Thursday, September 27, 2012

7 Secrets to Successful Quilting

Hi everyone:

You've got your pattern, the perfect fabric and you're ready to sit down and start stitching - or are you? There are a few things you can do before you start sewing to ensure you'll have a good result. Before you put the pedal to the metal, review the following 7 tips to successful quilting for a good start!

Clean and oil your machine 

  • Yes, this does need to be done every once in awhile. You know all that lint that comes off the fabric as you sew? Well, some of it is stuck under the needle plate (no, that's not a felt pad under there) and around the bobbin area. Yes, it is! I use a small craft paintbrush to clean out under my needle plate and around my bobbin area. 
Brush out the bobbin area with a small paintbrush
I put a few drops of machine oil on my needle bar (and any other areas indicated in my sewing machine manual) and then in the bobbin race. I then run the machine for a minute or sew so without any thread in it to work the oil through. I then wipe off any excess with a cloth. Remember to use sewing machine oil, not a generic oil, which will cause more problems than good. While I'm at it, I might just wipe down the outside body of my machine with a damp cloth or a Swiffer cloth just so it looks nice and shiny before I start. 
A little drop or two of oil in the bobbin area ...
and on the needle bar

Put in a new needle 
  • You'd think these things were the most expensive part of quilting, but they're not (you do buy fabric, don't you?)! Needles are cheap and are inserting a new needle with each project is one of the simplest things to do to ensure you're going to have a great sewing experience. If you can't remember the last time you changed your needle, it't time to do it. Make sure you're using the right needle for your project: I usually use an 80/12 Microtex sharp for piecing. Stick that baby in right after you've finished cleaning your machine.
My personal choice for piecing is the 80/12 Microtex Sharp needle
Wind a few bobbins
  • I like to use a 50/3 weight cotton thread for piecing in either a cream or light grey, so I'll wind a bobbin or two before I start stitching. If I don't use all of them up for this project, I'll have them ready for the next one. This keeps me from having to stop to wind bobbins partway through my project.
Wind some bobbins before you start piecing
Check your bobbin tension 
  • I find that I might need to adjust my bobbin tension, especially if I've been using a different thread in it. Hold the thread tail that comes out of the bobbin and let the bobbin drop down. Does it continue running across your studio floor - a little too loose, so tighten it up. If the bobbin doesn't drop at all, but clings stubbornly to the thread tail, you'll need to loosen it a bit. Ideally, the bobbin will drop a bit each time you jerk up on the thread.
Tighten or loosen the little screw for perfect bobbin tension
Thread your machine
  • An obvious one, I know, but still it is required! You've put in a new needle, so now you'll have to re-thread your machine. Make sure you do it correctly. I know you're wondering how you could not thread your machine correctly, well... If you have several machines, it's easy to get confused about the thread path. One of my machines has an extendable thread guide and I've been known to start stitching without running the thread through the guide and without extending it. The imperfect stitching usually twigs me to this problem. Take out your machine manual and find the page that tells you how to thread your machine. Then do it.
Thread your machine properly - check your manual if you are unsure
Read through the pattern
  • I know you want to just start stitching, but trust me, you don't want to miss this step. Make sure you have all the fabric that is required and the tools you'll need. Reading the pattern also ensures that you understand the technique(s) that will be used. If this is a new technique for you, maybe you'll want to make a test block or two before you start to ensure you understand the process. 
Read through the pattern before you start sewing
Assemble your materials 
  • Much like cooking, you need to have all your ingredients materials with you at your machine before you start. After having read through the pattern (you do remember the previous step, don't you?), you'll now know exactly what you need for this project. If you need to prepare anything before starting, do it now. You might want to pre-wash your fabric before using it in your project. You might even need to buy more fusible web if you're running low on it. Now's the time to address all these issues. Having everything you need assembled before you start will allow you to jump right into that project and just keep stitching - until the chocolate and/or coffee runs out!
Gather your supplies together before you start the project
Have you completed all 7 steps? Then you should be ready to start your project. Oh, wait, there's just one more thing - have fun! 

Email me or leave a comment telling me your secrets to successful quilting. I'd love to hear them.

Monday, September 24, 2012

My Top 5 Favourite Quilting Must Haves

Hi everyone:

Do you have certain items that you must have with you when you begin a project? No, I'm not talking about fabric, thread or a pattern - I assume that you already have these, as well as a rotary cutter, ruler and mat, but other tools and items that help you complete your project successfully. I have certain things I need with me before I start my quilt; items I reach for over and over again. They're not sexy or trendy, but reliable implements that help me create my masterpiece (okay, getting a bit carried away, but I think you get my drift). 

Here are my top five favourite quilting must haves:

Magnetic pincushion 

  • I've used different pincushions over the years, but still like a magnetic one. I have two of these (one at each machine - yes, I'm a bit lazy) and love how I can just throw my pins at them and they catch them. This saves me having to look where the pin cushion is before I can stick my pin in it while I'm sewing along. I also like the fact that I can use my pincushion to pick up errant pins from the floor or around my sewing area, should my throw be a little long. It can also double as a paper weight, if so required. Being the OCD person that I am, both of my pincushions are pink.
Photo courtesy of
Thread snips

  • I bought a pair of these at a sewing show a few years back and love them. I used to use small embroidery scissors to clip my threads, but have found that these slightly curved at the tip snips are the best. I just give them a little squeeze and they neatly cut my threads. I can easily slide them under my piece to clip the bobbin threads and they're small enough that I often have them on my machine bed while I'm piecing. They'll also stick to my pin cushion (see #1) if I want them to. And yes, I have two pairs of these.

Bendable Bright Light

  • We all have lights on our sewing machines, so why do we always seem to need more illumination? It can't be because we're getting old and our eyesight dim, can it? Well, whatever the reason, I find that having the Bendable Bright Light attached to my machine really helps to lighten up my machine bed. I like how I can adjust it so that the neck of the light is out of the way, but the light is positioned where I need it. The LED's in this light provide bright, white light allowing me to easily see my fabric and stitches. I also like the fact that I only need one light and can move it between machines - but I do have two of these as well. Seeing a trend here?...
Photo courtesy of
Mary Ellen's Best Press

  • I truly believe that you need to starch your fabric so that it is easier to handle, presses better and cuts cleaner. By starching, I mean applying a spray product which will provide sizing to your fabric - it doesn't necessarily have to be actual spray starch. My favourite sizing spray (for lack of a better term) to use is Mary Ellen's Best Press. I prefer the Caribbean Beach scent, but there are several others, including a scent-free one for those of you with sensitivities. I like how it takes the wrinkles out of my fabric, gives it body and doesn't flake. As a bonus I can imagine that I'm lounging on a beach in the tropics  - yeah, while I'm ironing. I only have one small bottle of Mary Ellen's Best Press that I use at the ironing board - the other gallon jug is under my ironing station.
Photo courtesy of
Reading glasses

  • Okay, technically these aren't quilting tools, but they do help me to quilt, so I'm adding them to the list. Maybe you don't need these - yet - and I didn't when I first started quilting, but as the years have gone by... let's just say that my ability to see the smallest details while quilting has been enhanced by my reading glasses. I have several pairs of these "cheaters" around the house, but always have a pair at my sewing machine (hah, you thought I was going to say I had two pairs, didn't you?). While I don't use them when ironing or cutting, I do find them useful while stitching, especially if I've been at it for a few hours. If you're finding it more difficult to see when you're stitching, do yourself a favour and pick up a pair of these. You can get inexpensive ones at the grocery store or pharmacy and you'll be surprised at how much easier it'll be for you to quilt once you can see what you're doing.
Photo courtesy of
So that's my list. Nothing too elaborate or difficult to find, just some items that help me in my quilting. If I'm at home, these are the things that are always by my sewing area, and if I'm at a retreat, these are the items I always pack. 

Do you have favourite items that you use when you're sewing or quilting? I'd love to hear what you consider your "must have" quilting items. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Holy Pinwheels, Batman!

Hi everyone:

Do you make baby quilts? I know some of my friends love to make baby quilts, but I haven't had a reason to make one - until now. Yes, finally a baby quilt for a new baby! One of my quilty friends is a new grandma, so this means that I get to make one of these sweet, cuddly blankets for the new arrival. 

Most quilters make baby quilts in pastel colours with sweet animals and butterflies - well, you get the picture. So what colours am I using in my fabrics? Well, they aren't pastel, I'll tell you that! Red, yellow, blue and black are the main colours in this project. Now I know what you're thinking - it's for a boy, right? Wrong! This is a quilt for a little girl, but since mom loves everything Batman, I thought it would be appropriate to make the baby quilt in Batman fabric. So, here are the fabrics I'm using:

Batman fabrics with coordinates
I'm doing a pinwheel block with a plain alternate block and adding a few borders. Just keeping it simple, cause the fabric is busy enough. I'm liking how it's looking and I know one thing for sure: this will be the only Batman quilt that baby Fiona receives! 
Here are the half-square triangles waiting to be squared up
This is what the HST's will grow up to be :)

Now off to complete the blocks, add some borders and get it quilted. I want to get this done before she's old enough to say, "Holy pinwheels, Batman!"

How many baby quilts have you made?  What's your favourite type of pattern and fabric to use?

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille!

Hi everyone:

I've recently been thinking that I seriously need to spend more time making friends with my camera. 

Photography isn't my forté, but since I'm the one who photographs my patterns, I need to be able to get good great shots to use on the pattern covers. You have to show the item that your customer will be making from the pattern, but you also want to how the pattern cover itself. You really don't want a buyer to think that they're actually getting a quilt for $8.00! 
This is where I need a great photo of the quilt project
I guess I feel like I'm wasting my time when I'm learning how to use things - cameras, software, iPads ... rather than actually making something. I should view this type of learning as an investment in my business, but it takes up so much time! It would be great to hire someone to take my photos and type up my designs, but that costs $$$ and when you're a little designer like me, that really cuts into your profit. So, I continue on with my limited knowledge and rely on on-line forums and friends' advice to help me out when I need it. 

My other concern with my photos is not just the images themselves, it's the styling of the shots. I've read all kinds of information about how to arrange your images and add props and what colour backgrounds to use and on and on. I find that most of this information deals with items that are being sold, such as clothing or jewellery, not much about patterns, so I'm doing some experimenting to see what works best with my projects. 

Recently, I decided to try some outdoor photography using our shed/playhouse as a background. I thought the rustic look of it would complement the table runner I was photographing. Here are some of these shots - untouched. 

Photographing "Bubbly Stripes" with
our playhouse as a backdrop
Shot #1
Photographing "Bubbly Stripes" with
our playhouse as a backdrop
A little further back with the window showing

Photographing "Bubbly Stripes" with
our playhouse as a backdrop
A little closer now, but still with the window in the shot
Photographing "Bubbly Stripes" with
our playhouse as a backdrop
Moving in a bit more, with a portion of the window showing
I like how the tablerunner shows up against the blue of the shed, the asymmetrical look of the shot, but don't think that the window adds much to the shot. I can crop this out in Photoshop (my photo helper), but still think that I need something else to really make this image pop.

Ah yes, this is just what's needed. Luckily, my "GQ model" son knew just what was needed and jumped in to help. I'm sure this will help to sell this pattern. Just need to decide which shot to use...

What do you like to see on a pattern cover? Just the project image or some styling? Let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Black and White or Colour?

Hi everyone:

I was reading an article in the August/September 2012 issue of Quilting Arts magazine the other day about one quilter's design process. Lynn Krawczyk is an art quilter, which is not something I consider myself to be, being more of a traditionalist, however one of her statements struck a chord with me. She kept a design sketchbook (again, something I don't do), but limited herself to using only black ink on a white page. I found this interesting and opposite to what I usually do. When I create a quilt design, I already envision the colours that I'll use in the project. Lynn feels that this constrains her creative process as she would "fall into the trap of judging the real work against the image on the page. I was strangling the flow of creativity, defining it before it had a chance to evolve in its own direction." Huh, maybe she has a point. I find it difficult to imagine my design in any other colour scheme than the one in my head and I certainly find this limiting especially when I'm looking for fabric for the design. Sometimes I just can't seem to find the perfect colour in any fabric. Maybe working in black and white, or shades of them, might free me from focussing on the colours and help me to see other designs in my blocks and create other ideas for that particular project. Let's take an example and see.

Here's a pieced design that I've created in EQ7. It's fairly basic with a churn dash block centre and a fancy border. Looks rather traditional and country-ish to me. You'll either see pinwheels or churn dash blocks in this design, with the emphasis on neither block.

Churn Dash and Pinwheels
What does it look like if I take out the distraction of the colours so we can really see the design?
Churn Dash and Pinwheels without the colours
 Well, that looks quite different, doesn't it? Now we can play around with the placement of the darks and lights without worrying about how nicely colours play together. Let's try changing some of those blacks (darks) to whites (lights). 
Adding some more white (lights)
Well, that certainly looks different, doesn't it? The churn dash blocks are gone and you have triangles or a hint of pinwheels, depending on your viewpoint. I haven't touched the borders or cornerstones, just the centre of the quilt. While this certainly is different, I think it lacks depth and the pinwheels in the centre look a bit small for my liking. I'd like to do this quilt in more than two colours - possibly in three - so I'm going to add some grey to the mix.
Grey added to the borders
By adding grey to the two borders, the focus is now definitely on the quilt centre and those churn dash blocks pop out at you. Again, this is a bit more interesting, but I'm not really happy about it yet. Let's switch it up a bit more.
Grey added to the quilt centre, as well as the borders
In this version I've kept the grey in the border, to keep the focus on the quilt centre, and have added grey to the churn dash blocks. Now they are no longer churn dashes, but interlocked pinwheels. Again, more interesting, but I think there is still some tweaking to be done.
Grey distributed more evenly throughout quilt
I've distributed the grey more evenly in the centre and now it looks like pinwheels on a checkerboard background - at least to me. I'm really liking the look of this variation and think that this design is almost there. 
Final design
I've added a bit of black on a few pieces next to the first border and I think that this is it. When it comes to adding colour to it, I just need to ensure that I have a similar contrast between my fabrics and I should be able to achieve the same effect.

Shades of blue and green

Red, white and blue batiks
I think that this is a great way to approach designing and will be using this more in the future. It forces me to switch from fixating on colour and focus instead on the design, which is really the most important part.

Monday, September 10, 2012

New Directions

Hi everyone:

Warning: This is a lengthy personal post with little quilt content. Just saying...

This summer I've felt quite overwhelmed by all the things I want to do and how difficult I find it to accomplish any of them. 
I had high hopes of finishing several quilt patterns and adding more videos to my youtube channel, however I didn't accomplish either of these goals. I did design several new patterns and have samples of some of them and finished a submission to a quilting magazine for a pattern that will be issued in a month or two, but these weren't what I expected to be doing this summer. 
Fabrics cut and ready to assemble
for a magazine pattern submission
As you know, my primary focus is on pattern designing. I also blog, maintain a website, am on Facebook (too much) and operate an Etsy shop. Add on the quilt videos that my husband and I are now doing and the book(s) I'm working on and well, it can sometimes become a bit overwhelming. I often wish that I had a clone who could take the ideas in my head and translate them into quilts, patterns, videos - well, you get the idea. Now I'm back at work at the school and still haven't crossed off many things on my quilt to-do list that I had hoped I would've accomplished by now. So... it's time to take a hard look at what I WANT to accomplish and what I CAN accomplish - a distinction that I often find difficult to acknowledge. It should be obvious that I can't do everything, but unfortunately I've always been an "I want it all" type of gal, so it's difficult to change at this stage of my life.

I know that I need to become more efficient and focused to achieve success in the projects that I do take on. So... here's what I've decided to do:

  • I will continue to blog and my goal is to post 2 times a week. My blog will continue to have book reviews and giveaways, as before, but will focus on my quilting projects as well as my design process, so you can follow along with me as I create new projects. I hope this will help keep me on track with my pattern publishing.
  • I will continue to create videos for my youtube channel. These will focus on information for beginner quilters, including pattern tutorials, as well as information about my designing and publishing process. If you have any suggestions for future videos, I would love to hear them.
  • I will continue to design and publish patterns. I'm hoping that the new direction of my blog and videos will reinforce this goal.
  • I will minimize my Facebook time - which should free up a few hours each day to put towards one of my other goals. My Chatterbox Quilts fan page will feature quilt and quilt related posts and I will be asking my quilting friends to "like" that account so they can follow me there. If you don't see me on Facebook as frequently, you can expect that I'm blogging or designing instead - at least I'd better be :)
  • While I hesitate to do it, I think that the book idea will have to go on the backburner for now. I'll still be keeping it in mind, but I need to focus on my other goals at this time.
Whew! I'm glad I got that all out -  I feel more focussed already! Now I'm off to decide which pattern I'll be finishing first. Check back with me in a few days to see how I'm progressing.
Teeka guarding fabric chosen for a pattern project

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Martingale tour

Hi everyone:

During my recent summer vacation, we travelled to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington in the United States. While there I was fortunate enough to have a tour of Martingale's offices in Bothell, Washington, near Seattle. 
Martingale's offices
If you're not familiar with Martingale, they are a book publisher of crochet, knitting, craft and quilt books. You will find their titles at various booksellers on-line as well as at most local quilt shops. They also sell their books through their website, which has recently been revamped and includes a blog, free patterns and tutorials
Front entrance at Martingale
I'm fortunate enough to be one of their book reviewers, so I was eagerly looking forward to seeing where it all happens. 
Yup, this is the place!
The tour gave me a chance to see their offices and meet some of the quilters who work there. Quilts from recent books published by Martingale were hung in the building. Due to copyright, we weren't allowed to take photos, but I was thrilled to see quilts from many of the books that I have in my library. I was especially delighted to see two quilts from Kay Mackenzie's recent book, Scrap-Appliqué Playground. You may recall that I was a stop on Kay's Book-A-Round 3 tour and made her Crazy Hearts project from the book.

I was also happy to finally meet Mary Burns, Marketing Coordinator, at Martingale. Mary and I have been emailing back and forth for awhile, but we've never met in person. As I walked in the front doors, Mary was there to welcome me - okay, I think she was actually unloading some books, but still... We had a great chat prior to the tour and she graciously allowed me to take some photos of the two of us. 
Mary Burns and I in her office at Martingale
Do you recognize the quilt behind us? I knew it looked familiar and Mary confirmed my suspicions that I'd seen it in one of Martingale's publications. It's Flying Shuttles from A Baker's Dozen, which is a collection of quilt patterns from the staff at Martingale. This particular quilt was designed, pieced, and hand appliquéd by Mary, with the quilting being done by Karen Burns, who is the Acquisitions Editor at Martingale.

Photo courtesy of Martingale
After the tour, the fun really began as we were given the opportunity to purchase books that had been published more than 6 months previous - at a substantial discount. I managed to add a few (more) books to my quilt library at great prices. Surprisingly enough, I didn't duplicate any of the books that I already own - I say surprisingly, because with over 300 quilts books in my studio, the chances were high that I might buy a book that I already owned. 

I thoroughly enjoyed finally seeing Martingale's offices and meeting several of the staff. I appreciated them allowing us to interrupt their workday - it can't be easy to concentrate with a group of quilters oohing and aahing their way through your workplace. 

If you ever find yourself in the Seattle area, be sure to book a tour of Martingale's offices - and bring some cash and a large bag.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Summer's End

Hi everyone:

Today is the first day back to school for most elementary school students in Calgary. As we head into the busy fall season, I'm posting a few photos of our recent summer vacation to the Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington areas. I hope you enjoy them.

Enjoying the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon
One of the many varieties at the
International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon
At Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon
The fog rolling in along the Oregon coast
A peek out from the Sea Lion Caves near Florence, Oregon
Some of the residents at the Sea Lion Caves near Florence, Oregon
The Space Needle in Seattle, Washington
A curious sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium
Sea anemones at the Seattle Aquarium
Tide pool at the Seattle Aquarium

Flowers at Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington
Marina on Bainbridge Island, Washington
Victorian architecture at Port Townsend, Washington

Victorian architecture at Port Townsend, Washington
Hope your fall is off to a good start!