About Me

My photo

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

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sewing Machines - Function, Form + Now Beauty?

Dear Lola,

I think part of my love of sewing stems from the simple fact that I like the idea of using a power tool!  I adore learning how to maneuver my way through the buttons, dials and stitch adjustments on the machine.  I feel so proud when I can make a stitch look the way I want and do what I need that stitch to do.  It’s like hitting your first home run or passing the driving test!

First and foremost, there is function - what a machine can accomplish:  I believe in my heart of hearts that without my taking up sewing, I would never have learned to appreciate the store bought clothes that I own.  I definitely know I can never take buttonholes, zippers and topstitching for granted again.  I check store bought clothing much more thoroughly now.  I check to see how the seams inside are finished.  I appreciate embellishment details in the way some people appreciate fine wines.  If a jacket has a Hong Kong seam inside – I am completely in awe of the talented and capable artistry that creates these details.  Perfect free-motion quilting is a personal dream of mine.  I aspire to master these precise details in each sewing project I undertake.

I also know that sewing machine manufacturers create new machines to accomplish new extraordinary feats of sewing.  Whether the new machine capabilities involve the delicate and intricate or the powerful and speedy, sewers will line up to check out what the machines can do!  We will be interested in the attachments and accessories that come with the machines; we will consult each other for opinions and ratings; and we will find inspiration from the new techniques that sewing machines can help us achieve. We will cheer for new attachments and mourn for machines that stop being manufactured to make room for newer and fancier models. We will be dumbfounded by machines like the Baby Lock Sashiko machine that costs a bundle and does only 1 stitch, albeit a pretty stitch.  

Now for the form part of the equation– the way a machine feels to us:  Many sewing enthusiasts find themselves enthralled by the color of a machine, or a limited design on the cover.  We can be comforted by the tried and true of the mechanical machine or completely wowed by the sleek, computerized sewing machines that dominate many hearts and minds.  There are avid collectors on both sides of the coin.  There are the Featherweight Mavens and the Bernina Babes.  Zealots aren’t just involved in religion! 

This week as I was stumbling around the Internet checking out sewing and quilting in the news.  (See my previous post).  I came across these new machines that don’t come from the big sewing manufacturers, but rather from hot new industrial designers.  Just like an Umbra trashcan or an Eames chair – the sewing machine is finding its way into the minds of industrial design students!  How intriguing! 

Watch This Amazing Video of James Woods' Concept Sewing Machine: 


Here is a photo of the New Designers Folding Machine: (Thanks to Core 77 Blog for posting entries about these machines)

While I ‘m not sure the designers got the machines right, I do think it’s exciting to entertain the notion that the sewing machine is entering the design world in such a hip way.  This can only be good for continuing improvements in how machines adapt to our needs.  Design, function and form can be all leading edge. 

Lola, all I can say is keep your eyes and mind open.  I do believe in our lifetime that the sewing machine will not only be an amazing power tool capable of amazing function and form it will become a thing of beauty!

Hugs and stitches,


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

We Are Not Alone!

Dear Lola,

Is it only me or have you also noticed all the sewing, quilting and needle arts stories out there in the media?  It is confirmed – We Are Not Alone!  It is remarkable to see the high volume of media coverage and the vast spectrum of “Sewing News”.

Here are just a few links to stories I have seen in recent news:

New York Times – Dusting Off the Sewing Machine
Altoona Mirror – It’s Sew Easy
Market Watch – The Most Beloved of Sewing Supplies
Oregon Live -  Sewing the Handmade Movement
The OC Register – Sew Your Own Summer Style
Picayune Item – Ladies of Tuesday Morning Quilters
Richmond Register – Quilt Square Placed on County Library
Cleveland. Com – Passion for Quilting

I think it is totally awesome to see that “sew” many are finding quilting, sewing and needle arts as a way to connect, improve their own lives and touch the lives of others.   Many of the stories highlight groups that are donating items they have created.  Other stories reveal how sewing has enriched peoples’ lives and given them confidence and useful skills.  The media also clearly thinks this is all worth reporting!  

Of course, some of what I read isn't "news", it is social media, but even on the pages of Facebook and Pinterest - sewing feels like it is exploding into the mainstream.  Today during my morning check in on Facebook, The Modern Quilt Guild’s page had a post about a boy who just finished his first quilt.  The number of “Likes” this post got is approaching 50 and it’s still early in the day!  Who couldn’t like that?  With so many of today’s kids embracing texting, video games and other passive activities, it just warms my heart to see all the stories about young sewists. 

I am inspired to see that young people in Monterey California are offered a “Catwalk Camp” from a fashion designer.  Wish I had something like that when I was a kid!  Picking up sewing as a young person has to be infinitely easier than picking it up as you are approaching 50 like I did!

This sewing fever of sorts – I hope it lasts and lasts.  I know I much prefer reading about creativity, design, and charity to reading about the economy and the campaign trail.  I adore the heart-warming stories of donated quilts to displaced Afghan orphans and homemade/handmade dresses to little girls in Africa.  I am thrilled to learn of ladies traveling to remote villages to teach sewing skills and empower women to build their own small businesses.   Organizations like Fount of Mercy are so inspirational.

All of the media coverage has inspired me to add a "Sewing News" Tab to my Browser Home Page.  I have placed the Tab at the top of my Home Page.  I may not be able to prioritize the news for the rest of the world, but it is very rewarding to be able to check out the "Sewing News" for myself before reading about the deficit and government officials who can't get along.  When I open my "Sewing News" Tab, I think: "Finally - News I Can Use!"  lol!

I do believe there are plenty of like minded people out there – sewists who believe like me – put us in charge and we can stitch the world back together and cover it with love.  What I have believed for the last 5 years is true – Sewing is Magical!

Hugs and stitches,

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Written Instructions - Good or Evil?

Dear Lola,

In 5 short years of sewing mania, I have purchased more than my weight in quilting magazines, patterns and books.  What am I hunting for?  It is a gerbil wheel of mythic proportions.

  • See quilt sample/pattern in magazine, shop or book
  • Covet quilt sample/pattern
  • Buy magazine, pattern or book
  • Get home, read instructions, lose interest and fail to complete project
  • Repeat steps again and again

So I thought to myself, can I hop off the wheel?  Can I look at some fabrics I like and be inspired to create my own quilt project?   Can I take my creativity, as they say, from soup to nuts?  Then I thought about you Lola, and the wise words you would say to me,  “Giving this a try will allow you to stretch your creative abilities.  It will prove you can come up with your very own quilt designs without written instructions.” 

Don’t get me wrong; following instructions is the cornerstone of all I have learned so far in sewing.  Following instructions has gotten me very far; kept me out of trouble (except that time there was a misprint and the hat lining was too big for the hat!); and I know following instructions will continue to take me places!  I think my desire to “go it alone” is merely a product of trying to revisit that basic kindergarten mentality of all rules are meant to be broken in order to be a truly creative thinker!

After a visit to one of my favorite shops Elegant Stitches and enlisting very capable help from the Elegant Girls - I came home bearing my fabric choices.  I felt it prudent to start small - with a Baby Quilt.   Novelty fabrics are easy sources of inspiration and my project wouldn’t need to be very large to be deemed a success.  I like the adage of using “Baby Steps”.  I liked the bright colors of a new line of fabrics from Robert Kaufman called City Centre.   I purchased a backing, a focus fabric and one complimentary fabric from the line.  As part of my personal challenge - I had to scout the shop for fabrics outside the perfectly coordinated fabrics to use in my quilt. I wanted to force myself to create my own coordinates.  So I selected 4 other blender fabrics to use as well that were from various other manufacturers and fabric lines.

I had a vision in my mind of using the horizontal design of the red car fabric as the main design element.  I also knew I wanted to create a quilt small enough to require no piecing of my backing.  Using these boundaries, I began tackling my design challenge.

I decided to build out from the center, add borders and fall within my width of fabric measurement.  I built 3 rows of cars, alternated 4 rows of complimentary blocks, with a small inner border and a wider outer border.  I decided to use irregular sized blocks in each of the alternating rows and to actually flip the rows for interest.  I found myself using some rusty math skills and developing some cool design pathways.  Flipping the rows made me feel as giddy as a schoolgirl (don’t know why schoolgirls are always giddy do you?). 

Sewing the final rows together was unusually rewarding.  Finishing a pieced quilt-top is always exciting, but sewing one together you designed yourself is special.  I know my design isn’t complex, and is somewhat similar to other designs out there; but it was especially fulfilling to make my own creation without written instructions and total freedom to make all the final calls in what the finished project looks like.

Along the way, I kept track of the fabrics I used, the measurements, cuts and sewing instructions.   I jotted down notes, made corrections, drew sketches, named my design (Traffic Jam) and finally typed up a set of complete cutting and sewing instructions.  I decided this was another important part of the process even though it felt ironic to do so!  Let’s face it – writing down instructions of how you went through a process of not following instructions is nutty.  But in the end, I am very pleased I did it – because now I can recreate this pattern again and again.  I think the quilt is really cute, original, and fun to make!  For baby gifts – it will be a go-to-pattern that I will use again and again.  I’m even willing to admit – I would love for someone to ask me to share the pattern with him or her!  I have officially arrived full circle!

It is sew clear to me now – having a set of instructions to follow does not impede personal creativity; it merely organizes that creativity into a road map that will get you where you want to go!  And as quilters/sewists – lots of us want to share the fun of arriving at the same place!

Hugs and stitches,

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Modern, New - Where Do I Fit Into Quilting?

Dear Lola,
I recently attended the Sewing and Quilt Expo held in Raleigh, NC from June 21 – 23, 2012.  It was a new event to the Raleigh area.  Wow!  It was “sew” much fun.  I took 5 fabulous classes; watched countless in-booth demonstrations; viewed the Quilt Alliance’s travelling competition and exhibition Home is Where the Quilt Is; saw lots of my favorite sewing sisters; and walked until I practically wore out my shoes! 

How fun that my friend Sandi Shover won a really nice embroidery/sewing machine from Brother!  The event seemed to be well attended and the planners of the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo promise to return to the Raleigh Convention Center next year.  Yippee!

There were vendor booths inside the main Expo Hall representing far away places and local favorites.  The displays were inspiring and thought-provoking.  Anyone who attended would be hard pressed to say there wasn’t something for everyone!  I saw many new-fangled sewing tools displayed along side the tried and true.  It was great to meet new people and see local friends like Elegant Stitches.  The classrooms were filled with fancy new machines, video presentations and enthusiastic students from all walks of life.  The class topics covered a broad range of sewing and quilting including heirloom techniques, handwork, garment construction, traditional quilting and art quilting. 

I particularly loved and ultimately purchased some of the really cool rulers from Studio 180/Deb Tucker.  The demos are what really sold me on these rulers!  It was great to learn that my local quilt shop Wish Upon A Quilt carries these rulers too.  I know I will want more than just the two I purchased.  If I had only owned the Wing Clipper Ruler, I might had a much better time with my flying geese that I blogged about a few weeks ago! 

I broke down and bought myself a really good cutting mat from Martelli that was an excellent price for the show.  I have already noticed my cutting is “sew” improved by using it! I came home with a bundle of bright batiks that were graduated in color to use in my projects that I learned from Frieda Anderson.

Friday evening, I attended an event “Quilters Take Raleigh” to benefit the Quilt Alliance and won a gift bag from Free Spirit/Westminster Fabrics.  I got to meet some of the “Rock Stars” of the Quilt World including Jodie Davis, John Adams, Tula Pink, Beth Hayes, Christine Zoller, Holice Turnbow (sorry to call you a “Rock Star” Holice), and Pepper Cory.  The event launched a new project – “Go Tell It At the Quilt Show” and showcased stories of quilters, family quilts and the personal importance of these quilts.  Janice Pope's BFF Round Robin Quilt Story brought tears to my eyes.  The quilt is stunning and so colorful just like Janice!

John Adams of Quilt Dad moderated the panel in the discussion of “Trendspotting Across the Quilt World”.  While this seems like a fairly benign topic - This is when the conversation got heated and interesting. 

As someone who reads whatever I can about sewing and quilting, I have seen many articles and books lately regarding “Modern Quilting”.  I had no idea however, that there appears to be debate about the methods used by “Modern Quilters” to piece their quilts together; choose their fabrics, and ultimately quilt the sandwich. 

Judging these “Modern” quilts in shows and events creates some friction in the “Quilt World”.  It appears from the discussion that the “Modern Quilt Movement” is viewed by “quilt purists” as something that is not truly a representation of “real, authentic quilting”.  The simple, clean designs used by “Modern Quilters” were criticized by some members of the audience for failing to meet “standards” that have been used for judging quilts in shows for years.

As a relative “newbie”, I cannot speak to the rules of quilting, showing quilts, and the history of quilts, I can however let you know that I was disappointed by this heated debate about what really makes a quilt a quilt!  The whole event was intended to celebrate quilts, encourage documenting quilts and share the history of quilters and their quilts.  The Quilt Alliance is a non-profit organization looking for new members to help their mission.

I realize that quilters who enter their quilts in competitive shows need rules and regulations to make the contests fair for all the entrants.  All competition requires fair play, but when you add elitism to the mix – the competition stops being fun to watch!  The foundation of competitive quilting starts with the “newbie” or people like me.  While I doubt I will ever enter a serious quilt show, each quilt I make is competing with the quilts that came before it.  I am looking to improve my techniques and increase the overall technical difficulty.  Although I am sure there will always be some “quick” quilts in my mix for gift giving or charity.  I am, however, looking to compete – at least with myself!  I am sure there are other newbies out there who will eventually compete for “real” in shows and contests.

An oversimplified correlation to the heated discussion of the evening would be comparing and contrasting a painting by Michelangelo against a painting by Picasso - comparing a painting by Andy Warhol and Leonardo DaVinci.  These artists and their works all have a place in the history of art. Hanging them in a gallery next to one another helps us understand the entire spectrum of art.

Why not make our mutual journey into all that encompasses quilting inclusive?  Why not create a world of quilting that celebrates the simple beauty of creativity without animosity?  The collaborative spirit that is at of the core of what art represents should encourage all comers to leave any elitism at the door. 

I thought it was really amazing to have someone like Holice Turnbow in the same room as someone like Tula Pink.  I loved seeing the antique North Carolina “Cheddar” quilt presented by Brenda Brickhouse that has been in her family for generations right along side my dear friend Cathy McKillip’s very modern, Perfect Ten Quilt.  There is a place for both of these quilts in the same room at the same time. 

I am so happy that there are so many choices for me to make as a newbie.  I can learn traditional quilting, modern quilting, art quilting, and all the mutations in-between.  I can choose to do it by hand, or machine, or a combination of both.  I can dye my own fabrics, purchase them, or repurpose clothing items. 

Since, I am in my fifties, I don’t really meet the definition of a “Next Gen” quilter.  Some people seem to think “Modern Quilters” are “Young Quilters”  – so that rules me out of that category.  To be honest – do I have to fit neatly into a category?  Do I have to choose one type of quilting over another?  Can’t I appreciate all of it for the joy it brings so many others and me?  Quilts aren’t just for hanging in museums to be preserved; they are for covering our loved ones in beauty and warmth.  Quilts and quilting are reflections of creativity, self-expression, devotion to craft.  I don’t think anyone should ever act like quilting is some exclusive club that only allows perfectionists to join.  I’m guessing that even Michelangelo and DaVinci were beginners once.  Their art may have even been thought of as “Modern” once upon a time!

I am giving myself permission to love it all, encourage it all and learn from it all.  I’m glad we aren’t still sewing with bone fragments for needles and catgut for thread.  Thank God, we continue to improve and modernize.  As we expand our horizons, we can still embrace and revere the past.  We can keep one foot in the past, our heart in the present and our eye on the future.

Sew to sum it up – As opposed to being a Modern Quilter - I am a quilter in a Modern World – and I am NEW quilter as opposed to a YOUNG quilter AND it’s ALL GOOD!  Be kind to each other, being part of the collaborative spirit of sewing and quilting is good for the soul.  Every quilt can be a masterpiece to someone and every quilter can create their own personal masterpiece.  Quilting - ONE SIZE FITS ALL!

Hugs and stitches,