It’s A Zoo!

When I was pregnant with my daughter, who was born in 1983, I made this soft fabric book.  It is just too cute!  She used it, my son used it, my nephews used it, and it recently made it back into my hands.


Unbutton the hippo bus driver’s nose…


to see his floppy tongue!

The bear’s ball glove laces and ties like a shoe…


The giraffe has bows to tie…


The pelican used to have two little fish to hook onto the pole, but the fish are long lost…


The lion has a tail to braid…


Zip open the alligator’s mouth…


and that tongue can lick the ice cream cone!  This was always the favorite!


The kangaroo used to have a little joey that fit in the buckled pocket, but the joey hopped away somewhere…


The elephant’s skates had buttons and loops…


And the turtle’s shell unsnaps to say…


“I love you!”


This was not a quick project to make, but it has held up well, and I’m so glad I have it!  I remembered that it was a Vogue pattern, so I did a quick search.  If you Google “Vogue Patterns 1959,” you can find it on several sites for sale.  I can’t vouch for any of them, but there are some copies of this pattern available if you want to make a book like this.

Easter Finery

Spring is here!


I enjoyed sewing coordinating outfits for my children for as long as they would tolerate it!  This has to be one of my all-time favorite photos of them together.  It was taken in 1990.

Easter 1990

Their outfits were made of Imperial broadcloth, and the smocking plate was “Cottontail Bunnies 3” by Mollie Jane Taylor.


David’s pattern was (maybe?) Children’s Corner Jeffrey, but it is not lined, so I’m not sure if that was the pattern I used.


I used tiny piping on the collar and fake cuffs, as well as along the top and bottom of the smocked insert.


I omitted the top and bottom rows of the smocking plate.  Aren’t those fluffy little tails cute?!

Here’s a picture from 1997 of my nephew in the outfit.

Mark Sweany 1997

I’m not sure what, if any, pattern I used for Annie’s blouse and dress.


(I’m also not sure what that glare is on the lower part of some of these photos.  It’s my photography abilities, not the garments!)


Her bunnies had pink tails, and the collar and cuffs were trimmed with gathered Swiss edging, as well as piping.


And even though they weren’t visible when worn, her dress had mother-of-pearl flower buttons.

The next two outfits were from the next year, I think, and probably the last time they wore matching duds.


This dress was (maybe) a New Look pattern, but again, I’m not sure.  The fabric was a print cotton, and looking back, I think, “Wow, why didn’t I pick a prettier color than that grayed-down lavender?!”


The collar shadow embroidery is from a Wendy Ragan design in an early issue of Sew Beautiful, stitched on, and lined with, Imperial batiste.


Then, turn around!



I made the collar to fit the Swiss motif.


What a sweet embroidery design!

David’s shirt is double-breasted to match Annie’s dress.  He probably had blue pants or shorts to go with this.


It is Imperial broadcloth, and the collar is Imperial batiste. I have no idea of the pattern, if any.


The light blue trim along the collar is not an applied edging, but a narrow shadow embroidered strip.


The back has boy bunnies instead of girl bunnies!

Now, I haven’t sewn Easter outfits in a long, long time.  But a few years ago, I did dress up some Peeps for a surprise package for Annie! 🙂

Easter Peeps 2012-2

French lace and pearl buttons, of course!

Teeny, Tiny Squares

All of my previous posts have been about my work from the past.  This is a current project.

I made this needlepoint for my Dad in 1978.  I was finishing up college, and for some reason made needlepoint projects for my family that year.  This was from an illustration in a farm magazine!


As a tribute to him, I decided to do this in fabric – pieced – about 6 squares per inch – then quilted!  I know, crazy!  This is hanging on Mom’s wall, so all I have to work from is this photo.

Here is the completed sunflower from the lower left.  You can see how tiny the squares are!


Here, I’ve worked my way up to the cornstalk.  Even doing some strip-piecing, this is tedious, painstaking work!

Don’t sneeze!


The squares are cut 1/2″, then trimmed slightly after piecing. After the squares are sewn into strips, the strips are added to the slooooowly growing piece.   I try to match every single seam – 22 seams per strip in this section.  Here is a strip pinned to the right side of the piece.


Then I flip to the wrong side…


and stitch, using the previous seam (not the raw fabric edges) as a guide, with my needle in the far left position.


Then I check the right side to see if the seams line up.  At least half the time, there are sections of the seam that don’t, so I have to take out some stitches and re-stitch.  Now mind, these stitches are only 1mm long – they have to be that tiny to keep the eensy weensy seam allowances from fraying.  And they are stitched with Superior Threads Bottom Line thread, which is a very fine 60wt. poly thread.  I use this fine thread because I wanted a thread that took up less space in the seam than regular 50wt. piecing thread.  I did what I could to reduce the bulk, and the Bottom Line is strong enough for this particular piecing. Those stitches are hard to un-stitch!

Once everything is lined up as well as I can get it, I trim the seam allowances a bit, then press those seam allowances open on the wrong side.  Oh, by the way, the seam allowances on the squares were pressed open, too.  I thought the ridges created from pressing to the side would be too noticeable on these tiny squares.  Again, not an easy task!  Each seam allowance is 3 layers of fabric, and I’m pressing them open over the previous seam allowance.  Altogether, each square is 9, yes 9, layers of fabric thick.


I found that running my thumbnail down the seam, separating the seam allowances, then pressing with lots of steam worked best.  Here’s the right side of that strip.


Then repeat, and repeat, and repeat, seemingly ad infinitum…

I have finally finished the sunflower/cornstalk panel.  Twenty-three squares by ninety squares – 2070 squares, and this is only about one-fourth of the project!  Whew!


I have a great ability to tolerate tedium, and I usually work on only one project at a time, but this calls for a break!  I embroidered, pieced, and quilted my Craftsy quilt in less time than this 4″ x 16-3/4″ panel took!

So for now, I’m putting these teeny, tiny square away and working on something bigger!

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.


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.


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.


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?!

048 Easter 98

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.


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.



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.



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?

Christmas Sewing From Years Ago

Like many of you, I made lots of Christmas and other holiday garments for my children.  Here are some photos of a few of those outfits.  These were from before I discovered Sew Beautiful magazine, before I started writing about sewing, before I started teaching, before I started quilting!


This is the only picture I have of this dress.  It’s a cute photo, but doesn’t show the dress very well.  The jumper was a light sage green cotton velveteen, with an ivory cotton blouse.  The pattern was so sweet!  I’m sure it was McCall’s/Simplicity/Butterick/Vogue; I didn’t know of any other patterns at the time.


This dress was also velveteen, this time in sapphire blue, with white lace trim.  Synthetic lace, as I had not yet been introduced to lovely French cotton lace.  Again, this was a commercial pattern.


Little girls’ dresses were shorter then (I think this was probably 1987), but, you know, their little legs are so cute! 🙂


And, of course, Annie’s favorite part of the dress was the ruffle-butt feature!


Here we are a year or two later.  I made the red jackets from a gabardine, maybe a poly/rayon/cotton blend.  I know I made Annie’s skirt, too, but I don’t remember if I made David’s pants or if they were purchased.  He doesn’t look too sure about being on that horse, does he?!


And going back even farther, here are my sister and I in pretty turquoise velveteen Christmas dresses made by my Mom!

The Dino Kartsonakis Christmas Show

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In 1993 (I think!), Annie played the piano in Dino Kartsonakis’ Christmas Show in Branson, MO.  I made her dress, of course!


It was sparkly and beautiful, and she loved it!


Here’s the dress, a little wrinkled from hanging for 20+ years in the closet, but otherwise intact.  It was a combination of careful stitching and garment construction, and quick finishing for a garment that would be worn only a few times.  For the stage, glitz wins out over fine detail!  The dress was made from an iridescent synthetic satiny fabric with synthetic lace yardage and trim.  I think it was a Butterick pattern.


The peplum was a separate piece, consisting of lace yardage gathered and stitched to a stretchy wide sequin band.  It fastened under the bow with hook and loop tape and a snap.  The elastic has deteriorated and is no longer very stretchy, so I had to pin it in place to take this photo.

I hand-beaded the neckline and bodice with iridescent glass beads.  After bringing the dress in for approval (I was the only Mom making a show dress,) I was asked to add even more sparkle.  So I glued iridescent sequins on the bodice for more glitz!


The entire dress was lined with a polyester lining, and I added horsehair braid (which is not really horse hair, of course!) to the lining hem to hold the skirt out nicely.


It was a busy November and December that year, getting Annie to practices and performances, but what a fun thing for a fourth-grader to get to do!  And this dress kind of falls into that princess category that almost every little girl loves! 🙂

Smocked Brother/Sister Outfits

I think I made my first smocked garment from a Vogue (?) baby pattern, using iron-on dots to pleat the fabric.  When I discovered Sew Beautiful in the spring of 1989, I bought a pleater and made the most of the couple of years my children were willing to wear smocked brother/sister outfits!  Here is one of those sets:

001 (2)

This would have been taken about 24 or 25 years ago (ugh, am I really that old?!)  And except for the fact that the dress sleeves are longer and puffier than current fashion, these garments would work just as well now as then.

plaid green overalls

David’s outfit was made from dark green featherwale corduroy and a poly/cotton plaid.  The smocked insert was Imperial broadcloth.  The pattern was probably Children’s Corner “Jeffrey,” but I’m not sure.


I’m not sure what smocking plate I used.  If anyone recognizes it, let me know and I’ll give credit!  Or perhaps I didn’t use a plate at all, but made it up.  Anyway, David’s Paw, my Dad, was a farmer, so this was appropriate!  My smocking didn’t go all the way to the edges of the insert, but remember, this was one of my first pieces, and I’ve never been an expert smocker, anyway!

green plaid dress

Annie’s dress was made from the same poly/cotton plaid and Imperial broadcloth, so it was very easy care.  She wore this to school, and then the dress was passed on to a couple of friends, so it’s seen a lot of wear.  In fact, there are a couple of small holes in the skirt, probably from getting caught in the chain of a swing.


The narrow eyelet trim around the collar doesn’t look like a Swiss trim, it was probably an inexpensive eyelet.  Remember, this was long before online shopping, and I lived in an area where heirloom supplies were completely unknown!  The chicks are “Barnyard Friends” by Creative Keepsakes.  Keep an eye on those little chicks…


…because they showed up a little later in this romper I made for one of my nephews!


I’m sure I made up the rest of this smocking design.  And, I know, I have some puckers that I would be able to avoid now, but the romper is cute, anyway, and somewhere there’s a picture of my nephew wearing this.


Here’s the back of the romper, probably the Jeffrey pattern, too.  So cute!

Easy Appliqued Bib

Way back when, I went through a machine applique phase.  My children were young, and I appliqued simple designs on lots of things.  I think I used some coloring books for designs, and also an applique book or two.  Fusible web, satin stitching, and easy embellishments made for some very quick projects.  I actually burned out the foot control on my Kenmore machine with all that satin stitching!

002 003

I made dozens of bibs for my children, and also as gifts.  These were so easy and soooo practical!  They are great, inexpensive, practical baby gifts.  Some of the bibs I made were used by both of my children, and both of my sister’s boys as well.  Little ones learning to feed themselves need bibs…



Somehow, I don’t seem to have any photos of these bibs that aren’t hidden by the high chair tray!  But after all, that’s what they were for.


This isn’t a great picture of the bib (although it’s a wonderful picture of the face 🙂 !)  But you can see how large and well-used it was.  This one had a turtle with a star on its shell, wearing a ball cap.

Here in a nutshell is how I made them:

  1. Start with a terry cloth hand towel.  New is good, but even used is fine.  The rough, texture-y kind of towel is better than the velvety kind.  Wash it to pre-shrink.  Cut off the hems and fringe.
  2. Choose fabric for the main bib fabric, pre-shrink, and cut to the same size as the  trimmed towel.
  3. Choose your applique shape.  Simpler is better.  Reverse the design, if it matters (monograms matter, turtles do not.)  Trace the shapes individually onto the paper side of lightweight paper-backed fusible web.
  4. Cut the shapes out, leaving 1/4″ or so around the edges.
  5. Iron the paper-backed web to the back of your desired applique fabrics.  Cut out the shapes on the traced lines.
  6. Remove the paper, position the shapes on the main bib fabric, and press to fuse.
  7. Place this upper layer right side up on top of the towel, and pin in place.  Satin stitch around all the applique edges.  Use a width of 2.5 – 3.0.  You want the applique edges to be very secure, because the bib will be washed and washed and washed!  The towel may provide enough stabilization that you don’t need any additional stabilizer.  If your stitches are tunneling, use lightweight stabilizer.  (If I were making these now, I’d use water-soluble stabilizer.  I don’t think there was such a thing when I was making the originals!)
  8. Trace around a bowl or small plate or circle template to round the corners of the bib and make a semi-circle for the neck.  Straight stitch or zigzag on these lines.
  9. Trim the outer and neck edges close to the straight stitching.
  10. Use purchased double-fold bias tape, or make your own, to bind the outer edges of the bib.
  11. Then bind the neck edge, leaving long enough tails of bias on each side to tie the bib around the child’s neck.
  12. Done!  Bring on the food!

Sterling Silver and Machine Embroidery – Unusual Partners!

My daughter is a jewelry artist.  About five years ago, trying to find a way to make a little money during grad school, she made these pretty little brooches.  She made the hand-crafted sterling silver centers, and I contributed the free-standing lace machine-embroidered petals.  These were really cute, I thought, and very versatile, as the centers could be removed and used with a variety of flowers.


So, of course, I made a quilt with a silver-centered flower!  This little quilt was donated to the silent auction at the Houston Quilt Festival in 2010.


The upper flower is machine embroidery directly on fabric.  The middle flower is a photo transfer from a photograph I took in our back yard.  And the lower flower is a double layer of free-standing lace petals with one of the silver flower centers.  This flower can be removed from the quilt and worn!  The light green border fabric is silk dupionni, free-motion quilted.  And all the machine embroidery designs in this post are Zundt, of course.

Then Annie tricked me!  She said she had a commission for three black-eyed Susan pins, and could I please embroider the flowers.  Some time later, I received a package in the mail.  Three lovely pins for me!   So of course I photographed them in their natural setting.  Look closely to find the silver-centered blossoms!


I’ve worn these a lot.  I’m not a “bling-y” kind of person, but these are casual and fun, a mix of silver and thread, and a wonderful reminder of my wonderful daughter!


Halloween Costumes

You know, I never really liked making Halloween costumes!  I much preferred making “real” clothes.  But when one is a parent and sews, I guess costumes are just part of the deal.  Here is one year’s costume for Annie.


David, of course, was just wearing purchased jack-o-lantern jammies.  But I turned Annie into a flower!  This was from a pattern from one of the Big 4 pattern companies.  The green “stem and leaves” fastened in back, and the sleeves had sort of quilted spines.  The “blossom” was layered with batting and had boning stays to support the flower, and was stitched to a cap that tied under the chin.  She and her friends used this flower costume for dress-up for many years!

And then, of course, princesses are always popular!  Sewing with cheap woven lame is not so popular!


The bodice was some kind of satin, and the pattern was probably just a basic yoke dress.  The scepter, of course, makes it royal! 🙂