Quilt Pattern Writing 101: Hints from a Semi-Pro With Knowledgeable Friends + Giveaway Today!

Pattern-J:  Pattern collage1-Giveaway IconHey, have you thought about designing and selling your own quilt patterns? It seems like more and more quilters are doing just that if the rising numbers of private label patterns available in quilt shops is any indication. With a digital camera and a bit of computer know-how, it’s becoming easier for us to develop patterns for sale. Distribution? Well, that’s another question altogether–a crucial one, yes, but today I thought I’d focus on Pattern Writing 101. I’ve got two pros at my back, blogging sisters Darra and Laura, for some good advice.

Scroll to the bottom for the giveaway details featuring designers Carolyn Friedlander (Tangelo photographed above); Allison Harris of Cluck Cluck Sew (Chain Reaction photographed above as well); my blogging sister Laura (check her Etsy site) ; and our blogger emeritus Christie Batterman at Artichoke Collection!  

UPDATE:  Swirly Girls are adding 3 patterns to the giveaway opportunity so there will be 9 winners!!!!!

Test and Retest

Before you set to writing, you’ve got to test and retest the quilt project you’re patterning. It took me weeks to complete the first prototype of my Christmas tree skirt (detailed in my recent SHWS post), but it only took me a week to start and finish tree skirt 2.0! Definitely an improvement, but it took a major act of will to commence the new prototype after the first beat me up so soundly. Thank goodness I did it because the math worked (yes!) and I can now write the pattern confident that the measurements will yield a good result. Of course, whether I can guide a quilt-pattern buyer to that end depends on the quality of my instructions.

Working on the first Christmas Tree skirt prototype on the living room floor.
Working on the first Christmas Tree skirt prototype on the living room floor.

Do Your Homework

The best place to start Pattern Writing 101 is to look at quilting books and patterns and learn from those that have worked best for you.  What are the elements that helped you build your quilt?  Are there step-out illustrations and/or photographs that zero in on the construction process? Are they done in black/white or full color? These days, that distinction is less expensive so full-color printing just might be an affordable option.

How does the pattern designer break out the fabric requirements and cutting instructions? Separating these elements into separate boxes is useful for those who are taking the book or printed pattern into a store for shopping guidance. What are the headings commonly used?  Fabric Requirements, Cutting Instructions, Block Assembly, Quilting Assembly, and Finishing are typical for breaking down the instructions into easy-to-follow units. The more you study what is currently available, the better prepared you’ll be to tackle the writing.

Patterns on display at Cotton Patch, Lafayette, California.
Patterns on display at Cotton Patch, Lafayette, California–top row features Cluck Cluck Sew and bottom features SHWS alumnus Christie Batterman of Artichoke Collection.

The Written Word

Ah, here we have the heart of the process. When you write a pattern, you are guiding someone step-by-step to a destination. Action words–verbs–and simple sentences are the way to go:  Cut 5 blocks, 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″. You’ll be tempted to add color commentary, but don’t. You can use a few text boxes to share your hard-won lessons, but don’t burden your reader with every last thought or nuance because you’ll confuse them and obscure the steps they need to take.

There are pattern-writing conventions and standard terminology that are very helpful to incorporate into your pattern. Recently, I asked Darra how to communicate the idea that the quilter would need to cut two mirror-image pieces of fabric. Simple:  cut one and one reverse. So, rather than tie yourself up in excess words, find the proper phrase and use it. Also, be aware of troublesome words and phrases. The misuse of template versus pattern is common. You use a pattern (paper) to create a template for cutting the fabric shape.

Quilt-book publishers tend to include additional instructions on quilting basics simply to be sure that the reader has the skills to build the quilts featured in their books. Nowadays they are publishing those fundamentals on their websites. Keep that possibility in mind when you write your pattern. You may not have enough space to detail every step, especially if it’s a standard technique, so you could send your pattern buyer to online resources to clarify how-to’s. Your website or blog can also be the place where you share hints and insights about your pattern, such as those fluffy elements you wanted to include in the pattern instructions. If you’ve got a lively bunch of fans, you could ask them to share images of the quilts they’ve made with your pattern on your website. It’s a great way to develop your brand–yeah, let’s use that au courant marketing lingo.

Yet more pattern fare from Cotton Patch--every niche in the store has a display!
Yet more pattern fare from Cotton Patch–every niche in the store has a display!

Live or Die By the Numbers–Grim, Yes, but That’s the Reality

Darra shared her most important insight with me recently. She says even the most-seasoned pattern designers fall prey to this inescapable reality:  base your measurements on the math and not the finished quilt. You can get so mired in the weird little tweaks and compensations you’ve made to test your prototypes that you forget that the quilt needs to work mathematically. The fact that you used a 1/8″ seam in one tiny spot to make your test quilt work is a problem when the pattern buyer expects a consistent seam allowance. Check your math. Recheck your math. Have someone else check your math. You definitely want to avoid coming up short; better to err on the side of a little too much.

That takes me to a related mathematical point. This I got from Gail Abeloe at Back Porch Fabrics. As Gail vets countless patterns for her store, she’s got a great perspective on patterns that tend to work for quilters. Hey, another idea in the research phase:  talk to shop owners about the best features of high-quality patterns. Back to Gail:  she recommends that designers give due consideration to the final sizes of their quilt patterns. It is so much easier for the shops to sell fabric, batting, and backing supplies for patterns that hit the standard sizes of packaged batting. You win when you please both the shop owner and the customer.

The End of the Advice + Giveaway Details

Glory be, I’ve written a treatise so I’m going to stop now.  Let’s hope I follow my own advice as I start writing the Christmas Tree Skirt instructions.

Well, dear readers, 6, make that 9, pattern winners here!  Leave me a comment by Thursday, October 3 and I will announce the winners this Friday.  Here’s your question:  Have you or or would you ever develop a pattern for sale?

Later, sewing gators!

J-Signature

The Bumpy, Rocky, Twisty Road of Quilt-Pattern Design–Giveaway Today!

(Or, Attempting That HUGE Leap From Cute Sketch to Marketable Pattern)

Do you remember those paper-pieced holiday blocks I designed last December?

Three seasonal blocks in a row--I think it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Three seasonal blocks in a row–I think it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Giveaway-Green:RedWell, they’ve been a tremendous hit in our FREE Pattern collection and I’ve been jazzed to devise a few “quilty” ways to set the blocks. In fact, an upcoming issue of The Quilt Life will feature my table runner pattern made with the Santa Claus and Tree blocks—click here for last year’s sneak peek—plus an alternate layout for a larger-sized quilt.  More on that later when the issue hits the newsstands.

Back then, when I was fooling around with the table runner, I also sketched a Christmas tree skirt pattern with the blocks.

Quilt-J:  Santa tree skirt sketch

So cute! My next thought was to turn the sketch into a finished project—perhaps a pattern prototype. Yes, but . . . look at that design . . . how would I build it? If you’re a Mrs. Slap-Dash like me, you’d guess a size like 54 to 60 inches (pretty standard tree skirt dimensions) to determine the circle’s radius. That’d be 27 inches for my 54-inch choice. Okay.  Twenty-seven inches of what?  Ah, six pie wedges building a circle with a 54-inch diameter. Notice: Have I mentioned anything about making a scaled drawing? Stay tuned for the ramifications of that decision.

After some quasi-mathematical thinking, I stared at the sketch to figure out how to build the pie wedge. Finally, a light bulb flickered on and I could see it built with two narrow setting triangles at the top of the holiday block set on point and two more triangles at the bottom.  Alas, there’d be one Y-seam per pie wedge, but that configuration also delivered a secondary star design in the center of the tree skirt.

I blithely asked my blogging sister Laura to help me derive the dimensions/sizes of the setting triangles (because I’m math-hampered) and I also got our blog graphic artist Michelle to start pattern illustrations based on my sketch. Notice: sketch, not scaled drawing! Then, armed with the results of Laura’s excellent geometric skills, I made lovely pie wedges, but alas, they did not make a circle.

Uh-oh! Looks like I have a geometry problem to solve.
Uh-oh! Looks like I have a geometry problem to solve.

This is where someone might choose cliff diving as an escape, or elect to burn all the dratted pie wedges. I’m not that person. I counted my blessings:  I have math-proficient friends; and I’d invested in a bolt of background fabric. I wish I could tell you that my subsequent adventures in tree-skirt-building have been smooth, but they haven’t been because I’m amidst learning every bad consequence of not starting a challenging project—i.e. a pattern with acute and obtuse angled triangles and circle-shaped block setting—with a scaled drawing.

Is this an uh-oh? Nah! It's an almost completed layout.
Is this an uh-oh? Nah! It’s an almost completed layout.

Boiled down to a few bulleted points, here’re some pattern prototype do’s/don’ts (with input from my more technically skilled blogging sisters Darra and Laura, plus the managing engineer from my office (Charles) who is wickedly good in trigonometry).

Mrs. Slap-Dash’s Helpful Hints

  • Turn your casual sketch into a scaled drawing or use a design software program to work out the bugs before you start cutting and sewing.
  • If you start with a drawing, make sure to use thin or ultra-thin pencils/pens to render your sketch. Chubby marker lines distort exact measurements.
  • Check and re-check your angles when your design has geometric shapes with acute/obtuse angles. Tiny inconsistencies can grow exponentially when enlarged! Laura recommends using a True Angle protractor.
  • Heed the woodworker’s mantra at all times:  measure twice, cut once.
  • For projects with extreme geometry, sew precisely and recheck the measurements frequently. Consider using a template to check accuracy.
  • Give yourself a break; stitches can be snipped and seams re-sewn.
Quilt-J:  Mrs. Slap-Dash Makes a Circle.
Mrs. Slap-Dash finally closes her circle-in-the-making!

See, I’ve finally closed the gap for my tree skirt pattern despite my errors and missteps. The good news:  now I’ve got to test the pattern with tree skirt version 2.0! Cyndy Rymer, the wandering quilter, will be filling in for me on Friday (‘cuz I’ll be paper piecing) with her international fabric dyeing adventures and drool-worthy photography.

Giveaway Details Here!

Laura has very kindly arranged a True Angle giveaway for our readers from Quint Measuring Systems. Giveaway Question:  Do you avoid or embrace quilting’s mathematical challenges? (Jennifer?  Math-phobic and in serious need of her own True Angle protractor!) Leave me a comment by this Thursday, September 5 and I will announce the winner in the Friday post. Later, gators!

J-Signature

A la Francaise: A Quilter’s Holiday in France

Bonjour! See How We See readers. I am recently returned from my fantastic French holiday and ready to share photo highlights of the journey. Although I never did walk into a fabric shop while there, I did find much inspiration in France’s flora, fauna, and history. Few words today from me, just images starting with my lovely niece and her handsome new spouse (BTW: scroll to the end for the recent giveaway winners) . . .

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French Food–Yum!–Salade Italienne, the classic Steak Frite (steak and french fries), and the results of a strawberry festival. No, I did not eat all of this! The salad and strawberry chantilly crepe thing was mine (I shared!).

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French Sites–A walk along a 16th-century tannery row after that large lunch. The pretty cottage is a converted tannery–a wholesale change from centuries past when tanneries were noxious commercial zones. Next is the view from the climb up to a crumbled medieval fortress overlooking the town with the tannery river walk.

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Screen shot 2013-07-10 at 2.19.03 PMArt in unexpected places–the well cover at the crumbled castle. It’s a loonnng pebble drop . . . glad they had the cover.

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Brittany Road Trip–medieval towns of Lannion, Dinan, and a coastal fortress with castle vegetable garden and manicured hedges.

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Part tourist site and private home–the manor house is the residence of the owners.

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Reverence and Piety–Faith is strong in Brittany with a private family chapel behind a painted red door as you’ll see below, and religious art in unexpected places like a storage shed next to a farmhouse.

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The “Real” French Country Style–Sublime lace curtains soften the starkness of  gray stone houses. This picture-perfect cottage dates to the 1650s. I found a supplier of lace curtains in the walled city of Dinan. The dancing boy and girl curtain is handmade in France and costs a pricey 50 euros a meter!

Dates & Places-J:  Redacted Brittany Cottage

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I close with two of my favorite “things” from my journey:  French roses in bloom in Brittany and a friendly house rooster we met while visiting family. This funny little cock hung out with his two house-dog buddies and a slew of cats. Reminds me of the line from the first Ghostbusters movie: “. . . dogs and cats (and roosters) living together . . .” as a sign of imminent Armageddon.  Nah, it’s a miracle of nature just like the roses. Au revoir France! (Keep scrolling for the giveaway winners . . . nearly there!)

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Giveaway Winners!

We’ve had a bonanza of giveaways lately and now it’s time to let the winners know.

Barbara Jansz is the winner of the mega-giveaway with her poem:

The Friendship Quilt Guild would love to win
All the surplus items in your Goodie-Box-Bin.
Members who’ve made quilts for Project Linus
Will be rewarded generously for their quilting kindness.

The Peg Conley/Clothworks giveaway winners are Jane from MA and Quilting Tangent (who, coincidentally, penned a poem about how she never wins giveaways–well, Ms. Tangent, the odds are now running in your favor!)

Later, gators!J-Signature

Clip, Snip, Slice–Seam Rippers in the Spotlight

Tool-J:  Seam Ripper from WikiCommons
An exemplar seam ripper–it bears an uncanny resemblance to my mother’s snapped-off, 1970s-era model because hers is exactly that short. I would’ve bought a new one, but she seems to like hers stubby. Oh well.

Today the subject is Seam Rippers—in my head I hear Shirley Bassey singing seeeeam rippah ala the Goldfinger soundtrack as I type this post . . . perhaps I spent too much time at work today database mining?

After a none-too-rigorous Google research effort, I’ve discovered very little about the roots of our errant-stitch eradicators, and much more on their many weird manifestations. Origins? They’ve been around forever. As long as we’ve used sharp, pointy tools and stringy stuff, we’ve needed to snip stitched mistakes.

Artsy view of my favorite seam ripper--a slim, sharp blade and a comfortable handle.
Artsy view of my favorite seam ripper–a slim, sharp blade and a comfortable handle.

Do you know you can find seam rippers with attached LED lighting or magnifying glasses to mitigate declining vision? Seems like a good idea, but the word on the street is that the disability needs to outweigh the inconvenience of awkward or bulky attachments. Other models promise stitch-snipping ease with medical-grade blades. While I see the potential for spilt blood from my use, the more dexterous swear by the efficacy of these epic cutters.

My absolute fave for a giggle is a battery-operated, seam-ripping clipper. Hey, I think it’s a fabulous idea, and boy does it mow down the stitches in a YouTube video. I just can’t help remembering how my husband used dog clippers to give our eldest child a buzz cut when he was eleven. Not one of my honey’s better cost-saving schemes because we had to dash to the barbershop afterward. (Where did he put those dog clippers? I’m sure I can repurpose them for quilting.)

As for online seam-ripper lore, did you know that many sewers weren’t allowed to use seam rippers in Home Economics classes back in the day? I don’t remember that prohibition, but I think my Baby Boomer cohort had more forgiving teachers. I also came across a blogger with a whimsical take on seam rippers who let her tools author a very funny and insightful post.

My trio of seam rippers--only one has a top . . . where do the lids disappear?
My trio of seam rippers–only one has a top . . . where do the lids disappear?

If you’re looking for your best seam-ripping option, look no further than Amazon.com to see the best-selling models. (I own 2 of the top 3–wow!) Now, if your prefer the latest variation on a seam-ripper theme, take in Seam-Fix™, which promises to erase stubborn thread detritus after you clip your stitches. Marby Bennett at Wooden Gate Quilts in Danville, CA says the Seam-Fix™ models are running out of her store as fast as she stocks them. Lucky for our SHWS readers, she’s given us one to add to those Ginghers for our anniversary giveaway. What a nice way to sweeten the pot!

Darra, Laura, and I want you to know how much we enjoyed reading all the comments for the Ginghers/Seam-Fix™ giveaway. We laughed, we cried, and we are so very blessed with your continued interest and support of See How We Sew.  Thank you! And the winner is Rosemary!

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Taking a Quilt Class: Paying Attention, Letting Go and a Giveaway

I enjoy being on the other side of the table and learning new skills that I can add to my toolbox for future projects. Every so often I am fortunate enough to take a class from one of the many talented quilt teachers offering instruction these days.

Little did I know when I signed up to take Lura Schwarz Smith’s five-day class, Imagery and Imagination: Inks, Paints, Pencils and Fun, at the Empty Spools Seminars at Asilomar in California, that there would be many more unexpected and valuable lessons awaiting me.

ESClassPic

In preparation for class, I was asked to bring either a portrait of a person or pet. I chose this sweet image of my adorable great nephew Eli. Thinking I would be piecing and appliqueing, I purchased a variety of flesh-colored fabrics, as well as stripes and other textural fabrics to use for his hair.

Eli1

The first morning of class was spent working through a series of helpful lessons in perspective drawing and shading.  I calmly completed the lessons, determined to soak up as much as I could. Next Lura walked us step-by-step through an exercise that would lead to drawing a face. I have never taken any formal art classes and can’t remember the last time I tried drawing faces–probably around third grade or so. This was quite a stretch for me, and definitely a humbling experience; we all laughed a lot at seeing our finished faces. I just can’t take these things too seriously. With Lura’s excellent instruction, patience and gentle encouragement, every student successfully accomplished the lesson. I was impressed at how well we all did.

Don't these look like fun?
Don’t these look like fun?

Next Lura demonstrated how to use the variety of inks, pens, pencils, and markers that she brought for us to experiment with. Again, this felt like being back in grade school. It was so much fun.

The next step was to trace the main lines onto a piece of transparency. This was the first step before transferring the image onto fabric.

The first step is to mark the main lines onto transparency.
The first step is to mark the main lines onto transparency.

After I transferred Eli’s shape onto my background fabric, I innocently asked Lura which techniques she preferred for appliqueing fabric pieces onto the background. She calmly replied that no applique was necessary. We would ONLY be using the paints, inks, pencils, and so on for our projects. Why did I think I would be piecing and appliqueing? Did I not accurately read the class description? Oh my goodness! I can still feel the anxiety coursing through my body at the thought of stepping way out of my comfort zone. What was I going to do? This was Day 1 and I’m feeling “Yikes! I don’t/can’t paint or draw. I have no experience with this. How am I ever going to get through the next four days?”

I was silent and dumbfounded. I remember leaving the classroom and returning to my room in an effort to calm my nerves. I had a choice to make and decided to let go of all the unrealistic expectations.

I returned the next morning with a good attitude and willingness to give this my best shot. After a few hours of playing with inks and colored pens I was pleasantly surprised to feel how relaxing and enjoyable the process had become. I worked slowly for several days, watching the evolution of my piece. Certainly it has more work to be done, but I must say I am quite pleased with the results, especially since this was brand new to me.

Enough rambling for now. Here’s what I accomplished by the end of the class. So what do you think? Not so bad for beginner. Lura has inspired me to purchase a sketchbook and try my hand at drawing. The possibilities are endless and I’m excited to do more.

Eli

Being primarily a traditional quiltmaker, I had decided that if I ever wanted to take a step into the art quilt world, I would like Lura to guide me. She is truly one of the most patient, kind, encouraging, inspirational, gentle (you understand what I am saying!) teacher I have ever had.

Please visit Lura’s website to see her beautiful work, as well as the Gallery of student work she has included. (Jennifer featured Lura in a past post here.) She travels extensively, so be sure to check out her teaching schedule. If you ever have the opportunity, I encourage you to take one of her classes. I promise you will love it and may even open up many doors to new forms of creativity.

Here is just a sampling of her work to whet your appetites.

Seams A Lot Like Degas by Lura Schwarz Smith
Seams A Lot Like Degas by Lura Schwarz Smith
Dancing Peace by Lura Schwarz Smith
Dancing Peace by Lura Schwarz Smith
Granite Shadows by Lura Schwarz Smith
Granite Shadows by Lura Schwarz Smith
Universal Language Dreams by Lura Schwarz Smith
Universal Language Dreams by Lura Schwarz Smith

bookcoverTogether with her talented husband, Kerby C. Smith, they have written Secrets of Digital Quilting: From Camera to Quilt, published by C & T Publishing. In addition to Lura’s instructions on inking, painting, and drawing on fabric, their book teaches you to easily create your own richly colored, unique fabric by printing your on photos on fabric. Lura and Kerby are generously donating a signed copy of their book for one of our lucky readers. Simply post a comment telling us why you would like to receive a copy by end of day April 19th and I will announce the winner in my April 23rd post.

Lura tells me that she has a newsletter coming out the same day that this post goes live. Be sure to check it out for updates on her teaching schedule.

That’s all for this time. Happy quilting, drawing, or pursuing whatever creative outlet you choose.

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A Heart-y Hello from See How We Sew Along with a Giveaway!

Inspiration-J:  Flowers for Valentine's Day

Giveaway-Green:RedIt’s that time of year again when we can plunder our stashes for all things pink and red in the name of fondness, friendship, and love.

Just in case you want to know why we celebrate February 14 with representations of affection, I’ve excerpted this bio of St. Valentine from catholic.org:

St. Valentine was a Priest, martyred in 269 at Rome and was buried on the Flaminian Way. He is the Patron Saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travellers, young people. He is represented in pictures with birds and roses.

I get the connection to love and marriage–how about plague?  What does it mean to be the patron saint of plague? Although epilepsy and fainting are odd as well. I guess that’s what love is, a swooning sentiment that can give you fits . . . yes, I do know . . .  St. Valentine will intercede in all plaguing matters, etc.

We blogging sisters at  See How We Sew  have much more charming Valentines to share with our readers:

Laura’s Take on Valentine’s Day

From Laura’s workshop, a brand new iteration of her popular apron pattern and she’s offering a copy of the pattern as a giveaway. See details below.

apron

Laura’s Tea for Two apron can be made in two variations–the one shown above and another with a top bib. You can purchase the apron pattern at Laura’s website (and/or enter the giveaway). The pattern was designed originally by Althea Hampton, the mother of Laura’s long-time collaborator Diana McClun. She and Laura found Althea’s original apron with the paper pattern tucked into a side pocket while rummaging through a box of vintage aprons they’d found. What a lovely gift! (And one Diana and Laura have enjoyed for years by making many versions for special holidays and events.)

Darra Sends Out ♥ Messages via Postcard Quilts

Darra’s been channeling heartfelt themes for a while now in her postcard quilts:

"Be Mine" by Darra Williamson
“Be Mine” by Darra Williamson
"Hearts Entwined" by Darra Williamson
“Hearts Entwined” by Darra Williamson
Project-D:  Postcard
“Cross My Heart” by Darra Williamson

Check back on Tuesday next week, as Darra’s got something wonderful cooking for Valentine’s Day in her upcoming post.

Jennifer Goes for Hearts and Flowers

As to Jennifer (me), I’ve been eyeing my silk ribbon and bead collections for appropriate Valentine fodder. My take on the day is doorknob decor. I just love the idea of surprising a loved one with a handmade token of my esteem (perfect houseguest treat BTW!):

A heartfelt memento for a valentine.
A heartfelt memento for a valentine.

I’m not sure I’m ready to graduate from Candace Kling’s academy of ribbon work, but I’m practicing. The instructions for each one of those flowers, leaves and berry bud can be found in The Artful Ribbon. The how-to’s for the heart pillow are available in our Pattern Library. Yes, I was feeling piratical last year, but the directions work for whatever riff you choose.

Inspired by Candace Kling, here's my take on silk ribbon flowers with beads and ribbon plundered from my stash.
Inspired by Candace Kling, here’s my take on silk ribbon flowers with beads and ribbon plundered from my stash.

The Giveaway Scoop 

Project-D:  PostcardSend us a ♥-felt sentiment, phrase, wish in Comments to enter the giveaway for Laura’s apron pattern. Darra will announce the winner in her Tuesday post on February 12.

Heartiest greetings to all!

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Santa is Coming . . . as a Sweet Paper-Pieced Block on Friday (Giveaway Today!)

Considering how long I’ve been cooking this idea for a paper-pieced Santa block (i.e months not hours), you’d think I could’ve managed to make some headway by now. Alas, I seem to be all thumbs or the quilting goddess is leading me astray.

First draft Santa Claus by Jennifer-where did the seam allowances go?

The prototype phase wasn’t too dramatic. Sure, I cut the edges too narrow and had to struggle with fat seams when pressing, but with those problems tackled, shouldn’t the final phase be a breeze? Nah! Everything that could go wrong went wrong plus celebrating Thanksgiving and hosting house guests took me out of the quilting game for most of this past weekend. Oh well, it’s my “When life gives you lemons” moment and maybe I’ll have that Santa block (and a partner Christmas tree block) ready for you to see by the Friday post, along with downloadable PDFs. Fingers crossed!

Paper-pieced Christmas tree with light strands! Check out that fabulous snowflake background purchased at Back Porch Fabric in Pacific Grove, CA.

In the meantime, though, what’s so new and fun about my paper-pieced Santa block that you might want to try it? Well, mine is a fab-u-lous riff on a Santa that was featured in a book of quilted Christmas projects from C&T Publishing that I co-edited with Catherine Comyns a few years ago called Winter Wonders. We selected a series of holiday-themed projects from Nihon Vogue’s Quilts Japan magazine and translated them for use by English-speaking quilters.

A paper-pieced Santa tumbles across the quilt–the block, though, it’s about 4″ in size!

I loved their idea of Santa Claus somersaulting across a quilt, but the original block was too tiny for my taste. I’ve re-imagined the block on a larger scale and added details to lively-up the guy: a mustache inset in the beard seam plus more bling and “fur” for his clothes. Once I drafted the new Santa, I realized there were more seasonal ideas to explore following the prototype layout, thus the Christmas tree block with strands of colored “lights.” I think an angel with inset wings isn’t far behind, but for now, I need to finish the Santa block.

The Quilts Japan Santa block with pieced setting triangles finishes to 5″.

Don’t you think alternating the Santa blocks with the Christmas tree blocks could be the makings of a fine holiday table runner? I’ve also wondered about enlarging the Santa to the dimensions of a Christmas tree skirt and arranging the Santa blocks (without the arms) into the tree skirt’s characteristic doughnut layout–mind you, I’ve not thought through the details so there may be hideous construction challenges.

To launch the holiday season I’m offering a giveaway of my very last copy of Winter Wonders–this is a super-quick promotion so leave me a comment by this Thursday, November 29 and I’ll announce the winner in my Friday post. Here’s the question to answer:  What’s your Christmas wish?

See ya! Remember:  fingers crossed!

A “Fine Finish” — A Special Quilt is Florida Bound! (Giveaway, Too)

As you are reading this, a special quilt is winging its way to a special little boy in Florida. In my June 15 post, I told you about a quilt I was making to welcome the new grandson of my dear friend Christy–a quilt made from shirts belonging to her husband Ray, who died last August after a valiant battle with cancer.

The talented Jo Ann Carpenter did a wonderful job quilting Hugs and Kisses from Grandpa. She outlined each hug and kiss, and crosshatched through the pieced squares and border–just the right touch for this clean, simple design.

“Hugs and Kisses from Grandpa”–Made by Darra Williamson and machine quilted by Jo Ann Carpenter. Click on Free Pattern tab at the top of the page for instructions and applique patterns for making this quilt.

To bind the quilt, I cut 2 1/8″ strips from the various shirt leftovers, and pieced them end to end with right-angle seams.

I join my binding strips with diagonal seams to reduce bulk.
The first of Cyndy’s three books about printing on fabric

I knew I wanted something special for the label, so I called on my buddy, Cyndy Rymer, coauthor/editor (with Lynn Koolish and Hewlett-Packard) of three books on transferring photos and text to fabric. Using an EQ Printables Inkjet Fabric Sheet, the Photoshop program on Cyndy’s laptop, and her trusty inkjet printer, we created a label that I think is the perfect finishing touch for this special quilt.

We combined a photo with text giving the specifics of why, for whom, and by whom the quilt was made. In one of those instances of amazing serendipidy, the shirt “Grandpa Ray” wears in the photo is one of the shirts that I used in the quilt!

I fused the label to a “framing” fabric, topstitched the label edges, and then turned under a 1/4″ hem and topstitched all around the edges of the frame.

Story almost finished. It so happens that there are also two granddaughters in the family, and I couldn’t very well leave them out! These two young ladies are a bit older (both in “double digits”), so I settled upon a pillow for each, using the same 5″ cut squares and appliqued  Xs and Os that I used in the quilt. I wanted a pillow that would fit a standard 18″ pillow form, so I cut border strips 2 3/4″ wide, sewed them on using a standard 1/4″ seam, and added a pillow back, once again using my pillow-making Bible, Jean and Valori Wells’ Oh Sew Easy Pillows as a guide.

I made two 18″ pillows, one for each granddaughter.

I added a little surprise on the back, perfect for tucking tiny treasures.

A pocket from one of Grandpa’s shirts makes the perfect place for special treasures.

If you’d like to make a special label for a special quilt, we’re here to help. EQ (Electric Quilt) has generously donated an EQ Printables Inkjet Fabric Sample Pack as a giveaway to one of our readers. Leave a comment by midnight (PDT) Wednesday, September 5, telling us about a special quilt you’ve either given or received, and I’ll announce the winner in my next scheduled post.

Before I wrap up, I want to thank the many, many readers who took the time to comment on my post about Mary Elizabeth Kinch and her new book, Small Pieces, Spectacular Quilts. If you haven’t read the comments, you should: some of them are really funny! The winner of the book, chosen by random drawing, is Judy in SC. Ms. G, please refresh me on your snail-mail address via seehowwesew@gmail, and I’ll get your book on its way.

That’s it for now. Don’t forget about Quilting in the Garden, which will be here before we know it! ‘Til next time, happy stitching!

Get In Print: You Can Design & Print Your Own Fabric via Spoonflower

I don’t know if I need another complication to add to my crazy crafting life, but I’ve got to spread the news about a fabulous newish resource because I know we’ve got readers who, if they haven’t dabbled yet, will certainly leap into this creative adventure . . . especially when they take a gander at the contest the website is co-sponsoring.

Do you know you can have your own designs printed on fabric? Now I’m not talking about dyeing techniques or any other DIY processes. I’m talking about commissioning your own printed yardage.  Isn’t that fabulous?

A spectacular Buddha print designed by art quilter and illustrator Sandra Bruce on Spoonflower.

The company that’s getting a lot of attention in the crafting/quilting/sewing communities for print-your-own fabric is Spoonflower, the brainchild of a crafty mom and her high-tech husband who partnered with some other clever people to start a web-based custom-fabric printing service.

All you need to do is download your design to their website and place your order.  They’ve got lots of fabric types to choose from and, this is very cool, you can even sell your print via the Spoonflower Marketplace. Yes, there are bunches of things you need to know before you jump in, but that’s all available on their website.

While I’m not an expert, I do know a couple of Spoonflower cognoscenti:

Spoonflower actually crossed my orbit a couple of years ago, but their business concept didn’t really click with me until one of our subscribers, Sandra Bruce, an art quilter who also happens to be a fantastic illustrator, shared two very pretty prints she’d just commissioned at Spoonflower. Sandra’s creative life has taken some interesting twists and turns, which she shares via her websites. You can clearly see her dazzling signature style in her prints.

Another gorgeous Sandra Bruce print from Spoonflower.

Then, in an interesting See How We Sew coincidence, that print we used for our group challengeFly Away from Amy Schimler—debuted on Spoonflower. Amy is a fabric designer for Robert Kaufman Fabrics, but Fly Away started as a bird print that she auditioned on Spoonflower before the line was expanded for production at Kaufman.  Amy writes about  her creative pursuits in a blog called Red Fish Circle.

Thought you might enjoy a peek at a quilt made with Amy's Fly Away fabric line for sale on Etsy.com by Dana at Now and Then Quilts. Click the photo to travel her Etsy page. Do you see our challenge fabric showcased in the leftmost column?

Right now Robert Kaufman Fabrics and Spoonflower are running a fabric-designing contest. The deadline is imminent, but the challenge is fantastic and the prize . . . an incredible opportunity to become a fabric designer! Robert Kaufman’s blog has a link to an inspiration page on Pinterest–take a look if you’d like to take on the contest.  Now that one is pretty intense, so if your tastes run to smaller-scale competitions, visit the Spoonflower contest page for their weekly creative challenges. And yes, there’s more:  how about a chance at a Spoonflower giveaway here at See How We Sew?

In closing, I thought I’d add another clicking opportunity to this link-bedazzled post—here’s a Spoonflower Marketplace fabric line that is sublime for those with stellar tastes–makes me want to jump on a spaceship!  In the immortal words of Star Trek’s Spock–live long and prosper fabric fans (& enter the giveaway)!