As bloggers, my SHWS sisters and I review our readership numbers regularly to see what posts have been popular with viewers. That certainly helps us figure out if we’re writing about topics that are appealing, informational, and–we hope–fun.
Here’s the rundown for 2013. Clearly you like clever people, projects, products, and how-to guidance. Some pre-date 2013, which shows that we’ve truly hit on a topic of universal interest.
Technology has changed our lives in many places, the sewing room among them. We 21st-century stitchers are beneficiaries of so many advances: computerized sewing machines; accurate and sturdy rulers for every conceivable use; instruction available 24/7 via the ‘net. In the cutting department, we have rotary cutters in all sizes, perfect for cleanly cutting straight or scalloped edges, and cutting systems such as AccuQuilt, capable of quickly cutting dozens of identical shapes. Yet, despite the options, sometimes nothing will do but a good, old-fashioned pair of scissors.
No one knows for certain exactly when scissors made the scene, or even how they got their name, but there are some pretty well-acknowledged guesses. A single-bladed, scissor-like implement was evident in Egypt, circa 1500 B.C. The cross-bladed, pivoted configuration more familiar to us today likely dates to the early-2nd-century Romans. As for the name: according to Merriam-Webster, the Middle English word cisours (or sisoures) was in use by the mid-14th century, tracing its roots to the Latin caedare (“to cut”).
In honor of this venerable and versatile tool, we thought it would be fun to share a snippet or two of our own history with scissors: memories, favorites, even a tip–you’ll find it here!
Jennifer’s Ode to Her Scissors
Even as a child, when I was a novice sewer, I realized scissors were imbued with mythic power. Those shiny, big shears were strictly off limits except for cutting fabric. Honestly, I was a little afraid of them. Not so much now. What with rotary cutters and such, we’ve got scads of choices when it comes to our cutting ways. As for scissors, I favor a sporty model that Diana McClun gave me a few years ago—it was the designated giveaway for the Empty Spools sessions at Asilomar (CA) that year. I love them because they are the racy sports car version of scissors: they are sharp, corner well, snip cleanly right up to the tip of the blade, and they are also exotically international—they are Japanese by birth.
Laura Checks In
I have always enjoyed having a pair of scissors in my hands. Sometimes the cuts did not produce the outcome I had hoped for; for example, at around age 4, I clearly recall cutting the beautiful, long curls from my best friend’s new bride doll . . . sorry Patty! (Perhaps this experience softened me when, at around the same age, my younger daughter gave her best friend a haircut.)
Soon after, I was given my own pair of safety scissors. I remember patiently awaiting the arrival of the monthly McCallsMagazine just to be able to flip to the last page and cut out the newest version of the Betsy McCall paper doll that appeared in each issue. For me, it was always about the cutting and much less about playing with the dolls.
When I started dressmaking, a pair of beautiful Gingher shears were my new treasured tool. When I want accurate cutting for large or multiple fabric shapes, these are my scissors of choice. I have a variety of small, embroidery-type scissors and use them for all my appliqué and embroidery projects. Like Jennifer, I also was gifted with a pair of Kai scissors. They have become my new favorite pair.
A Tip From Darra
Funny how our memories overlap. I have similar recollections of the forbidden fabric scissors: I learned about the distinction when I was discovered trimming my bangs with Mom’s precious Wiss dressmaking shears. I also remember waiting impatiently for her to finish with McCall’s so I could get at those paper dolls. (Heavenly were the months when the reverse page contained no stories, just ads. Instant green light!)
Like Laura and Jennifer, I’ve accumulated quite a collection of sewing scissors over the years, and I have my favorites; however, I’ve got one special pair among my “essentials”
that you might find unusual: a pair of small, sharp, curved-bladed manicuring scissors. They are perfect for cutting out small (or otherwise) curvy shapes from template material. If they’re sharp enough, you can use them for cutting out curved applique shapes from fused fabric as well. I wouldn’t be without them!
Leave a comment telling us about your favorite scissors by noon Thursday, April 4,and you’ll be eligible to win a pair of shiny new 8″ Gingher knife-edge dressmaking shears . . . and a secret bonus that we’ll reveal when we announce the winner in our Friday, April 5 post. It’s a special, double giveawayto mark a very special milestone: the 2nd anniversary of See How We Sew!
We hope your week includes some time for stitching.
Another year, another family wedding! My niece/goddaughter will be marrying in the French village where she grew up and we’re so excited to visit that side of the family for such a joyous event. Of course, such a milestone requires the bestowal of a wedding quilt so I’ve been working away at my latest nuptial project.
Quilt Inspiration, a blog co-authored by sisters Marina and Daryl Lynn is one of my favorite sources for quilting ideas. They’ve got the best selection of free quilt patterns stacked in the blog’s rightmost column. I took a gander last fall and downloaded a few to share with the bride’s sisters. Jelly Roll Strip Starburst by Kimberly Einmo and Brigit Schuller, published by the quilt batting manufacturer, Fairfield, made the cut.
True confessions: I had to choose a quilt pattern that worked with my preselected quilt backing. I don’t usually work backwards like that, but I own serious yardage of Alexander HenryHarajuku Ladies and it’s pretty darn fabulous. Laura’s the one who revealed the print’s charms to me in a past post.
Turns out that my backing choice is serendipitous—the bridegroom is of Japanese descent and the design is both modern and retro, which is perfect for a young, happening couple.
Quilting kismet! I knew there was a reason why I broke the bank on that yardage.
FYI: I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to following quilt patterns. I’ve just got to put my own spin on whatever one I select, and so my niece’s wedding quilt is a riff on Kimberly’s original. My preference was to set the stars on a white field so there’d be plenty of space for quilting. I wanted something clean-lined that could age reasonably well: scrappy, bright, and light-filled. I’m no seer, but I suspect (and hope) simplicity trumps all when it comes to enduring appeal.
I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the quilting with this project and considered many options. That’s the detail, I think, that will really make the quilt shine and so I’ve commissioned a truly spectacular long-arm quilter to add an heirloom touch to the wedding quilt.
Even though delivering the quilt and backing should be a no-stress step in the quilt-building process, I actually find it nerve-racking, even though it’s about delegating the workload and unloading anxiety. Is my quilt top well sewn? Are my borders wavy? Do I have enough backing? Are my requirements insane? Am I a high-maintenance client? Will the quilter, to my shame, send back my quilt for fixing before quilting?
Rather than freak myself out with worries, I decided that I’d tackle these questions in my Friday post where I will share insights from an interview of Marla Monson, long-arm quilter extraordinaire. She’s helping me channel my angst and quilting the wedding quilt.
While visiting my mother-in-law in Florida last week, I took advantage of the beautiful weather to enjoy a seaside stroll, and happened upon an adorable 8-year-old girl drawing in the sand. I was quite taken with her, and asked if she would allow me to photograph her artwork. She graciously assented.
Later on, when I viewed the photos I had taken that afternoon, something struck me as oddly familiar. Then it hit me: the simple lines of that drawing in the sand (and the inspiration for it) reminded me of the super-easy House block I had used in “It Takes a Village,” one of the quilts from my latest book, Cuddle Me Quick, co-authored with Chris Porter.
I’ve always loved the Schoolhouse block (and its many variations). Back in the day, I even collaborated with editor Karen Soltys to produce the Schoolhouse volume of The Classic American Quilt Collection series produced by Rodale Press. This 122-page, hardcover book included photos and instructions for 11 wonderful quilts made by quilters from around the country, including well-known teachers and authors Sharyn Craig and Mary Stori.
All this got me thinking about the many wonderful Schoolhouse and other house-themed quilts I’ve seen over the years, both vintage and newly made. For example, I’ve always loved the colorful and quirky House quilt detailed on the cover of Laura’s (and Diana McClun’s) book, Quilts, Quilts, and More Quilts!
Here’s a view of the entire quilt. Can’t you just picture it over a sofa or buffet?
Quilt history has always fascinated me, and I typically begin my search for good, solid info with quilt historian, Barbara Brackman. Her classic book, Clues in the Calico, has been my Number 1 “go-to” resource since it landed on my shelf in the late 1980s, and once again it proved to be just the ticket. (NOTE: Although the hardcopy version of Clues in the Calico has been out of print for some time, you can find it via Barbara’s wonderful blog, Material Culture. Click on the link and scroll down the page until the book appears in the left-hand column. You’ll find a link there for the eBook version as well.)
From Barbara’s book, I learned that the pieced block we call Schoolhouse appeared rather late in the nineteenth century (c. 1880 – 1890), and was known by a variety of names (including Old Kentucky Home, Old Folks at Home, and Lincoln’s Log Cabin) until Ruth Finley gave it the familiar moniker, Little Red Schoolhouse, in 1929. Barbara featured the block in her “Quilt Block of the Week” series last November. Click here to view her post, which includes directions for making this 8″ finished block.
I asked Barbara if she had photos of any special Schoolhouse quilts that she might share. She came up with this great interpretation, made in 1987 by her sewing group, Seamsters’ Union Local #500. Read more about it on her blog by clicking here.
Don’t forget to check back for Part 2 of this post on Friday, January 18. It will include instructions for making the 4″ x 6″ finished House block that appears in my quilt “It Takes a Village” (shown above), along with photos of some other wonderful house-themed quilts, old and new.
As we transition from one year of projects to another, we’re taking this opportunity to look back at some of those we finished in 2012. Perhaps there are quilts in the mix that please us or maybe even something stitch-less that brought us extra pleasure. Here’s a look at what tickled our fancy:
Darra Blooms With Creativity
From the standpoint of creativity (and productivity), 2012 was a unique year for me. Rather than keeping my primary New Year’s resolution private, I announced it right here in a December 2011 group post: the commitment to spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day, every day, doing something creative. For the most part, I was pretty faithful to my resolution. Yes, I hit a few bumps along the road–more about the challenges (and how I overcame them) in an upcoming post–but by and large, 2012 was perhaps my most creatively adventurous and fruitful year ever.
“…and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I’ve always loved this quote from French author/diarist Anais Nin. Never, however, have I felt the connection more strongly than I have this past year. And so I took that joy of self-discovery and expressed it in fabric.
It may not be the best piece I created all year, but it is–without doubt–the most meaningful to me.
Laura is Hopelessly Devoted to Chairs
I’m a sucker for old chairs, and over the years, I’ve learned to both re-upholster and add new caning to furniture that probably would have been tossed had I not wanted to breathe new life into them. Keeping my hands busy and learning new skills is at the top of my list when choosing how to spend my free time.
Here’s one of two matching wing back chairs I recently finished. Believe me, deconstruction was far worse than re-construction. I’m practicing and gaining confidence to tackle a patchwork chair. Just think how much fun that would be.
Here’s one of a pair of old chairs I’ve had in my garage for over 20 years. I just couldn’t bear to part with them so I decided to tackle the repair myself. Caning is a tedious job, but oh so rewarding. I love how they turned out.
Friends who are aware of my interest often “gift” me with old treasures. Here’s one I recently acquired. It’s a perfect candidate for a new needlepoint cover. I’ve always wanted to learn this art form and Kaffe Fassett’s stunning needlepoint designs have been speaking to me. I hope I can share the new look in a 2014 post.
Soon I’ll be known as Laura Nownes, quilt and chair maker.
Jennifer Sends Out a Quilt and a Prayer
I don’t often have a surplus of quilts to give away as gifts, but after I made two of Christie’s block of the month projects in 2012, I ended up with a couple of finished quilts with no particular destinations. Well, that’s until I bestowed one as a wedding gift for the daughter of very dear family friends, leaving me with the other one which, I admit, I was eyeing possessively. You’ve got a detailed view above–Elaine Beattie quilted it for me with lovely feathery details.
It’s probably one of my favorite completed projects for the year. The white background fabric delivers a crisp and clean feeling, while the citrusy and jungle/sea colors call to my tropical alter ego. I actually gave you a sneak peak earlier last year after a trip to my Florida home town. Clearly, I didn’t follow Christie’s layout–well hey, I’ve gotta do my own thing.
What I didn’t mention then was that I visited with a high school friend in Florida and had a chance to catch up on our lives, children, and aging parents. Turns out her eldest child was amidst a freakishly awful year that was culminating in major surgery at year’s end. If ever a person deserved and needed the healing touch of a quilt, it was she. So much for coveting my own handiwork; that quilt had a job to do. I attached a special heart label, sealed the shipping box with a prayer, and sent the quilt on its way. It arrived just in time for surgery. She’s mending now and rebuilding her life. I’ve got the iPhone photo her mother sent from the hospital where she’s wrapped in the quilt. Of course I got misty eyed, but I also smiled because I know handmade quilts are healers. (Although I do think her mother is due for a quilted embrace too.)
Here’s to a new year with exciting creative opportunities! While Darra quotes Anais Nin, I turn to the immortal words of Anne Shirley, the heroine of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
p.s Thanks to Nelly for her stunning bee photograph!
p.p.s. I just spoke to my Florida friend for an update on her daughter. She’ll be recovering for a long time, but it turns out the quilt is evolving into a communal hug. Her mom (my friend) collected 80 fabric hearts with personalized messages from her daughter’s kindergarten students and family/friends to add to my heart label and her (my friend’s) 90-year-old mother is going to sew them all onto the quilt back. Isn’t that the coolest thing ever? Makes me weepy in the best-possible way!
At the end of 2011, we ran a post in which we each shared a few photos that we found inspirational for our quilting and other creative pursuits. That post turned out to be surprisingly popular, as visitors–both regular readers and new–continue to seek it out in our archives for repeated viewings. As 2013 begins, we thought it would be fun to reprise this popular idea with new photographic inspiration for a creative new year.
Jennifer’s Modest Obsession
I’ve just been on a browse through my 2012 iPhoto collection and, perhaps, my sons are right: I’m weirdly lunatic about some things. Do you know what makes me happy these days? Fruit and flowers, it’s really pretty simple. Perhaps when those sons of mine grow up enough to have offspring I’ll vary my subject matter, but for now, I’m sticking to Mother Nature. So, when asked to pull images for our collective post, these are the ones that fuel my creativity. I think they’re delicious—okay, amend that: the steamy blue geothermal in Yellowstone National Park isn’t tasty. It’s malodorous. I offer it here just because Nature delivers the most incredible pellucid blues.
Fruits of the cherry harvest from Brentwood, California.
I’ve never seen such incredible aqua blues outside of tropical waters–Yellowstone National Park is a wonder of wonders.
Seasonal flowers from Florali in Walnut Creek, California (click Florali’s sidebar to start the incredible seasonal flower show.)
When I’m out and about and remember to bring my camera along, I find that I am most attracted to the variety of shapes I see in nature, architecture, flooring, and so on. I’m always looking to see if I might be able to translate what I see into a new quilt design, never knowing where I might find my next pattern opportunity. I might find it in a museum, while out hiking, or even strolling around my local shopping mall. Here are a few photos I have taken over the years and added to my “Inspiration” folder. The flower at the end was taken by my friend, Nelly Shrager. I had to include it because it is so rich in color inspiration.
This would make such a cute pieced and appliqued block.
I can see all kinds of inspiration in this colorful hooked rug.
This is inspiration for my “someday” applique project.
I can see a quilt design here–without the logo, of course!
Simply gorgeous colors!
Darra’s Eclectic Album
My inspiration comes from so many sources. Here are just a few.
Architecture: interesting facades, doors, windows, and rooflines. This is the front of a hotel in downtown San Francisco called–no lie!–the Hotel California.
Autumn: One of nature’s most amazing palettes. This photo was taken last fall by my friend and co-author, Christine Porter, near her home in Bristol, UK.
“Serendipidous” art: I love to stumble upon art where I least expect it. Here, a crazy “quilt” mosaic tucked on the fringes of a garden in Mendocino, California.
The sea: whether the open water or a quiet cove, always inspirational. Looking back on Drake’s Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, California.
Fabric: of course!
Gateways: arches, garden gates, and other artful (and sometimes mysterious) forms of egress. I shot this passage to the sea on a foggy November morning on the Northern California coast.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of photographic inspiration. We’d love to know what inspires you. Please do leave a comment and let us know.
Back in 1993, I designed a Sunflower-themed wall hanging for my series “Tradition with a Twist” in Quilting Today magazine. (If you’re a longtime quilter, you may remember both the series and the now-defunct magazine.) The design was a blend of two classic patterns: North Carolina Lily and Dresden Plate. I called the quilt Kansas Garden and it appeared in the June 1994 issue.
As I worked on that quilt, I thought about how a few simple modifications and a totally different color scheme could transform the design into an ideal Christmas piece.
Shortly after I finished Kansas Garden, I received an invitation from Missouri quilter Bettina Havig to participate in the 8th Annual Wall Hanging Challenge at Silver Dollar City, which at that time hosted a large national quilt show. The theme for the challenge that year was “holidays,” and my choice–no-brainer here!–was Christmas. Not only did my family celebrate the season in a big way, but I’m also a Christmas Eve baby, born on December 24 (in a year we shall not mention).
The specifics of the challenge were pretty simple. Fabrics were provided by Springs Industries/Springmaid Fabrics and batting by Fairfield Processing Corporation/Poly-Fil. The specified size was 36″ square, just an inch smaller than–you guessed it!–Kansas Garden. The result, with a different palette, and just a few minor modifications in applique motifs and border width, was December Fantasy.
Once completed, the quilt was dispatched to Missouri for the SDC’s annual show, and then traveled for a year with the other eight challenge quilts to various venues around the country. It also appeared in a souvenir pocket calendar.
But the story doesn’t quite end there. In 2007, my husband and I were enjoying the debut webcast of a wonderful holiday concert, Christmas in a Small Town, produced by and featuring quilting buddy, Ricky Tims. Lo and behold, as Ricky began playing “I Saw Three Ships,” what should pop on the screen as part of a photo montage of holiday quilts but December Fantasy! What a lovely surprise!
If you’ve never seen Christmas in a Small Town, you’re in luck. It’s currently being shown courtesy of The Quilt Show website, and you can watch it by clicking here. If you like what you see and hear (and I know you will), you can check out the companion CD by clicking here.
Enjoy the final countdown to the 25th, and do check back on Friday, when my post will feature a simple last-minute gift idea that you can whip up in an hour or less. ‘Til then, happy stitching!
When I was growing up, there were certain foods that my mother made only around the holidays. One of my favorites was “date torte,” which is a delicious bar-type cookie. It’s an easy recipe that’s perfect for taking to a cookie exchange, or for tucking into a decorative tin, as it travels well. You might want to get creative and substitute another dried fruit for the dates. How about cranberries or apricots?
Here’s the recipe:
1 cup chopped pitted dates
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. lemon rind
1 cup chopped nuts
Cook dates, sugar, and water in a sauce pan for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly until thickened. Cool. Add lemon rind and nuts.
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups quick cook rolled oats
1 cup melted butter (2 sticks)
Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Mix in brown sugar and oats. Add butter and work with your fingers to a crumbly dough. Divide the mixture in half. Pat half the dough in a 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Spread with the date filling. Crumble the remaining dough over the top and pat down gently. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes. Cool and cut into squares. Enjoy!