Thursday, December 6, 2012

Think Thread

One of the companies in the Colonial Needle family is Presencia Thread. Manufactured in Valencia, Spain, Presencia thread uses long-staple cotton from Egypt and is truly a superb-quality thread. Sewing thread in three weights, perles from size 3-16, embroidery floss, crochet cotton, thread on spools for home sewers and thread on cones for the pros--Presencia has it all. Big news: the new revamped and colorful Presencia website is now up and running--tada--presenting !

One of the coolest things about this website is its accessibility and usefulness. And it's going to come in mighty handy this Christmas. You now have the ability to send a gift certificate via email to a friend anywhere in the world with a computer! Very, very cool. So you're stuck trying to think of a gift for a sewing-minded friend and she lives in, oh say, Alaska but you're in New York and though you're both quilters, you haven't seen her in a while and want to send a gift. What says "I'm thinking of you-" better than thread?

Maybe she'd like a sampler of sewing threads in her favorite color?
These six spools are the Cadet Blues sampler chosen by Jo Morton.

Or perhaps she's intrigued by all those Japanese-inspired taupe fabrics that are the rage?

Or perhaps she's having a go at Sashiko?  These samplers show the antique indigo range, basic Sashiko blues, and an Imari palette of colors of #8 perle.

Or perhaps she loves Redwork? Every shade of red is represented in this sampler of embroidery floss.

You make out the Gift Certificate form and pay via PayPal. Then your friend gets an email notifying her of your gift. If you order an email Gift Certificate by noon on Friday December 21, the staff at Colonial/Presencia will make sure your friend gets the notification by Christmas.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Perles of Wisdom

No, the word 'perle' isn't a misspelling. Perle cottons are a species of embroidery thread that comes in several weights. Perle is a two-strand thread, not meant to be divisible like floss. The term perle came about when thread makers were trying to market a cotton embroidery thread that would compete with more expensive silk threads. They finally got it right after mercerizing cotton fibers (treating the thread with an acid and heat) and the result was a glossy, strong, and affordable thread. Embroiderers and quilters loved the stuff. The word 'perle' was all marketing. The shiny thread was said to have a pearl-like finish. So the French and most Europeans spell it 'perle' and Americans label it 'pearl.' Same thing.

The thickest perle is #3 and then the sizes become thinner. You'll often find the #3 weight perle used together with thinner weights in dimensional embroidery stitches. The most popular for crazy quilt embroidery is #5 and that's also the easiest to find size of perle cotton.

The next size is #8, used for Big Stitch quilting and for sashiko.

Then there's #12, a finer perle that I use for both embroidery and some hand quilting. Quiltmakers who love wool use all three weights (5, 8, and 12) when doing buttonhole stitch or other applique techniques in wool.

Lastly #16 is the finest of the perles, loved by knitting fanatics and tatters who work with super-delicate thread. A few hand quilters have also discovered that #16 also works for quilting.  Presencia is the only company to make the complete range of sizes of perle cotton.

You can leaf through the Presencia catalog online here  but you won't find Presencia thread  in chain stores. Look for Presencia perles being sold by independent retailers and needlework specialists.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Celebrating Handmade Quilts

If I hadn't met a handmade quilt long ago, I probably wouldn't be a quilter today. As a very young woman, I was a cash-strapped college student and had no extra cash for something as expensive as a sewing machine. While visiting a yard sale, I found a battered handmade quilt, paid $1 for it, and thus a lifelong love affair began. I examined the old quilt closely and found every stitch was made by hand--the piecing, the quilting, and even the binding. That discovery cheered me immensely and gave me hope. I thought: "If this whole quilt was made by hand, no machine needed, then maybe I might learn to do this..."

Don't get me wrong--I love my sewing machine and use her almost every day. Her name is Jessica. She's a 1951 Singer Featherweight,  named after my grandmother who gave her to me. But I still enjoy doing handwork and belong to a group on Facebook that promotes hand quilting.

When the Colonial Needle Company started to award the prize for the prestigious Handmade Quilt category at the International Quilt Festival, held once a year in Houston,Texas,  I knew I'd hooked up with the right folks. By recognizing excellence in handwork, Colonial actively supports the craft while awarding a handwork artist.

This year, the awards ceremony, called The Winners Circle, is Tuesday evening, October 30, the night before International Quilt Festival opens. The event is a Very Big Deal and lots of people dress up and show up. It's probably the only Quilt Festival event where high heels are normal footwear! A number of prizes in twenty different categories are awarded that night and vary from art quilts to miniatures to digital imagery to traditional to handmade and of course Best of Show.

With great fanfare and a beautiful bouquet, Terry Collingham of the Colonial Needle Company will present a prize check of $1,000 to the quilter whose quilt is the best handmade quilt. Here is a beaming Michiyo Yamamoto from Chicago and Terry standing in front of Michiyo's gorgeous quilt Spring Full Bloom, the 2010 handmade category winner.

At the awards ceremony, no one knows they've won until her/his name is called.  You can cut the tension in the room with a knife. The show starts with an emcee (Stevii Graves, the president of IQA, will host the event), a draped stage, spotlights a la Hollywood, and even mood music. Here's a shot from the 2011 ceremony where, as the outgoing president of IQA, I got to do the honors. However, I did not wear heels! Seeing the audience from the stage was a wonderful experience. You could track the yelps of surprise and ripples of laughter in the crowd as one by one, as each prize quilt is announced, the quilt is revealed as a golden curtain rises. The crowd gasps, then applauds and a stunned quiltmaker makes her way to the stage and stutters a few words as photographers take pictures. The Winners Circle ceremony is indeed the Oscars of the quilt world.

To enter a quilt, the quiltmaker must be a member of the International Quilting Association (that costs $25) and make out the entry forms, pay a $20 show entry fee, and provide digital photos for the jurors. But if you win, it's well worth it. Winning a top IQA prize is like adding PhD in Quilting to your resume.

Just what is defined as 'handmade quilt'? Here, quoting from the IQA Entry Form:
Quilts in this category must be sewn by hand with the exception of the first stage of the binding and the
backing seams. Quilts may be any style except wholecloth, which must be entered in Merit Quilting. Quilts
in this category may be any size within the rules except miniature. 

You'll be able to download the rest of the form in mid-January since of course, the quilts for 2012 have already been juried into the show. Here's the link to the International Quilt Association website: . Shortly (in September)  four judges will gather to award all the prizes and ribbons for 2012. This is done in Houston at the IQA/Quilts Inc. offices and is top-secret. The volunteers who help are sworn to silence thus adding to the mystery and tension of the upcoming event.

Here are photos of the Handmade Quilt category winners from 2010 and 2011. (photos by Jim Lincoln.)


Spring Full Bloom by Michiyo Yamamoto              Tenderly Embraced by Mieko Kotaki

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Taupe Tutorial

In spite of seeing the beautiful quilt win a major prize at the International Quilt Festival, I still didn't understand the attraction of the Taupe color scheme. I stood in front of this quilt and pondered the pattern and its subtle colors. The beautiful quilt, by Yoko Saito of Japan, was an eye-opener for me. Maybe if I expanded what my idea of 'taupe' was, I could work in those shades.

What I started to comprehend was that Taupe was a whole range of greyed soft colors. From the traditional taupe (grey-brown) to soft greens and blues, even lavender and plum,  'old' gold and blue-reds, the sensibility was reminiscent of nature. Think forests and fog, wood worn smooth, stones of various shades and textures, mist rising from a marsh.

Stones of many colors embedded in a concrete walkway and a tile in an ancient wood floor.

 The folks at Presencia Thread are supporting the Taupe tide and collected six shades that meld beautifully with most taupe colors. The fabrics behind the spools are my choices to start working in this interesting palette. 

Some people "got it" long before I did. Pinwheels, an American quilt store, brought Japanese taupe fabrics into this country as early as 2003. A friend from Oregon, Steve Lennert of One World Fabrics  has based his whole mail order business around the taupe theme. He offers packs of taupe fabrics in different shades from grey to green to lavender and a light category he calls 'pearl.' He made this beautiful round Star quilt and even offers it as a kit. He carries the taupe thread sampler too.

Maybe taupes are a way of taking a 'time out' from brighter graphic prints. For those of us who quilt obsessively, it's nice to have a calm color scheme every once in a while. It's as close to Zen as I'll ever get.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

New Handwork in February

Don't get me wrong--I love printed fabric--but recently I've been experimenting with solid fabrics and even a totally different color scheme. I've been exposed to new things and to new places.

Two weeks ago I flew to Santa Fe and got to film a segment of The Quilt Show with friends Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson. The all-morning session was set within the exhibitions halls of the Museum of Indian Art & Culture. How could you not get inspired surrounded by beautiful art, baskets, weaving, and pottery? The Museum is a magical place but you can even see some of the Museum's exhibitions on the web-here's a link  .

In the filming we talked about, and I demonstrated, two different hand techniques: sashiko (Japanese quilting) and the  folded patchwork block called Roof Tile on the Isle of Man but better-known as Log Cabin here in America.

In preparation for the filming, I made a whole wall hanging by hand. The centers of the blocks were squares of bleached vintage linen and the strips various cottons and linen-cotton blends.

Using the center large needle from the Big Stitch pack and ivory #12 perle Presencia cotton, I knew the hand stitching would show well on the dark backing fabric. After completing sixteen blocks, they were sewn in rows and all back seams appliqued together with #60 (thin but very strong) indigo thread.

On the back of the wall hanging, you can clearly see the spiral of white stitches against the indigo fabric and don't even notice that the block backings are seamed together. In researching the pattern, I've learned that the continuous spiral of stitches was considered good luck and that this trail of stitches, and quilt-as-you-go technique, is one of the primary difference between Roof Tile and Log Cabin. Other differences: the strips are folded back 1/3 at a time and there's no batting needed in this quilt.

Some quilt historians theorize that Roof Tile is actually the English ancestor of Log Cabin and the fact that we can't accurately document any American Log Cabin quilts older than the late 1850's does indeed suggest Roof Tile might have migrated with settlers to the United States. Many people from Ireland, the Isle of Man, and northern England arrived here between 1820 and 1860 and brought their skills and culture with them.

What Americans added to this quilt pattern is typical--we turned it into a one-layer patchwork pattern like the other quilts we were used to making and gave it a familiar name. The log cabin was already an American icon by 1850 and several presidential candidates, from Harrison to Lincoln, would use the log cabin as a symbol in their campaigns to illustrate their humble roots. "Born in a log cabin on the frontier-" offered proof of a candidate's humble beginnings and even suggested that he would bring a fresh non-politician's view to the office. Sometimes I wonder if times have really changed that much!

Friday, November 11, 2011

New Work

Quilt Market (a trade show held every year in Houston, Texas) and its adjunct event, the International Quilt Festival, usually wears me out. It stretches into ten solid days of talking, exhibiting, selling, teaching, looking at the quilts, and meeting people from all over the world. I get home totally knackered and need a week to get right. But somehow this year, I came back strangely energized. Among the trends I noticed was the use of textured fabric in quilts, especially linen, and I was eager to try it myself.

Sashiko, the traditional quilting of Japan, looks especially appropriate on linen. And this year I had new sashiko stencils with Quilting Creations International as well and couldn't wait to try those in stitches.Here's the link to that page-- Quilting Creations

  Among the new stencils is a Sashiko Valentine (PCW113). When I drew the Valentine, I'd been careful to use traditional sashiko patterns that convey good wishes. In the heart, the waves represent eternity, the hexagons (tortoiseshell) long life, and the asanoha (the six-point star shape) stands for good health.  The rabbit is a traditional symbol for love and the heart is, well, a heart.

I got some lovely oatmeal-color textured linen from my friend Patti Brown who owns ALB Fabrics and the Quilted Butterfly
then marked the Valentine stencil with a white Roxanne pencil and sat down to stitch. The needle was the largest needle from the middle of the Sashiko Needle Sampler from Colonial Needle Colonial Needle and the two threads both #8 perle cotton by Presencia. The red is #1166 Bright Red and the blue is #3327 Dark Navy.

After stitching, the piece was trimmed and I machine-basted a line of large stitches about 5" out from the perimeter of the design. Cutting a 10 x 14 piece of thin batting, I glued it to a ready-made canvas, positioned the sashiko piece, and stapled it around to the back of the canvas. Somebody very special is going to get a stitched Valentine this year.

I signed it lower right with an X and O for hug and kiss--that's not on the stencil--you'll have to add your own!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Two for the Show

The past month I've been getting ready for the International Quilt Market which is held annually in Houston, Texas. Quilters, teachers, stitchers, shop owners, manufacturers of thread and fabric from around the world will be in attendance. Last year over 3500 people attended and that's not counting the hundreds of exhibitors! Preparing for this event almost always means making some new samples and I have a couple to share.

The first is outline embroidery of a chrysanthemum. Outline embroidery is done in the stem stitch. When worked in red thread, the technique is called Redwork but here there is a combination of red and green suitable to the flower design. The mum is a classic design and I found it in a reprint of Ruby Short McKim's Flower Garden series which ran in the Kansas City Star newspaper in 1930. Ruby's granddaughter heads the McKim Studios website today. The whole series for the Flower Garden quilt is available from the website in a beautifully printed little book. .

The thread? Both the rusty red (color #1490) and deep green (color #4371) are worked in double-strands of embroidery floss. The brand is Finca Mouline by Presencia and you can see the floss color chart at the Presencia online catalog . There's also a handy conversion chart for Presencia/DMC so if you know your DMC color #, you can find its equivalent in Presencia . The fabric in the chrysanthemum stitchery is vintage linen and the plaid is upcycled from a linen shirt.

The second sample is a Crazy Quilt block out of my imagination. Fabrics include silk, cotton, homespun plaid, and a batik. Threads used were the Presencia floss in ivory (color #3000), palest sage green (color #5051), and bright gold metallic floss (color #0009).

For both of these embroidery works, I used embroidery needles by John James. The picture here is only of size 7 but for multiple threads ,try the 3-9 Embroidery needle assortment since you're sure to find the right size needle for most embroidery projects.

Quilt Market's around the corner and with hundreds of vendors and thousands of people coming from around the world, it's sure to be a great time. Stop and say hello if you're attending. The Colonial Needle Company and Presencia Thread will be in these endcap booths: 608-708 and across the aisle, 709-809.