Something to Think About

Cleaning the Design Wall

Since I am away from the computer for a while, I’m running a few favorite, previously published posts.  
This one originally ran on July 22, 2010, but is modified for today’s post.

Here’s the before:

The during:

The after:

Okay, that’s not a very exciting thing to do, right?  We want all our sewing tools to keep on working, day after day, no complaints, no breakdowns, no upkeep or maintenance required.  But it’s such a little thing to take a few minutes and cheap-o lint roller remover and stroke down the board.  And really, is the Before picture really so objectionable? Yet, what surprised me is how many of the threads that came off on those sticky papers were seemingly invisible to me.

But since I did it yesterday, just walking into the room is different.  My pin wall is thread-free (for the time being) and it makes the room look cleaner.  It made me think of the premise behind Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point: that an epidemic can start with one small thing and roll on out from that.   It’s like how picking up the towels in the bathroom and rehanging them triggers a cleaning of the sink.  Or washing the curtains makes you repaint the bedroom.  I’m talking about those kinds of mini-epidemics, that are just one person wide and one person deep. Those changes I make myself.

My sewing room (aka The Study) had been a mess since we arrived home from our trip to Canada and I just didn’t seem to have the mental energy to put the things away.  But I cleaned the threads off the wall and now I’m putting away those little naggy things that linger after travel is done.

So maybe, taking time off to take care of things has unintended consequences?  That this can, in some ways, apply to our own creativity level?  That taking time off to clean out a few cobwebs, have a walk on the beach, or take a minute to sing along to a popular song in between shuttling the family to various places is like cleaning the threads off the design wall?


Perhaps a little mental maintenance on our own selves is why summertime is such a tonic, even if we don’t know what ails us.

Something to Think About

Process vs. Product

Since I am away from the computer for a while, I’m running a few favorite, previously published posts.  
This one originally ran on July 16, 2010, but is modified for today’s post.

Is it possible to lust after another person’s finished quilt?  Yes, quite possibly.  Definitely. For sure.  The quilt shown above uses the Castle Peeps line, and was put together by  Elizabeth Hartman, of Oh! Fransson.  I purchased the blue colorway of this line this summer and before I close out my sewing blitz and focus on The Job, I’m dying to throw together one more quilt.  This design has inspired me.

There’s been a lot of talk on the blogosphere about the issue of production in quilting, and I’m here to add my .02.  Jennifer, of “That Girl. . . That Quilt,” has written a whole series of her thoughts about “quilting without obligations.” They seem to be a reaction to the feeling that quilting is all about production, rather than about the process.  This is an age-old discussion and is found in other corners of the creative universe.

When I was an undergrad, working in the black and white photo lab, this idea–process vs. product–was discussed constantly.  To give you a flavor of what our conversations sounded like, as we blew dust specks off of our negatives and worked at creating “art,” have a listen to the little clip below. Yes, it’s dense, but give it a go.

I think his point that when we focus on product, we may miss other connections that may arise from the creative process is valid, but there are times when product is not the Big Evil.  Sometimes I just want to get something done, speaking of quilts and quilting.  Sometimes I just want to quickly make up a quilt in a fabric line because I want to see that on my bed.  I’m not interested in being drawn into the process of the quilt–I just want to lay down under it.  Or hang it up on the wall.  Or because the process has already happened in my mind, in thinking about it at the back of my brain when I couldn’t get to the sewing machine for one reason or another.

I read a lot of blogs, like the rest of you, and many of them are designed as advertising.  The quilt artists/makers have been involved in the process of their art and designed fabric/patterns/quilts that they need to sell in order to make their living.  Many blogs are tied to online quilt shops.  These are valuable places for me to go and get my ideas, be exposed to new fabrics, enjoy the fruits, if you will, of other people’s labors all before I take up my rotary cutter to slice into some fabric.  I enjoy these blogs, love reading them, admire the work.  But I do not ever confuse what they are doing–earning a living–with what I am doing.  Some other blogs have “taken the process pledge,” and try to put out on their blogs how they arrived at the journey’s end.  This is a valuable resource for us as quilters when it truly involves process, and not just a “how-to” tutorial (although I like those too).

It seems to me that there is enough room in this quilting universe that we can quilt what we want to, blog when we want to, go off on vacation when we want to, work (when we have to) that we don’t need to compete.  Commercial blogs? Non-commercial blogs?  They are resources for us all to glean from.

ProductProcess_PreK+KImages, and interesting reading,  from *here*

Product?  Process?  We need them both.


Contrasts: Four-in-Art August 2014 Challenge

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 8.19.46 PM

from *here*

The theme for our August 1st Challenge Reveal is “Contrast.”  Anne suggests the contrasts inherent in cities: noisy/quiet, man-made/natural, fast/slow, wealthy neighborhood/poor neighborhood.  I have started thinking about this, but first, my interest is in the visual contrasts: dark/light, colorful/greyed, smooth/rough, thin/thick.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 8.39.29 PM

from *here*

The following images are snapshots from the New York Times Travel/Design Magazine: “T.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 7.44.15 PM Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 7.44.49 PM Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 7.54.55 PM Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 8.02.38 PM


2014 Yearly Theme: Urban • August 1st Challenge: Contrast


Quilts and Stitching in Art

Okay, I had a fun time in Washington, DC this spring once I realized I could play I Spy and look for quilts.  I think this is a good game that I should keep playing, and if you have a picture of a quilt in art — whether it be in a painting or a photograph in a museum — send it over and when I get a slew, I’ll do a post.

Bishop_ Sewing2

Okay, this isn’t technically quilting, but it’s stitching.  This is a detail of Mending, by Isabel Bishop and hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.  She writes “I have noticed regular denizens of [Union] Square [in New York City] who, sitting on the benches or on the fountain, easting, sewing or rearranging their worldly good in paper bundles, seem to be leading the most private of lives, entirely oblivious to the public character of the place.  The not-beautiful forms of the fountain seem. . . to make a throne for the old man sewing his trousers; he is billowing old overcoat [becomes] a robe.”


Elias Howe Pillow

This is a needlepoint stitchery in the gallery of the Washington National Cathedral that honors the 100 Most Famous Americans, all who have a red needlepoint pillow on a chair. Of course I was drawn to this one, honoring Elias Howe, inventor of the modern-day sewing machine.  We ALL owe him a debt.


Sondra Freckelton’s Harvest is one of her still lives that capture “the quiet beauty of domestic, often feminized objects — quilts, garden implements, house wares, and fresh produce gathered from her own garden in the . . . Catskill Mountains.”  I don’t know about you, but I was interested that a Smithsonian label-writer plopped in that phrase of “domestic, often feminized objects” when discussing Freckelton’s watercolor.  Don’t tell our male quilters this.


And I knew she wasn’t herself a quilter, for who of us would plop down vegetables on top of this gorgeous appliqué quilt?

Pieced Quilt_Fletcher_1

Mary Fletcher was born in 1940 and died in 1922, but her fine hand-pieced hexie silk quilt now resides in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.  We are all jealous!

Pieced Quilt_Fletcher_2

I decided she had an amazing scrap bag to have so many beautiful silks to work with.

Pieced Quilt_Fletcher_3

Pieced Quilt_Fletcher_4

Sharrer_Tribute all

And lastly, Honore Sharrer’s Tribute to the American Working People, who employed the polyptych format of medieval paintings to pay homage to the working people of America.

Sharrer_Tribute quilt

And here’s the quilt–in the upper left panel: a lovely scalloped Dresden Plate.

Something to Think About

Take Some Time

Since I am away from the computer for a while, I’m running a few favorite, previously published posts.  
This one originally ran on April 26, 2010, but is modified for today’s post.

There was a path-to-nowhere (which led to a tiny hidden grove of orange trees) installed near the humanities building when I was attending the University of California, and on either side of this path was a poem written out in bronze embedded letters. The way I happened on it, was to read it backwards from the end of the poem. So the words that stuck with me, “Time Take,” were an inverse of the above title, but became a tiny logo of mine, with different punctuation pushing the meaning to a different place: Time. Take. or Time, Take or Time–Take.

However I slipped those punctuation symbols in, the meaning was the same: time was available and I needed to stop and take some. It was never clear to me what I would do with this time that I was taking, but it was the stuff of poems, and hurried grad students, and bronze letters embedded on a path to a minuscule orange grove behind the brick buildings that smelled like heaven in the spring months when I would take the time to walk through those trees.

So, I took some time this morning to think about what I do with my time, and one thing I tend to do is to catch up on my blog reader, where, more often than not, after reading blog after blog, I come away feeling like my life is just so banal and trite and disorganized and unfulfilling and undecorated and uncrafty and generally unproductive.

I “clip” news items to act on, quilts to make, books to read, always falling farther and farther behind, or so it feels. This morning, a little wake-up post by Jeezebel helped to articulate this feeling. I can’t recommend this site, by the way, but I can recommend this article to all you who are out there in Blogland feeling slightly overwhelmed by the pressures of blogging clever, beautiful, creative, productive, ever-so-interesting lives, every day or two. It’s funny to happen on this today, this morning, as last night I looked at the number of blogs I have coming in to my Reader, and put the feed on a diet, trimming the list by half — definitely getting rid of that decorator blog who is always putting pictures of other perfectionist decorators on her blog, with a chatty style that implies we just need to get with it a bit and that artist who artfully lays our her collections of old bias tape, rusty keys and pink erasers, one day at a time, sending the photo out into the world. I have this old junk, I think, why am I not doing the same artsy thing? You see how it goes.


So today, turn off the computer, and just make something.


Iron Woman Improv: My Version of a Weekender Bag

Weekender Side A

Ever heard of Iron Woman Improv?  Well, anyone can throw together a bunch of scraps and make it end up sort of squarish-like, but this past week I’ve improv-ed a travel bag for some upcoming travels.  Above is the backside.

Weekender Side B

This is the side with the long big pocket across the front.  The problem with improv-ing is that you don’t know quite where you’re going, which some find liberating and free, which reminds me of the story of The Dot and The Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, which you should read, if you haven’t.  Basically it involves a romantic triangle with the Dot originally falling for a Squiggle, who could sprawl into random sort of positions and places, pulling her heart into anarchy, but no worries!

The Dot and The Line

The initially uptight straight line figures out how to make a bend. . . and then another and another until he has made complex (and even erudite) shapes, wooing that Dot back into his shapely arms.  But I digress.  (But do get the book for this next Valentine’s Day for someone you love. It’s a classic.)  Basically my challenge was how to get from these photos:

Various Weekenders Women Holding Weekenders Screen Shot of Weekenders Sewn

. . .  and this sketch. . .

Sketch for Weekender

. . . to this. . .

Weekender Side C

Weekender Side D

. . . and using a limited supply of my typewriter fabric.  Weekender Bags are all over the web, ranging from about 60 bucks way up to 500 bucks and more.  And certainly I read enough posts of people making Amy Butler’s version of a quilty weekender to know that you really haven’t earned your Quilter Stars until you’ve conquered her pattern.  And that’s where things get interesting. . . because I had NO pattern.  Nothing.  Not from Amy Butler or McCalls or Vogue.  Like I said, I had a sketch.  And this:

Baggage. . . which is the NEW! IMPROVED! (smaller) dimensions of what is considered a carryon.  I have wanted to make this bag for ages, needing a place for my iPad, my camera, my water bottle (carried empty through security, then filled afterwards), my junk and my stuff.  I’ve sketched something like this fifteen ways to Sunday and only now, got around to making it.

Zipper Top Weekender

I also needed it to have those little blue webbing handles that you see there, because I’ve learned that if I can hook it to my rolling bag (yes, we had to buy a  NEW! IMPROVED! (smaller) one for our trips) and get the weight of this second bag –er, personal item– over the wheels, it’s easier on my shoulders and on my arms and wrist.

Zipper Side Weekender

I’d purchased a couple of long zippers in different colors when I was in New York City last time, so I figured what would go with the fabric and pressed it into service.  And even though one of the cities we’re heading to looks like this:

Checking Weather

I didn’t use my Amy Butler laminated fabric, opting instead for my typewriter fabric.

Weekender Pattern Pieces

I first drew up the pattern.  I started with a rectangle of the dimensions from the airline, which is basically a backpack turned on its side.  I noticed that many of the Weekender bags, both Amy’s and all the eight billion other ones I looked at became narrower at the top.  I didn’t take off too much as I wanted the ROOM to carry my stuff.  I was going to go full out for the width dimension, but then thought I would look like I was carrying a fabric-covered brick of cheese or something and it wouldn’t look that good.  And I noticed that many had a wider base moving to a narrower piece across the top, where the zipper lives.  I did that too.  I laid over more pattern drafting paper (which is doctor’s tissue that you can buy in Medical Supply Houses) and traced some side pockets.

First Inside Pocket for Weekender Bag

I LOVE pockets.  So the first step was to cut the fabric way bigger than I needed and then sandwich the Annie’s Soft and Stable in between two fabrics and quilt it.  I had seen all the quilters talk about the expense and the headache of broken needles and the hassle of cutting out eighty-five thousand pieces, and decided I would go this direction.  So, above, you see the quilted purse piece with the handles stitched on, a pocket bound in another fabric for cuteness and stitched on and the first sewing of the cording around the outside edge (you can only see the stitching).

Unschool Plus had a pretty good write-up about her making the Butler Weekender Bag, with lots of helpful links from other bloggers.  I used one of those to make my corded piping by using a narrow strip of fusible web, instead of sewing it together, thereby eliminating another stitching line you have to disguise at the end, because let’s face it, NOBODY is fabulous at inserting cording.

I sewed in this in segments:
Segment One: Quilt and cut out the bag pieces.
Segment Two: Make the pockets and attach (I’ll talk about the other one in a minute.)
Segment Three: Sew handles.  Again, a guess.  I got out my last two travel bags and measured and took the average.  I wanted enough so that I could carry it over my shoulder and then so it wouldn’t drag the ground if I grabbed it and carried it by the handles.
Segment Four: Figure out zipper.  In fact most of the steps start with “Figure out. . .”  I spent a good amount of time sewing this, and an equally good amount of time walking away from it when I wanted to stomp on it and throw it off the roof of the house.

Zipper Trim on Travel Bag

I liked how I’d assembled the zipper in my Bostonian Bag, so found some of scraps of that fabric and did it here.  It’s basically a strip of fabric cut wide, folded in half, then the raw edges folded in.  Above is the first step, sewing the strip down.

Completed Zipper Trim on Weekender

And then topstitched down the other edge.  At this point I was freaking out because the thread in the bobbin kept pulling out from the bobbin tension spring.  ACK! ACK!  I painstakingly would thread it back in, again and again and again, thinking that my bobbin case was damaged somehow.  So there are little bobbles here and there unfortunately, but I don’t think the flight attendants will be grading my construction so I think I’m okay.  I finally just decided to tighten up the bobbin screw and that worked until I finished.  (And then I took my machine in for a tune-up at the sewing machine spa.)

I made the other pocket, the one with gathers, and sewed that on (you can see it better in a later photo and I’ll talk about it then), then made the cording, as mentioned above and stitched that, being careful to clip the piping so it would go smoothly around the corner.

Cording on Weekender Bag

Look ma!  No pins!  You don’t need any–just proceed slowly. Move your needle as far as it will go to snuggle up against that ridge of the cording.  My needle never broke because basically  you are sewing with a giant spear of a needle, if you’ve switched (as so many recommended) over to a size 16.

Clipped Corners on Weekender Bag

Color Plastic Clips

I bought my quilty clips in the children’s stationary section of our local Asian-foods grocery store, so that’s why they are all different colors (about $2.50 for a package). So many sewers/sewists/pick your word testified that the quilty clips were the only way to go.  I agree.

Clamped Seam Weekender Bag

The band around the middle that contains the zipper is now fully clipped to the first bag piece.  It’s at this point that I think I might actually make it.  Thanks to all the Instagrammers who cheered me on.  And on.  I sewed that seam using a size 16 needle (advice from the Experienced Weekenders), and I was so aware that I didn’t have an industrial machine which would have made the job so much easier.  The only thing to do, then, is to forgive yourself your mistakes and keep going.

Inside Pocket and Clamped Weekender Bag

Side Two, clipped and ready to be sewn.  This pocket is a long rectangle, about 5 inches longer that the desired space.  I backed it in that fabulous Backyard Baby fabric, sewing around all four edges, but leaving a space about 1″ unsewn on two of the shorter edges, near the same long edge.  I turned it, pressed the corners out, then stitched a double line of stitching on either side of those little gaps, making a ruffle at the top, and a placket for elastic.  I threaded some elastic through, stitched it on one end to hold it, then pinned the pocket in place, pinning in random pleats on the bottom to take up the fullness.  I started sewing on the right side of the pocket, backstitching to hold the top in place, down the side, halfway across the bottom (going over the pleats), then up the middle to create two pockets.

Just before hitting the placket with the elastic, I gently pulled it take up the fullness, but not letting the purse side buckle.  I stitched over that, turned the piece, and re-stitched over that center dividing line, then across the bottom, then back up the last side.  Just before reaching the elastic in the placket, I repeated the pulling gently to adjust the elastic to fit.  I pinned it about an inch inside the sewing line, clipped off the extra elastic, then let it retract slightly back inside to hide it.  I finished stitching over that.

(I think I’m writing all this down so I won’t forget what I did just in case I lose my marbles and decide to do another one.  Just in case.)

Inside Pocket A Weekender

I finished stitching that second round of stitching-the-purse-side-to-the-zipper-band-piece, then turned it to find those places that needed a bit more stitching or a bit closer stitching, and did that.

Inside Weekender Bag

Binding Seams Weekender Bag

I cut a companion fabric into bias strips 2″ wide, folded them like bias tape, and topstitched them over the slightly trimmed inner seams.  I won’t let you see that, because again, my home sewing machine is no match for the industrial binding machines used in factories.  But it looks fine, and is sturdy.

Oops on Weekender Bag

I had an oops, and covered it with the selvage from Backyard Baby.  I would try to explain it, but then you’d really develop a migraine and swear off bag-making forever.  Let’s just say that even though I have a degree in Clothing and Textiles and have sewn sewn sewn for nearly forty-five years, I can still make big enough mistakes that need a fix like this.  The trick is to forgive yourself for the imperfections and move on.

Bottom of Weekender

And that’s it.  I’ve gone through security and traveled enough that I know what I need in a travel bag.  I need it to be sized appropriately, have a zipper pocket that I can access quickly on the outside to throw my phone in while I go get X-rayed and the bag gets X-rayed, long enough handles to slip over my shoulder and a way to attach it to my bag so when I make long connections it can be carried on my roller bag.  And can it please look good and not cost a bunch?  While I don’t plane-travel all that much, I think that this bag will also work for short hops in the car when I drive to see the grandchildren, too.

So, now I do I qualify for Iron Woman Quilting Improv?  My travel weekender-type bag was made from start to finish in one week, with lots of help from all you wonderful blogging quilters, who laid down a trail for me to follow.

May the typewriter be with you.


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