Judy, do you have a spool of white thread?

Do I have thread? Yes, but not just any old thread. This request by a dear quilting friend, Sue, reminds me of my mother and neighbors borrowing and loaning a cup of sugar, flour, or stick of butter. It’s just something neighbors do, especially when you live in the country as Sue and I do. 

Sue had ever so generously offered to machine quilt a huggable quilt for a child that another dear quilting friend, Debbie, had lovingly hand appliqued. Debbie created colorful, one-of-a-kind lollipop flowers atop variegated jumbo rick rack stems. She is as amazingly creative with small scraps of fabric as Sue is when she performs machine magic stipple quilting. 

Hand applique quilt with Presencia

Stipple quilting looks somewhat like connected jigsaw puzzle pieces. The feed dogs of the sewing machine are disengaged, allowing the quilter to freely move about the quilt sandwich and stitch curvy lines. This quilting technique is perfect for quilting the background of each block, while making the appliqued flowers “pop”. Sue has generously offered to teach me to machine stipple quilt, and I look forward to practicing by making lots of pot holders. Sue’s stipple quilting was the perfect finishing touch to make those happy flowers come alive on that cheerful child’s quilt. And…the Presencia 40-weight thread that Sue borrowed was the perfect thread for quilting. 

A few days later, I received a call from Sue, and she was so excited. She had completed the machine quilting and was raving about what a difference the thread made in the process as well as the appearance of the completed quilt. To paraphrase Sue: “The thread did not break! It is so strong! The stipple quilting was more consistent, and there was virtually no lint in the bobbin area when finished. Tell me more about this spool of white thread!” I simply could not contain myself. I happily told Sue about the thread she “borrowed,” and I am happy to share with you as well.

Presencia is the name of that wonderful thread, and yes, not all thread is alike. There is a definite difference. Presencia begins with the very best 100% long staple Egyptian cotton, mercerized for strength, and is both colorfast and shrinkfast. The long staple fiber and superior quality of Egyptian cotton results in the very best quality thread. Somewhat like making a from-scratch lemon meringue pie, when you begin with fresh eggs, a real lemon, and the best ingredients, you simply cannot eat just one piece of that pie.

Also keep in mind, that the bigger the number on the spool, the finer the sewing thread (and hand sewing needles). I “loaned” Sue a spool of 40-weight Presencia thread for machine quilting. Presencia sewing thread comes in 40, 50 and 60-weights.  All three weights are 3-ply, which means that 3 strong strands are twisted together for extra strength, even the finest 60-weight. The strength and consistency of Egyptian fibers also make Presencia excellent for even bobbin stitches. Just fill your bobbin with the same weight as the top thread.

Presencia also comes in a variety of spool sizes, from 100, 500 and 600 meters, as well as cones. Check out Colonial Needle Company’s website for detailed information, as well as an assortment of color packs. Many beautiful colors are available.

Sue is sold on the ease of stitching with Presencia as well as the beauty of the finished quilting. The child who receives this happy quilt will also be able to love and drag it around and snuggle and snooze beneath its comfort for a long time.

Quilting with Presencia thread

Since my quilting neighbors and I live in the country, stocking up on Presencia thread is always a good idea when field trips to town and quilt shops are our destination. However, we are happy to share with dear quilting friends in need. Sometimes the best-learned lessons are hands on. Take someone under your wings and “loan” a spool of Presencia. Both you and your friends will be happy you did. It’s as good as, maybe even better than, loaning a cup of sugar. Now, to begin that from-scratch lemon meringue pie for Sue and Mike…

Happy stitching,

Judy Moore Pullen

Peace ~ Piece by Piece

By Judy Moore Pullen

I love the peace and serenity of our back yard; serenaded by birds and the rustle of leaves in the trees, early in the morning before lawn mowers get cranked up. Even on gray rainy days, the sound of raindrops on the roof provides a sense of peace and tranquility while I sip morning coffee and stay snug and dry under the extended roof over the back porch. I look up from my hand stitching when Sable and Sadie race and chase after squirrels that they will never catch, as those annoying little fluffy- tailed critters leap from tree to tree, taunting our furry little girls.

Making quilts for children also provides a wonderful sense of peace and fulfillment for me. A dear friend and I love to make charity children’s quilts. There are children in need, and we want to help provide the comfort of a quilt for as many children as we can. Debbie has a very large sewing room at her house, so she cuts the tops and backings, layers with batting, pin-bastes the layers together, and marks a diagonal grid with Roxanne’s marking pencils for machine quilting. She passes the quilts to me and I machine quilt and stitch the binding to the top. Debbie and I hand stitch the folded edge of the French fold bindings while binge-watching streamed TV in the evenings.

I love the process of doing something (except for the process of vacuuming and dusting.) I need a bumper sticker that tells the person behind me that “I would rather be sewing,” or “I would rather be shopping for fabric.” What would you rather be doing? What would your bumper sticker say about you?

Back to enjoying process…

I find that machine quilting the grid on these children’s quilts is so peaceful. Most of the tops are whole cloth, 36” x width of fabric, although some are lap size larger. Debbie creatively and artistically extends panels and darling children’s prints for tops by piecing, adding borders, turning plain-Jane fabrics into something fun for a child. Debbie is also a master at piecing scraps and strips together to make the bindings. Piece by piece, we hope to provide comfort and peace for children. This process provides a sense of peace for us as well. As I machine quilt the layers, I sometimes listen to audio books borrowed from our local library. At other times, I listen to music on my laptop. And sometimes, I simply savor the peace and quiet of the hum of my machine.

The peace acquired by hand stitching bindings is enhanced by the newest John James Signature Collection Needles from Colonial Needle Company. I had an opportunity to try the John James Signature Collection Milliners, size 10, for needle turn applique, one of my passions. What a joy! This needle is so sharp and glides so smoothly—easily piercing the turned edge of fabric rather than pushing or distorting it, which provides more accuracy and much greater ease of stitching. These needles are so user friendly that some of my “I don’t do hand applique” friends may even take up the art, joy, and passion of hand applique.

Threading the new John James Signature Collection Milliners, size 10, with Presencia 60-weight thread was also easy. Presencia 60 weight thread is 3-ply, long staple, so very strong while also very fine, perfect for hand applique and hiding those stitches. The length of this John James Signature Collection Milliners also made it perfect for swooping under and turning the seam allowance. One more thing I highly recommend is using two Needle Grip-Its to more easily grip the needle. Adhere one to your forefinger and one to your thumb tip on the hand with which you grip the needle. The repeated motion of gripping and pulling a needle can result in pain in hands and fingers over time. These great grips enable me to stitch for hours pain-free, also adding to my peace of mind whether I am doing hand applique or hand stitching a binding on a quilt.

One more thing…

I also tried stitching bindings with the newest John James Signature Collection Sharps, size 10. What a joy to easily pierce the backing, glide through the batting, and pierce upward to catch the fold of the binding. These needles are also strong, sharp, glide easily, and enhance my time of peace and quiet while listening to the sounds of chirping birds or a best seller book, peaceful music or the sound of silence. I’m eager to try these new John James Signature Collection Needles on hand piecing, too.

The process of sewing and creating is both peaceful and exciting for me. I enjoy the doing part of a project, not just the finished product. Using the best tools enhances both the process and the product. I highly recommend these new John James Signature Collection Needles. Just when you thought needles could not get any better ~ they did, they do, and they are!!

Peace be, piece by piece.

Happy Stitching!

Judy Moore Pullen

Quilters, Step Out of Your Box

By Judy Moore Pullen

Let’s play a word association game. What is the first word that comes to mind when you hear or see the word “quilt”? Perhaps you think: bed covering, something old and pretty, shopping at a special fabric store, a treasure made by one’s mother or grandmother. A non-quilter would say blanket.

The next word in this game is “yarn”: knit and crochet, needlepoint, handmade scarf, hat, or sweater. I think of quilt making using yarn, especially Colonial Needle Persian Wool Yarn. 

As quilters we are artists. We create something of beauty that is also functional. Some of us follow directions to the letter. Others find ways to make a traditional design unique and different. Still others enjoy using materials that are unique and different. And then some just flat out like to play and see what happens. 

When Colonial Needle Company first offered Persian Wool Yarn, I immediately thought of wool applique. I have a passion for hand work, anything applique, and I love to play. A heart shape is a good design on which to begin playing. It has straight lines, curves, innie and outie points. I also like “wonky” as a design element so I cut out a symmetrical heart shape from freezer paper (as I learned to do in first grade…in the last century.) Then I trim one side to make it wonky, as in one-of-a-kind. With a dry iron, I lightly press the shiny side of my wonky freezer paper heart to felted wool, and cut out the shape next to the cut edge of the freezer paper. Then I cut a piece of green wool on the bias, about 3/8” wide to make a stem that I could shape and bend.  

Colonial Persian Wool Yarn now comes in 8-yard cards. It is 3-ply and easy to separate into individual strands. I arrange my wonky wool heart and stem on a background, and glue in place with Roxanne’s Glue Baste-It. Using one strand of wool yarn, I thread a John James needle, size 20, and begin stitching diagonal lines from the bottom of the stem to the top. Then I turn the stem around and repeat stitching on the diagonal down the stem so that the yarn crosses somewhat in the middle. I tack the center of the x-stitches with yarn, Presencia Perle Cotton, or floss or a bead. 

All of that worked well, so I began to blanket stitch around the heart with wool yarn. I also like to applique wool by making  running stitches with Perle Cotton size 8. Then, I thread a John James Tapestry needle, size 20, with Persian Wool Yarn in a contrasting color. Next, I slide the threaded needle under the running stitches left to right and continue around the wool applique. One can also thread under the running stitches by going back the other direction with yet another contrasting color of Persian Wool Yarn. Or I can weave the yarn in and out from left to right/right to left.

Playing with Persian Wool Yarn also allows me to make French knots, colonial knots, and all sorts of other embroidery stitches. If you are a little on the side of caution, practice first on scraps of fabric…real quilters do have scraps. If you are a new quilter, just ask an “old” quilter who is probably more than willing to share. I am beginning to think that scraps breed in my scrap basket overnight. 

Wool applique and embroidery using wool yarn. Leaves on the left were originally wool fabric rather than embroidery.

I love words, playing with them and stitching them, both using hand embroidery stitches and hand applique. Write your name on a piece of lined paper, using at least 4 lines for capital letters and 2 lines for lower case. Tape the paper to a light box or a window. Place background fabric on top, right side up and secure with tape. Trace your name with a fine point mechanical pencil. Remove background. Thread needle with wool yarn and embroider on the lines with a backstitch, stem/outline stitch, or running stitch. You may want to use a hoop to stabilize the fabric or baste a layer of muslin to the wrong side before stitching. 

There is so much more you can do with Colonial Needle Persian Wool Yarn as a quilter. This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Get out of your quilt box and try using wool yarn for embellishing, sewing on buttons, couching, and braiding in addition to applique and embroidery. Considering that each package contains 8 yards of 3-ply excellent quality wool yarn, and comes in many wonderful colors, you can also become a quilt artist.

Happy Stitching!

Sadie Sue and Sable Ann mooching peanuts

Judy Moore Pullen

Working and Playing with Wool

By Judy Moore Pullen

Working and playing with wool is wonderful, whether it is wool for applique, a wool background, or Persian Wool Yarn for stitching. It is also such a joy to stitch with friends like the Blanco Quilters on the Square. We met together to learn, stitch, and enjoy the company of like-minded friends for the day in the charming hill country town of Blanco, Texas where there is more creativity and generosity than one can shake the proverbial stick at.

Guild members and several guests, including a teenage granddaughter, Nora, gathered around several tables to conduct the necessary business of being a quilt guild, promoting education, and serving the community. Then things heated up when we turned on several crock pots and dyed wool using onion skins, transfer of color from pieces of red and green wool, and dip-dyed with Kool Aid. While the wool cooked, we discussed how and why to felt wool for applique, the benefit of felting wool, and sources for obtaining this wonderful fiber.    

Kits contained everything needed to stitch an 11” square block that could be the beginning of a table topper, book cover, or center of a table runner. Pattern pieces were traced on freezer paper, cut out, and pressed to felted wool. Wool shapes were then cut out and positioned on a white wool background. Students were encouraged to use the accompanying photo for placement or to arrange pieces of wool however they and their hearts desired. What a joy to see and hear students interacting with each other, complimenting and encouraging friends.

Happy stitching hearts!

In preparation for playing with threads, students were instructed to position Colonial Needle Grip-Its on forefinger and thumb on their dominant stitching hand. The repetitive motion of gripping and pulling a needle can result in hand and finger stress, but the Grip-Its are so helpful in pulling a needle through fabric. Then, Presencia Perle Cotton in several sizes, Presencia Floss, and Colonial Persian 100% Wool Yarn and their uses were demonstrated and samples were passed around. Students practiced threading John James Chenille and Tapestry Needles with Colonial Needle Threaders. Stripping floss for appliqueing with embroidery stitches was demonstrated. Students were encouraged to consider combining several strands of floss with a contrasting color of perle cotton just for fun, creating their own original variegated thread effect. We began appliqueing with a simple running stitch and chenille needle. Then, a tapestry needle was threaded with a contrasting color of thread to slide under the running stitches and weave back and forth, creating a one-of-a-kind serpentine effect.

Wool applique is often done using a whip stitch with matching thread color. However, playing with Colonial Persian Wool Yarn for applique was great fun. We talked about how and where to begin a blanket stitch, wrapping a perle cotton running stitch with wool yarn, appliqueing down the center of a leaf or around a heart shape with a daisy chain and wool yarn, then wrapping the outside edge of the stitch with a contrasting color of perle or floss.   

We spent the remainder of the afternoon playing with wool and threads, snacking on treats from the dessert table, and doing the Great Reveal: showing the results of our crock pot dyeing. Each dyed piece was a surprise, and several guild members went home with samples. Quilters love door prizes!!

And I loved spending the day with friends who were so eager to learn, to share, and to stitch. Students were encouraged to return to next month’s guild meeting with a completed wool applique piece from the class. I am always learning from my students. My students inspired me to stitch and dye more with wool, and to vacuum less…

Happy Stitching,
Judy Moore Pullen

Great Gifts for a Good Friend

Great Gifts for a Good Friend

By Judy Moore Pullen

Sometimes we just want to do something nice for a good friend who is a quilter or stitcher, and it is not even her birthday. One of my suggestions is a gift basket full of notions and sewing-related items.

I love to collect old baskets to use as containers for gifts. Finding just the right size and shape container is part of the fun of gift giving. Anyone can wrap a package with paper, but a basket makes it more personal. What quilter doesn’t need an extra basket for holding supplies and a project? And what’s more, a basket is part of the gift!

I try to pay close attention to the interests and likes of my friends. I observe colors, designs, and kinds of fabrics that friends use when working on projects. Are they brights, 1800’s civil war, batiks, or whimsical fabric shoppers? Do they prefer solids, stripes, florals, large or small prints? When we gather for our monthly JABS applique group (JUST ASK BERTA SOCIETY) I listen to other JABBERS as they discuss fabric purchases, works in progress, future and even completed projects. As we show what we are working on, I take mental notes about each JABBER’S preferences. At quilt guild and club meetings, members show and share projects that inspire and encourage. Mary, one of my dear friends, loves blues. Sue, another quilting friend, has a passion for owls and orange fabrics. Jo loves batiks. Janis and I are fans of all things wonky. I look forward to learning more about Kathy Jo, a new friend, and her choices.

The word “stash” is both a noun and a verb. I enjoy going through my stash (noun) of fabrics that I have stashed (past tense verb), and selecting a set of coordinating fabrics that my friends will enjoy. Purchasing yardage rather than fat quarters allows me to cut lengthwise and/or crosswise as well as bias strips for sashing and binding. I can cut my own fat quarters from yardage of fabric to place as a liner for a gift basket.

I enjoy filling gift baskets for friends with Presencia perle cotton and floss. They come in beautiful solid colors as well as variegated. The range of sizes, 3, 5, 8, 12, and 16, allows so many choices for friends who hand applique and enjoy stitchery. I include both perle cotton and floss for cotton and wool applique. It is also great fun and a surprise to combine a strand of perle cotton with a few strands of floss of a contrasting color. Perle cotton and floss encourage my friends to play with threads.

Roxanne’s Quilter’s Choice marking pencils in white and gray also make a nice addition to a friend’s gift basket. I love needle turn hand applique and using freezer paper on top of applique pieces. Trace the applique design on the dull side of freezer paper. Cut out freezer paper on the drawn line, and press the shiny side to the right side of the fabric with a hot, dry iron. Position the wrong side of the fabric on top of sandpaper to hold fabric in place.

Tracing Applique with Roxanne Marking Pencils

Using Roxanne’s Quilter’s Choice marking pencil, trace around the cut edge of the freezer paper. Cut away fabric a scant ¼ inch from the freezer paper for your seam allowance. You can always trim away more. Peel away the freezer paper from the applique fabric and position the applique fabric on the background. Secure in place with Roxanne’s Glue Baste-It, straight pins, or thread baste. Using a John James or Mary Arden Applique size 10 needle threaded with 50 or 60 weight thread, tuck under the seam allowance so that the mark from the marking pencil does not show.

I love giving gifts. Part of the fun of gift giving is collecting containers to hold the gift, and selecting items that are personal and of high quality. Gift giving is kind of like taking a trip – part of the fun is the preparation, and the other part is the participation. Gifts for a quilter or hand stitcher do not have to be pricey, but of good quality and genuine thoughtfulness.

Finished Gift Basket!

Awesome Appliquers

Awesome Appliquers

By Judy Moore Pullen

Turn hand applique into awesome instead of awful. Many quilters are very good at machine piecing and applique, but tend to shy away from hand applique. I had the pleasure of spending a day with five quilters who wanted to learn to hand applique at Uptown Blanco Textile Studio in Blanco, Texas.

The Textile Studio is located directly across the street from the historic Old Blanco Courthouse, where monthly Market Days was being held in this charming hill country town. The interior of the building is a step or two back in time, featuring floor to high ceiling shelves, finely restored and packed with fabulous name-brand fabrics, and antique and new quilts suspended from poles and heavy ropes. Plentiful samples inspire one to try something new in an old-timey setting.

A very happy Judy, sharing her trunk show at Uptown Blanco Textile Studio

The five ladies who I had the joy of spending the day with wanted to learn needle turn applique. I did not have to coerce them. They were ready to try any and all techniques. Pam was a true beginner, Jan wanted to expand and learn wool applique, Kathy works and plays at the shop, and Carol brought her friend Christine. “Tips, Tricks, and Techniques” was the title of the class, and we also worked and played with tools. Using one of my original designs for a table runner, we jumped right in learning about using freezer paper for things other than wrapping for food preservation.

I also conducted a demo that I call “Needle Threading 101” using white fabric on top of a pillow, standing the needle straight up and down, and thereby having both hands free to thread a needle. White fabric allows you to see the eye of the needle more clearly. Using Presencia 50 weight 100% cotton, cut the thread straight across, moisten, pinch flat, and insert the thread into the needle. If the needle does not thread the first time, rotate the pillow, as a needle eye is punched and there is a right and wrong side to the eye of the needle. Repeat: cut, moisten, pinch, and thread the needle. Pull about 4” of thread through the eye of the needle. Hold the eye between your fingertips and pull the spool of thread to up to your muscle, about 18”, and cut. Make a quilter’s knot in the cut end.

We began by threading a John James Applique Needle size 10. Just as some people prefer Fords and others prefer Chevrolets, I wanted my students to test drive a milliners needle and quilters betweens needle. I occasionally switch off to different needles just for a change. It gives my fingers and hands a rest. For hand applique, you want a needle that is so smooth and slender that it readily punctures the fabric rather than pushes. If your eyesight is better than mine, perhaps you might try a size 11. The bigger the number, the finer the thread and hand sewing needles- just like us, as we “mature” we get finer. Using Needle Grip-Its also helps with hand stress that is the result of the repetitive motion of gripping and pulling a needle. I also shared information about the ergonomic benefits of a Roxanne thimble and using the side motion of one’s finger for pushing a needle through fabric.

We discussed placement of applique pieces, using a light box and/or clear plastic with the design traced on the plastic with a permanent fine tip marker. The design offered opportunities to practice placement of a curved bias-cut vine, leaves, and three petals of a flower. For portability and ease of applique, students could use Roxanne’s Glue Baste-It with or without the addition of straight pins and basting. I love to applique thin stems, so students were shown how to overcut stem fabric on the bias and trim it down to make a slender stem, or one that was smaller at the end that tucked under the flower. If you want the tip of a leaf to just touch the stem, there is a trick for that as well.

The flower consisted of three heart shapes, two of which were tucked under the center heart. A heart shape offers the opportunity to stitch straight sides, curves, innie and outie points. Having three heart shapes in the flower gave the gals plenty of practice, and I must say they all did so very well.

Two smiling “Awesome Appliquers”

The day was not only spent discussing the finer points of needle turn applique. We talked about children, grandchildren, recipes, gardening, and many other things so dear to our hearts. One of the best parts of spending the day with friends and stitching is building rapport or womanship. Customers peeked in, curious to see what we were doing. Many thanks to Ruth, shop manager, and Monica, her helper for the day. They provided encouragement and cut fabric before we left. One must not leave without taking fabric home, or patterns, or supplies, or some memory of this wonderfully welcoming quilt shop and Textile Studio. This is an unspoken rule of and for all quilters.

Rule #1: Never Leave Empty Handed

I am so happy to have been a part of converting machine piecers and quilters into hand appliquers, and these new appliquers are truly awesome. There was no whining, nary a word of complaint, just fun and learning a new skill. I also feel as if I made some new friends, which is such a joy. And, I learned things from my students as well. They shared tips, tricks, and techniques with me that I can use and that will improve the quality of my work and play.