Friday, February 5, 2016

Vintage Signature Toy Sewing Machine

I thrifted this little guy last weekend! I almost left the store without it, but thankfully my BQF (best quilting friend) Tricia talked me into picking it up.

Great color combination, a salmon pink bottom, and a light green/medium green machine.

And the machine came with the original manual and accessories pouch which has two needles, a needle threader, and measuring tape.

I threaded it up and discovered that it didn't quite sew right. It's a chainstitch machine, and the hook/paddle underneath the machine was out of time with the needle. I managed to fix it and get it going.

The chainstitch looks like a straight stitch on the top, but when you look at the back it almost looks like a single row of crochet.

Compared to the Sew-Rite toy sewing machine I found last year, this little guy is really rough. It's very loud, very touchy, and came out of time very easily. I planned to shoot a little video of the machine running, but I couldn't keep it in time long enough!

So, no go for sewing with this wee machine. But, this little guy will look fantastic on display in my sewing space!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Color Wheels as Inspiration for Quilters

As quilters we work directly with color in found fabrics, that's how we make the patterns and designs in our finished quilts. We're not printing with colored inks, working with colored light, or mixing colored pigments to create our designs (unless you are hand dyeing all of your fabrics). And it can be a real challenge pulling together different solid or printed fabrics to communicate an idea or create a pleasing palette for a quilt design. Because we quilters are a creative bunch, we've have discovered the color wheel as an inspiration for helping to choosing fabric color combinations.

But the color wheel has sometimes been represented as the only correct way to create a pleasing color palette. The modern color wheel as we know it was never meant to create hard-and-fast rules, or as a way to limit the imagination to a finite number of color combinations. The color wheel is used within the exploration of Color Theory as a tool to learn about color relationships and expand on what color preferences already exist within you.

Our modern color wheel has evolved from the work of scientists, philosophers, physicists and artists striving to better understand the phenomenon of human color perception through the study of Color Theory. In a way, it's nearly impossible to say that any one person can be a real Expert in Color Theory, as it encompasses so many disciplines; physics as it applies to light and the atomic structure of objects, biology as it applies to the human eye, neurology as it applies to the brain, and psychology as it applies to human reactions to color perception.

While you don't have to study all of these aspects of Color Theory to use the color wheel, it is a good idea to have some basic understanding about what the wheel represents and where it came from. In this way you're free to use any color wheel as inspiration to enhance or add to your own personal color ideas - and not feel restricted to only using set combinations in one color system.

In this article we'll look quickly at the three distinct systems that can be used in color wheels. In the next article we'll look more closely at the color relationships formed around a color wheel.

First, a quick glossary of Color Theory terms used when talking about the color wheel. Take a quick look, and refer back for a quick definition.

COLOR WHEEL is a basic representation of a color system in which the colors are represented in a circular way, and in hue order.

HUE is a technical term for color, and in Color Theory this term refers to the basic name of the a color. For instance, (show a color, give the hue name and a non-hue name). In this article, we'll be using specific hues when talking about the color wheel.

TINT is a hue that has been mixed with white. Often light tints are referred to as pastel colors, such as pastel pink.

TONE is a hue that has been mixed with gray. Often times adding gray to a color makes it look dull, or toned down.

SHADE is a hue that has been mixed with black. Shades of hues often appear very dark, and the brilliance of a color as red or yellow will be dulled.

PRIMARY colors in a system are those colors that cannot be mixed from any other colors. In the subtractive color system (like paints) red, yellow, and blue can be mixed to make other colors - but no other colors can be mixed together to create a true red, yellow, or blue hue. Color systems are often referred to by the first initials of it's three primary colors (RYB = red, yellow, blue).

SECONDARY colors in a system are those made by mixing each of the primaries together.

TERTIARY colors in a system are those made by mixing one primary with one secondary color.

There are three distinct color systems that can be displayed in a color wheel. Since we are working with found color in our fabrics, we can actually use any one of the THREE color wheels to inspire our color choices. And interestingly enough, you will find different results by looking at the same kinds of relationships in each of the different systems.

You will notice that most color wheels display 12 basic hues in the form of a circle. This format was standardized by Johannes Itten (an important name in the world of Color Theory) in the mid 20th century. His color wheel theories evolved from years of teaching fine art students to work with color by completing countless color exercises with paint. Itten discovered that using more than 12 hues in a color wheel became too difficult for students to interpret, as the additional hues were harder to distinguish from it's neighbors around the wheel. He noted that 12 hues were just different enough to clearly identify each of them while still allowing for exploration of many different combinations and possibilities.

Itten created this particular style of color wheel for his beginning students, centralizing the primary colors in the wheel, secondary colors in a second layer, and all 12 hues in the outer wheel. Let's look at our three common color systems using Itten's format.

Subtractive Color System (RYB)

Artist's have been working with this system for hundreds of years, which is why this color wheel is the most common. The name "subtractive" comes from how we perceive color. As a for-instance let's imagine you are looking at a red painting. Light waves hit the surface of the painting, the colors of light that we don't see are absorbed (or subtracted) by the surface of the paint, and the remaining red wavelengths of light are reflected back to our eye, which we perceive as color. Learn more about this process here.

Primary colors of this system are Red, Yellow and Blue.

Mix each primary together to create the secondary colors:
Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Blue = Green
Blue + Red = Violet

Mix each primary with a secondary to create the tertiary colors:
Red + Orange = Red-orange
Orange + Yellow = Yellow-orange
Yellow + Green = Yellow-green
Green + Blue = Blue-green
Blue + Violet = Blue-violet
Violet + Red = Red-violet

I bet you are already familiar with this system, as it's taught to young children when learning to paint. At the basic level, kids learn the three primaries mix together to make the secondary colors. Here's an example, a mixed paint picture made by my kiddo in Kindergarten in which she learned how to create secondary colors from the primaries.

In theory, mixing all colors together in this system creates black, but it doesn't really work that way. Mixing all three primaries together results in a dull, dark muddy gray. These three primaries also restrict the number of colors that can be made, and artists have learned to add other colors to their palettes not found in this system - like black, chartreuse, cyan and magenta or fuchsia.

All hues in this wheel are described using the very basic hue names red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet (or purple). This is a deliberate color language meant to make it easier for artists to communicate about color. Hues are always described by the first most dominant hue, followed by the less dominant. For example, you may call this apple below a "golden" apple. But if I were to communicate to a fellow artist I'd say it is a yellow, yellow-green color overall, with a very small amount of orange or red added in spots.

The color "golden apple" may be imagined as a different color to different people. But if you each are looking at a standard Artist's color wheel and using the same color names, you can both more closely image what the color yellow, yellow-green is.

Additive Color System (RGB)

The additive color system is one of light. It's how the screen you are most likely reading this blog post from creates seemingly endless combinations of colors from just three. Coincidentally, it's also the system your eyes use to detect color! In the additive system, the three primaries are red, green, and blue.

Primary colors of this system are Red, Green, and blue.

Add each of the primary colors together to create:
Red + Green = Yellow
Green + Blue = Cyan
Blue + Red = Magenta

Add each primary with a secondary color to create:
Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Green = Chartreuse
Green + Cyan = Aquamarine
Cyan + Blue = Azure
Blue + Magenta = Violet
Magenta + Red = Rose

In this system, adding all colors together (or just the three primaries) will give you white light. The absence of all colors will result in black (no light). To play around with this system, you need only to find a computer program that allows you to have control over the RGB settings (like Adobe

The spectrum of visible light is really fascinating! You can read more about it here.

Partitive Color System (CMY)

Partitive color is what you see when looking closely at photos in the newspaper, small dots of overlapping color used to create the illusion of many colors from just a few. The primary colors in this system are cyan, yellow, and magenta.

Think funny papers, comic books, or magazine adds to give you an idea of the overlapping qualities of partitive color.

Primary colors of this system are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow.

Overlap each of the primary colors to create:
Cyan + Magenta = Violet
Magenta + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Cyan = Green

Overlap each of the primary colors with a secondary to create:
Cyan + Green = Blue-green
Green + Yellow = Yellow-green
Yellow + Orange = Orange-yellow
Orange + Magenta = Red
Magenta + Violet = Violet-red
Violet + Cyan = Blue

In this system, black is a separate color not able to be produced by the overlapping of any of the other colors. In the printing world, black is often signified as the letter K (CMYK) to signify four basic printing colors of cyan, magenta,yellow and black.

Coincidentally, the CMY color wheel has been in the quilting spotlight the past several years, as many quilting books and tools have been published based on using this color wheel. But it's not the only system or even the best one to use, it's just the one that some authors and teachers seem to prefer.

As I've mentioned above, because we're working with found color in our fabrics, we can look at any of these three color systems to find inspiration. Taking a quick look at the three color systems above, you can see how quilts made using these three different color wheels might appear very different. If a quilt block used the three primary colors of a system, there would be three distinct possibilities of color combinations (red-yellow-blue, red-green-blue, or cyan-magenta-yellow). All three are valid, but each gives drastically different results.

In the next article we'll look specifically at the relationships found between the colors within the wheel that form the basic color combinations inspired by a color wheel. And even closer at WHY some of these relationships are so important (it's not just a coincidence!). Until then, check out some resources below to learn more, and keep your eye out for a basic color wheel tool at your local quilt or art store, they are often between $5 and $15 bucks, and well worth the cost.


Color Matters is a fun website to poke around at and learn more about Color Theory, especially if you've got a bit of a rid to work on the train or bus.

Color Basics Lessons are short and sweet lessons, easy to browse while taking a coffee or tea break.

Artist's RYB Color Wheel, available online, at fine arts stores, and in some quilting stores. I highly recommend picking up one of these for learning more about color theory. This is the best tool for the price at $10 or less, and can be used for color inspiration, and matching fabric colors to true hues.

The CMY Color Wheel, a little harder to find in stores, but a great tool to have on hand.

Quilter's Color Wheel, it's a simpler version of the Artist's Color Wheel above, but gives you little cut out windows within the wheel for color matching fabrics.

Itten's Color Star, developed as an intense study aid for artists to delve deeper into color relationships.

Color Paddle Set, this tool is a fun way to explore color mixing by using additive color (by using lights with the clear gels) or as subtractive color (by looking through the gels).

Last but not least, check out my other posts on Color Theory here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Color Study (Triangles) Quilt from Beginning to End

Edited on December 17, 2015 at 3:00 pm to say that I just learned this quilt is accepted to the QuiltCon 2016 exhibit! I am so, so excited. I can't make it to QuiltCon 2016, so if you are there, say "hi" to my quilt!

After almost two years, the Triangles quilt is finished! This quilt comes from experiments working with Color Theory and fabrics.

I first studied Color Theory as a painting student in college, following exercises in mixing pigments to learn about color principles and interactions. Our first assignments were to use paint to create a representation of the Artist's Color Wheel, matching the 12 colors as closely as possible. A few years ago, I started to recreate some of the basic Color Theory exercises with fabric, starting with a color wheel.

The inspiration for this piece comes directly from one of those primary Color Theory exercises I did in college; use the 12 colors of the Artist’s Color Wheel to create a subjective color model. I first had the idea in the fall of 2013, and let it roll around in my head until the idea was pretty formed. Then, in the beginning of 2014 I worked several draft sketches until finalizing the design in my sketch book.

Creating this design with fabric was a challenge. I had no idea how to piece this design, and started experimenting with several piecing techniques in the spring of 2014.

I settled on using a large-scale method of piecing based on both paper and foundation piecing. I used a base material to draw the shapes, then used that material just like it was a paper pieced pattern. I spent the summer of 2014 piecing the top together.

After the top was finished at the end of summer, I ended up taking a bit of a break from sewing. The finished top sat aside until later in the year.

Finally finding time to get back to sewing in the winter of 2014, I basted this bad bitch together. I experimented a lot with the quilting. My first idea was to add vertical straight line quilting. matching thread colors to the design so as not to distract from the shapes.

Unfortunately, once I got started with the straight line quilting, I decided it wasn't working! So, I ripped it all out. All of it, every single stitch.

And then took all the layers apart to press, re-baste, and start the process all over again.

This time I decided to quilt with the direction of the triangle shapes.

And it worked out much, much better. Just what this quilt needed.

After a few months of on-and-off quilting, I finished it up last month, in October 2015.

I am very happy with the overall design. Red, my favorite color, is centered in the quilt. Instead of following along exactly in order as the colors move across the quilt, the 12 colors of the wheel move back and forth as the triangles intersect. I really like the way the shapes fly out from the center off each edge of the quilt. I even followed through the last shapes with the binding so they follow through to the very edge.

But I feel like I fought with this quilt at each and every step, like we were in a wrestling match. Most times, I felt like this quilt was totally kicking my ass. I can still see all the mistakes I made each and every time I look at it! Still, I'm happy to have completed it, especially since it was such a challenge.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Button Box Treasures

My neighbors just gifted me with a wonderful button box FULL of treasures! I've never been able to pass up an old button box, and whenever I find one at a garage sale, thrift store, or second hand shop (if the price is right) it usually comes home with me.

Most button boxes come with some special button treasures inside, like this vintage brass CPD coat button.

Or these gorgeous old glass buttons.

And my personal favorite, brightly colored vintage plastic buttons.

Inevitably, button boxes that have been collecting and holding buttons for a long time end up containing other small treasures, too. Things that are picked up and stashed in apron pockets in the course of everyday life end up tossed in the button box to save for later. Also, little things with big sentimental value sometimes end up in a button box, like a favorite bead from a broken necklace, one of a special pair of earrings when the other is lost, or a sparkly jewel popped from costume jewelry.

Like this super duper teeny tiny lapel pin with a crest including the letters "M W A" inside. Wht it is - I have no idea! But, it was obviously a treasure to the woman who stashed it in with her buttons.

And these little treasures were in the button box, too!

I've been gathering vintage button stashes for so long now that I've noticed a pattern to what other treasures I'll find inside. Here are some things I've found from the many button stashes collected along the way:

Lingerie pins and broken or mis-matched jewelry.

Marbles and steel ball bearings.


Random game pieces.

Various small metal what-not's.

And guitar picks.

I've started keeping all of these extra treasures in a jar near my sewing machine, and added in my own little treasures as well. Among my personal favorites are a tiny Pikachu I found on the ground maybe 12 years ago (he used to live in my jewelry box with my earrings, but is much happier in the treasure stash jar), and a county pet tag from a favorite best-friend-kitty cat who lived a very long life and is now passed on.

Do you have a button box, jar, or drawer? What other treasures are in with your buttons?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Quilted Scissors Holder Tutorial

The inspiration for my quilted scissors holder came directly from Vicky's Fabric Creations Folded Fabric Scissor Holder Tutorial. Vicky's clever scissors holder features a custom monogram on the front, and is made from two pieces of fabric.

This version of the scissors holder features two layers of fabric quilted with thin batting, making it perfect for storing and protecting your favorite scissors or sewing tools. It's so super easy to make, you'll want to stitch one to gift to everyone you know who loves to sew.

1 81/2" x 11" plain piece of paper
Paper or craft scissors
Sewing machine with walking foot
Rotary cutter, mat, and clear acrylic ruler
Two fat quarters of fabric (one for each side of the scissor/tool holder)
One scrap of cotton batting 10" x 12"
Matching threads
Iron and ironing board

First, make the pattern for the scissor holder.

Grab the piece of paper, ruler, pencil, and paper/craft scissors.

Begin by folding the bottom edge of the paper over to meet the left edge, resulting in a triangle. Crease the folded edge well.

Fold the creased edge again over to meet the left edge of the paper - and it will almost look like you're making a paper airplane. Crease the folded edge well.

Open the folded piece of paper like so.

Using the ruler and pencil, mark a line on each of the folds. Next, number each section made by the folds starting with number 1 at the top left of the page, moving to the right. There will be 4 numbered sections.

Now take section #1 and fold it over to meet the line between section #2 and #3.

Take sections #3 and #4, and fold them across the folded section #1.

And finally, take section #4 and fold it back along the crease - and you will see the pattern start to take shape.

Fold the pointed end of the pattern over to meet the top edge of section #4, just like in the photo above. Crease the fold well.

Open the folded end, and cut along the crease with the paper/craft scissors.

Open the folds, and there you have your pattern for the scissors holder.

The very last step in making the pattern is to mark about a 3 1/2" opening along the left edge of section #1. This opening is used to turn the scissors holder right side out.

Great, you've got your pattern all ready to go! A few quick tips before we move on to sewing.

  • When grabbing fabrics to use for the scissors holder, try to find two fabrics that really contrast against each other. This will make the different sections of the scissors holder really pop when the project is completed. Think different colors or complementary colors, one big print and one small print, one light or one dark, etc.
  • Try to use a medium to lightweight cotton for this project. Home dec weight fabrics or similar (like denim or canvas) will make it nearly impossible to sew through the many folded layers.
  • Use a thinner batting for this project - I used regular Warm and Natural with great results. Stuff that's thicker will make it too difficult to sew through multiple layers.

Let's sew the scissors holder.

Place the two pieces of fabric for the holder right sides together, and pin your pattern piece on top. Using a rotary cutter and ruler, add 1/4" to the outside of the pattern when cutting (for the seam allowance).

After cutting the fabric, roughly cut the batting scrap to fit - we'll trim it down after stitching. Pin together through all layers, making sure to leave open the space marked on the pattern for turning. Stitch with a 1/4" seam allowance from the edge of the fabric, pivoting at the corners. Use a walking foot if you have one (the walking foot will help move the layers through the sewing machine to prevent bunching up or puckering).

After stitching, cut the batting even with the fabric edges. Clip all corners and notch the pivots of the inside curved stitching as pictured above.

At the opening, grab between the two pieces of fabrics, and turn the scissors holder right side out. Use a point turner or chopstick to gently push out the corners. Press flat, turning the opening under 1/4".

Next, quilt as desired. You can do any quilting design you choose! I used my walking foot to do some straight lines.

Make sure you quilt a few stitches over the opening, which will eventually be stitched to the inside of the scissors holder, hidden from view.

Next, find your paper pattern again, and line up the quilted scissors holder right on top of the pattern.

Use the pencil line between section #1 and #2 as a guide to fold over section #1 as show. Press well. Then press again - press the heck out of it!

Line the scissors holder back up with the pattern again, and use the pencil line between section #2 and #3 as a guide to fold over as shown. Press, press, press, and press again.

Fold the last remaining section back over the top, and you will see the scissors holder finally take shape. Press. Press again. Press from the back, too!

Open the pressed scissors holder up, and stitch section #1 down at the very edge of section #2 still using the walking foot. 

Now flip the whole thing over, and stitch section #4 down to section #3 at the very outside edge with the walking foot.

Fold the scissors holder back together, and you will see there's only one seam left to sew along the left hand edge and bottom. I stitched close to the very edge using the walking foot.

If you are having issues with your sewing machine handling all of these layers, then you may want to hand stitch the side seam, and add a few strong tacking stitches to the bottom edges to make sure the bottom of the pockets stay closed.

The finished holder will easily fit three pairs of scissors! But I've found that I like to also add a few of my most-used tools to the holder as well as the pairs of scissors I can't live without. That's a small pair of thread snips, a chopstick, a large pair of dressmaking shears, a sewing gauge, and a vintage tool that doubles as both a crochet hook and bodkin.

And it all fits quite nicely!