Sunbonnet Sue plucks the harp in Paraguay!

So, my friends, ta da!!!   This is my first original Sunbonnet Sue pattern, and I think she turned out quite cute!   Today, Sunny Sue represents Paraguay, often referred to as “an island surrounded by land”, wearing a well-known version of folkloric dress.   The skirt has two deep ruffles marked by tiny vintage rickrack (my mom gave it to me!) and her hair is full of broderie perse flowers, which I think are fun and funky!   Broderie perse means “Persian embroidery” but it’s really a style of applique embroidery.  In essence, I cut a flower out of one fabric and appliqued that flower to another fabric.   This was a popular style of applique in the late 17th century, but it crops up throughout quilting history.   Chintz fabrics were originally used for the applique itself, because chintz usually has clearly defined elements which could be cut out and applied.  In my broderie perse, I used a tiny backstitch to hold the applique in place.  As I said, I think it turned out amazingly well.  Yes, my modesty knows no barriers.

The Paraguayan harp is a cultural icon.  Much of Paraguay’s traditional music is written for the harp, but the Paraguayan harp is more than just a musical instrument for Paraguayans.  It represents Paraguayan pride in their country and in their people.   Paraguayans are mostly bilingual, speaking Spanish and Guarani, an indigenous language, and they share a rich historical memory and folk traditions.   One of the most successful Paraguayan harpists is Felix Perez Cardozo, who became well-known on stages throughout the world in the 1930’s and 1940’s.   There was a resurgence of popularity in the 1980’s  with Paraguayan folk-music ensembles, and Paraguay has ensured that music schools, conservatories, and private teachers continue to provide instruction and promote the harp.   Before coming to Paraguay, if I thought about it, I think I considered harps to be a fairly rare and unusual instrument, so it took a bit to understand it in its iconic format.

Paraguay is a lovely and remote country filled with wonderful Paraguayan people who speak a version of Spanish that I like to call “Spanarani” (Spanish-Guarani).   On many occasions whilst conversing with my Paraguayan acquaintances, I had to say to my native Spanish-speaking husband, “Umm, what did they say?” to which he would reply, “I have absolutely no idea.”   So, it basically turned my Spanish into mush (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!   It is not because my Spanish stank to start with.).   So…you might want to learn a few Guarani phrases before heading to Paraguay.  Just saying.

One of the most famous Paraguayans, Eliza Lynch, is, well, not technically Paraguayan.   Eliza Lynch was born in Ireland, but after the potato famine, around age 10, she moved with her family to Paris.  There she met a French officer and lived with abroad for a period of time.  For health reasons, at around age 18, she returned to live with her mother, eventually coming to befriend Princess Mathilde Bonaparte.   Described as possessing an attractive figure and face as well as long golden hair, she soon set herself up as a courtesan to the wealthy elite.  Soon after, she met Francisco Solano Lopez, the son of the president of Paraguay, at that time one of the wealthiest nations in South America.   Eliza and Francisco began a relationship in Paris that would take them all the way back to Paraguay.

Although they never married, Eliza bore Francisco six children.   When Francisco’s father died in 1862, he left his son as his successor to the presidency.   Eliza Lynch, although never formally Mrs. Lopez, became the most powerful woman in the country.   At the time, Lopez’ political enemies considered her the woman behind the presidency, and blamed Francisco’s ambitions on her (although she denied this), including his greatest folly, the War of the Triple Alliance.

One of the decisive battles of Triple Alliance was the Battle of Cerro Cora.  During the war, Eliza followed her husband, along with other camp followers, as they journeyed from battlefield to battlefield.  The Battle of Cerro Cora ended up essentially a rout, and Francisco was killed by Brazilian forces.   After killing Francisco, the soldiers headed toward the civilians where they found Eliza Lynch and her oldest son, age 15 and a colonel already.   When told to surrender by the Brazilian soldiers, the son replied:  “A Paraguayan colonel never surrenders.”  He was shot to death in front of his mother.   Before Eliza Lynch allowed herself to be taken prisoner, she buried her lover and her son with her bare hands.   She was then banished from Paraguay, and returned to Europe with the rest of her children.   After 5 years, she traveled back under the promise that she could settle there, but arriving in Paraguay she was once again banished.   Eliza Lynch died in poverty in Paris in 1886.   More than one hundred years later, in an ironic twist of fate, Paraguayan dictator General Alfredo Stroessner had her exhumed and her body buried in the national cemetery, having declared Eliza Lynch a heroine of the Paraguayan people.  It is commonly believed that Eliza Lynch encouraged Francisco to start the War of the Triple Alliance which was both bloody and ultimately futile.  In the aftermath, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil divided up much of Paraguay’s land, leaving it much more impoverished than they had found it.   But still, historians can find good words to say about Eliza Lynch — that she taught Paraguayan society about European customs and for her dedication to her lover, Francisco, even though it eventually cost her everything.

I hope that I’ve inspired you to quilt, to embroider, to applique, to wear flowers in your hair, to be a loyal and helpful lover, and to fight to the bitter end if it’s something that means a lot to you.  I leave you with a photo of the model for Sunbonnet Sue in Paraguay.  Enjoy!

Sunbonnet Sue squeezes grapes in Greece!

Today, Sunbonnet Sue wears her lovely toga, and honors Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and revelry, and makes her offering of plump grapes to be turned into wine.   The lazy Susan stitches add texture and dimension to the grapes, and the embroidered stars on the toga add another interesting textural element.   We can all raise a glass of wine and toast Sunbonnet Sue — we’re celebrating our 15th post of Sunbonnet Sue visiting countries around the world (the patterns so far all taken from the book, International Sunbonnet Sue).   Next posting, I will show off my first original Sunbonnet Sue pattern, representing the country of….well, you’ll just have to wait a day or two….

Dionysus is the son of Zeus and Semele.   Here’s how that went:   Semele asked her lover, Zeus, to allow her to see him in his real form.   He appeared as thunder and lightning, and Semele was consumed in the storm that occurred afterwards.   Zeus saved their love child from the ashes of her body.  Seeing as he came from a somewhat dysfunctional family, it’s no wonder that Dionysus took to wine and revelry (you may also know him as Bacchus, the Roman god of the grape….).    Dionysus married Ariadne, the Cretan princess who helped Theseus defeat the Minotaur.  Afterwards, though, she was abandoned on the beach of Naxos, where Dionysus found her as he was beachcombing.  Soon after finding Ariadne, Dionysus popped the question to the abandoned princess; after their marriage, they had several children, all associated with wine and wine-making.   In today’s world, Dionysus remains quite a popular god, as evidenced by the amount of wine drunk around the world.  He is still a revered god at Naxos — in fact, devotees of Dionysus, especially the older, possibly more repressed ladies, become wild maenads (wild women!) for a night, inspired by this god of wine and revelry, engaging in an ecstatic frenzy of dancing and drinking, engaging in abandoned sex, and eventually hunting down their men and devouring their raw flesh while dressed in fawn skins and carrying a big stick wrapped in vine leaves.   Hmm.  Quite the evening.   Well, I can only recommend leaving the fawn skin under lock and key if you’re going to be drinking wine.

Athens is an interesting modern city, even though it is among the world’s oldest cities at around 3,400 years of age.   For thousands of years, Athens has been a center for arts, learning, and philosophy — the place where Plato and Aristotle and many other great philosophers debated their grand ideas.   The city is often referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy.   What I particularly like about Athens is that, while it is a modern city in every sense, it has maintained itself as a classic Greek city, preserving a wide variety of ancient monuments, including the Parthenon, the Acropolis of Athens, and the medieval Daphni Monastery.   In 1896, Athens hosted the first modern day Olympics, and rejoiced to bring the Olympics back again in 2004.   Since I enjoy history, I always go to see all of the sights and pay homage to the great skills of people who made such substantial, long-lasting monuments and art with only the most basic of tools.  Truly amazing.

But of course, I also squeeze in a few minutes (possibly hours, according to my husband) to try to suss out the fabric shops and quilt shops if I can.    There are a few, but as always, the search for cottons is tricky one — and often I get waylaid by the other sumptuous, gorgeous, luxurious fabrics that I find.   However, if you are on a fabric hunt yourself in Athens, take a ride to the metro station, Monistiraki, walk a block or so to Athineas, then turn on to Agias Eirinis for the fabric shops and later Perikleous Street for the notions shops.  You might also try a store called Kaliviotis, on the north side of Ermou near Syntagma, and the shopping streets of Eolou and Agiou Marou.   The Athens Central Market is fun — not really for fabrics — but why miss a large market?  You’ll find many treasures you never even dreamed existed, but must have!  And if you’re in Athens on a Sunday, you might want to check out the flea market at Monistiraki — I’ve never been but I’ve heard it’s wonderful.   Also, if you have a minute, check out Nero’s Post and Patch (see my blogroll) for a view of Greek patchwork and quilting and more.

I hope I’ve inspired you to quilt, to embroider, to applique, to travel to Greece and see the sights, or simply to drink more wine and occasionally behave like a wild woman (without the fawn skins and without devouring your husband, mind you!).   I leave you with a lovely purple flower, almost the color of purple grapes….

Sunbonnet Sue rows her gondola to Italy!

The lovely Sunbonnet Sue takes on the role of gondoliere today, and she certainly has the costume for it.  She’s looking quite sharp in sparkly woolen beribboned hat with its gay ribbons and a sharp red-and-white stripe shirt.   Her skirt is made from a small piece of embroidered fabric that I purchased in the souk in Damascus in the late 90’s.  (It makes me happy when I find an odd scrap of fabric and an old memory to go along with it!)   She definitely looks like she’s enjoying her tasty strawberry gelato cone, after all that hard work rowing!  You might note that I went back to Sarah’s Hand Embroidery Tutorials (see blogroll), where I found the Holbein stitch (a variation of the running stitch) to make Sue’s hair a little more interesting.  All in all, she’s a good-looking boatswain, and Sue’s taking her rowing as seriously as Giorgia Boscolo, who. in August 2010, became the first female gondoliere in Venice.  Sunny Sue is such a feminist!

Gondolas, which once served as a real means of transportation in Venice, at one time numbering around 10,000 in the Venice Lagoon.   But these days, with just under 500 gondolas licensed in Venice, they are mostly used to provide tourist rides over the Grand Canal although modern-day gondolieri have exchanged the long poles for more practical oars.  I’ve heard that the gondolas used to have little cabins or awnings on them, presumably to protect the passengers and their goods from the weather, but you know me! I prefer to believe that the cabins allowed privacy for lovers on their way to their private assignations.   I’m sure there’s a little bit of truth in both.

But while Venice is certainly a lovely city with sense of romance, I personally much prefer Rome.  What I especially love about Rome is that every time you walk around a corner, there’s something interesting, historic, or just plain fabulous to look at, to examine, and to learn about.   You can find gazillions of resources for visiting Rome, so I’m going to talk about what always interests me — quilting and quilt shops in Italy!   If you just love fabric and textiles in all of their shapes and forms, then check out Bassetti Tessuti on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.   Bassetti Tessuti is the perhaps the largest fabric store in Rome (could even be Italy, it’s that big!), and fabric lovers will think they’ve died and gone to fabric heaven.  Imagine all those luscious piles of fabric….Of course, it’s to be expected since Rome is almost as much of a fashion hub as Paris or New York.   You might be able to find some forms of cotton at Bassetti Tessuti that you can use for quilting, but I pretty sure you won’t want to cut into one inch of it….

But are there quilt shops?   Well, there is an Italian Assocation of Quilting and Patchwork — if you read Italian, you can check out (     I know of one, Il Mondo di Pezza ( on the Via Tommaso Arcidiacono, but I’ve never visited it.   For the dedicated quilter, it’s probably worth a visit just to find some cool Italian fabric for your quilts.  Il Mondo di Pezza is the likeliest place to find quilting cottons and notions as well as the likeliest place to find out what’s happening on the Italian quilting scene and meet some Italian quilters.   Hey, Italy’s not only about the food!   Okay, we really like the food too, but you know what I mean….

So, I miei amici (my friends in Italian), I hope you grab a cappuccino, a gelato or some other Italian treat, and find some inspiration in this blog to quilt, to embroider, to applique, or just to row your own boat the way you want to — with or without passengers.   To help you get inspired, I’m going to leave you with this beautiful lavender bougainvillea spreading its fabulously wonderful color along a fence.  Have a good one!

Sunbonnet Sue crosses the border to Mexico

Today, I introduce you to Sunbonnet Sue in Mexico.   She looks lovely in her striped serape (or is it a rebozo?) and wide sombrero, but I’m not too sure about carrying a cactus!  Ouch!  This week I was looking for ways to vary my embroidery stitches and add interest to the applique.  Well, I didn’t get too far off my standard stitches, but you’ll note the fringe of the serape is done in the long-tailed daisy stitch combined with French knots (I think the fringe looks way cool, by the way!).   If you’re looking for great tutorials on a wide variety of embroidery stitches, consider checking out Sarah’s Hand Embroidery Tutorials (check my blogroll).  The tutorials are well demonstrated and clearly explained.

I love Mexico.  And I love Mexico City.    Well, Mexico City has all the worst a city can offer — horrible traffic, terrible crime, smog, pollution, and more.   But it also has the very best a large city can offer — for instance, the Basilica de Guadalupe is fabulously beautiful, and in numbers of visitors, it is second only to the Basilica in Vatican City.    The city is overflowing with cultural pleasures — from the Catedral Metropolitano, an unbelievable architectural masterpiece built from 1573 to 1813 to concerts, museums, sidewalk entertainment, luscious restaurants, and more.   If you’re a lover of museums (as I am), Mexico City offers a plethora for your enjoyment, from the Palacio Nacional with its spectacular Diego Rivera murals chronicling the history of Mexico, to the Palacio de Bellas Artes with its cultural events, art nouveau and art deco architecture, the world-class Museo Nacional de Antropologia, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and the Museo Nacional de Historia.   It will take several trips to see it all.    In all of these places, the displays take you from pre-Hispanic Mexico all the way up to present-day Mexico.   There’s plenty more to see and do in Mexico City, and if you have a chance, get out of Mexico City to all the wonderful regions of Mexico itself.

But you know what I’m all about here.  Textiles, arts and crafts, especially of the indigenous variety, are what interest me.   The artisans of Oaxaca and Chiapas provide the broadest variety of beautiful crafts and textiles, crafted with rich imagination and incredible skill.  In the pre-Hispanic era, the Aztecs and other indigenous civilizations produced fibers from yucca, palm, maguey, and cotton which they wove into serapes and other useful items.   After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, silk and wool as well as European-style looms made their way to Mexico, where a cottage industry in weaving  soon thrived.   Many of these woven fabrics are dyed with natural dyes and, in today’s version, many of these handicrafts are still made within indigenous communities.

Mexico City has loads of fabric shops, but it is generally pretty difficult to find quilting cottons in most of them.  Although, there are occasionally some surprises, especially on the discount tables, but even there you need to purchase with care.  A cautionary tale:  I once bought a beautiful floral fabric in one of these stores, carried it around for a few years, and then made it up into a quilt.  When I washed it the first time, I ended up with patches of smeary white — the dye hadn’t been set or something, and I essentially ended up with plain white cotton.  It was pretty disappointing.  However, I do know that Mexico City has a thriving quilting community — while I know there are other quilting guilds, the Mexico City Quilting Guild is a good place to meet people and find out about other quilters, and I’ve heard that you can find a good quilt shop in just about every region of the city.  I don’t know but isn’t the hunt for a great quilt shop part of the fun?

I’m leaving you with a flower growing in the cactus patch in my garden.  Do you see the little butterfly sitting so still on the flower center?   I hope that I’ve inspired you to quilt, to applique, to embroider, to create, and to take a look around your own neighborhood and see what quilting treasures you find there!  Adios, amigos!


Sunbonnet Sue finds her (snow)flakey way to Finland!

Sunbonnet Sue is looking quite lovely in her brightly colored outfit!  It certainly lends a bit of color to the dreary, long winters that she finds in Finland!  She’s holding a glittery snowflake that represents Finland’s cold climate, where it snows from December to April.   And when I think of snow and Finland, Santa Claus and his reindeer also come to mind.  In fact, reindeer are natural inhabitants of Finland,  surviving on lichens and tundra in winter.   Of course if there are reindeer, Santa must not be far behind….

When I think of Finland, I think of Marimekko.   Established in 1951, Marimekko is a Finnish textile and clothing design company renowned for its original prints and colors manufactured into fabulous clothing, home decorating fabrics, bags, and more.    Marimekko’s fabrics are boldly colored with striking, large graphics with a bit of retro feel.   My favorites are the large flower prints – they look wonderfully interesting in quilts and the cotton fabric is great quality (although the fabrics are pricey!).  But if you’re interested, check out for an online store selling Marimekko fabrics.   I have seen some fabrics at IKEA that are reminiscent of Marimekko designs, but at a much lower price tag.

I have great memories of Helsinki itself.   It’s a lovely, clean city, quite safe, and filled with lots to see, especially if you like the art nouveau style of architecture.  Helsinki considers itself the Design Capital of the World, and after you’ve seen some of the architecture, furniture, and home decorating designs (not to mention the textiles), you’ll agree that Helsinki might own the title.   For me, most Finnish designs are marked by their clean look and simplicity, which ends up looking serenely sophisticated.   Helsinki boasts a Design District, which includes design shops, galleries, workshops, museums, restaurants, hotels, and more.   And of course, you should also take time to visit one of Helsinki’s most important department stores, Stockmann’s.  When I lived in Moscow in the early 1990’s, I frequently ordered household goods (and even groceries) from Stockmann’s on a weekly basis — Stockmann’s was a lifesaver.   Helsinki was the first time that I paid more than $100 for a meal — it’s an expensive city.  But the food was delicious — the Finnish cuisine relies heavily on fish, but also mushrooms and all kinds of berries.

Well, I hope I’ve inspired you to embroider, to quilt, to applique, and to think about design in the Finnish way!  I’m leaving you with a picture of a strawberry plant and several kinds of strawberry preserves — fresh wild strawberries were part of that $100 meal that I mentioned above.   I never knew strawberries could be so flavorful and so delicious.  Have a great week ahead!

Sunbonnet Sue windmills her way to Holland

Sunbonnet Sue is looking very cheery as a Dutch meisje (girl) tending her tulip fields.   Her brightly colored dress vies with the tulips for the most beautiful.  Tulips are my favorite flower — I love them closed, I love them when they’ve opened to their fullest.  I love plain, solid colored, frilly petaled, brightly colored — all colors and all kinds.  Tulips are symbols of perfect love and fame.   Red tulips, just like red roses, mean “true love”.  Pink tulips mean affection and caring (the killer “let’s just be friends”).   Orange tulips mean desire and passion (the often misunderstood “let’s just get it on”).  To me, though, tulips symbolize happiness and springtime.

Tulips are also a symbol of Holland (or the Netherlands).  Tulips are not native to Holland; tulip bulbs were brought to Europe from the Ottoman Empire in mid-1500s.  Tulip farming started up in late 1500s when the Flemish botanist, Charles de l’Ecluse, became a professor at the University of Leiden.   There, he planted his collection of tulip bulbs which had been sent to him by Turkish royal donors.  Tulip mania soon took over, and tulips soon became a status symbol/luxury item.   Tulip merchants were highly competitive, and soon many varieties of tulips in vivid colors were available to attract customers.  Tulip growers were even able to grow tulips that had lines and “flames” on the petals by infecting them with a tulip-specific virus.

When my husband and I visited Amsterdam for the first time, we only had a day to explore.  On the top of my husband’s list to see was, of course, the Red Light District.   He was most interested in seeing the prostitutes advertising themselves in the windows of small houses.   We asked directions and took a long walk through the District.  Unfortunately for my husband, either the ladies of the night were all busy or were all napping or something.  Disappointed, we strolled around the canal areas, which are lovely, and enjoyed the street scene.   We had an opportunity to spend a little more time in Amsterdam a few years later, and, yes, of course, we did the Red Light District crawl again.   This time we got lucky and we saw female entertainers galore.   We learned a few things (no, not what you’re thinking!):  1) We learned it is not okay to take pictures of the ladies.  2)  We learned that there many other people, young, old, male, female, just as curious as we were, and 3) that if you stop to appreciate the architecture of this area, you will quite enjoy the quaint elegance and quirkiness of the 14th century cobble-stoned streets and architecture.

So I hope I’ve inspired you to applique, to embroider, to quilt, and to explore the things that catch your imagination too.  I’m attaching a photo of tiger lilies growing at my sister’s house a few years ago.   Just like tulips, tiger lilies are beautiful and special.  So are you.

P.S.  This is International Sunbonnet Sue number 11 already!   I hope I can keep up this pace!   Eleven down and XXX to go….