American Sign Museum

Sign Welcome

I’ve been meaning for years to visit the American Sign Museum here in Cincinnati. It opened in 2005, and finally, this past Friday, thanks to Super Summer Hours, Greg and I went. And we loved it.

The museum’s sign collection includes pieces from throughout sign history, starting with hand-carved wooden letters and going through the neon age.

This sample was in the lobby of the Beverly Sign Company. It showcased some of their gold leaf fonts. I love the descriptions in the arrows: “Nice for a bank,” “Pretty popular,” and everyone’s favorite, “The husky one.”

Sign Beverly samples

In our history lesson of signs, we learned about trade signs. These signs featured imagery that would indicate to someone who couldn’t read what the business did. Shoes were a popular motif as were watches.

Sign trade sign

These art deco neon signs were two of my favorites.

Sign Art Deco

While there were a lot of Cincinnati-centric signs, the signs have come from all over the country. The satellite came from a mall in California, I believe.

Sign room shot

I was dying to flip through all these lovely letters.

Sign lovely letters

One of our favorite examples was this salesman’s sample. The letter R glowed purple in an art deco box, but it was really just a white R illuminated by a red and a blue neon light.

Sign purple R

The R above by itself looks like this D.

Sign letter D

I meant to take a photo of the cool salesman’s suitcase, but in a sign museum, you get a lot of extra stuff in your pictures, too.

Sign signs

We signed up for the 2pm tour, as the tours were highly recommended by the museum web site. And I’m glad we did. Oddly enough, there weren’t a lot of signs about the signs, so the tour guide really helped put it all in context, and he told great stories about the signs, too. As a bonus, at the end of the tour, we were given a demonstration by a neon sign maker whose business is housed in the museum building.

It was truly one of our best Summer Hours Adventures. I would highly recommend a visit to the American Sign Museum if you’re ever in Cincinnati.

Sign for Kara


The Quilting Blues

Quilting Sawtooth Star 1

This past weekend, I spent all my sewing time working on the quilting for my Sawtooth Star quilt. As I mentioned last time, I already had about 10 hours in on it before this weekend. And yet Saturday before I started, I once again contemplated tearing out all the quilting.

Why would I tear out all that work? Because . . . everything.

OK, I’ll be more specific.

  • I don’t like my quilting. I just don’t think I’m very good at it. Yes, I could get better by practicing and by reading up on how to do it better. But I prefer to just will myself to get better, and so far that hasn’t worked, much to my frustration. So I look at my uneven stitches and non-rounded ends and cringe.
  • I’m way outside my comfort zone on this one. My preferred type of quilting is minimal straight lines. But since this is a gift (note to self: do not go way outside comfort zone on a gift), I wanted to add more quilting than usual. And I thought some motion would be nice to go on the background. So I’m doing straight quilting in the stars and wavy back-and-forth lines in the background. As you can see, the fabric is kind of pulling in the background. I’m hoping washing it once it’s finished will hide some of that.

Quilting Sawtooth Star 2

  • The back looks even worse. There are brief moments when I think that maybe the front isn’t so bad. And then I turn it over. It’s complete chaos. I used a navy thread in the bobbin, and I was very far into the quilting when I realized how much it was standing out against the light fabric (the fabric registered in my mind as navy, but it’s really quite light). So I switched to a lighter variegated thread in some areas, but of course, it is tough to keep it only on the light fabric. So now there’s light thread on the navy fabric. Oh, and those uneven, wonky stitches really show up in thread that accidentally contrasts with your fabric.

Quilting Sawtooth Star 3

  • And all that busy threadwork on a busy fabric is going against every one of my aesthetic instincts.

Quilting Sawtooth Star 4

So, what to do? I’m open to suggestions. But for now, I’m forging ahead. “Just get it done” is my new motto. I’m getting a little better at the back-and-forth lines, so I don’t hate every one that I make. And I do like the movement in the front background fabric.

But, man, is this a chore. Just a very un-fun project. And I probably have another 8 hours at least before the quilting is done. Then I’ll get to see how wavy the edges are, thanks to my directional wavy lines. Sigh.


Paper-Pieced Stars

PP star orange

Lately, most of my sewing time has been devoted to quilting my Sawtooth Stars quilt—I’m making it to give as a gift, so I wanted to put more quilting into it than I usually do. Ten hours in and I’m not quite halfway done with the quilting. Ugh. Big projects like that don’t provide me with the immediate satisfaction that I crave from my sewing, so I decided to give myself a break and make up some paper-pieced stars.

It’s hard to believe that I’m paper piecing for a break, considering how hard it was to wrap my mind around my first paper-pieced projects. But now that I’ve done several, I really do find it to be fun.

I’ve been wanting to make a quilt with stars of all different shapes and sizes placed in a random fashion, so I did a search for star patterns and came upon a treasure trove at Wombat Quilts. There Cath has links to tons of paper-pieced patterns, many of which she designed. I downloaded several to get started.

PP star pink

The orange star at the top of this post is called Stamp Star and is 8 inches finished. The pink one above is the 8-inch Stripey Star. Now that I’ve made this one once, I realize that there’s a cute pinwheel in the center that I’ll want to play up more next time.

PP star green

My initial thought was to have a mix of white and off-white backgrounds for the blocks, so I made up this 6-inch Starry Night block. I’m thinking these colors might be a bit too muted for what I’m going for, so this guy is getting set aside for the time being.

PP stars grouped

My plan is make bright pink, orange, and yellow stars on a primarily white background. You can see I have a yellow one started above. We’ll see how/if it all comes together, but for now, these blocks are a nice diversion from quilting.

Pirate Quilt Top

pirate quilt 1

When the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild selected the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky (CHNK) as one of our charities this year, the gears in my mind started turning. The home is for boys ages 7 to 17 who have been removed from their homes and are awaiting placement in foster care. When they arrive, they select their bedding, and then they can take that bedding with them when they leave. CHNK asked that the quilts we make be twin size, to fit on their beds.

In thinking of a quilt to make, I immediately remembered some pirate fabric I purchased at a Herrschners sale a few years back. The fabric is a pirate map, all in greens and blues. After examining the repeat, I cut the fabric into 8-inch squares, to get a nice variety of sections throughout the quilt. Next, I hit my too-large stash of blues and greens to see what would go with it. I don’t know if I have made a quilt without a polka dot fabric in it, but I don’t usually use stripes, so I was glad to use this one here.

pirate quilt detail

I cut the non-pirate fabrics into 4 x 8-inch pieces and included the solid blue I wanted to use as a border and some more pirate fabric. For the sashing between all the fabric pieces and rows, I cut 2.5-inch strips of Kona Snow.

pirate quilt detail 2

The design of this quilt was inspired by one that I saw that looked a lot more random. For my design, I decided to establish a pattern for the pieces: one 8-inch square followed by two 4-inch rectangles. The second row starts with one 4-inch rectangle, and the third row starts with two 4-inch rectangles. The quilt measures about 70 x 90-inches—pretty huge for me (even my quilt holder was struggling with it).

For the backing, I think I’ll use a blue feather print and a solid tan; when the pirate side gets to be too childish, maybe the feather side will be more to the boy’s liking. Still a lot to do on this one, but I’m liking it so far!


pirate quilt 2

The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters

Improv Handbook cover

This past week I had the great pleasure of meeting Sherri Lynn Wood, the author of The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters, when she stopped by Cincinnati’s Sewn Studio on her cross-country book tour. I worked with Sherri on the book as her technical editor, and it was definitely one of my favorite projects of last year.

Sherri’s book was a fun one to edit because it is very unlike many quilting books. Since the topic is improvisational patchwork, it really didn’t make sense for it to be a regular project book. And yet, someone trying to learn improv patchwork needs more guidance than having the author say, “Go! Play! Be free!” So, rather than presenting the quilts as projects to follow step by step, Sherri shares a “score” for each quilt. The score offers up limits that you can explore as you try different improvisational quilting techniques. The limits you determine can be as simple as the number of fabrics you use in the quilt, the size of the pieces you cut, or the way that you sew those pieces together. To me, the scores give the “project” just enough structure to get you going but allow you enough leeway to do what feels right.

At the Sewn Studio event, Sherri shared many of the techniques she teaches in the book while making an improvisational piece using fabrics brought by the attendees. First she did some ruler-free cutting of fabric strips. Here she’s showing her method of ironing where she softens the seams with steam and then lets them fall in whichever direction they go.

Improv Sherri pressing

After sewing strips, she made some improv triangle blocks. Then it was time to sew the sections together like a patchwork puzzle, looking for ways the sections fit together naturally.

Improv Sherri sewing

We were fortunate in Cincinnati to have one of the contributors to the book on hand. Drew Steinbrecher was very familiar with Sherri’s techniques from her blog, so he helped her with some sewing and showed us some of his quilts using her techniques.

Improv Sherri Drew

Each step of the way, Sherri auditioned fabrics and asked for input from the group.Improv auditioning fabrics

And at the end, this was the piece she/we came up with.Improv final piece

It was fun to watch Sherri in action and to see the enthusiasm she generated in the crowd. I think everyone—myself included—is ready to try our hand at a little improv patchwork.Sherri Christine


Star Trek Grocery Tote

StarTrek grocery tote

On my last trip to The Fabric Shack, I spotted some fabric that instantly reminded me of my college roommate, Sheila. Sheila was a nerd girl before nerd girls even existed. She was into all kinds of pop culture-y things, but one of the things she and I shared an interest in was the Star Trek television series. I just couldn’t pass up Star Trek fabric on the clearance shelf, so I bought some to make something for Sheila.

StarTrek fabric

The fabric has nearly all the original cast on it (a major plus), but the fabric design was a bit over the top for my taste. I wanted to make something Sheila might actually use, so I had to figure out a way to use the best parts of the fabric (the images of the cast) and downplay the rest of the wacky design.

I pulled all the primary-colored fabrics from my stash to see if I could find something to go with the main fabric. But the primary colors only played up the wackiness. I finally decided that maybe downplaying the wacky parts wasn’t good enough—maybe I needed to cut them out completely.

StarTrek cutouts

After a good bit of studying, I figured out how the pattern of the fabric repeated. Then I cut a piece of fusible interfacing to that size and ironed it to the back of the fabric. This stabilized the fabric so I could easily cut out the characters. Next I found a gray fabric in my stash that I thought would lend an air of sophistication to the project.

The question then became “What do I make?” I toyed around with the idea of a zippered pouch, but the characters were large enough that I wasn’t sure how many I would be able to fit on it. Finally, I decided on a grocery tote—a functional item with plenty of room to inject a little fun. The pattern I used is from the book Stitch by Stitch by Deborah Moebes. The tote pattern in the book is one I made before—it’s cute and it comes together easily.

I cut the gray fabric to the size needed for the outside of the tote. Then I lined up my characters and found that five characters fit along the width perfectly! With the order set, I put a dab of glue stick behind the characters and glued them in place just long enough to get them stitched down. I set my sewing machine to a zigzag stitch and sewed around each character.

StarTrek cutouts sewn

I didn’t want to deprive Sheila of the fun of the whole fabric, so I used it for the interior of the bag. And of course, I had to add a zipper to the interior because that’s just what I do.

StarTrek lining

StarTrek pocket

I used some of those primary colored fabrics for the handles, which made the tote look a bit more patriotic than I intended. But I guess that’s what happens when you sew over Memorial Day weekend.

StarTrek handles

It wouldn’t be one of my projects, though, if I didn’t run into some problems—all of which were caused by me trying to go too fast. The main goof came when I cut the corners to make the flat bottom of the bag. Rather than align the corner seams to make a triangle and cut that off (as the instructions clearly showed), I cut off the corners of the flat bag pieces.

StarTrek wrong corner

This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you try to align the seams and you realize you’ve taken a misshapen gouge out of each corner. The only way I could think to make it work was to make my new corner seam as close to the gouge as a I could. Unfortunately that resulted in the bottom of the bag being 5 inches shorter in width than the top of the bag. Ugh.

One solution was to take in the seams of the bag to make it narrower so it would be closer to the width of the bottom. But that would mean cutting off some of the characters. Which just didn’t seem right. I also thought about cutting off the bottom of the bag and sewing on a new one, but that would have put me dangerously close to the bottom of the characters.

StarTrek tote hanging

So, I decided to leave it as it. Hopefully Sheila will be so swept up in the images of Bones and Captain Kirk that she won’t even notice.

Primary Circles Charity Quilt

Primary Cirlces Quilt

It’s been a while since I donated a quilt to a charity, so I recently made finishing up this one a priority. I started it back in July of last year after I picked up the circle fabric at the Herrschner’s fabric sale last June. I always hear that charities need quilts for boys, so when I saw this fabric for just a few dollars a yard, I couldn’t pass it up.

I had several fabrics that matched the main fabric in my stash, but I didn’t have a whole lot of any one of them. So I played around with what I had and came up with this very simple layout. There’s so much going on with the circle fabric that I didn’t feel it needed much more.

Primary Circle quilt top

I wanted to practice quilting non-straight lines on this quilt, so I kept my walking foot on and made figure-eights around the circles. I wasn’t trying to make the lines perfect, but man, did they turn out wonky. I probably should have tried full out free-motion quilting, but I chickened out. Next time, I might just have to go for it. I quilted simple straight lines in the strips and borders.

Primary Circles Quilting

As luck would have it, I was getting ready to give a presentation on quilt labels to the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild when I was finishing this quilt. So I decided to try a new kind of label that I could show at the presentation.

Primary Circles label

I cut a 4″ x 6″ rectangle and folded over and stitched one long edge. I then pinned the label in the lower right-hand corner and sewed my binding onto the front of the quilt. As I was sewing, I caught the two edges of the label on the back (well, actually, it took a couple of tries to catch the edges and have the label be relatively straight).

Primary Circle label complete

I sewed the back side of my binding as usual, folding it up onto the label in this corner. Since a child will be getting this quilt, I didn’t want to leave the long edge of the label open, so I hand-stitched it down to the backing. I like the way it turned out, and hand-stitching one side is a lot faster than hand-stitching all four!

The backing fabric is some that Mom picked up on clearance. The colors match the front just about perfectly, and I like that the circles kind of look like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

After I give it a wash, this guy is going to get donated to Project Linus. Hopefully it will find a good home with someone soon.

Improv Patchwork Workshop

Improv class combined pieceThis past Saturday I attended an Improvisational Patchwork Workshop taught by Heather Jones. My friend Peg brought the workshop to my attention, and I just couldn’t pass up a day of sewing with Peg and Heather.

The workshop was held at an artist’s studio on Front Street in Dayton, Ohio. The space was big and bright with lots of room for our makeshift design walls.

Improv class classroom

Even the walk to the bathroom was cool and art-filled.

Improv class hallway

After we all got settled in, Heather showed us the first of three improvisational blocks: the improv log cabin. Our goal was to make log cabin blocks as improvisationally as we wanted. We didn’t need to measure or cut with a straightedge or think too much about our fabrics. With some suggestions and encouragement, she let us go at it using the scraps we’d brought with us.

My first block was fairly typical for me. Most of my scraps were already cut into strips, so it went together quickly. I tried not to think too much about the fabrics, but I obviously tended toward fabrics and colors I was comfortable with.

Improv class log cabin 1Next, I made one using more subdued colors.

Improv class log cabin 3

For my third block, I decided to make it as wonky as I could. My seams were all at least 1/4″, but some of them were more than that so the strips would have an interesting angle.

Improv class log cabin 4With just a little time left in this part of the class, I started a fourth block using some of the scraps Heather shared with us. I started with the two solids and just let it go from there. I think I might like this one the best of the four.

Improv class log cabin 5

As we finished our blocks, we hung them on design walls near our tables. This design wall includes blocks made by me and Peg and two other students.

Improv class design wall

Next, Heather showed us the stacked coin block. Basically, instead of going around in the log cabin formation with our improv piecing, we built strips and used neutral fabrics to offset the strips. Here are a few of Heather’s samples of the first two blocks.

Improv class Heather samples

My first attempt, again, was in my usual palette. I actually had one more strip of blue fabrics on this piece, but I ripped that off later in the day.

Improv class coin 1

As I was about to begin my second stacked coin block, Peg noted how subdued her block was. So since it was a rainy day in Dayton, I tried making a rainy day block. Yep, that’s about as rainy-day as I get.

Improv class coin 2

The final block Heather showed us was the improv cross. This block consists of three strips of fabric and four neutral squares. Again, the level of improv was up to you—for example, you could try to match up your parts of the cross or not.

Improv class heather

Both of my crosses were fairly straightforward. For the second one, I pieced some of the fabric to add a bit more interest.

Improv class cross 1

Improv class cross 2

After that, Heather encouraged us to play around with our favorite block techniques or try putting some of our blocks together. I decided to make another stacked coin block, but this time I used colored fabric, rather than neutrals, to break up the stacks.

Improv class coin experiment

Then, with all my blocks up on the design wall—something that I don’t use at home—I got inspired to put some of the blocks together. I moved them around, ripped off part of one, and added a bit of extra fabric to make the piece below.

Improv class combined piece

Not too bad for a fun day’s work. The blocks weren’t hard to master, so the fun for me was having the time to play around with them. When I sew at home, I always have a goal in mind, something I’m trying to get done. So having a day to just goof around with a group of like-minded enthusiasts was a very cool thing.

Thanks, Heather and Peg!

Improv class me heather peg

Sawtooth Stars Quilt Top

Stars head onThis weekend I finished what turned out to be my most challenging quilt top to date. It was challenging for a number of reasons but primarily because it was one of my first quilts with the blocks set on point and I made up the setting of the blocks myself. And I’m not very good at quilt math. So, yes, a few challenges to say the least.

Just a quick aside: This quilt is going to be a gift, so in this blog post I’ll discuss how I made the quilt. But I’m going to save the story of the quilt, the fabrics used, and the number of stars for when the quilt is closer to being given. I’ll try to make that within the next two years or so.

The main blocks are standard 12-inch Sawtooth Stars; the smaller blocks are 4-inch versions of the same pattern.

Stars detail2

The Sawtooth Star block is essentially four Flying Geese blocks surrounding a square. As I mentioned in my Gaggle of Geese post, there are lots of different methods for making Flying Geese. For the large blocks, I used the “no waste” method, where you make four geese at a time—just what I needed for this block. I used this post on Thought & Found for how to make the two sizes of blocks using this method. The technique was very easy once I wrapped my mind around it, but many of my geese points came out too close to the edge of the blocks (meaning the points got cut off when I sewed the blocks together). I’m guessing I didn’t use the scant one-quarter-inch seam allowance as directed.

For the smaller blocks, I used the technique where you sew one goose at a time. (Cut a rectangle, sew squares to two of the corners, and then trim the excess from the corners.) There’s more waste with this method, but the fabric I used for these stars were all scraps anyway, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

Once I had the stars made, I realized that I liked the bigger stars better on point rather than square. So next I needed to figure out the size of the setting triangles (the triangles you use to make the quilt square when your blocks are on point). This link at the Quiltville site helped a ton. But after I had cut out my setting triangles, I decided to sew smaller stars into each triangle. Super cute, but it kind of messed up my math. Some of the triangles fit fine. But on others I had to add a strip of fabric to make them large enough to fit.

Stars setting block2

Another challenging aspect of this quilt was getting the setting triangles in the right direction. Wow—that made my brain hurt. And as you see, I didn’t get it right on the first (or second) try. Here I needed to take apart and resew three of the five setting triangles I had sewn on. Not a very good percentage.

Stars error

But—holy cow, I am happy with the way it turned out! If I just ignore all those cut off points and wonky additional pieces of fabric, I kind of love it.

Stars right

Stars detail hanging

Now, on to the quilting! And I’m stumped. Any suggestions for how to quilt it? I’m even stumped on the thread. I’d like to use blue thread on the background, but I’m not sure what to use for the stars. Let me know what you think—I’d love the help.

Gaggle of Geese

Gaggle of geese

I spent this past weekend in the company of flying geese blocks. Kara, one of the members of the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild, organized a Make and Maybe Take for the April meeting. Participants are to make flying geese blocks using at least one of two specific fabrics. You can make as many blocks as you like. At the meeting, all the blocks will be pooled together, and one block will be selected. Whoever made that block will win all the blocks. Fun!

Make and Maybe Take 02_15

The two fabrics we were to use are from Valori Wells’ Ashton Road collection by Robert Kaufman. And because Kara is so awesome, she secured a donation of that fabric from Robert Kaufman for us to use. So 15 of us got these little bundles to use in our blocks.

As soon as anyone mentions flying geese, I immediately think of the Circle of Geese paper pieced block that I’ve made a bunch of times (like here, here, and here). So, of course, that was the first block I made with the fabrics. The other blue and green fabric that I added is a vintage piece that I’d never cut into. But it seemed to work perfectly with these fabrics. This block marks the first time I used a print for the background of a paper-pieced block. I usually choose a solid, so I don’t have to worry as much about having the right side showing. But I’ve done this particular block so many times now, I used a print without any trouble!

Circle of geese block

Next I made a block called Birds in the Air. I saw a whole quilt made using different sizes of this block, and I wanted to give it a try. Since I had blues to use for the sky, I decided to go with white for the geese. Click here for the tutorial I followed for this 6.5″ Birds in the Air block.

In the air geese

Next, I made two large individual flying geese blocks and put them together to make an 8.5″ block. For these blocks, I cut squares for the backgrounds, sewed them to the base rectangle, and then cut away the corners. This results in a lot of wasted fabric, but I used my scraps for the paper-pieced blocks I made next. It wasn’t until we were talking about these blocks at guild that I learned a true flying geese block is half as tall as it is wide. So putting two together makes a square block.

Large geese block

Finally, I used up the rest of my fabric with some paper-pieced blocks. For these I paper pieced the individual flying geese blocks using templates from Fresh Lemons. Then I added additional fabric to make square blocks. Both of these ended up being 8″ blocks.

Four geese with stripes

Three geese on white

It’ll be fun to see what everyone else comes up with for their blocks. Kara plans to have two more of these Make and Maybe Takes this year, and I’m really looking forward to them.


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