Posts Written On October 2012

Vintage Tumbling Blocks Quilt Inspiration

In Nancy’s comment on my Seven Sisters blocks, she noticed that the Seven Sisters pattern is very similar to the Tumbling Blocks pattern — basically just 60° diamonds with a different coloration. TB is a pattern I have always loved, and planned to make one day using 19th century scraps so I could take advantage of my light value shirting prints. I didn’t think it was possible to make a TB quilt using Depression or mid-century fabrics, but then I remembered these photos I copied in 2003, probably from an ebay auction page.

The quilt was pieced with bright colors and pastels in a set that groups 9 “blocks” with a path between each group composed of hexagons. The shading on a few of the groups seems wrong to me, but who knows — maybe that was the look she was going for.  Because of the separation between the groups, it’s actually not too noticeable.  I especially love the way she added the little individual blocks at the top and bottom, and the wonderful scalloped edge.

Maybe my scraps would work with this pattern, although I wonder if I could get the same effect by replacing the solids with dominant color prints.  I’d also like to try a an embroidered Tumbling Blocks crib quilt with a letter on one side of the block and a tiny embroidered picture on another side — sort of like the painted wood blocks I had as a child.  Too many ideas — too little time!


Seven Sisters Quilt Blocks

As I mentioned when I talked about this quilt project in an earlier post, it all began with a box of vintage salesman sample swatches from the 1940s or maybe the 1950s. There were hundreds of prints, some with just one piece, and others with duplicates or different colorways.  All of the samples were the same size (1 3/4″ x 3″) with a pinked edge.

When I am dealing with pieces that have similar values, I tend to sort them into color groups, and that’s just what I did to make these Seven Sisters blocks.  I have seen other quilts in this pattern where each star in the group of seven is a different color, and that scheme is repeated in each block.  Because some of my prints have white backgrounds, many contain multiple colors, and there aren’t any solids, that arrangement just didn’t look good with my stars.  However, when I made a block with seven similarly colored stars, it seemed to read better as that particular color.

Cathi at Quilt Obsession has posted a great tutorial on hand piecing this block.  When I read her post, I decided to change the sequence of stitching my stars together because Cathi’s technique is much better.  She’s also a lot faster at hand stitching them since it takes her only 3 hours to complete a block, and I still haven’t managed to complete one in an evening.  My blocks will finish at 15″ x 13″.


Crepe Paper Flowers Using Streamers and a Ruffler Foot – Tutorial (part 2)

This is a continuation of a previous tutorial.  Please refer to part 1 of this tutorial for general directions which are not included here.

An easy variation of the Simple Puffy Flower in part 1 that can be done with any craft scissor.  With your 12′ length of streamer, fold in half until the length is approximately 9″. Secure one side with clips and use craft scissors to cut an edge design on the opposite side.

Fold the streamer in half and feed the double thickness through the ruffler on stitch width 3.  Pull the two layers apart to make the flower puffier.  Attach the ruffled streamer to the double-stick tape and wrap around the wire.  Hot glue the end and add the calyx and tape.

There aren’t a lot of blue flowers, but I have 3 shades of blue streamers, so I really wanted to figure out some kind of flower pattern.  I’m pretty happy with the cornflower design, but I would probably use this piece to make two flowers  if I were doing it again.  A 12′ streamer makes a giant cornflower.

Cut the usual 12′ length and fold to 9″.  You might want to draw this pattern on the crepe paper before cutting.

Unfold the the streamer and run the single layer through the ruffler using a smaller stitch, and adjust the screw on your ruffler to make a smaller pleat.  Go slow, and be careful not to catch the petals in the foot.   Black stamens are nice on this one, and if you don’t have any you can make some by making narrow cuts into a little piece of black crepe paper (like the mum in part 1) and then wrapping it around the wire before attaching your flower petals.


The next three flowers are made with duplex streamers.  To make these, cut two 6′ lengths of streamer, lay one piece on some newspaper and spray lightly with adhesive.  Carefully place the second streamer on top of the first and press flat with your hands.  I think it’s easiest to do this in 2 or 3 sections rather than trying to spray the whole 6′ at once.  You can also iron the streamer after gluing which seems to make it stick a little better.

These duplex designs don’t need much ruffling, so keep the stitch width a bit shorter, and adjust the screw on your ruffler to make a smaller pleat.  You can experiment to see what works best — you want to give the petals some dimension without losing their outline.  The process for putting them together is just like all the rest.

Okay, it’s not as cool as the roses made with individual petals, but I think it’s cute. Fold the streamer to 9″ and cut as shown.

Again, not quite as nice as the poppy with individual petals made with Italian crepe paper where you can do that little ruffly thing on the edges of the petals, but this one is pretty nice and way easier.

This flower is another one that looks good with black stamens.

Made just like the daisy in Part 1, but this one has fewer, thicker petals. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I get bored easily, so I am always looking for any little variation to keep me inspired.

Please use the comment box to ask any questions, and I’ll be happy to respond.  Also, if anyone actually uses this tutorial to make a flower, I would love to hear from you.


Crepe Paper Flowers Using Streamers and a Ruffler Foot – Tutorial

When I make crepe paper bouquets, I like to include a mix of Dennison type flowers (made with single petals) and ruffled flowers.  I’m not going to bother writing a tutorial for the Dennison style flowers, because you can find good directions for these on the Martha Stewart site.  There is also a free download of the 1922 Dennison booklet “How to Make Crepe Paper Flowers” on the Antique Pattern Library site.

Of course, I realize that not everyone is going to have a ruffler foot for their sewing machine, but if you do, you really should try this.  Maybe I wouldn’t go out and buy an expensive foot just to make these flowers (or maybe I would), but you (or your mother or your aunt) might just have one lying around gathering dust because you (or they) didn’t realize what amazing flowers could be made.  There is a good video on how to use the ruffler foot on YouTube.

This tutorial is all about crepe paper streamers, but you can also use flat folded crepe paper (both single and duplex).  With flat folds, you can cut the strips much wider, which allows for more elaborate designs; they are also quite a bit more stretchy, providing more molding than you can get with a streamer.  However, streamers are super cheap and readily available, so that’s what we’re using today.  Remember, crepe paper is very forgiving, so don’t worry if your flower doesn’t look exactly like mine or you make a little mistake.  I don’t think I’ve ever thrown one away, and I’m usually pretty picky.


  • crepe paper streamers (generally 2″ wide, but check a few stores to find variations in color and stretchiness)
  • ruffler foot for sewing machine
  • paper covered floral wire (I like the light green color)
  • Frog Tape – 1 1/2″ wide or whatever width you can find (it’s a green painter’s tape, available at hardware stores)
  • glue gun
  • 4 small alligator clips
  • double-stick tape

These last three you don’t really need, but I use them for some of the flowers

  • pinking shears (and those craft scissors with fancy edges are nice, too)
  • spray glue (for making duplex streamers)
  • stamens or pips for flower center (available on Etsy)

You will need to make some kind of center for your flower. You can use little stamens or pips if you have them, or you can make your own center.

  • Cut two pieces of streamer as shown below (2-3″ and 5-6″)
  • Wad up the larger piece and place it on the end of your wire
  • Wrap the smaller piece around the wad and crimp/twist  the bottom with your fingers
  • Wind the double-stick tape around the bottom of the ball and extend a couple of inches beyond the ball

For the mum we are going to use 2 shades of one color. Cut a 6′ long section of each color, put them together, and fold them in half until the length is approximately 9″.  Attach the 4 binder clips to one edge to prevent the paper from shifting while you cut. Make your cuts about 1/8″ apart and stop 1/2″ or so from the opposite side.

Pull the strips completely apart (this will make the flower puffier) and place one color on top of the other. Set your ruffler on “1” and set your sewing machine stitch length about 3. Begin feeding the streamers through the ruffler — try to keep them lined up and stitch near the edge of the paper.

 The completed strip should look something like this.

Stick the end of your strip near the top of your double-stick tape, and begin wrapping it around the wire.  Attach the end with some hot glue (you can squirt some down inside the hole as well if you want).

Cut 5 triangle strips from the Frog Tape and stick them to the stem and the flower in a circle to form the calyx. Cut a 4-5″ strip of tape, cut it in half lengthwise, and wrap it around the stem for a couple of inches, starting at the calyx.

The completed flower.

Here are some additional designs.  Any differences in the process above will be noted.

This is the easiest flower and requires no cutting.  Cut a length of streamer 12′ long and stretch the paper along one side, being careful not to pull too hard because streamers are sort of fragile and don’t stretch much.  Fold the streamer in half and feed the double thickness through the ruffler on stitch length 3.  Pull the two layers apart to make the flower puffier.  Finish off as usual.

Cut a 12′ streamer and fold in half 3 times. Attach clips and cut the edge with pinking shears. Cut triangle shapes into the streamer to make individual carnation petals. Unfold and feed a single thickness through ruffler on stitch length 2 or 2.5. Finish as usual.

Cut as shown below; then put together just like the carnation.

Cut a 12′ length of streamer and fold as usual to 9″. Cut as below, only you might try not to make the mistake I did. There should be a space between each petal, but honestly it really doesn’t matter much at all. Unfold and cut the streamer in half (this makes two flowers). Run the first streamer through the ruffler on maybe 2 (these petals with spaces do better with a little less pleating). Go slowly and be careful not to catch your petals in the ruffler or they may rip.

More flowers tomorrow, including several using homemade duplex streamers.  Click here to go directly to Part 2 of the tutorial.


Marjorie Louise Dellasega (1912-1995)

Tonight we are raising our glasses to toast my mother, Marjorie, on the 100th anniversary of her birth.  She was the youngest of four, and the only girl.  As a child, she always wore these gigantic bows in her hair, and I think her closest aged brother, Bill, must has added the ribbons to her shoes for this photograph.


Falling Leaves Quilt Pattern – Nancy Page Quilt Club

Because this is a pretty fall day in Seattle with cool temperatures and sunny skies, I thought I would share an autumn themed quilt pattern.  Falling Leaves appeared in the syndicated “Nancy Page Quilt Club” column written by Florence LaGanke in the 1930s.   Every Tuesday the column would feature a new block presented by “Nancy” (the club leader) who would describe the designs and make suggestions about colors, fabric and stitching to her fictional quilting club pals.  Florence had a very interesting background, and you can learn lots more about her by visiting Quilt History Tidbits.

I couldn’t find a photo of a Falling Leaves quilt, so maybe it wasn’t as popular as the other Nancy Page patterns.  I know Eleanor Burns has published adaptations of two Nancy Page patterns — Magic Vine and Grandmother’s Garden.  Eleanor’s quilts are smaller than the originals, and I can’t tell for sure by looking at the book cover photos, but I think the applique may be simplified a bit.

The leaf designs are shown in the thumbnails below; the complete pattern with all the directions is available here.


Crepe Paper Flowers

Last month I made a crepe paper bouquet for my sister, Sally.  She wanted some bright colors that would look good in her living room.   I didn’t really like the only orange I had (a too bright Halloween orange), so after I finished the rest of the colors, Sally and I picked out a few floral stems at Michaels that had orangey berries on them, as well as some leaves.  I don’t make crepe paper leaves because they take forever and I don’t enjoy making them.

This arrangement is very similar to the wedding bouquets I made last year — flowers made using both the Dennison individual petal (or small strips of petals) technique, which was copied by Martha Stewart, and the sewing machine ruffler attachment technique, which I thought up myself, although I bet I’m not the first.  The crepe paper I use is varied — vintage duplex and single sheets I’ve purchased on ebay and Etsy, flat folds from Blumchen (they sell both single and duplex), super stretchy rolled Italian crepe from Etsy, and also plain old party shop streamers.  Sometimes, to get a heavier weight paper or a particular color combination,  I make my own duplex paper by spray gluing two sheets of single flat fold paper together.

The instructions for the Dennison/Martha Stewart flowers are available on Martha’s web site; later this week I will make some new ruffler flowers and write a tutorial for that technique, which I promised to do long ago.  I just finished making a Halloween arrangement for my daughter, and took lots of photos of the process, but I decided against using them for the tutorial since the flowers were all black and the details were hard to make out.


Bernina 830 Record

Until last year, my sewing machine buying history had been pretty conservative, at least when I compared it to most other quilters I knew.  The first machine I owned was a used Singer I purchased in 1966 at a thrift store.  In the mid-70s I gave it to my friend, Elaine, who is still using it to make the most beautiful doll clothes and quilts — it’s her only machine.  Thumbs up for old Singers, and Elaine gets my vote as the most green sewing machine owner ever.

As a replacement for the Singer, I purchased a barely used Bernina 807 Minimatic (1975), which got heavy use throughout the 70s making quilts, and the 80s when I was staying home raising my children and making lots of clothes, toys, and other weird stuff.

In 1993, I traded in the 807 for a new Bernina 1000 Special (the cheapest real Bernina model at the time), which I am still using.  So far pretty reasonable, I would say.

Then last year I happened upon the lovely avocado green 1959 Bernina 540-2 Favorit marked $20 at the Goodwill.  Okay, I told myself — lots of people own two machines, and this one was so cute and so cheap.  I’m still not feeling extravagant.

But then today I purchased on Craigslist a 1975 Bernina 830 Record from a quilter in a nearby town.  The 830 was the machine I wanted, but could not afford, when I purchased my first Bernina, and this one is in wonderful condition, super clean and has every accessory and weird foot you could imagine — including the knee lift presser foot thingy — yea!  This may seem  like an odd purchase, since the 830 looks very similar to my 1000 (a point brought up immediately by my husband).  It’s way better, though, and if you’re a fan of vintage Bernina sewing machines, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The problem now is figuring out how to set up my sewing room with three machines.


Embroidered Pillow on Printed Fabric

Last year when I was preparing for a trip with my sisters, I asked my sister, Sally, if she would like me to bring along an embroidery project for her.  She thought that was a good idea, so I headed to the quilt shop to look for a nice print that would go with her new couch.  Although I had only done one small piece of embroidery on printed fabric, I thought it was something she might enjoy.

I was immediately drawn to this print because the colors were right and the design seemed to lend itself to embroidery.  The problem was that the colors were pretty bright and I didn’t think there would be enough contrast between the stitching and the background fabric.  As I was pondering this, the woman who was helping me suggested that it might work better to use the wrong side of the fabric for the embroidery, which is something I would have never thought of, and which I thought was a pretty great idea.

Since the wrong-side colors were sort of muted versions of their right-side counterparts, the brighter colored floss showed up nicely.  Sally had fun selecting the different stitches and where to apply them, and I think the pillow turned out really well.  She used the right side of the fabric for the back of the pillow (second photo), and sewed a coordinating fringe trim to the edges.


Nine-patch Doll Quilt with Antique Fabric

My friends, Patty (Patalier) and Barbara (Oodles and Oodles), always find the best vintage stuff, and my favorite things among all this stuff are fabric, notions, and anything quilt related.  So, when Barbara had a sale at her home for friends and family, and I was unable to attend (she’s in NY, I’m in Seattle), Patty (who lives in the same small town as Barbara) picked up some wonderful antique 9-patch blocks for me.  She’s always doing this sort of thing.

Now I wish I had thought to photograph the package of antique blocks.  I can tell you that they were quite large, and contained a nice assortment of light shirtings including several in pink and blue, as well as darker prints in indigo, red and black.  Because I wanted to maintain the look of the original blocks, I made a scrappy nine-patch quilt without sashing or borders, alternating between predominately red and blue (or black) blocks.  The simple quilting design is two crossed football shapes in each block; the backing and binding are reproduction fabrics.

Patty is an amazing seamstress and quilter, and I thought it would be fun to make a little quilt for her sewing room — something that will remind her of how much I appreciate her generosity.

Nine-Patch Doll Quilt
Martha Dellasega Gray, 2012
machine pieced, hand quilted
17″ x 17″


Faithful Circle Quilt – WIP

Vintage Double Wedding Ring tops, blocks and pieces are some of the easier vintage quilt projects to find.  It was a hugely popular pattern during the Depression, but it’s also a fairly difficult one to piece.  It seems that many woman began working on them, but then at some point became frustrated.  Because I have managed to collect lots of Double Wedding Ring quilt blocks and pieces, I am always looking for patterns where I can use those little skinny rectangles.

Yesterday I was looking through my old quilt booklets, and found this pattern, which I had forgotten all about.

The B piece is too wide for the DWR pieces I’ll be using, so I redrafted the pattern, changing the 3 B pieces into one rectangle template.  I also changed the size of the rectangle to fit my slightly longer DWR pieces.  It’s a liberating feeling to be able to use a simple ruler, compass, and protractor to design or change any quilt pattern you like.

Here is the box of 2,200 pieces I’ll be using to make the new B rectangle — originally 220 1930s Double Wedding Ring arcs.

First I starch and press my little pieces, sew five together (turning every other piece upside down to accommodate the angled sides), press again, trace my rectangle template on the right side of the fabric, and cut.

For more ideas on how to use vintage Double Wedding Ring blocks and pieces, here are some patterns I have used in the past.

Cottage Doll Quilt
Ferris Wheel Quilt Top
Baby Doll Quilt
Strip Pieced Tulip Quilt Blocks
Bunny Quilt Top
Baby Bunting Quilt Blocks
Friendship Knot Quilt Blocks (these DWR pieces were wider)


Santa’s Follow-the-Colors Embroidered Quilt – Finished

First of all, I want to thank everyone who made a comment on my last post.  I was overwhelmed by your kind words and compliments, and I miss all of you already.

The Christmas quilt is finally done, so I am looking forward to hanging up a completed quilt this year, instead of just a top.  The quilt is named for the vintage coloring book that was the source of the patterns (all available in a previous post).  I have a few of these “follow-the-colors” type books, and I think they make cute embroidery patterns.  The idea was to use your crayon to fill in the different colors which were already outlined with the suggested color.  These books are even less creative than a normal coloring book, since you can’t even pick your own colors, but I do love the designs, and think I did use the suggested colors in almost every block.   As a kid I was messy, but I liked to keep my coloring books neat, always staying in the lines.  If my little brother or sister scribbled in my coloring book, I would freak out.

There are lots more embroidered tops in my quilting queue, and I wish I could think of some more interesting quilting patterns.  Although I am fond of cross-hatching on embroidered quilts, I feel like it’s going to get tiresome after awhile.  It’s sort of tricky quilting through the embroidery, particularly when it’s more dense, like the alphabet quilt.  I usually do what I’ve done in this quilt — outline the perimeter of the embroidery designs, adding some interior quilting, if necessary, to fill in any larger areas; then quilt the cross-hatch pattern in the background. If you have any suggestions for hand quilting patterns on embroidered quilts, I would love to hear them.

Santa’s Follow-the-Colors Quilt
hand embroidered, machine pieced, hand quilted
Martha Dellasega Gray, 2012
54″ x 51″