My Top Ten Sewing Studio Hacks

Do you have tips, techniques, tools or hacks that make life in your sewing space easier or more efficient for you? Here are some of my favorites… please share yours in the comments!

1. Table Extensions

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Whether you sink your machine into some kind of sewing furniture (I use both the Janome Table and the Sew-Ezi table), or spring for the portable extension for your machine, having the bed of your machine extended across a table will allow you sew with more accuracy. The table gives you space to line up and straighten out your fabric before it reaches the needle.

2. Velcro on the Foot Pedal

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I sew on carpet, so my foot pedal is fond of going walkabout. A chunk of the hook side of sticky-back Velcro allows it to get a grip on the carpet. Your space isn’t carpeted? Try a decent sized square of the rubber mat sold for lining cupboards (I carry one in my portable kit so that if I sew somewhere else I’m ready for either).

3. Noodle on the Knee Lift

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The bigger machines of today all have knee lifts, and as the machine throats (or Harp Space, if we’re getting technical) get bigger, the knee lift gets further out to the right. Reaching it can be a bizarre form of inner thigh stretch. Buy a pool noodle that has a big hole through the middle, saw off a chunk (a bread knife is perfect for this) and slide/tug/push it on. It will bring the knee lift edge closer to you, and you won’t have mismatched thighs! Bonus: One pool noodle will get you three or four pieces so share with a friend!

4. Different Rotary Cutters for Different Uses

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I keep a selection of cutters around so that I can make it easily through different techniques. The 60mm one is for batting, fusible fleece, and when I’m cutting through more than 4 layers of fabric. I have an extra 45mm one specifically for cutting paper, or trimming paper pieced blocks (this gets my older blades). The 28mm is for smaller pieces and curved templates.

5. Cone Stand Hack

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Don’t have a cone stand? Do this instead… Grab a big coffee mug or a big canning jar. The base of the cup or jar needs to be bigger than the spool’s base or it will wedge. If using the jar, go wide-mouth so you can get your hand in if needed. Pop the thread into it and set it up next to your machine. Tape a safety pin (closed, sharp point down) to the edge of your machine such that you can go from the jar into your thread path in as straight a line as possible. Thread through the end hole in the safety pin and into the thread path.

6. Slider on the Machine

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Cover the path to the needle of your machine with a chunk of Supreme Slider (I had a damaged one that I cut in half for this). It will help stop seams from flipping the wrong way underneath as you come into the needle. For paper-piecing, it helps the paper slide across the machine bed, and stops the dreaded flip of the underneath piece. Tip: rinse the slider off at the beginning of every sewing session to keep it sticking on the bed.

7. Needle Threader

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If you can see to thread a needle easily, huzzah! File this away for the day after your 40th birthday for when, suddenly, your arms need to be longer to read anything. This little goody is the Desk Needle Threader made by Clover. Put the needle in eye down, lay thread across the path, push the lever, pull out the threaded needle. It also has a cutter across the top so you don’t have to risk your scissors to the capriciously enforced rules of the TSA.

8. Sticky Notes

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Do you go back to same machine settings over and over? Keep them close by on sticky-notes. I also use them to mark cuts of fabric when I need to keep it all straight.

9. Zippy Bags

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I use these relentlessly to corral projects and their parts. Being as I paper-piece a lot of words (and always precut for them), I bag the parts for each word as I’m cutting. I play a lot less 52-pick-up when I move things around in bags.

10. Tweezers

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I keep two sets on hand – one has teeth in the tip, the other has flat ends. I use the first mostly for pulling paper out of paper-pieced seams, and the flat ones for pulling up threads at the machine.

11. Non-sticky Hand Lotion

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Fabric will steal the moisture from your hands, so I use these little tins of hand lotion bars. Lavishea and LoLo Bar make my two faves, and I like the citrusy smells. Dump the bar into your hands, give it a quick rub, pop it back into the tin, and massage the lotion into your hands. Neither of these products leave a sticky residue! Bonus: when your hands have some moisture, you’ll be able to grip the fabric better, and pick up single pieces from stacks.

12. Scrap Pillow Case

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No matter how many scraps you keep, there’s still a point at which you’ll toss out the smallest bits of fabric. Put together a simple pillow case from that “what was I thinking?” fabric you bought a while back, and throw your scraps into it. When it’s full, run a sturdy seam down the edge, and drop it by your local animal shelter next time you’re out running errands.

Ooops – that was twelve! No matter!

Please share your fave tips in the comments.

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WASWI: Quilters Newsletter Magazine talks about Value

The conversation about what are quilts are worth has reached one of the big guns, Quilters Newsletter Magazine! The Aug/Sept 2014 issue includes a very sharp article titled “What’s Your Quilt Worth?” It begins on page 38.

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Gigi Khalsa interviewed several industry professionals, including yours truly, and put together a well informed article stuffed with facts, opinions, and “behind the green curtain” advice.

  • Nancy Henry talks about the business arc of her Etsy shop, nhquiltarts.
  • Samantha Harvey of Sami’s Quilts and Crafts discusses the formulae she uses rigorously to price quilts. “Quilters who undercharge make it harder for anyone to get a fair price.” Woman after my own heart!
  • Katie Ringo of Katie’s Quilting Corner gives strong commission advice. She also says “Educate your buying public.” Right on.
  • Patricia L. Cummings of Quilter’s Muse Publications reminds us that the price of a quilt should include the wear and tear on our tools and machines, and the power to run them.
  • Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry discusses the price-per-square foot formula she uses (similar to a lot of fine art painters). She also talks about correct pricing when a gallery carries your work. Never undercut your gallery!
  • LUKE Haynes also uses a pricing formula, but he talks about his long toil in the trenches to build a body of work at prices that cover a living wage.
  • Carol Ann Waugh of aBuzz Gallery discusses the difficult job of competing with cheaply made imports.
  • And I talk, as always, about my belief that if we all work on this together, we will all benefit from it.

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That’s me, in the opening paragraph! I’m the closer too!

From the core of my being, I believe that We Are $ew Worth It. And I hope you’ll join me in that.

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Quilt! Knit! Stitch! Come see me there!

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Portland (Oregon) is hosting Quilt! Knit! Stitch! here August 14-16 at the Convention Center. This is a new type of show, catching all the needle skills in one place, and I think it will be a feast of new ideas!

I’m thrilled to be on the faculty, teaching two different classes – check them out and hurry over to the enrollment link (look for Online Enrollment in the middle of the page) if you’re interested in coming to play with me. Online enrollment ends in a couple weeks so don’t dally. I will be there EVERY DAY teaching, demo-ing or lecturing:

#304 – Learn to Paper Piece. Saturday August 16th, 9am to Noon.

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Learn to paper-piece while making the top of this LOVEly wall hanging (15” x 17”). The provided kit includes patterns on three different types of paper for you to test, pre-cut fabric for easy piecing, and clear written instructions for putting the top together. Baby Lock is providing machines for this class so you just need to show up with some cutting tools. BONUS: Megan Dougherty, The Bitchy Stitcher is my class minion helper for this session, so come meet her too!

#311 – No Fear Thread Painting. Saturday August 16th, 2pm to 5pm.

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Learn to thread paint (by machine) over a drawing using the basic art principles of shading and value. No drawing skills needed – truly! Baby Lock is supplying the machines for this session also. I’m bringing the drawings and stabilizers for you to play with, and all you need to bring are basic sewing supplies and a handful of threads. Megan says she wants to come help out in this class too! Lucky me and you!

We Are $ew Worth It – Lecture. Friday 3pm.

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I’ll be delivering the live talkie version of We Are $ew Worth It. I tell stories, make a fool of myself, and open the floor up for Q&A at the end. It’s fun stuff, not to mention important information… you should be there!

Open Studios – Paper-Piecing Demonstration. Thursday 4pm to 6pm.

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I’ll be in the Open Studios area, showing you how to paper-piece big things and little things, and featuring the letters from my upcoming book, Quilt Talk. If you can’t make it to a class, stop by and get some free tutelage. Or just stop in to say hello and show me the spoils of your shopping adventures!

I hope to see you there!

Questions? Leave them in the comments below.

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When are you “an artist”?

Can I just say it thrills me to no end to see that the We Are $ew Worth It posts continue to be sent all around the world? Thank you! I really think we can change this game….

Fireworks, by my sweet son, from a long time ago.

Fireworks, by my sweet son, from a long time ago.

Yesterday, Kay B left a comment on a WASWI post, and asked this: “My question is when do you consider yourself an “artist”? If you develop your own pattern? When you properly following someone else’s pattern? How about hand quilted vs. long arm quilted? I have seen many things listed for sale online that are lower quality that are charging more than for more quality crafted items that it is no wonder the general public is afraid to pay the asking price for hand crafted items. How does an appraiser determine a value?”

Before I tackle the big one about considering one’s self an artist, I’ll answer the easier one about appraisals.

Certified Quilt Appraisers have been rigorously trained through programs such as this one in the US run by AQS, the American Quilter’s Society. (Note that this is good place to look if you need to hire an appraiser, too.) Armed with that training, an appraiser can determine where a quilt fits in the current canon of knowledge, and value them accordingly. What factors matter? Many factors, including craftsmanship, ubiquity/rarity, geography/history, and the renown of the maker. For instance, I had a few quilts appraised some years ago, then shortly after, was published in some magazines and earned a ribbon at a national show. My appraiser informed me that the publishings and the ribbon both added to my value, and that my appraisals would now be higher because of them. Thus it follows that the quilts made by the acknowledged masters and superstars of our industry will appraise higher than the version of them that less famous people might make. Sort of like a doodle by Picasso is worth more than the one done by the sweetest toddler in your family (even if you can’t really tell the difference). And yes – it doesn’t really account for the emotional attachment you have for the toddler’s work!

So with this in mind, when do you get to say you’re an artist? My opinion is this:

You get to say you’re an artist the first time you pick up a pencil, or crayon, or needle, or hammer, or lump of dirt and try to make something out of it. WAIT, I hear you say…. that misshapen lump of clay that came home from 2nd grade that was supposed to be a pumpkin is not ART. No, it might not be. There is a rather extensive establishment that loves to wrangle with the question of “Is it ART?” and they like to be the keepers of that conversation, so I’m going to just let them wrangle it. And I’m guessing they will say no, the “pumpkin” is not art, unless of course Picasso made it… and… and… you get my drift.

Wile E Coyote and Road Runner. Lines by Chuck Jones, colors by my sweet son.

Wile E Coyote and Road Runner. Lines by Chuck Jones, colors by my sweet son.

I’m talking about YOU. In my mind, if you are a MAKER, you are an ARTIST. The intention to make with your hands is an ARTISTIC intention, regardless of what you then make. I know that for some it’s a huge struggle to claim the title because I struggled too. I’ve never been that great at drawing, and so when I drew misshapen things as a child I was told I was no good at art. But I’ve since decided that my elementary school teacher didn’t really have the authority to tell me what I am. I successfully earned an AA in art by working hard at learning to draw (I had an excellent teacher, but I’m still middling at it). I got my BA in Sculpture because constructing stuff makes more sense to me. I got my MFA in Fiber because by then I had figured out that playing with fiber is my superpower. And I still hate to draw. And that just no longer matters.

I don’t think you need to be making original patterns to call yourself an artist. I don’t think it matters if you quilt by hand, machine or check (but I do think you have to acknowledge the long arm artist when you hire one). I think you just need to MAKE. Make what interests you, make for profit, make for love, but just MAKE.

As for the pricing differences one sees online? Those appraisal factors are in play, but so are the factors of what the market will bear and the self confidence of the maker. An honest pricing calculates the time and materials and takes into account the artist’s skill. Some people don’t charge enough to cover that. Others do. The wide range in price vs. quality in the handcrafted world is no different than in other industries… for instance there are well made good-value cars and expensive rattletraps out there. That’s the joy of a free market. As a buyer, you get to decide what to exchange your moola for.

But back to the ARTIST conversation before I leave you. You’ll see me talking about “your studio” and some of you might think “right… that would be my dining room table.” I refer to you and your making this way because, to me, you ARE an artist. The space doesn’t matter. The size of the machine doesn’t matter. The fact that you might do it with kiddos underfoot or cats in your lap doesn’t matter. There isn’t a magic door you have to go through to be an artist. You just have to MAKE.

So let’s go do some of that! MAKE, MAKE, MAKE…

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All Inclusive

CoExist Stars 2

I recently attended a guild meeting, where the speaker began her talk by making a statement along the lines of “those ugly charity quilts some people make are not art.”

Yeesh. Talk about divide the room.

I’ve been quilting since the late 1980′s, and back then the argument was that if it wasn’t hand pieced, or at least hand-quilted, it wasn’t a quilt, because our grandmothers made them all by hand.

Then in the 1990′s it was art quilting vs. traditional quilting. And now, it seems, the rivalry is modern vs. everything else.

What’s with the US vs. THEM thing? As a Facebook friend remarked last week, she’s so OVER the conversation of whether or not a quilt can be called “modern.”

I can’t help but think that, in this mostly female endeavor, any such divisiveness is just corrosive. Our grandmothers laid the foundation of feminism (in the true sense of the word, as in the respect of women as equal members of society), and I can’t help but think they’d be ready to swat our hands with a wooden spoon for not cheering on our sisters, regardless of how different from us they may be. Incidentally, I think they would also be howling with mirth at the idea we should turn our backs on sewing machine technology out of some Luddite-driven sense of reverence for the good ol’ days.

It doesn’t matter how you make quilts, or even why. Yes, I know that there are people who imbue every thread of their composition with deep meaning, and trust me, with an MFA in Fiber under my belt, I would enjoy the intellectual wrangle of a good chew on the “making meaning” conversation with you. But I’m also equally happy to cheer you on when you decide to make a quilt with pink frog fabric for no reason other than pink frogs make your heart soar.

You get to make the thing that turns you on. You get to spend your free time making charity quilts. You get to spend ten years piecing hexies for an insanely large bed quilt. You get to make everything in purple because it’s your favorite color. You get to try new things. You get to do the same things you’ve always done and be damned with the new-fangled stuff. You get to use nothing but batiks. You get to use Kona Ash in everything. You get to sweat the details on a competition-level quilt. You get to chop your points off because accuracy isn’t all that important to you. You get to quilt it on a home machine. You get to quilt it by check. You get to make your version of beauty. You get to abandon things that are not your cup of tea.

The point is YOU GET TO DO IT YOUR WAY. And the meaning it makes is the meaning you give it. This isn’t brain surgery, although I would argue that the pursuit of it is just as important… a surgeon can heal the body, but a quilt can heal the soul. But enough of debating all this. No more making other people’s art “wrong” – okay?

Just go make something you think is lovely. We’ll all be better off for it!

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Making a Quick Buck

Well! It seems that my last post about quilting patterns touched a couple of nerves… it seems that any of us who have designed quilt patterns got a bit prickly about the comment that we do it to “make a quick buck.” (insert hysterical laughter).

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So I thought I would give you a peek behind the green curtain on how my Chunky Wee Bag pattern got designed. I wrote this up for Generation Q Magazine last year for their Sept/Oct issue. While it’s definitely a humorous look at the monologue in my head, please don’t miss how many times I made and tested the bag before I let it out of the house. Seriously.

Here goes…

The 17th Time’s the Charm – OR – What it Took to Make the Chunky Wee Bag Pattern (said in my best Rocky and Bullwinkle voice-over)

It started out with a need (necessity being the mother of invention and all that): I had a date with my son and Disneyland. I needed a small bag that would go across my body, and carry just a wallet, glasses, phone and a snack. My usual handbag is part backpack, and had previously proven hard to manage in the cramped confines of a rollercoaster, so I thought I would just whip up something else. I’m a miss-fancy-pants-pattern-designer, right? Right. Read on for a peek into the mind of a (mad)woman on a mission to make the perfect bag.

Studio. Hmmm… what size bag? Let’s start with 8” x 8” shall we? Love that square! Love that balance! Couple inches deep. Flap. No zippers! Definitely need pockets inside to keep stuff separate. (What does the Bagginses have in its pocketses?) A ring… to clip keys onto. Where’s the calculator? Graph paper! Sketch, draw, redraw, recalculate.

OK, I think I have it, wait… adjust that a smidge… strap should be narrower? Yes. Fabric! ORANGE! The robot fabric! (Bad Robot!) Aha! Needs something. Grey? Yes… but something else. (Garlic? Chocolate?) Ooh, the retro one with the boomerangs! Yeah, baby! Groovy, baby! (But with better teeth!)

Can I do it all with black thread? Yessss. New needle, walking foot… who put felt under my bobbin again? Drop of oil. Water in the iron? OK!

Cut, fuse, sew, pin, wrangle, sew. Ooops. Flap’s in backwards. Bah! Pout. Rip, rip, rip. Pin. Check. Really? Sigh. Re-pin. Re-check. Sew. Yes! Post picture on FB. Awww, lots of likes :-)

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Disneyland! Wheeee! Works perfectly. Yay for pulling it out of my hat yesterday! Except for the flap needs Velcro. Why, thank you, yes, I made it! The strap could be a smidge wider. But still… success!

Home. I wanna use my cute wee bag! Too small. Can’t get the sketchbook in there. Huh. The tissues. The little box of emergency medical stuff that all mothers MUST carry even when their kid lives in a different state now. (I checked the handbook, it’s in there. Trust me). Pens. Nail file. Lip balm. Emergency chocolate.

Duh. Make it bigger.

Studio. What about 9” x 10”? Draw, calculate, funky Halloween fabric, cut, sew. Hmm. Don’t like the proportion much. Cute but… meh. Yes, you can have it.

DSC_9971 = 2nd bag Halloween

What about deeper? Chunky deep. Like four inches deep? Oooh. Need a base board to hold that bottom out square. And how to get from a 4” side to a thinner strap?

How to get from a 4” side to a thinner strap??

Really. How to get from a 4” side to a thinner strap???

Toss and turn. Wee hours… EUREKA! That’s how to do it! Throw on clothes, grab tea, OMG MY HAIR. But no one’s gonna see me today. I hope. Baseball cap. Car keys. Studio!

Template plastic, more robot fabric, cut, sew. Hold breath. Turn inside-out. Iron. YES! (By George I Think She’s Got IT!) Topstitch that thing and get it into the bag. LOVE IT. (I know).

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Move stuff into the bag. Fits! HAPPY!

Inside the bag

Pattern? No… didn’t make a pattern for it yet. Yes, I should. Well, sure I’ll make you one while I write it. Have to test it anyway. And one for you. Oh, you want it bigger. That tall? To carry your iPad. Got it. Tall version coming up. Let’s try 8” x 10”.

Studio. Draw, calculate, cut, sew. Two sizes… officially a Pattern In Development. Flap’s funny on the tall one. Make it again. Try magnetic closures. Make it again. Ok, I’ll make you one. But I’m still working out this flap, OK?

Taller bag

Email blast to the Tester Peeps! Make a bag! Two sizes! Come on down!

Sorry for the hand sketches. Let me know if the writing makes sense. Yes? Argh, you’re right… I have no idea what I meant by that, obviously needed more chocolate. Yep, that sure is a better way of putting it. Thank you. That step should go first? Got it. Is the velcro in the right place? You think the flap’s fine? How are we doing? Ready to turn the bag? Yay! You made it! Pix for the blog!! THANK YOU!!

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Still not sure about that taller bag. Flap still looks funny.

Rinse and repeat with second group of Tester Peeps. Wow, these gals totally saved my patootie. AGAIN. Whew.

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Flap still looks funny. Harrumph. Back to the drawing board. Rules of design proportion? Rule of thirds? The Golden Rule? Shorten the flap? Yep, that helped. Still looks funny. The bag’s too tall. But it has to be 10” for the (#@*$) iPad. Too tall! Can’t shorten it. Waitaminute! I can make it wider!

Try 10” x 10”. Echino airplanes and scooters! Sweet fabric, but why didn’t they make it in ORANGE. Because not everyone luuurvvvess ORANGE, Sam. (Fools!) More for me! (Wicked laughter!) Cut, sew, flip, and BINGO – doesn’t look funny anymore. Love that square! Love that balance! Oh, you’d like one, but in linen. Sure. I need to test it again.

10 in square

It’s Karen’s birthday and I could make her one of these. Except for the small one is too big for her – she likes them wee (she’s a Scot!) Make it smaller. SMALLER? Are you NUTS? Hmmm… 6” x 6” could work. If I move that and squeeze this and keep it SQUARE, and how the hell am I supposed to get my hand through there and yes, it’s so cute! Perfect. THREE sizes for the pattern now. Oh, you’d like one? Sure. I’m still testing it. No, it has to stay SQUARE. Trust me.

6 inch

A pattern? Of course it’s a pattern. It will be out soon… I just need to run one more test!

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References:

  • What does it have in its pocketses? – Gollum, in The Hobbit
  • Bad Robot – J.J. Abrams’ production company (and on the end of every episode of Lost)
  • Yeah, baby! Groovy, baby! (But with better teeth!) – Austin Powers
  • By George I Think She’s Got It! – My Fair Lady
  • Love it. I know – (“I love you.” “I know.”) Princess Leia and Han Solo, in The Empire Strikes Back
  • Fools! – Mr. T from the A-Team

Chunky Wee Bag - COVER - 72dpiRGB

The Quality of Patterns – A Discussion

A friend forwarded a post from Marianne of The Quilting Edge this weekend, in which she invites discussion on the topic of poorly written patterns. Give it a look, and check out the lively discourse in the comments!

As a pattern designer, I’d like to address a few of the points from this side of the aisle!

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First up: this is part of my internal “mission statement” when I design a pattern. I can’t speak for every other designer, but I do know that my closest designer pals are like me, all striving to do a conscientious job:

  • Mind the fabric. The fabric “generosity” in the materials list is a tricky tightrope to walk. I round up to the nearest 1/4 yard, or add an 1/8 yard if I’m on the 1/4 line. This only changes if the fabric is being used for cuts larger than an 1/8 (say an 8” cut) in which case I give you one extra large cut in case of an oops. C&T’s rule for my upcoming book was add 1/4 yard to my calculations. I do work hard at writing patterns that use up most of their parts… in several of my jelly-strip based ones you can use the strip scraps to make a binding (I happen to love the puzzle of using it all up!)
  • Be honest about my assumptions. At the beginning of every pattern, I tell you what the pattern assumes you already know: how to sew a 1/4” inch, how to rotary cut, how to layer/quilt/bind, etc. In my paper-pieced patterns, I give you links to several tutorials that I think will help you as my assumption on paper-piecing is that you will learn it from a book or video, not the pattern. And it just isn’t cost effective to put all that extra tutorial into the pattern – the paper cost goes up, and most of the time how you do it is not how I do it so it’s wasted.
  • The pattern should be the key to the kingdom on the cover. For me, this means I give you accurate steps to make the exact thing in the picture (exceptions noted above), and maybe a couple of other sizes. If it’s a special technique, then you get ALL the steps. I once bought a pattern that said the equivalent of figure out how big you want to make it, then figure our how many of these blocks fit into that, and have at it. I don’t consider that a pattern.
  • Be honest about the skills required. On the back cover of every pattern, I call out the skills needed. I don’t just say Beginner or Intermediate because I don’t think that’s enough information at all. I list the skills you will actually employ. As I write mostly for the Confident Beginner Peeps, I call out specifically if you need an accurate 1/4” seam, or just a mostly consistent one. If there are templates or paper-piecing involved, I say so. If you will be dealing with bias edges, I say so. I want you to know what you’re getting into, and I especially don’t want you unsuspectingly biting off more than you want to chew.
  • Draw as much as possible. Every one learns differently – some people need all the words, some people need the drawings. I attempt to add computer drawn illustration to as many of the steps as I can. It bulks up the paper, but I think my readers are worth it.
  • Make it MAKE-ABLE. I dream up a lot of things that, in the end, would be horrid to have to make or worse, explain. So I don’t turn those into patterns. Frankly, if my reader could make such a convoluted thing, she is probably figuring it out her own way, and isn’t buying a pattern to do it! Instead, I figure out how to break things down so you don’t sweat through them. I learned a little of this from a composer friend, whose superpower is writing music for each instrument that the musician could play easily (not writing it at the edges of the instrument’s range or sitting on its octave breaks). I fundamentally believe that quilting should be fun, so I try hard to write things that are fun, too.
  • Get it tested. I have a bunch of people on board to check my work. One friend is the master of sorting out my grammar. Another sorts out the flow of steps (“no, Sam, put this before that.”). Another catches the instances where the parts on her design wall don’t look a thing like my drawings. One hates to read the words, so she sees if the pattern can be navigated by the pictures. Another does the opposite, making sure my words actually describe what’s going on. Others spend their precious time and fabric stash actually making the pattern. It really does take a village – and most of them do it FOR FREE.
  • ‘Fess up when you blow it. While all of the above should catch everything, sometimes it doesn’t. When that happens, I fix the pattern, update the print masters and PDF files, and publish the oops on the Patterns/Errata page. And I’m eternally grateful to the person that told me about the problem.
  • Be open to feedback. Critique is necessary to making a better product, even if it stings. I do my best to listen openly to suggestions for improvement, with the understanding that I just won’t be able to please everyone.

And now, my answers to some of the comments on the Quilting Edge:

The shop that sold the pattern is responsible for the quality of the pattern. NO – the buck stops with the author. AND such gatekeeping just isn’t possible for most shop owners. Like you, they buy a pattern based on the appeal of the cover, and sometimes have it made into a sample if they think they can sell fabric or a class for it, but they cannot read the fine print of everything they carry. I would imagine if you let them know a pattern is a mess, they probably won’t buy more of them (or others from the same designer). It’s certainly how we did it in the last store I worked in. But like Target can’t be responsible for the content every crappy DVD it sells, neither can your LQS read and test every single thing. If you want to buy a pattern in a store, you can always ask to open it and give it a once over before paying (every store I’ve been in has been cool with this). I don’t think the LQS should foot a return because they have no way of ensuring the buyer didn’t pirate a copy before returning it – I know this screws over a scrupulous buyer, but unfortunately, there are more folks who wouldn’t think twice about copying and returning a pattern, thinking copyright law is merely a suggestion.

The pattern designer is trying to make a quick buck. If only! There are precious few quick bucks in the pattern business. If the designer does half the steps I listed above, they still worked on that pattern for DAYS. And bought a bunch of fabric too. Let me break this down for you… on a $10 pattern in your local quilt store – $5 goes to the store, $5 to me if I sold it directly to the store. My expenses to make the pattern (paper, printing, bags, assembly) come out of my cut. If one of my distributors sold it to the store, the store still gets $5, the distributor gets $1.50, and I get $3.50. And I still need to cover my expenses in that $3.50. So I get maybe $2.50 of that $10. Yes, I get most of the $$ on a download (minus hosting fees and banking charges) but still. Trust me when I say the buck is not quick.

The free patterns aren’t written well. Part of this is you get what you pay for – truly. Part of it is that a lot of the free patterns are paired with lines of fabric, and they often get written at the 11th hour before the fabric debuts at Quilt Market (and the designers get offered little or no payment). I have been approached by more than one fabric company to produce a fully tested pattern with a 2 week deadline before market for no payment (“we’ll show people your pattern!”) other than an offer of the fabric to make the quilt (not the batting). I certainly don’t do my best work in those circumstances, so I imagine other designers don’t either. It would also help if people stop expecting to always get it for free. If you expect a free download, then you should also expect that the designer or fabric company probably didn’t PAY a team of editors and testers to make sure it’s right. Yes – everyone should make the best product possible regardless (I certainly strive to – my reputation matters to me) – but as I said you often get what you pay for when FREE is involved.

The patterns aren’t well written – part 2. One comment was from a person who released a pattern that she said she had tested, but she also admitted that she doesn’t read other people’s patterns. I would hope that people who take pattern designing seriously take the time to learn their craft and research their competition. That said, you’re still likely to come across something that looks as cute as heck, but is perhaps written by someone who doesn’t have a depth of experience to construct things more easily, or even use commonly understood vocabulary (FWIF, I voraciously read other patterns to see how they are written and illustrated so that I can constantly improve my game – I do it to invest in my business). I wish some of our newest pattern designers would take some time to hone their craft, and learn from their fore-mothers (I’m a HUGE proponent of learning the rules before you go about breaking them). But I also accept that there’s nothing new about the new kids on the block wanting to blaze the trails a new way, and sometimes we get new and exciting techniques from it – yay for innovation! The other side of the coin is that we sometimes get caught when that new fangled stuff doesn’t work out so well. With the ease and speed of pushing content out to the internet, we are going to get a lot of amateur work out there, jumbled in with the good (just look at YouTube). I think you just have to accept that you will occasionally get rick-rolled.

The patterns aren’t written well – part 3. Just like in other industries, there is good and bad, and unfortunately, it’s up to us to determine which is which. One comment said we need a pattern review site – and yes, that would be wonderful. But would you pay to belong to it? Someone has to foot the bill to provide that service to you, and they should be able to profit from their labor, no? Also… would you take the time to write when things are good? I have sold a bunch of patterns in places that allow a review, and no one has written to say if they’re good. I’ve had more emails about my errors than I have had thanking me for making a pattern that was easy to follow. So unless you are willing to review the good, the data will be radically skewed. Another comment said that they felt no responsibility to write to a pattern author – but may I stick my neck out and say I’d rather hear WHY you think my pattern is lacking (in technical terms) than just sit here an wonder why the sales are slack?

In conclusion, the pattern making business is just like any other area of commerce. While, like you, I would love to never buy a bad pattern again, the reality is that there will always be good, and there will always be bad. It doesn’t excuse bad writing in any way, and it is the unfortunate burden of we buyers to sort through that. Hopefully the laws of business will take effect such that the cream rises and the people who write poorly cease to thrive and quit doing it. But I would also offer this… yes, it’s a bummer to pay good money for a pattern that doesn’t live up to your expectations. But I know you’ve also paid for disappointing movies or meals. It happens occasionally. NO ONE CAN PLEASE EVERYONE ALL THE TIME. If it happens to you, please take the time to write the designer to let them know what disappointed you, so that they can improve. The good ones will take this critique and up their game. As for the designers that choose to ignore it, you need not shop them again. And if you DO like it, please, please, please drop us a quick note. It might be the note that stops us from throwing in the towel on the design business. It might just inspire us to make more good things for YOU!

And yes… please comment away – I love a good discussion!

BTW – Did you join my mailing list yet? Do it here. I’m dreaming up groovy exclusive stuff for you!

 

A new Art Geek App!

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Early in my college art education, an art history professor assigned us a museum trip. We were charged with visiting one of three specific paintings, and to spend 15 minutes with the work while writing down everything we could about it: composition, color, subject matter, and anything else that popped into our heads. She said that the 15 minute part was imperative, and to time ourselves.

Thus, I dutifully sat for 15 minutes in front of a painting at the Getty. It took less than a minute to note all the big stuff, but by the end of the session I had actually noticed the subtle shading of the sky, the patterning of leaves, the delicate blush on cheek – all things I never notice on a quick pass. It was such a richer experience. For so many of us, a trip to see art is a high speed smorgasbord, where we see the broad strokes and big ideas, but we miss the details because we’re speeding to the next one. So I have a new rule (since that assignment) when I’m in a museum… I might take a fast pass around a room, but I will choose one work and spend TIME with it.

So with that in mind, you’ll understand why I want to share a new iPad app with you… it’s called Art Scrambles, and it’s an app that brings you beautiful works of fine art as puzzles.

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Above is Jan Van Eyck‘s Arnolfini Portrait as a puzzle. You get to choose the shape and size of the pieces you want to play with (I use bigger shapes when I want to relax, and the smallest when I want to be challenged). The app is infused with subtle orchestral sounds, a sweetly clean interface, and best of all, ART. There are well known works that you would expect to find, like the Mona Lisa, but there are also a lot of works that you might not have seen, and discovering them through the use of the puzzle format is such a delight.

For instance, on Arnolfini and his wife (above), it took playing the puzzle for me to notice the fruit on the window sill (below). And I have actually seen this painting in person! (psst… it’s 24” x 36” – so much smaller than you’d expect!)

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I have studied Pieter Breugel the Elder in passing as all art history students do, but to work one of his paintings as a puzzle is to really understand just how much he was interested in hierarchy.

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There are also artists represented in the app that I wasn’t aware of. One is Utagawa Hiroshige, and all of his works seem to be perfectly tuned for puzzle solving. I think I would have missed the subtle transitions of color if I hadn’t been searching for the right place to play the pieces! Look at the way the background fades from red to cream to green in Plums, below.

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Anyway – if you have an iPad, go grab this app – it’s free and blissfully free of ads. It has add-on packs of more puzzles too – some a sampler of works from an era like the Renaissance, others just one artist. There are three packs just for Vermeer! Heaven!

 

These Hands Make Things

If you follow any of the social media surrounding the current wave of feminism, you’ve probably noticed that we are beginning to see photographs of real people with little electronic alteration – a trend I find so welcome.

The latest version of Vanity Fair is the yearly Hollywood issue, and right in the middle of all that impossible glamour is a group of pictures taken by Chuck Close. The stars were instructed to show up without stylists and entourages, and Close shot the images up close and personal in his usual fashion.

My favorite of the group is this one of Helen Mirren:

Helen MirrenI love that she seems to not have messed with her beautiful face (that smile hints of delight and mischief), but more than that – I love the realness and honesty of her hand. It looks like a hand that has lived.

Which got me to thinking about hands in advertising… all those perfect hands with perfect nails. That always seem, somehow, to not actually look like they know what they are doing in the ads. They don’t look like they’ve ever slathered peanut butter on bread in a hurry. Or cracked a nail while grabbing keys off the counter. Or endured the tiny stabs and pinpricks of a daily life in the needle-arts. They might be real, but  they just don’t look it – anymore than those perfectly polished cover girls we’re trying to debunk.

Which then got me to thinking about my own hands:

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I like these hands. I’m proud that, after 52 years and counting, they’re still working pretty well. They have made many beautiful things, and they bear the scars of a rich life. That knot of arthritis in the last knuckle of my right index finger is a present from grad school (along with bifocals) – the incredible volume of writing, researching and making did a number on that knuckle and it bumped up in defense. You can see a new burn on the same index finger – I’m still getting used to the oven in my new digs.

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There’s also a cut on the side of my left index finger, a snick in a quick moment of making dinner for a friend. On the palm side of my left hand is a web of scars from a disagreement with a blender a year ago (I’ll spare you the picture with the stitches) along with an almost 30 year old scar from a minor surgery to remove a pesky cyst. And you can no longer see where I machine-sewed through my finger on one of those doing-too-much-too-fast days. And freckled over all, the salt and pepper of age spots.

But let me tell you other stories about these hands… they changed a bunch of diapers on a really sweet kiddo who is soon to turn thirty. They have hugged and hugged and hugged so many wonderful people. They’ve written serious term papers and typed silly statuses into social media. They’ve made oodles of shortbread. And they have made quilts. Lots of quilts. Hundreds of quilts. They have started a pattern business, designed a bunch of sassy buttons, and written a book. These hands are CAPABLE. They might not be cover-girl smooth anymore, but they know how to MAKE things. And that, to me, makes them beautiful.

So show me YOUR hands on the HDS Facebook Page and tell me a story about them. And if you’re using Instagram let’s give them a #thesehandsmake hashtag so that we can see them all together!

(With thanks to my friend Annie for the photo assist… hand selfies are not easy!)

JCP is ripping off an artist – UPDATED with GOOD NEWS!

Excellent news – JPC is working with the artist to sort out the copyright violation. See Kal site for an update.

Huzzah for a big corporation doing the right thing by the artists!!!

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Original post:

To be in the arts means we are a maker of things. To make a business of art means we need to sell those things – and the internet is an effective way for most of us to do that.

It also means that the things we make are visible, even to the people that have no intention of parting with their money to own something beautiful that we made. The lesser beings in this karmic soup take the idea of another and run with it.

Kal's stolen work

It would seem that JCPenney is selling bags whose fabric in an unlicensed and un-permissioned copy. Kal Barteski, the artist whose work has been appropriated, writes about it here:

http://lovelife.typepad.com/my_weblog/2014/02/stolen-images-at-jc-penney-call-it-spring.html

First up – DON’T BUY ONE OF THESE! Don’t support the theft of other artists’ work.

Next up – head to my FB page and pick up the post about it, and please, please please, forward it far and wide. Let’s help Kal get this issue VISIBLE. There is power in numbers.

We artist must ALWAYS have each other’s back, especially when dealing with huge corporations with lawyers on retainer. We Are SO Worth It.