Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Dear Santa,

Next Christmas...I promise to have started my gifts in the summertime (before Christmas). My vow is to do a better job of getting things done and wrapped. I would like it that the gifts would surprise even me when they are opened. However, I also know my patience for things good...I am likely to open them to take a peek before the holidays if I forget. Or maybe I could post the images in my blog and then I could research them. Or (in case my family reads my blog), I could post a top secret blog that no one knows my name.....007 Sew Agent.

Of course, I did get the cute little Scottie Dog panel with your pockets on it for letters to Santa. The Scottie dog squares around the panel are each a pocket for inserting letters to Santa Claus or for keeping wish lists. My husband's family has always done a great job of keeping wish lists at his parents' house. Only in the last few years do I recall not consulting with the master list. And of course, there was always the task of being very sure to check off the things on the list that you had gotten. Can't help but wonder if Grandma Reicks would have had a cute holder for wish lists like this, we'd have likely worn out a few of them as we scoured the lists for something in our budget and something that we wanted to give the recipient.

The Scottie Santa Note Panel was fun to build. I loved skittering around the trees so much on the background that I have used it for my blog panel. I used a wool batting (scrap) and the effect was amazing. The trees and scotties popped out and look animated. I know many of you think that those of us who like to machine quilt are incredibly artistic. I can't tell you enough that we are just brave and very willing to wreck a quilt. Silk thread also helps because if you zig off the wrong direction, you don't have a heavy thread to remind you later. I also love, love, love my BSR (Bernina Stitch Regulator). It gives me the freedom to go as slow as I need to go to achieve my design or zip along and my stitches remain the same length.

The other fun (AND EASY) thing I did when I finished this panel was to use one of the my Quick & Easy Binding techniques. I remind you that a quilting judge won't like this technique, but I find it perfect for stuff like this and for placemats and some table runners. First I trim the batting away flush with the top of the quilt. Preserve the backing fabric. This step can be tricky because you don't want to snip through the backing. Then I cut the backing one-inch away from the quilt top. Then double-fold the binding, the first fold being taking the raw edge to the edge of the quilt and then rolling it to the right side. I then blanket stitch it to the front of the quilt.

When I got the top done and the pockets sewed on, I remembered that I should have put loops on top. So, I built loops like a turned pillow. Top-stitched the edges. Then I folded them in half and then used my button-sew-on foot and stitched the loops in place.

Notice the buttons I am using are some antique buttons that cost 15-cents for the package. Sure I know there are some that think I ought to save those things because they are antiques. I don't agree with that philosophy. When I am gone , things like antique buttons will go on the estate auction and bring pennies stuck in a box of junk that someone will regret dragging home. On my Santa banner, I hope they will grace a child's home to give them joy. There is no more noble way for a button to spend its life!

May Christmas be filled with love and peace....jill

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Best of Christmas

The best of Christmas is being together with people we love. Our kids are all going to be home for Christmas. We will spend time with both extended families.

Everything I have said about gifting and not stressing at Christmas is the very real thing. Our Christmas tree has been standing for three weeks in our living room without embellishment. It looked beautiful just standing as the soldier in our living room. This last week, Henry and Johanna dressed it for Christmas. Now it twinkles and we are enjoying it all anew everyday.

It is my sincere hope for each of you that you can find ways to enjoy Christmas and to not stress over things. Your family and friends will more appreciate a well-rested you than an exhausted you and a finished quilt. If you need permission, I GIVE YOU PERMISSION to wrap up an unfinished project. I GIVE YOU PERMISSION to give a copy of The Quiltmaker's Journey to your adult daughter. You taught her these lessons of love and generosity...underline it with a beautiful story.

It is the little things I like best about when the kids are all together...many times we are so reminded that they love the same things they did when they were younger. They like being together most of all. Yesterday at the store, I found Victor and Teddy curled up in one of the offices reading The Quiltmaker's Gift and The Quiltmaker's Journey. They had curled up with some of the display quilts and had their dog, Macy curled up beside them. While Gift is a story they know, they love it again anyway. They have good hearts and aren't afraid to express it by re-reading the parable that many of us love so well. These are young men with adult lives. They laugh with abandon. They can talk politics one moment and then roll about their favorite Calvin & Hobbs antic.

Can't think of a gift better than the laughter and sharing of love of family. Christmas will be full of surprises, fun and hopefully some rest for all of us.

All the Best to You, jill

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Are you done....?

I hate that know the one, "Are you done Christmas shopping?". I think the reason I hate the question is that I don't really Christmas shop. I never really have Christmas shopped. To me that means wandering around with a list of the impossible-to-find, impossible-to-please-with-the-finds and frustration.

I have a real appreciation for people who savor the experience. Gifting is a very personal expression. I have friends who shop all year and wrap with purpose. This year their living room will be decked in silver and black with matched ribbons and gift tags. This is their art form. I love seeing their hand-work.

Some people express themselves in their Christmas greetings. They create intricate pictorial directories of their year and their family and their lives. These are fascinating and entertaining.

Many in my extended family are artists with their baking and cooking. Making cookies involves their whole family. It is an art form. Many of them generously put together packages to give to family and friends. (We feel fortunate to have special people like this!)

I also get to enjoy watching people sew up elaborate holidays. Many who do this carry it out with purpose and planning and most don't seem to be overly stressed over the process. I think THAT is the key to any expression of love for the holidays.

Therein lies the real true RULES to gifting:
1. It must be genuine gifting (not obligatory).
2. It must NOT add stress to our lives.

I have participated in each of these expressions at the holidays to my level of ability and enjoyment. However, with age (and agony), comes wisdom. I don't sew everything. I sew what I want to sew. If I decide to make gifts for my family, I have to make a decision if it will be quilts or it will be pajamas or pillowcases. If I decide to make quilts and start in November, some of the loved ones might get a box of squares. I am not now nor will likely ever develop into the person who would get all this done in July and have it wrapped. The older I get, the less likely I will remember that I made something in July, then I would come up with something else closer to the holidays. Why not just wait for the holiday season and enjoy July?!

My family and friends don't expect gifts of grandeur. They certainly appreciate handmade gifts, but they don't feel less loved if I give them all pillowcase kits and write an invitation to come over on a Sunday afternoon for soup and sewing.

Another great gift that I think would be so much fun is the Softies book. I love giving and getting books. This one speaks to me because I remember studying the Childcraft books with the section on sewing stuffed toys. I did my best to make them. I don't really remember how things turned out, but I DO remember the pleasure of studying the construction techniques and planning and processing the making of stuffed critters. Softies is so inspiring. Just for fun, I think young wanna-be-sewers would be inspired. I think even non-sewers would find this book inspiring. It is an international publication that is fun for all ages. It is definitely a very popular publication this holiday season.

Because I love fabric...the touch of it....the luster....the pleasure of color (oh, am I carrying on--you got the picture didn't you)...I love to make things that really show off fabric. I loved making this apron out of the vintage Santa fabric. The fabric evoked fabulous memories for me and I wanted to enjoy it amply. An apron is a way to do that and to get something done that doesn't consume a lot of time. In fact, this apron (one of my favorites for the smart way you are building the apron), took me just an hour.

I think the fabric reminded me of my grandparents' Tom & Jerry set...and it really made me think of sneaking into their pantry to dip my fingers into the sugary goo of T&J and licking my fingers off. I don't know that I have ever had a T&J just the memories of the vintage Santas on the bowl and the pleasure of my grandma catching me and giggling at the antics was enough to make this fabric make me warm inside. So, I had to make an old-fashioned like Grandpa would be wearing while he was taking the turkey and ham out of the oven.

I will give this apron to someone who will appreciate it as much as I do. My daughter Monica gladly modeled it for me. Then she asked "so, will my butt be on the Internet?" Yes, dear will! And where else better to put the behind than at the end of my blog!! (sorry...that is real cliche)

Don't take on more than you can handle this holiday season. Pick up pillowcase kits, side setting table runner kits, a couple of yards of inspiring fabric and an apron pattern. Wrap them up, put the name tags on the packages. Sit back and look at the bare Christmas tree. If it speaks to you to decorate it...go for it. If not, just enjoy that it is up in the living room. Later on, IF you feel like sewing, unwrap one of those pillowcase kits and sew it up. Wrap it back up finished. If you feel like doing more, go for it. If not...your nephew might ask to come over someday and show you how to sew it up. Or better yet, tell him to bring you some lunch and sit with you while you sew it. He will love to see how you do this with that fabulous method that encases all the seams.

Please note that none of this message is "BAH HUMBUG." It also doesn't involve alcohol or stress. The holidays are a time of expressing love. If you can't do it without stress, then find a way to express love that gives you pleasure ...after all, isn't that the real pleasure....the joy of giving it freely and without stress?!

So, I am off to sew a couple things today because I want to!....All the Best to You, jill

p.s. Our Christmas tree has been in our living room for 10 days with no ornaments or lights on it. It doesn't look pained and it still is making us all happy. Henry actually can water it without digging around the ornaments. Victor has suggested that we not decorate it but enjoy it just this way. I love it that no one is guilting anyone out over decorating. Christmas for us is being together....and THAT we are.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sewin' Tote Bags--Fun Gifts

I'm makin' bags and totes for Christmas gifts. These are things I can ACTUALLY get done in short order and will be much appreciated. I love the little Stash n' Dash bags. Everyone needs these little totes to fit inside of our other bags. Everything falls to the bottom of the bag even when I have side pockets in my bags. These are great because I can pull out my cosmetics without having the feminine care products falling out of my purse ( I have them in a little zipped bag). I think this is the real world. So many of us are carrying tote bags with computers and all kinds of stuff. My more intimate things need to be in their own bags. PLUS...I have a puppy who likes to dig in my handbag when I leave it on the floor. She may like my lip gloss, but I don't want to share it with her.
Then my other favorite bag is the Frenchy bag. This is a class and quick one to make up. I love these bags out of the new Joel Dewberry decorator fabrics. Therese would love the yellow and gray for herself. I am sure she won't get around to these for herself soon. She would love to have one of these. She loves those fabrics together.

All these bags are from Amy Butler. I love them because they have classy details like pleats and piping. I am really liking how they are making up in the decorator fabrics that we are carrying in the store. The bags will keep their shape better than standard cottons. You gotta stop in the store and check these out. The fabrics are much like twill or denim. I also like to spray the bottoms of my handbags with fabric protector. I don't wash my handbags often but I do like to protect the bottoms from graying from surface dirt. The protector works great to repel water and grime.

Monica made the Sophia Carry-All for a good friend. She even crafted the inside of the bag to be just as classy as the outside. I am sure Ann will love this one. Monica used a fun zipper that we had in the sewing room. In my last post, you saw the building of this bag when Monica peeked out of the opening. I had to laugh when Monica and Therese were chatting about installing the zipper in the handbags. Their mama didn't force teach them how to insert zippers. Consequently, the girls have learned this by reading and by trial and error. I don't often step in on advising them unless they ask. All you mamas out there...did you hear that?! I don't advise my kids on sewing unless they ask. I think this is the biggest secret to why our kids love to sew. It is that I do LESS. I love everything they do. Which means I even loved the quilts that they made that had holes in them because they sewed with a 1/16th inch seam that opened up later on. I even loved the stuff that was finished "wrong". I loved the stuff that they learned about color by finishing it and deciding they didn't like it personally...not that they worried about what my opinion was of it. I'd love to tell you I came to this conclusion because I am wise, but that isn't true. I came to utilize these practices with our kids because I hate conflict. I also don't appreciate criticism of creativity.

When I was a kid, my dad was disabled for a long period of time. He was in a body cast for months in our home. During that time, Dad did paint-by-number oil painting. He made hundreds of beaded strings for our Christmas tree that we wound around pencils to "curl". He made hundreds of styrofoam Christmas bells by painstakingly picking up a pearl bead, a sequin and dipping the tip of the pin in craft glue and painting the bell with beads. There would be people who would think this was rote drill, but it was a creative expression for my dad that helped him cope with being hospitalized and incapacitated for months. As a young girl, I watched my dad make these things and enjoy watching us decorate our home with his "creativity."

Our creative expression is what brings us joy. The process of creating makes us who we are and affords us a chance to have a voice.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Miss My Sewing Buddies

I went to the sewing room tonight after supper and put a binding on a Christmas gift. was a bit dull after all the excitement of the weekend sewing with my family. Or maybe I am just tired. At least I got the binding on the quilt. Now I can sit back and hand-stitch it down.

People ask me all the time WHY I hand-stitch bindings. I think it is why I still read books rather than listen to all of them. It is also why I love to hand-wash dishes rather than put them in a dishwasher. I just don't think everything has to be done fast. I think there is real purpose in doing some things methodically and with meditation.

With this table topper, I also took the time to take a YLI variagated machine quilting thread and do an intricate feather stitch with the machine quilting. I loved using my #10 (which I think might be my favorite presser foot on a Bernina machine) to line it up in those seams and fit this 9mm stitch perfectly. This piece is my recycled piece that I was telling you about. I made it using the Baby Charms pattern that we give away at the store with two charm packs. However when I made it from this recycled project, I first had to cut up the former project. This table topper started off as four Christmas stockings two years ago. I had Johanna (my youngest daughter) machine embroidery some figures on the stockings. She did a great job. I neglected to color check her threads, and I got bright read and green on these classic red and green fabrics. It was not inspiring....I never finished the stockings. Everytime I opened the drawer where they took up residence, they taunted me with "should have checked the colors."

So, when I made my first Baby Charms out of Flirtations charm packs, I absolutely fell in love with this project. Took me an hour to piece what will be a table topper for one of my kids for Valentine's Day. It wasn't the time that was so cool but rather the fact that these toppers started off in what looked like over-sized table runners. Then you run a little magic over them and you get them set on point in less than an hour. I also love that they make a good use of the mixture of fabrics in a charm pack while respecting balance of the fabrics. So much fun which brought me to then buy another two packs from Wee Play. I love, love, love these things. Wee Play has a fabulous print that reminds me of aprons and children's books from my childhood. They are fast and easy and so much fun to watch the cool trick with them. In fact, they are so much fun for me to play with the fabric in these that I am personally taking over kitting these in the store. (Oh, there is another one of my favorite things to do and cut kits.) I love putting together fabrics and working things out in the store like I work in my own sewing room.

Back to my recycled project....I took the stockings apart and technically cut them up into charm packs. I knew I wouldn't have enough to do the table topper; so, I cut up some four patches to be fitted into charm packs. I found a backing that was a leftover in my stash drawers for the back of this quilt. I even took the strips of batting from some of my larger quilts and pieced it together with my #10 foot and a #4 stitch on my sewing machine. Lapping the seams means I can use up lots of my batting bits. Most of my table toppers and runners are the remnants from my bigger projects. Conversely, I often purchase a king sized batting, cut it into fourths so that I have that perfect size (60x60") for most of my lap quilts and wall quilts. This table topper is supposed to be part of an exchange that we do with Henry's family. We aren't supposed to spend more than $5 on the item. So, technically....since this is a recycled project, I consider that I only spent the money on the thread.

If you understand this next concept...we really are a kindred spirit! I wouldn't feel right tossing out the embroidery designs from my recycled stockings (even though I am not real fond of the coloration). So, I am making coasters out of those using my Table Trio technique that I love to use for table runners and placemats. It will give me a chance to frame them up without the flip and sew method I traditionally do with coasters. Gives me a chance to work on mitered corners....just another chance to hand wash the dishes .

Just another day inside my Sewing Brain....I am just relieved that I am sewing again. Too much time away from the sewing machine just is NOT healthy! I don't necessarily think we sew because we have to finish a project but rather that we are happier people when we work on our brains through our creative soul. When I sew more, my whole being is happier.

All the Best to You, jill

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sewing Night Fun

After work on Saturday, I had errands to and out of the car a few times. Frozen and longing for my warm robe! We got to nestle into the sewing room, full tummy and sewing machine lights blaring. Monica, Johanna and I had just settled in when Therese and Joel arrived to join the fun. Now...if you are someone on our Christmas list, don't get your shorts in a twist if you see something that will be a gift. I'll try to be discreet...won't show you the Minkee boxer shorts I am making for you or the way I am weaving a new cell phone out of the leftovers of metallic threads (I am toying with you here).

Indeed, Joel is getting into sewing too. He recruited the three girls to help him start his toothbrush rug. (Sure hope he is making one for his favorite mother-in-law.) They had a blast using Aunt Phillie's method of tearing strips...tearing nine yards of fabric in less than ten minutes. Doesn't it make you want to join our sewing fun?!

Monica is having a great time creating a purse from Amy Butler for her roommate, Ann. Monica tells that the Sophia Carry-All is going together very nicely. She tells that Ann has bought several purses looking for the perfect one but to no avail. When Monica saw this one, she knew it was perfect. We have all been loving the new Free Spirit heavier fabrics we have in the store. These are wider goods and have a durable hand to them and wil hold up great as purses. We also think they make fabulous skirts but have to admit none of us have done them yet. With winter blowing into Iowa, no one is real motivated to make a skirt presently!

I had a great time building pillowcases from the Wilmington collection, Cookie Cutter Christmas. I love the welcome of a bed with lots of pillows on it. Because I can't really get a quilt done for every bed in the house to be in Christmas style, I still want my expression on the beds when they come home. Pillowcases are fabulous and fun and they are really slick with the pattern we have in the store.

When I am cutting past my rulers, I don't like to use the lines on my mat. That is likely the most inaccurate way of cutting any measurements. The lines on your mat are reference lines. When I cut the larger sizes, I use what my Geometry teacher, Mr. Downing, taught me...mark two or more marks on your measurement and then line up the dots for cutting. (See my p.s. on Geometry class for those of you who know that I am math challenged.) While I use a chalk marker, you COULD use a Pigma pen for a really sharp point. Don't wig out that it is a pigma pen and is permanent, you are cutting the line OFF and any remnants of marks will fall within your seam. I know some people use a ballpoint pen but there is some risk of that ink shedding into your work.

I keep my pattern UNDERNEATH MY CUTTING MAT. That way I always know where it is because I need it regularly and I hate digging around for it. So, if you come into the store to buy the pattern again (because you lost the first one), I will ask you if you looked underneath your cutting mat. I love this pattern because it shows how to create the pillowcase with all encased seams. It is one of those sewer's details that really makes us shine like professionals. However, I find that as many pillowcases as I make, I always need the pattern to remind me how to do it again.

Invariably, I get to be a smarty pants and think I can remember how to sew it together; and I always sew together the first one wrong and get to un-sew it. The other thing I find is really important when I am sewing pillowcases is that there IS a need to pin. I like using a stripe for a cuff and I like that it matches up with the stripe front and back. While this adds time to the process, it is LESS time than un-sewing and re-sewing.

I love the kits of the pillowcases because the pieces are all right there for me to not have to figure out. I really love these kits because they aren't too Christmasy and they respect the colors I already have in the room. Call the store or stop in and see what Karen has been cutting up for some fast kits. These are really classy!

I know I feel great about getting something I have been on a kick of what can I sew in one hour. Two pillowcases took me one hour. Sure, you could get lots more done if you sewed them with a serger, but this (for me) is like my sister-in-law Susie who bakes bread. She doesn't do it because it is faster or cheaper, she bakes the best wheat bread because it makes her happy. Sewing these pillowcases with French seams and an encase cuff makes me smile. I went to the extra trouble to take my skills and make something nicer than I could get at the store. It makes me happy to share my love with my family.

And sewing with them makes me feel the same way. I love getting older because it makes me not drive myself with deadlines for anything but to express love. We are not more loved because we sewed for everyone. I sew out of love not responsibility. I make things because I want to make them and it makes me happy. If I have a deadline looming over get that hand-appliqued quilt done for my sister's co-worker's daughter's neighbor, I have done myself in for a number that isn't mine. I sew pillowcases because it is my chance to interact with some amazing fabric before it is all gone. It is my chance to put a greeting on the beds of my kids when they come home for Christmas. It even makes Henry smile to go to get into bed and see a Christmas pillowcase on the bed.

So, my journey for today is working on making Table Toppers out of charms packs. Before I dug into my favorite method for this (out of two charm packs), I started RECYCLING some Christmas stockings I started two years ago that didn't quite turn out. I will take more pictures of how and why I did that for my next blog. Just know that this was a dead project in my bin of projects that made me sad everytime I saw it. Now, I love what it is becoming. And....if you are a member of my husband's family, THIS will be my exchange gift this year. Yes, that is legitimate. You CAN give a recycled gift. This is technically NOT one that has actually ever been gifted to anyone else. (Oh, and that is my is legitimate only IF the person you are gifting to will actually appreciate the gift more than you did.)

Here's a sneak peek of my next project....and I had better get to the sewing room. The girls and Joel are already there working away. While they all growl a bit when I pull out the camera, you can see that they always seem able to muster a smile.

All the Best to You....REALLY! jill

p.s. Yes, I am math challenged. While I don't make light of disabilities, I like to let people know that I have a challenge and that accepting it has helped me immensely in coping. When I was in elementary school, I struggled with lots of math concepts. However, in the long run, when I became a teacher, my focus was on learning disabilities. I found it incredibly freeing to take what I knew about how we function and find ways to make life functional and enjoyable. For me, geometry was the BEST math class. I loved art and creating. Geometry made a lot of sense to me because I could apply it quite directly to my creating. I am ever grateful to Mr. Downing who didn't know that his tolerance of my incessant questions and a fabulous sense of humor made me realize that being math challenged wouldn't impair me forever. In fact, as a teacher, while I have inabilities to understand some components of mathematics, my ability to apply math to my creative nature opened me up to know how to make a lot of topics palatable to all kinds of learning. I love that I still get to teach every day, even though my title isn't teacher, I think I still have chalk dust in my veins!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Just Ducky

Here's the quilt that had the binding missing. I am so incredibly glad to have been able to bind it Thanksgiving Day. My husband's sisters were enthralled by the Clover needle thread. A couple of the nephews wanted to disassemble it to see how it worked. One told me that it was cheating. I assured them that it was no more cheating than wearing glasses to improve one's eyesight!

I love this quilt in so many ways. The simplicity of yellow and white was fabulous. I had been collecting these yellows for some time to make up kits out of them. There are about 15 different yellows...all in shades that complement one another beautifully. I included an orange batik, shaded just right for the duck bills and the axles on the wheels.

When I quilted this piece, I used a yellow flannel backing and a wool batting. The lightness of the wool batting (yes, it is lighter) and the soft of the flannel backing would have made most shy away from the combination. However, the drape of this quilt is phenomenal. I think this is due in large part to the fact that I used 100-weight silk thread. The thread was so light that even though I was micro-stitching this quilt it kept a light hand and beautiful drape-ability. I am most anxious to wash it up and see how beautiful it is. The hand of this quilt should comfort both the child and the people who hold the child!

All the Best to You, jill

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Found the Floor in My Sewing Room

The holidays makes me clean house and clean my sewing room. I suspect I do it because I know that the kids playing pool will be eating in my sewing room. Not that the kids really care what my sewing room looks like, but I guess I do. Or perhaps it is just the holiday routine of sorting out my sewing room.

These first pictures should make you feel better about your sewing space. Isn't it just motivating?!

The other reason I like sorting my sewing room is that it is like finding all new projects. I find things that are just one seam or button away from being finished. I find things that I really need to pass on to someone else because they really aren't that enchanting anymore. I ask myself questions like, "will I really ever macrame in burnt orange polyester in my lifetime?" (The answer is NO.) I sort and dig and eventually can see the floor well enough to vacuum it again. I stack the projects up all over again and make a resolve to tackle them again.

However, as I have MATURED, I realize that I don't have to keep something because I think it is wasteful. I don't have to keep things because I would feel guilty if I discarded them. I have had the challenge of having to clean out houses for loved ones who really had no plan for their belongings. The pain of sorting through precious mementos for people is a real challenge as you ponder WHY they kept these things and you feel the weight of responsibility for safeguarding their decisions to keep things along with your own. As I look forward, I think about the things I want my sewing to say about who I am as a mother, a wife, sister, friend and as a person who really believes I should leave the world having taken my gifts and shared them as amply as possible.

This picture is a START of my sorting all the bindings into one place. I am sure I will use them now!

With all this in mind, I dig through my sewing room. I share my sewing room with the pool table and the air hockey table. I also share it with the other people who sew in our family. At holidays, it is nothing unusual for our daughters and me to be huddled in the sewing room sewing away at a project with a glass of wine. We talk about our sewing. There is teaching and learning. But best of all, we just pick up right where we left off the last time we got together to sew. To some extent I clean the sewing room for some semblance of order. But to a larger extent, I pull it together that the kids can sew with us.

Nowadays, Victor is brushing up on his sewing skills. He sewed three quilts as a young 4-H kid. Now, he has tackled machine quilting. He has yet to join us in the sewing room except on his tours through. It will be interesting if he comes to the point of putting his projects alongside ours and pulls up a chair!

Therese is teaching Monica about the beauty of Smart Piecing Techniques. It was a real AHA moment for Monica. Of course, this is one of Therese's favorite topics. Therese is well known around our house for being a puzzle piecer and loves Sudoko. Smart Piecing goes the natural direction of her mind.

Cleaning the sewing room motivated me to sort my office. So, guess what I found?! Yes....the yellow binding from the Just Ducky Quilt. I put it on last night and am now hand-stitching it down. As Brenda Lou said, you usually have to cut the new binding before you find the old one. It was really funny that Therese found one of HER bindings in her bin at our house. She was so exasperated about that one that she is talking about removing the substitute binding from the quilt and installing the original one. Now....that is a little fussy. However, I know that the Kaleidoscope quilt is one of her most favorite quilts and she has complained that the substitute binding marred the quilt. It IS her quilt.

All the Best to You, jill

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lost the Stupid Binding...Again!

Okay, lots of people THINK I am organized. I try really hard to stay organized without becoming enslaved to being organized. I am a visualizer. So, most of my organization is done in a way that I can visualize it rather than a rational thought organization. For example, I can remember where things were when I last saw them by the clutter they were sitting in. To that end, I try really hard to keep things together. When the kids would ask, "where are my shoes?", I would tell them they would be in your closet if that is where you put them last. It isn't that I don't drop my shoes off in the right place all the time but rather my own frustration with myself for all the time I wasted looking for my shoes when I left them off in the sewing room or by the door rather than in my closet. (By the my shoes might be at Therese's house since she likes to borrow them which really complicates my processing.)

So, last weekend at retreat, I FINISHED my Just Ducky quilt. I did the tiny and fun machine quilting that you see in my last post. The quilt is soft and snuggly and I love, love, love it. I couldn't wait to bind it and wash it gently to see what it looks like. I quilted it with silk thread and it is the softest, kindest quilt on the planet. So, I go to bind it. I REMEMBER the binding floating around my office for months. I even pinned it to the quilt for a long time so I wouldn't lose it. My visualization techniques are finally tuned in to the fact that I had cut the whole binding, wrapped it up with a scrap of yellow and kept it tied up and pinned to the quilt. NOW I CAN'T FIND IT. I have looked for more than ten days for it. Dug everywhere. Inquired of everyone!

Now, I know the only way I will find that binding is by cutting a new one. As soon as I cut a new binding, the other one will re-appear...further frustrating my aim to be organized!!

My next journey with sewing while on retreat was the most wonderful creative blast I have enjoyed in a long time. I sewed with my red silk fat quarter collection. Created for Sew Red, the red silk fat quarters range from orange to brown to red to pink and even some purple. It is yummy, yummy, yummy. I had a fabulous time creating Snapshots, a quilt from Happy Hour with Terry Atkinson. I loved the pattern so much, I snatched up a collection of my favorite Christmas prints from Benartex and made a quilt out of them in blues, purples and aquas. What a blast that pattern is. I think it is replacing Yellow Brick Road as my new all time favorite.

Like a true sewing diva, I even loved the scraps. Silk scraps, I am seeing a jacket out of this or wondering if I could wool punch this into a garment. Aren't they just the yummiest thing you have ever seen. This is better than candy!

Being a person who normally gravitates towards blues and purples, aquas and teals, this fascination with Sew Red has grabbed my attention. I think a big part of it is that Sew Red has really grabbed my attention. Having a family history of heart issues, I have always been concerned about my heart health. The Sew Red venture is to bring awareness to women to tend to their heart health. Pick up a Sew Red Silk kit at our store or online. I CHALLENGE you to create with the kit. In 2009, we are looking for your expression with the Sew Red Silks.

All the Best to You, jill
p.s......if you see a buttery yellow binding for a baby quilt somewhere around, snatch it up and use it. Make sure you DON'T return it to me. Finding it will only frustrate me further, especially when I find it some place incredibly OBVIOUS!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Secrets of Machine Quilting

A friend pointed out that I had been "away" from my blog for a while. This is a good reminder that I not only need to blog, but I also need to get back to sewing. I got back into my groove sewing by pulling up a quilt that I have basted and ready to go. I love to BSR (yep, it can be a verb) with silk thread. I am working on a two color quilt. I am using the white area for all of the quilting with white silk thread and not hitting the yellow pieced triangles. I love the stitches with silk and the control I can get to create nice swoops.

The two things that make my machine quilting better ARE a stitch regulator and 100 weight silk thread. I promise. My quilting hasn't always been this much fun. I came to quilting as a hand-quilter but never finished many quilts. I wanted to machine quilt but knew little about it in 1999. I had done some stitch in the ditch with a walking foot but never free-motion quilting. The first time I free-motion quilted, I went right to a quilt. It was a small quilt, and I had never quilted by machine before. I basted the quilt with safety pins (still my favorite method for basting), dropped the feed dogs and went stitching. When I got done, it wasn't great but it wasn't awful. I think the reason I did well with it was that I was willing to wreck a quilt. Yes, you read that right. Committing to just dashing in on a quilt will be the best thing you can do to advance your quilting skills.



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Last Day in Switzerland

So what has been my favorite things about the trip to Switzerland?

Well...let's see. Touching, sewing on and meeting the new and absolutely amazing Bernina 830 was definitely a high point. It was fun to watch the guys sew on it. It was funnier still to have to share a machine with the guys. I think Therese and I thought that we would get to sew on the machines because the guys weren't interested. WRONG!! We were each edging the other one away from the machine. Henry and Joel were just as interested in getting their projects sewn out nicely and they wanted to do the button pushing and all their own sewing. The threading of the machine was likely the most fun. It literally threads the whole needle by itself. So automatic and beautiful that it was almost surprising to us.

Meeting the people of the Bernina factory, realizing that they actually put these machines together, tool the parts in Switzerland and are a family-owned company with a real sense of pride in their work was an amazing journey for us to make. We donned work goggles and walked through the whole plant. Seeing that a Bernina employee hand tests every BSR foot, another inspects every presser foot and that the feet are all manufactured right in the plant was amazing. Their care to detail was so impressive.

The factory is located in idyllic Steckborn. People walk and bike to work. Young people serve in apprenticeships in the factory for up to four years as they prepare for careers at Bernina. That many know enough English to speak fluently with us was incredibly humbling as I can't even muster up enough German to tell someone that I can't speak German.

We also had the privilege to visit a Bernina dealership in Germany and in Switzerland. Very different from our own store but a proud tradition to see the machines represented with meticulous care and attention to detail. The employee in the store in Germany had no English. We had no German. However, she graciously showed us around her store. When I asked to take pictures, she insisted on sweeping away any thread scraps. Humble and gracious, she let us take her picture and we shared business cards. If anyone knows German and would assist me with writing her a thank you note, I would most appreciate it.

Well, I have chatted enough for today. When I next write, I am going to tell you about a secret little find we discovered as we found a store that was selling lace from St. Gallen and handmade laces. I did my Christmas shopping and have many beauties to share with you in coming VIP and Embroidery Secrets events. The couple who showed us the laces and linens often spoke of this and that from St. Gallen being made on Bernina machines. We actually recognized the genre of some of the laces. More on that in my next post!

Sew Inspired...jill

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blog from Switzerland

I am writing you from Switzerland. We are off to Luzern today. I almost couldn't write you because I can't read German. My Google account cues were all in German. So, I had to peck and guess at how to talk to you. Must have done something right because here I am.

Yesterday we toured Zurich. When I saw a store that had FABRIC in the title and was a big store, I was thrilled to think I'd found a big store of fabric. Wrong. It is a big store that uses silk fabric for home decorating which was good for us because we are getting in lots and lots of silk dupioni. The above picture is a display of silk ties. Gorgeous!!

The pillows look yummy. Be prepared. This is a great time to learn piping techniques. Watch for Linda Lee coming to the store in November. Not only is she a superb garment person but she does home decorating and edge finishes with flair.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Melt Your Heart

Today, I got a chance to collect my photographs from our friends from Texas. Marileah Mansfield of Mesquite, Texas, drove with her daughter, Carla McGhghy and Carla's grandson, Shawn McGhghy. Pulling a 16' trailer, the women had travelled several states to give aide to other sewers in the way of many, many pounds of fabric, notions, publications and sewing machines.

We have been giving out sewing machines and sewing supplies for the past month. Our supply of (especially sewing machines) is being rapidly depleted. This was welcome relief for those in need.

The newspaper ran a small clip that told Flood Victims to come and pick up sewing supplies at our store at 10am.....well, that wasn't exactly the way we said it. However, it was very providential that those words brought us many more applicants looking for sewing machines. The woman who met our Texas friends as we started unloading the truck, showed them pictures of her flooded home and her plea, "I just NEED to get back to sewing." It was heart wrenching and humbling.

As we worked to unload the box after box of sewing supplies into our small storage room, we began to meet a whole new group of people as they lined up to fill out forms to receive supplies. We are doing our best to get sewing machines for these people and are going to need YOUR help. Please look to our web site to see how you can go about donating a sewing machine for a flood victim (Stitches for Hope). This week our technicians will be swamped as they are trying to get the machines serviced so that we can start sending this newest batch home with people by next Saturday.

You will want to subscribe to our email list ( -- be sure to enter your email address along the left hand side of the home page and confirm your registration) to be sure you get more information on what we will be doing on Saturday for people who are in need of sewing supplies. We will be planning an event that many of you can participate in!


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Big Hearts from Texas was quite a day. We had friends from Texas show up at the store with a 16' trailer filled to the rafters with sewing things for flood victims. We had hoped to get the media there to document their arrival. Oddly enough, the Gazette printed a portion of the press release that said flood victims could pick up stuff at the store at 10am today. Not exactly solved a problem we were having....that is getting the word out to the victims of flooding who want to get sewing again.

So all day, we met flood victims who are sewers. They filled out the paper to get free stuff and free sewing machines. We have been getting fabric and notions and publications from all across the country the past few weeks and having been doing our best to get it out to those in need. We recently ran out of sewing machines. We have more with the ones that arrived today, but it will take our technicians several days to get them cleaned up.

If you are wanting to bring in a sewing machine to donate, you will need to have our technicians service it...OR...if you are purchasing a machine from us, we are giving you a gift certificate in our store for up to $25o. (BTW--if you are interested in donating an old sewing machine, read about how to do this on our web site under the heading Stitches for Hope.)

We are going to have a day for people to pick up sewing supplies next Saturday and will be contacting those who filled out applications. They are simple applications and some people are completing the forms for friends and family. We have found that in the stacks, there are even things like yarns and embroidery supplies and much more.

I will get pictures up on the web site when I get a chance to upload them so you can see what a generous offer this has been.

Watch the news at 10pm on Saturday. KCRG came and interviewed one of the gifters and took footage of the unpacking.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sewing Inspired!

We got back about a week ago from Bernina University, lunged right into VIP at the store and the rest feels like a blur. Learning about the new 8-series machines was awe inspiring in so many ways. I think when I listen to the details of what a sewing machine can do, it is a lot like listening to my husband talking to other farmings about tilling the land. It is foreign to me, but the twinkle in their conversation indicate something electric and magical.
I felt this way when I saw the 830 and the 820 machines for the first time. We got to play on emulators of the machines and watch the fine details of locking off stitches, the new features of drag and dropping stitches. Imagine the beauty of dragging things around like you do on your computer but now it is in a sewing machine. However, after working on emulator, I didn't rush right down to see the sewing machines as my staff did. When you own the store, there are lots of not-fun business details that get in the way of fun and explorations of the details of sewing. Our daughter Therese came to get me out of a meeting (I suspect I was picking some new fabrics for all of you.) and she howled, "HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEW MACHINES?!" When I admitted I hadn't, she went on to tell me how beautiful they are on top of how fast they are and as many details as could come out of her in a hurried second. She rushed me to the room where the beauties all awaited. I agree with her and wanted to bring one home right then.

When you look at that picture of Therese and me with Gail Hillert, study that machine and remember that there are THREE people standing behind that beautiful machine. The 830 with her embroidery module spans 40" from left to right. I can't wait to see what we can do with that much space not only for quilting but for all kinds of sewing and embroidery. Mrs. Hillert is the visionary that has inspired this machine and so much in our previous Bernina machines. I am so grateful for her vision. She is an amazing sewer and instructor and her energy for these products and what they can do for your sewing world is unparalleled. Anything I could hope for in a machine, Gail Hillert has exceeded with fabulous features and conveniences that have me awe-struck.

I think this is like having the big box of crayons! I don't know about you, but I didn't get a big box of crayons until I was an adult. I distinctly remember going out and buying the big box to share with my toddlers. Being the oldest of three kids in four years, my parents had their hands full and I doubt big boxes of crayons made much sense to them. However, being a creative person, I always loved crayons and colored pencils and gadgets for drawing and playing. When I got that big box to share with my toddlers, we spent a lot of lavish going through the names of the colors....periwinkle, azure....what glorious names and glorious colors. We had lots of fun with those crayons. To this day, the bits and pieces are still in a box in our closet and we still use them when kids come over. Perhaps we ought to get them out now with most of the kids being adults and play again! Or maybe we all just moved on to big boxes of crayons in other mediums. I think mine is sewing and embroidery machines and the 830 is definitely on my wish list for the big box of crayons!

It isn't always about big boxes of crayons. I think there is a measure for good classics which brings me to my other favorite that I met at Bernina University. This is a sewing machine that inspired me by its beauty and its elegance. The White Pearl has many of the features of the Activa 230...with some added classy features such as the CFL light which is a must for all of our eyes. The White Pearl is wearing white buttons and a hand-painted image. With only 3,300 being painted in the world, we have ordered White Pearls for our store to have for not only those of us who want a classic that will be in limited quantity but also for that new sewer. Who of us can't remember her first sewing machine? I think the White Pearl is the machine that I would love to send with the young sewers I know into their future. My own daughters are in their early twenties and our youngest is 15. All three of the girls love their first Berninas; and even given the chance, have told us they will keep it forever as their first machine and pass it on to someone else. I have included information on the White Pearl on our web site. We have a great gift that will be going along with the White Pearl and they will be ready to start going home with you early this thinking of the holidays for yourself.

Can I be inspired by a sewing machine? Absolutely. The relationship with my sewing machine makes my ability to soar with my creativity limitless!


Monday, July 21, 2008

Kicking Up Our Heels!

The staff and I got back from our time at Bernina University. We had a great time kicking up our heels with our friends from Bernina and fellow dealers from across the country. Best of all, we got to get our hands on the new offerings Bernina has created in the 8-series machines. The news releases just hit the web sites. You will want to go to Bernina's web site to read and see it all. These machines will set the world aglow with creative inspiration. Watch our emails and publications to get your chance to try out these new technologies and learn more about the machine.

Another favorite sparkler in the offerings is the Bernina White Pearl machine. With only 3,300 of this Bernina White Pearl available, these will go fast. The machines are hand-painted and numbered. This rare gem will be available in our store soon and just made me want to hug her and bring her home. I want one for me! I think this is going to be a classic and will also be a great invitation to the young sewers....or those of us who think young (that would be you too!!).

While we were at Bernina University, we worked hard but we also had times to play. We got to go for an evening at the Jazz Museum and had a fabulous dinner there....Kansas City style....barbeque of course. We got to celebrate with Therese (our daughter and manager) and her husband Joel. Joel is joining Team Pine Needles as a technician. Training with Deb and Henry, Joel is learning fast. Joel has already declared that his personal sewing machine will be the new Bernina 830 machine. He got a chance to stitch out on it and is already loving the creative side of his job.

Along with the fun and the work, we got to celebrate with our friends Marcia Nagel and Suzie Diemer. Marcia and Tom Nagel, owners of Pine Needles of Cresco and Racine, were honored with the distinction of being designated as the 2008 District Dealer of the Year in our District. Pine Needles of Cedar Rapids began in Cresco and the Nagel family took over Pine Needles of Cresco in 2005 and expanded to Racine, MN. Their hard work and commitment to carry on the traditions that we began are commendable and we are so proud of this honor on their behalf. They have certainly earned this award. Congratulations from the Cedar Rapids team and our family.

As always, the sewing inspiration is my favorite part of Bernina University. Between the Fashion Show, the displays and the many new ideas from fabric designers, national educators and the teams of many companies, we come home exhausted but full of memories of ways to grow our creativity. When I got home tonight, I felt a bit frustrated that I was too exhausted to sew. So, for that weariness in my bones, I will just go to bed and dream of the things I saw and see where that takes my sewing experience for a more rested time to sew! I can't wait to see Therese's camera to capture her pictures as I know she has more to share with us!


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bernina University

Wow...I am in Kansas City at Bernina University. I have been telling people about the great time we had with Susan Cleveland recently. My brain is churning with inspirations I gained from listening to Susan and questions I have for her. I love it when a teacher comes in and causes me to wonder what I could be doing with my creative energies....and Susan surely did this to us at the store. There was so much incredible detail work in the Hot Piping Macaroni that not only inspired my creative energies for quilting but got my brain churning on garment applications. I also found myself dreaming of placemats with macaroni on it. What do you think?

Today I met with Linda Lee as well. She and I put our heads together and came up with some great plans for her trip to Iowa. Watch our next schedule to see the plans. We are so excited about our plans and you are going to love this day out with your friends...or come by yourself and be garment inspired.

Alex Anderson said to tell everyone HELLO and she along with so many designers, authors and corporate execs have asked about all of you affected by the recent weather. The country watched with shock. But, again and again, we heard people tell how they were confident that the Iowans were picking up and doing their best to help one another. It has been heartwarming to hear their concerns and reminds me all over again of how very proud of you I am that you have survived the flooding with dignity and very proud of those who are serving even this many weeks past the tragedy. What a great place to live and a great place to call home!

Wishing you All the Best, jill

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pillows and Comfort

Ready for a Color Journey with Me??
Along with being nurse-mom to Monica, I am helping her spruce up her new apartment. It has been fun making do with what she has because what she has is so much of what she has made! Check out these great pillows that were inspired by her journey into Amy Butler's book In Stitches. Pillows are fun to make and they go together so simply. In Amy's book, she has created a great explanation for how to make a button tufted pillow. When you go to our web site and study the books we have available, you will also see that our team has (with permission) been able to add pictures from the inside of a book. WOW....this is so helpful when I look through a book, I love to see what is inside and the Internet doesn't always make that so easy.

Therese has been playing back at the store with some photos from the store. She sent me this great picture that shows Fairy Dust in the background and a stunning image of the flowers at the store. We are fortunate to have our friends at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids bring us flowers every week for us to brighten your visit at the store. We love the florals they bring since they are such a great expression of florals typical of Iowa. We especially love them these days since the flowers from Brucemore are a good expression of Cedar Rapids motivation to re-build its beauty from the flooding.

When I went to their web site, I found a fascinating piece that describes Brucemore's efforts to educate the community about restoration of historic buildings as were affected by the recent flooding. Check them out.

Until I got this photograph, I hadn't really noticed how stunning the color shading can be in a tiger lily. I think we tend to shy away from using such vibrant coloration in our work. However, seeing the lilies in this image inspired me to also share the work I have been doing recently with the oranges, pinks, reds and yellows. I had started to dig through my scraps from several projects when I was working with the half yard cuts of bundles that I had been working out of for a couple of quilts you will be seeing soon in the store. I forced myself to ONLY use my scraps as I put this together. It is a little harder working from the outside to the inside on a quilt but the challenge is like reading the end of a book and then going back and trying to figure out how it attaches to the end. (If you understood all of that....consider yourself in MY universe.) Nonetheless, I am keeping my mind vibrant by going at creativity from every angle. Enjoy my vision of Tiger Lily...which is a batiks quilt that is like nothing you have seen. Of course, it doesn't match anywhere in my house. But it will always make me think of the Flood of 2008 as I had started cutting this out the first day we were hearing reports of the water.....for future reference, I will call that the F-word.....have we NOT hear enough about that nasty word. I will now only refer to flood in small letters for big actions....such as the flood of support and the flood of energy and the flood of empathy for those suffering through the tremendous loss. How appropriate that the vibrant colors of tiger will represent new hope and a new vision for Iowa as people recover. To that end, I will close with a couple of other pictures that we recently captured that show the beauty of these grand colors before I finish this quilt top. One is a raging fire in our fire pit and the other is the radiant sunset on the night we enjoyed the fire. Seems my Tiger Lily inspiration is about everywhere. Now I can see why I got so excited about playing with this color box of fabrics in batiks and others in the color wall. I can't wait to use the YLI Variations thread "Sunset" to quilt this.

If you haven't been inspired to machine quilt because you just can't get into meandering or stippling, you aren't alone. I used to struggle with this too. However, as I am piecing a quilt, I often let it speak to me as to that which I hope to pull forward in the design. The tiger lilies and the fire are actually great inspiration for design work in free motion quilting. As I work through machine quilting, I may actually use the tiger lily as a root for my initial design work and then use the flames of the fire as an inspiration for the fill stitches around the lilies. For me, meandering and stippling has never worked because it is a very short and abruptly changing design, which requires a lot of changes in directions....more movement in my shoulders and forearms. I prefer long swooping designs that don't require a lot of circular motion on the fabric as it is easier for me to sustain consistency in my design and keep from having to change directions. In short, I don't breath as much when I am having to swing the direction around 360-degrees for every inch of movement on my quilt. When I don't breath as much, I don't think well and my muscles don't work well for long periods of time. Machine quilting should be like a long leisurely jog and not a sprint. If it isn't that for you, come into the store and ask us to show you how to make it easier. I personally have developed a real love for machine quilting after I quit trying to do what everyone else does and do what works best for me.

I am off now to put more of my quilt together so that I can envision more of the quilting. Look around your world and see what colors are calling to you!
All the Best to You.....jill