Tips on Scalloped Edges for Your Quilt

Almost two weeks left before the Fourth of July and all I have left is the label. (Have I harped enough about labels? Every quilt needs one.)

At the very last minute, I decided to scallop the edges of this quilt. Don’t ask me why. Because I don’t know. It was lovely without it, but I felt like I wanted a bit more…maybe a touch of femme or softness, or something to make it distinctive.

The pattern comes from a book called French Farmhouse by Marie Claude Picon. The quilts are all designed for rustic simplicity, which is lovely. But I never found a pattern I didn’t adapt at least a little. So same with this one.

The quilting, as you can see on the back, is all stars and stripes, in keeping with the theme. I always quilt on my domestic machine, a Bernina 780 (which was a precursor to the current 790.) I don’t enter my quilts in competitions–for obvious reasons. They are purely for the pleasure of creating. So you can see that I have a lot of fun with quilting, and I’m not hung up on perfection. As the Amish like to say about their quilts, “Only God is perfect.”

I like my quilts to be functional.

About the scallops. Don’t overthink.

I literally dumped some thread out of a Polish pottery bowl in my sewing room functioning as storage. I turned it upside down and started drawing the scallops. I did not measure. I did not plan. When I got to the last two or three at the end of a row, I just made minor adjustments so it fit. I don’t even know the size of the bowl.

So I assure you that you can enjoy creating scallops as a quilt edging. However, I DO have some tips because when you get to sewing, you just need to be prepared.

Scallop-Edge Quilt Tips

  1. Cut before you sew. I know this sounds crazy, but a lot of books and instructions will tell you to draw the scallops and sew your binding on before you trim the scallops into shape. The argument is that the fabric is less inclined to stretch or distort. It’s stable and you have a straight piece on which to work. Feel free to go ahead and try it that way. Maybe it works for you. But I really need to see my cut edge. I like to work directly on the shape that the quilt will be in the end. It may not be ideal for everyone, but this is about what works for you.
  2. Pin each scallop one at a time before you sew. Not gonna lie. This is a slow process. But you will get better results.
  3. Use bias binding. Yes, you knew that. Of course you did. But, I’m always surprised by the number of quilters who don’t ever use bias binding on their quilts–even those that are meant to be passed down as heirlooms. When a binding is on the straight of grain, all the wear-and-tear is on about two or three threads going longwise over the edge. When the binding is cut on the bias, you have hundreds of threads that support the edge. It will last so much longer. I wrote about this in a previous post.
  4. Don’t stretch. When you work with anything on the bias, it’s easy–really easy–to pull the fabric. It’s easy (and tempting) to stretch it into position. But this will just cause the quilt to curl and not lay flat. Fabric is very compliant and is happy to work with you. But you have to understand the ways it wants to be handled. The puckering that you see in the pinning, is exactly what you want to see. This gives the curve enough “give” to flip around to the back side.

Above, you can see how the binding is pinned in place. When you get to the deepest part of the scallop, you’ll leave the needle down and turn the quilt. Stitch a tiny bit down onto the next scallop and then pin the rest into place. Here’s a book called “Happy Endings” which gives a good illustration of attaching binding to a scallop. It’s not hard, but it’s not something you can just whip right through like a straight binding. It takes a bit of patience and maneuvering.

And I think patience is something we could all use a bit more of these days. I know that quilters sew love into every stitch. It’s what moves us forward.

What Is Mine to Do?

That’s a question I ask myself a lot these days.

It’s a question that appears at the end of every newsletter that I receive from Fr. Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation.

Action. And contemplation.

There’s a time for both. The question is: What is mine to do?

I know a lot more about what is probably NOT mine to do. It’s probably not mine to march in the streets. I am getting to the age where pandemics and crowds are a bad mix for me. Younger people are much better at those things.

It’s probably also not mine to tell you what to think. You have your own ears and eyes and soul. It’s your work to worry about what you think.

But what is mine to do?

It is mine to listen. It is mine to raise my son to listen, to have empathy, to use his critical thinking skills. It is mine to contemplate. I have had many, many days of action. And my time of action will come again. But I can support and raise people up. I can stand with those who are oppressed, even if I have to do it from my house. From my perspective of privilege I can appreciate when it might be time to shut my mouth and listen…listen to the voices of those not like me.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. –MLK

Those words were as true then as they are now, maybe even more profoundly right now.

Last year I started working on a red, white and blue quilt. It is a patchwork of many, many pieces of different fabric in every shade of red, white and blue that I could find. I once had a friend ask: Why would someone want to cut up perfectly good fabric? As quilters we know why. One piece of fabric may be strong and singular and dominant.

But a quilt made with many colors, blended together and working in harmony is a much more perfect…union. And the painful thing is that the fabric must be cut, and things get ugly and a lot of hard work must be done before anything even resembling coherence starts to emerge.

But it does emerge when we do the work. And you can follow a pattern or freestyle it. But when it’s all sewn back together as one piece of cloth, it’s special. It’s better than the sum of a bunch of single fabrics. It’s triumphant. And participating in that?

That might be mine to do.

The Positive Pleasures of Pursuing Puzzles

No one in our house is allowed to use the phrase “new normal” or “in these uncertain times”.

For obvious reasons.

But for reasons mostly unknown to me, I dug deep into a closet not long after the stay-at-home orders began, and I came across a puzzle we never assembled. It was the only one in our home. 750 pieces. Challenging but not discouraging. It was an illustration of a floral shop during Valentine’s Day, which, of course, had passed at the time we were assembling. But it was loaded with cheer–flowers, cards, knick knacks, doodads and color. Lots of color.

I set it out on our coffee table and worked on it during the news (which was quite a bit at first, if you remember). Then I started doing it during briefings from the task force, from governors, etc.

Then one day our teenage son walked over and started working. He was in the midst of preparing for AP Exams. In case you hadn’t heard, they were canceled in their normal form, and were replaced by a very stressful, time sensitive, online interpretation. A year’s worth of studying and work reduced to 2 questions…and half the battle was the stress of wondering if all your technology would hold up. He sometimes stared at those puzzle pieces with me.

I understand if you’re not a puzzle person.

I guess not everyone is. But if you are visual–as I am–or spatial–as I am, you very likely find them relaxing. I do crosswords from time to time. But I find I just am not that up on pop culture or TV or movie stars or Greek mythology. When I used to play Trivial Pursuit, my default answer was always “Barbra Streisand.”

Neverthless, there’s also something meditative and calming about the images. I am very particular about the images I choose for puzzles. I don’t want a loud abstract spiral of pure color. That just seems frustrating and vague to me. But a homey scene with quilts and puppies and red barns and all the reassurances of a time that was simpler? Yeah, that’s for me.

The puzzle above was probably one of my favorites. If you find it anywhere, and you enjoy doing them, I highly recommend this one. And shout out to artist Chris Bigalow. His outstanding illustration is so full of tiny details, that I found myself studying and appreciating every piece. Inside the windows? All those little scenes are tiny puzzles…puzzles within puzzles. What a fantastic graphic. From the details in the upstairs windows to the coffee mug that says “I heart puzzles”, this is just a gem.

What’s the next one in line? I decided to try having a puzzle made from one of my own images. As much as I enjoy floral photography, I prefer illustrations on my puzzles. But I did have one image that I thought would make a fun puzzle.

So this next one is a photo I took while on vacation. It’s always been one of my favorites and the color, cheeriness and general tchotchkiness (is that a word?) would be fun.

Puzzles calm me. I know that people attribute a lot of good things to puzzle-solving. But for me, when working on a puzzle, I am distanced from the chaos and scary-as-hell reality we live in. I’m wrapped up in a world of shapes and color. I used to shun them because, really, what in the world is productive about jigsaw puzzles? You spend hours and when you’re done, you put it all back in the box and move on.

But that’s become a metaphor for me. A metaphor for life. We scramble, we work, we delude ourselves into thinking we must always be productive, but when it’s all over, it’s over. And has anything that any of us done had true lasting value? Our quilts, maybe. But only if someone truly appreciates them. Otherwise, they are just a way to keep ourselves going.

We all do what we have to do.

Next post I’lll share some sewing.

But for now? We keep a puzzle on the coffee table.

Kimberbell For the Finish

Can you have too much Elvis in Graceland? Too many lights in Vegas? Too many labrador puppies?

I think not.

And you can’t have too much cute in Kimberbell. If you are going to do these designs, then you might as well go all the way. Get the dingle balls, the glitter paper, the froufrous and the doodads. Go all in.

I purchased the ornament designs recently to make for a group of quilty friends.

After one attempt, I realized that if I wanted them to be perfect, I needed to find not only the proper shade of gingerbread felt to highlight the features, I also needed the hoops, the accessories, glitter paper, a hot glue gun, and some patience.

Kimberbell is an exercise in excess and if you can’t do it at Christmas, you can’t do it at all. I am understanding the addictiveness of the Kimberbell phenomenon, but I don’t think it’s my permanent state. I love it at the moment and for special occasions. I’m not sure it’s my style forever and always.The same with Elvis and Vegas and labrador puppies.

Maybe you can have enough.

But for now, I’m on cuteness overload.

Have yourself a Merry Little Holiday.

Used a glue gun in 2019. Check. On to 2020.

P.S. After all the elaborate accessorizing of Kimberbell, I went back to simplicity for my holiday wrapping. I’m a realist. This stuff needs to be reduced, reused and recycled. Simple brown paper with scraps of fabric. The fabric can be saved and made into a quilt at some point, and the paper can just be folded and reused or recycled. I think we, as sewists, can balance adorable with sustainable. At least I’m going to try.

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.

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.

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?

For the Gardener

I’ve been sewing, I promise.

Just not as much as I would like.

But here’s a little peak at the hyacinth that have started popping up in my backyard. We all need a bit of the wild earth to sweep us away every now and then. For me, that happens in the spring and summer when the light and the blooms blend into tiny miracles. The closer I look, the more miraculous it all seems.

Enjoy.