Sulky Teacher Certification 2011

Dedicated to my Love of Lace Making and Sewing


I have just returned from my second Sulky Teacher Certification Class – what fun!  This was a perfect diversion in the midst of a challenging week – first we were “all shook up” by the earthquake and then we watched as the tree limbs fell and the rains blew sideways when Irene passed by!  As soon as I re-organize my sewing room and unpack my sewing gear from the trip, I will start working on the tips and tricks I can’t wait to share.  I have new products to try and new techniques with which to experiment – all to enhance my teaching skills.  I can’t wait to go to the drawing room and dream up new designs and ways to use all this new found knowledge.  I will be adding some stabilizer tips to my website by the end of the week.  Thanks for the many letters of interest I have been receiving via my web page.  I’m glad there are others as enthusiastic about sewing and needlework as I.

From T-shirt to Draw-string Tank Top

From T-shirt to Tank Top
Modified T-shirt to Draw-string Tank Top

Here is a cute idea for modifying a T-shirt in order to make these extremely hot days more comfortable.  

  1. Cut the sleeves from the shirt.
  2. Draw a line straight across the top of the shirt from arm hole to arm hole, even with the lower edge of the ribbing on both the front and the back of the shirt.  (Note:  The line on the back will be higher than the line on the front of the shirt.)
  3. Cut away the back and front of the shirt on these 2 lines, removing the ribbing, neck edge, and shoulder seams. 
  4. Turn under and stitch a narrow hem around the arm holes.
  5. Turn under and stitch a ¾ – 1” hem on the top of the shirt front and back to form a casing.
  6. Thread a long cord or ribbon through the casing, connecting the front and back.
  7. The part of the cord/ribbon that passes over the arm holes creates adjustable shoulder straps.  
  8. When the shoulder straps are the desired length, tie a knot in the cord/ribbon.    

Variation:  Thread 2 separate cords, one on the back and one on the front.  Tie the cords together with a decorative knot to form the shoulder straps with a designer touch on top.  Cords of different colors may be interchanged to alter the accent color of the new top to match coordinating pants and skirts.

By all means, save the ribbing from the neck edges – these “collars” may be stitched onto terrycloth towels to form baby bibs, and beach robes.

Now – for the creative challenge:  What shall we do with all those T-shirt sleeves that we have removed?  Do you have any suggestions?   I will look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks, Jocelyn, for the tip and photo.

My Mom

When I was 4 years old, mom gave me her button box and a spool of heavy carpet thread. She carefully cut the carpet thread into pieces about 8-10 inches long. My task was to sort through the buttons and find all the buttons that were the same color and size and string them together on a string. She showed me how to tie the ends of the strings together. When I was done, her button box was organized and all the like buttons were separated on little circles of strings. After sorting the buttons, I asked mom to teach me to sew a button on a piece of fabric. She carefully threaded a needle for me and taught me how to sew on a button. Thus my love for sewing began! When I was 5 years old, mom taught me how to lay my baby doll on a newspaper to create a pattern. I began making clothes for my doll, embellishing those little garments with hand embroidered flowers and my doll’s name. I still have some of those early doll clothes. While visiting mom and dad in September 2010, she opened up her sewing closet and offered me her button box. I wanted the button basket, but didn’t want to take it from her. She insisted that she wouldn’t need it. In the button basket were some of the little strings of buttons that I had strung 60 years ago. I brought the buttons home and spent some time sorting through the many different shapes and colors, remembering the times I spent sitting on the floor so many years ago, playing with mom’s buttons.

Sadly, mom died on December 19, 2010, just 3 weeks after dad. She was just 2 months shy of her 90th birthday. I was glad that I was able to spend her last couple of weeks with her. Mom was my best friend, confidant, mentor, and now my guardian angel. She was a very special lady, honest, hardworking, and loyal. She taught my sisters and me to sew, knit, crochet, embroider, and cook. She was a strict disciplinarian, but loved us unconditionally. She made our young lives happy as we were growing up. She would tap dance and sing in the kitchen while fixing breakfast to make us laugh. When she studied Spanish, she would write our breakfast menu on the blackboard in Spanish and taught us little phrases and some Spanish songs. She read to us all the time and when I was in the 4th grade, she read the epic, Odyssey. I remember one summer day when we all took our shoes off and went for a long walk in the rain, splashing in puddles and playing with our umbrellas. She made a tent by throwing a blanket over the kitchen table and let us play with buckets of water on the kitchen floor under the tent in order to stay cool on hot summer days. Sometimes she would pack a picnic lunch and give us a blanket and let us go outside under the old cherry tree to eat. She made clay from a recipe and let us mix the color dye into the snow white clay to create wonderful colors of our choice. She let me climb the old cherry tree in our back yard, where I spent endless hours watching the birds above and life below – loving every minute I spent in that tree.

Mom and dad gave us dancing lessons, piano lessons, and sports lessons. They encouraged us and helped us succeed in anything we decided to try. When we were in scouts, mom was the scout leader and trained other leaders while dad was a member of the men’s committee at scout camp, helping to unload the luggage and set up the tents. Mom was always there for us and we knew we could count on her to be the room mother, PTA president, field trip chaperone, and taxi driver. She taught me about nutrition, etiquette, and fair play. Dad taught me how to use his tools and how to wire a lamp and quiz board.

Mom spent her last years caring for dad, knitting lap robes for the veterans, and knitting caps for underprivileged kids. Her goal for 2010 was to knit 100 caps for kids. When she died she was only 13 caps shy of her goal. Mom always cared about the other person more than she cared about herself. If she had something that someone admired or wanted, she gave it to them. Mom, like dad, also donated her body to Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Mom had a keen sense of humor, loved poetry, and appreciated nature. I could always call and ask her advice on anything, knowing I would get the best possible answer. She could put a positive spin on any situation and always made me feel good about myself. She was very wise and super intelligent. She could always make me laugh. She loved her husband, 3 daughters, 3 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren and we all loved her. I shall always miss her – I’ve lost a giant of a friend

My Dad

Dad and Great-grandsons

2006 - Mom and Dad with first 4 Great-grandsons

My dad once said, “If you can sew, you can have anything.” I laughed and asked how I could sew up a new car. He answered, “Sew for money and you can have a new car.”

My dad lost his 4 year battle with cancer on Thanksgiving, in the wee hours of the morning.  He was the epitome of love and gave the world 89 years of happiness.  I never heard him raise his voice in anger, never heard him use profanities, and always saw him treat mom like a lady should be treated.  He was a gentle giant who always loved his family unconditionally, adored his 3 daughters, and delighted in his 3 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.  In 1999 he was inducted into the Ohio Bowling Hall of Fame – what an honor.  He was a life-time member of the Dayton, Ohio Bowling Association and bowled in the national ABC Conventions for 49 years.  He was a tool inspector for NCR and General Motors, free-lance photographer, and an avid golfer, bowler, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.  My dad never smoked or drank alcohol and lived a loving, honorable life – always faithful and always there for his family and anyone else in need.  He put everyone else first and his last self-less act was to donate his body to the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.  Hopefully they will be able to use his remains to find a cure for prostate and spinal cancer and help others who are afflicted with this terrible disease.  Dad remained cheerful throughout his 4 year ordeal – he will be loved and missed by his family forever.  I may have lost my father and good friend, but my family and I have gained a guardian angel for life.  These are difficult days for all of us, but particularly for mom.  Dad, rest in peace, we love you.

Just Ask Rita – Swiss Nelona vs Swiss Cotton Sateen

Ellen writes:  

Rita,    I’m going to make a christening gown and I’d like to know which is heavier:  opaque, swiss nelona or swiss cotton sateen.  I have better luck smocking on a heavier fabric but I like the shinny look.  I may not be able to get both in one fabric!?  Thanks for your assistance!

Ellen, Thanks for writing.  Swiss Nelona is lighter weight than Swiss Cotton Sateen.  Nelona Batiste is 100% Pima Cotton and is made in Switzerland.  It is a soft, light, fabric with a gorgeous sheen.  It has a very soft hand and a very shiny finish.  It has a little body, but is still translucent.  It usually has about 129 threads/inch.  Martha Pullen carries a very nice quality of Swiss Nelona Batiste.  I checked several sources and they all questioned the term opaque.  They refer to the Nelona as translucent.  I’m not sure if this is the same fabric you are calling opaque.

Swiss Cotton Sateen is a heavier weight fabric – almost broadcloth weight.  It is made of 100% Swiss cotton with a slight sheen.  Either fabric would make a lovely christening gown. 

Martha Pullen is an excellent source for heirloom fabrics.  She also carries a Victorian Batiste and Martha’s Favorite Cotton Batiste.  The Victorian Batiste is a nice substitute for Swiss Cotton Batiste.  It is slightly heavier than Nelona.  Martha’s Favorite Cotton Batiste is more lightweight than the Victorian batiste and slightly heavier than the Nelona.

Hint for smocking on lightweight fabrics:  If you are using a lightweight fabric, press and lightly spray starch the fabric before pleating the fabric on the pleating machine.  This gives the fabric extra body and makes it easier to run through the pleater and also makes smocking on the lighter weight fabric easier.  I love using the Victorian batiste for my English Smocking heirlooms, however, there is definitely more sheen to the Nelona and the Swiss Cotton Sateen.  I hope this helps – good luck with your heirloom sewing.

Just Ask Rita – Smocking vs. English Smocking

Question:   Stephanie writes:  Could you please explain the difference between regular smocking and English smocking? My mom loves to sew and I know she has done some smocking in the past but I don’t know what kind. I would like to impress her with my knowledge.

Answer: Smocking refers to the beautiful embroidery that is used to decorate as well as gather fabric. The difference between regular smocking and English smocking is the method used to create the gathers and the embroidery.

Regular smocking is a one-step process: the embroidery stitches are worked over a grid of evenly spaced dots to create the gathers and the embroidery design at the same time.

English smocking is the art of embellishing pre-gathered fabric with embroidery stitches on top of the gathered pleats. English smocking is a two-step process: first the fabric is gathered and then the embroidery stitches are worked over the pleats.

For more detailed information, refer to my page “Stitching Tips and Tricks”.

Heirloom Sewing – by Machine

French Hand Sewing and Heirloom Sewing refer to the delicate stitching techniques of yesteryear where fine laces, entredeux, and high quality fabrics were combined to create beautiful clothing.  Martha Pullen has brought these intricate hand stitching techniques to the sewing machine with breathtaking results.  The wonderful sewing machines available today, coupled with fabulous feet and stitches, make heirloom machine sewing very exciting.  This christening gown is the one I made for my darling little granddaughter.  She looked like an angel in it.

Once a month I teach the Martha Pullen Gift of the Month demo class.  Martha sends instructions for small projects using a different technique every month.  Click on the Martha Pullen link to view her site and see the Gift of the Month projects.  In addition to the Gift of the Month class, I also teach an Heirloom sewing class each month.  Some months it is a notebook class where students learn the techniques and are provided information on how to use these techniques in their everyday sewing projects.  Other months we stitch a project using the techniques that we have learned in previous classes.  I teach at the Quilt and Sewing Center of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  If you are interested in taking these classes, visit their website or call the store to register for the Martha Pullen classes.

Tatting – The Art of Lace Making

Tatted Snowflake using thread ball and shuttle

Aah! Lovely Tatting!  Perhaps this is one of my favorite classes to teach.  It is so simple and yet so cumbersome for the beginner to learn.  It is unlike any of the needlework hand positions with which experienced needle artists are familiar. 

I was fortunate to live next door to my little grandmother while I was growing up.  I was always fascinated watching her tat away with beautiful threads making lace edgings on everything.  I was 8 years old when my older sister and I decided we wanted to learn to tat.  Try as she did, grandma was unable to slow down enough to show us how to make the simple knot.  The next day she brought us a book – “Learn How to Tat” – and told us to read the book and then come to her with any questions.  My older sister carefully read the directions as I held the shuttle and did exactly what the instructions said to do.  When I had the knot firmly in my head, I showed my sister and she, too, caught on quickly.  One problem – we could only make the knots.  We were unable to pull the thread, as the book had instructed, and make the pretty rings which are the trademark of traditional tatting.  We ran next door to visit grandma.  Now that we knew how to make the knots, grandma was able to show us how to flip the knot to the other side (sounds cryptic, doesn’t it) and then we were able to make those pretty rings. 

I was so fascinated with the entire process and the “magic” of slipping the knot to the other thread that tatting became one of my favorite things to do.  Growing up, I made tatting for some of the dresses I made – particularly lace around the collars.  I never met anyone else who knew how to tat and the idea of teaching tatting never occurred to me.  When I moved to Virginia, the first thing I did was look up the local needle arts store.  As I was buying my pearle cotton thread, the owner of the little shop asked me what I was doing with it.  I told her I used it in my tatting.  She was so excited to have found someone who knew how to tat that she asked if I would be willing to teach tatting in her shop.  Thus I began creating tatters in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I loved teaching the tatting classes.  I often wonder how many of my former students are still tatting.  Now, decades later, I am still teaching tatting, but now I am teaching in a quilt and sewing shop.  I have advanced my skills to new levels and am always excited to find something new about tatting.

Century Old Christening Gown

Drawn Thread Work

Wow! A few weeks ago I had the privilege of handling a century old christening gown.   The gown design was all done in hand embroidered drawn thread work.   It was absolutely lovely and the embroidery was impeccable.   I was asked to recreate this gown – what an interesting challenge this will be. 

Drawn thread work is the art of withdrawing the weft threads from a piece of fabric and then doing embroidery over the remaining vertical warp threads.   Beautiful lacey designs are created by the various ways in which the warp threads are manipulated with the hand embroidered stitches and needle weaving.   Traditionally this type of work was done on even weave fabrics such as linen.   This christening gown appears to have been made of a linen batiste fabric.   Currently I am searching for a fabric that will be supple and soft enough for a christening gown, the threads may be easily withdrawn, and the fabric will be strong enough to support the hand embroidery stitches.   I have located several sources and samples are on the way.   I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one of the samples will be exactly what I am searching for.

Just Ask Rita

Do you have a question or problem relating to sewing, lace making, or hand embroidery?  Just Ask Rita will provide research and answers.  No problem is too small or too large to tackle.