Heirloom Dreams

I followed quilting for years before I actually tried it. I was a subscriber to Quilters Newsletter Magazine for decades, and enjoyed the artistry of Caryl Fallert and the detailed precision of Diane Gaudynski. In about 2000, I visited the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY for the first time, and was blown away! Wow! Yet for a number of years after that, I said that I couldn’t start quilting in earnest because I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. Oh, I had done several special quilts (see Our Whole Life, My Texas Star, and David’s 21st Birthday Quilt, plus a few others) so I wasn’t starting from scratch. Finally, though, the idea of making a quilt for competition grew irresistible to me. And Heirloom Dreams was born!


56” x 55” 2004

I had seen those quilts in the museum, and later, had attended the AQS show in Paducah, so I knew what kind of quality was required to be competitive. Because I had spent many years working for Martha Pullen Co., heirloom techniques were in my blood, and I also knew this was something different that had not been brought into the world of quilts in a big way. So I got out my batiste and lace and my thinking cap! 🙂

I wanted a quilt that would have the overall look of delicate lace. It is actually four layers – a backing, batting, and two top layers of fabric. The top is white Swiss batiste, embellished with shaped French Val lace, shaped lace/rickrack bridging, shaped puffing, shaped bias linen strips, pinstitching, entredeux stitching, and machine embroidery from an old Husqvarna Viking embroidery card. The outer edge is a shaped linen applique. This was layered over light blue Swiss batiste to create the quilt top.

Making a great top is only half (or even less!) of making a good quilt. The quilting is what brings it to life, what transforms it from a flat, two-dimensional piece of fabric into a sculpted, three-dimensional work. And quilting was the challenge (and still continues to be.) I free-motion quilted around every bit of embellishment with monofilament thread – the lace, the applique, the embroidery. This is still the first step of quilting for every quilt I make. I created trapunto floral designs in opposite corners around the center medallion that repeat the machine embroidery shapes. The 3/8″ crosshatch was done with the feed dogs up… lots of tie-offs, and lots of turning! Shell-stitched piping outlines the scalloped bound edges.





So, my quilt was finished and photographed. Instead of starting with a small, local show, what did I do? I entered it in the World of Beauty contest at the Houston International Quilt Festival 2004! I was delighted when it won first place in the Computer-Aided Machine Embroidery category, was juried into American Quilter’s Society judged show in 2005, and was featured in Jenny Haskins Creative Expressions magazine, Issue 7.

It’s hard to believe that this was over 16 years ago! I still like many of the same things. I often use soft colors, and lean toward analogous color schemes. I still love fine details, and I regularly use medallion settings. Almost every quilt I make includes lace, either the fine cotton kind, or machine-embroidered free-standing lace that I make. I like symmetry. Intricate edges are interesting. And, I’ve learned a lot about quilting since then. Here are some of the things I’ve learned…

  • Quilts have to be visually appealing from a distance as well as close up. With heirloom garments, almost everything is about the tiny details. But quilts need to pack a “wow” from across the room as well as from a foot away.
  • The difference between expensive Swiss batiste and much less expensive cotton batiste is significant in a Christening gown; it makes much less difference in a quilt. Now, I’m not saying you should not use quality fabrics, but in this particular comparison, Swiss batiste is not worth the cost.
  • Those tiny stitches we love in heirloom sewing – pinstitch and entredeux – just don’t show up in the finished quilt. The little “holes” get lost in the texture. If you’re going to add lace to a quilt, a zigzag is just fine, and takes far less time.
  • As important as I knew quilting was, it’s even more important than I thought! It doesn’t have to be done on a longarm. All of my quilts were quilted on sit-down machines. This one was done on a regular domestic. The only way to be good at it is to do a lot of it!

Go ahead and try your hand at something you’ve wanted to do for a long time. Who knows where it might take you!?


Updating an Heirloom Dress

I made this dress for a 2002 issue of Sew Beautiful magazine.


It was made of pale pink handkerchief linen, Swiss cotton organdy, and yards and yards of French lace.


The technique for the article was the organdy “windows,” embellished in this dress with machine embroidery in the palest of colors. (The embroidery designs were from Pfaff embroidery cards which I am almost sure are no longer available.)


I wanted to demonstrate this technique in Heirloom Sewing More Classic Techniques, my most recent Craftsy class. If you’d like to see in detail how I made these transparent reverse applique windows, and get 50% off my class, click on the class icon on the right side of my blog home page.

I like to have lots of samples, and this dress was still in my sample closet. The problem was that the dress was pretty dated by now. It was probably a girl’s size 12, with a dropped “V” waist, giant puffy sleeves, and a huge collar. Still pretty, but very out of date. So I saved the time-intensive parts and re-made it!


I cut off the skirt and underskirt and took apart the bodice. I used the bodice and sleeves for fabric to cut the sleeveless bodice from my “Baby’s Breath” pattern in a size 4. Extra bits of fabric were used to cover the piping at the waistline seam and for the neck binding, and I removed some of the lace from the original collar for the neckline. You can’t see it, but I used the folded back facings with buttons and buttonholes from the original for the back button opening. I even salvaged the original’s back button tab, stitching it into the back darts of the new version!


Because the original skirt was very wide, made from 56″ wide fabric, it was too bulky to gather into the new, smaller waistline. So I cut out a section of the skirt and underskirt, going right through two of the little diamond-shaped windows, then sewing a new seam and carefully matching the embroidery motifs. I placed this at the center back. This moved the original side seams away from the bodice side seams and into the back, but the skirt is still so full, no one will ever notice or care. I shortened the skirt and batiste underskirt, made a new placket in the skirt at the top of the center back seam, and lined the bodice with batiste. That batiste lining is the only thing not from the original!

Here are a few more photos of the new version.



Stay tuned, I’ll post later about some of my other heirloom re-makes!


Trying out Lekala Patterns

I’ve known about (and been intrigued by) Lekala patterns for several years. I finally got around to trying one out. For those of you who have never heard of Lekala, it is a Russian-based company that provides made-to-measure patterns for an extremely reasonable cost. Choose from well over 1000 designs, enter in your measurements, and within a few minutes you are emailed a personalized pdf pattern.

This is one of their free patterns, a basic shirt, the Classical Blouse – Sewing Pattern #5446.


I used a brownish-purple (aubergine?) very densely-woven cotton flannel, sort of like chamois cloth, that has been languishing in my stash for years. Here is the result:


Look at that! A button-front shirt that fits nicely with no pulling across the bust!


The shoulders fit beautifully, and the darts are the correct height.



The only fitting change I made to the pattern was to make a square-shoulder adjustment (which is pretty simple.) As a construction change, I made continuous-lap plackets at the back side of the wrists, and changed the positioning of the tucks in the sleeves. The instructions were to simply leave a slit at the wrist end of the underarm seam. In my opinion, this puts the cuff opening in a very awkward position.

However, there is no magically perfect fitting system. This goes a long way, and I’m planning to try many other Lekala patterns. In fact, I’ve made a couple more since I finished this shirt a few weeks ago. Here are some of the pros and cons as I see them right now.


  • Lots and lots of designs, and very inexpensive
  • The fit for me in the chest, bust, shoulders, and hips is very good straight from the pattern. This eliminates a lot of fitting changes, such as full-bust adjustment and lowering the bust point (sigh) in almost everything I make.
  • You can get a pattern preview, in your custom measurements, emailed within minutes. The preview is on a 4″ x 4″ (10cm x 10cm) grid, so you can get a pretty good idea of flat pattern measurements from that and see approximately how much ease is included.
  • The pattern drafting is excellent. The pieces fit together perfectly.
  • The patterns can be purchased with or without seam allowances. The patterns for wovens have 1cm. seam allowances, which is very to use.


  • The sleeves seem to be very narrow, and the armholes quite high and tight, in the three patterns I’ve tried. I’m trying to see if there’s an easy fix for that.
  • The fit on some patterns, especially knits, is much closer to the body than I like. That may be an Eastern European thing. I really don’t like tight clothes on myself. I much prefer semi-fitted to close-fitting. So, I am trying increasing my measurements a little when ordering patterns to add more wearing ease.
  • The patterns are pdf only. Yes, that means tiling and taping. But, you know, most of the patterns I’ve purchased recently have been pdfs anyway. I live too far from anywhere to be able to buy many paper patterns, and this is just so much faster than waiting for shipping.
  • The pattern pieces have very few match points. This can be helped by “walking” the seamlines along each other and adding your own, if you know that you need them. Also, the sleeves have no markings to indicate front or back, so you have to know by the shape of the piece which is which.
  • If you need to use instructions, these are atrocious! But if you are a confident sewer, then you’ll be fine. For example, this was a very basic shirt pattern, and I didn’t need any instructions. It’s been a long time since I made a shirt with a collar on a stand, but this went together beautifully, even with the heavy fabric I used. If you need help, there are many good instructions out there. Just don’t rely on the instructions that come with the pattern!

I’ll keep you informed about other Lekala patterns that I try. But for a trial run, I’m very pleased. I have a cozy, nicely-fitting shirt, that was made from fabric and buttons in my stash and a free pattern! You can’t ask for much more than that!





A Top from Burdastyle Long Sleeve Flounce Dress 11/2016 #117

In my previous post, I wrote about the dress I made from the Burdastyle Long Sleeve Flounce Dress 11/2016 #117 pattern. I really like the dress, but I had to make numerous adjustments to get it to fit nicely. I thought that before I forgot all the changes I made, I’d use the pattern again!

This time, I decided to shorten it and make it as a top, because, really, how often do I wear dresses? And, I left off the flounce.


(Check out those shoes! They’re the ones I made on my Arrowmont vacation with Annie!)

I used a roll end of red matte hybrid crepe from EmmaOneSock that I bought a couple of years ago (see, it’s always good to have a stash to shop in!) The fabric has a bit of stretch, doesn’t wrinkle, sews beautifully, and is still available.


Because of that bit of stretch, I stabilized the neckline with narrow strips of lightweight fusible tricot interfacing, cut on the lengthwise non-stretch grain, as well as interfacing the facing. Fusible tape is available, but I didn’t have any. This works just as well.


I did all the same fitting changes as for my gray dress, which you can read about here.

Now, some more pictures.


(Do you see the bookcase quilt in the background? It was a 50th anniversary gift for my parents, and you can read about “Our Whole Life” in this post.)




This top is quite different than the gray dress. Simple changes – omitting the flounce, and shortening to blouse length – let me get double duty from the pattern and the time spent on fitting. I encourage you to look at patterns you’ve made and enjoyed, to see if there are new and fresh ways to use them again.