Home Sew-In with Emma

Emma and her quiltThis weekend, my dining room was the setting of a sew-in, attended by me and my niece, Emma. She is starting junior high in a few weeks, but this summer, her goal was to make small quilts for two of her favorite elementary school teachers (how sweet is that?). This weekend, we finally got a chance to work on them.

Emma had the centers for both quilts sewn together when she arrived. My Mom had given her the pre-cut squares, but now she needed to cut her borders. A rotary cutter lesson was in order. She was a bit tentative at first and didn’t always make it through the selvage on the first cut, but soon she got the hang of it.

Then it was time to cut the batting and the backing.

Emma batting

The batting was so soft and cozy, though, Emma had to try it out first.

After some pin basting and a brief introduction to the wonders of a walking foot, Emma was quilting away on the first quilt. We decided to do simple lines through the corners of the center squares.

Emma quilting

When we came to the borders, I suggested making some wavy lines with the walking foot. But Emma had another idea. She had seen her mom make some pretty cool decorative stitches on her machine. So Emma tested out a few and got excited about the prospect. I wasn’t sure how the quilt would feed through, since the batting had a high loft, but we decided the worst that could happen was we’d have to take out the stitches. So she give it a try, and it turned out great!

Emma quilt border

Emma quilt

For me, sewing is usually a fairly solitary activity. Thankfully, my husband is willing to talk things through with me and offer his insightful color and design thoughts. But there is something wonderful about gathering with others to sew. Emma and I set up our machines next to each other on a long table, and we even swapped machines when a special feature was needed. We talked through ideas, experimented a bit, and gave each other encouragement. And we both got a lot done (even considering we ran up to the Fabric Shack in Waynesville and stopped what we were doing for occasional cupcake breaks). Emma’s just beginning her sewing and quilting journey, but still she thought of things that I wouldn’t have and was a great collaborator. I’m hoping we can schedule another family sew-in soon.

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Flashback: Aah Quilt

Pillow ticking fabricsNot too long ago, Greg and I were on a Toy Story kick, watching all three movies over the course of a week or so. I love the movies, but I did have a feeling of anxiety as we approached Toy Story 3. To me, Toy Story 1 is all fun and games; Toy Story 2 is fun, but I always tear up at the Jessie/Emily sequence. And Toy Story 3? It’s a sob fest. Every single time.

So as we sat down to watch Toy Story 3, Greg decided to prime my tear pump by bringing out Little Tiny Teddy. Little Tiny Teddy was Greg’s very favorite toy friend growing up. (When we were dating, Greg actually wooed me with a story about LTT getting lost in a snowy footprint when Greg was 6.) I had steeled myself enough that I didn’t start crying then and, instead, brought out my own collection of childhood friends to watch the movie.

Ready to watch TS3

From left to right: Aah, Baby, Beatrice, Tammy, me, and Little Tiny Teddy (plus tissues at the ready).

We watched the movie, and I sobbed as usual (three viewings, three sob fests). But after the movie, I started thinking about my old toys and especially my very special friend Aah. Aah was my security pillow. He had a pillow ticking cover that always seemed to feel cool, and I would say “aaah” each time I laid my head on him.

Me and my friends

On our way to watch Saturday morning cartoons. From the top down: Snoopy, Baby, doll I can’t quite remember, Tammy, Raggedy Ann, and Aah.

As you can see in the before and after photos, Aah got a lot of love. He was pretty important to me. So several years ago, I decided to make a quilt tribute to Aah. I collected pink and green fabrics that reminding me of pillow ticking, and but them together in a simple basket weave pattern.

Aah quilt

Aah label

Aah and Aah

Aah the quilt and Aah the pillow.

Poor Aah the pillow. His current appearance is not for the squeamish. But he was a good friend. And now, when Aah the pillow is packed away, I still have Aah the quilt to remind me of him.

The Big Board

Ironing fabric,  pressing seams—it’s all a regular part of a quilter and sewer’s day. So why not make it fun? That’s been my goal this year. First, I bought a fancy dancy new iron, the Oliso Pro, at the International Quilt Festival show in April. It’s the kind that rests horizontally and makes a cute robotic sound when its resting legs come down. Then, for my birthday, Greg got me a Big Board ironing board topper.

big board full length

From Big Board Enterprises, the Big Board measures 22″ x 59″, and it fits right over your regular ironing board. It’s made of wood, and it comes with a board cover and a piece of batting cut to size. I love it! It’s so nice for pressing seams once a quilt starts getting a bit bigger because you can press so much more of the quilt at one time.

And before the quilt gets that big, there’s lots of room to organize your pieces, too.

big board surface

Since I do most of my cutting and pinning on the floor of my craft area, the board comes in handy for times when my joints need a break and I feel like standing. I have done a lot of pinning on the board, but I haven’t tried cutting yet.

big board ironing

Of course, the board is only as stable as your ironing board is and mine is a bit wobbly. But the board doesn’t make it any more wobbly, in my estimation. The board just makes ironing more fun!

A special thanks to Kelly Biscopink for turning Greg on to the Big Board!

Fun facts: Pressing is an up-and-down motion used to open seams; pressing doesn’t stretch or pull the fabric. Ironing is a side-to-side motion that is used for getting wrinkles out of fabric.

Elephant Place Mats

elephant place mats styled

In 2011, Greg and I totally rocked our Christmas presents to each other. With his gift to me, I became a proud owner of the greatest football franchise of all time, the Green Bay Packers. Yep, I’m a real shareholder in my home-state team, with voting rights and access to a special owner’s only area of the pro shop. The gift was completely unexpected, and I love being a part of the team.

Packer certificate

With my gift to him, Greg became the proud father of two orphaned African elephants. I realized how much Greg loved elephants thanks to Pinterest. After I get done looking at all the pretty quilts and craft projects, I start browsing through other categories. And anytime a baby elephant would pop up on my screen, Greg stopped whatever he was doing to get a closer look. When it came time to start thinking about Christmas, I remembered an Oprah show I saw with Kristin Davis, of Sex and the City fame, talking about an elephant orphanage. After a bit of digging, I found the place—The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

The Trust protects animals in Kenya, but they are best known for hand-rearing orphaned elephants. Many of these elephants are orphaned when their mothers and the rest of their herds fall victim to poachers. Through the Trust, you can foster the elephant of your choice, choosing from the dozens of elephants they have in their care. The two elephants I decided on for Greg were Ishaq-B, an older girl, and Kithaka, a young boy.

Ishaq-B and Kithaka

Ishaq-B and Kithaka

Over the past years, we have loved keeping up with the growth of our elephants, thanks to the Trust’s Facebook page and monthly e-mail updates with details on each elephant. We’ve gotten to know their personalities, too. Ishaq-B was a troubled girl, getting into fights with other elephants, but now she has matured into one of the mother-figure elephants at the orphanage. We started fostering Kithaka shortly after he arrived at the orphanage and saw him struggle through the teething process without his mother’s milk (teething is a very dangerous time in an elephant’s life, it turns out). But once he came through that, he became an incredibly loveable guy—mischievous, a bit of a show-off, the runt of the litter, and the one who can be found chasing the poor gazelle at the Trust.

Since the elephants are a big part of our lives, I like to give Greg elephant-themed gifts once in a while, too. So for his birthday this year, I made these elephant place mats.

elephant placemats

They each measure 12.5 x 17 inches. I sewed strips of fabrics that Greg had mentioned that he liked to form that background of each. Then I used a pattern from a free download I had gotten from Interweave’s Sew Daily for the elephants.

I’m not super experienced with applique or with my pack of Lite Steam-a-Seam 2, so the process wasn’t without incident. Despite reading the instructions for the umpteenth time, I still drew one of the elephants on the wrong side of the fusible. I didn’t realize this until after I had cut it out, however, so one of the elephant shapes has fusible under it and one doesn’t. I have to say, the fusible does help a lot in keeping the shape stable and easy to handle. And the shape without the fusible is starting to fray a bit already.

elephant placemat 1

elephant placemat 2When I gave the place mats to Greg, he wanted to name them. So the mature one with the fusible is Ishaq-B, and the one without the fusible, the troublesome one, is Kithaka.

To see some of the amazing elephants at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, check out their Facebook page. And maybe consider adding an elephant to your family, too.

Making Fabric

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Victoria Findlay Wolfe, past president of the New York City Mod Quilt Guild and author of 15 Minutes of Play. The lecture took place in my hometown of Waupaca, Wisconsin, and was presented by the Pieceful Hands Quilt Guild, which just happens to be the guild my mom is a member of. What a great event! The guild provided snacks and drinks beforehand. And some of the members even created quilt tops, using Victoria’s techniques, to cover the tables (how thoughtful was that!).

Victoria tablecloth

Victoria tablecloth 2

About 140 people attended the lecture, and every single one of them left inspired.

Victoria quilts

Victoria talked a bit about her central Minnesota upbringing  (those of us from central Wisconsin could relate) and shared her inspiration for 15 minutes of play, on which she based a website and the book. And, of course, she showed some fabulous quilts. I didn’t get any good photos, I’m afraid—just the peek of the table afterward, above.

My two main take-aways from the lecture were: If you have some blocks that no longer inspire you (or ones that you’ve bought or have been given), look at them to find what you like about them. Then use that as the starting point for figuring out what to do next. If it’s a project I’ve set aside, I know I tend to only see what I don’t like about the project, so that was actually a helpful revelation for me. Secondly, in those 15 minutes that you play each day, consider making fabric (Victoria’s term for sewing together small bits of fabric to get larger pieces that you then use as you would a non-pieced piece of fabric). The made fabric can be used to tie together random blocks, or it can be the starting point of a quilt. And those bits of fabric don’t need to be scraps from other projects—you can make scraps by cutting apart your yardage fabric, too.

Mom and I were among those inspired by the lecture, so the next morning, Mom pulled out some blocks she’d made many years ago in fabrics much darker than her current palette.

star blocks 2

Our first step was to look at the blocks and say what we liked about them. Mom said that she liked the scrappiness of the stars (which are pretty much made fabric themselves) and the bits of white that pop up in many of the blocks. (I said I liked the bits of pink that popped up—Mom cringed.) So next, we went through her stash, pulled out the white or white-ish fabric (plus a few pinks), and started to make fabric.

making fabric

From that fabric, Mom may make sashing (maybe making it wonky so the stars become dancing stars), or she may mix it with the stars in some other way. However it turns out, she is excited about these blocks again! And we’re both excited to cut into our yardage to make scraps to make fabric! (We haven’t worked up the courage to actually do that yet—but we’re excited about the possibilities once we do.)

Thanks to the Pieceful Hands Quilt Guild and to Victoria Findlay Wolfe for a truly fun and inspiring evening. To read Victoria’s take on the event, check out her blog post here.