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Wool Pennies

Wool Pennies

I went to Spokane for a few days. DD#2 needed some assistance with a few projects and I wanted to take a class at the quilting store. Also because road trip. The weather on Thursday was stellar—clear blue skies and lots of sunshine. Those kinds of days are rare in the winter, which is a shame, because the landscape is sharp and glittering and gorgeous.

I’ve been shopping at this Spokane quilting store for several years. Two years ago, they moved from a small retail storefront to an enormous custom-built shop. It could be considered a destination store; it’s the kind of place that a quilter might make a pilgrimage to. (I did.) I haven’t been able to take a class there because a lot of their classes are held during the week. Their clientele is obviously retired older women with flexible schedules, a category I guess I now fall into.

The latest flyer had a listing—in the Beginner section—for a class entitled “Stitch a Wool Penny Runner,” with the description that it was for learning seven basic embroidery stitches used in a traditional wool penny table runner. The class was scheduled for Friday from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. DD#2 was otherwise busy during that time, so I called the store on Monday to see if there was still room in the class. After I registered, I received the supply list via e-mail. It included the following:

The name of the pattern
1.25 yards background fabric (no fiber content given)
Scraps of wool fabric totalling approximately 1/3 of a yard (no size range given for scraps)
Embroidery thread (no fiber content)
Needles (size dependent on thread)
1/2 yard Steam a Seam 2 (yardage or tape not specified)
1/2 yard cotton batting

I went stash diving to see what I had, which wasn’t much. I had embroidery needles and a whole boatload of DMC thread from my mother. I also had the cotton batting. I did not have any Steam a Seam 2—and could not find anything in the local stores except the tape, and I had a hunch it was the yardage I needed—but I did have some Pellon EZ-Steam II, which is very similar. The person at the store who took my class reservation assured me that I could find anything else I needed at the store when I got to class.

I did check at the Kalispell quilt shops for the pattern (nope) and some scraps of wool fabric. One of the stores had a stack of twenty-five 3-1/2” squares of wool scraps that looked suitable. I bought those. By this time, though, I was getting a bit annoyed at the vague nature of the supply list. (It was Wednesday and I was planning to leave Thursday, so I decided I could take what I had and get everything else at the store on Thursday afternoon.)

I got to the store Thursday afternoon and asked one of the salespeople for some assistance. That didn’t go well. She asked what I needed, so I pulled out the supply list and we had the following conversation:

Me: I found this supply list to be very vague and confusing. What kind of thread do I need?
Clerk: Whatever you want to use.
Me: Cotton? Wool?
Clerk: Yes, either of those.
Me: It would have been helpful if the supply list had said “Cotton or wool embroidery thread.” What size needles do I need?
Clerk: It depends on the kind of thread you have.
Me: How many strands of thread?
Clerk: It depends on the kind of thread you have.
Me: (After a few seconds of trying not to lose my temper) Could I get a copy of the pattern?
Clerk: Yes, it’s over here. (She walked over to a display and pulled one off.)
Me: Thank you. I just want to make sure I am prepared for the class with the proper materials.
Clerk: Well, it’s primitive embroidery. You’re supposed to just use what you have on hand.
Me: I am taking the class because I don’t know anything about primitive embroidery, and thus I don’t know what things to use that I might have on hand.
Clerk: Well, if you get to class and don’t have what you need, you can buy it here.

I understand that stores often have classes so that students will buy what they need from the store. That’s fine, but I didn’t see the point in buying more embroidery thread if I already had what I needed. By the time I left the store on Thursday, I wasn’t feeling very optimistic about the actual class.

[I’ve taught knitting classes nationally at Stitches, TKGA events, and for many, many stores and guilds. My bar is set pretty high. I have to remember, though, that sometimes, stores are catering to a much more relaxed clientele than those knitters who spend a thousand dollars to travel to a Stitches event to take three days’ worth of knitting classes. I didn’t think it was necessary to trot out the fact that I was a nationally-known knitting instructor—that would just have sounded bitchy—but I did think it was important to point out that the supply list was exceptionally vague.]

The class had four students including me. I pretended I was just another average customer interested in learning something new and didn’t say anything beyond giving my name. (I’m not THAT famous, although I have been recognized in knitting stores). The teacher was very personable. As it turns out, she doesn’t have a lot of teaching experience because she is the purchasing manager for the store. This kind of embroidery happens to be something she is passionate about, though, so she was asked to teach a class. She has the potential to be a very good teacher. She was positive, engaging, and she moved us along at a good pace. (If she gets more than a handful of students, she may have to develop a slightly less ambitious syllabus.) As it turned out, we did not need the background fabric, the batting, or even the pattern. All we really needed was a selection of about a dozen wool scraps approximately 4” square, thread, and a needle.

After listening to her give the background information about this type of embroidery and why she enjoys it so much, I had a better understanding of why the supply list was so vague. She made the point several times that she was not dogmatic and didn’t want to tell students what techniques or materials to use. That’s fine—to a point. Someone like me who needs a lot of guidance when learning something new suffers from heightened anxiety when I don’t know what is expected. I suspect she leans more to the boundary-breaking end of the spectrum and prefers a more freewheeling approach. It is hard to do as a teacher, but I think it’s important to take into account all kinds of learning styles in your students. Start out with clear guidelines for those who need them and encourage the braver students to step out and experiment.

I was fortunate enough to have a woman named Jean Lampe as my mentor while I worked through the Master Knitting program and later on when I was a fledgling knitting instructor. Jean warned me not to ask students to bring items to class that they wouldn’t actually USE in the class—and especially don’t ask them to BUY something they won’t use in the class—and I thought about that as we sat there working on our samples. It may be that I will make the table runner from the pattern eventually, but I’m not sure why we needed the specified amount of background fabric or the batting for the class. (The runner is only 18” x 42”, which required, at most, half a yard of fabric, not 1.25 yards of fabric.) I didn’t feel it was appropriate to bring all of this up during the class time and I was fairly well brain dead by the end of class. I may send a note to the store with some suggestions for future class supply lists (and praise for the instructor, who really did do a good job despite her inexperience).

By now, you’re probably wondering if I have anything to show for my four hours in the class. I do:


These are the “wool pennies” that feature in this type of embroidery. We only did stacks of two pennies, although sometimes they appear in stacks of three. The pennies are embellished with various embroidery stitches. We learned blanket stitch, a basic V-stitch, French knots, bullion stitch, fly stitch, and three variations of Lazy Daisy. I did better with some than others (I particularly like that fly stitch, bottom left). I used the DMC embroidery thread I had brought with me, which worked okay, but there are other, more suitable types of thread.

I like that this kind of embroidery has the potential to be a good portable project and thus good for working on in the evenings. I’m going to set it aside, though, until next winter; I don’t need to be amassing supplies for Yet Another Fiber Hobby, nor will I have time to devote to it once farming season starts.

While I was gone, the husband got several of the new garage walls up. Pictures to follow.

Progress on the New Shop

Progress on the New Shop

A Bit of Sewing Machine Therapy

A Bit of Sewing Machine Therapy