Wednesday, July 29, 2020


In the middle of the stay-at-home order earlier this summer, we lost my stepfather to non-Covid related pneumonia.

His health had been failing in the last few years, and he was really struggling with several health issues in the months before his passing. It's been really tough for my family, especially my mom. He was definitely a quirky guy, a bit stubborn at times, but with a wicked funny bone and knack for getting you with his dry sense of humor. We all miss him very, very much.

We couldn't hold a traditional memorial service at the time of his passing because of the pandemic. It's been a difficult pause in the process of mourning for the whole family.

We planned to try to hold a small, personal memorial mid-August. Now we find that we're having to plan a memorial that's both socially distanced for the few of us that will meet in person, and virtual for those of us who won't be with us.

In a way, finally planning for the memorial feels like hitting the play button again after being paused for so many months, and we're all looking forward to getting together and sharing memories.

This is also one of the reasons I've been so silent here on my own blog. I haven't had very much good news to share since May (other than my totally rad, custom painted vintage sewing machine I shared in the last post!). I'm hoping after the memorial I'm ready to hit "play" and start moving forward with my creative life once again.

Stay safe and be well,

Friday, July 3, 2020

Custom Singer 301a

I recently traded artistic services with a friend, making a custom quilt in return for a custom paint job on a vintage sewing machine. Y'all, I am totally BLOWN AWAY by the results!

It's very difficult to photograph this beauty inside, as the light doesn't capture all the sparkle and glitter. I took her outside in the garden today to try and capture some of the color and light in this paint job. It's still not as fantastic as when you see her in person.

Erika Mulvenna Custom Singer 301A

This is one of my favorite travel sewing machines in my vintage sewing machine collection. I love the portability, stitch quality, and size of the Singer 301A. When deciding which machine to have painted, this one was my first choice because of all the flat surface area.

Erika Mulvenna Custom Singer 301A

Oh my gosh, she's so beautiful, and it's got my name on it!

Erika Mulvenna Custom Singer 301A

The whole machine has a base of silvery, rainbow glitter flake which sparkles and shines in different colors when you move around her.

Erika Mulvenna Custom Singer 301A

And the front features an amazing lace overlay. I mean, AMAZING!

Erika Mulvenna Custom Singer 301A

The base of the machine features some pretty rad fish scales in my very favorite color, red. Yes, the scales go all the way around.

Erika Mulvenna Custom Singer 301A

The back features fun, floating bubbles!

Erika Mulvenna Custom Singer 301A

Erika Mulvenna Custom Singer 301A

The bed of the 301A is inspired by the bright colors and patterns of traditional Mexican Saltillo or Sarape textiles, with stunning depth and range of color. Again, these photos don't really do the paint job total justice.

If you want still more, see a few video shorts that really show off the sparkle on my Instagram feed here!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Creating Dimension With Fabric

Staying at home (sometimes on furlough or being laid-off) has given so many of us the opportunity to learn new things! I see lots of new resources for sewing tutorials and classes out there - are you learning any new sewing/quilting/crafting skills while physically distancing and sheltering at home?

I've been playing around with creating depth and dimension with fabrics, and wanted to try to create a quilt based on some old color theory sketches I made in my sketchbook a few years ago.

These sketches are similar to the Colossal Blocks quilt I made last year. This quilt uses different tints and shades of colored fabrics in the same hue to create the illusion of depth in the blocks.

The shading is also a little similar to this value study experiment I did last year using layers of netting over one hue of fabric to create the illusion of value and depth.

This quilt is a combination of the two techniques, using black and white netting layered over one hue of fabric to create different values, and piecing blocks to create a block pattern with depth.

I created a little "test" piece to see how these techniques would work together.

And it looked pretty good!

I pieced the top with scraps of solid colors from my stash, using both white and black netting to overlay on top of solid colors and create the illusion of highlights and shadows.

The quilting was going well until...

I discovered that parts on the back of the sewing machine were catching and ripping the netting as I was moving the quilt around and pivoting in the corners. There were several small tears and holes by the time I figured out what was going on, but the netting is so stiff that you can't really see these spots unless you really search for them. 

I covered the inside thread cutter and the back of the Dual Feed mechanism with painter's tape to keep them from ripping the netting while finishing up the quilting. This seemed to do the trick - and I bet there's a way to remove that side thread cutter, but with my BERNINA Dealer store closed due to the stay-at-home order, this information will have to wait.

Quilting went pretty smoothly through to the end. The netting actually quilts quite nicely!

The finished wall hanging fits perfectly over my desk, I love it here!

Definitely a fun experiment, and a successful one for creating depth. I love the illusion of value and dimension in the blocks!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Fat Quarter Stash Tote Bag

I've been working on another project in-between mask making sewing sessions. To be honest, I've felt a little lost while sheltering at home without working, trying to navigate my kiddo's new home schooling schedule, keeping tabs on my parents who are in that high-risk category, I mean - my daily routines are in total chaos. Giving myself this kind of sewing "assignment" was a welcome way to feel like I was doing something useful, something I could control, something that had a good outcome.

My goal was to create a better tote using only fabric from my stash with as little waste as possible. I wanted to try and remedy issues I've had with other totes I made, like too-short handles, narrow bag bottoms that tip over easily, wide open tops that allow contents to spill out, not to mention how messy the bags get stored thrown in a pile (which yes, I know in theory you can always neatly fold totes and store in another tote, it just never ends up happening in real life).

After lots of sketches, measurements, and testing, I created an easy-to-sew tote bag that's roomy, features drawstring handles that fit over your shoulder, a nice side pocket, and hidden ties to keep the tote neat and tidy until you need it.

Best of all, you can make this tote from exactly 6 fat quarters with almost zero waste!

I shared a full step-by-step tutorial to make the Fat Quarter Tote Bag over at BERNINA's WeAllSew blog, go check it out. I'm loving the new totes for quick shopping trips. 

Here in Chicago our local grocery shops are no longer bagging with totes brought from home, but I can still bag my own items with these totes. I just open the totes in the cart and pop the items right in, pull up the drawstring handles, and I'm ready to go. Also - these totes are 100% washable if you are at all concerned about the cleanliness of totes during shopping trips. I leave one tote open on the back porch, to collect totes coming back from shopping. Wash these totes with warm water and regular detergent (color safe bleach if needed) on delicate setting, and use a good soak cycle if you have that option available on your washer. I lay the bags flat to dry and they're good to go for another round of shopping.

I hope you enjoy the tote tutorial, and if you end up making one please share and tag me! You can find me at @erika.mulvenna on Instagram.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Vintage Quilt Finish

I forgot to share this project with you! This project was an interesting collaboration between me and an unknown maker.

I picked up this unfinished quilt top several years ago. One large piece of the top was completed by the original quilt maker, but there were also a few rows of the triangles pieced together as well. There were also several pre-cut triangles in the bag, and the original cardboard template!

The fabrics in this quilt are an interesting mix of re-purposed fabrics. Some of the fabrics are thin and close to threadbare, possibly from items of worn out clothing. Some are thick, rough, large weave fabrics possibly left over from an upholstery project. All of these various fabrics together almost clash, and my kiddo Fidget took one look at it and said, "Oh, that's so ugly!" 

Last year I finally got inspired to finish up the quilt top. I left the large piece completed by the original maker and finished sewing together an additional section using the strips and spare patchwork triangles. I added a rainbow of solid colored fabric strips between the two sections of patchwork to make the quilt larger. The finished quilt is about a full-sized bed quilt.

Sir Issac and Bea Arthur immediately loved this quilt, like I could hardly keep them off of it through the entire process.

The patchwork was kind of wonky, so I chose simple straight lines across the quilt in line with some of the angles.

I don't normally create large quilts, so getting this quilt through the machine was a challenge. I also took several weeks to finish the quilting.

The backing is a few larger pieces of random fabrics, and I happened to have some vintage cheater patchwork fabric that worked perfectly for the binding.

I do love all the various, funky fabrics in this quilt, and I do love that I was able to finish it for the original maker who never got the chance. But I do also see where Fidget, or others, might find this an ugly quilt.

I'm glad I finally finished this quilt, even though it took me several years. Especially since the original maker started making this, well, probably when I was in grade school! ;)