Monday, February 28, 2011

Re-evaluation of experiences, and cross-over techniques

I never received high marks when I had needlework classes at school, although I usually mastered the techniques quickly, and finished my projects on time. Perhaps I tended to interpret the teachers’ instructions ‚too freely’ – I was never good at knitting according to the precise knitting instructions of a pattern. But everybody admired my self-designed and hand-knitted sweaters! (I don’t cook according to a recipe either, but usually it tastes pretty good, at least that’s what my husband says....) 
What I almost hated, though. was embroidery. I vividly remember a bag for sports utensils which we had to embroider with a variety of herringbone stitches, all counted to the thread according to the lightly mint-green fabric we had to use. Unfortunately I don’t own a picture of that bag, it certainly would be interesting to compare these recollections with reality!
A few years later my mother talked me into stitching a cross-stitch picture of a Christmas tree decorated with presents, and I think that was eventually given to my grandmother as a present. In any case, as much as I enjoyed learning different techniques, embroidery certainly wasn’t for me.

You may understand why I was pretty surprised when I took up quilting – never having heard of a possibility of machine-quilting, of course – and especially liked the hand-quilting part of it. For many years I was an avid and convinced hand-quilter who never even thought about employing a sewing machine for quilting. I even bought a standing quilting frame on which the quilt can be rolled onto bars of varying lengths, keeping the quilter’s hands free for working instead of having to deal with the muddle of the quilt on one’s lap. All you have to do is remeber to sit up straight, and concentrate on your quilting pattern. It paid off, too, because was rewarded with a prize for handquilting donated by Bernina at the Bodensee Quiltfestival in 2007 for the quilt ‚Metamorphoses XVIII’:
Metamorphoses XVIII,
winner of the Bodensee Quiltfestival prize
for hand-quilting in 2007

Metamorphoses XVII, detail

Two years ago I then met Anne Lange at the Bodensee Quiltfestival in Radolfzell. We were both standing in front of the building where we were supposed to teach classes during the day, and waiting for final organizational matters to take place. During a break later on I then went up to visit her in her class.
The first thing that got me hooked was the wide assortment of hand-dyed threads and yarns she had on offer, and I was impressed with the things I saw which the participants had made in that short period of time. That certainly wasn’t even distantly related to my embroidery from school days! On the spur of the moment I decided to sign up for her nine-month-long online class. The monthly payment makes it possible to drop out any time you realize you don’t really like it, or you don’t have enough time to keep up with the regular assignments.

Because of my prior scepticism concerning embroidery I had absolutle no threads at my disposal and ordered the monthly thread packages as well.These are coordinated to the monthly assignments. And their arrival by mail always started a new wave of excitement – unwrapping a surprise once a month, and then trying to figure out ahead of time what you will be supposed to be doing with this....

My first assignment was started in a hotel in Vicenza where I was spending the evenings after being on the premises of my exhibition of quilts there during the Abilmente LINK in October 2009. When it was finished, Anne’s comment was ‚well, that can be improves upon...’ certainly hit home:

my first monthly assignment in online embroidery class
But that type of comment was exactly the right thing for me. It got me hooked, and after a couple of months I even entered a few pictures of my productions into the participant gallery, although I had rejected doing so at first. The topic ‚circles’ really got me going:

Monthly assignment "circles" in online embroidery class

detail of "circles"

another detail of "circles"

third detail of "circles"

During the entire nine months I was hardly ever behind, and in the end I won the second prize in the final competition for participants, ‚Garn-itur’.

"Meeting at the Belly-Dance" -
2nd prize winner of
Anne Lange's 'Garn-itur' competition,
summer 2010
After completion of the course I waited for a little while to let things settle down a bit. I’m not a pictorial type and certainly did not want to start making embroidery pictures, that one Christmas tree certainly had been enough for a lifetime! But even during the class I had started using additional stitching on one of the two quilts I had accepted in ‚Color Improvisations’ 

Detail of "Play of Lines X" (2009),
currently traveling with exhibit 'Color Improvisations'

and that is a technique which I want to continue.

At one point I realized that my standing quilting frame could certainly serve in this, and I have now started integrating embroidery stitches in my hand-quilting.

This quilt is currently on the frame and marks not only my return to handquilting after a period of exclusively machine quilting, but also a serious beginning of integrating embroidery stitches in the quilting design in addition to plain quilting stitches.

Currently in the process of being quilted...

It will be interesting to see how it turns out in the end, when it comes off the frame!


  1. How charming to have Bernina give an award for hand quilting!!

    I like your embroidery stitches in the quilting. Do you run your threads all the way through to the back of the quilt or slip them between the layers? It looks beautiful.

  2. Thank you, Kathy,
    Indeed, I liked that idea, of a sewing machine company giving an award for hand-quilting, too! (And I invested the voucher into a walking foot and a quilting table for my sewing machine...)

    Embroidery stitches on the quilt are a tricky issue, as the amount of thread visible on the back should never be too much - first, for orderly appearance, and secondly because of the danger of something getting caught in them. Usually I like the stitches to add something to the three-dimensionality of the quilt and want them to show on the back at least a little. So sometimes I choose the kind of stitches deliberately so that they will not have much of an appearance on the back, or I hide the threads between the layers. But if I didn't want them to show on the back at all I would choose to do the embroidery before I add the batting.