Quilt Market Prep

It’s that time of year again. Quilt Market is coming up and the fabric designers and manufacturers are revving up their marketing engines. Come May 15-17, they will be at full throttle and social media will be abuzz with new product, new designs, new fabric and quilty fun.

But I’ve always loved a good preview.

And fabric manufacturers are getting good at it.

One of my favorites is Art Gallery Fabrics.  Young, hip, fresh, at least by my standards.  I love what new designers (read: young people) are doing in the industry.  Art Gallery has released a Look Book of their new Spring 2015 fabric. 

Take a look and let me know your favorites.  Mine so far is Sketchbook and Happy Home, but I have to admit, I love them all and would be hard-pressed to choose.

Moda, the pop queen of fabric manufacturers, is also starting to tease some of their new lines. On their blog, we get a glimpse of the new Bonnie and Camille,  as well as Minnick and Simpson, Zen Chic and Fig Tree Quilts.

Stay tuned, as I will try to distill some of the quilt market info as it becomes available.  In the meantime, quilt on, friends!

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New quilt in progress for my  grand niece,  pattern is free from Me and My Sister Designs.  Fabric is Airmail, by Eric and Julie Comstock.

 

 

How Do You Redecorate?

This is the time of year when I look around my house and everything looks stale.

The bathroom needs new accessories and new towels, the pictures on the walls have been there a hundred years.  Well maybe not that long but they might as well be.  And I don’t really have a lot of enthusiasm and energy (read $$$) for a huge renovation.

Then along came this fabric collection.  I LOVE it.  And I’m not even into roosters.

IMG_3403It’s called El Gallo by Deb Strain for Moda.

With all the blacks, grays and reds, I just thought it was elegant and fabulous.

I had to have it for our kitchen.

We have one large window and one small window in the kitchen, and I quickly grow tired of the valances, so I make new ones whenever I have the time.  I decided I would make this set reversible.

Now, this is so easy to make, it’s unbelievable.  Simple valances for a kitchen or bedroom are nothing but straight lines.  I can’t tell you how many people think that’s some sort of inborn talent. Really it’s not.  It takes a sewing machine, some thread, and the will to practice.

For a simple reversible valance, you need two types of fabric, preferably contrasting in some interesting way.

1.  Measure your window.  You’ll need 2 to 2 1/2 times the width of your window in fabric to get a nice gathered appearance.

2.  Decide the length of your valance and add an inch or so for seam allowances.

3.  On mine I included 2 inches of contrasting fabric on the bottom, which I laid out the opposite way on the reverse side. See the picture below.

4.  Place the fabric right sides together and sew all the way along the top and bottom, making a large tube.  I used a serger because it finishes the edges at the same time.

5.  Turn the whole thing inside out and press the seams along the top and bottom.  This is the most time-consuming part.

6.  Next, I serged the ends of the tube…not shut, just all the way around.  if you don’t have a serger, just fold and press the sides under twice, about a 1/2 in. on each side.  Don’t sew the front to the back just yet. We have to add the rod pocket.

7.  About 2 inches from the top, sew a line all the way across the valance.  Make sure your rod will fit before you sew the second line of the rod pocket, usually down about 2-3 inches from the first line. Sew all the way across.

8.  Now you can use a topstitch to sew the sides together leaving the rod pockets open.

9.  I also added topstitching along the bottom contrasting fabric.

10. Done!

IMG_3383Once the valances were up, of course I needed some accent pieces with roosters on them.

Now, frankly, I thought roosters were yesterday’s news. Washed up, used up, replaced by chubby hens with skinny legs.  I don’t know, just not current any more.

But I went into Strawflower Shop in downtown Geneva and asked them if they had any roosters. “Oh yes,” the gal exclaimed, “upstairs in our furnishings. I’ll call to let them know you’re coming up.”  By the time I reached the top of the stairs, an elegant woman greeted me.  “I understand you’re looking for roosters,” she said, as though I were buying fine wine or maybe a new car.

“We have quite a nice selection in our kitchen area. Roosters are always in demand, you know.”  I didn’t know.

But I did find a lovely rooster for the kitchen wall.  Who knew they were in demand?  I guess I’m cool. Again.

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Looking up at the valance you can see that it's reversible, with contrasting detail.

Looking up at the valance you can see that it’s reversible, with contrasting detail.

 

 

 

Just another Blizzard/Snowstorm/Super Bowl Sunday

Yesterday after work, at about 5:30 PM,  I stopped at the local Meijer.

You would have thought that none of us had ever eaten before or would ever eat again.  The shelves were cleared of chips and salsa, although I found some on an end cap.  The stockers were angry and the check out clerks were exhausted.  The gal at the counter told me the store had been packed all day.

I couldn’t find any potatoes. They were gone.  Yes, all the potatoes were gone.

The Canadian bacon I usually purchase had been replaced by rows and rows of real bacon and Velveeta. And ribs. Sour cream shelves were empty. And I couldn’t even find my son’s yogurt.

The combination of Super Bowl Sunday and a pending snowstorm….excuse me…. BLIZZARD…were seriously almost causing the end of civilization.

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Today, the snow IS falling, thank goodness.  The plows in the neighborhood have been few and far between. I heard one last night at 3 am, then again once during the day today, and that’s pretty much it.

Of course, I have been sewing.

I used a new pattern and assembled a couple of cute table runners for Valentine’s Day.  My goal is to get them to the point where I could spend the Super Bowl doing hand work by putting on the binding.

The pattern is called Rock Candy from Jaybird Quilts and the accompanying ruler is called a Sidekick.  This is truly a simple pattern to do using the ruler, and a fun shape for a table.

jaybird quiltsI did manage to get the binding on, and now I’m ready to sit and watch the game.

jaybird quilts 2The fabric is adorable, called Kiss Kiss from moda.

So get out your chips and dip, salsa and sour cream, your chocolates and cheeses and crackers and cookies. Turn on your big screen, enjoy the screaming crowds and the silly, raunchy, depressing, goofy, and tear-jerking commercials and half-time show.

As for me, at 8 pm I switch to Downton Abbey. Pass me the stress-reducing herbal tea.

 

 

When Your Quilt Needs a Time-Out

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know I participated in a polka dot fabric exchange last year.  I received 60 – 10 x 10 in. squares of polka dot fabric from all around the world.

I resolved to include them all in a quilt somehow, and managed to cobble together a tree with the fabric as leaves.

But then I had to put the quilt in a “time-out”, as a friend of mine likes to say.  Quilts need it, you know.  They become unruly, arrogant, resistant.  Or sometimes they just become passive or apathetic.  Either way, when a quilt reaches that stage of behavior, it’s time to put it in time-out.  It makes absolutely no sense to argue or to fight your way through.  The quilt needs time to find its way.

So I put it in the guest bedroom where it could have some time alone to ponder its future.

I checked on it  occasionally, offering ideas and solutions, a way out.  But the quilt obstinately refused.  “OK for you,” I would think.  And walk away again, to work on another, more cooperative project.

For months it sat, sulking, pouting, depressed even.

Then one day, shortly before Christmas, when I walked in to check on it, the quilt looked eager. Just a hint of it, you understand, but there it was:  a small little whisper of earnestness.  It had formed an idea about its future.

So I listened.

And I let the ideas float around for awhile with no pressure or desire for any of them to be successful.  Tentatively, we tried something.  And then another thing, after that.

And now, the polka dot quilt and I are moving forward together, both listening, both asserting, both with renewed vigor.

I’ll let you know how it all works out.

Truth and LoveGandhi

The Perfect 1/4 inch Seam

If you are a quilter, you know the quest.  You have tools and feet that help you to measure the exactness of your 1/4 in seam.  You already know that a fraction of a sliver off here, means a big mess over there.  And you have a seam ripper for just such occasions.

Last summer at Bernina University, Bernina introduced a new foot called the  97 or 97D.  For the uninitiated, “D” stands for dual feed to be used on those machines which include dual feed.

It is a 1/4 in piecing foot engineered specifically to improve the piecing accuracy of 9 mm machines.

Sewing machines have differing lengths between the feed dogs.  Most standard machines are 5.5 mm.  Any 1/4 in. foot on that machine covers both feed dogs nicely and your small quilt pieces don’t slip.

But other machines have 7mm or 9mm opening for their stitches.  Bernina makes many machines that are 9mm.  While it’s not a huge problem for most people, it can be troublesome when working with tiny pieces.  They can get pulled down into the machine causing a real mess.  Also, a standard 1/4 in foot does not rest completely on the 9mm feed dogs, giving us less control than we would like.

Hence, the introduction of this new foot.

IMG_3202You can see the previous 1/4 in. piecing foot, 37D, is much narrower than the new foot.  The 97D allows the foot to sit directly on both feed dogs of a 9mm machine, which can only mean more accurate piecing.

When this foot was announced at BU, the crowd exploded in cheers.

When we announced it at home, we received dozens of orders from people:  How far down am I on the wait list?  They asked.  You are number 25. And counting.

And we are a tiny quilt shop.

Demand for this foot across the country was huge.

But call me skeptical.  I waited until the dust settled. Then I took it home and tried it.

IMG_3206This foot comes with a guide that sits in the notch on the foot, and screws into the machine.  I thought this guide would bother me, but friends, if your pieces are cut accurately, the guide really helps.

It’s hard to argue with perfection.

IMG_3208My 1/4 in. seam could not have been more beautiful and consistent. Over and over and over again.

I’ll have to hold my skepticism for another day.

For now, I just need to sit down and sew.

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Book Cover Obsession

I love to read.

I love to read so much that my house is overflowing with books in basically every room.  I give them away, I stack them, I loan them and I cherish them. When I die, someone will have to go through all of them, because many are signed by the author or are first editions. I’m hoping to organize them.

Some day.

And I read them on a Nook too.  Just not enough.  I like to read nonfiction digitally.  I enjoy magazines online or on the ipad or on the Nook. I read biographies there, health, political books–anything I’m likely to read once and toss aside.  But a delicious, yummy, hefty fiction in a dreamy setting with characters I want to have as friends, and a storyline that goes on forever with themes…oh my…themes that resonate with the deepest part of my own flawed character?

Well, those are the books I want to carry around forever.  I want to touch them and hold them and..and…interact with them. I want to turn pages and go back to pages and look up dialogue and descriptions, and just enjoy holding them.

So I still read books.  The old-fashioned kind.

And what does someone do who loves both books and fabric?

Cover the books. In fabric.  I cover my favorites and I make covers in different sizes and move them around on the books I’m reading at any given time.  This is the easiest thing in the world to do, especially if you have a serger.

First find yourself the softest fabric – the stuff you want to pet the most.

I use a pattern from a book called “Ready Set Serge” by Georgie Melot. It’s one of the best beginner serging books I’ve seen.

IMG_2240[1]Most people don’t really know what to do with a serger, but once you learn to use one, you’ll never want to be without it.  They finish and cut a seam at the same time. They’re fast.

They are the best possible way to sew knits or garments. They are another tool in your belt, and like all tools, take a little training.

 

IMG_2241[1]I have a Babylock that was given to me by my mom several years ago. (She has a pacemaker and because the motors in segers are so strong, she is not supposed to get too close to them in action….isn’t that strange?) Anyway, sergers are notorious for being hard to thread, and with 4 threads, there’s definitely a knack to it.  The handbook is invaluable because I still use it every time I change settings.  However, for a 4-thread overlock, which I use the most, I just leave the serger threaded off to the side of my workspace, and simply plug it in when I am ready to work.

IMG_2238[1]

The book covers require 4 straight cut pieces of fabric: cover, lining, and 2 side pockets. Plus one piece of ribbon to use as a bookmark. That’s it.  The sizes do change based on the size of the book, so you may want to experiment a little with the pattern.

 

crop

 

You can see that I make notes on patterns that I use often.  I’ve never met a pattern I didn’t want to modify. This way I know exactly how to cut the fabric for any particular book.

 

Her directions are very straightforward.  These sew up in about fifteen minutes, so of course, you’ll want to start a collection of them yourself.

IMG_2244[1]

This is what a great 4 thread overlock stitch should look like. No pulling or bunching, lying completely flat, with the thread from the back side running right along the top of the edge of the fabric (that might be hard to see in this pic with the white background).

 

 

 

So the next time you find yourself snuggling up with a book, think about making a cover for it. What a tactile way to combine the pleasures of the mind with the pleasures of the senses.

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I’m Biased.

When it comes to binding quilts, I have a new standard.  I do my best not to use a straight cut binding any more.

Here’s why.  About 14 years ago, I made a silly little Christmas quilt –stack and whack — and hand quilted the whole thing.  For years this little quilt has been in our family room — thrown over the back of a sofa, strewn on the floor, used as a way to keep someone’s feet warm, folded and propped up as a pillow, and just generally loved to pieces.  Literally.

It has been washed countless times.

And it is beginning to fall apart. How sad.

IMG_2985You can see the fraying.  In some places, it’s worn clean through to the inside of the binding.

IMG_2991Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty frayed, even though the rest of the quilt is holding just fine.  I used quilt shop quality fabric, so the fabric was not an issue.

But even quilt shop fabric cannot withstand the repeated agitation of the washing machine and pummeling of a hot dryer.

Think about this: when a binding is straight cut, the very edge that you see fraying on my quilt is really only about 2-3 strands of thread.  All the abuse that quilts take is right on those edges, on those very few threads. Straight cutting your binding may be great for a wall-hanging or something that will have little handling and use.

But when you want your quilt to last and to withstand a little love (and cleaning), take the time to bias cut your binding.  With a bias cut, binding is no longer dependent on just a few threads, but on the hundreds of threads criss-crossing those edges. SO much stronger.

A few tips:

–Take advantage of the special tools out there that will help you to conserve fabric while cutting your binding.  The following picture includes the “Bias Binding Simplified” ruler from Creative Grids.  

–Watch the video on the Creative Grids page, as she also makes my point about using bias binding.  She gets to that explanation in the first 3 minutes.

–Try the “Quilter’s Strip Ticket” for Bias Tube Construction.  That’s the red card shown below.  You can get both of these tools at your local quilt shop. If not, for heaven’s sake, ASK them to order it. Using this method, you’ll waste very little fabric.

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I love a striped binding, and the most recent quilt I finished was certainly completed with a bias binding. I am permanently convinced. Of course I am.

I had to live it myself to learn the hard way. As usual.

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Mini Quilt Mania

I was never big on the whole mini quilt trend.  Until I made one.

Here’s a quilt with a number of different techniques:  squares on point, paper piecing, rounded corners, ricrac insertion.

Yet I could work on it on a tabletop.  I didn’t have to clear my living room to lay it out.  It didn’t take me years (I’m still working on a couple of quilts, hoping I live long enough to complete them). I didn’t hurt my shoulders, my back or develop carpel tunnel.

I worked on it sporadically over a few days and now it’s DONE.

That’s the beauty of mini quilts.  They completely fill my need for instant gratification. This one will be on display at the store, then come home with me to be a placemat or table runner.  It’s cheerful enough for that post-holiday table, or would look great in the summer with a glass of lemonade on it.

mini quilt 1It still needs an adorable bright yellow binding, but the dimension is, I don’t know, 18 x 24?

I don’t have to clean out a closet to find storage for it.

The book it came from is titled, “Little Quilts” by Sarah Fielke and Amy Lobsiger.

I used mini charm packs from a darling new retro fabric line called “Pedal Pushers” by Lauren and Jessi Jung for Moda.

mini quilt detailAll the fun was actually in the details.  Paper-pieced fans over Wooly Lady wool, with ricrac sunshine rays peaking out over a quilted background.

It’s CUTE.

So while I may have been slow to get onboard…(what does anyone DO with a mini quilt? aren’t they doll quilts?  why bother?)…I’m onboard now.  Here’s what you do with mini-quilts:

— Admire them.

–Give them to your kids or grandkids.

–Learn new techniques.

–Use teensy bits of fabric.

— Put them around your house, on tables, counters, hang them on the wall.

–Finish them and move on to the next fun project and fabric line.  Seriously. They take up almost no space at all if you want to throw them in a closet or on a shelf.

Don’t worry, I’ll never completely give up my snuggly quilts or even the artsy ones. But mini quilts are like having a forkful of chocolate cake — enough to get a delicious taste but not enough to do any real damage.

The Burden of Excess

I think I have been building a fabric fortress.

Between Ebola and ISIS, global warming, widespread violence, political inertia and general public apathy, I am exhausted.  I am tired of worrying, tired of taking action against all odds, tired of challenging the status quo and tired of cleaning my house.

If only someone else would do all this work for me. Can someone else please solve world hunger, cure the diseases, make sure everyone has a safe place to live, keep my neighborhood safe, write the essays, pay the bills, do my laundry and cook the family’s dinner?

For awhile, can someone else go to work for me and comfort those who wander in and tell their stories, maybe help the woman whose husband is in the alzheimer’s care facility, chat with the lady who just lost her daughter to breast cancer, make the day brighter for the woman who is the only caregiver for her aging mom, and for that matter just generally fix all the brokenness and the heartache and worry and pain?

If you can give a hand here, that would be great.

Because I try to solve all of this with fabric. And I don’t think it’s working.

As a matter of fact, I think the fabric is suffocating me.  That’s why I spent some time this past week clearing out a great deal of the fabric in my sewing room.  I have come away with 3 giant bags of scraps: batiks, traditionals, solids, you name it.

And I am donating it to the next rummage sale.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still have plenty of fabric on hand.  I still have projects in the queue.  I still have far more than I thought possible.  I still have Sterlite bins full of lovely possibilities, full of the hope of one world-weary woman, assembling bits and pieces from random places and random lives and attaching them to one another with the audacity to believe that at some point it will become something, if not beautiful, at least useful.

I’ll never be able to part with it all.

Thank God.

But at least I let go of some of it.

rummage salela fete quilt

 

 

 

 

 

Meditation Bowl

bowl1These bowls are enough to drive you sane.

With a little bit of practice, you can make these and they are useful, visually pleasing and mesmerizing to sew.

bowl2I start with 20 yards of cotton cording (generally found in the uphostery section).  Traditionally, folks used cording like this as large piping or for drapery –home dec. sewing.

This particular cording, because it is all cotton is very soft, not rigid, like clothesline cord.

I used King Tut all-cotton variegated thread from Superior in both the top and bobbin.

bowl3

 

Be sure to have more than 1 spool available. You go through quite a bit of thread.  Set your machine to a nice wide zigzag…enough to cross over both sides of the cording.

bowl4Start in the center of the bowl and simply sew the cording together.  Keep the cording to your right so you can feed it into the machine.

bowl5The bottom section of your bowl stays flat.  As you progress, gently lift the side of the flat disk and continue sewing.  This begins to form a shape.

Crazily, uncharacteristically, the sewing begins to feel like sculpture, like pottery.  This is where the meditation kicks in.

bowl6You continue to sew at a relatively slow speed, always keeping your eye on the two cords.  Is the zigzag always straight down the middle between the two?

You’ll be tempted to keep sewing while you glance away at the cording to see how much you have left. Don’t.

Stop sewing if you need to, but don’t take your eyes off the needle. Guarantee you will slip off track.

bowl7The beauty of the process is that if you keep going, you’ll ascend to a higher place.  You”ll become a part of the hum, a part of the cording.  Your hands will follow the movements automatically and you’ll feel the flow.

Your mind will calm and focus on just about 1 inch of space on the earth.

bowl8And when you are done, you will have created something very peaceful, very zen.

And it will be more than just a bowl. It will be the place where you put your effort for a while, and the time when you let your racing thoughts evaporate.

Namaste, friends.