I Sew

“I Sew.”

You’re probably thinking, “Yep, so do I.” But, believe it or not, what we do isn’t ordinary. It’s a TALENT.

Fifty years ago it was rare to find a woman who didn’t sew, but today, we are less common. One of the things that inhibits our ability to earn our worth is the old fashioned idea that everyone sews, and thus it isn’t special. But it is.

Let me tell you a story:

A couple of weeks ago, I went to camp for a long weekend. Camp like when we were kids. Except when I was a kid in England, so we didn’t do that kind of summer camp. But here I was, 53 year old me, going to camp for the first time! It was up in the Catskills in NY, and it was a delightful gig run by Jonathan and Stephanie Fields of Good Life Project. It was part fun, part entrepreneurial business stuff, and 100% soul, with meaningful twenty-second hugs all day long. In many, many ways, it was a life changing experience.

Coming into this, we were told there would be a Talent Show. My talent is sewing. Really. I sew just about every day, and I’m good at it. But how do you show a talent of sewing in three minutes on stage? Without a machine?

Hold that thought…

About three weeks before camp started, Jonathan sent out a message, challenging the campers to find something to do that would fill three buckets in our lives – ones he proposes are necessary to a Good Life – those of Connection, Vitality, and Contribution.

Many of my camp pals had some amazing ideas… I think one of the best was this challenge offered by my friend Kyle Wood, who heads up Heartmen, to write notes of admiration and love to twenty fellas in your life. (This is on my list for *after* Quilt Market, and probably will include my women pals too, when I can give some serious attention to it!) But while I liked Kyle’s idea, I was still searching for my own.

What brings me Vitality is my art. I need to make art like I need air. And I mostly make art with a sewing machine. So I decided to create a signature quilt for Jonathan and Stephanie. Design was easy… I have a great alphabet at my fingertips! Colors were easy too… Jonathan likes ORANGE (kindred spirit!) and gray was great for the signature area. Jonathan often signs his missives “with gratitude…” so I poached his words for the text. I hustled the quilt together and, in true quilter fashion, squeaked out the binding the night before I departed.


When I arrived at camp, as my friends were discussing their Talent Show plans, I was still thinking “How the heck do I show people my sewing talent?” when the lightbulb went on: give them the quilt at the Talent Show.

So with the help of many campers, we got a lot of signatures done before the show without letting the cat out of the bag (the rest were done at breakfast the next day). I’ve made signature quilts before, but somehow this one was very different. Just about EVERYONE that signed it hugged me and thanked me for making it possible for them to participate in something that expressed our gratitude. The depth of their thanks, and so many powerful hugs, made me weepy to the point of giving up on mascara on the second day.

I just didn’t see that coming… Connection, Vitality, and Contribution – all wrapped up in fabric. Let me tell you… fabric is a magical thing. I thought I was “just” making a quilt. Ha!


And then back to the Talent Show. I sew. It’s my talent. So I showed it:

Camp2015TalentShow 29

Sewing IS a special talent. It’s incredibly special to make a beautiful thing, one that creates community, one that begets a couple hundred hugs, one that expresses thanks from so many, one that will last a few years and hug its owners tight with love and gratitude. What ever the reason, and however you do it, you are manifesting your talent.

It’s REALLY important that we are seen using our sewing talents, and it’s really important that we OWN that these talents are, indeed, very special.

So say it with me: “I sew. It’s my talent.”



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Back to School Blog Hop – Making Bias Binding!

Welcome to my stop on the hop!


My preference for binding is to make BIAS binding, no matter if the quilt is straight edged or not. When I first started quilting, my amazing teacher, Marilyn George (Hi Marilyn!) taught me bias from the get-go.

Here are the reasons for bias over straight binding that matter to me:

  • It lasts better before it starts splitting with age. This about the fact that there is one thread along the folded edge of straight binding. When that edge wears out, the result us usually a split running the entire length of the binding. With bias, at the fold, the threads are crossing in a pattern of XXXXXX, so if one thread gives out, it usually doesn’t take its neighbors with it!
  • It goes onto the quilt with less chance of puckers. The little bit of stretch that happens with the bias just sits right down when you roll over to finish to the back.
  • The joining of the two ends is a bit more forgiving. Again, the little bit of stretch makes it possible to not join up perfectly, yet still have it all come together.
  • Making bias binding uses barely a couple inches more of fabric than straight strips. And with the way I cut it, there is no waste at the seams.

So how to calculate the amount of fabric you need:

  • Measure the Width:  W = __________________
  • Measure the Length:  L = __________________
  • Add W + W + L + L to find the Perimeter of the quilt: P = ____________________
  • Add 20 for fudge factor: P + 20 = PF (P with Fudge!) _________________________
  • Multiply PF times the width of binding you want – for most of us, that’s 2 1/2” – to find the Area (yes, this is actually the area of the fabric needed, but no swooning just because you saw an algebra word!) PF x 2.5 = A ________________
  • Divide A by W, the Width of the fabric you have… if it’s wider than 40”, just use 40 so that you have a bit more give in your fudge factor. NOTE: if you’re using an oddly sized scrap, just use the width here and it will work: A / W = __________________
  • And that’s how much fabric you need! And I always round this up to the nearest inch PLUS ONE (or one inch more if it’s right on the line) again for a bit more give in my fudge factor. I’ll tell you what to do with the leftovers at the end :-)

So if I had a quilt that was 45” x 60”, it would look like this:

  • 45 + 45 + 60 + 60 + 20 = PF of 230
  • PF 230 x 2.5 = 575
  • 575 / Width of fabric of 40 = 14.375 – so I will cut 16” of fabric.

Now to show you how!

First cut that width of fabric, and remove the selvedges:


Lay the fabric in a single layer with the longest edge (the 40” if it’s full width) running horizontally:


Position the 45 degree line of your ruler along the bottom of the fabric (this image is correct for right-handers – reverse it if you’re a leftie)….


… And the top corner at the upper left point. Use two rulers to do this if you have to. My second ruler is a 2 1/2” x 36 1/2” yardstick by Creative Grids, and it’s the perfect ruler for the job, especially if you’re cutting anything wider than about 15” (which you will be if you’re making binding for anything other than a lap quilt).


Make the first cut at 45 degrees into that top left corner:


Then cut the rest of the large piece in 2 1/2” strips (we’ll come back to that corner piece):


Cut until you make a big triangle at the end. You might need to trim the last cut to make it clean:


Cut both the beginning and ending triangles until they are down to around 6” or 8” (that’s why I add the fudge factor):


And add those last triangles to the scrap basket:


To the machine!

Place the strips, right sides together on the diagonal seams and sew. If you’re using solids or a batik, PAY ATTENTION to which is your “right” side! Overlap the strips with a dog-ear hanging out such that the V between them is at 1/4”. You can mark the first few to get the hang of it if you like. Chain piece them together:


Clip the chains apart, and press the seams open:


And press in half, wrong sides together, along the length of the binding:




Once you’ve added the binding to your project, you can keep the leftovers to piece together into fun scrappy bindings. I keep a box of scrap binding just for this:


Dont miss the rest of the gang on the Blog Hop:


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Quilt Talk Bonus Pattern – Do No Harm!

I love quotes. I’ve subscribed to a few “quote of the day” emails over the years, and I’m a sucker for a chunky little book of them. I think this one might be the next in my collection. I like how they are usually a short but precise way to express things, and often come with a built in punch of a message that I usually needed to hear that day!

So I’ve decided to start putting a few of them into fabric, and as I do, I’ll be blogging the pattern notes for them here… consider them free/bonus additions to my book, Quilt Talk, just for you. Just to be clear, you’ll still need the book to access the letters, but I’ll have done a lot of the setting math for you :-)

I started plotting the letters of this one while I was in the writing phase of the book two years ago (TWO YEARS! ARGH!), but life got busy, and it ended up in the UFO pile. I paper-pieced the letters sometime last year, and again, it stalled. A couple of weekends back, I got real, and got to setting the letters. And from there, the finish was an easy one!

Do No Harm

I used the Barcelona line from Brigitte Heitland/Zen Chic – not only is she a talented designer, but she’s a lovely human as well! I used her highly successful Comma line for the Rackafrax quilt in the book.

This finished size for “Do No Harm” is 20” x 40” and this is how to do it:

  • The construction is similar to “She Just Ignored People…” in the book (p 101)
  • Copy the letters for do no, but, and no at 120% (“o” is 3”)
  • Copy the letters for harm, take, and shit at 150% (“a” is 3.75”)
  • Just to note, if you’re not keen on having a cuss word on your quilt, you can either play with the spelling by substituting an asterisk or exclamation mark for the “i”, or just change the word to a sentiment that suits you better.
  • The K space for the letters is 1/2” finished. The Word space between do and not is 2” finished.
  • The A&D strip for the 120% letters is 1.5” finished, and for the 150% letters is 2.375” (2 3/8”) finished
  • The Leading is 1.5” finished, except under do not and no, where is is 1” finished.
  • The top and bottom are 3” finished.
  • The width is 20”. So to calculate the size of the strip on either side of the word, measure the word, subtract 0.5 to get the finished word size, then subtract that from 20, then divide the result in half (one for each side) then add 0.5 to each piece for seam allowance. As an example:
    • 8.5” word
    • minus 0.5 for seam allowance = 8
    • Subtract 8 from 20 = 12
    • Divide 12 in half = 6
    • Add 0.5 to each for seam allowance = 6.5” – so cut 2 pieces 6.5” x height of the word, and sew to either side of the word.

Quilting ideas:


  • I find that a simple cross hatch, or straight lines works well with this kind of lettering, preferably done in a thread that doesn’t scream against any one fabric. I used medium gray Aurifil 2605 in this instance, with the cross hatch about 1” apart.
  • You could also densely quilt down the background with pattern or stipple to allow the letters to stand up.

I hope you have fun making this one – and if you have any suggestions for other short (keep ’em SHORT!) phrases you like to see in a Quilt Talk pattern, do post them in the comments!


BTW – Did you join my mailing list yet? Do it here. I’m dreaming up groovy exclusive stuff for you! And you’ll get the free pattern for the YOU ROCK! quilt in the upper right corner of the website!

Updates to the Free Patterns page!

For the last couple of years, I’ve been designing some fast and easy free patterns for Janome, in a partnership that has allowed me to borrow a wonderful machine from them. Recently, they did some web maintenance, and as these things tend to go, the links from my Freebies page to the projects ended up getting scrambled.

I’m happy to report they’re all re-linked now, and available for you to download and play with – go here to peruse.

There’s a new one, too – a pillow in a simplified take on Turning Points, the prairie point circle pattern I released last week. This one is Prairie Circle Pillow, and you can download the instructions here:




Yes, those are more of the lovely Hoffman Indah batiks from the Me+You line!

I’d also like to point you towards a great pillow tutorial written by my friend Teresa Coates of Crinkle Dreams, in which she shows you how to taper the corners for a nice finish. I’d heard about this some years ago, but had never found any instructions for it. Be sure to do this if you make the pillow above!


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New Pattern + Tutorial: Turning Points

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a …fabric triangle???

Well, sort of! It’s a flying goose that also happens to be a prairie point!

Yes, I’ve been playing with prairie points again, this time in a pillow/mug rug/pincushion pattern!

HDS.031 - TurningPoints - Cover - 300dpi

If you stopped by the Hoffman Fabrics* booth during Spring Quilt Market, you might have seen a few pillows that my wonderful Stunt Sewists helped make out of Hoffman’s  latest yummy hand-dyed batiks, the Indah solids and prints from the ME+YOU line of fabrics:


Here’s the whole line – it’ll be in stores in August. If you have never handled a Hoffman batik you need to go touch these… they are made on a beautiful high-thread-count stock, and don’t shred like a lot of other solids. And this is just the beginning… more coming later in the year!


Lucky us, the Stunt Sewists and I got to play with them in a hurry for Quilt Market samples. I had worked out the prairie point fish for Fin and Dandy, and had the idea to make a circle of geese from prairie points too. So Cath of Wombat Quilts, Brittany, Wendy and Monica came to help, and we cranked out a bunch of pillows that showed off the new fabrics. Brittany spent an entire evening ironing dozens of prairie points!


Once market was over, the kind folks at Hoffman called and asked where the pattern was… um… it was still in my head! So I went back to the drawing board, and added the mug-rug and pincushion sizes to the pattern to make it more fun (that pincushion is seriously CUTE!) and promptly sent it off to the testers. I <3 my test crew!**


It’s ready to go now, and due back from the printer by Friday, so you can order the hard copy here, or grab a PDF right now from here.

Like most of my paper-pieced patterns, this one has easy pre-cutting instructions for the backgrounds to save you time and fabric, along with a bunch of drawings to help you through a nifty way of aligning the points without using too many pins. I also shot a photo tutorial for those of you who find pictures more helpful than mere words!

AND – before you leave… yes… a giveaway! I’ll give away a jar of mini-charms from Hoffman, plus a hard copy of the pattern to a randomly drawn winner drawn on Saturday, June 27th. Hmmm… let’s have you tell me about what you might make out of these mini-charms, should they come to your house!


* I have a great professional relationship with Hoffman Fabrics!

** This pattern was tested by Janet, Lisa, Melissa, Kimberly, Paula, Kim, Monica, and Adva.


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Quilt Talk Goes Tiny

How small can you go? As it happens… pretty dang small!

I belong to the Portland Modern Quilt Guild, and we get extra door prize tickets if we have a hand-made name badge. So my friend Monica said she was going to Quilt Talk hers.

Now I’ve seen some small Quilt Talk letters (check out Paula Fleischer’s “Crazy” in the gallery section of the book). I’ve MADE small Quilt Talk letters. I was skeptical about seeing them come out at any size that wouldn’t look a bit like a billboard hanging around someone’s neck. Or worse, a bib!

This was her first snap-shot to me:


And all I can say is WOW. They be tiny, but they be elegant! And legible! And she wasn’t cussing at me when she was done!

And then she surprised me with an offer to make me one! I’m no fool, and immediately proffered fabric – and bound it in Sam I Am fabric when it arrived:


And then she started copying tiny letters and sharing them with our mini-group pals:


I’m utterly tickled by all the tiny wordplay!

So if you want to make one for yourself (or any other tiny worded thing), here’s the recipe, from Monica:

“On a copier, first reduce the letters to 25%, and then reduce that size to 75%.  If you have a shorter name, the first round of shrinking might be plenty.”

And just to give you a sense of scale:



Thank you, Monica!


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Sew Together Bag – Elastic Modifications

Back in February, I wrote about having a bit of an obsession for making Sew Together bags. I was working through a list of friends to gift them to, but had not yet settled on the one that would become mine.

Well, last week, I finally finished the one I had been working on just for me!


I used an embroidery pattern by Shiny Happy World, and made a row of cute robots for each side of the bag:


For those who like to keep score on crazy, this is my 18th one :-)

One thing about making so many of them is that I had time to ponder exactly how I wanted mine to function. So I decided to add a couple of modifications, using some pretty fold-over elastic, like this one from Babyville.


These get sewn in between steps 3 and 4 of the original Sew Together Bag pattern, after you make the markings for step 4, but before you sew those marks. No I’m not sharing the pattern because you should buy your own copy!

On the far outer side of one pocket, I positioned the elastic about a 1/4” up from the markings for step 4, and sewed horizontally down the center line of the fold-over elastic. I then played with some groupings of Clover Wonder Clips to map out where I could sew a few vertical lines for stability. Yes, I have a lot of ORANGE clips because kind friends have traded me for their favorite colors!


On the far opposite side, I ran the elastic along the middle of the pocket horizontally, and sewed it vertically at intervals intended to hold small threads and tubes of Tulip Needles (love these needles!)


Both of these modifications have allowed me to keep more pockets free for other things, and it made the clips easier to grasp, as opposed to digging them out of a pocket.

And a last tip, designed by my friend Monica… always designate one pocket for all the metal items you carry, and color code the zipper to help you remember. In her bags, metal things go in the gray pocket. I have enjoyed making all the zippers different to help with sorting, but gray=metal is genius!


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New Pattern – Chain, Chain, Chain + Aurifil

UPDATED 06.03.15 11am: Hoffman Fabrics has added a bundle to the giveaway!

This is fifth and last of the spring Quilt Market releases – Chain, Chain, Chain (go on, sing it with me, that’s right!)

HDS.028 - ChainChainChain - Cover - 300dpi

I designed this quilt in partnership with Aurifil Threads and Hoffman Fabrics*. I used Hoffman’s Bali Watercolors (the “solids” in the batik family) and paired them with cheery bright colors from Aurifil. Grab your hard copy pattern here or a PDF here.

The pattern includes some stuff I’m pretty proud of, too. When it came to giving you a chart for working out colors, one of my Stunt Sewists suggested I work it like a cross-stitch pattern using symbols – brilliant idea! So you have coloring sheets and swatch cards to work with while choosing your fabrics.


Here’s what mine looked like while I was working:


As I know I’ve stated before, I don’t consider myself sophisticated when it comes to doing machine quilting, but armed with the most recent books from Angela Walters and Christina Cameli, I was inspired to try some new things. I’m pretty thrilled with the result!

IMG_6802 IMG_6799

Aurifil gave me a box of my lovely threads to give away! Please leave a comment below to win, and tell me what your favorite color is (and it’s OK if it’s not ORANGE – all the more for me!) I’ll choose a random winner on June 6th, and I’ll throw in a pattern of Chain, Chain, Chain too! (US residents only, sorry international peeps!)


This pattern was tested by my groovy Stunt Sewists Janet, Kimberly, Monica, and Brittany.

* I have great professional relationships with Hoffman and Aurifil!


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New Pattern – Fin and Dandy

This is the fourth pattern for this season, Fin and Dandy – with kudos to Megan, The Bitchy Stitcher, for her help with finding the perfect name for it!

HDS.029 - BigFinAndDandy - Cover - 300dpiTwo quilt sizes are included – a twin at 60” x 80” and a baby quilt at 36” x 48” – and of course, you can customize to fit. Grab a hard copy here or a PDF here.

I designed a more complicated version of this block almost 20 years ago in a paper-pieced layout for a guild’s block-of-the-month challenge. When it surfaced out of my archives recently, I decided to dust it off and make it easy to do without paper. I had a LOT of fun playing with prairie points as fins. It can be made from yardage, or a package of 10” squares plus background.

Several Stunt Sewists dipped their toes into the water on this one (thank you, ladies!): Terry, Janet, Adva, Caz – and Monica and Brittany, who bravely joined me in the pre-market insanity of cranking one out quickly for Hoffman Fabrics*. We used some of the newest tone-on-tone batiks, and their newest hand-dyed Indah line (Indah means “beauty” in Bali) – they’ll be out in August, and trust me, you want some!

Chains 4 - Bright texture on warm grayWho says batiks can’t be modern? Not me!!

* I have a great professional relationship with Hoffman!


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New Pattern – Fourteen SQUARED

This is third new pattern for the spring season, Fourteen Squared – another Fast Fat Quarter Friendly Pattern (say that three times, fast… I dare you!)

HDS.027 - FourteenSquared - Cover - 300dpi

This is the third outing of the 14 Fat Quarter concept I’ve been playing with for a while, and it joins its earlier sisters in being a very fast and easy sew when you need to crank out a useful quilt in a hurry. I busted stash for the cover quilt, pulling together a selection of fall-flavored batiks.

You can grab a hard copy here or a PDF here.

The structure is similar to the other “fourteen” patterns, but the main units have different core shapes. If you want to skip the border you don’t need more than 14 FQs for the tops of any of these.

HDS.025.v1 - Faster Fourteen - COVER 300dpi FastFourteen - Orange - Cover - 72dpi

Stunt Sewists Kimberly, Jean, Adva, Janet, Sue, Dana, and Brittany put this one through it’s paces – thank you, ladies!


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