Nan Baker has long been a friend of Aurifil. Through her work with The Quilt Pattern Magazine, The Kennel Quilts Initiative, and as an Island Batik Ambassador and Designer, she has always been a joy and we have so much respect for all that she does! We met Margaret Willingham through Nan, when they first partnered to co-author Christmas RAPPing: Christmas Quilts featuring Reverse Applique & Paper Piecing, and she has quickly become a friend. Through her company, Eye of the Beholder, Margaret shares reverse applique wisdom with the masses through her stunning patterns. Truly, the passion that this lovely duo has for quilting & creating is undeniable. They’ve worked so hard to put together and to self-publish a stunning book of projects that will keep us all inspired and challenged for many holiday seasons to come.
We were honored to be a part of the book launch at Houston Quilt Market last month. We hosted Nan & Margaret for a book-signing in the booth that drew a huge crowd. They kicked things off with a song and then signed and gave away 25 books + Island Batik Fabric + Aurifil Thread + mini-kits. We all had a blast, which is what it’s all about in the end.:)
How did you first start working together?
Nan: I took a class from Margaret at Quilt Market two years ago as I love hand applique. I was so impressed with her work, that when I got a Signature Collection with Island Batik, I asked her to design something with my collection. We just hit it off and decided we wanted to do more projects together. The rest as they say is History!
Margaret: Our mutual love of quilting and our shared faith brought us together. After we first met in the class I taught and creating a design in Nan’s Island Batik collection, Nan proposed that we collaborate on a piece. But before we knew it we had so many ideas that it turned into a book. God opened a door with so many ideas and stirred our enthusiasm. Our only job was to walk through that open door.
What inspired the idea for the book and how did the project first get started?
Nan: We just started kicking around ideas and designs and ended up with lots of stars plus my manger scene and so we decided on a Christmas book. We were using Reverse Applique and Paper Piecing in each project in the book, so we called them RAPP quilts. Then Margaret came up with the name “Christmas RAPPing”. It was “Purrfect”!
Margaret: We decided to come up with some designs and interpret them through our specialties. Mine was reverse applique and Nan’s was piecework. As Nan says, the stars started twinkling! We liked the variations we came up with through our specialties and built the book around the reverse applique Star of Wonder and the paper-pieced Star of Light, in the 4″ and 12″ size. As many patterns and projects as there are in the book, we discarded others in the name of space, saving some for potential future co-creation projects. At Fall Market 2017 we met with Island Batik, who we both had a design history with, and they were excited and encouraging about our collaboration. With their feedback, we fine-tuned our designs and the book-sized project was born.
What did you love most about putting the book together?
Nan: Getting to really know each other. What a blessing that friendship has turned out to be across the miles from Colorado to Florida!
Margaret: Ditto to Nan’s answer. I love and respect Nan professionally and personally. I also love the flow of ideas that comes when you share them. We fed off of each other in all the creative aspects of design and coloring used in quilting. It was like having one’s own personal quilting group, to bounce ideas off of someone else, thereby opening up new design elements and directions. So much of the time we pattern designers are introverted, like I am, and we work solitary and alone. I love my alone time and am fueled by that alone time, needing space in my life fuels creativity, but then there is the time to have someone to share it with which gives birth to a new direction, a new life to your creativity. Doing the book together gave me the best of both worlds.
Do you have a favorite project?
Nan: I love the “Miracle at the Manger” as of course I am very much an animal person and wanted show the how the animals were included at the birth of Jesus. I love that it is interactive as is Margaret’s “Christmas is Coming” Advent Calendar. I was going to add more animals so it could be like an Advent Calendar as well, but Hurricane Michael had other plans so they didn’t get made. However, I encourage the readers to make a herd of sheep, more donkeys, cows and goats. And you can never have too many dogs and cats!
Margaret: I’m partial to my “Christmas is Coming” advent tree, and the “Radiant Wreath” and “Radiant Christmas”. I first designed and made Christmas is Coming 25 years ago to mark the days before Christmas with my family. I still use my original one today, and made one for each of my girls when they got married. My personal tree wall-hanging has no reverse applique because I hadn’t discovered that aspect to applique yet. So what is in the book is a redesign of my wall-hanging, in hopes that other families would enjoy the season of preparation and anticipation of Christmas.
The “Radiant” quilts were developed by playing with one of my early medallion patterns. I love playing with designs over and over again in size, use and fabric colorings. The book gave me a “reason” and a deadline to create what I have imagined in my head for 5 years. Add to that the piecing aspects brought by Nan with the Paper-piece Stars of Light, and these quilt projects jumped to life.
Tell us about your go-to tools — what fabrics, threads, tools, etc are your favorites?
Nan: The Perfect Piecing Foundation Sheets were wonderful when it came to paper piecing. They made it so easy and I didn’t have to pull the sheets out for the Christmas Star of Light Ornaments as they worked as a great stabilizer. Working with Island Batik’s beautiful fabrics is a delight and since they are their Foundation, Basics and Blenders fabrics, they are always available. And of course Aurifil Threads were like putting the icing on the cake. There were so many colors that blended beautifully with all the fabrics and sometimes it was hard to choose which one to use. I love the variety of threads that is offered, the different weights for piecing and quilting. I love the way it looks and highlights our quilts. Of course we have the listing of all the threads that we used in the book.
Margaret: I’m not a person who likes lots of gadgets. I like life simple, no-fuss and on a budget, so tend to make do, and really consider whether I need a given tool. However.. I love having the right tools for the right job. The Kai scissors I use are vital to my hand work as the tip of the blades has been specially blunted so they don’t catch on the background fabric, yet enable me to clip deep into my inside corners. Kai sweetly does this blunting just for me and my customers. Soft Fuse is my favorite iron-on fusible for the machine process because it comes wide so I don’t have to piece it when doing large medallions, like the Radiant quilt variations; it adheres well; has paper on one side for tracing; it doesn’t gunk up my sewing machine needle; and when I’m done and wash my piece, it is soft and supple. You cannot tell there is any fusible used. For paper-piecing I loved the June Tailor foundation sheets for all the reasons Nan lists. When it comes to threads, I loved working with Aurifil threads and have become spoiled by it. I hadn’t done much with their threads because my local shops don’t sell it. I found the 80 wt. at the Vermont Quilt Festival and tried it on a piece I was reverse appliqueing by hand. I fell in love. The thread disappeared into my fabric yet had enough fibers that each stitch gripped the fabric as I sewed. Now its my go-to thread for hand reverse applique and hand applique, and I stock up on colors any time I’m in a shop that has it to sell. My sewing machine loved the 40 and 50 wt. threads and I liked the smooth sheen it gave to my satin stitch when I machine reverse appliqued.
You opted to self-publish — how has that process been and what is your favorite part about it all?
Nan: Self-publishing was interesting, challenging and a lot of hard work. My favorite part was Finishing!!!!
Margaret: We self-published/ were published by J2B Publishing. There are always so many people who help you on a book writing/ publishing journey. J2B Publishing is my brother James Brewster’s publishing company. He has been publishing his Glad-To-Do-It children’s books for the past few years, and he was very helpful. I’m grateful that we didn’t have to re-invent everything. Also our graphic designer Dani Minner who laid it all out, our editor Shari Lafferty and then Steuben Press who made it a tangible book were vital. The modern world of Dropbox, email and the good old-fashioned telephone made it possible to do it long-distance. There were times I longed to be in the same town to help facilitate it, though.
TIPS from MARGARET
1. If you’ve never reverse appliqued, treat yourself to some batiks at least for your first project. The tight weave and fine hand make it easy to needle-turn under without fighting a fraying fabric. Once you’ve had a first experience, be brave and try other fabrics.( I love working with silk.) When you get a batik, get a good one, like those put out by Island Batik. They are of a consistent good quality. A cheap one can fray just as much as a woven cotton.
2. The best tip for hand reverse applique is to follow my trace, baste, snip & stitch process that the book gives you. It really makes hand reverse applique fun and soooo doable. So many quilters are afraid of reverse applique, thinking its so hard to do. Our process makes it so easy to be successful. It is really just hemming a skirt. But as with anything new, be gracious with yourself. Anything new takes a period of adjustment to get used to your tools, the steps and the rhythm of what you are doing. Notice how your applique improves from side one of a shape to side two…from shape one to shape two. Its a journey of excellence. Perfection has no place in your quilting fun and will only kill your joy.
3. Enjoy the journey of creating! Some quilters think hand reverse applique takes up so much time. Perhaps, but consider that I spend my time stitching rather than cutting out a bunch of smaller pieces to sew back together. Its true your quilt won’t be done tomorrow, but if you just stitch away a little each day, while spending time with your husband and family, its amazing how quickly a hand stitched piece gets finished. For me personally, it soothes my soul, too, to sit and stitch. A chance to slow down and creatively rest.
4. Trust your own instincts when putting color and fabrics together. All of our color sensibilities are a bit different, but different doesn’t make it wrong. If you like it, trust it and have a blast playing with fabric and color.
5. When paper-piecing, trust the process. Breathe and sew following the numbers, one fabric piece at a time. Its like paint by number…quilt by number.
6. When paper-piecing I make notes on my foundation so I don’t get confused. I put the fabric colors on it, put arrows to remind me which way is up, and which side is front, particularly with the June Tailor Foundation sheets. Then I just sew, flip, cut, iron, repeat. I trust the process.
7. When machine reverse appliqueing I usually use thread that matches my top fabric. However, it can be a fun design element to use a complementary thread color to accent an aspect of the design. Have fun.
8. Don’t let the beauty of something psyche you out that its too hard to do. Any piece that has large shapes, no matter the size, is easier to hand stitch than something small and intricate. The Radiant Wreath and Radiant Christmas Quilt are beginning level projects that give to you a big WOW factor. Look closer and see the parts of a project, not just the overall project. If you love something, that’s the quilt you should make. Your love of a design will inspire you as you make it.
We are giving away 6 Large Spools of Aurifil Thread to one lucky winner. Colors were pulled from the threads used in the book to ensure that you’re ready to start with your own holiday quilting! To enter-to-win, please click here to head to the Rafflecopter entry page. You do not have to complete all the options to be entered but the more options you choose, the more entries you have! Entries will be accepted from now through 11:59pm Eastern Time on Sunday, December 16! Winner will be randomly selected and announced here on Monday, December 17. Good luck!
Nan Baker has been stitching all of her life and created her company, PURRFECT SPOTS to combine her love for needlework and animals. Nan designed cross stitch and needlepoint designs before she started designing quilts. The designs displayed on her website are available for purchase. Her cross stitch and needlepoint designs have appeared in many needlework catalogs since 1996. Her quilting designs have appeared in several publications including the Quilting Professional, The Quilt Pattern Magazine, Quiltmaker’s 100 Blocks, QuiltsandCreativity.com, American Patchwork and Quilting, Fons & Porter Love of Quilting and on QNNtv.com. She is the Marketing Director for The Quilt Pattern Magazine.
Nan is an animal lover and was a member of the Disaster Animal Response Team for The Humane Society of the United States. As a result of her disaster work, she created The CASEY Plan (Caring for Animals Safely in Emergencies during the Year) which is a nationwide program. This plan can be found on her website. Please feel free to download and share. A portion of her sales is donated to helping animals in disasters.
Two things inspire Margaret with Eye of the Beholder Quilt Designs: Creating things of beauty, and helping others to find their creative voice while gaining the skills to make beautiful things. Margaret grew up with a legacy of family heirlooms. Antiques passed down with love and history that were relished and used. Among the furniture, china and silver was the hand work of her ancestors: lovely linens and quilts hand-stitched with decorative threads to grace a table or a bed. All expressions of the makers’ love for their families and friends, and hope in the future expressed creatively.
Margaret’s patterns for appliqué and reverse appliqué will give quilt-makers the opportunity to create a beautiful heirloom to enjoy and pass on to the next generation. She teaches workshops to empower quilters to make these designs, but for those unable to attend, each pattern has complete instructions and Margaret shares technique tutorials on the website.
As Margaret creates her pattern designs, she gets to play with pattern, color and texture, making something beautiful to enliven her world and express love to those around her. She is most at peace when she is creating, and she believes touches of beauty bring resting places of peace to others as well.
** Images courtesy of Nan Baker and Margaret Willingham