Monday, July 25, 2011

Pillowcases--Bad ideas, good ideas

I lucked onto some orphan pillowcases this weekend.  I have no idea why these gems call my name so clearly unless it has something to do with the fact that I've loved textiles since I was a toddler--maybe even earlier and I just don't remember!
So, I'd like to share a couple with you.  The first made me sad.  The lace I absolutely love.  I think if I go dig out one of my grandma's bed sheets, it will have this same filigree lace pattern from the early 20th century.
 Of course, I have no way of knowing when someone decided to apply a couple of floss embroidered hearts--I'm kind of hoping it was an eight-year-old.
 Fortunately, the cotton floss was color-fast--maybe some of the J. P. Coats Boilfast floss from the 1940's-60's?  It was stitched with 3 ply of floss except for the thick part on the right side of the left heart, which was stitched with four-ply.
 And there's the back--great big knots.  The other negative is that instead of opening the hem, it was stitched through both layers of the hem.

 This is what it looks like now.  I'm hoping that after another laundering there will be no evidence of the embroidered misadventure--although I may go ahead and use it first. The saving grace is that the hearts were stitched with a small enough needle that the stitches will close up in the laundry.
In contrast, one of the "orphans" has some of the most exquisite embroidery I've seen.
 Here's a close up of one of the little hearts outlined in beautiful buttonhole stitch.
 The embroidery on this case was done with two-ply of floss except for the stem stitch and satin stitch, which were done with one.
 The only knots in this piece are the French knots and the bullion knots in the roses.

In the above photo you can see that the back is almost as neat as the front.
 The lovely little crocheted edging was applied in the edge of the hand-sewn hem stitching. Unadorned pillowcases could be purchased with gently scalloped edges.
This maker used delicate one-ply pearl cotton (I'm guessing size 8 or 12) to create the outline of the hearts in buttonhole stitch and then trimmed the fabric away next to the stitching at the bottom of the hearts.

I adopted a few other orphaned pillowcases too, but they're going to have to spend a good part of the week with "Aunt Oxy."

And here's the other much longed for treasure:

I don't even know how many cordless drills I've had over the last couple of decades.  The most outstanding trait of all of them was that when I needed them, the batteries were run down and most often I had trouble getting them to take a charge.  My dear friend who works at Lowe's assured me there's a clip at the bottom of the handle so that I can remove the batteries when not in use.  I bought mine as a Father's Day gift to myself a few years ago, and the only way the batteries are coming out of it is if you remove every screw--and then the batteries aren't replaceable.
Consequently, I've been longing for my Grandpa's hand drill--which is somewhere in one of my many boxes in an outbuilding.  Hmmmmm.  How much time do you think would be wisely spent searching through boxes in an out building in 95+degree heat?  I just couldn't face it.  I decided I'd be better off just buying a new drill and then decided what I really wanted was an old drill. After all, I use People-Powered-Machines for sewing, so why not for drilling? The local hardware store owner told me he could order me a hand drill.  I decided to look for an old one--partly because most of them were made with beautiful hardwood handles. I looked at every antique store I could think of and found this one at an antique store about two or three miles from home.  I suspect it was overpriced, but it was still about 20% of the cost of a decent new plastic wonder.

Okay, now I can install that sliding metal drawer in one of my cabinets so that my lovely DeMarle cookware won't fly out at me every time I need a piece!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cowgirl Antiques, Western Apparel, Feed & Supply

Lucky me!  I got to stop here today.  How fun is this! Makes my heart sing!
They sell clothes, lovely clothes at affordable prices. Jeans are on sale this week—real ones and pretty ones.

 They have antiques.  That’s what drew me in.  Then I loved everything else too. 

They have tables and chairs so people can meet and chat and enjoy a beverage and a treat.  (I enjoyed a great mocha iced coffee.) The Stanley, NM homemakers were just finishing up a meeting when I was there.
Free wi-fi is available.  If I'd guessed this was a place I'd be excited to blog about, I could have taken my laptop and done it while there.
 Of course I gravitated toward the lace (wonderful prices, too)!

 They carry boots and other essentials for cowboys and cowgirls.

The building has some interesting history too.  Decades ago it was the warehouse where Torrance County potato farmers brought their potatoes.  I doubt that anyone in the county is farming potatoes these days.  As long as I’ve known the building, it’s been a feed and supply store, but earlier this year that business headed west to Edgewood, NM.  This building’s wooden floors are a treasure.  The potatoes were warehoused in the part of the building that’s below ground—farmers and buyers could drive their vehicles down a ramp and unload or load.
When Broome’s Feed and Supply left town, Moriarty was left with no place to pick up hay, straw, or other feed, so this business is going to carry some of those basics.  They’re also carrying Ness Farms pinto beans.
I hope people travelling I-40 will decide to take a little break at Moriarty, take the Howard Cavasos Blvd. exit south, and visit this fun new business with a little of something for everyone—just the kind of business that warms my heart.
Cowgirl Antiques is in Moriarty, NM on Hwy 41 south, only a few yards from Old Route 66, and only about ½ mile from I-40 at the 2nd Moriarty exit (whether driving west or east on I-40). They are open 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily except Monday, with shorter hours on Saturdays (sorry, I don't remember what those shorter hours are).

Update: Unfortunately, this store has closed.  The owner can be found vending western style clothing at many rodeos throughout the region.  (No antiques, however.)

 Once I arrived home and washed my hands, I realized we had no electric power, precisely the reason I spent months looking for my first working treadle sewing machine.  Today I kind of panicked because I thought I didn’t have anything ready to piece.  Fortunately, I was able to begin setting together some blocks for a prayer quilt. I didn’t accomplish as much as I thought I would because our only corded phone is at the other end of the house, I'd think I heard it, and then dash toward it, and then chat with the callers. 
Ultimately we had about five minutes of rain and two or three hours with no electrical power.  My sweet neighbor called me to see if she was the only one without power.  That was one of those trips to the other end of the house to reach the corded phone.  Because I'd already spent my block of time on hold for Central New Mexico Electric Co-op, I was able to tell her that the outage covered several communities and parts of three counties.  Any time power is lost during a 90-degree or higher heat wave, I worry about people who have difficulty surviving without it.  Today I realized that all of us in the outage area should have spent the time praying for the states parched by this drought.  I'm hopeful we'll get at least a bit more rain tonight. We still have quite a few clouds and the temperature is 15 degrees earlier than a few hours ago.

Okay, I need to do some more sewing (I'll just continue using the 1919 Red Head to set these blocks together) and delight in memories of my visit to a wonderful new business venture.  I hope a few of my readers get a chance to visit it too! Feel free to share the word too--the drive across New Mexico is beautiful but long!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tutorial: Bow Tie Blocks

I've loved Bow Tie Block quilts since I was a tiny child.  In fact, in the 80's and early 90's I made quite a few.  There are so many different ways to set them and, thus, dozens of different quilts that can be made using them.  Because in those days my only computer was at work and because we had barely begun to think of things like personal digital cameras, I have no photos to post of those early quilts.  However, at the end of this post I'll share some of those early blocks that were template-cut and hand-pieced.

These instructions are for a "modern" version that can be rotary cut. These blocks are fast to cut and piece and are just as delightful in batiks and other fabrics with more modern designs.  We are so fortunate to have the countless lines of fabric from more manufacturers than we ever dreamed of decades ago.

For the purposes of this tutorial, the photos that accompany each step are shown below the text for that step.

For demonstration purposes, we'll make a six-inch block.  I've made quilts with every size block from three inches to nine inches.
 Remember that you can right-click on any photo in the blog and open it in a new tab or new window to see the photo in a larger size and more detail.

If you are making blocks for the Treadle On Bow Tie Block Exchange, you will be following these directions to make the blocks (6-inch in finished quilt, 6.5 inches when you send them to the hostess).

For one block, select two contrasting fabrics, one for background, one for the bow tie.

Cut two 3.5 inch squares from each fabric, and from the bow tie fabric cut two 2-inch squares.

Mark a diagonal line across the back of the 2-inch squares.

Align each small square with a corner of a background square.

Stitch on the diagonal line.  Because we aim for accuracy, it helps to stitch on the edge of the drawn line closest to the needle or outer corner of the small square.  This gives us the well-known "scant 1/4-inch seam allowance" that aids in our accuracy since thread and stitches do take up a miniscule amount of space in the block.

Press the seams  to set the seams and make the next step more accurate.

Then bring the inner corner of the small square toward the outer corner and press so it is right side up. We know our seam was accurate if the cut edges of all three layers of fabric align at this point.

If you are participating in the TOBE Bow Tie exchange headed by Cheryl Pinkerton due 9/3/13, at this point you will need to trim off the two bottom layers under the print, leaving a 1/4-inch seam allowance.  Then press these little blocks again. 

Lay each pieced patch on your table so that the new triangle is at the upper right corner.  Lay the print square above it.

Fold the pieced squares up, aligning them with the print patches.

Seam them together. Press the seams while closed to set them.
With the print square on top, open the seam and press it.  This keeps the pressed seam allowance turned toward the print. This works well if the bowtie is darker than the background.  If we were using a background that was darker than the bowties, we would press the seam toward the background.

Lay the half blocks on the table aligning them as they will look in the completed block.

Align the seams of each half-block so that they butt up against each other.  This helps us achieve a perfect match when they are seamed together.

Sew them together and press to set to set the seam.

Before pressing the seam open, I clip the seam allowance with very sharp small scissors right where those two seams come together. Then when I press the block, I can turn the seams toward the print.

 All the extra care we took at each step, helps us have well-aligned seam junctions in the completed block.

Traditional Pieced Bow Tie Blocks from Past Decades
The traditional way to piece these blocks was with four uneven trapezoids and a small square to represent the knot.
 Because these pieces resulted in set-in corners, it was almost always easier to hand-piece these blocks. However, if the blocks were much larger, I did machine stitch them, just being careful not to stitch into the seam allowances.

For that traditional method, I pieced a bow to opposite sides of the square, being certain to start and stop my stitching at the seam allowances.  Then I pieced in the two background pieces. In this old block, the lines I drew around the templates are visible, as are the points at which I stopped and stitched a little anchoring stitch or tied a knot where the seams abutted and then continued stitching to the next intersection.

As you might surmise, the traditional method was a lot fussier.  When I quilt the modern version, I use lines of quilting to box in the center "knot", so the final look is very similar to the traditional look.

Here are a few more examples of those 1980's blocks now gathered together with other orphan-blocks and pieced into a sampler quilt for my daughter.
Quiltmakers used many different settings for these blocks, and some even used much smaller center squares.  I find this proportion with a center knot half the measurement of the longer sides of the bows most pleasing, so that is what I've used most often. (It's what my grandma used back in the early 20th century too.)
To save you from having to do the math, here are some oft-used block sizes and the  sizes to cut the squares for the "modern" version. We cut four larger squares (two for tie, two for background) and two smaller squares (for tie) for each block.  If repeating fabrics in a quilt, we can start with strips cut to these sizes and then sub-cut them into squares.  (Saves a lot more time.)

Nine inch block: 5 inch and 2.75 inch
Eight inch block: 4.5 inch and 2.5 inch
Seven inch block: 4 inch and 2.25 inch
Six inch block: 3.5 inch and 2 inch
Five inch block: 3 inch and 1.75 inch
Four inch block: 2.5 inch and 1.5 inch
Three inch block: 2 inch and 1.25 inch

Back in the 1990's I made three inch blocks using this modern method (for a quilt for Lydia Devereaux when she was not yet born).  It would have been much too fussy to do the traditional method, but this modern method made it a cinch--and gave me plenty of time to focus on my favorite part, the quilting....Wait, when it comes to bow tie quilts, every step is my favorite part.

If you try these, I'd love to see pictures!

Here is a picture of one of my early bow tie quilts (from the 1980s--complete with fabrics that did not retain their colors because the fabric companies insisted 20 hours of light fastness was more than enough).

Happy quiltmaking......

P.S.:  I just learned that Baby Bows is featured in the July/Aug 2011 issue of McCall's Quilting.  For the traditional pattern in a three inch block, the pattern be downloaded as a .pdf here:
These would make a great carry-along project.  (In fact, that's how I completed many, back in the 80's.)

P. P.  S.: 7/21/2011 I came across the first bow tie quilt I made back in the 80's - 4 inch blocks- and was going to photograph it and add it to this post.  Instead, we had a thunderstorm--that means lightning and thunder and very little moisture--and the power went off, etc.  But I just happened to come across three other "modern" Bow Tie's.  Here are links to other people's blogposts:


Monday, July 18, 2011

Arrowhead for Harriet

My dear friend Harriet asked me if I would piece this block so we could compare results.

This is from a quilt by Anita Grossman Solomon (website: and appeared in the November/December 2010 Quiltmaker Magazine.

I began with 9 inch squares that I pressed right sides together with spray starch.  Actually, I began with Mary Ellen's Best Press, which I dearly love, but I knew I'd need heavier starching to control the bias edges in the finished block, so I got out the heavy duty spray starch (must remember to get more next time I'm out).  Once the fabrics were aligned and heavily starched, I trimmed the unit to 8" x 8". I followed the directions in the magazine for sewing the blocks together, subcutting them with specific measurements, and piecing the units back together.  Once resewn, the block looked like this:
 You can see that at this point the areas with the triangles did not extend as far as the rest of the block.
 The instructions say to trim the block to 9 x 9 (for a finished block of 8.5 inches).  There were only tiny slivers to trim from the triangle areas.  Had I not been really careful to make an accurate 1/4" seam, I could have been in trouble.
Here's the trimmed block.

I love the clever way Anita devised for making this block so quickly.  She's very creative.

From my experience I'd say it's extremely important to be nearly perfectly accurate with cuts, seam allowances, and trimming.  Ironing the seam allowances open is very helpful for aligning seams (and is something I don't normally do).
I think heavy starch will prove invaluable when it's time to set the blocks together since all the edges are bias. (It's possible I could have kept applying Best Press, but at $7.95 for a little bottle, I tend to use in conservatively.)
People who can handle all the above well will find this block incredibly fast to make.  I'm guessing it would take more time to choose and cut the original 9" blocks than it would to sew them.  In other words, piecing these blocks could be a great project to squeeze little bits of time or a day of marathon sewing.
If a group of quiltmakers were very consistent in their piecing, it would be fun to get together and make blocks like these for prayer quilts.

I'm going to mail this block to Harriet so she can use it if she'd like. I'd be interested in hearing from other people who've tried it to see if their impressions were the same as mine.

Happy quilting....

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Music Quilt

Pieced over the course of the last year.
This one is a music quilt for my daughter.
Still needs the binding, however.

With perhaps one exception, this was quilted with a variety of Glide threads. See at
I love the shine these threads give the quilting, and as we all know, the quilting is my favorite part.
I am so very glad to have another quilt to show!  (And, I'm linking to Sarah's Whoop!  Whoop! and Sew Many Ways/Sew Darn Crafty.)
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