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 it’s 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?

Kraft-Tex Update

As you know, I have a lot of fun with Kraft-Tex products.

In a prior blog post, I talked about using embroidery for yard flags or signs.

This time, I decided to try a little acrylic paint on it and see how it holds up in weather. The previous sign that I did has been out in rainstorms, thunder, wind and more, and looks just as nice as it did the day I put it out there.

To be honest, I’m a little shocked that it held up so well.

So this time, I pulled out my acrylics and painted up a patriotic floral for the Fourth of July. I have not added any finishing, like Mod Podge or varnish of any kind.

For the record, I asked Kraft-Tex for more information about their product. It is recyclable, and therefore biodegradable, but doesn’t fall apart in the rain. It is OEKO-TEX certified, which is standard in the textile industry in that the end product is certified to be non-toxic. It also holds an FSC accreditation (Forest Stewardship Council) Essentially, this means that the product is regulated to be using forestry resources responsibly as defined by the highest industry standards.

I’ll be getting back to my wool and quilting momentarily. But for now, I’m having a great time with outdoor decorating and garden crafts…using my sewing machine.

For the Gardeners Among Us

I’m guilty of spending a teensy bit less time in the sewing studio, and a bit more time out in the yard these days…like most of you, I’m guessing.

It will be raining off and on this weekend, so between trips to the store and out in the garden, I might get in a bit of organizing/sewing.

But for now, here’s a tribute to those of us who cannot resist the flowers. They cheer us, bloom under almost any circumstances, and lead the way into a new season.

What would we do without them?

Kraft-Tex in the Garden

kraft-tex for the garden. learn to use Kraft-Tex for lots of fun projects. Edgestitch.

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that I have a lot of fun with Kraft-Tex, a paper/fabric that can be washed, doesn’t fray, and needs no finishing.

Here’s a link to a couple other of my blog posts on Kraft-Tex.

This time, since I am into garden season, I thought I’d try something slightly different by adding a garden flag made from Kraft-Tex. Now, I know that it has been a truly rainy season in my area, so I though it would be interesting to find out how the flag holds up during rain. I know it can be washed and dried without any issues, and I already tested the ribbon I’m using for color-fastness. So I’m not really worried about the rain.

I promise to show you what it looks like after a few weeks. We’ll all find out!

The embroidery showed up really well on white, and then I placed it on the grey or charcoal color. I find that Kraft-Tex holds up well with lots of embroidery…upwards of 20,000 stitches..as long as I use the right stabilizers. I find it best to use a medium weight cutaway, with a layer of Stabilstick cutaway on top of that — 2 layers of cutaway in total.

Then I cut out the pieces and used a bit of scrapbook tape to hold them in position while I stitched them down onto a larger piece of Kraft-Tex.

These designs can be purchased at emblibrary.com.

After assembling the flag, I added some velcro to the top, along with a fold so that it hangs nicely on the iron bar. A bone folder works great to give a nice solid crease. And the velcro makes it easy on-off. I’m thinking that I could make a number or these through the seasons…Fourth of July next.

Finally, I’m playing around with placement outside. I don’t have my annuals set up out there yet, so it’s a bit early. In the meantime, this is easy and gratifying stitching to get done for any season.

Sewing for the Generations

My friends are all becoming grandparents.

Not just the ones who had children at a very young age, but also now those who had them at a normal or not-so-very-young age.

I first started quilting in my twenties when all my friends had babies. I made dozens and dozens of flannel baby quilts, most of them hand-tied and filled with the fluffiest polyester money could buy. The parents and kids loved them.

I moved on to more traditional quilting, took classes, and eventually started teaching. But I never forgot how I got started.

Babies.

These days, I’m doing a lot on diapers and onesies. It took some experimenting, but I have found the best methodology.

Keep it simple.

Onesies absolutely do not support a whole lot of stitches. Even some fonts are iffy, depending on the number and size of the satin stitches.

Use two layers of polymesh stabilizer.

I use OESD cutaway polymesh. I experimented with one layer and just didn’t think it was enough. Depending on your design, you may even want three layers. A traditional cutaway adds way too much bulk and stiffness, so go with a polymesh. I also tried fusible, but that distorted the look of the onesie. I’m not a fan of 505 spray so I don’t use it when hooping.

Use a ball point needle.

If you’re familiar with embroidering on knits, you already know this. But if you usually embroider on quilt cotton, it’s easy to forget to change out the needle. Onesies are very stretchy and the fabric really separates when you use a ball point or “jersey” needle. It makes a difference in the longevity of the embroidery, because a ball point separates the threads of the fabric instead of cutting right through them.

Washing Instructions.

I use rayon thread (Isacord) which is bleachable and holds up well when washed. I throw onesies right into the washer and dryer…even in hot water and high settings.

The fabric, 100% cotton, always shrinks a bit. And the embroidery may curl because of that. The best way to fix this is to lay a towel on your ironing board, and lay the onesie face down against the towel — with the embroidery against the towel. Iron the back of the onesie without steam until everything is laying flat again. No problem.

I sew on a Bernina and you can see that with their free arm, it’s really easy to stitch on a onesie without a lot of pinning, clipping and gyrations to keep the back out of the way.

Finally, use a 9 month size or larger.

Maybe it’s possible, but I never attempt to embroider a newborn or 3 month size. I just don’t see how I can stretch it enough around the hoop. I’d have to switch to the very smallest hoop which has a tiny field of embroidery. Most of the onesies I’ve done are size 12 month. They still look relatively small, and get smaller after washing. But they are large enough to work on comfortably.

Sending love and blessings to all my friends and co-workers and friends of friends and co-workers who are keeping the earth populated. There’s really nothing quite like participating in the ritual of welcoming the very newest generation.