I am quite smitten with the simple mid length non-patch version. It is quite the ideal spring/summer/fall dress and I want one in every color to wear with every sweater, belt, necklace I own. And the pattern could not be better suited for the voiles, both for the outer dress and the lining. It's like wearing a cloud.

Thanks to so many (sooo many) of you who have emailed me ever since you saw the humble and spontaneous version here first last year and have waited so patiently for the debut of this pattern. And even thank you to those of you who have waited so impatiently (only if you consider a weekly email impatient). Enjoy! It's now available here and several other shops around the globe- so check your local fabric shop!

More pattern news coming later this week, and also some tips about sewing with voile!
xoox, AnnaMaria

Edited to add: the childrens' garments may or may not be patterns in progress... you know how it goes- they should be ready in about 4 years ::snicker

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A seam between Alabama & Tennessee


For the third time I asked " Are you sure I can't get you anything?... I'm Greek, I have to keep asking.". Natalie smiled and said "I'm Southern, and I do the same!" The way that she called herself Southern made me think of the South as a nation more than a region.

She had accepted the invitation to come to my home as easily as I had offered. Florence, Alabama is less that 2 hours away from Nashville and she was clearly looking as forward to the journey as she was the visit. I daresay without insulting myself that she may have been looking even more forward to the drive than she was the visit. Which speaks volumes about this beautiful designer. The journey is everything. The process as important as where you arrive to in the end. And the end? One of the most enchanting places I've been. The end product that I refer to is the amazing collection of clothing, homegoods, accessories of which Natalie is chief designer.

Its not everyone who can afford to include her couture pieces into their wardrobe-though those that do -can know that the women who made the garment are earning a living for their work. But lucky for all of us Natalie has, for the second time, written a book that opens her studio door, her style and her insight. Alabama Studio Style in a word is a lifestyle book, but she thankfully is just as conscious about the life part of the lifestyle. Furthering her story from the first book, she shares not just sewing projects, but furniture inspiration, and home cooked recipes. It is a joy of a book. If you love to hand sew, as I so do, you will love the book.


For our day together, she brought two kits for us to work on and we wasted no time getting started- the sewing or the chatting.
(photo credit Robert Rausch)

We each began one of these gorgeous relief applique chair cushions (kits available here and the project is taught in her book too). Putting together the pattern as it comes in the kit is enjoyable and not too hard. Though we didn't get too far as we both enjoy eye contact in conversation, and we seemed to have endless topics to exchange various viewpoints: design; fabric; children; parents; motherhood at a very young age; motherhood at a less than very young age; embroidery floss; and our affinity for the perfect reusable plastic kit bag.


Chat.Sew.Chat.Sew.Laugh.Sew. In putting together the puzzle of pieces that compose the applique design it really occurred to me that Natalie's design work isn't just designed, or sewn. it is actually built.


In designing for her clothing line, it always begins with selecting fabrics (now available to us too) and then the building of the real fabrics begins. Stenciling, cutting, piecing, stitching, beading, dyeing, appliqueing, and then often the same happens several more times to one piece of cloth to become a meticulously patterned swatch. Those swatches then become possibilities to compose the silhouettes. But sometimes they don't make it past the swatch phase. And it took a lot of work to get them there.
(photo credit Robert Rausch)

What intrigues me the most when I look at Natalie's work is that I am reminded of the infinite possibilities of just one pattern. Witnessing how many ways just one motif can be translated by subtle changes in technique and color is not limiting, but rather freeing. Refreshing.

In fact, as much as I enjoy the writing, the photography and the projects, these few gray technical drawings that are included in the book to show how one pattern can be treated 3 ways are the pages that I keep flipping back to. I don't know if its the drawer, the sewer or the kid in me that loves this so. Such satisfaction. Like a road map getting you to that enchanted place- the fine art of possibility.


Natalie also brought me her color cards for the fall collection. And here is another point of intrigue: as someone who uses color so obviously, I notice how she uses it so unobviously. At a glance you may think of her collections as being composed of a handful of colors mostly revolving around red, white, blue, grey. I was surprised to see so many gorgeous colors dappled onto the cards and then found myself looking for each of them and finding them in her collection images. And rather than quickly processing and understanding a printed fabric image as this or that, her designs force my eyes to slow down and really see what I am looking at. You can't get it at a quick glance. You have to absorb the intricacies, be aware of the work and ultimately come to know the cloth at which you're gazing. Consciously.


She did accept lunch finally. I made us arugula salad with sesame dressing and deep fried eggplant with lemon. I continued to offer other varieties of things to her and instead of no thank you she just replied "I am so happy right now." But that didn't keep her from nibbling chocolate covered almonds with me as we kept sewing, talking, playing with Roman and continuing our friendship. And we want each others' pin cushions.

And that was a very, very good day. Thank you for including me on your journey, Natalie.
xoxo, Anna

(More about Natalie's book here.)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Hello March


March sounds optimistic. I sometimes always have mixed emotions about Spring starting. I welcome the bright green smell in the air, and the warming up, but I am overwhelmed with the obligation to get out in the yard and do all those gardeny things that you are suppose to do in the yard with your garden and your yard in the yard around that garden thing. Its been a few years. I have been busy. For a few years. I think you are only suppose to say that about the few past days or weeks, not years. Tis true though. What was I talking about? March. Gardens. Well, the big news about this Spring is that I don't have mixed emotions. I have one emotion and that is oh good spring is coming. And right here in the spot where normal people would rattle off their revised Springy gardeny yardy intentions, I will rather say that I think I will have some time to make my outer home a more beautiful place and that perhaps there will be some planting and maybe even a vegetable thriving on the premises. Oh such thoughts! Yes, flowers sound good. But so does sewing clothes. Quilts for the girls' beds even better.

What sounds good to you? Happy Monday! Happier March! xxoo, AM

P.S. to locals!! I will be speaking at the Cumberland Valley Quilters Guild tomorrow in Franklin TN. From what I understand, non-guild members (translate to anyone) can attend this monthly meeting for a $5 admission. We're also going to have a little AM pop-up shop with fabric, patterns, books and more. Would love to see you, and sorry for the short notice! More info here.