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.

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!

Of Endings and New Beginnings

The quilt shop where I worked closed this week.

I don’t think very many people understand what a small quilt shop does for a community.

Yes, we sold machines and fabric, notions, patterns, doo-dads and what-nots.

But that’s not what a quilt shop is all about.  We also provided support.  And inspiration.  And education.

And friendship.

We loved our customers and became close.  And they came to visit us when they had enough of the outside world, when they needed a place to unload, to unburden, to be among like-minded people.

We celebrated with them and mourned with them. And they with us. We all grew together and processed life through cloth and fabric, needle and thread.

The purchases?  They were just an extension of all that wholeness. We didn’t close because we weren’t doing well.  On the contrary, the shop was doing great.  But sometimes life intercedes and the owner was unable and unwilling to deal with the crushing demands on her time from her home life and work life combined.

I could go on about the number of quilt shops in this area that have recently shut down, or the economy, or the aging of the quilt-making market.  But I know better.  I’ve been around long enough to see that to everything there is a season.

I was fortunate enough to work there from the time that my son started first grade to the time he entered high school.  What a season!  From crayons to perfume…or deodorant, in this case.

I know that these things are cyclical. The market will re-emerge in a different way. Our customers will find their way to new and exciting shops and relationships, and the world will keep turning.

I will never stop sewing. In fact, I have some new and interesting plans for this blog. Endings provide the catalyst for new beginnings. Stay tuned.

Straigh line quilting on domestic machine

Here’s the quilt I was working on from my last post.  Completed, just need to add the label. Crazy squiggly lines through the color, straight and narrow through the grey.

The ombre blue on the back turned out to be exactly what I wanted.
Ombre modern quilt back
Colorful binding signals the end of this project.  But we never really finish our work as quilters, or as artists. We’re always ready for the next project.

I’m ready. Are you?

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 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.



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.