Friday, July 24, 2009

Love Those Details

When my kids were younger and loved fussy kid clothes, I loved the detailing. I learned to applique for the first time on a homemade onesie (that is BEFORE onesie was a word or a thing). It was awful applique as I didn't understand stabilizer and my $99 sewing machine didn't allow me to reduce stitch length to a satin stitch. I bought that little machine when I started college and made all of my clothes except my jeans. Of course, everyone on my floor thought that since I had a sewing machine I would want to mend their jeans. (It didn't take me long to discover that I didn't need to reveal that I knew how to sew.)

In teaching myself to applique at that time, I didn't have access to fusible products as we have now. So, I improvised with stitch witchery which I used now and again for hems. Expensive for this process but I was thrilled with the results. My resource for learning these techniques was an ancient sewing book that I had pretty well memorized. Before my $99 machine, I could only do bound buttonholes--not even knowing that was an advanced technique. My sewing machine from high school was my mom's old machine, a Singer with a wooden case that I ran with a knee control and it only had a straight stitch. So being self-taught, I learned from a 30 year old sewing book (which now would be almost 60 years old) and now realize that the techniques I learned are fine techniques with great details and great finishes and are actually considered fairly high functioning detail work in sewing.

When I moved on to advance my applique skills, I add heirloom sewing skills and loved the concepts of pin tucks, winged needles and lace insertions. I became a Martha Pullen groupie, nearly looking holes in every publication I bought. I never learned smocking as it wasn't one of my favorite techniques but I was enchanted by cutwork. I have always studied fabrics and textures to try to figure out how they use them and what could be done to add more in detail. I really love gadgets like rolled hem feet, rufflers and bias binders. They are such smart tools. After having sewn on a lot of machines in my lifetime, I have a real appreciation for the fine tooling of these accessories on my Bernina machines. Not because I am a dealer but rather because I have had my share of the generic ones for the other machines and love my Bernina accessories which are tooled for performance and durability.

With machine embroidery...well that is the ULTIMATE sewing tool for me. Being able to do cutwork, applique, digitizing and so much more, my head spins with ideas!

This last week, I got to sit in a bit on our Master-Your-Machine classes on heirloom sewing. It was like looking in on Santa's workshop as I watched them do a lace insertion technique and fall in love with winged needle work. I wondered what happen to all the blouses I made over the years with those techniques. However, as I think about it...most of that stuff was my maternity clothes. (Oh yeah, passed them on to friends. I am sure they have had a good life.) What a delightful treat to remember these techniques. It is like finding a good novel and reading the good parts again. (Or am I the only one that does stuff like that?)

It also reminded me of Monica's apron she made while we were on vacation. Our kids grew up with mom sewing and always had ample access to sewing and crafting. However, I never pushed it. They all sewed at some level out of a desire to learn. To this day, I can't say that I have done a lot (except stay out of the way and smile and encourage) to teach them. I am available when they have questions, but like myself, they learn a lot by observing, questioning and researching. So, I was thrilled to see Monica take on an apron of this proportion. Details like a reversible apron, gathered bodice, draw string neck and classy pockets made this a challenge for her. But she is very proud of this as am I for her !

I have had lots of mothers tell me they have to work so hard to resist the urge to pull out stitches their kids sew or to not start working for the kids to rush things along. I have never really had that urge. I think it is because I know how much I grew in my own sewing skills by not having someone hover over me. I took on projects that good sense should have made me never consider. However, I also know I am not alone. Many sewers my age keenly remember winging it and learning on our own. I give a lot of credit to programs such as 4-H. If parents and leaders can just cheerlead and stay out of the way, kids can do great things. Next week, our kids camp starts at the store. I love it because I get to see the kids soar. We give direction but we always leave room for the kids to express themselves. I think I have as much fun as the kids do!

My kids didn't always wear or use everything they sewed, but they each have memories of the process. Keeping in mind that Monica's first sewing project was sewing a thumb mitten that she could put on her thumb at nights to help her quit sucking her thumb, I would say her apron is a long and positive way. But, I still wish thumb mitten would have survived the wash and wear (and probably eventual flushing) as it still makes me smile to think of it.

Sometimes I like to just practice a few techniques and envision what they will be on a valance or a table cloth. I like to just play on samples and write notes on them. (But then I am probably the person who while I am reading a book, will skip ahead and randomly read a future segment, then watch the plot unfold trying to figure out how the author will get the story line to my random reading.)

So now that you got a glimpse at the weird way my brain works, I hope I have encouraged you to go and pull out the decorative stitches on your machine, thread it up with a winged needle (or better yet a twin-winged needle) and see what comes of it. Be sure to use a natural fiber (cotton or linen or flax) as it will only keep the holes with natural fibers.

All the Best to You, jill

p.s. If you want to learn more about the book Monica used, just click on the photograph and it will take you the link about it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Summer Vacation...

Having been an elementary school teacher, I am all too familiar with the routine of class starting with "What I did on my summer vacation..." I consider myself blessed (thank you University of Northern Iowa) that I was encouraged to think outside the box....way outside the box. I have always looked for the challenges and what is beyond ordinary.

It has been a few weeks since we went on vacation to a cabin with the fam. However, I JUST got around to unpacking some of my projects as the trip was followed with a trip to San Francisco with Bernina. Then when one is away from the store for such a long period of time, the mail and the responsibilities just don't go away. As I unpacked projects, I celebrated my learning on our trip.

I ventured out with a small suitcase of clothes and my largest suitcase with sewing projects. As I packed I dreaded the thought that some of this stuff would go untouched and return home and be put back in the cubbies to wait for another sewing venture. The thought of carrying that heavy suitcase upstairs and facing the guys (especially Henry) saying, "WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU TAKING IN THIS CASE?!"....well, it was overwhelming and I considered shipping it Fed Ex as my private stash of fabric.

When I gave up and lugged my suitcase upstairs to be loaded in the van, I was shocked to see that my girls each had two or three times as much stuff as I had packed. I felt much better as I watched them trying to stuff everything in the vehicles. A week of fishing and sewing and enjoying the beautiful weather and lots of rest and I am happy to report that I sewed on every parcel except for one in my bag and even that I made sure I did some studying and cutting before I packed it up to return home.

What I liked the best about this journey was I took mostly bundles of fat quarters. I studied them and selected a project, sew it, then I would study what was left and sew another. I worked every stack down into a little mound of scraps that I saved until the end of the week. Very little went to waste and I even had a hard time not scooping it up and layering it into Aquamesh and creating a free motion design scarf for myself. (Guess that venture will be another day!)

Now this week as I prepare for VIP....we are featuring Christmas in July....I can't wait to show what I did with this great new collection from Benartex, Winter Parade. This quilt took me only a matter of a few hours. It will be a great little throw for my godson, Kai. I used up the rest of the fabric in two other projects. I will be showing those this week as well. Hopefully some of you can join us. It is free to attend. However, we are asking that you give us a call (319-373-0334)or an email ( and let us know when you want to come. It is always a fun time as we get to show you what is going on in our sewing rooms and give you our tips and tricks and share the learning we are doing all the time. If you want to know more about the times, you can go to our VIP (VERY INSPIRED PEOPLE) section of our web site.

I am glad that I rarely have ordinary times...even on summer vacation!
All the Best to You, jill

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Our Hearts in San Francisco

My daughters always give me a bad time because I like hearts. I like charms of hearts and the image of hearts. Of course, I love Brighton...while I don't have but three pieces of Brighton, I love the silver hearts on all of them. My girls think I like them because they don't like them. Well, if that were true, it would be about time I worked at getting under their skin! However, that isn't true. I love the image of hearts and love the symbolism and am probably just a romantic. So, forgive me if I break out in song....left my heart in San Francisco. Truly, this was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been in. I could easily go back there for more of a visit.

We were there for close to a week at Bernina University...soaking up new tips, new techniques and being inspired to come back and share so much with you, our friends. We got a chance to see the new Designer v 6.0 software. The sketching options will amaze and thrill everyone. So intuitive, we are anxious to get our hands on it for our training in August and will be sharing more with our customers. We also got a chance to see a new tool for cutting designs out using your embroidery machine. Talk about making that a multi-faceted machine....who would have ever thought of it. Being a big fan of cutwork, traditional and contemporary, I have some great designs roaming around my idea bank and this cutwork tool is going to be just what I need to let that inspiration soar!!

And for you garment sewers (or wanna-bes) we put our heads together with Linda Lee and are going to be launching Project Sewing Workshop at the store. This is going to give you a chance to work with Linda's designs and to have fabric choices for fabulous garments right at Pine Needles. You will want to be sure to make it to VIP in July and August as we release information about how you can get a chance to win some great prizes just for expanding your wardrobe with the Sewing Workshop. A couple of us from the store will be attending Linda's workshop this summer and will be working on planning Linda's fall visit to the store. You will want to watch the fall newsletter for those details.

Perhaps our favorite part of BU is the fun we get to have with other sewing machine dealers and fabric store teams from across the country and around the world. Our enthusiasm for the Bernina products and the fabrics and notions and publications is almost a genetic bond with us. We not only get to see these people at our trainings and market and convention, but we have developed some great lasting friendships. I always come home energized by all the great ideas I gather from across the country. So, indeed, forgive me for being away from my blog activity, but I was doing what I tell all of you to a widely interesting life and report back when you get a chance to inspire others.

We got to share this Bernina University with Therese and Joel, our daughter and son-in-law. It is great to hear their perspective and watch them grow in knowledge and insight about how to bring more sewing excitement back to Cedar Rapids.

Hope to see you soon in the store. Be sure you get signed up for some of the coming events and see what San Francisco and Bernina University inspired in our sewing world!
All the Best to You, jill