Monday, June 15, 2015

Applique and Embroidery Stitches Made Easy!

Have you ever been reluctant to try a project that features decorative stitches or hand-embellishing because you weren’t sure how to do the stitches?  If so, don't miss out! Decorative stitches are fun and easy, and I’ve often said that embellishing is my favorite part of creating a new design. Decorative stitches only look complicated, but we’re going to break them down into individual steps so it’s just a matter of bringing your needle up at one point and down at another. Before long, you’ll be happily stitching away and your friends will want to know how you do it!

Hand-Dyed Pearl Cotton Threads

So Let’s Get to It! There are hundreds of decorative stitches, but they all boil down to several basic stitches that are worked with slight variations. We’re going to start with seven of the most popular, and then I’ll show you more stitches in later tutorials coming next week:
  1. Basic Running Stitch
  2. Back Stitch
  3. Blanket Stitch (also known as the Buttonhole Stitch)
  4. French Knot
  5. Cross Stitch
  6. Herringbone Stitch
  7. Daisy Chain (Daisy Stitch; Lazy Daisy; Chain Stitch)

Basic Running Stitch:  This is probably the easiest decorative stitch to learn. It can be worked in straight or curved lines and is used for outlining and making stems and vines.  Bring your needle up from underneath. Next, weave the needle in and out of the fabric, taking two or three evenly-spaced stitches. Pull the needle through and repeat as desired. If I am working with a quilt or other material where I am stitching through layers, I like to make one stitch at a time, rather than loading two or three stitches on my needle at once. Stitching one stitch at a time makes each stitch look fuller and more finished.

Running Stitch

Back Stitch:  This stitch is a variation of the basic running stitch. I use it for outlining, making stems and vines and anywhere that I want a bolder line. Bring your needle up at A, down at B and back up again at C. Pull the needle through and repeat as desired.

Back Stitch

Blanket Stitch (also known as the Buttonhole Stitch):  This popular stitch is often used to finish the edges of baby blankets and when appliqueing on wool. When worked with small stitches, it can also be used for outlining. The stitch is worked from left to right. For a standard-size stitch, bring your needle up from underneath at the edge of your patch or template. Move to the right approximately 1/4”. Push your needle back down through both the patch and the background at a point about 1/4” from the edge of the patch and back up again at the edge of the patch. Be sure to loop the thread under the needle as you complete this stitch. Each stitch should be about the same length and distance apart.  Remember, you can vary the size and width of your stitch depending on your project.

Blanket Stitch

French Knot:  I use french knots for flower centers, bird’s eyes, etc. It can also be used in clusters and worked close together to fill an area, which will produce a textured, nubby result. To make the french knot, bring your needle up from underneath. Hold the needle in one hand and with the other hand wrap the thread around the tip of the needle once and pull it snug around the needle. Wrap the thread around the tip of the needle a second time, again pulling it snug. I often wrap the thread around the tip of the needle a third time so I get a bigger knot, but if you are a beginner I suggest you stick with just two wraps around the needle. Now, while continuing to keep the thread snug around the needle, re-insert the tip of the needle back down into the fabric exactly next to where you came up.  Slowly pull the needle through while your other hand keeps the thread taut. Once the needle has pulled all the way through, use your fingertip to hold the knot in place while you pull the rest of the thread through the fabric. Snug it up so it forms a nice knot and you are finished!

French Knot

Cross Stitch:  There is more than one way to complete the cross stitch. It can be worked one stitch at a time, or it can be worked in rows such as when embroidering large areas on a pillowcase or similar project. To work it one stitch at a time, bring your needle up from underneath at 1 and insert it back down through your fabric at 2. Bring need up at 3 and back down at 4. Repeat the sequence as many times as desired. If you want to work rows of cross stitch to fill an area, work the first half of the stitch all the way along the row and then return and work the second half of the stitch back to the beginning of the row.

Cross Stitch (Illustrated Singly and in Rows)

Herringbone Stitch:  The herringbone stitch is a variation of the basic cross stitch. It is often used to embellish crazy quilts and also often used as a decorative stitch in borders. Bring your needle up from underneath at A and insert it back through your fabric at B. Bring your needle to the front again at C and back down at D. Bring your needle up at E, down at F and back up again at G. Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

Herringbone Stitch

Daisy Chain (also known as the Daisy Stitch, Lazy Daisy and Chain Stitch: This is a very popular decorative stitch used for outlining and can also be used to create flower stems and other embellishments. If worked in a circular direction, it creates the look of petals on a flower as shown below. To begin, bring your needle up at A and then insert your needle back into the same hole and out at B, carrying your thread under the needle point. Pull your needle on through. Point B is now the beginning point of the next stitch.

Daisy Stitch; Daisy Chain; Chain Stitch

Lazy Daisy

It Looks Complicated, But It’s Not!  Like I said, decorative stitches look complex and hard, but it’s just a matter of bringing your needle up at one point and down at another--easy peasy! In no time at all, you’ll be embellishing your quilts, jackets, pillows and other projects with decorative stitches and your friends will be in awe and wondering how you do it.

Decorative Stitches in my New Design, "Where the Wild Things Grow":  
One of my newest designs, "Where the Wild Things Grow", uses three stitches we learned here today, the "Blanket Stitch", "Running Stitch" and "Cross Stitch".  The design is based on my childhood memories of wild hollyhocks that grew in the hot sun next to our house, right under the neighbor's window.  Does it remind you of your own childhood memories, when you were free and summers lasted forever?  "Where the Wild Things Grow" is available as a paper pattern or a complete kit with all the hand-dyed wool you need to finishe the project, including the back of the pillow and the vibrant red piping around the edges.  Just click on the picture below for more information . . . 

Be Sure to Check Back Next Week!  I’ll be posting more tutorials on decorative stitches next week, so if you are a late-comer to this blog you’ll be able to locate them by typing “stitch tutorial” or “decorative stitches” into the search box at the top of this blog. I hope you get excited about decorative stitching and embellishing, and remember to relax and enjoy yourself, since creating is part of the fun!  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin’!  

                                                                    xoxo -- Melanie


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Favorite Things: Pie Birds and Bundles of Hand-Dyed Wool

I don't remember who first introduced me to pie birds, but my attraction to these highly collectible pieces was instant, loving and long-lasting.  A pie bird is usually made of ceramic and is often shaped like a bird, although many shapes can be found in antique stores and yard sales.  The bird is hollow and shaped so the head is raised and in an upright position, with a tiny open mouth that serves as a funnel or steam vent.  The pie bird supports the crust and steam vents through the tiny opening, effectively preventing your filling from boiling over and helping you attain a nice, crisp crust.  As steam escapes, the bird is said to be "singing" . . .

Antique Pie Bird

When assembling your pie, the pie bird is placed in the center of the shell and the filling is placed around the bird.  The top crust is then draped over the bird like a tent, so the bird supports and holds the center of the crust, with the beak protruding through the crust.  No need to cut vents in your beautiful crust, because as the pie bakes, steam is released through the beak.

The Pie Bird Protrudes Through the Crust

Pie birds are available in various shapes, including blackbirds, song birds, chickens, ducks, people and other characters.  Whether bird-shaped or not, they are usually tall, narrow and always hollow to allow the steam to flow up and out through the hollow center.  Pie birds are also referred to as pie vents, pie funnels, pie chimneys and pie whistles.  They are not expensive to collect--even antique pieces are often available on Ebay for $10 to $20.

Antique Pie Birds Found on Ebay

My family and friends know of my love for pie birds, and they watch for them when they visit antique stores and garage sales.  Every now and then, a new pie bird makes it's way into my china cupboard whey they'll help me turn out yummy apple, blackberry and rhubarb pies with perfect, crispy crusts for the holidays.

Have you tried pie birds?  I think you'll finding yourself collecting them in no time at all, and they'll start mysteriously appearing as lovely little side-gifts in your Christmas stockings and at birthday time.  You won't be disappointed.

* * * * *

Speaking of Fun and Yummy, Have You Tried My New Hand-Dyed Wool Bundles?  We often need small pieces of wool, don't we?  Just enough to finish or embellish a hand-hooked rug or for wool applique and quilt-making.  I'm updating my website over the next few weeks to include LOTS of new bundles of yummy hand-dyed wool that will be available in 8" x 6" pieces or 16" x 8" pieces, depending on your needs.  Until then, you can see these bundles and more in my Etsy shop.  Just click on the pictures below . . .

Click to See this Bundle in my Etsy Shop

How about vibrant pumpkins, greens and browns?  Can you imagine these soft, hand-dyed wools in your next rug hooking or applique project?

"Pumpkins on the Vine" Bundle on Etsy

Earthy browns and greens, anyone?  These rich wools are perfect for leaves, stems and backgrounds.  And remember, any of the colors you see in these bundles are also available from my website in generous fat-quarter, half-yard and full-yard sizes . . .

Earthy Browns and Greens Bundle on Etsy

What are you working on now?  A quilt, a hand-hooked rug, punch needle?  Are you working with cottons, wools, hand-dyed threads?  How does your current project make you feel?  I hope you find peace and enjoyment as you hook or stitch, and as I head back to my worktable, I hope this post finds you happy and well.  Happy Stitchin'!


Friday, June 5, 2015

Blog Re-Design and New Punch Needle Pattern

My friend, Yvonne Buss of Vintage Heart Primitives, complains I blog too little, while she is a shining example of how to keep in touch with people who follow her work.  Yvonne posts regularly with beautiful pictures of her work, describing in intimate detail how she arrives at ideas for new designs with pictorials from the French countryside or vintage works of art.  Sigh. 

So I began to scrutinize my blog, carefully examining my old posts and pictures, wondering as I wandered why I hesitated to post more often.  I explained to myself that I was very busy, and that excuse made me feel much better until I realized Yvonne is just as busy.  Darn.  Then I decided I had trouble finding something to say, but that quickly went by the wayside.  Anyone who knows me realizes talking is my first and favorite hobby. 

Then it hit me.  My blog didn't feel like "home".  The colors were all wrong and the logo at the top was garish and boring.  I hated all the links and the noise and confusion.

So I spent a few days creating a new theme that really rings my bell, so to speak, and I changed the color scheme and the background wallpaper.  I whacked out all the messy links and made my posts simple and clear.  I used some of my favorite wools for my new logo (what do you think?) . . .

. . . and settled on this yummy new border background that somehow reminds me of blackbirds and apple pie:

So what do you think?  Are you comfortable here?   I hope this blog is full of ideas and inspiration and you always leave with more than you came with.  So let's get cookin'!

Do You Enjoy Punch Needle?  Have you tried it yet?  I became acquainted with this hand-art several years ago, but the equipment was crummy and there were few patterns and ideas on the market.  Now punch needle is booming, particularly because materials are easier to find and due to the availability of a great punch needle tool, the Ultra-Punch.  It used to be called the "Cameo" and it's by far the best punch needle tool on the market.  I've tried other brands readily available at my local fabric store (Boye, Clover, etc.), but the Ultra-Punch is the only needle I recommend.  Why?  Because it comes with three needles (small, medium and large), is simple to use, and makes consistent loops.  In my opinion, no other punch needle on the market makes the same, consistent loops.  If you'd like to try the Ultra-Punch, just click here and I'll drop one in the mail to you by fassssst delivery.  You won't be disappointed.
Would you like some simple punch needle instruction?  Just click here for the skinny on punch needle.  And when you order a punch needle pattern or kit from me, you always get nice, full-color printed instructions on how to punch.  See?  I want you to leave with more than you came with.

How About a New Design?  I went crazy last weekend and designed three new punch needle patterns.  I wanted something with movement and I was definitely tired of the same old primitive designs with a lamb, a star and a flower.  Sigh again.  A couple of evenings ago, while the hubby had old western movies blaring, I began punching this sweet little design . . .

. . . which I will finish tonight and is yet to be named.  I love-love it and will offer it next week on my website and in my Etsy store, drawn on good weavers cloth or as a full kit with over-dyed threads.  What do you think?  Does it have enough movement?  Does it evoke feelings of hot summer and happiness under the sun?

Well, I'm headed back to my worktable and back to my wools and threads and, yes, my punch needle.  I hope this finds you happy and well.  Give me a holler and let me know what's going on in your neck of the woods.  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin'.

                                                        --xoxo Melanie

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Lesson of YOLO [You Only Live Once]

Had lunch with a good friend yesterday and over our meals of quiche and garden salad, I complained bitterly (and in my whiny voice) about my always-frantic schedule.  I'm usually up by 5:00am working on the computer, filling orders or keeping up my bookkeeping responsibilities for my husband's electrical business.  Two hours later, it's time for a quick shower and on to my day job in the city, and then back home that evening where my pattern designs, rug hooking and wool dyeing are waiting, not to mention the laundry, vacuuming, a hungry hubby and two schnauzer dogs.

I have to clarify here that even though I am wantonly complaining, there is no way am I willing to give up my day job.  I believe a gal needs mad money, and besides, it gives me an excuse to buy clothes.

So it happened that a couple evenings ago, I was in the back yard with the hubby going over the measurements for a small shop so I can dye wool this winter without the rain and snow falling on my head.  As Paul concentrated on the measurements for the trusses and roofing materials, I accidentally stretched out on the grass and looked straight up into the blue evening sky.  One minute turned into five as I imagined how luxurious it would be to spend summer evenings in our back yard, prone and comfortable under the shade trees or curled up on the patio swing with a glass of iced tea or vino.

And that's when everything snapped and the sky began falling.  It wasn't that I was tired of the long hours or my busy schedule, because if there's anything I know about myself, it's that I continue to create this type of life because I enjoy it.

I realized in that instant I wasn't tired of hooking rugs or dyeing wool or appliqueing and quilting. No, to the contrary, I spend precious life-hours doing those things because I truly enjoy them.  But I also enjoy Jeeping and four-wheeling and our tiny cabin in the woods, and I would certainly enjoy a few minutes now and then to sit on my patio or dig through my berry garden.

And that's how I ended up at lunch with my friend, enjoying some stolen time finished with hot apple pie and vanilla ice cream.  As I ranted to her about my busy schedule, all the while fidgeting and twisting my hair all over my head, she suddenly stopped me and said, "What do you love?"  In that moment, everything stopped and my mouth dropped open as I pondered her question.  She elaborated, "YOLO.  It means "You-Only-Live-Once."  If you could choose to spend your time doing what you really love, what would it be?"  

So I began to ask myself what kinds of things really ring my bell.  At the top of my list is Jeeping with my hubby, camping, spending weekends at our rustic cabin, wild trips to Las Vegas and working in my flower and berry gardens.  Those things were easy to choose; it has never been hard to decide how to spend my free time.  What has come harder to decide is how to spend my business time.  What things do I really love?  I love designing rug hooking patterns.  And wool applique.  And dyeing wool and creating punch needle designs.  But I don't like getting mired down mailing tons of wool swatches or maintaining mailing lists or dyeing wool at 5:00am in order to meet a self-imposed deadline of releasing six new colors that week.  I can name a million things I do each day that are probably not necessary but somehow feel vaguely important.

So my friends, what kinds of things make you happy?  Play time with your children? Sewing or rug hooking?  Spending time with a good cup of coffee?  Think about things you spend life-hours doing that don't ring your bell, and then ask yourself if they are absolutely necessary and what would happen if you discontinue them.

As for me, I'm going to sit down with a glass of cheap vino this weekend and do as my friend suggests--I'm starting a list of the things I really love and things I don't want to continue.  I'm going to make time for new rug hooking designs and trash some old ideas that I'm not entirely happy with.  I'm going to work in time for my hubby and my berry garden and trips to Las Vegas.  Life is short and precious, and it's time to clear out the cobwebs and make time for things that matter.

As my friend says, "Remember YOLO."       --xoxo, Melanie