Posts Written On April 2009

Vera Pieced Table Topper

This is a Mother’s Day present for my mother-in-law, Gail Gray. It’s made from 8 vintage Vera linen napkins — all different designs. In the 60’s and 70’s Vera Neumann (who was simply called Vera) designed beautiful scarves and kitchen linens, among other things. I always loved her logo with it’s distinctive signature and little ladybug. My 8 napkins worked out perfectly, with just the right amount of 3″ squares needed for the size cloth I wanted. I really think Gail is going to like this little table square — it’s so bright and springy looking.

When I think up one of these spontaneous projects, I always play this game where I try to complete the project with stuff I have on hand. The vintage gold border and backing fabric is a leftover from another quilt, the batting substitute is an old sheet (just to add a little weight), and for the binding I cut up one of my kitchen towels. Even if it takes hours to find just the right item, I’m always so pleased with myself when I don’t have to make a trip to the fabric store.

Vera Table Square
Martha Dellasega Gray, 2009
machine pieced, machine quilted
42″ x 42″




Simplicity Needlework Catalog — Dish Towel Patterns

Here are some more cute embroidery patterns from the 1948 Simplicity Needlework Catalog. I have seen other elephant day-of-the-week patterns and lots of anthropomorphic pots and pans, but I haven’t seen these before. The expressions on the spoons are pretty cute. I hope these are clear enough to allow you to copy the patterns.

Happy Pots and Pans
Elephant Day-of-the-Week
Simplicity Needlework Catalog, 1948






Vintage Shoofly Quilt

My husband’s aunt, Margaret Elizabeth “Betty” Gray, died in June of last year at the age of 88. Her husband, Connor, was the older brother of Gordon’s father, Gordon, Sr. Betty and Connor built a waterfront home on Mercer Island in the 50’s and lived there until their deaths. Gordon’s parents and grandparents also built homes on Mercer Island — his parents still live in his childhood home.

Betty was accomplished in many areas, including gardening, skiing, sailing and photography. After she died, her son and daughter-in-law gave me some old glass, linens, knitting needles with yarn and this old quilt. The knitting booklets were mostly from the 30’s and the quilt appears to be about that age as well. I don’t think Betty did much needlework, and because she would have been a teenager when these items appear to have been made, I suspect they were stitched by someone else in her family — perhaps Betty’s mother made the quilt for her.

This old Shoofly quilt has been well used. It was made with two solids and two prints (some of the prints are so faded, they are difficult to see, but they look like 30’s designs to me). The piecing and quilting are nicely done, and the quilt is in pretty good condition with the exception of some fabric loss in a few of the pink blocks and consistent fraying on the binding. It’s odd that the blocks on the left have been trimmed down. This might have been done to make the quilt fit a particular bed (although the current proportions look correct to me) or to remove some damage on that edge. The binding is the exact same pink fabric as the blocks, so it doesn’t appear that it was redone — it’s always difficult to guess about these things since the quilter could have saved some of the pink fabric and re-bound the quilt at a later date. The batting is a thin cotton and the backing is the same as the background fabric in the quilt top.

Shoofly Quilt
unknown quilter, 1930’s
67″ x 77″




Embroidered Wool Quilt WIP – Rows 6 & 7

Only four more rows to go — that’s 22 more embroidered squares. I still haven’t figured out what to do for a border, but I’m sure something will come to me. It would be fun to embroider a vine or something on a dark border. Although I’m still enjoying the stitching, I need to search for some more pattern ideas. A bird’s nest with eggs in it would be fun — I know I have a cute one in a coloring book somewhere — and maybe a pineapple.







Tumbler Quilt

Tumbler was my second quilt. The top was started in the late 70’s, but I put it away before it was finished. It was made primarily from sewing scraps, and I remember that there were quite a few Laura Ashley prints. Even back then, before I started using vintage fabric (although now that I think about it, these prints would probably be considered vintage now), I was attracted to the look of a scrappy quilt. However, if I were making this quilt now, I would pay more attention to creating contrast in the placement of the pieces.

In 1995 after one of our teachers invited a quilter to give a talk for the students and display her quilts, I was inspired to start quilting again and vowed to finish this old top. All the pieces were cut, so it didn’t take long. This time I did all the quilting myself, but it was difficult. I was using Warm and Natural batting, and it contained some kind of weird woven fibers that made it hard to pull the needle through the layers. I had to use a small pliers which took forever and ruined lots of needles. Now I use a softer batting, but I still need help pulling the needle through. I use those round, rubbery needle pullers — I always keep one in my mouth while I’m quilting. My husband thinks it’s pretty weird, especially when we’re having a conversation and I’m talking with this stupid thing in my mouth, but there’s no other convenient place to keep it since I need to use it every few seconds. I don’t understand how other people can hand quilt without a needle puller.

Several of my tops are done, but they are not basted. I had to take a break from hand quilting because I was having some tingling and numbness in my right hand (the beginnings of carpal tunnel, I suspect). Fortunately, embroidery and hand piecing do not cause these symptoms. Once I finish the wool quilt, I’ll start hand quilting one of those tops.

Martha Dellasega Gray, 1978-1995
machine pieced, hand quilted
74″ x 82″





Hummingbird Photos

We are so fortunate to have my nephew, Chris, as our family photographer. He takes all the photos at our get-togethers, but he also loves to take nature pictures. This weekend he took several photos of hummingbirds on his deck and I think they’re just beautiful. We were wondering whether these are rufous or anna’s hummingbirds. After looking at other hummingbird photos, they look like anna’s to me — someone please correct me if this is wrong. Since I am a basic point and shoot photographer, I asked Chris to explain how he managed to get these great shots.

These are probably rufous or anna’s hummingbirds, because those are the types we usually get around here. In the pictures you can see that there is a male, with the bright red head feathers, and a female who is less colorful. I shot these with my Pentax K20D slr using a telephoto zoom lens zoomed all the way out to 300mm. I was on the upstairs deck leaning against the railing trying to be as still as possible. The way to freeze motion is to use as high a shutter speed as possible, and most of these were shot at about 1/250th of a second. If you have more light you can get even faster shutter speeds. Another technique to freeze motion is to use a flash, but I didn’t want to do that because I thought it might scare them away, and I wouldn’t be able to take a rapid sequence of shots if I was waiting for the flash to recharge.

Male Anna’s Hummingbird
Chris Comer, 2009

Female Anna’s Hummingbird
Chris Comer, 2009


Alice in Wonderland — Ink & Watercolor Pictures

My younger sister, Mary, completed these fabulous ink and watercolor pictures in the 1970’s and gave them to my sister, Sally, and me. I have all four of them now and I hope Sally doesn’t ever ask for hers back. Mary used the illustrations by Sir John Tenniel from the original 1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the 1871 sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. If you don’t have a copy of these books, the 1865 illustrations are available online here, courtesy of Project Gutenberg and the 1871 illustrations can all be found on Google images.

Mary spent hours reading and drawing when she was young. She and I loved to draw our own paper dolls — one of our favorite subjects was Pearl Pureheart, the girlfriend of Mighty Mouse. Even though Mary was five years younger than I, she was the better artist. She always kept a sketchbook and drew lots of pictures of her favorite characters. The Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet and Dark Shadows were a couple of her favorite sources for portraits. I know Mary still has her sketchbooks, so maybe she’ll let me scan some of her drawings for a later post.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Mary Dellasega
ink and watercolor
12″ x 16″


Through the Looking Glass
Mary Dellasega
ink and watercolor
15″ x 23″



Elliott’s Hexagram Quilt

My son Elliott’s favorite G.I. Joe character when he was a boy was Snake Eyes (and his pal, Storm Shadow). Both of these characters are ninjas and have the same hexagram tattoo on their arms (number 58 on the chart of 64 hexagrams in the I Ching). As a graphic designer, Elliott has used this hexagram as his logo and he also has it tattooed on his forearm. Elliott’s web site is

I wanted to make a quilt for Elliott, but I couldn’t imagine that he would ever be interested in one of my normal quilts with the pastel vintage fabrics. Then it occurred to me that it would be pretty easy to piece a hexagram quilt block. When I mentioned this to Elliott, he suggested I use all 64 hexagrams in their sequential positions (which worked pretty well because it forms a rectangle).

The blocks were constructed using an assortment of subtle red prints and batiks. The backing is one of the red prints. It was quilted in the ditch on my machine (one of my first attempts at machine quilting). I didn’t want any quilting stitches to show in the blocks because I felt it would detract from the design.

For Elliott’s birthday last month, I used his quilt as a tablecloth. I cut a small hexagram design in quilting template plastic which Emily and I used to decorate cupcakes. I think they turned out pretty well — and they looked especially cute in my new cupcake holder from Crate & Barrel.

Hexagram Quilt
Martha Dellasega Gray, 2007
machine pieced, machine quilted
60″ x 72″


Cupcake photos by my nephew, Chris





1942 Animal Paint Book – Part 4

This should be about half of the book now. I think there are a few in this group (together with some others) that would make good Day of the Week towels, but I always want to make everything into a quilt — or occasionally a pillow. These remind me of vintage embroidery transfers, although I know it’s a little weird that some of the elements in the pictures are not complete on the edges.  In the original drawings, there was a black border around each picture. I’m thinking now I should have left it, but you get the idea.

Animal Paint Book
Whitman Publishing, 1942
Cecile Lamb, Illustrator

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Terrace at Sainte Adresse

My husband, Gordon, stitched this Monet painting in 1983 from a pattern by Pat Wilkie Keene. When we were first married, he taught himself to embroider because he wanted a monogram on the pockets of his dress shirts — he stitched a little “GHG” with a tiny satin stitch. He also cross-stitched Christmas stockings for me, Elliott and Emily — I made his stocking. Occasionally he would take his needlework on business trips, and he discovered that women on the airplanes would often come up and talk to him about his work — especially flight attendants — which he didn’t mind at all.

Gordon is a banker/handyman — he can repair or build just about anything. He also makes beautiful stained glass and is a gourmet cook. I am one lucky woman.

Terrace at Sainte Adresse
Gordon Harvill Gray, 1983
Cotton Floss on #14 Pale Blue Aida
9″ x 11″


Gordon stitching his monogram, 1980



Meet Susan (ruffledfeathers) — Master Embroiderer

Yesterday morning I was searching Flickr for a hummingbird embroidery pattern when I discovered Susan’s incredible embroidery of an Anna’s Hummingbird.


Since 2002, Susan has been stitching a collection of birds that visit her garden — each one exquisite — based on John James Audubon’s Birds of America. I contacted Susan to request permission to post her photos and to find out more about this unique project.

“My bird project began as a way of combining two of my favorite pastimes, photographing birds in my backyard and hand embroidery. I also have a big book of reproductions of Audubon’s folios from the 1820s and 30s that my husband’s Great Aunt Ethel gave him when he was a child. This and the serendipidous finding of the Audubon embroidery patterns by Barbara Christopher made for a project I just couldn’t pass up. I have cheated just a little on the last couple of birds. I wanted to include an Oregon dark-eyed junco and a house sparrow in the collection (they are frequent visitors) but didn’t have the Audubon patterns for them. I have used different patterns for those two but I think all in all they will look fine with the others.”

Visit ruffledfeathers Flickr Audubon photos here. The set contains Susan’s personal photo of each bird, the Audubon plate, and then her embroidery. Susan has also posted photos of many other embroidery projects that are equally amazing. If you are an embroiderer (or have an appreciation of beautiful stitching), you don’t want to miss this. It’s inspiring.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet


1942 Animal Paint Book – Part 3

If anyone stitches one of these little paint book animals, please let me know. I would love to see one completed. I am going to make quilt blocks, but I haven’t come up with a plan yet. I’d like to try them with one or two appliqued elements on each block.

Animal Paint Book
Whitman Publishing, 1942
Cecile Lamb, Illustrator


Feedsack Crazy Quilt

This little quilt was sewn for my daughter, Emily, when she left for college. At the time, she really liked pink and black. It’s made primarily with feedsack scraps (leftovers from the Kansas Dugout Quilt) and a few vintage dress scraps. I blanket stitched the scraps by hand onto 4″ pieces of muslin using black cotton floss. Four of the little blocks were then combined to make 20 larger blocks. I selected a heavy cotton waffle fabric for the sashing and borders to match the thickness of the blocks. The feedsack triangle border was machine stitched and then embroidered with the same blanket stitch. The quilt has a thin cotton batting and was tied with embroidery floss. It’s heavy-ish and kind of funky.

Feedsack Crazy Quilt
Martha Dellasega Gray, 2003
hand embroidered, tied with floss
50″ x 60″







1942 Animal Paint Book – Part 2

I was going to add lots more of these today, but it took longer than expected to scan and clean them up. The pages are so dark and many have stains and mildew on them.

It’s my spring break starting today — I am looking forward to a week of enjoyable embroidery and quilting.