Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Frantic Teacher

I've been asked to teach a class on hand piecing to one of my quilt groups and I reluctantly said yes. I don't feel I'm a particularly effective teacher. I've experienced good teachers - teachers who inspire and excite as well as inform - and unfortunately I don't feel that's me. I struggle with articulating my methodology to others in what I do. I know how to do what I do I just can't figure out how to explain it to others. It's frustrating really. It's not that I'm shy or inhibited in a crowd. I'm definitely not. I can speak to anyone, anytime. But when I'm put in the situation of having to instruct, I turn into a babbling idiot. It's embarrassing.

I do believe that teaching is a skill and to some degree it's a matter of practising that skill to learn and improve. But I also think GREAT teachers are born. There are those individuals who effortlessly deliver instruction and in doing so accomplish not just the transfer of knowledge but also teach in a way that leaves their students wanting more. They imbue excitement and curiosity and leave their students enthused about what they just learned. THAT'S the kind of teacher I want to be. But first I have to learn how to instruct how A goes into B without sounding like a two year old putting together their first sentence - heavy sigh....

So I'm in the process of putting together a simple lesson plan with practical application so I'm not just speaking to the students but also getting them to do something as well. Especially when teaching a skill such as sewing I think you really have to get the student to apply the theory to the practise. My husband, who has been a teacher for years and is gifted (no I'm not just prejudious in this because he's my spouse...he is really good) has graciously agreed to be my student geiney pig and let me practise on him. The poor man doesn't know what torture he's in for.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reproduction Habit

At the end of last year, in an Internet shopping weak moment, I joined a fabric club.

One of my many on-going projects is a civil war reproduction style quilt. A friend of mine in one of my quilt groups who is also working on a reproduction quilt (yes Judy, I'm talking to you...) turned me onto a bi-monthly reproduction fabric sampler club. The quilt shop is located in the eastern states of Australia and I've always loved their fabrics. Every year they have a stall at the Quilt Fair and inevitably I end up buying either fabric or patterns or both from them. So I knew when Judy said Somerset Quilters I was going to love whatever they were to include in a shipment - and I do.

These are the two packages I've received so far. Each package is double sided to give 16 - 10 inch squares of the latest reproduction fabric lines out. Also included is a block pattern (as if I need ideas to use this stuff...). I like that the fabric is labeled as well by designer name and line so in case I want more of any particular fabric I can easily order from them on line.


God knows I don't need anymore fabric, especially reproduction fabric - but I couldn't help myself. I've yet to use any of it but I will for the quilt I'm working on. There's something very attractive to me about repro quilts. Not only do I love the colours and prints associated with 19th century but the history of that period is one I love reading about as well. I'm hanging out to see Steven Spielburg's new movie 'Lincoln'. I only hope it eventually makes it here to Australia as its a very American-centric film.

So until I use it, it will live on my sewing table. I want to leave it out not only to remind me it's there to use, but also to just admire it. Uncut fabric has a beauty all it's own, don't you think?



Monday, January 7, 2013

The Sound of Silence

It's been hot, really hot here in my part of Australia. For all my North American readers when I say hot I mean 104+ temperatures. It's like an attractive Hell sometimes living in Western Australia. Of course when you get excessively hot temperatures everyone is running their A/Cs at full power and before you know it the power goes out. It happens in Australia much more often then in the U.S. and after living here for over 15 years I've gotten used to the occasional shot in the dark.

Through the marvel of modern technology I have my trusty iPad handy to write this post and also afford me some artificial light in making my way around the house. I also have a head lamp that normally gets used when camping that is perfect in this instance while hand stitching as I play my role an Aussie Robinson Caruso.

I don't really mind the occasions when the electricity goes out. It affords me the opportunity to actually listen to the sound of life without the overtures of an electric hum. It's just the tick of our antique clock and the far off traffic that surrounds me. I can even hear the sound of my needle piercing the fabric and pulling the thread through.

I wonder if Robinson Caruso quilted?


Saturday, January 5, 2013

One Stitch at a Time


I've been working away quite a bit on Stella these past few weeks. As I normally do my piecing by hand it feels strange to be working those stitches on a machine. I really think having good knowledge in hand piecing translates really well to machine. All the principles are the same with just slight differences (running the stitch off the edge of the fabric when using the machine for example instead of stopping at the 1/4 inch pivot point as when you hand piece...). It's a nice change for me to work by machine as I really feel my machine piecing skills can use a bit of a refresher. And I'm so enjoying Stella I had to start a new quilt in her honour.

On my last quilt retreat with Running With Scissors I purchased a few jelly rolls in colours I don't normally gravitate to - purples, pinks, and lighter pastel colour combinations. I did this to try and expand my colour horizons as I tend to like rainbow colours in deep, jewel tones. So for a change I went lighter. I've been staring at these jelly rolls asking myself one, why did I buy theses colours and two, what am I going to make with them? I never use jelly rolls. Not that I have anything against them, I just haven't had the occasion to use any. So the first quilt I'm creating on Stella I decided was going to be using these. Why not make the whole experience new?

I just happen to have a few jelly rolls books (it's a visions cycle isn't it? First you buy the rolled fabric, then the book on how to make quilts from the rolled fabric and next will be the jelly roll's no wonder I spend so much money on my quilting addiction). The quilt on the cover of this book got me and its the one I'm making on Stella.

I love the 3D look of tumbling blocks. I made one years ago with small 3 inch blocks. It was a long process and not one I thought I'd ever repeat. But the instructions in the book shows you how to create the look with 2 1/2 inch strips without having to piece block by block. How cool!

As you can see my design wall is nothing but a fleece blanket hung over double closet doors. It's not fancy but it works. I had to dig in my stash for darks as the rolls were mainly mediums and lights. So I guess I'm getting a bit of new colours and old and that's good.


It's a shame I have to go back to full time employment next week because if I had another week off I could probably finish this top completely. Oh well, Stella and my tumbling blocks quilt will be waiting for me. I'll probably need the stress relief!


Friday, January 4, 2013

We All Quilt for a Reason

We all quilt for a reason. 

Some of us want to create something of extraordinary beauty with our own hands that will be loved and cherished by those we give them to or pass along through our families as an heirloom.  We want to leave tactile evidence of ourselves for future generations. Others find community in the groups quilters form and through that social engagement make quilts out of friendship and solidarity.  And some of us quilt as a tradition.  Our grandmothers quilted, our mothers quilted and we, as we grow older and wiser, quilt as well.  It's our tradition as well as a continuation of our history as women  - and in more recent times that quilting tradition includes men as well.

Recently I've found myself picking up needle and thread to work on slow, painstaking work for projects that have an end date many years down the road.  When I'm stressed, when life throws curve balls my way, I don't need instant gratification in quilting.  Instead I require time to lose myself in the work.  Time to ponder the singular stitch instead of the finished composition.  As a modern quilter I have the luxury of choice.  I have the choice of taking my time using the tools of traditional quilting with little more than a needle, thread and good scissors.  Or I can decide to quickly create a piece using all the modern conveniences we quilters have at our disposal now; super fast sewing machines with machine quilting frames, die cutters for quick fabric shape cutting, rotary blade cutters and high tech rulers and templates, basting glues and fusible web... the list goes on. Knowing I have these choices sometimes makes me think that I'm living during a revolution in quilt history.  Never before have so many options been at a quilters disposal to create the quilts we long to eventually wrap ourselves or our loved ones in.  Which takes me back to my original statement - we all quilt for a reason and I think for most of us those reasons are ever changing and fluid.     

And what are my reasons?  Mine are all of the above and more.  I find working with textiles a great stress reliever.  When I've had a hard day at the office or when nothing sees to be going right, I find solace in picking up my needle and thread to execute that perfect, singular stitch.  Somehow this clears my head and takes me out of stress mode to a good place in mind and body.  I quilt as a social endeavour, having made friends with women who also enjoy the act/art of quilting.  And I quilt as a tradition.  It's an art I'm now teaching my granddaughter who may one day teacher her own daughter and so on and so on.  My quilting links me to the women who have come before and will come after me.  There's a beauty in being part of that history.   

We all quilt for a reason.  What's yours?

Thursday, January 3, 2013


This is my vintage circa 1937 Singer 201P. Isn't she a beauty?

I'm posting a picture of 'Stella' because after over a year in storage (I purchased her off Gumtree) I've decided to pull her out and use her as my main sewing machine for a while. I have to say I'm in love.

Stella (yes, I named her - doesn't she look like a Stella?) is really a joy to work on. It's amazing really that a machine 50+ years old still performs to a very high standard. I honestly think the stitches she produces are the most uniform and precise I've seen comparable to any modern machine.

She is easy to thread and loads a bobbin with little effort - and fast too. I've been using her for the past week and my only 'complaint' is that she doesn't have a thread cutter attached to the side. I have to pick up my scissors each time to cut threads. Wow, how lazy have I become as a modern sewer?

I've overcome the issue of not having a 1/4 inch foot by using a magnet barrier to the right side of the needle made specifically for the purpose of keeping an accurate measurement along the fabric as you sew. I bought this simple little device years and years ago after I purchased my other vintage Singer (1922 Singer hand rank). I don't know if they're still available on the market. But even if they're not using a homemade magnet device would work. One really neat feature of Stella that modern machines appear to have forgone is instead of a foot pedal to run the needle, she has a heal pedal. I thought at first this was going to be awkward to use but its not at all. I actually find it more comfortable then a standard foot pedal. I can control the needles speed better using either my heal or adjusting the position of my foot, the centre area of my foot. And because Stella was made in the heyday of Bakealite manufacture, she has a weighty pedal that doesn't move about the way lightweight foot pedals do.

Right now Stella is sitting on top of my sewing table that was specifically designed to fit my Janome 6600. Stella doesn't fit in the hole. I haven't decided yet if I want to take her out of her traveling case (basically a wooden box base that the hard shell cover fits over and locks onto). I'm going to use her a bit longer where she is before I make any major adjustments to the status quo on my sewing table. As she sits now its not an uncomfortable position.

So right now I'm enjoying her unique sound as I piece a new quilt. She has that impressive hum you only hear from old industrial machines. She has grunt without loosing her lady like appeal. I'm glad to have her out and getting used. She's not a museum piece. She still does what she was made to do. She's sort of a metaphor for growing old gracefully. Though you may be old you can still function, and even impress, just like you used to do. Isn't that what we all hope for in our vintage years. Who would have thought Stella would be so inspiring?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Simple Solution

When I was in my sewing room yesterday picking it up a bit, I thought I would post a few photos of my very easy solution to keeping threaded bobbins with its correct color spools. I don't know about anyone else but it's always been a challenge to me to not only store but find the right color of threaded bobbins. I've tried different methods throughout the years and this one is the only one that's stuck and I continue to use.
Simply said, I use an ordinary elastic band to keep the two items held together. I don't double wrap the band or make it too tight. I found that if you do the slightest bump to the centre between the two will send them flying in different directions like a rocket.

Unbelievably simple solution I know. I'm certain I'm not the only person who does this. After I match my bobbins to my thread spools I store them in a multitude of tins I have in my sewing room. That's it!

So end-ith the lesson today.