Wednesday, May 17, 2017


I did something unusual this month-- I took a vacation! Now you might think that having my own sewing business is vacation every day of the year and you'd be right, but sometimes the artist in me needs to get out from behind the computer screen! 

For my sister's birthday, we met in Sedona, Phoenix-- she picked it and I happily agreed. She was flying in from Florida and we were supposed to land within a half hour of each other in Phoenix-NOT! She had two layovers and made it on time-- my straight flight was delayed four hours! Fortunately, I have the presence of mind to always travel with hand work...

(This is a secret project I am working on-- English Paper Piecing clamshells-- more in another post, and boy, did I get a lot done!)

So getting in very late, I missed my trip to the Desert Garden in Phoenix. Sorry, no cactus flower embroidery inspiration! :-(

...and basically we were up an at 'em to drive up to Sedona the next day. 

Born and raised in the Northeast-- there's always something enchanting about cacti growing by the side of the road. And while I think of Arizona as a flat desert, its actually quite mountainous-- 99 degrees in Phoenix but we still had a snow peak up ahead.

We stopped at the famous Montezuma Castle site-- what struck me was how PEACEFUL it was there. Located by a little stream, I could just envision the Native American women of ages past doing their sewing by the lake. XOX

Then it was back on the road-- as we drove around a last mountain the red rocks came into view and they were stunning.

The first night in Sedona we went to the Tillakawapakawa Center, and trust me, it is WAY easier to spell than to say. It's a place loaded with art and galleries. Many many beautiful things to ogle and fortunately the shops closed early or my credit card would have been smoking! The buildings all looked pretty new, but everything was arranged so carefully like a little village and every spot was like a work of art, too. So my camera got the workout!!

Next day we hiked up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. All uphill... this place does not lack gorgeous vistas! 

Unfortunately, I got distracted by this person's house that could be seen below... In a former life, I may have been a real estate agent, because a pretty property and location, location, location, never escapes my eye!

 It had a pond, waterfall, and God only knows how many bathrooms... basically, the only fault is the fact that stalkers with zoom lenses will be spying on you from the Chapel!

This is my sister--  we are blond and brunette versions of the same person and a better traveling companion you will never find. She is very much agreeable when ill-advised side trips are in discussion, also will want to buy you any and all items that take your fancy in gift shops. DO NOT wear mascara with this person, as you will soon have tears rolling down your cheeks from laughing too hard! She does need to work on her rock star hand signal though. XOX

At night we shopped at the more touristy area-- I am a sucker for a gift shop and don't mind the tourist traps at all-- I just love to take all of it in, see where all the visitors are from, and have the locals tell you the best things to do.

Of course, I assured my sister quilt shops were off the table, but this one was a mile down from the hotel, so what the heck! Taking me into a quilt shop is as ill-advised a side trip as they come.
Well worth the visit-- they had four rooms, beautiful batiks and a nice selection of red rock applique patterns.

Day Four 
we drove up to the Grand Canyon. The elevation is 7000 feet-- 
so to get there from Sedona, it is a climb-- first we went through the Oak Creek Canyon-- a narrow shady crack with trees, a creek, the most charming cabins, and as cool as the day was warm. Then you switch back and forth over a great hill-- the views as you went higher and higher were spectacular... it was my turn  to drive though, and  BOTH hands were firmly gripping the wheel, believe me! So no pictures!

While admiring the incredible sight, I thought to myself-- it's really not a big hole in the ground-- the bottom of the canyon is at an everyday type of elevation- it's the surrounding cliffs that are spectacular!

Both times I have visited the Grand Canyon it has just been for a day. I love a hike and I have vowed both times to return and walk down at least partway. This first time I went was in February and this time I noticed how much greenery there is down there-- we could not see the Colorado River at the bottom. 

Then of course you see something like this and you realize it's time to get back to civilization and... HOME.

Back at home, for the flower basket of the month, I went with this favorite mountain flower and a jar that probably seeped into my consciousness at Tillakawapakawa. Thanks for joining me!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Baltimore Album Progress...

I made a big decision after releasing the finishing instructions for the Baltimore Album BOM... 

Stitching the gridded border back and forth on my sewing machine got my rotator cuff all aggravated again, and a survey of my friends concluded that the piece needed fancier border.

So I ripped off my borders and started over... digitizing them!

That was a couple of months ago, and while not quite finished, I've made a ton of progress and it looks amazing...

First, the digitizing was ALOT of work! I took my lily and acanthus theme from the inside sashings and expanded on it. The nice thing about working on the computer is that I can actually compose the entire border to the exact size, and even add photos of the existing piece, so you'd think there'd be no surprises when it came to stitching!
 Each piece is designed for the limits of a 7" x 12" hoop and then takes approximately three hours to stitch out... most of this is working to align the sections.

This is the back and you can see how pretty it looks. I have actually gotten to be even BETTER at hooping... problem is, the parts that are already stitched out shrink down, so each successive piece has to be resized to photographs of adjacent pieces. 

I know there are others who use significant machine embroidery in their quilts, but I honestly feel that what I am doing in hooping and entirely machine embroidering this quilt is totally maverick. At least I don't remember seeing any class offered for this! So the learning curve has been a bit steep. Matching points below!

With that said, there is some comforting similarity with the process of quilting. For instance, you can bury all of your thread tails just as you would on any other piece.

Or as I thought, any crazy, obsessive thing a longarmer can do on a show quilt, a machine embroiderer can do better! Beyond that, some strategically placed crystals will help where they have to.

On a side note-- these two items look very similar but actually have a VERY different effect when used on fabric... ask me how I know. One of them has been BANNED from my sewing room, BANNED from my house!!!

Other than that, the possibility of the EPIC FAIL we artists know and fear, at this point is pretty small-- all I would have to do is take off a border and replace it if things went badly. Not that I want to do that, but it's a comforting thought, every time I press the START button on the ol' Babylock!

The end is near, and I'm really pleased with how flat this thing has remained. The reality is that every stitching project will look better after it is washed and blocked. So I tested some extra stitch outs, and the good news is, in spite of all the different threads and colors I bleeding! My good friend Tere D'Amato offered to help me with some hand holding when that day comes. XOX

So without further ado...
Here's "A New England Album"!

The borders are so very large because my hoop needs all that to grip on to-- they will ultimately be trimmed to the scallop shape. Economy of materials was never a hallmark of my process!
I have the top border to go which will hopefully be done this weekend. Then binding... and then it's off to the Vermont Quilt Festival!

While everyone hopes for a ribbon, with all the amazing gorgeous quilts out there, it doesn't often happen... I am just over the moon, first of all, to be this close to finishing this, and second, I think I've created a totally new look of my own, in spite of the variety of quilts that are already out there. That may sound egotistical, but remember-- I may be the only one crazy enough to do this!

Thanks so much for reading, and I hope it encourages you to do whatever crazy thing you like to do-- nothing is better to me than when everyone is doing their thing. Go forth and sew!


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How to make flowers in thread...

 Here’s a little peek of how our Flower Basket of the months are born… well bloom… the soil is the idea, the water is the work, and the sunshine is thread!

    For a monthly series, we like to follow along with what is actually blooming… so far we have the early crocuses, then the daffodils and tulips… it’s always nice to have a theme to guide you, and also for a very practical reason—we then have to find a sample to sketch! It’s a good excuse, if excuse be needed, to buy flowers. Here’s what we snagged this month, just at a local grocery store:

I resisted all the candy, (peeps are my favorite!) and bought this tiny Easter basket this month for some additional inspiration. Now how are we going to fit that huge pot of lilies into that tiny basket?-- it's easy, when you have an artistic license!

I am not actually a big fan of lilies, and Easter, besides the peeps, is not high on my list of favorite holidays, (what's to love about getting up at sunrise on a raw morning-- yes, I know there are morning people out there who will disagree with  me) but I’ve been digitizing them for the Baltimore album borders and they really are lovely flowers when considered just for their shapes. You can change the colors to turn them into any sort of daylily, too. The smell is heavenly. I still wouldn’t get up in the dark, though. 
I took lots of pictures of the lilies-- I always like to have a bud, a partly opened flower, and a bloom, from all sides.

Sometimes I just sketch, but this time I took the photos into Photoshop and cropped out the flowers I like. So I cut and paste, and make larger, make smaller, flip, rotate— Photoshop is really handy that way. You might think we then just press a button to digitize, but these are not "Photostitched"-- if such a program worked, I'd be out of business! 

The leaves are going to be sketched in—there will always be a place for the good old #2s in my studio. These pieces are in a diamond shape, and the leaves will fill our the corners and provide a nice backdrop for the flowers... I love drawing leaves.

In the embroidery software, every shape is lovingly drawn, colored, assigned a stitch type and a stitch angle. It's amazing how many "colors" you can get out of a single thread color, just by changing the angles. The different ways the light hits rayon thread is wonderful. The lilies are a challenge because they are mostly white, and beyond cream there are not a lot of thread colors to use without making them too dark. We used dark greens for the leaves, to contrast with the flowers. Then white, cream, and the palest ever yellow for the blooms, a couple of darker khaki greens for the flower shadows. The fun part was picking the basket colors-- we went all out, bright!

It's good to lay out all of your colors ahead of stitching-- if you don't like them together now, you won't later. Also, you see how easy it is to take the range of lily colors and change them to any colors of your choice-- use a series of dark yellows, orange, and then red and you'd have a Tiger Lily! And if you don't want an Easter basket,  you can change those to shades of brown or tan. 
We love to see you making these designs your own-- coloring outside our lines is definitely encouraged!

Our lily is now stitched-- as quick as it is to write about it, at this point of the process. we may have already logged sixteen hours. Now it needs to be made into a quilt block and mug rug... many hours ahead but most of the heavy labor is done. This point of the design is always a bit of a relief for me-- I did it!

Here you can see our quilt block is finished, and we're going to show the making of the mug rug because it's a bit more colorful. We decided to do something different this time and stitch on a colored background-- white flowers on white fabric is a favorite look of mine, but frowned on in this establishment because it is a BEAR to photograph!

I am thinking pink or purple, but I don't like pink... so it's purple! 

The background gingham is fabric I bought almost twenty years ago to make my toddler daughter and Easter dress... it never got made, sniff, sniff! But I'm glad I saved it because it is perfect to go with my little digitized basket. Write me if you want some-- I still have about two yards left! Here we are, halfway there...

These mug rugs completely stitch in the hoop including the quilting. And now we are finished! All told, a good 4-5 days have elapsed. It's time to make a cup of tea and have a photoshoot. You'd think that looks good enough to swallow after all the hard work... only I like my tea with milk and sugar, but lemon looks so much better, don't you think?
I hope you enjoyed the start to finish "tour"! Spring has now sprung, or at least it's trying hard, and the choice of flowers will become immense! Please comment with your favorite blooms and we will try to stitch ALL OF THEM this summer. Our next series of baskets are going to feature more than one flower. XOX

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Great Quilt-in-a-Day Challenge

   I’ve been seeing "Modern" quilts everywhere. The clean white backgrounds, rainbow colors, and simple patterns just make everything look so fresh and easy. I even went as far as to buy a Tula Pink pattern… occasionally I allow myself the indulgence of using someone else’s pattern and instructions for some mental down time... it's good to see what else is out there. I picked Tula's “Modern Alphabet.” because it looks easy and fun
     This is a project I am making for someone who has a special occasion coming up—buying the fabric, I picked blue Kaffe and Modern Background Paper, was the easy part. But time is becoming of the essence, and the fabric has been staring up at me, expectantly for more than a couple of months now. I need this done.
We've all seen ads for "Quilt in the Day'" and I’ve always wondered if this is really possible. I am not speedy. I have a Saturday by myself at the house… I am turning off my phone, locking the doors, and to set myself up for success have cleaned out a corner of my sewing room and readied my cutting board with new rotary cutter blade, etc., etc.
     Here's the math (I like math): I am thinking I can make one letter in about 15 minutes-- or that's four an hour, so after 7 hours I would have the blocks done. Since a 12-hour day is nothing when you’re having fun, that gives me five hours for assembly. All seems as easy as pie. I will probably send this out for quilting so that doesn't count. And with my quilting skills, even a year would not be enough time. 
     There will be frequent updates throughout the day. Let's do this.

7:00am. The clock starts. Weather is cooperating-- it's pouring outside. Doors locked, phone off, iTunes on. (I prefer Classic Rock.) “A” is a simple half square triangle. You make V as the same block and turn it upside down. Check and check. Now for “B.” I don't like B. Sorry, Tula!—it’s too modern for me. A couple extra triangles save the day. C. Check. Very straightforward, but I am having a premonition that this could get to be a bit boring. Thank God it's not 45 of the same block! Four blocks down for the hour—right on schedule!

8:00am. I am looking ahead a bit, and trying hard to LIKE the rest of the letters of the Modern Alphabet! Redesigning letters was not in my timetable. D is fun, and it’s also for Done! Check. But I don't like E. Yes, I know this is the Modern Alphabet, but four years of studying typography in college won't allow me to stitch an “E” that looks like a German Flag… the clock is ticking…

9:00am “E” was brutal. Made my simple changes and came up an inch short on the width. More coffee needed? So I just decided to add a strip and I LOVE the way it came out. For every epic fail, there's a happy accident.  Also costing me time, my background fabric is directional-- it has words on it. The words appear to be in German, (a theme here?) so I’m not sure anyone would notice if I made a mistake by putting it upside down. I don't intend to exhibit this in Munich so I'm going to let that go a little bit for time’s sake. That makes a grand total of TWO blocks now for this hour... So it's a third coffee and I will meet you back here at 11. The rubber needs to meet the road.

12:00pm Time flies when you’re having fun-- Woohoo!—just finished my “L,” halfway there. Thirteen blocks in five hours—not quite on schedule but there’s a lot of daylight left. I discovered something new about myself and I’m not proud of it... I use up a lot of time standing back to admire my work! F and G went well. The “H” really needed a crossbar, but easily added... Tula’s “I” is adorable and oh, sew easy to make. J, K, and L were also pretty simple...   I did break protocol no took calls from my mom (it’s a beautiful day in Florida) and my son (no cavities). It is now breakfast time! Trying to limit that to a half hour. Then I am pretty much assured I could have all the blocks done by 6ish (dinner) time and then spend the evening connecting the rows. Further than I thought I might have been. I got this!

2:00 Fourth row just finished. I have to admit I am really getting tired mentally and physically.  Seven straight hours of sewing. Taking another 1/2 half hour break and vowing to continue! M, N, O and P are finished. Q is really not looking like a Q to me, but I can’t face alterations anymore.

3:00 Fading fast!! All I have to show for the last hour is a T and a V with the words upside down. Because with directional fabrics, the trick of turning the A upside down didn’t work.... I can’t live with it, so it’s a redo. Worst of all, my cat is starting to help me... probably wondering where mom has been all day. Help!
3:53 Revived a bit. I reminded myself that the foundation of survival skills is THE WILL TO GO ON. I  learned this valuable life lesson by watching a TV show about a mountain climber who almost died in the snow after a fall, but pulled himself ten miles with his bare hands and a broken leg. I’m not on my hands and knees yet, or bleeding, so buck up. I got this. Kitty convinced me to stop doing the letters in order and pick some of the more fun, easy ones to encourage myself. He then left to check his food bowl and take another nap. His strategy will be a good one until I am even more tired and have only hard blocks left to finish up. So... for this hour, I have a redone V, a W with really bad points made from the old V (in this quilt, “W” is for Wonky!) and an X. Four left to go! I could still be done by dinner time, but the S needs a rework, also a text to my daughter assured me that Tula’s Q does not look like a Q at all.   I'm sorry if I am ragging on Tula a bit... this is a gorgeous, well written pattern. I get that the letters are somewhat left to the imagination. The problem, as in so many of my relationships over the years, is with me. So I have now nicknamed my quilt “Carol’s LESS Modern Alphabet.”

5:15pm The only thing missing is YOU! Get it? Feeling very punchy, a bit smug, running out of floor space and very, very hungry! YOU will have to wait until after dinner... Its time for a LONG break. Sewing room also needs a big cleanup to make room to cut those LONG white strips between the rows. Thread tails and snips of Kaffe everywhere. So instead of four blocks an hour, I pretty much averaged TWO... this confirms the lifelong maxim we've all know-- everything takes twice as long as you think it will. 

9:00pm U is finished, Q is revamped and it's time for the five 56" rows of sashing. Cleaned up for a bit, cutting the rows took about an hour and two out of ten seams are sewn. Honestly just about to call it quits, though I might have another hour in me. So I guess the answer is NO, I can't quite do a quilt in a day...  I'm left with a pile of dishes in the sink, and a project that's still a UFO for now...

10am the next day… took me only about an hour to finish the long seams after a good nights sleep! Feeling super positive after being a downer at the end of yesterday... the quilt is done for now—I’m WAY ahead of schedule. I need more of my background fabric (thank you, Fat Quarter shop for still having it) and a little math to bring it up to a twin bed size.

Would I attempt this again? Honestly, probably not--- I am really beat today and won't get much done anyway, so I might as well have taken the weekend to do it more leisurely. But I learned a few things about quilting and about myself... Standing back to look at things does not make for progress... put the pedal to the metal on long seams... the more tired you become, progress starts to become impossible… and the biggest take away of all-- I do not really ever get sick of sewing!!! The above photo represents 18 hours of work. I absolutely LOVE this quilt and have a knock it out of the ballpark gift for someone dear.... QUILT IN A DAY—an experience that’s now OFF my bucket list!