Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous Ideas’ Category

Ready for Birthday Cake

September 13, 2010

One of my favorite blogs is Purl Soho’s Purl Bee. When I wake up Monday morning, I usually have an e-mail sitting in my in-box with a link to all of the beautiful new fabrics and yarns they’ve just unpacked at the store, as well as a link to instructions on how to make something using those new fabrics and yarns. “Molly’s Spring Napkins” caught my eye several months ago, and now with birthday season kicking into high gear at our house, I decided to make some celebratory napkins!

Another idea:  Pair the napkins with festive dessert plates (new or vintage) – and maybe even a cake – for a birthday present or wedding shower gift.


An Emerging Tween Begins to Rethink Her Room Decor Plus Making Bolster Pillows

August 29, 2010

When my daughter was born nine years ago, I chose two colors to work around – a rosy pink and moss green. I also decided to create a room that would work as she grew up and, I have to admit, one that I would have liked at her age: The Roman shades have big cabbage roses, the stuffed chair I picked up at a garage sale is upholstered in a sweet all-over floral print, and the furniture is an assortment of family heirlooms (the trunk that carried my great-grandparents’ belongings from Norway, the writing desk my aunt pulled off a garbage truck in Hyde Park in the 1960s, and the wash stand received from my parents as a wedding present).

Flash forward nine years, and while I thought (read: assumed) the room would work beautifully as she got older, she has a few of her own ideas about her tween room. Over the last year, she has added her own touches – posters of pop music stars and her own drawings taped to the wall (next to the bunny quilt I made when she was a baby), a calendar thumb tacked to the door, and mod flowers that stick to the windows. My only stipulation has been that the Roman shades stay because they are too nice to replace.

Earlier this year, she played the role of client and picked fabrics for a quilt from my stash and, then together we designed it. Over the last few months, she has added some pillow made of fabrics of her own choosing, while I pretty much have stood back and just sewed (even though some of the fabrics clash a bit with the shades). So the room is losing a bit of the polish it once had, but it is becoming more her room and less mine. I’ve also concluded that the room decor, for the most part, is the little stuff … when my tween begins the argument for why she should have a cell phone and be able to text during dinner, I will take a stand!

Bolster pillows covered in a poodle print fabric were the latest addition to the room and were, surprisingly, a cinch to make. Here’s how:

Gather Your Materials

  • Bolster pillow form(s) – We purchased two 36″ long pillows that together run the length of her twin bed
  • Fabric (see below for how much) – We used 54″-wide decorator weight fabric (I pre-washed and dried a sample swatch to see if it was washable and it came out fine.)
  • Ribbon for the gathered ends
  • Thread to match

Make the Pillows

(I have been pulling my hair out for hours trying to get these directions to look as perfect as they did in my Word file, including some fairly nice illustrations. However, the computer wins in this case. WordPress has e-mailed me a couple of ideas which I will try and if either works, will update this post later. Ugh!)

  1. Cut a rectangle from your fabric for each pillow based on the following calculations:
    1. Determine the depth of the rectangle (the shorter side of the rectangle) by measuring the circumference of the pillow using a tape measure and then adding 1-1/4″ to allow for 5/8″ seam allowances. (In the pillows we made, the circumference was 26″, add to that 1-1/4″ for a total measurement of 27-1/4″.)
    2. Determine the width of the rectangle (the longer side of the rectangle) by measuring the length of the pillow and then adding the radius of each end and 1-1/4″ for each casing. (Each pillow we made measured 36″ long and had a radius of 4″. So, for each pillow, we added 36″, 8″, and 2-1/2″ together for a width measurement of 46-1/2″.)
  2. Finish the edges using your favorite method, such as a zigzag stitch around the edges.
  3. Fold the rectangle in half, right sides together, and sew a 5/8″ seam from one of the long edge to the other end; you now have a long tube.  Press the seam open and turn right side out.
  4. Make a casing for the ribbon by turning the ends down 1/2″ to the wrong side; press.  Then, turn the ends down another 1″.  Top stitch about 3/4″ from the edge, making sure to catch all fabric layers. Leave about a 3/4″ gap to thread the ribbon through.
  5. Cut a length of ribbon and attach a safety pin to one end of the ribbon; thread it through the casing. (I used about a 30″ piece of ribbon.) Then tie the ends of the ribbon together fairly tight and tuck inside the pillow. When necessary, you can just pull the ribbon out of the pillow ends, untie, and throw the case into the washing machine.
  6. Finish the ends of the pillow if you like. I wanted to tack a large button on each end, but my daughter thought it was just fine without. It is her room I reminded myself, so we skipped this step.

That’s it! Happy Sewing!

Mini Sculptures: Wrapped Twigs

June 24, 2010

The last couple of weeks here in Chicago have felt more like August than June. By 3 or 4 o’clock, we have needed a bit of a reprieve from the temperatures, humidity and/or storms outside. So, always on the look out for craft projects that use found materials and other items on hand – and still thinking about the Steelroots: Tobin at The Morton Arboretum (see my previous post), an exhibit featuring the work of Steve Tobin – we decided to make our own little mini sculptures from twigs collected from the yard. Not content to leave the twigs au naturel, we wrapped the them in our favorite colors using pearle cotton.

We tried to find twigs with an interesting line – this is my favorite. Some parts of the twig were too interesting to wrap, so we didn’t.

We wrapped the perle cotton around the end of the thread as we worked and changed thread colors, but at the very end when we were finishing up with the last wrap, we needed a dab of glue. We used Aleene’s “OK to Wash-It” glue on the loose end; when it was dry, we just snipped the thread close.

Sitting on the table in the hallway, people can’t seem to help but rearrange the wrapped twigs every time they walk by. Other materials have made their way into the “exhibit,” like the yellow origami snake and these rocks collected from the beaches of Lake Michigan several years ago.

What Makes a Great Teacher?

April 22, 2010

While quilting is my main passion, I do like to play in other sandboxes, so to speak. Taking a class now and then in embroidery, needlepoint, knitting, gardening or some other area that focuses on design principles and/or new techniques is inspirational and often leads to new ideas for my quilts. Soooo, when a local shop announced they would be hosting a day-long workshop a few blocks from my home with a world-renowned craftsperson, I was one of the first to sign up and pay my $90. I then purchased my supplies ($97.02, excluding tax) and counted down on the calendar. It felt like Christmas in a way and as I thought about the upcoming class, my expectations about what I might make with my newfound skills grew each day. A side note here: The workshop was to focus on teaching about color and two techniques. I had zip experience with the two techniques, but according to the course description, this class required only the basic skills, which I have. I have a fairly good understanding about color, but am primarily self-taught, so I feel there is always room to learn more.

Okay, you know this is not going to turn out the way I envisioned, right?

What I had not anticipated when I walked into the classroom all eager to learn was an instructor who, in my opinion, was far less eager to teach. Teaching is hard whether you are teaching rambunctious first graders or adults with a wide range of experiences and expectations. I have taught many students, colleagues, and clients through the years in my varying roles as a quilter and business consultant; and at the end of a workshop, I am wiped. Teaching in front of large groups does not come naturally to me, but I always give a 110% and make sure the content is on point with participant expectations.

Whether you are teaching a craft or leading a workshop on how to write a business plan, many of the same basic rules apply. Most are common sense, but as I learned several days ago, not always followed. Here are a few I never lose sight of . . .

  1. Write a clear and accurate workshop description that can be communicated to participants beforehand. This is what participants are going to read to decide whether a class is worth their time and money. If this is a workshop where something will be produced (e.g., a quilt top, a sweater), show a picture. Keep this description close at hand as you outline the content since the description and content should match.
  2. Know your content. If you are not comfortable with or don’t have the depth to talk expertly about a topic, it should not be part of the agenda. Content should never be dumbed down because of the instructor’s lack of knowledge/curiosity, and the work of others who do view it seriously should not be discounted.
  3. Refresh your content. Who wants to be teaching the same class year after year. If you are bored with the content, it will not take long for that to become evident to your students.
  4. Think through the supplies list in any crafts class. Would it be more beneficial, from a cost and/or learning standpoint, for participants to buy a kit (possibly choosing from several color options) or to assemble the items themselves? Being mindful of students’ budgets can go a long way in building strong relationships, with the instructor and the local shop sponsoring the event.
  5. Hand out an agenda. Everyone wants to know where they are going throughout the day and what time parameters have been set for each item on the agenda. The course description should be reiterated here.
  6. Start the workshop with introductions, beginning with yourself. Participants should introduce themselves and state what they hope to learn. Write down these learning goals on a flipchart.  As the instructor, this is where you need to manage expectations and amend the content – if everyone wants to learn a particular technique, show them, even if it wasn’t part of the original plan. If you skip the introductions or do them half-way through, you’ve missed an opportunity to manage expectations and it implies that you really don’t care who they are or what they want to learn. Revisit the goals periodically throughout the day to make sure you are working through the list.
  7. Lay out the ground rules about food and beverages during the workshop and apply it to all. As a coffee addict, I love being able to drink and sew, but only in my own studio where there is one cup of coffee and one person’s fabric stash to consider. Participants have invested in their supplies and to risk ruining them with a cup of coffee is simply disrespectful. In the class I took, the instructor’s coffee cup went flying at one point and spilled coffee everywhere. Luckily, it did not hit anyone’s supplies. However, the tone was set for what was allowed. When I moved a fellow student’s “filled to the brim with no top on” coffee cup to an empty table about 20 feet away from where people were working, she was slightly miffed.  It had been sitting on the floor within inches of hundreds of dollars worth of her fellow students’ supplies!
  8. Make use of visual aids, including handouts and slideshows. This will help to reinforce the content and give participants something to take away and look at when they are at home. And, certainly don’t tell them to buy the book to learn the technique that they are supposed to be learning in the workshop.
  9. As an instructor, never be defensive or snappy. We’ve all heard it, “there is no such thing as a bad question,” and as the instructor you have to reinforce this.
  10. Wrap it up at the end of the day. Summarize key techniques and anything else you want to reinforce, check the list of key learning goals to make sure what you set out to accomplish has indeed been accomplished. Share participant’s work with classmates for one final learning opportunity. You may have done this on an ad hoc basis throughout the day, but do it a bit more formally now, giving constructive feedback by pointing out why something really works or does not work in the projects.
  11. Collect feedback on the workshop. When you are teaching, you need this feedback to know where you need to tweak content and make adjustments to your delivery. As a student, there are many times when you want to give feedback about what the instructor is doing right and where they could improve. It is especially frustrating when there is no means of giving this feedback after an experience that did not meet expectations.

These are just a few ideas of what makes a great teacher – student experience in a workshop setting. What do you think makes for a great workshop? What makes a great teacher?

Truckers and Quilting

April 2, 2010

If you have not seen the article, “Idle Pastime: In Off Hours, Truckers Pick Up Stitching,” in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, it is a great read. In short, as the trucking industry is hit by fewer and smaller hauls, truckers often have down time between when they deliver one load and pick up the next, sometimes as much as a couple of days. They are filling this time with hobbies such as quilting and knitting. One of my favorite quotes in the article: “When he’s [Dave White] not sewing, he’s daydreaming about it, he said as he ran a square of yellow cotton with little violets through his machine. ‘Oh, there’s many a time you’re just going down the road at 0-dark-thirty in the morning and you just start thinking about a particular pattern.'”  How many of us quilters (knitters, etc.) can relate to this, whether we are driving a truck in the middle of the night or lying awake at the end of the day, unable to sleep as we plan our next quilt in our head?

Only Five More Days Till Liberty of London Arrives at Target

March 9, 2010

In less than a week, on Sunday, March 14th, the Liberty of London for Target home collection will hit stores across the country. The first round of products will focus on home and garden, including decorative accessories, storage products, garden boots, watering cans, and even a bike! Apparel will follow in future weeks. After seeing the video on Target’s website showcasing the new line, I can’t wait. Maybe it’s just that I’m so done with winter and am hoping I can buy spring by purchasing a few floral mugs . . . wishful thinking I know.

The clothes look great, but unfortunately I don’t think they were designed with my body type in mind. Personally, I am eying the men’s shirts – and I’m not sure many men are going to go for the florals so I am hoping to have my pick. You can see the clothing here.


With Liberty of London fabrics, it is all about the high thread count, beautiful colorwork, and fine printing – the cloth feels and drapes almost like silk even though it is 100% cotton.  I’m bracing myself for a different interpretation from Target but hope they don’t go too far in compromising what Liberty is all about in order to meet their price points.

If you have not checked out Liberty of London’s yard goods, you can visit their website to see the complete line. The fabrics can be hard to find here in the U.S., but a couple of great sources are Purl Soho and International Fabric Collection. It is indeed expensive, but on the few times I have splurged, I have tried to justify my purchase with the fact that the fabric is after all 53 inches wide. Here are a couple favorites from PurlSoho’s collection.

Enjoy browsing!

Life Throws a Curve Ball

February 7, 2010

Life threw a little curve ball a few weeks ago when my father had a heart attack, despite scoring relatively low on the risk factors. I am grateful to report, though, that his healthy eating and exercise habits before the heart attack are aiding in his recovery now.

Since I needed a small, portable project at the hospital, I turned to knitting and started this scarf, a project that could easily and quickly be tucked into my purse if doctors came by, etc.  I am loving how the basketweave pattern looks with this yarn, Ty-Dy Wool by Knit One Crochet Too, a soft 100% wool yarn.  The look reminds me a of classic wool cardigan, the kind you might wear on a fall hike when the temperatures edge towards the lower end of the thermometer.  I used size 8 needles and cast on 30 stitches.  The scarf will definitely need to be blocked when it is finished.

The pattern can be found at purlbee, a wonderful place to go for inspiration, ideas, and patterns.  This is one site I routinely visit, intending to look for “just a few minutes” and before I know it, a half hour has passed.

With life a bit more calm now, I will take the cover off my sewing machine and get back to test driving those books I mentioned in my last post.

Creative Habits for the New Year

January 4, 2010

“In order to make art, we must first make an artful life, a life rich enough and diverse enough to give us fuel.” – The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron

click to enlarge

According to the receipt stuck in my copy of The Sound of Paper, I purchased the book on March 18th, 2004 at 1:17 p.m. I know I skimmed the book at the time and then life got busy and somehow it ended up on a shelf for the next several years. As we enter 2010, I am determined to establish some positive new habits in my life, especially ones that make me more productive from a creative standpoint.

Among the steps I have taken in the last few days, is to blow the dust off The Sound of Paper and start reading/doing some of the exercises in the book. In the opening pages, Ms. Cameron talks about several habits (or what she refers to as “creative tools”) to establish, including “Artist Dates”. In describing an Artist Date, she says, “Think pleasure, not duty. Choose an expedition that enchants you, one that truly interests your inner explorer.” The Artist Dates I have in mind include going to the art museum sans children, grabbing my camera and taking a hike through the woods to look at branch forms and seed pods, and exploring a new neighborhood in Chicago. While she suggests that you take these artist dates by yourself and once-a-week, I know I can’t commit to this, but I can manage one a month, by myself or with a like-minded friend.

Another habit I want to build on this year is sketching every day. Several years ago, my brother and his family gave me this beautiful sketch book, about 6″ x 8″. It is the perfect format, anything bigger would overwhelm me at 5:30 in the morning when I am doing this! I am always clipping photos and stories from the newspaper that I find inspirational. The night before, I choose a couple that I want to focus on the next morning so that when I sit down, I don’t spend the first 15 minutes trying to decide what to draw. Ideally some of these sketches will work their way into quilts, quilting designs, embroidered pillows, etc.

This last item is not really a creative habit, but one that definitely impacts my creativity and energy levels: I am determined to develop some good habits on the cleaning and organization front. I am not a neat freak by any stretch of the imagination, but since I work from a home office most days, it stifles my creativity if I have to navigate a small mountain range of dirty laundry every time I walk into or out of my house through the laundry room, or look at a counter full of dirty dishes when I venture into the kitchen. So, before I go to bed, I set out two or three loads of wash that have to get done the next day. I have also posted a list of chores on the refrigerator that have to be done each week to simply maintain a clean home. Many take only a few minutes to do, ideal for my kids who, whether they like it or not, now have “a clean and organized home” as one of their 2010 goals! (Is it too much to ask that by next year, they take on some of these chores without being asked?)

In the past, I viewed “Artists Dates” and sketching as luxuries that I did not have time for in my busy days, weeks, months. At some point, however, whether you work outside the home or not, work for yourself or someone else, or work in what you consider a creative field or not, you need to find those activities that recharge you and bring a smile to your face. So here’s to finding what nurtures your creativity and making it a daily habit in 2010!

Make It or Bake It Party Theme

December 3, 2009

Last year it was my turn to host the big family Christmas party:  A sit down dinner for around thirty people.  Let me just say my home is not that big nor is it set up to do this easily.  In the days leading up to the big party, we were busy bees cleaning, re-arranging furniture and decorating.  One of the many challenges was to find just the right size tree – bigger than Charlie Brown’s, but small enough so that thirty people could safely move around it!

A friend’s architect husband once gave us some very good advice when we were buying this house, “Don’t choose a house based on the one big party you throw each year.”  We certainly did not as everyone who came can surely attest to!

We always do a grab bag gift exchange where a person can choose an unopened gift from the box or take an opened gift from someone else.  As the hostess, I kept the game in place, but changed the rules a bit:  The gift had to be something they either made or baked.

As the game got underway, there was the usual laughter and joking around, but there was also a lot of “I didn’t know you made …”  I was amazed at the talent in my family – a cousin and his girlfriend make wine, an uncle makes wonderful bread and marmalade, an aunt makes great fudge … Needless to say, many of these gifts were taken from one another as we played the game.

If people ran out of time, I did allow a store-bought gift, but it had to be something that could be used up.  Someone brought the really expensive dish soap in a pretty bottle that I love to smell in the store, but can never justify purchasing.  That gift exchanged hands a lot – I was not the only one who wanted the dish soap!

At the end of the day, it was a great party – there was much laughter and conversation, great food, and a wonderful family with whom to share it all.

I’m not hosting the party this year, so I don’t know if the Make It or Bake It rule will stay in place and become a tradition, but I do know it was great fun and an idea I will use again.