The Zen of Mindless Sewing

Cake Mix Recipe, Layer Cake Mix, ModaIf you’ve never used one of these Cake Mix Recipe packets, you’re missing out on one of the most relaxing ways to sew.

All you need to begin is:

  • 10 in. layer cake of 42 squares, various colors
  • 10 in. layer cake of background fabric, all the same color. (Option:  2 – 10 in. layer cakes of background grunge fabric.  They normally come 20 squares in a packet, so you’ll need at least 2 packages.  I then purchased another fatquarter so that I had a total of 42 squares.)
  • Your choice of any 10 in. Cake Mix Recipe from Miss Rosie’s Quilt Co.

You can see above, that I chose to use a Tula Pink layer cake…lots of bold colors, paired with a Moda grunge that was very neutral.

All you need to do is layer one brightly colored 10 in. square against one neutral, right sides together.  Then just take one sheet from the recipe pad and follow the dotted lines when sewing.

Don’t forget to decrease your stitch length.  I lowered mine to 1.60. This makes the paper easy to perforate when you pull it off.  If you’ve ever used Thangles in a past life, this will all seem familiar.

But here’s where it gets relaxing.

Friends, you do not have to worry about perfection, except to follow the lines. Your paper can be slightly off center. If you’ve ever used layer cakes you know that no two manufacturers cut them exactly the same way, so they never exactly match up.  But it doesn’t matter. You have a good 1/2 – 3/4 of an inch all the way around as excess. It all gets trimmed off.  Just get it close to layered correctly and don’t worry. Follow the arrows, sew on the dotted lines, cut on the solid lines.  That’s it!

With these Cake Mix Recipes, you’re working entirely with half square triangles.

When cutting, if you have a rotating cutting mat, that really helps, so I would recommend using one. But here’s another little tip:  Use one of these clover rollers instead of pressing with an iron.

I fell in love with this little baby a while ago when I was making 1/2 in. half square triangles.  Yeah. 1/2 inch. Try pressing that.  Anyway, the tool works best when you are pressing only one seam open…perfect for this task, and any half square triangles.

As usual, I’m not sure where this is headed.  My chosen blocks will look like this, and I’ll just have to wait until I get more done to see how it comes together.  But that’s the fun of it, right?

I don’t have to think much.  I just sew sew sew.

Eventually, it all comes together.  Just like everything else in life.

Mindfulness gets a lot of press these days.

But sometimes, over-thinking is over-rated.

Free Spirit Has Been Acquired

Tula Pink just announced on her Instagram page that Free Spirit Fabrics has been acquired in its entirety by a new parent company.

This would mean that all the designers will still be under the “Free Spirit” umbrella.

The parent company appears to be Jaftex.

They also own Studio e Fabrics, Henry Glass and Co,. and several other brand names.

This announcement would be great news for the designers, and Tula Pink seems very excited. It remains to be seen if there will be any interruption in distribution of the fabric lines.

It cam e together remarkably quickly.

Here’s a link to one of the Jaftex owners’ blog.

I Want to Live in a Sundance Catalog

I want to live there.  I want to live in a world where I am about 6 feet tall.  I want to pause elegantly on a cobblestone street and smile mysteriously at nothing in particular.

I want to always have a bouquet of flowers in my hands or in the background of my earnest gaze, filling my world with color. I just paused for a moment, maybe to listen to a sweetly singing bird, while I gather fresh vegetables and fresh flowers at the Saturday morning outdoor market. In Guatemala.

My clothes are all embroidered. Not in a kitschy way, but in a swingy, carefree Boho jumble of flowers —  on my jeans, my shirts, my belts, and yes, on my shoes.  I have just the right amount of bangles and baubles. Not too many, but always enough to make you think that I’m never seen without a perfect accessory. Turqoise is my fave, but basically anything with a piece of leather attached to it will do.

Welcome to my home, where even the easy chair has a touch of colorful embroidery.  The quilt on my bed is hand-stitched, makes no difference who made it or where. Don’t envy my iron accessories or rough-hewn wood furniture. It all just flew in through the mountainous/desert/woodsy scene out the window where it was created naturally by the forces of nature, and simply appeared on the weathered Uzbekistan rug.

It’s time for me to grab my jaunty, fringed, leather bag and head out to meet my friend in the mountains.  He’s a lumberjack, with one day’s worth of beard.  He and his friends are busy chopping logs in front of the cabin where we all gather to wander in the snow wearing textured sweaters, bulky cabled hats and scarves and heavily embellished fingerless gloves.

I must enjoy the moment. Before long, I’ll be off to the beach, taking my melancholy barefoot stroll, sandals in hand, gauzey, fluttery sundress and waves rolling in behind me.


I want to live in a sundance catalog.

Where everything and everyone is aesthetically beautiful. And no one is grieving or devastated or angry.

And the biggest question of the day is whether to put my hands in my pocket or lean against the warm stone wall with the sun shining down and the bougainvillea framing my view.


Where is This Sewing Machine Made?

Oh no.

As someone who sold high end sewing machines for over 8 years, this was a dreaded question. Not because I didn’t know the answer or was embarrassed by the answer. Not at all.  It was because I had seen so many people have a visceral, and frankly, uneducated and ignorant reaction to the answer.

So I am dedicating this blog to facts. A great deal of misinformation, speculation and gossip is available on sewing boards and even wikipedia. I contacted the most well-known brand names myself, and even checked Bloomberg to get these answers and to help anyone understand the dynamics in play here.  I want you to be educated and informed about your purchasing decisions.  Not angry and emotional.

Let me start by saying this much:

No sewing machine currently in production is made in the USA. None. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Not now, not recently, and, likely, not anytime soon.

This is not about politics. This is about economics.  While I do not have access to manufacturing costs, I do understand dealer margins and exactly what goes into the research, development, and manufacturing of these products. You love your dealer and want them to stay in business? They have to make money.  The manufacturer has to make money.  The distributors have to make money. The people contracted by the manufacturer have to make money (including all those in marketing, customer service, etc.). You pay for all of this.

So where are they made?

Here’s the clearest breakdown.  I asked the top brands through customer service on their website a.) Where are your sewing machines manufactured? and b.) Where is your US Headquarters and what functions take place there?  These are my answers:


Their international headquarters is in Steckborn Switzerland.  They still manufacture there, but only the very highest end machines. The B880, the Q20 and Q24 are made in Switzerland.  Bernina is the only sewing machine manufacturer that still produces machines in what is considered the “west.” – in Switzerland. They also own Brewer and OESD embroidery.

All the rest of their regular line Bernina machines are produced in a Bernina plant in Lamphun Thailand, built in 1990. It is important to note that this plant is owned and operated by Bernina.  Here’s a great video.  Dealers from the US have visited there.  The local employees have free lunch and air conditioning.

Bernina’s US Headquarters is located in Aurora IL.  It serves as the US distribution center, and also handles marketing, tech issues, software customer service, education, etc.

Full disclosure: I know more about Bernina than the others because those were the machines I sold. And I own several of them.

Baby Lock:

Baby lock is a brand name owned by Tacony, a huge US corporation that also owns Nancy’s Notions, Koala Cabinets, Amazing Designs embroidery, vacuum cleaners and other home products. In response to my request, I promptly received an email from the Assistant General Manager of Baby Lock in Japan, where their International headquarters is located.  He tells me that Baby Lock sewing machines are manufactured in Taiwan, Vietnam, China and Thailand. Baby Lock sergers are MOSTLY made in Japan, where they own a number of factories.  According to the company, a couple of serger models (I don’t know which ones) are made in Taiwan.

They don’t technically have a US headquarters. Tacony is their US wholesale distributor and they are located in Fenton Missouri.


All of the above brand names are now under one corporation: SVP Worldwide.  Their customer service response is that most of their machines are made in China.  Singer responded separately and stated that their machines are made in Brazil, China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

SVP Worldwide’s US headquarters is located in LaVergne Tennessee.  Here they handle dealer relations, customer service and software support.

An interesting note: Worldwide headquarters for SVP Worldwide is located in Hamilton Bermuda. (Not exactly the Cayman Islands, but same result…far less taxes. Shrewd?  Dishonest?  That’s for you to decide, but at least you know.)


Janome International headquarters is located in Japan, where they have 3 Janome-owned factories.  Their website clearly states that they manufacture their machines in Japan, Taiwan and Thailand.

Their US headquarters is located in Mahwah, New Jersey. This is where they handle dealer relations, education and customer service. They have a nice video about their Japanese factories on their website.


I had the most difficulty contacting anyone from Brother US. Keep in mind that Brother International creates printers, fax machines, industrial sewing machines and garment printers and lots more. Their customer service line left me on hold for over 20 minutes in the middle of the day, when I called their US Headquarters located in Bridgewater, New Jersey. (Prior to that I went through rounds and rounds of automated answering prompts. NOT FUN.)

I finally called a local sewing dealership that sells Brother home and professional machines.  All they could tell me is that the machines are made in “the Orient.”

Wikipedia says China, Taiwan and Vietnam. They are widely known to share the same vendors as Baby Lock, but I cannot confirm anything from the corporation itself.

What’s the Conclusion?

Here’s my advice:  Do your homework. Research not only the features of the machines, but where they originate and how they’re made.  Lean on your local dealers. If they handle multiple brands of machines, ask them who is the easiest to work with, the most responsive. If they have the machines on hand, ask to see the original box. It must always be labeled with country of origin.  I welcome corrections or additional information.

If you work for any of these organizations, and have more detail, you can contact me at

And if any of this gets you worked up, don’t even think about researching your food.

You don’t ever want to know.


Free Spirit Fabrics is Shutting Down

Free Spirit/Westminster Fabrics announced yesterday to their designers that they will no longer be distributing fabric.

This includes some big name designers:  Tula Pink, Kaffe Fassett, Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner and Denyse Schmidt.

What does this mean for us, as consumers?

Well if you are fans of these designers, their future products are currently up in the air. Free Spirit says they will take orders from quilt shops through May 31, so likely this is everything shown to shop owners at Quilt Market this past fall. This just goes to show how far in advance the pipeline is for fabrics. Products that stores are ordering right now are already in the works overseas…commitments have been made, which means $$$ have been exchanged, and at the end of the day, the products need to be sold to you…preferably at a profit.

Tula Pink is going live today at 2 pm Central time on Facebook and Instagram (Feb. 13) to talk about the future of her fabrics.  We’ll all learn a bit about it then.

Update on Tula Pink fabric:

Her solids are already in the stores. Whatever is there is what’s there. All Stars will ship to stores.  De La Luna may or may not ship, but may transfer to whoever she partners with next.  She is planning to continue designing fabric and is weighing options with new distributors. (She has a great attitude, if you have a chance to see her response, be sure to look it up.)

As for the other designers, I’m sure they will each make decisions based on their own opportunities and interests.

Stay tuned!

You can read about the details of the shutdown here.

Buttoned-Up Valentine

Every year, I make something silly as a Valentine for my husband. I’m not sure what inspired this project, possibly something on Instagram which I then added to embroidery software and used the supplies I had at home.

This year the theme was buttons.

The world is exploding with buttons these days. I tend to gravitate toward the antique ones. I’ve been known to hang out in an antique shop and just sort through all their old buttons, searching, searching. When you find the one that’s perfect, it’s a real treasure.

Bernina makes a button sew-on foot that I’ve used many times. The holes on buttons are set a standard distance apart. Therefore a stitch set at the right width will just sew it on, and most Bernina machines have this stitch in the buttonhole section of stitches.  However, I’ve taught the use of it to others and, honestly, some people get it immediately and some people just have a harder time, and need more practice.

Here’s a link to the Bernina instructions.

Some tips:

–If you are just learning, choose a medium-sized standard button which is relatively flat. This is the easiest type of button to sew.

–If you have a 7 Series machine with “hover” you may want to turn it off in settings. The button can move around otherwise, and that’s not helpful. Use the freehand system (the knee-lift that lifts the presser foot) so your hands are free to adjust the position of the button.

–You can continue to use the hover if you are good at holding the button in place until the first few stitches are taken.

–ALWAYS run the first few stitches slowly by using the handwheel to check needle placement. I usually use the handwheel until the needle pops over to the second hole to make sure it fits nicely in both holes.

–Run the buttonhole stitch twice per button. The first time never seems to be quite enough for me.

–The screw on the foot allows you to adjust the height of the rubber pad for thicker buttons.

–Smaller buttons, though they may still be standard-sized, often benefit from reducing the stitch width slightly.  After you do this enough, you’ll get a feel for the sizing.

Once you get used to using this foot, I promise, you will never want to sew a button on by hand again.  If you break a needle or a button (it happens) don’t worry.  It’s scary, but don’t be afraid of your machine. I do wear glasses when doing this because you can break a needle doing just about anything on a sewing machine. And I also need to see!

Have fun with this.  If at first it seems a little tricky, don’t give up! These feet are engineered to make your life easier.  Take advantage of them!

New Chair vs. New Upholstery

We needed new counter chairs.  I went to furniture stores, I got pricing online and read through dozens of reviews on popular (and some not-so-popular websites).  Honestly, I tried.

New counter chairs are not outrageously expensive.  Decent ones range from $80-200 each.

After much discussion and deliberation, I realized that none of them were as sturdy or as absolutely perfect for our bottoms as the chairs we already owned. Even worse, I would fall in love with a new style, read the reviews and find out in some obscure review that the chair was an inch shorter than described.  To some, that may be of little significance. To someone of my stature, it’s a deal-breaker. Without that extra inch, I am Lily Tomlin in the rocking chair. (Kids, you can google it.)

As you can see from the image, our old green fabric is worn, stained (I think my son may have spilled something on it 12 years ago), and finally, it is just plain disintegrating.

I know absolutely nothing about attempting even mild re-upholstering, which never stops me from actually doing it.  Folks, it looks easy enough, it really does.  Examine how the chair is put together, take it apart and then put everything back in reverse order.  You can do this!

Until, of course, you begin to take out the old upholstery staples.  And then you are in for a surprise.  Hope you are someone with upper body strength because that’s what it takes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

–The first step, is, of course, the most fun.  Get yourself over to a JoAnn’s or a Hobby Lobby and find some choices of fabric.  I know I have said that I am not inclined to purchase garment or quilt fabric at these places (still believe this).  The same is not true for their Home Dec fabric.  They have a really nice selection, unless you are insistent on designer stuff.  Even so, I believe I have seen Waverly and other reputable fabrics there.

— I chose two fabrics, and this one was quickly dismissed as my teenage son said             it looked like vomit.  (My deep apologies to the designer. Perhaps you’ve never had a teenager in the house.)

–After that comment from someone who normally has no strong feelings about anything decorative, I went with the red paisley . I also purchased a couple of 2-inch cushions made of foam.  They seemed likely enough to do the job.

–The next step is to take apart the chair from the bottom and begin removing the old backing, cushion, and fabric by removing the staples. I did not have the special tool for removing upholstery staples and ended up using a hammer, screwdriver and pliers for the task.  I don’t recommend this.  Spend $12 and get the tool.  For my next project, I will have one.

Everything on these particular chairs was attached to a piece of 3/4 inch plywood, which was perfectly fine for re-use.

The old cushion was so smashed and unuseable I could not possibly refer to it as a template.

So I took the plywood up to the sewing studio, set it out on my cutting table, and put the cushion underneath.  I cut the cushion with about 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch extra on each side. This was important, as the cushion cut to the exact size of the plywood would actually be too small once the fabric is pulled down around it.

I gave myself plenty of “pulling” room when I cut the fabric.  That could always be cut down once the stapling was done.

–The biggest step required two people and an electric staple gun.  One person to pull the fabric, the other to staple. I’m sure it’s possible to do this alone, but it was a lot easier and a lot faster to have four hands…as long as both are careful with the stapler.

The end product honestly feels like two brand new chairs.  I’ve long been drawn to re-upholstery.  But there’s a definite learning curve and I needed to start small. You can also get hurt.  Staples don’t always come out whole, and there might be a fragment left in the wood, waiting to shred your arm or hand.  Or worse, the hammer or screwdriver can slip causing all manner of cuts and bruises.  Take your time.

In the end, I am thrilled that we did this instead of settling for new chairs we really didn’t like all that much.  This way, we have the perfect color and fit.

Small triumphs are worth it. And no one in the house thinks they look like vomit.







Document Your Quilt

This week, I finally finished my Splendid Sampler quilt. (And I promise, this is the last post I will be writing about it. If you are still working, I would love to see yours…post to Instagram #SplendidSampler.)

Anyway, I got to thinking about the way we document quilts.  Everyone does it differently, and plenty of folks don’t label their quilts at all.  What a shame!  I think all quilts deserve a label, even if it’s just your signature at the bottom.  They take so much time and effort. While we are working on them, we spend time thinking of the people who will receive them. Life is going on around us while we are sewing.

I remember one of the first quits I ever made was done in the aftermath of 9/11.  So much of the news, the change in our lifestyles, the culture, all got sewn into that quilt.  It’s nothing special, just a Christmas quilt sewn in flannel and hand-tied.  But I never made a label for it.  I just tucked it away. Even now, when I pull it out, it brings me back to that time when we were all huddled around our TV sets getting information. And it brings me comfort.

So now, when I create labels for my quilts, I try to capture the moment or at least the sentiment that carried me through the project.

You can do this many ways.

I have embroidery software and am comfortable using it.  However, I know a lot of people who create their labels in Word or something universal and print it out onto fabric.  Printed Treasures printable fabric works well for this purpose and so does the printable fabric from Electric Quilt.  Just follow the directions.

You can also just hand-write the label with permanent ink.  Some people like to sew it into the binding in the corner. Others, like me, just like to hand-stitch it to the back of the quilt.

Whatever your chosen process, just make it your own.  When you give quilts to people, you’ll find that after enjoying the initial beauty of the quilt, they are always charmed a second time by the label, the sentiment, the love.

It’s like the card, the thought, the capture of that moment in time. And even if it’s only for yourself…ESPECIALLY if it’s only for you and your family. Take the time to document.

Your effort is worth the credit.

(I deleted particular names off the labels for privacy here.)


The State of the (Sewing) Union

Friends, Quilters, Sewists, Designers, Artists and Fiber Lovers of all flavors:

Today we gather to review the state of our industry, and to hold a mirror up to ourselves – – for the fun of it.

The 2017 Quilting in America survey just came out.

The main headliners: 

  • 7-10 million total estimated quilters in the U.S.
  • $3.7 billion in total estimated quilting industry spending for 2017. (Holding steady from 2014, which was at $3.76 billion.)
  • $442 is the amount the average quilting household spent in 2017. (Up by 48% from 2014.)

The survey found two main groups of quilters: Dedicated Quilters and Under 45 Quilters.

Dedicated Quilters:

  • Female
  • Average 63 years old
  • Well educated (70% went to college).
  • Affluent ($95,900 household income).
  • Spends average $3,363 per year on quilting.
  • 85% prefer traditional style, 37% modern quilting, 20% art quilting.
  • Account for 72.2% of total industry expenditures.
  • Purchased an average of 99 yards of fabric the last year (Well, this made me laugh.  How many quilts can you make out of 99 yards of fabric? Quite a few. Hence, the reason we all have a wonderful stash!!)

Under 45 Quilter:

  • Affluent ($98,000 household income)
  • Prefer modern quilting
  • Websites (75%) and online video (63%) play a stronger role for education and inspiration than total sample
  • Blogs are important to this group
  • Even though they are employed, they still devote 10+ hours a week to their craft

Some things to consider: 

  • 97% of Dedicated Quilters are purchasing fabric in person at a retail location. But 66% also purchase online.
  • 83% of all quilters will purchase 100% cotton thread (hello Aurifil) in the next 12 months.
  • 54% purchase batting in queen size
  • In the last year 26% purchased a new sewing machine. Average price $2212.
  • 50% of Dedicated Quilters use social media, like Facebook. (Up from 14% in 2014.)

But what’s happening in the garment industry?

If you are a garment sewist, you have seen some major changes lately as well.  Many quilt fabric distributors are now also featuring rayon and denim in their current lines, and often include garment patterns as part of their collections.

CSS Industries, Inc. now owns: Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick and Vogue.  That’s a LOT of consolidation.  Why?  Because new indie designers and pattern makers are basically taking over the industry, and leaving the old brand names in the dust.  Those “Under 45-ers” listed above want to sew their own clothes.  They want it in their own patterns and in their own sizes.

But the old guard garment industry didn’t realize that patterns as currently packaged are incoherent to someone learning on their own.  In the old days, of course, your mom or grandma taught you to sew clothes.  That doesn’t happen any more and younger sewists need help. Along came sites like  (Patterns that teach, in current trendy designs.)

Furthermore, distribution channels are basically gone for garment fabrics.  JoAnn’s, Walmart, Hobby Lobby?  Please. If you’re making a Halloween costume, sure.  But something you want to wear and spend some time and effort making by hand? Not a chance.

So where does this leave the state of the sewing industry?

In a creative and strong place.  With the Nextgen sewists/quilters already on the rise, and technology and social media filling the gaps in learning curves (not to mention our physical curves like, the industry is poised for change and growth.  We seem to be insatiable in our desire to create and to learn and to connect.  Social media makes all this possible in fresh ways.

Yet we are still addicted to the feel and touch of fabric, making me believe that we currently have a brick and mortar “hole” to fill. Who will transform the retail and customer experience for us? Who will bring the online and offline advantages together?  Consider it a challenge.

And let the sewing games begin.  Happy 2018!


Splendid Sampler on the Move!

Finally, I am moving forward with my Splendid Sampler quilt.  I wrote about it here and here.

I would like to say that I completed all 100 of the blocks, but alas, life happens and I am a firm believer in stopping while I’m ahead.  At first I did every block that came my way, regardless of the techniques.

I quickly realized that I never want to sew hexies.  I mean *never*. Especially not 1 inch ones.  And I realize that I may make enemies this way, but not everyone likes the same thing and that is just fine.  If you love tiny hexies, bless your heart. If you like bunnies and squirrels on your quilt, bless your heart as well. And if you really love tiny paper-piecing, you’re probably going to heaven too.

It is laid out in our foyer, and I am finalizing the way to finish it.  As you can see, I was pretty strict about the color palette.  Thankfully, I still love the colors.  Something about the neutrality of it makes it slightly less traditional.  As you can see, I’ll probably stick with the dark inner border and a “piano key” outer border. I have so many scraps left over, I will easily be able to use them up as the border. I gain a little size there too.

I vowed a long time ago not to make quilts that are larger than twin size because:

  1. I have no room to store them.
  2. I don’t want to pay someone else to quilt them and I absolutely cannot handle queen size on my domestic machine, at least not with any quality.

But I did learn some new techniques.  And I reignited a love of hand embroidery, which is quite popular right now.


It really does take a lot of time.  As you can see, the left side is done by hand, the right side I just digitized and stitched out in machine embroidery.  Sometimes the new block would be announced and I would think (I’m being honest here), “Not another hand embroidered block. I don’t have time this week.”  At that point I was reminded of  Indiana Jones in the scene with the Samarai wielding the giant sword. Indy, exhausted,  whips out his gun and shoots him. After days of finishing one hand-stitched block, if another came up, I just went to the computer, digitized it in software, and within an hour, machine embroidered the next block.  It’s cheating, I know.

But it looks great.

Over 20,000 quilters started this project back in February 2016.

I would love to know how many finished a quilt!