Monday, December 29, 2008

A Little Coaxing

That's usually what I need to get myself to try something new, even if the something new was my idea. About a month ago I bought a light box kit. Basically this entailed a portable light box, a pair of lights and a tripod. The plan was to start using this set-up to take product pictures for my store. I brought the box into my studio with the intention to start using it right away. And that's pretty much as far as it went. Until today. I'm going to be taking some of the pictures for my book and it dawned on me that maybe I should learn how to use the light box. All I can say is, "What took me so long?"

This thing is amazing. The colors are so true and I didn't even set up in an especially dark room.

I've been making some new items for a shop update next week and I'm so glad that I finally decided that the time had come to try out the light box.

Monday, December 15, 2008

They're Off!

Today was a big day for me and the pony express. I mailed not one, but two significant packages. One box contained all the projects for my book. They're off to California to be photographed. The other had the Twinkle quilt. I'm glad I mailed these items on the same day because for me they're connected.
When I was first commissioned to make Twinkle, a big part of me wondered what the hell I was doing. I'd made a few big quilts before, but not in this pattern. Could I really dye all those circles? Did I have the discipline to stay with such a huge project? And I asked the same questions when I first took on this book project. Now, the book project is not quite done and I'm way too superstitious to say otherwise, but I have met my deadlines so far and I'm feeling pretty good about the process.
As for Twinkle...well here it is... all done.

Both these projects have taught me that it's important to pursue every opportunity because you never know what it might lead to or how it might push you out of your comfort zone.

Several of you have asked me if I'll be sad to see this quilt go, but I'm really not. I can honestly say that this has been so much more about the process than the product.
That's true for the book project as well. I've discovered new interests and abilities and even a few new limitations. But, that too, is the point of pushing your personal boundaries. It just makes you feel like you're really living and growing, no matter your age. Which, in my case, is not that old.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Binding is the New Yoga

I hope that's not an especially polarizing statement. I mention this because I don't think I've ever met a quilter who expressed a positive opinion of binding a quilt. As recently as a couple of days ago, a friend grimaced as she mentioned that, though she was very pleased with her latest quilt, she still had to bind it and what a drudgery that was. I'm not going to even pretend that I understand this perspective on binding. I've got sympathy, but no real empathy.
I really like binding quilts. And, who knows, maybe I really like doing a lot of things that most folks would find tedious. Because I prefer to think of myself as a relatively normal person, I don't delve too deeply into this issue. But, I stand by what I said, I like binding quilts.

Actually I find it pretty darn relaxing. There's something about gathering a quilt on your lap and slowly, patiently hand stitching the binding. I sometimes think of it as reconnecting with the quilt. Think about it. Everything else about making a quilt has been done, at least in my case, by machine. This is the one job associated with this process that doesn't require electricity.

It also never fails to make me feel connected to the way quilts have been made for generations. I think that's pretty powerful and really quite comforting. And maybe that's why I always feel calm when I'm binding a quilt. I'm slowing down to work at a pace that for better or worse belonged to a bygone era. I'm reconnecting by taking the stitches one at a time the way they used to.

It's a vacation from my usual pace and that's why I like binding quilts.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Adventures in Long Arm Quilting

When we first moved into our current house, I scoffed at the fact that it had an automatic garage door opener. My contention was that I'd lived my entire life without this superfluous bit of technology and I didn't think I needed it now. I was wrong. A fact that became incredibly apparent to me the first time it poured down rain and I didn't have to get drenched in the process of opening the garage.
Well, I'm here to eat a bit of humble pie as regards long arm quilting machines. I can't tell you how many times I went to Quilt Festival and laughed at the vendors selling these machines. "Why on earth would you need this machine?" I argued. I can quilt anything on my trusty sewing machine. Sure it might take me a little longer and maybe it will be a little more cumbersome, but the net effect is the same, right? Wrong.
Over the past 3 days, I have machine quilted 2 very large quilts on a rented long arm machine and I can proudly proclaim that I'm a different person. It's like that scene in the Ten Commandments where Charleton Heston/Moses descends the mountain after his encounter with the burning bush and his face has completely changed. I am a new woman. A new long arm machine loving woman.

Although both quilts took me about 5 hours a piece to quilt, that is a fraction of the time they would have taken on a standard sewing machine.

Add to that the fact that there is no basting involved. No moving furniture so that I can attempt to smoothly layout the backing and batting and then spend the next three hours scooting around on my bottom basting the quilt.

And the piece de resistance, no puckering in back. As long as you carefully wind the backing on to the machine, you will have a perfectly smooth back.
This is, without a doubt, the greatest thing since sliced bread and way cooler than the garage door opener.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Last Seam

First things first. I have to thank all of you who wrote such nice, heart warming comments to me about the Quilting Arts article. It's been wonderful to see my work in print, but it's beyond great to be able to share it with others and to feel their enthusiasm and support. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Yep! It's been sewn(visual evidence provided below).

And here it is all laid out on my bed.

Well maybe not all laid out because this is king size and our bed is a common double, but you get the picture. I had a minor panic attack earlier in the day when I seemed to have mislaid a couple of blocks, but, after some well chosen curse words (the kind I tell my kids not to use), I found the missing pieces and finished the sewing.

I purchased the backing fabric a week or so ago and the other day bought the batting. I ended up buying batting that was sized as "generous queen", but I'm having second thoughts and may run to the store to purchase a certified king size batting.

Sunday I'm quilting this on a rented long arm. Monday, I'll finish the binding. And then it will just be a matter of mailing it to it's new home. I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cover Girl

I've never been a cover girl before and I guess technically I'm still not, but can I fudge it a little now that my quilt is on the cover of the December/January issue of Quilting Arts Magazine?

See. There are my little twinkle circles.
A couple of months ago the editor, Pokey Bolton, contacted me and asked me if I had any ideas for articles. The first thing that came to mind was to write about the process I use to make my twinkle circles. I've had a lot of folks ask me about this and it's a technique that I've turned to off and on for several years, but recently I've used it a lot on commercial fabric. The technique itself is not new or exclusive to me, but I felt like I had a perspective on it that I wanted to share.

I wrote about the process and included a few examples of finished work. I even got to include some of my process shots. For some strange reason I really liked these photos. Not because they're particularly good images, but rather because they were taken in my dye studio. When I first saw the pictures I called one of my girls over to look at the pictures. "Look,"I said,"in the background you can see our door and, way over in the corner, almost out of the frame, you can make out the handle of that broom we never seem to throw out." No one else in my family got a kick out of these pictures, but I did.
One of the best parts of writing this article was the writing itself. I was frankly taken aback by how much I enjoyed putting pen to paper or more accurately digit to keyboard. I was also a little surprised that I could put together coherent sentences. Having spent the better part of 17 years speaking primarily to children I'm shocked that I didn't describe at least one thing as "so cool" or pepper my text with the word "freaking".
Another amazing highlight was finding out that my quilt was going to be on the cover. When I went to quilt festival in Houston, I stopped by the Quilting Arts booth. I knew I would get a chance to see a copy of Stitch and I thought I might have an opportunity to meet some of the folks who worked on the magazine. Thankfully they were all wearing name tags, so I approached Pokey Bolton, introduced myself and was very warmly greeted. Then she told me the big news. I was floored. It has taken the most amazing amount of willpower not to talk about it, but once my copies came in the mail I knew that the magazine would be on the newsstands very soon.

I won't deny that I'm prone to hyperbole but this freaking cool!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Just a few more

I had to move the furniture and stand on a step ladder to take this photo, but I managed to get the entirety of the twinkle quilt in this shot. That's no mean feat when you factor in that I have ten foot ceilings. Just positioning the top row of blocks requires that I stand on the top rung of my step ladder, stretch out as far as my 5'3" frame will allow me, slap the block on to the felt wall and smooth it out with a ruler. I just plain can't reach the top. All the edge blocks are just pinned onto a corner of the felt board. This baby is big. But boy am I happy with how it has come together. As of this writing I have about 40 more circles to make. That means I've already made 714.
On the one hand I can't believe I said I would make something so labor intensive, but on the other hand I'm so glad I did. While it's nice to make small, quick pieces there's something deeply satisfying about working on a piece that feels expansive and ambitious. I usually don't have a problem sending my work on to new homes, but I'll be a little sad to see this piece go. I know I can make another, but for now I also know that this is probably the best quilt I've ever made. That is if all goes well with the quilting. I'm pretty optimistic about that as I've done the training on a long arm machine and set up an appointment to come in and quilt.
For now I have the last of the circles and some piecing left. Though there too I'm glad I didn't just make a pile of circles, but pieced periodically as I dyed. It gave me the opportunity to see the quilt top come together and I don't have a huge, daunting task waiting.
I'm planning more pictures when the top is completed and, of course, a few more shots once it's all completed.
So, stay tuned...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Winners and More

Wow! There are a lot of you interested in Stitch. I had a lot of fun reading your comments and was frankly kind of surprised by how many of you couldn't find the magazine locally.
Anyway, courtesy of, we have two winners:
Jeni said...

Me, me, pick me! Love your blog and that mag looks great. :-)

November 14, 2008 2:37:00 PM CST

Micheala said...

Beautiful sweater! I once started knitting myself a vest (I was probably 11 or 12, by the time I finished it was too small already. Here goes my knitting.

November 14, 2008 4:31:00 PM CST

Jeni and Michaela: Email me your addresses and I'll get your magazines to you ASAP. My email is

Other than reading your comments, or should I say in between reading your comments, I've been finishing up a few projects.
I finished knitting the second sleeve on my February Lady Sweater and it's now blocking. I hope to attach the buttons tomorrow and have pictures of the completed cardigan in a few days. I also made some pillow covers for a wonderful customer. I've mentioned before that she has quite the amazing collection of Oillily fabrics and I've made several items from that collection before. These are the latest.

I especially like the pieced backs on these pillow covers and the little embroidered Oillily ladybug.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sweater Update and Giveaway

I don't write a lot about knitting. That's primarily because I don't do all that much knitting. But I like to knit and I like wearing and giving knitted items and I like to use knitting as a distraction from what I really should be doing. So, there's been some knitting going on here.
In the heat of the summer I bought some yarn to make the February Lady Sweater and oftentimes that's where the project ends. This time though things seem( I say cautiously) different. Hey, don't take my word for it. I have evidence.

I have one sleeve to finish and then it's ready to be blocked. I've already bought the buttons.

If you live in Austin or are visiting and want to be amazed, startled, brought to your knees by beautiful buttons(and who doesn't want to be brought to their knees by buttons), then you've got to stop by Silk Road . They have these amazing antique display cases filled with buttons unlike any you've ever seen. Seriously, you're not going to run into buttons like these at Joann's. Go ahead, buy a plane ticket and come into to town to eat Tex-Mex at Guerro's and buy buttons at Silk Road.
Before you do either of those things though, leave a comment and I'll enter you in my giveaway of these:

I got three complimentary copies of Stitch. Impatience led me to buy a copy at the store and my Mom only needs one to add to her collection of everything I've done since second grade, so that leaves me with two extra. And who better to share them with than you. Any comments between now(11:33 CST) and Sunday at 6:00pm CST will be entered in the drawing. I'll announce the winners on Monday.
Happy Weekending!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I couldn't help myself. I didn't go there planning to buy it, but it just happened.
I was in the bookstore the other day and browsing the magazines when I saw a copy of Quilting Arts Stitch. I already mentioned that I had a design in the premiere issue of this magazine and, in fact, I'd seen the magazine at Quilt Festival. I resisted buying a copy then because I knew that as a contributor I would get a few complimentary copies along with my quilt when it was returned. But something about it staring at me on the magazine rack got the better of me and before I knew it I was buying it.

I'm not going to lie to you, I think the magazine looks fabulous and not just because I happen to have a design included. I'm especially in love with the feature on modern skirts and am planning to make at least two of the designs. By the way, the magazine includes the patterns for the skirts so you don't have to purchase anything additional.

My quilt had a lovely spot on the contents page as well as being part of a feature on patchwork alongside several other terrific projects.
I had written some incredibly lengthy instructions which they managed to condense into something a lot more understandable and drawn up quite a few sets of templates. It's very complicated to explain to someone how to do something improvisationally in a way that allows them to repeat it.

The quilt that I sent to Stitch was a re-creation of a quilt I made a while back.

The original was smaller than this version and featured exclusively hand dyed fabrics. Also the green and black checkered sections were made with discharged cottons. In the remake I pieced the checkered sections so that the quilt could be made by others.
Both versions were inspired by a wonderful book that I've owned for many years called Traditional Indian Textiles . If you can flip through this book and not be amazed by the fiber goodness coming out of the Indian subcontinent then you're probably unconscious.

Here's a view of the traditional Indian chakla or quilt that inspired my chakla.
Oh, so beautiful!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Too Tired to Twinkle

Personally that is. I stayed up way too late last night watching election results to sparkle much this morning, but several of you asked for more pictures of my soon-to-be-finished(Yay!) Twinkle King size quilt.

I'm still making circles, but it's too big to fit on my design wall and a little difficult to photograph.

This Sunday I'm getting some training on a long arm machine and I've already scheduled the time for quilting this piece. The woman I found charges a set price for an initial class and then you can rent the machine by the hour. I'm incredibly happy and relieved that I've decided to quilt this baby with a long arm. Frankly just the thought of the hours it was going to take me to baste it was making my head spin and my butt hurt( I usually baste big quilts on the floor).

I also wanted to let you all know about a feature and interview the folks over at NC Triangle Street Team posted about me and my work. Thanks so much Carolyn! You can check that out here .

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Vini, vidi, vinci

I came, I saw, I conquered. Well, not exactly conquered, but I did go and see....Quilt Festival in Houston that is. I wasn't planning on going this year because I've got so much work I didn't think I could afford to take the day off. Thursday was the only day I could go and I wasn't relishing driving to Houston and back in one day. But I came home from swim team that morning and declared to Abi, " Karpe diem!"(notice the Latin theme). She replied,"Huh?"(Latin's pretty much Greek to her) and I explained that we were heading to Quilt Festival.

Look how happy she is to be at Festival.

I've been going to festival for several years and what struck me about this year was a feeling that there were fewer vendors and attendees. Maybe it was just Thursday's crowd, but there just seemed to be more room in the aisles. I was also struck by how many companies were selling long arm quilting machines. I don't think I've ever seen more vendors offering these. In the past the idea of a long arm has always perplexed me. Why would you want a machine that takes up an entire room? How many large quilts would you need to make to justify this thing? Well this year I found myself inquiring about long arms. I've got several large quilts to quilt in the next few months and the thought of quilting them on my Bernina is really daunting. Also, salesman Mark at I-don't-remember-the-name-of-the-company company showed me a long arm that could be easily assembled and disassembled in 15 minutes. Suddenly, a long arm seemed like something I might be interested in.
Raise your hand if you knew that a basic long arm costs $7,000. I didn't. I thought it might run $1,000, maybe $2,000. Imagine my shock when salesman Mark quoted me the price and told me that it was a show special. I walked away claiming I would think about it, but that was just to make salesman Mark feel better about his selling prowess. Instead I've decided to rent time on a long arm locally.
Since I didn't have to figure out how I would cram a long arm quilting machine into the trunk of my Toyota Corolla I had room to bring this little dandy home.

I purchased it at ROM Woodworking and it's going to change my life or at least organize my thread.

It's called a thread barrel and has 72 dowels that once assembled by a willing, hammer-toting 11-year old can be mounted on a wall.

Isn't it pretty?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My October Surprise

I'm not running for President so my October surprise won't affect next week's election, but it is pretty significant around here. A while back I mentioned that I had a big announcement to make this fall. And last week I told you all about one of my designs being published in the new Quilting Arts magazine, Stitch. Well today the editor wrote me and told me that the magazine is being introduced at the Houston Quilt Festival this week and has already been shipped to independent fabric and quilt stores. This has prompted me to reveal my exciting news because I included this bit of information in my bio for the article. Several of you already guessed my news, but for those who haven't or don't even know what I'm talking about, I'm writing a book. The focus of this book is patterning and dyeing fabric with wax resist and will include projects as well. I've been steadily working on writing instructions for the various projects and am just about ready to start on the technique chapters. The book is slated to be published by Lark Books in the Fall of 2009.
At first this felt like a huge project, too huge really. But my editor has broken it down into smaller, more manageable pieces, so I'm down to just one anxiety attack per day. Actually, I'm really enjoying the process and am excited to discover something new that I like to do. Part of the reason I felt emboldened to take on this project had to do with the many times folks have asked me how I make my fabrics. The interest in this process that I've discovered here and on flickr has made me feel like I had something I wanted to share and that others were interested. I am truly grateful for the interest you all have shown and the kind words you've sent my way.
This process has affected what I work on and what I photograph and, to a great degree, what images I post here and on flickr. But I can't imagine a post without a photo so...

This beauty is called Bat Face Cuphea. Do you see the bat's face? I love this plant and it's blooming in my garden, like it always does this time of year. Perfect for Halloween.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Little Bits

I don't have loads to say tonight but wanted to post these pictures of my newest quilt. I also wanted to let you all know about a new, special issue publication from the folks at Quilting Arts Magazine. The magazine is called Stitch and is a," a special issue devoted to the creative possibilities of sewing wearables, home decor, accessories, and gifts." I'm really excited to have one of my designs included in this issue. It won't be available on the newsstands until November 11, but is available for pre-order here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New and new to me

Being an inherently lazy housekeeper I often stack things at the base of the steps with the intent of putting them in their proper place,"next time I go upstairs". Now if I were to determine how often I ascend the stairs by the frequency with which these items are put away, I'd have to assume that I never go upstairs. Well, last night I did go upstairs and, this time, with an armload of things. Abi accompanied me and asked me what I was putting away.
There were...

new-to-me vintage buttons from my favorite junk store (I can't even count the number of times I dumped these buttons out of the bag to get this shot) . The lady at the store bagged them for me in what she described as a "vintage popcorn bag".

Another new item that ascended to the second floor and therefore closer to my sewing machine was new fabric.

I bought these from Purl Patchwork and spent more per yard then I think I've ever spent. But these are so worth it. They are Japanese imports and are so amazingly beautiful that I worry I won't be able to go back to $8/yard fabric let alone buy from the remnant section.

I'm even in love with the selvedges.
The black and white print is slated for another Amy Butler Anna Tunic/Dress for myself and the fabric with the fabulously delicate drawings printed on it is a future dress for Abi.
The third item I hauled up the stairs last night was a bag of vintage patterns from the same junk store. No "fancy" packaging for these patterns, but no matter.

This is the pattern for Abi's dress. She's very excited about it and I'm so grateful for that. She's my youngest and the only one who'll even go to the junk store with me let alone want a vintage dress sewn from Japanese fabric. And she's also the only one that would even notice that I actually made a dent in the various piles at the base of the stairs.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

All Dressed Up

I've been on a bit of a rampage lately. It seems like every other day I'm swept away by a desire to sew a garment, mostly for myself, of course. First there was my foray into my most beloved pattern, Burda 7798. I made it as a top, then a dress, then (here's the revelation part) another dress, then another dress for my middle girl and yet another for my daughter's friend. Yes, that's right, I love this dress so much that I'm making it for somebody else's daughter. And don't think I haven't tried to convince my eldest that she would look fabulous in one of these dresses. "Just pick out some fabric," I plead, " I'll even pay for it." So far she's resisting me. But that's OK because while she ponders whether or not she wants us to appear in public sporting identical frocks, I've been busy making Amy Butler's Anna Tunic as a dress.

The pattern can be made as a cami, tunic, or dress. I opted for the latter and I'm very happy with the final product. I'm definitely making this pattern again, though I did find the dress a little big and will probably size the pattern down to the small size. I've made another Amy Butler pattern before and am so impressed with the detailed instructions and the attention to ensuring that the item is beautifully crafted both inside and out. Her patterns are more expensive that most, but absolutely worth it.

I've also recently sewn the Built by Wendy pattern, Simplicity 3835, again, surprisingly, as a dress. Here too I'd made the top and decided to tackle the dress. I opted to keep the raglan sleeves rather than the sleeves/neck finishing that the pattern calls for. This dress is OK, but not a stunner. I can see wearing it to putter around, but I'm not wowed with the results. I'm not as down on it as my eldest, who described it as a nightgown, but I'm not bubbling over with excitement.

Despite any disappointments I'm so enjoying making these that I seem to be spending a fair amount of time trying to figure out when I can squeeze in a few minutes to cut out the next pattern. In fact I was looking through some of the pattern books the other day and was elated to see so many wonderful dress patterns. I am obviously not done with this particular obsession.