Tool crush – Moleskines… in COLOR!


Like a lot of folks in the arts (fine arts, writing arts, or otherwise) at one point in my career I discovered Moleskine notebooks. They are discrete little black numbers, made in several sizes, and once I knew about them I swear I saw them everywhere. In contrast to the pretty journals I found next to the checkout of every bookstore, these slender black books seemed to telegraph a certain dedication for the pursuit of creativity, not to mention an air of mystery.

Considering myself appropriately dedicated to my art career, I bought one and soon became a devotee. It was the first sketchbook I owned that felt good to carry. There were several features that wowed me, starting with the lack of spiral wire to get caught up in everything. It had an elastic band to keep it closed, and a lovely little pocket in the back for ephemera and various scraps of paper bearing treasured scribbles. Best of all, when opened, it laid flat at the center seam. Heaven. I chose the Large size – 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches (they are available both bigger and smaller). It fit perfectly in my handbag at the time, and I’ve bought or designed every other bag I’ve owned since based on whether or not the Moleskine fit. It is no longer a curiosity or affectation – it is a necessary tool in my everyday creative practice.


My paper of choice is Plain – no lines, no grids. I am very much a Word Girl – my drawings are built of words rather then traditional lines. And despite my passion for words, I find lined paper very confining when I want to capture ideas… their very linear-ness makes me feel like they will corral my non-linear thoughts and turn them into dull monotony. I want to write large and small, straight and slanted – and when I do actually draw, I don’t want my ideas straightened out by lines.

(And a huge shout out to my beloved MFA mentor Mark Rooker for assuring me that it was fine that I write rather than draw during grad school, as long as I had a way that worked for me to capture my ideas. Some of the other profs gave me a heck of time about not liking to express myself in drawing. And all I can say to that is we don’t all make art the same way, folks!)

As I’ve moved from one tattered journal into a crispy new counterpart, I have imagined that this stack of little black books might one day become part of my “papers” – a cache of my ideas deemed worthy of collection, or perhaps even study. I like to think that some paper might survive the digital age! So there they sit on the shelf, lined up like Rockettes, with only their dated spines to tell them apart in their dark beauty.

But the line-up might get a new member soon. Black, for once, might fall out of fashion, at least in my studio. There are some new dancers in town, and one of them is wearing ORANGE.


Oh my. I do love ORANGE. It’s not the deeper ORANGE of my Tangerine Tango dreams, but it’s cheerful and sunny. And that might be a nice vibe to telegraph when I’m out drawing my words, while still keeping my secrets.

Right now I have a relatively new black one on the go, and yet another in its plastic as backup. I would hate to waste it, but hmm… it could be given as a gift… so that I could make a date with the ORANGE one sooner. We’ll have to see if I continue my tradition, or accept the invitation of a new dance partner.

How do you capture your ideas, and which color might be yours?

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!