Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Teacher Interview-Carol Ahles

Today we learn about teacher Carol Ahles. Carol took time out of her busy teaching and family schedule to answer some of my interview questions. Carol is a well known teacher and her book, Fine Machine Sewing has been revised and reprinted. Carol is also a contributor to Threads magazine.

Who taught you needlework skills and when did you first start learning?   

My Grandmother Emmy, who grew up in Lebanon, did beautiful handwork.   She taught me hand hemstitching and how to make needle lace.   I was the oldest of 8 children (Two girls, 6 boys).   My Mom didn't sew, but I had a neighbor who was a wonderful mentor.  She encouraged me to play on her sewing machine and typewriter. Garment sewing began at age 11 when I took a Singer kids' course.  I got into smocking and heirloom sewing in 1979 when my close friend Lydia and I, both mothers of toddler girls, found the original Buttons 'n' Bows in Houston.  From 1981 - 1988 we owned Buttons 'n' Bows.  (It's had two more owners since then.)  I taught the machine classes and knew our customers shared our taste for handsewn-looking finishing and embellishing. That's when I first developed many of the hemstitching, fagoting, and heirloom techniques we use today.   In 1986, I became a SAGA teacher.

Are you married? Children? Pets?

Married to college sweetheart Ron for 44 years.  Son Daniel and daughter Emily.  Four grandchildren pictured with us below.  Teacup Yorkie - "Tater Tot."

                                                                       Carol and Ron with Grandkids -
Grant (7 - born during first Saga Anaheim Convention!), Georgia (almost 5), Sydney (4), Anna Grace (3 1/2) 
What other hobbies/interests do you have?

We love Modern Square Dancing!  (Modern as in we dance to modern music - only occasionally to country music.)   Our club has 144 couples and we have made many great friends through this hobby.   We have found that square dancers are generally as nice as sewers!  No, I don't wear those short puffy petticoats and skirts! (Although I did buy one outfit with tacky lace and wide gold rickrack that you would not believe I would ever wear!   Remember, it's a costume!)  I usually wear peasant skirts.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am most proud when I see how thrilled people in my classes are when they first learn to successfully use a narrow hemmer, stitch a perfect blind hem, are confident adjusting machine tension,  get beautiful hemstitching or fagoted seams, etc.!   I hear back from many of them over and over and it always makes my day!   
You can take classes with Carol at the SAGA Las Vegas Retreat, February 26-March 1, 2015.
Visit for more information on all classes and how to register.
You can learn more about Carol on her website





Sunday, December 28, 2014

Artisan Program- Are you ready to submit?

January 1 is fast approaching and with it comes the window of opportunity to submit your Artisan projects!

If you are in the Artisan Program and have accrued enough points and had the points verified by the Artisan chair, then you can submit the required projects for evaluation from January 1 through to July 1 each year.

So, I hope you have your projects ready to submit- this could be your year to achieve an Artisan level in one (or more) of your chosen areas!

If you want to know more about the Artisan Program, visit the SAGA website. You can enroll and find copies of the evaluation forms etc.


And good luck to everyone who is thinking of submitting!


Friday, December 26, 2014

Downton Abbey

Now that I have grabbed your attention with that title, let me continue by sharing a few photos from my recent visit to the costumes of Downton Abbey exhibition at the Winterthur museum in Delaware.

The costumes covered everyone from the maids to the duchess; the footman to the duke. The display took you from morning through to evening, showing the changes of clothes  for those 'upstairs' throughout the day.


This is what a maid wears to a garden party.

This is what a Lady wears to the same garden party.

Lady Edith's wedding dress
-who noticed all that beading on the train when she was being left at the alter?
The Dowager Countess of Grantham
-who else?
The dress was very complex with heavy beading, tulle , lace and silk combined together.
That Battenberg jacket......

The top of this dress is an original vintage piece. The skirt created to go with it. From a distance a good match-close up the embroidery on the skirt was no match for the finer version on the top!

The infamous harem pants. The band around the chest and the sleeves are vintage silk fabrics, the bottom added to create the pants. The top has now started to show signs of damage.
 Lady Sybil did one twirl to many with the chauffeur maybe?

The neckline on this dress is shell stitched and beaded-now there's thought.....
The costumes are on display at Winterthur, the home of the du Pont family until January 4, 2015.
The next season of Downton Abbey starts that evening- talk about timing!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Feather dusters top the tree!

Beaded ornaments and gold bells.

Chains of pearls and tiaras
Diamante studded black lace.
Where could this tree be and what inspired it?

The tree is on display at Winterthur Museum, Delaware.
The inspiration was Downton Abbey.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Tribute to Beverley Sheldrick

The sewing world mourns the passing of a great lady as Beverley Sheldrick lost her battle with cancer and passed away this weekend.

How proud am I to be showing my finished reticule to Miss Beverley?
Beverley is best known for her wonderful silk ribbon embroidery and for introducing many of us to her sewing reticule, so many made, but none duplicated, and for her scissor hussifs, sewing hussifs and beautiful blouses. Her 'trade mark' Beverley Bow included in every design.

I quickly went through photos I have taken at SAGA Conventions and the following photos are my tribute from all of us who have ever made a Beverley Sheldrick project (or hope to do so).




We'll all miss you...........

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Teacher Interview-Phyllis Brown

Phyllis Brown will be one of the four teachers at the SAGA Retreat in Las Vegas. Phyllis kindly took time to answer the interview questions to give us an insite into her life.

1. Who taught you needlework skills and when did you first start learning?
My mother and grandmother are responsible for my ever growing habit.   Both women are/were very accomplished seamstresses and their joy for needlework was lovingly shared with me when I was a very small girl.  Both women nurtured my inquisitiveness until I was able to venture into projects on my own.
As early as 10 years old I remember sitting at my mom’s sewing machine and constructing my very first garment – an A-line skirt.  I fondly remember playing with needle and thread long before that!
2. What is your favourite form of embroidery?
That is hard to say..... I guess my first love is drawn thread work but whitework and Madeira embroidery follow close behind.  I think the symmetry and tailored look to drawn thread work is what really draws me in.
3. When do you find time to embroider/sew?
I usually work on my projects in the evenings (sometimes late into the night) and on weekends.  I do have another job so daytime is off limits!
4. What inspires your designs?
I look for inspiration from everywhere!  You never know what may spark an idea. 
5. Do you attend classes and workshops as well as teach at them?

I do attend as many workshops as I can manage.  I must confess, there are a lot of unfinished projects stashed away in my workroom!
6. On average, how long would you say it takes for you to complete a piece, from design concept to end?
If I am working on a small piece, it takes me only a few days to a week to complete it.  If I am working on a fairly complex project, it normally takes 6 weeks to 3 months from start to finish.  The design phase seems to come fairly easy to me (except when I am on a deadline).  I enjoy seeing my ideas come to fruition.  I am still amazed that I can get ideas out of my head and onto the fabric – and the majority of the time, it looks exactly as I envisioned!
7. Do you belong to a sewing guild of any kind?
I belong to 3 SAGA chapters (the Dogwood Chapter in Charlotte, NC; the Pine Needlers in Davidson, NC; and the Palmetto Pleaters in Greenville, SC) along with my local EGA.  I have been traveling so much I have not been able to attend many monthly meetings.
8. Do you smock?
I do smock but not as often as I did when my girls were young.
9. Where is your favourite place to stitch?
I like to stitch in my favorite chair in my family room.  I have good light and a comfortable place to lay out all my necessities.  Stitching in the family room helps me feel like I am part of the family instead of hiding in my workroom where you will find me the rest of my free time.  It also dictates that I pick up after myself at the end of each day!
10. Are you married? Children? Pets?
Yes, I have been married to my wonderful and supportive husband Doug for 37 years.  (We were just babies when we got married).  I can’t believe he still puts up with me!
We have 2 daughters – Erin and Kimberly.
We are the proud owners (pyrants) of 2 Great Pyrenees puppies – Zoey and Remington (Remy is a very recent addition); and we are owned by our faithful and very loving orange tabby Manx cat Evinrude.
11. What is your most favourite sewing tool?
My Dovo curved blade scissors!
12. What sewing tool do you carry everywhere and why?
My 6” C-Thru gridded ruler or my Dovo curved blade scissors can always be found next to my sewing chair or in my tool bag.  Both items are extremely helpful when working with embroidery.   Other than my reading glasses, if you can find me, you can find my ruler and Dovos close at hand!
13. What other hobbies/interests do you have?
I like to read, walk and spend time with my friends.
14. How often do you travel to teach?
In the recent past I have traveled every other month for teaching.
15. Have you a favourite location where you most enjoy teaching?
I enjoy anywhere I am invited!
16. Where can we get to see your projects (magazines, stores etc.)?
You can see some of my projects at SAGA functions or I keep pictures of all my current projects on my website:
17. What do you do with your completed projects-frame and keep, give away, etc.?
I used to give a lot of my things away.  I no longer do that.  My children do not have any of my handiwork – they are the main reason I started sewing and smocking in the first place.  I now “sew for SAGA” (create classes I hope all of you find interesting), and make items I hope my girls can someday use for their own families.  I do display many of my items in my workroom for my own enjoyment.
18. Do you have a favourite colour(s) that you tend to use more than others?
I tend to use pastels more than any other color scheme.  I like to work with small child or baby items – that is where the “pastel influence” comes from.  I feel at some time or another everyone will need a baby gift!  Students may not want to sink a lot of money into a project just to master some new stitch or technique.  “Wee” sized items don’t use a large amount of materials so I can keep the cost of my kits more attractive.  Pastels never go out of style!
19. Have you had another type of career other than in the sewing area?
I have a landscape design and computer science background.  I worked in both fields for several years. 
I worked as a landscape designer immediately following my college days.  After moving further North (from Florida), I decided landscaping in the winter time was not a lot of fun!  I returned to school and decided numbers and problem solving was more my kind of thing.  Computer programming fit that desire.  I worked in that field for several years before the constant urge to embroider and create things with my sewing machine monopolized my time.
20. How do you see the future of your sewing career?
I would like to teach for a few more years than spend the remainder of my time possibly writing books or creating online classes.  Hopefully in the future I will be stitching for grandchildren.
21. What do you do to recharge your creative spark?
When I feel a need to recharge, I gather together my “stitching” friends or another embroidery teacher and share an afternoon of friendship and creativity.  I find great pleasure in their company; that allows us to sneak in a few stitches on some long neglected projects!
22. What technique still can’t you get the hang of........ ?
23. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am most of proud of having the privilege to share my knowledge and love of needlework with others.   Hopefully my students will learn something they can carry on to future projects.  Often times I learn many valuable things from my students!
24. What is the biggest enemy to your creativity?
 My biggest enemy to my creativity is time!  There is never enough of it!  I would love to find the time to do more experimentation, stitch more projects and refine new skills.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Finishing your Ornament Part 2:

Now comes the fun part – how are you going to finish your ends – there are lots of options!

1.     Bead finding – check your bead store or bead section of the craft store. Push the bead finding out flat to fit the ball. Julie Stilwell, our SAGANews editor used that method to finish her ornament.

2.    Buttons, tatting, or lace.

3.    Loops of ribbon. Barbara Meger used loops of ribbon and beads!

4.    Fabric yoyo. This is an ornament done by member Tayna Richmond.

5.    Spider web rose – Here is my ornament with this treatment. Nellie Durand wrote an article for the Smocking Arts Newsletter in the fall of 1982 explaining how she happened on this solution. I have uploaded it to the SAGA website on our home page if you would like to read it.

Congratulations! You finished! Take a picture to share with us, and then go hang your ornament on the tree!

Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 15, 2014

Finishing Your Ornament Part 1

We are finally here – it is time to construct your ornament.

1.     Right sides together, sew the seam joining the two short ends of your ornament. I did this by hand.  Ideally the seam falls in the valley between the first and the last pleat, so you want to stitch it right up against those pleats.


2.    Turn your ornament right side out, thread your needle with the floss that was left at the end of rows 3 and 9, and finish the row by stitching across the seam and stitching the last stitch of the sequence through pleat 1. This helps pull those peats together.

3.    You can pull the pleats together by taking some additional compensating stitches on the cable rows, or by pinching the pleats together from the wrong side and taking a few stitches on the back with your sewing thread. Not perfect, but better!


4.    Remove the pleating threads from rows 3-9. Don’t remove them from rows 1, 2, 10 or 11 yet!

5.    Insert your ball – see how elastic the smocking is – no problem with inserting that ball! Get it positioned in the middle and insert a pin or two to hold it while you work on the ends.


6.    Starting at one end, pull on the pleating threads to gather the ends. Smooth, pin and pull. Don’t be afraid to trim the fabric. (see how much I took off in the picture) Pull, pin and trim some more. Keep pulling, pinning and trimming until it all lies flat.

7.    With a strand of floss that matches your background fabric, go around the top of the ornament in a circle, pushing your needle through the pleats as if you were adding an additional pleating row at the very top. Pull some more. Then take a few stitches back and forth across the very top. If a little of the ball shows at the top, that is no problem, it will be covered. You want to get everything to lie as flat as possible. Once you have finished stitching, remove the pleating threads from rows 1 and 2 if they show.

8.    Repeat at the other end of the ball.


Tomorrow will be part 2 with pictures and options for how to decorate your ends!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Teacher Interview-Judith Adams

Today's interview is with Judith Adams from Australia. Judith has taught at numerous SAGA conventions as well as local chapters and will be teaching at the SAGA Las Vegas Retreat at the end of February 2015.

Who taught you needlework skills and when did you first start learning?

I have some pieces of petit point that I worked when I was 10 or 12 but can’t really remember much about them.

When I lived on an Australian Air Force Base (my husband was the Senior Dental Officer at the time ) we had a USAF exchange officer and his family living there and I was taught by the officer’s wife. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time (1984) and loved smocking and bought a pleater immediately.

What is your favourite form of embroidery?

            Smocking would be my passion and what I love to teach. Second would be heirloom techniques with shaped lace which is not really embroidery, but my next favourite thing.
When do you find time to embroider/sew?

            In the evenings or when Claire (granddaughter 4 ½ ) is out or at pre-school. My daughter Catherine, and Claire live next door- two houses on the one piece of land) so Claire is always around….I LOVE it! I have started teaching her to smock . Just one step waves but she seems keen and works it with two hands but at least she wants to learn to smock. Hooray ! Another convert!

What inspires your designs?

             Anything I see that has a regular shape may “plant a seed” for a smocking plate, or it could just create a theme in my mind, such a “bows”. I always come away from SAGA Convention or a workshop feeling inspired to create. I think it is being surrounded by ladies that are just so enthusiastic about smocking and it makes me try and think “outside the box”.

Do you attend classes and workshops as well as teach at them?

            I wish I could! I am very tempted by all of the wonderful retreats that many chapters hold. Unfortunately I would have to fly there from Australia so I am very jealous of all the wonderful opportunities our members have to attend workshops and the retreats in 2015. I am very tempted to try and work attending Valley Forge Retreat into my schedule!

On average, how long would you say it takes for you to complete a piece, from design concept to end?

            It takes me much longer to work on the concept and refine it (numerous times) and then graph the smocking design for the project, than to actually smock and construct it. Sometimes I have a seed of an idea and I will write it down or draw it and then a few years later I will see it again and then work up a class.

Do you belong to a sewing guild of any kind?


Do you smock?

Yes, but I wish I had time to do more of it!

Where is your favourite place to stitch?

I have a sewing room with windows on one side above the cutting table and double glass doors on the opposite side and a BIG skylight in the middle. This floods the room with light and I have comfy lounge chairs to sit in.


Are you married? Children? Pets?

Married to Ross (Orthodontist) and with son Steven 35 and daughter Catherine 30 and of course granddaughter Claire (5 next May and starting school in February)

What is your most favourite sewing tool?

Don’t have one

What sewing tool do you carry everywhere and why?

Tapemeasure. So when out shopping I can measure clothes. My kids give me orders for shirts etc when I am away so this way I can compare to ones I know fit.

What other hobbies/interests do you have?

Love playing and watching sports. Netball (Australia is World Champions) is a very British Commonwealth game and similar to Basketball. I used to play two nights a week and also watch Catherine play each week. Claire will start next year. I watch Steven play Ice Hockey and Inline Hockey each week and he has played for Australia at the World Inline Hockey Championships for the last seven years. This year it was in Toulouse France and next year we will all go to Mendoza Argentina for Worlds.

How often do you travel to teach?

I do two or three trips to teach each year with a maximum “away from home” time of 14 days. I make this rule myself so I won’t be absent from Claire for too long. This usually means just two workshops can be fitted in before I have to leave. I also  make a trip to the UK to teach for the Smocking Branch of the Embroiderers Guild or if not teaching that year, then to attend their Residential Workshop as a student or just to visit with my friend Rowena (whom many of you have met at Convention).

Have you a favourite location where you most enjoy teaching?

Not really. Love visiting all around the USA and love staying with a family in their house. My hosts have kindly taken me to museums, historic houses, school football games and kid’s volleyball practice, and too many other wonderful places to list them all …and I have loved every minute.

Where can we get to see your projects (magazines, stores etc.)?

In my classroom.

What do you do with your completed projects-frame and keep, give away, etc.?

Most of my finished projects are garments for Design Show and they become part of my “travelling show” for when I teach.

Do you have a favourite colour(s) that you tend to use more than others?

I love pale pastel silk shantung so that features a lot in my garments and projects. I also love the bright hot pinks and peacock blue so I am trying to diversify and not get in a rut of always using ivory silk with ivory beads!

Have you had another type of career other than in the sewing area?

I was a High School (for us YR 7 to 12, so 12 to 18 year olds) Mathematics teacher so the formal teacher training has helped me transition to a needlework teacher. Teaching ladies who are interested and want to be in the classroom is a joy.

How do you see the future of your sewing career?

I would like to continue teaching around the USA for the various chapters of SAGA and am always very excited when an email arrives asking for dates for a workshop. I love Convention and seeing all of my smocking friends each year. I love hearing about their families, their smocking projects and feel privileged and humbled by the friendship they extend. I consider them my extended family.

What do you do to recharge your creative spark?

Surround myself with other smockers at workshops.

What technique still can’t you get the hang of…….. ?

I really hate to smock upside down! Like when you centre a bishop. I know it is not any different to smocking holding the fabric the right way up but my brain is not happy doing it.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Apart from being asked to teach at my first SAGA National Convention back in 1999, I think it is when I win People’s Choice at a SAGA Design Show. The opinion of my SAGA friends means a lot to me.

What is the biggest enemy to your creativity?

 Probably time. Design Show used to force me to create a special garment each year as I felt it was both a wonderful opportunity  and it was a tangible way for me to support SAGA. This year felt very strange as I did not have the panic of creating a garment in perhaps the month before I left for Convention! And this year was the only year I had actually planned what to do 12 months before, and designed it in my head after buying a heavily embroidered ribbon at the Houston Quilt Show. The dress with the smocking echoing the design on the ribbon-,that would in turn be the sash looked wonderful in my head! Perhaps another year!

You can visit Judith's website at: 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

What's in a Name-Chesapeake Treasures

Chapter member Barbara Meger writes:

The Chesapeake Treasures have just celebrated their 25th Anniversary.  Today, as it was then, its members come from all areas of the Chesapeake region: Maryland, Virginia, even Delaware.  Each one is considered an invaluable "treasure." 


As its logo, the chapter added smocked wave stitches to the railing of the Thomas Point lighthouse which sits in the Chesapeake Bay outside Annapolis and is currently the last unaltered screwpile cottage-type lighthouse on its original foundation in the Chesapeake Bay.

Thank you Barbara.

You can visit Chesapeake Treasures on their Facebook page- Chesapeake Treasures Smocking Guild

What chapter will share the origin of their name next?

Email me at :

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mystery Smock Along Clue 6

                                                                       Clue Number 6:
Make the ornament uniquely yours! After finishing clue 5, there are some nice open spaces between rows 5-7.

I have several suggestions on how you can fill that space, and below you can see what I did, but the final clue is to exercise your creativity and make this ornament uniquely yours!

So here are my suggestions:

                Flowerette – beaded or not.

                Holly or Mistletoe – 3 French knots, lazy daisy leaves

                Bullion Christmas Roses

                Silk Ribbon Poinsettia

                Mother of Pearl Buttons

                Repeat clue 5 with a different color, beginning 8 pleats to the right (don’t try to count the pleats – just line up with the Triple Crowns)


Next week there will be detailed instructions on constructing and finishing your ornament!