How It Began

I first started working with needle and thread when I was in sixth grade in elementary school.

Before I share more on the design or what I stitched, let me share something about my paternal Grandma Grace. She was one of 12 children born to Dutch parents who were poor farmers living in northern Iowa. She married my grandfather who had also been born and raised on a farm in northern Iowa.  They had seven children-three sons (lost one son at birth) and four daughters.  My dad was raised on their farm.


Both of my parents were from northern Iowa as in close to the Minnesota border. Where I grew up in Iowa it was more in the central region of the state so when it came time to visit relation or attend family get-to-gethers we would drive and drive and drive (or so it seemed to a young girl having to sit in a non air conditioned car with dust blowing in as dad took the country roads when he traveled north) to get to grandma's farm.


My grandparent's were not wealthy people.  My dad told me that his parents had suffered through some setbacks while farming.  Weather, failed crops, lost income due to drops in the market for crops or livestock.  Put all that together, being a farmer, it hurts.  I remember the big barn and wanting to climb into the hayloft but never quite conquering my fear of high places, the livestock mostly cattle and hogs, the holly hocks and chickens.  Oh, and the big garden.  The outhouse.  No indoor plumbing but grandma did have a pump in the kitchen for cooking and washing dishes.  I remember the back porch, the big ole' black metal cook stove in the kitchen, the dining room/living room that contained a table and a few chairs, an open doorway into a room that had two twin sized beds and a chair or two and a dresser and then a doorway to another room.  In that room was another bed and a wooden trunk with a hinged top.


Grandma would let me go into the second room and look in the trunk.  The trunk was a simple plywood box with a hinged lid.  In this trunk she stored her sewing stuff. Fabric, threads, patterns, catalogs for ordering more sewing stuff.  She would order from Wallace Farmer or Herrschners.  I remember seeing packages containing order forms and supplies she would get in the mail.  I loved going through them.  I would touch the fabric, feel the threads, and look at the designs.


Grandma loved roosters and much of what she did had chickens or roosters on it or in it.  She would stamp or iron on a design and embroider it and then sew it together as a quilt top.  I don't think she did alot of piece quilting.  Nor do I think she ever completed a quilt as in using batting, a backing and quilting or tying it to finish it. When she died, the family took six garbage bags of quilt tops to the Goodwill.  Yup, to the Goodwill.  I shudder each and every time I think of that.  Grandma took care of her kids, helped with the daily responsibilities of being a farmer's wife but also spent time sewing.  Grandma and her sewing is the memory I treasure most of her. Her working with needle and thread and sitting in her rocking chair.


In growing up, we didn't get to spend a weekend alone with either set of our grandparents.  Mom didn't allow it.  We only saw family when our parents traveled north.  Even then, when we would visit, mom made sure the "kids were seen and not heard."  We had to be elsewhere while the adults visited.  Made for some boring visits sometimes especially when there were no other kids to play or interact with.  I've never experienced "family." Many do.  Many have that sense of belonging and closeness with extended family.  And I have discovered, since relocating to northern Iowa (summer of 2014), being in close proximity doesn't change things either.  I am grateful that I did have this time with my paternal grandma and as a result each time I work with a needle and thread, I remember Grandma Grace.


Back to the farm and grandma's trunk.  On one such visit, when I was in the back room looking through the trunk for new treasures, grandma came into the room and asked if I wanted to have something in the trunk.  I did.  She asked me to pick out something, anything I wanted.  I did.  She found plain white fabric, took the design and stamped/ironed it on the fabric.  She handed me a metal embroidery hoop (the kind with a cork ring between the two hoops), a needle and then told me to select thread.  I read the chart or pattern, found out what colors I needed and went through the DMC floss and pulled the colors.  Grandma helped me get the fabric into the hoop and I went into the main room, sat down and started to embroider.


I took the first skein of thread and began to pull and pull and pullllllllllllllllll the thread.  Grandma was watching me and asked me what I was doing.  I said, "I am getting thread for the first bird and I need a lot."  She laughed and said, "Abbie, use small pieces, not long ones.  When you are done with that one, you get more. It works better that way."


Mind you, prior to this, I had not used needle and thread of any kind. None. Nada.  Zip.  Nothing.  What I have learned working with needle and thread came from an outside of the home source.  As kids we weren't allowed to cook or sew at home. What I have learned with my sewing I learned in Home Ec in high school or on my own after I graduated from high school and left home.  


When it came time to leave grandma's that day, I handed everything back to her and she asked me why I was doing that.  I told her I thought I was just to sew on it while visiting her.  She told me no that I was to take it home with me and work on it at home.  I did.  I got half of the birds done (East Coast to the Mississippi River) and the fabric tore.  I told my mom not to tell grandma.  Grandma knew "somehow" for when we visited next time, she had another one waiting for me to do.  So I've stitched the birds twice on the right side of the design.


When I got everything stitched, I gave it to my mom to frame.  She mounted the fabric on a piece of plexi-glass covered in craft foam, glued it down on the back, had dad make her frame, painted the frame with the fabric IN the frame, taped the outside on the back and put a hanger on it.


After my dad died February 2013, I asked for this back as my mom had been storing it in a closet.  I took it apart.  I soaked the stitched piece for several hours in Orvis, rinsed with cold water and then put it in a zippered lingerie' bag and washed it on a gentle cycle in cold water in the washing machine. Most of the stains came out along with most of the glue.  I had it reframed.  For as old as it is (stitched in 1971), it's still in pretty good condition.  The stains around the edges are from the paint that was used to paint the frame.  The edges are also aged due to being wrapped and taped and left to the elements and the environment.


Before being taken apart...














After taken out of the frame and washed in Orvis.  Most of the yellow stains were removed where the birds where.  This was stamped (not sure where Grandma Grace got the original design, do know it was mailed ordered) on white cotton fabric and I used DMC threads. Won't show the back.  Down through the years I've learned so much with embroidery that if I was (which I won't) ever to do this piece again, the back would look sooooooooooo much better.




After being remounted and framed with mattes.  The framer did a FANTASTIC job of selecting complementary mattes and frame.  Nice job with the mounting too.  Extremely pleased with his work.






From embroidery, I started making baby quilts.  I would embroidery baby themed blocks, sash them together, use polyester batting and a pretty backing and tie everything together.  For the binding and hemming part of it I would wrapped the back around to the front and hand hem.  


From doing quilts and after inheriting Grandma Grace's newest sewing machine when she died, I started making baby sleepers, progressing to adult clothing where I sewed dresses for myself for church.  


Then, after visiting a local needlework shop in Cedar Falls, Iowa (now closed) in the mid 80's I saw counted cross stitch. Bought a design and the threads and when I asked for fabric, the clerk measured the design or chart on the page and cut the fabric to that measurement!!! I stitched the piece and literally the stitches came to the edge of the fabric.  Had never done cross stitch prior to that, self taught myself using the diagrams in cross stitch books and leaflets.  Egads, lessons one learns as one journeys while sewing or stitching.

With my machine sewing and having learned how to use a serger, I enjoy pieced quilting, sewing doll clothes and baby and children's clothing along with other patterns or design that require a sewing machine to finish them.


With my hand stitched work, I enjoy counted cross stitching using mostly DMC threads, 28ct evenweave fabric (stitching 2 over 2) and a host of embellishments, embroidery and crewel.

I will add that I've learned about the various techniques and styles of working with needle and thread through visits to the local library, taking classes or hearing a lecture, interacting with other artisans and since the internet, visiting sewing or stitching related blogs or websites and viewing YouTube tutorials.


I didn't keep a journal of my work until I started reading blogs online and that was in the summer of 2009.  I now keep a written journal of my cross stitching and a pictorial file of both my machine sewing and hand stitched work.  My blog has become a digital journal of my work.  I've shared my finishes of both my machine sewn and hand stitched work along with my works in progress on individual links (pages) found at the top of my blog.