Christmas Notebook

The Notes section of my Christmas Notebook is for whatever I want it for. Mostly, I do many, many items that are the same, yet customized for each recipient. An example it the year I did shopping/beach/gym/whatever bags for everyone. I made 60 of them, but each was made of fabric that represented an interest of the recipient. Samantha was given Alice in Wonderland fabric, Susan received Labradors, and Michael is playing golf now.

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My notes then tend to be something like –

28 makeup bags – Mom
Kristen, etc.

14 golf towels – Erik
Steven, etc.

That way I know how many I am supposed to make and what I can cut out of materials for everyone, and how I am going to customize them for each individual.

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My Christmas Notebook

I get that it is September and NOBODY wants to hear anything about Christmas, however, my sewing list for that particular time of year is extensive, or as Luella likes to call it, insane. Because of that, I need to start early.

I do have a quasi-organized system that, if I remember to use it, can keep me on track. A few years ago I developed a contained notebook-ish thing that kept a calendar, a list of Christmas card names and addresses, gift lists and notes.

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The calendar and card list pages can easily be recreated each year, but that is the first step of the process. OK, Done!

The gift list is my main concern right now.

It looks like this –


The first part of the set up is writing all of the names and giving a preliminary gift idea. The actual gift can change. Sometimes I can’t find exactly what I need for the gift. Sometimes I change my mind. Sometimes I run out of time and every once in a while the person is deleted, but, anything written on the sheet in my Christmas Notebook is subject to change.

In the beginning, my ideas are grand and elaborate. As time marches on toward late December, I scale back. Right now, each of you on the list will be pleased. And to fulfill those grandiose ideas, I have to get a move on NOW!

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CutWork Is Amazing Also (And Can Be Used In Quilting)

When I think of the term Cutwork Embroidery, I think of Hardanger. but the much more common form is Eyelet fabric. The origins of the current forms of cutwork date back to the Italian Renaissance. And the techniques quickly spread throughout Europe. It was an inexpensive and quick way to achieve “lace”. In fact, cutwork straddles that line between lace and embroidery still today.

Hardanger is assumed to be created in Persia in the 7th century even though it was named after the Norwegian Hardangerfjord.. It consists of satin stitches binding a cut out piece of the base fabric. Really, buttonholes use Hardanger techniques.


Traditionally, Hardanger embroidery is done on a white or Ecru base fabric with matching thread. It was done on linen. The benefit of linen was that it was easier to see the grid patterns and space the stitches more evenly. Today, Hardanger fabric is easy to find and comes in many colors. The weave also makes it easier to pull the the threads in the base fabric out.

But, any time there is a good binding with any embroidery on any base fabric can result in cutwork. The goal is to wrap embroidery around what would be an edge of the fabric to prevent unraveling.

I love cutwork on the edges of tablecloths and napkins and tea towels. But my very favorite use of these techniques is by putting a dark fabric over a light or vice versa with cutwork on top. I love the look and use it often in quilting designs.


Try out the window look of cutwork in some of your designs

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Shadow Work Embroidery Is Amazing (But Not For Quilting)

My first experience with shadow work was as a gift from my mother when she returned from a trip to China. She brought back a very sheer piece of silk, mounted in a beautiful wooden frame. It had a kitten embroidered on one side and as you rotated the frame, the same kitten was pictured on the back. There was no evidence of hidden stitches, of tied off knots or anything. The front and the back were exactly the same image except the coloring was slightly different.

I studied and studied the piece. It took me some time to figure out how it was accomplished. That it was hand done was obvious. I just couldn’t figure out how.

Shadow work is two sided and is usually done with sheer fabrics. It would work for quilting, because you would not be able to see both sides of the fabric, but I thought it should be included in the fabric embellishment series, if for no other reason than it is an amazing needlework feat.

This is a white hankie from White Hankies | Janice Ferguson Sews


You can see that the pattern is visible equally fro both sides of the fabric. Unlike textured embroidery styles, shadow work if very flat, very small stitches and very close to the background fabric.

My first shadow work piece was Chinese, but the argument is whether it originated in India or Persia. There remain many examples of this ancient technique with motifs from each place.

Unlike textured embroidery styles, shadow work if very flat, very small stitches and very close to the background fabric. It is really amazing to see.

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If You Are Going To Embellish, Do It With Texture

Textured embroidery is a beautiful way to embellish fabric. I could think of two off the top of my head. Silk Ribbon Embroidery and Brazilian Embroidery. Both are just beautiful and have a lot of texture to them.

Silk ribbon embroidery is gorgeous and it feels really good while stitching. As I have been able to work with better and better materials, I have come to appreciate quality. The silk ribbon slipping through my finger is wonderful. I love texture. Part of my machine sewing is feeling the fabric feed into the machine. I gauge what is going almost as much by feel as by sight. And when you are working with silk, it feels great.

But, the beauty of silk is just as good as the feel of silk. The colors of the silk ribbon are vibrant and the variety of colors available is astounding.


The trifecta comes in the form of variety of stitches. There are amazing things you can do in ribbon embroidery. French knots take on a whole new meaning. Silk flowers sewn into the fabric shows off the petals, the stems and the background fabric as well. To embellish any quality background with silk ribbon embroidery lets you enhance the material in ways that only this discipline can offer.

Much the same can be said of Brazilian Embroidery. The elevations produce beautiful juxtapositions of depth. Brazilian Embroidery can be build layer upon layer, just like nature. It results in a truly 3D product.

I have never attempted Brazilian Embroider, although it is definitely on my bucket list. I think that it is gorgeous. You can accomplish a lot of the effects because Brazilian Embroidery uses Rayon threads. It produces a sheen that no other material can produce. It also allows the artist to create knots and stitches that would not be possible with tread that was not quite as smooth. That allows for the layer on layer building up of stitches that create the depth.

Like Crewel, a Brazilian embroidery pattern generally outlines the major stitching and features of the design and then the stitcher decides how to to fill in areas or make adjustments.

Nordic Needle, at (link here) has quite a few Brazilian Embroidery patterns and instructions.


So if Rayon isn’t Brazilian and the stitches were not created in Brazil why is it Brazilian Embroidery? Because it was wildly popular in Brazil and emigrated from there. The Brazilians perfected a perfect combination of materials, workmanship, creativity and passion.

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Crewel Equals Wool, Mostly

Crewel is traditionally a freestyle embroidery stitched with wool yarn. In fact, the Crewel is an old Welsh word that means wool. Very heavy threads used to be used but today there are lots of options.

Crewel has been around for millennia, but was most popular in the 17th century. James I bought in the Jacobean Age in England and the styles of embroidery designs that proliferated then are still called Jacobean embroideries today.


There are a few reasons for the growth in popularity. Steel needles became more readily available. Dyes became more reliable and were brought in greater numbers from the east by the East India Company. And fashion dictated styles that were only accomplished by hand embroidery.

Crewel is not a counted stitch, nor is it’s base fabric a grid. It is done by drawing an outline and filling it in with varied stitches. They were originally elaborate designs of stylized flowers, birds, and beasts being worked in wool. But, the 1970s USA reworked crewel into geometrics and more modern motifs.

The many different stitch options offer great latitude for creativity. Whether doing traditional Jacobean designs or contemporary patterns, crewel is fun, and a great way to customize fabric.

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RedWork, WhiteWork, BlueWord, More!

The word “Work” often describes the materials, or look of an embroidery type.

Berlin wool work is a style of embroidery similar to today’s needlepoint. It was typically executed with wool yarn on canvas. It is usually worked in a single stitch.


Red work is a style of decorative needlework that consists of embroidering the outline of designs onto a white or off-white background with a contrasting color thread.

Synthetic dyes became available around 1875 and provided a wide range of red colors but thread or fabric dyed in these synthetic dyes often faded to a rose or even brownish red. The Turkey Red dye typically cost more than other dyes but its durability was highly valued.


White work is any type of embroidery worked in white or natural colored thread on a white or natural colored fabric ground.

It is also called white-on-white. This style of embroidery can be worked in a variety of techniques, including surface embroidery, pulled or drawn thread or cutwork.


Blue work came after red work. The style known as “Bluework” shares the same history as Redwork. A few decades after Turkey or (or India, depending on which history you read) changed the stitching world with its colorfast red thread, a colorfast indigo thread became available.

In 1910 synthetic dyes became even more colorfast and stable. Previously, the synthetic dyes would fade. That is why pre-Civil War embroideries often show their reds are rose colors today.

Redwork and Bluework designs share the same qualities — light, open, one color thread — but it’s done in blue thread. this is a machine embroidery from

Start your own ****work embroidery style.

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Hand Embroidery, Well Executed Is Exquisite

Hand done embroideries have been the standard for millennia. And with each culture (as well as inside cultures) different styles, materials and techniques resulted in a multitude of varied pieces of art.

As each artisan worked at self expression adding in healthy doses of competition, the workmanship, difficulty and creativity increased.


Today there are hundreds of types of embroidery stitches, embroidery techniques and embroidery patterns. Any amount the material available to be used continues grow. Technology combined with traditional mores and practices, bring us to an unprecedented myriad of choices.

Let us explore a few of these options and put them in our fabric embellishment tool box.

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Embellishing With Embroidery Is Classic

Embroidery is an ancient skill. The examples from medieval Europe are exquisite. Whether the artisans were embroidering flowers on dresses, hunting scenes on upholstered furniture, or pastural views on wall hangings, the pieces that are still remaining completely enthrall me. I love to look at the stitches as closely as I am allowed. The workmanship is so often unbelievable.


Ecclesiastical embroidery just astounds me. I grab every opportunity I can to see the examples of parishioners and the work they have done. There is a story in my church about a pair of sisters in the late 1800s, early 1900s. The story goes that they were member of my church. Their husbands were not and forbid them contributing any money to the parish. They struggled with how they would give. The solution was to make beautiful vestments. These same vestments lasted over 100 years. The church provided the materials. These vestments are wonderfully embroidered with gold and silk on silk. They are a joy to touch and smell (yes I do that) and see. My own husband is forever embarrassed when we visit a church while traveling and I request to snoop in their closets to check out their own vestments. Astounding stuff.


And the far east antique embroideries are often beyond description. Maybe because it is more exotic to me, but I love the simple designs, the wonderful materials and the extraordinary workmanship that I have seen. That these treasures have survived for hundreds and even thousands of years, is unimaginable.


And, all of these examples were created by some artist that needed to express themselves in amazing ways with simple woven fabric and colored thread.

And we still find ourselves drawn to these art forms today.

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There Is Always Room For Embellishments in Quilting

What is it about artists that we just can’t leave good enough alone?

There are some absolutely beautiful fabrics out there that will speak to whatever you are listening to. There are traditional prints, retro prints, contemporary designs, and photo fabrics. Themes include space, flowers, bees, rocks, grass, holidays, cowboys, sewing machines, and even sexy underwear.

Whatever you want to sew about it available. So why is it necessary to take perfectly good patterns and torture them into something completely different.

Because it is possible. Picasso didn’t think that things as common and as ordinary as faces and guitars were beyond his scope of interpretation. So, we won’t be restricted to leaving be gorgeous cranes and chrysanthemums alone.

But, it isn’t just the cutting up and sewing back together in different patterns that can be used as unique expressions. It is also the huge variances in embellishments available to us that can be celebrated.

Let’s spend a bit of time exploring embellishing.

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