Breaks can be good for you

A little while ago, I posted this photo on my Facebook page. It struck a nerve with me because I had just returned from a much needed break on a cruise ship. It was heavenly, and it was very much overdue for me creatively.

I can almost taste what’s in the glass

It turns out, as I’ve been looking into this subject matter, there’s legitimate research into the creative benefits of taking a break…whether it’s in the shower, on a cruise ship, or engaging in a new creative outlet. When I was on my cruise, my most creative tool was the camera in my phone…I brought no sketch pad, no note taking…it was a complete unplug. It’s fun to take a look back at my favorite photos from the trip – and to see what inspired me that week.

The carpeting let my imagination run wild with quilting ideas.
The unique color scheme made me pause and think about how to interpret this. I’m thinking paper piecing.
My souvenir glasses from Nashville never looked so cute!
Remember my love of a pieced background? As it turns out, it translates to bathroom tiles on the Harmony of the seas.

Now, what happens if you need a creative break and you don’t have a cruise on your calendar? There are any number of ways you can give yourself a creative break (did you know that when you take a shower and you get tons of great ideas on that project you’re working on…THAT’s what’s happening!) You can take a walk, drive a different route to work, try a new recipe…these are all ways you can give yourself a break. Your regular routines will appreciate the switch up, and you’ll find yourself noticing things you didn’t before.

I have recently reconnected with Sue Bleiweiss, an accomplished author and award winning quilter who I have known for awhile. Her signature style is relaxing and fun to experience, much as Sue herself is. Here latest book is Modern Art Quilts, and was published last fall by C&T. I had the chance to speak with her about her latest endeavor – she’s taking a creative break (while still working on major pieces of her quilting work), by designing and working on handwork with a line of embroidery designs for Global Artisans Designs. Working in stitchery is something that Sue hasn’t done before, but she has found that the creative switch has given her quilting time a boost. So the concept does translate.

Sue has donated a copy of the book to readers of this blog, and here’s how I’m going to work it. If you’d like to leave a comment on the blog about your experiences with creative breaks – what worked, what didn’t, what your plans are – I will leave this blog post open over this weekend, and I’ll select one winner on Monday, April 15th. We need to celebrate something on that day!

So, with many thanks to Sue, if you’d like to win a copy of her new book, please leave a comment.

Book donation courtesy of Sue Bleiweiss

I’ve entered a new phase of color…

My own preference for color when I am starting a quilt is to pick bright vibrant colors. Earlier this year, I realized that I was drawn to a softer, more opaque color (or rather combination of colors), and I was drawn to it in some very unusual formats. I know that gemstones are a huge inspiration for quilters at the present, and it’s funny to me that my own personal inspiration has been in my jewelry box for quite some time. Opal is my new obsession.

My Opal Dream Big – a slice of fun

When I went on retreat last month, I took one of the Dream Big panels that I wanted to play with. Quite honestly, I’ve had two of the panels here for a while, one which is much stronger in color than this one. For a year, I’ve seen the various versions of this quilt everywhere, and I was finally ready to try it. One of the reasons was that this group of friends was a supportive environment if I lost my nerve – but the best way to begin something is to Begin. This year is going to be my personal ‘just do it’ year. It’s still a work in process, because of deadlines on other projects, but it does make me smile to look at it..

Opals running in the background

This set of jewels dates back to my senior prom. These pastel opals were just the right touch for a prom dress which had a lot of pretty flowers to it, and was sweet. Sweet and innocent, and shades of pastel bouncing around in the light are the prefect way to describe opals. They remind me of a textured background, which will give more depth to a quilt.

Seeing it everywhere…

I’m having my headshots redone next month, and one of the driving factors for that is the fact that I ditched the dye in my hair last year, and they need a refresh. I’m actually loving the new color on me, and my family is getting used to it. I have been in love with this look at the right – the trend is called Opal haircolor. If I were more daring, I’d go for it.

Opal thread – I have choices

Opal even showed up when I was selecting thread to quilt it with. This is a vast departure from my usual go-to favorite brand, Aurifil – but I love the sheen this lends to this project. While I have 2 choices, it’s the bottom one which I am using to quilt with.

It does kind of make me wonder what colors will show up in my clothes for spring and summer, if it ever gets here.

SPARK anyone?

Shifts: Quilters who stitch are stitchers who quilt.

This shift paradigm that I’m in is taking me to unexpected places…and I do mean that literally. This past weekend, I wound up flying into Nashville to work at the Nashville Needlework Market, which is sort of equivalent to Quilt Market in the quilting world. Nashville must be exhausted after having hosted QuiltCon the week before this, but this show has a flair and a flavor all it’s own.

This kind of scene was repeated all weekend. I wanted to join them.

I quickly learned it’s a bit like traveling to Spain but speaking French. It’s very similar – and very different to the quilt world. The kindness, the generosity of greeting a newbie (on her own) and welcoming her made me feel very welcome. But for someone who’s trade show experiences are mostly based on expo and convention centers, this was far more intimate. It was in a large hotel in Nashville. There is a lot, it turns out, to be said for southern hospitality.

How did I get here? A lot of my work in the past 6 months has been with a company called Global Artisans Designs, and it does a lot of vending throughout the country, covering both retail shows and wholesale shows. Global Artisans imports absolutely wonderful threads from Africa in a variety of weights. It actively supports Fair Trade Practices, which makes it especially attractive to me. This weekend, there were two shows at the same time, so I took the wholesale show in Nashville. This was an opportunity to speak directly with the shop owners and designers who love the brand and support it, and others who were intrigued.

My biggest takeaway from this is a new vantage point on our creative people. They really don’t exist in a vacuum. They are quilters who stitch and stitchers who quilt. The stitching universe has one distinct advantage over the quilters, and that’s that they don’t have to deal with a large volume of fabric.

I tend to make a lot of smaller quilting projects, and I’ve recently worked on getting two large ones to my longarmers. I can appreciate a smaller project, for sure. Their one disadvantage is the need to do closework on highly detailed designs – as we age, our ability to see work closeup has seriously declined. At least mine has.

Note: I’m writing this in an airport (Baltimore) this afternoon, as I am waiting for my connecting flight to Manchester. So this is going to be a two part blog post – next week’s will run next Monday, March 11th.

For more information about Global Aritsan’s Designs, please drop me a line and I’ll be happy to help you out.

My quilting room sparks Joy!

Precious Cargo Inside

In an interview recently, I was asked what my preferred brand of thread is, and that question became the impetus for this week’s blog post. I am becoming more aware of the amount of supplies that one accumulates as a quilter – the fabric, the books, the rulers, and yes, the thread – and the amount of space that it occupies in my home. There may come a time when I need to downsize, but for now, what i have is sparking a lot of joy. It’s all about the joy. I may have slowed down my fabric purchases for a bit, but I’m learning to appreciate the items that I have picked up along the way.

I will get to my brand preference shortly, but I ask your indulgence for a moment. Thread is a very important (and potentially expensive) supply in my sewing space, While it’s spacious, I don’t have an unlimited amount of space – or multiple rooms – to store things. It’s all here, and it’s all in tidy boxes, which make a tall tower when stacked on my cutting table.

I’m a sucker for the storage boxes…

The top box is where I keep my colors of piecing threads – which has evolved to pretty much beige and grays. I keep this box on my sewing table, where it’s available at a moments notice if I (dare I wish) finish a spool and need to make a quick change. The large cones in the box are Bottomline threads by Superior.

This is the box that has all of my other threads –

The bottom box in the first picture in the post is for the collection of other threads that I have been using over the years…Superior, Mettler, Gutterman…they all have been in the rotation for a bit, and they are all where I can get to them easily when I need to. There is a bottom layer in there, and it’s all easy to access.

This brings me to the middle box, the Holy Grail of my thread. Aurifil threads, in all the pretty colors.

This box isn’t as chaotic as you might think, and the thread weight I prefer is Aurifil’s 50 weight, the orange cone.

You can see that I’ve got several gray tone spools, several white, and still more beige tones. Most of my piecing is done in tones of gray or yellow, and I’m trying to clear some space in the box to add additional colors. I am hoping to have cleared some space in the box in the next month of so, allowing me to decide which new colors (if any) I will be adding to when I go to the MQX show in Manchester in April.

Here’s a lesson I have learned along the way…

Keep all your thread in one location; when you begin a project (in a box, or in a planner), keep notes as to which threads you want to use with which project. The note goes with the project, the thread goes back into it’s home. That will eliminate this from happening to you….

I hate it when this happens…I need to make a purple quilt.

And if you know me at all, it’s no surprise that I have several spools of turquoise. It’s a fun color!

Wednesday Words – Finding my SPARK for 2019…

I actually thought about what I would select for the word of the year much earlier than I usually do. I began scribbling ideas down in early December, and then

Something did…in a fashion. SPARK is my word, and it’s an acronym for Shift. Possible. Action. Results. Kind. This mantra is easy to remember for me, and it applies to my work life as well as my personal life. It can even (insert a big grin here!) work up as a new Facebook cover page. There’ll be a tutorial sooner rather than later on how I made that.

Shift comes into play because when you’re an entrepreneur, you need to be able to get to a place of yes (sometimes, on an hourly basis). Being able to shift, for me, usually means changing the method I use to get a certain outcome. One of my favorite sayings is that if there is a long way around the barn, I’ll take it. In 2019, I want to shift that way of operating, and move onto making life easier for me and those around me.

A note here – one huge creative shift is coming this year. I’ve often joked about being evenly left and right brained, and often being conflicted about whether I do computer work or sewing work. I felt as though I had to do the computer work first, before I earned the sewing time. I crashed headlong into that issue on more than one occasion, and more than one deadline. Now, I’m scheduling sewing time into may day – and I’m really enjoying it. A shift in action.

Possibilities often become visible once you embrace the shift method of operating. Things that weren’t visible to you can suddenly appear if you just change your perspective a bit. You do have to have faith in that, but it generally works out.

Action is perhaps the easiest of the words to understand, but it’s also in here for a reason…I hate the feeling of being ‘stuck’ in a problem. My business has changed (ok, shifted) this year, and I now have several clients whose social media platforms I manage. That can often mean one deadline, and several clients to keep on schedule. It can require some fancy footwork, and a lot of action being taken. That’s going to continue throughout the year.

Results – this speaks for itself. If you want to get ahead, you need to take action and then measure the results…and that’s true whethe you are baking a cake, quilting a quilt…or mounting an ad campaign…if you don’t take a hard look at the item, you won’t know how successful you were.

Kind – This is a personal code word for me for this year – we can always be kind. I had the opportunity to witness kindness in action this week, and it really struck me how powerful it can be. It costs nothing to be kind, and it makes you so much happy – and brings joy to those around you.

So – I’d like to know what’s your SPARK this year?

More about Quilters who stitch and Stitchers who quilt

When last I blogged, I was in a bar/cafe/restaurant…I’m not sure what you call it, having coffee and finishing my thoughts on my Nashville adventures. I promised that this would be a 2 part blog post, so here you go. I never really had put Nashville on my must see list, and I can report now that I would have missed out. I want to go back and explore the city. My sister sent me a message about seeing the Angel wings…now I need to go back and see that.

Downtown Nashville

My first trip exposed me to a different side of people who I already know and like hanging out with – whether you call them stitchers or quilters, it’s the creative women of the world. There’s a lot of articles and research on the benefits of staying creative as you age, and my dinner companions on one of the nights have an interesting take on that.

Traveling to a show like this can be lonely, when you’re the newbie in the crowd. This group was incredibly helpful, warm, and funny – but there was a downside when it came to meals. On the first night, I was waiting to be seated in the restaurant, when two wonderful women came up (Kristy and Kathy) and asked if I would join them. They had been through the room earlier in the day, and remembered me. A good meal with great company can become a meal to remember. These ladies had at one point operated a needle arts store, but it had closed…they now serve their former clients as part personal shoppers, part concierge service. They would source out materials for a project, and deliver it to customers who no longer drive, or are housebound for one reason or another.

from compas.org


In the course of my researching this blog post, the graphic above comes from compas.org – a Minnesota based organization which puts creative arts programs (through volunteers) into senior living facilities, giving residents a hands on approach. Although my dining companions don’t live in Minnesota, they have a holistic approach to stitching shared with this group.

Back to the stitchers, it appears that there is one big advantage that they have over quilters, and that’s portability. It’s easier to bring a stitching project with you than it can be to bring a quilting project….there are options in the quiltverse, such as English Paper Piecing and Handwork, but a lot of it isn’t. I know that when I pack for the weekend, it looks as if I’m taking the whole sewing room (and it feels like it). I know that on some of my open sew nights at my local quilt shop, I’m often looking for handwork to bring so I don’t have to haul the machine in and out.

The one downside that both groups have is diminishing eyesight. As we age (as I age), I know that I reach for my ‘readers’ more often than not, and I have several pair stashed around the house.

Quilting for a New Bundle of Joy

I actually do have one finish to tell you about this month, and it’s a rather important one…in my family at least. We welcomed our third grandchild, Henry, into the family earlier this month, and his quilt was finished in the days leading up to his arrival – there’s nothing I like more than a deadline. The pattern used was absolutely perfect – it’s Sew Fresh Quilt’s Fox and Friend’s Baby Quilt pattern – although I took a long way to get there.

The original fabric bundle

I bought the fabrics a long time ago – they called to me, and truly it was a case of when you find something you love, buy it. When I say long, it was well over a decade ago – and the fabric was beautifully packaged and put away in my Kids fabric bin, waiting for me to dive in to look for something. I had forgotten about it so much that I actually had something else in mind for him, until I opened the bin. Henry was born in January, and all the more reason to back this quilt in a soft baby flannel. I found this perfect piece in my Flannel Bin (don’t mock the bin system…it worked this time!).

A perfect flannel backing for this

As often happens, this quilt had a few false starts, and ideas that didn’t work it. The pieced backing, which I ultimately absolutely adored, had a few false starts. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted, which is why it took me a long time to get there. I hate it when that happens.

Early one morning in the workroom…what was I thinking.
Note – idea needed for 60 degree green diamonds soon!

I had decided to work with the equilateral triangles in the backing, and I think I was going to go with fusible applique on the top. Mom and Dad had decided on a Forest Friends theme for his room, and one night, on Pinterest, I figured it out. Thank you, Lorna from Sew Fresh Quilts for the inspiration as to how to turn this fabric pull (with a few minor additions) into what ultimately became H’s quilt. Your pattern was very easy to follow, and adapt for my needs. (This quilt is actually the first one I’ve ever done without a quilt border on it.).

I had 15 gray scraps with me that night – none worked! Including this.

This quilt meandered along, as we waiting anxiously for H to join us. This was an open sew at my local quilt shop, and I came determined to finish the top. Unfortunately, although this was the best of my grays, it was’t working. I love it when the people in the room look at your face, and keep saying what’s wrong? until you figure it out.

Adding the perfect Nana touch

I love adding personalization to any quilt, and there are two things that go on every quilt I make for my grandchildren – their name and a heart. My new Cricut Maker allows me to use fabrics already in the quilt to add that punch of personality. The heart is quilted in. For quilting this, I went with an easy to follow motif – leaves! The fox and the raccoon eat leaves! Done, and done – and I think my membership in team quilt it to death is in good standing…even though I try not to over quilt a baby quilt. You lose the snuggle factor.

Not all labels go on the back!

I put the bias binding on this quilt on by machine, for strength. I hope this quilt is loved to death – so I can make him another one. I’ve had several snuggle sessions with him, and he is gorgeous. I’m not sure he’s met me yet – he’s been sound asleep every time and I don’t think he’s seen me.

Three down – and one more on the way! That baby quilt presents a unique challenge – they’re not doing a gender reveal, so I have to go neutral. That quilt is sketched out and waiting for a start – I hope they’re ok with a ‘some assembly required’ approach (until I get a name, I can’t quilt it!).

Off to retreat…more dispatches coming soon. I really enjoyed Faux Spring while it lasted.

Planning to stay Organized

Someone on social media said that the first two weeks (or so) of the year is the free trial, and I would have to say in my case that that is pretty accurate. Almost as soon as I put SPARK out there to the universe, the shifts began to show up in very big ways – I’ve been having to process some and deal with the consequences of others. It’s all good, but not everything in life happens on social media. I had planned to write this blogpost at the beginning of the year, but then…shift happened. Oh, and to those who are keeping track – one of the best gifts ever arrived in the form of Henry, who just makes me smile everytime I get a new photo. So, 2019 is definitely off on a journey very different from last year.

2019 has a lot to pick from on the buffet creative wise, and I find it impossible to do that without a good planner. This year has more moving parts to keep track of than I’ve had in the past, and that means I HAVE to have a planner AND TO USE IT. I’ve found one that I love, and after a few modifications, it’s perfect. I heart My Quilter’s Planner.

My 2019 Quilter’s Planner – after a little customization

I was fortunate enough to receive this as a gift this year, and to say I was pleased is an understatement. I love a good Orange Peel pattern, so from the beginning, I have loved it. As soon as I opened the monthly section and found that it had the show dates for some of the more prominent shows included…I was hooked. I’m sure that not everyone is in there, but that’s a biggie when you’re planning several months out with customers. This planner also comes with several projects, and a sew along…you can see in the picture on top, I’ve gotten block one done of the Sew Along.

Let’s talk customization at this point, because after several stops and starts here, I have one feature that I look at more than others…I LOVE a discbound planner, which allows me to take pieces out and put them back in without too much difficulty. The Quilter’s Planner isn’t a discbound system – or rather it wasn’t one when I received it. It was easy enough to find a video on uncoiling a planner – it turns out that it’s easier than you might think. I did mine in less than a minute – the key is keeping your pages together and in order – binder clips helped me then. After things were unspiraled, I simply punched them with a punch that is made to go with my discbound system, and I was off to the races.

My January discbound monthly set up…it works!

The QP has several extra sections to it beyond the calendar part – it also has several patterns, a really useful reference section, and a place to keep your project files together – a perfect place to tame my UFO list – because if it’s out of sight, it’s also out of mind. I may get somethings off that list this year.

I took an older Brand X calendar that I had laying around – also discbound – and used it to add sections to the back of the Quilters Planner for Goals, Blog Stats, an online course that I’m working on, and a note section for my clients. Those papers can then be transferred to their files. You will see a size difference between the QP and the Brand X one – the Quilter’s Planner is ever so slightly smaller than a standard 8 and a half by 11…so here’ what that looks like.

The page with the green stripe is from the original Quilter’s Planner

I put the original oversized planner covers onto the front and back, which offers my Quilter’s Planner additional all weather protection. Now, to see about a cover. Looking around my stash, I saw the only thing that I could possibly think about using…

This is my planner cover – Cork! I had never seen anything like this…

I couldn’t use the patterns that Quilter’s Planner gives online, because the dimensions given were too small for my ‘frankenplanner’. I used the piece of cork above, coupled with a scrap of cork from another project, a hair tye and a button to make a pattern based on the brown bag book covers of my school days to complete my planner. I found that making a planner cover is a perfect application for working with cork.

So now that I have the tools, it will be interesting to see how this plays out…stay tuned. I am packing more of the Sew Along Blocks to bring with me on retreat in the next couple of weeks.

Improving your Quilting space – 5 ideas to help

In today’s post, I’m going to give you a window into the inner workings in my space, and share with you 5 things which I use every day in the studio to make my quilting better. If you’re still looking for ideas to put on your list – these are items that make sewing more fun. 


I firmly believe that what works for me may not necessarily work for you.  There are some universal truths, though – so hang on and I’ll go through the list.  I’d love to hear from you what your best ideas are to make your sewing more fun…I’m ready to start on next year’s list. 

This is NOT an affiliated post in any way, so take what you want and leave the rest. 

Taming the threads…

This works so much better than my old ‘ice cube tray’ system! 

Believe it or not, thread and bobbins have been a major focus in my space this year, and these have helped me corral the spare threads that make me nuts. 

I use mostly Aurifil thread in my quilting, and this product has helped me start to tame the thread beast. They are called Bobbin box organizers by Tidy craft, and at less than $10 for the set, they make it easy to keep things organized. Yes, I do know that I have several grays at the bottom – my color of choice! 

A sharp blade is a safe blade…

This is one of my favorite tools in the sewing room. 

This was something that Santa brought me last year – a blade sharpener that I absolutely love. It does give my blades extra life, and there is nothing like a sharp(er) blade to help with your accuracy when quilting.  This was a great hit – it’s in the top drawer of my cutting table, where it’s able to be used often. 

LEDs are a gift from the Sewing Gods…

Now that the days  are getting dark sooner, I depend on the lighting in my sewing room.   Well, Move over, ottlights…you can’t take my LEDs away from me. My space is a bedroom, and there are only so many lights a girl can have…you need to make the most of them.  

Sew organized! 

Sew Emma – Vertical Storage in a tiny spot

This is a handy little organizer that’s just big enough.  It holds all my go to tools on the back of my cutting station, near the Ikea cubby. It’s got space for my collection of seam rippers, my pencils, tweezers (you’d be sutprised!) as well as a pair of Had’s scissors I keep on hand to work with.  My rotary cutters and the Good scissors are in the drawer – outside of the hands of little ones who don’t know they are little.  It’s from Sew Emma, and it’s called the Stash and Store…well named. 

Angela Walters’ Rulers

I sew on a Janome 8900, and I need my tools to be sized appropriately for my machine. That’s why I love (and am developing an obsession with) Angela Walter’s rulers for Creative Grids.  These are easily handled when working on a domestic machine, and they allow you to maintain control of your quilting. If you have an opportunity to try them, you will find them very easy to work with. 

What’s my favorite tool in the sewing rooom?

I’m participating in the #myyearinquilts hashtag over on Instagram, which was started by the Modern Quilt Studio on their IG feed.  I have been out of the practice of posting regularly to Instagram, and I do find it helpful to do with the structure of a challenge. I’m on day 6, and I’m writing this in an internet cafe (how milennial of me!) on my way to pick up my granddaughter…so here’s today’s blog.

The prompt for today is my favorite tool — and there’s only one thing it can be. My Janome 8900…but if you have ever asked me in my life how many machines I would own (currently 3!), or how many times I would have upgraded to get here…I’d have had to plead the fifth.  It’s been long strange journey to get here, and I find today that even now, in my 3rd year of ownership…I still find things to love about it.  Have I mentioned that it’s my 4th Janome?

This snapshot was taken about 5:30 this am (note the dark in the window), and the tools from my latest sewing project are strewn about the machine.  I love sitting down and working with it, and when I don’t get a chance to do that, I miss it.

My first machine, as a newly married woman, was a private label nightmare sold through JCPenney. It came with no quilting attachments, no case, a manual written mostly in what I think was Chinese, and a tension dial that was never in balance.  I think that I easily spent more than I paid for it in balancing adjustments….and to think, that’s what I learned to quilt on.  That might explain why I had several early quilts fall apart.

I finally ‘broke’ – me, not the machine – when I took a quilting class and spent more time fiddling with the tension than sewing. I came home in tears…and that’s when my husband said that I had tried my damndest – but I needed a better machine.

He always has been a right tool for the job kind of guy…

Fast forward through the selenction process of the initial machine, and several upgrades to get to this one. It purrs, it’s always in balance,  I love experimenting with the attachments and the feet, and it has a manual in excess of 40 pages written in English, and this one has a button that you press and magically does give you a 1/4″ seam allowance.  The layout is also toddler friendly, in that I can have my granddaughter stay on one side of the machine.

The stitch is beautiful….even, straight, and something that makes me happy to use it.  It’s not the highest end in the line, but it is the one I love.