Our first of morning of Home Sewn Weekend will include a special visit with craft writer, Susan Beal. Her newest book, Hand-Stitched Home, features sewing projects of all types and skill levels sewn with luscious Pendleton wool. Many projects were created by Susan along with several Portland designers including multiple MD staff members, including Lupine, Michelle Freedman, and Meredith. Think quilting, garments, bags, pillows and more! Susan will be joining us for a trunk show and book signing as attendants get their first sewing project underway–a lightweight Pendleton and Double Gauze cowl with a button closure. Susan is an exciting designer and genuine person as you can see by her gracious interview below. Everyone is sure to be inspired for fall wool sewing afterward!
What originally drew you to sewing and quilting with wool?
I’ve always loved Pendleton and collected their beautiful vintage coats and jackets, and my husband surprised me with the Oregon Sesquicentennial Blanket for my birthday after we saw it at the State Fair in 2009, which was awesome. I was working on my book Modern Log Cabin Quilting at the time, and thought, wow, I’d love to make a wool quilt. So I went to the Pendleton Woolen Mill Store and, inspired by the colors at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, I picked out a beautiful, understated vintage reissued plaid, a big piece of beautiful green and sage Harding, and a neutral striped, linear lightweight jacquard, and mixed the first two into big, striking log cabin blocks and used the stripes as horizontal sashing for a very simple quilt I really loved that I put in the book. It just illustrated to me that you can’t go wrong with Pendleton, whether you mix designs, scale, colors, or anything else – the fabrics just harmonize together beautifully and the quality is unmatched.
I started designing more projects in Pendleton wools like baby quilts and cross pillows for the Woolen Mill Store, and teaching there, and I was so lucky to get the chance to write this book – Pendleton offered me full support for my proposal idea, which was such a huge honor, it’s the first book they’ve partnered with like this. I even got to spend a few days researching in their company archives, looking through a huge array of antique Indian trade blankets, vintage 49er jackets, hand-written and hand-colored mill records, original fabric swatches, mid-century advertisements and ephemera… just a look at another world, and a beautiful one, too. I got to tell some of their story in a timeline, illustrated with beautiful archival photos and illustrations from the last century and a half of their work.
What tips can your share for sewing with wool that are different than sewing with cotton?
My first tip is to press your wool fabrics with plenty of steam or better yet, use a spray bottle of distilled water – never press wool with a dry iron, it can scorch easily. The heat and water are a simply magical combination when working with wool, and can make your seams sharp and straight, your binding corners beautiful and even, and your fabric impossibly smooth and well-behaved.
You can tear lightweight and medium-weight wools on grain for an astonishingly accurate straight “cut” – much straighter than scissors. Make sure you snip through the selvage first and then tear decisively. But always use sharp fabric scissors or a rotary cutter and quilt ruler for heavier and blanket-weight wools, which don’t tear the same way.
And when I do wool patchwork or layered sewing projects, I almost always press my seams (with steam – don’t forget that part!) to one side, then top-stitch as an outline along the seams, catching all layers, for definition, crispness, and a nice design element, as well as keeping the overall piece very smooth and cohesive.
You have a special wool quilt in your book Hand-Stitched Home that was made in honor of your father. Do you have any other projects in this book that have a special meaning that you would like to share with us?
Truly, the whole book is special to me, it’s been a dream project I still can’t quite believe I got to do. I love the projects that my friends contributed, but of the ones I made myself, I especially love the quilts and blankets. There is nothing quite as magical as sewing your own version of a classic Pendleton blanket in your favorite design, and I shared all the tips I know on stitching that beautiful, instantly recognizable wool felt binding in the book. Then the Square Within a Square quilt uses 19 different new and vintage Pendleton plaids, all in understated, calm tones – there’s not a solid to be seen except on the back, but somehow that beautiful line and contrast from five or six decades’ worth of plaid designs that could have been a visual overload just plain works. And I love the two Improvisational Wool Quilts. I’ve been collecting precious scraps of Pendleton wool for years from the $5.00 a pound bins at the WMS, and I made the first one as a memorial to my dad, drawing on the black, white, and gray fabrics I’d saved. The chance to spend hours arranging, rearranging, sewing, and top-stitching them into a tribute to him was a beautiful way to spend the anniversary day last year. The second improv quilt, which is more colorful and light-hearted, was just a freeing, happy experience – I built the heart of the quilt in one day in some of my favorite colors, then revisited it the next morning, adding lots of other fabrics to surround it and build it out to bed-quilt size.
Is there any designer/artist who you are currently inspired by?
I am a huge fan of Denyse Schmidt and recently got to take my fourth improvisational quilting class with her, this time at her beautiful studio in Connecticut! She is a wonderful teacher, a gifted artist, and a beautiful designer. I love her work and always feel inspired by her quilts, fabric, and books.
What sewing project(s) is next up on your bucket list?
In the last two years, I’ve finally come up with the perfect a-line skirt for myself (my modification of Amy Butler’s Barcelona). I just sewed my tenth one! After a few days going deep with pattern math and alterations, Colette Patterns’ Laurel is now my perfect-fit dress. I also have a go-to simple skirt and the Made By Rae Geranium dress that I make for my daughter Pearl and it’s about time to come up with a few awesome things to sew my son and my husband, too!
I usually just applique quick t-shirt designs for them but I want to sew Andrew a Colette Negroni shirt in the Pendleton Beach Boys Surf plaid, and make my little boy Everett a bunch of the Made by Rae Parsley pants in different colors for him to run around in.
And I can’t wait to make the Jacquard Cube Ottoman from my book, which was designed by Amber Corcoran – it’s an amazing project, not least that it uses just one yard of gorgeous Pendleton jacquard!
Thanks so much, Susan! If you are unable to join us for Home Sewn Weekend, we will have her new book any day now. Feel free to stop in and check it out!