Stitching Memories

By Judy Moore Pullen

Do you remember when you took your first hand-sewing stitches? Was there someone who had taken you under her wings to help you learn the ins and outs of hand stitching? Do you have a story to share about learning to sew that might inspire someone else?

I have several stories to share about the wonderful people who took me under their wings and taught me to sew. And, even though I am not clear about what I wore yesterday, I well remember my very first attempt at hand sewing. I was about three years old and my parents, my best furry 4-legged friend Doodie (an English shepherd), and I lived on a farm in Ohio. After putting me down for a nap, my mother slipped out of the house to work in the garden. At the age of three, I would rather have been outside playing fetch with Doodie than stuck inside napping. Today, a nap is a welcome break and has become a daily habit 😊

Back to my story…upon waking from my nap, I discovered a tiny hole in my brown corduroy bibbed overalls. (Check out the photo to see why I still “remember” the color of those pants.) And just what does a little girl do with a hole in her pants when she is ready to get out and go play but Mama is not there? This little girl fiddled with the hole until it became bigger, and bigger, and bigger. I had watched my mother make those pants. So when I realized that I just might be in trouble, I climbed out of bed, found my mother’s sewing box, and started stitching up that hole with my stubby, chubby little fingers.

When Mama returned from the garden to check on me, was she upset that I had begun demolition on my overalls and tried to fix them? Not at all! She laughed and could hardly wait to show my daddy when he got home from work. I still have that pair of pants, with the textured corduroy worn smooth at the knees, and the hems a darker color since Mama let out the hems as I grew taller.

How I treasure that story, for many reasons. Reflecting on that first attempt at sewing, I think it is one of the many things that helped give me direction over the years. A year later, when we moved to a small town, a dear sweet granny took me under her wings and taught me the ins and outs of needle and thread hand embroidery on a dishtowel. I can still picture Grandma Morehead sitting next to me on her sofa (she was a very proper lady) arms wrapped around me, helping me hold an embroidery hoop and guiding my hands to make stitches in one of her dishtowels.

Years later, dear Mrs. Crawford, Home Economics teacher in my high school in a little town in Ohio that still does not have a stop light, patiently taught me to hem a lined red wool suit with nearly invisible stitches. I still have the pinking shears that I won with that red wool suit!

There are many more stories that I treasure remembering now that I spend more time reflecting on wonderful people who have guided me, taken me under their wings and taught me skills that have enabled me to do what I love and love what I do. Good people continue to help me.

And then there are the wonderful folks at Colonial Needle Company who have become like family to me, allowing me to teach techniques, test some of their products, and share my tips for stitching and my thoughts. One of their newest products is John James Signature Collection Needles, that are, as the old saying goes, better than sliced bread and twice as sharp as the knife that sliced that bread!

John James newest Signature Collection Needles come in 4 types: Betweens, Sharps, Milliners, and Embroidery. Manufactured in England and packaged by Colonial Needle Company in the USA, these excellent needles are precision engineered of premium steel, with a proprietary finish so that they smoothly and easily glide through fabric. Hand stitching is strain free. The points on these needles are so sharp that they easily pierce the fabric rather than push it, resulting in greater accuracy, especially important in hand applique, and make hand stitching even more enjoyable.

John James Signature Collection

Betweens, also known as Quilting Needles, come in sizes 7-11. Keep in mind that the bigger the number the finer the hand sewing needle. The opposite is true for machine needles. (I like to think that the bigger my number/age, the finer I am getting, too. Therefore, I remember age 3 but not what I wore yesterday…) John James Signature Collections Sharps Needles come in sizes 7-10; Milliners sizes 10, 11; Embroidery Needles sizes 7,8,9. They are packaged in crystal clear tubes of 25 needles, so that you do not quickly run out, and have plenty to share with your like-minded friends.

More about these wonderful needles and samples, tips, and techniques in blogs to come.

So, as you sew, think about your first hand-sewing experience. When? Where? How? What? Who helped? Perhaps if Mama had gotten upset with me and my attempts to repair the pants in which I enlarged the small hole, I might not have continued on my journey with needles and threads, and what a joyous journey it has been and continues to be. I encourage you to think about and share your sewing memories.

Happy sewing and happy thoughts,
Judy Moore Pullen

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

April Tricks and Tips

By Judy Moore Pullen

It seems that the origin of April Fools’ Day is somewhat a mystery, although many of us especially enjoy celebrating and having fun with others on that day. I would like to share some tricks and tips with you today that might help take some of the mystery out of sewing as well as make it more enjoyable…except for mending and hemming blue jeans…that is another story.

Trick one:

I love hand sewing, and have a passion for needleturn applique! Before I begin any hand sewing, I prepare by adhering Needle Grip-Its to the tips of my forefinger on my needle-holding hand. The repetitive motion of gripping and pulling a needle causes pain in my hands, and these non-intrusive little dots grip the needle without leaving sticky reside on the needle throughout an entire movie on TV, including commercials!

Tip two:

As I settle in my favorite comfy chair for an evening of hand sewing, I place a pillow behind my back, and plop a smaller pillow on my lap. On the small pillow, I have safety-pinned a rectangle of white wool, although any white fabric will help me see the eye of the needle as I stand it needle upright in the white fabric and into the pillow. Once the needle is threaded, I turn the pillow over and use it as a support for my hands while sewing.  This pillow is one of the “tools” that helps steady my hands and place the tip of the needle exactly where I want it while making needleturn stitches nearly invisible. I can also position my project on the pillow, place applique pieces, and insert straight pins vertically. Then, I can lift edges of the applique and apply Roxanne’s Glue Stick down the center of the wrong side of the applique fabric. The pillow on my lap also provides a place where I can rest my hands and arms.

Trick three:

Colonial Needle Dual Threader is also so helpful in threading that needle standing upright in my pillow on a piece of white fabric. This single needle threader offers one end for standard needle threading, and on the other extra-large end, a threader for threading Presencia Perle Cotton sizes 12 and 16, or several strands of solid or variegated long staple 100% cotton Presencia Embroidery Floss. If you are adventurous, try threading one strand of floss and a strand of perle cotton, of a different color, together. This long handle needle threader also aids in threading sewing machine needles.

Tip four:

One tip for making hand sewing stitches as invisible as possible, is to stitch with Presencia 60 weight thread. If you are hand stitching on items that will receive lots of wear, use 40 weight. For medium wear, try 50 weight. Remember: the bigger the number, the finer the thread and hand sewing needles. Consider sewing buttons on garments with Presencia Perle Cotton, size 12 or 16.  

Trick five:

Another trick for making those stitches nearly invisible is to audition the thread color. Unwind about 12 inches of thread and lay it on top of the fabric. Thread color should match the color of the applique fabric, not the background for those invisible stitches. If hand stitching a hem, dribble the thread from the spool on the right side of the garment. Thread color looks different on the spool than when one strand is placed on top of fabric.

Trick six:

I highly recommend John James new Signature Collection needles for hand sewing. These ultra-sharp, strong, fine needles are available in Betweens, Sharps, Embroidery, and Milliners, and are packaged 25 to a tube. As with thread sizes, the bigger the number, the finer the needle. So, if you prefer to relax and enjoy doing hand embroidery with several strands of lovely solid or variegated Presencia floss, select a size 7 needle. The fewer strands of floss that you use, the larger the size number of the needle. If needleturn hand applique is a favorite way to relax and stitch for you, try a size 11 Milliners or Sharps and Presencia 60 weight thread. The points of these needles is so sharp that they easily pierce the fabric rather than push it out of place.

Colonial Needle Company has so many excellent products and tools to assist in helping those of us who need a daily dose of working and playing with fabric, needles and threads. Select products and use tips and tricks that make working on your projects fun, easy, and result in the best finished product you can do.

Happy sewing,

Judy Pullen  

Stories ‘Round the Quilt

by Judy Moore Pullen

Each of us has stories that are well worth sharing with others. There seems to be something almost magical about sharing those stories when sitting around a quilt with friends, either hand quilting or working together to complete the hand stitching of the binding. 

A few weeks ago, three good friends helped arrange tables so that we could lay out a large quilt to complete it in preparation for the joy of presenting the quilt to a dear friend who had retired at the end of December. When we initially heard about the upcoming retirement, our little team of quilters mourned for a while, then we gathered our wits together and decided to make a quilt for friends to sign and present at a “Celebration” party for the retiree. What a joy the planning process turned out to be. One of our teammates suggested making a rail fence using batiks with colors ranging from lights to darks. The light strips could be where friends signed and wrote notes or memories. Kind of like “fishes and loaves.” When our team perused our stashes, we discovered that we had plenty of fabrics except for the dark strips, which required a trip to a quilt shop. Then we divided the fabrics, shared directions for cutting and stitching, and conquered by making blocks. A couple of teammates sewed blocks into rows, and rows into the top. Another teammate cut and stitched an inner border, and still another added the outer border. 

Next, a dear long arm quilter helped select a lovely design of birds and butterflies that enhanced the top and turned the back into a beautiful fluttery design. The binding was machine stitched on the top, then four of us gathered around four tables to spend a wonderful morning hand stitching the binding on the back. A question like: “When did you begin sewing?” resulted in reaching back into our memory banks, telling about a mother, grandmother, or dear aunt who took us under their wings to teach us the ins and outs of needle and thread. One person began sewing in a 4-H club; another in Home Economics as a freshman in high school. As we hand stitched the binding on that quilt, we shared stories, adding to each other’s’ comments and experiences. There is so much value in sharing a process with others, working together to complete a project.

As the signature memory quilt was presented to our dear friend at her “Celebration” party, we shared in her joy as she read the signatures, best wishes, and memories. We also realized that we shared something of ourselves: perhaps a better understanding and appreciation of each other.

Leaf Through Some Good Books

By Judy Moore Pullen

Please pardon the pun, and alliteration, but I love to play with words, fabric, threads, etc., etc. I just flat out love to play, don’t you? I have wonderful little girl memories of watching my parents rake fallen multi-colored maple and oak leaves in Ohio in the fall. Then, I would jump in the middle of the pile of leaves, scattering them over the newly raked yard. I also well remember walking home from elementary school savoring the crunch of those beautifully colored leaves under my saddle oxfords. Fast forward a couple decades later to my very own classroom of elementary school students as we collected colorful leaves to pin on our bulletin board bearing the title: “Leaf Through a Good Book.” Throughout our awesome autumn, we read, wrote, and illustrated stories about that special time of year when corn is harvested, hours of daylight become shorter, and animals begin gathering and hunting in preparation for a time of less abundance of food. I still have leaves to rake and magically turn into veggie-loving soil by composting them in what will become a springtime garden. 

I love to leaf through good books and magazines at our local public library and my personal library at home. As a little girl, I got into (good) trouble reading under the quilts by flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. What in the world made me think that my parents could not see the shine of that flashlight under the covers?! Today, I have a stack of reading materials on the dressing table beside my bed to peruse before I turn out the lamp. There are so many good books and magazines of quilt making designs in so many genres from hand and/or machine applique and piecing, designs and instructions for various borders, children’s themed quilts, what to do with panels, small projects, table runners, gifts, alternative textiles such as wool, batiks, or cottons, threads and designs, rug hooking, needle felting, quilt history, whew……

At times, it seems that my books and various reading materials breed overnight. I have such a wonderful expanding collection, that I have turned them into design elements in my home and sewing studio. Thankfully, our coffee table has a bottom shelf, so I can stack and display the strikingly beautiful covers of my treasures on two levels, and rotate them whenever I dust. I stack them with spines facing outward and plop a lamp on top of my barristers shelves of more books. By taking over the guest room closet and adding more shelves for fabric, I am able to organize wool applique and rug hooking books and magazines in the hall closet, formerly known as the bathroom linen closet, near my wool and PHD’s (Projects Half Done). My cute Half Hoosier Cabinet, where I store my “secret stash” of treats and snacks, has just enough room next to antique cookie jars for books to stand up straight at attention like soldiers.

Books and magazines can also be arranged to serve as bookends for other books and magazines. I like to mingle my collection of old readers with my newer books about hand sewing and embroidery. As I pass by the collection, I am reminded of dear sweet Granny, who took me under her wings on her sofa when I was three years old and introduced me to the lifetime joy of the push and pull of a needle and thread through a dishtowel. I still love to work with my hands (except for doing dishes and cleaning bathrooms). Dear sweet Granny also planted the seed of “each one reach one and teach one” in my heart and soul. She inspired me to continue that tradition of sewing and helping others learn and appreciate the gift of handwork.

So, until the hours of daylight lengthen, perhaps one can turn attention to places for inspiration for projects for our wintry days, when gardens and flowers are resting and critters are snug in their burrows. A big pot of homemade soup will last for several meals, allowing one to spend less time cooking and more time leafing through some good books and magazines for ideas that will become the seeds for projects and inspiration. Leaf through a good book or two, or ten, and see what happens!

Sew on and Sew on,

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