Saturday, June 27, 2015

Las Vegas Retreat Projects-Completed!

I was so excited to be able to go to the SAGA Retreat in Las Vegas in February and be able to take classes. I signed up to take the Paper Doll Dress squares with Brenda Shade and looked forward to actually making the two projects -Mother's Rose and Cottontail. I have owned Brenda's book  (Sweet Memories) for a number of years, along with a patterns for square yoke and bishop dresses, but I had just never got around to making even one of the designs.

My finished Mother's Rose Quilt Square
Vegas was my chance! But like all good plans, things changed as I went to Vegas with my right arm in cast up to my elbow as two weeks prior to leaving I fell on black ice and gave my wrist a multiple, unstable fracture- nothing simple for me, oh no! Having my wrist in a cast and very badly swollen and bruised fingers meant there was no fine hand sewing for me! But I decided to pick up a needle and at least thread it ready to smock on the tiny pleated dress skirt from the Mother's Rose kit. Then I got brave and using my right hand to guide the needle into the pleats and my left to pull it out I smocked the five 2 1/2 inch rows. It only took me nearly the whole day, but the smocking was acceptable and at least I was doing something!

My completed Cottontail quilt square
Anyway, after six long weeks in a cast I my wrist and hand were freed and I was able to use sewing as some of my therapy and sew I did. I completed the two projects and loved them. Did I say that I loved them? They are so cute and I am now planning a quilt and have five bishop papaer doll dresses ready to smock and make into squares and plans for several more dress squares. My stash of small fine fabric pieces will have found a use, along with those small pieces of lace.

Bunnies and a Bow!
So now I am getting excited as I am going to the SAGA Retreat in Chicago a month away in July and I have my paper doll dress squares to keep me busy while I wait for my flight. What classes am I taking in Chicago? None. I am going to be with my smocking friends and help out where I am needed and work on my paper doll dress squares. If you are going look out for me and ask me how my projects are going I will be happy to show you!

Did I say I love these little dresses??!

Shadow work bunnies and bows with pinstitched Madeira appliqued hem.
You can see other patterns and designs that Brenda has on her website
Her book, Sweet Memories is now out of print, but can be found on various Internet sale sites.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Smocking on the Porch

I spent my afternoon today with these ladies stitching on my front porch and enjoying afternoon tea.
What better way to spend a lovely warm summer afternoon?
Some of us worked on our Mystery of the Five Diamonds insert.
                                              Left to Right: Julie, Wanda, Jill and Lisa

Thanks for coming over ladies and especially Wanda who drove to Connecticut from Pennsylvania just to be with us! This is what SAGA is all about-friendship and sharing our love of smocking.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Let's Meet Barbara Meger!

Barbara Meger is a SAGA approved teacher and at present is leading a Smock-Along for SAGA which is available to Members Only, through the SAGA website ( In this blog, Barbara gives us a little insight into her life and her smocking.

Thoughts on Smocking

My eyes have been opened in recent years to the depth and variety of expression that smocking can provide.  Research for the lecture “Smocking—Yesterday and Today,” which I presented at the March 2014 opening of the exhibition “Smocking—Fabric Manipulation and Beyond” at the Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles in Berkeley, California, turned up so much more than little girls’ smocked dresses.  For hundreds of years stitchery has been used to control fabric fullness in decorative as well as utilitarian (19th Century shepherds’ smocks, for example) ways.  Today, we see smocking on television, in mail order catalog offerings and used as a purely creative art form.

I have adopted a mission to open stitchers’ eyes to these many possibilities and get them to think “outside the box” (yes, that is the name of one of my classes!) when it comes to smocking.  I also encourage stitchers to not stitch in a vacuum, but to broaden their exposure with other types of needlework.  It is amazing how one medium can transform and enrich another.

For a complete listing of my classes, go to

We all start somewhere:  I must have started sewing when I was 5 or 6 or whenever my legs were long enough for the old treadle sewing machine we had.  I grew up on a farm in southwestern Missouri where sewing was an integral part of nearly every woman’s life—you made it (curtains, slipcovers, pajamas, evening gowns, patches for the men’s overalls, etc.) or you did without.  An aunt was my inspiration—she won all sorts of awards for her sewing through the 4-H organization where we all learned the correct way to do everything or ripped it out!  Eventually my mother got a new Singer and we didn’t have to go to Grandma’s anymore to get buttonholes made.  I just figured I’d become a Home Ec (that’s what it was called then) teacher but tossed out that notion after 10 weeks in junior high with an incompetent teacher.  We had moved to central New York by that time.  I sewed all through high school and college, even once designing and making a set of wrestling cheerleaders’ uniforms!

Going Green-inner detail
Hand sewing came later; though I vaguely remember my great-grandmother showing me how to do stamped cross stitch when I was really little.  I ordered and stitched numerous needlework kits from The Stitchery—never allowing myself to get a new one until the current project was completed.  (Whatever happened to that discipline!)  We moved to Crofton in suburban Maryland in the late 1970’s.  There was a wonderful needlework shop where I started taking classes:  quilting, crochet, knitting, needlepoint, hardanger, etc.  I actually avoided the smocking classes because I had an idea that since smocking went so well with all of the sewing I had always done, I might not want to ever do anything else if I learned to smock!

Starburst Evening Bag
Shortly before our daughter was born, though, I took my first smocking class, and I was hooked!  I made all of her dresses—the pre-school teachers couldn’t wait to see what Sarah would wear next!  I incorporated smocking into my own clothing as well, something that I still love and continue to do.  I had begun teaching a variety of classes at that same local needlework shop and even seriously considered buying it when the owner retired.  I had discovered SAGA along the way and attended my first seminar in Baltimore in 1984 and then that huge Atlanta convention in 1985 and many others that followed.  I was so fortunate to be able to take classes with many of the early influential SAGA teachers.

In the early 1990’s several things happened simultaneously.  By then I wasn’t allowed to make Sarah’s dresses anymore, and I began teaching SAGA-approved classes.  I developed a series of designs for Christmas ornament kits stitched with metallic threads to sell through my business, Classic Creations (   My earlier exposure to other types of needlework had introduced me to threads that were not all that common for smocking, and I offer them as well as other needlework accessories.

                                                        Galaxy Smocked Ornament, #1
The Smocking Horizons series for Creative Needle Magazine began in 1993.  This series of articles, as well as A Smocking Primer and the Smocking Essentials series which followed, gave me the opportunity to experiment with and try out some of the “what if’s” I’d always wondered about.  I’m basically a very practical/frugal person (Midwest upbringing?) and could never bring myself to make something unless it had a specific objective which the magazine articles provided.

Inflamed, a Scarf
I love teaching, though, and am so grateful that SAGA has allowed me the opportunity to travel across the country to share with its members.  Nothing warms my heart more than when I see the light go on and a student says, “Now I understand!”  Even better is when a student from a previous class returns to show me a completed project and/or what she was able to develop of her own based on that earlier class.

                                                              Mother of the Groom
I do have a life beyond stitching which centers around my love of history and passion for textiles.  As a long-time docent at an 18th Century historic house in Annapolis, Maryland, I have researched and participated in the creation of period clothing and needlework installations.  I am also a volunteer curatorial assistant at the Maryland Historical Society where I am able to apply my knowledge and skills to furthering the understanding of its collections.  This all meshes nicely with my keen interest in genealogy research.  As it turns out, I come from a long line of needle workers, one of whom may also have been named Barbara!

Barbara at a Teacher Showcase, SAGA Convention

Friday, June 19, 2015

SAGA goes to NYC to visit FIT

The SAGA Meet-Up in New York was a great success. Many thanks to SAGA President, Lisa Hawkes for organizing the event, including a lovely lunch at 'Stitch', a restaurant on 37th Street.

There were 19 ladies, mostly SAGA members and a couple of friends. Ladies had traveled from Maryland and Boston as well as New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. There was even a Past President, Kathie Ettinger, who is from Florida (but was in the area visiting).

Many of the group had a chance to shop the Fabric District in shops such as Mood, B& J, M& J Trimmings and Paron Fabrics. Lisa had emailed out an extensive list with location (some places are inside buildings and involve elevators to floors and directions along faceless corridors!) and specialties.

The highlight of the day was the visit to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) where we were greeted and lead to the second floor room and shown items from their extensive costume collection and given a brief history of women’s fashions from the early 1900's through to today. Our presenter was Ellen Shanley, a curator at the Museum at FIT and she was extremely knowledgeable and interesting.

There was then time to visit the museum at FIT and/or go back to shopping. I am sure everyone was as glad as I was to sit for a while on my train ride home and rest my feet!

You can visit the website for FIT to get more information about the college, Museum and up-coming exhibitions at

Heirloom is timeless

Proving heirloom and classic clothing is timeless, Prince George looked so cute at the Queen's Birthday Parade on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, June 2015. He is wearing the same outfit his father, William, Duke of Cambridge, wore at the same event in June 1984.

HRH Prince Charles with the Duke of Cambridge, Prince George and HRH The Queen (with Duchess of Cambridge in the background)
HRH Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and Prince Charles with Prince William
and Princess Margaret

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

An 18th Century Wedding Dress

Have you seen the Outlander TV series? I have not (and apparently neither should anyone under the age of 18), but two of my chapter members are avid fans and one, Linda Gray, suggested I look at the shows website and read about the wedding gown that was made for the programme.

The wedding gown was designed by costume designer Terry Dresbach who used the descriptions in the original books as well as her own ideas for the concept of the gown. Unlike modern gowns, in the 18th century gowns were not white and tended to be the best dress you had already or if new, something that could be worn again. The dress began with looking at lots of pictures of gowns from 18th century and after four months was finished. Details such as pleating, stomachers and types of embroidery were looked at and chosen.

Terry wanted the dress to have shimmer to it as the scene was going to be shot in candlelight, so a metallic fabric was chosen. Many gowns in 18th century were woven metallic. Besides the metallic fabric used, the gown has embroidery done by hand with metallic threads which were then aged. The embroidery is of leaves and acorns.  The sleeves of the dress were typical of the period and the fabric was pleated –using a pleater- something that would have been done by hand in the 18th century. Terry says on her web page(  “We have this beautiful little smocking machine that operated with a hand crank. Makes beautiful, magical things’ .

Visit Terry’s page to see detailed photos of the pleating, embroidery and read more about the gown and you can also get to see pages of pictures that were used for inspiration.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A little about Skokie

The next SAGA Retreat is a month away and as it is in a suburb of Chicago named Skokie, I thought I would share a little about the history of the place.

Its name comes from a Potawatomi word for "marsh". The name of the town was changed from "Niles Center" to "Skokie" by referendum in 1940. "Skokie" had previously been used as the name for the marshland on which much of the town was built;

Skokie promoted itself as "The World's Largest Village". Its population, according to the 2010 census, was 64,784. Sharing a border with the city of Chicago, Skokie's streets, like that of many suburbs, are largely a continuation of the Chicago street grid, and it is served by the Chicago Transit Authority, further cementing its connection to the city.

During the night of November 27–28, 1934, after a gunfight in nearby Barrington that left two FBI agents dead, two accomplices of notorious 25-year-old bank-robber Baby Face Nelson (Lester Gillis) dumped his bullet-riddled body in a ditch along Niles Center Road adjoining the St. Peter Catholic Cemetery, a block north of Oakton Avenue in the town.
And between July 16 and 19, 2015 the Smocking Arts Guild of America (SAGA) will be hosting a retreat at the Doubletree Hotel in Skokie!

Are you going? There are a few spaces open. Visit to learn more about this retreat and the last one for 2015 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in October.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


A SAGA Meet Up is planned for June 18, 2015 in New York City for a tour of The Fashion Institute of Technology museum.

The museum is located at:

Seventh Avenue at 27 Street
New York City 10001-5992

and easily accessible by public transport. You can visit their website ( and go to the museum pages) for directions by rail, bus, car and bike!

The SAGA group tour will start at 2:00 pm.

But why not join us for lunch before hand at Stitch Bar and Grill? You can sign up for both the tour and /or the luncheon at

Please note the museum guidelines :

Fashion and textiles are particularly fragile objects.
To protect them, light levels are kept low and the following are not permitted in the Museum:
  • Touching the garments. The oil from your hands is damaging.
  • Pens or markers: Sketching in the galleries is permitted only with pencil.
  • Food, beverages (including water), gum.
  • Flash photography 
  • Tripods
  • Selfie Sticks
  • Movie and video cameras.
Non-commercial still photography for personal use is now permitted in designated galleries. Flash, tripods, and selfie sticks are not permitted. At times photography may be prohibited in certain galleries or of specific objects due to lender’s restrictions.

The Museum requests that you:
  • silence your cell phones.
I look forward to seeing you there!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Laura Jenkins Thompson

Laura will be teaching classes at the Valley Forge Retreat (October 8-11, 2015). She takes time out from her busy life to answer some questions and give us a little background on her sewing history.

1.      Who taught you needlework skills and when did you first start learning?  I learned how to embroider as a child about age 8.  I would go shopping with my great aunt and we would buy stamped pillowcases and dresser scarves from Woolworths. (I wish I knew what happened to them.)  I learned how to sew on the sewing machine on my grandmother’s treadle machine around the 4th grade.  (My mother was afraid I might run over my finger with an electric machine.)  The first thing I made for myself was a plaid skirt.  Do you think those plaids matched?  Ha!

2.      What is your favourite form of embroidery? It used to be picture smocking but now it is needlepainting.  I also love creating monograms using different techniques.

3.      When do you find time to embroider/sew? For fun, at night while my husband watches TV; under pressure, every waking hour.

4.      What inspires your designs?  Color, especially bright cheery colors, flowers, nature, anything beautiful and classic, antique techniques, especially French.

5.      Do you attend classes and workshops as well as teach at them?  I have had the opportunity to take numerous classes in Paris as well as in Ireland and Italy with the help of my dear friend Marie Yolande. 

6.      On average, how long would you say it takes for you to complete a piece, from design concept to end?  Sometimes months.  I have to think of the idea, think about it some more, dream about it, sketch various versions then plan the design, plan the colors, decide on the appropriate stitches, write the instructions while I stitch, redo what doesn’t work.  It is quite a process because I want each piece to be better than the one before.

7.      Do you belong to a sewing guild of any kind?  Yes, the Low Country Chapter in Charleston, SC.  I have served as president twice.  The first time was for 4 years from 1983-1986 and then again for 3 years in from 2005-2007.    My chapter made me an Honorary Member so I don’t have to pay dues.

8.      Do you smock? Oh yes.  That is how I got my start in the world of SAGA.  Picture smocking was my  first love.  Having an only child who is a son back in the 80’s, I ran out of plates for boys so I started designing my own. I still get asked to teach picture smocking.  It was the very first class I ever taught for National SAGA in San Francisco in 1986.   I designed “Beginner’s Duck” to include all the things that can go wrong in stacking and also includes color changes.  My book, Perfecting Picture Smocking, is my class step-by-step with detailed illustrations.  It was updated and is available in specialty heirloom shops as well as at

9.      Where is your favourite place to stitch? In my den, cuddled up on the left side of my high armed Sheraton sofa with an apothecary lamp over my right arm listening* to my favorite period movies such as Marie Antoinette, Barry Lyndon, and other favorites. * (I am very near-sighted, in fact legally blind, so I stitch without my contacts.  I can see close-up like a magnifying glass, but everything else like the tv is a blur.)

10.     Are you married? Yes, I have been married to my husband, Joseph Francis Thompson, Jr. for 38 years.  He is the Dean of Administration of Business and Administration for the School of Dental Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina.  He has always been so supportive of what I do.  He is a great cook, loves going to the grocery store, and makes my life easier.   Children?    I have one son, Jenks, who has just finished 12 years of medical training and advanced specialties in cardiology/electrophysiology.  He has just taken a dream position with Sanger Heart and Vascular in Charlotte, SC.  Pets?  We have Oliver, our precious King Charles Spaniel, who rules our house.  He is the first pet I have ever had and I can’t imagine life without him.

11.     What is your most favourite sewing tool?  My fingers.  In Paris, Mdmms. Malbranche and Rosenthal commented [in French] to each other about how nimble my fingers were.   

12.     What sewing tool do you carry everywhere and why?  A pair of very sharp embroidery scissors with a fob given to me by a friend.  I do not like seam rippers and never use them.  I use my tiny sharp scissors for everything.

13.     What other hobbies/interests do you have?  I have a B.A. degree in Fine Arts so I love to paint.  Right now I am working in oils and trying to become more loose, more impressionistic in my painting.  This is very hard for me especially when I am doing a lot of detail work stitching and drawing illustrations. 

14.     How often do you travel to teach?  For over 20 years, I used to teach once a month out of town.  That was when flying was fun. I flew so much I could upgrade to First Class.  We used to be able to take 4 to 5 suitcases full of goodies to a chapter.  I loved staying with so many interesting people and getting to know them and their families and have made life-long friends.   Because of all the increasing restrictions since 9/11, I have had to limit most of my travelling to places where I can drive.   I don’t want the ladies to be disappointed by my not being able to bring a lot of samples, for the kits to not be delivered on time, etc.  Additionally, family responsibilities at home have made me hesitant to make long term plans.

15.     Have you a favourite location where you most enjoy teaching? Yes, in my home town of Charleston, South Carolina where I have been hosting Stitchin’ Charleston Style for now 20 years.

16.     Where can we get to see your projects (magazines, stores etc.)?  It makes me very sad that Sew Beautiful is no more because I was a regular contributor.   My website is a mess and I need to update it desperately.  I would love to see SAGA take over for Sew Beautiful and Creative Needle.  SAGA published  The Smocking Arts prior to both of these magazines and it was our only publication.

17.     What do you do with your completed projects-frame and keep, give away, etc.?  OMG!  I have garments and samples dating from the 1980’s plus a large collection of antique garments, including over two dozen Ayrshire Christening gowns.  Of course, I have to keep them all.    My antiques are bequeathed to the Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in America.  If I lived in France, I could start my own museum and charge admission but I don’t see that happening.  I am not sure what I will do with all my samples but I will never get rid of them.  They will NEVER show up on Ebay.

18.     Do you have a favourite colour(s) that you tend to use more than others?  I do tend to use the same color scheme over and over.  I love bright, cheery, clear colors with a range of all the primary and secondary colors. 

19.     Have you had another type of career other than in the sewing area? Many people may not know this, but I have taught school continuously while I have been teaching for SAGA since 1986 –i.e “Don’t quit your day job”.  I have a Masters Degree in Special Education and in the 80’s and 90’s I taught full-time in the Gifted and Talented at our Academic Magnet in Charleston.  For the last 25 years, I have been teaching art to grades K-8 part-time.    I have been blessed that my principals have always been very supportive of my “other life”.  I also taught as an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston for several years.   In my needlework classes, I often mention how having two careers helps to make one realize that the grass is NOT greener on the other side.  Every job has problems.  When I am at odds with my job teaching art, I say to myself “I don’t need this, I am a “famous” designer and teacher in the sewing world.”  When I am upset over what is going on in the sewing world, I say to myself “I don’t need this, I am an art teacher who loves inspiring children.”  It really puts everything in perspective.

20.     How do you see the future of your sewing career?  I feel strongly that I want to continue to keep the love of needlework, and especially antique techniques, alive.  We cannot let our fast-paced world steal that from us.   I love teaching but I hate travelling, especially flying.  (Being “randomly” frisked at numerous airports gets really old.) When I can’t teach anymore, I want to write books with beautiful photos and lots of instructions with illustrations.

21.     What do you do to recharge your creative spark?  Going to Europe.  France ruined me.  

22.     What technique still can’t you get the hang of……..      ?  I have a mental block with bullions. I can do them and teach them but I do not like them.  (This goes back to stitching one of the very first smocking designs for my son.  It was an Easter design with bunnies holding bullion carrots.  When it was washed, the bullions all unraveled….)

23.     What accomplishment are you most proud of?  I received the Order of the Palmetto, the highest award given to a citizen in South Carolina, for my volunteerism.  I wrote and illustrated a hardback children’s book, Joseph’s Charleston Adventure, whose proceeds of over $100,000  in the first year all went to charity.  The book is still in print and all proceeds continue to go to charity, in particular to disadvantaged children.

24.     What is the biggest enemy to your creativity?  Paperwork and everyday life.  I find that when I have lots of deadlines in those areas I will go into my own world and begin to create.  I have been like this my whole life.  Rather than studying for an exam in college, I would want to draw.  Rather than working on our taxes, I would want to paint.  You can’t stop your creativity when its calling to you.
Thanks Laura and you can find more information on the classes Laura is teaching and the other classes and events at the SAGA website,

Monday, June 1, 2015

Smock Across America-Last Stop for 2015

Yes, the last stop for Smock Across America in 2015 is Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and the registration for this retreat will open at 10:00 AM Central on June 1.

Teachers include: Jane Briscoe, Laura Jenkins Thompson, Cindy Foose, Trish Smith and Gail Doane.

So visit the SAGA website to see the full brocure ( .