When That First Cool Wind Blows…

And it happened this week.

Never mind that it’s the middle of August.  Never mind that the tomatoes are just starting to come in.  When you work in marketing/advertising/retail you get the urge to plan for that next holiday.

It’s the same way in quilting.

The other day the temps stayed in the sixties, and that was enough for me to start thinking about Halloween. (Of course, I’ve been thinking about back-to-school already…that goes without saying when you have a kid in school!)

Nevertheless, as soon as the temp dropped for a day, I turned to some Halloween fabric I’d been holding for a few years and thought, “Now’s the time!”  This is not a complicated quilt.  But it’s made from a charm pack purchased several years ago and tucked into a drawer.  Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean.

This is all fun stuff.  It’s bright, it’s cheery and it still has that Halloween vibe.  The charm pack was from a line by Deb Strain for Moda.

I supplemented with a couple of other random fabrics from Cotton and Steel, Andover and Wyndham.

I cannot quilt it yet, even though it’s layed out and pinned.  I thought I had a Halloween design from Amelie Scott that I could use to quilt in machine embroidery.  Turns out I only had some vines and leaves.

This quilt absolutely requires pumpkins for quilting.  So I purchased another design pack, and I will start quilting as soon as it arrives.

Until then, I found some terrific Halloween ideas from  urbanthreads.com that I can’t wait to try.

I know you don’t remember from last year, but I have a Halloween tree that I fill with embroidered ornaments.

Every year, I look for something I can make to add to the collection.  Well, I found a few new things.  But you’ll have to wait a bit until I have the chance to work on them.

Temps are in the seventies here today, with clear skies.  But in my sewing room, there’s a cool spooky breeze a-blowin’.

Hand Quilting Takes Time — Nevertheless, I Persisted

I started this quilt in 2014.  My original estimate for getting it hand quilted was 4 months. 4 years would have been much closer.

It’s not that I didn’t know it would take work.  Each block was about an hour…no matter how efficient I got at it, I had to re-thread a certain number of times, turn the whole quilt, shift positions, etc. It took an hour no matter how much I tried to reduce the time.

My husband approached and asked, “So if you’re going to quilt by hand, why do you have an expensive machine?”

Please.  Between the time I started this quilt and the time I finished it (yikes, I still need a label!) I completed countless other projects using my “expensive” machine.

Still, I don’t regret a single minute of the hand work. I listened to podcasts, I watched my DVD’s of Downton Abbey. And sometimes, I just sat quietly and used it as a meditative practice.

Why do anything by hand?  Why bake bread when you can pull it off a store shelf?  Why paint a picture when you can capture it all on a cell phone?  Why talk to anyone in person when you can text? Why walk down the street, for heaven’s sake, when you can get in your car and be there in no time?  Why grow a tomato at home when you can get it at any store, or, more virtuously, at the farmer’s market?

I’m not old-fashioned. I love my technology.  I use it to the hilt. While I’m typing at this very moment, I’m also listening to Harry Connick Jr on Pandora. (OK, maybe that’s a little old-fashioned.)

But doing things with our hands teaches us something.  It teaches us patience.  It teaches us that all the products around us take energy, resources and time to produce.  It teaches us to respect process, and maybe, just maybe, to recognize our culture’s love of instant gratification.

If someone had told me when I started this quilt that I wouldn’t finish it for three years, and along the way I would face life and death and sorrow and joy and pain and frustration, I would have told them no thanks. I want things to stay peaceful and uneventful.

Instead, I put it into the stitches.  That’s what we do, you know…those of us who try to do things by hand from time to time.  We put the tears, the laughter, the anger, the frustration, the love, the humility and all the emotions right there into the work.

But I don’t have to tell you that. If you’re a quilter, you already know it.

So You Think Improv is Easy?

When I was in college, I found myself in an Improv class.  I’m sure I wanted to take some sort of communications credit and the class was full, so in order to fill the elective, I took the only other alternative:  Improvisation.

I was terrified.

I prayed that the class would be an intellectual discourse on the history of theatre, comedy, acting etc. Nope.

The teacher asked us to introduce ourselves in this way:  The first person just had to say his name.  The second person had to say her name and the name of the guy before her.  The third person had to say her name and the name of the two people prior. You can see where this was heading.  Twenty-six people in (of COURSE I sat in the back), we were all giggling awkwardly, and, I’ll be darned, even the last person remembered everyone’s name. (Now, if we got up and moved around, or…heaven forbid…changed clothes, all bets were off.)

Our next task in the class, was to gather in a large circle. One at a time we each had to pretend to open an umbrella, hold it over our heads, and close it again.  Simple, right? The first few people did the obvious.  Then one person added a shake before they closed their “umbrella” and it suddenly seemed more real.  The next person added a twirl over her head, and before you know it, we were all really seeing each others’ umbrellas. Adding little tiny details mattered when it came to believability.

For our final grade, each person had to produce a skit.  It was the student’s responsibility to:

  1.  Describe a scenario.
  2. Cast characters from within the class.

That’s it.  The skits only lasted 5 minutes or so, but I never laughed so hard during finals as I did during that class.  Something about Improv brings out the silly in people.  It’s like playing, but it’s a lot more about interaction with others.  One of the main tenets of improv is you must always accept another’s reality. So if someone says “What about the kids?”  you can never say “We don’t have any.” (This example is taken from the book “Something Wonderful Right Away” by Jeffrey Sweet.)

All of this brings me to improvisational quilting…or improvisational piecing, which comes first. I wanted to do something freeing, use up some fabric and make something that has not been done by anyone else…at least not in the exact same way.

In order to do this, I had to set up a couple of rules for myself, much like the final in my Improv class:

  1.  I had to use the colorful jelly rolls of ombre fabric.
  2. I am not allowed to square everything up into even-sized blocks. It has to be more free-flowing than that.

That’s it.  Those are my two rules.

As you can see, the fabrics themselves have movement.  The colors are cheerful and I had plenty to work with…at least to start.

I can safely say that I have no idea where I’m going with this.

But I love it.

The challenging part comes in the curves and Y-seams.

If you’re not used to sewing curves, it can be daunting as there are just so many variables to keep nice and neat. It takes a little bit of thoughtfulness.  Just like improv acting.  Go with it. Try it.  Don’t say no to the crazy seam.

It might just create “something wonderful right away.”

 

 

Machine Embroidery Valance

I love one-of-a-kind.

If it  hasn’t been done before, I’m in.  Even if it has been done before, but it can be done slightly differently, I’m in.

What I’m not really interested in doing is creating exactly what someone else has already created.  Let’s be honest, here. Nothing under the sun is really new any more.  We all receive our inspiration from someone, or something, or some technique.  Original ideas come from many places, but they almost always require inspiration from somewhere, and we all learn from one another.

That’s OK.  As long as it’s new to you. I don’t judge people who take a pattern and re-create it exactly as the book dictates. That’s how we learn. We aren’t all designers. I’m not…at least I don’t get paid to be one.

But my favorite projects come to me like a whirlwind, and I have all to do to scribble them down before they disappear.  The end product is not always exactly what I had planned, but I know when I have a starting point.

My challenge:  To create a project based on some digitized rulers created in Artwork Canvas within Bernina Embroidery Software 8.

I started with the 3 black ruler shapes, wondering how to place them in an interesting project.

I knew I wanted to use a sewing theme, and I also wanted to incorporate Amanda Murphy’s Sewing Room embroidery designs. I thought they were cute and fresh. (See the link below).

Sitting at the computer one day, I had an idea.  I don’t ever design on a computer.  It’s just not fast enough to capture the idea before I talk myself out of it.

So I grabbed the back of the closest sheet of paper and scribbled out this initial design.

valance-plan2I thought I’d make a table runner, with all the embroidery designs lined up in a row.   I thought about adding buttons scattered around the design, since the theme has thread spools, scissors , rulers, etc.

I didn’t have any fabric at home that was close to my reach that was in the right shape to hold all the designs.

So I stitched a number of half fatquarters together (fat-eighths).  I think they were leftover from this project.

And I printed out some templates to see if I was getting close to my original thought.

valance-plan1It was going to work.

I began embroidery, and once the embroidery was complete, a friend at work (hey Bobbie!) asked if I was making another valance…this time for my sewing room. (You can check out the last time I made a valance here.)

I had actually been thinking of it as a table runner, but when she said valance, I suddenly saw that too!

I continued with the quilting which for some reason was a part of the original scribble and I couldn’t depart from it.  Here are a few of the detail shots.

sewingvalance3sewingvalance2sewingvalance1

 

I’m sure you can see why I wanted to use Amanda Murphy’s embroideries…but it actually works pretty well with the digitized rulers.

Here’s what it looks like complete.  It’s quilted all over using a walking foot, and the back is turned down to form a rod pocket.

sewingvalance4It will be at the shop for a while, but I can’t wait to hang it on the window in my sewing room. I moved the random-sized buttons to the middle to give it a look of continuity. I love the Barbie-style dresses.

You can make the rulers if you attend Bernina’s November Software Inspiration class at your local dealer.  And if you don’t have software, I’m sure you can find a measuring tape embroidery or replace it with another design.  The point is not to make the same valance I made, (although you certainly are welcome to do that) but to make it your own!  Have fun with the idea, and create something new and original for your own home.

Crazy is Good

I was sitting at the kitchen counter one day, staring at the valance over my window.  I’m ready for something new.  I get this from my mother who changed curtains in the kitchen to match every holiday and season.  In the fall, we had leaves, after Thanksgiving, holly and berries, in the spring, the lovely florals went up…you get the picture.

I don’t have cafe curtains, though I have thought about them.  But sitting there, staring away, I had an idea.  What about a quilted valance?  Better yet, what if I made matching seat covers for the chairs?

Suddenly I was excited about a project.  All I wanted was colorful and different.  So that’s what I made.

window3The valance is made of crazy quilt blocks, 8 1/2 inches unfinished. I grabbed all sorts of scraps I had lying around…some were from fatquarter bundles, some random, some leftovers from other projects and just began sewing.

The beauty of this project is that it doesn’t take any real focus or concentration.  The 1/4 inch seam doesn’t have to be perfect.The colors can be anything you want…no matchy-matchy stuff. Just square it up to 8 1/2 inches, then sew them together.

crazyblocks1 If you have never sewn this way (improvisational is what some call it) you will love it. Well, some people like me love it, and others find that they need more guidelines.  But, the freer you are with the blocks, the more fun it gets (if you can let go of the need for perfection.)

And the result is happy crazy.

window1For this valance, I assembled 3 rows of blocks, measured the window and the rod, and created a quilt sandwich and quilted the whole thing.  Then I came back and added the scallops and bias binding.  From the top, I just folded it down enough to form a rod pocket and sewed it in place with a couple of straight seams.  The binding goes all the way around, it’s just turned down at the top so you don”t see it.

And because the quilt is heavier than plain fabric, even with a lining, it hangs nice and flat.

I love it.  It’s exactly what I wanted.

Then I turned to the chairs.

chair3Each chair requires an additional 9 blocks.  I only finished one chair so far, but it goes fast. The blocks on the chairs are not quilted…just nine blocks sewn together.  I studied the chair to see how the cover was attached, and I could see that they started in the back. ( I am NOT an upholsterer, but would love to be…I don’t think it’s as easy as it looks when you get to armchairs and things like that!)

Anyway, I started in the back and pulled the fabric to the front, using a staple gun.  I did allow myself enough fabric to double the seam where it’s stapled…I didn’t want the fabric to fray and unravel.

chair2Just pull taut from the back  to the front and staple it down.  It doesn’t look very taut in this picture, because my hands were on the camera, but when you are working, you really need to pull tight, with one hand and staple with the other.

chair1You can do this.

I am loving how this turned out.  I know it won’t last forever, but now that I’ve changed the covers once, I can do it any time.

sinkwindow1Finally, I made another little valance to go over the sink, which is a smaller window.  Same process, fewer blocks.

This was fun stuff.  If you can make a quilt, you can make these valances and chair covers.  It’s just taking the same principles and adjusting to different shapes.

The Back Story of One Quilt in Madison This Weekend

When you work in a quilt shop, you talk to people.  You get to know them, you share stories, you find out their struggles and generally share tips, life hacks, experiences, and sometimes we even talk about quilting and fabric.

Yesterday, a young man walked into the shop.  I’d seen him many times before, he does gorgeous and unusual piecing…technical stuff. He likes to bring them in to show us, and we love to see his work.  Honestly, we love to see everyone’s work, it’s so inspiring.  But his is always a bit different.  One quilt he brought in was completely Harry Potter themed, with books and potions and characters all arranged on a series of shelves, with tiny pieced accents and Harry Potter memorabilia.  Cool stuff.

I turned to greet him, “Hey, haven’t seen you in awhile!”

He shuffled his feet a bit, as uncomfortable early twenty-something young men do, and said, “Well my mom got sick and had a long illness and died.”

At that, all of us working stopped in our tracks and went over to him. We offered our condolences and then he said, “After she was diagnosed, for the next 9 months we worked on a quilt together, and it’s showing in Madison. She died the day before it came back from the quilter.”

At this point I needed a Kleenex.

I asked if he had a picture of the quilt.  It was stunning…gorgeous…meticulous.  It reminded me of a Judy Niemeyer. He said he did all the cutting, pinning and pressing, his mom did the machine sewing. He told us that they matched every single thread, and if something wasn’t absolutely perfect down to the thread, they corrected it.  He said the medallion in the middle had 24 pieces of fabric coming together at the center and he managed to get it down to about 1/8 of an inch thick. He said Best Press is his friend. When they went to square it up it was 100 inches by 100 inches precisely.  They worked on it in the nine months that she was still feeling OK.

I cannot include a picture because it’s in competition in Madison at Quilt Expo this coming weekend Sep 8-10.

As part of the show, he’ll be having his picture taken with the quilt.  He said he’ll be bringing a picture of his mom to hold up so she’s in the shot.

If you will be at Madison Quilt Expo this weekend, you may want to send a little love and encouragement his way.

And, I don’t know, his quilt may or may not take Best of Show or any award at all.

But it sure is a winner.

 

 

 

Keepin’ It Together

So I finally got around to making one of these Sew Together bags.  Have you seen them?

sewbag5sewbag6

Here’s your convenient link to purchase the pattern. Or ask your local quilt store to get it in for you.  It’s from a designer named Sew Demented.  That should give you a hint.

One blogger noted that everyone wants to receive one as a gift….because no one wants to actually make one.

Here’s the thing.  It’s not a difficult bag to make.  It’s extremely functional.  It just takes a little time and patience and the more varieties of fabric the better.

And all the cool kids are making it.

Take a peek at Pinterest.

sewbag7I had never heard of this pattern until I made the sample for our Bernina Software Inspirations class.  Turns out the “software” part was the easiest thing to do. (And the embroidery software is optional…you can quilt or just leave the front of your bag plain).

sewbag1The idea behind this bag, is that you can carry all your sewing supplies in it and keep things organized.  You will see in the pictures that the bag has 3 zipper pouches with pockets in between.  If you have a fear of zippers, you will overcome it completely with this bag. In my humble opinion, the hardest part of any bag project is getting everything cut ahead of time.  And with this bag, you’ll want to use as many different types of fabric as possible.  The fun part is how scrappy and colorful and interesting each one can be.

Grab a fabric line you love and get a bunch of fatquarters from that line.  The brighter the better, and a fun binding doesn’t hurt either.

At this point, I highly recommend using this tutorial to assist in your assembly.  Read the directions in the pattern, then read this tutorial.  They are very helpful.

sewbag2The pattern calls for you to lay your fabrics in order and you install the zippers assembly-line style.

sewbag4After the zippers, you attach the sides, then the exterior of the bag is attached and binding added all the way around, including the zipper which holds the bag closed.  It’s pretty ingenious. Between the instructions and the tutorial, you should have no problems.

I started at 9:30 in the morning, and stopped to shop, get lunch, talk to my son after school, eat dinner….and I finished by 7 pm.  The next one would go even faster because I now understand the construction, and wouldn’t have to spend as much time reading.

So go ahead! Step out of your quilting comfort zone and try one of these fun bags.

 

The Splendid Sampler — The Beauty of Sewing With Others

I am loving the Splendid Sampler.  If you’re not on board, jump in at any point, the water’s fine.  So are the people–from all over the world.  And everyone’s blocks are all so different!  I was afraid we’d all end up with the same quilt, but everyone’s personality is shining through.

Here’s your link to jump in.

Here’s the Splendid Sampler Facebook page.

Because of recent happenings in my life, I got started a little late, and many people haven’t started at all.  Some are just enjoying looking at others’ blocks.

I’ll share with you where I am so far.

splendidsampler2I am missing one of the blocks which I haven’t had time yet to go back to, but another block came in today that I think will be fun to add.  The fourth block, the vase and flowers (kudos to Jen Kingwell) probably inspired some of the most creativity so far.  The blocks have been stunning and all different.

splendidsampler5splendidsampler4I created mine in Bernina Embroidery Software, but many others stitched theirs out by hand or did machine applique.

splendidsampler6Like others, I am keeping a file of all the blocks and their instructions.

While I am in love with the color story of “Black Tie Affair” which I have been using, I am also adding some little touches from my own stash.  As Bonnie Hunter reminded folks, a quilt is always more interesting when all the fabric doesn’t come from one collection.  I agree.

In fact, I also did the little vase block in a whole other color story, just to see how I’d like it.  It’s a little more ‘folksy” as I free motioned it, and I think it has it’s own charm. So maybe I’ll run some parallel blocks with these brighter colors too!

splendidsampler1Truth is, anything can happen this year!  I intend to do as much as I can, when I can.

A few things I’ve learned:

  1.  Don’t try to keep up with everyone else.
  2.  6 inch blocks sound easy.  They’re not. They take more time than many 12 inch blocks.
  3. Slow down and enjoy the process.
  4. Enjoy everyone else’s blocks: get inspired, be challenged, but do your own thing.
  5. Try new techniques.
  6. Purchase the designer’s books. (Pat Sloan has 2 great books — one on applique and one on triangles)
  7. SHARE!  We really do want to see what you’re up to!  On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram #thesplendidsampler

My Obsession with Trees

I didn’t realize it until I tried to describe some of my projects to someone, and all the ones that reflected my own art and not just a pattern designed by someone else, usually included trees.

And if not trees, then at least something that grows in the ground.  I can’t tell you what it means, except that I have a deep longing to connect to the earth.

I recently pre-ordered a book that has apparently been wildly popular in Europe:  “The Hidden Life of Trees — What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World, ” by Peter Wohlleben.

An article from the NYTimes  profiles the German forest ranger’s book.

I’ve always known that the natural world — birds, animals, trees, gardens —  have more to teach us than we ever give them credit for.  In the woods, I learned to listen, and look…much more than I ever do in my daily busy-ness.

Art is a struggle.  We are reaching, reaching, always striving to capture the thing beyond ourselves.  I do believe that trees (as well as the rest of nature) try to teach us something. When I break through the barrrier and discover the lesson, I will let you know.

Until then, like most of us, I continue to be a student.

close upIMG_3294

Multi-hoop project is quilted, bound and finished.

Multi-hoop project is quilted, bound and finished.

IMG_0742IMG_0741photosnap-carol

Participating in The Splendid Sampler

Why am I participating in this project?

Partly, I think, because I like the designers who are contributing, partly because it sounds like a great way to slowly put together a quilt and share ideas with others.

6 1/2 inch blocks sound doable to me.  Even 2 a week.  But if you were to tell me I need to create 100 blocks and do this sort of “surprise” mystery quilt, I might not have signed on.  But 2 blocks a week sounds like a doable discipline.  Care to join me?

Here are the details for anyone who wants to participate.

Also, here’s a link to the blog.

The project begins Feb 14, so you have plenty of time to get ready.  Although all you really need in order to start is a decent stash of fabric.

I am going back and forth about which color scheme to use.

black tie affair

Black Tie Affair by Basic Grey for Moda

I love the neutrals.  They would make an elegant and timeless quilt.  But another part of me wants to use more colorful fabric and go with more of a “farmgirl” theme.

morningside farm

Morningside Farm by Darlene Zimmerman for Robert Kaufman

Here I would use the scenic fabric as a border with all the other fabric as the piecing in the middle.

What do you think?  They are both so different. I will probably wait til the block patterns start coming in to make a decision.

Dust off your sewing machine, and get ready to join in this creative collaboration.  The project will have a Facebook page too, The Splendid Sampler, moderated by Pat Sloan.

I’m sure you’ll have access to plenty of online show and tell, so why not be a part of it?  All the patterns will be available throughout all of 2016 for free, but then they will be put into a book in 2017.

Even if you never sew a stitch, it’s fun to watch the process.  What are you waiting for?