Welcome to Star Stitch

We at Kansas City Star Quilts are pleased to welcome you to our cross stitch imprint, Star Stitch. We publish beautiful and inspiring cross stitch books by top authors, with compelling designs and stories.

We have three cross stitch books available, with more on the way later this year.  From the Star Stitch blog, you can visit our bookstore, go to our other blog sites and learn how you can submit a book proposal (buttons on the top menu).  Also, read some fun blog posts and get to know our authors. Enjoy!

A sampler of distinction

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Recently, while researching examples of international cross stitch, I came across the Mexican Band Sampler from the collection of Lynne Anderson. The sampler was shown in a 2011 exhibit at the Benton County Historical Society & Museum in Philomath, Oregon.

The exhibition included 30 samplers from public and private collections in the state. It must have been a fabulous exhibition.

Mark Tolonen, the society’s curator of exhibitions, provided this label copy from the exhibition. I know you will be fascinated to read about the intricate details of this beautiful sampler.MexicanBankSampler1830_good pic from museum

Mexican Band Sampler, c. 1830

The girl responsible for stitching this marvelous band sampler is unknown.

Nonetheless, we can confidently attribute it to Mexico due to the combination of needlework techniques and the presence of a stitch that seems to be unique to Mexican samplers – the Aztec stitch.

The sampler is one long, rectangle, divided into two panels, one of which is unfinished. On the finished side there is a progression of bands with increasingly difficult techniques. Starting from the bottom, the first is a series of nine repeat floral and geometric bands done primarily in cross stitch. The second is a series of four repeat bands, done primarily in satin stitch bordered by four-sided stitch. The third is a series of five different patterns, all using the Aztec stitch.  And the last is a series of four bands of drawn thread work with different needleweaving patterns. Three of the bands use colored thread for the overcasting, a popular technique in Mexican samplers.

On the unfinished panel, there are five squares of drawn thread work, each with a different pattern, one of which is the Greek filling stitch. There are also a few small motifs such as a cat on a pillow, followed by a bottom panel in yellow and mauve of a previously undocumented stitch.

Mexican band samplers such as this resemble the band samplers stitched in England in the 17th century, although the selection of patterns and range of stitches are different. The length of the sampler is determined by the width of the loom. In this case the sampler is approximately 31.5 inches or .80 meter in length and 19.5 inches in width. The short sides of the sampler are the selvedge and the long sides are hemmed. As with many Mexican samplers, the back is as clean as the front – stitches are reversible and all stitches are started and stopped on the front.

Materials: Silk on hand woven linen
Dimensions: 31.5″ H by 19.5″ W
Stitches: Cross, double running, long-arm cross, herringbone, satin, four-sided, Aztec, braided, drawn thread, overcasting, needleweaving, antique hem.
Collection of Lynne Anderson

If you would like more information about these samplers and the amazing exhibition, Lynne Anderson wrote the exhibition catalog, Samplers International: A World of Needlework, which is available from the Sampler Consortium.

Sue Fenwick is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Missouri. She writes every Tuesday.

Our newest release: ‘Affectionately Yours’

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Designer Judy Whitman infuses each of her pieces with her classic, timeless style. Her pastel color palette and elegant finishes reflect her long-standing relationship with the needle and thread. Affectionately Yours cover

“I’ve been designing cross stitch for a long time,” she said. “I absolutely love it. Cross stitch brings a sense of peace and calm to my life. When I am busy and frantic, and I sit down with that fabric and thread, I feel my heart rate go down, and I feel myself relax.”

This relaxed calm is personified in her work, which has a quiet, gentle style and soft colors.



“I would have trouble doing anything in purple and orange,” Judy said. “It just isn’t me. I do think you develop a style that is yours that you are comfortable with.”

Judy’s new book, Affectionately Yours: Elegant Cross-Stitch Designs for Special Occasions, includes 11 beautiful projects that can be personalized to suit your gift-giving needs, from weddings to babies and golden anniversaries.

It also reflects her love of family. With the exception of her family, Judy said, “cross stitch is pretty much the center of my life.”

Judy and her husband, Dick, recently celebrated their 50th anniversary. Judy, who had been a first-grade teacher, stayed home to raise their son, Mark, and their daughter, Kris.JBW_GoldenAnniversaryBox

A friend encouraged Judy to take a needlepoint class, and she loved it. After the family moved to the Detroit area, she joined the local embroiderers’ guild and took many Embroiderers Guild of America classes, and workshops and regional seminars.

“I thought I could use my teaching background if I could design teaching pieces and combine those two things and teach needlework,” she said.

JBW_QuiltSamplerWith more than 300 published designs, Judy has developed a pretty good design system.

JBW_WelcomeLittleChick“I have an ongoing list,” she said. “I have had it for years. Often I will see a piece of fabric or something, and I’ll think it will be a wonderful start of a design.

“I start out with a sketch of the idea of the project I am working on. I will write down fabric, color ideas. A lot of time I use embellishments, charms or ribbons, or finishing ideas. Sometimes, I will start with graph paper, but most of the time I use the computer.JBWlambs

“Years ago, when I started, I used colored pencils and graph paper, but charting on the computer is wonderful. I may only chart the top left-hand corner. I will make a print of it, and then I’ll go back to the desk with a pencil and paper and think, ‘Where am I going to go with this? What is the placement going on from that point?’ So it is a very gradual process.

“I’ll do a lot of renditions of that piece until it looks balanced. I stitch all of my own models. I often change placement and colors while I am stitching, so I am trying to be very careful about taking notes as I am going about what I have used. You really have to do that, especially if you use a lot of colors in one piece.

“It’s a long, slow process. Sometimes, the designs come along quickly, and sometimes you have to set them aside and come back to them.”

JBWstudio2Judy has a very comfortable office in her home.

“My husband says it’s his favorite room in the house,” she said. “I have lots of windows, and I have lots of collections. I collect antique trays and antique linens and samplers and books. He also teases me because I have many places for people to sit in this office. I have a desk where I have my office chair, another chair that I stitch in with my lamp. I’ve got a big worktable. I have two comfy chairs, a couch and several children’s chairs. It’s a great place to work.  It’s a happy place.”JBWOFfice1

This summer, she and her husband rented a cottage for the whole family. She and Dick have six grandchildren, and Judy spent time with the three youngest, teaching them to stitch.

“We didn’t use a pattern, and I showed them how to use a needle threader and some fibers,” she said. “They were so cute and so diligent about working on it.”

Judy’s new book seems to echo her life journey.  The projects are about family, the celebrations of life and love, and will provide you beautiful gifts to stitch, to honor the important times in life.

To order Affectionately Yours, click here.

Sue Fenwick is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Missouri. She writes every Tuesday.

Made with love

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

A few years ago, Jacob de Graaf was just looking into some crafts and wanted to do some stitching and some embroidery.

“I was at my mom’s place and saw this antique embroidery and was quite fascinated by that and thought I’d like to do something like that,” he said. “So I started making a chart and started embroidering, and from there on, I started making my own designs that looked old but were modern.”

 Jacob de Graaf

Jacob de Graaf

Jacob, who was born in a small town in the northernmost province of the Netherlands, has a really creative mom.  She is always doing embroidery, making dolls or sewing.

“So when the possibilities are there when you grow up, and since I had a talent for drawing, it was quite a logical step to go from fine arts to cross stitch,” he said.

In 2001, Jacob graduated from the Constantijn Huygens School of Fine Arts in Kampen, Overijssel, the Netherlands.

After graduation, he ran a gallery in the town of Sloten, Friesland, the Netherlands, where he exhibited and sold his drawings and paintings.

Jacob now lives in York, England, with his partner and two cats, in a home overlooking a Norman castle.

JacobdeGraaf_WorkspaceJacob sells his designs through Modern Folk Embroidery, his online cross-stitch store. He has downloadable designs that can be purchased and used immediately. He is starting to make and sell kits, and plans to write a book.

His work, meticulous in design and execution, is heavily influenced by his Dutch heritage. His monochrome palette is a distinctive feature of his designs. Jacob is mainly inspired by folk art and nature.

“I love using something from a different art field and using it in cross stitch,” he said. “I see patterns in other mediums I can use in samplers.  You use little bits and bobs from here and there and use them in a design.

“I think you feel affinity with certain areas as well. It’s funny because my ancestry is proper Friesian. I am rooted in the Northern Netherlands. Friesia is a very old provence found along the coast of what is now known as the Netherlands, the south of Denmark, the north of Germany, even up to the top bits of France. That whole coastal area used to be Friesia.”

Whoso Findeth me Findeth Love - A Quaker SamplerThe Rooster Alphabet Sampler






Tenderness of Heart - A Jane Austen Sampler

Birds of a Feather - 4 pincushions






Jacob still speaks Friesian.

“It’s a beautiful language, and it has its own culture, too. It has a lot of folk art, and there is a lot of cross stitch from the area. When you move away, there is a big pull toward your own roots. You say, ‘What’s my culture?’

“For me and my cross stitch, it’s the Friesian stitching, which is quite simple. It survived because it was so isolated. And the folk art was inspired by local arts, like costumes and things that went out of fashion in big cities and kept surviving in the countryside. People wear these costumes that had been fashionable in 17th century Holland. They were considered quite old-fashioned, but they still wore them.

“So it’s really Friesia and the northern areas that really inspired me to look more into the Scandinavian folk art, which I have always been attracted to, as well. It’s pretty much a couple of hours away, and you’re in Denmark, and from Denmark, it’s a small skip to Sweden.  They all link together, but each area has its own distinct style. I do feel really attached to that.”The Minster Patterns - Chapterhouse Tiles

There is a regional embroidery in Marken in the northern Netherlands, a centuries-old settlement with a unique craft of monochrome embroidery. In the 17th century, a lot of people from that area were brought to Amager in Denmark to teach farming techniques. The farmers brought their families with them. The artwork they made became unique to that part of Denmark. The art from the Netherlands was sort of transferred to Denmark and joined into this Amager art form, Jacob said.

This marriage of art forms parallels the way Jacob designs. He likes to look at things and be inspired and redesign them, or rework them.

“I saw a beautiful sampler from that area combining several elements from Marken and Amager,” he said. “You don’t know which piece is from which area, but the beauty is the handing down of things from generation to generation.”

Welcome Little StrangerJacob loves the simplicity of cross stitch.

“It is such an easy stitch, and everybody can do it,” he said. “If you can hold a needle and thread, you can do it. I love that it is such an easy thing to do.

“Whether you can do it properly or not, that comes with experience. Finesse comes with years of practice, but initially it’s something that people can learn really quickly that can be really satisfying, and I think that’s why it’s becoming popular again. You can sit down and relax after a day’s work, or take it with you when you travel.”

He does not use a hoop.

“I just crunch it in a big pile, and I stitch in-hand,” he said. “I love sewing onto the fabric. It’s very satisfying to see this pattern coming alive. There is something quite calming about counting your stitches. I think it’s a visual math. It is such a simple technique. You have a thread and a needle, and you make little crosses.”

Jacob uses a monochrome palette in his designs, and many are stitched in red. Through The Bitter Frost & Snow

“My paintings have always been quite minimalist, as well,” he said. “My work has never been very colorful. Shades of gray or blue, but big fields of color, or very subdued. It’s very monochrome. When I started designing, it was the monochrome that really spoke to me. I think it’s amazing when someone uses a hundred different colors and stitches a huge bouquet of flowers. But it would be very frustrating to me to do two stitches here and cut off your thread. It would drive me mad. You can do a lot more with monochrome than you think.

“I think the main thing is that what you do needs to be enjoyable while you do it. If the joy is not there, people should stop doing what they are doing. Pick something that you actually enjoy doing.  Everything I do, I enjoy 100 percent. There is nothing that I don’t like doing. I love finishing a piece and showing it to people and getting feedback. I hope that shines through in my patterns. It is all actually made with love.”

Sue Fenwick is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Missouri. She writes every Tuesday.


A world of options

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Our world comprises many cultures, all of which have unique styles. A chalet is identifiably Swiss, while a pagoda is Chinese.

Culture and regional styles are also seen in cross stitch. From the beautiful Celtic knots and mandalas to the rich and intricate geometric designs from Hungary, it’s fun to take an international cross-stitch journey.

It’s so interesting to look at patterns from other places, near and far, to see how they compare.

French - circa 1916_IvaRose

I love this French chart, circa 1916, with the knight in armor on his horse and a falcon on his wrist. The borders are fantastic, too. I found it at Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions.

Nordic Heart_ModernFolkEmbroidery_JacobdeGraaf

“The Nordic Heart,” by Jacob de Graaf of Modern Folk, is a modern interpretation of traditional Scandinavian design, stitched in red and with snowflake motifs

Mexican_sampler_1830-3.jpg_bentoncountymuseum.orgThis beautiful Mexican band sampler is notable for its vibrant reds, yellows, blues and greens and the Aztec stitch, which reflects the culture so perfectly.

Let your heritage guide you in your research. Even if you don’t find a charted design from your ancestral land, you may find a new motif that you can work into a design of your own.

Sue Fenwick is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Missouri. She writes every Tuesday.

Down the rabbit-hole

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

“Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.”

“Curiouser and curiouser!”

                                _ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

I found a photo online of the beautiful woven cross stitch, executed beautifully and creatively by Carin Saga of  Queenie’s Needlework. (She got it from Sharon Boggon at Pin Tangle.)Woven Cross Stitch by Queeniepatch

While I was wondering about the woven cross stitch, I wandered the Web and got stuck in the “W” section of the cross-stitch, needlework and embroidery glossary on the cool Arts and Design website.  What I found was a rabbit warren of cross-stitch fun from A to Z.

In the counted thread category of stitches, I found waffle, walneto, wave, web, weaving, wheat sheaf, wheat stitch, whipped chain, whipped satin and wickerwork. There are nice stitch diagrams with brief descriptions.  So wonderful!

I found a stitch similar to woven cross stitch called the double herringbone stitch.

I stitched up a sample to demonstrate the woven cross stitch.  First, I tried an individual woven stitch. It’s a basic cross stitch, stitched twice in the same spot. The final cross is woven over and under.  The result is a double cross stitch, which is woven together in the middle. What’s not to love?

I then wondered what the woven stitch would look like if I stitched it in a row, and I also tried that variation in two colors.

Finally, I thought I’d try the woven stitch overlapping and not one on top of the other. Guess what I came up with?  The double herringbone stitch!The Woven Cross and the Double Herringbone

Alice found a bottle that said, “DRINK ME” when she fell down the rabbit-hole.  I fell in and never got to the bottom of it.

I think I’ll keep looking around.

Sue Fenwick is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Missouri. She writes every Tuesday.

Reflect on this

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Because I quilt and cross stitch, I often find that my thoughts mingle in the two areas. I will be thinking about a cross-stitch motif and wondering how it could be appliquéd or pieced in fabric, or musing about a quilt, and my mind will wander onto the topic of cross stitch.

This morning, I was contemplating a kaleidoscope pattern for a quilt project. My mind wandered to what I would need for supplies: fabric, thread, rulers and a mirror.

A mirror. It was an aha moment for me. I’m sure some of you have been using a mirror as a design tool since the dawn of time, but because this is my aha moment, I will share it for those who have not yet thought of it.vine 45degreereflection

The mirror is a super handy design tool for quilting and can also be used quite effectively to assist you in designing your cross-stitch patterns.

I purchased my mirror compact for $3 at the Forever 21 clothing store. The mirror compact has two square mirrors, is hinged in the middle and has a minimal frame. I use it when I am in a fabric store and need to see how cutting it in different shapes can alter a print.

If you hold a mirror on a piece of fabric and look into the reflected image, you see the geometric extension of the print in the reflection. Some prints change dramatically when cut apart in sets of triangles or squares and reassembled. We see this in the One-Block Wonder quilts by Maxine Rosenthal and in the Kaleidoscope quilts. Some fabrics are not good candidates for this technique, but with the help of a mirror, you can easily discern which print will work.

jagged linejaggedline45degreereflection








Using the mirror for designing in cross stitch is just as simple. I have charted a few simple motifs to demonstrate how to use the mirror.

If I hold the mirror next to the straight border section at a 45-degree angle, the pattern that appears in the mirror is a plus or cross, but you can also look at the pattern as a mitered border. Move the mirror up and down the motif, and you can arrange your stitches in the corner in different ways.

If I place the mirror on a section of the flower at a 45-degree angle, three more flower sections appear in my design in the mirror, and I can see whether I will like it before I stitch it out or chart it. I need only stitch or chart one-fourth of my design to be able to check it in the mirror. This saves me oodles of time and helps me envision the finished product.flower-45degrees

flower chartI have found that shapes I had not yet thought of are revealed to me in my mirror. I’ll stitch a pretty motif, place my mirror on it and voila. There in the mirror is the completed design.

I can even move the mirror over the image to come up with other geometric permutations of the design. If I hold the mirror at a 45 angle, I have an octagon. If I hold the mirror at 60 degrees, I will have a hexagon. If I hold the mirror at 90 degrees, I will have a square, or I’ll have, in effect, a frame or border.

Here is a pattern that emerged when I held the mirror to the back of the chair in my sunroom. This would make a nice motif on a pincushion.

chair back
Chairback 45 degree anglechair back 60 degree angleWith my little mirror, I am finding patterns and inspiration everywhere I look. Suddenly, I’m a designer!

Sue Fenwick is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Missouri. She writes every Tuesday.

A ‘luxuriance of fancy’

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

I should have guessed that Marsha Parker, owner of The Scarlet Letter, got her degree in English literature. Like Marsha, Hester Prynne, the protagonist in The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, did fancy needlework for a living.

Marsha started stitching when she was 8 years old.

“My mother forced me to stitch stamped pillow cases,” she says. “They were stamped with chipmunks. I hated it.”

Much later, her sister gave her a kit of the Williamsburg Chase sampler and asked her to stitch it for her. She finished the kit for her sister, stitched another for her mother, another one for herself and yet another for her mother-in-law. It finally occurred to her that she could be stitching her own creations.

It was around 1980, and she was living in England. She found a pair of samplers in an antique shop for 8 pounds. She copied the chart, making her own diversions from the original. It was so easy that she thought, “Hmm, I should do something with this.”

She was reproducing charts and enjoying it immensely, but she still had to support herself. She was working in publishing as a picture editor. She also did freelance writing and published a novel, Ghosts.

The Scarlet Letter

Lydia Hart

Then the Scarlet Letter began to grow. She produces reproduction sampler kits of fine antique and historic samplers. The collection encompasses four centuries and many ethnic, social and artistic groups from 17th century aristocratic England to 19th century rural America.

The Scarlet Letter now ranks among the top companies in the industry. Marsha has completed “somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 kitted charts,” she says. She also sells graphs and kits in cotton and silk.

Hanna Catharina

Hanna Catharina

She buys most of the original samplers at auction.

“I usually absentee bid because I can’t stand the anxiety, and you always bid more than you should when you’re under the gun,” she says.

She has a few favorite auction houses around the world.

“I’m not a phone bidder, and I’m not impulsive,” she says. “Just slow and steady. That’s probably where 90 percent of mine come from.”

MarshaParker and her chickens

Today, Marsha lives on 100 acres near Sullivan, Wisconsin, with her alpacas, chickens and cats.

“I am a cat magnet,” she says.

She keeps 20 acres in crops, and the rest is woodlands.

Marshanad baby Alpaca w_mother alpaca
She also lovingly cares for her significant other, Phil.

“We were going to get married, but he had a stroke about five and a half years ago, so now I am a caregiver,” Marsha says. “It was a very freakish thing that happened to him. We had six good years, traveling and scuba diving. He is half Italian and half French, so we would go to Italy and France and visit with his family there.

“Now he is in a wheelchair. It’s very sad. I live on the farm, and he lives in Madison. I am with him four days a week, and the rest of the time he has a nurse. It was really, really difficult in the beginning, but as time goes on, it’s my life, and I don’t have any bitterness.”

Marsha and Phil

Marsha’s caring shows in her meticulously executed reproduction samplers. Not surprisingly, she finds that the most difficult designs are her favorites. Lydia Hart is right up at the top. She also favors A Parrot A Leopard A Lion; Emily Lucille; Memento Mori; and The Lady and the Castle in an Autumn Landscape.

A Parrot A Leopard A Lion

A Parrot A Leopard A Lion

Emily Lucille

Emily Lucille

She starts a design by hand, she says.

“I do the preliminary sketches by hand because I like to stick my nose into the needlework, and you can’t do that on a program,” she says. “I go from there to a program. I use PCStitch Pro.”

Marsha uses Au Ver a Soie silks exclusively and likes the soie perlee and soie gobelins. Her favorite needle is called My Favorite Needle, which is no longer made, but the needle is short and blunt and moves through the linen easily. Marsha has six of these needles, which she thinks will keep her supplied for the rest of her life. She keeps them safely tucked away in a special case.

Though she used to use a handloomed linen, she now uses Zweigart or Wichelt, because the cost is not so prohibitive and she likes to stitch her models in the same fabric she puts in her kits. She has a Hardwicke Manor 6-inch round wooden hoop she has used her whole stitching life.

“I have the same hoop that my mother gave me when I was 8,” she says. “I have used it to stitch every piece I have ever done.”

Memento Mori

Memento Mori

The Lady and the Castle in an Autumn Landscape

The Lady and the Castle in an Autumn Landscape

Marsha stitches at home “in a big cushy pink chair with low arms, next to an open window overlooking my pond. I don’t use any magnification or special lights. I just use my naked eyeballs. I do have to wear glasses to do everything else in life.”

Marsha has four designs that should be ready by September. Hanna Catharina should be ready this month. The original (described on her website as “a finely stitched German sampler beginning with a single row of alphabets above an immensely intricate collection of symbolic cross stitched motifs”) is on 55-count linen.

Nathaniel Hawthorne eloquently described the scarlet letter Hester Prynne stitched. It seems a proper flattery for the gorgeous work of Marsha Parker: “It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy.”

Sue Fenwick is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Missouri. She writes every Tuesday.