New Directions: Pattern tester makes!

From my work as a scientist, I know that papers improve a lot when you receive feedback on the text and figures from colleagues or peer reviewers. After reading a text again and again and again you simply no longer spot missing words or typos. When you are completely submerged in the subject, concepts that are super clear to you may not be as clear to others that know less about the topic and may require additional clarification.

So, knowing how valuable feedback can be, I had the New Directions pincushion pattern tested before it was released to make sure that there are no errors in the FPP templates or instructions. Two of my quilting/blogging friends offered to test the pattern for me for which I am very grateful! They were able to provide me with useful comments and suggestions that I incorporated in the instructions.

New Directions pincushions made by Sanne from sewbysanne.

Sanne tested both the flat and boxy pincushion options and I think she used some fun fabric combinations. The top of each pincushion has a slightly different look because of how she positioned the fabrics. Also, look at those nice fussy cut flowers in the center squares!

New Directions pincushions made by Sanne from sewbysanne.

Tierney tested the flat pincushion option, I think she used shot cottons and they give her pincushion a luscious look. I must admit I was surprised at first that Tierney wanted to test the pattern at all because she has not kept her thoughts about FPP a secret in the past!

New directions pincushion made by Tierney from tierneycreates.

As I went through the process of writing a pattern and having Sanne and Tierney test it, I started to think whether it would be good to have a peer review system for sewing patterns to improve the quality of what’s available. I quickly realised that it would probably not work because in science the peer review process is part of getting your work published in good journals. While there are several quilting magazines to which you can submit pattern ideas, most patterns do not end up in journals but are self published. It got me wondering though, which sewing magazine would you consider to be the Nature and Science of quilting?

New Directions Pincushion pattern release!

For quite a long time now I’ve had a dream to create sewing patterns. This past year I’ve taken some big steps to make this dream come true!

The most important step was spending a lot of time playing with Adobe Illustrator, to learn how to use more of this software’s many functions and how to use those functions more efficiently. As it turns out I really enjoy doing this and as a result my first pattern is now completed! I’ve created detailed instructions on how to make the pincushion that I made for the dutch MQG swap that I participated in last spring.

The top of the pincushion is made from a foundation paper pieced 3” finished block. The sewing pattern contains instructions to turn this block into a flat or boxy pincushion. It is of course also possible to use the block in a quilt if you don’t want or need another pincushion!

I chose the name “New Directions” because the shapes in the block remind me a bit of a compass. This pattern also marks a new direction in my sewing and quilting hobby because it’s the first pattern that I’ve created for other people to use. This feels both exciting and a tiny bit scary.  

The New Directions Pincushion pattern has already been released to the subscribers of my monthly newsletter. If you’d like to get the pattern as well, that is still possible. When you sign up for my newsletter you can now download the pattern for free.

Now that New Directions is out in the world I am going to focus on the next patterns that are already in the pipeline!

I’ve also worked on developing a logo and house style. You may already have noticed that my blog looks a bit different from the last time you visited. I’ve tried to incorporate some of the house style features on my blog. The wordpress.com theme I am currently using is a bit limiting in what I can change, however, so eventually I am going to move my blog to infectiousstitches.com.

Going patchwork mini

This quarter my guild has a mini & MAXI theme and a challenge to go with it. We could choose from the half-square triangle, pineapple, robbing Peter to pay Paul or crown and star blocks to make something to fit the theme.

I chose the pineapple block because I had never made one even though it is quite similar to the log cabin block which I love to make. Going maxi would quickly lead to a quilt top and, since I already have several tops still waiting to be quilted, going mini seemed the wiser choice here. A postcard maybe?

Scrolling through Google images for inspiration I saw a lot of different pineapple variations but they were all square, as most quilt blocks are. Since I was thinking about making a postcard, I started wondering what the pineapple block would look like if it was stretched out to fit a 4×6” block.

So, I went to Adobe Illustrator to play around a bit and I came up with a FPP design that I thought promising. It definitely qualifies as mini with 69 pieces and the smallest less than ¼” wide.

For the fabrics I chose a simple pastel colour scheme that is a bit outside of the colour range that I usually gravitate toward but I quite like it. The background is Bella solid Mint and the triangles are Coral Rose and Pale Pink. I thought it fun to make the small triangles pop.

At the beginning it was a bit fiddly, but the block came together quicker than I had expected. After a couple of rounds it’s possible to sew the four triangles in one go before you need to press again which really speeds things up.

To finish, I paired the patchwork top with a light blue fabric interfaced with Decovil light and simply zig zagged the edges with a reddish thread.

All in all, a successful experiment!

Completed: I’ll walk you through the forest

In July I made a quilt to participate in the Modern Quilt Guild’s “Make a difference challenge”. The theme was trees and the proceeds of the challenge went to Trees for the Future, an organization that wants to end hunger and poverty by training farmers to regenerate their land by planting trees that protect the soil.  

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make but then I remembered that I had started an improv trees and stars quilt using Kaffe Fassett shot cottons in 2018. At some point I got stuck on how to proceed so I only had a pile of blocks. With the trees theme I thought these blocks would be a great start to quickly assemble a quilt top. I used most of the blocks I had made and pieced it all together filling in the gaps with scraps. The shape started to get a bit weird quite quickly and because I didn’t want to make more stars or trees and ran out of background fabric, I decided that the best way forward was to make a non-square quilt. It was always meant to become a wall hanging anyway.

The back is a single fabric that kind of reminds me of tree bark and the batting is Quilters Dream Poly Select. I like this batting for wall hangings.

In the sky I wanted to quilt something swirly, very loosely inspired by Van Gogh’s starry night. This would be a pain to do with a walking foot because it’d require constant turning of the quilt. My FMQ skills are definitely not up to that level so I decided to hand quilt with perle 8 cotton and embroidery floss. And there went my “finish a quilt quickly” idea…

I wanted a denser forest so I quilted more trees, using different shapes to fill the outlines to add a bit more interest. Through the forest runs a path that is partly hidden by the trees. This is what the title “I’ll walk you through the forest” refers to. This quilt is going to hang in my youngest daughter’s bedroom and it signifies that I’ll also be there for her in those moments that her path in life might seem a bit less clear.

To make the deadline I added the binding before I finished quilting and this worked quite well. Usually I attach the binding by hand using the invisible ladder stitch, but this time I used some big stitches which was definitely faster and also looks quite nice on the back.

I am very happy that these blocks have finally turned into a quilt. I still need to add a label and a hanging sleeve though. The curved top makes the latter a bit of a challenge, however. If anyone has any brilliant suggestions on how to hang this quilt without the top flopping down, I would love to hear them!

Sewing with young children, some tips and tricks

During the past year I’ve sewn quite a bit with my then 3-year and now 4-year-old daughter. It started so that I could do some crafting while going lockdown-crazy but it turned into something enjoyable for both of us. At first, she would just sit next to me or sit on my lap and hand me fabrics. At some point she wanted to use the scissors button on my sewing machine and I would tell her when I was done sewing a seam and she could cut the thread. After a while she also wanted to use the foot pedal. This took a bit longer to master, but she can now start and stop when I tell her to. I did have to make up the “only sew when there is fabric under the presser foot” rule though, because she would otherwise just go whenever she felt like it.

If you had asked me 3 years ago if I thought it would work to sew with a 3-year-old I would probably have said “are you crazy?”, but now I think it is absolutely possible if your child is interested and capable of following some rules. I thought it might be useful for other (grand)parents to see what I have learned from this experience so today I am sharing some tips. 

  • Keep it simple
    • Don’t try to make something super complicated with a young child around. You need to focus on your child and make certain that the sewing you do together is safe. For that reason I like to make improv blocks. You can just cut the fabric with scissors and it’s not so important to sew exact ¼ inch seams or perfectly matched seams.
  • Leave perfection outside the sewing room anyway
    • With the improv sewing we mostly do I just trim the seam allowances to approximately ¼ inch. The back of those pieces are ridiculously messy and uneven compared to the other things I sew, but I don’t mind. It’s the back. It will not be on display when the item is finished.
  • Be clear about what your child can and cannot touch in your room
    • I do not want my child’s hands near the needle of the sewing machine and for that reason I am still guiding the fabric through the machine while she controls the foot pedal.
    • Rotary cutters, sharp scissors and iron are off limits. There is only one pair of scissors in my sewing room that she is allowed to use and she knows this.
    • My daughter knows she can touch some of the buttons on my sewing machine like the thread cutter and speed control (yes, the latter can give some surprises while you’re sewing…) and she knows not to touch the others. It really would be too annoying if she changed the straight stitch to a zig zag or the stitch length. Has this always gone well? Hmm, I did at some point have some tension issues with my overlocker because she had touched the differential feed and stitch length dials, she now knows to stay away from them.

  • Be clear about which fabrics and supplies your child is allowed to use
    • My daughter knows she can pick anything from my scrap bins, but not from the larger pieces that are stored in the closets. When we need a larger piece of fabric for something I’ll make a preselection and give her a limited number of options to choose from. If I would not do this my daughter would most likely completely mess up my fat quarter storage system looking for pretty fabrics. This way she will also not end up disappointed because she picked a fabric that I was still saving for another project and do not want her to use.
  • Get a seam roller
    • Pressing seams certainly results in a better looking finished project but I really do not want a hot iron in a room with my child. She knows it can get hot and that she shouldn’t touch it, but accidents can happen and I rather prefer to have my daughter’s skin intact over perfectly pressed seams. At first, I finger pressed seams and that worked somewhat but at some point I bought a Clover seam roller and that does work much better. I now just use the seam roller when my daughter is in the room and give the pieces we made another press with the iron when she’s not around.
  • Plan ahead
    • There are some steps in a project that you can’t really do without a rotary cutter or iron or that need your full attention. When we sewed a bag for one of her teachers, I cut the pieces for the bag when my daughter wasn’t around so that she could help with the construction later on.
  • Follow your child’s interests
    • Ask what your child would like to make and then turn that idea into something manageable. We started because she found some improv trees I had made that she liked and she wanted to make some trees of her own and I thought we could just give it a shot. When she wanted to make pyjamas for her stuffed animals we made a sleeping bag instead.
  • Accept that your sewing room will turn into (an even bigger) mess
    • My scraps are now super messy boxes on the floor because my daughter is always rummaging through them. I can live with this.
  • Stop when you notice your child starts to lose interest
    • Children don’t have a very long attention span. If they want to do something different after sewing only 3 seams, that’s just fine. If you continue because you want to finish something they’ll just start looking around your room trying to find something more interesting to do and make a mess. There were days we added just 1 or 2 trees to our forest, that’s fine. Eventually we had enough trees to make an entire quilt.

And finally, if you really want to sew and your child doesn’t, you can also sew while your child is sitting next to you cutting up pieces of paper, taping fabric scraps to paper, sorting your beads or watching Netflix. Just saying…

For our latest project we made her teachers mug rugs as an end of schoolyear gift. She picked the fabrics from my scrap bins and told me how they should be put together. She operated the foot pedal for some of the seams and for others I sewed them while she sat on my lap. She cut the thread and sometimes lifted the presser foot. She picked the thread colours for the quilting and edges of the mug rug and decided whether we should do straight or wavy quilting lines. I absolutely love how both of them turned out!

Have you ever sewn with young children and have some other tips that make the experience even more fun?

Completed: Erica’s pincushion

In May and June the Dutch MQG organized a pincushion swap and of course I participated. I had to make something for Erica, which is great because last year she made me a very beautiful mini quilt so it was nice to make her something in return.

Everyone had to make an inspirational mosaic and answer some questions so their swap partner could get some ideas. Erica likes green and nature and wanted a small pincushion with room on the sides to stick needles in. The pincushions in her mosaic contained a lot of triangles (my favourite!) and fussy cutting which I decided to incorporate into my own design.

I played around in Adobe Illustrator to create a foundation paper piecing pattern to use for the top of the pincushion. The block was originally 4 inches but as I started assembling it this felt too large for a small pincushion and I reduced it to 3 inches. Oh, and yes, I do remind myself to check the printer settings before printing FPP patterns.

I was super happy to find a fabric that I could cut a ball like flowery thing out of that somewhat resembled the flowery pictures that she put in her mosaic. That fabric also contained several other smaller items that I fussy cut for the corners. I picked some green and yellow-green fabrics to work with that purple fabric and as a fellow lover of green I am very pleased with how it all turned out.

The sides are 1 3/8’’ high which was mainly determined by the print that I wanted to fussy cut. The sides were sewn to the top and bottom using Y-seams and this came together without problems. Y-seams don’t scare me. I filled the pincushion with lavender scented crushed walnut shells. This was the first time I used this type of filling and I really like how it feels when you push the pins into the shells. Apparently it helps to keep your pins and needles sharp. I also like that it adds some weight to the pincushion so that it sits a bit more stable. The lavender smell is great; it reminds me of summer vacations in southern France with my parents.

My guild’s theme for this quarter is scraps so I made a scrap card to send with the pincushion. As part of the swap we also included 50 grams of our own scraps in our package so we’d all get some new fabrics to play with. I chose a variety of sizes and shapes and a combination of prints and solids.

You are probably also curious to see what I got in return. Ingrid made me a pincushion from the Deluxe pattern of Heidi Staples. I love the fussy cutting of the text fabrics that she included. This pincushion has a pocket that can be used to put a pair of scissors in but I prefer to keep my scissors elsewhere so I used the nine patch to organize the different types of pins that I use most often. The top of the pocket can be used to clip wonderclips on, I think this feature will really come in handy. The scraps that I received were very different from the fabrics that I currently have in my scrap box so they were a very good addition to add some more variety to my projects. All in all, I consider this another very successful swap!

Completed: Stitch & Flip for Lette

Last year I made a quilt for my nephew and of course his little sister should get one too! I used the stitch and flip triangle technique from the book “Quilting modern” by Jacquie Gering and Katie Pederson. Each square got two triangles on opposite corners.

I started with the light grey background and used scraps for the triangles. When I ran out of the light grey I added the black and at some point also started to cut triangles from yardage, fat quarters and layer cakes because I wanted a different fabric for each triangle and not all of my scraps were large enough anymore. I even unpicked a couple of squares when I realised I had duplicates. When I ran out of black background I switched to neon green. I also made some pink squares but liked the overall look better without the pink. The blocks finish at 4 ¾’’.

The squares were rearranged on my design wall until I found a layout I liked and pieced together into the top. Then it took a very long time before I knew what I wanted to do with the back. For her brother I had included his name on the back and I thought it would be nice to also do that for this quilt but I just couldn’t decide on which fabrics to use. The solution came when I started to play with solids.

The batting is Hobbs Tuscany cotton wool, which remains my favourite. For the quilting I did a walking foot orange peel design that I found in Jacquie Gering’s book “Walk”. A book I can recommend to anyone who wants to get a bit more adventurous with their walking foot. To stabilize everything and get rid of most of the basting pins I first did some stitch in the ditch quilting using white Aurifil 50wt thread. For the orange peels I used 28wt Gutermann Sulky thread in 6 different colours. I only marked dots using a template and stitched from fabric intersection to dot to fabric intersection. This worked well and quilting went a lot quicker than I had expected. The curves aren’t exactly identical for every peel, but that’s ok. This curvy design adds a lot more to the quilt than a straight line cross hatch would have done.

The binding was the next hurdle. I always wonder how some people can already pick a binding fabric at the start of the project. I don’t even try anymore, probably because my quilts develop organically and I don’t always know at the start what it’ll look like in the end. A fabric that I think will work at the start nearly always doesn’t. Anyway, I thought I’d figured something out that would work, cut out strips from several solid fabrics but when I draped them around the quilt, it was just “meh”. Then I ordered some fabric but it turned out way too dark. However, it looked absolutely great with the top I had up on my design wall so unexpectedly I had suddenly solved another back problem. Still no binding for this quilt though. I proceeded by holding up lots and lots of different fabrics from my stash until I found the fabric that you now see. This is the aqua crosses fabric from the Safari life line from Stacy Iest Hsu. Only problem, I had maybe half a jelly roll strip left so that was not going to cut it. Luckily, I found a fabric store in the Netherlands that still had enough of this fabric in stock and all was well in the end. This fabric works with both front and back of the quilt.

In total I used 175 different fabrics in this quilt, 3, background fabrics, 160 triangles, 11 fabrics on the back and 1 binding. I think this is a record for me. I finished the quilt just in time to gift it on my nieces 1st birthday. If hope she’ll enjoy using it for a very long time.

Completed: wholecloth handquilted pillow

With the Dutch modern quilt guild we have a theme each quarter and we are challenged to make things that fit inside this theme. Last summer the theme was modern traditional. The challenge was to create something with a modern twist using the churn dash, ohio star, dutchman’s puzzle or basket traditional block.

I played around with the idea of doing a wholecloth quilt where the quilting defines the shapes of the traditional block. I got as far as making a small quilt sandwich and machine quilting the outlines of the Dutchman’s puzzle. Then I got sort of stuck on what to do next and it just sat in one of the piles on the desk next to my sewing machine.

The first theme of 2021 was slow stitching and we did a Zoom hand quilting workshop for which I needed something to practice on. Instead of making another quilt sandwich I simply pulled the unfinished Dutchman’s puzzle from the pile and started stitching in the background triangles without much of a plan. Just starting is sometimes the best way to get out of indecision. I used the Sulky 12wt Cotton Petites thread that I had received from the DutchMQG for this theme and I really liked sewing with it. It sewed smoothly and didn’t tangle.

After filling in the background triangles it was time to do something with the geese and I thought the piece needed a bit more colour so I switched to the thicker Wonderfil Perle 8 thread that I already had in my stash and picked green, blue, pink and yellow. After finishing I didn’t like the yellow so much because the contrast with the green background wasn’t as good as with the other 3 colours so I replaced it with a light brown which worked much better.

At some point I also started to hate the black machine stitched lines and pulled those out as well. Much, much better.

For the back of the pillow I picked a quilting cotton from my stash and underlined it with another piece of cotton before installing an invisible zipper. I am very happy with how this pillow turned out. I am now toying with the idea of doing a larger wholecloth quilt to create a handquilted sampler using traditional block shapes. I do tend to overthink these things and am currently stuck on what to choose for the background fabric since that is going to define the look of the piece so much. Suggestions anyone?

Sewing room tour

Despite always finding it interesting to take a peek into other people’s sewing spaces to get inspiration on how to improve my own set up, I have never shown my own sewing room on this blog. In February I spend a couple of days doing a much needed clean up and decided that would be a good moment to also take some pictures of the room. It is usually not as tidy, but since taking these pictures I’ve been pretty good at keeping it in this condition.  

I am lucky to have a large space to use as a dedicated sewing room. When we bought our house a little over 6 years ago I sewed very often and a proper sewing room was very high on my list of requirements. This room is on the top floor of our house and while the ceiling is slanted it does not really reduce the amount of usable space since the roof only starts about a meter up from the floor. I can stand upright in most of the room. The large window provides a lot of natural light and the high ceiling makes it feel very roomy. I love this room.

My sewing machines are on a large IKEA desk. I usually have it set up like this with the Janome Horizon Memory Craft 9400 on the right, the Janome 3160 QDC in the middle and the overlocker on the left. I absolutely love being able to use two sewing machines at the same time. I mostly use the 3160 for piecing quilt tops and then use the 9400 for quilting or garment sewing. It saves a lot of time changing threads and needles when I am working on different projects at the same time which is nearly always. Next to the sewing machines I have some containers in which spools of thread are stored and some often used notions and accessories for the 9400.

Our old dining room table holds my cutting mat. I find it ideal that I can walk around the table to cut or mark things from every side. At some point I’d like to raise the table so I don’t have to bend down to cut fabric but at the moment I’m also occasionally using this table to work from home so that’ll have to wait a little while longer. Next to the cutting table I put my dress form. I’m not making a lot of clothes for myself these days so I am not using it all that often. It’s a good space to store measuring tapes though.

My ironing board is set up next to the basin. This is mostly due to how the sockets are distributed across the room. Ideally it would be a bit closer to the sewing machines so I wouldn’t have to walk back and forth so much.

On one side of the room a previous owner installed some shelves and a built in closet with sliding doors. The shelves hold my sewing books and patterns. The build in closet is really deep so I can store huge amounts of stuff in there and to be honest the contents of this closet are only semi-organized. This is certainly a part of the room that could still do with some improvement. This closet contains large things like batting and fabric yardage, both quilting cottons and apparel fabrics, but also several coats that we’re not using because they’re out of season and lots of other random stuff that I may or may not need at some point. Above the closet I installed a curtain rod to display the mini quilt and quilted postcards that I received in swaps from fellow members of the DutchMQG so I can enjoy looking at them when I’m sewing. It also holds many artworks created by my daughter while she was playing in this room as I was sewing.

On the other side of the room I put 3 IKEA MALM chests of drawers. The left one currently holds sewing machine accessories and notions like elastics, interfacing and overlocker thread. The middle one contains smaller cuts of quilting fabrics like fat quarters, layer cakes and jelly rolls. The one on the right is a more jumbled collection of yarn, apparel fabrics and miscellaneous stuff. The two on the left are lower so I can store sewing machines that are not in use on top to create more space on my sewing desk when needed. Next to the chests of drawers there are also two large containers that hold a lot of fabric. One container contains woven fabrics for either bag making or clothing, the other container mostly contains knit fabrics. At some point in the past all my fabric fit in those containers. Imagine that! This was prior to my taking up quilting seriously.

Fat quarters somewhat organized by colour. I obviously don’t get too obsessed about this.

One downside of the slanted ceiling and the big window is that there is not a lot of straight wall space that can be used for a design wall. The only space where it fits is in between the door and the basin. The design wall is just a piece of white flannel with a hanging rod at the top and a smaller rod at the bottom to keep it hanging straight. I sometimes would like it to be a bit wider but most of my quilts fit well on this size.

By nature I am not a super tidy person. I’ve found that the trick to keeping your sewing room organized is to have a dedicated place for each item so you know where to put it back after using it. Yes, this probably seems very obvious, but it has made a huge difference for me in being able to find that specific ruler or fabric marker that I need. I am still super happy with the mobile pegboard that I came up with several years ago. I use it to store my rulers, scissors, rotary cutters, markers/pens, bobbins, even more spools of thread and works in progress. The tutorial for the mobile pegboard is currently the most popular post on my blog and I sometimes wonder how many of these are already residing in other people’s sewing rooms.

During the clean up I realized that I still don’t really have a good spot for storing my hand sewing supplies and that is something I will need to fix because currently I am just moving these items from one place to the next which is a well-tested recipe for creating chaos. One thing piles on top of each other and before I know it complete table surfaces have turned into mountains of stuff.

I’d also like to get a better container for storing scraps. They’re now in 2 open containers on the floor. A situation grown from sewing with my daughter so she could easily grab the fabrics that she wants to use but it is messy. Something with a lid is probably a better idea.

Well, this post turned out much longer than I expected. Do you also enjoy peeking into other people’s sewing rooms?

My next newsletter goes out in a couple of days so if you’re interested to find out a bit more about me and what I get up to there’s still time to sign up.

Completed: curvy crosses drawstring bag

In December I participated in a winter swap organized by the dutchMQG. We each had to prepare 12 gifts for another member and some of the gifts had to be handmade. They were opened in the 12 days preceding Christmas and it was a lot of fun to see what everyone received. I had to make something for Ingrid and she loves blue and plus blocks so to combine those two in an item was a given. Each quarter we also have a specific theme at our guild and at the time it was curves, so I also wanted to include some curved piecing

For my final gift I made a quilted drawstring bag. I first sewed 9 improv curvy cross blocks to create a panel for the front of the bag. This was framed in a dark blue solid fabric to make it large enough. For the back panel I used a single piece of the same dark blue solid. The front was quilted in the ditch and on the back I quilted one large curvy cross.

The front and back panels were sewn together and the corners at the bottom were boxed so that the bag can stand up on its own. I did not use a separate lining. For the sides I used French seams and for the corners the seams were bound with a strip of fabric because the layers just got too thick for French seams.

For the closure at the top I used a single layer of the dark blue solid because that would make it easier to close the bag than when you have to pull a quilted layer together. The top was folded over to create the channel for the drawstring. It was attached to the main piece and again I used some binding to cover the seam.

I dug through my collection of saved ribbons for something suitable to use for the drawstring and found this nice off white piece that was just long enough. I am very pleased with how this bag turned out!

My first newsletter goes out on Saturday so if you don’t want to miss it there is still time to sign up here! I will share a personal story of how I came to be where I am now and what my plans are for the near future.