Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Break-the-Rules Improv Piecing

In the past few months, I’ve added to my quilting library with some notable titles. I wish I could say that I’ve finished—or even started!—projects from all of these books. I have many craft books, however, that I’ve never made projects out of. They serve more as reference and inspiration than sources of patterns.


The exception is Sherri Lynn Wood’s Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters. Purchasing that volume coincided with attending a workshop, hosted by my guild and led by the author. I went into that daylong event presuming that improvisation wasn’t my thing. The most I had pieced improvisationally was a few projects from the Stitched in Color Curves Class I took earlier this year, and although I liked the results, I still preferred the predictability of patterns. Plus, I didn’t know much about Sherri Lynn Wood or her work. I figured I’d gain some techniques that I could incorporate into my quilt making, but I doubted that the sewing I did in the workshop itself would result in a quilt. I was wrong.

The workshop explored bias-strip piecing. We started with big fabric petals (like 18 inches long!) and proceeded to add layers of bias strips to them. Along the way, we addressed all the unforeseen puckers and curling and general wonkiness that arose when sewing with those shapes.

By the end of the day, I was hooked. Working with the petal shapes opened new doors for me. I had been thinking a lot about movement since I saw my friend Kim’s Exodus quilt. I think the petal shape in itself evokes a sense of movement, and I can’t wait to see where the project with these petals ultimately takes me.

Three of the four petals I made at the workshop.
The far-right petal is 26 inches long!

What was perhaps the most striking part of the workshop, and something that Sherri touches on in her book as well, is the process of creating improvisationally. Most of my quilting is done in bits and pieces between breaking up my boys’ WWF matches and feeding/chasing after/carting around my aspiring wrestlers. Sherri, however, encouraged us to be present in the moment in a way I’m usually not. Often my hands are sewing, but my mind is focused elsewhere. She suggested methods to center ourselves, to constrain our creative process (with, for example, self-imposed limits on the time at task or on our fabric resources), and to make the most of our time with improv techniques. I’m notorious for skipping the intros in quilting books and heading straight to the quilts themselves, but I recommend the opening pages of The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters that address these issues of creating improvisationally.

During the workshop, Sherri also showed us ways to break the rules to get the results we wanted. After years of striving for consistent quarter-inch seams and perfectly pressed quilt blocks, I found myself stretching fabric (on purpose!), pruning away parts of the fabric I had just pieced, and in general, celebrating the places my so-called mistakes took me as a quilt maker.

Can you see some of my creative sewing solutions here?
I inserted pleats to flatten the fabric.

Where do you stand on the subject of improvisation in quilts? Have you dipped your toes in the improv waters or already jumped off the diving board into the deep end? (I’d understand if you were still sitting under an umbrella working on a drink. It’s a comfortable place to be.)

Linking up to Let’s Bee Social and Needle and Thread Thursday ...

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Heart Belongs to Basic Grey

The Tree Is Trimmed in Evergreen, from Basic Grey

One of my favorite fabric designers is Basic Grey. The company’s Little Black Dress collection caught my eye a few years back, resulting in my first Miranda Bag. Although I managed to resist a few collections since then, I’ve quilted with PB&J (and then foolishly gifted the project!) and 25th and Pine. So when the Moda Bake Shop asked me to remake my Tree Is Trimmed mini-quilt in Basic Grey’s current Christmas line—Evergreen—I couldn’t type yes fast enough.

I chose to press all seams open in this version of the mini and follow
the cross-stitch lines to quilt. I much prefer it to my original mini,
which I stitched in the ditch.

Now that I’ve finished my project, I could move on to make more Christmas trees with cross-stitch blocks, but I’ve already made a forest full of these minis. I think I’m going to take the remaining jelly-roll strips and make a quilt (something akin to this). I used dark green in my mini, but the other colors are really lovely—deep reds and soft greens and blues. They have a fabulous Scandinavian feel to them, and if omit the really Christmassy prints (one design has “holly jolly” printed on it; another is adorned with candy cane stripes), the result will be a quilt the recipient can use all winter long.


My local quilt shop has a good selection of Basic Grey’s Fresh Cut. I haven’t bought any yardage—yet. Any suggestions on a pattern I could use to justify the purchase? I really like this pattern from Sherri McConnell. Yeah, yeah, yeah ... I need more fabric and another quilt project like I need a hole in the head!
  • To view the Tree Is Trimmed in 25th and Pine, see my original tutorial here.
  • To view the revised tutorial, using Evergreen, go to the Moda Bake Shop.

Linking up to Needle and Thread Thursday and Finish It Up Friday ...

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

New Bloggers: Think Like a Publishing Professional

I’ve joked on more than one occasion that the great thing about the Internet is that it’s made everyone a publisher and the horrid thing about the Internet is that it’s made everyone a publisher. That may sound harsh, but I’m sure you, too, have encountered blogs that, for whatever reason, were difficult to read.

Before I was a mom and a blogger—heck, before I was even a sewer—I was a publishing professional. I’ve worked on print publications and the websites of national magazines in both editorial and production capacities. By following some basic lessons from my experiences, you can add a little polish to your posts.

1. Sleep on it. I’m amazed by those people who can bang out a blog post and send it live right away. Try sleeping on it or at least walking away from your computer for a few hours. When you gain some distance from your writing and read it with fresh eyes, you may see ways to improve what you’ve written or how you’ve written it.

2. Pretend you’re a new visitor. Read your posts through the eyes of someone who is new to your site and your projects. Even your regular readers won’t remember every post you’ve ever written; they may not even remember last week’s post. Help readers by providing some context.

For example, earlier this year, I took a Curves Class. I felt ridiculous repeating in every related post that I was taking a Curves Class and that it was offered by Stitched in Color and that it was challenging to me, blah blah blah. But I get hundreds of page views through link parties each week.  Many of those visitors have likely never been to my blog before. Without that exposition, I could lose those readers.

3. Link up to your other posts. This is a fabulous way to accomplish point #2. For example: Are you presenting a finished quilt? Then link to the WIP posts for the same project. Doing so could deepen a reader’s relationship with your blog or could provide information—pattern details, fabric lines, etc.—that you spelled out earlier.

I can’t bear a post without pictures, so here’s a pretty project from
the Curves Class I mention in point #2! Notice how I link up to the
post about that project? Yup, I’m taking my own advice from point #3.

4. Proofread your post before it’s live. I wish I could dig up the study I found ages ago about this point, but ridding your content of simple typos gives it—and you—more credibility.

5. Brush up on your sixth-grade grammar. The basic grammar mistakes I see in quilting blogs include issues with contractions, pronouns, and run-on sentences. For some basic rules on the grammar front, see the sidebar.

6. Ask a friend to review your post. It’s hard to proofread your own writing; you’re too close to it to read objectively, so consider asking for help. I used to be paid to proofread manuscripts, and I still miss things in my own writing. (It’s worth mentioning that I asked my sister to proofread my new posts and she wasn’t interested. Punk!)

7. Proofread your post after it’s live. Yes, proofread again because weird things happen—especially when they involve technology.


Here’s another gratuitous picture for you. This post originally
contained a misplaced quotation mark. I fixed the error after the post
went live and a few dozen people had read it (arg!). This was
an important quotation mark, people! Misplacing it changed the
meaning of the sentence!

8. Click on everything once your post is live. Broken or incorrect links are annoying. Check every one once your post is live. And if you add another link after the page initially posts, check that new link, too. Refer to point #7: Weird things happen—especially when they involve technology.

9. Occasionally review your top-level pages. I’m amazed at how many prominent sites have top-level pages riddled with errors. I’m sure it’s an issue of resources (and the fact that there are just 24 hours in each day), but those pages are important, too. Take a minute to check right now … Is your copyright current? If you have a list of links to other blogs or link parties, do all those links work?

One day I checked the search function I had added from Blogger to my right-hand navigation. No matter what I typed in, the results it gave me were my bio page. I asked a friend to check it out, and she encountered the same problem. I immediately took the search box down.

10. ??? I can’t think of a tenth tip, can you? If you think like a publishing professional, what advice do you have for new bloggers? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

A special thanks to Kim (Leland Ave Studios) for her feedback on this post.

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