A Study in Opposities: Lea Stansal and Mary Koval

I am posting my experiences at the recent European Patchwork Meeting, held in a series of four small towns in the Alsace region of France.  The town of Saint Marie-aux-Mines, the main venue, had many places to find quilts:

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The poster above links to the numbers in the map.  Once we left the L’Espace Commercial, we walked across the street to the Theater, where two sets of quilts curated by two different women provided a study in contrasts.

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One set of quilts, by collector Mary Koval, was exhibited on the ground floor of a beautifully restored old theater, which you can just see from around the edges of some of my photos.  This set of quilts were all American antique quilts.

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The other woman (from France) is Lea Stansal, who mounted a one-woman exhibit titled La Broderie d’embellissement, which can be roughly translated to The Embroidery of Embellishment.  Her biographical statement from her blog (which I used Google Translate to read) says:

Trained at Met Penningen’s Higher School of Decorative Arts and Interior Architecture. After twenty years in the world of fashion as a textile designer, Léa Stansal decides to explore and deepen more traditional aspects such as patchwork and embroidery.

“Since then, with a thread and a needle, she has created a poetic and original work, which is widely exhibited in the world and has given rise to the publication of half a dozen books of art.”

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Is this the artist? I don’t know, but I did love the quilt behind her head.

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Detail.

None of these are titled, and it flattens them out to put them on this digital medium; I wish you could have seen them in person.  They were wild and embroidered and free and filled with a happiness of creativity.  I think if I could spend 10 minutes in her studio, I’d break all those Rules of Quilting that I carry around inside me.

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Detail from the upper panel, above

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Detail.

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Detail.

I kept thinking about how the Pied Piper had charmed all the little tin soldiers.  Was this a statement about war?  About peace?  I’ll never know, but I’m still thinking about it.

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Detail from above.  The layers!  The collage!  The broderie perse!  I kept sighing.

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I love how the deer and its antlers are in this piece, but not in the static, overused version we see in America.  Shall we turn some quilts on their heads?

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My husband, who loves symmetry in all its forms kept sighing, too, as he admitted that this just wasn’t his type of quilting.  Mine, neither, but I kept admiring that freedom to create, a freedom that was a delicious anarchy of cloth and threads.

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We headed downstairs to Mary Koval’s antique quilts, in an exhibit titled “Piece by piece, our life with quilts.”

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I had carefully included the identifying titles in my photos, but back home, found I couldn’t read them most of them.  The quilts range from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

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Pickle Dish quilt, from the 1920s.EPM Koval_2aEPM Koval_3

I liked the juxtaposition of these two–the orange-clad guard and the riotous early-American quilt.

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I liked the embroidery detail on this little Uncle Sam. a quilt from the 1920s.

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One of my favorites of the antiques because of its exuberance.  The name “Rev. and Mrs. (?) S. Harvey” is on the first line, with “Park Methodist Episcopal Church” on the second.  “Circle No. 5 1937” on the third line.

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Made from silks.

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Detail.

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We weren’t allowed to touch the quilts (of course!) so I held my hand up to show how tiny those triangles are.  This quilt is from Berks County, Pennsylvania, but I don’t have a date.

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I’m sure all these quilts are from their new book.  Info can be found on their website.EPM TheaterMeal_3

Now we were hungry, so we found this little “cafe” in the back of the theater, with fabulously dressed servers.

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Although the flowers were pretty tired, I loved the attempt at patchwork on the vase, with bits of cloth glued to the glass.

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And this, folks, was the traditional Alsace salad with bretzel (with a “b”).  My husband ordered this, but I went mainstream with the ham sandwich (below).  They were doing an active business, so we hurried and ate and went back out hunting quilts.

Note: this series about the European Patchwork Meeting has a main page, with a listing of posts.

Not $ewing in Geneva

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I know what you are thinking: what? more traveling?  Well, my husband Dave is a scientist who studies genetic toxicology and was asked by the World Health Organization to come and work on a committee to discuss some chemicals and they would pay his way.  And I could go and stay for free, and fly using frequent flier miles, so why not?  I thought it would be like Lisbon, where I’d find cute shops selling fun sewing stuff, and when we walked by Mercerie Catherine B (above) on Saturday afternoon, I could hardly wait to go back and explore.GenevaSewing4

First, we had Mother’s Day and when we went to church, they handed out roses and pieces of chocolate to all the Moms.  Score!  That was sweet, even if everything they said was in French.GenevaSewing5

And we had to go and see one of the two tourist attractions in Geneva.  Which I did. . . multiple times.GenevaSewing6

I did scout out a few textile shops.  This one was right across from the Manor department store, but because Geneva is a waaaaay pricey city, I chose not to drop my Swiss francs in that shop.GenevaSewing7

Instead, I thought this a better investment, until I could back to Catherine’s, which was closed until Tuesday (4-day weekend).GenevaSewing8I went out to this place, which was a long tram ride out of the center.GenevaSewing8a GenevaSewing9

Yes, that is five bucks for a fat-meter of outdated material.  The Liberty cottons were 35 bucks a meter.GenevaSewing10

And regular quilting cottons were around 20 dollars a meter (the franc is nearly equivalent to a dollar this year).GenevaSewing11

The Manor Dept. Store (my home away from home, because I ate there a lot–picking up sandwiches and meals in their food hall. . . and why doesn’t America have food halls?) had this array of fat meters.  I didn’t check the prices on them.GenevaSewing12

While standing admiring this display of bias tape and ribbons — wound neatly onto cards and not tucked behind cellophane wrappers — I met Roxanne, another quilter, and we had a great discussion.  Quilters, the world over, speak the same language.  She said most of the quilters she knew in Switzerland ordered their fabrics online.GenevaSewing13

I did have fun noticing the European-style fashions in the windows.  I think style this would make a great dress for summer.GenevaSewing14

Check out the knees of this pair of jeans–little kitty faces!
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So back to my story.  When Catherine’s opened up, I went up there, expecting to buy something, but everything was incredibly expensive.  GenevaSewing16

I did find this small needle minder that I loved, but they were out of the matryoshka kit.  Good thing, because the house kit was 65 dollars for a square of linen, a pattern and the threads.  Yes.  SIXTY-FIVE. GenevaSewing17

I took a photo of the pattern company who designed that matryoshka kit: Un Chat dans l’aiguille and had fun looking around their website, following some links, which led to more links, and which led me to discover that I’d been doing some of my tried-and-true stitches incorrectly, proving there is always more to learn, at any age.  Here’s a link to some of my favorite series of videos in French, and even though it’s not a language I speak, the videos say it all.  And some great English videos by Mary Corbet are here.  So I left that day empty-handed, but full of admiration for the traditional embroideries found in Europe.GenevaSewing18

I even went back another day, when I bought half-meters of three different Christmasy looking braids, which I’ll put on the back with my label of the Oh Christmas Quilt (more motivation to finish it!).  I still couldn’t bring myself to buy much more than that.  And I just looked and admired and loved everything I saw.

I peeked in on the class they were holding, and every woman in there had a portable light, a stand with a hoop for her embroidery and an attached magnifying glass for working those teeny counted cross stitches over fine linen.  It really was quite inspiring, and made me think of ways to incorporate more hand stitching into quilting designs.  I have a few ideas and will let them percolate, as is my usual after taking in the sights and colors of different places.GenevaSewing19

But check out what I saw at the flea market on Saturday, the last day before we came home: a Bernina sewing machine.  It ran, of course, on 220 voltage and besides that my luggage was already full, but wouldn’t that have been a great souvenir!

Oh Christmas Tree QAL –STEP 4

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Today is Step 4 of our Oh Christmas Tree Quilt-a-Long (#ohchristmastreeqal), following a pattern by Wendy of FlyingFishKits and which was published in Simply Moderne issue #3, by QuiltMania. As always, we have an assist from Wendy of  Wendy’s Quilts and More (blog) and wendyquiltsandmore (IG), as she is slightly ahead of us in her creating.

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Here’s the twist: instead of creating the under-the-tree scene this month, I’ve gotten so many queries about sewing these things on to the background and the tree, that I think we’ll head that direction instead.  Go with the flow, right?  Above is my tree, everything sewn on.  I’m heading this direction because a lot of those questions have to deal with the idea of how much embroidery to put on that outer edge?  Should you leave a space for attaching and more embroidery?  Should you go right to the edge?

The basic idea for attaching is this: lay out your circles, birds, and leaves to your liking, using the pattern and photos as a guide.   As I go through the rest of the flower photos, I’ll have some tips, so please read through to the end.  But first! Wendy has some tips for us about what’s ON the tree:

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She writes: “I thought I had too much white space in certain areas.  I’ve added 4 more small leaves and 4 more small circles, keeping the additions symmetrical because the gaps were symmetrical.  I just felt some areas were less densely filled than others and I didn’t want gaps in the middle of my tree.  That’s probably because I didn’t exactly follow the pattern for the size of my leaves and flowers, but also because things move slightly as you sew them on.”  She sent me two photos.  The “before” is above.

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This is the after.  You can see extra circles and extra leaves.  (And yes, I love her under-the-tree scene!  Next month, next month.).  In addition to adding these extras, she attaches them differently than I do.  First she lays them all out, takes a photo so she can remember where they are, and then takes all off but the items closest to the tree trunk.  She sews those down first then adds in the decorations bit by bit, moving from the center to the outside, because she said she got tired of being stuck by pins.

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I couldn’t face the thought of re-attaching the flowers after I’d gotten them arranged, so I used appliqué pins (shorter than usual) and sewed on the decorations moving from the outside toward the center. Since I use really small pins, and put my hand around the flowers and birds as I sew, I didn’t have too much trouble.  One IG reader said she used a bit of glue to secure the decorations and from her photo it looks like she’s attaching them from the inside to the outside. Again, try what works for you.ohchristmastree4_11

You can see me scrunching things up in my hand.  Since I worked from the outside in, I had very few pin pokes.  I attached the leaves by using the same stitch I used on the trunk: a separated back-stitch (refer to this post for more info).

ohchristmastree4_14I was intent on getting them all on, and doing it quickly.  You could take more time than I, adding an extra embroidery stitch, if you wanted, for it’s YOUR tree.ohchristmastree4_12

I also learned to put a regular pin right in the middle of my decorations just before I started sewing them on, so they wouldn’t buckle.  I have one bird who looks like she is expecting, as the wool can shift as you are attaching, bubbling up.  I’ll show the Mama Bird to you later.

Now for some general tips about attaching the flowers and birds.  Before we talk about different ways to sew them to your tree, here’s a couple of photos of circles before attaching, showing various state of “close-to-the-edgeness” of the embroidery.ohchristmastree4_1flowers

After I pinned these to the tree, I went in and added another circle under the red one, giving it a bit bigger presence.  Ditto on the purple circle below.  You may find yourself making small alternations after you get everything pinned down, either adding leaves and circles as Wendy did, or giving another border to a too-small/wrong-color flower, like I did.ohchristmastree4_1flowers2

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I group the way I sewed these down into two categories: A) snuggle a stitch in or around the existing embroidery, or B) adding another ring of decorative embroidery to affix it to the background.  Let’s do the A-category first.  You saw the flower medallion above; I attached it with tiny stitches at right angles to the outer edge in a matching thread.
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Wendy often leaves the wings undecorated, using the “attachment phase” to put the stitches on, but I’d already embroidered them when she told me this, so I sewed it down to the background by using a small matching (green) thread in between the existing decorative (pink) stitch.

ohchristmastree4_5eI used the small perpendicular stitch again here in matching (blue) thread, but varied the length of them slightly, so the longest are between the yellow stitches and the shorter stitches are near the yellow.

ohchristmastree4_15I also decided to keep some flowers simpler, and did a simple backstitch around the outside edge.  Keep it smallish and even, and you’ll get questions like I do: “Did you do it on the machine?”  No, and if you look closely, you’ll find the bobbly places.  Remember, this is folk art and we aim to enjoy ourselves!  More backstitching:ohchristmastree4_6 ohchristmastree4_6aohchristmastree4_6bohchristmastree4_6c

Now for some B-categories: adding another bit of embroidery to attach them.ohchristmastree4_5b

This is a slanted buttonhole stitch.  It’s done exactly the same as a regular buttonhole, but instead of keeping the needle perpendicular to the outside edge, you slant it.  I like the look of this one a lot.ohchristmastree4_5c

Regular buttonhole.  I used matching thread if I thought the flower was busy enough.ohchristmastree4_5d

Here’s where I used the backstitch (on the small yellow flower, left) and then used a different color of thread in a buttonhole stitch (magenta flower, right).ohchristmastree4_5f

Here’s an “un-even” buttonhole stitch, with shorter and longer “legs” of the stitch, co-ordinating with the existing embroidery.
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This bird was sewn on with a matching yellow thread, buttonhole stitch.  But I slipped a smaller seed (or regular) stitch in between the existing red buttonhole stitch on the yellow bird’s wing to sew that down.  ohchristmastree4_7a

Photography of women depends on flattering angles, but I dropped the camera down low so you could see my pregnant bird.  She didn’t start out that way, but the wool shifted.  The bubbling up is exaggerated from this angle–it’s not really noticeable from the front, but now you know why I started putting that pin in the center of my birds and flowers as I stitched them down.  Didn’t have that trouble with the leaves, for some reason. She’s attached to the background with a simple backstitch.  I also did a line on the birds’ beaks.  I tried to make them happy birds (It’s Christmas, remember?) by the slight curve of the stitching, but some of the birds turned out a bit moody.ohchristmastree4_8

This is another where I snuck a small stitch in between the existing embroidery (A-category), and below, the last photo (!) where you can also see detail on the bird’s beak.ohchristmastree4_9

We are definitely getting closer to the end, now, and I’m pretty excited.  Next month (June 2nd), I’ll have an alternate scene for you for under the tree, and then we’ll roll out from there.

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No giveaway this month, but here’s a recap of our schedule:

January, Step “prepare”: buy the magazine, books, gather your fabrics, buy the felt/wool, buy/find the pearl cotton.
February, Step 1: Make the tree on the background and stitch it down.
March, Step 2: Make 21 flowers.
April, Step 3: Make 10 birds and all the leaves.

May, Step 4: Appliqué down the flowers and birds.

June, Step 5:  Scene at bottom of tree–make, then appliqué onto background.

July, Step 6: Sawtooth border (reds); sew together and attach.

August, Step 7: (finish up Quilt-A-Long): Make wonky star blocks, sew them together and attach border #2.

September, Step 8 Show and Tell, just in time for school starting again.

Yes, we cut a month off our sewing, so you’ll have plenty of time to finish your quilt before December.

Happy Stitching and we’ll see you in June!

Oh Christmas Tree-QAL–Step 2

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I’ve been haunting the IG feed #ohchristmastreeqal and love seeing all the progress of where the trees are and how things are coming along.  We’ll finish this tree up in no time flat, but I think I’d like to keep sticking to the schedule (below).

Giveaway BannerWe also have a giveaway at the end of this post, so please read all the way through, and then follow the steps to enter.

First up, this post is co-authored by Wendy of Wendy’s Quilts and More (blog) and wendyquiltsandmore (IG).  Wendy has been a great partner in this Oh Christmas Tree QAL.  Because she is about 4 months ahead of us, and I can send her different questions and she is unfailingly helpful.  I asked her if we could use a lot of her photos for this particular post about the flowers, and she was happy to allow me to post them, so get ready for a photo-heavy post.

This month is the flowers.  The basic idea is to layer up felt circles, or use a piece of medallion-style fabric appliquéd to a felt circle, then embellish it with embroidery stitches, using pearl cotton.  I originally started cutting out a lot of circles, from the prepped up freezer paper circles in my numbered baggies (see previous Oh Christmas Tree QAL post on tab above), but realized that it might be better to be more of a one-by-one process.  So let’s do one circle and you’ll see what I mean.

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I cut out a medallion print (meaning that it’s a design that is self-contained in a circle), and pinched the edge under all the way around the outside, to set the edge for turning under (a Becky Goldsmith tip for appliqué). Here are some examples of medallion fabrics, from Wendy:

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And here are some of mine (above).  After writing back and forth with Wendy, I went through all my fabric stash and found even more than this.  It’s surprising how many I’d overlooked.  We do have some the same. Okay, back to the stitching.OhChristmasTree2_flowers2

Placing the circle on a larger piece of felt, I sewed down the edge, stitch by stitch, scooping the raw edge under with my needle, sometimes swishing the needle tip left and right under that edge if there was a tuck/sharp point (above).  Often it’s what’s happening underneath that bumpy edge which determines the smoothness of your appliqué, so pay attention to what your seam allowances are doing, even trimming them further to a scant 1/4″ inch if you need to. I also try to have my needle come out the “center” of that folded edge, not on the top.  That way the stitches won’t be too obvious, and then I don’t pull it too tightly.  I want my circle to float.
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As I mentioned, I am appliquéing this medallion to a larger piece of felt.  Wendy picked up this tip from Wendy Williams, the author of this pattern (and found on IG at Flying Fish Kits–also a resource for stitching ideas), and this tip is also found in Williams’ book, Wild Blooms and Colorful Creatures.
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Then just cut around the circle evenly, and you have your first completed appliquéd medallion. Wendy of Quilts and More recommends a medium-blade scissor (although I used a lightweight pair of larger shears, shown in the photo, but they are SHARP).  Her scissors are below:

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She writes “Once the fabric flowers are on, Wendy just cuts the felt circle free hand, keeping an even margin around the fabric.  She says it’s meant to look hand made, and the circle doesn’t need to be perfect.  Keep the scissors in the same position and turn the felt with the other hand, rather than cutting around corners. Use very sharp scissors with medium length blades. Not tiny embroidery scissors, not huge dress making scissors. I use the orange ones in this photo.”
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Layer it up, and save it for a good TV program (Wendy of Quilts and More has a great shot of herself stitching while she watched a cricket match) when you can stitch away.  This is circle #1, and is the largest circle of the bunch.

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Next up is my auditioning another fabric medallion against several colors of wool felt.  I added more info about where to buy wool felt to the original “Prepare” post, and yes, you can mix the felted wools and the wool felt, without any Quilt Police coming after you, if you want to purchase some.  I am using Kaye Buckley’s scissors, which have one serrated edge that grips the fabric and helps me trim them evenly. OhChristmasTree2_flowers7 OhChristmasTree2_flowers8

Being the Nervous Nelly that I am (it took me weeks to screw up the courage to start the flowers), I layered  the circle over one of the smaller appliquéd flowers to kind of get the size I needed, then cut halfway around.  I took off the freezer paper, and finished up the job.OhChristmasTree2_flowers9

So here is my first batch of prepped-up circles; some have fabric and one doesn’t.

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To make my life easy, I pulled out my Sue Spargo book and leafed through some ideas. OhChristmasTree2_threads

I’m using two weights of pearl cotton: size 12 (recommended) and size 5 (larger, more visible).
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I am using wool appliqué size #22 needles, which have a nice big eye and a sharp point and aren’t too long.  Then I pulled up Wendy’s IG feed (all the photos below) and got a few more ideas, then just put my needle in the center and began. OhChristmasTree2_flowers10I happened to think about what I wanted to do and decided to stitch them all layered up like this.  However, you may, on some circles, choose to embroider one circle, then add it to the next.  I was still trying to gather my courage when I began this, so stabbed my needles into the center of the magenta circle, close to the edge and ran the orange #5 thread all the way out to the edge of the yellow-green circle, working my way around.  Then, I took a small catch stitch over each of those “rays,”  close to the outer edge of the magenta circle.

I switched to the thinner #8 thread and did straight stitches in between the others, then went back and added the yellow French knots at the top of each of those “rays.”  I threaded on the blue thread, and did a few more French knots (odd number) in the center, not really caring how they landed, as I wanted a clustery look to them.  Then I did an open Laisy-Daisy stitch on the outside, creating a row of “petals” with my thread.

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Truth-in-Stitching: the back.

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Here’s another.  On the left, the beginning.  You can see on this flower, I chose to echo the print of the center fabric.  I am doing the first layer of felt by itself.  I then layered it onto the second (gold) layer and kept stitching.  This is the biggest flower, destined for the top of the tree, so I wanted something bright, yet echoed the colors throughout.

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Again, here they are, unadorned.
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After a couple episodes of Downton Abbey, they are embellished. I wrote to Wendy and asked her how long they took her to stitch (hence that hashtag on IG of #startyourneedles), and she replied that she can get two done in an evening.  That’s about my speed, although I think I as get more familiar with stitches, I’ll be faster. Pay attention to your pearl cotton/felt colors.  I loved the fabric in the pink one, upper right, but after I stitched it?  Not so much.  Either I’ll put that one where it’s not really noticed, or stitch another.  I also started with the bigger circles; I’m sure the smaller ones will go faster.

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Okay, now for the photo gallery from Wendy:

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You can see Wendy has a great variety of stitches, and uses the appliquéd fabrics to great effect.

I searched “embroidery stitches” on Google Image and came up with tons, including these two:

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A recap of where we are:

January, Step “prepare”: buy the magazine, books, gather your fabrics, buy the felt/wool, buy/find the pearl cotton. 

February, Step 1: Make the tree on the background and stitch it down.  

March, Step 2: Make 21 flowers.

—->  I just have to make a comment here.  We have until June to get our flowers done, as well as the birds (which will go really fast because we’ll be so experienced, right?)  So no panicking, please.  Just #startyourneedles, steadily stitching and by the time it comes to stitch down the flowers, you’ll be ready.

April, Step 3: Make 10 birds.

May, Step 4: Scene at bottom of tree.

June, Step 5: Appliqué down the flowers.  (Wendy gave me some tips for this last week, which I’ll pass along.)

July, Step 6: Appliqué down the birds and the scene.

August, Step 7: Sawtooth border (reds); sew together and attach.

September, Step 8 (finish up Quilt-A-Long): Make wonky star blocks, sew them together and attach border #2.

See you April 2nd for the next step: birds.  I have a few tips on these, too, courtesy of Wendy.  You’ll enjoy visiting both her website and her IG feed for great ideas and to see a master quilter and stitcher at work, and take a look at how far she is on her tree.  Inspiration!  Thank you, Wendy, for all your help.

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Reminder: If you tag your IG photos with #ohchristmastreeqal, we can all help each other out with ideas for stitching, plus it’s just fun to see what you are all doing!

Giveaway Banner

Here we go.  I have two giveaways, and I’ll choose the winners from comments here.

Simply Moderne ScanFirst is another magazine, if you know someone who wants to jump in, or doesn’t have their own copy.  It’s courtesy of QuiltMania, who gave it to me at QuiltCon, when I explained what we were doing.  I’m sure if you wanted to subscribe, they wouldn’t mind a bit, or order the Simply Moderne #4, if you want another eye-popping design (way below).

Second giveaway is an envelope full of fabric medallions, my choice (I’ll cut from my extensive stash of medallions).  You can use some, share some.  There will be at least a dozen to help you get going on your stitching.

I’ll announce the two winners on Friday.  Indicate in your comment which you are most interested in: Simply Moderne #3 magazine (with our tree on it) or medallions.  Yea, you have to choose.

UPDATE: Comments closed.  Winner announced tomorrow mid-morning.

#startyourneedles for the #ohchristmastreeqal

See you April 2nd for Step Three!

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Of course you want to subscribe! (I’m an enabler, for sure)