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Does Perfectionism Stop You from Quilting?

20 20 rule front panel

This little graphic expresses one of my most important rules for quilting: “If it looks good from twenty feet away, while you drive by at 20 miles an hour, it’s perfect! Don’t change a thing.”

Silly as it is, this quilter’s saying still expresses something important about how to approach quilting (or any creative endeavor) so you can find joy in doing it, instead of dissatisfaction.

It’s easy to feel dissatisfied with aspects of your quilting: your color choices, your cutting, the accuracy of your piecing, the stitch length of your machine quilting — the list goes on and on!  If you find yourself hesitating to quilt because your quilting doesn’t seem good enough to you, may I suggest a liberal application of the 20/20 rule?


Quilting for Love: Margie’s Story

Audrey's Squares Quilt

I recently posted some photos of Mary S.’ very first quilts. After that post went online, I got an email from another quilter, Margie. Margie saw Mary’s quilts and sent me these photos of the quilts she made for her five grandchildren. If you feel hesitant about making your own first quilt, I think you might find inspiration in the message Margie sent along with the photos. Here’s what she said:

I just wanted to comment on Mary’s first quilt, it is great!

I have always wanted to try my hand at quilting but time was never on my side and I wasn’t all together confident I could do it.
So two years ago, when I became a retiree, I decided I now had the time and I wanted to make a quilt for each of my five grandchildren.
The best advice I got before starting was to “start simple” so I did a lot of research on “how to” on the computer and headed to the store to pick out fabric for my first one (that was the hardest part for me). A little over one year later I finished the last one!
I can tell you, I am hooked. I love quilting and actually find it very therapeutic to sit and sew every night in front of the TV! Even though I suffer from thirty one years of Rheumatoid Arthritis I do all my quilting by hand, I press through and stop when I have had to much but there is something wonderful in the feel of doing it by hand.
Attached are pictures of the five quilts I made. The first was a simple block design and so was the second.
Jonathan's Squares Quilt
David's quilt 1
Then I got brave and did the star flower, pinwheel and heart designs on the last three. I still have not got into anything too fancy, but who knows, maybe some day I will.
Audrey's Squares Quilt
Lauren's quilt 3
Madalynn's quilt 3

Margie, a quilter for therapy!”

I want to thank Margie for sending in these pictures. It’s so encouraging to know that she made five quilts that will be cherished by their young owners, and made them in spite of her physical obstacles — and quilted them all by hand! If Margie can do it, so can you.

Quilting after Enlightenment

Enlightenment Quilting 2This is my quilting version of a Zen saying that goes like this: “Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.”

The tasks that go into making a quilt couldn’t be more simple: cutting, sewing, and pressing. But the quilt that comes out of those everyday tasks can be deeply satisfying to look at, use, or give. For me, the spiritual side of quilting has been mostly the practice of giving. I give away almost all the quilts I make, either to friends, or to sell for good causes.

Is quilting a spiritual practice for you?


Mary S.’ First Quilts

1st quilt 06 2014 Edited

The best thing about writing a book comes long after the book is finished, when you hear from readers who liked your book and learned something from reading it. I was thrilled to hear from Mary S. recently. Mary just made her very first quilts using the instructions and quilt patterns in my book, Quilts for Beginners. Good going, Mary!

The quilt above is a baby quilt she made using the simple piecing instructions from the book. The quilt below is a Halloween version of the Quilt-as-you-Go table runner, which is the first of three quick quilt patterns in the book.

I promised that quilt-as-you-go would be easy, and Mary agrees that it was! (Notice how she thoughtfully put a copy of my book under the finished quilt? Thanks for that, Mary!)

halloween table runner first quilt project 05 2014

If you got the book and haven’t quite gotten around to making your first quilt, or even if you are thinking about quilting and didn’t get the book, I want you to know that you can make that first quilt! (And have fun doing it.) Mary S. is excited about making more quilts now that she has finished these two.

I would love to hear from you, if you have made your first quilt recently. Send photos! If you’re still hesitating, send me your questions and concerns, or leave a comment on this post.





My Kind of Party

I like to party quilters

I know a lot of quilters whose social life revolves around quilting. I’ve never been organized enough to quilt in a group. For me, quilting is mostly a matter of snatching a few minutes here and a few minutes there in between all the other things I have to do. It takes place in my sewing room/garage, with only my dog for company. But it’s still a party! Colors! Textures! Excitement! Surprises! Coffee! Old Law and Order episodes on Netflix in the background!

Is quilting your kind of party, too?


Sewing Machine Magic: How Your Machine Makes Stitches

I’ve been doing some research for my next book and came across this wonderful animation that shows how a sewing machine links the upper thread and bobbin thread to make stitches. Have you ever wondered how this happens? To tell the truth, I never did until just now. Once I saw how clever the stitching mechanism is, though, I was impressed all over again by the ingenuity of these machines we quilters rely on every day.

How your sewing machine makes stitches.

Image by ru:user:NikolayS (ru:Файл:Lockstitch.gif) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Heart garland quilt large alt.

I like making quilts for Valentine’s day. Maybe because the seasonal reds, whites, and pinks are so cheerful in midwinter.  Maybe because I make my Valentine’s quilts to hang on the wall, so they are small and easy to make.

The inspiration for this heart quilt came from a wonderful banner quilt  I saw on Lisa Calle’s blog, Vintage Modern Quilts. Her quilt featured flags, but I had made this heart garland last year, and my thoughts instantly went to a quilt like hers with hearts instead of flags. 

About a year ago, I made a big push to get rid of scraps. (Did it work? Of course not.) During my scrap-busting period, I made some fabric out of my little bits and pieces of red fabric. This quilt was the perfect place to use that improvised fabric.

I used a heart template to cut out applique shapes from my homemade fabric and from several pink and white fabrics. I marked the hearts with a pen, then used a rotary cutter blade that gives a pinked edge to cut out the hearts.  I lived to regret using the pen, though, because it left some stains on the back of the quilt.

Heart Template

Then I arranged the hearts on the background as if they were hanging from a line. I used [amazon_link id="B0018N73C6" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]temporary spray glue[/amazon_link] to hold the hearts in place while I stitched them to the quilt top. I left the outer edges of the hearts unstitched so they would look a bit like they are fluttering.

One of my decorative stitches made an imitiation line for the quilts to hang from. If I make this quilt again, I think I would use rick-rack to make the line more visible. 

Heart garland quilt 2


Heart garland quilt 3

Then I stippled the rest of the background. A red striped fabric for the binding, a hanging sleeve, and the quilt is done! It is now hanging in the living room window. 

I guess that means it’s time to take down the last of my winter decorations.  Funny how much more I enjoy putting things up than taking them down!

Landscape quilt on sweatshirt thumbnail

What’s the best way to try out new quilting techniques you  would like to master, but don’t feel comfortable with yet? Go small. It’s much easier to experiment on a project the size of a placemat or a small wall quilt than it is on a large bed quilt. If you make a mistake or even ruin the whole project, oh well! And you are bound to learn something useful by trying something new.

I followed my own advice yesterday by making a little landscape quilt to put on a sweatshirt I gave my husband for Christmas.

Landscape quilt on sweatshirt

I have always liked landscape quilts, and I’ve made a couple of them, but I would like to get better at giving them visual depth. The design area of a men’s Large sweatshirt was the perfect size for trying shadows and a landscape with trees at different distances from the viewer.    

I cut out a piece of 14″ x 16″ white fabric to use as the foundation, then got out my scrap box full of motley pieces of fabric that already have fusible glued to the back. These pieces are leftovers from fusible applique quilts I’ve made over the last few years. All the fabrics you see in the landscape came from that scrap bin. I knew I wanted to make something fast and easy bold and graphic, so I picked a winter scene, whose monochromatic tones lend themselves well to abstract shapes. 

I used a pebbly pale grey fabric for the sky and some assorted white prints for the snowy ground. A snake-patterned print made the birch trees, and textured dark prints made the other trees.

If you are interested in trying this, learn from my mistake: it’s best to fuse the background pieces to the foundation fabric first and stitch down the whole background BEFORE you add trees or other foreground elements. I made the mistake of fusing everything first, trees as well as snow and sky, and then doing all the stitching. This made the sewing much harder because I had to sew lots of little stop-and-start segments of snow between all the trees, instead of sewing easy long lines across the whole quilt.

After quilting everything, I drew the shadows on with [amazon_link id="B005K0T4WK" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]fabric marker pens[/amazon_link].

At this stage, I liked the design, but the whole thing looked a little — how to say it? — bleak. I needed something to connect the monochromatic design to the colorful sweatshirt. The answer was in my regular scrap box, which produced this red spiral fabric. I added a strip to the bottom and felt satisfied.

Landscape quilt on sweatshirt detail large

After that, the project was smooth sailing. A little [amazon_link id="B0018N73C6" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]temporary spray glue[/amazon_link] to keep the quilted piece on the sweatshirt front while I sewed the quilted layer to the sweatshirt, a few lines of quilting to secure the middle of the image to the sweatshirt, a zig-zag stitch around the edges, and the whole thing was done.

Time elapsed: about three hours.

Lessons learned:

  • Fuse and quilt the background elements first before adding foreground elements.
  • Make the next sweatshirt landscape a bit smaller. The 14″ x 16″ landscape looked overwhelming when I laid it out on the sweatshirt. I trimmed a half inch from each side and cut off the top corners to make the quilted image look a little less bulky. Next time, I’d start with a smaller foundation, maybe 12″ x 15″.

What quilting techniques would you like to experiment with? What new ideas could you try out on a fabric postcard, a t-shirt, or a miniature quilt?


Quilting for Valentine’s Day

Cupcake quilt fabrics 1 2014

Are you working on any Valentine’s Day projects? I’m planning to quilt with cupcakes. Food = Love, right? (At the very least, Chocolate = Love). Maybe that’s why I associate cupcakes with Valentine’s Day. 

I do have some plans for fabric Valentines that feature red and pink hearts, but I was also captivated by these cute fabric cupcakes and polka dots. Here’s what I bought, in case you’re tempted yourself:

  • Large cupcakes: Sweet Treats, by Michael Miller Fabrics.
  • Small cupcakes by Linda Solovic for Timeless Treasures.
  • Green polka dots: Guess How Much I Love You, by Clothworks.
  • White polka dots: Essential Dots, by Moda.

I haven’t decided what pattern to make yet.  Maybe one of my favorites, a [amazon_link id="1571203230" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]9-patch Pizzazz[/amazon_link], from the book by Judy Sisneros. Maybe something completely new! I also scored some wonderful green-and-white Minkee fabric on sale after Christmas to use as the backing. Here are all my finds together:

Cupcake quilt fabrics with Minkee 1 2014

An ergonomic sewing chair

Before and after the holidays, I logged some long days at the sewing machine, making presents. I made lots of different things —quilts and double-sided napkins, fabric bags and pajama pants. One of the unfortunate side effects of all that sewing was a sore back and shoulders. I’ve also been reading depressing news about how bad it is for us to spend hour after hour sitting, and how much healthier it is to stand up while working. This is great news for those of you with quilting frames, but not so great for those of us who do all our piecing and quilting at sit-down machines.

I went to the chiropractor, who said I should get up every half hour to do some stretches and walk around. Of course this sounds like a good idea, but oh, how hard to do it, especially when I’m in the middle of free motion quilting. What, stop, now? My stipples were just starting to look curvy instead of jerky.  But oh, my aching back!

What’s a girl to do when all she really wants to do is keep on sewing? Here are some suggestions I’m planning to implement this year.

Check Your Sewing Position

According to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a lot of us are causing ourselves aches and pains by sitting in the wrong position to sew. Here’s OSHA’s picture of the ideal position for sewing:

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Your forearms should rest level on the sewing machine bed. Your upper arms, lower legs, and back should all be more or less at right angles to the floor. Your chair should allow you to sit close enough to the action so that your back can be straight and upright while you guide the fabric under the needle. You should also be able to clearly see the needle area without scrunching over. Things you shouldn’t do:

  • Lean forward or hunch over to sew. (I was guilty of both.)
  • Sew with your hands at a higher level than your elbows (guilty again!)
  • Let your feet dangle or stretch out one foot at an angle to use your foot petal. (Guilty!)

I realized that my sewing position was off, way off. And the #1 reason for my postural problems was my sewing chair.

Get an Ergonomic Sewing Chair

For several years, my sewing chair has been a dining chair I got at a thrift store. I liked the way it looked, and it had a comfortable padded seat. But in every other way, it was wrong, wrong, wrong. Dining Chair not ergonomic sewing chair

According to OSHA, an ergonomic sewing chair should have the following features:

  • Easy-to-adjust height.
  • Seat and back rest that tilt and adjust easily.
  • Padded back rest with rounded edges to support the lower back.
  • Either no wheels, or wheels that lock, to provide stability while working. It’s also desirable to have five built-in feet supporting the chair, for added stability.
  • Gently sloped or “waterfall” front edge to help prevent the chair’s edge from pressing into the backs of your legs.
  • Cushioned and contoured seat to distribute your weight evenly and avoid creating pressure points.

Here’s an example of an ergonomic chair from the OSHA website:  

An ergonomic sewing chair

An ergonomic sewing chair

You can buy special-purpose sewing chairs at sewing machine dealers. I decided to try a secretarial chair my mother-in-law didn’t need any more when she moved to a retirement home. It was free, and it serves the purpose much better than my dining chair. I adjusted the height and back to bring me to the right-angle position OSHA recommends. Here’s my current chair:

My sewing chair

Take Regular Breaks

I encourage myself to get up and move around by keeping a kitchen timer in my sewing room and setting it for 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, I (usually) stop sewing, get up and at a minimum, go to the kitchen to warm up my coffee or get a drink of water.  In the afternoons, I will take the dog for a walk or spend a couple of minutes standing in front of the refrigerator, wondering what on earth I’m going to cook for dinner.

When I come back to start sewing again, I set the timer for another 30 minutes.  It always comes as a surprise how fast half an hour goes by when you’re sewing.

Switch up from Sitting to Standing

While it is definitely convenient to have a small pressing station right at your sewing machine so you can press blocks after each seam without getting up, it is better for your health if you locate your pressing station across the room, so that you have to get up and walk over to press your project between seams. It’s also a good idea to switch periodically from sewing to cutting or any other activity you do standing up. If you’re like me, you have no shortage of unfinished projects to switch to when it’s time to take a break from sitting at the sewing machine.

Do I practice what I preach? Mostly. Sometimes I just get too caught up in what I’m doing to stop when I ought to. But one of my goals for 2014 is to be healthier in the sewing room.  I’m working at it! How about you?


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