The Kimberbell Challenge

I have worked on Kimberbell machine embroidery design projects in the past, but most were small and I just used a design or two to incorporate into my own pattern.

Not this time. This time I decided to try her holiday quilt “We Whisk You a Merry Christmas”. It’s such a cute pattern it almost hurts.

I’d like to offer a few tips to you for working with Kimberbell in the future. I was in a rush to get this sample done to hang in the shop, and I learned a lot along the way. If I were ever to teach this as a quilt along, I would at least make an effort to start in August. As it happened, I started a couple weeks before Thanksgiving. Not a particularly good idea. This quilt became my life’s work for those two weeks. Give yourself a realistic timeline.

A few other tips:

  • Read the Instructions.

I’ve never been a fan of instructions. Usually for me , they are just a suggestion to get started. But I do know when to review them and exactly where and when I can go rogue. If the quilting world gave Pulitzer prizes for instructions, Kimberbell would win. They are thorough, cleanly presented, and extensive. They can take you through the whole project with very little riffing. You won’t have to re-interpret the pattern

  • Use their fabric or a kit with the fabric already cut.

The one place where I diverged from the pattern was in the fabric I used. We had a fabric picked out for the border, and from that I chose all the other fabrics from lines we had at the shop. This is not an easy task as Kimberbell recommends a LOT of different coordinating fabric patterns. My suggestions if you are picking out your own fabric: Start with the border, and background fabrics, then choose around 10 different coordinating fabrics and cut them up as you go along.

Also, if you are using your own fabric selections, create a guide for yourself. Here’s a scrappy little sheet I used which was a page from the pattern that I copied so I could write all over it.

It’s hard to see in the image, but before I started any of the actual work, I had organized my fabric choices and decided what I was going to use in each section. This allowed me to think through the presentation and fill in any fabrics I might be missing.

  • Use fusible woven interfacing on every background piece.

Purchase enough interfacing that you can cut it up and fuse it to every piece that gets embroidered. This sounds laborious. It is. Take your time and do it right…you will like the results. This step is recommended in the general instructions. Kimberbell recommends Shape-Flex which might be the best interfacing on the planet. I have loved it for many other projects and it works well on t-shirt quilts too. But OESD makes a fusible woven which has the same consistency and I had some of that on hand when I ran out of Shape-Flex. It worked just as well.

  • Lay out a row at a time.

Each embroidery design requires more than one piece of fabric. The background needs to be fused to the interfacing. Have each embroidery in a row laid out with all its fabric pieces cut and ready to go. That way you can get them stitched out efficiently. Once the row is stitched out, cut the finished embroidery design to size. I kept a table at home reserved to lay out the whole thing and did not begin assembly until all the embroidery was complete.

  • Keep reading the instructions.

When you think you know exactly how something will be cut or sewn, READ THE INSTRUCTIONS ANYWAY. Ask me how I know.

  • Enjoy the process!

When working on a large project like this, it’s easy to get caught up in how long everything is taking. Let me say this (and I’ve said it many times in the past), don’t ever start a project thinking about the hours of your life you will spend doing it. Things take time, and at least at the end of a quilt journey, you have a finished product to enjoy.

Would I change anything? You bet. I would have started months earlier. But now at the end, I find it to be impossibly cute. In the pic, it’s hard to see the little sparkly embellishments, which just make it magical.

And just in time for the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! And don’t forget to visit your local quilt shop on Small Business Saturday. May you find time to stitch during this busy season.

This One’s for the Girls

Get your mammograms.

That’s it. That’s the message. I know it’s no longer October and we’ve moved on from the specific Breast Cancer Awareness Month to the festive Hallmark Channel and holiday activities. But I want to emphasize the message again.

Get your mammograms, ladies.

My sister went in September. They found something and it’s been removed. Just not as easily as we had hoped. Things like this tend to get complicated.
But she is past the surgery and doing well. Of course, once she found out, I immediately made an appointment for mine. I got called back…something didn’t look right. After four agonizing days of wondering if I had the same problem, I was able to go back in and they took another picture and all was well. For now. They handed me a chocolate breast cancer ribbon and sent me on my way.

I know you’re all busy. We worry about our cholesterol, our weight, our eyes, our teeth, our hair, our families and their health, and we even worry about the planet.

But we all need to start to prioritize ourselves. It’s not our nature to do that. But I’m learning, especially as I get older, to make the time for myself. I can’t help my family or friends or anyone else if I’m not OK.

You,too. None of us is here forever. But let’s make an effort to be well while we’re here.

Ironing the Swiss Way

I had the opportunity, recently, to spend a little time at Bernina’s Creative Center in Aurora IL. During that time, Phillip Ueltschi, who is the fifth generation of family ownership of Bernina, came in to demonstrate the new line of LauraStar irons and ironing systems.

I thought I would share this with you. I have not had any time to play with these irons although in hearing and reading about them, they sound intriguing. Apparently they use something referred to as “dry steam” which doesn’t leave your clothes or fabrics damp.

The steam also does not burn your fingers or hands. It’s really kind of impressive.

LauraStar is designed in Switzerland (same place that Bernina is headquartered.) They are environmentally conscious and the irons are built to be supported and serviced for a minimum of ten years. Their steam purifies the fibers by killing 99% of germs and bacteria or mold, dust, etc. that can show up in textiles. So while you iron, you are also freshening and purifying your fabric.

As I said, I have not had any time to review these myself, from the perspective of a sewist. A new dawn in pressing and ironing? I don’t know, but it seems to me that the technology for irons hasn’t advanced all that much in the last 25 years. Seems like they’d be able to take advantage of thoughtful engineering and technology, just like every other industry.

I’m including the two brief videos of Phillip demonstrating the system. He did give me permission to put this on the blog…why wouldn’t he?

Have a look. The LauraStar systems will be available at participating Bernina dealerships across the U.S. soon. What do you think?

Mini Bags in Machine Embroidery

I love to make these mini bags in-the-hoop of my embroidery machine. The file I designed (in embroidery software), includes 3 bags in each hooping. So I make these like candy.

Honestly.

Three is never enough, though. I had a friend order twenty of them from me recently. She has Christmas and graduations coming up this year, so she plans to use them to hold gift cards for her kids and their friends. Since they are coin-purse-sized, they are perfect for gift cards, business cards, loose change, USB sticks, ear buds and just about anything else that’s small and floats around in your handbag.

The first stitch in the design is a placement for the zippers. I use OESD Stabilstick tearaway embroidery stabilizer. Tearaway is important. This holds the zippers in place. The second stitch is the seam that holds the top part of the bag in place over the zipper. I use a triple stitch.

For fabrics, I designed the bags to be perfectly sized for charm packs, those 5 in. x 5 in. packs you know you have stored everywhere. Don’t know what to do with them but loved the fabric? Make a bunch of these.

The next step is to stitch the bottoms of the bags into place.

Finally, the back and lining are added. Batting is used in every layer, so that gives them a comfortable heft. Once I reach this stage I usually just toss the bags with stabilizer aside and re-hoop and build more of them.

Later, when I’m watching TV or relaxing in the evening, I’ll sit down and remove the stabilizer and turn them inside out. A quick press and you have the cutest little functional bags you’ve ever seen.

This embroidery file is set up for a Bernina Maxi hoop, but will easily work in the Jumbo hoop and I’ve made revisions so that someone can use the Midi hoop, the large oval and even the medium hoop.

I’ll be teaching a class in November so that folks can make their own in time for the holidays. Wouldn’t they be cute in holiday fabrics?

I keep a stack of these on hand all the time. You just never know when a perfect time to use them will come up. The more fun the fabric, the more people exclaim when they see them. Don’t be afraid to mix and match. My next batch, (now I’m thinking of them as cookies) I’m going to try different textures. What about cork? Flannel? Wool? A mixture?

Always something new to think about. Hope your fall stitching is inspiring you, too!

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

Yesterday, I went for my usual walk through the woods. I took the more scenic path this time, as it gets too buggy and overgrown during the summer for me to comfortably pass.

But this time of year, some of the weeds have died back, the crunch of leaves is underfoot, keeping some of the mud at bay, and the insects have thinned out.

So I took the road less traveled onto the ridge above the creek.

And that’s where I discovered the fallen sentinel.

This old oak had been standing at the top of the ridge, majestically leaning out over the cliff for as many years as I can remember hiking here. Its trunk is at least three feet in diameter.

The last time I passed through it was early spring, before the foliage filled out, while the creek gurgled its way around the bend. At the time, I could see the tree was getting too close to the edge. Or the edge was eroding too close to the tree. I gingerly stepped close and patted the bark of the tree. “My friend..this does not look great. But the cliff won’t erode that fast. I imagine it will be at least a few years.”

I went on my way.

The torrential rains of this past spring that prevented our farmers from getting their crops in the ground also took a toll on the ridge. As I wound my way through yesterday, I stopped in my tracks. The landmarks had changed, my bearings were rattled.

The earth had shifted.

And an old friend had tumbled.

I surveyed the area where the tree once stood. Everything had changed. Was it here? Was it slightly further back? I could no longer even recognize the place where it had once stood. It must have been months. It must have been the downpours. It must have been inevitable.

Still, I found myself sending a little blessing. And immediately wondering it the forest preserve would allow it to stay there, damming the creek.

I bowed my head and turned on the path to continue my journey. As I left I saw chipmunks scurrying and playing along the trunk and branches of the tree below.

Ever adjusting. Ever changing. Exploring a new landscape.

The Joy of Choosing to Ignore the Mass Market

Have you ever spent hours on Pinterest? Wandered through quaint little shops in a seaside village or a charming midwestern town?

I’ve spent some time in local shops and in large home decor stores. I’ve browsed online and been to craft shows and art shows.

And I’m discouraged.

I am missing originality and I am as much a consumer as everyone else. Where are all the original thinkers? Where are the creatives out there doing what’s never been done? Am I just missing it? How can I go from an exurb of Chicago to a small town in Wisconsin, and find basically the exact same products?

I loved the inspirational script messages at one time, but to be honest, aren’t they getting old? If one more piece of wood or vinyl sticky for my wall tells me to “choose joy” I’m going to scream. (What does that mean anyway? Choose joy. Instead of eating chocolate? Instead of crying? Instead of reading the newspaper? Instead of choosing to make a change? Instead of choosing to work out?)

I even have a little houseplant pot that bears the message “grow.” The plant is suffering. And I think it’s because the pressure is too great and the obvious command on its outer shell is intimidating and off-putting.

I might also be watering it too much.

Nevertheless, it serves as a reminder that these constant, script-y, positive messages are numbing us to the reality around us.

If you are INSPIRED to paint the face of a cow in purples, oranges and teals, bless your heart and the artwork will be beautiful. But if you are purchasing the same one that’s shown in a chain of stores across the country, because…umm…”farmhouse”, well, what’s the point?

And I say this with love in my heart for all things farm. I’m descended from farmers.

But anyone who thinks that farmhouse style begins and ends with anything but manure and straw and hay is kidding themselves. And the farmhouse I knew was cramped. We didn’t have a whole lot of decorative items. Most of them were practical. You needed a broom nearby to chase the bats that flew in at night. You needed a vacuum cleaner to get at the flies that swarmed the window sills in the summertime. You needed plenty of logs in the basement to keep the house heated all winter. You needed hooks and pegs for jackets and boots and fishing poles. When I was out in the barn no one ever had to tell me to “choose joy.”

Joy showed up uninvited. So did laughter and tears and hugs.

This week, let’s all go out and find something original to do. Something one-of-a-kind.

That’s the beauty of sewing. We can make things that no one else has made, and make memories that no one else has experienced.

Let’s be more authentic. And let’s ditch the mass market.

Slowing Down

Not sure if it’s my age, or my season of life, or the times we live in, but these days, I’ve been thinking a lot more about SLOWING DOWN.

I used to see how many quilts or projects I could finish in a year. How many blog posts? How many pictures taken? How many trips? How much fabric? What’s next? And next after that? And after that?

I’m not that old.

OK, I’m a little old. Old enough to realize that maybe we’re not meant to live our lives in such a constant hurry.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, has me thinking these days about what he calls the first half of life vs. the second half. The first half of life is pretty frantic…working, working, working to establish oneself, to acquire, to achieve and to “become.”

The second half of life (if we do it right, according to Fr. Richard) is when we’re better at giving it all back. Re-packaging, adding wisdom, paying it forward. Now, I’m certainly in the second half of life (even farther than that, unless I plan to live well into my hundred and teens), so I am feeling the need to do just that — down-size, slow down, appreciate more, waste less and generally live a bit closer to nature, to my origins. To leave a smaller footprint. To listen to what the world needs and not just the raging, never-filled loudness of my own concerns.

I think those of us approaching “elderhood” owe it to the next generation to be examples and thoughtful guides.

So with that in mind, I’m going to spend more time appreciating what is, and thinking about what needs doing vs. what I want to do.

Of course I will keep sewing and quilting. I have a room full of fabric that would be criminal to waste.

But what else needs doing?

That takes time, listening and contemplation.

I’m not an expert at this second half of life thing. Quilting friends will understand. I’m a UFO.

An Un-Finished Object.

Machine Embroidery by the Book

Through the years, I’ve come across a lot of machine embroidery books. Most of the time, I find they are complex, stuck in the weeds, focused on things that are not important, or are just plain hard to get through.

But this new book from Bernina really works. Because it is written and edited by Bernina educators, I thought it might simply be a hard sell for Bernina products. And make no mistake, it has no shortage of Bernina machine specifics.

However, it really gives a good breakdown of everything you need to know about machine embroidery, including tips and tricks that make life easier.

The images, graphics, tables and info in this book are all really easy to read. And the spiral binding is helpful. Nothing worse than anything step-by-step that won’t stay open.

Don’t get me wrong.

Wherever you purchase your machine, you should be sure to take the free classes they offer so you become comfortable with your machine (and all good dealers do that.). I don’t care how many books you read, you will not learn to hoop your fabric properly by reading. You can only learn that by doing.

When I teach classes, I tell my students that there are 3 variables in embroidery:

  1. Stabilizer.
  2. Your fabric.
  3. The density and size of the design

Any of these could and should change based on the others.

The book addresses all of these right up front. But more than that, it gets into techniques, and stitching on different types of fabric. Want to learn about minkee? It’s in there. In-the-hoop projects? Free-standing lace? No problem.

I’ve done all of these things, so I read with a critical eye. And I have to admit, all the categories are thorough and succinct.

Here’s a link to many of the techniques I have written about.

Will you read the book and be an expert? No. I tell my students that they will only become experts after making their own mistakes. No book can tell you what to do when your machine is acting up. Or if your thread is breaking or you haven’t cleaned your machine in awhile. These things come from experience and the only way to get that is to stitch.

But I’m putting this one on my top shelf and keeping it handy. It’s new this summer and is available anywhere Bernina machines are sold. It’s a solid resource for any machine embroiderer.

Glamping Away (or Glamping Go Away)

Once again I heard the expression “glamping.” This time it was referring to a new site in Michigan, called The Fields of Michigan…a blueberry farm that offers luxury tents on their property.

I am not going to judge anyone young enough or adventurous enough to want to spend a few nights outdoors. It can be fun. That has not really been my experience, but, hey, to each his own. For $329 per night, I’ll take the Four Seasons in basically any city or town anywhere.

But in honor of that time of year when people seem to want to celebrate camping, I am re-upping a blog post I wrote several years ago:

Are You A Happy Glamper?

Enjoy your summer, keep up the sewing, and I’ll meet you back in the sewing room after you pull off your ticks.

It’s Time to Get Real About Organic Cotton

When is the last time you thought about where your quilting stash comes from? Have you ever thought about the process, the transport, the distribution? How many of us have ever even recognized on a conscious level that quilt cotton is a plant?

If these questions seem abstruse or even mildly annoying, you’re not alone.  So few people care about this issue. At least that’s the information I was given when I contacted some of the largest distributors of quilting fabric around.

Moda told me there’s no market (that’s us) for organic fabric. Oh yes, they had one line of it a while ago and it didn’t sell terribly well, so…they don’t even carry any organic fabric right now. Fatquartershop.com who sells fabric online said they have nothing to do with the content of their products. In their copy on their website, they describe whatever a manufacturer tells them to say, and distribute on demand. Period.

Fabric designers tell me they do not get involved with the fabric manufacturing process.  They license their designs and have no say in whether their designs are used sustainably/responsibly or not. This may not be true for all of them, but it’s common practice.

So who makes the determination about whether fabric should be organic or not?

Surprise! It’s you. And me.  We are the ones who define this market, and we will have to be the ones to require change.

The question is:

Do you think we need change? 

Let’s talk about it a bit.  Because I’m going to make the case that we have no choice but to put pressure on manufacturers to change their cotton growing processes. And we might have to start with our local quilt shops.

Here’s why:

–70% of the world’s topsoil is degraded.

–It takes 1,000 years to replace 3 cm of degraded topsoil.

–With current farming practices, all the world’s topsoil will be gone in 60 years.

This is not my opinion.

This information is provided by lengthy studies done by the Textile Exchange and reported in life cycle analyses done over spans of years.

Go ahead and google “How much topsoil is left?” 

Without topsoil, the world doesn’t eat, let alone quilt with natural fabrics.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be responsible for my kids and grandkids being unable to have food and clothing because of my simplistic, uneducated (and, frankly, selfish) choices.

I’ve seen some people make the case that organic fabric requires more resources. 

That is simply not true. Not when using any scientific methodology of measurement. Not when attempting to understand the life cycle of the product.  And certainly not when we entertain the implications of the alternative. On the contrary, we now have clear indications that water use on organic farms is far less than traditional practices.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the information on these two charts, but the explanation for them was very clear: Organic farming of cotton greatly reduces water and other energy consumption, and continuing on our current trajectory is simply not sustainable.

Here is where we encounter the power of market forces.

You and I can demand that things change. Manufacturers, distributors and farmers, all have little reason to improve their processes. Inertia and monetary fears will keep them all from advancing to more sustainable processes.

But the science tells us that we will pay a price one way or another. As consumers, we either start demanding organic cotton now, or we will not likely have access to any at all in the future. The choice is that simple and that stark.

But I’m just one person.

What can I do?

-Ask your local quilt shop to carry organic cotton. Be assertive. Those designers that you love? Their designs can be made on organic cotton. But folks like Moda (who is a HUGE distributor of fabric) think you don’t care. I’m telling you it’s time to care and care deeply.

Contact folks like Moda directly: marketing@modafabrics.com and let them know about your concerns.

–Do your own research. Here are a few links to explore:

–aboutorganiccotton.org

–textileexchange.org

Quick Guide to Organic Cotton

–Get the Facts About Organic Textiles

Hope is on the horizon.

But we must all start to act.

Folks like Wrangler, H & M and Nike are starting to recognize that their own businesses will not be around if they don’t educate consumers on organic products, and make the industry more sustainable.

The organic cotton industry has increased by 11% in the US from 2016 to 2018. But that’s not enough. Where does our quilt cotton come from? India? China? the US?

I don’t have all the answers. But I will continue to follow up. In the meantime, I will continue to work down my stash of fabric, and I plan on only purchasing organic fabric in the future. This is a statement I can only make because I’ve done a bit of homework on this and believe it is the best path for me.

I’ll be exploring more of the current manufacturers soon. The good news is that there ARE organic quilt fabrics out there. We just aren’t aware of them.

I leave you today with a current picture of my own garden out back. Our Midwestern loam is the finest on the planet. Everything grows here. But we need to be responsible stewards of the land, of our money and of our resources.

I’m ready to take the organic leap. Are you?