Monday, May 29, 2017

First Practice Quilt Loaded Onto the Frame (Finally!)

I've had this beautiful APQS Millenium longarm quilting machine on a 12' frame in my studio since April 18th, just sitting there forlornly while I focused my attention on reorganizing my studio, working on my interior design clients' projects, and taking care of my husband following his heart surgery.  My husband was starting to express concerns about whether I was EVER going to turn on the new machine, but you can't do any test sewing on a longarm machine until you get something loaded onto the frame!  I FINALLY got a practice quilt loaded onto my frame yesterday, plugged in the longarm machine for the first time since I got it home over a month ago, and did some doodle quilting!  Woo hoo!!

...And Away We Go!
It's no fun at all, as you can see...

Vroom!  Vroom!
Here is my plan: I bought a King sized package of 80/20 cotton/poly quilt batting from JoAnn's that measures 120" x 120".  I pieced together a 116" x 116" practice quilt top from 3.25 yard lengths of three different fabrics -- a cheerful yellow, hot pink, and a blue-green batik.  Just because I'm practicing doesn't mean I need to be looking at drab, boring fabric.  The backing is plain muslin.  I loaded up this enormous practice quilt on my longarm frame and I am going to spend at least 30 minutes every day until the whole thing is covered in quilt scribbles.  Once that's done, I'm going to put a REAL quilt on the machine, ready or not.

Even with everything else demanding my attention over the past few weeks, I would have loaded something on the machine and started playing sooner, but I was confused about the loading process because I've never actually seen anyone do it before.  When you take a workshop or demo a machine at a quilt show, they already have the quilt loaded on the frame when you get there.  The photos in the APQS manual are small and low resolution so it's difficult to see exactly what you're supposed to be doing and how things are oriented.  I ended up watching a few APQS videos on YouTube as well as reading through the partial float quilt loading instructions in my manual, but there are so many different methods out there...  Zipper systems, grippers with dowels sewn into the leaders... 

My APQS dealer suggested that I start out loading quilts with pins, but even in the vastness of the Internet and YouTube it was difficult to find a tutorial with clear visuals for this "old school" method.   Not sure if I did it correctly, and I still have questions about how tightly I'm supposed to be wrapping the fabric around the rollers, etc., but at least now I have something on the frame so I can start playing, one month and ten days after the beast first arrived in my home!  I still have my full day of training with my APQS dealer that I'll schedule once school is out, so I'm starting a list of questions to bring with me to training.  Meanwhile, it's play time!

Pinning On the Backing with Flower Head Pins
Pinning the quilt onto the rollers took a LONG time, by the way, so I can see why quilters enjoy the zippered leaders and Red Snappers that expedite the process.  In the photo above you can see how I pinned my plain muslin backing to the Backing Roller with flower head pins, and in the photo below, I'm pinning my practice quilt top to the Quilt Top Roller the same way.  

Pinning the Quilt Top to the Canvas Leader
I did the "partial float" method this time, so only the backing was pinned to the Pickup Roller at the back of the frame.  The top edge of the quilt top was basted in place through the batting and backing just below the bottom edge of the canvas leader.

My First Quilted Scribbles!
OH HOW FUN!!!!!  I started out with a white Glide thread on my yellow fabric, and although that's what I'd like if this was a real quilt, it wasn't showing up very well in my pictures.  So I switched to a cotton variegated machine quilting thread, but that was ugly and wanted tension adjustments that I didn't feel like bothering with for ugly thread, so I switched back to Glide thread in a spring green shade.  

Glide Longarm Quilting Thread
My Millie machine isn't brand-new; she's a dealer demo, and those little batting scraps that you see in the photo above were already tucked into that first thread guide when we unpacked the machine.  I'm sure that's adding some drag to the thread, but I'm getting pretty nice stitches right now so I'll leave the batting where it is and ask about it when I get up to Hendersonville for my training.

Lousy Swirls, But Half Decent Stipple Meandering
A longarm machine has two sets of wheels for horizontal and vertical motion and both sets of wheels are involved for movement on the diagonal.  The first thing I notice going from free-motion quilting on a domestic sewing machine to the longarm is that straight lines, especially horizontal or vertical straight lines, are much easier to achieve on the longarm machine, but rounded shapes want to come out kind of square.  You can see that in the swirls I attempted in the photo above.  And that's what I need to learn on this practice piece, how to anticipate and compensate for that slight difference in how the machine moves on its X and Y axes versus how it moves on the diagonal, so that my stitches land exactly where I want them, just like I was drawing with a pen on a piece of paper.  So I abandoned the swirls for now and spent some time doing stippling or meandering or whatever you want to call it, focusing on creating smooth curves.

And then, of course, I was so excited that I needed to show someone else how much fun it was to play with the longarm machine, so I called my sixteen-year-old son Lars into my studio and let him give it a go:

My Teenager, Quilting His Name
Well, this is a long enough post for today.  I'm ready for another cup of coffee, a late breakfast, the gym, and then some more time up in the studio.  Happy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone!  I'm linking up with:

·       Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  
·       Main Crush Monday at Cooking Up Quilts
·       Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I'm Sew In Love With Craig's List!! Check Out My New Serger/Featherweight Desk!

Craig's List Score!

I'm not just excited, folks -- I'm GIDDY.  But let me back up: Unless you're brand-new to my little corner of the Internet, you know that an APQS Millenium longarm quilting machine on a 12' frame followed me home last month, and I've been working on purging and reorganizing my studio not just to make room for the longarm machine but to create a new setup that works for me both visually and functionally.  I need to maximize space without piling up so much furniture that I feel like I'm working in a storage closet.

In addition to my new longarm machine, I've got 'Nina the Diva (the Bernina 750QEE that is my main machine for sewing, piecing, and machine embroidery; predecessor to the current B 770QEE), a Bernina 1300MDC serger named Sergei, and a Juki MCS1500 coverstitch machine named... Juki.  The coverstitch machine is just for garment sewing, but I use my serger for garments, home dec sewing, finishing the edges of applique blocks so they don't fray while I'm stitching them, and serging the edges of my Minky backed baby quilts to make it easier to attach satin binding (and to help the quilt survive the inevitable satin binding replacement once the baby becomes a toddler who drags the quilt everywhere he or she goes).  I've also got two vintage Singer Featherweight 221 sewing machines, the 1951 machine named Judy that Anders uses occasionally as well as the 1935 machine named Bette that I like to use for really fiddly piecing, like the tight curves on my Rose Dream sampler block, or for Y-seams, partial seams, and things like that.  If I'm going to do any patchwork sewing away from home, I'll grab one of the Featherweights because they are so much lighter and easier to schlepp around than the Big 'Nina.

My Studio Back in February.  Green Chair was my Secondary Workstation.

So I don't need to have ALL of my machines out at once, but most of my projects do involve switching back and forth between two machines.  The problem is that the ugly but serviceable desk I was previously using for my "secondary machines" (see above photo) had to move to make room for the longarm frame, and it really didn't fit anywhere else in my studio.  I've only got 51" of wall space to the right of the window where I want to be able to use these machines (one at a time, not all at once), and the yucky desk that probably came from Staples was 60" long with zero storage. 

Old Desk Moved to Wall, Blocking Window, NOT Working!

Yet my "handy" husband, who built my red sewing cabinet for 'Nina and my giant cutting table, is recovering from a recent heart surgery and will not be doing heavy carpentry for awhile, so I knew that no custom Featherweight/Serger cabinet was going to materialize in our garage any time soon. 

I looked at Ikea first, because I know a lot of crafty folk have found great options for sewing rooms and craft spaces at reasonable prices by way of "Ikea hacks."  But I just didn't LOVE anything I found there that was the right size, primarily because their desks looked so flimsy and sewing machines working at high speed create a lot of vibration.  I don't want to put them on a dainty little desk that turns into a trampoline when I switch the machine on and sends my sewbabies bouncing off the desk and onto the floor!

Briefly Considered IKEA Alex Desk

I though of looking at the Habitat Restore and Goodwill for a used desk in the right size with a drawer or two, but I drive a little convertible now (VROOM!) and Bernie's car is a sedan -- even if I found something, I'd have to rent a truck to get it home.  Big hunt, big hassle, and no instant gratification.

Same deal with Craig's list, right?  Except not this time!  Something compelled me to check Craig's list anyway, and the second listing that came up was this lovely solid wood desk that the seller described as "early 19th century." 

Bette the Featherweight is On the New Desk, Sergei the Serger is on the Cutting Table...

It looks more early 20th century to me, but I could really care less what year it was made.  It fits perfectly against the wall where my ironing board used to live, and I can keep all my Featherweight accessories, serger accessories, and all kinds of other goodies in those fabulous DRAWERS!  I didn't even bother to go look at the desk in person.  I could tell from the photo that it was heavy, sturdy, and that any rough edges that might have snagged a delicate fabric have long since been worn smooth by the passage of time.  Best of all, the nice man selling it offered to DELIVER it to me tomorrow for an extra $25! 

...And Judy the Featherweight and Juki the Coverstitch Machine are Over Here

The drawers are the best part:

Paper Pantograph Patterns for Longarm Machine Go in This Drawer

Accessories for Serger and Coverstitch Machines Go in this Drawer

Featherweight Accessories Go in This Drawer

Temporary Fabric Markers, Tailor's Chalk, etc. in This Drawer

Accuquilt GO! Baby Cutter and Dies Go in This Drawer
Reworking my studio for the longarm machine was a much bigger project than I originally realized, but I'm so glad now that it's done.  My new setup makes much more efficient use of space, with tools and supplies stored neatly out of sight near the locations where they are used most often.  The smaller desk and elimination of clutter has actually made my creative workspace feel larger and more spacious than it did before the longarm machine arrived!

So now, FINALLY, I'm ready for some sewing again.  I'm all caught up on my clients' interior design projects and business paperwork and the laundry is done, so I'm headed up to the studio for at least a couple of hours today.  My goals for today are:
  • Piece together a King sized practice quilt and load it onto the longarm frame
  • Add borders to Butterfly Bear Paw quilt and set aside
  • Start a new pineapple log cabin block
  • Pin the last two petals on my hand applique project

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Revised Plans for Tabby Road Quilt: Giant Clam Shells!

So I'm still mulling those Tula Pink Tabby Road fabrics and what to do with them.  I posted several options that I was kicking around here about a week ago, but I wasn't 100% in love with any of them.  My newest plan is to forget my Accuquilt GO! dies and go old school, cutting REALLY BIG 9 1/2" clam shells with a rotary cutter and an acrylic template. 

57" x 57" Quilt Using 9 1/2" Clam Shells
See how much better the larger patch size showcases the large scale prints in this collection?  Here's what the quilt would look like if I did 8" clam shells, the size of the larger Accuquilt die that doesn't work with my GO! Baby cutter anyway:

48" x 72 1/2" Quilt Using 8" Accuquilt Die
It's a good size for the prints, but it doesn't make sense to buy another, more expensive die cutter just for this project.  This is what it would look like (eventually, if I lived long enough to finish it!) if I made a throw-sized quilt with the 4" clam shell Accuquilt die that I already own:

48 1/2" x 60" Quilt Using 4" Accuquilt Die
Not only do we lose the effect of the large scale prints with 4" clam shells, but it also takes over 300 of them to make just a throw sized quilt.  That is a LOT of futzy curved piecing, people!!  Not that I'm averse to time-consuming projects.  I just have too many of those projects in my current rotation.  I want the Tabby Road Kitties quilt to piece fairly quickly so I can get it onto my longarm quilt frame and quilt it with a fun, allover pantograph design.  Mama needs a FINISH!

This is the acrylic template I ordered from Australian Etsy seller Sunset Seams:

9 1/2" Finished Acrylic Clam Shell Template from Sunset Seams
What I really like about this template is that it's transparent, so I can fussy cut my clam shells (precisely centering the portion of each quilt that I want to showcase) and there are little holes along the seam line of all three curved seams, so I can mark with a Chacopel pen to align my convex and concave curves precisely for hand or machine piecing.  (Probably machine piecing, since I'm still working on my needle turned applique project and am nowhere near finished with that!)  And see that little hole in the center of the template?  Using the center markings at the top, middle, and bottom point of the clamshell, I'll be able to add 1/4" with my see-through ruler and easily trim some of my clam shells into half units for the side edges of my quilt.  That same hole will let me draw a straight seam line from the left to right edges of the clam shells that need to be cut down for the partial shells at the top and bottom edges of the quilt.  You can't just cut the clamshells right in half and use both pieces, since you still need seam allowances beyond the stitching line.

The other part of my plan that has evolved is that my newest iteration of the quilt design incorporates other fabrics along with those from the Tabby Road collection.  I snuck some solid gray patches and a couple of rogue prints and batiks into the most recent EQ7 version of this quilt (that first picture at the top of my post), and then I took a quick poke through my stash and found several fabrics that would be lovely with the Disco Kitties:

Tabby Road Fabrics Plus A Few Other Prints and Kona Solids
I've got my Kona Cotton Solids color chart out, too, because it's going to need to be the EXACTLY RIGHT shade of gray.  Maybe even a solid blue and/or magenta pink as well.  I've got this independent streak that prevents me from making a quilt entirely with someone else's palette of color-coordinated prints.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  :-)  But the design process is my favorite part of any quilt and it's not something I'm willing to completely delegate to anyone else, not even to someone as fabulous as Tula Pink!  Also, there's something spiritually satisfying about incorporating at least a couple fabrics from previous quilts into each new quilt.  That way every quilt is connected to all of the others.

And another thing I'm not sure about is whether to include ALL of the fabrics from the collection in this quilt.  I know that the friend for whom I'm planning to make this quilt is a fan of pinks, blues, and purples, but I'm not so sure the bright, nearly fluorescent orange is a good fit for her.  Although it looks great with these little orphan blocks that I pulled out of a scrap bin:

Orange Tabby Road Fabrics Plus Leftovers From My Amish Baby Quilt
See?  How much fun is THAT?!  Those are leftover units from the Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight quilt that I gifted to my cousin Allison two years ago.  Maybe the orange Tabby Road fabrics will go into an entirely different quilt.  And so nothing comes completely out of nowhere, and everything has some connection to something that came before.  Just like history, art, genealogy, science, and everything else in this marvelous Universe -- Everything is connected to everything else.

Happy stitching, everyone!  Today I'm linking up with:

·       Let’s Bee Social at

·       Midweek Makers at

·       WOW WIP on Wednesday at

... and with Design Wall Monday, newly hosted over at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Happy Belated Mother's Day!

My Mom With My Son Anders After His Orchestra Concert Saturday Afternoon
Good Monday Morning, and Happy Belated Mother's Day to all of you moms and grandmoms out there.  I hope you all enjoyed your special day as much as I did mine.  My husband Bernie was finally up to attending church with us for the first time since his heart surgery last month.  Our pastor preached a fantastic Mother's Day sermon about the nature of God encompassing both paternal and maternal qualities and the many ways in which mothering -- not just fathering -- is a reflection of God's love for us.  And I got to sing a beautiful duet during the offering!  The service is available online here for anyone who's interested:  (You have to choose the "View On Demand" tab and then scroll down to the 5/14/17 Contemporary service.  If you don't want to watch the entire service, you can skip ahead to where the sermon begins, 23 minutes into the service.  My duet with Todd is about 52 minutes in).  And of course, if you're local to Charlotte and you're looking for a church family, I'd LOVE to see your smiling face at Christ Lutheran on Sunday morning!  I'm a choir junkie so I sing at both services, the 8:45 AM Traditional Service and the 11 AM Contemporary service.  If you do visit, please find me after the service!

The Sanctuary at Christ Lutheran Church
After church, my mom came over for an afternoon of Mother's Day Mimosas and sewing.  We took the hem on my VOX choir dress (Burda 6911 with modifications) up by a good 2 1/2".  Since the rayon jersey is heavy and stretchy, the dress was originally so long that even with my highest stiletto platform pumps I was still stepping on the hem.  Now it's a much more versatile length that I can wear either with heels or with flats.
Burda 6911 Dress for VOX Choir Performances
I was able to just slice off the original deep hem with a rotary cutter and do a new 1/2" coverstitched hem.  I cut 1/2" strips of fusible tricot interfacing with the stretch going the same direction as my dress fabric, fused them to the raw edge (through a damp silk organdy scrap that I could see through), and then pressed the hem up at the top edge of the interfacing. 

1/2" Strips of Fusible Tricot Interfacing and Silk Organza Pressing Cloth Scrap
Interfacing Fused to the Wrong Side of the Skirt, to Prevent Coverstitch Tunneling
Fusing the Interfacing In Place Through Wet Silk Organza
My coverstitched hems are still not as perfect as RTW, but I'm getting better at them.  Now that I know to stabilize my lightweight knit fabrics so they don't pucker and tunnel between the rows of straight stitches on the right side of the fabric, and I know to clip the seam allowance of the intersecting seams and flip the hem seam allowance in the opposite direction to reduce the bulk that I'm stitching across at the seams, I'm about 80% of the way there.  My ongoing coverstitch challenges are keeping my project perfectly straight as it feeds through the machine so my cover stitches remain perfectly parallel to the folded edge all the way around the hem, and maintaining the stretch of the fabric so I don't get popped stitches over time from taking the garment on and off.  I've heard of people using Wooly Nylon thread in the looper for a stretchier coverstitched hem, and I can try that next time, but the biggest difference I see between my insufficiently stretchy coverstitched hems and the stretchier coverstitched hems on my RTW rayon jersey dresses is that they are using a shorter stitch length for their coverstitch.  Since the looper thread kind of zigzags between straight stitches on the wrong side of the hem, it makes sense that shorter straight stitches would put more looper thread between each straight stitch, resulting in a stretchier hem.  The hems are fine on this dress, especially since the skirt is so full at the bottom, but I would need more stretch for the hem of a close-fitting knit top that I'm pulling on and off over my head.

After rehemming my dress, my mom and I took Lars shopping for some costuming and prop items that he needed for his theatre class, and then we wrapped up the day by going out to dinner with Mom, Bernie, and the boys.  I can't imagine a better Mother's Day!  ...Well, yes I can -- same day, but without the boys squabbling and kicking each under the table at the restaurant.  Will they still do that when they are adults???

Yesterday I ran around picking up prescriptions and taking first Anders and then Bernie to doctor's appointments and a bunch of other errands.  Bernie's surgeon says he's doing well considering his heart surgery was less than four weeks ago, and he was cleared for driving again.  Yay!  He is still out on short term disability at least through the end of May because he's still weak and tires too easily to be traveling for work and doing site visits, but he's headed in the right direction.  We're so thankful for that.

Today I've got some paperwork to catch up on in my office, but I'm hoping to squeeze out an hour or two in the studio either before or after taking Anders to his violin lesson this afternoon.  Have a fantastic day!

Friday, May 12, 2017

That Left Turn at Albuequerque... Excuses for Neglecting Thoroughly Modern Millie

Ah, I KNEW I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuequerque!! 

Bugs Bunny in "Bully for Bugs" (1953)
So I don't have great things to show for myself today because I've been lost in rabbit holes, like Bugs Bunny in "Bully for Bugs."  I've been taking care of my husband, running errands, attending school orchestra concerts, overseeing drapery installations and specifying paint colors for my interior design clients, and doing lots of other things that really do need to get done.  But I've also been avoiding that left turn down the hall to my studio, where Thoroughly Modern Millie (my recently acquired APQS Millenium longarm quilting machine) has been waiting patiently for me since Bernie set her up for me on April 18th.  I still haven't plugged in the machine, let alone turned it on and started quilting. 

My Naked Millie, Waiting to Play
So, aside from other responsibilities, what's standing in my way?  Well, right after we set up the machine, my husband went into the hospital for a week for major heart surgery.  I was barely home at all that week.  And after that, I was trying to be disciplined about finishing my reorganization of the studio before I started playing with the new machine.  That involved going through my hoard of garment patterns and fabric, ditching outdated and unflattering patterns and fabrics and matching up the patterns and fabric that remained so that there's actually a chance of making some of those garments one of these days.

But I have to confess that there has also been a bit of -- well, if not fear, then at least trepidation.  We were in a bit of a rush when we swooped in to pick up the machine from my APQS dealer, and I arranged to postpone my full day of training until after Bernie had recovered from surgery.  In hindsight, that was probably a mistake, because I didn't have a chance to get familiar with the parts of the machine, how to load a quilt onto the frame, and the very basic details of how to operate the controls.  Don't get me wrong -- my dealer showed me all of this stuff when I first came to look at the machines a couple of months ago, but there's a certain amount of information overload when you are still in the phase where you haven't decided which model machine you're going to buy, let alone which model.  I wasn't paying attention to those specific operating details, and I expected that information to be in the manual.  And it IS in the manual, some of it...  Sort of!

The printed spiral bound manual that comes with the machine only covers the setup and assembly information, which is kind of silly, IMO, since the APQS dealer handles that for most customers anyway (my husband is "handy" and wasn't inclined to pay the setup fee, and he needed a project to get his mind off the upcoming surgery anyway).  The information about loading quilts as well as operating and maintaining the machine is only found in the digital version of the user manual, which I received loaded onto a flash drive.  I finally got around to pulling that up on my computer yesterday and emailing the PDF to my Kindle account so I could read it on my iPad upstairs.  That was a little annoying.  I think I'm going to have to print out some of those pages so I can highlight, take whatever notes, and refer to them more easily.

And one really weird omission?  The APQS Millenium user manual neglects to tell you how the controls work to run the machine.  In the Appendix there are instructions for the old style controls on the pre-2012 Millenium machines, but no instructions for how to work the controls on the current models! 

APQS Millenium, Adjustable Handles with Toggle Switches and Touch Screen Controls
I was able to find a YouTube video explaining that last night, and it's really simple, but it would have been nice if that information was in the user manual!!  There are toggle switches on the right and left handles at the front and back side of the machine. 

Each Toggle Switch has a White Dot on Top
All four toggle switches work in the same way, so you can easily quilt with either hand.  If you push up towards the white dot, the machine takes a half stitch up or down.  If you push downward, the machine will start or stop sewing.  Oh, and whatever needle position you have when you start quilting is the needle position the machine will stop in.  So sink your needle before you press the start/stop button, and the needle will stop in the down position as well.  The touch pad controls on the front and back of the machine for turning on and off the Stitch Regulator, Quilt Glide, Low Bobbin Indicator, adjusting stitch length (in regulated mode) or machine speed (in manual mode) are all pretty self explanatory as well, and I like that the operation of the machine is so well thought out and user friendly.  However, it would be nice if all of that was on a "getting to know your machine" page in the user manual.

There are step-by-step instructions for different methods of loading quilts onto the frame in the digital manual as well, so now that I know how to load a quilt and how to work the machine, I feel like I have the information I was missing to get started.

I bought an 80/20 cotton/poly King sized batting from JoAnn's for practice, so I'm going to piece together some bright colored "positive energy" solid fabrics for a giant practice quilt and get that loaded onto my machine.  Hopefully that will happen TODAY!  Wish me luck, and no more rabbit holes to get me sidetracked!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Disco Kitty Followed Me Home: Tabby Road by Tula Pink for FreeSpirit Fabrics

I don't normally post about fabric collections.  I don't do any advertising or sponsorships, and I'm not trying to sell you anything.  But I'm totally smitten with Tula Pink's Tabby Road collection for FreeSpirit Fabrics, especially the Disco Kitty and Cat Snacks prints.

Tula Pink's Tabby Road Collection for FreeSpirit Fabrics
Most of you know that we're dog people at my house (Rottweillers are for snuggling.  And for singing), but I have several friends who are cat lovers and these fabrics are just PERFECT for one of my friends in particular, so never mind the yards and yards of hoarded fabric in my studio; never mind that I STILL have not finished organizing what I already have.  I HAVE TO HAVE this Tabby Road fabric, so I ordered it online and while I await its arrival in my mailbox, I played around with some design ideas in EQ7.

Priscilla Blocks
Meh, right?  My first idea was Priscilla blocks, shown above.  I really like how the stripes and dots work with those blocks.  But it feels too busy with so many prints.  If I do something like that, I'm going to need to use some coordinating solids to break up the prints.  But I'm going to wait for my Tabby Road fabrics to arrive first and then match up some solids -- maybe even some from my stash!

After spending way too much time playing with Priscilla blocks, I wanted to see whether a simpler quilt might better showcase these fun novelty prints.  So then I came up with this idea:
I Like This Better!
Those octagons have 2" sides and they are nearly 9 3/4" across, so they would be great for showcasing the kitty prints.  And despite the large pieces, it wouldn't be a total bore to piece this quilt because of all the lovely Y-seams.  Yes, I know I could simplify construction by making on-point snowball blocks instead, but then I'd have seams through the middle of my 4" squares and that would bug me until the end of time.

One more idea -- what if I chopped this collection up into 4" finished clamshells using the Accuquilt GO! Baby die cutter that I got for Christmas?

Tabby Road 4" Clam Shells
That would be cute, and I'm not afraid of the curved piecing, but there are SO MANY of them and I'm looking for something that goes together a bit faster.  Accuquilt does make an 8" finished clam shell die that would be really good for this collection, but I don't have that die (it's not compatible with the GO! Baby cutter, anyway -- only the regular GO! and the Studio GO! cutters).  So it's either 4" clam shells that I could cut out fairly quickly but would take an eternity to piece together, or else I have to print myself a larger tagboard template that I can trace onto my fabric and cut out all of my clamshells with a SCISSORS!  Talk about Old School versus New School! 

I don't know.  I have no business starting a new project right now anyway, with so many works-in-progress and so few FINISHED projects to show for myself.  I'll see how I feel about it once the fabric shows up.

Oh goodness -- How is it 11:06 PM already?!!  Goodnight!  I'm linking up with Needle and Thread Thursday at

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Teacher Gifts Revisited: The Very Hungry Caterpillar Minky Baby Quilt

So my fellow quilt blogging friend Val's Archives Linky Party theme for this week is teacher gifts.   Rather than link up an archived post, I'm doing a new, separate post today because the post I wrote about this project when I finished it back in 2010 was eaten by the Blogger Goblins or accidentally deleted or something.  Let me start out by saying that my goal today is BREVITY.  My last blog post ran on much longer than anyone could possibly have felt like reading it.  Hopefully I can manage to be concise this time!  And now, without further ado, I bring you The Very Hungry Caterpillar quilt:

Very Hungry Caterpillar Baby Quilt, for Anders' First Grade Teacher

My best teacher gift ever that I actually have a picture of is the Very Hungry Caterpillar baby quilt I made for Anders' first grade teacher when she had her first baby.  It's the second baby quilt that I ever used Minky backing on, and it's the first quilt I ever free motion quilted, on my Bernina Artista 200/730.

Minky Backing + Satin Binding
My First Ever Free Motion Quilting Project!

I LOVE my kids' teachers, without exception.  From preschool through today, I can honestly say that although there were a few who weren't good personality fits for one boy or the other, each and every one of their teachers cared passionately about teaching, cared about my kids, and went out of their way to accommodate their various quirks and to encourage their intellectual curiosity and love of learning.  And you know, when your kids are first starting school, you feel like your naked heart has left your body, climbed onto a yellow school bus, and is running around in a minefield somewhere that you can't protect it anymore...  So when your first grader gets a teacher who really "gets" him, who makes him feel loved and safe and excited about coming to school every day, that teacher is like a guardian angel sent down from heaven.  I wanted to do something really special for her when I found out she was expecting.

I chose the iconic Very Hungry Caterpillar panel print because reading was such a huge focus in her classroom that year.  I knew she would be reading this book to her baby, and I even personalized the quilt with a customized monogram.

Machine Embroidered Monogram

Another first with this project is that it was the first time I embroidered the "quilt label" information directly to the FRONT of the quilt, which I ended up liking quite a bit.

Machine Embroidered Quilt "Label" with Jewel Satin Blanket Binding

I like to sign my quilts on the FRONT.  :-). By the way, I've been asked about where I sourced that cool ombre satin binding for this project.  It's Wright's Satin Blanket Binding and the green/purple/blue color is called "Jewel."  I'm not sure whether it's still a current color offering or not, but I was able to locate it from an Etsy seller who still has some here (affiliate link).

Anyway, the quilt was a big hit with the teacher, and they even ended up doing a Hungry Caterpillar theme for the baby's first birthday because of it. 

So, I just realized that baby is almost 7 years old now.  He is probably a first grader himself this school year!!  Wow.  I hope that this baby quilt has been loved to pieces by now.  And I hope his teacher is every bit as wonderful to him as his mother was to my little boy.  Happy birthday, Gage, wherever you are!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Does This Fabric Spark JOY? The Japanese Art of Making Room for a Longarm Machine

Marie Kondo of KonMari
Hello, folks!  As many of you know, I've been quiet for awhile because my husband just had a heart valve repair surgery on April 19th.  The surgery went well and he's home now, recovering.  The mitral valve repair was successful and his heartbeat is back in normal sinus rhythm, but he's still considered to be in "heart failure" because his ejection fraction (measure of the heart's efficiency in pumping blood) was below 40% when he was discharged from the hospital.  So he's taking lots of medications for that and trying to walk around as much as possible, but the healing process is much slower than he expected and it's hard not to get discouraged when you're a 48-year-old, very active and healthy man who suddenly gets winded from a 5 minute walk around the cul-de-sac.  Only time will tell how much of the damage to his heart can be reversed now that the valve is working properly.  Thank you for all of your well wishes and prayers, and please keep 'em coming!

But before Bernie went into the hospital, and I mean THE DAY BEFORE, we set up my new-to-me APQS Millenium longarm quilting machine with her 12' frame.  Woo hoo!!!  Making room for Thoroughly Modern Millie required some deep soul searching and a heavy dose of Japanese organizing, KonMari style!  Have you heard of this professional organizer?

Available on Amazon here
My sister Susan was swooning over Marie Kondo's best-selling book a year or two ago, so I gave it a try.  In a nutshell, this organizing method is about getting rid of as much of your material baggage as possible so there is very little left to organize once you've completed your purge.  How ruthless are you supposed to be about what to keep and what to throw away?  You're supposed to dump everything you own in the middle of your floor and then pick items up one by one, asking yourself "Does this item spark JOY?"  And if the answer is no, if you're not absolutely thrilled with whatever it is you're holding, you're supposed to let it go -- either to be donated or to be trashed.  I laughed myself silly when I first read this book, because if I tried to organize my closet with the KonMari method I'd be left standing naked in an empty closet with nothing to wear. 

You Cannot Keep ANYTHING Unless it "Sparks Joy!"
The KonMari book touches briefly on sewing and craft supplies in the "Kimono" section, but this book is focused on simplifying your whole life by decluttering and drastically reducing the amount of stuff you own and need to care for.  It's not a "how to organize your sewing room" book.  However, I thought of that "does it spark joy?" litmus test again when I was standing in my studio, days before the longarm machine's scheduled arrival, looking at a wall full of hoarded fabric remnants, patterns, partially completed projects, back issues of sewing and quilting magazines, drapery workroom supplies, etc.  This photo shows my room setup prior to ordering the longarm machine, with two back-to-back workstations creating an island in the center of the room below the chandelier, and a nice work triangle from sewing machine to cutting table to ironing board.  It was functional and I liked how it looked, but the two sewing stations in the middle of the room were encroaching on where I wanted the longarm to go.  Also, the original reason for putting the desk behind the sewing cabinet was to create a larger work surface for free motion quilting on the domestic machine, which I won't be doing anymore:
Previous Setup with Back-to-Back Sewing Stations

The photo below was taken after I had already been straightening up, dragging furniture around, and reorganizing in here for a solid week, and had hit a roadblock where I felt like there was just too much stuff and too little room to store it all:

That Back Wall Needs to be Cleared Out!
My ironing board is now positioned on the opposite wall, in front of my design wall, and I moved the desk into its place.  Eventually I'd like to replace this desk with a smaller sewing cabinet that fits the space better and has storage for serger accessories and tools, but it works for now as a secondary sewing station either for the serger and coverstitch machines (if I'm sewing garments or home dec items) or for one of my Featherweights if I'm doing fussy, fiddly curved piecing, inset seams, and other patchwork tasks at which they excel.
Masking Tape Marks Future Home of 12' Longarm Frame
See?  My mom had the great idea of marking out the footprint of the 12' longarm frame with masking tape ahead of time.  Prior to taping it out on the carpet, I had a 14' frame on order, but when I taped that out and saw what it did to my space visually, I knew the 12' would be the better way to go.  Either the 12' or the 14' frame would fit at this point, except that the 14' frame would be so close to the step down into the room that it might be dangerous and would definitely look cramped, and with either size frame I wouldn't be able to easily access any of the stuff along that back wall once the quilting frame was set up in the taped out location.  Everything on that back wall had to go because I need more room to walk behind the machine when stitching paper pantograph designs from the back.. 

Like many of you, I had been hoarding a lot of crap in my sewing studio, especially fabric remnants.  My drapery workroom returns scraps to me from my clients' projects, and if they are decent sized scraps I give them to my client so we can use them for a throw pillow or something like that.  But some fabrics are so luxurious that I can't bear to throw any of it away, even if it's a weird skinny zigzag shaped scrap that couldn't be used for anything other than a couple of strips in a crazy quilt.  Then I had odd-shaped scraps of polar fleece, minky fabric, little bits of satin and faux fur because maybe I could use them for some kind of applique baby blanket someday...  Weird shaped scraps of bright orange sequined lycra from Bernie's Aquaman costume, doll hair leftover from a long forgotten craft project years ago... 

And when you're considering just ONE of those small, odd-shaped scraps or treasures, saving it seems reasonable enough.  But I had been accumulating these useless treasures for over 15 years, and I never did get around to making that crazy quilt or whatever because I have a bazillion other project ideas buzzing around my brain that I'd much rather do instead.  And the projects in my head that I'm most excited about are the quilts that are going to get finished on my new longarm machine!  Those scraps were occupying precious real estate in my studio that I needed for my longarm machine!  Oh, that Japanese organizing diva is so right, after all!  My studio was full of stuff that I didn't really want, didn't really need, but was saving because of either guilt about "waste," nostalgia for those projects I made when my kids were little, and fear for the future (because that's what we're really talking about when we say "what if I NEED IT SOMEDAY???")

Okay, so I confess that I did not go so far as to thank each item for its service prior to chucking it in the trash.  If my teenagers overheard me doing that, they'd have me committed!  But I did throw out a lot of stuff that I was holding onto out of guilt or nostalgia, and that felt very liberating.  Besides those fabulous-but-useless high end drapery fabric scraps, I also went on a Japanese organizing rampage in a large armoire in my master bedroom that was already storing some of my sewing paraphernalia, but also a lot of junk that fell into that "attachment to the past/fear for the future" category.  I threw out:
  • Uncut patterns in outdated or unflattering styles, like pleated front trousers and '80's style oversized tops, too-full skirts, and toddler patterns. 
  • All of Lars's and Anders' baby teeth (which the Tooth Fairy had been hiding in the house for over a decade because she couldn't bear to trash them at the time)
  • Most of my kids' arts and crafts projects, saving a few of my favorites but relocating them to the top closet shelves of THEIR bedrooms
  • Giant rolls of filler cord that I purchased in bulk way back when I fabricated window treatments.  I kept the 3/8" diameter that I use to whip up welt cord with my serger and the 1/8" mini cording, but chucked the 1/2" and jumbo 1" diameter rolls that I've probably used once in the last 15 years.
  • Two hat boxes full of hosiery that I did not know I still owned.  These are 20-year-old pantyhose and thigh high stockings, folks.  I have not worn hosiery since moving to North Carolina in 1999, and I do not plan to wear hosiery EVER AGAIN.  Pantyhose definitely does NOT SPARK JOY.
Infrequently Used Supplies Organized in Master Bedroom Armoire
Once I let go of all of that "baggage" and relocated a culled collection of family photographs to a chest in the guest room, I was able to neatly store sewing supplies that I wanted to keep but access infrequently, and as of right now, both of the drawers on the bottom are completely empty:
  • Machine embroidery thread
  • Embroidery module for my Bernina 750QE
  • Hand embroidery floss, needles, and hoops
  • My Grace lap hoop for hand quilting and sewing basket full of hand quilting thread, needles, and Roxanne thimbles
  • My beading supplies
  • Hot Fix Swarovski crystal supplies
  • The 3/8" and 1/8" diameter filler cord rolls
  • Accuquilt GO! fabric die cutter and dies
And you know what?  Just like the book title promised, getting rid of all that stuff WAS magical!  This is all I was left with on the back wall, a half-empty filing cabinet that is destined for longarm related papers, and a plastic drawer unit full of serger thread. 

I should be able to store both of these UNDER the 12' longarm frame, so I have achieved the impossible at last -- I cleared out that back wall so I have enough space to work comfortably from both sides of the longarm machine, and I didn't have to get rid of any fabric or supplies for projects that I really do enjoy.  Just looking inside my tidy armoire is sparking a little bit of joy... 

Another perk to this massive purge and reorganization was that it forced me to go through my stash of garment fabrics and patterns.  I have amassed so much more garment fabric than I have sewn.  I'll be on,, or, and I'll fall in love with a pattern or a fabric.  Then I would order the fabric and pattern online.  But sometime in between ordering the fabric and pattern online and its arrival in my mailbox, I would either get distracted by other projects or chicken out because the pattern seems too difficult for me.  So the patterns all got shoved in the bottom drawer of my bedroom armoire, and the fabrics got piled into a deep former entertainment center cabinet that lives in my studio.  And there they sat as the years went by, until I no longer remembered what fabric and patterns I owned, which fabrics were meant for which patterns, etc.

Garments I Never Got Around to Sewing
So with this big purge, I decided to measure every piece of fabric in my garment stash, match it up with a pattern, catalog all of this so I know which projects are on my to-do list (and so I know what I have before I shop for more), and then store these waiting-to-be-sewn projects neatly and accessibly on that MDF shelving unit that used to live on the back wall of my studio but is now in my guest room.  Now, is this shelving unit a beautiful d├ęcor addition to the guest room?  Um, no...  but it sort of blends into the wall, at least while it's empty.  I'm still working on those piles of fabric and patterns.  Trying to remind myself how much time and effort, above and beyond the cost of fabric, goes into a sewing project, and repeating "DOES IT SPARK JOY?" like it's my own personal mantra.  So many of those unsewn patterns I now realize may not flatter my figure, or may be too much trouble to fit properly.  Some of the knit prints that I fell in love with looking at photos online, I now hold up to myself in front of a mirror and wonder "What was I thinking?!"  So there will likely be more hitting the trash before I put the lucky survivors on these empty shelves.

From Toy Room to Studio to Guest Room: The Well Traveled Book Case
Bernie built this years ago for toy storage in the bonus room, and the shelves are too shallow for books and not very deep, either.  I'm thinking this is a temporary solution, at least until I work through the backlog of garment projects I've been hoarding instead of sewing.  But if I end up refilling the shelves with patterns and fabric as quickly as I empty them, that won't be the end of the world.  My guests will just have to get over it!

And once again, my "quick blog post update" turned into a novella.  If you're still reading this, I commend you, and I commiserate with you -- because that means YOU probably didn't get any sewing done today, either!

I'm linking up with Linky Tuesday at Freemotion by the River