From Hair Bows to Makeup Bags…The On-Call Project Mom

I might easily be able to pay for college if I had a nickel for each time I heard “Mommy, can you make me a (fill in the blank)?” When my girls were young, it was Easter dresses, fancy hair bows, and Halloween costumes. Then, in the blink of an eye, we moved on to prom and bridesmaid dresses. There always seems to be a last-minute project…and I do mean last minute. The requests often come with little or no warning, and always with great urgency. Tonight the request was for a makeup-brush organizer.¬†Surely these can’t be too expensive, but–of course–Mom can whip one up easily, so why consider any other alternative? Have I spoiled them?

So, because I’m a good Mom ūüėČ I’ll show you a photo of the project I made tonight. It took about 20 minutes from start to finish. I was surprised and pleased at how quickly it went together. I might even make a few more¬†to give as gifts.

I used some leftover scraps of vinyl-covered cotton fabrics. The edges won’t fray so it isn’t necessary to¬†turn under the edges. To prevent creating holes with pins,¬†try¬†painter’s-type tape to hold the pieces in place. You can stitch right over the tape and then easily remove it without leaving any residue. (You can even press over¬†the tape¬†if you’re using it on cotton fabric.) For best results, use vinyl-covered cotton fabric, your sewing machine’s¬†walking foot, polyester thread, and Microtex needles.

You can customize the holder to accommodate the sizes of the brushes (or pens, pencils, …even art or sewing/quilting supplies). I sewed a ribbon to one side by stitching just between the tape marks shown in the photo above. I¬†added a band of fabric to the opposite side, which I¬† stitched in place with a variety of “pocket” sections to hold the brushes.

To finish, fold the entire piece in half and stitch all the way around the edges through both thicknesses. Insert the brushes, roll up, and tie with a loose knot or bow.

Tonight the request was quick and easy. I’m just holding my breath for the big one… “Mom, will you make my wedding dress?” Ahhh, the plight of the Mom who sews. Honestly, I wouldn’t change it for anything, and I’m sure someday I’ll miss hearing all these pleas.

In the meantime, I’ll keep on sewing and creating and hope you will do the same.


Click Here to download the Free Pattern or visit our Free Pattern page

ps- Call it serendipity! Just learned that our friend, Lilo Bowman, over at The Quilt Show (Alex Anderson & Ricky Tims) has posted a wonderful article on working with vinyl-covered cotton fabrics today (June 29). Be sure to check it out here.


The “Algebra” of Quilting

Detail from "Radically Ruched Roses."

Do you ever think that designing quilts is like solving an algebraic equation? It’s probably insane for a math-phobic soul like me to suggest such a thing, but I swear it’s true. Look, you’ve got a bunch of variables to solve before you can create the quilt you’re mulling over in your head. There’s the idea, fabric, design plan, technique, execution, quilting, and finishing. Get all those elements lined up and you’ve got a quilt.

So that‚Äôs i + f + dp + t + e + q + f = Q.¬†That’s Algebra–right?

The challenge is getting all the variables to add up properly, which takes research, drafting/ redrafting, and best of all, a few fabric shopping excursions. You might audition an idea for a while and then drop it after you test a variation. Hey, you‚Äôre doing math by solving for the unknowns! Back and forth you go‚ÄĒperhaps sidetracked by other things and projects‚ÄĒand sometimes, years later, everything falls into place and Eureka! Equation solved!

Spiraling roses in my sketch and a feature in a recent Elle Decor with similar blossoms by Sonia Delaunay.

That happened to me recently.  Remember that workroom cleanup I mentioned last month?  Well, I found a sketch I’d drawn from when I was developing ideas for a proposal that eventually yielded my book, A Dozen Roses: Beautiful Quilts and Pillows, from Martingale & Company (co-authored with Catherine Comyns).

The idea for spiraling roses came from a page of beach towel images I‚Äôd torn from House Beautiful¬†or some other interior design magazine‚ÄĒsorry I can‚Äôt find it to show you. The best one was a blue and white towel with horizontal stripes curling into snail shell shapes. ¬†I saw roses where there were seashells and so I sketched out my idea.

Thoroughly Modern Rosie by Beate Nelleman and pillows from A Dozen Roses: Beautiful Quilts & Pillows

My Danish quilting friend Beate Nelleman took the sketch and developed a quilt pattern for us to include in the book. Her quilt was terrific and a wonderful addition to our collection of projects, but it was her riff on my theme,  not the original idea. Now as I look at my projects included in the book, I can see how I extracted elements from that drawing to use in other ways, but seeing the sketch again prodded me to bring that idea to life in my own way.

So, here’s a peek at Radically Ruched Roses still under construction. Check back in a few weeks for a pattern to download for our regular readers. Mind you, the quilt top does use miles of bias tape, but Elaine Beattie, long-arm quilter extraordinaire, has a suggestion.

Look at the Simplicity Bias Tape Maker/Presser she found included below. My experience is with the Clover bias tape makers.  And, if you don’t want to do any of that, consider giant rickrack and ruched bias tape, but making the bias strips gives you far more color and pattern choice.

Tools for manual method--Clover bias tape makers--or automation via the Simplicity product that feeds and presses the strips.

Just picked up my mail and found the latest issue of The Quilt Life (we’re the article on page 46)–it features my Flower-Powered Quilts¬†special exhibit at the World Quilt Show last November. Wow! It’s such a pretty issue plus you can see the wonderful contributions of my very talented quilting friends (Christie, Darra, and Laura among the contributors).

Keep your eyes open for the August 2011 issue on the newsstand. BTW: Alex Anderson just told me that the magazine is offering an online sneak peek at the issue starting on Monday, June 27 along with a special subscription rate.

Giving Back…A Free Quick & Easy Pattern for Kid’s Quilts

If you’re looking for a fun kid’s quilt – here’s a free pattern! My friends and I recently made ten of these for our local children’s hospitals. For the little boys, we selected fabrics with¬† wildly colorful¬†“boy” designs – cars, trucks, animals, pirates, sports, alphabet, etc. The quilt (42″ x 48″) is made of seven different fabrics cut into rectangles. Here’s a photo of one that we donated:

Lots of fun images to look at!

Fabric Requirements

  • 1/4 yd or 1 fat quarter of seven fabrics
  • 1/2 yd for binding
  • 2 yds for backing

Cutting & Construction

  • label each of the seven fabrics 1-7
  • from each fabric, cut six – 6 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ rectangles (for directional designs – cut so the design is aligned with the top¬†and bottom of the quilt)
  • using the diagram below for placement, sew¬†the rectangles into rows and the¬†rows together to complete the top

The response from the staff at the children’s hospitals was most appreciative. What I didn’t expect in the following week was a very special note and pictures from two of the recipients of the quilts. Their mothers had written it in the voices of the two little boys (one 5 months and the other 4 years old), both going through chemotherapy. They loved their quilts and wanted us to know how happy it made them and their mothers. It touched my heart more than I can say and still brings tears to my eyes every time I read that note and look at their adorable faces.

We’re working to have ten more quilts finished for a fall delivery!

Same Time Next Year: A Quilters’ Getaway


My quilting getaway to the mountains is over ’til next year, but I came away with lots of wonderful memories, inspiration…and an almost-finished quilt top, shown here in progress. ūüėȬ†

My quilt top in progress; the finished quilt will appear in a book, written with Christine Porter, to be published in Fall 2012.

If you’re thinking of planning a quilting getaway with a group of friends, here are a few key points you might¬†wish to consider:

The luxury of uninterrupted sewing time is a big plus at our getaway.

First determine your purpose as this will drive many of your subsequent decisions.¬†Will your getaway¬†be primarily social (e.g., a huge pajama party)? Focused on sewing/finishing projects?¬†A time to relax, reflect, and regenerate? Do you prefer an “agenda” (e.g., a specific theme, field trips to quilt shops) or no agenda at all?¬†¬†¬†¬†

How¬†many¬†participants will depend¬†on your purpose and on¬†your getaway place.¬†Is there¬†a vacation home available to you?¬†If not, you might rent a house, or gather at¬†a¬†B&B, hotel, or motel.¬†Make certain¬†in advance that your chosen location¬†has¬†sufficient workspace; the ability to power your sewing machines, irons, and laptops; and comfortable sleeping arrangements. (To¬†share or¬†not to share…?)¬†

Alex, hard at "work"

The “who” of your¬†getaway group¬†might¬†be a¬†large¬†contingent from your quilt guild, the members of your small weekly “bee”…even quilting/sewing siblings or friends “re-uniting” from other parts of the state or country.¬†Consider carefully, especially if you anticipate that this¬†might become¬†an annual event.¬†It’s very difficult to “uninvite” someone once they’ve participated.

¬†You’ll probably recognize at least one, if not both, of my getaway buddies.

Alex (Anderson), Joen (Wolfrom), and I spent hours upon hours sewing, catching up, brainstorming, eating (etc.), and relaxing.

Joen takes a break from sewing a new quilt for her fall pattern line at JWD Publishing.
If you’re staying at a B&B, or hotel/motel,¬†meals may¬†take care of themselves. In a vacation or rental home, try¬†sharing kitchen duties. We grocery shop on the way, fix our own breakfasts and lunches when we’re ready, and then rotate preparing a group dinner. (Actually, Alex and Joen do. I’m a hopeless cook, so I do nightly cleanup.)
Often we prepare boneless chicken breasts in batches at the start of the week, and use them in soups, salads, sandwiches, and so on.

As for expenses,¬†“personal¬†accounting”¬†probably works best for a B&B or hotel/motel; a kitty, with everyone depositing a predetermined amount, is a good option if you’re staying at a vacation home or rental. We started with a kitty, but after a few years–since there are only three of us–we switched to a single credit card for all but personal¬†purchases, and split the total at the end.¬†Works for us!

By the end of the week, Alex had finished a stunning piece in Dupioni silk, a detail of which she shares here.

Final suggestion? We all have busy lives, and they get busier as the year goes by. If you think your getaway might become an annual event, bring your calendars and the pick dates for next year before you head for home! The friendships we make through quilting are important and precious to us. We owe it to ourselves to honor them.

If you have any stories, recommendations, suggestions, or tips for a fun and successful quilters’ gathering, please share by leaving a comment.

‘Til then, happy stitching!


Let Them Eat Peas… (and Carrots)

My love of cookie baking will take a backseat as I plan the Summer Kids Camp at one of my local quilt shops. I hesitate to fuel my already energized “little bunnies” with more sugar. My friend and co-teacher Alethea, a former middle-school home economics teacher, suggests snacks of peas and carrots. Who would have thought? Last year they loved them!

A healthy snack for our hungry young campers.

Kids Camp is a special week of creative sewing with a class of very enthusiastic young sewers, age 9-12. Here are some photos from the sessions we taught the past two summers.

Crazy quilt pattern tied with perle cotton and buttons - Summer 2009.
Kids first pieced the background and then designed original appliqué shapes - Summer 2010.

Look at these adorable creations the students made in camp last summer. Their creativity is heart-warming.

Hand-drawn and embroidered by student.
Original design by student.

 The kids are so quick at completing their projects that we have been scrambling this year to come up with a new line-up of ideas to keep them busy for the four-day event. We are including totebags, aprons, pillowcases, placemats & napkins and zippered pouch.

Simple placemat, double-sided napkin and yo-yo napkin ring.

 I found some simple, free patterns with instructions on the new PatternSpot website by C&T Publishing.

Designer pillowcase and matching tote.

This may be the first time some of these students have been in a fabric shop, so we always start the session with a short discussion on “Shop Etiquette” and a tour of the shop. We include: how to behave in the shop, respect for other shoppers, handling bolts of fabric and where to place them after pulling them off the shelves, finding supplies and notions, how to have fabric cut, etc. (Shop employees love this).

If you haven’t tried teaching kids, ¬†consider starting with a small group and simple project. Be sure to pace the day, allowing time for socializing and snacks. It’s very rewarding and don’t forget the peas (and carrots too)!

Until the next post, keep creating!

A Year of Finishing

Yikes! I'm under instructions from my fortune cookie to deliver an entertaining post.

It‚Äôs scary when one of my half-baked ideas goes viral among my friends. All of a sudden, after my quilting buddy Kim comes knocking on my door with piles of beautiful completed quilts to share, I‚Äôve got to live up to one of my crazy schemes as well.¬†¬†Turns out she was inspired by my rant last Christmas about prioritizing UFOs and tackling them. I‚Äôm so jealous plus I’ve got to get seriously motivated!

Jennifer’s scorecard to date:  12 unfinished projects, one completed, and two nearly done quilts. I’ll tackle one of those two this week and bind the other when it’s back from the long-arm quilter.

The first UFO finished in 2011 paired with a spectacular bouquet of crimson peonies.

Where has the time gone this year?  If I’d actually adhered to my goal of finishing one quilt a month, then I’d be done with six projects by now. Well, I can’t beat myself up about missing the quota; frankly, getting three done by June is pretty good.

The biggest challenge when committing to clearing the decks is avoiding temptation.  And as every quilter knows, it’s supremely difficult to stay on task when so many wonderful ideas and fabrics keep popping up to distract us.

Just look at Laura‚Äôs post from last week to see an irresistible fabric. I shop at Wooden Gate Quilts as often as she does and I never saw that fabulous¬†Alexander Henry print.¬† Of course, I had to track it down because it was the perfect backing for one of my 12 UFOs. (Wasn’t that a terrific rationale for a purchase?) Then, she used that Moda jellyroll for her stars. No more scrolling down the posts to admire Laura’s pretty quilt–I must be resolute and focus on my goal!

Another obstacle to clear in a year of finishing is project add-ons.  There’s always a wedding or baby to celebrate and that can become a serious challenge to even the most-committed finisher.  Right now I’ve got to figure out whether I’ll be able to design and make an original quilt for a family wedding before the end of the year.  I guess the best case would be designating one of my 12 as the gift, but none of those projects celebrate wedded bliss.

A teetering pile of quilt incubators--gotta say I love my plastic!

So where does all this lead? To a rickety pile of plastic storage bins and a stash of giant Ziploc bags, each a home to one of my UFOs. At least I‚Äôve got something wonderful in the offing once I conquer my project piles‚ÄĒI can shop for new fabric!

Do let me know I’m not alone on my quest. ¬†I think a dozen unfinished quilts is scary–there’s got to be someone out there with a higher count. ¬†Do share!

Inspiration……on Steroids

I find sources of inspiration everywhere. Color is by far the strongest influence for me, then shape. I’ve recently started taking my camera with me wherever I go, so I can record those nuggets in digital files rather than try to remember them (goodness knows my memory isn’t what it used to be).

This is a full size row boat!

In¬†the summer of 2008, the de Young Museum in San Francisco was host to an exhibit by contemporary glass artist Dale Chihuly. Imagine 11 rooms filled with ensembles of works in blown glass ‚Äď each more spectacular than the last.

Imagine looking up at the ceiling and seeing this!

It was all very theatrical – with lighting to set off and showcase the glass sculptures. As we meandered from room to room, it just got better and better. The colors were so vibrant!

If you have the opportunity to attend a Dale¬†Chihuly exhibit, I hope you take the time. It won’t disappoint you – I promise! Check out¬†his website¬†to look up the schedule of his current and upcoming exhibitions.

Those spectacular colors!

As of yet ‚Äď there have been no quilts born from these images ‚Äď I¬†like to savor each and every photo ‚Äď and I never get tired of looking at them!¬†Here’s to inspiration overload!


Talk about a getaway! Here's the view we enjoy outside the wall of windows as we sew.

Forgive my brevity; I’m in the midst of packing for an annual week-long¬† getaway to the Sierra foothills with two of my very best quilting buddies. We do it every year–this is our 10th!–and I’ll be devoting my next post to our adventure. Believe me, we’ve got the organization down to a science. ūüėČ

Along with (tons of) fabric, our rotary equipment, and sewing machines, a key ingredient for a week of sewing bliss is thread. ¬†Here’s a great¬†(that is, easy and inexpensive) solution¬†for storing–and transporting–your thread collection.

The notions give you an idea of the size of my carrier.

I¬†purchased¬†my trusty carrier years ago in the toy department of a large discount store. It’s original purpose was to¬†house miniature¬†(e.g., Matchbox) cars;¬†the¬†multiple¬†“cubbies” are perfect for sorting and storing a variety of spool sizes.¬†It’s see-through, so I can spot what I need quickly. It’s two-sided, so I can store twice as many spools and separate my cotton and silk threads from my rayons and metallics. Best of all, even when full, it’s relatively lightweight, low-profile, and has a sturdy handle for carrying. No more laboring over exactly which threads to bring to a quilting class, seminar, or retreat. I just pop the whole case in the car and I’m off.

Nowadays, you can find a variety of dedicated thread organizers/carriers¬†through sewing and needlework resources (both “brick-and-mortar” and online); crafters’ and hobbyists’ suppliers; and organizing outlets. If you prefer to¬†“think outside the box,” try the toy department as I did; the hardware or sporting goods store;¬†your¬†favorite stop for office supplies; or the housewares section of your local variety store.¬†Carriers intended for¬†different uses¬†will have cubbies of varying sizes, so look around for the one that best suits your “inventory.”

Time to go.

As you can see by the size of the suitcase, fashion is not a priority on this getaway!

‘Til next time, happy stitching!