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Archive for the ‘Favorite Products’ Category

Dress Form: Unvarnished Truth and a Game Changer

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

Two years ago I made my DIL Ashley a linen jacket for job interviews. It was a revelation! Working on another body (not mine) was SO EASY–I could see what needed fitting, figure out how to make changes, assess fit and lines. So I vowed to get a dress form. KaCHING! What I wanted was over $400! Nope. So I cast about for something less expensive. A local quilty friend had a friend with one to sell…done for $75. And it still mostly adjusted and wasn’t musty!

For your listening pleasure (you’ll need to read to the end to understand why), open this in a separate browser window.

First change: using an old bra to get the boobs into the right shape for me.

However, I discovered that the dress form and I were built on different molds. I honestly didn’t look as good as the dress form even though the measurements were correct. For starters, most dress forms start with a B-cup. The only time I was that large, I was nursing my sons! So I had to shrink in the torso to get a proper full bust measurement and shape, then pad out everything else to correct ribs, high bust, etc

But even that didn’t do it. Luckily I had long planned to get proper measurements done. Fiddlehead Artisan Supply (if you ever get to Belfast Maine, you MUST MUST MUST go there; quilt fabric, garment fabric, paint, art supplies of all sorts, crafting supplies….in other words, heaven!) has a classroom. Students can pay a VERY modest fee per hour for the teacher to come and help you. When I went, there was one student sewing and me getting measured. I figured I could try and explain to hubby what to do (but do I really want him to know my actual size? NO!) OR I could get someone who sews and would do it properly. Easy choice. The following is a chart I made to use at that session.

Here’s a link for you to download this chart.

To prepare, I looked at patterns, sewing books and knitting books to figure out every conceivable measurement I might need, ever. And I put them into a chart. I have created this a PDF for you to use!

I tried using batting and whatnot, but decided to purchase this smaller set of Fabulous Fit Dress Form pads to make life easy AND give myself a surface that was more pinnable than the actual dress form which is a very dense molded paperboard covered in cloth. I didn’t understand why the slightly more expensive version of this set had TWO dress covers….I’ll explain below. Here they are on Amazon US.

I learned SO MUCH about the shape of my body in this process (and I’m fine with lumps…life is better with ice cream, although 10 pounds fewer lumps would be nice too….the 20 I need to lose ain’t gonna happen). And I learned about the pattern industry, the “blocks” (body shape bases they use) and fitting ease. I can now use my stand-by—measure a garment I have that fits the way I want and compare with what I measure on the pattern–along with the dress form and get a fit that I want!

In the coming weeks I’ll have several garment making posts. I have made a top, a skirt, a tunic, leggings, have another pair of leggings on the cutting table, and a pinafore/jumper on the design wall. Ailith (traditional Scottish name meaning seasoned warrior–my paternal grandmother was Irish but born in Glasgow, I am named after her, so I liked Ailith) has been a great help already. Can’t wait to share. Oh…and why red dress?

Put on your red dress, girl, and have FUN! BIG thanks to Marty Ornish, who makes amazing art with old quilts and dress forms….check out her website, Marty-O, here. I asked her what she uses, and for some purposes she uses mannequins with stretchy fabric pulled over. She gave me a length, so now Ailith can put on her party shoes!

The Janome HP foot and throat plate, or…The not-so-little things

Thursday, May 7th, 2020

Sometimes it is the little things, that turn out to be not-so-little, that make the difference in life. In my life, watching the bubbles form and the water boil gives me joy…what can I say, I live a rural life LOL! Another one is tools that make my sewing life easier like the Janome M7’s HP Presser Foot and throat plate, which are available on select other Janome models. It also turns out, you can teach someone who has been sewing for about 57 years new tricks!

Yes, I like to watch water boil! No, I am not chanting “bubble, bubble, toil and trouble” over the cauldron! (chortle…..)

I have never been precise at piecing like my friends Krispi Staude on San Juan Island or Joan Herrick, Tori Manzi and Karen Miller here in Maine. I try, but I just never quite get it perfect. And I am Type A enough that it Really Bugs Me. Either go totally improv OR Get It Right. A couple things introduced into my life recently have helped a lot. The Janome M7 Continental (I’m a Janome Artisan, get to borrow this machine for extended periods for free, but I’d say all this good stuff if I paid full MSRP!) is one of them. I’ll share another next week or so. I’m also trying to improve my skills and learn to shoot and edit videos, so I’m practicing on these short clips.

Here I’m showing and explaining Janome’s HP system, which I think must mean Heavenly Perfection. I need to get better at holding the phone and zooming, but with each video I improve. Lookit the titles and comments I was able to add! AND I did TWO transitions! Maybe by summer I’ll be adept enough to consider online classes.

Anyway, the automatic / magnetic throat plate is one of those “little” things that make my life easier. So yeah, it’s the not-so-little things that make life good! Thank you, Janome! Here’s the video…if for any reason it cuts out part way through, click on it to go watch on my YouTube Channel.

The HP foot can be used for piecing, garment construction and quilting. I’ve just finished a somewhat “quilt Modern” top–about 34″ square–that I’ll share over the next couple of months. Next week, I’ll share a video with me actually piecing! Who me? FUN… a total and much needed mental break in the Time of Covid-19!

Lost in (a Tropical) Paradise AND quilty things

Friday, April 24th, 2020
Today’s blogpost is my Michael Miller Brand Ambassador project for April. I was fortunate to receive my fabrics and things just before everything shut down! I knew I wanted to make up the Running With Scissors pattern from byAnnie.com, so I wrote to ask permission. To my utter delight they not only said yes, but what do you need and we will send you supplies! So thank you also go byAnnie.com for the mesh, vinyl, stretchy elastic stuff, Soft & Stable foam “batting” and scissors. I actually placed a wholesale order with my regular wholesaler for about $95 more of byAnnie goodies — I have been buying her patterns for a couple years and this is the perfect year to make them in conjunction with Michael Miller Fabrics.
Here is part of the collection. I used the Postage Stamp fabric in charcoal/black background for the outside of the bag, and the Tropical Leaves on white on the inside.

When I selected this fun line of fabric for one of my second quarter projects as a Michael Miller Brand Ambassador, a global pandemic wasn’t even a blip on most of our radars. But who wouldn’t love to be on a beach with a balmy sea breeze, enjoying the turquoise waters and lush green foliage of a tropical splendor. Well, now that COVID-19 and hunkering down at home are the order of the day, a virtual escape is even MORE fun.

Fabrics are from top to bottom: Garden Pindots in Raspberry, Lavish Leaves in white, Garden Pindots in Marine, Hash Dot, Garden Pindots in Fern and , and Tropical Getaway in black, the feature fabric with “stamps.” The Garden Pindots and Hash Dot fabrics are Michael Miller Basics and always available, while the two prints are from the Lost in Paradise line that should be shipping to stores in April/May, though we now know that all previously planned schedules are now subject to change!

For some time now, I have been “collecting” patterns from byAnnie.com. I decided now was the perfect time to try at least one of them out.

These are the items I used for my project. I made a few changes (small) to the pattern and the supplies. Two of those are the magnets from byAnnie.com (little box to the left of the green elastic) and using the thermal barrier fabric we were given at the Janome Education Summit nearly two years ago.

I had only done one byAnnie.com pattern before, a freebie for the Petit Four box/basket. Annie is one smart and organized lady–and with a pattern with as many parts as this case, that’s a very good thing. If you are a linear thinker, you will ADORE her methodical step-by-step approach. If you are a global thinker, like me, and need to see the big picture I suggest that if you make this project skim the first 7 pages of the pattern. Then read Pages 8-9 CLOSELY so you can understand where the component parts go. Then go back to page 1 and go through it closely step by step. I don’t do well when I am being led to an end without knowing the overall picture (literally as well as figuratively) or where “pocket D” goes! Once I got the overall picture, having Annie’s very careful process and step by step approach was brilliant for me, too.

Annie’s attention to detail and fine craftsmanship also sets my heart aflutter–I am a stickler for fine workmanship and beautiful results. You can learn a lot from her patterns, so I encourage you to go ahead and dive in no matter how complex because the instructions will guide you at every step. The Add-On videos that now come with some of the patterns are also extremely helpful. You get a “just for you” code with a pattern that allows you to access extensive information on the byAnnie.com website.

By making a very small change to the overall dimensions–1″ each way when zipped closed–I was able to fit my cutting mat in an outside pocket as well as my long scissors. There is a companion pattern, the Take a Stand bag, that serves as an “easel” for this bag. Since I travel teach and my suitcase usually weighs 49.8 pounds (.2 under the limit), I knew I wouldn’t want to carry the extra case. BUT I wanted this bag to stand up for me. I have the mat on one side, some rigid plastic on the other, and added some straps (see below) so I can still use it upright on my teacher’s table!
My changes meant I needed to remember to adjust the sizes of the pockets to make each item 1″ wider and, for the outside pockets a bit longer. Luckily, the 40″ zipper to close the entire case was still plenty long.

One of the first things you want to do is take an inventory of what you want to put in the case. Here is what is in my “toss it all in” bag for teaching:

I managed to fit everything except the roll of tape, plus a few extras.
As usual, I need to customize things. My pleated pockets hold my rotary cutter on one end and my breath mints (truth: you teach and don’t hydrate enough because you don’t want to need to leave the classroom to run down the hall, but that can lead to lunch-breath! Ick! So I always have Altoids!).
Sewing with tissue or paper under the vinyl prevented sticking to the machine bed. I was impressed by the thickness and flexibility of the byAnnie vinyl–the best I’ve come across. I received one of Annie’s stilettos in the teacher goodie bag at Houston years ago but hadn’t really used it, preferring to use a bamboo skewer or something less hazardous if I hit it with the needle. I am a convert to using this tool for many (though not all) purposes. I took a 90 minute lecture/demo class with Annie Unrein at Houston during Market last year, and learned that the tip isn’t smooth but kinda grippy. What a difference that makes! And the flat back end “presses” seams open at the sewing machine. The fact that you can also “spear” the fabric or zipper tape with the tip makes wrangling the multiple layers easy.
Those new BFF Wonder Clips also make it easy to control the bulk without bending pins! And now I want to go have a pina colada on a beach somewhere….
Annie has a pretty nifty way to create beautifully finished edges. Using the ability to fine-tune where the needle drops combined with the accufeed (walking) foot meant I was able to do a nice job with the topstitching which keeps the zipper tape from misbehaving while in use.
I’ve been impressed by the M7 ever since Janome America (THANK YOU AGAIN for 16+ years of sponsorship!) sent me a loaner. I continue to be astounded at how well it works. I mean–a quarter of an inch thick through dense zipper tapes (TWO of them), foam batting, multiple layers of fabric, and not a fuss!
If I were just traveling by car, I would TOTALLY make Annie’s Take a Stand bag, the companion to the Running with Scissors pattern. You just drape this case over the top of the Stand bag, and presto. I improvised by creating straps cut from 1 1/2″ x 12″ strips of fabric. I appliquéd magnets to the inside of the outside pockets (testing to make sure they would grab, and indeed they are plenty strong). The photo below shows the testing stage.
The other minor fiddle to the pattern… I did the tabs my way. I sew a square or rectangle to the end of the zipper. Then I use my beloved glue stick (which is dynamite for sewing bindings by machine for washable things like placemats) to hold things in place before sewing.
And here is my finished bag on the inside… I LOVE IT! It’s SO PRETTY!!!!! On the right you can see how the magnet-strap tucks into the pocket (top, with green rotary cutter) and pulled out next to the Altoids tin.
At first I wasn’t going to make the optional pressing mat. The idea of it is to protect your tools: set it in the center of the case and when closed the tools won’t rub on each other or scratch. I thought–don’t need the bulk. But then I thought why not…I can take it or leave it at home as needed. But I was worried about plastic tables at guilds if I were to use the Soft and Stable foam insulation. Instead, I used a layer of print fabric, a layer of pure cotton batting, a layer of the solarize insulating material, then two layers of wool felt. I didn’t quilt them…just sewed them together around the edges. It works!

PS: that quilt top in the background is going to be called “214,” for the 214 colors of Cotton Couture solids made by Michael Miller. Stay tuned for that quilted later in the year!

I only did one thing I wish I had done differently: I didn’t quite get the measurements correct when handling the zipper on the tab end because I had modified the sizes. I expect the zipper would be easier to open if I had heeded the precise measurements, but working from the center out instead of the edge to the center. I have learned: trust Annie’s patterns (and I’m not usually one to go by someone else’s rules).

I LOVE THIS BAG SO MUCH–the Michael Miller fabrics just make me happy–those are SO my colors! I actually have not put it away, and reorganized my work table so I can keep it opened / standing up right near where I work. Stay tuned for my own take on bags and baskets in May and at least one other byAnnie pattern later this year!

Irons: from tiny to dragon!

Saturday, April 18th, 2020

For a while now I’ve wanted to blog about irons, and why I love the ones I have. Yes, plural…..I have SIX! Three are “small” size, two are regular, and one is Sirius the Black Dragon. Yes, my Janome M7 sewing machine is named Albus (the second, he had a predecessor named Albus). There’s even a video at the end of this post about all these irons!

From left to right: the CHI, my beloved Panasonic Titanium Nonstick, the little mushroom style, the (SOB no longer made SOB) Clover, and Sirius, a LauraStar steam generator. I have a sixth sorta small iron, but it is too heavy/awkward for my hands and was upstairs for use steaming in the closet–not that I’ve actually ever used it for that. Sigh.

The Panasonic is my go-to iron for fusing. At 1200 watts, it gets hot and has acceptable steam, although I almost always use it as a dry iron. I love this iron so much I wore the finish off my last one! I always have one that is my working iron, and a brand new spare in the closet in case the cats or I knock it off the ironing board one time too many (studio is in the basement, cement floor…not good for falling objects). I can LITERALLY place this on Mistyfuse or other fusible web, melt it all over the bottom of the iron and WIPE IT CLEAN. No more hot iron cleaner fumes (which cannot be good to inhale–they set off smoke detectors)! For the price of four tubes of iron cleaner, you’re golden. This link takes you to the one I am currently using–I like that it has auto off because I am easily distracted. As of April 2020, it is a whopping US $27. Even if you only use it for fusing, it’s worth it!

I fuse on top of my ironing surface, but also on the design wall. Holding the iron (which is relatively light) had gotten uncomfortable because I have arthritis in my thumbs and wrists. So I tried the little mushroom iron, the ones you see in classrooms and at retreats–many folks can plug them in and not blow the fuses. It is quite comfortable to hold when used on a flat surface, but on the design wall it requires you to bend your wrist, and that hurts for me.

Here I am holding the iron on the design wall, and I have to bend at the wrist which causes discomfort. That’s why I really prefer the…SOB….not longer available Clover iron. Yeah, I’m sorry, I know that doesn’t help you very much. I haven’t included a link for the little mushroom style irons…there are a bazillion available on Amazon, at quilt shops and so on. From what I can tell they are fairly similar.
The Clover iron is ideal for the design wall. The “mug” handle rests on my fingers, and I can see my hand and forearm in a single line–as if I were wearing a brace. That means I can tap it onto the design wall as I work with no pain at all. I don’t know if there are any models similar to this style out there….If ANYONE KNOWS OF SOMETHING SIMILAR, please TELL ME! I’d love to test one out and see if I can recommend it to my students. And if anyone knows someone at Clover that we can all write and beg them to make this again, tell me that, too!
The 1200 watt Panasonic Titanium non-stick iron is on the left, the CHI 1700 watt is on the right, and that glorious fabric is Meadow color of HashDot by Michael Miller Fabrics.

For years I have recommended the Panasonic Titanium nonstick iron to students–Panasonic should give me free irons for life I’ve sold so many for them LOL! But I had (note the past tense) suggested that the gold-ish colored titanium appears to be the key. Not so much. First, my “in the closet” iron-in-waiting is a Panasonic Titanium ordered earlier this year, but is now a silvery color instead of gold-ish, but still works the same. Second, not all Titanium non stick is the same. I decided to give the CHI Titanium Ceramic, below, a try. It costs more, about $59, and has 1700 watts so lots of heat and power and good steam. It’s great for steam ironing, but not so great at the non-stick–it really doesn’t wipe clean the way the Panasonic does. Here’s what happened:

I needed to (yuk) get out the hot iron cleaner. This surface just doesn’t wipe clean well. I use Faultless Iron Off hot iron cleaner on a soft white terry towel. And look what happened: I rubbed off the finish on the gunky edge!!!!!! It’s still a good iron, and I use it, but not for fusing. It has quite a large capacity water reservoir which is good in principle, but again that pesky arthritis poses a problem: it’s heavy. That’s where Sirius the Dragon comes in. Keep reading. ANYway, if you don’t use fusibles (or even if you do) this is a good, hot iron with good steam.
The LauraStar steam generator is a grand indulgence! Please be sure you are sitting down when you see the price on this black beauty…they are expensive. But OH MY! I had been lusting after a steam generator for a long time, but (to repeat myself in a short space) they are expensive. And this is on the expensive end of expensive. But I’m sure glad I indulged–nothing beats a great tool.

The model I purchased is the same as this one (minus the soleplate cleaner, which I wish I had). The steam is IMPRESSIVE…literally, it sends out a jet about six feet….watch the video below! It comes with a cord stand (which I don’t point out in the video. There is the power cord and, wrapped in cloth, the line that powers the iron and brings the steam to it. Unlike a regular steam iron that produces steam constantly (if you set it to do so), you need to push the button, but that is easy to do given the location on the handle.

The steam cord is a bit stiff, which is why having the clamp-on cord guide is so helpful. You also get a silicone mat so you don’t have to tip the iron on end, just set it on top of the mat. That is comfortable for my arthritis. So is the light weight of the actual iron. AND you can steam things that hang, like curtains and garments!

When I have a lot of ironing (like yards of dyed fabric, or just washed fabric), the steam generator is a DREAM. Also excellent when doing a final fusing of the finished art quilt top and when blocking a quilt. Many steam generators if the tank runs dry, you have to turn it off, wait for it to cool, then add water. Not so this one–just open the lid to the easily accessed tank and add water (shown in video). BINGO! WINNER! Just be sure not to send a blast of steam in the direction of your other hand. Guess you don’t need to ask why I advise you of that. Ahem. Only did it once! If you are also a garment maker, you’ll love this. I will grant you, it is *expensive.* But in my case, worth it.

Bottom line: I use the Panasonic for all fusing. For smaller ironing jobs, I use the CHI. For working on the design wall, I use the Clover. And when I need STEAM or have a lot of ironing to do, the LauraStar. So there you have it…why I ned at least FOUR irons! What are your favorites, and why?

Mastering Metallics

Thursday, April 9th, 2020
Mastering Metallics is a half day workshop which will teach students to use metallic in both the needle and the bobbin. The workshop will debut at International Quilt Festival in Fall 2020, and is the half-day version of my Tame Fussy Fiddly Threads class. The class is Wednesday afternoon. Fly in Tuesday, join me in the Machine Quilting Forum (there are TWO this year!) Wednesday morning, then come take this workshop with me on Wednesday afternoon. We will finish up just in time to get to Preview Night at 5!

Ta DAAAA! A month or so ago, I asked for input from folks on Facebook about which color to make my project for my new Mastering Metallics workshop. Folks liked pretty much all THREE versions. I ordered up samples from Spoonflower:

Here’s the rather spendy order testing all three color ways and three fabrics: Petal Cotton (the basic), Cotton Poplin and Organic Cotton Sateen. Left to right colors are blue, sky blue and aqua, with the later two being VERY close…the aqua has just a bit more yellow in it.

I am hoping to sell the fabric on Spoonflower later this year–if anyone is interested, let me know and I’ll email you when it is ready. I am planning to offer the blue and aqua (but if someone REALLY wants the sky blue, in the middle above, just ask and I’ll add that also). I need to re-do the master graphic file to be 44″ across rather than 36″ vertically–I will need to add some larger snowflakes so they fit a 12 x 44″ space nicely without getting cut off at a 12″ line. This way, one yard would yield a table runner and four to six placemat tops. The Blue works perfectly with Michael Miller Cotton Couture Sailor, which I will use in class kits for the back and binding.

I ordered a full yard of the Sateen, which is what I used for my Thread-Coloring the Garden workshop which features a photo printed on fabric. I was delighted that the new Cotton Poplin showcased the snowflake design as well as the more expensive sateen, so I’ll use that in the workshop. That also means the table runners will be width-of-fabric, not the shorter 36 inches (I learned the hard way you need to print designs so the lengthwise grain of the fabric is vertical on the photo image with the sateen!).

First I used two of the less expensive 8″ samples to test various threads. The Petal cotton has a coarser weave–not as clunky as Kona Cotton, and the image is nice and crisp. The Cotton Poplin is softer and has a lovely hand to it, so I will choose that for the class kits.
The workshop kit will include Silver metallic (the snowflake being quilted here) and Halo used in the bobbin (upper snowflake). I’m also showing how to use the very heavy Razzle Dazzle on the sample, but to keep kit costs down won’t include it since the class time is just 3 hours. I will have some for sale, and it is of course readily available from Superior Threads. The heavy sateen is gorgeous, but given the cost I’ll use the still very nice poplin for class kits.
Detail of finished tablerunner. The crinkly looking snowflake is the Razzle Dazzle used in the bobbin. The others are done with Silver Metallic or Halo.
The quilting on the back looks awesome if I say so myself. LOVE my Janome M7 Continental! I’ll be teaching in Janome classrooms, so I wanted to fine tune settings to share with class by quilting this on my Janome. I ended up dyeing this fabric to sorta match. Because of the COVID-19 shut downs, I was unable to order the Cotton Couture Sailor (blue) fabric and receive it in time, and I needed to get the sample done quickly for Quilts. Inc to put in the class catalog. Kits will include backing, and I will have some extra if folks want to buy enough to bind the quilt. You can also order — Michael Miller is AMAZING at getting perfect color matching so one can also order the Cotton Couture Sailor to use on the back and bindings without worrying about color matching.
And one end of the table runner after I finished the binding and a little extra how-to tip that I’ll share in class.

I hope some of you will want to join me in class at International Quilt Festival–this pandemic physical-distancing should be well over by then! Sign ups usually go live in July, and I will be sure to share with you my teaching schedule, times, class numbers and so on. In the meantime, if you are interested in purchasing fabric from Spoonflower, let me know! If there is a fair bit of interest I’ll move that to a front burner on the to-do list.