Thursday, April 30, 2015

Wedding Dress Exhibit

Another local historical society to where I live has a wedding dress exhibit going on. I was able to visit the small display last week and had fun viewing the dresses from local residents that were on display.

The years the dresses came from ranged from 1781 through to 2014, so you can imagine the difference in the look of these dresses! Some dresses also had the shoes that were worn included in the display.

My favourite was a dress made of silk and lace and worn in 1916 by Theresa H. Dardani when she married Louis Carissimi at the St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Fairfield, Connecticut. The couple came originally from Italy and lived their entire married life in Fairfield.

1781 Wedding dress and shoes worn by Lucy Nichols when she married Reverend Philo Shelton. The dress was a good choice as it could be worn for other special occasions and was easy to care for. The wedding was most likely a small family affair held in the home of the bride's parents, as was tradition at that time.

Annie McKie Frye wore this dress when she married Hanford Lyon around 1850. The invention of synthetic dyes allowed for bright colours and the railway facilitated the distribution of the sewing machine and fashion magazines, making such a dress fall into the price range of the middle class!
Queen Victoria made the white wedding dress popular and it has since become traditional to wear white. It is also tradition to wear something blue, have something old and something new. The blue was often the wedding garter which came into fashion in nineteenth-century England.

I hope you take the time to visit a local historical society near you and see what they have in their collection. It is especially fun to go with friends and enjoy a lunch or afternoon tea afterwards!

Saturday, April 25, 2015


A skein of yarn. The word skein is an abbreviation of an Old French word, escaigne, which referred to a hank of yarn that when folded back on itself resembles a 'v' shape.

The word skein is also used as a collective noun referring to a group of flying geese as they take on the shape of a 'v' in flight.

Another fun collective noun is a 'quilt of eiders', referring to a group of eider ducks. It was the feathers and down from these ducks that were used to fill eider downs, a form of padded bed topper and the fore runner of the modern day duvet.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hand or Machine?

Do you know how to determine the difference between hand and machine embroidered work on a vintage garment?

Well it can be as easy as looking at it from the wrong side. If you can see where the threads have been carried over from one deign element to another and the carry over happens in exactly the same place each time, the odds on it was made by a machine.

See how the threads carry over in the same place each time?
Hand worked embroidery rarely stops and starts in exactly the same place. Threads are carried over more randomly and often not carried over but knotted off or the threads are hidden and a new motif started with a hidden knot or split stitch.

So next time you are wondering-was this hand or  machine embroidered, look at the wrong side.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Whitework Vintage Baby Clothes

My chapter (Thimbleberry) meeting this month was a field trip to a local historical society to see some of their vintage clothing up close and personal.

The Wilton Historical Society in Connecticut recently held a small show of some of the baby items they have received as donations from local families. The items spend most of their time in boxes as there is not the space to permanently display them. The show was very interesting and well presented, but of course, a couple of us who went to view it wanted more time and a chance to touch and examine everything more closely.

So I contacted the society and we arranged to see some of the collection at a private viewing. Joan, a volunteer, meet with us and had the garments all ready on a rack, along with some copies of Peterson's Magazine that contained some interesting embroidery designs, gifts to make as well as stories, features and of course, the wonderful ads for Pears soap, Baking Chocolate and medical remedies!

So with white gloved hands we were able to hold, touch and examine to our hearts content. Some of the gowns were quiet plain, but other had lots of embroidery and pintucks. Of course we had to try and determine whether the work was hand or machine embroidered. I was able to tell Joan how to make that distinction and will share that in another blog post soon! There was a gown that had a crocheted top; one with ric-rac joined to make the bodice; a beautiful embroidered collar and  a couple of hankies, one made from Tererife lace.

So enjoy some of the photos I took and if you need a chapter programme, consider a field trip to a local museum. It may surprise you what they have to see!

Thimbleberry chapter members thank the Wilton Historical Society ( for sharing their treasures with us and to Joan for her time.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Biltmore Estate Meet-Up "Dressing Downton" April 24, 2015

Please join us at Biltmore Estate for a day of fun and touring !

We plan on meeting in the morning at 9:30 for the first tour of the mansion of the Vanderbilts, who were contemporaries to the Crawleys in the Downton Abbey PBS Masterpiece series.  There are 45 dresses and suits from the TV Show displayed throughout the three floors of the estate.

After the tour, we will be having lunch at the Stables Cafe right by the estate.  The afternoon will be free to roam the gardens or winery.  The flowers should be in full bloom by the end of April.

Please purchase your tickets online at before April 17, 2015 for the best pricing.  There are senior rates and possibly a AAA discount that may apply.  Region III Representative, Lori Popelka highly recommends the audio tour, especially if you have never been before.  It will be an add on once you select your ticket date, as part of the checkout process.  A second day may be purchased for a deeply discounted rate on the day of the visit, if you plan on making a weekend of it.  Hotels are plentiful in the area.  The Biltmore website has a link for local hotels.

The day of the event you will need your ticket to enter the parking lot area.  The bus will take you from the parking lot to the house.  It takes a little over 2 hours to tour the home with the audio tour and plenty of time to see the garments.  The dresses are set back from the tour line by about 8-10 feet.  If you would like to REALLY see details of the garments, you may want to bring opera glasses or small binoculars.  The garments are truly works of art.

Please rsvp to with your name and contact information.  Lori will have some local recommendations for other things to do in the area that she will send seperately.

The Meet Up is open to all SAGA members and friends from all regions. Come join the fun!

Friday, April 10, 2015

An Interview with Busy Debbie Glenn

Who taught you needlework skills and when did you first start learning?
Sewing has always been an integral part of my life. As a child, I remember hours spent at my grandmother’s side hand stitching doll clothes, running tiny fingers over my great aunt’s delicately embroidered quilts, and lying in bed listening to my mother’s old Singer dreaming about her newest creation. At age seven I begged my mom to teach me to sew... her response was "first you must learn how to deal with mistakes, because they happen". I spent the next few days impatiently waiting until she handed me a straight pin and let me rip out some crooked stitches.  To this day I still get a warm fuzzy when helping students "rip out". Six month later I made my first "outfit", pink gingham baby doll pajamas. Soon I was babysitting on Friday nights to buy fabric for a new Monday outfit, and combining commercial patterns to recreate designer prom dresses and ski clothes. With each year my passion for machine work grew. Shortly after the birth of my first child I discovered heirloom sewing and smocking. I was hooked immediately and before long teaching others how to recreate my designs.

What is your favourite form of embroidery?
My first love is definitely machine sewing, especially recreating handwork by machine, but almost all of my projects are include traditional handwork too. Like fairy dust adding a few pinwheel roses, lazy daisies or dimensional cast on poises make the entire garment, then everyone thinks my 10 second machine granitos are handmade!

What sewing tools do you carry everywhere and why?
A small pair of Japanese KAI black handled, micro-serrated, curved tip scissors & a purple thang. I use the scissors for everything from cutting corded scallops before satin stitching to trimming threads and the purple thang for encouraging lace (as it bends a bit, unlike a skewer) and it's also perfect for "un-smocking" (since it's curved and smooth, so it scoops into valleys & won't snag threads).

What other hobbies/interests do you have?
I love time with family (at the beach, football games in the fall, sailing, skiing), traveling, antiquing (I collect linens, sewing tools, baby bonnets & christening gowns), and English gardening, probably because it's a lot like adding delicate embroidery on top of geometric stitches to see flowers of different heights and hues bloom in front manicured evergreen bushes!

Have you a favourite location where you most enjoy teaching?
I've been fortunate to have taught and stayed with so many lovely SAGA members all over the country, making memories and and lifelong friends along the way.  Two of my favorite locations are Boston and Nashville... after a busy day of stitching what could be better than being in the heart of the Dixie listening to music at the Bluebird CafĂ© or in the chilly Northeast enjoying a delicious lobster dinner, it's the love of fine needlework that bind us.  Needles and pins, fabric and lace… these tie the women of SAGA together!

Where can we get to see your projects (magazines, stores etc.)?
For the past 24 years the answers been Sew Beautiful or the Martha Pullen's School of Art Fashion. I feel blessed that both of my children grew up on the pages of the magazine wearing my Love and Stitches designs.  Those “Sewing for Three” articles transformed my creative outlet into an opportunity to share my often unique machine methods with leaders and students across the country. Today look on my website, or Facebook™ for my latest projects, patterns, classes & my Making Machine Magic Schools.
I hope to see many of you in Chicago at the next SAGA retreat!

What do you do to recharge your creative spark?
Years ago I inherited a box of fancy eyelet cuttings and laces which my great aunt saved from her days in the garment industry. Tucked inside were original embroidery designs, hand drawn by my great grandmother, Scholastica Jochem (dated 1904-1920), with the corresponding “Industrious Needlewoman’s Pages” from The Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper featuring projects using the motifs.  Whenever I need a little inspiration I go through this box and my collection of vintage baby clothes.  They always inspires me to create a new garment or work on some new technique for recreating handwork by machine.

What technique still can’t you get the hang of…….. ?
              Needle tatting, I'm a complete failure!

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
For years I longed to reproduce my great grandmother’s exquisite work, but, was less than satisfied with my hand embroidery skills. Then in 1996, after attending the Royal  School of Needlework I found a little handmade dress stuffed in the back of a drawer in an antique store. The precious baby gown, reminiscent of earlier times, was beautifully hand embroidered with padded satin stitch bouquets and trimmed with tiny blanket stitched scallops. Re-inspired by that dainty confection and other intricate Victorian articles I’d studied at London’s Victoria and Albert museum, I set out to duplicate the high relief embroidery and scalloped edgings using today’s conventional zig-zag sewing machine. In September 2000, my machine made interpretation was awarded first place viewer’s choice at the Smocking Arts Guild national convention, but by far the greatest honor was receiving Margaret Boyles’ perfect scores in Design show.  SAGA members, students, shop owners, and fellow teachers insisted I share my “machine magic” with others leading to the release of my book Victorian Treasures Nostalgic Needlework.
Katrina-Debbie is teaching this at the SAGA Chicago Retreat!
What is your absolute favorite sewing technique and why?
Recreating handwork by machine, especially padded satin stitched scallops as they instantly transform any project, from a simple baby bonnet, collar on a smocked play dress, table linens, window treatment to a boudoir pillow into something special.  I just love how with the right recipe of threads, needles & stabilizers our sewing machines are capable of applying perfect
stitches with much greater speed than we could ever do by hand, making so many projects you might never have considered attempting doable!

What is your favorite thing about teaching sewing to others?
In class I love showing students how new products like wash away & fusible threads, glues, stabilizers & German interfacing, make sewing easier. Starting with a PowerPoint presentation then move onto samples covers students different learning styles (be that visual, auditory or hands on). Samples provide no stress practice, so students can get comfortable with the new technique before applying it to the class project.  I love sharing my unique machine techniques with students and watching them experiment and master them, but my favorite part is hearing that they've added the new technique to other sewing projects.

                                                                Thank you for sharing with us, Debbie!

You can find out more about the classes Debbie is teaching at the SAGA  Chicago Retreat by visiting

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Teacher from Down Under-Susan O'Conner

Today we learn a little about Susan O'Conner a teacher from Australia who will be teaching at the SAGA Chicago Retreat.

Gail Doane and Susan O'Conner
Who taught you needlework skills and when did you first start learning?
My mother taught me basic embroidery stitches when I was a child. As I really enjoyed embroidery I then learned other stitches and techniques from books and classes.

What is your favourite form of embroidery?

If I had to pick a favourite I would have to say thread painting but I also enjoy raised embroidery and wool embroidery.

When do you find time to embroider/sew?

I don’t find much at the moment as I work full time but once I have started a project I try and do some stitching in the evenings and at the weekend.

What inspires your designs?
All sorts of things – historical embroidery, flowers, periods in history, poems and stories

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

I do enjoy attending classes but unfortunately the opportunities are few and far between these days.

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

That is a very difficult question to answer as it depends on the complexity of the piece and how close the deadline is!! 

Do you belong to a sewing guild of any kind?

Yes, I belong to SAGA and the EGA.

Do you smock?

I have been known to do some smocking!

Where is your favourite place to stitch?

Anywhere I can.

Are you married? Children? Pets?

I have been married for 33 years to Paul and we have a 24 year old son Clancy and one very ancient Siamese cat who rules the house.

What is your most favourite sewing tool?

A glass of wine – absolutely essential.

What sewing tool do you carry everywhere and why?

Well I can’t say scissors as you still can’t carry those on Australian domestic flights so I would have to say a needle.

What other hobbies/interests do you have?

I like reading and I used to do a lot of watercolour painting but don’t have time for that at the moment.

How often do you travel to teach?

Usually only a couple of times a year.

Have you a favourite location where you most enjoy teaching?

No, everywhere offers something different.

Where can we get to see your projects (magazines, stores etc.)?
My projects are published in Inspirations magazine and I have written two books. My projects were also published in Australian Smocking and Embroidery.

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

Most things I keep as I teach them but I do give some things away to people who are special to me.

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

I am rather fond of green, lovely happy, grassy green.

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

I was a high school art and ceramics teacher in a previous life and I currently work as editor of Inspirations magazine.

How do you see the future of your sewing career?

I have no idea – I would like to have more time to stitch.

What do you do to recharge your creative spark?

I’ve never had to do that.

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

Keeping my house tidy.

What is the biggest enemy to your creativity?

Not enough time.

For more information on the SAGA Chicago Retreat visit

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Kathy Dykstra Tells All!

Today Kathy Dykstra tells us about herself. Kathy will be one of the teachers at the SAGA Chicago Retreat in July. Have you signed up to attend? Visit for more details of the retreat and everything SAGA!

Kathy with fellow teacher Phyllis Brown.
Who taught you needlework skills and when did you first start learning?
When I was about 6 years old, my grandmother taught me to cross stitch on gingham.  My first project was a pink gingham tablecloth.  However, my formal introduction to sewing was at the age of 12 when my mother (a non-seamstress) enrolled me in a 4-H sewing class.  I had an excellent teacher and really took off with sewing after that.

What is your favourite form of embroidery?  
I would have to say smocking - it’s my first love.  Of course, the embroidery embellishments that go with smocking have to be included as a favorite.  :)

When do you find time to embroider/sew?

Whenever I can!  I like to carve out some time each day if possible - even if it is only a short bit of time.

What inspires your designs?  
Just about everything!  Fabrics, nature, vintage clothing and vintage patterns are a wonderful source of inspiration as is Pinterest (so addictive!)
Do you attend classes and workshops as well as teach at them?
Yes!  I enjoy being around others that have a love of sewing, smocking and embroidery.

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

That’s impossible to say as it really depends on the complexity of the design and how much time I have available.  Some projects are begun, set aside as I ponder the challenges, then picked up later and finished.

Do you belong to a sewing guild of any kind?  
I belong to our local SAGA chapter and no other sewing guilds.

Do you smock?

Where is your favourite place to stitch?  

It’s a toss-up between my comfortable glider/rocker in the living room in front of the bay window and the glider/rocker on our 4 season porch.  Both have wonderful lighting and are lovely places to enjoy stitching.
Are you married? Children? Pets?
I have been married for nearly 38 years to my very supportive husband.  We have 4 children - 3 married, and 4 grandchildren.  No pets.
What is your most favourite sewing tool?
 I have lots of favorites and doubt I could narrow it down to one.  LOL!  My prettiest set is a set of three Dovo scissors in a leather pouch that my husband gave me.

What sewing tool do you carry everywhere and why?  
I carry a tape measure in my purse - never know when you will need to measure something.

What other hobbies/interests do you have?
Reading, baking, charity sewing, walking and I’m active in church.

How often do you travel to teach?

As often as I’m asked.  Probably 3 - 5 times a year right now.
Have you a favourite location where you most enjoy teaching?  Any place that asks me to teach is a favorite.  I love sharing my love of sewing, smocking, heirloom and such and love to be with others that have a passion for learning.  I think that sewing women are some of the warmest and most giving people that I’ve met.

Where can we get to see your projects (magazines, stores etc.)?
I have several projects in past AS&E and SB magazines.
What do you do with your completed projects-frame and keep, give away, etc.?  
My projects are primarily children’s clothing.  I have a few closets full of them and give them to the grandchildren as they grow into them.  I make garments for charity regularly and turn them in monthly.

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

Definitely blue - any shade of it.

One of Kathy's classes you can take in Chicago.
Of course it is a shade of blue!

Have you had another type of career other than in the sewing area?  
Full time mom, and that was enough for me.  

How do you see the future of your sewing career?
I hope to continue designing patterns and smocking designs as well as teach.

What do you do to recharge your creative spark?  
Sometimes you just need to take a break.  Then I usually peruse my collection of vintage patterns and pictures and that will most often get the creative juices flowing again.

What technique still can’t you get the hang of…….. ?  
I never feel as if my embroidery skills are up to snuff and continue to try and improve them.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?  
I have been so blessed to have had many designs published as well as to be able to teach at different venues.  Those have exceeded any expectations that I ever had.

What is the biggest enemy to your creativity?

Spending time with kids/grandkids does limit my time to be creative and get more projects finished, but I wouldn’t ever call that an enemy as I consider them to be my biggest blessing and the reason that I started this whole smocking/heirloom sewing adventure in the first place.  :)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Seen at the Mall

I was walking around a local Connecticut mall recently and what did I spot in the window of Brooks Brothers store- a smocked silk dress!

Smocking is out there!

Now if a certain baby due to arrive in April is a girl..... maybe we will see even more of it!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

SAGA Chicago Retreat

Registration opens at 10:00 am Central Time for the SAGA Chicago Retreat today-no joking!
Visit the SAGA website (www.smocking) to see the brochure for classes and retreat events.
You will also find the link to the hotel reservation site here.