Our New Year’s Gift: An Inspirational Photo Album for Quilters, Stitchers, and Crafters

Where in the world did 2011 go? If your experience has been anything like ours, the days, weeks, and months have simply flown by. To finish off the year, we present a group post, sharing some of our favorite inspirational photos–the kind that suggest lots of intriguing possibilities for quilts and other sewing projects. We hope this little “photo album” serves up some fresh ideas about color, composition, style, quilting motifs, embellishment possibilities…in short, the impetus to jump feet first into a creative new year. 

Christie:  I am inspired by color, from brilliant brights, to serene greens, to a fabulous neutral palette. Mother Nature can be trusted to provide all of them. In the new year, I’m looking to push out of my comfort zone and work with some of those colors that haven’t as yet “called to me.” Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a few new friends along the way!  

Mother Nature with such a beautiful range of greens (well within my comfort level).
A color palette that's out of my comfort zone - something to consider.
We certainly can't limit all color inspiration to Mother Nature!

Jennifer’s rosy inspirations (or, the rose stalker reveals herself): I think I’m having a serious affair with the color pink. Not only do I take inordinate numbers of images of rosy-toned flowers as you see here, I’m currently channeling that rose-colored fever into a seriously PINK quilt I hope to share with our readers in early 2012.

I have no idea how I ended up with such a pretty photo--my luckiest shot ever.
If my neighbor only knew how frequently I stalk her rose garden for photo ops!
Again, another peek at my neighbor's roses, this time bedazzled with raindrops.

Laura: Weekend outings with my husband provide me with a wealth of inspiration. We enjoy hiking, camping, art museums, aquariums, and farmer’s markets. I love the great outdoors.

I enjoyed an exhibit of these mysterious leafy sea dragons at a recent exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Love the colors and textures and power displayed in this image taken in Yosemite National Park.
This inviting entrance greeted me on a recent visit to Filoli Gardens.

Darra: I tend to favor art that suggests, rather than states; that draws you in for a closer look, and provides that “aha!” moment. I love this quality in quilts, paintings, and photographs. It’s a concept I hope to explore in my “year of creativity.”

Wouldn't this make a wonderful, impressionistic-style quilt? Taken in Stourhead, UK, by my friend (and superb photographer) Neil Porter.
I've always been drawn to serene, vertical compositions. I photographed these aspens in Utah last spring.
Everything about this image appeals to me: the colors, textures, play of light...even the long horizontal crop.

BTW, January 1 not only signals the start of a new year, but it also marks our 9-month anniversary as bloggers. We’ve discovered blogging to be an amazingly creative and rewarding experience, and we’re so grateful that you’ve found us. As 2012 begins, we hope that you’ll continue to visit on a regular basis (or, if you haven’t already, subscribe to be alerted when a new post appears) and that you’ll  help us spread the word by telling your quilting, sewing, and crafting friends about us. We promise you lots of inspiration, great projects, super tips, and useful info in the months to come.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous, and productive New Year!

To a Successful Year of Stitching: Our New Year’s Resolutions for 2012…and a New Year’s Giveaway

Saturday is New Year’s eve, time to make those annual resolutions aimed at making life happier, healthier, and–perhaps–more productive in the months ahead. For dedicated stitchers like the four of us at See How We Sew, this extends to our creative lives as well. Here’s what we’ve each resolved for 2012. Somehow, putting our goals out there in writing makes them seem more real…and exerts just the right amount of “gentle” pressure to see them through.

Christie wasn't keen on showing her current workspace...but this should give you the idea!

Christie:  I’m finally going to put together the sewing studio that I designed years ago. This goes beyond cleaning and organizing the hideous mess that is there now. It involves getting the proper furniture and storage cabinets so that everything has a place. I’m tired of tripping over fabric stacked on the floor and wasting time looking for tools that hide under the multitude of projects. Goodness only knows what lurks beneath the stacks that haven’t seen the light of day for a decade or so: it could be exciting, or maybe a bit scary!

Laura does her homework before starting a new project.

Laura: I generally work best with deadlines. I purchased some new video equipment a few months ago with the goal of learning to use it properly and to put more instructional videos on my personal website and here on our blog. This is something I’ve wanted to explore for awhile. I love teaching and sharing techniques and hope that this resolution will give me the push to move forward toward my goal.

Jennifer vows to "express herself" with a quilt this year.

Jennifer: I want to make a quilt that represents me and not a project for any particular purpose. There’s an idea that’s been floating around in my head for many months and now it’s time to let it “bloom.” I’m going to feature dimensional-applique flowers, of course, but the quilt will also have beads used in more atypical ways. We quilters have a tendency to let our personal projects drop to the end of our to-do lists, perhaps because those projects demand the most of our capabilities and skills, but they’re the ones that truly represent our creativity. I’ve got one more project to finish  and then, no more excuses!

Darra: I resolve to devote at least 30 minutes a day, everyday, to doing something creative. Granted, there will be some days when I spend more than 30 minutes playing with fabric and thread; messing with beads, buttons, and other embellishments; doodling in my journal; experimenting with my camera; visiting a show, a gallery, or a museum. My hope, however, is that this promise-to-myself reminds me not to let a day go by without indulging my creative side, for I know how easily a day becomes a week, a week becomes a month…and the “habit” of creativity becomes lost. Thirty minutes a day is a reasonable goal, and a creative Darra is a happy Darra. As the old advertisement used to say: “I’m worth it!”

The countdown begins for Darra's "year of creativity."

So there you go! We’re all on the record, and we promise to let you know from time to time in the coming year how we’re doing with our individual intentions.

What would you like to accomplish in your sewing life in 2012? Give yourself that added incentive by putting it in writing. Leave a resolution as a comment below by midnight (PST), December 31, and we’ll enter you in a drawing for a special, secret New Year’s giveaway. Christie will announce the winner in her January 3 post, our first post of the new year.

Don’t forget to check in later this week for our final post of 2011 ;-)

Until then, happy stitching!

Last-Minute Stocking Stuffer: A FREE Super-Easy Downloadable Jewelry Pouch Project

A twist on Christmas roses--ranunculus!

Are you on the left- or right-side of holiday panic? I’m hovering somewhere in between with most of my shopping done, but meal planning is a bust, at least for now. I have faith everything will work out, although I wish I could convince my dear snarky eldest child (who is quite grownup) that holiday traditions aren’t set in stone.  Yes, we can deviate from our Mexican-cuisine habit for one Christmas Eve. Shouldn’t the chief-cook-and-bottle-washer get the final say? Alas, he’s my most enthusiastic Christmas elf and I should adhere to his holiday sensibilities even if I’ve got a hankering for different flavors this year. Alas, I suspect there’s an enchilada lasagna in my future after all . . .

So, about that panic . . . the best cure is making gifts for friends and family.  Really.  Just channel that angst into something pretty. I did it by dreaming up yet another variation of that seasonal pillow project that I’ve dropped twice so far into our blog pattern library.

All I did was to scale back the size, make it double-sided, and dump the pillow form (obviously). The new element is a padded insert for storing studs and drop earrings.  I hate untangling jumbled jewelry when I travel—this seems like a good answer to that dilemma.

I made the earrings & pouch for a quilt group holiday gift exchange.

You know the drill: Click the jewelry pouch project link here or visit our Pattern Library.  If you’ve got the supplies, you’ve got a great little stocking stuffer in 30 minutes or less.

Onward busy people—48 hours or so to go!  My blogging sisters and I wish you the very, very best this holiday season. Do, if at all possible, find the time for some crafting therapy (your family will appreciate the de-stressed you).

Giving Back – One Woman’s Very Special Gift

Some time back, I received an email from my friend Caroline Archer, a fellow quilter and former work associate.  She said “how about meeting for lunch, I have something I’d like to show you.” When we got together, she brought out a lovely doll, and a complete wardrobe she’d made which included skirts, pants, blouses, dresses, pajamas, shoes, hand knit sweaters and hats. She told me she had a plan to give a gift of the doll and a complete wardrobe to girls who are hospitalized with serious illnesses. 

Isn't she cute with her hand-knit sweater and hat!

That was two years ago, and since then Caroline and her band of volunteer sewers and knitters (including me), have donated over 150 dolls (each with a wardrobe of about ten outfits), to three San Francisco area children’s hospitals. “I think they bring creativity, I think they bring warmth, and the main thing I think they bring is a friend,” Caroline said, “It’s that friend in the middle of the night they can talk to when they’re hurting or if they’re scared.”

The dolls are the 14” Les Cheries from Corolle. Caroline has developed patterns for each of the clothing and knitted items for the Les Cheries dolls. The program continues to expand, with baby dolls added last year for the younger girls (the Tidoo baby doll, also from Corolle). She has enlisted quilter friends at the Cotton Patch in Lafayette, CA, who have contributed funds for dolls as well as handmade clothes, sweaters and quilts.  The Dharma Trading Co., in San Rafael, CA has displayed a model doll along with information on the project and instructions for knitting the sweaters and hats.

Les Cheries doll with new outfit!

Caroline’s always looking for volunteers to help sew the doll clothes and would love to see the program expanded to other hospitals in different parts of the country. If you’re interested, you can contact Caroline directly via email carolinearcher@msn.com. For a comprehensive look at the program, visit her website www.stitchinforkids.org.

I’ve accompanied Caroline to the hospitals when she delivers the dolls, and the response is genuine and heartfelt. When the holidays are over, why not give this program some thought. Whether it’s making doll clothes, knitting a doll sweater, or starting the program in your own area – it will make a difference in the life of a young girl facing serious illness.

Caroline was recently the recipient of a Jefferson Award in the Bay Area, for sharing her love and craftsmanship with children in crisis. I’m in awe of what she has accomplished and proud to call her my friend.

Merry Christmas and all the best for a healthy, happy, creative 2012!

FREE Pattern Download: Easy, Last-Minute Ornament/Gift-Card Holder

Despite what the calendar might be telling you, it’s not too late to add a handmade touch to your tree trimming or gift giving this holiday season. These easy-as-pie felt stockings measure approximately 4″ x 6″, and require little in the way of time and materials. You probably have most–if not everything–you’ll need right in your sewing room. 

Because they’re so quick and easy to make, these festive and versatile tree ornaments can help satisfy the “creative itch” that this oh-so-busy season may otherwise curtail. Fill them with a few sweet treats as a surprise find for little ones, or tuck a gift card, check, or other small gift item inside for the bigger kids on your list. Don’t be surprised if other family members want to get in on the act! In fact, this is a good activity for that long, out-of-school week before the holiday.

Here’s how to get started. Download the full-sized stocking pattern by clicking here. Print the pattern on sturdy white paper (e.g., printer paper), making sure that the page-scaling option on your printer is set to “none.” Use paper scissors to cut out the pattern on the black outline.

Each stocking requires just one 9″ x 12″ piece of craft felt (red, green, or white) and thread to match. You’ll also need fabric scissors, pins, and–eventually–your favorite embellishments. A glue gun and rotary cutter are optional.

1. Fold the felt in half to measure approximately 9″ x 6″. (No worries; there is no right or wrong side to felt!) Pin the pattern to the felt, allowing enough room to add a 1/4″ seam allowance. Cut out the stocking shape, adding approximately 1/4″ extra on all sides except the top for seam allowance. Cut a strip, approximately 1/2″ x 4″ from the leftover felt. (Use a scrap of felt in a contrasting color if you wish.)

2.  Fold the strip in half and finger-press. Unpin the upper-right portion of the stocking shape and insert the folded strip so that the raw edges are even with the raw edges of the stocking. Re-pin.

3. Using the pinned pattern as a guide, sew around the stocking shape with matching colored thread. (I used contrasting thread in the sample so you can see the stitches.) Leave the top of the stocking unstitched.

Hint: If you prefer to embellish before sewing the stocking together, sew the long straight seam along the right edge of the stocking only, inserting the hanging loop as described in step 2. Remove the paper pattern, hinge the unit open, and embellish. When you’ve finished, refold the unit, re-pin the pattern, and complete the sewing.

4. Trim the seam allowances to a scant 1/4″, taking care not to cut into the seam. Turn the stocking right side out, smoothing the curved edges. (I used my trusty 4-in-1 Essential Sewing Tool for this task; worked perfectly!) If necessary, trim the top edge of the stocking to straighten it, and make careful diagonal clips in the seam allowances on the inside top edges.

Now comes the fun part! Enhance your stocking with shapes cut freehand from felt scraps, and/or with simple embroidery, beads, buttons, glitter, rickrack, or any other embellishments that catch your fancy. You can stitch the embellishments to the stocking, tack them down with beads or French knots; couch them; or even use a glue gun!

Here are three more examples of what you can do, although I’m sure you’ll come up with tons of ideas of your own. 

This won’t be our last post of the year–Christie and Jennifer will post as usual next week, and we have some special things planned for the last week of 2011–but this is my last  post before the “serious” holidays set in. I wish you all a peaceful, joyous, safe, and happy holiday…whatever you might be celebrating at this time of year!

"Deck the Halls with Sunbonnet Sue" (22" x 26") from the book, "A Year in the Life of Sunbonnet Sue" (Martingale & Co.), co-written by Darra Williamson and Christine Porter.

A Holiday Tradition: My Very Favorite Cinnamon Rolls

Do you have a favorite family recipe that you make every holiday, the one that everyone loves and looks forward to? As a baker, I love trying new recipes, but believe me, I wouldn’t dream of changing this one! My family would probably not speak to me for the rest of the day. That’s just how much they look forward to waking up to this delicious treat. I think it’s the secret ingredient that makes these rolls so yummy.

Preparation:

Wash and peel the potato. Slice it into large pieces and place in a pot of water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potato until it is soft but not mushy. Drain the water from the pot and then use a fork to mash the potato. Set the pot aside while preparing the dough.

Making the Dough:

  1. Pour the warm water, yeast, and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Let it rest for about 10 minutes until the yeast begins to rise and forms bubbles on the top.
The top of the water should appear foamy.

2. Add eggs and salt and mix thoroughly with beater.

3. Pour about 1/2 cup of the egg mixture into the mashed potatoes. Mix or whip thoroughly until the potatoes are creamy – no lumps!

Take time to cream the potato mixture.

4. Add the potato mixture to the dough and mix with a beater until very smooth.

5. While the beater is running, slowly add 7 cups of flour. Continue beating until the flour is mixed in.

6. Pour the dough out onto a floured mat/board and knead in the last ½ cup of flour.

Mix the remaining flour into the dough by hand.

7. Roll the dough into a ball and then place it into a large greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight. The dough can be refrigerated up to 4 days.

Use a large enough bowl to allow the dough to expand.

Making the Rolls:

Opening the refrigerator to this makes me smile - every single time!

1. Place the dough onto a floured mat/board. Use a rolling pin to shape into a large rectangle, approximately 1/2″ thick.

2. Use a spatula to spread the softened butter onto the top-side of the dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon (sometimes I add a little brown sugar). It’s the holidays: we don’t do this every day!

Spread with butter and sprinkle generously with cinnamon.Roll the dough into a long tube.

3. Use a sharp knife to make slices approximately every 1″ along the length of the rolled dough.

Slice the roll into rounds.

4. Place the  slices into a greased baking dish. Cover with a damp towel and set aside in a warm place to rise – approximately 1 hour.

All puffed up and ready to pop into the oven.

5. Bake the rolls at 400-degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

Making the Glaze – YUM!

While the rolls are cooling, make a glaze using the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Mix all ingredients thoroughly until smooth. When the rolls have cooled, generously spread them with the glaze. Cut apart, and enjoy with your favorite morning beverage.

It doesn't get much better!

Just a few notes: The cut rounds can be frozen and baked at a later time. I also use this same recipe for making my dinner rolls (minus the filling and glaze, of course). I just form them into balls and follow the same directions for rising and baking.

Congratulations to Carol Kunnerup, the lucky winner of the package of Soft and Stable.

Have a lovely holiday season everyone. I’ll “see you all” next year.

The Pause That Refreshes: Going (and Sewing) Unplugged

At this busy time of year, it can seem harder than ever to find time for reflection, and the expectations imposed by today’s technology can make that quest for a bit of “quiet time” even more elusive.

Do you remember life before the computer?

Each year, for the past few years, my husband and I have packed up the car in late fall and headed up the Northern California coast for a week to refresh and reconnect. Part of our commitment to this annual getaway involves going completely “unplugged”–that is, no laptops, cell phones, or other wired-up gadgets. As I’m sure you can imagine, this is not easy for a techno geek (him) and a writer (me), but we’re determined to use this time to get back to basics. Our destination each year is Mendocino.

With a population of approximately 1000, Mendocino is the small, postcard-pretty coastal village that “stood in” for Cabot Cove, Maine, on the classic TV series, Murder, She Wrote. Established in the 1850s, and rich in Victorian-gingerbread and saltbox-cottage architecture, it’s the only town on the California coast designated as an historical landmark.

Mendocino boasts some wonderful architecture…and some amazing seaside gardens.
Lots of picket fences, too

Our getaway this year was probably the best ever. Instead of hunching over our individual keyboards, we took long walks along the Headlands, perused the art in the many local galleries, enjoyed a daily afternoon coffee date, took loads of photographs, worked a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle…and talked, talked, talked.

My husband and I were married in this spot on the Mendocino Headlands in late November, 2007!

This year, the unplugged experience has had an interesting side effect. (Now we get to the sewing part!) Right before we left town, I took my trusty 1230 Bernina in for its regular tune up, aware that I would face at least an additional week or two sans sewing machine upon my return. Of course, I came home bursting with inspiration and enthusiasm, raring to sew, but lacking that vital “piece”…until I remembered, hidden away in the back of the closet, my circa-1948 Singer Featherweight 221 with all the original accessories.

I probably hadn’t sewn a stitch on that machine in over 10 years, but I was getting desperate. It smelled a little musty coming out of the case, and required a small tweak in the wiring before I could crank it up, but I am here to tell you: sewing on that little workhorse this past week has been one of the most enjoyable sewing experiences I’ve had in a long time. That baby just hums along, and I’m reminded to slow down and savor the feel of the fabric under my fingers. Not exactly “unplugged,” but as close as one can get without pumping a treadle!

The third--and most recent edition--of Nancy Johnson-Srebro's classic book

By my side for easy reference is my 72-page, 1992 first edition copy of Nancy Johnson-Srebro’s classic: Featherweight 221:The Perfect Portable. This little book, now in a much-expanded third edition, includes a wealth of useful and fascinating info (including how to identify the vintage of your machine), and finishes up with the complete, original user’s manual for the 1947 model.

Obviously, I’m not the only one who finds pleasure in stitching on this throwback to an earlier, less frenzied time. There is loads of good stuff to be had “out there” on the Featherweight. This week, I stumbled upon Planet Patchwork, a website that features some interesting reading for the Featherweight aficionado. No doubt, an internet search will reveal many other resources.

Will I welcome home my “souped-up” (that is, computerized) Bernina? You bet! But in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the simple pleasures of my “old friend” and–moving forward–treat myself to a leisurely “spin” from time to time.

During this busy holiday season, I hope you, too, find some time to relax and unplug.

Thanks, Jennifer, for covering for me in my absence, and–’til next time–happy sewing!

A Quick & Easy Gift Idea – Pattern Included!

It’s December 6th, and we’re fully into the holiday countdown! Looking for a “quick and easy” gift idea? Today is your lucky day! Dig into your fabric stash, select three fabrics that look great together, and try this cute little pin cushion.

Cutting

Fabric  1 – cut one 6” square (for the front) and one 5” square (for the back). Cut the 6” square diagonally into two half-square triangles. Set the 5” square aside.

Fabric  2 – cut one 12½” x 1¼” strip

Fabric  3 – cut one 12½” x 1¼” strip

Sewing (all seams are ¼”)

Sew the strips of Fabric 2 and 3 together lengthwise to form a strip-set. Press.

Sub-cut the strip-set into:

  • 2 – 4½” segments
  • 2 – 1¼” segments

    Cut the strip-set into four segments

Sew the two 1¼” segments together to form a 4-patch. Press.

Sew a 4½” segment to each end of the 4-patch. Press.

The completed strip-set

Sew a half-square triangle to each side of the strip, matching the middle of the triangle to the center of the 4-patch. Press.

Adding the half-square triangles to the strip-set

Trim to 5” square (place the 45 degree line on your ruler along the center seam).

Trimmed and ready to finish

With right sides together, sew the trimmed 5” square to the back square, leaving an opening of 1¾” along one side. Push out the corners and smooth the seams. Press.

Finishing

Fill the pin cushion with your favorite product. I use Poly Pellets (made by Fairfield, and usually available at Michaels). It’s a weighted stuffing material that’s non-toxic and washable.

My favorite stuffing material - Poly Pellets

Whip-stitch the opening closed and you’re done! You might want to include a new packet of pins with your gift, as we can always use new ones. Darn those elves that come in at night and steal them!

A couple of finished ones!

Remember to take time and enjoy the season!

A Recipe for a Holiday Party: Easy Enchilada Suiza Lasagna

Not a single stitch in today’s post—oh hey, were you expecting Darra’s post? She’s celebrating her wedding anniversary at a very romantic spot, so I’m filling in with something very “filling,” but deliciously so. Okay, yeah, no sewing here, just to get back to my original point:  I’m offering a tasty main course dish that you can whip up, pre-bake, and then take to a holiday party. You’ll be the sensation, I promise!

In the News:  There’s a special event coming up for Laura Nownes and Diana McClun–scroll to the bottom for details  (after you read the post, of course!).

Let’s Get the Party Started!

Now, if you’re a complete foodie, you can do all of this from scratch from fire-roasting green chiles and tomatillos to forming your own corn tortillas and using only authentic Mexican cheeses. If you’re the polar-opposite cooking personality, then you can purchase a roasted chicken and a bag of shredded cheeses, and assemble the enchilada lasagna in about 10 minutes. I’m in the middle—I roast the chicken, grate the cheeses, and mix a special blend of green chile enchilada sauce and tomatillo salsa.

Ingredients

4 cups of chopped cooked chicken

1 cup of sour cream

1-10 ounce can of green chile enchilada sauce (select the heat level you prefer)

1-16-ounce bottle of tomatillo salsa (prefer Frontera Grill, available nationwide)

2-4 cups of shredded Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses (your call for quantity)

2 packages of corn tortillas (best, most authentic taste you can find)

13 x 9 inch casserole dish

Assembly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees                                               
  1. Mix the green chile sauce with the tomatillo salsa, reserving ¼ cup of the sauce mixture to spread across the bottom of the casserole. Add any reserved juices from roasting the chicken to the sauce.
  2. Put the chopped chicken into a mixing bowl; add the sour cream. Then add a cup of the sauce mixture–adjust ingredient proportions to suit taste.  Once mixed, toss in 1-2 cups of shredded cheese.
  3. Warm the tortillas in the microwave by wrapping them (1 package at a time) in a clean dishtowel sprinkled lightly with water.  No more than 1 minute.
  4. Begin with a layer of warmed tortillas—don’t worry about gaps between the tortillas.  Spread a third of the chicken mixture on the tortillas, sprinkle extra cheese and a couple spoonfuls of the sauce mixture as well.  Then repeat the layering.  Finish with a layer of tortillas, cheese, and the sauce mixture.
  5. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes then remove foil and cook 15 minutes longer until lightly browned and bubbling. Enjoy!
Almost there . . .
Finished with the tortillas, cheese, and sauce

On the (Online) Radio:  Laura and her sidekick, Diana McClun, will be chatting LIVE with Pat Sloan, host of American Patchwork and Quilting Radio, at 4 p.m. EST on Monday, December 5,  2011. If you can’t tune in right then, the good news is that the show will be recorded so you can visit the APQ website anytime to hear about their 30-year partnership.

Click the APQ button here for the link!