Not Just a Pretty Face

Yesterday I went grocery shopping with my husband.  We never shop for groceries together.  But we really needed them and neither one of us wanted to face the Friday afternoon lineups alone.

While standing in said line he pulled out his blackberry to read my blog post and he's all,

"Dude! A video link?  You made a video?"

And I'm like, "Dude.  YouTube."

The irony becomes clear when you get just how technically incompetent I really am.

After 15 years of marriage it's nice to know I can still surprise him.


Project Simplify - Day 3

Ok.  I'm DE-TER-MINED to get this free-motion thing down.  The book just makes it seem so easy-peasy, lemon squeezy.  (Don't know what free-motion quilting is?  Here's a quick video.)

History:  I got my first sewing machine for my 15th birthday.  I loved it.  I set it up in my bedroom and used it a lot.  It was great for sewing a straight line but I could forget about reversing, buttonholes, major thickness (as in quilted bags).  At the time I didn't fully comprehend the severe limitations of my machine. 

I took a machine-quilting class (in like 1993) but my results were as crappy as my machine and I just assumed I was a genetically lousy free-motioner.  The end.  Not in the cards for me. 

In about 2004 I got a really sweet Pfaff and I went from being an "ok" sewer to ... if I may say so ... a really good one.  My machine can do almost anything I ask it to - except make my morning cup of tea :).  There is definitely something to be said for using good tools.

So when I tried free-motion again I was better than before, but not perfect.  And there's the problem (another one ... ) - I'm a perfectionist.  That DOESN'T mean I think I'm perfect.  It means I loathe not being able to do things perfectly and if I can't nail it on the first or second try, I'd rather give up.  I know, I know, totally immature and not very attractive.  But I'm working on it.  I'm trying to be ok with "my best at the time" instead of "the best or nothing at all".

Blah, blah, blah.  Enough about that.  Back to the quilt already!

In the book, this quilt is top-stitched with classic stippling.  I was introduced to it  as “dog-boning”.  I don’t know if it's the name or what (why couldn't it have been called "Feather in the Wind" or "Wandering Fairy" or even "Toddler at the Park"?), but it never really excited me.  Now loops - that's a style I can get behind!  Funny, there isn’t much difference between the two but for some reason I just prefer the look of loops.   So this is the first design I'm attempting.

I had four leftover blocks (on purpose) so I sewed them together to use for practice.  But free-motioning didn’t get off to a good start.  First, I forgot to tighten a screw and the foot fell off, breaking a needle. 

Then this ...

(Deep breath.)  It’s NEVER a good day when you need this ...

But a minor tension adjustment later and I was back on track ... sort of.

Here's a bit of my practice swatch.  (Please don't laugh too hard - you have no idea what it took for me to show you this!) 

I felt like my brain had zero control over the operation - lots of involuntary jerking & zagging - and possibly (probably) the occasional bad word.   I know my stitch length needs work.  Some places have a distinct "connect the dots" look.  I gotta get used to the concept of pedal to the metal, which according to my manual is the secret.

Clearly more practice is required. 

I hate practicing. 

(Someone please cue the violins ... )


Project Simplify - Day 2

The pattern in Chapter One calls for precuts.  In fact, all the patterns in this book are based on precuts (plus yardage).  That's part of what makes these quilts simple.

But if you don't have the specific precuts required - like me - consider making your own.  This book gives you all the measurements for standard precut sizes so if you're new to quilting or don't have easy access to them, no problem.  For me, a few extra minutes with the rotary cutter and I was good to go!

I laid out all the cut pieces and my 9 yr old helper organized the squares & strips into blocks.  We talked about print color, direction, value & scale.  This girl loves rules and when you explain why, she follows them to.the.letter.  Plus I have this mild O.C.D. thing about my quilts - I don't like it when the same prints or the same colors “touch”. 

She took her job very seriously and felt really proud of herself for doing it so well.  This mama is super proud too :)

When the blocks were made she helped me with the big layout on the dining room floor.  My little foible turned the exercise into more of a puzzle.  We had fun finding problems and trying to solve them.  (You know, when you switch two blocks to fix one layout problem, only to create another somewhere else.  And so on.)  That took us a while and in the end, we lost the battle - as I usually do.  So I explained to her that despite my silly little rule, sometimes you just gotta roll with it baby!

Next - the dreaded free-motion top-stitching ... gulp.   See you Friday!


Project Simplify - Day 1

Hello, hello!  If you missed Friday's introduction check here and you'll be up to speed :)

When I first thought about doing this project, I saw my quilts looking quite different from those in the book.  My stash has a “shabby chic” flavour.  I definitely gravitate towards soft, light fabrics.  The more pink, the better. 

But I do have a few stacks of brights and settled on this collection to make “Square One”, which is similar to the American Jane - "Snippets" used in the book.

I bought this happy fabric when it first came out in 2007.  I’m a big Susan Branch fan (fabric, patterns & scrapbooking stickers/paper/stamps) and was excited when this line came out. 

I bought almost every print and planned to make this & this – one for each of my girls.  Well, I did make the red one - for the quilt shop where I work - but then I don’t know what happened.  Guess I'd satisfied my red pinwheel craving.  (Although thanks to Carrie's post last week, I think I feel a new craving coming on!)

Love these cute little quotes on the selvedges. 

From top to bottom they read:

  • It’s believing in roses that make them bloom.
  • The strongest of all warriors are these two:  Time & Patience.
  • Creativity is really the structuring of magic.
  • No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap.
  • Today, if you’re not confused, you’re just not thinking clearly.

And my personal favorite:

  • "Stay” is such a charming word in a friend’s vocabulary.

I just added it to my sidebar.  (Thank you Susan!)

In my defense, I have made a few things with this fabric.  A couple of years ago my girls were taking an art class and needed something for their pastels & charcoals etc.  So I made these little bags which have become their Nintendo DS storage/travel cases.


Every year, I make my girls a new backpack for school.  When I first started (in 2005), I was in charge of fabric selection.  But that control didn’t last long.  Soon they wanted to choose and the conversations would go something like this:

Her:   “Mommy, can I have this fabric?”

Me:  “No, I just bought that.”

Her:  “What are you going to make?”

Me:  “I don’t know yet.”

Her:  “How about this?”

Me:  “No, I have plans for that fabric.”

Her:  “This?”

Me:  “No (can’t come up with a good reason and she doesn’t understand the concept of hoarding yet).  How about this?  This is really pretty, don’t you think?

Her:  “No, I don’t like it.” 

Then we’d go to the fabric store and buy something they liked.   I think you're starting to understand why my stash is out of control ...

This year my 9 year old finally wanted this fabric for her backpack and I made a lunch bag with matching placemat too.


But that backpack & lunch kit didn’t make much of a dent.  Let’s see what making a quilt will do ... :)


"Project Simplify"

Hello & welcome to “Project Simplify” – my plan to:

  • reduce my fabric stash (& finally learn how to free-motion quilt already, I’ve only been quilting for 24 years!) as I
  • make every quilt/pillow in Simplify with my daughters so I can
  • donate (quilts & pillows, not daughters) to help raise money for non-profit organizations and hopefully
  • inspire you to reduce your fabric stash (if you want/need to) for a good cause as I
  • share my journey with you
  • Oh, and there just might be a giveaway or two!

How did I get here? 

Well, to say I’ve become borderline obsessed with Camille’s book lately is an embarrassing accuracy.  I hope you won't think I’m banana-nuts-crazy but - in the interest of full disclosure - I’ve been carrying it around with me everywhere.  (For example, when I had to take my little one to the hospital to deal with this, I wouldn’t leave the house without it – you never know how long a wait you'll have in the Emergency Dept. and I needed something pleasant to pass the time.)  I love the photography and the projects look like so much fun (and pretty, and easy). 

I met Camille at Quilt Market in Minneapolis 2010.  She’s so nice and I’ve been reading her blog since.   I’ve gotten to really like her as a mom, a quilter and a very creative person.  For me, her blog has been a source of beautiful pictures, charming tales of motherhood and general quilting loveliness.

Now, I have a problem.  Well, two.  (Ok, several.  Way too many to mention.  But only two that pertain to this conversation.)

  • I have a hard time making a quilt for myself  “just because”.  My house is too small for a prolific quilter and I’m running out of beds ... and sofas ... and closet space.
  • I’ve been “collecting” pretty fabric for a long time and have this fear of cutting it & sewing it and using it up until it’s all gone and I don’t have it anymore. Clearly this hoarding thing isn’t working for me.  I need to let my fabric fulfill its destiny by making it into quilts for people to love.

Last month I received a request for a fundraiser donation.  I quickly selected some fabric from my shelf and whipped up one of the quilts in the book.  I was done in a few days.  That felt so good – helping a worthy cause, making something from the book and using up fabric I wasn’t ever likely to use for myself. 

A few days later I found myself feeling very stressed (ok, maybe it was a hormonal PMS thing) as I faced the overwhelming task of organizing my fabric.  This is what it looked like AFTER five hours of re-folding & rearranging.  I didn't think to take a before picture.   I would have been too embarrassed to show you anyway.

Obviously, my fabric addiction is way outta hand.  There's more in those boxes, in the cupboards below and under my rather large sewing/cutting table.  Plus the shelves are deep and even more fabric is hiding in behind many of those piles.  I thought, “I reeeeeally need to get rid of some of this stuff.”  Followed by, “Maybe I should make another quilt for the fundraiser.” And then “I really want to make more quilts from Camille’s book.”  These three ideas – and having recently watched the movie “Julie & Julia” - suddenly converged into an idea:  “Project Simplify”.

So here I go.  I’m so excited.  Over the next few months I’ll be sewing my way through the book - starting with Chapter 1 - and sharing with you things like:  when & why I bought fabric, what (if anything) I’ve previously made from it, the process of making each project, the experience of including my daughters (8 & 9 ½), the finished quilts & pillows and whatever else happens along the way.


#1 - NO BUYING FABRIC.  None.  Not even a little FQ.  I must make due with what I have. 

#2 - Get over fear of free-motion quilting and just do it already!  If that means hours of practice (and I hate practicing) then so be it.  I've had it up to here with my safety-net crosshatch!  I really need to expand my top-stitching repertoire.  Seriously.

#3 - Donate at least four quilts and all four pillow covers to fundraising intitatives to raise money for causes that are important to me and/or you, dear audience.

One more thing, just for fun:  I see this project as a "stash diet".   During the marathon five hour tidy-up I was reminded of fabric is!

And as many of us know, when you go on a diet, both weight & inches are very important things to track.   It’s motivating to see results.  I think it’ll be fun to see how many pounds/kilos & yards/metres (in fabric) I use up. 

Maybe you’ll be inspired to simplify your stash and share your time & talent - as a quilter - for a good cause too.

Wish me luck and I'll see you next week with the first quilt!


And the Winner of This Quilt is ...

... the highest bidder.  That bidder could be you!

A very good friend of mine – Lani Donaldson – is hosting her 2nd Annual Fundraiser for Literacy (a cause close to my heart as a mom of a dyslexic daughter who struggled to learn how to read.  I’m happy to report that because of her experience with Beacon Literacy she’s a very active member of her Grade 4 Reading Club!).  I wanted to donate something for the Silent Auction portion of the event so here’s what I did.

As a quilter, I a) am always looking for quick patterns to make and b) have lots of fabric that’s been in my stash for far too long waiting to be made into something pretty.

I came across this fun pattern for a throw-sized quilt in my newest and favorite book (see sidebar on right).

I thought it would look great made with these beautiful Japanese prints. 

I enlisted my helper to sort the block fabrics.  She named them (L to R) “Black Leaves, Paris, Dots & Green Fern”.

Paris is my favorite – I have a thing for fabric with words, especially vintage-looking script.  (Did you notice it in my blog banner?)  I also thought it was appropriate, considering the cause. :)

And now for my embarrassing confession:  I can’t do free-motion quilting.  I took a class on it about 20 years ago, but at the time I had a really crappy sewing machine and the results were frustrating, to say the least.  I’ve never really tried since.  (If I can't do something well on the first or second try, I tend to give up.  I know, it's totally immature.)  So all my quilts are top-stitched with either a crosshatch or in-the-ditch.  That may seem kinda boring.  But in my oh-so-humble opinion, you can NEVER go wrong with the classic crosshatch.  It always reminds me of Chanel.

In the interest of using fabric economically, I (almost) always piece my backs.  It gives a quilt that one-of-a-kind touch.  In this case, I had a large piece of brown that obviously had been used for bias binding so it was missing a big corner.   Ta da!

Even though these colors aren’t typically me, I love this quintessentially Japanese palette - all earthy, natural, easy to live with colors.  My goal was to make a quilt with broad appeal to really get those bids up!

So if you want to own this original, handmade quilt please get tickets for this fabulous event and bid on it.  If this quilt isn't your thing (how could it NOT be?!), I'm sure you'll find another treasure at the auction. 

Take someone special out for a wonderful evening (May 6th, 2011).  You’ll be glad you did!

PS:  If you aren't able to attend but are interested in bidding, please leave me a comment.  I can bid on your behalf and then ship it to you!


Glass Half Full

What a five-year-old thinks about being stuck in traffic:

"Well, Mummy, at least we're not last!"

 Words to live by.


Luck of the Irish

Polka Dot fabric - Simplicity by Moda

Message pad & paper clip - Laura Ashley

Fabric yo-yo - from a scrap in my stash

Lemon-Lime Twist cupcake from Crave


She Has Other Plans For Me

Ok, I had daughters for a reason:  so I could fill my home with pretty things like this ...

and these ...

and this ...


But if she really wants this book with a creepy cover and tales of terror, who am I to deny her? 

Happy Birthday, my sweet little shark-loving, thrill-seeking ballerina.


Japan in Our Hearts

This week I was planning to share my love of Japanese Quilt/Craft books & magazines.  Instead, my family and I extend our thoughts & hearts to Japan and those affected by this tragedy.


Instantly Well Loved

I know many quilters and most have a strong opinion about whether to pre-wash fabrics before making a quilt.  I'm a "don't bother" kind of girl for two reasons:

1 - It's an extra step that requires too much time & energy (wash, dry, iron, refold …)

2 - I love quilts with that "oldy-worldy" look, even if they're brand new.  And the best (only?) way to get that look is to wash the quilt in warm and dry on high after making it with non-preshrunk fabric. 

Before ...





Note to Self #3

A fresh application of this ...

immediately followed by a few (ok, several) of these ...

equals ... embarrassing!

"Uh, Ma'am? You should go check a mirror."


Eye of the Beholder

Sometimes I catch myself thinking things like, “I have pretty garbage.”

Is that weird? 


How to Make a Seven Year Old Happy

Wait for a Saturday afternoon when the music store is closed for the weekend and then break a string on her violin while trying to tune it.  She's happy because she gets a two-day break from practicing.  She's extra happy because her mom's the one who broke it.

How do you make her mom happy?  Remind her that she was very smart to get extra rental insurance.


Winter Pinks

How does this Canadian chase away the frigid winter blues?

First she replaces the boring brass buttons of her favorite pink wool cardigan with these pretty vintage rhinestone ones.  Never mind that the button holes are too small ... happiness isn’t always about being practical.

Next she asks her mom to please knit her warm pink mittens.

Then she suggests to her husband that this soft pink scarf would make a nice Valentine’s Day gift.

And finally, she puts lovely blushing ranunculus blossoms on her mantle.

(Artificial, schmartificial ... these won't die!)  How do you cure the winter blues?


Note to Self #2

You know you’re in Palm Springs, California when you turn on the tv and the first thing you hear is:


Talk about target marketing!  If you’re not familiar with Palm Springs, it’s basically a desert haven for wealthy, retired people who like to golf.  Emphasis on the word retired.

By the way, coming up with a photo for this post was tricky.  Having no rubber tubing on hand, my only ideas were this handle or a small puddle of yellow-colored water on the white bathroom floor tiles ...

... you're welcome.


"Thank You, Laura Ashley"

I’m a home body.  And I don’t get out much socially.  But this past weekend I went to dinner with some friends – a special group that boasts an English Masters student, advertising account manager, kindergarten teacher, neonatal respiratory therapist, flight attendant and … me.

About every six months or so, one of us will shoot out a reminder email that we’re due for a get together.  Then we spend a week coordinating schedules to find a date that’s a month or two away.  We rarely manage to get all six of us, but we lucked out this time.

Our history goes back some 20 years when we were young sales associates at a Laura Ashley store.  Our mutual love for the Laura Ashley brand is what we had in common.  Our time spent working together led us to becoming friends.  And despite our shop closing 10 years ago (and most of us leaving our jobs before then) we Laura Girls have maintained a great friendship.

Over the years we’ve shared in the success of graduations, praised new jobs, celebrated two weddings (three were child brides, and we’re still rooting for you Chica!), had several house-warmings, rejoiced at nine baby showers and mourned at four funerals.

When we get together we do all the usual things:  reminisce about the store, the other people we worked with, the customers, the products (don’t kid yourself, if we ever decided to get rid of all our Laura Ashley treasures – and that would NEVER happen – it’d be one sweet garage sale!).  We lament how the Laura Ashley of the 90’s is gone forever.

We share photos & stories, catch up, laugh/cry about how the aging process is affecting us, sympathize over difficult situations and just enjoy being in each other’s company. 

We all – husbands included – find it remarkable and pretty special that a part-time job at a little store so long ago could have forged such a long-lasting bond among six girls.

I think of myself as a Laura Girl because of how much I loved the style.  But I call myself a Laura Girl because I’m a proud member of this select little circle of friends.

If it’s true that you can judge people by the company they keep, then I’m deeply honored & humbled.  Thank you ladies for keeping me in your lives.  I love you all.


Becoming an Expert on All Things Yucky

In other words, being a parent.

Why is it that many childhood illnesses sound so ... gross?  The names alone fill every parent with shame - especially when they have to call the school to say something like, "She won't be in today because she has HAND, FOOT & MOUTH DISEASE."  (And the reply on the other end of the phone is a profesionally sympathetic and yet still slightly eeked out, "Oh, ok.")  Despite the embarrassment, you want to alert the teacher in case other children fall ill.

But I'll tell you exactly how to make your child feel better:  let her have ice cream for breakfast, followed by an all-you-can-eat buffet of rainbow colored popsicles (in between bouts of Tylenol, medicinal mouthwash & frequent hand-washing) while watching High School Musical 3 over & over & over ...

And now I have a date with my washing machine and some bleach ...  'cause apparently this thing is highly contagious.


Anecdote First, Then Apology

Scene:  Waiting room of a walk-in medical clinic.  It’s been five minutes since the main characters - a mother and her 6 year old daughter - arrived.  Several other really sick people are also waiting and they got in earlier. 

The mother didn’t come prepared for a long wait.  She’s reluctantly reading an old, germy issue of People magazine, trying to enjoy red carpet fashions and decide who looked better in the same dress while attempting to avoid contact with the invisible human debris that is lurking on the pages just waiting to infect her. 

The daughter is becoming restless with boredom.  The mother searches her coat pockets for a cell phone which miraculously a) she has with her and b) isn’t dead.  The mother offers the phone to the daughter who is excited to have something fun to play with instead of the Fisher Price house that’s seen better days.  After a few minutes of playing a game on the cell phone…

Daughter:  Mummy.    Mummy.    MUmmy.

Mother:  Yes?

Daughter:  Can I play with the calculator?

Mother:  What calculator?

Daughter:  The one on your phone.

Mother:  There’s a calculator on my phone?

Daughter:  Yes, right here.  See?

Mother:  (A little surprised, she smiles and gently shaking her head as she admires her daughter’s intelligence.)  Hmm. Whatta ya know.  Sure.

A few minutes of calculating go by.

Daughter:  Mummy.    Mummy.    MUmmy.

Mother:  Mhmmm?

Daughter:  Can I use the camera?

Mother:  What camera?

Daughter:  The one on your phone.

Mother:  There’s a camera on my phone?

Daughter:  Yes, right here.  See?

Mother:  (A little more surprised and slightly concerned at how much more her daughter knows about her phone than she does, she furrows her eyebrows.)  Uh.  Ok.

Several photos later …

Daughter:  Mummy.  Mummy.  MUmmy.

Mother:  What is it, Honey?

Daughter:  Can I video you?

Mother:  You can record video with my phone?

Daughter:  Yes, like this.  See?

Mother:  (Suddenly looks terrified as she realizes she doesn’t even have a ticket for the technology transport that’s leaving the station with her daughter at the helm.)

                              *          *          *          *          *

This story is intended to illustrate my occasional technical ineptitude.  And to help explain that if you tried to subscribe to my blog last week (probably most if not all of you are my closest & dearest friends because I emailed you and begged you to), it wasn’t set up properly.  Sorry ‘bout that.  But it’s working now (see column on right), if you want to try again. 

Between you and me, it’s a miracle I even have this blog.  And I did it all by myself.  Well, except for the several dozen emails to/from the Technical Support Dept, but they just sent me links to videos on how to fix my setup issues … and kindly reassured me a few times that I didn’t need to cry.


Note to Self #1

Every now and then, I'll be sharing little pearls of wisdom - sometimes funny things, often things resulting from my forgetfullness, bad judgement, laziness, absentmindedness, etc.  My goal is to help you avoid the same mistakes.  And/or to make you smile.

Here's the first installment.  Read, learn and enjoy.


  • ask your daughter to pick out her favorite fabric from your sewing room stash ("Oh no reason, Sweetheart.  Just curious.")
  • wait until she’s at school to start making her a birthday gift
  • smugly hide the evidence before she comes home, but then
  • forget to dispose of the scraps in the garbage can

Because when said short person notices the remnants you WILL be asked:  "Mommy, what are you making with my fabric?"

Parenthood requires you to be good at a lot of things - like thinking on your feet, remaining calm under pressure ... and lying.