Let There Be Sunlight! (And Flowers Too)

It's a Spring posy with a rainbow of colors--best wishes for royal romance!
Sample block for a Four Seasons quilt block exchange from Material Obsession 2 by Doughty/Fielke.

Can you sense it yet? The telltale signs of winter passing? Sure the temperatures still can dance about, but they’re definitely upward bound. For me, the dawning season tickles a shedding impulse. I want to lighten up and refresh my outlook so I can try new things without the burden of disorder and half-finished projects, but the clutter? That’s holding me back. Somehow I’ve got to vanquish the teetering piles of stuff and banish the dust bunnies (as cute and furry as they may be).

Am I really about to give you a peek into the mess that threatens to slide off my worktable? One chaos-busting tactic is to purchase more plastic containers, but that’s a band-aid approach at best; even boxes need places to sit. A partial solution is a dose of self-administered tough love: Dare to open your studio space to a compulsive personality and authorize him/her to question every storage decision. I roped in a son prone to pithy observations. Phase I was pretty successful, but he was shocked that a bigger pile replaced the one we tackled a week earlier–it’s temporary, I swear!

This clutter queen needs help!

Once I (finally) tame those piles, my next step will be to prioritize the UFOs starting with the easiest to finish because getting them done will fuel my enthusiasm for the tougher challenges. At least I think it will, any suggestions out there for this quixotic clean freak? The Tree block pictured above is a block-exchange quickie that I’m tackling now (yes, before organizing, but there’s a deadline). My assignment is midsummer and I opted to make day and nighttime views. Clip art gave me a classic man-in-the-moon face that I also morphed into a friendly sun. It’s a fun block embellishment that I’d like to share with you–after all, making pretty things is our passion whereas cleaning is merely obligation.

For your sun, you’ll need:

  • A yellow print (40″ strip of 1 -1/2″ fabric, folded in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and pressed, an 8-1/2″ x 11″ rectangle to fuse to the sun base, and a 5″ x 5″ scrap for the dimensional appliqué sun)
  • A sheet of ExtravOrganza by Jacquard Products
  • An 8-1/2″ x 11″ rectangle of lightweight fusible material
  • A clip-art image of a sun or moon face (mine is 3-3/4″ in diameter, finished

Assembling the sun’s rays:

Cut the 1 1/2″ folded strip into ten  3″ lengths. Fold 5 strips once (middle column in photo); press. Fold the remaining 5 strips twice (rightmost column). Run a stabilizing stitch along the base of the fold.

Sun dimensional-applique how-to:

I dropped the clip-art image into a Word document, printed it on ExtravOrganza, and then fused it to the yellow backing fabric. To make the sun applique dimensional, I sewed the sun image to the 5″-square scrap of backing fabric, right sides together. Then I cut out the circle, leaving a small seam allowance, turned the sun to the right side via a tiny slit cut in the backing fabric, and pressed. Follow the photos to place the sun’s rays.

Arrange the 5 single-fold rays around the circumference of the sun.
Slip the 5 double-fold rays between the single-fold rays and pin. Secure with stitches.

Of course, where there’s sunshine, flowers will follow.

Use a double-fold to create the buds and wrap in single-fold leaves. Machine stitch at base to secure.

Recently, for a special finishing touch, I stitched tiny rosebud posies in sets of  3 to 5 and scattered them around the perimeter of a rose-themed patchwork quilt–gorgeous!

P.S. The winner of the Color Shotz pattern was Jennifer Lucot. Congratulations!

P.P.S. Check out the 2012 Empty Spools Seminars brochure where yours truly debuts her Flower-Powered workshop and Laura offers expert guidance for Independent Study (with Benefits).


Move Over Oprah – It’s a Favorite Thing!

Once in a while I come across a pattern that’s so much fun to make that I become a bit obsessed. One of my favorites is the Little Wallet sewing-card pattern from Valori Wells Designs (www.stitchinpost.com).  It’s a perfect little gift item that goes together quickly, but can become addicting because of the fun of putting different fabric combinations together. I’ve made at least a dozen and haven’t tired of them yet.

Closed View

If you’re going to give a gift card or cash, tuck it into one of these little gems to enhance and personalize the presentation! Store your fabric punch cards in one – it saves time digging through your wallet at the register. I carry my business cards in a separate one – it keeps the cards from getting dog eared (there’s nothing worse than finding your last business card looks like you used it to scrape gum off the bottom of your shoe). 

Pattern Cover

The pattern directions are easy to follow and it only takes an hour or so to put one together. All you need are fabric scraps, lightweight fusible interfacing, and a snap. I prefer making it with two coordinating fabrics: one for the top flap and one for the bottom, alternating them for the three slots inside. Of course I had to give it my own touch, so I added a fabric-covered button (5/8”) to the top of the flap. To make the button lay flat on the flap, pound (or bend) down the metal loop on the back of the button and glue the button to the flap. Fabri-Tac from Beacon Adhesives is a permanent (washable) glue that works great (I found it at Michael’s).

Open View



Have you made this pattern or do you have another favorite pattern for a gift item? Post a comment on or before May 23rd and tell me about it. Watch for my May 24th post where the winner (selected randomly), will be announced and will receive a little wallet.        Happy sewing.


Oh, My Gosh! I’m Stuck!

It doesn’t matter if you make large quilts or small, define yourself as a traditionalist or a quilt artist, swear by the machine or make every stitch by hand: If you’ve been quilting for any length of time, there is a
good chance that at some point you’ve experienced
the dreaded…

QUILTER’S BLOCK comes in many shapes and forms. For example, there’s the BLOCK you feel when you have so many projects you want to make that you can’t decide which one to tackle next. If there is a “good” kind of QUILTER’S BLOCK, this is it. You’ll probably get over it quickly, no real harm done. Temporary burnout is another fairly benign cause. Perhaps you’ve just finished a major quilt and need to do something else for awhile. Don’t worry: you’ll be back.

But then there are the more troublesome “strains” of QUILTER’S BLOCK, the ones that stop you dead in your tracks, that keep you from starting, continuing, or finishing a project … even one for which you previously felt tons of enthusiasm. Know what I’ve learned? Most of these BLOCKS are motivated by FEAR:

  • FEAR of cutting into that gorgeous fabric because I might make a mistake, or the project might not be worthy of it
  • FEAR that I may mess up this incredible quilt top I’ve just made with my less-than-perfect a) hand quilting; b) machine quilting; c) choice of quilting motifs; d) fill in your own quilting nightmare/insecurity
  • FEAR that I’ve just finished the best quilt I’ll ever make, and can never duplicate my success
  • FEAR that my family, friends, and/or show judges won’t “get” the new ideas or techniques I’d like to try

I guess it’s fair to say that I figured some of this out myself, but the real epiphany came when I first read a concise little book by David Bayles and Ted Orland called Art and Fear. Although not specifically aimed at quilters, the wisdom it offers regarding “what holds us back and how to overcome it” is universal. The writing is clear, engaging, and brims with common sense…you’ll find very little “woo woo” stuff here. Often I’ll brew a pot of tea, pull out my dog-eared, marked-up copy, and read a few pages or a few chapters. Afterward, I always feel I’ve had a session with my very own, personal cheerleader/creative therapist/drill sergeant…whatever it is that I’m needing to get my mojo back this time around.

I find this book so inspiring that I typically keep an extra copy in reserve for sharing. (The last copy went to the talented craftsman who remodeled our bathroom after confiding that his lifelong dream was to be a painter.) As it happens, I have a pristine copy of the latest (23rd!) edition waiting on my shelf for an owner.

So…I hope you’ll post a comment, whether just to say hi, to share what (if anything) puts your creativity on hold, or to pass along a tip or technique that helps you overpower the dreaded QB. Do so by noon (PDT) Friday, April 29, and you’ll be entered in a random drawing to receive–you guessed it!–that spanking-new copy of Art & Fear.

Press For Success

Hate ironing? When you’re piecing, try these effective pressing tips. All you need are a few extra minutes and a few simple supplies to notice a difference in your finished projects.

A few simple supplies for pressing.
  • Steam iron – all four of us at See How We Sew use Rowenta irons set on cotton setting with steam.
  • Firm, lightly padded pressing board – I’ll share instructions in a future post for making a simple and portable one.
  • Spray Sizing –  I like Mary Ellen’s Best Press; it doesn’t clog, add stiffness, or leave a flaky residue on fabric.
  • Dressmaker’s seam roll – great for pressing seams open.

I call this the two-step pressing method (sounds kinda like a dance step!).

Step One: press the stitching line on the wrong side, with the darker fabric on top. Use an up-and-down motion to prevent distorting the fabric. This step “sets” the stitches, allowing for a sharp crease on the right side. Lightly spray with the starch alternative.

Press with an up-and-down motion to prevent distortion.

Step Two: turn and press the darker fabric open over the stitching line. Use either the tip or the side of the iron for a nice, sharp seam. The seam will fall automatically toward the darker fabric.

Press firmly over seam line on right side for sharp crease.

To eliminate bulk, press seam allowances open when multiple seams meet at one point. A dressmaker’s seam roll provides a firm, curved surface that eliminates seam-allowance ridge marks on the right side of the fabric.

Press seams OPEN using a seam roll.

Here’s my favorite way to press half-square triangles; you’ll never be pressing on those stretchy bias edges.

With the darker fabric on top, position the units on the pressing board as shown for either left-handed or right-handed pressing. Place the iron firmly onto the fabric to set the stitching line.

Left-handed or right-handed placement.

Lift the top fabric triangle, place the iron onto the bottom corner of the underlying fabric, and then move the iron straight up and away from you, as shown. Continue pressing beyond the upper corner.

Move iron straight up and beyond upper corner of fabric.

Next, without lifting it, move the iron straight across the fabric.

Glide iron directly across the fabric.

The units now are ready to be trimmed, including the “dog ears” at the corners.

I hope this helps.

Happy and successful sewing-

Congratulations to Pat Dicker, the winner of our first giveaway of a Moda Charm pack.

Designing Quilts One Grocery Bag At A Time

I’m having an insane color moment. Quite inadvertently, I’ve just color coordinated my groceries! Here’s another weird thing (as if matchy-matchy staples and produce aren’t enough), I’m wearing the complimentary hues to my monochromatic food purchases including a cobalt-blue leather purse (very cool, I admit), a turquoise linen jacket, and a blue-green paisley peasant top. And then, to add to the totally bizarre, I was in the check-out line behind my sons’ former middle school art teacher and tended by a cashier/art student who were as turned on by my serendipitous purchasing as a crew of card-carrying quilters.

Still just a little intoxicated by the insanity, I decided to ride the craziness and document my color dance.

Then, because my grown son had to comment on my excessive delight in my grocery display, I decided to evolve the moment photographically and compose a still life (without tortilla chips and ice cream). Perhaps, he who currently pays no rent should watch the snarky retorts?

I’m quite enchanted by the result. But that begs the question:  would I take the still life’s color story and make a quilt?

Photo by Kathy Kelley/quilted by Deb McPartland. Featured in the May 2009 McCalls Quick Quilts

Wouldn’t you know, I already had! That very color palette is in a quilt pattern I developed called Color Shotz using Kaffe Fassett’s shot cottons. At the time I was hot on the idea of designing mod quilts for extra-long twin college dorm beds that could easily be adapted to boys or girls. It’s challenging to find patterns that crossover easily between the sexes–especially for the one notoriously indifferent to dorm-room decor. (Someday I may confess to how I almost sabotaged Mr. Snarky’s freshman dorm experience with my Martha Stewart decorating zeal–not now, it’s too painfully fresh in my memory!)

Oh, yes, do you want to know where I dreamed up the color story for that quilt? My inspiration came from a necklace I made with Swarovski crystals and pearls.  Isn’t it funny how our explorations tend to take circular paths? I know I’m not the only looney out there fueling her creativity in oddball spots–share your tale and the most amusing one (vetted by my sister bloggers) wins a Color Shotz pattern.

(Deadline: Friday, April 22, 2011, noon P.S.T.)

Road Trip

As a quilter, one of my favorite things is going on road trips and checking out the quilt shops. For maximum pleasure, leave the family at home and go with your good friends.  I’m obsessed with seeking out every shop!  I used to think it was only me – but I’ve been around quilters enough to know I’m not alone.

Last week, four of us headed off for a few days in Las Vegas.  Who would’ve thought there would be great quilt shops in Las Vegas! My absolute favorite is Quiltique, located in Henderson, about 15 minutes from The Strip. I always look forward to visiting this charming shop, and I’ve never been disappointed.  If you’re into colorful, contemporary fabrics, you’ll love it!   They artfully display a plethora of fabrics, samples, books, patterns and notions.

I always find a fabric line I can’t live without at Quiltique.  This trip it was “Hab-i-tat” by Michele D’Amore for Benartex.  The combination of plaid, polka dots, stripes and the fabulous flowers in that yummy color palette was sheer bliss for me. I’ll let you know when I figure out what to do with it.


And check out three of the cutest pin cushions I’ve ever seen!  As a pattern designer, I wish I’d come up with these.  If you are in Las Vegas, be sure to visit Quiltique, or check out their website www.quiltique.com, the odds are you’ll come out a winner (this is Vegas after all).


We saw the new Cirque du Soleil show “Viva Elvis,” a tribute to the life and career of Elvis Presley.  It was lots of fun – music, acrobatics, and dance – very colorful.  Now I know where all the cute Olympic gymnasts go when their competition days are over.

There was a new shop in our hotel called “Sugar Factory.”  The name tells the story.  Letting me loose in a place like that (to quote my husband when I took a chocolate truffle making class) is like letting a drunk loose in the brewery.  Among the hundreds of fancy sweets were designer lollipops ($25) with different jeweled handles (good grief – a bit over my budget).  We passed on the lollipops, but managed to do a bit of damage (both to wallets and thighs) with cookies, cupcakes and candy….

We are good friends, and we had a great time enjoying something we love together.   I wish you safe travels with your favorite friends.

Celebrate Spring with a Basket Block

Spring is already springing here in Northern California, but even if warm weather is still a bit of a dream away in your part of the world, there’s nothing like that fresh, new palette, combined with delicate, feminine fabrics and a classic basket pattern to suggest the whisper of flower-filled afternoons to come.

Here’s how to make one 8″ x 8″ finished basket block.

From basket fabric, cut: One 6 7/8″ square; divide in half once diagonally (you’ll use just one of the half-square triangles); one 2 7/8″ square; divide in half diagonally (you’ll use both of these half-square triangles); one bias strip approximately 1 3/8″ x 10″.

From background fabric, cut: One 6 7/8″ square and one 4 7/8″ square; divide each in half once diagonally (you’ll use just one each of these half-square triangles); two 2 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ rectangles.

1. Use your favorite method to make a bias tube from the 1 3/8″ x 10″ bias strip. (I used a 1/2″-wide bias presser bar.) Press the seam to the back.

2. Position the tube to form a gently curving basket handle on the 6 7/8″ background triangle. Be sure to leave at least a 1/4″ seam allowance on the right angle edges of the triangle. Use matching thread and a blind stitch to applique the handle.

3. Assemble the block pieces in the order shown in the photos, pressing the seams as you go.

Make as many baskets as you like in a scrappy variety of fabrics. One block makes a lovely pillow, but you can design your own wall quilt, bed quilt, or throw. Use your imagination!

You can even “fill” the baskets with appliqued flowers, or embellish them with ribbons, buttons, lace, beads, and so on. Have fun!

Finding Inspiration

Sometimes I feel like a woman possessed. Really, how did all this fabric make its way into my house?

The new Dr. Seuss fabric collection arrived in the stores, and immediately I thought “this would make a perfect tie for my husband.” He has always worn crazy ties and must have 50 or more. He works with kids…need I say more?

A student in class has a pattern for an adorable oversized totebag and–without thinking twice–I’ve purchased some of the new, vinyl coated cotton fabrics.

I don’t need one more totebag, but isn’t this one cute? Besides it will keep all my supplies dry during the cold, rainy months.

A special event always gets my creative juices flowing. A baby shower for my daughter’s best friend inspired me to make a few of those very popular nursing aprons (aka “hooter hiders”). You can find free patterns and ideas for these online.

My daughter has fallen in love with this super-simple baby quilt, made from a single charm pack.  If I can steal the finished quilt away from her, I plan to teach it in a class called Charm School for Beginners. I can share instructions later if you’d like.

Baby quilt made from one charm pack.

Where do you find your inspiration? Is it a new line of fabric, a pattern, or an upcoming event? Let’s start this blogging journey of ours off right. I have an extra charm pack of the fabrics used in the quilt shown at right (forty-one 5″ squares of the “Bounty” fabric collection by Moda). Let me know if you’re inspired by the fabric and how you might use it. Post a comment here and, if you’re a Facebooker, “Like” us on Facebook – “See How We Sew” by the end of Friday, April 8th, and I’ll randomly select a winner and send the pack to you asap.

Welcome to See How We Sew!

Welcome to our new blog, See How We Sew.

We are a “collective” of four experienced craftswomen—Christie Batterman, Laura Nownes, Jennifer Rounds, and Darra Williamson—who share a passion for quilting and other fiber arts.

Among us, we’ve made hundreds of quilts; won awards for our work on the  local, regional and national level; written  and edited numerous best-selling quilting  books, as well as articles about quilting  and quilters, sewing, and home décor for  a wide range of publications; taught quilting all over the US, abroad, and on cruise ships; judged quilt shows; played key roles at a busy quilt shop; designed patterns and continue to own our own pattern companies…even run the editorial department for a major quilt-book publisher. But most of all, we love to sew, and we’re looking forward to exploring new ideas with you!

We hope you’ll join us regularly for great lessons, techniques, and tips; nifty projects and patterns; reviews of the latest books and products; virtual tours of wonderful quilt shops; news about upcoming classes, shows, and museum exhibits that might be in your area; great giveaways; interviews with noted quilting and sewing “personalities,” and oh-so-much more. We’ll even surprise you with a special guest blogger from time to time.

As we start, our goal is to bring you something new, exciting and useful twice a week: on Tuesday and Friday. Once we get rolling, our posts will become more frequent. Since blogs are all about sharing—we welcome your suggestions and comments. Don’t be shy about telling us what you think and what you’d like to see.

So, if you are as passionate about fiber arts as we are, want to keep up with the best and the latest, and think time at your sewing machine is time “best spent,”  join us here at See How We Sew. It’s what we do!