Pacific International Quilt Festival: Celebrating Teamwork…and Flying Solo

The buzz is building and the crowds are gathering…

 It’s almost time for…

The Santa Clara (CA) Convention Center will be buzzing when PIQF opens its doors on October 13.

This year, the Pacific International Quilt Festival (PIQF), one of the most popular quilt shows organized by Mancuso Show Management, celebrates its 20th anniversary! Running from Thursday, October 13, through Sunday, October 16, PIQF XX promises to be nothing short of spectacular. Over 800 quilts and works of wearable and textile art (many of them award winners) from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and North America, will be on display, and 300 merchant booths will be waiting to tempt you with the best in fabrics, notions, machines, wearable art–in short, everything for the quilter, artist, and home sewer. A busy and varied teaching schedule offers over 60 workshops and lectures, presented by an international roster of renowned instructors, including Jennie Rayment, John Flynn, Gloria Loughman, and Laura Wasilowski. Once again, the Santa Clara Convention Center (greater San Francisco Bay Area) is hub of the action.

Diana McClun and our own Laura Nownes

Psst! Christie, Jennifer, and Darra here: We are especially excited about one particular feature of this year’s show. Among its 17 special exhibits will be Side Kicks: The Grand Finale, celebrating the beloved team of Diana McClun and (our very own) Laura Nownes and their 30-year collaboration as teachers, authors, pattern designers, seminar facilitators, and friends. The exhibit follows their journey from their first collaborative effort, and features important quilts they’ve made through the years.

The Big Tumble, one of the first quilts from Diana and Laura's pattern line, From Me to You. Pattern available through Laura's website or etsy site.

If, by some unlikely chance, neither the names nor the faces are familiar, you may recognize one of the best-selling quilt books of all times: Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!! Many who teach beginning quiltmakers use this book–authored by Diana and Laura in the 1980s and still in print–as a class text. For many of us, it was our very first quilt book.

Until Diana’s retirement earlier this year, Diana and Laura met every Monday to fuel and foster their collaboration on quilts, patterns, books, and other creative ventures. While the professional partnership has ended, the friendship continues. Not long ago, the pair resumed meeting each week, not as business partners, but for “just for fun.”

Blue Bamboo, another Diana and Laura collaboration. Pattern available through Laura's website or etsy site.

 Although Diana has retired, Laura remains as busy as ever. In addition to blogging with us at See How We Sew, teaching classes, making instructional videos, and running online web and etsy sites, she continues to design and market patterns under the From Me to You name. She will have a booth (#634) at the PIQF merchant’s mall offering patterns (including three new ones), kits, favorite notions, and demos. Be sure to stop by and say hello!

For more information about PIQF, including show hours; admission to show floor/merchant’s mall; special exhibits; descriptions and fees for lectures and workshops; and directions to the show site, visit their website here.

‘Til next time, happy stitching.


Color Inspiration – Tree Trunks to Bouganvilla

It’s not uncommon to hear new quilters say they find it difficult to choose fabrics for their projects. That’s typical of most of us when we’re getting started, but with each new project we develop our sense of color and become more comfortable with the process. While it’s easy to stay within the confines of a fabric line, it can become too “matchy” and, although being safe, can be a bit boring. I will admit it took me awhile to step out of the “matchy” box.

Why not let Mother Nature help with color selection? Lately I’ve been fascinated with the phenomenal colors in tree trunks. Here’s a photo of my current favorite (found outside my local post office):

Christie's tree trunk

I decided to challenge myself by printing the photo and going through my stash to find fabrics with all the colors in that photo (ok – I cheated and bought a few). Here they are:

After considering what to make from my “tree trunk” palette, I selected one of my own patterns, Urban Chic, which is perfect for showcasing a collection of fabrics. It’s a contemporary design with a simple pieced rectangle block. I’ll select one dark fabric and one light fabric for the perimeters and use all the “tree trunk” fabrics for the centers.

Urban Chic

I do realize that “tree trunk” is not everyone’s idea of beautiful, so I asked my friend Sally to take the challenge along with me, using a photo of the beautiful bouganvilla plants in her yard:

Sally's bouganvilla plants

We’re committed to completing these projects in time for my November 8th post, where there will be photos of the quilts and a “challenging” give-away! Until then, keep an eye on Mother Nature’s beauty – fall colors are on the way!

Group Post II–Favorite Tips: Practical, Technical & Inspirational!

Our first group post was so well received–and so much fun to do–that we decided it was time to do it again. So here, in no particular order, we each weigh in on a favorite tip. Watch for future group posts; we’ve got some really fun things planned for the next few months!

Laura: I can’t think of many (any?) stitchers who enjoy “reverse sewing,” but if you must, this little trick makes the task so much easier. For years I used a sharp seam ripper (love the one by Clover btw!) to carefully and painstakingly cut through each and every unwanted stitch. While teaching a class one day, I saw a student cut through every fifth stitch or so on one side of the joined fabric pieces.

Next she turned the fabric to the opposite side and used the seam ripper to gently pull “up” on the thread.

Like magic, the thread pulled away, removing all unwanted stitches. I still use this technique, and get lots of  “ah-ha!” moments when I share it in classes.

Christie: Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, documents her successful philosophy for fostering and maintaining creativity.

In one of my favorite sections, Twyla talks about facing fears. While teaching classes and working in a fabric shop, I’ve heard numerous comments on this topic. Here are a few of the most common, along with Twyla’s response (the third one is my favorite):

I’m not sure how to do it.  If it doesn’t work, try a different way next time. Doing is better than not doing.

It will cost money.  Are your creative efforts worth it to you and is it something you really want to do? If so, money is there to be used and who better to invest in than yourself?

It’s self-indulgent. So what? You won’t be of much value to others if you don’t learn to value yourself and your creative efforts.

Make sense? I love how Twyla thinks and have tried to incorporate these tips into my own creative life. Therefore, I won’t hesitate to buy those fabulous new fabrics, or to take the time to create something wonderful. And I might just eat a cupcake too!

Take the time to enjoy the creative process – you’re worth it!

Cupcakes stimulate creativity!

Jennifer: Ah, thread balls. As I recall, no sewing teacher I had as a child ever mentioned how to vanquish those pesky tangled threads that clogged up the underside of the fabric I was trying to feed through the sewing machine. It took adulthood and many years of experience with sewing and quilting before I found the answer to this age-old problem. Thanks to Alex Anderson, from whom I was taking a class on making Star blocks (from her classic book, Simply Stars), I finally learned how to stop the madness.

So unbelievably simple: Grasp the top and bobbin threads, then depress the foot pedal to feed the fabric through the machine. Holding the threads blocks that sucking action that causes the threads to snarl. Alex also demonstrated feeding a “starter scrap” of fabric into the sewing machine as a prelude to factory-sewing mode (aka chain piecing) to keep thread balls at bay. Ever humble, she attributed the technique to Jean Wells.  So, whoever it was . . . many thanks!

Grasping both the top and bottom threads as you start, feed a folded scrap of fabric through the machine to vanquish thread balls and to limit thread waste.

Darra: I’ll keep this short and sweet. Have you ever returned from a workshop with someone else’s scissors? Try this creative solution that I’ve shared with many quilting friends and students over the years. Simply I.D. your precious shears with a “ribbon” of a favorite fabric. You’ll recognize them quickly every time!

Photo courtesy Alden Lane Nursery

Finally, one last tip from all of us: If you’re going to be in the SF Bay Area this weekend (September 24 – 25), and would like to spend a few pleasant hours viewing quilts outdoors in a beautiful setting, be sure to stop by Quilting in the Garden, the quilt show at Alden Lane Nursery, in Livermore, CA. Admission to the show is FREE; there are fees for optional lectures and workshops. Guest artists this year are Verna Mosquera and Rob Appell. Click here for more info.

Do you have a favorite tip you’d like to share? We–and our readers–would love to hear about it! Please leave us a comment below.

Until next time, happy stitching!

Needle + Thread = Lace

My heart skipped a beat when one of my dear students brought this beautiful piece of needle lace to class last week. Her mother, Yerkena Michigian, born in Turkey in 1899, made it around 1935 after leaving Istanbul to live in Kingsburg, CA. She learned this intricate art form as a young girl and made these lovely pieces to earn money to leave the country. Between running a household, working on the farm, and raising three children, she managed to keep her hands busy creating delicate works of art. I can’t even image the number of hours that went into the making of this amazing piece.

The diameter of this piece is approximately 24″. This gives you some idea just how small and intricate the stitches are. Here’s a detail photo of the center.

Supplies are simple: a needle and DMC cotton thread.  The stitches, on the other hand, are anything but. I did a quick google search to find that all needle lace is based on the “buttonhole” or “blanket” stitch. The lace-like stitches are made with a series of embroidery stitches worked between couched-thread outlines of shapes.

If you are interested in a tutorial, go to

As luck would have it, the weekend after “oohing” and “aahing” over these lovely handmade treasures, I attended a local Shakespeare Festival. Little did I know that there would be a lacemaker present, sharing some pieces she has collected over the years.

Here are some samples of what I found at the Festival.

Sample of bobbin lacework.
Needlelace doily.

I would be saddened to think that needlelace might become a lost art. I’m curious to know if you or anyone you know does this kind of work, as I would love to write more about it in future posts.  Please “drop me a note” by leaving a comment below.

Coincidentally, Lilo Bowman at the Quilt Show just posted an interesting article on antique textiles also.

Hope you are all enjoying the last few days of summer. Until next time….. happy sewing.

Called up to the Big Leagues: The Empty Spools Seminars!

Come to my workshop said the spider to the fly . . . okay, lame reference, but isn't she the cutest silvery spider made of pewter beads, Swarovski crystals and wire?

Hey, make no mistake, I’m very flattered and pleased to have gotten the call to teach at the Empty Spools Seminars in Pacific Grove, California, but like a rookie waiting for his first Major League pitch, I’m shaking in my cleats and my palms are s-w-e-a-t-i-n-g!

I’ve written about Empty Spools for The Quilt Life and The Quilter magazines and I’ve taken a couple of sessions as a student as well, but I’ve not yet strutted my teaching “stuff” in such stellar company—take a gander at that faculty: it’s awe inspiring, plus Ruth McDowell will be there! The Ruth McDowell!!!!!

Yeah . . . well . . . time to tamp down on that rookie panic and focus on preparation.

I’ll be hosting a “Flower-Powered” workshop during Session II (April 3 to 8, 2012) that riffs on a dimensional appliqué technique I adapted for a project in A Dozen Roses, a Martingale & Company title co-authored with Catherine Comyns.

Diana McClun's world-class quilting husband suggested I add a spider to my little still life study. So I made a beaded spider and found a tiny fly charm at my local bead shop. I'm hoping whimsy outweighs the buggy yuck factor.

The floral workshop theme is probably no surprise to you, dear blog readers. I have, after all, decorated an inordinate number of my posts with still-life photography. But I can’t help it; I’m wickedly attached to buds and blossoms. Some would channel such enthusiasm into gardening, but I’m omnivorous (so to speak). I want to bite into many floral experiences from botanical illustration* to Japanese watercolors and Modern Art styles and I’m hoping that there are quilters out there who want to join me at my “buffet.”

*Click the link to find the beautiful botanical art of my friend Sally Petru–an early collaborator who inspired my rosy dimensional applique quilts.

This is my sort of quilting inspiration. Instead of doing time in the garden I photograph my neighbor's roses generally at near dusk right after a rainfall.

There’s one caveat for me—no scary needle-turn appliqué. I’ve got expressionistic aesthetic goals in mind, not literal recreations of flowers. Actually, that’s a preference I’ve picked up from my artful mother who in her oil painting days splashed colorful washes across canvases and painted images suggested by the resulting swirls and drops.  While I appreciate the exactitude of the purist form of appliqué, and I can see that it will take a quilter down the road to true botanical art, that’s not my objective.

So what can you experience in a Jennifer Rounds Flower-Powered workshop? The freedom to follow your own floral whims with instruction in flower-building, designing vessels, creating dimensional settings for still-life portraiture, exploring borders and unusual finishing details, and (very delicious) using luxury fabric, ribbons, and beads for embellishment.

Consider yourself invited!

My Grandmother’s Shortbread – A Favorite Recipe

It’s funny how our “favorite things” list evolves over the years – new ones are added and some are removed.  My grandmother’s shortbread has always been on my list.  I associate it with visits to my grandparents, who were Scottish immigrants, living in a modest little house just off Solano Avenue in Berkeley, CA, where they raised four children and which they called home for over fifty years.  The shortbread recipe was from “the old country.”  As a child, the first thing I did when we arrived at their house was sneak into the kitchen and check the glass container on top of the counter to see if there was shortbread.

Teatime with homemade shortbread - how civilized.

I was thirteen when my grandmother died, but her shortbread lives on! I remember making it once when I was a college student (probably to procrastinate studying), and I used margarine instead of butter (it was cheaper). When I told my mother about using margarine, she muttered something about my grandmother rolling over in her grave.  My grandmother’s name was Helen Bell Hamilton (born 1887 in Scotland). I don’t think she’d mind if I shared her recipe with you. It’s so simple to make and quite delicious – perfect for tucking into a decorative tin at holiday time. And the way the house smells when it’s baking – heavenly! Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 cubes butter (softened)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar together. Add cornstarch and flour. Pat firmly into 9” square pan and prick with fork. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour or until it just starts to turn golden. Cut into squares while it’s still warm.


Adventures in Design: A Bookshelf Must-Have for Quilters, Artists, and More…Giveaway Added!!

Scheduled for publication, Monday, September 12.

It’s an industry trend that’s been pretty hard to miss: hundreds of new quilting, sewing, and fabric-crafting books are released every year. Every once in a while, however, a new book comes along that is so stunning in its content–both instructionally and visually–that it truthfully can be called a “must have” for every art-and-craft-library shelf. Lucky for us, this month we are gifted with one of these rare “instant classics:” Adventures in Design, the latest offering by Joen Wolfrom, one of the most respected lecturers/instructors on the subject of color and design for fiber (and other) artists today.

Joen Wolfrom at 2011 Spring Market, demonstrating one of her latest tools, The Studio Color Wheel.

You may be familiar with Joen through her twelve previous books and products, including the widely successful Ultimate 3-in-1 Color Tool and her new Studio Color Wheel; through her pattern company, JWD Publishing; or her recently launched blog, Playing with Color. She has tackled the subject of design in detail before, in her best-selling book, The Visual Dance, which was published in 1995 and is now available as an e-book download. However, after 16 years, Joen realized it was time for more than a simple update. In fact, “within two weeks after I finished The Visual Dance, I knew I wanted to write another book on design,” she says. In the interim, she has continued her own creative journey, including a serious interest in photography.

Adventures in Design is a juicy 144 pages, packed with information essential to the understanding and achievement of good design–color, shape, line, texture, unity, repetition, contrast, and so much more. It’s a valuable resource, not only for quilters and others who work with fiber, but for photographers and visual artists of all media. The book is divided into three main sections, each with activities and exercises to practice what you’ve learned: Setting the Stage: Eight Ingredients for Great Designs; Creating the Visual Dance: A Blueprint for Great Designs; and Designing Spectacular Quilts.

"House Through Arch" (38" x 44") by Lenore Crawford

Let me assure you: as valuable as this book is for its information, it is also pure eye candy!  To illustrate her lessons, Joen features over 150 spectacular quilts–both traditional and non-traditional–made by quilters and fiber artists from around the world (including Japan, South Africa, England, France, Canada, Australia, Northern Ireland, Germany, and the Netherlands)…and the work is dazzling! You’ll probably recognize some of the names, others will be new to you. Here is just a sample, which includes the work of Lenore Crawford (Midland, MI), Rachel Wetzler (St. Charles, IL), Linda Beach (Estes Park, CO), Denise Labadie (Longmont, CO), and Larisa Key (Willimantic, CT).

"Setting Sun, Rising Moon" (60" x 36") by Linda Beach
"Bear Tracks in the Garden" (77" x 105") by Larisa Key; quilted by Gail B. Federowicz. Available as a pattern from JWD Publishing.
"Dun Aengus Stone Fort" (63" x 71") by Denise Labadie. Photo by Esmond Snell.
"A Matter of Perspective" (46" x 46") by Rachel Wetzler

If the text and quilt photos aren’t enough, the book is lavishly illustrated with helpful sketches and dozens of Joen’s outstanding photographs. Oh, how I wish I could show you more! (You’ll just need to purchase the book, I guess, which I highly recommend.)

!!!UPDATE!!!  Joen has graciously offered an autographed copy of  Adventures in Design as a giveaway in conjunction with this post. Just leave a comment below explaining why you’d like to have this book in your personal library by noon (PDT) Wednesday, October 5, and I’ll announce the winner in my Friday, October 7 post.

That’s all for this time. Before I sign off, however, congratulations to Colleen Gander, winner of A Year in the Life of Sunbonnet Sue, the giveaway from my August 26 post. Have fun with Sue, Colleen!

‘Til next time, happy stitching!

 Okay, just one more…

"A Walk in the City" (25" x 38 1/2") by Lenore Crawford

Hot Off the Press – Free Pattern for Portable Pressing Board

Doesn’t it seem that the amount of stuff we haul around to classes continues to grow not only in size but also in weight? Soon I will need a truck to get myself around. I am always looking for an easier way to transport and lighten my load as I am preparing for class.

I think this type of portable pressing board has been around for a while but when I saw one that Alethea Ballard made for our Kids Sewing Camp I couldn’t resist making one for myself. It’s easy, lightweight, recycles empty bolts of fabric and most of all, so darn cute. You know from previous posts that I’m the Queen of Pressing, so I got right on this project.

Empty fabric bolts are perfect for this handy pressing board.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your own Portable Pressing Board:

Two empty fabric bolts

Outer fabric: 3/4 yard of 44” wide

1/2 yard (21” x 22”) Insul-Bright heat-resistant mylar/poly batting

Cotton batting: 20” x 22” piece

Tie: 1 yard of 1” wide ribbon

Sewing machine


Large hand sewing needle


Masking tape

Fabric glue or glue stick

To make your Portable Pressing Board:

  1. Wrap the tape around the bolts to hold them together.
  2. Wrap the cotton batting around the bolts. Trim off any excess, as needed. Secure with either large hand stitches or tape.
  3. Wrap a layer of Insul-Bright around the batting. Use large stitches to hold the ends together along one side.

To make the Cover:

1. Cut one 21” x 29” piece of outer fabric.

2. On one of the short sides (this will be the top) measure down 3-1/2” from the top edge  on both sides. Then make a cut 1/2″ in to this point, as shown.3. Use fabric glue or glue stick to hold the cut flap secure, as shown.


4. Fold and press the top edge 1/2″ to the wrong side of the fabric. Then turn and press again 1-1/2″ down. Stitch close to the folded edge to form a casing for the ribbon tie, as shown.

5. With the right sides together, use a 1/2” seam allowance to stitch the two pieces together along the sides, from the bottom of the casing to the bottom edge of the cover. Note: this tube should fit snugly around the bolts. If not, adjust the seam, as needed – fabric bolts vary in size. Then stitch across the bottom edge using a 1/2” seam allowance.

6. Cut a 3/4” square from each corner on the bottom edge, as shown. 7. Finger press the bottom seam open and then fold to align raw edges. Pin and then stitch the opening closed using a 1/4″ seam allowance. This will create boxed corners.8. Turn the cover right side out.

9. Use a safety pin to thread the ribbon through the casing.

10. Insert the board into the cover.

11. Tie the ribbon into a bow and you’re done.

Helpful Hint:  A clean, light colored towel or piece of freezer paper can be used on the top of the board to keep it clean and free from spray starches or fusible web products.

Congratulations to Angela Smart from the UK, winner of the book and pattern pack by Alethea Ballard.

Until next time, enjoy and happy pressing!

Patchwork Beading: Where Handicrafts Collide Beautifully!

There are times like today when I feel more beady than thready. I’m thinking about shutting down the sewing machine, and zeroing in instead on my jewelry-making kit that’s hidden among the piles of craft and quilting junk littering my workroom.

I’m probably pushing things a little to describe my beading diversion as “jewelry” because the precious gem and metal quotient is low (especially nowadays), but today I’d like to adorn myself with something pretty that I’ve designed.

Lately, I’ve noticed a trend in compliments when I wear my handmade stuff. The kudos usually sound like this:  “Love that necklace—how did you ever think to combine those colors?”

Even while I thank them, in my head I’m thinking: “Clearly, you’re not a quilter otherwise you’d get why I selected these colors and textures.” What I do recreationally with beads is nothing different from what we do every time we visit quilt shops–we’re specialists in high-caliber color play.

Guess what? The same principles apply when trolling bead shops or taking a run through a retailer like Michael’s for jewelry-making supplies. To make things super easy, slice the color code off the selvage of a favorite fabric and get to work sorting through beads and findings to match the swatch.

The biggest challenge is to avoid running up a bill—a 20-cent 4mm Swarovski crystal is merely pennies until you have a couple of hundred of them and then you’re paying in dollars.

When it’s time to string my beads, I typically do a spin of that quilting challenge where you throw fabric strips in a bag and blind sort to sew. My version with beads: pour your choices in a bowl and pick randomly.

Okay, full disclosure here: I usually have a casual plan in mind when I pick a bead to string:  warm/cool, dark/light, opaque/transparent, or something along those lines.

Project supplies: A flexwire product for stringing, beads (of course), a closure and/or crimping beads

So, I’m heading off to my local bead shop where I can run my fingers through twinkling Swarovski crystals and drape myself in strands of minerals with exotic names. If Wilma Flintstone can do it, we all can! (Although Mr. Snarky asks how I know Fred’s beloved was a crafter. I just know–Wilma can do anything plus she needs an escape from F.F.)

UPDATE: A new “something pretty” from my workshop!

Amethyst briolettes (not so pricey when purchasing two), pairs of Swarovski pearls, earring bases, oval wire earring forms, and wire for wrapping