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 ‘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.

The smaller, the better

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Samplers are wonderful and among the most popular of cross-stitch projects for good reason. But samplers take a long time to finish, and sometimes it’s great to have a project you can finish quickly.

Among the many creative small projects available are the tried-and-true biscornu (an eight-sided, tufted pincushion), snippet boxes and pendants. After you finish the stitching, you can get creative with ribbons, buttons or beads for cute finishing touches.

You don’t have to sweat it out under a large project in the hot summer. Keep your cool with a small one.

Here are some super-cute ideas for cross-stitch smalls, starting with four adorable little projects.

Four smalls by Cindy Rush

Four small projects by Cindy Rush

Stay out of the kitchen and serve up a tart!

Jack’s Tart by Plum Street Samplers, http://plumstreetsamplers.typepad.com.

Jack’s Tart by Plum Street Samplers

Going on a road trip this summer? Stitch up a lovely handbasket and take your small project with you.

Handbasket by Cindy Major Rush

Handbasket by Cindy Major Rush

Any handmade item is the perfect gift for a special friend. There is no time like the present – and no present like the gift of time.

Pocket watch pendant by Penelope Middleton Darby

Pocket watch pendant by Penelope Middleton Darby

Bigger isn’t always better. Boxes are useful, sweet smalls that can be stitched up quickly.

Snippet box by Cindy Major Rush

Snippet box by Cindy Major Rush

Now is the time to get started on your Christmas list. Ornaments are fun to stitch and can be finished in so many creative ways.

Ornaments by Cindy Rush

Ornaments by Cindy Rush

There are so many wonderful small projects available. I am sure you will find one you love.

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

Relishing the task

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Summer is upon us, and at Fenwick Farms, the garden is really getting big.

We moved our cucumber patch south of the house this year. In the new location, our cukes will have lots of room to spread out. For me, cucumbers mean pickles, and pickles mean canning. The Fenwick pickle legacy is a tough act to follow, but I’m getting better at making pickles every year.

I make pickles from a recipe that was Jeff’s grandma’s recipe. We call them “Grandma Fenwick’s Pickles.” Grandma Fenwick was Martha Rose Baldwin Fenwick. I met her in 1976, the first time I came to the farm with Jeff.

He had been raving about his grandma’s pickles. We opened a jar as soon as we got to her house, and she smiled while he gobbled up an entire jar all by himself.  Martha died in 1988, and Jeff’s mom took over the pickle-making job.

cukesNow that I am Grandma Fenwick, I grow the cucumbers and make the pickles at Fenwick Farms. I don’t think they will ever be as good as Martha’s pickles, but my family loves them anyway. Maybe my grandchildren will love my pickles as much as Jeff loved his grandma’s pickles. I should have it down pat by the time they grow up.

Because pickles are so important at Fenwick Farms, I decided we need some cross-stitched cucumbers for the farmhouse. I spent a day working on the chart. My plan is to stitch it up, frame it with some barnwood and hang it in the kitchen at the farm. This way, I will be leaving something of my own to add to the Fenwick women’s pickle legacy.

Cukes Chart copy

I have included it here for you to stitch, too. It has cucumbers that are ready to pick on a leafy vine. There are blossoms and baby cukes just starting to grow, with the blossoms still attached. While you’re stitching, think of me.  I’ll be picking cucumbers and canning pickles for the next few weeks here at Fenwick Farms.

Happy summer!

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

A glimpse into the past

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

I recently found a pair of American cross-stitch wall art at a local antique store completed in 1930 and 1942 by the same person, a woman named Nell. The pieces are stamped cross stitch, Colonial-style motifs on cotton linen. The frames, if they can be called frames, are simple carved wood headpiece and footpieces in the Colonial style lashed to the needlework with cotton thread.

Though the pieces are of the humble, stamped variety with common motifs, there is an underlying story that makes them a poignant and important reminder of our country in this period of the 20th century.

During this time in America, Colonial imagery was popular and  needlework tended to romanticize the domestic past, said Beverly Gordon, a professor and expert on textiles and needle art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Nell’s textiles fit into this Colonial-style category of interwar textiles perfectly.  The piece she stitched in 1930 includes a hoop-skirted lady with a dandy in a coat and tails. The piece she stitched 12 years later depicts a lady with a parasol in a horse and buggy driven by a footman in livery. We’ve all seen pieces just like these in our local antique stores.

Nell's Cross Stitch 1930

What can we learn about Nell from her cross stitch? We can think of the world in which she lived when she stitched her pieces.

Let me imagine Nell for you.

Nell was likely born near the turn of the century.  I found her work in Springfield, Missouri, so it stands to reason that she was from Missouri or southeastern Kansas. Her town was likely prosperous, with brick streets and gaslights. There may have been streetcars and a band playing on the bandstand in the square.

Nell grew up when America had unbridled optimism. It was the time when the country was becoming a superpower.

Our Nell probably fell in love around the time World War I started.  Communities across America were sending all their young men to Europe to fight. Some communities lost most of their boys to war, with only a few returning home. Nell, like all young women of that era, would have had to put her life on hold while the war raged on.

Her life with her family likely started after the war.  The men who returned were battle weary and shell-shocked, which now is known as  post-traumatic stress disorder. Most men were stoic in dealing with their troubles. They got married and found a job to support their families.

Nell likely married and had children during this time. She probably lived in a little house in town, or she might have been a farmer’s wife.  Either way, Nell worked in her home before modern conveniences made life for housewives easier.

The Great War had shattered America’s innocence. Middle America suffered through a great flood in 1927, and the Depression hit everyone hard in 1929. Severe dust storms and drought followed in the early 1930s. Crops were failing everywhere. Little towns were dwindling, first from the losses to the war, and then because of a great migration away from Middle American farming communities.

Nell stitched her first piece in 1930. What small pleasure did she get from cross stitch? We all know the answer to that question. I submit that her needlework was a balm to her soul.

For nearly a decade, America struggled to climb out of the Depression. In 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and America again found herself in a World War. If Nell had sons, they most likely were drafted.

Nell's Cross Stitch 1942

Nell stitched her second piece in 1942. Given this (imagined) peek into Nell’s life, is it any wonder she and her contemporaries, as well as the people who produced the designs, would want to stitch something reminiscent of a simpler time, before the world fell apart?

We look at the style of Nell’s pieces as cheap, stamped patterns, which were mass-produced with popular motifs typical of that time. Pieces just like these would have been found in homes across Middle America, so they are not valued as art, as the Early American and European samplers are today.

We give so much respect to the fine linen samplers, preferring them to the humble stamped kits from the interwar era and after. But we owe these humbler pieces much more respect than they are given. We should look at these pieces as a poignant reminder of the times in which they were produced and feel a kindred spirit for the ladies who stitched them.

I wish you all a very happy Independence Day!

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

Filled with hope – and history

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Women have been stocking hope chests for their daughters for hundreds of years. Although we no longer make this a standard practice for our daughters, by stitching, we participate in an art form that was an integral part of what went into the chests.

Hope chests were once an important part of a dowry for a young lady.  The wooden chests frequently were lined with cedar to keep out bugs and keep the linens fresh. Many hope chests were passed on mother to daughter to granddaughter. The contents included all things needed for a young woman to start a new household. There were table and bed linens, family heirlooms, quilts and wedding dresses. The items were handmade and lovingly embroidered with decorative stitches.  Family Heirloom Sampler

When I go to antique stores and estate sales, I look for old trunks.  Each time I find one, I open it up and hope to find something handmade. There is a brief moment when I am opening the lid that I think it may be a collection that belonged to one woman, untouched and still intact.

photo 1(1)

I went to a sale last year and bought an unfinished cedar chest that was lovingly handmade. My husband finished it with a beautiful paste wax. I haven’t known what to put in the cedar chest, so it is standing empty.  As I write this, however, it occurs to me that I have some family treasures that could be kept safe in that beautiful chest.

photo 2photo 3(1)photo 4photo 5

Heirloom baby clothes

I have my father’s baby clothes and his mother’s doll clothes. I have a christening gown that every member of my family has worn, that was made by my mother when her first child was born. I have love letters from my Granddad to my Grandma and love letters from my husband to me. I also have some wartime telegrams from my father to his parents. Christening Gown made by Joan Young Russick

Grandma's linensWartime telegrams

I have a few old books that belonged to ancestors who lived in the 17th century and a couple of beautiful old family quilts. I think I will make a collection of things and write a little note about why they are important to me and when they were made and by whom. I have my wedding dress and veil, along with my wedding album.

John's Baby QuiltCross Stitched Baby Blanket

I might embroider some dishtowels and pillowcases and put them in, just for posterity. Maybe some day, my granddaughters will open the chest and pull the things out and ask me about them. That is my fondest hope.

What would you put in a hope chest?

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

The best of both worlds

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

I just finished a project that has been in my unfinished projects pile since before Christmas.

I had set out to make something that combined cross stitch and quilting. I had some monk’s cloth (a very loose, 4×4, 7-count, 100 percent cotton, even-weave fabric) and black yarn. I had seen some cute cross-stitch silhouettes online and thought I could incorporate that idea into the project by stitching a silhouette of our Italian greyhound, Oliver. I decided to use my silhouette to make a large decorative pillow.Oliver Fenwick

I stitched the silhouette months ago, so the major part of the project was complete. I have to say, stitching on the monk’s cloth was really fun. It went so quickly, and it was so easy to see the large holes in the cloth.  Monk’s cloth would be great for beginning stitchers or folks who can’t see as well anymore.

The greyhound motif took me a couple hours to complete, at the most. I used worsted weight yarn, one over two, so the stitches were large and thick. It looks great. Monk’s cloth frays badly, so serge or sew a zigzag stitch around the edges before you begin stitching to keep your fabric from fraying.

Ready for Assembly

I wanted to put a double ruffle around the edges of my pillow. I pulled two fabrics from my stash that I thought would compliment the black and cream of the fabric and yarn. (I feel so good when I can use what I have in the house!)

Ruffles pinned on_ready to stitch

The rule of thumb for gathering is that the piece you are gathering needs to be four times the length needed for a good thick, ruffle. For my ruffles, I started with 6-inch strips and 4-inch inch strips, which I then folded in half lengthwise and gathered. I usually break up my gathering stitches into sections when I am gathering long pieces, so that if the thread breaks when I pull up the gathers, I have to restitch just one section.  Once I had my ruffles arranged evenly, I stitched the ruffle to the edge of the monk’s cloth.

Pillow back - finished

For my pillow, I also wanted to include a quilting element. I cut two pieces for the back of the pillow and sandwiched them together with lightweight cotton batting. Using one strand of black embroidery floss, I continued the cross-stitch theme by quilting large Xs onto the pillow back. I love the primitive, casual style of the quilting and the thicker, quilted look of the back of the pillow.

A Finished UFO

Finally, I put it all together, and it came out just as I had imagined it so many months ago. It feels great to finish something that has been on my to-do list for so long!

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

Putting it all in proportion

By Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

Sue Fenwick

I’ve been doing some research on the human form in cross stitch so I could learn how to design for myself. Mind you, I am no expert, so this was not a great academic pursuit.

I merely went on a hunt for motifs of people in cross stitch.  I found a wide assortment of Adam and Eve pairs with noodly arms and odd, fig leaf-like attire. Many seemed as though their arms and legs were hinged. Others were too geometrical or out of proportion.

Mary Leavitt 1718 copy

I also found samplers with people that seem in proportion and more like a human than a scarecrow. For example, in the Mary Leavitt sampler, c. 1718, we see Ashur and Elisha playing flutes and dancing a little jig. I like these two little fellows because their legs and arms aren’t bent at odd angles. I think the secret to Mary’s success here is that their waistcoats cover up their joints. Mary also used proper proportion and positioning of the legs, so the motif looks realistic.

I have been trying to design a sampler, and the little people are proving to be difficult to chart. It is not as easy as I thought it would be. I sought out instructions online and couldn’t find any instructions specific to cross stitch. I did find a great tutorial for learning to sketch the human form, which was very helpful with proportion and easy to convert to a cross-stitch chart.

How to Draw a body copy

I used these principals of drawing the human form for my cross-stitch people: First, the joints in a human form must be in alignment. When joints are not aligned, it looks odd. Second, the human form is ideally divided into seven segments. This ideal for the human form was set down during the Renaissance, and it is still the ideal today.


This sample demonstrates how correct proportion and symmetry make a motif much more appealing. The woman on the left is symmetrical from the top to bottom, and all her joints are aligned. The woman on the right seems awkward because her physical form is unnatural. Her shoulders are square, her arms are too short, her waist is too small, and her legs are not aligned with her hips.

I wanted to design a person who didn’t look like a scarecrow or a robot, but I was having difficulty. I could not come up with a motif that had the fluid lines and soft curves of a human being because I couldn’t get past the hard angles and corners dictated by the charting process. By using the tenets of proportion and alignment for drawing the human form, I was able to produce a cross-stitch motif of a person that was more realistic.

For a more in-depth lesson on drawing the human form, click here.

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