Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Quilter's Tribute to Her Mother

I've wanted to write a bit of a tribute to my mother for quite a while, but never think of it in time for
Mother's Day or her birthday, which was also in May!

I'm so grateful my mother taught me to sew at a young age.  She earned a Home Economics Education degree from Penn State back in 1951, so it was only natural that she would make it a priority to teach her children those skills.  

I was doing embroidery by kindergarten (don't you love those wonky stitches!), and sewing my own clothes by fourth grade.  I'm thankful I grew up in the era when needlework was perfectly respectable and the norm.  

My mother would often help me finish projects if I hadn't yet mastered the necessary skills, 

such as stitching this little fish eye,

or adding the stars to my cross stitch sampler.

I learned to sew on her Featherweight sewing machine which she would have purchased shortly after graduating from college.

That probably explains why I still prefer sewing on a simple mechanical machine over a fancy computerized one!  (I sewed on a basic Kenmore for almost 20 years before upgrading to a Bernina.)

I'm still sure I would have learned to sew at some point and love it, even if she hadn't taught me, 

but I'm grateful I had such an early start!

Money was tight when I was growing up, but I was always allowed to order an embroidery kit from the Lee Wards or Hirschner's catalog - remember those?!

 I always had an embroidery project going that I stored in an old metal lunchbox.

My parents even bought me a Singer zig zag machine for my 12th birthday, continuing to provide what  I needed to keep sewing.

Interestingly enough, my mother (far right) confessed that didn't really enjoy sewing that much, but in that day and age, sewing was an expected skill, not an option.  She admittedly chose to study Home Economics because it was more appealing than the other limited options open to women at that time, such as becoming a secretary or a nurse.  

I didn't learn to quilt until 1991 when I took a Sampler Quilt class at a local church, but my years of sewing made the transition seamless. I do have to laugh, though - my mother always insisted that I finish a project before starting a new one;  she would be appalled at my current number of WIP's.  :)  

Thanks, Mother, for taking notice of my interest in sewing and nurturing it!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cleaning Vintage Quilts

Every now and then I get a question on how to wash an antique or vintage quilt.  It makes people nervous, but I'm glad for that, because I would rather that the caretakers of these precious textiles think twice before tossing in them in washing machine with no thought whatsoever!

Below is some basic info about what has worked for me.  Of course, there is lots more detailed info on line, so be sure to see what other info you can find.

First of all, a few tips of what NOT to do:
  • Do NOT dry clean!  Vintage textiles are way too fragile for the harsh chemicals used in dry cleaning.
  • Do NOT use fabric softener or dryer sheets!  I just about croaked when a customer dropped off a quilt for repair that had been machine washed and dried with fabric softener and dryer sheets.  :(  They leave a nasty residue on these fabrics (and on our clothes as well!).

That being said, you CAN wash an older quilt in your washing machine if you follow the tips below.  It's really difficult to get a quilt clean and rinsed completely when washing by hand in the bathtub, so it's fine to use your machine as long as you take care when doing so.

  • First of all, be sure to mend any open seams or tears before washing.  Otherwise, these areas will only get worse when washed.
  • Use a gentle detergent.  Many quilt experts swear by Ovus Paste.  Most quilt shops carry it, or you can purchase it at your local farm supply store because, believe it or not, it's also used for washing horses!  I personally would avoid Woolite and laundry detergents designed for babies because they really aren't that safe or gentle.  More recently, I have been using Norwex's laundry detergent with good results; it doesn't contain fillers and it rinses out easily, which eases my concerns.
  • Wash in the machine with cold water on gentle cycle.  The most important thing is to take care when removing it from the machine.  A wet quilt is heavy, and wet fibers are fragile.  I usually take a sheet and place it under the quilt while it's still in the machine before removing it.  Then, remove from the machine by holding onto the sheet, not the quilt.  That way, there is no stress on the weak fibers.
  • Then, I carefully lay it flat to dry, squaring it up if possible.  Never hang a quilt to dry.  You can dry it outside with a a sheet underneath, but I'm always concerned about bug or bird dirt.  If you have enough space indoors, lay it flat and allow it to dry.  A fan or dehumidifier is helpful in speeding up the drying process.

Click here to read another post I had written on the same subject a number of years ago.  In this post I gave tips on protecting fraying fabrics or patches.

These recommendations are for quilts made out of cotton fabrics.  If your quilt is made of satin or other non-washable fabrics, do not attempt to wash it!   Dry cleaning isn't a good option either, so some people put a nylon stocking over their vacuum cleaner nozzle and remove dust and loose dirt by carefully vacuuming it.

Click here for more detailed info about this subject.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Denise's Lovely Liberties

I just delivered this lovely commissioned quilt to a customer this evening!  

I took a few pictures of it at Masonic Villages the other evening, 

and then a few more today at Dickinson College in Carlisle where we met up for delivery.

It was a great experience - my first opportunity to work with some lovely Liberty Tana Lawn fabric, direct from London.

My friend Denise's brother Bryan lives in London and asked me to make a quilt for Denise out of Liberty's Tana Lawn since he knows how much she loves their fabrics.  He shopped for the fabric at the iconic Liberty department store right in London. We selected this Union Jack pattern to commorate Denise's numerous trips to England.

 Of course, anyone who knows anything about Liberty's Tana Lawns knows that is one extravagant gift!!

Since I had to part with the quilt (boo hoo!), I wanted to make sure I took plenty of pictures.
Bryan was a good sport about being my quilt holder even though he had no idea what being a quilt would holder entail - ha ha!

 He's the perfect height for such adventures!
I told him he's lucky he doesn't live nearby; otherwise, I would be nabbing him on a regular basis to help me out.  :)

Photo Credit:  Amy Smart

The original inspiration for this quilt came from Amy Smart's blog post almost five years ago.  I have looked at this amazing quilt of hers more times than I can remember!  I just love the fabric combination and colors.

I ended up using this pattern.  You can purchase it here or here.
While it does result in some fabric waste, the block construction is a lot of fun.

Photo credit:  Holly Lesue

Craftsy also has a free pattern for a Union Jack block that you can then turn into a quilt like this fabulous one made by Holly Lesue (Maker Valley on Instagram).

I was nervous about getting started on the project because the fabric is oh so expensive, and oh so fine.  But, it was very easy to work with.  Even so, below are some tips that you may find to be helpful.

Tips for working with Tana Lawn

First of all, lawn is a super fine, woven cotton fabric made out of fine, high count yarns.  Lawn gets its name from "Laon", a city in France that was known for its production of lawn fabric.  Liberty's Tana Lawn is call Tana because the founder, Arthur Liberty found the ultrafine long-staple cotton fiber that could be woven into fine lawn growing around Lake Tana in East Africa, hence the name.

Lawn is fabulous for garment construction because its tight weave doesn't fray or wrinkle, and results in wonderfully drapey dresses and blouses.  Quilters love using it because it produces an equally luscious drapey quilt.

If you have the opportunity to work with lawn, go for it!

  • Be sure to use a small needle such as a 70/10 or 80/12 Universal or Topstitch needle.  The topstitch needle will allow you to use a small needle without causing your thread to shred.  I found an 80/12 needle worked best.
  • A fine thread is key as well.  I used Aurifil 50 wt for piecing and machine quilting.
  • For both piecing and machine quilting, be sure to use a straight stitch throat plate if you have one, as the delicate fabric tends to pull down into the wider hole on a zig zag throat plate.
  • I used steam, but some quilters prefer to use a dry iron so fabric doesn't get distorted when pressing.
  • A thin, light-weight batting is ideal so that you don't lose the wonderful drape of the fabric.  I used 100 % Cotton Quilter's Dream in their thinnest Request loft.
  • Since the lawn is a little more slippery than traditional quilting cottons, when layering your backing, batting and quilt top, be sure to pin baste no more than a fist width's apart (try saying that ten times in a row quickly!).
  • And, when machine quilting, keep in mind you may need to loosen your tension.

Take the plunge when you get an opportunity!

Such loveliness....

You can read more about working with lawn here and here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Perfect Pressing Boards

In preparation for Saturday's Applique class at The Old Country Store, I decided to make a batch of pressing boards so each student can try one out for themselves.

At my last Applique class, the students commented on what a difference they made in their pressing results.  I was teaching the Freezer Paper and Starch method, and indeed, it does make a difference if you have a firm surface to work with!

I love these pressing boards - they are perfect indeed.  I first learned about making them here.
One you get used to the perfect surface they provide you with, you won't be happy with any other pressing surface, trust me!

The problem with conventional ironing boards is that the surface just isn't firm enough for quilt-related pressing, and often the padding is a polyester fiber, or the cover is made out of that nasty aluminized silver stuff. 

 I made several boards for myself three years ago as well as a big board pressing surface and absolutely love using them.
(Note - I had just painted my quilt studio and tidied up - it's never been that neat since!)

These boards are so simple and inexpensive to make.  I simply got some scraps of plywood at the lumber yard and had them cut down to the desired size.  The 10 x 13" size works nicely for small projects and is easy to transport if you are quilting away from home.  The larger 14 x 19" size always sits on my big board ironing surface and helps to protect it from the scorching that results from routine pressing.  And, I have an 18" square board that is perfect for fusing interfacing when making T-shirt quilts.  Of course, you can make them any size you wish!

Here is the supply list in case you are interested in making your own:
10 x 13" 1/2" OSB or good quality plywood
14 x 17" 100% cotton duck fabric
(I got mine at Good's for super cheap.)
2 pieces of 11 x 14" 100% cotton batting 
(Warm & Natural or Warm & White works just fine even though it's only 87% cotton.  And, it's the perfect project for using up batting scraps.)
9-1/2 x 12-1/2" piece of felt

You'll also need:
coarse sand paper (I used 60 grit)
staple gun and 1/4" staples
Sobo or craft glue

Round the corners of the wood with sand paper.

Lay the wood on top of the fabric and 2 layers of batting.

Notch out the corners of batting to eliminate bulk.

Pull fabric nice and taught and staple.

Glue the felt to the back to give it a finished look.

You can certainly use a cotton decorator fabric if you prefer something a little more snazzy, but I prefer to stick with the plain duck fabric so there's never any worry about any dye bleeding onto my fabric if I'm using starch or steam.

 Of course, with regular use, you'll end up with a surface that looks like this, but you can easily recover your board from time to time, something I definitely need to do!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A New Place....

Recently, it's dawned on me that I've landed in a new place in my quilting journey.  It's hard to put into words, but it feels like I've advanced to the next level (if there's such a thing!), kind of like what you experience when you finally find your stride at that new, challenging job, or when you embrace a whole new way of cooking and eating and find that you absolutely love it.

It's no wonder I want to share my love of quilting with others!

After a particularly inspiring day teaching yesterday, I started pondering about just what has contributed to it, and here are some conclusions, in no particular order.  :)


2016 marked the 25th anniversary of my quilting journey.  To document that milestone, I stitched a Scrappy Trip Around the World quilt containing one strip of every fabric I had used over the past 25 years in my quilting, as well as scraps from sewing projects prior to that.  Once my quilt was finished and those events were represented in the quilt, I felt like I could let go of some super ugly fabrics that I was hanging on to.  Prior to stitching that quilt, even though I have some really lovely fabrics in my stash, I would end up "hoarding" the pretties and felt a responsibility to use fabrics I no longer loved,  simply because I had paid money for them.  But, I can't tell you how freeing it was to get rid of a majority of them!  Most were too dated to pass on to anyone else, so I simply donated them to my local thrift shop where I knew someone would make good use of them.  I basically went through all my fabrics, and if they no longer "sparked joy" (in Marie Kondo's words!) or they weren't something I would purchase now, then into the thrift shop bag they went.  I also went through my WIP's; I only got rid of one Thimbleberries-era flannel heart mini quilt that I had started, but I did indeed get rid of it.  It was wild what that did for me!  All of a sudden I felt free to use the fabrics that I love in my stash, and it's been a great jump start into more creativity!

I've had some really successful fabric pulls lately as a result, something I wasn't able to do before.  :)

Online Inspiration and Community

I think it was about five years ago when I discovered my first quilt blog (it's hard to remember exactly when that happened for me...), and shortly after that,  Pinterest, which resulted in finding even more blogs!  All of a sudden I felt like I found my tribe!  Even though I have friends in this area that quilt, I hadn't yet met anyone whose style and tastes were similar to mine.  And, I also didn't know anyone who loved to quilt as much as I did.  It was so encouraging and so helpful - I devoured everything I could find.  I even went back and read ever single post on some of my favorite blogs!

 Over the last few years, my nightly bedtime ritual has been reading the latest blog post from my favorite bloggers (see the side bar on the blog for my favs), as well as some Pinterest perusal if there was time.  A lot of people think of Pinterest as being a way to simply idle away time online, but for makers, sewists, and creatives, it's an invaluable help.  I've been so grateful for all the bloggers out there who generously share their work online!

Just recently I've stumbled across some amazing inspiration on a number of Instagram accounts too - oh my!!  Over these past few years, I've accumulated an incredible amount of visual images that  are only now coming out in my work.  It's been so worth that investment of time!

Another significant development was striking up an online friendship with Kathy Olkowski of Stitch by Stitch over three years ago when I reached out to her by e-mail.  We've never met in person, and yet she has become a dear friend and quilting mentor.  It's so wonderful to have access to her!

And then finally, this last year and a half  I've been posting on Facebook and linking to my blog posts.   There are so many things I don't like about Facebook (especially when it comes to heated political posts!!), but it also has the potential to be a wonderful tool for good in our creative circles.  I've chosen to use it to educate, motivate and inspire - you can make it work for you too!  It's been such a benefit to getting my name and work out there, and  has been helpful for staying in touch with other quilters as well as my students.

Teaching at The Old Country Store

I still marvel at the way God paved the way for me to end up being part of the teaching staff at The Old Country Store in Intercourse, PA.  It was such a God-orchestrated fluke!

One and a half years ago I had the hair brained but truly God-inspired idea to hang my entire collection of quilts on my aunt and uncle's barn at our family reunion in July of 2015.  My younger sister took pictures, posted them on Facebook, and before I knew it, those images went almost viral.

 As a result, an article ended up in Lancaster Farming, and that publicity gave me the courage to knock on Marcia's office door at The Old Country Store.  We begin the dialogue about the possibility of me doing a trunk show for them, which then evolved into the opportunity to join the teaching staff.  Dean and Jan Mast, owners of the store, and Marcia were so gracious in going out on a limb by allowing me to that event for them last spring, even though they knew very little about me.  But, that day was truly a turning point in my quilting journey.  No longer was I embarrassed about my excessive love for quilting, nor ashamed that I had hung on to almost every single quilt I've stitched in the past 25 years (except for commissioned work).  Suddenly I caught a vision for what I might be able to offer to the quilting community.  

Teaching at the The Old Country Store has been such a joy!!  It's a ton of work for me (I don't know how in the world school teachers teach day in and day out!).  I find the lesson prep time intensive and laborious, yet incredibly meaningful.  At first I considered gearing my classes toward what I thought students would be looking for, but not necessarily what I enjoyed.  I stitched a few samples out of fabric I thought they would like, but it wasn't my style.  But then I realized that the main thing I have to offer  to others is me and my unique taste in fabric and quilts, and it's gone over very well!  My students have been so encouraging.  Each class inspires me to quilt even more and sparks new ideas for future classes.  And, it's pushed me to hone some new skills... when making a Stash and Dash Foldover Organizer recently for a staff event at The Old Country Store.  I'm so glad Jan asked me to take a stab at it!

Getting Serious about Quilting

Now that my quilting activities can be defined as a legitimate business, I no longer feel guilty (or at least not as guilty!) for spending money on fabric, tools and notions, or spending large chunks of time sewing.  My blog posts are being read by a small (very small!) group of followers.  And, I feel permission to invest time in learning, whether it's taking a class, watching a tutorial or reading a book.  There's a new purpose in my creative outlet; before it felt so lonely, solitary and misunderstood,  Now, there's always someone to reach out to with a photo of what I'm up to via e-mail, a FB post, a text message, or a blog post.

Helpful Tools

I also feel like I am way more productive in my work.  I can move through projects so much more quickly, and I found I'm not so mired down by indecision like I had been in the past.  Although I still believe it's important to not rush through a project, and there are times when it may be necessary to lay a project aside until the rest of the inspiration comes, I often have a  vision of what I'm working toward and can keep moving forward.  And, I'm motivated to keep at it because there are so many more quilts I want to stitch!!

A few tools have a made a difference too.  Almost two years ago I invested in a Juki TL2010 sewing machine on a whim, and it's been fabulous, just fabulous! Another God-orchestrated development, for sure.  I can stitch so much faster, and as a result, not get bogged down with the tediousness of piecing.  Before I know it, I'm finished with one quilt top and on the the next.  It's been great for stitching t-shirt quilts too.

A design wall has been invaluable!  I have four portable design walls that I inexpensively created out of insulation board.  They are each four feet wide times the height of my doorway.  I can use all four together or move them around to wherever I need them.  They can also be stowed away behind my hutch.  I can quickly put blocks on the wall, then easily assemble them into quilts.  And, I still have some floor space to lay out a second (or third!) quilt if I need some pondering time on the others.

I also made my own Big Board out of a sheet of plywood covered with batting and decorator weight cotton fabric.  It makes pressing so much easier, and it gives me extra surface space for a cutting mat (or piles of fabric!)

And lastly, my Lori Holt-inspired design boards - they are the greatest!  I'm always introducing them to my students because of the way they revolutionize your work flow.   They make piecing a breeze, and also allow me to work on multiple projects at once, the way I work best.  :)

Who knows what God has in store next!  I couldn't have orchestrated this journey, so I'm trusting Him to continue leading into the next phase.  All I know is that I just want to keep honoring Him with my quilting.

Here's to the future!