My Top Ten Tips for Sewing on the Road

I’m a member of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild, and they have a fabulous arrangement for members to sew together once a month at Fabric Depot, a huge store with a huge classroom. I love sewing with friends… the creative energy and the exchange of help and ideas is so great to be a part of.

Packing for mobile sewing can be daunting (especially when we do it at the last minute), so I’ve assembled another group of tips for you, but this time with an eye to being on the road:

1. Dedicated Crate or Tote

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If you use the same container to travel, you’ll get used to how you pack it, and will be able to see quickly if something is missing from the puzzle. I like to use a crate for my basic supplies because it fits solidly on a hand cart, and then I use totes (and zippy bags) for the projects.

2. List

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Keep a list of your basic mobile items with your container. I once arrived a retreat without the box of feet for my machine, and had to give up a chunk of my shopping budget to buy another walking foot and piecing foot. Refer to the list while you pack or it won’t really work!

3. Name that Ruler

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Put your name on everything. With most of us using similar tools, and frequently borrowing from each other, having your name on things means you’re less likely to go home without them. On rulers, I prefer a quick scrawl of Sharpie to a label, because I can still read the ruler marks through the scrawl.

4. Ribbons

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Not keen on having all your stuff labeled like you are still in grade school? Use ribbons to tie through anything that has a hole or loop. Mine, of course, are ORANGE.

5. Old Mats

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When your studio mat starts getting worn, put it aside for mobile use when you buy a new one. That way you’ll fret less if the old mat gets bent or warped from being transported. You can also cut old mats down to a more packable size.

6. Trash Container

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Let’s face it, to sew is to create trash of threads and shreds. Be kind to your host by capturing as much of it as you can. This one was a gift from a friend, and collapses for easy packing.

7. Machine Cleaning Kit

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Take your machine oil and Q-Tips with you in case your machine needs to get de-fuzzed while you’re out. There is nothing more frustrating than setting up for a sewing day (or weekend) and then having your machine act up. Having oil and cleaning supplies on hand is the first step for a fussy machine.

8. Needles and Blades

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The second step for a fussy machine is a new needle. Bring a packet with you. And if you’re gone for more than a day, or your rotary cutter blade is on the old side, pack a spare blade too. Blades are easy to dent, and when you’re cutting in unfamiliar spaces you’re more likely to drop your tools.

9. Extension Cords

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I usually travel with these two – the big one for getting the wall power to my setup, and the little one to share the power locally. I also carry a “ground cheater” plug in case I’m in an older building that doesn’t have grounded outlets.

10. Let There Be Light!

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The Fabric Depot classroom is well lit, but I’ve sewed in many a hotel conference space that wasn’t. I keep this portable light in my mobile kit just in case. There’s never enough light once you head north of 40!

11. Magnetic Pincushion + Lid

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I prefer magnetic pin cushions to the traditional variety, and this one, made by Clover, has a lid that also clips onto the base when you’re using it. The lid keeps the pins covered while they’re in the kit, so that they don’t stab me when I’m least expecting it.

12. Band-Aids

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Because you never know when you (or a friend) will need one!

Please share your tips in the comments!

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

Free Pattern: Hedgie Pincushion

Hedgehogs

I don’t like to dispose of sharp metal in the trash – I’m always worried that it might hurt someone – so I’ve been putting my dead machine needles into an old pincushion for a few years. I thought it might be fun to make one where the needles become part of the design. A hedgehog is the perfect needle-y critter! Of course, pins work too.

How often do you change your machine needle? You should be changing it after about 8 to 10 hours of sewing time. A dull needle makes the machine work unnecessarily harder, so changing your needle regularly is like changing the oil in your car – smart maintenance. And a heck of a lot cheaper than a new motor!

You can download this pattern for FREE on Janome’s site here. It’s easy-peasy… you can make one in less than 2 hours – faster if you don’t get caught in an “indecision loop” when choosing your fabric! I know you know what I mean :-)

Enjoy!

Oh, one more thing… remember that discussion on designing patterns to “make a quick buck”? Here’s a picture to show you how quickly this pattern got designed:

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The published pattern was the ninth iteration. Just sayin’.

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Process – tools!

If you recall, one of the things I pointed out in my original post about process was my desire for efficiency. I like to feel that I waste as little time/fabric/money/regret as possible so as to allow room for more. “More what?” you may ask. More of everything… more time, more groovy things made or designed, more play, more freedom, more future… a little existentialist perhaps, but there you have it! MORE.

In concrete terms, efficiency becomes a big deal in how I choose my tools. So here’s what I use, and why I chose them (and I have no affiliations so this is not an infomercial!). And I would love to hear about your faves in the comments – you might be turning me onto my next big tool crush!

Before I get going – a quick word about labels… if you ever take your sewing kit on the road, be sure to mark your name on EVERYTHING. It makes for saner retreats and workshops, and less misunderstandings about whose ruler is getting passed around. I use Sharpie pens on most things (especially the rulers so that there is no label obscuring the one section of the ruler I’m bound to be looking at). And when I’m not using Sharpie I use ribbons (which will make sense once you see the pix). Mostly ORANGE ribbons. Like you needed to be told that!

So let’s start at the cutting table..

Like many quilters, I grew up with the dark green Olfa mat, but a couple of years ago I was introduced to a mat made by Fiskars that is pale green on one side and pale yellow on the other – easy to reverse depending on the color of fabric you are working with! A bonus with this mat is it lasts twice as long because once you’ve grooved the heck out of one side you just flip it over.

Also – note the dots in the squares on the yellow surface above. This is some additional alignment help that I’ve come to appreciate.

For rulers, I use Omnigrid and its newer sister Omnigrip, which has scrubby/grippy bits on the underside to help mitigate the slipperies. I prefer the grippy texture and green color of the Omingrip (I seldom use that color of green fabric so it shows up well) but I’ve had my Omingrids a long time with few issues (and I’m too frugal to replace them without good cause). And if you take a look, you’ll see that the Omnigrips also have those extra alignment dots I like. The sizes I use most are 6″ x 24″, 6″ x 12″, 3″ x 18″ and 4″ x 14″. Yes, I know that Creative Grids have the same grippy texture on the back, but most of their rulers are something-and-a-half inches, and I’m not used to that dang HALF (having used whole number sized rulers for twenty odd years). I invariably cut wrong with them because I’m not catching that I aligned the wrong side – which makes for a reduction of efficiency and increase in waste, not to mention a rather grumpy Sam.

However – there is a caveat to just about everything. Behold, above, the Creative Grids yardstick. It’s 2.5″ x 36.5″ and I’m utterly in love with it. Definitely a tool crush. I cut mostly 2.5″ bias binding and this is my go-to ruler for that and any fabric that is 60″ wide. Get one. You can thank me later.

And onto the rotary cutters. Again, I grew up with the original Olfa 45mm cutter and haven’t found a reason to abandon it (and I got to test a bunch of them for the team that is now GenQ Mag so I’m not just being an old-school luddite). I do keep a 60mm version too, and use it for cutting batting, fusible fleece, canvas, and any other thick or weird stuff. I also keep a spare cutter designated for paper. Note that it has different identifying ribbons so that when I grab the handle out of the pot I know which 45mm I’m getting.

One thing I will say, nay SHOUT, about rotary cutters is this: if you are not willing to close the blade yourself when you put it down (or you have hand issues that make it difficult to slide the guard closed), you MUST buy one that will close for you. YOU MUST. You may NOT have blades out in the open. Because getting a bad cut is REALLY inefficient. Not to mention terribly inconvenient. And somewhat embarrassing.

This lovely little goody is another tool crush – a magnetic pincushion by Clover that has a lid. No more putting the pincushion into a Tupperware to take it out of the house. And the lid clips to the bottom when you need it open. Swoon! My only complaint is that it doesn’t come in ORANGE. What were they thinking?

Clover also makes the best seam ripper in town – this one consistently wins magazine test drives for its nice fine point and a good sharp blade. I keep a spare new one on hand at all times and toss the one next to the machine as soon as it starts snagging (and then buy another new one to keep spare). I think I had my first seam ripper for a decade, never realizing that they need to be replaced periodically!

Last tool for this post – a small pair of scissors. These are by Fiskars, but I know that they are being made by several companies now. I use them at the machine to trim threads from the surface of a quilt when I am quilting. That little bend keeps me from snicking a cut into the fabric.

Hmmm…. I spy a purple ribbon. Heresy! Must change that!