Quilt! Knit! Stitch! Come see me there!


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.


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.


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.

HDS Sew Worth It LOGO

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.

PP Letters Orange

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.

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

Stitch ‘n Swap – join the party!

The Generation Q Magazine team has done it again with their new book Stitch ‘n Swap! It’s a sweet collection of exchange-worthy projects, and psst… I contributed one too!


I was hot off the design of the Chunky Wee Bag when Jake asked me for a project for the book. She mentioned some of her fave features in a bag and so I designed a new version that had those - she likes swivels on her straps and magnetic closures. It’s called the Out and About Bag and it’s on page 77:


The book is full of fun projects – I’m itching to try the tea cozy by Karen Cunagin, and the eye pillow by Carrie Bloomston. In all, 19 designers contributed a total of 25 projects.

I’ve only recently started participating in swaps, and for me the best part about them is the challenge of trying to really understand your recipient so that you can make something that will thrill them. It usually means I stretch myself in using colors and prints I might not be drawn to, but I always learn so much from it. And then, of course, the excitement of opening the one that was made for ME! And if you get a chance to make something for me, you know that it should be ORANGE, right?!

I know you want me to tell you where to go for a chance to win one of the three books Gen Q is giving away, so here it is! Comment on the original Generation Q Stitch ‘N Swap post letting them know if you’ve ever participated in a swap and the coolest thing you’ve ever gotten in a swap. That’s it! All winners will be chosen from the Generation Q Magazine post Wednesday May 7th and posted Thursday May 8th.

Of course, you can buy the book too! Stitch ‘n Swap releases May 19, 2014. It has 112 pages filled with 25 projects from amazing designers and get this–it’s only $17.95. Pre-order now through C & T Publishing, or beginning May 1, from Gen Q’s website. Ask for it at your local quilt store too – maybe even ask them to host some classes using the book’s techniques. 


If you want to follow the blog party, here’s the schedule – check out the contributor’s blogs so that they can tell you more about their projects:

Date:       Event                                    Who
4/24        Blog Party week 1                    Scott’s Placemat Pattern, Melissa T. Maher, Jeni Baker, Anne Deister, Emily Herrick, Sam Hunter, Lynn Kraus
4/29        Blog Party week 2                    Vicki Tymczyszyn (will blog for Generation Q), Carrie Bloomston, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Rose Hughes, Heather Jones, Tracy Mooney, Elaine Wong Haselhuhn
5/6          Blog Party week 3                   Jake Finch, Scott Hansen (Blue Nickle Studio) , Karen Cunagin, Michelle Freedman, Linda Hansen, Kevin Kosbab, Melissa Peda

Remember! Comments here DON’T put you in the book drawing!



Dots, Dots, Dots, Dots!

I really hope you read that title with the rhythm of the Spam song in your head!

Quilt Dots Club 500x500

Today is my stop on the blog hop for Quilt Dots. If you haven’t seen these great little quilt lover’s accessories, you’re in for a treat! The Dots are quilting designs on magnets, clips and buttons. There are also necklace and keychain bases that you can swap the magnets out on. There are so many styles of designs available… truly something for everyone!

I met Kim, the owner of Quilt Dots last year at Quilt Market, and she had just added a collection from my dear pal Megan, The Bitchy Stitcher, that featured her delightfully snarky designs. That’s me wearing Bitchy’s “Don’t Make Me Cut You” as a necklace, below.

Sam with Dots

Kim added my Sassy Button designs to her catalog, and you can find them here.

Quilt Dots has a great giveaways EVERY DAY of the blog tour, so jump to here to see what you could win. Psst… I have free patterns over there!

Be sure to leave your comments THERE (not here… which is why the comments are turned off here). The Grand Prize is a full year’s worth of Quilt Dot goodness delivered straight to your door!

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!


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 day with Calder

All images courtesy LACMA’s site… no photography was allowed in the gallery.

A couple of weeks before I moved away from SoCal, I took a day off from packing to spend with a dear friend, and we caught the latest special exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – one of smaller works by Alexander Calder. LACMA’s group was a wonderful portion of work – enough to be sated, and not so much that it overwhelmed.

Calder 3

Most people meet Calder on a larger scale than can be exhibited in a gallery. His work graces a lot of big public spaces (hello Grand Rapids!) and are most easily identified by their ORANGE color, organic shapes, and their ever-so-slightly-spidery stances. The standing works are known as “stabiles” as counterpoint to the hanging “mobiles” that Calder also made.

This exhibition had a mixed group of smaller stabiles, a lot of mobiles, and several pieces that had elements of both – grounded but with parts that balanced in the air, and that moved gently with the currents made by we shuffling patrons.


While Calder’s large work can feel solid and serious, the small pieces are delightfully playful. They are perfectly balanced in a way that looks utterly effortless, each blade in a mobile perfectly placed in space. Some of the pieces felt quite refined, and others felt like they were perhaps early attempts at a concept, and showed more evidence of working out the puzzles of the design. My fellow viewers and I surreptitiously wafted our exhibition brochures and blew at the sculptures to get them to begin their dance for us. Several of the pieces gave me that great feeling of childlike wonder – when you’re a grownup, you’ve seen so much that awe seldom visits. I found myself happily grinning like an 8 year old as I watched the mobiles move. My favorite works were the ones that felt a bit like fish skeletons (I have an affinity for skeletons born of studying anatomy in a former profession). My friend Sandy was more taken with the pieces that were inspired by plant life (a topic close to her heart).


Just to note – none of Calder’s wire portraits were included in this group. If you get a chance to see some, take the time. They bring the linear aspects of drawing into dimensional space, and some of them have kinetic elements that add so much to the character (the portrait of Josephine Baker dances in space!)

Sculpture presents its own special problems in installation. Most of the time you end up with a large box of a room to work with, and the works get dotted around with hopefully enough space between them to walk. The difficulty in this is that there is seldom a way to look at one work by itself in isolation – there is always another work or people in the picture. This installation, however, was beautiful (LACMA’s images of it here). Each work had room to be enjoyed by itself, and most were installed against undulating backdrops that removed the delineation of “room” from the visual plane. I later found out that Frank O. Gehry designed the installation (read more about that here) – no wonder it was finely a finely tuned marriage of art and space! Several of the pieces were lit to emphasize the shadows cast by the moving parts. While all art interacts with its space, sculpture’s third dimension often brings shadow into play as an element that can also be used as part of the composition, and in this case it was beautifully shown.

If you want to learn more about Calder, I would highly recommend the American Masters episode on him, released as a documentary DVD that you can probably get from your library. The Calder Foundation also has film clips on their site. It’s worth seeing a little bit of the man in action to see his impish sense of play and whimsy.

And a last word about “no photos in the gallery.” Usually I find this utterly tedious… why not let people have that snapshot to jog their memory? Yes, yes… the establishment wants to sell their book… I get it. But really, I’m more for sharing the art far and wide – we make art to touch people. If the establishment wants to make some extra money, offer high quality postcards for a buck apiece… they are more likely to get a few dollars out of me that way. A lot of people can’t afford the book, or don’t want to read all the academic writing, and many tourists don’t want the weight of it in their suitcase. As for someone “stealing” the work? Thieves will steal no matter what – forbidding cameras won’t stop a determined thief. And having said all that… in this age of the smartphone, it was delightful to be in a space of people who were looking at the work and trying to interact with it, rather than documenting it (if you are trying to capture the moment, you are not IN the moment). Sandy and I had some lovely snippets of conversation about the art with other strangers, conversations that might not have been had if we were all snapping our phones. Food for thought…

Slicing, dicing… and oiling!


No, it’s not a cooking/recipe post! Heavens no… it’s a post about rotary cutters!

Did you know that oiling them can help them roll more smoothly? Yep. Just like oiling your sewing machine. And you can even use the same oil!

You’ve probably noticed that your rotary cutter can get a build up of gunk under the blade. Left alone, it can cause the blade to roll less smoothly. Why does that matter? I have one word for you… SAFETY. Anything that makes you lean harder into the blade increases your chances of an accident. So let’s look at how to oil your cutter…

First, take the cutter apart. I always do it on a flat surface, and I put the parts down in a line in the order I take them off:


Next up, clean the mess off the blade cover (the grey haze on the black below), and VERY CAREFULLY off the underside of the blade:


Add a single drop of machine oil on the blade cover (terrible picture… I was trying to take it one handed and not pour a quart of oil over everything… but you get the idea, right?)


Then put it back together! If you’re tired of keeping track of the spring washer and nut when you take the cutter apart, consider getting one of Olfa’s new cutters with a quick release on the blade:


Just pull back on the yellow tab and it releases the pin that holds the blade in. This is a nice update to the cutter… the handle shape fits well in the hand and the whole thing is lighter than the original. (Disclosure… Olfa gave me one to review!)


FYI – the pull-down for the blade guard is higher on the handle than in the traditional cutter – it has taken a bit of getting used to. The bottom line is this… you must get the cutter that you will CLOSE. If you can’t easily push the guard up, then get one that springs back. You are NOT ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE THING OPEN on the table!

OK – back to the blades… When do you change out a blade? As soon as the sound of cutting doesn’t “swish” anymore… the sound gets harsher, louder, more grind-y as it dulls. As soon as you notice that you are leaning harder into the cut. And well before you notice that you had to go back and saw on a cut because of the dull spot from when you ran over something. The harder you lean into a cut, the more likely you are to have an accident. If you are really, really leaning in, and you jump the blade off the edge of the ruler, guess where it’s going to go? Right across your ruler hand. YEOWCH.

Yes they are expensive, but less so if you get the 5 or 10 pack on sale at the chain store with the coupon (and there is always a coupon… if not in the mail then in the chain store’s free smart phone app). And if you’re being a total peach, you’ll suck up the coupon difference and buy them at your local quilt store (you DO want the local quilt store to still be there when you want great fabric, right?).

Your hand is worth it. TRULY. If you slice up your tendons you are going to want a hand specialist to put them back together, because you need this hand to made more quilts without hurting for years to come.

How do you get rid of a dead blade? I collect them in a spare blade case, which gets tossed when it’s full:


And when I don’t have a case available, I tape them to a piece of mat board (these are my dead 60mm blades, and this piece of board hangs in my studio):


OK – now go clean your cutter and make something!

Get needled

Back when I started sewing, rocks were soft, dinosaurs roamed the earth… and my sewing machine had “a needle” in it. Just a needle… any old needle. I know there must have been spares somewhere because my mom was pretty exasperated when she had to find them because I broke one.

When I took my first quilt class, I showed up with a 10 year old Kenmore that probably had a 10 year old needle in it. Like a lot of people, I thought that you only changed the thing when it broke, and that the 5 pack you got when you bought the machine would last you a lifetime, assuming you weren’t an oaf. I didn’t know that there were different needles for different uses.

Things have changed, as things always do, and the information and technology around machine needles is no different. Now you actually have to choose a type of needle to sew with, which can be a confusing thing… as was pointed out to me by the friend that asked for this post. So here we go, Arlene – this one is for you!

First up – all this stuff is my opinion, so take it as gospel under your own risk. As they say – your mileage may vary. And nobody gave me free stuff so this is pretty much what I think without censorship.

What kind of needles do I buy? All Schmetz. I have some Superior needles that were given to me, and they are supposed to last longer (they ought to , given the increased price), but I can’t find any actual data on what “longer” is.

Schmetz has some great needle info here, and Superior has some here. Both are worth a perusal.


Schmetz also makes this handy little guide – you can often find them in stores. Schmetz provides them free to retailers so don’t let anyone charge you for it!


The book covers needle anatomy…


… and information specific to each type of needle.

All of this info is also on their site at the link above, so don’t fret if you can’t find the little blue book… they have it here as a PDF download.

If you’d rather not own the paper and would like to keep the information in your pocket, well guess what… there’s an app for that! All of the needle info and more is in a FREE iPhone/iPad app, and according to Schmetz the Android app will follow soon.

The needle choice is part the thread you are using, and part the fabric it’s going through. As for what I use:

For piecing – the 80/12 Denim needle. It’s one of the sharpest in the bunch, and it has a strong shank with a reinforced blade. This means that it’s less likely to break in a thick-seam situation. The strong shank also means it flexes less, making for a better stitch.

For decorative stitching – the 80/12 Topstitch needle. This needle is designed to not shred delicate threads as they rub up and down through the fabric during sewing – longer eye and more space in the scarf and groove (go read up on the anatomy and that will make sense). They are finer needles, so they break more often. I might go up to a 90/14 if I still get shredding trouble – these are larger in shank and eye so the thread gets more room to run.

For quilting – depends on the thread. If I’m using delicate thread, then the topstitch needle. One exception here – for Superior threads I use the 90/14 topstitch needle. The folks at Superior have kindly put their needle recommendation on the spool label, and I have found that when I follow it the stitching all looks great. Note to other thread manufacturers… DO THIS. We will blame your thread for misbehaving long before we figure out we have the wrong needle in the machine.

What about Universal needles? I don’t use them… the are a decent needle for most uses, but not really the best needle for any use. They are slightly ball-pointed (so that you can universally use them on stretchy stuff as well as wovens), which isn’t ideal for anything I make. I like to get the best needle for the job and dispense with the one-size-fits-most universals.

How often do I change the needle? After approximately 8 hours of sewing time, or after one project (a whole quilt top… not just a placemat). If in doubt, I change it. If I forget, the machine will let me know… the sound changes. There’s a popping or thumping noise with each stitch (I get the popping more with batiks as they are a tighter weave). It’s subtle, but when you sew a lot you’ll hear it. You’ll notice the machine sounds louder and less smooth. Also, one of my machines is a bit of a drama queen and will skip stitches as soon as the needle gets the slightest bit old. You will also see a degradation of stitch quality… the stitch line just isn’t quite as straight.

Every project? Yep. A needle costs a buck. Skip one expensive frothy coffee and have needles for FIVE projects. It’s like keeping the oil changed in your car (you DO change the oil in your car, yes?) – it helps the machine last longer by not asking it to expend additional force to punch a dull needle through the fabric.

How to keep track of needles that are used but not dead? How about this nifty widget from Grabbit Sewing Tools:Needle 6

It’s like a mouse pad that you can plant your needles into. And as an aside, the folks at Grabbit were lovely, friendly people at Quilt Market and had baskets of handmade caramels that they shared with me several times. Several times. Every time I went by they gave me more caramels. Damn fine caramels they were too. Nice people. Very nice people.

Another option is to get one of those old fashioned tomato pincushions, and write the needle types/sizes into the segments. Plant the needle into the right segment when not in use. I have one of these somewhere in the studio, but I forget to use it and usually just toss the needles. Saving the dollar isn’t as high on my list as saving the machine.

So there you go, Arlene! I hope it helps!

Introducing Collage!

My friend Carrie Bloomston of SUCH Designs has just sent her first fabric collection, Collage (for Windham Fabrics), out into the world, and lucky me, I get to share it with you!

collage-catalog (1)

I met Carrie at the Long Beach Quilt Festival in 2011. Her debut booth was a spark of bright and cheerful in an otherwise black-draped sea of business-as-usual. I was immediately drawn to her Wonky Little Houses pattern, and she and I ended up having a wonderful gab.

At the time, I was barely a year out of grad school, and still utterly exhausted and somewhat shell-shocked by the experience of surviving an MFA program. Carrie shared that she was still recovering from a demanding program at RISD, but that playing with fabric was moving her back into her old skin, and that painting was once again calling to her. We ended up bonding over being refugees from art school.

Fast forward to last year… Carrie and I ended up in adjacent booths at Long Beach 2012. It was my first big show as Hunter’s Design Studio, and we again shared a bunch of important conversations about navigating this crazy quilt world. She left me with a story about the danger of wearing layers of other people’s coats (as in allowing yourself to be weighed down with other people’s ideas of how your business should be run) and truly, it was just the conversation I needed to hear that day! So that’s the story of how we met – like many quilting stories… two women find a common thread, and as we pass it back and forth, we weave a friendship. I can’t think of a better way to make new friends.

Anyhow – back to the important task at hand… introducing the fabric! Collage is sweet evidence that Carrie made it back to her paints, and obviously had some fun. Carrie sent fabric to all her blog tour folks, and asked us to just make something from it. If you’ve been following the tour, you’ll see that we all found something in the line that spoke to our own way of seeing the world, and some great projects have ensued.


For me, the fabrics have a sense of wonder, play and delight – all things I know that Carrie (and I) have worked hard to regain after formal education. Being a Word Girl, I love the text fabrics the best, and adore the many encouraging sayings that Carrie purposely built into them.


I really enjoy using spots and stripes in things, and Collage offers a bunch of both. The border Birdie print is spectacular, and really usable. The “solids” have subtle tone variations and lines that create depth beyond a flat, monochromatic field. There really isn’t a piece in the group that can’t stand on its own, or play well with others.

Bag smaller

I chose to make one of my latest patterns with the fabric, a chunky little messenger-style bag (the pattern is making its debut here!). While the text fabrics called to me the most, I thought the Birdies made for a better lead role on the flap, with the teal cups and scrappy newspaper stripes as wonderful supporting players. Because I couldn’t find a comfortable way to put ORANGE on the bag, I instead used the deep orange-red scrappy stripes to whip up a little tissue holder to go with it. I had to get my ORANGE in there somehow!


The lovely folks at Windham Fabrics have offered each blog host a layer-cake pack of all the Collage fabrics as a giveaway! So leave me (and Carrie!) a comment below to enter in the drawing for the layer cake, and I’ll use the random number site to choose a winner. I’ll leave the comments on for a couple of days (let’s say the end of my Tuesday), but don’t wait too long to throw your hat in the ring!

And in case you’ve missed them, here’s the blog tour roster – stop in and see all the things Collage can do:

April 9 – Julie Goldin 
April 11 – April Rhodes
April 12 – Tia Curtis
April 14 – Ramona Burke
April 15 – Sally Keller
April 16 – Angela Walters
April 19 – Jenny Kelly

April 22 –Karen Le Page (One Girl Circus)

Review: Modern Quilts Illustrated

Modern Quilts Illustrated is a new magazine from Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr, owners of the Modern Quilt Studio, and the dynamic duo of the modern quilt movement. It is available from them in single copies of $15 (correction) $14 which includes mailing, or in a subscription of three issues a year for $30.

Thus far, I’ve received two issues, and they are really a feast for the eyes. “Illustrated” in the title is no teaser here: the issues are full of wonderful drawings and photos that illustrate every aspect that the accompanying words describe. Both issues have three quilt patterns apiece (two pieced and one appliqued), a welcome letter that frames the concept for the issue, a Cutting Table section of info and tip snippets, a delightful travel-themed color palette discussion, and a last page that thoughtfully answers a reader’s question in some depth. Also – no advertising. The writing style is refreshingly devoid of the excess of exclamation marks that would indicate a lightweight product – instead, it is sophisticated and accessible, delivering a lot of information without being overwhelming. It’s very much like having a private lesson from a pair of pretty cool teachers.

It is obvious from the writing that Weeks and Bill really care about teaching. Each pattern starts with a discussion of the design and how to approach it in more than one color idea, which from my teaching experience is the anxiety point for many, many quilters, especially our up-and-comers. The quilt is shown made in one color way (available as a kit too) and then illustrated in three more. The cutting and construction techniques are clearly described AND illustrated, with the obvious understanding that both methods will speak to most learning styles. While I’m a fan of the gorgeous lifestyle photography, I find that the now ubiquitous “quilt on a chair” shot leaves me frustrated at not being able to see enough of the fabric in action (and this is my only grumble, and small one at that). The additional illustrations take care of helping me see the overall design, but I find myself wishing for a full frontal of the quilt, even if it is done as a small inset. (Update – my desired full frontal is in the table of contents!)

And so to the designs – they are sweet, clear and modern. They can look good in simple solids, or take advantage of the large scale prints that are beginning to fill our quilt shops. Best of all, they are presented in combinations from different fabric lines, which in my opinion ups the visual interest and complexity. Yes, lines are designed to work well with each other, but sometimes using just the line can leave things looking a little too “done”in a Martha-matchy-matchy kind of way.

At this point I have to confess that I’m a design and font junkie. Had I known I could have been a font designer in my teens I would have gone there in a heartbeat and never looked back – but I didn’t know and so have had different adventures instead, and incidentally, many of them font related! And so, I must gush a little more about the design here. Bad design sticks out like a sore thumb, but good design doesn’t always shout. It just works. It delivers its content in a way that eliminates frustrated leapfrogging about the page. It visualizes its words. It adds personality to its content, and strengthens its concept – without getting in the way. Good design is no small feat when there is a lot of information to deliver in a prescribed area of space. And the design of these mags is GOOD.

And lastly, a few words about value. With three or four patterns each in them, these magazines are a good deal. Even at the single issue price, it means each pattern is $5, a veritable bargain in a field of patterns that are beginning to head north of $10. There is no advertising at all which is refreshing as I’m sure, like me, you are getting your RDA of it (and then some) elsewhere. It is printed on a lovely heavy stock that makes it a keeper, not to mention resilient to being handled at your cutting table. Is it one of those pattern mags that delivers 40 patterns for $15? Not even close, but I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that most of those patterns are pretty unsophisticated… the pictures are pretty but you end up having to rewrite the dang things to make anything of decent quality. No, Modern Quilts Illustrated is something far above and beyond. And well worth your investment.