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

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

The Best Thread for the Job

By Judy Moore Pullen

I have a passion for hand applique, so when I discovered Presencia thread a number of years ago, it was like a banana split on top of a devil’s food cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles!

Something that helps me remember the thread sizes is this: As I am getting older, my number is getting bigger and I consider myself as getting “finer.” The same thing is true of needles and thread; the bigger the number, the finer the thread and hand sewing needles. Machine sewing needle are the opposite. The bigger the number, the bigger the needle.

There are several reasons why I believe that Presencia is simply the best for both hand and machine sewing. 

THING 1: Presencia thread begins with the very finest 100% long staple Egyptian cotton. When you begin with a superior fiber, the result is an outstanding finished product. A long-staple fiber means that the thread is virtually lint-free, a plus for you and your sewing machine. Do your own testing: clean out the bobbin race of your machine. Fill a bobbin and thread the top of the machine with Presencia. Sew to your heart’s content. When your bobbin is empty, judge for yourself how clean the bobbin case and area around the needle are. 

THING 2: All three weights of Presencia hand and machine sewing thread (40, 50, and 60 weight) are 3-ply. Plying, twisting three individual fibers together, makes the thread stronger. As a hand and machine sewing enthusiast, strong thread is important to me for the process of sewing as well as for the construction of the finished product. Not all 50 and 60 weight brand X threads are 3-ply.   

THING 3: Presencia 40 weight thread is strong, comes in many colors, and works well for hand and machine quilting, including long-arm machine quilting. I recommend using a John James size 90 machine quilting needle. For hand quilting, I use John James Gold ‘n Glide Big Eye size 10. These needles easily pierce the three layers of a quilt sandwich. The size of the Big Eye makes threading much easier for my AARP-age eyes.

THING 4: Presencia 50 weight thread, also 3-ply, is  smaller in diameter than 40 weight. It is great for general hand and machine sewing, and is beautiful for machine applique. I generally recommend it for beginning hand applique students, since it is slightly larger than 60 weight and easier to see hand stitches. A Mary Arden Applique size 10 needle is recommended. This needle is sharp, pierces rather than pushes the fabric, and stays strong and straight. I also use 50 weight for top stitching because of its larger diameter and the large number of colors available.

THING 5: I had great difficulty with machine piecing accuracy when I first began quilt making. I had sewn and made garments for years, but quilt making is somewhat different. My first quilt, a baby log cabin, had ruffles…Machine piecing was so stressful, and the completed quilt was not a pretty sight. When I discovered Presencia 60 weight thread, my accuracy improved and my frustration disappeared! Because 60 weight is so fine and 3-ply strong, it does not take up the extra threads when machine piecing. I also prefer it for hand applique. It also comes in so many colors, and virtually disappears when doing hand applique. I use a Mary Arden Appliquers needle, size 10 for hand applique, and John James size 70 or 80 for machine sewing with 60 weight thread.

Stitching with Presencia threads makes hand and machine sewing most satisfying for me. Using the best products results in a satisfying experience as well as a quality product. I highly recommend Presencia threads as well as John James and Mary Arden needles. Now to the refrigerator to make that super-duper banana split, then sit and sew to my heart’s delight.

Hot Fudge Sunday Inspiration!

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

Sew…What’s New?

Sew…What’s New?

By Judy Moore Pullen

The beginning of a new year reminds me of a brand new Big Chief writing tablet when I was in elementary school, oh soooo many years ago. Sometimes it seems as if it was shortly after the wheel was invented. A new writing tablet offered the opportunity to do more and better, whether it was improving my handwriting or the content of what I was writing. A brand-new year now inspires me to complete projects, and also nudges me to begin new ones. I get so excited about a new sewing project – and, at ¾ of a century old, I can if I want to.

When stitching with friends in our monthly hand applique group, I saw just the thing that I want to begin. My friend Sammye had a wonderful, scrappy, work-in-progress quilt hanging on her design wall. It is a Kim Diehl design from one of her books. The patchwork is completed and Sammye was working on the hand appliqued border at our stitching group, otherwise known as JABS, Just Ask Berta Society. The name of our group is another story. I have convinced myself that making this wonderful scrap quilt will help reduce my collection of scraps and stash.

Sammye’s work in progress made totally from scraps!

A little back story: I was blessed with a wonderful Home Ec. teacher in high school, Mrs. Crawford. She took many young girls under her wings. I learned to make garments to near perfection under Mrs. Crawford’s eagle eye, lining wool dresses and suits for which I won a Make It With Wool Award. Years later, when I decided to make a baby quilt for a friend, I gave no thought to the fact that quilt making is somewhat different than garment making. That first machine pieced log cabin baby quilt I made had ruffles, which were not part of the pattern. The borders did not fit. It was a mess and I was both bewildered and embarrassed. What did I do wrong? I used garment sewing techniques, easing and stretching and Brand X thread.

I decided to either quit making quilts or figure out how to make pieces fit flat. I worked on more accurate cutting and stitching, and I discovered Presencia Thread on my first visit to Houston Quilt Market. Previously, I thought thread was thread. However, Presencia begins with the very best 100% long staple Egyptian cotton. Their 40, 50, and 60 weight threads are all 3-ply, which means that the finest of the three, the 60 weight, is both very strong and helps promote accuracy by not taking up an extra thread when machine stitching. I love using ecru or medium gray for machine piecing. Presencia is also virtually lint-free, which both my machines and I like. The 60 weight is both so fine and strong, and comes in so many colors, that my hand applique stitches are invisible.

The Presencia 60 weight is so fine it makes hand stitches virtually invisible!

I am so looking forward to beginning my new scrap-and-stash quilt. Sammye said that she did not have to purchase any fabrics for her quilt by using her scraps. We’ll see how that works for me. It will be a win/win situation regardless. If I use up all of my scraps, whether or not I dig into my stash, I still may need some quilt shop shopping therapy and a new Big Chief Tablet.

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!