Thursday, July 4, 2013

A few of my favorite things - Accessories patterns edition

In the year that I have been sewing, I have a couple of patterns that are my absolute favorites. Not only did I love making them once, I loved them enough to make them as gifts for my friends and family. So, I decided to share my list of favorites:

Practical Project Bags
by Rick Rack and Polka Dots
Practical Project Bags by Rick Rack and Polka Dots
Times Made: 8 (4 for me, 4 as gifts)
Why I love it:  As a person living with ADHD, I regularly find myself getting suddenly bored with a particular task.  One solution that I use to manage the rapid-onset boredom (or any frustration from a specific project) is to have multiple projects in the works at the same time.

Each project can stay separated and ready to grab (of course it does require that you put all of the stuff back into the bag) which can be especially important when the project is a quilting block of the month class that takes a full year to complete.

It isn't limited to holding sewing supplies either, it is wonderful for holding a gift, carrying your knitting, or just about anything.  My favorite size is the medium (shown in the picture in my favorite Tula Pink fabric), but I have also made the small.

If you choose to undertake this project, I would HIGHLY recommend purchasing a Teflon/non-stick foot for your sewing machine (I believe they are available for most modern machines). It is worth it because vinyl, especially clear vinyl, is not entirely enjoyable to sew with.  The non-stick foot makes it a piece of cake.

Little Wallet by Valori Wells
Little Wallet by Valori Wells
Times Made:  4 (2 completed & 1 in process for me, 1 as a gift)
Why I love it:  This was one of my very early projects (I made the one pictured after sewing for a month).  I don't always like to carry a purse.  This adorable wallet can be tucked into my pocket easily.  It is washable when it gets dirty, and the snap closure keeps all of my cards secure.

If you decide to make one of these little lovelies, the SnapSetter is a wonderful tool.  You could hand sew in a snap or use hook & loop tape if you prefer too.

Mondo Bag by Quiltsmart
Mondo Bag by Quiltsmart 
Times Made:  4 (2 completed & 1 in process for me of the Mondo size, 1 of the smaller, Midi size)
Why I love it:  It is a super lightweight bottomless pit.  I have carried this bag full of supplies for class, as a shopping bag, and just as a very large purse.  It is just an awesome bag.

The brilliant use of fusible interfacing almost guarantees that the squares will be matched up perfectly and look like you have been quilting for YEARS.  I love that it folds flat and is washable (especially for the black & white one pictured).

If you decide to make a Mondo or Midi bag of your very own, I highly recommend using a handle turner.  I use the Fasturn set because it saves oodles of time.

Circle Zip Earbud Pouch
by Dog Under My Desk
Circle Zip Earbud Pouch by Dog Under My Desk
Times Made:  3 (1 for me, 2 as gifts)
Why I love it:  I've spent years trying to find the perfect way to keep my earbuds from getting damaged or tangled in my purse without using something bulky.

I've used an assortment of Vera Bradley pouches, pouches made of duct tape, semi-rigid containers, and pouches that came with several different earbuds I've bought over the years. This is the first one that I love.

It is lightly padded and zips closed. I didn't use a split ring keychain on mine, but I did on one of the gifts. Of course I made this one in the same Tula Pink fabric as one of the Practical Project Bags.

If you have larger earbuds like I do, I found that doing the topstitching at 1/8" instead of 1/4" gives me a better fit.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Another edition of a few of my favorite things - Thread edition

I have been testing different types of thread to find what works best in my machines (yes, it actually does make a difference) for a couple of months, and I think it is time to share some of the results.  I was not provided with any thread for these tests by any store or manufacturer.  These tests are not 100% exhaustive and occurred over the course of normal use.  As with everything else on my blog, these are my impressions from using the different products.

For cottons, I stick to a 50wt for most of my non-garment sewing (much like my preference for glass head pins, I like to be able to iron without worrying about melting stuff into my fabric).  It is a great weight for piecing and quilting if you want the thread to really blend into the fabric. I had been using Mettler Silk Finish almost exclusively (it is high quality and available at several local fabric stores as well as online) with no real issues, but it doesn't hurt to see what is out there. I ordered some Masterpiece from Superior Threads and some Aurifil 50wt Mako.  I do use other cotton threads, such as Sulky Blendables and Superior's King Tut, but they are heavier weight thus not really ideal for my purposes.

  • Mettler Silk Finish
    • The good:  Fairly low lint, easy to find locally, pretty good color selection, good price, every machine I have owned or used has performed well with it
    • The bad:  Many of the colors I use most are not available in the larger (500m) spools, more linty than some of the other brands that I tested (but far, far less linty than the G├╝termann I used in a class)
  • Superior Threads - MasterPiece by Alex Anderson
    • The good:  Less lint than Silk Finish, good color selection, comes in a 600yd spool but also available in 2,500yd cones, my Pfaff performed well when tested but I haven't tested the other machines (I assume it will be fine)
    • The bad:  Not stocked by a lot of stores in my area, straight wound spools (I prefer cross-wound spools because they can be used on my horizontal spool pin or on a thread stand), hard to tell the exact color online (I ordered their thread card which uses actual thread instead of trying to guess on a computer screen)
  • Aurifil Mako
    • The good:  The least linty of the bunch, comes in good size 1,420yd spools (can get the 150yd spools too), good color selection, didn't have any thread breaks when free motion quilting a gift for a friend.
    • The bad:  Not stocked by my usual haunts but I know which shops carry it locally, the most expensive of the three brands I tested, the tall spools don't work as well on my Singer 221 (Featherweight) because of the short spool pin so I use a special spool holder when using this thread (the thread performs flawlessly on the 221 other than the spool size)
So, what is my go-to cotton thread?

Aurifil.  I love their light gray (color 2600) for most of my sewing because the color blends well into many fabrics (for quilt piecing). If I needed something ASAP and couldn't wait to visit a speciality shop or order online, I would pick Mettler Silk Finish.

Polyester (All Purpose)

Polyester thread is everywhere.  You will find it in garments and quilts alike due to its durability and colorfastness.  It is also less expensive than cotton thread and available in more colors than cotton.  My disclaimer for my polyester testing is that I used the color black for most of it.  Black tends to have significantly more lint than other colors, but I use a lot of it.  My hunt for the least linty black thread is actually what started this whole thread buying extravaganza.

  • Mettler Metrosene
    • The good:  Lots and LOTS of colors, pretty low lint, stocked at the fabric stores and sewing machine shops closest to my home, seems to be strong and supple enough to resist breaking, the brand has been around for decades with a consistently good reputation, love the snap end spools (the thread just wraps around the end instead of having to get it into a little notch)
    • The bad:    Some of the colors I use frequently aren't available in the larger 500m spools (usually you see huge Metrosene displays featuring the small 150m spools)
  • Superior Threads - So Fine #50
    • The good:  Lots of colors, seems to be a little less linty than Metrosene, large 550yd spools
    • The bad:  As with the MasterPiece, I don't like straight wind spools as much as cross wound, haven't found a good local source for the thread
  • G├╝termann Sew-all
    • The good:  Lots of colors, it has an umlaut (the dots over the letter u) in the name, it is easy to find, if you into recycling there is a rPET version made from recycled plastic bottles (I bought a spool to try but I have yet to do so), snap end spools are very handy to use
    • The bad:  Without a doubt, the most lint of the 3 different polyester threads
So, what is my go-to all-purpose polyester thread?
Mettler Metrosene.  I like the reduction in lint from the So Fine, but the lack of local availability is an issue.  At this point in my sewing career, I am not the best gauge of how much thread I will need for a certain project.  With Metrosene, it is pretty easy to pop over to a local store to pick up another spool.

Machine Embroidery

I admit to not being very adventurous with embroidery on my sewing machine.  I have made most of my thread selections (brand and type) based on opinions of other sewists.  When working on a recent project, I needed to go with a polyester instead of my usual rayon because polyester is colorfast and holds up very well to repeated washings.  So, for a label on a baby quilt, polyester was the way to go.  Is it fair to compare rayon to polyester?  I think so.  There are some poly options out there that have great sheen like rayon with the colorfast properties of polyester.        I know that Floriani is a popular brand of polyester that has had its share of quality issues in the past, but I haven't used it much due to some negative feedback that I have received from people with far more embroidery experience than I.

  • Madeira Rayon #40
    • The good:  Lots of colors, shiny finish gives you a great appearance, many of the popular embroidery designers seem to use this as their default color which means you don't have to try to convert the color to a different brand, great deals to be had with sampler sets to try different colors, works great in my Pfaff at home and on a Baby Lock that I used in a class
    • The bad:  Small spools (200m) run out quickly, seems to be more fragile than some of the other types/brands that I've used
  • Robison-Anton #122 SSR (Super Strength Rayon)
    • The good:  Lots of colors, shiny finish (though not as much as Madeira), mini king spools (1,100yds) have plenty of thread to keep you stitching, seems a little less fragile than the Madeira, works great in my Pfaff (this is the brand that provides sample spools with the embroidery unit)
    • The bad:  I have had a harder time matching colors than with the Madeira, RA isn't as easy for me to find locally as Madeira, the shape of the mini-king spool is more difficult for me to store because of the extra space (bigger spools = fewer threads will fit in each drawer)
  • Isacord Polyester
    • The good:  Lots of colors, snap end spools keep thread from winding off of the spool, giant 1,000m mini cones keep you sewing for extended periods of time, works great in my Pfaff and on a Bernina that I used in a class
    • The bad:  Not stocked at as many of my local shops (but color selection is usually awesome where it is stocked), even taller than the RA mini-king spools
So, what is my go-to embroidery thread?
Isacord.  I am going to work on changing over from rayon to be almost exclusively poly as I pick up thread for various projects.  Sure, it isn't as shiny and I can't store as many, but the reduction in thread breaks, the larger spools, the colorfastness, and the dazzling array of available colors are worth it to me.  As a second choice, I'd pick either of the other two.  They are both really good thread.

If you just want to know more about thread, go to Superior Threads education section.  There is a ton of information that is thoughtfully organized.  While you're there, I'd recommend picking up the Thread Therapy with Dr Bob DVD.  It is insightful as well as humorous.  I had the opportunity to see Bob Purcell of Superior Threads speak at Sew Expo 2013.  It was worth the time, and the DVD has even more information than his class at Expo.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Finding the right sewing machine fit, Part II

Yes, a second part.  I suppose it is more of an update.

I was fortunate to have a lovely friend that is a collector of Singer 221 (Featherweight) machines.  She was able to steer me in the right direction for acquiring one of the little darlings.  My plan went slight awry when I found myself with a pair of them instead of just one!

I LOVE this little sewing dynamo.  It is lightweight yet feels very sturdy, and it is simply adorable.  Sure, it doesn't have the capabilities of the modern machines, but what it does, it does beautifully.  I used it to put together most of the top of a baby quilt for a friend of mine that is due in July.  It was just a joy to use.

Now, here are some of the downsides to vintage - vintage finds can smell.  Thankfully, my dear friend is as smell averse as I am, so she did an amazing job de-stinking the case.  It can also be a test of your nerves to get the machine adjusted to perfection (bobbin case tension, top tension, belts, etc).  Did I get very frustrated getting both machines adjusted perfectly?  I certainly did, but I did not give up.  The time and effort was worth it.  It is also handy beyond belief to be married to a guy that is very mechanically inclined.  He likes to take stuff apart and tinker with it.  Could I work on this machine myself?  Yes, I know it could because there are some great references out there, but my hubby has been enjoying tinkering with it.  He tweaks it, then I test it to see how it sews.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.  (As a side note for anybody attempting this, please look into buying Dave McCallum's book - The Featherweight 221 and I.  I bought the book and DVD set.  It has been a wonderful lifeline when working on these machines.)

Do I see myself collecting more vintage machines?  Eh, maybe.  I would like a Featherweight in less than perfect condition so that I can get it all fixed up myself.

With all of that said, will I have times when I grab the vintage machine instead of my fancy highly computerized machine?  Yes, I already have!  Something bigger, newer, and more expensive is not always better.  I've said it before, but pick what works for YOU and what you are going to sew.

Piecing the inner section of a baby quilt using my 1961 Singer 221 (Featherweight)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Finding the right sewing machine fit

I just wanted to take the opportunity to say how wonderful it is to have many different options available when purchasing a sewing machine.  Being new to sewing, I didn't necessarily know which machine features would be important to me.  I have been blessed with having a lot of sewing shops in my area who are staffed with employees with at least a few hundred years of experience under their belts (cumulatively, obviously).

To anybody considering a sewing machine purchase, I can't recommend highly enough to do your research.  Grab some fabric of the same type that you would like to sew and test it out on a variety of machines.  Some of the stores in my area also offer a generous trade up policy where you can get the full value that you paid towards a new machine within a year of purchase.  Many stores may also offer trade-in values for an old machine (regardless of condition) toward a new machine.  Free, unlimited classes on how to use your new machine can also be an excellent perk.

If you are interested in vintage machines, there are some excellent ones out there too.  I personally prefer the newer computerized machines because they seem more familiar to me with my affinity for gadgets, computers, and modern convenience.  There is just something magical about the old machines though.  I can't wait to get my hands on a Singer Featherweight and see if it really is as amazing as people tell me.  I hope to be able to report back on it soon.

Consumer Reports can get you on the right track as can websites such as Pattern Review have user written reviews and message boards to ask questions.

Most importantly, remember that there is no single sewing machine that will be the right fit for everybody for every type of sewing.  It just doesn't work like that, and just because a particular brand has achieved near legendary status, it doesn't mean that it is without flaw.

As of the writing of this blog entry, I own machines from Pfaff, Bernina, and Baby Lock.  I have owned Brother and Singer machines too.  All of them have good and bad aspects, and NONE are perfect.  An older machine might not have as many bells and whistles as a new, computerized model, but that in no way makes it a lower quality machine.  Figure out what you want to do, and find a machine that can do it well.

I love sewing and all of the tools that I use to create my projects.  So many sewing machines, so little time.

Friday, May 10, 2013


I apologize for not posting any updates recently, but I have been busy preparing to travel and then actually traveling.

Before my trip, I decided that I wanted a new bag to take with me.  I had looked in several stores for something that I liked.  I didn't find anything, so I opted to make my own.  Using Studio Cherie's Travel Duffle pattern that I picked up on Craftsy, I crafted an awesome bag.  It fit in the overhead bin without issue, and there was nothing like it that we saw.  I made a couple of tweaks to the pattern including adding a zipped pocket on the 2nd end, using double folded cotton in place of jute for the handles, and substituting lighter weight dream cotton batting for more rigid, shape holding batting.  It is totally washable and folds almost totally flat.  I love it.  The main fabric is Cartas Marcadas from Alexander Henry and Cross Town from the Sweetwater's Hometown collection for Moda.

Sitting at the gate waiting impatiently to board the plane.

My travels took me to Dallas, Texas.  I had the opportunity to visit two wonderful stores.  The first was CityCraft.  What a great store it was, so much thanks to my amazing sister-in-law for the recommendation.  They had an excellent selection of high quality fabric imported from Japan as well as great pics from Alexander Henry, Michael Miller, Art Gallery Fabrics and more.  I picked up a half yard of each of a few different fabrics.  They offer some cool looking classes too.  If I lived in Dallas, I'm sure I would be enrolling in some.  

The second store was The Quilt Asylum in McKinney, Texas (a northern suburb of Dallas).  This shop ranks at the top of my list for all of the fabric shops I've visited.  I was floored when I first walked in because everything is well illuminated and well organized.  They had fat quarters for just about everything I looked at.  There were also many pre-cut options for those of us who use them.  I picked up a bunch of fat quarters, yardage, and a jelly roll.  Like CityCraft, the store offers some cool classes.  Most of the classes are quilting based, but that is to be expected of any store with quilt in the name.  I can say with almost 100% certainty that I will be returning to the store the next time I'm in the Dallas area.

Some of the fabrics from my trip to Dallas.

Now that I've returned, it is time to get down to work on a baby gift for a friend and finishing a couple of quilts that are in progress.  I am also testing some potential new items for my etsy shop.  :)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hey Little Miss Muffet, I made my own tuffet!

I thought I'd share some information and pictures from a project that I completed this week in a class.  The Pattern is The Tuffet by Myra Mitchell.

I think my tuffet turned out well.  The colors/fabrics that I selected are very me.  Creating the top wasn't very difficult or time consuming, but it would have been easier if I had previously done foundation piecing (you sew the visible fabric on to muslin).  No fancy sewing machine needed.  You just need a straight stitch.

I was fortunate to take the class from the pattern's creator, Myra Mitchell, along with Linda French at Quiltworks NW in Bellevue, WA.  The pattern isn't sold online, but you can contact Myra via email or call her at (425) 392-5798 to purchase (or you can contact QuiltWorks NW if you prefer).  If you are in the area, I'd keep my eyes peeled for their next scheduled class session.  The ladies explained that you can scale the pattern up or down, and Myra even has a version of the pattern if you want to make a square tuffet (also 18" x 18").

If anybody falls in love with my fabric selections, here is the list of the collections used:

Tula Pink's The Birds and the Bees (everything but the following)
Dear Stella's Piper (the purple zig zags)
Gail Kessler's Dimples (the dark teal fabric)
Michael Miller's Ta Dot and Dumb Dot (the two polka dots)

I purchased all of the fabrics except the Dumb Dot at Pacific Fabrics.

Now I just need to plan out my fabric for my 2nd one!

Friday, March 29, 2013

And now for the moment of truth...

As of just a couple of minutes ago, my Etsy shop is LIVE and ready for sales.

It has taken many, many test runs and hundreds of hours of work from the original idea to the opening of the store, but I'm pretty happy with how they have turned out.

Thank you so very much for all of the support that I've received during this process.  I wouldn't be able to do this without it.

Taking an idea and making it happen

Ever wonder how to translate your ideas into reality?  I did, so I know it is possible.  Here is my story:

After leaping into sewing, my brain sent me into a tailspin.  I needed to figure out a good way to organize all of my stuff (organizing everything is an entry for another time).  One of challenges was the lack of a solutions for the issue of storing gently used machine needles.

Following the recommended practice of using the right type of needle (i.e., universal vs embroidery vs jeans, etc all in a variety of sizes) for the right job, I tried using a pincushion and marking it up with a Sharpie.  Well, that just didn't work for me.  It wasn't enough space for the multiple types of needles that I use.  remembering that I had seen some labels printed and ironed onto fabric, i knew that there HAD to be more options.  I can't honestly say that I like ironing/pressing, so that was out too.  It is a necessary evil with sewing as one of my favorite things to do though.

Why not put bits of my random set of skills to good use?  So, enter the role of my trusty computer.  I started off in Microsoft Excel where I created the grid.  From there, I had to use another program to save the grid into a format that would be readable by my embroidery software.  Once imported into the embroidery software, I added the lettering and spent a long time cleaning up the design.

Many test stitch outs and a couple of fully complete prototypes later (I tested a couple of different felts, stabilizers, batting, finishing methods, checked results of using different needles, and lots of testing different fonts), I was pretty satisfied with the results.  Now, I am ready to share all of my hard work.

I've been quilting each one individually, adding the snaps, then binding it as I would a quilt.  The only automated part of the whole process is the stitch out of the grid.  Everything else is completely done by me.  Sure, you can buy other needle holders, but isn't an embroidered and quilted one cooler?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A few of my favorite things - Stuff edition

I figured that I should write a companion post to my website favorites post, so here is a list of some of my favorite things. The items listed below are in the order of how often I use them (most often first). I do use other tools, but these are items at the absolute top of the list of items to keep on hand.  I have been able to find these items at my local fabric stores, sewing shops, and on Amazon.  The Post-It Roll can sometimes be found at office supply stores, but I usually have the best luck finding it on Amazon.

The most important thing to remember is to use what works for you.  If you have a different product than what I recommend, that is great.  I'd love to hear what works for you.  I hope this list will give you some good ideas.

Glass Head Pins from Collins

When would I use them? Anytime you are pinning fabric. They come in a lot of different sizes (fine, extra fine, smaller head, larger head).

What makes them cool? One of the early warnings I got when I started sewing was to spend the little bit of extra money and get these. I know I spend more time than I'd like in front of my ironing board, and I do not want to wind up ruining my fabric because the plastic heads on my pins melted. Glass has a MUCH higher melting point than plastic, so it isn't the stuff of nightmares!  I have gotten rid of all of the plastic ball headed pins that I own because it just isn't worth getting them mixed up to me (I do have some of the flower head ones though).  Make sure the package says GLASS HEAD.  Not all ball point pins are glass head.  Collins is just one of several companies that makes and sells the glass head pins.

Magnet Pin Caddy from Clover

When would I use them?  Anytime you have pins

What makes them cool?  Pins are easy to pick up and the magnet will grab any pins that you put down within a few inches of the caddy.  I prefer ones with a lid because I do transport them to and from classes, so just pay attention to the packaging.  It has been my experience that pins lay pretty flat on them, so I don't often become a human pincushion.

The bad thing is that they won't work with pins that aren't magnet friendly and some of the less expensive models use  plastics that will break if dropped (that is what led me to buy the Clover one).  Much to my dismay, I know the 2nd part of that from firsthand experience.  The one I have now has had several falls and has remained intact. If you put a ton of pins on the magnetic pincushion, they can't all lay flat which can greatly increase the amount of stab wounds you encounter.

Clover 482/W Seam Ripper from Clover

When would I use this? If you are reading this, I am going to assume you probably sew. If you sew, you will have to rip out stitches at some point in time.

What makes them cool? The curved, ergonomic design is much easier to hold. It has a larger handle than the ones that come with your sewing machine. It feels more like a marker than a skinny pencil or a popsicle stick. The point is pretty fine for ripping out small stitches. They also seem to be pretty durable.

That Purple Thang from Little Foot (yes, that is the real name)

When would I use this?  You can use this to turn points, push out corners, feed ribbon through a casing, pull up bobbin threads and a LOT more.

What makes them so cool?  I am not a fan of its name, but this is one of my absolute favorite notions.  I keep one in my box of stuff that I take to classes and one by my sewing machine.  I always want to keep one near.  I heard about one in a class in September 2012, and I have found myself reaching for it more and more frequently.  I've only seen them sold individually, but Nancy's Notions has a 3 pack!

Kai Scissors - 4" Needle Craft Scissors from Kai Scissors

When would I use this? I use them all the time. They are great for cutting thread. I trim up embroideries, clip thread tails, and use them to cut the thread so that I can properly un-thread my machine (Do NOT just pull the thread back out from the top. Clip the thread close to the spool and pull it through the machine through the typical thread path).

What makes them cool? They are super sharp and reasonably priced for the cutting power that they have. I also love the variety of models. I have a double curved blunt edge pair that makes cutting hooped fabric a piece of cake, in addition to my curved point pair (for extra close precision in cutting) and regular ones. The blunt edge option is great if you don't need to clip super close to the fabric or if you tend to pierce the fabric with the point of your scissors.  The picture shows straight, curved, and double curved blunt point models.

Gingher Scissors - 8" Knife Edge Dressmakers Shears from Gingher

When would I use this? When you cut stuff. :) I have 2 pairs. One is exclusively for paper and one pair is exclusively for fabric.

What makes them cool? I love the hard plastic cover that the blade slips into. After cutting out my first clothing pattern, I had blisters from the large plastic handles on my scissors. In truth, I do hold my scissors strangely. I spent the first few decades of my life as a left handed person using right handed scissors. While I am re-learning how to use scissors, I changed to an all metal pair of shears that did not have a large, molded grip. For me, they are much more comfortable. Mine are the left handed version with the reversed blades, but the right handed ones are much more common. I know my mother loves her "normal" (aka not left handed) Gingher scissors.

Remember, your sewing scissors should NOT be used for cutting other things.  Scissors designated for cutting fabric should only cut fabric.

Post-It Tape Roll from 3M

When would I use this? Need a label? This stuff is basically a long, skinny all adhesive backed Post-It Note. I learned about this from a sewing teacher. She recommended it to mark the seam on your machine's needle plate.

What makes it cool? Painters tape is a pretty common thing to use to mark seams on the needle plate, but I have seen painters tape leave icky residue. Post-It tape is very easy to write on and it comes in a lot of different colors (I've seen it in pink, green, white, and yellow). It is also easy to remove and reposition. One of the other neat things is that it comes on a dispenser roll (like tape).

Post-It Tape in action!

FriXion Pens from Pilot

What are they used for? Marking fabric, writing on paper

When would I use this?  These are ink pens, so you can mark a much more fine line.  You can use this for marking fabrics with a pretty tight weave/knit.  They come in a wide variety of colors (I have black, pink, green, orange, and purple).  These inks disappear with friction or heat.  Just to warn you, the inks will reappear if the items are frozen, so don't put your stuff in the freezer.  I decided to test this out, so please see the pics below to see the results!

I used these when I made a pair of pants (the pink was great on my khaki fabric), on some samples that I made in a class to demonstrate some different sewing/finishing techniques, and I've even used them for taking notes as a regular pen.  I don't think they are a replacement for chalk or wash out markers, but they would make a great addition to your toolbox.  As with anything, please test them with your fabric before marking up a whole garment to ensure that you have the desired results.

Black FriXion pen on a scrap of
Kona cotton fabric
Same scrap of fabric after ironing
Same scrap after 30 seconds
in the freezer
After 5 minutes in the freezer it
starts to become more visible
After 30 minutes in the freezer

Measuring Gauge from a couple of different manufacturers

When would I use this?  It is a quick way to keep yourself on track by checking your seam size.

What makes them cool?  No math required!  You can use a seam gauge for this same function, but you have to measure it yourself.  Just flip the tool the correct direction for the seam you want to measure and you're done.  It is flat, so easy to store.  FYI:  Nancy Zieman calls her version the  Seams Right tool

Quilters Dream Cotton Batting from Quilters Dream Batting

When would I use this? I use this in placemats, in covers for decorative pillows, and in quilts.

What makes this cool? It is medium weight and medium warmth. I am allergic to wool, so I avoid any batting that is wool or has wool in it. The cotton is very soft and smooth. I have never had a problem with a sewing machine punching through this (even an inexpensive machine not just a high end one). It is also lightweight and not very bulky. While it is available in different lofts, I have only used the Select version - the midloft. I have had good experience with washing items containing Dream Cotton. You can quilt up to 8" apart with this batting.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A few of my favorite things - Websites edition

Since I've been asked this question a couple of times, I thought I would provide you with a list of a few of my favorite sites that I visit frequently (these are broken into categories and listed in alphabetical order):

Machines - This is the website for Baby Lock.  Baby Lock makes some machines that are some of the best affordable machines.  They are probably better known for their sergers (check out this page if you don't know what I'm talking about).  Their website is a great place to find some cool free projects and videos. - This is the website for Bernina.  It is a great resource for learning about Bernina machines.  You don't have to be a Bernina owner/user to access some excellent content including their online magazine. - This is the website for PFAFF.  If you want to know about PFAFF sewing machines, go here.  I think their website is very informative, but I tend to get more projects from their Facebook page

Fabric Designers - Alexander Henry Fabrics is home of some of my favorite fabrics.  They do a lot of the most incredible Day of the Dead themed fabrics. - Moda Fabrics has some amazing collections and designers.  They have very high quality fabrics with a wide assortment of colors and styles to suit most people. - Robert Kaufman Fabrics also has some amazing collections and designers.  They are another of my go-to companies. - Tula Pink is one of my absolute favorite designers.  She is a young designer that has some beautiful fabric collections in some amazing colors.

Everything Else - The web home of the American Sewing Guild.  ASG isn't all about a bunch of grannies sitting around complaining about young whippersnappers that have no manners and are hell-bent on ruining the good name of sewing.  I have recently attended my first ASG meeting on the suggestion of one of those cool people I mentioned meeting at Sew Expo and found out that there is so much more to the organization.  They do a lot of charity work, educational events, and can provide you with a seemingly endless wealth of knowledge.  Not to say that there isn't a wide age range in ASG, but the ladies that I met were warm, funny, and made me laugh so hard that I started a coughing fit. - Allison Harris of Cluck Cluck Sew has an excellent blog.  She was in the instructor for my Sprocket Pillow class that I loved so much at Expo 2013.  She has some fantastic tutorials on her site.  Here's the Sprocket Pillow and the Easy Treat/Tote bag that I made for one of my nephews last Halloween - Palmer/Pletsch is a legend in garment sewing.  Their time tested methods are logical, patterns well written, and their books are insightful and easy to understand.  If I can do it, so can you.
  • Fashion for Real People - The Palmer/Pletsch digital magazine is a free download and has a lot of great tips and information. - Pattern Review is a great resource.  There are reviews on thousands of items from patterns, notions, and machines.  I also love their message boards.  If you sign up for a membership, you have access to an even more vast assortment of tools and perks like a discount at JoAnn Fabrics and the ability to keep track of your pattern stash - The SCHMETZ Needles website is great because you will be linked to a wealth of knowledge from a company that really knows what they are doing. - The Sewing and Stitchery Expo is an annual event held in Puyallup, WA.  With over 400 vendor booths and low cost classes taught by some of the biggest names in sewing, this event is BIG. - Urban Threads specializes in embroidery designs.  They offer both machine and hand embroidery patterns.  They aren't the typical embroidery designs that may come to mind.  You WON'T find any licensed designs by Disney here.  They are very well known for their machine embroidered free standing lace, steampunk designs, and skulls.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Managing Digital Content

First and foremost, I must confess that I am a techie type person. I love, love, love gadgets, computers, and all things technology related because I can have access to so much information at my fingertips. I was very fortunate to grow up in a town that placed a pretty high value on technology, so I have been around computers for most of my life (I *DID* take a typing class on an electric typewriter in high school though).

At Sew Expo I attended a class on managing your digital sewing stuff. I didn't find any value in it, but I did provide some tips to a few people using technology and software that they already had (and most are free)! So, here is what I would teach if I was teaching a class:

1. Go digital with your manuals
Many machine manufacturers offer their manuals for free download in Adobe's PDF format which is probably already installed on your computer.  If not, you can download Adobe Reader for free on  I have personally downloaded them from Baby Lock, Bernina, Brother, and Pfaff.  If you have a machine that hasn't been made in this century, this will be harder to find. It can be done, it just might not be easy or free.

If you open a PDF file on an iPhone/iPad, you will typically have the option to open the file in iBooks. When you do that, it will save the file (and it will sync back to your computer when you next sync with iTunes). One excellent benefit of going digital is that you can search within the file. If you have ever had to flip through your machine's manual, you'll probably quickly see the time saving benefits of the search function (especially when some of the manuals are 75-100 pages).

Another benefit of having digital manuals is that you can zoom in to magnify the images or text. I have found the ability to zoom extremely handy when I'm trying to read the quick reference guide for my serger. Keeping a digital copy of your manual can also be great if you are prone to paper cuts like me. :) I also like to keep my manuals in as pristine of a condition as possible, so not dragging them around to classes is a great benefit. This is also super helpful if you have multiple machines. All of your manuals can go with you all the time. If you are an Apple user and have both an iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch, you can easily set the manuals to sync with both devices.

If you have a Kindle Fire or use the Kindle for iOS app, you can also take advantage of the Send to Kindle plug in offered as a free download by Amazon. To download it, you need to go to 'My Account' then 'Manage My Kindle.' There will be a link to download the program. After you have that downloaded, you can select the file you wish to sync (single left mouse button click - you just want to highlight it, not open it) and then click the right mouse button once to open the menu. Pick Send to Kindle and a few minutes later, you'll be up and running!

Another handy program that I really like is Good Reader which can be found here for iPhone or here for iPad. To my knowledge, this is just available for iOS devices, but I'm sure there are similar options for Android devices.

If you don't want to worry about plugging your device in to sync it, you can always email the files to yourself. From email, you will likely have the option to open the file in another app like I mentioned earlier with iBooks, Good Reader, and a few others. Just remember that not all email accounts will accept very large files.

The most important part of this is to make sure that you take your device with you to classes/retreats and to have it CHARGED! No power = no workie!

There are a couple of pictures at the bottom of the post showing some of these steps (yes, I really was doing this at 1:30 am.  The last one showing 3:00 am was just because of the switch to daylight saving time).

2. Dealing with your thread
There are a couple of ways to manage your thread digitally. I use a program for embroidery called 5D. In 5D, you can use the Thread Manager program with 5D Configure to print out a list of all of the thread you have entered (I'm sure other embroidery software programs have a similar feature).  Instead of using your printer, you can set up a virtual printer using Windows 8, the free program PrimoPDF, or even using Microsoft's OneNote. If you print the thread chart to a PDF file, you can then use iBooks/Send to Kindle/Good Reader to get the file on your phone/tablet device.

If you do not have a built in thread manager program, I would recommend Microsoft's OneNote. I believe that it is free on your PC if you own Microsoft Office and can sync wirelessly with the OneNote app for iPhone, OneNote for iPad, or Windows Phone. I use OneNote to manage my list of serger threads.  OneNote works great for me because I can view and edit the same file on my computer, iPhone, or iPad.

3. What about all of those stubborn embroidery files?
I think this is probably the most painful suggestion that I will make. I have been trying to figure out the best way to deal with all of these embroidery designs that I've downloaded. Normally, as you may have discovered, you download your purchased design only to find out that you have no idea what it is called! Bummer! For the sites that I use, I am provided with a .zip file containing the designs. After I extract the files from the .zip archive, I manually check each file and then rename them with something that tells me what they are. That way I can easily locate the file I want. 100812a just doesn't scream "Awesome Sock Monkey design" to me. It might to you, but it just doesn't work for me. As I said earlier, this is probably the most painful suggestion at all, especially if you have been doing embroidery because you have to go back and rename all of the files. Ugh. Not fun. Perhaps it is a project best tackled in spurts.

4. I have lots of fabric.
Yeah, me too. How do I keep track of it? That is a very good question and currently it has me at my wit's end. I am frustrated with a capital F on how to manage my fabric stash. Right now I have it all entered in to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet on my computer so I can log the fabric part number, designer/manufacturer, collection name, where I bought it, and when I bought it. It will give me a head start if I ever need to find the fabric again. That gives me some searchable information but no pictures. I'm working hard on brainstorming a good solution, so I'll keep you posted on how that goes.

5. I have lots of patterns.
Patterns aren't quite as problematic for me as fabric. With a pattern, you have a couple of different options. You can use a computer scanner and scan the front and back of the pattern envelope or you can use your camera (either a digital camera or a camera on a smartphone) to take a picture of the envelope. You can manage those pictures online using a program like Evernote (I've never used it, but I've heard it is good) and Evernote for iPhone/iPad, DropBox (haven't used it either) and DropBox for iPhone/iPad, or Microsoft's SkyDrive (this is what I use).  I am currently using a box designed to hold greeting cards to store my patterns in their envelopes.

UPDATED on 3/14/13:  I also recently discovered on that I can store a list of my patterns that I own on  It gives me easy access to reviews written about those patterns from other PR members.  It wouldn't stop me from using one of the other methods for managing patterns because you don't have the images of the pattern envelopes, but it is nice to be able to access the information from my smartphone so I don't wind up buying the same pattern twice.

To wrap up, these are just a few of the ways that you can make technology work for you. This list is by no means the only way to handle these types of issues. These are ways that have worked for me (and for some other people that I've spoken to).

Please, please, please, please make sure that you are doing software backups. These are critical in the event of data loss due to many reasons. If you back up your data, someday you will probably learn the value of backups. They are easy to do and are inexpensive ways to protect your data.

Also remember that new is not always bad. Some of these things might seem overwhelming and maybe even a little scary. It will be OK. I promise. Take baby steps. You can do it, but if you don't like my suggestions, don't do them. My feelings won't be hurt, but sometimes it can be hard to adjust to a new way of doing things.

If you've actually read through all of this, you have a much longer attention span than I do. I'm always excited to figure out new ways to do stuff so if I've left anything out, let me know!

Here is an example - I found the correct machine on the Baby Lock website.  Go to FAQs & Manuals, then select the link for the manual (Grace BL40A Manual)

When the file downloads, you can tap it and you can pick to 'Open in iBooks' or 'Open in...'

If you want to use Amazon's email to Kindle or Send to Kindle, select 'Personal Document Settings' on the left and either use the email address for your device (one of the black blobs in the middle of my screen) or use  the download link for Send to Kindle.

Here is the Send to Kindle download screen.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Reviews on some products from Sew Expo

I've taken the last few days to use some of the products that I was invited to evaluate at Sew Expo.  I will be sure to post updates if I discover anything else after using them for a longer period of time.

Just in case anybody is wondering, I was not paid to write reviews on these products.  For better or for worse, these are my honest opinions.  As with just about anything, your mileage may vary.

Spooler Spindles by Grabbit
Spooler Spindles by Grabbit
These things are pretty cool.  If you've ever spent time hunting for that one spool of thread that matches your bobbin, you will love this.  The Spooler Spindle really takes the guesswork out of trying to figure out if that bobbin has blue thread or black.  It is also great for taking to class.

I did notice that the Pfaff type J bobbins (used in machines such as the Creative Sensation, Creative Performance, Quilt Expression) will work not with the Spooler Spindles.  They have a smaller hole on top than on bottom.  I tested the Spooler Spindles successfully on Brother/Baby Lock 15J bobbins and Bernina CB hook bobbins. For the photo, I used a Brother/Baby Lock bobbin.

So, would I buy more of these?  Yes.

Wrist Grabbit and Magnetic Needle
Threaders by Grabbit
Wrist Grabbit by Grabbit
I do love my magnetic pincushion, so I was very excited to test a wristband style one.  It has a very powerful magnet, so the pins do not easily shake loose.  With how it is designed, the pins also go on straight.  They do not stick out of the sides.  It makes using the Wrist Grabbit less of a bloodletting event because you can quickly and painlessly pick up a pin from its side.  I did not even once say ouch while using this which is quite shocking for my accident prone self.

The wristband is very adjustable too.  I don't have the most dainty of wrists and I had no problems with the size.  I also asked my husband to try it on for size.  Like me, he had no problems with the length of the band.

While this has a lot going for it, I didn't find it to be as comfortable as I'd like.  I don't blame the device, I think it is how I use it.  As a left handed person, I have a tendency to experience some things slightly differently.  When I tried the Wrist Grabbit on my right wrist, I found that it was more comfortable.  Unfortunately, I am not going to remove my watch (I wear a watch on my right wrist) to use it.

So, would I buy more of these?  Maybe.  For me as a lefty, no.  If I wasn't left handed (or if I didn't wear a watch on my right hand), yes.

Magnetic Needle Threaders by Grabbit
Another great product from Grabbit.  Two threaders are included in the package - one for small eyed needles and one for regular needles.  Both of these have a  larger, sturdier tab for holding the threader that some of the other threaders I've tried.  The Magnetic Needle Threaders are easy to store because you can keep them on your Wrist Grabbit or other magnetic pincushion.

So, would I buy more of these?  Yes.

Pressit Steam Pressing Cloth
by Grabbit
Pressit Steam Pressing Cloth by Grabbit
I had a harder time with this than some of the other products I tested.  It is washable and the package lists a variety of uses.  It isn't just a steam pressing cloth.  It can be used as a dust cloth too.

Do I like it as a steam pressing cloth?   No, not really.  While it does seem to perform as promised, I do not like that I can't see what I am pressing underneath it.  If it was translucent, I would like it a lot more.  If you are OK with not seeing what is underneath it, the Pressit Steam Pressing Cloth might be the tool for you.

So, would I buy more of these?  Doubtful

SCHMETZ Gift Box -
 Quilting Version
SCHMETZ Gift Box - Quilting Version by SCHMETZ Needles
I love SCHMETZ Needles.  I have a variety of sizes and types of their needles already, so this was a great fit for me.  One of my favorite things about SCHMETZ needles is the color coding.  As an example, quilting needles have a green band at the top, microtex (aka sharps) has purple, embroidery has red, and jeans (aka denim) needles has blue.   This makes them significantly easier to tell apart.

The SCHMETZ Gift Box that I received has 4 packages of needles (Quilting 75/11, Quilting 90/14, Microtex 70/10, and Topstitch 90/14), a sample spool of Sulky's PolyLite thread, and the SCHMETZ ABC Pocket Guide all thoughtfully packaged in a reusable tin with a clear front.  If you are looking for a gift for a sewist, this would be a nice option.

The Gift Box also comes in other "flavors" such as heirloom, embroidery, and universal.  I think the ABC Pocket Guide is one of the best parts of the whole thing.  It provides information on each type of needle including the available sizes,  features of each needle, and suggested fabric types to be used with this kind of needle.  You will also find information on needle anatomy.  Overall, this is an excellent reference guide.

So, would I buy more of these?  Yes, I sure would.  The tins are great to store other things besides needles.  I would certainly give one as a gift to another sewist.

Micro Screwdriver by ToolTron
Micro Screwdriver with Keychain by ToolTron 
With a stubby handle, this little micro screwdriver is super handy.  I was able to get a good grip on the handle and the small length makes it easy to get it under the arm of my machines.  You can use it for unscrewing and replacing needles, removing needle plates, or changing feet.  I don't think that I will be putting it on my keychain, but the keyring makes the Micro Screwdriver easy to keep track of.  I can quickly locate it.  If ToolTron asked me how they could make it better, my answer would only be to give it a clear, sparkly handle.

So, would I buy more of these?  Yes.

Pellon's Perfect Loft (left) vs another
polyester fiberfill
Perfect Loft by Pellon
I think Pellon's Perfect Loft is pretty close to perfect.  It is a much fluffier fiber fill that is extremely soft.  It looks a little bit like somebody shaved a poodle (in a good way).  It doesn't have the hairy/stringy feel that some of the other fiber fills have.  It is also marketed as being hypoallergenic.  As somebody with fairly hideous allergies, I have not had an allergic reaction to it thus far.  I'm sure many of you are familiar with other types of fiber fill, so I took a picture of the Perfect Loft next to the regular stuff.  For the purpose of comparison, both samples are 2 grams in weight. The Pellon product does not flatten as much as the normal poly fill.

So, would I buy more of these?  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!

Capri Bag Pattern by Pat Bravo
for Art Gallery Fabrics
Capri Bag Pattern by Art Gallery Fabrics
This cute, functional bag pattern comes in PDF format on a disc packaged in a nice, DVD style case.  One of the best parts of it is the included real size templates.  This is a great touch that will be a big time saver and take away concerns about whether or not you taped the pieces together properly after you increased the size when printing the pattern.

I'd love to say that I've had a chance to make this adorable bag, but I can't.  Why not?  Many of the Ultrabook computers don't have optical drives.  Same thing goes for tablet devices like the iPad, Galaxy Tab, or Kindle Fire.  So, you guessed it.  I am using one of those devices.

Art Gallery Fabrics also has some lovely fabrics.  Not only are they attractive, they are made of Pima cotton which makes them ultra soft.  I regularly use only high quality quilting cotton, but this Pima cotton is even more soft and very smooth.

So, would I buy more of these?  Maybe.  The patterns shown on their website are cute and functional, but the lack of downloadable instructions is a potential problem.

Indygo Junction's Fabric Flowers
Indygo Junction's Fabric Flowers book by Amy Barickman of Indygo Junction
Flowers, flowers everywhere.  This book is well written with great instructions, diagrams, and photographs.  I had a chance to meet Amy at Sew Expo.  She is incredibly nice, and she took a minute to even sign my book!

So, would I buy more of these? Yes.  I know a number of people that would love this book.  Indygo Junction also has a lot of other books that I'm interested in too.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sew Expo recap and decompression

Well, it has been a few days since I got home from Sew Expo.  If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be wow.

I met a bunch of extra cool people, and I attended some excellent classes.  15 of the 17 classes that I went to were great.  I learned an awful lot and by the end of the 4 days, I was physically exhausted.

Here are some of my favorite classes (in the order that I attended them):

Sew Constructive - Katrina Walker

No Slip Pedal for Sewing Machines - Lynnette Sandbloom of Beach Garden Quilts

The Etsy Sellers Handbook - Angela Jorgenson

Sprocket Pillows - Allison Harris of Cluck Cluck Sew

Threads and Needles, What You Really Need to Know - Steve Butler of A&E (Manufacturer of some very well-known brands of thread)

My favorite thing that I heard during the entire show was on the last day.  While perusing sewing machine feet, another shopper made the comment that machine feet were his kind of foot fetish.  Could it have been more funny?  Nope, I don't think so.

Unfortunately, I did not get very many pictures.  I'll work harder next year to get more.  For now, here are a couple:

My sprocket pillow

A Bernina 780 demo unit in a clear case that allows you to see all of the moving parts.  Easily one of the coolest things at the whole show.  I did the sprocket pillow on the non-clear version of this machine.  :)
My Fit for Real People book that I got signed by Marta Alto and Pati Palmer of Palmer Pletsch.
I was so busy with classes that I didn't get a lot of shopping done.  This is it!
I also got some great freebies in classes that I attended.
Schmetz Needles also provided the Sew-Cial Bloggers group with some goodies.  I've been playing with these over the last few days, so I'm just about ready to post my reviews on a bunch of these items.