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I love all things sewing!  It's all about the creative journey.  All my blog posts are letters to my sewing alter-ego - Lola!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Good Stash - Not Everyone is Worthy!

Dear Lola,

You have watched me over the years adding and adding to my stash. It's true, I have put together some of the most beautiful imaginary quilts that will be made at some future date.  Like all quilters, I go through that period of self-loathing for owning way too much fabric, and then I feel compelled to create a quilt using only my stash.

Since some of the stash has been on display on my shelves (I hate to admit it), for years as colorful, artistic inspiration, I have become very attached to it.  There are some fabrics that I love almost too much to ever cut up.  But let's face it, God forbid I die - there is no one in my family who is likely to sew with this fabric so it's time, as they say, to let the cutting, sewing and quilting begin!

Ok, now that hurdle has been crossed, we arrive at the next hurdle.  What to make; and who will be the lucky recipients of these "good stash-worthy" quilts?  Having loved the fabric for so long and so passionately, I need to select carefully when giving away these quilts.

Lola, I can hear you now, "Why?"  Well the answer is simple, I have to be able to keep an eye on my stash up close and personal.  I have a need to know where this beloved fabric is at all times (well most of the time).  Putting it into a quilt and giving it away is like giving up a beloved child or pet.  So not just anyone is "good stash-worthy"!

For all you non-quilters out there - be aware!  If a quilter gives you a quilt and she mentions that she has used her good stash - there are two very important things to know!

  • You are greatly loved!  Only well-loved, well-trusted people receive quilts made with the good stash.
  • Check-in time to time with quilter and let him or her know you are caring for and loving the "good stash-worthy" quilt.  

Lola, I promise to post a photo of my first "good stash-worthy" quilt and the lucky recipient.  I also promise I'm going to begin cutting it up today - after I finish my coffee and head out to the fabric shop.  I need a few fabrics for my stash.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Stash building - what's your excuse?

Dear Lola,

You know I think working in a quilt shop is pure joy.  It's wonderful to be around quilters all day and I truly adore helping them select the fabrics for their projects.  Sometimes, I get to assist someone who is putting together an entire quilt and sometimes we are hunting for the perfect backing or binding.  

Every quilter seems to enjoy selecting the "ingredients" of a quilt.  Some quilters effortlessly select the ingredients while others obsess over the fabrics, battings, and threads.  I recently assisted a customer with the thread she was using for her piecing.  We spent over 30 minutes discussing the thread options and colors.  I think she went home with an excellent choice, she was still questioning herself as she left the store.  She was still concerned that she wasn't sure we got it right.

I generally try to select an Aurifil thread that is close to the colors I'm using in my quilt.  I usually settle on a neutral and I am always happy with the results.  I never obsess over the color I use for piecing, just the brand - it has to be Aurifil.  

We also get lots of customers that are "stash building".  Sometimes customers are embarrassed by this. But most customers realize we have heard this many times and they seem to know a quilt shop worker understands this phenomenon intimately!

The shop where I work carries Kaffe Fasset Fabrics and we received our shipment of the 2015 collection on Thursday.  Our customers were anxiously awaiting the unpacking and checking in of these beautiful fabrics and purchased a predetermined cut of each and every bolt.  Not surprisingly, there was no specific projects in mind.  They were just adding these fabrics to their stash - because!

When I'm on the other side of the cutting table - when I'm the customer - I know the quilt shop worker understands my need for stash building.  That being said, my non-quilter friends and family do not seem to understand the purchasing of fabrics that I have no immediate purpose in mind.  

I recently showed some new finds to a non-quilter family member and she asked, "what are you going to make with that?"  I replied, "I don't know yet, I just loved it and had to have it."  She viewed me with dismay, "you already have a lot of fabric in your sewing room, when will you find projects for all of that!"  

If you look at the conversation through the eyes of a non-quilter, it's a perfectly reasonable rationale to wonder how will the quilter ever use all of her stash.  I can see that.  However, I am a quilter and have a quilter's mind.  How can I impress on the non-quilter the importance of stash building?  Then it occurred to me - I was on a humanitarian mission.  There was some fabric trapped in the quilt shop that needed to be rescued!

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How do you know you're a quilter?

Dear Lola,

How do you know you're a quilter?  Is there an official moment a person becomes a quilter?  Or is it a metaphorical status?  While I believe I became a quilter in my heart before I finished my first quilt, there might be some purists who would argue you are not an "official" quilter until you have completed your first quilt, as they say, "from soup to nuts."  By the way, I looked up "from soup to nuts" and it's derived from the description of a full course dinner which historically was comprised of all the courses - beginning with soup and ending with nuts!  

I also suspect that some folks like to add some qualifiers, like "beginning", "novice", "intermediate" or "dabbling" in front of the word "quilter".  There are other descriptive words that can be attached to quilter like "traditional", "modern", "next-gen", "art", and my favorite, "totally-completely-utterly addicted"!

Just like in most things in life, we don't always think of ourselves in a context.  For example, I didn't think of myself as old until I received my first AARP advertisement.  The day that postcard arrived congratulating me on my invitation to join felt a little like the moment your kid heads to college.  You are happy you made it this far, but unsure of how to celebrate.  

As I travel through my quilting journey, I feel fairly certain, I won't be receiving any postcards announcing my arrival at quilting milestones.  Yet, many quilters can and do receive notice along the way.  Some quilters enter shows and find their work judged.  This process helps them grow and often results in accolades.  We can also share our work with other quilters in organized groups like bees and guilds.  This is another wonderful way to receive feedback and feel recognition from our community. It's an affirmation of our "quilter-status".

I personally love my quilt bee, they are wonderful, creative women who share so much with each other.  I love the local guild I belong to as well.  It's a place where I can view the work of many women within my community and there are often great educational opportunities folded into the monthly meetings.  It's just plain fun to be part of these groups.

In spite of all the things that I do to identify myself as a quilter, it took a funny experience today to make me realize, "oh yeah, no postcard required, YOU ARE A QUILTER!"  I was in the kitchen cooking dinner with the television on for background company.  I heard bits and pieces of the report and heard the announcer say, "a great way to get ripped" and I immediately looked up  thinking I would see a seam ripper.  Instead, it was a hollywood hunk who was "ripped" in a completely different way!

So Lola, I think we can safely say, there is no doubt, I know I'm a quilter.  

Hugs and stitches,


Monday, March 16, 2015

Don't you hate making the same mistake over and over?

Dear Lola,

There is nothing worse than making the same mistake over and over.  I've been burning the candle at both ends and I just needed a little face time with my machine.  I have a block of the month that I have been working on forever!  Did I say forever?  I meant it - the blocks are 4 years old.

I have the fabrics cut out, so it seemed only natural to try to stitch together one block for a little therapy.  I literally sewed the block together wrong 3 times and was ultimately able to bond with my seam ripper instead of my machine.  I felt like the comic book character above - "These flying geese are killing me."

I have been doing a lot of volunteer work for my son's school and I love being around the kids.  They are all awesome.   The parents - not so much!  The parent group hasn't been very cohesive or very nice for that matter, so putting something together like one quilt block seemed like the perfect artistic therapy for me.

After the third failed attempt, I realized that the process was a metaphor for the frustrations I have been dealing with and even though I really like to avoid the seam ripper, I was able to control the outcome.  With life, we don't always have a seam ripper at our disposal.  We have to make do with uneven people and experiences.  We don't get do overs like we do with quilting.

So once again, my sewing space gives me the lessons and meditations that I need at just the right moment.  In hindsight, it's just fine that I didn't finish the block - ripping is just what this girl needed to do to let off a little steam!

Hugs and stitches,


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Share with Love

Dear Lola,

Quilters are the most amazing people and I'm not saying that because I'm a quilter.  In fact, maybe I became a quilter hoping to become amazing!  Each opportunity I am given to be around other quilters reminds me how enthusiastic, energetic and optimistic quilters are.  They are always so happy to learn, share, grow and encourage.

The minute I meet another quilter, I feel a kindred connection.  I'm inspired to ask about current projects, favorite fabrics and colors.  I love hearing about success stories and quilting horror stories - we all have them!  I recently met a wonderful lady who shared the story of a quilt she made for a Wounded Warrior.  She was honored to have met the recipient and had tears in her eyes on the retelling of the experience.  She said the experience was one of the proudest moments of her life. After hearing that - I had tears in my eyes too.

Over the past 7+ years, I have heard so many stories from quilters who were honored to share their quilts with others.  Each quilt we make is a labor of hope, grace, dreams, laughter and love.  Having a hobby like quilting enriches my life every day and I feel blessed because of it.

Hugs and stitches,


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tension - The Great Tug of War!

Dear Lola,
Sewing is fun.  You have heard me say it a million times.  It helps relieve the tension in my life.  That being said - every once in a while, my sewing machine tension goes wacky and I get tense just thinking about how to correct the tug of war problem of sewing machine tension! In fact, this is what my mind looks like when I start thinking about correcting tension issues:

I think most of us forget:  It's okay to touch our tension dial!  We have permission to make tension adjustments to create a balanced stitch. It's not super hard to make tension adjustments, but often we need to check the following list of things first:
Have you replaced your needle?
If this is a new sewing project, it’s always a good idea to replace the needle. It is the cheapest, simplest thing to fix, and yet the easiest thing to overlook. Did you know a damaged or bent needle effects stitch quality?  I keep a post-it note by my machine with the needle size, type and date I changed it.  Make sure your needle is both seated properly and securely screwed-in to the machine.  Don’t ask me how I know this important!
I think it’s a good idea to keep plenty of extra needles on hand!  Go ahead and stock up when they are on sale. A new needle is often the fastest way to correct the most aggravating stitch quality problems.

Have you rethreaded your sewing machine?
First things first - remember to lift the presser foot up before threading. Having the presser foot in the up position opens the machine thread tension guides.  It is important to lay the thread in between these guides when threading to achieve proper tension and make any adjustments.  If you’re not in the guides, who knows where your thread may end up!
It’s always a good idea to check to make sure the bobbin thread is not out of its tension spring in the bobbin case. Rethreading this can also seem like a miracle fix!  As we pull the thread up at the end of a seam, we can sometimes disengage the thread from the proper alignment in the bobbin area.  Make sure you are using the correct bobbins for your machine!  Size matters!
Another good thing to check is that the thread is flowing off the spool and isn't catching anywhere.  I recommend using mesh thread nets if necessary for slick threads and keeping your spool area clean of adhesives from the labels found on thread spools.  Adhesives can sometimes keep the thread from feeding into the machine at the proper rate and cause tension issues.
Are you using good quality thread?
Thread quality makes a difference.  Use the best quality, long staple thread you can.  Different spool types can also make a difference on some machines.  The size of the spool can also impact how the thread flows into the machine.  If you suspect the thread is not flowing correctly from your spool pin, try an auxiliary thread stand.  Old thread can be brittle and cause issues, so try to avoid the "heirloom" thread you find in Grandma's old sewing box.  My favorite thread is Aurifil.  I truly can't imagine sewing without it!

Are your tension disks and thread path clear of lint and debris?
Just refer to your instruction manual if you don't know where these disks are located.  I keep a soft brush and Q-tips nearby to keep these clean.   Always pull thread forward through the tension disks, never backwards.  The small amount of thread you save is not worth the headaches!
Make sure you haven’t missed any of the threading steps.  Most machines have numbered thread paths. Be sure your thread is properly threaded within all areas of the thread path.  In other words - no short cuts!
After you have checked all of the above, if your stitches still don't look the way you would like, then you can start adjusting the tension settings. 

Think of tension as a great tug of war!  Only, in this war, we want no winners between stitches!   We want a perfectly matched top and bottom team!  We want complete equality!  Our stitches will look beautiful and we win!

Find your machine's tension adjustment.
Locate the sewing machine tension gauge on your machine.  Sometimes it’s a knob, button or dial.  Computerized machines may have the tension adjustment within the touch screen. Some machines have auto-tension settings that adjust for you as you change your stitch.  Don’t be afraid of your tension dial or changing the settings.  The machine manufacturer has this feature on your machine for your use.   It’s a good idea to be familiar with your owner’s manual and the section on machine tension.  Improper machine tension adjustments fall into two categories; it is either too loose or too tight.
Use the diagram above to help you identify the symptoms and the very simple remedies:
Does your needle thread show on the backing?
This means your needle thread is too loose or your bobbin thread is too tight.
Increase your needle tension by a single digit. Test by stitching several inches on your small practice quilt sandwich. Keep increasing the tension setting until the needle thread is not visible on the backing.
Does the bobbin thread show on the top?
This means either your needle thread is too tight or your bobbin thread is too loose.
First check that your bobbin thread hasn't slipped out of its tension spring in the bobbin case.  Inspect bobbin case for wear and tear and needle strikes.  Keep bobbin area clean.
If the bobbin thread is correctly threaded through the tension spring, then decrease your needle tension by a single digit. Test by stitching several inches on your small practice quilt sandwich. Keep decreasing the tension until the needle thread is not visible on the top.
If sewing machine tension problems occur during the middle of a sewing project, review the checklist. Once you're satisfied that your sewing machine is threaded properly and your needle is not bent and in need of replacement, revisit the steps above.  
Specialty Threads Tension Considerations
Be aware there are special considerations for working with speciality threads.  These threads can be a bit challenging, but the results can be stunning!  Don't be shy, remember you have permission to adjust your settings!
How do I use threads with stretch?
Threads like monofilament, polyester, rayon or holographic threads have stretch in them. It’s easy to see this stretch for yourself. Take a length of monofilament or rayon thread and give it a pull. You can feel the stretch. Now try the same with a length of cotton thread. Don’t you feel the difference?
Threads with stretch create their own tension or resistance as they flow from the spool through all the various guides until they reach the needle. That is why if you wind a bobbin with monofilament/stretchy thread, it is recommended that you wind your bobbin at a slower speed. That way you won't stretch the thread as it's being wound onto the bobbin. This avoids thread distortion.
For my sewing machine, when stitching with monofilament thread in the needle and a 50 wt. cotton in the bobbin, I reduce my preset tension by 2 numbers. Then test on a small quilt sandwich. I like to fine-tune the adjustments until I'm satisfied that I have a balanced stitch.
How do I use decorative, heavier threads?
Many decorative threads are thicker than the 50 wt. cotton that we using for piecing our quilts (lower numbers are heavier threads). When using these thicker threads be prepared to reduce your tension. A larger, thicker thread also creates tension as it winds its way through your machine. Reduce the settings and test until you've arrived at the balanced stitch you desire.  I do not advise using your machine needle-threader with heavy weight threads or small needles. 
How do I use metallic threads?
Because of the weight and composition of metallic threads, expect to lower your upper thread tension. Test, adjust, and test again until you've achieved a balanced stitch.  Use the right needle too!
How do I make tension adjustments 
for free motion quilting?
After establishing a balanced tension for the combination of quilt sandwich and thread you've chosen, you can still have “eye-lashing” on the back of your quilt. This is almost always due to the quilter pulling the fabric too fast while going around a curve.  It’s an eye-hand coordination issue.
If there have been no other problems with your tension settings up to this point, then go back to your small practice quilt sandwich. Practice the type of stitching pattern where the “eye lashing” occurred. Slow down your hand speed.  Practice! Practice!
Is it against the law to adjust bobbin tension?
No!  While it is possible that your bobbin tension is the problem, most of the time adjustments to your needle tension will fix the issue. Quilters find bobbin adjustments most necessary when quilting with very large threads in their bobbins for bobbin work.  You may want to have a special, separate bobbin for these heavy threads in the bobbin. This will ensure you have a bobbin for regular threads and a bobbin for heavier threads.  I use a Sharpie marker to denote my bobbin case for heavy threads.  I also believe it is reasonable to expect to purchase a new bobbin case every couple years for horizontal rotary machines.  An extra bobbin case is approximately $30 -$60 depending on your make or model.
So how do I adjust the bobbin tension?
To adjust bobbin tension, refer to your sewing machine manual. Locate the bobbin case and bobbin tension screw. This is a very small screw without a lot of threads on it. If necessary, adjust by making very small-micro turns (less than a quarter, closer to an eighth) of the screw following the “right-tighty, lefty-loosey” rhyme. It maybe helpful to make a mark on the bobbin case itself where your original tension was set so that you can return to it without difficulty.  Some machines have a special ratchet tool to change the bobbin tension setting.  Always refer to your manual first.
I recommend that under normal circumstances, adjustments to the bobbin tension be your last resort, because they are so rarely needed. 
Lola, with practice and a keen eye, it's very easy to see when your sewing machine tension is balanced. The best stitch is formed within the layers of the of the fabric or quilt sandwich; no needle thread shows on the bac; and no bobbin thread shows on the top. Make balanced stitches your goal.  You can be the winner in this tug of war!


Sunday, September 14, 2014

God Has Other Plans

Dear Lola,

I'm back to blogging.  Hope that you missed me as much as I missed you while I was gone.  I was feeling guilty about putting you last in my life, especially since posting here is therapeutic and helps me get my creative juices flowing.  Even if absolutely no one but me reads these posts, I enjoy them.

During my hiatus from blogging, my life has been busy and hectic and happy.  My kids are great and my family and friends make me feel loved and appreciated.  Oh there have been those moments when I get exasperated - like the dog has an accident right after I mop the floor or I make the same sewing mistake multiple times in a row and I become intimately involved with my seam ripper on the same seam too many times!  But all in all, the good outweighs the negative by 100 to 1!

I loved my job at my local quilt shop and helping many customers buy fabrics, new sewing machines and notions.  I helped launch a very successful new sewing machine department including a service department.    I was the leader of a wonderful Block of the Month Program and made lots of wonderful sewing sisters.

It was a wonderful experience, but God had been sending me little messages that I was missing.  I had my priorities confused.  I wasn't putting the important things in life first.  It was time to get off the "gerbil-wheel" that experiences, jobs and relationships sometimes become.

The good news - I was able to start spending more time in my little sewing space; and you started to whisper wise words into my ear, Lola.  You asked me:  "Are there lessons in all of this?"  I answered,  "Oh yes, for sure."
  1. Focus on who you love and what you love.  
  2. Change is good. 
  3. Time is the greatest gift.
  4. Just keep sewing.

As my alter-ego, Lola, you are wise and patient.   And because of your whispers in my ear, I know that I can move on and still do more great things.  Yes, a chapter is over - but amazing things happened.  I was responsible for changing things for the better!  The experiences I had also changed me for the better.  I'm taking my lessons with me to the next chapter.  I also know - it's okay to make it up as I go along.  Long term plans don't always play out the way we hope - but if everything was predictable - where's the fun?

I'll focus on what I love - God, my family, life and sewing.  I'll also focus on chatting with you Lola.  You don't judge me; you inspire me to be creative; and you find a way to look on the bright side of things always.  For that, I am truly grateful.