Saturday, January 24, 2015

Progress and a Case of Quilting Hiccups

I began the week with high hopes for reaching my goals, but, as you know, not everything works out quite as planned. It was the nine-patch quilt that messed up my week.

I would have saved so much time if I had planned it more carefully, and I know for sure that I would have been happier with the outcome. In the end it will be fine. Not as wonderful as I had imagined, but acceptable.

I keep saying I'm going to break down and buy a good program for designing quilts. This may have to be the year I give in. Sigh...

Goal #1: Finish the nine-patch quilt top. 

I thought I had my little nine-patch quilt all figured out. The nine finished blocks looked great, but I wasn't quite ready to stitch them together.

I had this vision of doing some slicing and dicing. I wanted to add some narrow cream colored stripes to break the blocks up a bit, two down one side and two across the top. Then I would arrange the blocks into this really interesting and attractive layout. I could see it in my head, and it looked lovely.

I had planned to make four 1/2" stripes, two vertically, two horizontally. At the last minute I changed my mind and decided that wider strips of fabric would be easier to work with. I cut the fabric strips 1 1/4" wide and grew the stripes to 3/4".

That was the first hiccup in my plan.

I started by making one block to use as a my pattern for the others.  I had sliced and added three stripes to the first block when I stopped and double-checked the yardage of the fabric for the stripes. It measured just a bit too close for comfort. There was a simple fix, and I liked the fact that it would cut down on my stitching time.  I simply skipped that last stripe. The block wasn't exactly what I'd envisioned, but it was still cute.

That was hiccup number 2.

From here on, it was downhill. If anything could go wrong, it did.  I'll spare you the painful details of my non-stop hiccuping, but I'll give you a hint.

My mother was a wise woman, and when I was just a little girl she made sure to teach me two very important lesson for anyone who sews:
"Measure twice, cut once."
"Never sew when you're tired or in a hurry."


When I finally called it quits for the week my blocks had lost 1/2" in each direction and they could only be placed this way or that way. But seams match up! I guess it could be worse.

Here they are on my design board. They still need sashing and a border to make a quilt. It isn't what I'd seen in my wonderful vision, but it will be okay. I just hope no one notices the really big "oops'! Can you find it?

Goal # 2: Complete a name mug rug each week.
I didn't exactly accomplish this, but, two new mug rugs are ready to quilt and bind. I'll be adding the musical notes to the templates and updating the pattern before too long. I'm waiting to see what other templates I may need to toss in.

Goal #3: Sketch every day.

I've done fabulously with the sketching bit. Lot's of itty-bitty 5" houses in the works. I have no idea if they'll ever turn into something, but right now I'm on a roll. So much fun! 

Goal #4: Make a new mug rug pattern by the end of the month. 
Will I finish the new pattern by the end of the month? My gosh, that only 7 days off! I might be able accomplish this, but I'm not sure. Regardless, I won't be able to do it with just one pattern. I'll have to make a pair. The theme is fowl. Giggle! (Sorry. That was a teacher joke.)

Goal #5: Write a weekend blog.
Yes!! And this is it!

Wishing you a super week!!

Still giggling. :)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Setting Goals and Limits

I need to split into at least six people!

Once again my project must-do list is growing and growing. One idea after another hits and I want to make them all. Now!

Well, we know that won't happen, but if I don't set some goals and pace myself nothing at all will be accomplished. That's where all those years of teaching school come in handy. Teachers know how to set goals and stick with schedules and time frames. We work with lesson plans and deadlines every day in the classroom, and some of that absolutely carries over into everyday life. I do know how to get organized and I'll definitely try. No guarantees of success, but well give it a go.

For now, I have three primary goals for my sewing activities.

A. Post a weekend blog every week!
So far, so good!

B. Organize my "stuff" between projects.
Confession: I try, but organization doesn't come naturally to me. I keep the rest of the house pretty well organized, but I get so busy and so focused when creativity is flowing that I don't even notice the mess piling up in my work area. That makes this goal even more important. It's either pick it up or have no work space left.

Since I have just today completed the next pair of blocks in the garden quilt along, and the extra fabric for my 9-patch quilt is due to arrive tomorrow, I'm right between two projects. This is the moment for organizing.

I gathered up all of those leftovers that come in so handy: 10" layer cake pieces, the many little 5" charm squares, the long, 2"-3" strips of this and that, and I cut the tiny bits and pieces into usable sizes and shapes.

Where did I get so many itty bitty scraps? My word! Oh, well, it doesn't matter where they came from. The important thing is that they are all sorted and organized into ziplock bags where I can see what's what, and the bags are in my scrap basket. I think I'm ready for the next project.

At least for now.

C. Plan the work load one month at a time.
If the work is cut up into smaller chunks it's a whole lot easier to finish on schedule. Planning it out also helps to keep me on track so I don't jump onto ten other projects before the first one is completed.

So, these are my objectives for the last two weeks of January:

1. Finish the pattern for next pair of quilt along blocks. The blocks are made, but the pattern isn't done. I'll take care of that next week.

It's looking good on my design wall! I may shuffle the hearts and butterflies several times before it's done, but I'm liking it so far. 

2. Finish the nine-patch quilt. I'm getting excited about this one. I've been waiting for the extra fabric to arrive.  The fabric is from last year's line, so it isn't available in the usual local or online quilt shops. I had to go hunting for it. Once again, it was eBay to the rescue. My plan is to complete the quilt top next week and do the quilting and binding the following week. The pattern will wait till next month. 

Nine nine-patch blocks are ready and waiting for further action. These are going to change so much before I'm done!! I am grinning from ear to ear as I imagine how this little quilt will turn out. Fingers crossed that it doesn't do something unexpected and awful!

3. Make at least one new mug rug pattern. 

I do have an idea in mind, and that's the main thing. Actually, I have 20 ideas in mind, but I've chosen just one for now. That was hard! I'm not giving it away quite yet, though!

4. Make two new name quilts for the folks at my daughter's office. That means I'll have to make one each week. 

I've completed two of eight. Only six to go! I hope they'll be ready by the end of February. Valentine's Day would be nice, but I'm not going to push my luck. 

Focusing on January's goals right now! If not, I'll be adding in more work than I can handle.

5. Work on sketches for at least half an hour every day. 

That's easy. I pretty much do it now anyway. It fills the after dinner time so much better than television. (Except for "Downton Abbey"! That's the only show I'm following right now.)

6. Don't buy any more new fabric! 

Ouch! I might just have set myself up for failure! No, no, there are only two weeks to go. I can do this. Of course I can. I hope.

There are other goals to be accomplished as well. I've enlisted my friend, Anne, to help me keep on track. I definitely need to exercise more! A 20 minute walk every day shouldn't be all that hard, but I can't seem to get it done even though I have a treadmill for the bad weather days. I spend way too much time on the internet, too. Anne has goals as well, so we will be each other's watchdogs. Every evening we'll check in with each other by phone to quickly go over our checklists. 

And that's it for January.

Wish me luck!

And have a super duper lovely and productive week!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A New Quilt Along for Spring of 2015

I enjoyed last year's quilt along so much that I've embarked on a another similar, but much shorter journey. Last year's project was huge! I know some of you were exhausted with trying to keep up.

Others were moving so fast that I couldn't keep up with you. Glenda, for instance, finished up her blocks within hours of the patterns coming out! She was one of those whose enthusiasm was just enormously contagious. The quilters who participated, who sent emails, made comments on my facebook page, and shared photos, were the driving force that pushed me along and kept me from losing momentum even when I was facing other challenges. Thank you all for helping me to keep my sanity during some very bleak moments.

This time around I'm giving us all a break and creating a wall hanging that will be much smaller and finish up much faster. I've named it "Summer Garden". Before adding borders, the finished quilt as planned will only be 22" x 26", and it will be completed this May. There are ten blocks altogether, but some of them are so quick and simple that I'm publishing them in pairs.

New patterns will come out at the first of every month. Some months I'll publish one block, other months a pair of blocks. January's pair of blocks is free, and the four upcoming monthly patterns will be priced at $2.00 each.

I'm working with scraps again. Not only am I trying to use my stash, but I really do like the scrappy look.

I hope you can tell that I'm using my favorite white background again. I can't seem to get the whites to look white in my photos. They always come out gray. If you know how I can achieve whiter whites with my little point-and-shoot please send me your advice. Doesn't this remind you of those commercials for laundry detergents and bleach? Yes, please. Tell me how to "Get whiter whites and brighter brights in one easy step".

One of these days I'll step out of the white background comfort zone and solve the photograph problem, but not quite yet. I like white.

But, on to the pattern ...

These are the January blocks. Each of these first four finishes to 4" x 4".

This is how the first four blocks fit into the quilt layout.

Did you notice the mystery 5" x 5" block? Five inches square isn't very large, but right now it's just a big question mark.  What on earth should I do to fill it? I love this layout, but I honestly don't know what else the quilt needs. Garden gloves? Lady bugs? A big blossom? A watering can? Please help me come up with the perfect idea! Suggestions would be so very welcome!

For now my layout features one-inch sashings, but that could change. I'm considering two-inch pieced sashings as well. I'm not quite ready to limit my options. If I were to enlarge the sashings the quilt would grow to 26" x 31" and a border would still have to be added. I wonder if pieced sashings would clutter it up too much. Thank goodness there's plenty of time to decide before we have to put it all together.

Starting tomorrow I'll be working on sketches and choosing scraps for February's pattern.
Look for birds and a spade next month.

Wishing you a super-duper, extra special weekend!!

And, don't forget to send in ideas for the empty five-inch square!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Alphabet Soup for Quilting

I made a set of alphabet templates last summer, but it was only after Christmas that I found time to stitch them into some sample projects. The alphabet is sized to be just right for fitting a one or two word phrase on a mug rug, but there are other projects on which  a quilter might want to use lettering.

Letters are another a fabulous way to use scraps, and using scraps fits right into my goal of trying to buy less and use more of my fabric stash this year. I'm a happy camper today.

Just a few ideas for using lettering in quilting:

Mug rugs instead of cards: I've always liked the idea of using mug rugs as a replacement for those expensive commercial throw away cards with their canned messages. I wouldn't go through this much trouble for everyone, but I would definitely do so for special friends. It really helps that mug rugs come in many, many sizes. If the words don't fit the mug rug you can enlarge or shrink the mug rug to fit the words.

I love the flexibility of words, too. A person can be so creative in how they are used. Each project becomes something totally unique and original. Whatever you make won't look like someone else's project, and I really, truly like that aspect! It's the very reason I refuse to buy kits. I don't want to make anything that's absolutely identical to something another person has made.

What can you say in a mug rug card in only one or two words? This is only the tip of the iceberg.

  • Thank you
  • Welcome Home
  • Love
  • Best Friends
  • BFF
  • Get Well
  • Good Luck
  • Graduate
  • Wedding Bells
  • It's a Boy!
  • It's a Girl!
  • Congratulations
  • Way to Go!
  • Proud of You
  • I Miss You
  • Mom
  • Dad
  • Love My Sister
  • Keep Smiling

I began my samples with a keepsake thank you card to have on hand. Just in case. You never know when you might need to give a heartfelt "thank you" to someone near and dear. It needed a bit of something else to fill in and add balance, so I made templates for a couple of flowers and a heart to go along with the letters.

I was really pleased with this first mug rug! I was on a roll, so I made a couple of personalized mug rugs for the desks of my daughter's friends. They are so different from each other and I know her office buddies will be surprised and pleased. I'll have to make a lot more name mug rugs as time permits.

Look how different all of these projects are from one another. They use letters from the same alphabet and they contain the same flowers and heart shapes, but because of length of words, the way the letters fit on the mug rug, different fabrics, and little touches, each one of these is absolutely unique. 

On two mug rugs I used contrasting thread for outlining the letters, but I used matching thread on one. The flower in the thank you project has a contrasting center, but the centers of the flowers in the other mugs are made with spiral machine stitching.

The letters on one mug rug were made with charm square solids and they looked a bit plain. Judy is a short name, so I used only upper case letters to fill more space, but the larger letters gave me an opportunity to dress them up with embroidered running stitches. 

Ideas for using lettering are popping my head one after another! I'll need to make more little picture templates to fit some of these thoughts very soon. Flowers and hearts aren't right for everything or for everyone.

Signs! Anything can be labeled.

This is just a starter list.
  • My Sewing Room
  • Jacob's Room (substitute any name)
  • The Boss (That could be a cute mug rug, too.)
  • Do Not Disturb
  • Welcome
  •  Chores, or To Do (Great on a bulletin board.) 


There is no end to words you might add to quilts. You could personalize a baby quilt, put a title at the top or along the side of a quilt, or add a word or phrase in one of the blocks. If the letters are too small they can easily be enlarged to fit onto a bigger project. 

You needn't stop with my alphabet templates. There are many sets of letters of different styles to be found if you look for them. 

Happy Stitching!!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Tutorial: A Quick Valentine Table Topper

This little Valentine project is easy and quick. It uses just one charm pack, or a small bundle of scraps from your stash, and 1/2 yard of background fabric. I resolved to use as much fabric from my stash as possible this year, so I'm off on the right foot.

22" x 22"
My sewing room was a disaster after Christmas! Not only had it been used as gift wrapping central, but I still hadn't put away the leftover fabrics and other bits and pieces from my last sewing project. I was stuck with no choice but to clean up and organize things before moving on to making new messes.

Every now and then the organizing process reveals surprises. While sorting the fabrics in my drawer of reds and pinks, I rediscovered a Valentine charm square packet tucked away and forgotten. It had been one of those gifts of fabric that I would never have chosen for myself. I love red, but something about this fabric had just never appealed to me.

The pack of five inch squares had been taking up drawer space for seven or eight years, and it was well past time to do something with it. I decided to take a second look before tossing it in the give away pile.

It was much nicer than I had remembered. Maybe I could use it. After all, I had resolved to use more of my stash this year instead of buying new fabrics, and before we can blink Valentine's Day will be here.

Wheels in my head began to turn. If I were to make a pattern at all for this holiday it would have to be soon - like now. I needed something fast. A charm pack would be just the right size for a quick project. Everything else I needed just happened to be on hand, too. Perfect! With high temperatures hovering around 10 degrees and the prairie wind blowing and blustering, it was too darn cold to go out for new fabrics, anyway!

I found a photo of a traditional heart block that would stitch up into a quick little table topper. Creating the pattern and figuring out the fabric measurements didn't take long at all. The design is very simple and the size of the five inch squares limited what I could do. Each of the four blocks in my table topper uses fifteen 2" squares and two 2" x 5" cuts from the charm pack.

Fabrics Needed 
  • One 5" square charm pack or a selection of scraps of any color. There is no rule that hearts must be red or pink.
  • 1/2 yard of a neutral background fabric
  • 1/4 yard of fabric for the binding 
  • 2/3 yard of backing fabric.

From the neutral background fabric:
  • 4 squares, 3 1/2" x 3 1/2
  • 16 squares, 2" x 2"
  • 4 strips, 2" x 8" 
  • 2 strips, 2 1/2" x 17"  
  • 2 strips, 2 1/2" x 21"
Note: The measurements given are exact, but when I cut strips for sashings and borders I try to add a smidgen extra length. I'd rather trim a bit off than come out a bit short. 

From the charm squares:
  • 8 rectangles, 2" x 5"
  • 61 squares, 2" x 2"
  • 22 rectangles, 1 1/2" x 5"
From the backing fabric:
  • One square 24" x 24"
Putting it together
Note: All seams are sewn with a 1/4" seam allowance. 

1. Start with the two sections (lobes) at the wide upper portion of each heart.

Pull sixteen colored 2" x 2" squares and the sixteen neutral 2'x 2' squares. Arrange the pink and red fabrics into sets of four matching fabrics for each of the four hearts. 

2. Draw a diagonal line from corner to corner on the wrong side of each of the neutral hearts.

3. Place one neutral square on top of each red or pink square, right sides together. Sew directly on the line. 

I always hear expert quilters say, "Just eyeball the stitching." If that works for you, by all means skip the line drawing, but for me, skipping it is always a mistake. I've tried eyeballing multiple times, and every single time I've wound up giving my seam ripper a good workout and then drawing the lines anyway.

4. Trim about 1/4" from each seam and press the squares open. Press to the dark.

5. Chose two matching squares of red and pink for each heart. I tried to keep the color values similar to the fabrics just used in making the squares from the half square triangles. Sew the wide side of a triangle to each side of the square as shown below.


It should look like this!

Now, here's the truth. We've all seen numerous quilting videos and tutorials showing perfect results every time. Well, the truth is that even the experts make mistakes in quilting. They simply edit them out. Just thought you'd like to know that.

6. Choose two matching 2" x 5" rectangles for each of the heart blocks. Again, fairly close color values are best. The goal is to have two identical, fairly uniform "lobes" for each heart. Sew the rectangles to the sets you made in step 5 as shown below. There will be two for each of the four hearts.

7. The next step is to make the squares that form the base of the heart. These can be randomly placed. Sew the 2" x 2" red and pink squares right sides together in rows of three. Chain piecing can really speed this process along.

8. Next, sew three strips of three squares together to make a nine-patch set for each heart block. Each nine-patch will measure 5" x 5".

9.  Sew one "lobe" of the heart to one side of the nine-patch set. Sew a 3 1/2"x 3 1/2" square of the background fabric to one end of the other "lobe". Then sew the two sections together. These seams will complete the blocks. The finished blocks will measure 8" x 8".

Since the hearts in my blocks were had either mainly pink "lobes" or mainly "red" lobes,  I chose to have the red blocks positionsed diagonally across from each other. The blocks with pinker lobes will also lie diagonally across from each other.

10. Sew one 2" x 8" rectangle of background fabric between each pair made of a red block and a pink block.  

In this photo, the lower pair of blocks have been flipped.
 It was easier for me to keep the color order straight when all four blocks were right side up. 
11. Sew the single remaining 2" x 2" square cut from the charm pack between the other two 2" x 8" rectangles of background fabric. 

12. Sew the strip you just made between the two pairs of blocks. The set of blocks should now measure 17 1/2" x 17 1/2".

Almost finished!

13.  Sew the 2 1/2" x 17" strips of background fabric to two opposite sides of the square.

Beautiful sunshine is coming in my sewing room window!
14. Sew the 2 1/2" x 21" strips of background fabric to the remaining sides of the square.

And on to the the final border! This is where I used all but a few of the remaining 5" squares from the charm pack.

15. Sew the 1 1/2" x 5" strips of charm pack fabric end to end in four sets. Two of the sets need five strips, and the other two need six strips. These strip sets will make the last border.

16. Sew a set of five strips to each of two opposite sides of the quilt top. You will have excess fabric. I trimmed some from each end.

17. Sew the other two strips sets to the remaining sides of the quilt top. Again, trim off the excess fabric.

18. Layer the quilt top, batting, and backing fabrics together, and quilt. 

There are two humongous things I learned from Cindy Neeham's free motion quilting class on Craftsy. 
  1. Always, always stitch in the ditch on every stinking seam! I hadn't even considered that before taking her class. Going over all those seams may seem like a waste of precious time, but the difference it makes in the final product is amazing. 
  2. Never,  ever will I learn to quilt so precisely - no matter how hard I try or how much I practice! Sigh..
I love my walking foot! It makes that ditch stitching so easy! And, sometimes you really don't need to do any other quilting at all. Like now. It looks just fine, and this was quick.

19. Bind. This was always meant to be a quick project, so I didn't hand stitch my binding to the back of the quilt this time. 

When I had sewn my binding strips together, I sprayed them with a good coating of starch, folded them in half lengthwise and ironed them dry. The added stiffness from the starch really became helpful later.

After the binding was sewn to the front of the quilt, I folded it to the back and ironed it in place. Since the binding had been well starched it held it's position on the quilt beautifully, allowing me to stitch in the ditch to sew it on from the right side. 

Closeup views of the binding. 
This side looks great.

It isn't perfect , but I don't suppose anyone will spend much time examining the back. 
Done in only 2 1/2 days! 

I almost never work more than four or five hours on my sewing, so from start to finish I spent a total of about 12 hours on this project. That time includes everything from designing the project and working out the measurements to stitching the last bit of binding in place.   

Now I need to move on to something else - like putting Christmas away!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Here's to New Beginnings

"And suddenly you know...
 It's time to start something new 
and trust in the magic of new beginnings."
                                                                                             - Meister Eckhart

"...the magic of new beginnings." What a perfect description of my little quilt pattern adventure! It really was stepping out blindly into the unknown when I published my first patterns on Craftsy. I had no idea that anything would happen, and then, suddenly, out of the blue, I had a little business and so many new friends. It did feel like magic.

I hope to continue trusting in the magic as I work on my craft. I'm trying to make my New Year's resolutions reflect that intention.

1. Learn new skills.
Study new techniques in sewing and quilting.
Learn how to use a new computer program for designing quilts. I want to broaden my design base and I can use any bit of help I can get.

2. Be creative every day.
Spend at least some time every day working on a creative project or new ideas.

3. Practice brainstorming.
Write down or sketch every thought, no matter how wild or out of the box it may be. I have notebooks that I hope to fill with ideas for new crafts. Pinterest is a great place to go for helping with this.

4. Finish some of those UFOs.
I know I won't finish all of them, but I at least need to take care of some of them.

5. Surprise people with unexpected gifts I have made.
This is will be fun!

6. Use more scraps.
This will be a challenge. I do use scraps, but I need to design more entire projects that use nothing but fabrics already in my stash.

7. Purchase less new fabric just because I like it.
This may be my greatest challenge. I must stop buying those fabrics that draw my eyes and win my heart just because they're so irresistibly beautiful. As it is, my drawers of fabrics overflow!

8. Pay attention!
Beauty is everywhere. I need to keep my eyes and my mind open to everything. That's how the magic begins.

9. Publish a blog post every week.
Even when I think that I have little or nothing to say, the very act of writing will make me think harder.

10. Show gratitude.
My life is filled with blessings large and small, with people who lift me up and make me whole. There are as many was to show gratitude as there are days in a lifetime. I hope to remember that, list every way that comes to me, and act no them.

It's the dawn of a New Year. 
Step out bravely, and discover the magic!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Gathering Ideas for 2015 and Glancing Back at 2014

I've begun a to do list for 2015's patterns, and your ideas could really help me choose the best projects to focus on. What types of projects do you want to sew during the coming year. Mug rugs? Wall hangings? Table toppers? Quilts to snuggle in? Something altogether different? What themes appeal to you? Cats have already been suggested, but some others of you may also want something specific.

Do you have a preference for applique, paper foundation piecing, or traditional piecing? Is there a new technique you'd like to learn?

The more you tell me, the more I can streamline my work and create designs that you want to see.

I've put together a quick review of the patterns that were published during this past year. I make so many that it's sometimes hard to remember exactly what has and has not been done in the past. I find that reviewing helps me to see the gaps in what could or should be.

It truly has been a very productive year. I was surprised that I've made 35 patterns! Some go much more quickly than others, but it averages out to one new design completed every ten days. That's a lot of sewing, but I have loved every minute of it!

I organized the patterns in several categories.

 Fifteen Mug Rugs:
Somehow I managed to miss a couple of them in the photo collage below. I will make more mug rugs next year, but I doubt that there will be as many as there were this year. Is there anything special you'd like to see in these quick, but practical, mini quilts?

 Two Lap Quilts:
I made only two of these this year. I'd like to remake the Snowball Fight quilt in quilting fabrics if I have time, but I'm not sure about whether or not I'll make others. What do you think? Is there a special lap quilt, baby quilt, or other small quilt that you'd really like to make?

Add caption
Twelve Quilt Along Blocks:
My goodness, but "Home" was a delight! So much fun, but very labor intensive, too. I am considering another quilt along or maybe even two, but whatever I create next year will be on a much smaller scale. What are your thoughts about quilt alongs?

Five Table Toppers and Runners:
I love making these because I use them so much in my own home. I do plan more for the next year. Shall I limit myself to seasonal or holiday themes or shall I try for more general designs. I don't know. You'll have to help me out on this.

One Tooth Fairy Pillow:

 Or was it a mug rug?

This was probably the most fun of my projects this year. I love sewing for children, but it's hard to come up with unique ideas. Can you suggest something else?

Free Patterns:
In addition to the new patterns, I added three of the older ones to my group of free patterns. I do intend to add more this coming year.

Thank you for being part of this wonderful year of stitching!

I'm making my list and checking it twice!
With your help next year will be even more exciting and fun.