This Magazine Changed My Life

In December of 1988, I saw this issue of Sew Beautiful on the magazine rack at a grocery store.  I picked it up, looked through it, and felt prickles go up and down my neck.  I knew how to sew very well, but I had grown up on a Missouri farm, and had never before seen such lacy confections!  I was immediately hooked.  I knew I would try my hand at this new-to-me type of sewing.

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In that time before online shopping, I was lucky to find a few kinds of heirloom laces and some Imperial batiste at a machine dealership about 50 miles from my home.  I read and re-read the magazine, and also Mildred Turner’s book, which I got at that same store.

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Okay, so heirloom sewing isn’t hard, it just requires certain materials and techniques, and attention to detail.  I’m really good at that “attention to detail” part, so with the book and magazine and some batiste and lace, I was off and running!

This is the first heirloom dress I made.  I don’t know what the basic pattern was, probably a McCall’s/Simplicity/Butterick that I adapted.  The sleeves and collar were from Mimi’s book.

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The dress is pale pink Imperial batiste and narrow (really too narrow for the templates, but it’s what I could find) white French Val insertion and edging.  There are teardrop insertion shapes on the collar, and a double row of scallops on the sleeves.  I used serger thread, which was the finest thread I could get.

Annie wore the dress for Easter 1989.  And don’t you love David’s expression?!

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Unfortunately, I no longer have that dress.  It was probably loaned to a friend, and never made it back home.  But I do have the second heirloom dress I made!  This one was made from real Nelona Swiss batiste and Swiss embroideries.  The basic pattern was one from one of those early Sew Beautiful magazines.

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Surprisingly, the Swiss insertion and edging were purchased a couple of years before this, before I discovered Sew Beautiful.  I got them at Eunice Farmer’s store in St. Louis, because I thought then, and still do, that they were some of the most beautiful trims I had ever seen.

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I remember that when I called Martha Pullen Co. to order the precious Nelona, Kathy McMakin answered the phone and took my order!

Well, that magazine was the start of an amazing journey for me!  Soon, I was sewing and writing and teaching for Martha Pullen Co.  I am so grateful for the opportunities this gave me!  At the time, I had two lovely children, but was in a dismal marriage.  The ability to stretch my creativity, do things I had never imagined myself doing, and create so many beautiful things gave me a self-confidence that eventually helped me to get out of that dismal marriage and then later marry a wonderful, supportive man.

Fast forward 26 years… I have authored two books, had my work featured in countless books and magazines, won top prizes at major quilt shows, taped a Craftsy class, and have four quilts in the National Quilt Museum.  Yes, I’ve endured my share of heartbreak and tragedy – no one is spared that.  But what a ride for a farm girl with a chemistry degree!  Just last week I went to Albuquerque, NM, because my quilt “Snow Flowers” won the “Best Home Machine Quilted” award (and $3500!) at the AQS show there.

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Snow Flowers-detail

Just like those white dresses, white quilts are difficult to photograph!  But you can clearly see the heirloom influence – lace insertions and edgings on a quilt!

I wonder what will be on the journey next?

32 thoughts on “This Magazine Changed My Life

  1. Sue, I have followed you through Sew Beautiful for many years. My venture began in late 1990s and continues today. Your articles in Sew Beautiful were inspiring. I have several of your heirloom dress patterns still to be made. Love all of your beautiful quilts. I would love to see you exhibit more of your beautiful dresses for competition in the future. Life always gives us challenges and you have lived them with tremendous grace. My best wishes for you, my cyber friend. Susan VH

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  2. You were an inspiration in the pages of Sew Beautiful, in person at Lace Camp (also known as the School of Art Fashion) and now online. Awesome for a farm girl with a chemistry degree. Plus you are so nice and willing to share. I think of you every time I turn on my sewing machine.

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  3. Your work has always been so stunning, but these pieces take my breath away. I am sure that your next venture will be just as wonderful as the past. Thanks for sharing all your work. Eve Tomassini

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  4. Thank you for sharing. I, too, started heirloom sewing after picking up an issue of Sew Beautiful about 15 years ago. I have several of your patterns and enjoy making them up for my granddaughters.

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  5. Dear Sue: I met you at a MP School of Art Fashion many years ago and I was fortunate enough to see your beautiful work in person! You are so talented and it was such a pleasure to meet back then and to be able to follow you all these years! God Bless. Zelma Milgram Reid

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  6. Sue, I have always been in awe of your exquisite work ~ it gives new meaning to the word “perfect.” This magazine changed my life too (so I just KNEW what you meant just by the headline!) and I rue the day it ceased publication and pray that someone will come up with something new. During so much of that time (and I managed to acquire every issue) you were a great inspiration.

    I still remember the first day I saw you in Huntsville. You were the first person I ever saw who had something on that said “WWJD.” And it shows.

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  7. I absolutely love all the things you have made. I seeing all the wonderful items. I wish I would have kept the things I made for my children. especially the gowns for the girls.

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  8. Sue,
    I’m a great admirer of yours and I loved this little snapshot of part of your journey. I too fell in love with heirloom sewing back in the mid 80’s. I have been fortunate to be in classes with the best of the best- Mimi, Martha, You, Dody, Patty, Kathy Mac, Wendy Schoen and others.
    Heirloom Sewing is truly my passion and therapy. I think of you often. I’m a mom of 4 sons for whom I pray daily.

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  9. Congratulations on your recent winning quilt! It is gorgeous. Sew Beautiful and Martha Pullen changed many of our lives. You and Philip Pepper were my instructors the first time I attended an MP school in Huntsville. I was fortunate to have you for later classes, also. Thank you for sharing your sewing love and knowledge with so many of us.

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  10. I hope and pray all good things come you way, you deser ve whatever comes. I love you so much and I am so happy for you. life isn’t easy but there are always some moments that you are happy to be able to experience. you are one neat gal!!!

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    • Hi Kathy,
      No, I did not use a boutis technique nor trapunto in this quilt. The three-dimensional texture is from wool batting. It is soft and lofty, yet compresses nicely with dense quilting, so relatively un-quilted areas, like the flower petals, puff nicely, yet the densely quilted areas around them are flat. The reflective silk fabric enhances the texture.

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  11. I enjoyed and learned a lot from you (and others) through the wonderful articles in SB magazine! Thank you for sharing your journey. I hope that you will continue to make beautiful quilts. 🙂

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  12. Pingback: Another Rose | SusanStewartDesigns

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