Swept Off My Feet…by Fabric

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a beautiful new fabric comes your way and sweeps you off your feet. Here’s the one that took my breath away last week. Wow, I love all the clear colors, the fresh motifs…the peonies, the bonsai bridges. I want to be one of these ladies with their bright red lipstick, updos, and 21″ waistlines. (Can you guess that I enjoyed playing dress up when I was young?)

I’ve been drawn to Asian designs for several years and just can’t seem to get enough of them. This one is a fairly large-scale print, and prints this large often can be challenging to use. I could make it simple and just use it as a backing fabric. But cutting it up? Where would I begin?

As luck would have it, I will be teaching a Feathered Star workshop in a few months. Here is the sample I made about 15 years ago.

For some time, I’ve wanted to update and give this wonderful traditional block a new look, and decided to use my new fabric (Harajuku Peony by Alexander Henry) as the inspiration.  Soooo…I’ve enlarged the star, which allowed me a little more creativity. I’ve pulled a few fabrics I like from my stash and sewn a Split LeMoyne Star for the center. I’m quite pleased so far. What do you think?

Let’s see where this takes me. Check back in two weeks to see my progress.

One last thing. Remember these blocks from my last post?

Blocks for online demo.

Here is the finished quilt top. I demonstrated it on the C&T Publishing Digital Lounge last week. If you missed the show, you can watch a replay. Simply go to http://www.ctpubblog.com and scroll down to the May 19th post.

Until next time. Keep creating…..


Feeling SHEEP-ish Enough to Make a Wooly Critter?

My little sheep in clover--a wooly ewe made by Mariana Ferrando of Ovejitas de la Patagonia.

Blame this sheepish start on my sister Laurie. It all started last November when she said she’d photo document my Flower-Powered Quilts special exhibition at the World Quilt Festival in West Palm Beach, Florida. Did she? No.

Debora Kochinsky’s prize-winning masterpiece quilt Crazy Sheep from the World Quilt Competition completely transfixed her instead. The result?  Only four shots of her sister Jennifer’s exhibit of 24 quilts and at least a dozen detailed images of Debora’s.

Debora's masterly "Crazy Sheep" quilt with its beautiful hand-stitched details.
Isn't that the most lifelike expression on Debora's sheep?

Yes, it’s a lovely, lovely quilt and the sheep are fabulous—their faces are so alive and so very expressive—but Laurie did say that she’d take my photos so that I could share the experience of Flower-Powered Quilts with my contributors. After all, this was my first curated exhibition unrelated to any sort of book-publicity event.

Alas, Laurie didn’t do her sisterly duty. Plus she’s developed an obsession with sheep that, at least for me, has culminated in the receipt of that quirky wooly ewe from one of her Buenos Aires trips. I like sheep as much as the next person, but really?

That calls for some apt sisterly retribution. By chance I have a pair of sheep ornaments that I made when my kids were babies in one of those ambitious attempts to create annual handcrafted holiday décor. I think I lost momentum back in 1996 when I foreswore eye-straining, miniscule, cross-stitched Santa ornaments for the greater pleasure of quilting. So, as one “sheepish” good deed deserves another, I’m going to make her a fuzzy little critter. (FYI:  My sheepish inspiration came from a long-out-of-business sewing shop in Denver–sorry I don’t know the original source.)

A sheepish family--don't my ornaments look like goofy kids making funny faces for the camera?

Would you like to join me? All you need is felt, wooly scraps (preferably scrap sheepskin as featured here, but yarn or batting could work as well with some tweaking), beads for eyes, and thread to embroider facial details. And, let’s not forget, my favorite crafting tool: a glue gun!

My legs-o-mutton are 3" tall by 4" long, but you can make your sheep any size you want (the leg length closely determines the sheep height). Roll em up like cigars and seal the open edges with hot glue. Pair up and glue 2 legs matching those glued ends. Repeat for the other pair. Stack 2 leg sets and use the hot glue to seal the unit together.
Other than decorations like beads for eyes, bells, embroidery floss, and ribbon, these are the felt units that make a sheep. I traced my thumb to create the head pattern which I then sewed, turned to the right side, and stuffed with wool scraps.
The rest of the sheep-making process is pure improvisation. Stack the body parts and glue in place. Then enrobe the torso in scrap sheepskin, glue together, and trim the pelt to a rounded shape. Check out Debora's lovely sheep faces for design inspiration and then hand stitch the mouth and nose with embroidery floss following the snout seam line. Embellish with beads, bells, and ribbon.

At least you, dear reader, will have a chance to enjoy images of some of the quilts included in the Flower-Powered Quilts special exhibition when they are featured in the August issue of The Quilt Life available in mid-June. (You’ll get to see the floral stylings of my sister-bloggers as well!) And as for Laurie “The Erstwhile Photographer?” Marketing is her true bailiwick and so she’s spreading the word about See How We Sew in cities around the world. This week she’s dropping off promotional postcards at a quilt shop in Amsterdam!  Welkom Nederlandse quilters!

Who “Quilts your Quilts?”

My quilting endeavors begin and end with placemats, table runners and tote bags.  How do I quilt the rest of my quilts? I take them to the longarm quilter. I say this with no guilt or shame. When students in my classes ask – I speak the truth!  

The woman who “quilts my quilts” is very talented, and she is also my friend. When I visit her studio it’s fun to check out the latest quilt on her machine. On occasion, she gets a quilt that has problems, which adds time (and sometimes additional cost) to the service.  To avoid some of the most common problems, here are a few tips to keep in mind before heading off to your longarm quilter: 

  • press your top and back thoroughly
  • ensure the top and back are square
  • the back should be a minimum of 4” wider and longer than the top (check with your quilter – some have different minimums)
  • check your seams for holes or gaps – they should be securely sewn
  • trim dark colored threads from the back of the top (especially important if the top fabric is white or light colored)
  • avoid “ruffled” borders by measuring your quilt top through the center and using that measurement to cut your border strips
  • if you’re going to do a scalloped border, mark where the scallops will be and cut them after quilting (it’s much easier to put straight sides on the machine)

I acknowledge all of you ambitious souls who do your own quilting – either by machine or hand. You have my utmost respect and admiration! And last, but certainly not least, thank you to the talented longarm quilters who make our quilts even more beautiful with their artistic stitches. Many of us would be stuck in the ditch without you!

PS  Congratulations to Deborah, the winner of the little wallet giveaway from my April 26 post. Thanks for your super gift bag idea!

Trend-spotting: Fresh from the (Spring Quilt) Market

It’s been almost a week since I returned from Spring Quilt Market in Salt Lake City, but my head is still reeling from all the color, creativity, innovation, and inspiration. My purpose for attending was to promote A Year in the Life of Sunbonnet Sue, a Martingale & Company spring release that I co-authored with my long-time friend, Christine Porter.  Once my Schoolhouse and book signings were history, however, I was free to roam the show floor, primed to ferret out the latest trends.

So…what did I see?

  • Young people..and lots of them! Not only shoppers (and bloggers!), but youthful entrepreneurs, bringing their fabric designs, pattern lines, and innovative products to Market.

    The children's party hats, mounted on fabric-covered headbands, were a huge hit at the busy Quilted Fish booth.
  • Perhaps as a result of the youth infusion, and boosted by such TV shows as Project Runway and similar home-design challenges, a larger-than-ever showing of fabric and sewing options for home decor, personal accessories, clothing, and items for children was evident on the show floor.

    Accessories were given prominent placement in the booth of Amy Butler, known for her trendy, large-scale fabric prints
    Personal and home-dec accessories, as well as clothing, were prominently displayed in Amy Butler's booth.
  • Remember jewel tones? Country colors? Earth tones? Well, hold on to your memories, because the newest palettes to dominate this Market were anything but.  Yes, you can still find those 19th-century repros, richly colored batiks, and pastel 30s prints, but the hottest new looks are bright, bold, and refreshing: think lemon yellow, lime green, tangerine, teal,  “true” blue, grass green, cherry red, watermelon pink…with sparkling white (rather than off-white or cream) backgrounds or motifs.

Here's a closer look at the children's party hats that were such a huge hit at The Quilted Fish booth. Designer Amanda Herring showed that she really has a handle on the latest color trends.
Another creation from The Quilted Fish showcases the "hot" new palette.

BTW: Seems retro now embraces anything from the 50s forward (Mad Men, anyone?), so you can look for turquoise, avocado, and chocolate brown too.

  • Large-scale prints are still hot, and getting hotter (and larger!), with many simply pieced quilts (for grown-ups and children), pillows, table accessories, and totes on view to showcase and suggest applications for these striking over-sized motifs.

  • Quilting continues to “go green” with the emergence of affordable organic cottons. Both established players, such as the trendsetting Amy Butler, and new(ish) kids on the block appear to be at the forefront here.

    In addition to "Organic Soul," her new line of organic cotton, Amy Butler introduced lines of rayon and cordoroy fashion fabrics for home-sewers and fashion buffs.
  • Whimsy! Watch for more large rickrack, pompoms, trims, buttons, and other fun embellishments to appear on the shelves of your favorite quilt shop.
The mountains of Park City, UT: altitude 7,000+

With so much stimulation, my weary brain needed a rest, so on Saturday, my husband and I rented a car and drove to nearby Park City, a lovely little mountain town about 35 minutes from SLC, perhaps best known as the home of the Sundance (Indie) Film Festival. The difference in altitude was just enough to put us into snow, and whom do you think we spotted on the slopes?

Sunbonnet Sue Goes Skiing (22" x 26") from "A Year in the Life of Sunbonnet Sue." Visit http://www.martingale-pub.com to see a gallery of all twelve Sue quilts.

None other than our girl, Sunbonnet Sue 😉

I’ll have lots more to share on who and what I saw at Market in future posts…and some great product reviews too. Come back soon, and–’til next time–have fun with fabric. After all…it’s what we do!

Connecting the (Polka) Dots

It’s been so busy here. How about you? I had a cookie decorating party yesterday with Sherry (see her beautiful cookies in my May 3rd post) sharing all of her helpful hints and tips on making “designer” cookies.

A great time was had by all… with lots of icing bags  just waiting to add that magic touch to a stack of naked sugar cookies.

I had a difficult time with the fancy designs, but found that I really enjoyed making dots. They add a nice touch, are fairly easy to make, and are somewhat forgiving of my unskilled hands.

I wonder, are these simply dots, or are they “polka dots?” That piques my curiosity so I do a quick google search to find the following information, provided by David Wilton, Friday, April 13, 2007.

“Where did this name for round circles of dye on clothing originate? And what, if anything, does it have to do with the dance of the same name?

In the 1840s, the polka was sweeping Britain and America. It was the latest dance craze, like the Charleston of the 1920s. In an effort to cash in on the fad, manufacturers began naming all sorts of thing polka. Polka gauzepolka hatspolka curtain bands and many other products with the polka name hit the market in the 1840s. Although, the actual term polka dot is not attested to until 1857. Of these, only the polka dot survives today.

The term polka dot first appears in the magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book of May 1857:

Scarf of muslin, for light summer wear…surrounded by a scalloped edge, embroidered in rows of round polka dots.”

I love dots – especially all kinds of dotted fabrics. Perhaps this stems from my passion for these beautiful ladybugs. My dear friend Nelly sent me this wonderful photo. Isn’t it the best? It reminds me that taking the next (or first) step is all relative.

Photo by Nelly Schrager - http://www.photoquilter@deviantart.com

Who knows where these preferences come from? Perhaps spending eight years of my youth in plaid skirts has caused me to avoid working with any print resembling blue/grey plaid ;-).

On another subject, remember this beautiful jelly roll? I love these hot summer colors. It was hard to decide just what to make with them. C&T Publishing asked me to demonstrate easy steps for constructing quilt blocks with “points.” The Sawtooth Star is one of my favorites.

These are the blocks I have made so far. I will be spending the next few days sewing them together in an interesting arrangement.

Blocks for online demo.

Now … I’m ready for some tea and cookies and then I’m back in the sewing room.

Enjoy another week of creative sewing.

My Quilts Have Feet

A young Mr. Snarky helps mom document her handiwork--an Amish-style baby quilt for a childhood friend.

No, they don’t walk, but sometimes they do sprout feet. In this case, blue-violet high tops.

That photo makes me smile because it takes me back to a time when I faithfully documented each quilt after finishing it. I’d get the film roll printed, pick the best shots (difficult sometimes), and then store the labeled photographs in a dedicated album.

Just as the photos tell my quilting story, they also shed light on my everyday world at a time when, as a new mother, my escapes had geographic and temporal limits. Quilt making became my refuge from the excessive testosterone in my family of men, of the two- and four-legged variety.

Baby Snarky playing on mom's first quilting effort--check out the Hoffman dinosaur print!

I actually rediscovered the sewing arts and the wonderful world of printed- cotton fabrics with the birth of my first child. Hello motherhood and Hoffman Fabrics! Does anyone remember this early design of dinosaurs in a white or cobalt blue field?

Now when I look back at more than twenty years of quilting, it’s the feet peeking from below the bottom edges of my quilts that catch my eye because my boys were my portable, pose-able quilt holders. Mr. Snarky (my eldest) can figure out who is holding each quilt by the make of the shoe or the reveal of a fragment of pant leg. What is it about guys? They have the weirdest selective memory—of course, not for your requests like taking out the trash or emptying the dishwasher.

This would be young Mr. Bunny, not the aforementioned Mr. Snarky, identified by his choice of shoe and athletic gear brands.

So, what’s the lesson here? Print those danged pictures from the digital camera and celebrate your beautiful handiwork! Each represents a piece of your heart and is wonderful, wonderful to re-experience years later—if you’ve documented your work, of course! Sure there’ll be a project or three to make you gag or laugh, but that’s what keeps us humble and eager to perfect our skills.

Uh-oh . . . looks like the last time I slid a photo into the album was 2004—time to follow my own advice and liberate quilt images from computer storage!

April Showers Bring May Flowers – Fabric Flowers!

I love fresh flowers but I’m not much of a gardener. When I go out into the yard the bugs know I’m coming and instead of running the other way like they’re supposed to, they come up and say hello. I don’t like that. We’ve made a pact – if they’ll stay outside, I’ll stay inside. My local market has beautiful fresh flowers and no bugs. It works for me.

I prefer making fabric flowers with a tool I discovered a couple of years ago -the Clover Sweetheart Rose Maker. I volunteered to demonstrate it at a holiday open house and, of course, it was the night before when I opened the package for the first time. Once I made a couple of practice roses I got the hang of it. The instructions are very well written, and all you need is the tool (comes in small, medium, large), a strip of fabric and a needle and thread. It’s done with very simple hand sewing. I use the large size (rose is approx. 2-3/8″) with cottons from my stash, but any fabrics can be used. Look for the Rose Maker at your local quilt shop, and to view a great 2-part video demonstration, just google youtube sweetheart rose maker (I wish the video had been available the night before my demo).  

Fabric roses in a vase

For a bouquet, insert dry florist oasis into a small vase.  Break a bamboo skewer in half, dip one end into fabric glue and attach a rose. Once the glue is dry, arrange the roses by inserting the skewers into the oasis.

Another idea is to use the roses to decorate gifts. I like to curl ribbon and add raffia for a final touch.

Gift box decorated with three fabric roses


Package Front

These little flowers are fun, easy and impressive. It’s fascinating how a lovely little rose blooms from a simple strip of fabric with a few folds, stitches, and twists.

Who comes up with these things?   

Happy gardening.

Bust Quilter’s Block…and Boost Creativity

Wow! My April 22 post about quilter’s block really struck a chord! We had some terrific follow-up conversation about causes and solutions. If you haven’t already, do go back and read the comments..some great ideas (and wisdom) there. Congratulations to Sharie-Moss Bluff, winner of the Art and Fear book giveaway. (Sharie-Moss, if you’ll email me your mailing address at seehowwesew@gmail.com, I’ll get the book out to you post haste.)

One of my favorite (quilter’s) block-busting techniques is to make a tiny 3″ x 5″ collage quilt every day for a week…or two or three. Here’s the catch: I limit myself to 30 minutes for each little quilt, start to finish.

This exercise has amazing potential, not just for busting quilter’s block, but for cranking up your creativity. The area to cover is unintimidating–perfect for auditioning an idea, a composition, a technique, or new materials before launching into a larger project. The 30-minute rule limits your investment of time, and keeps you from laboring over every little decision. Not happy with today’s result? As Scarlett would say: “Tomorrow is another day.”

Want to give it a try? Okay…set your alarm for 30 minutes and let’s go!

  • Cut a 3-1/2″ x 5-1/2″ scrap each of background or “base” fabric for the front, backing fabric, and batting. Cut two 3-1/2″ x 5-1/2″ pieces of your favorite lightweight fusible. The 3-1/2″ x 5-1/2″ size gives you wiggle room for trimming later.

    Cut everything 3 -1/2" x 5-1/2".
    Cut everything 3-1/2" x 5-1/2".
  • Prepare both sides of the batting for fusing. Fuse the backing to one side and the background or base fabric to the other, both with right sides facing out.

    Fuse front and back fabrics to batting.
  • Now…have fun!! Raid your scrap bag and fuse fabric scraps to the base fabric. Create a landscape, a still life, an abstract design. Add thread, yarn and/or ribbons with couching or embroidery. Play with beads, buttons, charms, or other embellishments. Experiment with rubber stamping and photo transfer. Cover the surface with quilting stitches, using those decorative threads you’ve been hoarding.
    I've pulled all my collage fabrics from the scraps in this box!
  • Time’s up! Trim the finished piece to 3″ x 5″. Stitch the raw edges with a straight, satin, or other decorative machine stitch…or cut 3/4″-wide strips from fabric prepared with fusible, fold the strips over the sides, press, and stitch.

In a future post, I’ll give you some ideas for displaying your handiwork.

**Spring Market Alert** Next week, I’ll be at the Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, UT, to promote my new book, A Year in the Life of Sunbonnet Sue. It’s a Martingale & Company spring release, co-authored with my very dear British friend, Christine Porter. I’ll be doing a Schoolhouse in Room #255D on Thursday, May 12, at 12:05 p.m., and signing books on Friday, May 13, in the M’gale booth (#1200) at 10 a.m. and at Brewer Quilting & Supply (#730) at 1 p.m. Stop by and say “hi” if you’re “in the house.”


I have the best friends! Look what was delivered to my house yesterday. My talented friend Sherry—who is also a quilter—knows how much I love cookies.

Aren’t they the most beautiful cookies you’ve ever seen? I just had to get my camera out and share them with you. (Well, at least a photo of them. Sorry, I’m not that generous…although I do wish I could send each one of you a sample so you can see for yourself just how wonderful they are.) I keep telling Sherry that she needs to go into business. Don’t you agree?

Look at the detail on these.

And these. They are absolutely perfect in every way.

How can I possibly eat these lovely works of art… and which one first? OK, I’ll start with the healthiest one. Just as I suspected…. so yummy!

Now I’m inspired to make some coordinating napkins to go with these adorable treats. They (the napkins) will be perfect for the Spring Luncheon I am having with my mother and daughters.

Here are the fabrics I’m going to use.

The instructions for making these easy, double-sided napkins are graciously shared by the creative mother-daughter team of Margaret Linderman and Janis Stob. They were first included in the book Fig Tree Sewing. I know you’ll enjoy making them; they will add such a special touch to any party.





1.  Measure and cut a 4-1/4″ triangle from each corner of the back fabric. Some rulers have the 45-degree angle markings perfectly placed to cut exactly this size triangle.

Cut a 4-1/4" triangle from each corner.

2.  Press the sides only (not corners) 1/4″ to the wrong side of the fabric.

Turn and press sides 1/4" to the backside.

3.   Fold the fabric, right sides together, and use a 1/4″-wide seam allowance to stitch the corners, as shown.

Fold and stitch corners with a 1/4" seam allowance.

4.  Turn and press the fabric, right side facing out. Be sure to make the corners sharp and neat.

5.  Center the front fabric inside the backing fabric. Use pins to hold the layers secure. Starting on a side rather than at a corner, topstitch around the inside fold of the backing fabric. Pivot at the corners.

How cute is this? Give it a good press and VOILÁ!… you’re ready for a party.

I’ve seen this technique applied to tablecloths and baby blankets. Imagine using a minkie-type fabric on the front and flannel on the back/border. Wouldn’t that be adorable?

Until next time, dear readers, may you enjoy the sweetness of this season…and lots of delicious cookies!

*Save the Dates: May 11th & 18th. I’ll be live on C&T Publishing’s new Wednesday Night Live! Simply go to C&T’s Digital Lounge at 6:00 p.m. (PDT) to watch my quilt-block tutorials. Here’s a sneak peek of the fabrics I’ll be using. They just arrived from Moda. I can’t wait to cut into them. Hope to see you in the “Digital Lounge.”