Sewing Extremes

For quite some time now, I’ve been making hexagons. I even taught a hexagon class at Home Ec. But I haven’t done much else. This weekend, however, I did get a little sewing in, and I chose to sew two challenging substrates—one super stiff (oilcloth) and one loosely woven, with little body (gauze).

Students’ hexagons

I’ve sewn lots with oilcloth previously, but after being plied with cerveza in Oaxaca, I promised my traveling companions that I’d make them oilcloth table runners with oilcloth we bought at the Benito Juarez and Abastos markets. It’s a pretty simple job, really—they just had to bring me the dimensions of the runners they wanted, along with their oilcloth and some bias seam binding.

Karen picked two fabrics that are wonderful complements and I made her what seems to be more of a tablecloth (it’s 39″ wide by the width of the fabric). It was pretty much a piece of cake—those Clover clips really make it so much simpler to attach the seam binding than the hair clips I used to use. But the darned thing was so stiff and unwieldy that I had a little trouble—periodically as I’d sew I’d run into something on my sewing table and essentially sew in place until I realized what was happening. In the end, though, it turned out nicely.

Next up was gauze (and not double gauze, which I’ve used for tops and has a bit more body). It’s become so popular for making baby blankets and we had a slow week at Home Ec (half the population away on spring break), so I started a sample at work. I thought I’d cut the gauze square, but after I brought it home to finish it I realized it was far from square—what started at 50″ wound up at 42″ by the time I was done, and it’s still not totally square. One of the tutorials I read mentioned sewists who insist upon perfection may not enjoy sewing with gauze.) I ultimately used the tutorial from Sew to Speak as my guide.

Making continuous bias binding from a square—I used a Heather Ross lawn from Wyndham—is rather miraculous, but tedious nevertheless. The Sew to Speak tutorial links to this tutorial. I had done it before, but the method is not very intuitive and so a visual reminder was helpful.

Attaching the binding required lots and lots of pins and I worried about whether I’d caught the elusive gauze all the way around (I did). Like much of sewing, I swore I’d never do it again while I was doing it, but the end result is so cute that I’d be tempted. And the 23″ piece I cut is enough to make bias binding for two blankets, so I probably ought to try again, if for no other reason than to use up the binding. It felt good to finish two tasks and spend time in my sewing room—it’s definitely been awhile.

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Sew Together Bag

Sometime this fall, I managed to make a Sew Together bag. The design is so clever and I’ve seen lots of them on Instagram, so when I stumbled upon the SewDemented booth at Quilt Market, I bought a pattern. I thought it might be a good class project, but truth be told, it’s pretty darned labor-intensive.

I used fabrics I’d had in my stash for a long while—Echino prints and Cloud 9 Geocentric canvas—all on heavier substrates, which I thought would make for a nice, sturdy bag. And indeed it did, although I think it made the layers a little thicker and more challenging to sew through.

I didn’t wind up having enough of the exterior Echino fabric and so pieced in some Cloud 9, and I’m pleased with the result and will definitely make the bag again, although doing some batch sewing (making several at once) would be more efficient.

I also highly recommend the Quilt Barn sew-along tutorial from last March. It broke steps down even further than the instructions and was super helpful.

Pincushion Presents

A few years ago Kathy C. made me a bottle cap pincushion as a Lake Tahoe quilt retreat gift. I thought it was adorable, but it took me awhile to realize

how useful it is. I wound up keeping it in my binding box (a former stationary box in which I keep needles, thread, Thread Heaven, clips, and now, this pin cushion, all in preparation for binding quilts at a moment’s notice). It’s so useful that I decided to make them for my bookgroup and a few other friends for Christmas. 

Here’s how many I’ve made so far (minus one, which I gave to a quilting friend in Berkeley). I started working on them this summer at the lake and really enjoyed combining the wool felt colors (small pieces purchased from Wooly Lady) with learning new stitches. I used Valdani thread for the embroidery. 
I wish I could get the tops to be a little smoother and less “cupcake-like,” but they function as they were designed to do, so I guess I shouldn’t worry too much. My bookgroup seemed to like them—I also included a pack of my favorite pins with each one. 
Our bookgroup holiday party is always so much fun and a true tradition at this point—our group has been together for more than 20 years. We exchange gifts—some handmade and some not, depending on how busy we’ve been—and cookies. This year Anne also made us a lovely soup and salad supper. 
Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Setting a record

Yes, I’ve set one all right…but it’s for length of time between blog posts. Not such a good thing! So herein is a quick rundown of what’s been up since mid-October.

Finished some backs and took quilts to Linda Duncan for long arming!

I was thrilled to finally get three quilts off my stair railing and to the quilters. One is back, another is ready for pick up. Here’s the first (used the six Farmer’s Wife blocks I made on the back).

Interviewing authors for my upcoming book!

Yup, I’m working on a book about art quilts and have had the great pleasure of talking with some of the  artists whose work was selected for inclusion. Can’t say too much about that just yet, but it’s an exciting project that you’ll hear more about in coming months.

Quilt Market!

Had my usual wonderfully-inspiring-and-thoroughly-overwhelming-time. All the usual suspects, plus Cotton and Steel’s debut, a stroll through Market with my Stitch editor Amber Eden, quick meet-ups with Lisa, Jennifer, and my other wonderful Meredith editors, dinner with my friends Mel and Mary Lou, a hug from Carolyn Friedlander, a quick chat with Lissa from Moda, and travel with Codi and Greta.

Brigitte Heitland for Moda
Anna Maria Horner’s booth (Free Spirit)
Carolyn Friedlander’s booth (Robert Kaufman)
Lakehouse’s Holly Holderman and PamKitty Morning, with @szyhomemaker, @frecklemama, and Greta Songe
Laurie Simpson of Moda’s Minick and Simpson demoing big stitching
Smilin’ Vanessa Christenson and her booth for Moda

Austin!

A quick visit with my wonderful daughter Maggie and her beau, EJ. We took walks, bought boots, saw adorable babies, and ate great food.

Maggie and EJ’s backyard grotto
Coolio chair at Austin’s Nannie Inez
Coolio daughter

Surgery!

Had a small skin cancer removed from my nose. 18 stitches. Kind of a shock at first, but a month later it doesn’t look half-bad. And they got all the skin cancer in one fell swoop, so hooray! (Reserving photos of this one)

California!

Went with my husband, who had a meeting. Saw old friends in Sonoma and Berkeley, a hike across SF that ended in dim sum, and Thanksgiving with my folks in southern Cal. A highlight was my first  face-to-face meeting with fellow Etsy contributor Karen Brown, with whom I’ve corresponded for a few years. Wish we lived closer…there’s a kinship there, for sure.

Karen in her alpaca jacket
Bay view from the Presidio
My awesome dad, his awesome pumpkin pie, and Paul
Santa Barbara pelican

And now home, where I made a few bibs for a baby shower.

One other thing I did was work on a story for a new (to me, but you’ll know it) publication that will be out in January. Looking forward to sharing that exciting news soon!

Happy Holidays…hope things are going well for you and yours.

Days for Girls Sew-In

So sorry that Pearl the Squirrel has been so neglected. Life has been busy…some writing, some sewing, a bit of travel. Today was an event that’s been awhile in the making: our Days for Girls Sew-In at Home Ec.

My neighbors Pam and Molly are the ones who’ve sewn the shields, liners, and bags previously. I made my first one just last night, so their expertise was essential (along with their time, fabric, machine know-how, and general good spirits).

We had a great afternoon with around 15 folks showing up to cut, layer, and sew. We finished around 140 liners, 20 bags, and 25 shields (we have a lot more of these that just need to be top-stitched).

Here are some photos from the afternoon. Thanks to Codi for letting us use Home Ec’s workshop, and to all who stitched with us! We’re hoping to do it again, sometime this winter.

No, Pearl, No!

Pearl feigning nonchalance

When I was visiting my folks in Southern California, my mom and I happened upon a great shop in Laguna Hills: Sewing Party. They had some fantastic samples and their classroom was buzzing with activity. My mom was so inspired that she had my dad take her back the next day and she bought the Harlequin pillow pattern (which also includes this smaller, pin cushion version).

She asked me to clarify the instructions on the pin cushion portion of the pattern and so I ended up making one while we were at our cabin. (Pearl was convinced it was a dog toy and would snatch it whenever I looked away.) I made two using Vanessa Christensen’s Simply Style and when I got home I made another with Carolyn Friedlander’s Architextures fabrics. I’ve also marked the quarter-inch stopping points on two more sets of squares (the most fiddly part of the process) in preparation for sewing them. If you’re in possession of any of those mini-charm packs (2.5″ squares), they work perfectly for this project. Making something three-dimensional was really a revelation.

(If you’d like to try your hand at the Harlequin pin cushion and live in the area, I’ll be teaching a class at Home Ec on Oct. 19. They’d make great holiday gifts, and wouldn’t you feel so smug having a head start on those! )

Stitching Up a Storm

My vacation sewing seemed to inspire me to keep at it and since I’ve returned I’ve finished another Sorbetto top (my favorite yet), worked on the back for my recently finished quilt top, and stitched up a Sew and Stow bag from the latest Quilts and More, designed by none other than my friend Mel McFarland.

Quilt tops await backs at the top of the stairs

I’ve also started working an afternoon a week at Home Ec Workshop. As always with a new job, it’s that combination of fun (Fabric! Yarn! Nice people!) and terror (Why is the cash register beeping? How much milk goes in a latte? How do I help someone pick up a dropped stitch?). I’ve gone in three times now and Codi and Anna have been infinitely patient.

I stitched the Sew and Stow bag as a shop sample—whipped it up after dinner one night, and it was a great excuse to combine three lovely fabrics. The instructions were super simple to follow and it seriously took less than two hours. I might make the tabs that keep it rolled up slightly longer—just an inch, really—when using fabric that’s a little heavier than quilting cotton—I used Anna Maria Horner’s lovely linen/cotton Ghost Wing for the body of the bag, Vanessa Christensen’s Simply Style for the top exterior (and an orange solid you can’t see to line the top). These would be great gifts, because they’re not just tschotkes, but really useful. Yay, Mel!

My Sorbetto top is made of…the fabric name is escaping me, but I’ve admired it for some time. Anyone remember? The bias tape was made from a Kaffe shot cotton fat quarter: all of it actually only required a 10″square of fabric. I used this great method from Collette: took me awhile to get it the first time, but once I did it works like a charm.

Finally, I had some very exciting news this week related to my “real” job…writing. Can’t share it for awhile, but you’ll definitely be hearing about it later this year. 

Who me? Sew clothing?

The fabric from my kettle cloth shift

I took home ec in school and learned the basics of sewing. I remember well the blue floral kettle cloth I used to stitch a shift in 8th grade. My mom still had a scrap left and I snapped it up. It’s amazing how a piece of fabric can bring back memories (even if junior high memories aren’t always the best, I did enjoy making and wearing this dress).

My mom was a fabulous sewer, and a very patient one, at that. She took couture classes at our local community college in the evenings and sewed complete, wool suits for herself. I, on the other hand, was impatient and didn’t understand why things needed to be “just so.” When it turned out that I’m not the same size and shape as most patterns, I took it very personally (as in, there was something wrong with me). The idea of meticulously manipulating a pattern so it would fit was too nitpicky for my personality, and so I quit sewing garments. Though I sewed simple outfits for my girls when they were little and easy to fit, it wasn’t until I discovered quilting that my passion for sewing was rekindled.

Sorbetto “muslin” from 2002 Alexander Henry fabric

Still, the desire to make clothing was lurking. Probably getting to know Jenny Gordy and see the hundreds of Wiksten tanks and Tovas on Flickr and at Quilt Market had a little something to do with it. So when Home Ec offered a class on making the Colette Sorbetto top, I jumped. I used a fabric that had 2003 on the selvedge and stitched a tank. It was fast and fun, but didn’t quite fit—there was gaping at the armholes. My online searches (because there’s an amazing amount of information out there about this top—I’m guessing it’s been made thousands of times) revealed that to fix it I needed to do a full bust adjustment (FBA). It sounded terrifying.

After weeks of noodling around online, I realized that Creativebug offered a FBA class with Liesl Gibson, of Oliver & S. The instruction was clear and accurate and I loved being able to stop and start it as I worked through the process. I managed not only to complete the FBA, but I hacked the sleeve I found here, adding an extra inch to make it fit better. I added a couple mother of pearl buttons from a secondhand shop and voila! Just like the old days, I hung my shirt up so it was the first thing I saw in the morning. I remember the thrill of doing that as a kid. I still felt it.

Sorbetto from Amy Butler voile

Then I used that pattern to make a second top out of some Amy Butler Cameo voile. I’ve now got fabric for a third top…and I’m excited to know that I can use those skills to sew other things, as well.  So excited to have overcome my junior high impatience …finally! Just goes to show, it’s never too late.

Double-cross Quilt

My 8 small cross blocks

I’ll hold off on sharing my shirt, because it needs some size adjustment (just learned the acronym FBA—full bust adjustment—which is what apparently I need to do to take in the excess under the arms while still making it fit across my chest).

Erick “squaring up” my blocks—a relative term for this quilt

But I’m happy to share the finished quilt top I made for my class with Erick Wolfmeyer at Home Ec. I was having one of those days when my brain just wasn’t firing on all cylinders and Erick helped me out—cutting and ripping.

Emily and her scrap quilt—she’s wearing a skirt stitched from one of the quilt fabrics

We all arrived in class with our 8 small crosses (and a few of us had 9 and had to decide which one to omit). Then it was time to decide on fabrics for the big crosses and how to arrange the 8 small ones. All of this required a lot of shifting and standing back and squinting. But each of us (save one person who had to leave early) finished our tops. It was a great lesson in color and in loosening up, as the quilt’s so wonky. I love how differently they all turned out! And once again Erick was terrific—and even stayed late so we could go home with finished tops.

Maureen and her butterscotch and blue quilt
Lisa and her neutrals—she’s going to make 4 more for a queen-sized quilt

I still feel a little like I’ve made a quilt for a clown (baby), but Erick said it reminded him of the alebrijes I have all over my house, and that made me feel that perhaps I have a consistent (highly colorful) aesthetic.

My finished top

It Never Rains but It Pours

That old saying certainly applies to Iowa City weather just now. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the roses as beautiful as they are this year and it suddenly dawned on me that it’s because the climate is mimicking Portland’s (aka The City of Roses) to a tee—cool temps, cloudy skies, and plenty of moisture. This rose was climbing up a trellis at a friend’s home.

But the phrase also applies to my current forays into sewing. I’m still working to finish a many-pieced quilt, but couldn’t resist taking a pair of Home Ec classes. On Saturday I attended the first session of a quilt class taught by Erick Wolfmeyer, about whom I’ve had the opportunity to write a couple of times (here’s one of them). He taught a pattern by a designer whom I was unfamiliar with, but whose work I’m loving—Pam Rocco.

Erick’s got a terrific color sense and having him help sort through our fabrics was fantastic. I somehow had far more fabric than anyone else…now how could that be possible?

Here’s a shot of each of our first blocks—one person’s working in neutrals, one in all prints, one in batiks. Guess what? I’m working in brights. At one point I said I felt like I was making a quilt for a clown. We’ll see how it shakes out. Session two is next Saturday.

On Thursday I took a class in which we made the Colette Sorbetto top. It’s a free, downloadable pattern, but it’s been so long since I made any clothing (especially any that fit, save the bias skirt I made at Home Ec), that I wanted help with that aspect of things. I’ll post more on that next time, but suffice it to say, I’m loving it. Forget cooking, gardening, exercising, and working…Can I please just sew all the time?