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

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  

Let’s Get to the Point (about hand sewing needles)

By Judy Moore Pullen

Yes, there is a difference in hand sewing needles, just like there is a difference between driving a 5-speed standard transmission car or an automatic. When I was younger and my vision was better, my hands steadier, I used whatever needle was easy to thread. Over the years, and after dabbling in many different kinds of sewing projects, I have learned several things about hand sewing needles.

I find that for needle turn applique, I prefer Mary Arden or John James applique needles, size 10. I can thread these needles with Presencia 50 or 60 weight cotton, sometimes needing to use a threader. These needles are so sharp that they pierce, rather than push the fabric, making my applique more accurate, my stitches smaller and more consistent. They also glide easily through the fabric, rather than distorting it. The shafts of these needles are smooth and strong. They do not bend and help prevent my hands and fingers from cramping. 

A friend who does beautiful hand applique prefers using betweens, generally thought of as hand quilting needles. These work well for her. For me and my chubby fingers, I need a longer needle, hence applique needles. Another good choice for hand applique is milliners needles, which are longer still. Sometimes I switch to a milliners needle after extended sessions of hand stitching. This is somewhat like changing your shoes to a different heel height during the day – it gives you a rest. 

Another passion of mine is wool applique by hand. My needles of choice are John James chenille and tapestry needles. They come in sizes 18-26. The bigger the number, the finer, smaller the needle. Somewhat like us – the bigger our number/age, the finer we are, right? That is my story, and it helps me remember. This applies to hand sewing needles and thread sizes. John James chenille needles are sharp and easily pierce wool. The eye is elongated for ease of threading perle cotton or several strands of floss. The larger shaft opens the fibers of wool, allowing the thread to be drawn through, then the opening closes around the thread. 

If you tap, tap, tapped a chenille needle on a hard surface, over time, the tip would become dull, and this helps me remember that a tapestry needle serves well for needlepoint and wrap embroidery stitches when you do want a blunt needle, and do not want to separate fibers of your background or embroidery threads. I can easily thread a John James tapestry needle with contrasting colors of Presencia Perle Cotton or Floss and create fun and unique designs by wrapping previously stitched threads. 

I must also add a note about Needle Grip-its. These tiny adhesive circles have enabled me to stitch for hours without hand pain. The repetitive motion of gripping and pulling a needle can cause hand and finger pain. You do not notice it right away, but over time, it can become a problem. I want to continue happily hand stitching, and these little sticky dots are inexpensive, unobtrusive, and what I consider a necessary “tool”.

Happy Stitching!

Judy