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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We Are $ew Worth It Resources: Press Kits

One of my goals with the We Are $ew Worth It (#WASWI) movement is to create a useful catalog of resources and templates that help us navigate our industry.

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For me, one of the best things about quilting has always been the tradition of women helping women. And this isn’t a more recent feminist idea (although who doesn’t love feminism?), it has always been there in the fabric arts. One might think the neighborhood ladies gathered around the frame to get the bride’s quilt stitched, but you just know that they were also sharing the wisdom necessary to conduct life… how to make a great pie crust, how to get a stain out of something, how to navigate a grumpy hubby or calm a colicky baby. We still do this today in mini-groups and online communities – the frame might be different but the need to share wisdom hasn’t changed.

So to the tribe of quilters, sewists and fiber artists – please join me here around this virtual quilt frame to both offer your wisdom, and to benefit from the knowledge sharing here! I know I don’t have all the answers, but with your help I know I can build a useful cache of important docs for us all.

Thus today I’d like to tackle Press Kits. I was asked for a press kit yesterday for the first time so I’m hustling. So far, this is the best link I’ve found, but obviously what I need to do here is build the one that matters to both the industry I work in, AND the industry I’m offering it to.

Based on that article this is what I think it needs to have:

  • Information about my company
  • Information about the products I offer
  • Information about the specific product I’m pitching to the people that asked for it (in this case the new book, as it was a book store asking as part of a book signing gig*)
  • Information about me – a little bio, and info on where I do my thing (teaching and speaking stuff)
  • Recent publications and articles
  • Links on where to find me: email, website, Facebook, Instagram, etc
  • Images of me, my logo, my book (or products)
  • A review of the book or product

Some of the things I’m not including right now, but might consider in the future:

  • Financial information – I’m not asking for investments so no need to divulge it
  • Video or audio links – mostly because I don’t have them yet. If I had something that shows me speaking well I would include it so the book store could see that I won’t be an awkward mess. If I was pitching this at a distributor I might not show me speaking, but show me teaching the product I’m pitching to them so they know I’m doing my part to sell it, too.
  • Press releases – I don’t have any, and for this particular gig the arrangements have already been made. If it was a cold send, I imagine this would be the leading document. I’m thinking I might need to write one though.
  • Social media stats. I used to look longingly at the “Likes” on other people’s pages, but with Facebook’s recent underhanded throttling of anyone’s reach, I’m not so sure this is the best basket to collect eggs in. Don’t get me wrong… I’d love to have more “Likes” just so that I can potentially talk to more people (and if you’re reading this because you picked it up on someone’s feed, then PLEASE LIKE ME!) BUT… Seth Godin, the smartest guy in the online media business, recently wrote this, and it has me thinking that the race for numbers isn’t really the best metric by which to measure success (and this is probably a discussion for another time!)

YOUR TURN

  • What do you think a press kit should have?
  • What do you think doesn’t matter?
  • Do you have links to good ones to share?
  • Industry Peeps who have already figured this out – do you mind sharing?
  • Industry Suppliers – what info do you want us to present to you?
  • What more could this WASWI Resource include to be of use to you?

* I’m signing Quilt Talk at the holy grail of independent booksellers, Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland. Come see me on Saturday, October 11th at 4pm!

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Embroidery as Animation

Animation is probably the first way we experience visual stories in movement. Saturday morning cartoons were definitely mine, and mostly the pioneering fast frame (limited animation) stuff of the Hanna-Barbera team. Top Cat and the Wacky Races were my faves from the sixties, while the Ninja Turtles and Transformers ruled my son’s early years.

Image credit superbwallpapers.com

Image credit superbwallpapers.com

I even borrowed a phrase from Dick Dastardly’s dog Muttley for my upcoming book Quilt Talk! (psst… a hint… it doesn’t involve words!)

Despite beginning to sew at about the same age I was watching these cartoons, I never imagined that sewing and cartoons could be integrated. But that’s out the window now, because of this:

 

The artist, Nicos Livesey, created the drawings for animation, then digitized them for embroidery for a music video. I can’t say the music is my bag, but I’m in awe of the rendering of the concept. Stunning stuff. And a whole new way to show off mad needle skillz to the masses. Sewing machines are indeed power tools!

H/T to Kathy Loomis at Art With a Needle for the link.

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Free Pattern – Paper Pieced Patriotic Heart

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I have another free pattern and project up on Janome’s site! Find it here.

Years ago, one of the positions I held on the Simi Valley Quilt Guild’s board was that of the Block of the Month coordinator. If you’ve never done one of these, it’s where the pattern for the month is published, and members who are interested each make one. Each block entered becomes a chance to win them all.

Anyway, I challenged myself that year to design paper-pieced blocks, and this was one of them. I recently unearthed it when my friend Annie asked if I still had it. Yep, I did. I’m really not much of a pack rat, but I do keep most of my art and drawings, and in a relatively (!) organized manner, so out it popped from the archives.

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1995! Almost 20 years ago! And when I was married to someone whose name isn’t Hunter! How time flies! And speaking of time… it’s my son’s 30th birthday today – how the heck did that happen?!?! Well, I know technically how that works, but… THIRTY! EGAD! (and I think I’ve used up my allotment of !! for today so I’ll calm down now)

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The new version finishes at 7 1/2”, and is drawn tidily with Adobe Illustrator. I’ve also added a few things that I’ve developed over the years (and for my upcoming book, Quilt Talk) like the “lead lines” for starting oddly angled seams. I also don’t draw the seam allowance around the blocks so that you can size them any way you like – but I do write “add 1/4” seam allowance” on every edge so that you don’t cut the edges off. I’ll leave you to guess how many blocks I’ve ruined doing that.

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The Janome project gives you the instructions to make a pillow, but you can also just take the block and run with it. If you do, shoot me some pix – I’d love to see what you’re up to!

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