Friday, March 26, 2010


Another (of the millions) of good things about retreat is that I realize that I probably am not as productive sewing around my world because what I sew really does take a lot of time. 

I have been working on applique with "You Can Build a Snowman."  I have loved every part of this work and am now down to doing the blanket stitch.  I discovered a cool tip quite by coincidence.  Each row of this piece is very wide and not very tall.  Applique on this long segments means I would be handling a lot of raw edges as I am doing all the turning.  I backed my row with the Aqua Clean & Tear (which will be perfect for this project as I don't want to stress my stitching by all the pulling).  As I cut off a loooong strip of stabilizer to back the row, it curled up and rolled the fabric into the roll.  When I "let" the fabric roll inside the stabilizer, I realized that the long ends were now protected as I worked on the inside of my now-scrolled row of fabric.  This is an amazing revelation and is doing a great job of protecting not only the raw edges of my applique but also the outer edge of my strip.

Another thing I tried out was that each row I cut was a different width.  I hate standing at the cutting table and having to try to read and sort out all those different measurements.  I usually then mis-cut one of them as I forget the number as my eyes go from the pattern to my fabric and ruler.  So....I took my pigma pen and WROTE the size of the piece I was to cut on the selvage of each of the strips.  Writing them on the selvage is just fine because when I finish the height and go to cut the width, I will be cutting the selvage off.  WOW.  How much easier that was!

Hope you are retreating and sewing at least an hour today!  All the Best to You, jill

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Did I Really Pack All THAT?

Hi ho...hi's off to retreat I go!!  Four days of sewing fun with my daughters and friends.  It does not get better than that.

I am not well-known for a lot of advance planning when I travel.  Being pretty low fuss, I am not terribly bothered by throwing everything in the suitcase the night before.  It seems if I start much earlier, I over-pack and over-fret.

However, when I considered this sewing retreat, I followed the advice of some very wise retreaters and did my cutting ahead and started the stacks of projects to pack.  I set them on a bench and just put them in a suitcase.  I was SURE that I had not over-packed and that I am absolutely going to get everything done this time.  Imagine my shock when I realized that AGAIN, I have filled an over-sized suitcase with projects.  I can ease my angst that some of this over-packing has batting in it.

We'll see how this trip goes.  I will post pictures of what I actually work on.  I consider a retreat successful not when I finish everything but that I TOUCH everything.  Some projects just need to be caressed and appreciated....and that might be enough for some of these beloved friends.

The precious applique piece you see in my suitcase is one of my favorite little patterns from The Country Quilter.  I have pulled together bundles of fabric for this adorable little quilt that I have loved for more than ten years.  I have saved this fun pattern that long for JUST THE RIGHT FABRIC.  Now to let the little planes SOAR!

All the Best to You, jill

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My Favorite Thing...

I have been sewing since the dawn of time...seriously.   My first machine was my mom's straight stitch Singer.  It had the curved wood carrying case, the first "portable machine" and was powered by a knee control.  It had no speed control, only did a straight stitch and didn't have a button holer or reverse stitching.   I made bound buttonholes for everything before I knew there were other options.  I sewed garments on that machine into my first year of college when I invested in a $200 machine that had my first zig-zag and buttonholer.  Since that time, I have owned most every sewing machine made.  It didn't take me long to realize that not all machines are created equally.

When I found my way to Bernina machines, I found a whole new world of performance.  While I will admit there were features on my other machines I thought I would miss, I realized that many of those "features" were actually compensations for  performance shortcomings.

Perhaps the first two biggest amaze-ments to me were the stitch motor performance and the true quarter inch.   When I sew decorative stitches with my Bernina, I don't need to shove or "help" my fabric through to make accurate stitches.   While some of this is needle performance and thread, more of it has to do with having a motor on the Bernina machines that can accurately truck the fabric through the feed-dogs evenly for the stitches to place as accurately as possible.  The other features on the Bernina that allow it to do this well are having presser foot pressure adjustment.  I can adjust the presser foot to be tighter or lighter against my fabric into the feed dogs.   But perhaps better than decorative stitching was how the motor would let me plow through bulky layers of fabric without binding up the machine or shoving the needle out of place.  WOW.

As for a quarter-inch, quilters have been sadly deluded with the concept of a "scant quarter inch".  Such a creature should not exist.  2.5" strip sewn to a 2.5" strip with a quarter inch measure, should be a 4.5" finished unit.  If you are still using a scant quarter inch, you are either using thread that is too thick causing the fabric to buckle over the threaded seam or you are using your iron as a "fix-it tool" shoving a pleat into your work.  Perhaps it is because we believe we are bad at math that we accept the "scant quarter inch", but it just is NOT necessary.  When I moved over from all my other machines that gave me a metric measured quarter inch with all kinds of adjustments to my Bernina, I realized something about the Bernina 1/4" measurements....they are accurate because they are NOT metric.  A "metric quarter inch" is an adjusted measurement.  There is not a metric measure that perfectly matches the English quarter inch.  (Don't you remember conversion charts for changing from English to metric....always leaving a hanging decimal point?!)  So, they tell you to move your needle out of center position to "adjust it more".    For all of you Singer Featherweight lovers, this is what will drive you crazy.  As soon as you move your needle out of center position, you are putting a zig in the back of your fabric because your needle is now having to reach over to pick up the bobbin thread.  Throwing more thread into your seam causes as much mess as heavy thread.

At any rate, when I first started piecing, I had moved from my college machine to my first "big kid machine".  Having been a pretty good garment sewer, I figured how tough could a quarter inch be.  It WAS tough.  As much tape as I adhered to my machine and contortions as I tried,  I couldn't get an accurate quarter inch.   I bought every foot I could find from thick plastic boys to every metal foot I could rig onto my machines.  Then I went the route of talking to machine dealers who each convinced me my issue was my machine and I kept moving machines.   At one point, I even owned a couple of Featherweights.  While cute and charming and good stitchers, I was too accustom to computerized features such as needle up and down and more to stay friends with an FW for long.   Of course, I loved the journey as I learned so much about not just quilting but much more.

Then I met Bernina machines for piecing and the magic began.  I didn't have to stick my tongue out and hold it with my teeth to get an accurate stitch.  My Bernina machines have the 1/4" tooled to fit the ENGLISH quarter inch....just as I am cutting....with an English system.   Yes, I thought the whole world would be metric by now....but it isn't and I am glad because I have too much invested in yards of fabric to switch metric and now that my quarter inch is happy, I am happy.

What is your FAVORITE FEATURE of Bernina machines?  Tell Bernina via their blog.  They will be selecting winners from those who COMMENT on their blog.    Feel free to comment on my blog too.  I like to hear from you and hear about your sewing journey.

All the Best to You, jill to find the Bernina blog?  CLICK HERE  (You will need to go to the blog for March 10, 2010 and post by the date to be eligible to win.)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Secret to Finishing Your Studio

There are THREE SECRETS to finishing your studio.
1.  Have company come....soon.
My son called four days ago to tell me he was coming Friday night and was bringing friends and they were staying overnight as they are enroute to southern Iowa.  Oh yeah...."could you make food, Mom?  I think about 12 of us will be staying.   We can sleep anywhere--don't worry."   (We had 14 of the most gracious, appreciative house guests I have ever enjoyed.)
Then Darling Husband asks if I could clear the pool table because he will surely want to take some of these people on in a game of pool.  The pool table infringes on my studio taking up the better portion of the center of the room.   However, this has always been the case and generally the vantage point has educated me greatly with the continuing education I get as I am privileged with a silent spot in the room as I listen to the goings on that are typical of a pool hall.  Besides, in its off-season, a pool table serves as a very fine horizontal design wall for laying out a quilt top or studying a large array of fabrics.  Very easy clean up with an upholstery vacuum tool.   Tragically my own billard skills don't advance past those  I acquired as a five-year-old rolling the balls to the pockets without a pool cue (we weren't allowed to play with them!)

With the mountain of fabric and notions under, on top of and in every walkable space of the room, I was doomed.  My last cabinets had arrived but I wasn't planning to open them until Henry returned from a trip to Minnesota on Friday (at the earliest).

While panic should set in, a familiar calm engulfed me.  Once again, a deadline would serve as my motivator.  If you are not familiar with this emotional status because you are an orderly person who always holds a tightly planned schedule, you might be missing the grand rush of adrenaline against the impossible.  Mountains aren't so challenging to climb once you realize there is much to be seen from the vantage point of the top.  However, pushing oneself out of the recliner and into hiking boots is often the most difficult step to climbing any mountain.  The wisdom of aging has brought less anxiety to these challenges because there are secrets I have learned along the way.  The first secret is ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE OF "COMPANY IS COMING."

I have even had houseguests visit when I was in the middle of painting a whole level of the house.  You know you have real friends when you can push aside paint cans and drop cloths and serve a meal.  Either that, or those people you had over for dinner while painting the house will have a doozy of a story to tell THEIR other friends.

When the deadline of guests coming or an event happening is upon us, we tend to get realistic about what we can accomplish and what might need to put aside for another time.  In this scenario, at the very least, I had to get the pool table cleared off.   Worst case scenario, I would clear a path around the pool table, vacuum it and shove everything else against the walls of the perimeter.  Had I had only a few hours, THAT is the exact path I'd have taken.

I had all the tools to get this job done, I had just been procrastinating and needed a good reason to get moving.  Didn't really want to dig through all that stuff.  But once I got rolling, it got easier and easier to decide what to keep, what to toss and what to shelf.  I also am not real torn up that it isn't all sorted.  I am not a real alphabetizing sorta girl when it comes to my toys.   Actually, I think I just try to keep organized enough to find things and not seem totally out of sorts in my days.

2.  Once your attitude is adjusted on the reality of the challenge ahead, recruit some help or relinquish some of the tasks.  Living with a man who believes that saving everything for someday is sacred, I have learned that Henry is not the person to recruit on my sorting forays.  He is not interested in tossing or giving away stuff.  Generally, I take these journeys on my own and then wave my hands at the miracle while he looks around for what treasures I might have taken to the curb.

When our kids were younger, I would pick up and box all the things to donated.  Then I would tape the boxes shut for about six weeks.  If anyone in the house could tell me something that was in the box that they are sure they couldn't live without, I would retrieve it and they could keep it forever.  Years of doing this and no one knew what was in those boxes.  I sorted through all the kids' toys and books when Katrina hit New Orleans, taping up six boxes of treasure and setting them in the family room through the holidays.  The kids relinquished quickly after making sure I'd saved favorite books, Legos and precious toys and the secured boxes happily went to an elementary school that lost everything in the hurricane.

Our daughters pitched in and helped me with generous abandon.  They've helped me before and quickly realized that taking Mom's stuff home to add to their own stacks is fraught with disaster as they have enough sewing stuff as well to manage.  Consequently, they are eager and able recruits for such a journey.  They managed to help me vision the rest of the studio, setting up the last of the shelves and sorting through mounds of inspiration. 
 Secret so important....

Then there comes that moment in time when you just have to pick up the last of the stuff and stuff it away for later decision making.  It seems this is the "stuff" that defies definition or structure.   At this point, you realize, you are looking at hours of painful decisions...  "Why did I keep this?"  "What do I do with it now?"  "Oh, I SHOULD start this again..."  If you let it, this could be paralyzing and exhausting.  So, I suggest you look for the nearest closet or deserted room.  Grab laundry baskets or boxes and use your grocery packing skills to put sturdy stuff in the bottom and fragile stuff in the top and stash and stow away all of it.  Like a good stew, these things need some simmering time.

When I go to "rescue" these orphans later, I will plan to do it one box at a time.  Each time I go into my studio, I will pull one out.  If I still feel anxious when I look at it, I will shove it back in the storage for a while.  If I have an idea of what to do with it, I will sort it and find it easier to deal with than the panic of "I have no idea." 

Perhaps the best part of setting things aside for "decisions later" is that giving yourself some time affords good perspective.  You realize that you may never macrame again in your lifetime and readily give those supplies to a school art program.  Or you realize that you can re-purpose that macrame cord for use with a double piping foot and make a rug out of it.

I recently found a massive chenille throw that I was going to make and had about 40 rows sewn.  I grew tired of it and it travelled from box to box.  Recently a new technique piqued my interest and I have figured out a fabulous use for it to sit atop a great throw or a child's garments.....All the Best to You....jill

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Should Be Enough!

For those of you who have been asking me about the progress of my studio, I have exciting news.  I think I finally picked up TOO MANY shelves.  In my hunt high and low for enough shelves with the right configuration, I decided on a unit with cubbies rather than wide shelves.  I am today sorting through the books putting them in some general search-able order.  I would never alphabetize them as I would never look for them that way.  The older I get I am quite content to be able to remember my own name, I'd hate to think I need to remember book titles besides don't most of us remember them by "the one with the purple cover and the handbag over in the corner"?

My favorite publishers are getting their own spaces.  The oldies....classics get their own cubbies.  My knitting books get their own space.  The magazines I save are finally coming out of their holders and will get their own space.  I don't save all magazines but tend to roll back through ones like Cloth, Paper, Scissors and Quilts and More and Quilt Sampler. 

Another feature I added was deep drawers on the bottoms of my shelves that I have a place for patterns.  Again, those are sorted out by types of patterns.....I have a pretty big miscellaneous stack.  That will always be a fun one to dig through.  

I selected white shelving as a nice contrast against my wood laminate flooring and my cherry Koala Studios.  I am loving this room more and more.

Today I am home with no voice (or rather what I have is an ugly sound)....nasty cold has me drinking tea with lemon and lots of water.  Too much talking with my d. friends over the weekend....what a fun party that was (thanks, Les!)  My d. friends don't sew.  I was quite surprised to hear that a few of you read my blog.  The offer still stands, girlfriends, I WILL teach you.  My sewing friends are quite happy and this is a great hobby as many of you are enjoying new grandbabies.    All the best to you, jill