The Perfect 1/4 inch Seam

If you are a quilter, you know the quest.  You have tools and feet that help you to measure the exactness of your 1/4 in seam.  You already know that a fraction of a sliver off here, means a big mess over there.  And you have a seam ripper for just such occasions.

Last summer at Bernina University, Bernina introduced a new foot called the  97 or 97D.  For the uninitiated, “D” stands for dual feed to be used on those machines which include dual feed.

It is a 1/4 in piecing foot engineered specifically to improve the piecing accuracy of 9 mm machines.

Sewing machines have differing lengths between the feed dogs.  Most standard machines are 5.5 mm.  Any 1/4 in. foot on that machine covers both feed dogs nicely and your small quilt pieces don’t slip.

But other machines have 7mm or 9mm opening for their stitches.  Bernina makes many machines that are 9mm.  While it’s not a huge problem for most people, it can be troublesome when working with tiny pieces.  They can get pulled down into the machine causing a real mess.  Also, a standard 1/4 in foot does not rest completely on the 9mm feed dogs, giving us less control than we would like.

Hence, the introduction of this new foot.

IMG_3202You can see the previous 1/4 in. piecing foot, 37D, is much narrower than the new foot.  The 97D allows the foot to sit directly on both feed dogs of a 9mm machine, which can only mean more accurate piecing.

When this foot was announced at BU, the crowd exploded in cheers.

When we announced it at home, we received dozens of orders from people:  How far down am I on the wait list?  They asked.  You are number 25. And counting.

And we are a tiny quilt shop.

Demand for this foot across the country was huge.

But call me skeptical.  I waited until the dust settled. Then I took it home and tried it.

IMG_3206This foot comes with a guide that sits in the notch on the foot, and screws into the machine.  I thought this guide would bother me, but friends, if your pieces are cut accurately, the guide really helps.

It’s hard to argue with perfection.

IMG_3208My 1/4 in. seam could not have been more beautiful and consistent. Over and over and over again.

I’ll have to hold my skepticism for another day.

For now, I just need to sit down and sew.

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Book Cover Obsession

I love to read.

I love to read so much that my house is overflowing with books in basically every room.  I give them away, I stack them, I loan them and I cherish them. When I die, someone will have to go through all of them, because many are signed by the author or are first editions. I’m hoping to organize them.

Some day.

And I read them on a Nook too.  Just not enough.  I like to read nonfiction digitally.  I enjoy magazines online or on the ipad or on the Nook. I read biographies there, health, political books–anything I’m likely to read once and toss aside.  But a delicious, yummy, hefty fiction in a dreamy setting with characters I want to have as friends, and a storyline that goes on forever with themes…oh my…themes that resonate with the deepest part of my own flawed character?

Well, those are the books I want to carry around forever.  I want to touch them and hold them and..and…interact with them. I want to turn pages and go back to pages and look up dialogue and descriptions, and just enjoy holding them.

So I still read books.  The old-fashioned kind.

And what does someone do who loves both books and fabric?

Cover the books. In fabric.  I cover my favorites and I make covers in different sizes and move them around on the books I’m reading at any given time.  This is the easiest thing in the world to do, especially if you have a serger.

First find yourself the softest fabric – the stuff you want to pet the most.

I use a pattern from a book called “Ready Set Serge” by Georgie Melot. It’s one of the best beginner serging books I’ve seen.

IMG_2240[1]Most people don’t really know what to do with a serger, but once you learn to use one, you’ll never want to be without it.  They finish and cut a seam at the same time. They’re fast.

They are the best possible way to sew knits or garments. They are another tool in your belt, and like all tools, take a little training.

 

IMG_2241[1]I have a Babylock that was given to me by my mom several years ago. (She has a pacemaker and because the motors in segers are so strong, she is not supposed to get too close to them in action….isn’t that strange?) Anyway, sergers are notorious for being hard to thread, and with 4 threads, there’s definitely a knack to it.  The handbook is invaluable because I still use it every time I change settings.  However, for a 4-thread overlock, which I use the most, I just leave the serger threaded off to the side of my workspace, and simply plug it in when I am ready to work.

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The book covers require 4 straight cut pieces of fabric: cover, lining, and 2 side pockets. Plus one piece of ribbon to use as a bookmark. That’s it.  The sizes do change based on the size of the book, so you may want to experiment a little with the pattern.

 

crop

 

You can see that I make notes on patterns that I use often.  I’ve never met a pattern I didn’t want to modify. This way I know exactly how to cut the fabric for any particular book.

 

Her directions are very straightforward.  These sew up in about fifteen minutes, so of course, you’ll want to start a collection of them yourself.

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This is what a great 4 thread overlock stitch should look like. No pulling or bunching, lying completely flat, with the thread from the back side running right along the top of the edge of the fabric (that might be hard to see in this pic with the white background).

 

 

 

So the next time you find yourself snuggling up with a book, think about making a cover for it. What a tactile way to combine the pleasures of the mind with the pleasures of the senses.

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I’m Biased.

When it comes to binding quilts, I have a new standard.  I do my best not to use a straight cut binding any more.

Here’s why.  About 14 years ago, I made a silly little Christmas quilt –stack and whack — and hand quilted the whole thing.  For years this little quilt has been in our family room — thrown over the back of a sofa, strewn on the floor, used as a way to keep someone’s feet warm, folded and propped up as a pillow, and just generally loved to pieces.  Literally.

It has been washed countless times.

And it is beginning to fall apart. How sad.

IMG_2985You can see the fraying.  In some places, it’s worn clean through to the inside of the binding.

IMG_2991Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty frayed, even though the rest of the quilt is holding just fine.  I used quilt shop quality fabric, so the fabric was not an issue.

But even quilt shop fabric cannot withstand the repeated agitation of the washing machine and pummeling of a hot dryer.

Think about this: when a binding is straight cut, the very edge that you see fraying on my quilt is really only about 2-3 strands of thread.  All the abuse that quilts take is right on those edges, on those very few threads. Straight cutting your binding may be great for a wall-hanging or something that will have little handling and use.

But when you want your quilt to last and to withstand a little love (and cleaning), take the time to bias cut your binding.  With a bias cut, binding is no longer dependent on just a few threads, but on the hundreds of threads criss-crossing those edges. SO much stronger.

A few tips:

–Take advantage of the special tools out there that will help you to conserve fabric while cutting your binding.  The following picture includes the “Bias Binding Simplified” ruler from Creative Grids.  

–Watch the video on the Creative Grids page, as she also makes my point about using bias binding.  She gets to that explanation in the first 3 minutes.

–Try the “Quilter’s Strip Ticket” for Bias Tube Construction.  That’s the red card shown below.  You can get both of these tools at your local quilt shop. If not, for heaven’s sake, ASK them to order it. Using this method, you’ll waste very little fabric.

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I love a striped binding, and the most recent quilt I finished was certainly completed with a bias binding. I am permanently convinced. Of course I am.

I had to live it myself to learn the hard way. As usual.

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Zen Again

Don’t even tell me you don’t know what zentangles are. By now everyone has heard of a zentangle.  However, in case you’ve been living under a creative rock…here’s a link explaining them.

In playing with Bernina’s Embroidery Software, I’ve been doing a few lessons from a book written by Sue Shrader:  “Creative Sewing Machine’s Workbook for Bernina Embroidery Software 7.”

sue schraderThis workbook covers all aspects of Software 7, and can be purchased from their website.  I have found it to be a valuable investment for beginners, and even for people like me who use the software on a regular basis, but still don’t know everything it can do.

 

One of her lessons involves creating a zentangle piece of artwork.

zentangle stitch 2I had fun with this lesson as it changes every time I do it.  I settled on one version and went through the motions of stitching it out.  I used a heavy-weight cutaway stabilizer in my machine’s jumbo hoop.

 

 

zentangle stitch 3After 30,000 stitches, I knew I’d be leaving the stabilizer behind the design no matter what I ended up making.  Besides the white stabilizer would show if I cut it out behind the design.

 

 

 

zentangle stitch1Here’s the finished stitch-out.  I spent a lot of time debating what to make out of the design and in the end I just finished it off with binding and did some quilting.

 

 

 

zentangle finalNot sure how much of the detail you can see in the design, but the various stitches actually form unique patterns. I’m always stunned at the number of things that can be done with the assistance of software.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m not sure it even suits me very well.  Still, I’d rather push the envelope.  It’s the only way any of us improve.

 

Mini Quilt Mania

I was never big on the whole mini quilt trend.  Until I made one.

Here’s a quilt with a number of different techniques:  squares on point, paper piecing, rounded corners, ricrac insertion.

Yet I could work on it on a tabletop.  I didn’t have to clear my living room to lay it out.  It didn’t take me years (I’m still working on a couple of quilts, hoping I live long enough to complete them). I didn’t hurt my shoulders, my back or develop carpel tunnel.

I worked on it sporadically over a few days and now it’s DONE.

That’s the beauty of mini quilts.  They completely fill my need for instant gratification. This one will be on display at the store, then come home with me to be a placemat or table runner.  It’s cheerful enough for that post-holiday table, or would look great in the summer with a glass of lemonade on it.

mini quilt 1It still needs an adorable bright yellow binding, but the dimension is, I don’t know, 18 x 24?

I don’t have to clean out a closet to find storage for it.

The book it came from is titled, “Little Quilts” by Sarah Fielke and Amy Lobsiger.

I used mini charm packs from a darling new retro fabric line called “Pedal Pushers” by Lauren and Jessi Jung for Moda.

mini quilt detailAll the fun was actually in the details.  Paper-pieced fans over Wooly Lady wool, with ricrac sunshine rays peaking out over a quilted background.

It’s CUTE.

So while I may have been slow to get onboard…(what does anyone DO with a mini quilt? aren’t they doll quilts?  why bother?)…I’m onboard now.  Here’s what you do with mini-quilts:

– Admire them.

–Give them to your kids or grandkids.

–Learn new techniques.

–Use teensy bits of fabric.

– Put them around your house, on tables, counters, hang them on the wall.

–Finish them and move on to the next fun project and fabric line.  Seriously. They take up almost no space at all if you want to throw them in a closet or on a shelf.

Don’t worry, I’ll never completely give up my snuggly quilts or even the artsy ones. But mini quilts are like having a forkful of chocolate cake — enough to get a delicious taste but not enough to do any real damage.

The Burden of Excess

I think I have been building a fabric fortress.

Between Ebola and ISIS, global warming, widespread violence, political inertia and general public apathy, I am exhausted.  I am tired of worrying, tired of taking action against all odds, tired of challenging the status quo and tired of cleaning my house.

If only someone else would do all this work for me. Can someone else please solve world hunger, cure the diseases, make sure everyone has a safe place to live, keep my neighborhood safe, write the essays, pay the bills, do my laundry and cook the family’s dinner?

For awhile, can someone else go to work for me and comfort those who wander in and tell their stories, maybe help the woman whose husband is in the alzheimer’s care facility, chat with the lady who just lost her daughter to breast cancer, make the day brighter for the woman who is the only caregiver for her aging mom, and for that matter just generally fix all the brokenness and the heartache and worry and pain?

If you can give a hand here, that would be great.

Because I try to solve all of this with fabric. And I don’t think it’s working.

As a matter of fact, I think the fabric is suffocating me.  That’s why I spent some time this past week clearing out a great deal of the fabric in my sewing room.  I have come away with 3 giant bags of scraps: batiks, traditionals, solids, you name it.

And I am donating it to the next rummage sale.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still have plenty of fabric on hand.  I still have projects in the queue.  I still have far more than I thought possible.  I still have Sterlite bins full of lovely possibilities, full of the hope of one world-weary woman, assembling bits and pieces from random places and random lives and attaching them to one another with the audacity to believe that at some point it will become something, if not beautiful, at least useful.

I’ll never be able to part with it all.

Thank God.

But at least I let go of some of it.

rummage salela fete quilt

 

 

 

 

 

Meditation Bowl

bowl1These bowls are enough to drive you sane.

With a little bit of practice, you can make these and they are useful, visually pleasing and mesmerizing to sew.

bowl2I start with 20 yards of cotton cording (generally found in the uphostery section).  Traditionally, folks used cording like this as large piping or for drapery –home dec. sewing.

This particular cording, because it is all cotton is very soft, not rigid, like clothesline cord.

I used King Tut all-cotton variegated thread from Superior in both the top and bobbin.

bowl3

 

Be sure to have more than 1 spool available. You go through quite a bit of thread.  Set your machine to a nice wide zigzag…enough to cross over both sides of the cording.

bowl4Start in the center of the bowl and simply sew the cording together.  Keep the cording to your right so you can feed it into the machine.

bowl5The bottom section of your bowl stays flat.  As you progress, gently lift the side of the flat disk and continue sewing.  This begins to form a shape.

Crazily, uncharacteristically, the sewing begins to feel like sculpture, like pottery.  This is where the meditation kicks in.

bowl6You continue to sew at a relatively slow speed, always keeping your eye on the two cords.  Is the zigzag always straight down the middle between the two?

You’ll be tempted to keep sewing while you glance away at the cording to see how much you have left. Don’t.

Stop sewing if you need to, but don’t take your eyes off the needle. Guarantee you will slip off track.

bowl7The beauty of the process is that if you keep going, you’ll ascend to a higher place.  You”ll become a part of the hum, a part of the cording.  Your hands will follow the movements automatically and you’ll feel the flow.

Your mind will calm and focus on just about 1 inch of space on the earth.

bowl8And when you are done, you will have created something very peaceful, very zen.

And it will be more than just a bowl. It will be the place where you put your effort for a while, and the time when you let your racing thoughts evaporate.

Namaste, friends.

 

Sew Practical

A lot of the quilts I make are decorative. Or they are gifts for family or friends.  Or they are just something whimsical I decided to try for fun.

But lately, I’ve been looking around the house thinking we need some changes.

Pottery Barn has some queen size duvet covers I really would like, but they never seem to fit perfectly.  They are always slightly too large.  And they cost upwards of $150 plus shipping if I order online. If I want something in the current line (not on sale) it is closer to $200.

I should stop right here and say that I have a love/hate relationship with Pottery Barn. I love that they always have interesting merchandise.  I hate that I could make so much of it myself.  One part of me loves to go in and wander around, get ideas, be inspired, wish my house looked that way.  The other part of me is just scornful at the way they sometimes say their quilts are “hand-quilted”…by whom?  And how much are they getting paid?  And who needs all this stuff anyway? So, it’s an ugly argument with myself.

That aside, we still need a duvet cover.

So I picked out some French General fabric from Moda. La Fete de Noel.

Now, I spend a lot of time around fabric.  I touch it, fold it, cut it, work with it day in and day out.french general

But this stuff is really lovely.  The fabric is made in Japan (very little fabric is made in the US, but that’s changing.) For some reason, the Japanese have a way of making their fabric very soft…like silk.

After I washed it, it felt like brushed cotton…even better for quilt fabric.

selvageOne of the best parts is the lovely selvage, which is almost a shame to cut off.

A duvet cover sounds easy enough, right?  Just a couple of pieces of fabric sewn together.

Wrong.

 

First, quilt fabric doesn’t fit across a bed.  You have to assemble it.  Second, you have to get the measurements at least somewhat precise.  Third, for a queen size you have to lay out and assemble all that bulk of fabric, pin it, press it and on and on.

Pottery Barn is starting to look pretty good.

But all’s well that ends well. Got my new duvet cover for the cost of some fabric (lovely fabric) in the pattern I wanted – with coordinating fabric on the back.

duvet cover

Now our front window is leaking…too bad I can’t sew up a new window.  But the valance? Hmmmm…..that’s another story.

 

 

 

Slow But Steady…Maybe Just Slow

Finally, between all the end-of-summer commotion and back to school and bus rides and new schedules and coordination, I found a few moments to sew.

I wanted to get back to the Polka Dot Tree project, which has been sitting on my machine for, I don’t know, months now.

I continued outlining the branches, using the triple blanket stitch. This is such a common stitch but is a little trickier to use than a simple blanket stitch.  However, for my purposes, it stands out on the tree and branches so much better and has the look of hand stitching.

bernina triple blanket stitchThroughout the project, I had the dual feed engaged and used a number 20 foot so that I could see exactly where I was going.

polkadot tree2With the branches done, it looks a little more like a Halloween project than I was hoping.

However, after positioning some of the leaves, I got a better feel for the direction this project is headed. I guess that’s the beauty of designing and creating my own projects.

I have no idea how something is going to turn out til after it’s done.

polkadot tree1With the polka dot leaves laid out, I am liking the patchwork/scrappy thing that’s happening.  I am planning (at least at this point) to do some hand embroidery and hand stitching on the leaves, adding in some wools for dimension.  You can just get a hint of some of the fabulous wools in the upper left-hand corner of the shot.

I won’t be able to start quilting til after all of that is complete.

Since the fabric on this quilt came from 60 different people around the world in a polka dot fabric exchange, the idea of being united is important to me. I am toying with the concept of adding a machine embroidery quote along the bottom. We’ll see. Ideas are easy. Implementation takes a little time.

Sometimes a Locker is Just a Locker

One more week and school starts.

Yesterday, my son and I dutifully scrambled over to the middle school to get his schedule, locker, locks, gym uniform and all the stuff that gets done a few days before school starts.

When we stepped through the door, we found a barrage of mom-volunteers, lined up with clip boards and boxes, maps of the school, directives and summaries of where to go and what to do.  Bless their hearts.

The noise was deafening, as parents (mostly moms) and students clamored to drag in their wheelbarrows full of school supplies, divvied up into copious plastic bags from Target or Dollar General or Walmart.

Some remembered our son from elementary school.  “Don’t worry,” they all shouted, “you’ll love it here.”  Good thing I’m not going to school any more.  I already hate it.

As we lumbered up the “up” stair case and down the hall, I saw a frantic mom “wallpapering” a locker.  Seriously.  I glanced at my son.  “Don’t even think about it,” he said without slowing down.

Others were furiously unpacking their child’s supplies, taking plastic wrap off of folders and loading up lockers.

When we reached my son’s locker, we opened to a yawning empty abyss. He could barely reach the one and only top shelf.  To the right of us, a mom and daughter team had just finished their remodeling job.

Her locker looked like my first apartment.

It was decked out like a California Closets ad.  She had a mirror…at the perfect height, a small organizer on the door and on the back wall, shelving, decorations and a tiny chandelier hanging from the top. (My first apartment did NOT have a chandelier). Her books and binders were all lined up neatly on the shelves. She flipped her hair and looked at me.

I looked back at my son who had managed to throw all his Target bags on top of one another on the floor of his locker and was shoving at the door trying to get it to close.

“Where did you get all that?”  I asked the mom on the right, shouting above the din.  She was on her cell phone.  “Container Store!” she yelled back.  “And they only have 9 more left!  My friend is picking up more shelving for us!  Call right away and they might reserve one for you!”

I sighed. It’s been 40 years since I was anywhere near 6th grade. I was not driving 20 miles to the nearest Container Store.

We trudged home.  “Don’t you think it would be nice to have some of those shelves?” I asked.  “Yeah,” he said.  “That would probably help.”

To be honest, I did not even know what to google.  Locker shelving? Locker organization? Locker stackers, as I heard someone refer to them?  I called the nearest Staples.

“Do you have any shelves for lockers?”

“Oh yes!  We have lots of pink ones!”

“Do you have any other colors?”

“hmmm…let me see…ummm…yes there’s one black one.  Maybe one more in black.”

“Good! Hold it for me, I’ll be right over!”

I have often wondered why our son just simply does not have huge organizational skills.  I don’t wonder any more.  Apparently it’s genetic.

But I’ll say this much:  At least today in school I learned something.

Here’s a pinterest link to locker organizers!

Multi-hoop project is quilted, bound and finished.

Multi-hoop project is quilted, bound and finished.