What Winter is For

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There are some things that I don’t love about winter- extreme cold and icy roads are the worst. But there are many things to love about it including snow play, cozy fires, hot chocolate/coffee/tea and downtime. Most of us don’t get enough downtime with our modern, busy lives, but I live for this every winter. I look forward to the months of January and February as the least demanding of the year. During this time I can try new things, spend all day reading a book, binge watch fun stuff while knitting or doing other handwork.

It has also become a habit of mine to use the downtime of this time of year for some easy, mindless sewing. I love making simple comfort quilts that I can donate to my quilt guild. The quilt guild coordinates the donations to a number of different charities in my community. Our guild collects over 400 quilts each year from guild members and others in our community. Each guild member is asked to provide at least one community quilt each year, but since I love making small quilts I always donate several. This year I went a little bit crazy and made 10 kid size quilts. Lucky for me I had all this fabric, thread and almost all of the batting in my stash already. I don’t use a lot of prints these days, but I do love them. In my art quilt work I often put a fun print on the back just to use my favorites. I have been trying to decrease the size of my stash for the last few years so I set aside piles of prints that I wouldn’t mind using this way. The scraps will also be used for comfort quilts as time goes on.

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These quilts were made in two different ways. I either cut 20 10” squares as in the quilts above, or I cut width of fabric strips to use horizontally as you’ll see below. I think the main thing that makes these quilts work is that these are fun prints. Some of these quilts are almost like I Spy quilts and will be just the thing to distract a child going through difficult circumstances while also providing a cozy place to cuddle.

I then machine quilt them with a simple serpentine stitch (on a Bernina it’s stitch #4 with the length increased to 2.5). Then I do a machine stitched binding. The horizontal strip quilts are the fastest, taking about 3 hours. The 10” block quilts take a little longer for the piecing, but they work great if you have smaller pieces of a bunch of different fabrics.

Comfort quilts have the advantage of needing to only be fun and colorful. They don’t need intricate piecing. They can easily be done by quilters of all levels and will surely be appreciated by various charities in your community. If you don’t have a local quilt guild you can check with Project Linus, your local hospital, services for women and children, even your local fire department might be interested. If you are inspired to try one let me know and Happy Quilting!

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Road to California Quilt Show

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It’s always a thrill when a quilt comes back from a show with a ribbon. This time I did know about it ahead of time because a friend sent me a picture from the show, but otherwise it would have been a complete surprise. Rhythm of the Rails has had quite a time at the shows since last year. It’s been to QuiltCon Pasadena, AQS Fall Paducah, Pacific International Quilt Festival and now Road to California. It’s won a Judge’s Choice and an Honorable Mention. I may send it on to one or two other shows because there’s still time, but for now I’m very pleased! This is the first time I’ve entered R2CA and I have never been to the show, but I hear it’s a really nice one. I have had to cut down on my quilting travel a bit so I won’t be at QuiltCon in Nashville either, but I do have a quilt heading there: 70s Child. We’ll see how it does. In the meantime this quilt has pride of place right by the front door and I even hung the ribbon with it, just for a little while.

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Books on My Mind

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I pretty much always have books on my mind, but even more so right now as I have sold several of my handmade blank books recently.

It reminded me of a recent blog post by Sarah Swett (Bookish Thoughts) that made my jaw drop. Please take a look at it and if you like what you see consider subscribing. Sarah’s blog is a new favorite to me, but always beautiful and insightful. I am inspired to try her little woven book covers someday.

In the meantime, I have made the hand patterned blank watercolor books you see here which you can find in my KMS Handmade shop. Some have sold already, so look quick if you are interested. I also have plans to make a fabric covered book soon. I want to do a hand stitched cover with watercolor paper inside and I’m still figuring out how to put it all together.

In addition to books I’ve been making, I am always reading 2 or 3 books at once. I’m listening to A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles right now (it’s my third time reading this one), because it’s my next Undercover Quilters Book Club quilt book. On this listening I’m making notes in my hard copy of the book of all the passages that speak to me. Later on I’ll go through them and decide which one to base my quilt on. I’m also re-reading my very favorite childhood series of magic books by Edward Eager (start with Half Magic). I discovered my library has them available as e-books and the newest edition of Half Magic has an introduction by Alice Hoffman where she puts into writing all my thoughts about these books and how they shaped me at the age of 10 or so.

I tend to read a pretty eclectic mixture of genres. I recently finished several interesting books including The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (utterly charming), Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (somewhat baffling, but it made sense in the end), Educated by Tara Westover (beautifully written, but horrific subject matter), and The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (learned a lot I didn’t know about Mr. Rogers).

I belong to two book clubs. One is pretty traditional and really discusses the book and the other is my quilting group which may or may not discuss the book for a while, but always has fun. I love them both and get great recommendations for books from both. Sometimes it can be hard juggling all the books I try to get through which is one reason I listen to a lot of audio books. I can get a lot of studio work done while listening. It’s the absolute best thing for machine quilting which tends to get boring if I don’t have a book going in my ears.

So, how about you? Read anything good lately?

Winter Stitching

Chicken Bag

Chicken Bag

A very Happy New Year to you. Sorry for the long delay in posting. I have been doing some studio work, mainly these three hand embroidered bags which are in the shop now (see all three below). All started with some hand dyed indigo fabric (vintage linen in the chicken bag and new linen in the two zipper bags). I then went through my vast collection of hand stitching threads and stitched in a very intuitive manner. For each area of the bags the thread type, thread color and stitch pattern was decided as I went along. it’s a very freeing way to work and leads to surprises. I wanted to weed out some threads that aren’t my favorite to work with and I did set aside quite a bit to pass along to friends. Now my favorite threads are all sorted and organized and easy to find.

What makes a good thread? That totally depends on the stitcher’s comfort level, the stitching substrate, the visual effect, tactile pleasure, and the desired thread composition. In the past I have had been introduced to all sorts of unusual threads, especially by Sue Spargo. Some of them are best for working on wool because it’s more loosely woven than cotton. However, since I am doing so many pieces on cotton I decided to weed out those that don’t meet these criteria:

  • natural fiber composition (mainly cotton and silk)

  • thread size (too thick and every stitch becomes a struggle, too thin and the stitches don’t have the desired impact)

  • ease of stitching (will differ for each individual)

  • tactile pleasure (differs for each stitcher)

  • visual effect (personal preference)

As I get older I have more issues of pain in my hands and wrists and I have to be mindful whenever I do handwork. The threads I decided to keep make my handwork time pleasant, comfortable and visually exciting. I thought I’d make a list of various threads from most liked to least. Perhaps it will be helpful for you, whether you are just starting out in embroidery or you are a long time enthusiast.

Favorites top to bottom : Presencia Finca perle cotton (8), WonderFil perle cotton (8) (solid and variegated), Valdani perle cotton (8 ) (also 12), Soie et silk thread, DMC embroidery thread.

Favorites top to bottom : Presencia Finca perle cotton (8), WonderFil perle cotton (8) (solid and variegated), Valdani perle cotton (8 ) (also 12), Soie et silk thread, DMC embroidery thread.

My favorite threads are:

  • Finca by Presencia size 8 perle cotton (I only have one spool, but it’s very nice)

  • Valdani size 8 and 12 perle cottons (solids and variegated threads are all fabulous)

  • WonderFil Eleganza size 8 perle cotton (the variegated threads are beautiful!)

  • Soie et 100% silk 3 strand embroidery thread (swoon ***)

  • DMC 6 strand embroidery thread (yummy color selection, high quality thread, versatile since you can use any number of strands from 1-6)

***I discovered this silk thread in a sampler set sold by Superior Threads and it is the most luxurious thread I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. I have only one spool of it, but I wouldn’t hesitate to buy more. There are other silk threads I’ve tried (Silken Pearl and others), but I didn’t like at all, so this is the only one I can recommend.

Second Favorites: Sea Grass, Silken Chenille, and Silken Ribbons

Second Favorites: Sea Grass, Silken Chenille, and Silken Ribbons

My second favorites that I plan to keep, but don’t use much are:

  • Sea Grass, 100% organic cotton tape thread (works well on cotton and wool, I like the matte finish and flat stitch effect)

  • Silken Chenille (works best on wool, especially for couching)

  • Silken Ribbon (works best on wool)

Least favorites: DMC perle cotton (8), Aurifil embroidery thread, sashiko thread

Least favorites: DMC perle cotton (8), Aurifil embroidery thread, sashiko thread

These are threads I plan to use up, but wouldn’t buy more of:

  • DMC perle cotton any size (I think these threads are more coarse than the other brands of perle cotton, also limited colors)

  • Aurifil 6 strand embroidery thread (meh, I just don’t like it as much as DMC and it’s more expensive)

  • sashiko thread (I like the matte finish, but I don’t like how thick it is, it hurts my hands to use so I’ll save it for mending jeans)

Pretty, but not for me: Bozzolo Reale silk thread, Silken Pearl, Kreinik metallic braid, WonderFil Razzle, WonderFil Dazzle, DMC perle cotton (5).

Pretty, but not for me: Bozzolo Reale silk thread, Silken Pearl, Kreinik metallic braid, WonderFil Razzle, WonderFil Dazzle, DMC perle cotton (5).

These are the threads I am getting rid of. Many of them are absolutely beautiful, but they lead to sore and tired hands and/or lots of frustration. I know many people love these threads, so take my recommendations with a grain of salt.

  • Bozzolo Reale silk thread (too slippery, too easy to tangle, frustrating to use, but beautiful to look at!)

  • Silken Pearl silk thread (too easy to tangle, stretchy, but again, absolutely beautiful!)

  • Kreinik Metallic Braid (polyester, scratchy, frustrating to use)

  • WonderFil Razzle (rayon, slippery, too shiny, frustrating to use)

  • WonderFil Dazzle (metallic rayon, slippery, too shiny, frustrating to use)

  • Perle Cottons size 5, various brands (just too thick for me, useful for tying a quilt, but I don’t need to keep it in the stash)

I’ll pass those threads to friends to try. Just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean someone else won’t. If you have a favorite natural fiber embroidery thread please let me know in the comments. I am quite sure I have several lifetime’s worth of thread here, but I wouldn’t want to miss out on something great!

The chicken bag is very densely embroidered with lots of different threads. I also added some chicken patches I had set aside. It’s fully lined and has batting between so it feels very substantial.

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Stripey Indigo Zipper

Stripey Indigo Zipper

The Stripey Indigo Zipper is made from my hand dyed linen and simply stitched in vertical lines. I love the minimalist look of this one.

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You Are My Sunshine Zipper

You Are My Sunshine Zipper

The You Are My Sunshine Zipper was also made from hand dyed indigo new linen fabric. The embroidery was done in an intuitive manner with just a few different threads. I also included one of my hand printed labels as embellishment. The cheerful polka dot lining makes me smile. All in all, it’s the perfect antidote for a rainy day.

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Details and prices for all the bags can be found in my KMS Handmade shop.