Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy Holidays!


It’s my last day before Christmas vacation and I’d love to say I was decking the halls, quilting last minute gifts, and/or packing for a cruise. Nope. I’m sitting at my desk with a bankers’ box of receipts and a spanking new copy of Quickbooks. I spent all day yesterday setting up my accounts and starting to enter the pile of receipts. I figure I have about 40 hours of work ahead of me. That’s what happens when you do nothing for two years and then have to get ready for your accountant. Clearly one of my big plans for the next two weeks is to transform this overflowing box into an IRS-approved accounting dream. Scrooge would be proud of me.

Also on my “to do” list are 29 other items, none of which are Christmas related. Among these are working on some show quilts for 2012 and taking some decent photographs so I can post a gallery on my blog and website. Of course #8 on the list is figuring out how to post a gallery on my blog and website. You get the idea.

My goals for this Christmas vacation remind me of someone who had similar goals for her 3 month maternity leave. She couldn’t imagine 12 weeks with “nothing” to do and planned, among other things, to learn another language. Of course taking care of the baby took 100% of her time and she accomplished nothing on her list. But I still think it’s good to have goals.

Already my day’s plans will need to be modified due to a dog who spent the night with diarrhea and vomiting. This week also brings a big party for my son’s friends, Christmas with our family, and my son’s road test on Dec. 30th — just in time to drive alone on New Year’s eve.

Have a happy, safe, wonderful, productive holiday! I’ll be back in touch on January 3rd.

Sandy Gervais Reindeer Panel


I’m continuing the recent theme of showing panels. This is such a quick, inexpensive way to make a beautiful piece of wall art that reflects the holidays. The quilting adds a great deal of texture and in interest to the panels. Plus it’s really fun!

Sandy Gervais is one of my favorite designers. Her work is colorful and whimsical. Enjoy!

Sandy Gervais panel -- before quilting

Sandy Gervais panel -- after quilting

Quilted details

Are you finding time for quilting?


Fons and Porter had a recent article (see below) saying that the four barriers to quilting are (1) time, (2) selecting patterns, (3) getting started, and (4) completing the quilt.  I know that I can relate to each of these items. The article below gives some good suggestions to overcoming each issue:

Personally, I think that the underlying problem (for many people) is perfectionism. We are afraid to cut into our beautiful fabric and have it look worse. We’re afraid to start piecing because our seams will not be straight. We’re afraid to choose a quilting pattern because it might not best enhance our project. And we’re afraid to bind because the stupid continuous binding never turns out correctly, and that means our project is finished and we will experience judgement of the final product.

Well I have bad news. The ONLY way to become a better quilter is by quilting. You can read all the blogs and books you like, watch Youtube videos for several hours a day, and subscribe to every magazine on the planet. That will not improve your quilting nearly as much as sitting down and actually doing it. There are no shortcuts.

I am a firm believer in using classes, Youtube, books and magazines as learning tools. But we need to apply what we learn. To not be afraid to tackle a project and make mistakes. Not every quilt needs to be a masterpiece. In fact, we can actually throw out unfinished quilt tops (and even completed quilts) if we don’t like them. Yes, I’ve done both.

I have taken block of the month classes at my local quilt store. Many of my blocks have turned out to be ugly, or have not been the 12.5″ squares required by the directions. So what? I just toss them. I figure they’ve been a learning tool. No artist keeps every sketch and doodle they’ve ever done. There’s no reason I need to either.

My suggestion for solving many of these quilting challenges is to let yourself quilt imperfectly. Give yourself permission to learn. If you’re not satisfied with the results, you can donate your quilt to a willing charity. Or you can stop half-way through, realize that your learning is complete, and throw it out. As I said, not every quilt needs to be completed.

Quilting is a hobby. It should be fun. Be willing to make bad quilts and you will soon find yourself with the time and energy you need to enjoy this wonderful hobby.

A Quilted Christmas Tree Gift


I have a friend whose had a rough year. She has many health conditions, is currently unable to work, and is facing surgery next week. To top off the misery, her room-mate is having back problems. For all those reasons, they decided not to put up a Christmas tree this year.

I saw this panel and loved it. Since she has many quilt hangers, I knew it would be no trouble to replace a non-Christmas quilt and still have a tree this year. To make the gift more special, I used pre-cut gold stars, added a wish to each with sharpie (such as “good health” and “financial security”), and placed the wishes under the tree. I also gave her some blank stars so she could add her own wishes. Since these were hardly works of art, I just hand-basted them lightly to hold them in place. She really appreciated the thoughtfulness, the tree, and the idea of having her wishes for the next year displayed.

I must say that my friend is a very good quilter. I think this is sometimes intimidating for us … we don’t want to give gifts to people who can see our mistakes! I have to say that I did not give this idea any consideration! When gifts are given with love, people (even quilters), do not judge. I don’t feel that perfection plays any role when we are giving from the heart.

As for perfection … this piece was not! I used mono-poly thread and learned several lessons. I quilted feathers in the border and it was a nightmare — no marking implements would show up on the shiny fabric, so I was doing my feathers free-hand. Then, again due to the shiny border and the invisible thread, I couldn’t see where I’d sewn. Mono-poly is horrendous to rip out, so I just kept going and chalked it up to experience. There is quilting in the leaves, the ornaments, the garland and the pot — as well as the background. It does have a nice texture in person, but doesn’t show up much on photographs.

"Home for the Holidays" panel by Northcott

Quilting … oh the pain of it all!


With my obvious love of quilting, it’s tough to write “quilting” and “pain” in the same sentence. However quilters know that fabric is heavy, and a queen-size quilted sandwich is extremely heavy. It can certainly hurt our shoulders and necks as we manipulate the quilt  to push the fabric through the needle of our machine.

Longarming has its own challenges. There is a lot of standing and reaching. It can be stressful on your back, neck and feet.

Hand quilting isn’t always a piece of cake either. It takes strength and agility to make those fine stitches. I’ve seen many arthritic fingers who are still hand quilting, although I’m certain they pay the price of pain for their efforts.

And then there’s our eyes. It gets increasingly difficult to thread those needles!

Marathon runners take months to prepare for a 3 or 4 hour race. They eat properly, exercise, and constantly work on their techniques. We quilters — who often spend more than 3 or 4 hours at our sewing machine EVERY DAY — barely give a thought to our bodies. Until they start to hurt!

So here are some suggestions to prevent (or minimize) aches and pains:

  1. Make sure your sewing area has good lighting. Ott lights are wonderful and regularly on sale at Joann’s Fabrics. They are currently on sale for less than 50% off!
  2. Invest in a good sewing chair. I finally settled on one from Horn of American and it makes a huge difference.
  3. Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated does help.
  4. Get out of your chair regularly. I make myself get up to press seams, rather than having an ironing station next to my sewing machine.
  5. Stretch your neck and hands. (And legs, if you’re working on a longarm).
  6. Where good shoes. Many of my colleagues recommend Danko clogs for their longarming. Personally, I couldn’t find a comfortable fit and just wear New Balance running shoes.
  7. Seek medical help. I had problems with my hands this summer and a few months in hand therapy (along with a very painful cortisone injection) fixed me up. I’ve recently sought help from a pain clinic for neck and hip issues. The sooner you are treated … the easier it is to find a solution.
  8. Take frequent breaks. This is tough because you get so involved in a project and want to finish. I’ll force myself to leave my sewing room and pin seams in a more comfortable chair in my family room, just for the change of scenery. You can always check email or take a quick walk around the block.
  9. Make sure your tables are at the ideal height. Ikea has “make your own” tables with legs that go up to 40″ in length. I had my dad make me a wonderful, sturdy cutting table that is 40″ high and it has made a huge difference with my cutting.
  10. Keep rotary blades sharp. It will take far less effort to cut fabric when you have a fresh blade, thereby reducing the stress on your shoulders and neck.
  11. Use an ice pack (or heating pad) when needed. I frequently take breaks and ice my neck.
  12. Breathe. Seriously. Take a few deep breaths when you remember. It will clear your head and wake up your body.

Quilting and pain seems to be a popular topic online. A quick search of the web revealed these sites:

“Awesome” Squirrel Panel by Sandy Gervais


I am having so much fun quilting panels. This particular panel was very plain — and is now a beautiful wall hanging. I added texture to the trees by using small circles to enhance the existing colors. I followed the lines from the overlapping background pattern, which added a great deal of texture. I added fur to the squirrel, enhanced his vest, and added cross-hatching to his tail. (At this point, I must admit, I had decided that the squirrel was a beaver. Oops! I’ll blame my Canadian heritage, which makes any rodent look like a beaver!)

The pumpkin and the tree also got additional texture. Finally, I added swirls to the white background.

All quilting was done with the same color of variegated thread — a mixture of orange and browns.

For new longarmers, quilting panels is a fabulous way to practice skills. It is quick and very fun. It also trains your eye as to how you can enhance a project with quilting.

I forgot to take a “before” picture of the panel, but I found one on etsy. From what I could tell doing an internet search, this is no longer available.

"Awesome" panel by Sandy Gervais

A Perfect Party for Quilters


I’m in a small group (14 people) that stays in contact primarily be email. We occasionally see each other at quilt shop classes and retreats, but mostly we post online. I love seeing photos of everybody’s projects. We have a diverse group whose projects include traditional quilts, art quilts, pocketbooks, aprons and cosmetic bags.

Yesterday we got together for our first annual Christmas party. It was such a nice afternoon. Everybody brought food to share, show and tell items, and a present for the gift exchange (under $20). We had hand-made ornaments, fat quarters, calendars, scissors, fat quarters, small kits, and all sorts of other wonderful quilting items.

Everyone also brought hand sewing. After we ate, opened gifts and shared projects, we sat in a circle, sewed, and talked. We remarked how nice it was to be sewing with friends like our fore-mothers did. With our current methods of quilting involving heavy sewing machines (or longarms) and mostly machine projects, sewing tends to be very solitary.

It was a wonderful day. I’d love to have regular gatherings for hand sewing!

Iron Cleaner


My name is Sue. I am a fuser and my expensive Rowenta iron is a gummy mess. Every time I take a class at the quilt store, and feel their irons gliding effortless over the fabric, I feel a little bit more ashamed!

I was introduced to Bo-Nash Iron Clean sheets at the Vermont Quilt Festival. A packet of ten is less than $5.00. They are very easy to use — just heat your iron, place the sheet (same consistency as a dryer sheet) on a paper towel, and wipe.

It works fairly well. I had a bunch of gunk  on the wide side of the iron that did not come off. The rest of the plate is now nice and slippery. So definitely a big improvement for a little effort and a little money. The instructions say that you may have to use a couple of sheets — which I did — to get your iron fully clean. I suspect this works best if you do it regularly and don’t wait until your iron is really, really bad.

I will say that the sheet is very perfume-y … so beware if you are sensitive to smells. This product is widely available on the internet.

“Deer Friends” Quilt Panel by Nancy Halvorsen


I love to purchase quilt panels, but — until recently — most of them remained unquilted. That’s because I tend to like the panel as it is, and often can’t figure out how to make it into a great quilt, especially if I don’t have coordinating fabrics. I’ll admit that I’ve made some pretty ugly quilts out of decent fabric panels.

This winter, I decided to use the panels as a way to practice my longarming skills. It enables me to be creative, the projects are manageable, and they make darn nice wall hangings when they’re finished. Here is the “Deer Friends” panel by Nancy Halvorsen. I’ve also included a link to a coordinating quilt design.

I quilted this in mono poly thread (another new adventure). I have to say that I really like the effect, especially if you’re working with a panel that has many colors. Mono poly lets the quilting show, but without having thread color as a distraction. Here’s a sample of a quilt done with this panel.

Deer Friends

Reindeer Quilt


This summer, I spent a couple of very long days cutting, fusing and assembling this reindeer quilt. It is a custom design by Joan Jones of “Seams Like Home.” I’d seen her work at shows and always wanted to make one of her pieces.

I have to say that Joan’s kits are well done. Her patterns are easy to follow and she provides a generous amount of fabric. To be successful, you just need time and a lot of space! You can find her work at

I did a lot of quilting on this, using stitches to mimic fur and also the texture on the horns. For some unknown reason, I felt the need to zig-zag around each piece using invisible thread before securing it with the longarm. On my next project, I will skip the zig-zagging (which took a long time) and go straight to the longarm.

I quilted free style feathers in the red and green border, and used Signature Threads “shadows” to quilt swirls (representing snow) in the black area.

(I’m still working on the photo problem … let’s see if this works for my email subscribers!)

Seams Like Home Reindeer