Tag Archives: sewing

Homemade Valentines

19 Feb

Garrett the Husband decided to make me some homemade valentines this year. I have a fondness for those cheesy, almost nonsensical vintage ones, with the puns that don’t really mean anything. And if there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s hilarious nonsense. I’m pretty sure he could make a living at it if someone would let him, so I’m sharing these in case any of you have a job opening for a Hilarious Nonsense Contributor or Director of Non Sequiturs. Or, you know, if you just need a chuckle. valentinesI’ve been on a quilt hiatus due to some six day work weeks and a bit of oral surgery, but I do have a few new squares to share. More to come later!


Before and after: Behind the Scenes

23 Jan

Photoshop. It’s a tricky beast.

One of the reasons I love to blog is because it forces me to learn more about photography and Photoshop. But boy these guys are time-consuming. When I was prepping my quilting kit post, I tried three separate times to get a decent photo of my supplies. The first two times, I thought I had good photos until I looked them on my computer to find that the lighting was too weird, the items weren’t lined up quite right, or they were out of focus (my perpetual problem). I’m the type who likes to get photos right in-camera (as opposed to doing a lot of editing later), but they will never be so good that they won’t need a good clean-up.

Since every photo shoot has different subjects (people, landscapes, objects) and lighting situations (indoor, outdoor, shade, full sunlight, night), each set of photos you take will require different edits. Two great resources for me are the Clickin’ Moms blog and the Scott Kelby Photoshop books (I have this one).

Even with these resources and three photo sessions, I still struggled to get a decent final photo. I’m pleased with the final results (even though they aren’t perfect at all), and thought I’d share my process if it would help anyone out there.

The process is specific to a photo that:

  1. is indoors
  2. has good natural light that isn’t too harsh (not shining directly on the subject)
  3. is of objects, not people


This was done in Photoshop CS6 for Windows, so if you have an earlier version, things could be a little different for you.

The first thing I needed to do, was get rid of the glare from the flash on the ruler. This is a bit persnickety, because it requires you to merge parts of two photos (with and without flash) so it isn’t included here. I’m happy to add the process if anyone needs it, though!

Next, I had to  straighten the photo. To straighten:

  1. Right click on the eyedropper tool in your sidebar.
  2. A box of options should pop up. Click on the ruler tool.
  3. Draw a line across an area that should be straight, but isn’t.
  4. At the very top of the page, click “Image.”
  5. Go down to Image Rotation.
  6. Click Arbitrary.
  7. When the box pops up, click okay.  (A number will be pre-filled in the box, based on the line you drew earlier.)
  8. Your photo should be straight now, but if it still looks a little off, feel free to undo and try again!

Since parts of the image were a still a bit out of focus, I sharpened the image. To sharpen:

  1. Click “Filter” at the very top of the page.
  2. In the drop-down, click “Sharpen” and then “Unsharp Mask.”
  3. In the box that pops up, you have three settings you can adjust. Mine are set to: Amount: 60%, Radius: 3.5 pixels, Threshold: 3 levels. Make sure the Preview box is checked so you can see how this affects the photo.  I chose these settings because I’m sharpening objects that have a good amount of fine detail. [These settings would be really harsh on a photo of a person.]
  4. After you’ve adjusted the settings to your liking, click okay and the settings will be applied!

My original photo was a tad on the dark side, so I increased the brightness. To do this:

  1. Click “Layer” at the top of the page.
  2. In the drop-down menu, click “New Adjustment Layer” and select “Brightness/Contrast.”
  3. In the box that pops up, click “okay. “
  4. In the box that pops up, increase the brightness to suit your taste. Here, mine is set at 7.

The final step I took was to bring out the colors in the photo by

  1. Click “Layer” at the top of the page.
  2. In the drop-down menu, click “New Adjustment Layer” and select “Saturation.”
  3. In the box that pops up, just click “okay.”
  4. In the next box, increase the saturation to your taste. Mine is set at 13. You can go up to 25 or 30 in most photos without overdoing it.

My Quilting Kit

16 Jan

I have a confession.

I’m not always the best at using the right tools for a given task. I’d often rather use what I have on hand than go out and spend money on something I’d only use for one project. Examples:

  • I use a tea strainer in lieu of a flour sifter.
  • The time I trimmed the bushes with a hand saw. Or trimmed weeds with scissors. 
  • For a long time, I boiled water in a frying pan because I couldn’t justify spending the money on a stockpot.
  • After I lost my travel mug, I just carried my coffee to work in a jar.

The list is endless. Really.

So, when I offer up a list of the most necessary quilting tools, you can be assured that I’m not listing a single item that you won’t be using constantly. Stated another way, these are the items that will help you maintain your sanity if you’re getting into quilting even a little bit.

Keep in mind, I’m writing as a beginner, for beginners. However, I’ve done a ton of research so–in an effort to save you some time–I’ve provided many links to folks who can build upon the basics I’ve outlined here.


Batting: If you’re making a quilt, you’ll need batting. Currently, I use Hobbs Heirloom Premium 80/20 blend. I read lots of reviews before buying, and this one from The Tulip Patch was one of the most helpful. In short, I picked Hobbs because it has the traditional look and feel (like a vintage quilt), but at a lower price than similar brands. When I want to level-up my quilting, I’ll probably choose another batting, like the 100% cotton Warm & Natural.

Sewing machine: (Not pictured.) I have a basic Brother sewing machine that I found on Craigslist for $30. The previous owner only used it for hemming, so all of the doo-dads (technical term) were still with the machine.

Feet: As in, sewing machine feet. From left to right you’ll see the walking foot, free motion quilting foot, and quarter inch (1/4″) foot.

  • The walking foot is used last (so, of course I list it first), when you’re sewing the quilt sandwich together. This foot moves thick layers of fabric through the sewing machine from the top and bottom (instead of only the bottom) to make sure the layers stay lined up as you’re sewing. Note: This foot is not 100% necessary, but it will potentially save you a lot of trouble. If you don’t have this, test quilt a small quilt sandwich to see how your machine cooperates.)
  • The free motion quilting foot has yet to be used in my house, because I’m still quilting in straight lines with my walking foot, so obviously it isn’t a must-have. When I want to start free motion quilting, this will become a necessity.
  • The 1/4″ foot has seen  a lot of use. Basically, it’s used when you’re piecing (sewing the quilt top together) to help you get those important 1/4″ seams. The tinier the pieces and the more elaborate the design, the more important it is to those seams just right. In-depth information can be found at SewMamaSew.

Rotary cutter, rotary mat, and clear acrylic ruler: In my mind, these items are a team.  I didn’t have them for my first quilt, but I also didn’t do any substantial cutting. After I finished my first quilt, I purchased these as a set on Amazon and haven’t looked back.

  • The rotary cutter, for me, is much faster and more accurate in cutting fabric than using scissors. 
  • The rotary mat is a must-have if you have a rotary cutter. Mine is 18″ x 24″ and I’ve found that to be a good size for my workspace.
  • The acrylic ruler makes sure your lines are straight, and it was more useful than I could have imagined. Mine is 6″ x 24″, a pretty versatile size. You can cut small pieces or cut long lengths of fabric (like for this strip quilt at Cluck Cluck Sew). There are many sizes to choose from as you grow as a quilter.

Note: If you’re using pre-cut fabric (i.e. charm packs, layer cakes, jelly rolls) and have no plans of cutting it, you can hold off on the rotary cutter and mat. I “tested” my interest in quilting with my first quilt by using pre-cuts and forgoing almost all cutting. This way, the financial investment in a potential hobby was minimal.

Scissors: I’m not picky when it comes to scissors, which is probably a problem. From left to right, I have some thread-cutting scissors, a nice (but short) pair of titanium scissors, and a long pair from the dollar store. You definitely need a good pair of scissors, but this isn’t where I’d spend much of my budget. I’d rather have a rotary cutter any day.


Pins: These, I’ve learned, are important. The first quilt you make will probably be simple enough that you won’t need to do too much pinning, so maybe you can get away without these right off the bat. But, they are inexpensive (especially on sale!) and will save you time, so I’d say go for it. The two types of pins you see here are straight pins and basting pins.

  • Straight pins are used for various tasks, like lining up seams when you’re piecing a quilt top or when you’re folding and sewing the binding (the fabric “edges” of the quilt). The only preferences I have for these is that they not be too long and that they have colored tips on the non-pokey end. I drop them a lot. 
  • Basting pins are used when you are basting the quilt sandwich together. (You can also use basting spray, like here at Film in the Fridge). They are essentially curved safety pins, which are made to hold the layers of fabric and batting together (while you are quilting) without warping the fabric.

Miscellaneous: There are three other items I keep nearby while sewing.

  • A seam ripper, to fix those crooked lines and the messed-up machine tension mistakes. 
  • A screwdriver, to change out the feet on the machine. When I finally get everything together to start a new phase of the quilt, I don’t want this to be what stops me.
  • An iron, because there is a lot of ironing (well, technically it’s pressing) involved in quilting. My iron is the absolute most basic one offered.

I’m sure I’ve left some loose threads (pun intended), so feel free to leave a comment if you’d like more clarification on anything!

Secret Quilt Story

30 Nov

When it was time to begin my second quilt, it felt like a momentous occasion. I could see a yet-unwritten story in all of those quilts I was destined to make. These quilts will wrap around friends and cousins and mothers and even little babies that haven’t begun to be imagined. All of these quilts will be connected by in invisible thread (pun!) that brings them together.

But I wanted something visible, too. A Secret Quilt Story, if you will.

Whenever a make a quilt for someone I care about, I will add one piece of fabric seen only in the previous quilt. It should be an oddball and it should stand out as not belonging. But it will belong, because it is as lovingly and carefully stitched as any other piece of that quilt.

And so when my niece wraps up in her quilt, she’ll have a little piece of the quilt that I wrap up in every night. When when my cousin wraps up in hers, she’ll be borrowing a little extra bit of warmth from my niece. And when my friend gets her tree quilt, she will share a tiny connection with my cousin. And so on.

Each of these people, and all of those yet to come, have faced blessings and hardships. Some they share with the world and some they keep tucked away. Each person lives out a quiet story–deep with color and texture and meaning–like a great reef under the surface of a calm ocean.

To me, this is more than using up scraps of fabric. It’s about sharing our humanity and acknowledging those invisible threads that tie us together. We are the same and yet so different. And that’s what makes us beautiful.


A Forest of Fabric

26 Nov

A friend made my week yesterday when she asked how much I would charge to make her a quilt. I know just how much I don’t know about making quilts, and my craftsmanship leaves a lot to be desired, but I was honored nonetheless. Since she has taken up painting in the last year, I thought a trade might be a great way to share our new-found art skills with one another. Much of her artwork is beautifully themed on trees, so that is the theme of our swap. I’ve been scouring the web for fabric featuring trees and thought I’d share the early results. Each of these fabrics are fairly different in style, and some are more literal than others, but I’m still very open in the style of this woodland woven quilt, so who knows what the end result will be!

Woodland Wovens

1. Florine in Brass from Echo by Lotta Jansdotter (Photo from A Content Life)

2. Snow White in Yellow from Far, Far Away III by Heather Ross (Photo from Mountain of the Dragon)

3. Sparrows in Plum from Aviary 2  by Joel Dewberry (Photo by Silver Spoon Baby Co.)

4. Farmstead in Petal from Madrona Road by Michael Miller (Photo by Fat Quarter Shop)

5. Whispering Trees in Poppy from Bella by Lotta Jansdotter (Photo by Quiltvine)

6. Windy Day in Aqua from Back Yard Baby by Michael Miller (Photo by Allegro Fabrics)

A Stitch in Time: Part II

16 Nov

My Flea Market Fancy quilt is finished and laying happily on my bed (it is not, at it appears here, laying folded up under a cat named George Foreman). So that’s awesome.

What’s even more awesome is that I’m on my way to finishing my second quilt. It sounds like I’m getting ahead of myself, but these two quilts are important. In all my years, I have never been able to settle on my Hobby. When people ask what I do in my free time, I never know what to say. I sleep recreationally? I like to imagine my next several meals? I attempt to see how much cleaning I can get machines to do for me? Those answers are lame. Because when people ask what your hobbies are, they’re really looking to learn, in a word or two, what kind of person you are.  A hobby doesn’t tell the whole story, but it opens the door to a person’s personality, if only a hair’s breadth.

So why is having quilting a a hobby so important to me? I’ve never been terribly good at staying with a hobby for very long. I’ve dabbled in photography, painting, calligraphy, garment sewing, and (my longest-term hobby) knitting. Allow me to insert this quote from the 30 Rock pilot to to capture how that went:

Jack: Sure. I got you. New York third-wave feminist, college educated, single and pretending to be happy about it, over scheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says “healthy body image” on the cover, and every two years you take up knitting for… a week.

Liz: That knitting thing is uncanny. How do you do that?

Jack: Market research my friend.

All this to say, I have trouble with commitment. But quilting feels different. It captures so many things that I love and hope for in a hobby.

  1. It’s crafty
  2. It has clear steps to follow, but…
  3. It allows a lot of creativity
  4. It also allows for some mistakes
  5. You know when you’re finished
  6. There is a clear, tangible end-product
  7. There are always new skills to incorporate in the next project

And you know what? All of these things are true for those other lost hobbies I mentioned up there: photography, painting, knitting, and the like. The same is true for hobbies I don’t pursue: rock climbing, woodworking, music composition, and so on. The difference for me is that I embrace these traits for quilting in a way I haven’t done for other things. I embrace the process (in a way I couldn’t with knitting). I embrace the uncertainty (in a way I couldn’t with rock climbing). I embrace the next project (in a way I couldn’t with photography). And that, I think, is what makes a hobby work.


Dr Rachel Reed

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