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?

Stitching Into Spring

I’ve been in a flurry of personal sewing gifts for milestone birthdays, so I have not taken the time to update the blog til now. I thought I would just include a gallery of projects.

The quilt that I just raced through was a pattern from Modern Quilt Studio. If you haven’t figured it out by now, they are one of my favorites, as Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr are both artists with graphic backgrounds and an instinct for color and design. I have great respect for them both. I recognize the talent that feeds into what comes across as simplicity.

This takes work and artistry and they have both. If you have the chance to see either of them in person, you won’t regret it and I promise you will come away smarter and more confident in your craft.

More importantly, they were modern quilt artists before it was cool. One of the first quilting books I ever purchased was theirs and I haven’t looked back since.

I hope you are “springing ahead” with your sewing, as I am with mine. While I have some fabric already available for my next quilt, I also want to try something completely different.

That’s the fun of it all, isn’t it? We get to try new things all the time. Stay warm and keep stitching!

2019 in Living Color

Whatever your style, whatever your favorites, 2019 is turning into a year of bodacious color.

I’m a trend-geek and I’m always interested in what the “experts” consider to be the next big thing. As you can imagine, 2019 holds a lot of possibilities, from Artificial Intelligence to Augmented Reality to graphic design with the most vibrant knock-’em-dead colors available.

I won’t go into my newly formed relationship with my Roomba named Sean. I freely admit that I am not an early adopter when it comes to technology. I like to let someone else work out the bugs. But if you ever want to know about the joys of a Roomba, let me know. I am thrilled. And I don’t even mind that my scale talks to my Fitbit, and my vacuum cleaner texts me regularly. Give me an electronic slave that cleans the toilets and I will have dinner with it afterward, if that’s what it takes.

But enough technology.

What will affect us in the sewing world?

Pantone has declared a new color for 2019 (they choose one every year.) This one is called Living Coral. I love it.

What influence will it have on fashion design and fabric? Well, for them to choose this color, they already know what the runways are planning. Pantone does their research to predict this color. So we can be sure to see more of it come spring.

Here’s a link to some palette possibilities. As I look at them, I can see that the combinations would make great quilts. So there’s something to explore. And it all looks quite fresh to me. Sometimes I find that the fabric in my stash just looks dated, but add in a few new colors and you can really brighten up, freshen up, and lighten up your color combinations.

I’ve been working on a quilt with some bold colors and a very simple design. But the quilt was more difficult to put together than it looks.

I was working with a line called Warp and Weft from Modern Quilt Studio. It is a line of wovens that they designed to have a stronger weave than the average woven. And the colors were fun.

However, I had to pull out a few of the fatquarters from the bundle because they just dragged down the whole palette.

I’m not critical of the colors. These are perfectly lovely fabrics. They just absolutely did not work in the quilt. The charcoal was too dark and would have created “holes” in the quilt. The buffalo print was just too busy and neutral, and the pink really greyed down the look of the whole quilt. It took some fussing to get something that looked effortless.

The second challenge was to lay it out with contrasting colors next to one another. That was key to the whole look.

This quilt will be quilted at a friend’s house on her longarm. It will be a collaboration and I am not tied to any particular style of quilting, as long as we all learn something in the process. I think it will be fun.

In these dreary mid-winter days, I encourage you to embark on your own color adventure. It’s fun, it’s cheerful and you may find yourself exploring something new.

Quilting a Large Quilt on a Home Sewing Machine

When folks ask me about quilting on their home machine, my go-to answer has always been: You’ll probably be OK with anything up to a twin size quilt. After that, it just gets unmanageable.

And, overall, I stand by that recommendation.

However, I’d like to add an amendment. As long as you are not attempting to do some really advanced level quilting, go ahead and try a large quilt on your home machine. (This one was 90 x 90.) But here are a few tips:

  1. Surround yourself with supportive tables and ideally a sewing machine cabinet designed for quilting.

As you can see above. I have a fairly large quilt table to support the weight of the quilt as it gets moved around. It doesn’t hurt to have a a cabinet that allows your machine to sink down level with the table.

2. I always use gloves. And this has a lot to do with personal preference. Some people get too hot in their hands, and I can understand that. But I love Machingers, as they are lightweight, fit my hands, and are machine washable.

3. Do 1/4 of the quilt at a time.  This way, you’ll never have more than half the quilt shoved up against the machine at one time. And I do mean shoved.

4. Avoid rolling your quilt. It’s simply impossible to do any type of freeform quilting with a giant roll on your right. Any good quilter will tell you to just bunch it up and straighten as you go.

5. Quilt from the center to the outside, always moving fabric away from your machine. Even as I type this, I recognize that there are times when you are moving up or down on the quilt and even occasionally in the wrong direction. That’s fine. As long as OVERALL, your are moving from middle to your right edge. That’s the beauty of working on a quarter of the quilt at one time. Once a quarter is done, spin your quilt 90 degrees (a quarter of a revolution), allowing you to work on the next quarter. Does that make sense?

6. Keep your quilting simple. Save the gorgeous, ornate, custom, refined work for the longarm. Or make yourself an expert on this with LOTS of practice. I don’t consider myself an expert yet on quilting a large quilt. It’s an awful lot of heft to shift around elegantly. I’d rather use machine embroidery for a more complicated design. But remember this: you are only working on about a dinner plate size area at any given time. After that is done, you need to shift your hands and the quilt.

As always with this hobby, if you’re not enjoying yourself, or are afraid to ruin something, then it is just advisable to pay someone to do your quilting. If, though, like me, you prefer to have a quilt that’s all “your own”, then don’t be afraid to try some things.

On the queen size quilt above, I knew that once it was washed, all I really wanted was that old-fashioned scrunchy, quilty look. I did some small/medium-sized stippling, with straight line quilting on the outer border of half square triangles. I threw it in the washing machine and all sins were forgiven. All that’s left to do is the label, which I’m hoping to squeeze in before the end of 2018, so I can declare this one FINISHED.

And as we all know, finished is better than perfect….though I am loving the way this came out, and my teenage son has already claimed it.

Have a Happy New Year and a wonderful and productive 2019! My next project is much more carefree and colorful. Here’s a sneak peak.

Happy Stitching–a sewing machine, a glass of champagne and a bit of chocolate would be a perfect way to start the new year.

Mini Quilt Accents

From time to time, I find myself just needing to focus on a small project with comforting and cozy colors. In this particular case, I had some parameters…it cannot be more than 16 in. wide.

Where do you find a quilt that size?

If you are familiar with Jo Morton, you can find them in her books.  She now has 3 books out with her “Little Favorites.”  These little quilts are wonderful as decorating tools.

The pieces go together pretty quick as I assembled this one in less than a week, working sporadically…one day for an hour, one day for two hours, etc.

The satisfaction comes from finishing something that looks nicely put together in no time.

I’ve been on the hunt for hangers and ways to display these little quilts. I found a gentleman at Quilt Fest in Madison who sells every imaginable type of quilt hanger.

I found a couple of things I liked but I’m sure I’ll go back to him as a resource. Just be sure to pay attention to measurements otherwise you’ll be fudging the sleeve and squishing your quilt.

Enjoy the process, because nothing warms up a house in the fall like a quilted accent. That and some apple pie.

 

More Freestanding Lace

Boo!

Machine embroidery has so many uses, but the one I’ve been dabbling in the most lately is freestanding lace. I’ve blogged about it a few times in the past. You can read those posts here and here.

Lately, I tried something new and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I took a simple lace embroidery, meant to be a small doily.

Then I stitched a number of them together after creating a design in software to see what it might look like.

Freestanding lace, Bernina Software 8All you have to do is use a simple zigzag with an open-toed foot on your machine.

Just pin the multiple pieces together and sew the zigzag in various points to hold it together.

Keep the zigzag stitch narrow and tight, and it will be hardly visible on the finished piece. I went forward and back-stitched, just to make sure it would not unravel.

The finished product turned out better than I had expected.

While I am using it now for Halloween, it obviously will be gorgeous for the holidays, as well.

I also have to admit that I am in love with these tiny LED lights, lit by battery packs. Of course, they cannot stay on all evening as my orange lights do around the fireplace, but the teensy ones on the Halloween tree and surrounding this ceramic pumpkin are just perfect.

Like those ornaments? I’ve made them over the past couple of years in machine embroidery.  You can search “Halloween” on my site or view one of the posts right here.

I hope I have inspired you to make more use of your machine embroidery.  It’s fun and festive and the ideas are endless.

7 Reasons to Own a Serger

I know. You’re a quilter.  Or maybe you enjoy machine embroidery. You don’t need a serger to have a happy life.

But I’m here to tell you that you can use it in many useful ways, even if you think you won’t.  If you never want to have one, that’s OK.  But let me try to persuade you just a little.

Why You (Might) Need a Serger:

  1.  To make quilt backs.  I use my serger all the time for this simple reason.  It is the fastest machine to do a very straight and very sturdy stitch on long pieces of fabric.  Afterward, I just iron the serged edge to one side. This is especially helpful when the back of the quilt is rather scrappy and I am assembling multiple pieces.  Just keep your edges straight, and off you go. Easy peasy.
  2. To make duvet covers. You may or may not want to do this, but I use a nice comforter on my bed that needs a duvet.  I always make my own, never purchase one.  I piece them together just like quilt backs.  Usually I have one print on one side and another print on the other, so when I flip the comforter I get a contrasting, yet coordinating look.
  3. Curtains and valances.  This is the very best way to make things for the home.  I have different valances for different seasons in my kitchen.  They get lots of washing and re-hanging over the course of the years. They have to be able to withstand all of that and a serger keeps the raw edges from unraveling. Of course, the edges that you will see are turned under but seams and ruffles really last with a serger.
  4. Pillow cases.  I use the easiest pattern for pillow cases ever (not the burrito style–google it if you don’t know about that.) The Ready Set Serge is great for simple serger ideas and I have used a number of her patterns over and over and over again.
  5. Garments.  This one is a no-brainer, but if you’ve never sewn garments, it may not be obvious to you.  It’s the best way to give your sewing a finished look without elaborate things like french seams or other couture techniques. This is the tool for quilters who occasionally sew a garment.
  6. Knits and any stretchy fabric.  Sergers were designed for this.  They can pound through sweatshirt fabric like nothing else. Leggings? Bathing suits? Stretchy fabric for a skirt?  All perfect on a serger.
  7. Simple bags. With the onset of the “bring-your-own-bag” movement, I have often found myself using leftover fabric (sometimes not-so-leftover fabric) as grocery bags, farmer’s market bags and carry-alls. I prefer cloth bags to anything else because I can throw them in the washing machine…and often do. The finished serged edges keep them from fraying and they withstand wash after wash.

I hope this persuades you to think again about a serger.  I know that for folks who do more garment sewing than I, the serger is priceless.  But even as someone who is mostly a quilter and machine embroiderer, I find that the serger is the perfect complement to my sewing.

And here’s the thing.  Once you have one, and learn to use it, you won’t know how you ever did without.

Happy 75th Anniversary Joann’s!

This August, Joann’s Fabrics is celebrating its 75th Anniversary by giving a gift to all of us who love fabric, crafts, paint, DIY, etc.

They are getting a makeover, and all I can say is: It’s about time.

I do like to go to my local Joann’s, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to throw things on the floor at the checkout line (or the fabric line) and walk away. Either they don’t have enough help, or the help doesn’t care, or the place is just a mess or all of the above.

And yet, if I need plastic snaps, or a white button, or home decor fabric, or any number of sewing notions and I need it NOW, it’s the place we go.

They are starting with a name change…from Joann’s Fabrics to just Joann’s. Because they want folks to remember they are so much more than just fabric. (Honestly, I think that’s just their marketing department catching up to real life, because who of us already didn’t know that’s where to go for storage or plastic flowers or beads or…whatever.)

But the most exciting aspect is that they will be updating their 800 stores this fall and into next year.  They already have a prototype store that’s been updated in Columbus OH.

Who’s up for a road trip to Columbus?

New features in Joann’s stores:

A cutting bar:  You’ll be able to check in, and get a text when your fabric is cut.  In the meantime, you can wander around the store. Anyone who’s ever stood in line while folks dawdle and chitchat or worse, know this can be a frustrating and time-consuming wait.

Creator’s Studio: I love this idea. You can rent a sewing machine, grab a cup of coffee, a cookie, or attend an event or class. The studio is positioned in the middle of the store, not shoved away in a corner.  It’s meant to revolve around community…possibly a place for bees to meet? I don’t know how this will work but am anxious to see it in action.

A Custom Shop:  Tailoring, custom design? Sounds like they are working toward a specialization that very few other places have. (With good reason.) I’m guessing this would be a place for alterations and some custom services, possibly home dec.

Expanded merchandising:  They are planning on carrying more sewing machines from different manufacturers, for every budget.  Obviously, this gets complicated because sewing machines need service, but we’ll see where this goes.

All of this is great news for anyone who loves crafts of any kind. And we already know that all crafts overlap. Sewists are often also knitters or scrapbookers or bakers (or gardeners…hey, Joann’s don’t forget about that!) We need a place to go that’s inspiring and caters to customers’ needs.

Of course, we still love our independent quilt shops, and they will ALWAYS be our first choice for quilt fabric. But in a world where so many shops are disappearing because of online competition, it’s good to know that someone is investing in us.

And in our $3.7 billion in discretionary spending.

Do Your Flying Geese Need Their Wings Clipped?

I’m not terribly big on specialty rulers, but I do have a few.  Mainly, I find that I purchase a ruler, use it once (maybe) and then have to find a place to store it for all eternity.

I am guilty of that with my WingClipper from Studio 180.

I had it for over a year and never even took it out of its original packaging.

Then, a couple of months ago, I did some layout/design work for a good friend who is a Studio 180 Certified Instructor.  In return, I asked her to show me how to use the tool efficiently.

If you are in the Midwest, you can contact her and book her for classes.  Her name is Lydia Ziegler and her contact info is themeasuredstitch@gmail.com.

I am planning to begin work later this summer on a project I downloaded from 3 Sisters.

I know I downloaded this for free, but for the life of me, cannot find the link any more. But it is a pattern that is available out there, even if you have to purchase the download.

UPDATE: A friend found the link for the free pdf.  Here you go! (Thanks Tomi!)

It looks like a pretty good challenge, and I will be using Laundry Basket Quilts’ Blue Barn Collection (shown below.) It’s getting to be a couple of seasons old so the fabric is no longer readily available everywhere.  Luckily, I think I have plenty.  But I guess I’ll find out.

As you can see, I’ll be doing plenty of “flying geese”. The medallions are gorgeous and truly intimidating to me, but the flying geese?  I can tackle those…especially now that I have made friends with my WingClipper.

This is pretty straightforward piecing and trimming.  The instructions that come with the ruler are very clear and helpful, and if you want a class, see Lydia!

The reason your piecing stays so accurate is that you create everything slightly oversized and then trim down. You are provided info for multiple sizes.  It’s really a great way to approach any pattern that has flying geese.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think.  I will be embarking on my adventure within the next few weeks.

Til then, may your goose be hanging high.

Persistence Pays Off

Believe it or not, I found my fabric. Awhile ago, I wrote a post about a line of fabric I fell in love with, and all I had was a layer cake to use (40 pieces of 10 in. x 10 in.)

I searched at different shops, but because I no longer knew the name, it was basically impossible to find.

And then I stopped at a quilt shop I haven’t been to in a number of years. I seemed to recall that this MAY have been the place where I purchased the layer cake almost a decade ago.

The shop is hidden in the cornfields of Illinois, on a farm. When you pull in, it feels as though you are pulling into someone’s private property, and frankly, you are.  The quilt shop is located in an out-building, in back of the farmhouse. Two dogs run to greet you as you enter. Sam, the chocolate lab, is extremely friendly and looks perfectly at home lying on the braided rug at the entrance. The other dog (whose name I can’t remember, is more hesitant…a  spaniel mix of some kind, I would guess. But eventually, he warmed to me as well.)

I brought out the cutting samples that I carry with me, and turned to the owner.

“Before I waste a lot of time, do you think you have any of this fabric anywhere?”

The quiet woman took the samples in her hands and slowly wandered to the back of the shop. She ran her fingers over some scraps, and thoughtfully pointed, “There’s a bolt.”

She continued to scrounge through her clearance fabric and one by one found beautiful remnants of the fabric. A yard here, a yard and a half there, another yard here.

I was thrilled.

We found enough for the back of my 80 x 80 in. quilt, and more for any accessories I might like to add. All at clearance pricing.

9 yards total, and I felt like I had won the lottery.

The name of the fabric line is Evening Mist, by Sentimental Studios, for Moda.

And the name of the shop is Basketcases in Clare IL.

Above, over 120 – 4 1/4 in. 9 patch squares. The quilt still has a long way to go.

But I feel complete.