And So This is Christmas…

And what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun.   –John and Yoko

Bah Humbug.

Sigh.  This time of year I don’t want to hear any more holiday songs. (Unless of course it’s “Celebrate Me Home” by Kenny Loggins, which I can listen to over and over and never get tired.  Here you go…a crazy live version.)

Not to be confused with Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg, which I listen to for one week every year (between Christmas and New Year’s) and tolerate for its simple wistful loveliness.

But John Lennon haunts me.
Every year at this time, he asks what I have done and reminds me that I’m another year older. And the haunting part is that he’s not. He is timeless now, with his music still playing everywhere.

What HAVE I done? What have you done?  The only thing I have to show for this past year is my work.  So here’s a little gallery of this last year’s finished projects.  And some that might be not-so-finished.

“A very Merry Christmas. And a Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”


Going Against the Grain

If you’ve ever done any garment sewing you know that:

1. It’s not easy.

2. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you better follow that pattern EXACTLY.

Well, I’m not much of a garment sewer, although from time to time fabric tells me what it wants to become and my job is just to do what it tells me.  That’s how it was with this delicious fabric from Cotton and Steel.  It’s really not an easy line to piece into a quilt as it doesn’t lend itself to small cuts.  But it was just calling out to me, begging to be made into this vest.

And so I bought it and set it aside until I was ready.

You can see that the line on the pattern indicates that the pattern should lay on the fabric the way it’s shown in the pic above —  grain line parallel to the selvage.

But that wasn’t the vision.  I wanted vertical stripes in front.  So I began my research.  What will happen if I ignore the grain line?  Will the shape be distorted?  Will the vest not lay properly?

I turned to the Internet where the general consensus seemed to be:  Always follow the grain line. Unless you don’t want to.

Actually, most people were specific. If you wanted a pattern to run a certain way, then It’s OK to cheat the grain line a bit.  Especially on a fabric that is not stretchy.  Since I’m working in a pretty tight woven, I thought…I’m going for it.

So I cut out all the pieces, along with a liner.  The pattern I was using was from Indygo Junction (Modern Silhouette Vest).

As usual, I did not follow the pattern completely.  I wanted it to be lined and reversible, so I modified along the way. I actually assembled the entire vest, then the entire lining, and pinned them right sides together. Then I stitched around the outside of the whole thing (very much like making a bag lining.) I also went back and serged all the unfinished edges. I left a space in the back hem to turn inside out.

***Do not sew the armholes together when it is inside out.*** Ask me how I know.

When I teach, I often tell students “Don’t worry. I make the mistakes, so you don’t have to.” It gets a chuckle, but it’s truth. I make a lot of mistakes because I try a lot of new things. I’m as comfortable unsewing as I am sewing. The seam ripper is your friend.

As long as the armholes are still raw edge,  the whole thing can be turned inside out and pressed.

You can finish the armhole by overlocking the right side and lining separately, and then turning them both under and topstitching. It forms a neat finish, with all seams hidden. The last step is to topstitch all the way around the vest and in the process turn under the back hem which was left open when you turned it inside out.

All seams are finished and I can wear it either way.

The back is pieced as well with the same line of Cotton and Steel fabric.

Final step is to add a button in front.

I think I really worried needlessly about the grain line.  It lays just fine, and the little pandas were cut on grain.

C’mon, that fabric is cute!

The bottom line is this: Don’t worry about the grain line QUITE so much when you are working with a medium or tight woven. Anything stretchy, and all bets are off.

Go ahead, try something new.

And don’t be afraid if it goes against the grain.

What Inspires You to Create?

You’ll find no shortage of social media out there:  Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter.  Every single one of them is loaded to the brim with lively “inspiration.”

People tell me, “It’s where I go to get good ideas.”

Yet, social media is a double-edged sword. So many things come our way to discourage us on our way to creativity and inspiration.

Short list of inspiration-killers:

–Someone will always be better than you at whatever it is you want to pursue. They have more time, more money, more resources, more experience, or more years of life ahead of them.  And let’s face it, they often have better ideas.

–You’ll waste time on social media.  Yes, you will see pretty things.  But you are more likely to get discouraged than to be inspired. It’s the nature of the beast. (By the way, that’s also the reason that new studies are showing that the more time kids spend glued to their phone, the more likely they are to become suicidal.  This is especially true for teenage girls.  Don’t think adults are so very different.)

–Life gets in the way. We’re busy and pre-occupied with raising our children, working, caring for other family members, getting side-tracked by every day chores, like home repairs, grocery shopping, health issues (our own or that of loved ones.)

So what can we do?

Some ideas:

  1.  Take a walk in nature.  Get to the woods, the trees, a botannical garden, your own backyard, a local forest preserve, any place not overly occupied by humans.  Notice the birds, and the other tiny things. The change from flower to seed, the turning of the seasons, the smell of the air, the sky on any given day. Listen. Is wind rustling? Which birds do you hear? Are you near water?  Crashing waves or trickling creek? Is it starting to freeze? What patterns do you see?

2. Visit some place new. Extensive travel to other countries is fantastic, but we’re not all willing and able to do that. I recently drove a half hour from home to a tiny shop that sells Polish Pottery.  I’d never been there. The owner was a bubbly young lady, and had just moved into a new building.  The shelves were filled with bright, cheerful pottery, hand made by women an ocean away. Lovely.

3. Learn something new. This could mean anything for you. Attend an exhibit. Take a class at the local community college or park district. Or easier yet, read a book.  I recently saw a statistic that said that 30% of college graduates never read another book once they finish school.  80% of families have not purchased or read a book in the past year.  How is this even possible? I’m not entirely sure I believe the statistics but the trend is discouraging. We already know that reading books makes people more empathetic. Where are we headed?

A book suggestion to get you started:  Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson.

It’s a peak into his journals and famous works, as you also travel through life with someone totally committed to his art. Think you already know everything about him? I bet you don’t. Some of his geometric studies would make fantastic quilt patterns. Granted, he lived in a time when diversity, architecture, aesthetics, craftsmanship, and great art were all honored and appreciated at the highest levels of society.

Let us recommit ourselves to advancing the arts, in ourselves and in our society. Get out into real life. Experiment. Enjoy a visual and auditory feast.

And step away from social media for just a bit. It will be there when you come back.

I promise.

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?

The Times We Live In

The Inspiration

When I had the privilege of hearing Bill Kerr from Modern Quilt Studio speak last year, someone asked the question, “What makes a quilt modern?”

Bill’s answer has stayed with me ever since.  He replied, “It reflects the time we live in.”

I thought a lot about that lately, and it came to mind again as I worked on my latest quilt.

An extended family member is suffering from a heroin addiction. He’s 23 years old. (Close family).

Unless you live under a rock, or unless you have your head buried in the sand, you know that this country is in a crisis.

  • Addiction is the number one killer of those under 50 years old in America.
  • This is the worst overdose epidemic in our country’s history–mostly heroin and fentanyl.
  • In 2015, more people died from drug overdoses than from gun homicides and car accidents COMBINED. And that number has exponentially risen since then. (nytimes).

I don’t want to go into the heartbreak that opioid addiction brings into a family, or the destruction, or the loss of trust and money and emotional fortitude.  No, those are just side shows to the vice-like grip of tragedy and despair that accompany a person with an addiction.

He told his mom that the world is grey, and only appears in color when he is on the drug.  All of this is likely a symptom of underlying depression, but reaching it is difficult through the fog of substance abuse disorder.

The Quilt

Awhile ago, I began working on an improv quilt.  It was basically chaos, and felt like 2017 to me. Layer on top of that the never-ending chorus of my family member’s opioid treatments, shaky and hesitant recoveries, disappearances, and temporary relapses, and “chaos” becomes the perfect description.

But hope lives.

And I found myself creating a quilt for him, made of this crazy, chaotic improvisational fabric. It was interspersed with grey, reflecting the many times he has been through rehab.

But the main message of this quilt is one of hope…for my family member and for all those suffering from this disorder.  This cheapest of all street drugs will not get the last word.  The rest of us surround him with belief that this can be overcome, knowing full well the difficulty.

The Details

I don’t know how others design quilts, but I find that I don’t “think” in software. I have to grab a notepad and sketch it out. I add measurements as I go along.

Next, I took the improv fabric and positioned it under some of the grey to see if it was going to work.  I love that the sun was pouring in as I worked.

I’m pleased with the way it’s turning out.

I’ll be using the serger to piece the back in a beautiful blue sky ombre with splashes of color.

It’s the goal…a blue sky goal and a life of color, on the other side of the grey.

In the big picture, the grey and the colors of anyone’s world mix and mingle back and forth.  The world is not always in glorious color for any of us.  Sometimes it is the grey that provides the relief in order for us to carry on.

If you or someone you love needs help with substance abuse disorder, here are a few resources I follow on twitter to provide support and ideas.

In the meantime…

…hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (romans 8:24-25)

Chasing Cats with Machine Embroidery

Doesn’t everyone have a Halloween tree?

It’s a silly thing, I know. But we get a kick out of it.  I make all the ornaments in machine embroidery as in-the-hoop projects.

First, the actual embroidery design is stitched out.

A placement line is stitched, so I can see where the backing will be placed. Before the backing, I tape down a ribbon for hanging. Then the backing is laid down with right sides together.

The backing then gets stitched down with an opening at the bottom which allows for turning the item inside out. Once the backing is stitched down, I can take the whole thing out of the hoop and trim 1/4 inch around the outside, clipping the corners, and turn it inside out.

Just add a bit of stuffing, stitch up the bottom and you’re done! Three at a time at this size. When I make them even smaller, six at a time is just as easy!

Finished and ready to hang on the tree.

I hope this gives you some ideas for the holidays. Happy stitching!


Chicken Soup and Embroidery Software

It’s a chicken soup kind of day.

My son came home after his first few days of high school with a nasty cold.  I’m not surprised.  The place is a breeding ground for experimental teenage germs.

On top of that, the weather turned cooler today…for how long, I’ve no idea.  But it’s cloudy and cool right now.

Furthermore, like everyone else in the sewing industry, I read Nancy Zieman’s latest blog with a heavy heart. Whether you watched her show or not, you know Nancy.  You buy her notions or you attend Quilt Expo in Madison. I’ve learned many tips from Nancy along the way, but my favorite line was this: ” I sew at least one quilt a year for charity.”  She never said “You should…”  She told us what she did, and then she did it, among all the other wonderful charitable contributions she made within the industry (and outside of it).

So, yes, it’s a chicken soup kind of day.

While the soup bubbled away, I sat down with my laptop and organized some of the Halloween designs I want to make in the very near future.

I use Bernina Embroidery Software 8, and I’m planning on making tiny pillow-like ornaments to hang on my Halloween tree.

The designs I’m using came from, a favorite of mine for cute and/or spooky embroidery.

It’s hard to see the design in this shot but it is a single thread color of a cat.  I used a feature that people rarely take advantage of in the ‘design” menu. Click on “background” and change the background color in the hoop.

Now you can actually see what the design will look like stitched out on dark grey or black fabric. In the prior shot, you can see where I added stitching in a square around the outside.  Before I stitch that, I will add a square of fabric and a ribbon for hanging.  I’m not stitching out today, but I promise to share when I do.

In this design, I’m stitching the profile of this cat, but it has multiple thread changes for each cat.  For some reason, the.exp file I’m using has changed all the colors from shades of purple to random colors.  I did not take the time to fix the thread colors on screen because I will just use the correct ones as I stitch out.

The important thing to note here is that on the side, in the color film, I used the “Sequence by Color” tool.  This way, I’m able to stitch all the same colors at once instead of changing threads each time for each color on each cat. Whew!

It makes a big difference in the amount of time it takes to stitch out.  Also, I will have to cut the jump stitches in between each thread change, as I have the thread moving around quite a bit.


Still, I have loaded all this onto my USB stick and am ready to stitch as soon as I prep some fabric, stabilizer and fabric for the backs of these cute little ornaments.

Can’t wait to get started, but I won’t have time for a couple of days.

My Halloween quilt is complete, and ready for its debut! Stay tuned. It may be early September, but it’s already time for a cool change.

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’.

A Trip Down Folk Art Lane

I’ve been whipping out a quick little piece designed by Amanda Murphy.  It comes from her fabric collection Folk Art Fantasy. 

The design is basically done with raw edge applique (my favorite kind.)

I used Wonder Under as my fusible.  I prefer it, because it stays pretty lightweight, and keeps the edges from fraying as you work.  With large all-over appliques such as this, you really also need some support stabilizer behind the whole thing as well, to do the blanket stitch work.  I used a medium weight tearaway, Ultra Clean and Tear from OESD.

I saw Amanda’s fabric line at quilt market, and came back and really made a recommendation to our shop owner to purchase this fabric. I just fell in love with the graphics and the cheery brightness of the whole line. Just a small sample is shown here.

I also appreciate that the design elements carry through to the patterns.  Notice the checkerboard in the flower in the fabric above.  It shows up again in the pattern I worked on, and the other elements appear in more of her patterns (the bunny is themed as well, and the houses too). I appreciate the thought that goes into that. Some of her fabrics even echo her quilting designs.

I used the folksy aqua blue town fabric on the back of the project…because I love it and wanted it to be seen.  It all just feels cozy — but with a modern twist.  I tend to dreamily become a little Amish/Mennonite during the summer.  Or at least I am attracted to the charm and simplicity.  Just don’t take away any of my modern conveniences.

Speaking of conveniences, if you are someone who owns a Silhouette or other cutting machine, her pattern includes a link to svg files.

I don’t think I’m done with this fabric yet.  I might have to do a larger quilt.  As usual, it has to get in line behind many other projects.  Still, it’s all a joyful distraction from reality.

And who doesn’t need that these days.

Women, Sewing and Art

We had some family in from out of town this week, and a day-long trip to the Art Institute of Chicago was on the agenda.

Let me start by saying that I checked with the information desk and they had no problem with me taking a few pics and posting them to a blog.  So that’s what I did.

As you know, the Art Institute is an overwhelming and inspiring experience. After a bit of roaming, I came across a painting of a woman sewing. On a whim, I took a picture.

(Just as an aside, I hate when I see people running up to a painting and taking a picture.  That is not how it is meant to be enjoyed. Look at it. Study the brush strokes. Discover the color palette. Contemplate it. Enjoy it. But whatever you do, don’t run up and take a picture and then run to the next.  That’s silly.  Lecture over.)

That said, I decided to record what I could of women sewing.  A few samples:

Renoir was the first I happened to see. It’s lovely…with such movement.  I did, however, study her hands.  What was she sewing that was so bunched up?  That’s not really how one would hold something for embroidery or detailed stitching.  Though her right hand is perfectly positioned to pull a needle through the fabric, her left is a bit awkward.  The white lace near her left arm is, I suspect, entirely an afterthought.  Go ahead, hold your finger over that piece of white lace. The whole painting recedes into mid-tones. While it is still gorgeous, it lacks enough contrast to draw your eye somewhere.  With that touch of white, your eyes go directly to her work and her hands, and it even lights up her face.

This one is done by Camille Pissarro around 1895.  Titled “Woman Mending.”  I studied her hands once again.  She might very well be sewing.  Or she might actually be knitting in some way.  Her project is rather amorphous.  Yet, I recognize her expression.  I have the same one when I’m trying to figure out what I did wrong.  After these two paintings, I started to wonder if male painters truly understood in any way how women work. They recognize that women are doing SOMETHING with fabric or yarn. The detail is so precise in every other aspect…down to the carvings on the leg of the table.  But what this woman is actually doing?  Based on this painting, it’s a mystery.

Ahh. Diego Rivera, 1936.  The Weaver.  As we move into the 1900’s, we see that women’s work becomes a bit more of a fascination.  It’s not just pretty things in a young woman’s hand, but a skill, a craft.  He even pays homage to her by including the tools of her trade. He admired this woman, I’m sure of it.

This last one I saw was from the 1800’s, St. Rose of Lima. She was a patron saint of the Dominicans, and the story says that she embroidered to raise money for her family and for the poor. In this painting, she is creating the symbol for Christ. (This pic is taken from a pamphlet I brought home from the museum.) I love that her work is clearly shown, and that her sewing was her employment.

I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt through the Art Institute. If, like me, you haven’t been there in over 20 years, I encourage you to visit again with new eyes.  While you’ll see plenty of women as subjects — in portraits, as madonnas and mothers, lovers and muses — these are the women I found that had a project. A purpose.

A reason to create.