Monday, 29 April 2013

My Girl Cave

The weather here in Newcastle has been the most perfect expression of a sunny Autumn and it's drawing me constantly into my new light-filled work space. Tim and I have named it the "Girl Cave". When this was his office, he would close the shutters and the extra sheets of curtain fabric so he could work on his computer in the fluorescent light, without the glare on his screen. So when I moved my sewing back home from my shop in town, I kicked him out into our darkest room and claimed the sun for myself.

The move actually meant a complete re-arrange of our whole house, except the kids' room, and I'd love to show you bit by bit, how we're trying to make the most of the sunshine and small space. For now I'll show you my progress with the sewing room.
Until yesterday I still had remnants of Tim's office sprawled above and below my fabric stash and artefacts from the shop dumped by the window from when we had first unloaded the car.

I had cut out dresses, waiting to be sewn, in piles around my feet, making me feel overwhelmed every time I walked in. And my five metre roll of wadding was waiting on my ironing board for me to decide where it would live.

So yesterday a friend came over and we dove in together. I cleared Tim's junk, bought two clear tubs and put my wadding in one and my unfinished shop-related items in the other. It was really hard to put them in a box, up high, with the lid on. It felt like a kind of failure. I kept thinking maybe I could push myself to get them done in the next couple of weeks and then go back to my quilts. But in the end, it was such a freeing thing to put them away for now. I'll have another look at them around September, when I've had a bit more fun with my scraps (which are really calling me!) and maybe do a few craft markets leading up to Christmas. Now is my time to play.

I put all our internetty stuff up high, out of the way of my work bench, neatly slid the shelving into any crevice I could find, and put my threads and pins and a little pile of hand-stitching next to my cutting mat.

Then my friend Emily and I sorted every random box and pile, finding even more collections of scraps. The more I sort my scraps, the more ideas I get to refine my sorting and storing methods. Any ideas are welcome! This morning I made special, set aside piles of pre-cut squares, left over from quilts, strips from binding, and the tiny triangles from making binding, all waiting for the perfect little storage container to come my way.

Then finally, as my reward, with the kids at daycare, I made myself a coffee and attached the binding to two quilts. Then, having realised that I seem to falter in the final seams of a quilt top (when it starts to get big) and put it off till later, I lay this one out on my bed finished sewing this up for Evie.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

{new} Fabric Fast: The First 4 months

When I first decided not to buy new fabric for the whole of this year, I expected to give you at least monthly updates about the state of my stash, what I've made, and how/if fasting from fabric shopping has affected or changed me. I hoped that it would be a great business decision, connecting me with more people and drawing interest to my blog and making.
But life has a way of throwing us curve balls. I never expected that by the end of April I would have closed up my shop and come back home without any clear long term vision or direction, except to make what I feel like and have more time for my family. And while the game has been uncomfortable, I'm slowly learning to lean into it rather than fight against it. And the growing freedom to just be without any ridiculous expectations on myself, is bringing a great peace.

What has surprised me:
My decision not to buy fabric has been far more personal than I expected. Taking out that whole portion of my life: the looking, adding things to favourites or online carts, imagining possible projects, culling back the list, buying, waiting for the mail, washing, folding, and putting away. It's all so FUN! But it not only took a considerable amount of the time I would give to sewing, it took my mind away from the things I already had. Treating my stash like a 'complete collection' has meant I've had to accept it for what it is (and it is wonderful!). I can make with what it can give me, and what I can't can wait for another day. This resting acceptance, I think, has given me more creativity and freedom to try new things, and this has been more fun for me than having the whole internet available for my choosing. It's also got me thinking about accepting my tiny house (and creating ways to make it more family friendly), my time (there's only so much you can do with 16 hours and a mother's energy!) and myself.

Saying goodbye.
That said, if I was buying fabric, I would buy bolts and bolts of Little Folks! I've so enjoyed using this Pastry Line (above) for binding, and it's all too quickly slipping away. In the top photo, I made a stack of hand-stitched voile and flannel quilts from this line and Anna Maria Horner's other flannels. I used a yard of each print and put them together into a quilt. They are soft and amazing, and they've sold really well, but it's a sure fire way to move through fabric quickly! Maybe there'll still be some left next year?

I have actually bought some fabric. I would have loved to have got the end of the year without a single purchase, but I still feel ok about the reasons I bought. When I was sick and away from the shop last month, I bought a couple of jelly rolls to play with while at home because my whole stash was in town and I didn't want to go in. I made the decision to buy something small and pre-cut so I could make something complete, to buy from an Australian seller, and to go on with the fast after that. Being able to keep with the 'spirit' of the Fast has helped me to feel good about doing it till the end of the year. I think if I hadn't given myself that freedom, I would have felt tempted to throw it in.

Then last week, I dropped into a local fabric store that was closing down and had 50% off everything. I was thinking I'd buy some seam rippers and thread. When I walked in the shop, it was so empty and depressing, and the store owner was talking to a friend, sounding so bitter and sad. The white thread and other things I had in mind were already gone, and suddenly I felt stuck. If I bought something, I felt like a vulture, if I didn't, I felt like I carried responsibility for not buying my fabric locally all this time. In the end I remembered people deliberating over my own closing down sale and decided to buy some fabric remnants that were near the counter and left. Once I walked out, I felt like I hadn't made the best decision, that I couldn't carry the weight of her loss (or poor business decisions). But it's done now, and I'll choose to enjoy using these new colours. :)

What I've made:
I think the thing that hasn't surprised me is that even 4 months in, I've hardly made a dent in my scrap stash. It's pretty amazing how far those little things will go! I have mostly spent the time making things that I had in mind when I first bought the fabric, like the quilts up the top. It's been a bit like fulfilling a promise, which has been a really wonderful experience. Soon though, I'll set myself free of that list and just start making my new ideas.
I've really only had the motivation to make quilts. I thought my Pinny fetish would return after the hundreds I made and sold in the shop around Christmas, but no. Not one little inkling to make clothes of any kind. And I'm enjoying the change.

I want to say that I don't have anything against buying fabric, or selling it. And there are some things I'm certainly looking forward to buying when the time comes. Quilt Home has a sale this week on Shelburne Falls and Anna Maria's new Linen line! Argh! But overall I'm very glad for my decision and would recommend it, even just for a month. And I'm hoping the the things I'm learning from it will stay with me beyond this year.

Jodi. xx

Monday, 22 April 2013

Cue Strings!

Scratching a few itches for me at the moment is the String Fever Quilt Along hosted by Rachel at Stitched in Color. It's giving me a chance to eat into my massive box of neutral scraps, make my first quilt from a more traditional block, and have a project focused completely on playing with line and colour, and not connected to sewing for custom orders or gifts.

I rifled through my big collection of low value scraps, found all my strips, made some more and put them in this bamboo bowl. My main goal for this quilt has been to relax. At first that meant making one block at a time, enjoying the choosing of prints and the slow pace. When that was no longer fulfilling, I started 'chain' piecing blocks like this:

I'm just choosing a long string, gradually adding my incomplete blocks and then at the end of the strip, I add more strips or little scrappy squares to start new blocks. Once the blocks get to over 8", I trim them with my fluoro yellow 8" square. (I'm sorry manufacturers, but WHY forest green and fluoro yellow??)

Making them this way has my little pile of log cabins growing really quickly even thought I'm only doing little bits at a time. And because I'm always starting new ones, they don't all look the same despite being put through the machine together on the one fabric strip. I'm thinking, just for fun, I might make a collection of 4.5" blocks and one big 15.5" (have I done the maths right?) block, to mix it up a bit. What do you think?

Scrap Attack {String Fever}

Thursday, 18 April 2013

saying thank you

I recently bought a bunch of books to say thank you to the wonderful, generous ladies who helped run my little shop in town while I was sick.  I had such a beautiful, relaxing experience flicking through them all with my cup of tea, I wanted to share it with you.
I love blogging and reading blogs for its interaction and community, but there's something about a book that makes me feel a kind of solitude and peace that I don't get with a screen. And the experience of going back, finding new things, being inspired feels a little less overwhelming in something that's complete and static. Maybe it's the way my eyes can settle on a page that's not always scrolling.
I especially loved the above Playing with Books and Anna Maria Horner's Needlepoint Notebook. They were so full of new ideas for me. A world of creativity and expression I hadn't yet explored, of things that take time. And Sunday Morning Quilts was was great resource for thinking through how I wanted to sort my scraps.
I hope my photos contain enough information that you could look them up if you want to. Feel free to ask for more in the comments. xx

Monday, 15 April 2013

Blocks and Bees

When my friend Helen asked if I wanted to be part of an online quilting bee, I knew I would be terrible at it. I am not one of those ordered, organised types.  But I said yes, hoping I would prove myself wrong. It did sound like fun, it included members with blogs I already followed, and it only involved one block a month. As someone prone to procrastination, I couldn't get that far behind with that little work, right? Wrong. In almost 12 months, I think I've made, umm, four.
So now that I've finished up at the shop, I'm aiming to correct that.

I decided to start with Lucy's Feather block. It was one I'd wanted to do for a while. I thought I'd make 2 for Lucy (with one side of each feather a whole print), and 3 for me, which I thought I would then appliqué on to linen to make a wrap skirt. Helen had warned me that she made a mistake about 4 times with this block, getting the direction of the feathers mixed up. I thought, "Yep, noted. Cut one side one way, and flip the paper pattern over for the other. Easy."
This is what I got:

Oh, Ok. Gotcha. So I discarded the side that had the lines going the wrong way and made an opposite side from this scrap of Garden Party.

Now time to cut the white bits. I have quite a few shades of white scraps, so I brought my feather shapes over to the ironing board to compare in natural light which would look nicest. (I love that this bee doesn't require you have certain shades of solids.) I chose a cream that I think looked best, started to cut around the pattern and made the ultimate boo boo.

I cut into my feather. Ugh. (And somewhere along the line I have ironed my scissors. I never noticed until now!)
I was not going to be swayed from my goal of getting this done before the refrigerator repair guy came. I went back to my scrap of strips left over, added some more strips and cut out another feather piece, this time making sure the lines were heading the right way.

I cut it at slightly the wrong angle. But by this stage the fridge man was due any minute so I sent off a little "Hope this is ok, Lucy!" into the air and continued on.

Here is is finished. One block, not 5, a little wonky and 6 months late. :)
I actually found all the other template pieces too small. I don't know if that's because the printer got it funny, printing to Aussie dimension paper (A4) or because the strips end up on the bias and you need to be careful when piecing the rest of the block. But next time I would make them all too long, then trim to the right block size. In the end this one was about an inch smaller than Lucy specified, but when I went to the Flickr discussion about the block, many others had had the same experience, and Lucy didn't mind getting them as they came and trimming or adding. Go Lucy!

I really like the strong contrast of black and white with the scrappy colours, don't you? I have never used black in quilts before, ever. The only reason I had this piece is because it was leftover from a custom cushion order.And I love how BIG the feather is. (This block is 17" long) You don't get that impression from the pictures in the pattern. It makes me want to make a baby quilt from it. Though maybe not this morning! :)

I really appreciated this post from Lily's Quilts about virtual quilting bees a while ago. And while I hate being that person she talked about in the 'cons', I'm also very thankful for a very relaxed and understanding bee. I have had to unpick and start over nearly every block I have managed to finish, usually due to it not being the right size. So it's a very different sewing experience than what I usually enjoy. But the finished block always makes me glad I gave it a go.

Are you part of a quilting bee? What's your experience been like? Do you think they're only suited to certain personality types? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Meet Red.

It's always a bit strange getting back into 'normal' blogging after a tragedy. And a sewing machine review? It feels a bit crass. A bit shallow. But really, there's only so much depth one can take all the time. And in real life, I'm going well and thinking about normal, mundane things like quilt making and tidying and whether I'll plant winter veges in the garden this year, most of the time. And there are still other moments of remembering and reflecting and feeling sad or getting cranky at the kids. And this is my blog about real life. So sometimes I'll tell you how I'm feeling and sometimes I'll show you what I've made. And one doesn't devalue the other. (I'm talking to myself more than to you.)

And buying a new sewing machine at time like this? I questioned that too. (Can you tell I think way too much about the 'right' way of doing things?) Part of this whole experience has been learning to free myself of unexamined expectations and just be myself. And when you're in limbo for 2 weeks, waiting for final scan results, and after the bad news, you wait for 2 weeks before 'It happens' and then that takes another few weeks, you end up online a bit, filling in the time, planning for when you feel well again, dreaming, and shopping. So my new machine has felt like a wonderful gift, like a "Welcome Back!"

So this is my Janome Horizon MC7700QCP. Or "Red." I got her second hand, locally for a great price. I spent a lot of time reading about the kinds of things people liked and didn't like, found out about warranties on second hand machines (Janome doesn't honour them!) and asked questions on the Janome 7700 Yahoo group before I went and looked at her.

I was very, very tempted by the Janome 1600d, a straight stitch only semi-industrial machine (I would have loved a Juki, known for their reliability, and these Janomes are apparently made in the same factory, but easier to buy in Australia), but in the end, I decided that my old machine, my first ever given to us by my mum as a wedding gift (thanks Mum!), was so past it (constant tension issues, a buttonholer that has never made a button hole longer than half an inch, etc, etc) was just no longer enough to use as my back-up machine when I wanted to stitch something other than a straight line. And so far, I've only used the fancy stitches to play, but I really wanted to machine I could grow into, to learn to sew with textiles other than quilting cotton.

What I like:
I like the big plastic table that give me extra room for hiding fabric scraps and pins. (a dumping ground that doesn't impinge on the sewing!)
I like, like, LIKE the inbuilt walking foot. I couldn't ever get a walking foot that fit my old machine. In the photo above, it's sewing through about 12 layers of fabric and it didn't think twice. In the photo below, this was my first ever experience of not having to constantly pull and flatten and guide and unpick. Even with my hasty basting, I didn't get one pucker. And it was so fast!

So far the auto tension has been near perfect.
I don't use the thread cutter all the time, but I especially appreciate it when I stop sewing mid quilt.

What disappoints me:

I have had no problem with patchwork piecing or quilting, but rolling under an edge? It just did not like it! I changed feet 3 times to see if that would make a difference, but it kept eating the fabric and pulling it off to the side. I feel a bit sad about this seeing as these drawstring quilts are one of the things I make most often. There's about 12 of these little hems! The first to feed through were always the worst, and then if I chain pieced, it improved, so maybe I'll need to resort to feeding through a scrap? I hope not!

So overall, I'm about 85% happy, effected mostly by my experience making this quilt. I'm really enjoying my making being so much faster. (Especially with a head so full of ideas!) I'm loving the option to machine quilt well. I look forward to decorating little pockets and hems with the pretty leaves and funky helicopter stitches! And I hope there's someone out there that can advise me about my hems.
I can't tell you all how much it's meant to me to have this place to share, and you to share with. It's been so important for me to process and express in writing. From that first day in the scan room, I was forming words and sentences in my head. It's helped me make sense of it all.
There's sometimes talk in the online crafty world about how much to share. If you're interested, and have time, I recommend this TED talk about vulnerability. It's helped give me courage to care for myself and share as I need to.
So glad to be here,
Jodi. xx