Monday, October 25, 2010

Quilting in the 21st Century

I recently attended a meeting of The Chicago Modern Quilt Guild where artists/quilters/designers/authors Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr of spoke about their upcoming book, Quilts Made Modern.

Whoa, what a great lecture! Weeks and Bill shared a great presentation about quilting styles of through the ages, and gave us insight into how they design and construct thier modern quilts.

We also got a sneak peek at all the new quilts featured in Quilts Made Modern as well as a sneak peek into the book. What struck me about these modern quilts and the book was how accessible the designs are. Not only do I love the geometric designs and how they seem both simple and complex at once, but as a beginner quilter these projects all seem like something I could tackle. I should add, something that I would actually want to tackle!

If you want to see some of these quilts, you can get a tasty preview of all of the quilts in the upcoming Quilts Made Modern at Weeks Ringle's blog, Craft Nectar.

You can also find some very cool tutorials over at Week's blog, like this very modern quilt or this informative post on cleaning your sewing machine.

To keep up with Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr, check the site to learn about upcoming lectures, classes, shows, and to find out more about the soon to be released Quilts Made Modern.

Oh, and let me know if you're already a fan of FunQuilts - maybe you already have a copy of The Modern Quilt Workshop or Quiltmaker's Color Workshop and have already stitched up some modern quilts of your own! I feel lucky to have just stumbled upon Weeks and Bill, and am actually contemplating starting a quilt!

Monday, October 18, 2010


Baby K just a few months old
Being home with my daughter has been wonderful, and I wouldn't trade this time for anything. Seeing all the little changes as she grows and blooms, being present for the little miracles and watching her become a strong, smart little girl has been totally awesome.

On the flipside, it has been a very tough transition for me professionally. I left a full-time career as a National Educator for a major sewing machine company (a dream come true) to become a stay at home momma. The great part of that has been the freedom to do whatever I want! The tough part has been figuring out exactly what it is I want to do. I've had lots and lots and lots of ideas, and in trying several have ended up going in too many directions, forcing myself to do more than there is actually time in a day for getting done.

And, I have to confess that as I follow highly succesful and talented stitcher/bloggers (who work from home and who have published a book, or patterns, or fabric lines, or all of the above) I have felt more than a little inadequate. I read another great post about another great sewing book/pattern/fabric line coming out, and I can't even pull it together enough to post to my blog more than once or twice a week. Honestly, every single night I collapse into bed totally exhausted all I can think about are the 3 or 4 more things I should have gotten done that day. It sucks, and I feel like a failure.

I had a dream the other night that pretty much summed it all up.
I was in line at the newest, hippest, coolest and best breakfast doughnut shop ever. Each doughnut was made special order, by hand, right there on the spot. I watched the people in front of me call out thier special order, and watched as the staff brought each handmade, delicious looking, still warm and oh-so-sweet creation out on a platter, contemplating how tasty mine was going to be. The line was getting shorter, and soon there were only two, then one person in front of me...and I was next! I was savoring the choices, getting ready to order the doughnut of my dreams! But, as I turned to watch the person in front of me walk away with thier hand dipped-honey glazed, pink frosted, sugar sprinkled doughnut, I turned back to find a giant line in front of me all over again. That's right, I was doomed to watch everyone else order up and eat the doughnut of their dreams while all I could do was watch. Thanks, subconcious, way to really rub my face in it.

That being said, in an effort to simplify my life and keep my sanity, I have made some hard choices about my current commitments. I am downshifting, so to speak. I have had to let some things go, and hope to be able to focus on what's left on my plate in a way that keeps me satisfied without going insane. It goes without saying that the biggest part of my plate is a heaping helping of my family; my incredibly loving hunk of a husband that puts up with my insanity, and my sunshine-of-my-life toddler daugher. And after that, here's what's left on my plate:

I am still working in a small capacity from home a few hours a week for the very same sewing machine company I was previously employed full time with. I would not give this up for anything. I absolutely love the little bit of work I do each week, it helps me to stay connected with people that I LOVE working with while promoting a brand that I believe strongly in, not to mention it's all about my biggest obsession; sewing!

I can't give up teaching, and I have missed it terribly ever since I stopped. I have found a wonderful place not too far from my home that is a possible place for me to teach, and am working towards offering a few classes after the new year.

Sew Creatively
Okay. This is a small part of the plate, but a big step for me. I haven't created anything "artistic" (or should I say just for the art of creating) in a long, long, time. I have a sketchbook, a scrap book, and I have been filling them both to overflowing, and it's time to start working forward from there. In order to do this, I must first tie up all loose ends, finish any sewing committments I've made, and complete all random sewing projects I've started. Then it's on!


Of course I also plan on continuing to update this here blog, as often as I have time to sit, write, and compile some photos. Just know that the few things I will be talking about will be the few things on my plate that I intend to concentrate fully on. I started this blog in order to make some connections with similarly minded people, and have met some wonderful stitchers and stay at home mommas! I am so eternally grateful for my readers as well as the bloggers whom I regularly follow - you all help me to stay positive, feel connected, and know that I'm not alone.

And on that note, I'm exhausted, headed to bed, and hoping to wake up to a less stressful tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hand Sewing: The Basic Stitches

Follow along with me to learn some basic hand stitches! Practice these stitches on your own, or make a small hand stitching sampler with the instructions below.

If you are brand new to hand sewing, check out these links:

Learn all about sewing needles here.
Find out all about sewing thread at this article from
Find some hand sewing tips to help you get started here.

Size 10 Sharp sewing needle
All-purpose sewing thread
100% cotton muslin fabric
Iron and ironing board
Fabric shears
Thread snips
Stitch Sampler template (download here)
12" ruler or straight edge
Pencil or fabric marker

How to make a sampler:
Use the Stitch Sampler template with a piece of cotton muslin 8 1/2" x 11". Grab a 12" ruler or straight edge and a pencil or fabric marker.
Place the 8 1/2" x 11" piece of muslin over the template; use the ruler and marking tool to trace lines #1, #2, and #3 onto the fabric as stitching guides.
Follow along with the template and stitch the samples as numbered below: stitch #1 goes on the line traced from the template for #1, stitch #2 goes on the line indicated for #2, and so on. After you have completed stitch #4, press each end of the fabric over following the instructions on the template to get ready for the hem stitches. Your finished stitch template will look similar to this (I'm holding it sideways):

The Basic Stitches:

1.      Basting stitch
The basting stitch is usually sewn with a single thread, and is used to hold pieces of fabric together temporarily until final sewing by hand or machine. Basting stitches can also be used to trace pattern markings onto fabric with thread, such as marking pocket placement or a hemline.

Tie a knot in the thread end, and take the needle in and out of the fabric to create stitches up to 3/8” apart from each other. The trick is not to leave the thread too loose or pull the thread too tight as you are sewing, the fabric should not buckle or pucker, but should lay flat. Secure the thread at the end of the row of stitches.

2.      Running stitch
The running stitch is a small stitch, usually sewn with a single thread for securing two pieces of fabric together in a plain seam. You can use the running stitch sewn with double thread knotted securely at the end to pull fabric into gathers.

Take several running stitches with your needle at once before pulling the thread through to make stitching go faster!
The fabric should not buckle or pucker, but should lay flat. Secure the thread at the end of the row of stitches.

3.      Back stitch
The back stitch is usually sewn with a single thread and creates a strong, secure seam. The front of the stitch should lie in a neat row, and the back will look like longer overlapping stitches.

The back of the Back Stitch, showing overlapping of the stitches.
Use a single thread knotted at the end. Begin by taking one stitch in and out of the fabric. Set the needle back into the fabric one small stitch BEHIND where the needle came out for the last stitch, and bring the needle out one stitch AHEAD of the last stitch. The stitching should appear even, and should not pull or pucker the fabric but should lay flat. Secure the thread at the end of the row of stitches.

4.      Overcast stitch
The overcast stitch uses a single layer of thread and can be used to finish the raw edges of a seam.
Use a single thread knotted at the end. Begin stitching from the back of the fabric, bringing the needle through to the front, and then over the fabric to stitch through the back to the front again. Don’t pull the stitches too tight, the stitching should appear even and should lay flat. Secure the thread at the end of the row of stitches.

The Hem Stitches
A quick word about hemming stitches. I learned to sew these stitches as the others, from right to left. Some people prefer to sew hem stitches in the opposite direction (from left to right instead of right to left) so that the threads “cross over” each other. I've found Sewing Instructors and reference books showing either way. So, both ways will work, it’s all a matter of preference!

5.      Hem stitch
The hem stitch uses a single layer of thread and is a quick and easy way to stitch a hem.

Use a single thread knotted at the end. Begin stitching up through the folded fabric of the hem. Take the next stitch to the left, picking up a few threads of the main fabric.

Again, take a stitch to the left through a few threads of the folded hem, and repeat. The hem should lie flat.
Secure the thread at the end of the row of stitches.

6.      Blind hem stitch
Similar to the hem stitch but sewn in a way that the stitch is nearly invisible.
Use a single thread knotted at the end. Begin stitching up through the folded fabric of the hem. Take the next stitch to the left, picking up only one or two threads of the main fabric. Then move the needle to the left and below through the folded hem, and repeat.
Be careful not to pull the stitches too tight, the hem should lie nice and flat. Secure the thread at the end of the row of stitches.
Even though the stitches are made with red thread, it is still very hard to see the stitches from the other side of the fabric.

Once you have a handle on these few basic stitches, you can tackle any simple sewing project! Here are a few ideas:

Sew an apron - check out this great list of free apron patterns from!
Stitch up a pillowcase - go get a free pattern from!
Go visit's free pattern page and find something to sew!

And please let me know if you have any great hand sewing tips or tricks to share!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hand Sewing: Tips

I am lovin' this hand stitching! While sewing this weekend, I was reminded just how much I take for granted about sewing, and there are lots of little things that beginners have questions about. I had some great questions from absolute beginners, like these:

So how do I thread this here needle anyway? How long should I make the thread?
Thread the needle with a single strand of thread through the needle's eye. Make sure your thread isn’t too short or too long; a good rule-of-thumb is to use a piece of thread about as long as your arm. If you are having trouble getting the thread end though the needle eye, try using a needle threader. Read all about hand sewing needles here.

And what kind of knot do I tie up at the end?
Follow this awesome video tutorial for learning to tie a proper tailor's knot. Also remember to tie the knot in the thread end cut from the spool to reduce thread twisting and tangling.

Which way do I sew?
Righties and lefties sew differently. If you are right handed like me, you will support your sewing project in your left hand while stitching with the right. And, you’ll be stitching from right to left. So, if you’re a lefty - you guessed it - sew with your left hand, from left to right, while supporting your sewing project with the right hand.

How do I stop?
Ending a row of stitching so the thread doesn’t come loose is muy importante!  You can take three small stitches on top of each other before cutting off the thread while stitching. It's best to finish with a strong knot; take a small stitch, and before pulling it tight run the needle back through the looped stitch two times to knot before cutting the thread.
Do you have any wonderful hand sewing tips or tricks to share? Yes? Please leave a comment and let us know!

I'll be posting the basic stitching how-to sampler later this week, as soon as I've finished the rest of my catching up. A-hem. It was such a beautiful weekend I didn't work as much as I should have...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

For Stitches' Sake

Today I've been taking my time with some hand stitching, creating a beginner's stitch sampler for a basic hand sewing post later this week.

Much to my suprise, I actually enjoyed this little bit of hand sewing! Concentrating for just a few minutes on each different stitch caused me to slow down and pay attention to the interaction between needle, fabric, and thread.

The Basic Stitches sampler will post in the next few days. I know most of you dear readers already know how to sew, but the more I teach the more I find people who don't know much about hand stitching. It might be a great refresher course if you haven't picked up a hand needle in many years!

This bit of stitching also made me excited to start my next hand sewing project. A great beginning for any hand sewer and a historic "first" for many young girls learning to sew in the early 20th Century.

And speaking of hand sewing, it seems ironic that this used to be the first steps in learning to sew; mastering hand stitches first, then moving on to using a machine. These days it seem the other way around. So how about you? If you sew, which did you learn first, hand sewing or machine stitching?

Monday, October 4, 2010

So many buttons, so little time

Button Stash

You know how it is when you sew, and you start to hoard collect sewing notions, right?  Because you never know what you might need, and it's great to have stuff like thread, buttons, snaps, hooks and eyes, ect. on hand right? Yeah, me too! It's just that, well, I have no idea how I ended up with this many buttons. (Is it like The Trouble with Tribbles - are they reproducing in those little button jars?) I decided last week that I absolutely need to start finding some button projects and use up some of my button stash.

Button Stash

I had this idea to try to sew buttons on a fabric band to make a bracelet, and stitched a few samples up over the weekend.
I started with a thin fabric strip, and inserted an elastic band sewn in one end as a base for stitching on buttons. The elastic band slips over the first button on the other end of the strip. This worked out pretty well, but I discovered it was kind of difficult to space the buttons out along the strip evenly. One of my first bracelets was stitched up with buttons that were all a little different.

Then I tried buttons that were all the same size, and that made it easier to figure the spacing. These are my favorites, and I'm still wearing the gray, red, and black one right now.

And last, I tried using some patterned fabric and spaced the buttons wider apart.

These looked pretty cool as I was making them, but I wasn't so excited when I slapped one on my wrist. By the way, it's pretty dang hard to take a picture of your own arm wearing a bracelet...

Still am not sure if I'm making many more of these. The only ones I really liked are the bracelets made of buttons that are all the same size, and most of my button stash are unmatched and slightly different sized butttons. Hmmm.

Do you have any great button crafts to share or know of some great project links? I am in definite need of some more ideas!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hand Sewing: Needles

Needles, needles, needles!

Hand sewing is a great skill to learn; not only can you tackle some small mending and repair work on your wardrobe, but there are a host of fun, crafty projects to can stitch up by hand. This is the first in a few posts about hand sewing in an attempt to get you stitching!

In hand sewing, there are a lot of different types of stitching you can do. And each specific type of stitch and sewing job uses a specific tool, that being a sewing needle. Yes, there are many different types, sizes, and shapes of needles, but you only need to know a few basics to get started!

Hand needles are categorized in many groups, but we will focus on General and Hand Sewing needlesSome of the other major categories are: Quilting needles, Needlecraft needles, Darning needles, and Heavy-Duty needles. And there are even packs of needles out there sold under the name "Crafting" needles, which are generally a mix of a few other types.

Let's talk needle terminology. A needle has a pointed end to go through the fabric and an eye to carry the thread. Pretty simple design and highly effective! The shape of the needle eye, type of point, needle length and thickness of the needle determine the needle type and size.

Needle sizes are specified by a number. Generally, with the kinds of hand sewing needles we're discussing, the larger the number, the smaller and finer the needle. When picking a needle for a hand sewing task, think about the weight of the fabric when choosing a size. Fine fabrics such as silks need a finer needle, like a size 10; and a thick denim needs a larger, stronger needle like a size 4.

Needle points come in a few different types for sewing different kinds of fabrics: Sharp points (a very sharp point for woven fabrics), Ball-points (a rounded point to go between fibers of knit fabrics), Blunt (for needlepoint, cross stitch, or tapestry) and Wedge (for sewing heavy non-wovens like leather, vinyl, or plastic).

Sharp pointed needles and Ball Points are the most common for general purpose sewing or crafting. Choose which point to use based on your fabric choice: Sharps for all wovens and Ball Points for knits.

Needles packaged for general sewing and crafting are Sharps, Betweens, and Ball-points. Let's take a closer look at each of these types of needles.

Sharps are the most common hand sewing needle. They come in sizes ranging from 1 (really large) to 12 (really small and fine). Most often they are a medium length, great for any hand sewing task, and sometimes can be found in "long" sizes as well. A really good bet for any hand sewing project using stable woven fabric (like woven cotton prints, solids, or quilting fabrics).

Betweens are similar to Sharps, but are shorter in length. Sometimes these are labeled as Quilting needles, because they are great for making short, fine stitches. They are also available in  sizes 1 through 12. Also a good bet for most hand sewing projects but not quite as easy for a beginner to handle because of the shorter length.

Ball-points are similar in size and shape to Sharps, but have a rounded off point for use with knits. These needles are made to move between the fibers of a knit fabric instead of puncturing through them - it makes a much better, stronger stitch with knits. You can find these needles most often in sizes 5 through 10, and work great for any project using a stretchy knit fabric.

So, when choosing a needle for hand sewing, think about the type of fabric (stable woven or stretchy knit) to determine if you will use a Sharp or Ballpoint needle. Think about the weight or thickness of the fabric (delicate like silk, medium weight like quilting cotton, or tough like denim) to choose your needle size. And, think about what kind of stitches you will be taking to pick a short, medium, or long needle.

Sewing Susan

There are a few tools made to make your handwork with needles even easier. Using any of these tools is a totally personal choice, some sewers do and some don't.

These little tools come in all shapes and sizes, but the most popular is the little silver tab featuring a person in profile. (There seems to be a different "head" in all three of my little needle threaders. What the signifigance of these portraits are I have no idea, but I bet it would make a great story!) Super simple to use: insert the wire point through the needle eye, pull the thread end through the large opening in the wire, and pull the wire back out through the needle eye. Presto - your needle is threaded!

Simple in design, these babies protect the end of your finger from repeated pushing of the needle through the fabric. Also great for helping push a needle through super thick fabrics. They come in all shapes and sizes and made from all types of materials. Try one on before you buy, as different types of thimbles fit and feel different.

A great invention, these are small pieces of rubber that help you to grab and pull a needle through many layers or thick fabrics. I use and love these!

Yes, you read that right, lubrication for your needle. There are both liquids that apply directly to your needle and semi-solids that you stitch through to lubricate your needle. The theory is that these lubricants help your needle to glide through fabrics quicker and easier - I personally have never tried any, so please let me know if you have used or tried these prodcuts before.

Now - grab a needle and get ready to start stitching!

Sew and Stitch

Happy hand sewing!