Monday, August 30, 2010


I don't have a design wall. When I need to lay blocks out or audition fabrics and such, I usually use the dining room table or the floor. Most often, I have a pretty good idea where things will go and how a quilt will transpire. The idea in my head comes first and I work to make it happen. Every once in awhile, especially when the work is more abstract or when the idea is vague, I will audition and move things around in the best possible way for viewing. The floor isn't the best way, but it's there. I always have the floor. Today, when placing almost identical blocks in a repeated pattern, I really missed having a design wall. The differences were so subtle, the ability to step back and get perspective was invaluable. Since I don't have a wall designated for this, I improvised. Some of you might remember some pictures in the June American Patchwork & Quilting that featured our studio/homes. This is a photo of my dining room and the quilt that hangs there.
It isn't ideal, as it isn't a neutral background, but in a pinch, the quilt itself works as a design wall. I spent an hour or so in front of this quilt moving and pinning blocks until they were arranged just so. The blocks pinned easily into it and I could move back several feet and get some perspective. It isn't a good option for the long term, but for today...... it was a good place for them until they were pieced into larger blocks.

On another note, I had a revelation this weekend. While piecing these blocks on my trusty Featherweight, I watched some dvd's. You might remember when I wrote about the movie Emma here. It has become a favorite since I dvr'ed it. I have watched it several times since I captured it digitally from a television broadcast. It ran over several nights on Masterpiece Classics and one of the tapings ran a little short. Because of that mishap, I bought it on dvd recently. This weekend, watching this dvd in High Definition I couldn't believe the difference. The colors were even more vivid and the detail in the picture was astounding. I stop piecing and stared at the costumes. I could see the individual motifs of the fabrics. The weave of the fabric! Oh, this is amazing. I am going to rent or buy all my old favorites in HD. I mean, it's imperative for someone who loves old fabric, isn't it? And to think I once thought that the best HD could offer me was the ability to lipread the conversations between base runners and first basemen.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In Between

I am in between projects. I finished hand quilting the quilt I was working on Monday. I passed it off to Leigh Ann to put on a fancy binding. She has taught classes on piped bindings and I thought it was in much better hands with her doing it. A fancy binding for probably the fanciest quilt I will ever do. (Sorry for this old song and dance - but no pictures until a later date).

So what to do??? It looks like our NEW fabric that we will show at Fall International Quilt Market will arrive on my doorstep next week. (I promise some sneak previews of those soon). There might be a few days to a week or down time. What to do? Well, for one thing, I took a long walk with Gibby this morning and I had no "to-do" list running through my head while out walking. That was nice. There could have been a "to-do" list, but it would consist of cleaning and washing stuff and therefore I quickly vetoed it. The walk was a bit crisp this morning and that was certainly welcome. My mind wandered. I think that is good. It seems scientists agree.

Different things occurred to me. I could play hooky and go to a ballgame. Maybe a Farmer's Market excursion and some homemade marinara sauce. Maybe just sneak off to the movies and have popcorn for dinner. Or I could just start another quilt.

So, with nothing pressing on my mind - I pressed scraps. Upturning the scrap bin, I picked out all the lights or "shirtings" as I call them (even if they aren't shirtings in the strict sense) and pressed. Ah, the smell of a hot iron, cold fabric and some lovely scented spray starch. (Or spray starch alternative as Mary Ellen call's it)Here is my pile of pressed shirtingsI'll spend the rest of the day cutting while listening the the ballgame in the background. Multi-tasking, again.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Life's Candy And The Sun's A Ball Of Butter

Bill and I just had chinese take-out for dinner. This was my fortune cookie.Remember yesterday, when I said that nothing was going on here? Hah! Just wait a few minutes. After I wrote that post, things started to happen. Drama. First of all everyone is just fine. Thankfully, not that much drama. It's a long convoluted story, but suffice to say...... Yesterday Polly and I found out that we needed to pick up something in New York City. Like, right now. Shipping wasn't an option and someone needed to physically go to NYC and pick up some stuff. Lots of stuff and right now.

Polly is leaving tomorrow from South Florida to go to North Carolina for a family vacation. I am in Michigan. We started to research flights when I thought of someone. Someone we met on this here interweb thingy. He seemed like a nice person..... I wonder if he could.......?

Long story, short. The stuff is picked up. This nice person (who doesn't even live in NYC - but is quite close) took a cab, hiked several miles and boarded a ferry to get our stuff! In August! In Manhattan! Just when you think the world is a mess and no one treats each other with kindness.... that happens.

Yes, taxi, walking, boats......It made me think of this. Glenn and Art, this song is for you.

With Gratitude, Polly and Laurie

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Long, Lazy Dog Days

This is Gibby snoozing under the computer desk while I am typing this post.He is a faithful companion to me while I stitch or surf the Internet. Obviously, nothing much of note is happening here and Gibby's demeanor attests to that. It's not a very flattering photo of him. He is actually quite handsome. One of my chores this weekend is to take some pictures of him. HomeFurEver is having a fundraiser and they want pictures of all their past and present adoptions. Since the fundraiser - "Woofstock"- is a battle of the bands at a local night club - we won't be making an appearance. The cause is a worthy one, but our night club days are in the past.

Thanks for all the responses regarding the hand quilting hints. I really must see if the local long arm quilters will do some basting for me. I know when long arms were first on the scene I did inquire and no one was very interested. That was a while ago though. I keep forgetting that option.

As for my hand quilting..... I am getting farther along that I anticipated. Yeah! Dare I say, I might even be done with this quilt soon and on to preparations for Quilt Market in Houston. There are vague rumors of fabric being delivered here around Labor Day. I'm sure "Labor Day" will be a very appropriate named holiday as we will have 4 quilts to make from that delivery.

I know this is about the most boring post ever. So boring, that I have tried to put it off for days. I got nothing. I have been reading other quilting blogs and there is much more exciting stuff going on. Liesl had an adventure in Vermont. Sandy is reminiscing in Iowa. Camille is just fabulous in Nevada, and Lissa is a supermodel in Texas. Yes, much more interesting stuff than what is going on here.

So, in honor of another I got nothing post.... I will leave you with this........ A kitty with a soul patch.
photo courtesy of


Saturday, August 14, 2010

I've Saved The Best For Last

Basting. (Sigh) I lied, it isn't the best. You know how in many quilt books when they get to this stage of quilting they have these instructions for basting...... either 1) Baste. or 2) Invite some friends over, serve lunch, and they will help you baste your quilt. Hah! I am convinced caller ID was invented by quilters, so they can screen calls when their fellow quilters are at this crucial basting stage.

I have tried many techniques and I'm not particularly happy with any of them (stay with me, there is hope at the end of this post). For many years I did the traditional, move all the furniture out of the room - lay down the quilt layers - and spend the rest of the day on your hands and knees approach.

Frankly, life is just too short to have to do that anymore. It works wonderfully, especially if you are hand quilting, but there has just got to be a better way. Now I've tried this floor approach with both sew basting and pin basting. Pin basting does cut down on the floor time just a little bit, but then you have a quilt studded with safety pins and you have to move or remove them every time you reposition your hoop. Not good.

Next, I purchased a quilt frame with the intention that I would use it to baste quilts.Great idea, huh? I would load the 3 layers onto the 3 different rails and SIT in a comfortable chair and baste at my leisure. If only.

I couldn't get the quilt layers to load evenly and my basted quilt was a lumpy mess.

Onto the
next solution. Someone invented adhesive spray. Yes, I admit I have used it and have used it a lot the last several years. I have been happy with the results and while the quilt is still layered out on the floor - the time on your knees is cut from half a day down to 30 minutes. Hooray!

Spray basting??!! I know. "But what about the chemicals in your quilt?" Well, I'm not sure. You can read the report on it here. I will say that I haven't had any problems with it, I don't know what will happen in 30 years or so. Nobody does. I used 505 spray. The report does say that they didn't find any problems with 505 spray.... not yet, anyway. Contrary to popular opinion, the spray does not make it difficult to needle the quilt. Not at all.

I also always wash my quilt when I am done quilting it. (Between this spray, the chalk marks, and the dog hair - it HAS to be washed) So why aren't I gaga over this product?? Well, that unknown factor does make me hesitate for my "heirloom" type quilts. I know that if you have spent time piecing your quilt and are going to hand quilt it - maybe for the first time - you have reservations too. That said, if you are making a quilt that you will machine quilt and it is one of those "use it up" type quilts.... this stuff is awesome.

So now what? I needed to find another way. Not only to save my back and knees, but to save my marriage. Did I mention that Bill helps me baste all my quilts? I believe we have had only about 5 loud disagreements in our marriage. Four of these occurred while we were on the floor basting a quilt.

I started to hear about a new technique. I watched the videos on youtube. My first reaction was that it was very similar to my "quilt frame" idea and that made me dismiss it at first. Then I watched the videos again. I believe she is onto something.

It also came recommended by quilters who really know what they are doing. You can read Janet's post about it here. I even had Bill watch the videos and he has picked out the lumber. I think her tip about the starching of the backing is key. I will post again when I baste a quilt using this technique. Dare I say, I am looking forward to it?


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Quilt As Desired

"Quilt as desired." I'm just as guilty as all of the other quilt pattern designers. I admit to using that phrase. Three little words. So simple, yet so filled with vague expectations and fear. When I write those words at the end of a pattern I know my work is done and yours is just beginning.

People ask me how I choose a design for a top and what works for me is letting the top tell me. Almost everything I know about quilt designs is what I have seen on antique quilts. Utilitarian, homey type quilts are often put in their best light by an allover design like the clamshell or my favorite, the Baptist fan (or Methodist fan). Applique quilts often have their shapes emphasized and outlined. Big empty spaces call out for feather wreaths, and some quilts will have all of the above and more. Look at lots and lots of old quilts. They will guide you better than anything else.

Once you have settled on what you like - how do you get that translated onto your quilt? Quilt stencils are a huge help. Templates that you can trace around work too. Okay, so you have that much figured out, what kind of pencil do you use? There is no one answer. I have used every one that I have seen at any quilt shop. Every quilt is different and every fabric poses it's own challenge. Basically, what you want is a mark that stays on long enough so you can quilt it - but is easy to remove. Our Grandmothers didn't have a very big choice. They used lead pencils, chalk, soap, and occasionally a powder that they would pounce through a stencil - like cinnamon. I think one of the challenges we face is that our fabric today is often busy, abstract, and in many colors. No one tool will work. I will tell you what I think is the most versatile marking tools today.

I haven't used a lead pencil in over 20 years. It works on light and quiet fabrics - yet it often is just a little too aggressive for me. Sometimes it doesn't come out in the first washing. That started to make me nervous and I went to other pencils that showed up just as well, but I knew would disappear. A good substitute is the silver Berol pencil. This is found at many quilt shops or art supply stores. Another good pencil at the art supply store is the white charcoal pencil. Some quilt shops carry this now too. It works on dark fabrics beautifully. Like many pencils that mark well on fabric, it is soft. The point wears down quickly and breaks easily. That's just the price you pay for a marking tool that you know will wash out. I found that an old fashioned pencil sharpener - the kind that used to be at the front of the room in elementary school - is the best sharpener. If you can find one with the adjustable dial for difference sized pencils, that helps too. Electric sharpeners are great, but I haven't seen one that accommodates different sized pencils. In the last few years there are new mechanical pencils for fabric with soft, different colored leads. They rock. A couple of these with all the different colored leads will take you a long way.The chalk ratchet wheel markers are also very useful. The newest version, the slim pencil type ones will mark a fine chalk line. These are easy to use and will mark for days. The downside of chalk is that it is sometimes too temporary. One of my favorite markers - especially if I am marking straight lines like a cross-hatch pattern - is the hera markerA hera marker is a Japanese tailoring tool. It has no lead or chalk. What it does is leave a sharp crease. If you lay a ruler down on the fabric, hold the hera marker like you would a rotary cutter and run it down the edge of the ruler. A crisp, clean indentation will appear and it is very easy to see. Of course, you now have no fear of this mark coming out. It will naturally disappear in a day or so.

A day or so..... That brings up probably the most important hint I can give you. These markings should only be done one section at a time. All of your markings, ideally, will come out fairly easily and it is pointless to mark too much ahead. A few turns of the quilt in your lap and your marks start to fade. That means that I mark a quilt, a section at a time, after it is basted.

There was a question on marking the Baptist fan design. I mark this pattern one set of concentric arcs at a time. Since I am right handed, I start at the bottom right hand edge and mark my first set of arcs. I mark the next set of concentric arcs immediately to it's left. I would probably mark one row across the bottom of the quilt. (or maybe a half of a row if it is a large quilt). This quilting design strays from the "always start at the center of the quilt" rule. You need to start at one edge and run straight across. Once this first row is quilted, mark the next row starting on top of the already quilted row. Again, start on the right hand side and work left. If you have more questions about this, I can post pictures in a later post.

Oy, that was wordy.... the next post will be on basting.


Sunday, August 8, 2010


You have many choices in choosing a batting. There are lots out there. I list several that I really love and recommend for beginners on my hand quilting supply list. First of all, what you are looking for in a batting for hand quilting, and beginning hand quilting is not necessarily what you would choose for a machine quilted quilt. You want ease of needling, and you want a good result when you are done. I like natural fibers. I think most quilters do. So, I don't recommend polyester. It is easy to needle, but that's about the only good thing it has going for it. Sorry, but that's just how I feel. There are just too many good natural fiber products out there that are easy to needle to have to settle for the unnatural look of polyester. (I await your emails of protest, polyester batting people)

So, what are are the natural fibers you can choose? Cotton, of course. Wool, silk, bamboo, and blends of all of the above. You can't go wrong with cotton. It has been used for hundreds of years with great results. Not all cotton batts are equal, though. If you have ever tried to hand quilt a Warm & Natural cotton batting, you know this. Warm & Natural is a great batt. IF you are machine quilting. It's miserable to hand quilt. I know, I done it. I have also watched beginning quilters try to quilt it too. Take it from us ....... keep it for your next machine quilted piece. Fairfield, Hobbs, and Quilter's Dream all make good battings and I have used them all. Hobb's has a 100% cotton Heirloom batt that I really like. It acts like an antique batt. Once hand quilted and washed, it shrinks up and the quilt puckers around each and every quilting stitch. It you really want your quilt to be an antique reproduction I think you will like it. It's easy to needle, but not the easiest. In my experience, the easiest cotton batting to needle is the Quilter's Dream batting in the "Request" thickness. If you want an easy hand quilting experience - this is a good one to try. What you want in any brand is a thin, 100% cotton batt. After that, the differences are subtle and there are pros and cons to all of them.

The easiest batting to needle is the wool batt. I use wool, more and more. It is particularly wonderful for hand quilting. Like Buttah! Hobbs and Quilter's Dream have great ones. I get the most questions about wool battings in the classes I teach. Contrary to our first impression, wool is not necessarily too hot. It's a natural fiber that is light and will wick moisture away from the body, so it will be cooler in summer and warm in winter. It's isn't hard to care for. There are laundering directions on the package, but basically, just wash in cool or tepid water with little agitation and line dry. Just treat it like you would any hand quilted quilt. Heat and agitation is what you do to wool to felt it. Keep away from hot water and wash it in gentle agitation and you won't have any problems. Not only is wool easy to quilt - the end results are really nice too. Quilting stitches LOVE wool. Here are a couple of quilts that I hand quilted that used a wool batting. The pictures aren't very good, but you can still see how well the stitches show. As for bamboo... I have only used bamboo in a bamboo/cotton blend and had it machine quilted. I liked the result as it is light and a little poofy like a wool batt. I can't comment on how well it hand quilts yet, but am anxious to try. I have seen quilts made with a silk batt, but I haven't tried it yet either. The word on the street though, is that silk is just as nice as wool to needle. It is a bit hard to find and is expensive.

So, to make a long blog short..... pick a good, thin 100% cotton or 100% wool batt for your next hand quilted project and your efforts will be rewarded.
And.......Since we didn't have a winner for the Moda lunch box..... The random number generator at came up with another winner - Abbybeth!!

Abbybeth, email me here and I will get it out to you asap.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Are You A Bender Or A Breaker?

Baseball Quilt from Everyday Folk Art by Minick and Simpson

Let's see, what do we have left in our discussion regarding hand quilting? Needles? Well, myself and just about all hand quilters will advise you to use quilting needles or "betweens". There are lots out there and they are pretty much the same with one exception. Some quilting needles bend, and some will break. Either - or. I am in the "break" category. I like a strong needle that will take a bit of abuse, never bend, but at some point it will break. I don't like to use needles that are bent. Some quilters do. I think it's just one of those things - like Robin Williams said in one of my favorite movies, Dead Again: "You are either a smoker or a non-smoker. Decide which one you are and BE it."

So, try a few needles and decide to either be a bender or a breaker. Yes, your needle will bend or break. Now you know why I use a thimble. It doesn't happen a lot... I mean, one package of needles will certainly be more than enough for one quilt. Betweens come in sizes 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12. 12 is the smallest and 8 the largest. I would suggest to start with a 9 or 10. I use size 12's mostly and they are teeny. They are hard to get used to - so go for a bigger size at first. I use size 10's occasionally and that size is the easiest to find.
The long held theory is/was that the smaller the needle, the smaller the stitches. I think if you are quilting in a floor frame that is probably true (very little slack in a floor frame and the smaller the needle the easier it was to put several stitches on a needle). If you quilt in a hoop and have slack in your hoop like we discussed in the previous post - I don't think it's necessarily true. So, use whatever size needle you are comfortable with. The 12 will be a bit thinner than the bigger needles and that will help to make small stitches, but small stitches can certainly be obtained with a longer needle as long as the quilt is slack. What you really want to be concerned with at first is making even stitches, not necessarily small stitches. They will come as you practice. Work for evenly spaced. Even very large stitches will look wonderful if they are even.

Thread? There are several good quilting threads out there. What you want is a 100% cotton quilting thread. I will concur with the woman in the video previously. I love YLI quilting thread.
It comes in many colors, it is glazed, and it is kind of wiry which makes it very easy to thread through the smallest needles. It has another attraction - it doesn't tangle. Some of you who do hand work know that if a thread tangles - cut off a length from the spool and thread into your needle in the opposite direction. Thread has a nap and if it tangles going in one direction - try the other way. Well, with YLI thread - you never have to pay attention to that detail. It just doesn't tangle no matter what direction you thread it. Seriously, I don't even want to think about how much time I spent untangling thread before I discovered YLI.
I think I will stop here today. What still needs discussing is basting, marking, and batting and those will all get a bit wordy :)

Oh, and Donna..... email me here so I can send you your Moda Lunch Box Sewing Kit. If I don't hear from you by Sunday August 8th at midnight, I will draw a new winner.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

First Things First

First - here are the winners of the Moda lunch box/sewing kit and Clermont Farms pre-cuts and some other stuff.

The winner of the lunch pail is - Donna! She said.... "What a fabulous idea! You are so creative!

A winner of some Clermont Farms pre-cuts and a surprise is... Sinta Renee

The last winner of a Clermont Farms pre-cut is Laura T

All you winners email me here and I will get your gifts out to you shortly.
It's been heartening to hear all the comments about hand quilting, and that some of you want to start to hand quilt. While I'll never give up the option of giving some quilts over to my long arm quilter Kari, there will always be a quilt that I need to hand quilt. Here I will offer some of my opinions on other hand quilting tools. These are just opinions.

Now that I have mentioned the hoop, the other two problems for beginning quilters is the thimble and the batting. (I think I will talk about battings and basting in a future post)
There are misconceptions about thimbles too. While a thimble is very helpful in pushing the needle through the layers of fabric and batting, it isn't it's only use. More important, if you use a thimble correctly (like the woman in the video does on the post from a few days ago).... you will be able to control your needle with only one finger. This allows you to master the mechanics of the quilting stitch. Pinching the needle in two fingers (which you do in almost all other stitching) will make very slow, frustrating work. The object is to direct the needle with your thimble-clad finger tip. This is a skill you can learn and will learn after practicing. IF you have a proper thimble. A proper thimble is a thimble that can grab the end of your needle (the eye). This is either a thimble that has deep indentations or a thimble with a malleable surface like a leather thimble or a silicone thimble. What doesn't work is the thin, shiny thimbles found in chain stores and discount stores that retail for a dollar or two. They are too slippery and the indentations are not deep.

The leather thimble that the woman in the video uses is a thimble that many quilters use. It works great - if it works for you. I kept wearing holes in them too fast. The surprise of a needle punching through to my finger is not one I wanted to keep experiencing. Others don't have that problem. It does grab the end of your needle quite well and lets you bring the needle up perpendicular to the quilt. Try it - it might work for you.

I like a metal thimble. I have tried many and I love, (and I'm not alone) a Roxanne's thimble. A Roxanne's thimble is made either of silver or gold and comes in many sizes. Once sized correctly, you will have a snug, yet comfortable thimble. It has deep indentations to grab your needle. If you happen to have long fingernails it is open to accommodate that too. Another plus is that it is designed for you to push the needle with the finger pad instead of the end of your finger. Ergonomically, this is much less distressing for your fingers over the long run.You can find Roxanne thimbles at many quilt shops or online shops. Because it is silver or gold, it is a bit of an expense. Another option that you might like to try is the new silicone courtesy of

These thimbles are comfortable and very cheap. They grab the end of your needle quite well. It's a great option for a beginning quilter. You should be able to find these at many quilt shops also.

As for that rubber thing on my index finger in this picture....
That's a finger cot. I will caution you that if you are starting out - it's probably enough to have a thimble on your hand, let alone a finger cot too. I wear it because I pick up the needle after I have made the quilting stitch - with my index finger and it allows me to grip it a lot better. Several years ago, when I quit my real job and started making quilts full time - I found myself hand quilting on commission. I hand quilted anywhere from 6-10 hours a day. I got tendinitis. What did it was the pinching motion of picking the needle back up from the quilting stitch. The finger cot allows you to just sort of drag your index finger over the needle to pick it up instead of pinching it. For most quilter's this isn't an issue. Because I quilt so much - it became an issue. It isn't anymore. I haven't had a twinge since I started using the finger cots. It does look dorky though. Also, if you are sitting and stitching for that long - get up and move. It's good for what ails you.

Well. that's about enough of my take on thimbles. I'll post more info in the upcoming weeks. Thanks for reading.


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