Book Review: Syllabus

It isn’t my intention to have very frequent book reviews in this Friday space. I think, however, that this book review feeds directly into my search for continuing creative inspiration. There are a lot of words in this review, but you will get more out of the book review, if you go buy the book (or find it at your local library). Definitely read and comment on my review, but go and get more out of it by looking at the illustrations and other materials in the book, too.

Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental ProfessorSyllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard about this book when I listened to the Creative Mom podcast. This is not normally my kind of book, but I really enjoyed it. I was also very taken with the profound insights into the creative process and the thoughtfulness in nurturing creativity. The book is the product of a curriculum from one of Lynda Barry‘s classes and the content still has those qualities. I liked Barry’s idea of a curriculum: clear standards for the class that had more to do with production than perfect drawing. My favorite thing about this book is that it conveys the message that I was trying to convey with the Creative Prompt Project:

Just draw (or paint or sculpt or dance) and don’t worry if it looks imperfect or childish. Experience the act of making something with your hands/body.

The book looks like a composition notebook, one of those black and white marbled notebooks seen in massive stacks at stores during the back-to-school season. Barry uses very humble materials. They are not low quality, but humble — crayons (pg.87), Flair felt pen, etc. The title page and verso are not very obvious at all, which caught me, as a librarian, off guard. There is no table of contents and no index. The text just starts with the question “Is Creative Concentration Contagious?” There is a method to the seeming madness, however, and the book includes the story about the class Lynda Barry taught.

As I wrote the review, I wanted to go back and read all the pages over again. There is so much to see on the pages, I think it is possible to get something new no matter how many times you look at the pages. One part I cannot get out of my head is something I knew, but could never put into words. I was very glad when Lynda Barry wrote it down for me. “We know that athletes, musicians, and actors all have to practice, rehearse, repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory’, but for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something not suspecting the PHYSICAL ACT of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about. Worrying about its worth and value before it exists can keep us immobilized forever. Any story we write or picture we made cannot demonstrate its worth until we write it or draw it. The answer can’t come to us any other way” (pg.163). I love the quote and think I will write it down and put it up where I can see it. It is so important to remember that inspiration is a must, but it is not everything. Practice. Practice. Practice.

There are a lot of slightly scary (I am not a horror person) and disturbing images in this book. A lot of the images are dark. This book is probably not appropriate for 5 year olds, but is perfectly fine for the tween to adult set. Also, it is a good reminder that not all drawings (or quilts or other artworks) are pretty in a conventional sense. This does not diminish other aspects of the piece (pg.29). The encouragement to just be creative regularly is the point.

The book discusses drawing a lot – not theoretical aspects, but the sheer magnitude of work the students are expected to create. Yes, you get better the more you practice, but you also have to have an “experience by hand” (pg.31), which has value. Barry writes “…what if the way kids draw — that kind of line that we call ‘childish’ — what if that is what a lines looks like when someone is having an experience by hand?” (pg.31). When I work, there is definitely something I gain by having fabric in my hands. It may be because my paid work is just stuff appearing on a screen while my quiltmaking is more of a whole body experience.

There is so much that translates directly to quiltmaking. I almost couldn’t take it all in. “I told them to color had in order to do it right. And go straight to use force — thinking I was showing them a short-cut — this took away the way of coloring they would have found on their own. By telling them just how to do it, I took the playing-around away, the gradual figuring out that bring something alive to the activity, makes it worthwhile, and is transferrable [sic] to other activities.” (pg.89) I love this passage. It makes me wonder if there is joy in using quilt patterns? Sure you have a quilt when you finish, but did the making of a design that someone else has already made bring joy to the quiltmaker? Perhaps this is the product vs. process question.

There are random and very interesting facts scattered throughout the book. “Every baby old enough to hold a crayon can already use and understand these 3 languages. Sometimes all at once.” (pg.14). She is talking about the relationship between pictures, music and dancing. This struck me as really amazing. She also talks about the relationship between hands, images and insights referring to using what is at hand to make art. One example is a child in bed interacting with his/her blanket as if it were alive. Another example is a of a homeless man acting out Romeo and Juliet with a cigarette butt and bottle cap as the main characters. (pg.15). This section is too insightful to include quotes. I would have had to type the entire section, which is why you should read this book. 😉

One good reminder (pg.19) is that even though we don’t like a piece of our artwork, it survives. This reminds me of finishing a quilt and being very glad to be done with it. Still, six months later, the quilt is one of my best. It is a good thing to remember that our work survives even if we don’t like it. Barry also states “Liking and not liking can make us blind to what’s there.” (pg.23). I make no secret of not liking brown and having a hard time appreciating Civil War reproduction fabrics. Some years ago, I forced myself to look more carefully at some of these types of quilts in order to appreciate something else about the quilt, such as the piecing and the design. While I have a hard time imagining such quilts in brights and dots, I can appreciate intricate and exact piecing.

The book is filled with tips, many of which dovetail with what I am trying to do with my blog. One states “I know if I can just keep them drawing without thinking about it too much, something quite original will appear…” (pg.21). I think it is very important to keep working, even if you make a lot of terrible work, because at some point, something great will happen that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t done so much mediocre or okay work. One tip is to use smaller spaces. Lynda has her students fold 8.5″x11″ sheets of paper into 16 squares and use those for their drawings. Friend Julie is making small square quilts as a weekly exercise. Is this something that would jolt my creativity? Your creativity?

Words in the book described as tips become profound when I think about them. One such group of words is something that I tried to espouse in the Creative Prompt Project. “Daily practice with images both written and drawn is rare once we have lost our baby teeth and begin to think of ourselves as good at some things and bad at other things. It’s not that this isn’t TRUE but the side effects are profound once we abandon a certain activity like drawing because we are bad at it. A certain state of mind (what McGilchrist might call ‘attention’) is also lost. A certain capacity of the mind is shuttered and for most people, it stays that way for life” (pg.115). This quote, idea hits close to home. I know I do it. It is easier to do things I am good at and avoid things I think I am bad at. I don’t do needle-turn applique’ because it is hard and I have to work at it. I want the time I spend to mean something more than ravelly edges on a piece of applique’. Still, what am I losing with this attitude?

One aspect of the ideas in the text that really struck me was about images. Lynda Barry writes “I was trying to understand how images travel between people, how they move through time, and if there was a way to use writing and picture making to figure out more about how images work. (pg.49) This idea has been rumbling around in my head, including the relationship to quiltmaking. We know that newspapers used to print patterns. We know that ladies would trade patterns. Now we have digital cameras and record quilt images that way. Still, we see images and they rumble around in our heads, morph and change before they become a quilt. Even when they become a quilt, changes are still possible.

The other thing about this book is the author encourages us to notice things. The composition book acts as a life note book. She encourages a small box to record things students did, saw, heard and then there is a space for a daily drawing. “what goes into your diary are things that you noticed when you became present — that is to say when the hamster wheel of thoughts and plans and worries stopped long enough for you to notice where you were and what was going on around you — little things…” (pg.61). This happens to me when I walk and am not listening to a book. This book makes me think I should just allow my mind to wander more often. What am I losing by not giving my mind that space?

Partway through the text, Barry writes “sometimes right before class I’ll see students rushing to finish the homework I gave them and I always feel sad. They’ll get nothing from the work without the state of mind that comes with it. It’s a thing Dan Chaon calls ‘Dreaming Awake’ – we can use writing and drawing to get to that state, but not by rushing” (pg.128). I think I get to this state when I am piecing a lot of the same types of pieces. It allows me to accomplish something in the quiltmaking world while my mind wanders off to other places to solve other problems. I don’t think we have enough of this type of time. While I like to have a basic plan in place when I start a quilt, often I just want to try something and that ends up as a quilt, like the Swoon did. I think there was an element of this type of working in the IRR as well. Lynda talks about this when she says “It’s a kind of picturing that is formed by our own activity, one line suggesting the next. We have a general direction but can’t see where we are until we let ourselves take a step, and then another, and then we move on to the third”(pg.136). There is an element of uncertainty when working this way, but also an element of excitement, because the maker does not know exactly where s/he is going.

Fixed places are a concept I cannot completely wrap my head around, but if what I think the author is talking about is true. I can identify at least one group of fixed places relevant to my life. Lynda B writes “Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success. It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years” (pg.181). I wonder how fixed places affect our lives. The point about failure and success is well taken. You can’t go back and we do look back on the past with rose colored glasses and forget the difficult parts.

Finally, Ms. Barry talks about journals. Journals, as you know, are near and dear to my heart. I have kept one for years and she gives voice to my thoughts on journals and writing in a journal when she says ‘the nature of notetaking by hand. Thinking of one’s compbook as a place. The practice of developing a place not a thing” (pg.194). For me, a journal is a place to think. It can be a mess. If I force yourself to make it beautiful I know it is less useful. I need a place to dump and my daily journal is that place.

Towards the end of this 200 page book, Barry tells a story “He said that during those years, as a child, he used to imagine that he was the son of the emperor of China, and the old, wise advisors of his father set a spell on him: he would have to experience all these terrible events so when he grew up and became the emperor himself, he would not make war. Since, I stopped thinking that art is decoration in life; for me, it is proof that art is essential to our surviving.” (pg.173). Using creativity to survive a terrible situation is so clever that I cannot think how this author thought of it except that he practiced and it was second nature.

I guess the thing about this book that I liked best was that it made me think in a different way. Barry’s book gives me a lot to think about. It made me wonder if I can to do more to develop my creativity? Practice more? Draw more? Dance more? More walking without headphones and an audiobook? Allow my mind to wander? There is a lot in what I have written in this review, but there is so much more. Go buy this book (shameless plug!!) and read it. Then read it again and again.

View all my reviews

Quilt Class: Nine Patch

Today we will start the actual sewing part of the class by making a Nine Patch. The 9 Patch is one of the easiest and most basic blocks a quiltmaker can make. It can be made from any sized patches and can be a component of more complex blocks. It is a good block to start with because it is fairly easy, gives practice on matching points and choosing fabrics all without making a new quiltmaker crazy. It also is a 3×3 grid, which means 3 patches across by 3 patches down. This grid is used in other more complicated blocks, so learning it’s structure will help you down the road. Knowing how to identify such a grid will enable you to dissect blocks in the future. It gives you a starting point for many skills.

Finished: Nine Patch
Finished: Nine Patch

This is usually the first block I teach when I teach beginning quiltmakers in a Sampler Class context. You will need:

Supply list:

  • fabric
  • rotary cutter
  • rotary cutting ruler large enough to cut 4.5″ squares
  • rotary cutting mat
  • fabric (2-3 different)
  • Optional: Mary Ellen’s Best Press (or similar)
  • Optional: pins
  • sharp trimmers or scissors
  • thread for piecing
  • sewing machine
  • Iron
  • ironing surface

I haven’t done a cutting tutorial. I have listed some below and you can find others if you search.

I haven’t reviewed all of the above tutorials in detail, but the brands are reputable and you should get some good information. The best way to learn is to take a class on how to rotary cut and be shown in person. Many quilt shops will give you a private lesson, if you arrange it.

Key Block
Key Block

I have marked the rows and patch with letters and numbers so I can more easily refer to them for you. You may want to enlarge the picture and make a small drawing to keep near your machine.

First, select your fabric. If you selected a large group of fabrics in the lesson on selecting fabric, you will just need a few from that group. As you can see I have chosen 3 fabrics. You should feel free to use more, if you want. The one in the middle is the only one I have placed in one square. I want this to be my focus fabric.

Nine Patch: Center
Nine Patch: Center

Step 1: Cut fabric. You need 9 squares 4.5″x 4.5″ each. I like to use a different fabric in the center of the nine patch block. It adds interest, especially to a 12″ finished size.

Adding Reds
Adding Reds
Adding Blues
Adding Blues

While this particular block is the first block I teach in the sampler series, I suppose I could make it easier by teaching a Four Patch.  I think you can handle a 9 Patch. This particular Nine patch will be part of the sampler quilt I am making. I always make a quilt along with my students.

Move Fabrics Around
Move Fabrics Around

Step 2 (above): After you cut the squares, move them around to make sure you have the placement of the fabrics in the position that is the most pleasing to your eye.

Start Sewing
Start Sewing

Step 3: Prepare to start sewing.

I usually start in the upper left hand corner (row 1 patch A and row 2 patch D), everything else being equal.

In general, if I don’t start in the upper left hand corner for other blocks,  I start by sewing smaller units/patches into larger patches. This is a good practice for blocks with sections that will later need to be sewn to other sections. Keep this tucked in your mind, but you don’t need to worry about it now.

Sew patches together in groups of 2
Sew patches together in groups of 2

Always use a quarter inch seam allowance.

If you have a needle down option, I always use it

Step 4: Place fabrics right sides together and place into machine with the foot on the fabric, but with the fabric in front of the needle. I have a quarter inch foot on my machine and I sew 2 patches together to make a unit that will fit into the upper left hand corner of the block.

Sew patches together in groups of 2 (front view)
Sew patches together in groups of 2 (front view)

The edges of the patches are lined up so that the bottom fabric is not showing when I sew. Fabrics are right sides together.

Patches Sewn
Patches Sewn
Chain Piecing
Chain Piecing

Nota bene: You can certainly take the sewn patches out of the machine, but this is a good time to talk about chain piecing. I have other bits and pieces handy so that I can keep sewing, so I will put them (see red rose fabrics above) through the machine after the patches for the block on which I am working. In the above photo, you can see scrap pieces for a journal cover. I find it is much easier to work on sewing scraps together rather than another block. For my journal covers, I sew pieces together any which way. I don’t have to worry about putting the right patch in the right place or not cutting off triangle corners. This method gives my brain space to concentrate on the block at hand. I like to use chain piecing as it saves thread and keeps the machine from eating the corners of blocks as the machine starts sewing a new patch.

Once you have done some blocks and know how you work, you can certainly put the next group of pieces for your current block through the machine after the first set. Also, if you feel confident, then go ahead and put the next set through the machine.

Cut off Chain Piecing
Cut off Chain Piecing

Step 5: After you have put your second group of patches, or your scraps, through the machine, cut off the sewn patches apart from your second group of sewn pieces. I usually just put one set of chain piecing through my machine after the patches for my current block, especially if I have a lot of fiddly placement. I would rather unsew one set of patchwork if I make a mistake than many.

Trim threads
Trim threads

Step 6: Trim threads.

I dislike a bunch of long threads hanging off the back of my finished blocks. The best way I have found to deal with that is to trim as I go along. Trimming threads is a personal preference. I find it makes my blocks look a bit better and there is less of a chance of anything getting caught in my machine as I sew further along in the project. I put threads and trimmings in a bag and use them for cat bed filling.

Set Seams
Set Seams

Step 7: Bring your 2 sewn squares over to your ironing board and press the threads on the seam allowance from the back with the patchwork closed. This sets the seams. You have not yet opened your piecing to look at it from the front.

I have no idea if this step really sets the seams. Fons & Porter do this and since there doesn’t seem to be any harm in it, I started to do it as well. If you skip this step, your patchwork will not fall apart.

Open Patches
Open Patches

Step 8: Open your patchwork so that the seam allowance is pointing towards the patch that will be in the very upper left hand corner.

Seam Allowance Points Away
Seam Allowance Points Away

Step 9: Point the seam allowance, referenced above, away from you.

You could also point it to the side (either right or left depending on which is comfortable based on the hand with which you press). Above is the way I do it, which probably depends on the size of my ironing board and habit.


Step 10: Swoop your iron carefully from the patch without the seam allowance to the patch which is laying on top of the seam allowance. In my case I am swooping carefully from the red towards the aqua dot.

Place Sewn Patches on Design Wall
Place Sewn Patches on Design Wall

Step 11: Place sewn patches on in their spot on the design surface.

Place Sewn Patches on Design Wall (detail)
Place Sewn Patches on Design Wall (detail)

You will notice that this newly sewn set of patches are quite a bit smaller (1/2″ to be exact) than your other cut pieces. No panicking is necessary. The patches are smaller because you have used 1/2″ of fabric for the seam allowance. You are on track, if your block looks like the two pictures above.

Sew Next Patches
Sew Next Patches

Step 12: Take the center patches (from row 1 patch B and row 2 patch E) and sew them together. Again, you will place your right sides together before you sew.

Use Chain Piecing Techniques
Use Chain Piecing Techniques

Step 13: Follow steps 3-11 for these patches and the right hand patches (row 1 patch C and row 2 patch F).

Press Opposite
Press Opposite

Step 14: Above we pressed towards row 1. After sewing row 1&2, patches B&E, you will press the seam allowance towards row 2. Patch E will be on top of your seam allowance.

Used Another 1/2"
Used Another 1/2″

Step 15: Place your pressed patch on the Design Wall. You have used up another 1/2″ of fabric.

After you have sewed all the patches for rows 1&2 together, you will need to sew the patches for row 3.

Step 16: Sew row 3 patch G to patch D. Yes, patch D is already sewn to patch A. Don’t press yet.

Step 17: Follow the directions in Step 16 for patch H and patch I. Wait to press.

Step 18: Press patch G towards patch G.

Step 19: Press H towards patch E

Step 20: Press patch I towards patch I

Nesting Rows
Nesting Rows

Step 21: Lay the column with patches B, E and H on top of the column with A, D, and G. Make sure that your seams look like the photo above – nested into each other, not resting on top of each other.

The reason to pay attention to pressing is that you can ‘nest’ the seams when you go to start sewing the rows. Nesting seams is when the seam allowances are pressed in opposite directions so that they rest against each other. It helps with accuracy in piecing.

Sew Left Column to Middle Column
Sew Left Column to Middle Column

Step 22: With the column with patches B, E and H on the bottom, sew the column with A, D, and G to the column with patches B, E and H on the right side.

I did use some pins at the seam allowances.

Step 23: Set seam between the left and middle columns.

Step 24: Press seam allowance between the left and middle columns in whatever direction suits you.

Lay Left Column on Middle Column
Lay Left Column on Middle Column

Step 25: Lay left column (with patches C, F and I) on top of the middle column.

It looks like the top row, but really is the right column. I just have it turned so the right column is on top.

Step 26: Pin at seam allowances, if desired. I usually use pins.

Step 27: Sew left column (with patches C, F and I) to the middle column.

Step 28: Set seam between right and middle column.

Step 29: Press seam between right and middle column.

Finished: Nine Patch
Finished: Nine Patch

Step 30: Congratulate yourself! You have successfully completed your Nine Patch!!!

Quilt Class: Selecting Fabric

I love fabric. I would love, as I have said, a loft as a studio so I could work on and see multiple projects at once. Mostly, I want to be able to store more fabric in a more organized manner. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy with the space I have and feel very fortunate. If someone is fulfilling dreams, that would be mine.

It is pretty easy for me to make a quilt from fabric I have on hand. I don’t often go to a shop and select certain fabrics with a special project in mind. I do sometimes, but most of the time, I go to my fabric closet with an idea in my head and start pulling out fabrics.

A good way to start is to have an idea in your head:

  • Brights with a black on white background – this is my go to fabric option since I love brights and black on white prints make interesting backgrounds.
  • Monochromatic – choose all one color in different prints. You can also use your color wheel to get a selection of hues that are near each other. This isn’t a good choice if you have complex piecing and need contrast for it to be seen. This choice creates a subtle palette
  • Focus fabric – choose a bold print and then select colors in it in tone on tones and solids to make up your palette. This can be a little boring for me as I like a lot of different fabrics, but it is a good way to start selecting fabrics and gives guidance on color.
  • Scrappy – one of my fabrics. Use a lot of fabrics with a cohesive background and you will have a sensational quilt. My Scrapitude quilt uses this technique and is one of my most successful quilts.
  • Pre-cuts – using pre-cuts is a quick way to select fabrics. When I use a line I remove 20% of the fabrics (to use for another project) and replace them with others, especially if I need more darks or lights. This makes my quilt different from others using the same fabric line and allows me to create contrast, if I need it.
  • Civil War/Reproductions – will give you a specific look
  • 1930s – will give you a specific look that can be more cheerful than other reproduction fabrics
  • There are other methods of choosing fabrics. What works for you is the right way.

Selecting fabric is a very personal choice. I don’t always have all of my selections picked out from the start. Often, I have most, but will add in some new fabrics later to add something that is missing to the quilt.

In the example below, I had a group of fabrics for a class I was teaching. I needed to choose some background-esque fabric to go with the Four Patches for my Double Four patch block. These are 12″ blocks, which are not my favorite. I like smaller blocks, 10″ at the most, but large blocks are good for teaching.  Since the pieces are large, they are easier to handle. As you might have guessed, I don’t normally work in this size, so I found the fabric selection challenging.

To start, I got out my color wheel. I like the Studio Color Wheel from C&T and Joen Wolfrom.

Then, I fell back on Lorraine Torrence‘s advice: Make Visual Decisions Visually. That is the best advice I have EVER gotten in quiltmaking. Go take a class from Lorraine and buy her books. She is awesome.

What this saying means in this context is that you need to get out your fabric and look at it with the other choices.

Plain Jane
Plain Jane

I had some four patches made, so I laid them on fabrics I was considering. I liked the bold graphic-ness of this print, but thought the flowers were too large.


I thought for sure this would work, but the cherries felt too scattered. It made the block seem too chaotic. They need to be hemmed in a little.


Something in the turquoise/ aqua color was off with this print. The aqua in the Bliss print is more green while the small flowered print in my four patch is more on the turquoise side. I thought the difference would be distracting.

Plain Jane (smaller flowers)
Plain Jane (smaller flowers)

This fabric is the same print as the first one, but the flowers are smaller. I like the way you can see more of the flowers. Success!


I chose the last print and above is the finished block. I like the look.

As an added note, I also prewash my fabrics before I use them in hot water and Retayne. Recently the Modern Quilt Studio posted an example of why it is a good idea to prewash

September 11 Quilts

This year is the 15th anniversary of the September 11.

If anyone says September 11, I don’t, first off, think of our YM’s friend’s birthday. I think of those planes crashing into the World Trade Center, the passengers taking over the flight that eventually crashed in the field in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. I think of how quiet the skies were for days after and waking up to a phone call from my mom telling me to turn on the TV. I think of not being able to get hold of DH and taking the YM to pre-school. I think of going to work and having to turn around and go straight home before the train stations closed and the trains stopped running. I remember watching TV for hours with DH and seeing the same images over and over. I think of the years of violence that followed.

As you know, I don’t always write about September 11. This year I am thinking about it particularly because of the violence that I perceive our election cycle is causing.


I made two quilts to do something to mark-commemorate-remember (I don’t really know the right word. Send a message?). The first was done very quickly and sent off to Houston to be displayed in a commemorative display at Quilt Festival and Market.

Fireball is a reaction to all the fire that was shown on TV. It is a woven quilt. I have made a few woven quilts, though not in a while. I cut the strips and wove them together, then quilted over the top of the weaving. The strips were not finished.

What Comes Next, 2011-2012
What Comes Next, 2011-2012

The second quilt is also an art quilt. It took me longer and was my wish/prayer for the future. It is called What Comes Next. clearly my wishes were not acknowledged because the things I wanted to come out of that terrible day were not what came out of it.

This quilt has similarities to my Blood and Oil quilt in some of the shapes and motifs I used. Someday I’d like to use those paper doll motifs again.

Quilt Class 2016: Assembling Supplies

I am particular about my supplies. I don’t always buy the most expensive notion, but I buy the best quality I can afford. If you have had a terrible sewing machine and suffered through the indignities of it’s copious malfunctions, you know way. If not, trust me.

Each post will have a supply list that includes some of the basic materials (called BSK) plus any additional helpful tools or supplies.


  • Fabric
  • Thread
  • Sewing machine needles
  • Post-it notes
  • Mary Ellen’s Best Press
  • Optional: True Grips


  • Sewing machine
  • quarter inch machine foot
  • applique’ foot
  • Color Wheel
  • Rotary cutter
  • Mat for rotary cutting
  • Rulers suitable for rotary cutting (I prefer Creative Grids)
  • Scissors
    • paper scissors
    • snips
    • fabric scissors
  • Pins
  • Iron
  • Pressing/Ironing Surface
  • Design Surface
  • Marking pen (I like the Pigma Micron & the Pilot Ultra Fine Point)
  • mechanical pencil (the sharp point improves accuracy) – I like the Sewline version
  • heat resistant template plastic
  • template plastic friendly pen, such as a ballpoint
  • glue stick
  • stiletto
  • Optional: lightbox


Notes on materials and supplies:

  • Use the good stuff. Don’t save your favorite fabrics for when your skills are better or for the right project. You will regret it.
  • If you want to do this class by hand, usually the templates are included or you can just add a quarter of an inch when you cut the fabric and sew on the drawn line.
  • Supplies are items you use up (fabric, thread, etc)
  • Materials are items you can use over and over (rotary cutter, sewing machine, pins)

ColorPlay Inspiration

Last time I said that I needed to find some brighter colors. My screen saver is the photos from the Alden Lane Outdoor Quilt Show. I went a few years ago and took lots of inspirational pictures. Recently I saw some of the non-quilt photos and thought of you!

Alden Lane Nursery Stock
Alden Lane Nursery Stock

Alden Lane is a nursery, so I wasn’t surprised to see this group of pots. I was also thrilled because this is the kind of photo you see in magazines. Real people don’t find artfully arranged and pretty pots laying around waiting for me to photograph them. 😉

They also are bright and cheerful and make a good color palette.

Alden Inspiration-Auto
Alden Inspiration-Auto

First is the palette the tool chose. I wonder if it tends to choose cool colors? I like the palette, though I think the quilt could end up being a preponderance of depressing neutrals. It is saved by the blue and green. I suppose you could control the depressing nature of the colors by adding in a lot more of the Kona Celery and the Kona Delft than the Kona Coal.

Alden Inspiration
Alden Inspiration

I rearranged the color selecting circles to get a few more warm colors. I was surprised to see Kona Cotton Rose show up. I wonder if it was like the other time where the tool couldn’t read the fuschias and this time the issues extended to orange?

Alden Inspiration 2
Alden Inspiration 2

I made one more just because this is so fun. On this palette I do like the Kona Wheat and the Kona Stratosphere. Those two colors together (nearly opposites on the color wheel) look fabulous together. I am not such a fan of the Kona Khaki and the Kona Leaf, but I think the leaf works. I might change out the Khaki. To what? I don’t know. I could, as mentioned above, just put in a little bit.

Keep reading these color posts, but try the Palette Builder tool with your own photos and see if you find a palette from which you want to make a quilt.

Gift Bags

Happy Birthday gift bags
Happy Birthday gift bags

I was at a NSGW event over the weekend in Sacramento. I took the opportunity to visit two shops: the Fabric Garden and Quilter’s Corner. The Fabric Garden had a wonderful Alexander Happy Birthday print I couldn’t resist. I bought a couple of yards to use as gift bags.

I was pleased to be able to use my star decorative stitch again. It looks a little wonky, but not enough to worry about.

September 2016 to Do List

2016 To Do List

As I said in July, I have been using a version of Pam‘s spreadsheet to keep track of my fabric usage. My goal is still not to get rid of my stash, though I do want to use my stash. This means I am not telling you my Net totals. To date I have used almost 136 yards of fabric, 21% of which is for charity. I am upset, because I am not using as much as I expected. I am, however, enjoying keeping track of my fabric usage, because I can see that I am actually using fabric.

September To Do

  • Wash fabric AKA The Great Unwashed-some progress
  • Cut out 3 notepad covers for gifts
  • Finish cutting out Day in the Park backpack variation
  • Sew 3rd Petrillo Bag
  • Cut out Art supplies pincushion
  • Sew Art supplies pincushion
  • Sew purple pincushion
  • Quilt Thanksgiving tablerunner #2
  • Quilt Thanksgiving tablerunner #3
  • Quilt Thanksgiving table mat
  • Create Partial Seam tutorial
  • Make Chubby Charmer for SIL

*New since last post

Finished since December 2015 post

  • Pull fabrics for QuiltCon class
  • Quilt Thanksgiving tablerunner #1
  • Cut out Anna Maria Horner Multi-tasker tote
  • Cut out Art supplies Sew Together Bag
  • Finish cutting out 3rd Petrillo bag
  • Cut out Thanksgiving tablerunner #1
  • Cut out Thanksgiving tablerunner #2
  • Cut out Thanksgiving tablerunner #3
  • Cut out Thanksgiving table mat
  • ATCs for CQFA December meeting
  • Finish sewing Anna Maria Horner Multi-tasker tote -this was a gift I intended to give during Holiday 2013- sigh. Missed 2014 Holiday deadline as well. I made it for birthday 2016 and it was a successful gift.
  • Sew Art supplies Sew Together Bag
  • Cut out Purple Sew Together Bag
  • Sew Purple Sew Together Bag
  • Bind Thanksgiving tablerunner #1
  • Make binding for Flowerburst
  • Quilt Christmas table runner
  • Sew Bon Appetit apron

Learning to Quilt


I have a number of tutorials listed on the menu above, which are free and you can access any time. Due to some large time commitments in the next little while, which will leave me little time to sew, I have decided to take some of this month (September 2016) and post Sampler Quilt block tutorials most days. I want the blog to seem like a quilt class. They will, essentially be the same as the tutorials, but I will rewrite them and, perhaps, add some information just to make it worth your while to read a revised version. This will start in a few days.

Back in the Dark Ages when I learned to quilt, everyone, or most everyone, learned by making a sampler quilt. [I know TFQ will disagree as she didn’t learn using a sampler, thus the qualifier.] I think it is a good way to learn because students learn most of the techniques required to make any block they can find.

In the class I took, we covered the basic skills of quiltmaking. We made templates and used scissors to cut them out. I have updated the tutorials as rotary cutting is de rigueur. I think it is better to learn to use them early. Also, we can make more quilts if we can cut faster.

I have added a number of additional techniques to my blog class, and I am not limiting myself to once a week. I hope to be able to finish by the end of September, but I may go into October. It will be October 4 before I can expect much sewing time.

The class will consist of the following techniques and blocks:

  • Selecting fabric
  • Nine Patch (piecing and rotary cutting)
  • Double Four Patch (smaller squares) – this is a bonus block
  • Double Pinwheel (triangles)
  • Dutchman’s Puzzle (triangles, flying geese)
  • Sawtooth Star (fussy cutting, flying geese)
  • Card Trick (piecing, layout of fabrics)
  • LeMoyne/8 pointed star (Y seams)
  • Dresden Plate (hand applique’)
  • Hexagon (machine applique’, Y seams)
  • New York Beauty (paper piecing)
  • The Dove (curves)
  • Drunkard’s Path (small curves)
  • Rose Wreath (fusible applique’)
  • Double Windmill (partial seams)
  • Pieced Backs
  • Quilting discussion and resources
  • Binding

Skills need practice. If you have done a block for each tutorial in the past, perhaps it is time to do them again? Perhaps I’ll have a drawing for those who complete a quilt top using my tutorials. We’ll see.

I hope you play along and enjoy the series!

Coral’s Fin

Coral: Queen of the Sea
Coral: Queen of the Sea

Now that Red is finished, I can focus on Coral the Mermaid. I have been working on her in bits and pieces, but focusing on finishing Red. One finished is better than none finished.

Coral is sewn, but not yet turned and stuffed. I decided I would reinforce the sections of stitching where I have to clip as I had some almost seam failures after stuffing Red.

Coral’s quilt just needs to be quilted to be completed. I suppose I could tie it with some embroidery floss. I haven’t that and it might be a good excuse to learn how to do it.

Coral's Fin
Coral’s Fin

Mom put elastic into the fin for me. I thought that would be better than having ties. Less frustrating for little fingers.

Craft Night

Recently we started having Craft Night again.I am not sure when we stopped, but I know that I was able to finish my Sampler because I took it to Craft Night. Life became too busy with little kids around.

This time the attendees consist of my two SILs and me. Almost all of our kids are out of the house. One left Tuesday for college, three are out on their own with jobs, families, etc and my YM is back at school and out of my hair until Thanksgiving. (I say that in a loving way) We alternate houses and mostly do crafts rather than quilting, though all of my projects are quilt related — or fabric related, I guess.

Craft Night Selfie
Craft Night Selfie

The other week the SILs made cushions for SIL #3’s couch. SIL #2 has a lot of fabric so they used fabric she had on hand. SIL #2 had all of the supplies on hand including pillow forms and by the end of the night SIL #3, who did the work, had two new cushions.

I have been able to cut up Triangle Technique pieces, finish Red, work on Under the Sea and do other handwork. It is sometimes a crush to get there, but I am getting a lot done and having fun catching up with the SILs.

ColorPlay Inspiration

It never ceases to amaze me that I see new things as I walk around the neighborhood. Then I realized that everything is mostly the same but the details are different. Different flowers are bloom, plants are different colors, people put new decorations up for different seasons and holidays.

Because of the drought, people are using a lot more succulents. Succulents are not my favorite, but I am trying to see the beauty in them. I saw this yellow flower on a succulent and took a super close-up.

Yellow Spiky Flower Inspiration
Yellow Spiky Flower Inspiration

Because I can’t resist fiddling, I moved the circles and did a, mostly, different palette.

Yellow Spiky Flower Inspiration 2
Yellow Spiky Flower Inspiration 2

There are little bits of warm colors – pinky reds and reds – and I capitalized on them. Still, this palette is not bright enough for me. I think I’ll need to find some tropical flowers and make some palettes out of them. 😉

Try out the Palette Builder on the website

Finished: Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood is finished! She went from a panel to a finished doll in not very long.

I did need some help. Mom helped with the gathering of the skirt, SIL #3 gave me some stuffing and SIL #2 offered various types of advice and some ribbon for her necklace. Group effort.Little Red Riding Hood

Red detail
Red detail
Red pieces
Red pieces

I am pretty pleased with how the whole group came out and I can’t wait to send it off and see what happens.

Petrillo Bag #3: Hacks

I spent some days on the weekend finishing the Petrillo Bag #3 (Buy the pattern from Sew Sweetness). I have a few threads to weave in before I can say DONE, but it is close.

In this bag, I made a few more changes to the original pattern.

Elastic sides
Elastic sides

First, I made the bag larger again, but instead of using clips like last time, I bought some wide elastic and used that. The reason I need to use something rather than let the bag be free is because I want the front closure to still work. It is a magnetic closure and probably wouldn’t be strong enough to keep the bag closed if the shape weren’t similar to the original bag. I want it bigger to be able to get stuff out easier (this bag is GREAT for conferences) and be able to stuff a sweater in for cold conference rooms.

I didn’t have enough of the sew-in magnetic closures that Sara of Sew Sweetness recommends, so I bought one more at Joann. Big mistake. Use the ones that Sara recommends; they are MUCH better.

Saggy zipper pocket from Petrillo Bag #2
Saggy zipper pocket from Petrillo Bag #2

Next, I needed a way for the interior zipper pocket to be stabilized. I use the zipper pocket a lot and it was completely saggy. You can see the outside folded over to the inside from the weight. One solution was to lessen the amount of stuff in the pocket.I do like my stuff so I sewed close to the edge on the top of the pocket as one possible solution to keep the pocket stable.

Stabilize zipper pocket
Stabilize zipper pocket

However, I thought of a solution that would allow me to keep the same amount of stuff in the pocket and not be saggy. I thought of this at the last minute when the bag was almost completely together, so my options for making it super nice were limited. I sewed tabs on to the ends of the zipper. They were sticking out just enough to allow me to do so, then I sewed the tabs into the side seam.

Stabilize zipper pocket - detail
Stabilize zipper pocket – detail

I didn’t finish the tabs, but I figured it wouldn’t matter much since the stablizers were on the inside. I would finish the edges and make real zipper tabs if I were making the bag again.

Petrillo Bag Slip Pocket
Petrillo Bag Slip Pocket

In a further effort to stabilize the interior zipper pocket, I also added a slip pocket to the outside of the padded pocket. I got this idea from making the Cargo Duffle. I hope to put the pens in this pocket instead of in the zipper pocket, which should help the stabilization. I divided the slip pocket into two sections using my phone as a guide for size.

The slip pocket isn’t in exactly the right place. I should have put it down a little further, because in its current location, it interferes with the padded pocket flap. Thinking about this made me realize that I probably don’t need a flap over the padded pocket.

I think I will have to make this bag again with further refined hacks.