Expand your horizon

Compositions created during a recent workshop on intuitive piecing

Compositions created during a recent workshop on intuitive piecing

I was ~somewhat~ glad to receive the reminder email that I’d signed up for the workshop. The days had been warm and “springy” and I was thinking it time to get some dirt under my fingernails and move that bunch of daisies. But, I had paid my fee, albeit a long time ago, and decided to go to class.

What joy! I think going into it somewhat reluctantly set my mind to, “Ok, thrill me and make it worthwhile.” The main idea was to keep it fun. This isn’t rocket science or a cure for cancer. This is fabric and color and a sewing machine. The little nuggets from the instructor, Lynn Harris, were given freely. She wanted to impart the joy of playfulness.

It was the first workshop in a long time that I stayed the entire time and will definitely incorporate some of the ideas into my own quilts. The main idea was to keep an open mind, enjoy the process and take a risk. I think those lightbulb moments are the ones that stick with you. And it’s been food for thought for a few more days.

You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore

Mo sheasamh art la na choice tinne

West Kerry, Ireland

When I’m in my work mode I’m pretty focused and keep a mental checklist going of what comes next in my super multi-tasked environment. I try to keep my tools clean and serviced and in the same place so that when the thread flies I just have to reach out and what I need is close at hand. I’m also always on the lookout for tools that will make me more efficient. I’m happy to pass on any tips to make your sewing successful.

PLEASE consider these two if you don’t already:

Presser foot with a quarter inch guide

The presser foot that comes with most sewing machines is not a quarter inch. The standard seam allowance for quilt piecing (and most quilt patterns) is a quarter inch. You can use your own measurement as long as you’re consistent but eyeballing tends to wander to either side of that little piece of metal presser foot. I’m coming at this from the long arm quilter side. When I put a pieced top on the quilt and it’s a wonky trapezoid I’m fairly certain the quilter didn’t use consistent seam allowances. I found my quarter inch foot for my old Singer (and newer ones, too) at sewingpartsonline.com. Full disclosure: I don’t receive any kind of kickback from their company. I am just grateful they exist and want to pass on the information!

Best iron your money can buy

Can you love an inanimate object? YES! My Eurosteam iron is the workhorse in my stable. I saw it at a quilting expo and looked for the secret to its magic and came away pleasantly surprised. A bit of a hit to the pocketbook but over time it has paid for itself. Pressing all kinds of fabric is a breeze: netting, tulle, polyester, satin, jeans, cotton. I do keep my “regular” iron for the pressing of non-steam required services like fusible interfacing but my Eurosteam is truly invaluable. The iron is like a pressure cooker and is always on. It lays at rest on its flat side and I keep it just sitting on my ironing board. It goes to work releasing steam when you press the thumb button. Bottomline, get the best iron you can afford as you will be using it about as much as your sewing machine. And again, no kickback from the company.

NPR is my radio station of choice and this past Sunday I was listening to an interview between Krista Tippett and Padraig O Tuoma. Padraig is the community leader of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organisation and his words of wisdom have stayed with me.


Show and Tell

I joined my not so local quilt guild last evening and one of the highlights (besides free popcorn!) was show and tell. Remember that from grade school? I have fond memories of the concept and pretty sure I never brought anything as I was a dedicated wallflower for the longest time. It was ingrained to be seen and not heard and having a boisterous brother made me even more invisible in comparison. I longed for his bravery but told myself I had nothing special to offer.

Au contraire! Every person has something special in their bag of tricks! I looked around at the meeting and saw many women pretty darn happy to be sitting in a somewhat drafty auditorium on a drizzly winter evening watching a video presentation on….thread. For 45 minutes! Tip: most metallic thread is junk. Pull a 2’ length from the spool and let it hang in a u-shape. If it hangs like a “U” keep it, if it hangs in a series of swirls and dips, get rid of it. The swirls and dips mean it has been overstretched in the winding process and will cause a myriad of problems as it goes through your machine’s tension wheels. Or only use it in the bobbin.

At the end of the meeting was show and tell. Some quilts were amazingly pieced and complex and elicited oohs and aahs but many were special because they had a special purpose: baby quilts and charity quilts. Not blue ribbon winners of visual beauty but winners straight from the heart.

Join a guild and share the trials and tribulations of a common interest. I guarantee the shared camaraderie will make these dark days of winter a bit more bright.

Felix, the Cat and his Magic Bag of Tricks. Special thanks to Wikipedia

Felix, the Cat and his Magic Bag of Tricks. Special thanks to Wikipedia

Inspiration & Motivation

A beautiful Gee’s Bend quilt currently on exhibition at Madonna University, Livonia MI

A beautiful Gee’s Bend quilt currently on exhibition at Madonna University, Livonia MI

This past FRIGID weekend after a few days of quilt workshops and teaching I forced myself back into my car to drive 20 minutes to see a very intimate exhibit of legendary Gee’s Bend quilts. It was a back to basics, motivational moment.

The days prior had been intellectually stimulating: dissecting the process of thinking about quilting subject matter, looking for inspiration in the every day objects, and how-to of production techniques. So it was a breath of fresh air to just slowly wander past the exhibit cases and visually breathe in the work.

The quilters of Gee’s Bend created works of art from fabric most likely NOT at high-end prices or from patterns or kits. Yet each was as stimulating as any famous quilter visually accessible by the internet.

I went home inspired by all the eye candy I had “eaten” the past weekend and motivated to appreciate and use what I had on hand.

Back on the road again

I’ve been dealing with a foot for about seven years now. In 2012 I came out of a sauna lightheaded, collapsed and fractured multiple bones in my left foot. Through some cultural apathy on the part of the medical community in Germany the foot was put back together…just. But once I returned to the good ol’ USA I visited a recommended foot doctor who instantly said, “We can fix this.” And I had the surgery.

This is HUGE to me. My psyche totally swirls around and through my athletic pursuits. I wish I was a donut-eating couch potato but unless I do some form of exercise almost every day of the week I feel like a fish out of water. For a million years that exercise was exclusively running. Thank goodness I was injured so that I was FORCED to branch out. Now I swim and do yoga and walk and bike and spin.

Besides giving all muscles a workout it takes me to places and colors and design I would have missed just running the same road at the same time day after day after day.

But the injury made it stupid to run. Until it was fixed. Not 100% and I probably won’t run another marathon but I can hit my beloved Potawatomi Trail with an hour walk/run. Did that recently on a particularly mild January afternoon. My quads were waking up and my hamstrings were blinking awake.

And my heart was singing.



Oh, if I were a rich (wo)man


I say it all the time, I have the best job. Happy faces when customers pick up their finished quilt. And every job is different; different fabric, color, and style. Traditional 9 patch, log cabin, strip or kit, they’re all interesting and a labor of love and sometime frustration.

I have three quilts I sleep under. One is an appliqué that I’ve borrowed from my snowbird parents, given to them when they were married and it’s of the floppy, well worn genre. Then there’s the appliqué one my grandma made for me which I had a hand in handquilting (6 stitches per inch or it was ripped out). And finally, an old, handpieced hexie I found at a Florida flea market. The vendor was selling a variety of stuff and I didn’t think she knew what she had as it was a jumble in a box. “How much for the blanket?” “20 bucks” “How about $15?”

I love my old, traditional quilts.

But as an artist I’m always looking for new directions. I think I’m on to something different, for me at least. Whole cloth from India. Beautiful colors and traditional motifs. I’m going to appropriate for a new direction. It’s good to shake the trees, never know what fruit will fall.


Music that fills your soul

Happy holiday
Happy holiday
While the merry bells keep ringing
Happy holiday to you

Andy Williams

I was having a particularly bad day, NPR political coverage was annoying and road rage was starting to get the best of me when I had an AH HAH! moment…it’s Christmas music time on the radio! I live out in the boonies with radio coming then going depending on where I’m driving so I have two presets on my car radio for all Christmas all the time. I can sing along at the top of my voice

It’s just a traditional time of year and the older I get the more the memories flood in. Now I understand my grandmother being sad and not thrilled about the holidays.

As much as I loved my grandma I was and am determined to be uncurmudgeonly in my old age! My car has a Rudolf red nose attached to its front bumper and my dashboard has a solar-powered elf who jiggles along to the tunes.

I see a lot of quilts in my shop. I love the traditional ones as much as I love the modern ones. And it certainly is the time of year to enjoy them all.


This weekend was stereotypical Michigan: wait a few minutes and the weather will change. Sunday I was at a farmer’s market and it was cold and drizzly. We joked about missing that “bright orb in the sky” and then at one point in the early afternoon it cleared a wee bit. The sun came out for about 2 minutes and we joked that if you blinked you’d have missed it.

In “Blink” Malcolm Gladwell writes that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training, and knowledge. Basically, trust your gut.

I unconsciously use that idea with the drawings I do.

I get in the zone and my fingers and brain just do it. Picking brushes, color, line weight without thinking. And then when one drawing is done I’ll go on to another one instead of working one to death. (Though, I have done that with longer lasting media like oil.) Finally, I totally let it rip.

I follow a few quilters on Instagram and the prolific ones are riffing on their chosen medium: fabric. One in particular does hexie paper piecing quilts and though they look very similar to me I’m sure she could go into detail about the differences.

I’m amazed at the number of people who bring me quilts and leave the stitch design up to me. I’m trying to understand why such a finished part of the process one would leave to someone else. They lived the design and the fabric and breathed in the sewing for hours…keep going to the end.

So, I’ve been trying to help them trust their gut. We look through my stitch gallery and then I’ll suggest 3 or 4 and give them the reasons why and let them choose. I can see just that little bit of empowerment is satisfying. And the next quilt they bring in we spend a bit more time with them doing the choosing.

Last of the Markets

Bittersweet in the wild

Bittersweet in the wild

Fall is such a beautifully bittersweet time. The sun sits in the sky in a lower inclination and maybe that’s what gives the blue its brilliance and the yellow and orange leaves their fire.

Driving in a car is challenging with squirrels seeming to be on suicide missions to gather their nuts, deer stepping into the road looking across to the next horizon, misty drizzle on the windshield reminding me to get new wiper blades before the snow falls.

The annual migration of birds (and the not-so-elusive MI Snowbirds to FL) start to fill the sky.

And my shop is filling with quilts! Holidays are approaching and gifts are being finished.

Such a creative time in the world!