Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Pinch of This and A Dash of That to Kickoff Summertime!

I love summer time in Miami.  Everything slows to a crawl.  Endless hours floating in the pool.  The smell of Coppertone SPF 5 Million in the air.   It is also the perfect time to quilt because everyone is hiding indoors with the air conditioner cranked up as high at the purse strings will allow.   But, before I go into summer hibernation I have a little of this and that to share you all of you.

This past weekend, Jim and I had an unexpected road trip to mid central Florida.  Jim is the driver and I am the navigator.  Some how, I can't imagine how, our route kept taking us by quilt shops.  

I don't know if I ever mentioned it before but I have a serious notions addition.

We managed to make it all the way down to Sunshine Sewing in Margate as the last stop of the day. 
They have the largest batik collection I have ever seen outside of Hancock's of Paducah.  I was very good and exhibited great self control.  See - only 16 half yards of batiks!  

On another topic, I received several emails asking for a close-up of the embroidered peacock eye.  The white of the eye is reverse appliqued.  The dark eye is a satin stitch oval using 1 strand 50 wt. cotton machine embroidery thread.  The white highlight is a small straight stitch with a colonial knot at the end using 1 strand DMC off white embroidery floss.


I am also often asked if I always use the Template Free applique technique.  The answer is yes 99.999% of the time.  Since this block is the rare 0.001% of the time I did NOT use Template Free I wanted to share it with you.  When I found a beautiful batik grape wreath print fabric I knew I had to use it for this block.  I used Template Free to place and stitch the stems and then placed by eye the fussy cut leaves.

I cut a very scant 1/4" - more like a scant 1/8" and then basted the leaf down well so that it could not move.  I can't baste with pins without impaling myself so I thread base whenever possible.

I then needle turn appliqued the leaf.  I tried not to be TOO exact so that each leaf would look different and give the block a little variety (also known as visual interest).


The last tidbit...Here is the Victorian Vase block that I worked on during the second workshop with Elly Sienkiewicz at the Quilt Scene over Mother's Day weekend.  Notice the two buds on stems on either side of the vase.  They  are skinny stems (1/8") with an attached reverse appliqued bud.  The green stem/bud is a single piece of fabric.  Underneath is a hot pink polka dot batik. Doesn't everyone have hot pink polka dot rosebuds growing in their garden?

Here's how to stitch this shape using the Template Free method.  First baste the hot pink polka dot fabric in place.  Place the basting stitches just outside the bud area.  See the pink basting stitches in the photo.
Trim the pink bud fabric close to the stitched basting.  Then place the green bud/stem fabric in place and baste in place.  See the gold basting thread in the photo.

From the front of the block, trim the green fabric a scant 1/8".   Slit the green fabric to reveal the pink bud fabric below.  I like to use a seam ripper.  The piece is very sturdy because it's very well basted.  Remove only a few basting stitches at a time as you needle turn the edge.  Stitch the inside of the bud first and the outside last.   Slow and steady wins this race!  

Here is a finished bud.  Well, not really finished because I feel the need to add embroidered moss - maybe a few thorns.  

The view from the back of the block shows that the small bud/stem unit is placed ALMOST perfectly.  I just love Template Free!  By the way, I did find a reference to this technique in an old book on embroidery.  This method was called Tacking.  I plan to research it a little more and I will share any info I find.  Easy!

To all my USA friends and readers, Happy Memorial Day!  Have a happy, healthy holiday and safe travels.  To all my friends and readers in the Northern Hemisphere, Happy Summer!  For those in the Southern Hemisphere Happy Fall/Winter.

Until next time - best stitches,
Mercy in Miami
aka The Savage Quilter

Thaddeus wearing his patriotic bandana is ready for the Holiday.

Friday, May 14, 2010

SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATED PHOTOS - "There is a woman at the beginning of all great things." Alphonse de Lamartine French Poet, Writer and Statesman, 1790-1869

My work in progress block from the Elly's workshop - Peacock Pastoral.  The tree is Cut Away Applique (a la Template Free), the "Eyes" are all Reverse Applique (a la Template Free), and the eggs are Stuffed Appliqué (a la Template Free).  

In my case, there have been "several" women at the beginning of all great things.  This past week I was fortunate enough to spend four wonderful days stitching away during a series of workshops taught by Elly Sienkiewicz at our local shop - Quilt Scene - in Miami, Florida. The photos throughout are from the workshops.  
Elly Sienkiewicz May 8-11th, 2010 Quilt Scene Miami, FL

Elly began by asking each of us to introduce ourselves to the group and to tell the story of how we became acquainted with quilt making in general and appliqué specifically.   In my case, the question is the answer.  I first stepped into a quilt shop because I was inspired by Elly's writings and the ensuing Baltimore Album Quilt Renaissance.  The first person I met when I stepped into the shop turned out later to be my first applique teacher.  Recalling and telling my “appliqué Ah Ha moment” brought back many fond memories of a dear friend who is no longer with us.

An ancient Egyptian tomb inscription: "To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again."

In 1999, I had the good fortune to be dragged kicking and screaming to an appliqué workshop taught by Jeana Kimball. The “dragger”, Bernice, was my first appliqué teacher. We were a perfect pair. I was an enthusiastic, but unsuccessful student. Bernice was a talented, cheeky soul. Of Lithuanian decent, she grew up in the Chicago stockyard district of Upton Sinclair (The Jungle) where her parents ran a rooming house/restaurant/bar. She was twice my age when we met (older than my Mom at the time) but still insisted on calling my mother “Mom.” Her children were a succession of Whippet dogs, she only drove expensive foreign convertibles (German roasters were her favorite), she ALWAYS spoke her mind, and she could needle turn appliqué like an angel. Bernice was also determined I that I was going to learn to needle turn appliqué so she took me under her wing. I progressed to the point that I was OK but struggled for perfect placement and nice, FLAT, layered appliqué. About this time, the Piece O Cake ladies were introducing the clear vinyl overlay method. It was better than of marking placement lines on the background fabric but I hated the feel of the vinyl – just too many memories of sitting on my grandmother’s plastic covered sofa on hot summer Sunday afternoons struggling to be a good girl.

LaVerne (on the right) and me (on the left) enjoying the workshop.  My friend Nancy is in the background - we had not seen each other for almost 5 years and re-found each other again at the workshop.  Friends are the best part of quilting!

Jeana introduced the class to a technique she called Template Free Appliqué. As I recall the story, Jeana told us how, while teaching at a California quilt shop, students and maybe the shop owner too, kept telling her about this awesome technique one of the appliqué teachers used. The teacher would draw the pattern on the back of the background and then baste the appliqué fabric in place by stitching right on the drawn line from the back. Jeana, told us how, just to be polite, she agreed to watch the demonstration. After all, after a lifetime of needlework and a few decades of teaching appliqué there was nothing new left to see. Guess what? THERE WAS!!! She described her joy at finding this method and how it completely changed her work. Out where all the marking tools, the plastic, the cardboard, the overlays, the worry about covering your placement line. In was total freedom to begin stitching almost immediately, PERFECT placement, and SMOOTH, FLAT appliqué!!!

Jeana describes her version of the technique in her book Forget-Me_Knots . It is still available at:


Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.   —Will Rogers

It has been almost 11 years since I learned this method from Jeana. Since then, I have continued to take workshops from every appliqué teacher I can as often as I can. I learn something valuable from each one. Out of courtesy, I always try their method in class. Then I go home and incorporate what I learned into the Template Free method. For me, it’s still the quickest, most accurate, most portable method for preparing needle turn appliqué.

During the past several years, I have travelled extensively for both work and pleasure and have met many quilters. I have run into many devotees of this method and I have run into many detractors of this method. If I exclude the appliqué purist –they can usually be found lurking just behind the quilt police – from the population of detractors I am usually left with a small group of folks that did not receive a good tutorial on this method. The best tutorial I have seen on the web is by Connie Sue Haidle at Apple Blooms quilts:


There are two important points to keep in mind as you check out the tutorials and cyber information available on Template Free techniques. Basting is key to this method. ‘Basting’ does not mean big stitch, fast, or sloppy. Basting means ‘Temporary’. The size of the basting stitch is very important because the basting line must define the appliqué shape accurately enough for your eye to fill in the blanks between the dashed stitches. Another tutorial I have seen on the web recommends a blue washout marker to trace the pattern on the back. The idea on marking on the back is that you DO NOT have to remove it – ever! So don’t use a marking tool that will show or bleed onto the front of the fabric. For this method, an inexpensive, .5 mm mechanical pencil is still the best marking tool for all backgrounds except very dark color fabrics.

If you are new to this method or if you are already a Template Free enthusiast then stay tuned to this blog. I plan to publish several posts over the course of the summer sharing how I have refined this technique to make fine, hand appliqué SO MUCH easier.

Coming soon
• Extra Skinny Stems
Padded Appliqué
• Reverse Appliqué
• Peaks & Valleys Versus Rolling Hills
• Perfect Embellishment Placement
• Cutaway & Papercut

…and more.

In the meantime, you may enjoy re-reading a few blog entries that included advanced applique technique tutorials using the Template Free method.

Baltimore BOM Split Leaves 

Graceful Over Under Applique

If you have a question about the Template Free method or if you would like to see more information about how I apply the technique to fine appliqué, please leave a comment below. I will do my best to answer your questions.

Until next time...

Best stitches,
Mercy in Miami
aka The Savage Quilter

More photos added per readers request...

The white of the eye is reverse appliqued.  The dark eye is a satin stitch oval using 1 strand 50 wt. cotton machine embroidery thread.  The white highlight is a small straight stitch with a colonial knot at the end using 1 strand DMC off white embroidery floss.
The "eyes" on the tail feathers are reverse appliqued.  I plan to follow the pattern of the hand-marbled fabric to add embroidered highlights.

The eggs are stuffed with a very thin layer of wool batting.  I had to line the egg fabric anyway because it is very light on a dark background.  I thought the extra loft added some visual interest.  I really like how they turned out.  I plan to add texture to the nest by embroidering "twigs".

My friend Linda and Elly.  Linda took several of the photos here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Baltimore Album Quilt Musings & Unexpected Breakfast Guests

Hi gang!
For those of you that haven't been following my blog for very long you may not know that I LOVE Baltimore Album Quilts (BAQ).  In fact, they are the reason that I took up quilting in the first place.  Since then I have grown to love pretty much all things quilt related.  But as much as I love BAQs I have never made one.  I probably have enough orphan blocks to make a BAQ (or two) but they are mostly workshop blocks, technique blocks, samples, etc.   In September 2008 I decided I was going to make my own version of a BAQ and I signed up for a Baltimore Block of the Month (BOM) at my local quilt shop The Quilt Scene.  This coming weekend is the final installment of this BOM series; two 2-day classes with the Queen of BAQ herself - Elly Sienkiewicz.   

I have actually made enough progress on most of the blocks that I have begun to channel the "Little Train that Could" ...I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...   I have had many doubts along the way and I have second guessed almost all my choices.  First, I decided to put the blocks all on point.  Second, the color scheme is completely my own - not at all traditional - not at all everyone's cup of tea.  And last but not least, I have used many non-traditional techniques - gasp - including machine applique.  Is Mary Simon spinning in her grave?  I doubt it!  The quilt police (you know who they are - they appear anywhere 3 or more quilters gather) of course are having a field day.  But I'm sure the original ladies of Baltimore are smiling down from heaven.  They were the original art quilters.  They used everything available to them to make their quilts personal to them.  They praised the technology and the technologist (Steam Engines, Clipper Ships, Architecture, explorers, heroes, philanthropy, etc.).  The BAQs celebrate the American Dream.

I am not in their league but their example gives me courage to continue to make choices based only on what pleases me.

Many contemporary quilters inspire me also.  I was fortunate enough to meet and take several workshops with Shirley Bloomfield (http://www.shirleybloomfield.co.uk/).  She has successfully managed to personalize the BAQ style of applique and make incredible art.   Last January she gave me invaluable advice "just make it your own!"  Simple but brilliant.  Not only does it ALSO give me permission/courage to work on what I like, but it renews and refreshes my enthusiasm for my project.  

This weekend's workshops are Pastoral Peacock and an Art Deco style vase.  How perfect for me.  I was born and raised in Miami.  We have entire city districts of Art Deco architecture.  And as for the peacock block - our neighborhood is home to a huge flock (or whatever the correct term is for dozens of loud, screeching, pet food stealing, pooping, big birds).  Oh yes, I can definitely make this block personal.

Here are some of my blocks so far...  And yes, the background is aqua, some of the leaves are blue, and some of the vases are blood red.

Blog Bonus...  Early Saturday morning we awoke to quite a cacophony.  Apparently, Scrub Jays (the blue, black, and white birds in the photos) are quite territorial and therefore were not too happy when a family of Red Headed Woodpeckers decided to feast on the insects in our Bahamian palms.  Come on guys - can't we all get along?  I promise you there are more than enough bugs to go around!

I definitely have enough inspiration to keep me in stitches.

Best stitches!
Mercy in Miami
aka The Savage Quilter