Friday, April 30, 2010

A Car Sandwich

I wish this was about food, (after all, it is lunchtime and that sandwich looks pretty yummy), but unfortunately it's not.  Yesterday my husband had the wonderful experience of being the "meat" in a car sandwich.  A woman rear-ended him into another car on his way home from work.

Fortunately, he seems to be OK, other than a little shaken up.  We went to the doctor this morning and he does have some whiplash, but no other injuries.  So, he's going to be on muscle relaxants and pain killers for a few days and hopefully that will be the end of it.  We're so grateful it happened in commute traffic because if the cars were going faster it could have been very serious.

Of course, today we're dealing with the aftermath.  The doctor's office to begin with, then dealing with the auto shop, the insurance companies, (3 different ones!), and then we have to pick up a rental car.  It's a full day's work.  We're just hoping that they don't "total" our car.

You see, we like our car.  It's a ten year old Honda Civic with over 100,000 miles on it but there are 3 main reasons why we like it.  #1, it's paid for, #2, it's paid for, and #3, it's paid for!  It suits our purposes just fine and we don't want to take on a car payment if we don't have to.  We're the kind of people who drive our cars until the doors fall off and the engine falls out.  I'm serious!  Our last car died a lingering death, but it lasted about a year longer than any mechanic would have thought.  We'd put a "do not resuscitate" order on it as we didn't want to spend one more dime on it. It blessed us by dying a few blocks from our house with a nearly empty tank.  No waste there!

So, it looks like there won't be any quilting from me today.  I'm writing this as my husband is on the phone with the 3rd insurance company and then we're off to pick up the rental car.  Then I get to pick up my son and take our dog to the vet for his rabies shot, (just got a notice YESTERDAY that he had to get his shot by May 1st).  Gee, thanks Animal Control for all the notice!!!

Seems like today I've earned my "Cranky Quilter" status.  Tomorrow should be better.  9am baseball game with my husband keeping score and me doing the pitch count.  It should be fun and hopefully not as exciting as our last game where our boys won by scoring 4 runs in the last inning.  Whew!!!  I felt sorry for the other team, though.  Their pitcher hit my son, (he's fine....he just rubbed some dirt in it!), and then hit the next batter.  His coach should have pulled him off, you could see he was starting to freak out.  I just don't know why coaches do that but I guess they're just trying to toughen the boys up.

Of course we quilters are a pretty tough lot. Criticize my stitching or my color sense and you're "outta here!"

Hope your weekend is a good one,

Happy Stitching!


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Strapping It On!

I've always loved finding unique ways to use my quilting skills.  A guitar strap is a great way to have fun and to make a cherished gift for a loved one, (or yourself!).

I made this strap for my husband years ago and although he doesn't use it often, it's still one of his cherished possessions.  I really enjoyed making it for him and it was one of those projects I took with me everywhere as it didn't take up a lot of space.

If you'd like to make one of these for the musician in your life it's a relatively easy process.  The most difficult thing was the strap hardware.  In his case I took apart an old strap and used the pieces.  I would think that you could probably pick up an inexpensive strap and cannibalize it.

To make the strap I started off with a strip of fusible fleece, it gives the strap more strength than standard batting.  Then I used scraps and crazy quilted from one edge to the other, adding applique and beads as I went.  Once the strap was the proper length I fused the quilted fleece to a piece of interfacing to give the strap more heft, and then mounted it on a long piece of coordinating fabric.  I allowed an inch extra on both sides of the lining so I could turn over the edge to the front of the strap.  This I whipstitched down.

It's been years since I did this but I would make sure that before you add the hardware that everything is functioning as it should.  I pinned everything together just to make sure.

I also made a little kit bag to go with it.  My husband uses his for storing picks and his glass slides.

I hope this inspires you to apply your quilting skills in even more directions.

Happy Stitching!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Irish Quilting

After I published my St. Patrick's Day blog post I got a lovely comment from Sherry Nugent, the editor of Irish Quilting magazine.  We exchanged emails and she promised to send me a copy of their latest issue, which I received today.

Since my husband is from Killcullen in County Kildare I've had some experience with quilting in Ireland.  When I first went over in 1996 everyone was fascinated with the small embellished piece I brought with me to work on during the flight.  Those with sewing experience were interested in the stitching part, but many more were surprised that this was what passed for "quilting" in the States.

Like many people here, (then and now), the perception in Ireland was that quilts were pieced out of scraps and made to be used on a bed.  Quilting as we had come to know it in 1996 did not exist in Ireland.  There were no quilt stores in the country at all and the fabric stores carried clothing and home furnishing fabrics only.

I was surprised by this and frustrated as I'd hoped to find a whole new world of fabrics and embellishments on my visit.  I also wondered why quilting hadn't taken off in Ireland.  After all, the Irish are known for their creativity and fine workmanship in many other arts and crafts forms.  Who hasn't been thrilled to own a piece of Irish lace, or an Aran sweater, or a piece of Waterford crystal? 

Well, it's taken a while but Ireland is well on its' way to joining the quilting world.  Irish Quilting magazine is a testament to how far things have come and bodes well for an exciting future for Irish quilters.

In  my earlier post I'd mentioned that I'd thought the quilts in the magazine were a little dated and too traditional for my taste.  The newest issue has a good mix of traditional and more modern quilts, with an emphasis on Irish decorative style.  Of course Stained Glass and Celtic quilt patterns are featured, but there's also a mix of other quilts that I can imagine many stateside quilters would want to make. 

These small quilts would be a fun project for anyone. I was thinking that the patterns could be downsized to make a really beautiful tote bag.  I can imagine making them in coordinating colors and combining them to make a larger wallhanging or bed sized quilt.

One of the things I was very pleased to see is that the magazine isn't a "copy" of an American one.  The styles are distinctly Irish and the article and designs are mostly by Irish quilters.  I'd hate for Irish quilting to become a derivitive of the American style.  There's plenty of room for different perspectives. 

I remember the first time I picked up a Japanese quilting magazine.  I was so excited about the non-traditional color combinations that I integrated that aesthetic into my own quilts.  I'm looking forward to seeing what elements of Irish style I can absorb.

As with any "foreign" magazine a lot of the fun comes from the advertisements and the different terminologies, (witness "wadding" for "batting").  Of course I'm used to this as I've been forced to learn Irish English because my husband still won't call a "jumper" a sweater or a "vest" an undershirt.  He's the only guy I know who can get away with saying he's "delighted" by something.  He's also famous for shouting "Go on Lads!" at baseball and basketball games, not the usual cheer here in California!

So, for me the ads are fun in a different way.  I get to peruse them, take notes, and make sure my husband knows that at least part of our next trip will be spent fabric hunting.

If you're interested in a high quality, interesting quilting magazine I don't think you'll regret picking up an issue of Irish Quilting. 

Happy Stitching!


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Embellishments Ho!

I'm just finishing up the hand quilting on the project I posted about last time.  Now it's time to start selecting the embellishments!

One of the best parts of my quilting process is that there are several fun steps interspersed with the not-so-much-fun stuff.  I love pulling the fabrics for a quilt but hate the cutting.  Then it's piecing which I do enjoy, but basting, which I don't.  I generally like the applique and quilting part, but usually by the time I'm through my fingers are sore, (I really need to get used to a thimble!), so I'm ready to move on.

The next step is selecting embellishments. One of the advantages of having done this kind of work since 1969, (OK, not that long....), is that I have a ton of stuff to choose from.  It's also a disadvantage because it's hard to decide what I will and will not use, and whether or not I want to use them.  There are some embellishments I've had for years but have never been able to part with. . . I need to get over that!

Anyway, when it's time to pull embellishments I go through all of my boxes of buttons and beads and start pulling things I think I may use.  I rarely ever use everything and more often than not end up going in a different direction than I originally intended, but that's part of the fun.

Above is a selection of possible buttons.  I selected ones that I thought would work but I'm not married to any of them.  I may or may not use them but it's a starting point.

I'm planning on using "Indian" beads in primary colors for this quilt.  I'm not sure where I'm going to use them yet, but not putting beads on a quilt is not an option for me!

I'm also planning on using some of my 1" English Piecing squares.  I'm definitely going to use some in the border area, but haven't decided where else I'll use them.  So, I pulled a selection of them as a starting point.   We'll see where I go with it!
I hope you can see where I'm going with this.  I wish I could!

Oh well, I'm going to get started this evening and I'll post my progress.

Happy Stitching!


Saturday, April 24, 2010

"WIP"ping it Up!

Well, a while ago I made a commitment to getting some of my WIPs (Works In Progress) finished.  I posted about this quilt a couple of days ago when I was in the midst of appliquing the circle frames around the images in the center of each square.

The applique is done now and I've spent last night and this morning, (both at Little League games...won one, lost one!), quilting around the inner and outer parts of the frames.
It's hard to see the dimension in my photo but the appliqued frames with the quilting outline really stand out.  I'm loving the way this is turning out.

Yesterday I stitched the binding on and made a different choice than I'd originally intended.  At first I was going to frame the piece in black but decided that the Kaffe Fassett print I chose works better.

I love the combo of red, black and tan and that was my original intention.  Of course once I got going I couldn't resist adding some blue, and green, and lavender, and pink.  I didn't realize that there was so much pink in the piece until I put the binding fabric against it.  It made the red and the pink pop!  Now, what I thought was going to be a mostly black look has turned into a red one.  Love it!

Isn't it amazing how you can surprise yourself?  This is the main reason why I don't like to plan too far ahead, you never know what's going to "pop" up!

I'm really enjoying working on this so I'm going to keep at it and will keep you up-to-date.

In the meantime, have a great weekend!

Happy Stitching!


Friday, April 23, 2010

Where Have You Quilted?

Today I was sitting at my desk quilting and it occurred to me that it was kind of a strange place for me to do it.  It's actually supposed to be my writing/blogging/design area.   I usually do my hand sewing in my comfy chair in the family room.

It got me to thinking about how many different kinds of places I've quilted in. 

I often quilt while traveling in the car during long road trips.  My sewing bag gets packed before anything else! 

Of course, train trips and flights are a given, although it's a little more difficult since 9/11, (and since they're charging for bags!).  Now, I travel with a small sewing kit and take simple things with me to work on.

I've also sewn in many hotel rooms all over the country.  As well as in our comfy tent while camping, (once during a freak rain storm).  And I've often spread a blanket on the edge of a river and pulled out some hand piecing while my husband is fly fishing.

Of course there's the waiting room at the doctor's office, my hospital room (before I went into labor), in the car while I'm waiting to pick my son up at school, and on the sidelines of many a baseball and soccer game.

There just never seem to be enough hours in the day and I try to take advantage of even a few moments to get something done.  Besides, when I'm sewing I'm a lot less stressed out!

What unusual place have you quilted?

Happy Stitching, (wherever!)


Thursday, April 22, 2010

On The Rio Grande

Yesterday I did a post about different ways to use unusual fabrics.  One of my favorite fabric designers, and quilt artists, is Terrie Mangat.  I've enjoyed her work for many years and was delighted to discover her when I did.  I'd been doing embellished quilts for several years at that time and was feeling like a real weirdo.  When I saw Terrie's work I was like, "Whoa!  Somebody else is doing this kind of work so I must not be a freak!"  It made me feel so much better.

Anyway, she's artistically worlds ahead of me and everytime I see one of her fabric collections for FreeSpirit Fabrics I get excited.  Her latest, On the Rio Grande, has been out for a while but I can only find it online at those pricey fabric stores I don't buy from, (the shipping's too high and I just can't bring myself to fork it over).  Anyway, I may have to suck it up and take the plunge because I have to get a few pieces of this river inspired line.

My husband probably won't mind as he's a crazy fly fisherman and would love the trout fabrics.  Hmmmm, I am going to be cooking up a storm for his McCloud River trip next month, maybe we can do a trade????  I'll have to work on that.

Anyway, getting back to Terrie's fabrics.  I love them!  They are so unusual and although they're rather "painterly" for some reason they don't stand out like a sore thumb with other more traditional fabrics.  Frankly, I love the larger patterns because I can go crazy getting all kinds of different looks from one piece.  Not to mention that her color sense is so wild, it gets me thinking about using color in different ways. 

If you want to see more of Terrie's work check out her website:

Also, you may have noticed that there are a couple of simple ads on my blog.  I've resisted "monetizing" for a while but have decided that I could use a little extra cash to support my fabric habit.  If they get to be too weird or distracting I'll opt out.  In the meantime I'm going to give it a try.  It's amazing what the mention in Quilter's Home has done for my stats.  The hits just keep coming.  Welcome new followers and thanks to my old faithfuls, (not that you're old or anything, I'm sure you're all at the most 19, I know I am!).

Happy Stitching!


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Using Unusual Fabrics in Unusual Ways

There are so many fun and "different" fabrics out there.   A lot of them aren't really conducive to regular piecing because of the size or placement of the pattern.  I actually seek out these kinds of fabrics because I can have a lot of fun using them in different ways.

The above pattern consists of framed chicken motifs.  The chickens are very fun but what I was interested in were the circle frames.  This isn't a motif you find often and if you visually remove the interior funky chickens you can see a lot of possiblities for the colorful frames.

I wasn't sure what I was going to do with this fabric but when I received it I decided to use it to accent a patchwork of brights, blacks, and antique looking prints.  I measured the size of the frames and cut circles out of squares so that the frames would cover the raw edges.  I then added the interior fabrics and did a simple machine basting around the circle to hold them together.  Then I pieced the rest of the quilt.

This is what I ended up with.  Now it's time to apply the circle frames.  I cut apart the funky chicken fabric, giving myself 12 assorted circles with at least 1/4 seam allowance on the outside.  I kept the interior intact until I prepared the frames.

To prepare them I backstiched with matching floss around the exterior and interior of the frames.  I then applied a very thin layer of clear nail polish close to the interior stiches on the funky chicken part of the frames.  Once that was dry I cut out the interior leaving a 1/4" seam allowance, which I then clipped to the stitches.

Now it was time to baste them to the quilt.  I lined up the outer edges so that I'd have an equal distance around all four sides.  Then when I was satisfied with the placement I basted the frame to the quilt using the outer seam allowance.

As you can see from the picture below I wasn't concerned about the outer seam allowance being perfect at this time, it will be trimmed later.

Now I thread my needle with floss matching the interior color of the frame, in this case orange, fold under the edge and applique the interior of the frame.

Now you can see the interior frame stitched down.  I like using the double stitching on the frame because when it's stitched down you get a little trace of the color around the edges.

Next, remove the basting stitches and trim the seam allowance. Then notch the edges so you can turn down the outer edge.  Since the edges are back stitched you don't need to use the clear polish on the outer edge, you'll find it's easy enough to applique without it.  Use the same color thread as your back stitching on the frame.
Here's a finished square.  See how you can see a trace of the aqua in the inner part of the frame?  I love the fresh way this looks. 

I hope this gets you thinking about different ways to use unusual fabrics.

Happy Stitching!


I Love the Smell of Fabric in the Morning...

I don't know about you but I really love the smell of fabric!  There's nothing better than walking into a fabric store and getting a good big whiff. 

Some of you may remember the days when the copies handed out at school were "Dittos."  They were some strange combination of blue and white and they had this wonderful chemical smell, (they were usually warm too!).  We were warned not to sniff them because the chemicals could fry our brains, (turns out that was correct), but I still can't forget the overall smell in the room when they were delivered by the school secretary.

The same goes for the smell of fabric.  I love getting a package in the mail, or even opening up a box that's been stored for a while.  Of course, I know that most of the smell comes from the sizing, (which is why cheap fabric smells stronger, like gasoline....another good way to tell!).  But there's still a wonderful scent, even after fabrics have been washed again and again.

I love fabric straight out of the dryer.  It's soft and warm and smells delicious.  I also love the scent that ironing gives off, that slightly burnt starchy smell.  Fabulous!

I really hate it when I go into a quilt store and they've put out some kind of potpourri or scented candles.  It ruins the whole vibe.  I want my fabric scent straight up with no mixers.  Just give me a stack of freshly cut fat quarters, oh, and a fat eighth for the road.

Isnt' it funny how scents can bring up all kinds of memories?  Whenever I smell fabric I get excited about all of the things I've made and all of the work still to do.  But there are other unusual scents that bring up wonderful memories.

My father ran truck dealerships, (we're talking big trucks!), and we kids often got to accompany him when he had to go over to get some parts for someone.  Because we lived in an agricultural area, his life, (and ours), revolved around what was being harvested.  If it was tomato season we might rarely see him as he would be working long hours making sure drivers had the parts and service they needed.  They couldn't wait when they had a perishable load to get cross country.

So, we'd climb into the back of the pickup, (there were no seatbelt restrictions then), and off we'd go to "the shop."  It was an adventure because we'd come in through the Parts Department and we'd have to climb over a low part of the counter to get to the back.  Behind the counter were doors leading to a warren of shelves and cubbies, filled with all kinds of interesting things.  I got used to the smell of rubber belts and tires, of parts covered in dust and grease, of oil and diesel, and the distinctive smell of a working shop. 

Now, whenever I have to get my car repaired I enjoy going into our local mechanic's and breathing it all in.  Once again I'm a little girl climbing over the parts counter, avoiding the office with the girlie calendars, and hoping that my Dad would treat us all to an ice cold Coca Cola, (the small bottles that cost a dime).  Those were the days!

I often wonder what scents my son will remember from his childhood and how many of them will be the same ones I remember.  I'm sure the smell of baking chocolate chip cookies will be one of them, as well as that movie theater popcorn scent. Wouldn't it be weird if one day years after I'm gone my son goes into a fabric store and realizes that there's another scent he remembers, one from that studio his Mom was always hanging out in?  

I can only hope...

Happy Stitching, (and sniffing!),


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thanks for Being on the Show

Years ago I worked in an office with a perky young woman.  She had a lot of funny sayings and was always piping up with some kind of catch phrase.  Our favorite was "Thanks for being on the show!"  Now, it's hard to explain what that mean't out of context.  She usually said it after a difficult or annoying conversation, or as we were heading out of a particularly dull staff meeting.  It might have been the way she said it or the timing, but it always made me laugh.

When Shakespeare wrote that "all the world's a stage" he was making a very astute observation.  When I was younger I was a lot more aware of being "on."  It seemed like I was always "putting on a show" in my personal or business life.  I never felt comfortable about it, knowing instinctively that it wasn't really "me."

Now that I'm older I've realized that playing a part and trying to fit in to other's preconceived notions of what I "should" be doesn't work.  It's like making a quilt from a pattern instead of doing it freestyle, it's just not who I am.  Sometimes I regret spending so much of my life running from myself, thinking that what I have to offer as the unique human being I am has little value.

I've begun to realize that the only "show" I'm interested in being on is one like "Whose Line is it Anyway?"  My son loves it and we watch it in reruns a few times a week.  What I love about it is that it's more like real life than any reality show.  It's a lot more amusing than my life but what do all of us do all day but improvise?  I never know for sure what's coming but I know I'm going to have to find a way to deal with it.  Of course my improv is rarely as amusing, but it's still "mine" and that needs to count for something.

Now, some of you might be thinking that I'm all into "self esteem."  I actually think that many of the things done today with our kids intending to help their self esteem actually harms it.  Awards for doing your homework, (like I would have gotten away with not doing it!), trophies for "participation," and the constant barrage of "you're wonderful just the way you are" and "everyone's the same" and "you can do it!"

This stuff makes me crazy!  Fortunately, my son's sports coaches have a huge problem with unearned trophies.  They don't get one unless the team earns it.  As far as kids, (or adults), being wonderful just the way they are, well, I'm sure we can all agree that that's not true.  We could all use improvement.  Of course, everyone isn't the same and saying so confuses the heck out of kids.  The fact is that some kids are smarter than others, that some can run faster, hit the ball harder, sing better, be more's just the way it is.  The American Idol auditions are a prime example of how being told you're great when you aren't can lead to shattering experiences.

As far as "you can do it!" goes, this is a trickier one.  I often tell people that are interested in quilting that they can do it if they take the time and apply themselves.  The problem I have with the term is that it implies to some people, especially kids, that they can do anything they set their minds to.  Now, I'd love to be a singer, but no amount of time and effort will make me one, I stink at it.  I also stink at gymnastics, figure skating, dancing, math, and science.  You could encourage me until the cows come home and I'd still stink.

Of course I'm a wiz at the arts.  I can write and draw and quilt.  I think creatively, most of the time outside of the box.  But ask me to do anything beyond simple algebra, forget it!

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that it's important to take the time to figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are. When you find something that feels comfortable to you, something that you can't imagine not doing, that's what you need to do.

It's how I feel about quilting.  I fell into it when I was about 13 and I haven't looked back since.  Oh, I've tried different things, I did "fine arts" like drawing and painting.  I flirted with so many other crafts I can't even begin to tell you which ones.  But, I always came back to quilting, and began integrating everything I learned into the one art form.

I encourage all of you to focus on what brings you bliss, improvise when you must, and remember that you have unique gifts to give to the world.

Oh, and thanks for being on the show!

Happy Stitching!


Monday, April 19, 2010

Not Feelin' the Love

OK, I know it's a cardinal sin but I really don't like my local quilt shop.

When I first moved to my new home I thought it would be wonderful to have a quilt shop less than 5 minutes away.  How handy it would be when I needed inspiration or had a little money burning a hole in my pocket.

I can't tell you how disappointed I was the first time I went in.  It's not that the place is particularly terrible, it's just that it isn't the kind of quilt shop I'd hoped to find.  The selection of fabrics is the main reason.  I rarely ever find anything there that I want to buy.  I don't know if it's that the store buyer and I have totally different tastes, or if my tastes are out of the mainstream of this area.  It's probably a little of both.

I suspect that a lot of it has to do with me being out-of-sync with the other quilters in my area.  I'm probably a bit of a quilter "freak" wherever I go, (here she goes again, complaining about not fitting in....), so it could be mostly my problem.  However, it doesn't take away my disappointment that I can't enjoy my LQS.  It's a real bummer.

At least my experiences there have only been disappointing in a fabric selection kind of way.  I've had some experiences in other stores that have made me swear off of them forever.  There was one store over in the East Bay that's very popular.  When it opened years ago I had a nasty experience with one of the owners.  I was waiting patiently in line to have my fabric cut and he ignored me completely, taking several customers ahead of me who it turns out were his "regulars."  They had long drawn-out discussions about all kinds of subjects while I was waiting, and when he took another customer instead of me for the third time I piped up that "I was next."  He looked right at me and said that I was mistaken, that this woman,(who had entered the store after I started waiting in line),was before me.  Well, that was the final straw.  I told him that I had never been treated so rudely in my life and left the store vowing to never return.  Which I didn't do for several years, not until I heard that he had sold the business to someone else.  What a difference!  The new owners are friendly and helpful to everyone.

I've had experiences while traveling where I've been ignored in favor of "regulars."  That seems to be the most common complaint I've heard from other quilters.  It's like the store is more social club than retail enterprise.  Some times when I hear quilt shop owners complain about the chains and the online stores taking away business I want to ask them how they treat ALL of their customers.  Do their clerks chatter on with regulars and family members while other customers are waiting?  Are they welcoming and helpful?  Do they treat their jobs seriously, not just as a way to make a little extra cash or get an employee discount? 

There are many well run quilting shops here in Northern California, shops where I can walk in every few months and be treated like they really want me there.  The good shops keep going because of their customer service and the other services they offer.  Fabric is cheaper online and at the big chains.  Shops have to work at making going to the quilt shop more about the experience, and that means making sure their customers are having a pleasant one.

This phenomenon isn't just a female/quilt store thing.  My husband is a fly fisherman and many fly shops have the same mentality.  They have their regulars and ignore new customers.  He's put down many an item and walked out for lack of service.

I'm sure that many of you have quilt shop horror stories too, I'd love to hear them!

Happy Stitching!


Sunday, April 18, 2010

It's Not a Stash, It's a Collection!

This weekend my brother and sister-in-law were visiting for my husband's birthday.  We had a great time just hanging out, playing a little baseball at the park, and eating a truly delicious barbecued meal.  I also gave my sister-in-law a tour of my studio.

She's a follower of my blog, (Hi!), and it was her fascination with my fabric stash that got me thinking about how we quilters view our stashes.

It occured to me that my stash was as much a work of art in its' own way as my quilts are.  I've worked on it for years, carefully acquiring prints, colors, and styles over the years so I have a great selection to choose from.  It's easy for me when I get an idea to just go over to my stash and pull out what I need.


I realized as I was explaining my fabric buying and collecting strategy that it really is a "strategy".  A great deal of thought has gone into it over the years.  I watch what's out there and select colors and styles that I love and that will work for the kind of art I do.  I buy colors that I know will only be available for a short while before the manufacturers change things up to follow new trends. 

I love blending fabrics from 10 or 20 years ago with stuff I just bought.  I believe it gives my work a distinctly different look.  It's easy enough to head down to the quilt store and pick up enough fabric to make a quilt, and those quilts can be very beautiful.  However, I don't like doing things the easy way.  I'd prefer to spend 30 years amassing a "collection" of fabrics I can turn to whenever the urge strikes.

So, I've decided to stop calling my selection of fabrics a stash.  It sounds a bit like an old Cheech and Chong routine, about "having the stuff."  Instead I will raise my nose in the air, extend my pinkie finger and refer to my overflowing fabric as a "collection."  It's as dignified as any baseball card, beanie baby, or majolica ware collection and a lot more practical.  What other "collection" can you use to create something that may end up in another "collection?"  Sounds like a winner to me!

So, thanks Kendall for helping me see things differently.  I am now an official fabric "collector."

Oh, and the rendition of "Happy Birthday" to my hubby at Red Robin was a classic....

Happy Stitching (and Collecting!),


Saturday, April 17, 2010

100 Posts and Counting

It's hard to believe that I'm already at 100 posts!  When I started this blog back in September I did so because I was feeling like I wasn't fitting in anywhere.  I've always been a bit off-center.  I played a good part for many years trying to be "normal" but always ended up showing my true colors, I can't help it!

Fortunately, my true colors tend to be different shades of thread, fabric, and embellishments.  I said once that I didn't quilt because I wanted to, it was because I needed to!  For 35 years I've fought it.  Oh, I never stopped doing it or enjoying it, I just fought what it represented in my life.  I used to be embarrassed to say that I was a quilter.  You don't know how many people wanted me to make them a quilt for their bed, (and wanted to pay me nothing to do it).  I honestly believe that they thought that I sat in front of a quilting frame with my sunbonnet on, waiting for the apple pie to cool on the windowsill, while my children played by the barn.

Of course things have changed over the years.  Now it's kinda hip to be a quilter.  Quilt shops are thriving in New York City, and the huge shows, publishing companies, and multitude of fabric lines show how powerful we quilters have become as a purchasing force.

I've shared a lot with you about my life, but mostly about how I feel about quilting and being a quilter.  I've always said that we are a different species, anyone who thinks it's perfectly OK to cut big pieces of fabric into smaller pieces and then sew them back together.....face it, it's a bit odd.

We are "some wild and crazy guys!"

And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Now, to the important stuff....the giveaway!



Congratulations!  I'll be sending you an email so I can get your address.  I think we'd all like to see what you make with all of the embellishments!

Happy Stitching!


Thursday, April 15, 2010

More Changes

Today I went to my local Jo-Ann's.  It's about 10 miles away so I only go once every few weeks to get my flier scanned so I can keep getting those 40% off coupons. 

I've written before about my love/hate relationship with Jo-Ann's.  I love the convenience and the prices, (those coupons are fantastic!), but the quilting fabric quality has been unreliable and until recently I never bought any quilting fabric there.  Mostly I bought batting, notions, and craft supplies.

Another reason for my ambivalance is that I worked for House of Fabrics for several years.  I started working as an Assistant Manager when I was in junior college and transferred to the one in my university town when I went off to college.  It was a great job because they were thrilled to have an Assistant Manager who was willing to work nights and who also knew all of the bookkeeping and ordering procedures.  So, in exchange for free weekends I worked four 6 hour shifts a week.  Since I lived in the dorms those paychecks went a long way. 

It didn't hurt that the store was near a McDonald's and every night I took orders from my dorm-mates.  They paid me .50 per order for delivery.  In those days .50 could buy a burger so it wasn't a bad deal, except for the greasy fry smell I couldn't get out of my car upholstery!

Anyway, in the late 90's Jo-Ann's bought out House of Fabrics and New York Fabrics so all of our local stores suddenly became Jo-Ann's.  They eventually closed the mall shops and only the ones in strip malls were left. Then they started building supercenters and closing a lot of the strip mall stores.  My local store was the last one left in our area.

Today when I went into the store I had a shock.  My old, tattered, House of Fabrics store is being upgraded to a fancy, schmanzy, up-to-date Joann's. 

Now, I probably should be happy about this.  Before the store had a limited selection of merchandise, and I admit it was pretty rough around the edges.  However, those were all things I loved about it!

I used to know where things were, and had all the little clearance areas staked out.  Now, there's no clearance section and I couldn't find anything!  The worst thing is that I no longer have my House of Fabrics flashback moments.  There were actually a few clerks who dressed in the white blouses and long green skirts from years ago.  Now they're all wearing crisp aprons, they have a number system with an intercom, and not enough cutting tables.  The old store had twice the cutting space! 

I'm really sad about this!  I guess that I have to accept that so many of the places I have fond memories of have changed forever.  It's part of getting older.  However, I don't like the new Jo-Ann's as much.  It's lost its' character, its' funky charm, its' specialness.  Now it's just like every other Jo-Ann's and another piece of history has been swept away.

Now that I'm middle aged I look at change differently.  When I was young I thought it was great, but now I realize that change may bring benefits, but it always brings losses.  I look at my son, growing into a man.  I know that it's a change that has to happen but as the softness goes away, the voice gets deeper, the shoe size gets larger, I mourn all that I've lost.  Those cute round cheeks, that high pitched "Hi Mom!" and buying shoes in the kid's department, all of these things are lost to me now and will never return....

Just like my funky Jo-Ann's.

Don't forget to send in your entries for the giveaway to  The details are in yesterday's post.

Happy Stitching!


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Giveaway Details!

I promised yesterday to give you some more details on my 100th post giveaway.  Included are three giant button cards with an assortment of embellishments.

The bead card has a selection of my bead "mixes". These are taken from my stash and have an assortment of all different kinds of beads in them.  I also included some charms and larger beads and embellishments.  There's enough here for several embellished quilts.

This button card has a selection of my custom designed buttons.  Butterflies, vintage images, and an assortment of other images.  These are great to add to any project for a little zip.  Just remember, they aren't intended to be washed so they're for wall quilts and other unwearbles only.

This card has a selection of handmade buttons.  More of my custom designed and printed buttons in various shapes and sizes, along with a selection of purchased buttons.  The top right includes a bunch of my "secret weapon" polymer clay buttons.  They're tiny and you have to be careful sewing them on, but they're a great way to add texture and a little color without being too obvious.  I love the way they blend with fabric.

Remember, I'm going to be collecting entries until midnight Pacific time on Friday, April 16th.  Just email me at and I'll add you to the list.  You can enter every day if you'd like but only one entry per person per day.  I'll be announcing the winner Saturday the 17th, after my son's 9am baseball game.

Happy Stitching!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My 96th Post!

I can't believe that this is my 96th post!  It seems like only yesterday that I started this blog and I have to admit it's been a great thing for me.  I've struggled with my creative side all my life so it's great to have a place to go to vent, and to share my frustrations and joys. 

I'm coming up on my 100th post and in honor of that I will be having my first giveaway.  I wish it was going to be some fancy expensive machine or yards and yards of great fabric.  Unfortunately, I don't have those kinds of resources.  However, I do have something that no one else has, and that is a selection of my handmade embellishments.

As you probably know by now, I have a real obsession with embellishment.  Along with purchased buttons, beads, etc., I also make my own buttons and other embellishments.  I love making and using them!

I'm in the process of making up a few oversized button cards and will publish photos of them in my next post.  Along with the handmade items there will also be a selection of my bead mixes and other odds and ends.

To enter my giveaway, send me an email at  I will be accepting entries through Friday, April 16th and will announce the winner in my 100th post on Saturday, April 17th.  Please only one entry per person per day. 

Oh, and an update on my diet.  It's going great!  I didn't weigh myself before because I get too discouraged when I think about how many pounds I have to lose.....scary!  So, I've been judging by a particular pair of pants that I try on every morning.  They started out with my barely being able to zip them up, Now they zip up easily and I can stick my fist between my back and the waistband.  Fortunately, I've lost over two inches in my chest.  Now, I know there are people out there who'd think that would be a disaster but I've always been very "blessed" in that department and it's great to be able to see my feet again!

So, I'm starting week 3 and haven't cheated yet.  I love this diet because I no longer have any cravings. The hardest part is that the meals can be boring, so I try to liven things up.  It's amazing what a little salsa can do!

I'm also working away on one of my WIPs and may have some pictures in a day or two. 

Happy Stitching!


Monday, April 12, 2010

The Two Faces of Mojo Mary: Part Deaux

Here's the other side of Mojo Mary.  I wanted to make a dramatic difference between the two sides and yet have the basics be the same.  When I think about my dueling passions I recognize that although one deals with fabric and the other paper and the internet, they are bound together by the same creative energy.

This side represents my graphic design/copywriting/blogging/web design side.  The reason she has a split face is that this side of me requires a different outlook.  One eye is closed and peaceful because I enjoy what I do so much, but the other eye is open because I need to keep an eye on the business aspects.  It is a difficult juggling act; to be true to myself and my artistic vision, and respect my client's needs and desires.  That's why this side of me is not as cohesive as the other.
The background fabric for this doll is from the "Authentic" line by Moda.  I wanted to use a fabric with writing to represent that side of what I do.  I also liked the "Authentic" part of it.  It's important to me that whatever I do be authentic and not a copy of someone else's work.  That's especially important when you do what I do because of copyright restrictions.

One side of the vest has the wonderful "@" sign which screams internet to me.  I also included buttons of different types of font styles, a major part of the graphic designer's world.  The other side of the vest has a button I made representing this blog, The Cranky Quilter.

This head has the same kind of hair as the other but the colors are simpler and paired with black and white.  The strands end in fun graphic style images including a cute little bumble bee, a smiley face, a heart, and a simple flower.  I also included the word "YES" as that's what I always say to my clients, (even when I don't feel like it!).

The skirt is made up of different "word" and "letter" fabrics.  I trimmed it with solid beads and buttons with words on them.  Hanging from the skirt are various charms, including a "Hello Kitty" head, an example of a well known graphic image.

Her boots are white with the words "GRAPHIC" on one and "DESIGN" on the other.

So, here you have the two faces of Mojo Mary and the two faces of me!  I'm going to put her on my desk and switch her over depending on what kind of project I'm working on .  Maybe she'll help me focus!

Remember, I'd love to see any Mojo dolls any of you are working on.  Send the images to me at and I'll publish them here.

Happy Stitching!


Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Two Faces of Mojo Mary: Part 1

Well, the doll is done!  I have to say that I had a lot of fun making it, and now I'm psyched about sewing again....woo hoo!  It's been a while since I got to use my dressmaking/pattern drafting skills and it's good to know that I haven't lost it, (well at least I haven't lost that!).  Of course it's a breeze to make clothes for a rectangular doll who doesn't have bosoms or hips or strange bumps and curves where they shouldn't be.  It was a challenge to figure out how to make one doll look like two, but then if I didn't have a challenge it wouldn't be worthwhile.

This post is about the quilting side of my "bi" doll.  As you can see I went with my favorite colors of red and pink.  I love this Brandon Mably print.  I bought it in all the colors I could get.  I think it's perfect for this side of the doll because it has the look of patchwork but isn't overwhelming.  Besides, any time I get to work with a fabric I absolutely love is a real bonus!
I used a selection of prints in different colors for the skirt and vest.  One side of the vest is covered in all kinds of buttons, along with a softie that simply says "play."  It's actually a scrapbooking embellishment.  I love the softies because you can stitch them on easily and if you make a mistake you can't see the hole you made, (unless you use a huge needle).  They're also not too big or bulky and they come in packages of lots of little ones for about $5.00.  Well worth the price.

The other side of the vest has one big button, a "BAG?" button that I made because I love to make bags and I also love to collect them, especially quilting totes.  Kind of silly because it's been a while since I've gone anywhere, but then you never know! 

Her face is a fussy-cut piece from a moon/sun fabric I've had in my stash for years.  I satin stitched her lips so they'd be a nice rich red.  One of the things I like the best is her expression, she's very relaxed and comfortable with her quilter self....I'm loving that! 

Her hair is made up of multiple strands of mixed beads with different charms attached to the ends. The hardest part was attaching them to her head!

The skirt is a simple ruffled skirt with an elastic waist.  I trimmed the bottom with beads and buttons that I made with different fabric patterns.  I added some charms to her waist including a pair of scissors, a thimble, and a red heart, (because quilting is where my heart lives).

Of course every gal has to have some footwear so she has a snazzy pair of red felt boots trimmed with a scrap of French trim from my scrap box. 

I really enjoyed this project although it had its' snags.  First of all, as I said in a previous post, it was difficult to turn because of its' little neck.  Then that same neck became a problem once the heavy beaded hair was attached.  It was flopping all over the place.  So, I stuck a skewer up through the bottom of the doll into the neck and head.  No more flopping head and now she shares one more characteristic with me, the old rod up the butt!  I like to think of it as a core of strength, but others might have another opinion.  Oh well, you can't make everybody happy!

Tomorrow I'll post about the other side of Mojo Mary, in the meantime....

Happy Stitching!


Friday, April 9, 2010

Getting My Mojo Back

I've been posting lately about how I've been struggling with the urge to quilt.  Since I can't sit still and do nothing I decided to tackle the Quilting Mojo Doll Challenge in the newest issue of Quilter's Home.

I've written before about how I used to make doll clothes when I was a child.  I didn't mention that I also used to make dolls and stuffed animals.  They're actually a great way to learn how to sew because of all the curved pieces, the turning, and the stuffing and finishing. 

So, when I saw the challenge I thought, why not?  At least I'd be doing something creative and maybe it's what I need to get my Mojo back.  Besides, it's the perfect thing for me to do considering that I'm obsessed with embellishment and have about 8 million buttons, beads, charms, and assorted goodies to play with.

The pattern itself is very basic.  It was extremely hard to turn as the neck is really tiny.  I used the old trick of stitching a long piece of embroidery floss into each end with the floss inside the doll.  That way when I finished I only had to pull on the floss to turn the piece.  Thank you Lavina Scott!  (She was my clothing construction teacher in college)  It's a great trick for those teeny tiny turns, and when you use floss it's easy to pull the pieces out when you're done. Yippee!

So, now I have a simple doll to embellish and am I having fun!  I'm a bit of a split personality, (I'm a Gemini and I'm convinced I have an evil twin!)  I also move between the worlds of  Copywriting/Graphic Design and Quilting.  So, I made my doll with two differerent sides.  You might say she's two faced but that has negative connotations....let's not go there!

Since she has two sides I get to make two outfits.  Or, one outfit with two sides.  Above is the "vest" of the quilting side and below the one for the graphic design side.
Here's the Graphic Design Skirt:

And the Quilting Skirt:
And my favorite, the boots!
I hope to have the whole doll finished this weekend and I'll post it as soon as it's done.  I'm so glad I did this!  It was great getting back into the swing of things and I'm beginning to think I'll tackle my stack of WIPs next.

If any of you are working on a Mojo doll I'd love to see your progress or your finished product.  You can email pictures to me at  I'll post'em if I get'em.

Happy Stitching!


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My "Batting" Slump

I guess if there was ever a time of year when baseball metaphors were appropriate, it would be now.  The season has just started and those of us who enjoy the sport are looking forward to a great one.

My son's little league team is an interesting metaphor for the quilting world.  He's 12 and at that age the kids come in all shapes and sizes.  It's fun watching them standing next to each other, you'll have kids that look like men, (I'd swear some of these guys are shaving!), next to boys that come up to their waists. Skill levels are different as well.  There are those kids who have natural talent and you can see them playing on their high school teams, and then there are those that are just out there having a good time.  And of course you always have one or two kids that are struggling and getting discouraged.

Last night we had a terrible first inning!  We were up first and our first two boys got great hits . . . that went right to the fielders.  Then when we took the mound our pitcher got a little rattled and for the first time this season walked in runs.  It wasn't looking good.

Then one of our struggling boys caught a huge fly ball in left field!  It finished off the inning and we had our chance up.  We were down two runs and the same boy got a great base hit and an RBI.  From then on we had the momentum and ended up with a 12-9 victory.

While watching all of this and doing my share of cheering, (and whining...the ump's strike zone was all over the place!), it occurred to me that we in the quilting world aren't unlike a little league team.

We're all part of the quilting team and all important in our own way.  The bigger kids are those of us that have been around for a while, the smaller ones, those coming up.  Skill levels are also all over the place.  There are those "Best of Show" winners and the ones we see in the national magazines, and then there are those who aren't quite there yet but show promise, and those that are just out there having fun. 

Then there are the struggling ones.  I put myself in that category.  I have the ability to hit it out of the park but it takes more than that.  There has to be a committment to it, a willingness to put myself out there and swing that bat even though I may strike out.  I have to practice, to take the time to learn to do what I need to, and take the time to help out the other members of my team to learn what they need to.  I have to have the confidence that I can do it, and the faith and tenacity to do it. 

Lately I've been in a bit of a "batting" slump.  I have ideas that I can't seem to fully realize, projects that I can't get excited about, and guilt about not doing what I know I need to be doing.  Watching the boys last night come out of their slump and win the game made me realize that there's an end to this slump for me too, but it isn't going to come from sitting on the bench.

So, I'm going to finish off a couple of "work" jobs and then spend the afternoon sewing.  It's about time to "Play Ball!"

Happy Stitching!


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tutorial: Fun with Paper Piecing

I know that I'm always whining about not having the time and/or the inclination to quilt.  The fact is that I'm always doing something with my hands.  It's absolutely impossible for me to sit in front of a TV or take a long road trip without something in my workbox or in my bag to occupy me.

I'm sure that there are times when all of you aren't in the mood to take out the sewing machine or go wading through your fabric stash to pull fabrics for a new quilt.  We all have our down times.  I'm also sure that there are a lot of you, (like me!), who just can't bear to part with your scraps.  You throw them in a basket or a box and they sit there taunting you, asking you to either "throw me out or make something with me!" (I love it when my fabric talks to me....don't you?).

Anyway, I have the solution to your problem!  It's one of my secret weapons, 1" paper/fabric squares.  It's essentially the same technique as English paper piecing, but I don't whipstitch mine together.  Instead I use them as applique accents to my quilts, or on their own as mosaic quilts.  The great thing about making these is that except for the graph paper you use as backing, there's virtually no investment if you use your scraps.  It's also all done by hand so it's a perfect thing to have on hand when you have a few minutes and don't want to waste them, and because they take very little thought you can do them while waiting at the DMV, watching TV, or even waiting in your car to pick up your kids from school or practice. (I always keep a ziplock bag of pieces with me!).

The pictures above show how I use them as accents.  You can add embellishments or embroider them if you'd like. You can also use them to amp up your piecework, making it look more complicated than it is, (and like with all applique, get an added boost of texture in the bargain!).

This picture shows how I used them to add to my patchwork design, and as a border element.

To make the pieces all you need are scraps of fabric cut into 1.5" squares, some paper for backing, and a needle and thread.  I made up a few clear templates because I like to fussycut mine, (since they're so small and they're going to have a paper stabilizer you don't need to worry about grain as much).  I keep the templates in the same basket I throw my scraps into.  I also cut off a slice of any new fabrics I get to cut out a few of these "babies."

I use graph paper for my paper pieces as I like that I can just cut down the lines to make my one inch squares.  The 4 per inch is the easiest but any will do if you have a steady hand.  I usually cut them into long strips and then cut them off into squares.  You can usually get about 80 squares per sheet of paper so you can probably get by by snitching a few pieces from your kid's geography binder, (works for me!).  I've tried cutting them with my paper cutter but have had little success.  I'm actually a pro with one of these, (I do graphic design and am always cutting out cards and tags), but even I can't get them straight every time.  In this case they need to be as straight as you can get them so the graph paper is your best shot.

I like to use odd spools of thread and a larger sized needle.  It's a great way to use up bobbin ends or colors you can't imagine using again.  And, because the thread is just for basting you can also use up old thread that might be too brittle for you machine.  Recycling, woo hoo!!  I recommend a larger sized needle mainly because you are going to have to push through at least two layers of fabric and one of paper.  It also makes it easier to thread, which speeds it up for me, (particularly when I'm using up odd ends of thread).

To make a square, center a paper piece on the wrong side of your fabric square.  Finger press the top edge down.  Then holding that edge in place poke your needle up through the front of the piece through the paper and into the edge you just pressed down.  Leave about a 1" tail on the right side of the piece.  Then continue basting the edge down, catching the tail on the top side to hold it down.  When you get to the corner, turn your piece and finger press that edge down and contine stitching. I usually only takes about 3 or 4 stitches per side.  When you finish all four edges take an extra stitch and then leave another tail on the top.  You don't need to knot either edge because you're going to pull these stitches out later.

One of my favorite things to do with these is to applique them together to make a "mosiac" quilt.  It's a little more effort than piecing, but the look is entirely different and it's a great hand project because you don't have to press your seams open.  To do this you'll need a piece of good quality cotton broadcloth or muslin.  You can also use printed fabric as long as you can make pencil marks on it that can be seen.  The backside of a lighter color print will work just fine.  This is a great way to use up some of that dated fabric we all have in our stash.

Before starting take your grid ruler and mark 1" lines along one side, and then turn and do it again to make a 1" grid.   I don't make these any bigger than about 16" square as it gets cumbersome to go any larger.

I like to start in the center of the piece and work my way outward.  I've already stitched a few pieces and you can see the new piece all ready to join the others.  This is a great exercise for those of you that want to improve your applique skills.  It hides a multitude of sins so you'll have a satisfying result while getting comfortable with the technique.

Essentially you start off by appliquing one square and then just add to it, butting up each square to the others, (it's kinda like Scrabble without the points!).  The first few squares are easy, just applique them on trying to stay as close as possible to the grid lines.  Don't get too frustrated if they aren't perfect.   Fabrics have different weights so even if you do everything perfectly you may have some pieces that are slightly larger than the others, don't stress about it as it all works out OK in the end.

When adding a square like the brown one above I start at the upper left side of the square.  You need to use a smaller needle with a sharp point. Pull your needle and thread up under the back edge and into the corner.  Then stitch the corner down as close to the adjacent piece as possible.  Holding it in place with your hand stitch down about every eighth of an inch down the side until you get to the next corner.  Now this is where your applique skills will be tested.  As you're stitching your square down try to pick up a tiny thread of the square next to it.  This will avoid any white showing between the squares.  When you get to the corner take a little stitch attaching the new piece to one of the pieces already in place and then continue stitching all around the piece.

I leave the basting threads in place until I get a few pieces on and then remove them using my needle or a pin, (they come out easily).  Then I turn over the piece cut a slit in the back and pull out the paper piece, (a pair of tweezers works great).  The back of your piece should look something like this.  Now, you can stitch the slits together if you want but I"ve found that it isn't necessary.
Here's what it looks like with the new piece added:
One quick tip!  Sometimes when you're working with a fabric with a dark background you'll have white threads show through when you applique and sometimes even while piecing.  I have a solution that I picked up while working in the catering business.  Often black platters or props would get tiny chips or cracks, we just used a black Sharpie to fill in the spaces.  Done correctly the repairs were virtually invisible.  The same can work for quilts not intended to be washed. 

I suggest that you purchase one of those sets of Sharpie fine line pens with lots of different colors, (they're sold everywhere).  I recommend Sharpie because I've used them for years with no problem, and they last a long time. 

To make the repair find a pen with the closest color.  Test on a scrap of fabric first, you should only have to brush the pen lightly against the white fiber, (don't touch the darker fabric because it might be noticeable).  Use your lightest touch at first and add more color if necessary.

I had a white fiber showing on the brown piece I just put in but with my Sharpie fix you can't even see it.
I hope you have fun making these squares and adding them to your repertoire!

Happy Stitching!