Saturday, June 22, 2024

Better than Catnip

How did I ever finish a quilt before my grandcat moved in last year?

Here, while preparing to audition different bindings on a gift baby quilt, Cleo helpfully provides aeration. Certainly, the extra movement and fur will make my binding more accurate.


For Cleo, quilts in progress provide a far better high than catnip. 

Next, the finished quilt, which I had to bring outside in order to get a picture of it flat.

It's one of my "everything in the world" baby quilts, made of topical 4" squares, organized by subject. (Click "baby quilts" in the word balloon on the right to see more of these.) A few more details:
Note the Featherweight sewing machine, in the photo below. Under it, a fabric featuring vinyl records. On the far lower left, old-fashioned clocks with "hands". My stash totally dates me. (There's also a dinosaur on the upper left.) I want this baby to understand HISTORY!
And speaking of ancients, I'm particularly proud of the back, made from strips foraged from my scrap suitcase! Finally using up some scraps! If I make 200 more backings like this, I might bring that suitcase down near empty!
A few back details:

I can only pray that the intended recipient, who will be born any minute now, won't have cat allergies. 
(But seriously, I machine-wash and dry the quilt, then wrap it up in plastic so my cat doesn't nap on it before I can deliver it!)

Monday, June 3, 2024

Pink Dino Found in Manhattan, Thanks to a New Quilt Shop!

What does a Tula Pink dinosaur (laying upon  coordinating fabrics)....

...have to do with Manhattan?

(from my book, "Quilted New York")

I found the pink dino, and its coordinates, irresistible at Manhattan's new and currently only quilt shop -- Keaton Quilts, high in a midtown office building, a shop that you have to know about in order to find.

You can't imagine how astonished I was to learn on Google that Manhattan was no longer a quilt shop desert. After nearly a half-year with no retail quilt store, quilt superstar Justin Stafford decided to do something about it. (See Justin's impressive bio at Justin opened the shop in May, and named it after his beloved dogs, who are named after actress Diane Keaton. It's on the 8th floor of a nondescript building at 150 W. 28th St., in Manhattan's flower district. 

To reach it, you must thread your way  through flower- and tree-cluttered sidewalks, go into an aging office building, (there's no sign), nod at the guy at the desk (who doesn't even look up), and take the elevator to the 8th floor. After a bit of wandering, I found a modest sign on a closed door, Suite 804. When I opened the door, like Manhattan's skyline, the scene was cluttered but glorious! 

It's small -- you're looking at about a fourth of the store in this photo -- but the wares -- fabrics, notions, kits -- are neatly crammed and first rate. Hundreds of bolts of on-trend prints, luscious solids; several NYC themed fabrics; and most shelves were topped with flowing mountains and valleys of precut packs! There are also boundary-crossing kits (crochet, embroidery), and some kids' craft supplies. And lots of Berninas. There's a small class area, and the shop has a busy class and social sewing schedule. Learn more about all of these at 

Keaton is a worthy heir to a long lineage of fine Manhattan quilt shops. From 1997 through 2016, there was The City Quilter, which had a store front. I especially loved their witty NYC-themed novelty fabrics -- pigeons, taxi cabs, subway maps, etc. Although City's storefront is closed, they still sell their NYC fabrics online, at 

Then there was Gotham Quilts, with their own line of NYC-themed fabrics. But in the aftermath of Covid, Gotham too closed shop and now operates online, at Below, my 2018 photo the late, great, and relatively spacious Gotham.

Designer Victoria Findlay Wolfe had a micro shop in midtown; like Keaton, it was high in an office building, and you had to know about it to visit. It carried primarily her own products. That shop closed after Covid. (Her wares are online at  

Why am I so emotional about having a quilt shop? Quilting and walking around Manhattan are two of my favorite things; here's the cover of my book about the connection, "Quilted New York; Celebrate the City with Fabric and Color." (Find paperback and digital versions in my shop, at

Also, for years now there's also been a shortage of quilt shops near my home in Pasadena, California. (Like Manhattan, we used to have loads of them, and now they are few and far between).  

You may ask:  What about all those other  fabric shops in NYC's famed garment district, just north of the flower district? I've visited many over the years, from the tiny and ephemeral, to the eminent, multi-story Mood Fabrics, home base for Project Runway. But  most wares in these shops are garment fabrics. Quilters' cottons are usually a token afterthought, if there at all. 

Naturally, I recognized my moral obligation to support Justin's enterprise. And the prices are very reasonable. Along with several precut packs, one with the dinosaur, and loads of solids...

...I also bought a little set of colored pencils, geared to children, but I think it's great for me to use when designing on the road. 

Couldn't beat the price! ($1.99!) 

It even has a sharpener in the lid! 

And almost as inexpensive, (I think it was $7.99) was a wooden seam roller, which I'd always wanted! 

I'd hate to lose this precious resource in Manhattan, so I hope you too, will visit Keaton Quilts when you are in New York. 
Now lest you accuse me of being a Manhattan chauvinist (guilty!), here are a couple more quilt shops in and near New York City (but not in Manhattan). I have heard good things about (but never visited)
-- Sewright Sewing Machines, in Bayside, Queens.
-- Brooklyn General Store,
-- On Long Island, I have visited Oh Sew Sally, in Rocky Point (by appointment only). Their website is It's run by my friend Roberta Leonard, and she has an excellent collection of fabrics, patterns and notions. 
Got more? Let me know in the comments below. I'd love to add to my list of New York City-area quilt shops!

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Four Windmills, 55 Years

Ever since moving to Southern California 30 years ago, I have marveled at the region's windmills, especially the miles of them between my Los Angeles home, and the "Road to California" quilt show in Ontario, CA, that I visit annually. They look like this:

Sometimes they spin in unison, sometimes out of sync, but they always make me happy, a majestic miracle of alternative energy. 
In February, when I was playing with a raw-edge fabric-covered-with-tulle technique to make Valentines, I thought of those windmills and decided to make some. I pulled all the pieces from my batik scrap bag.
The highest scrap was a failed experiment with stamping circles of gold paint on fabric. (below, left). The planet on the far right is a different piece of batik. 

For the centers, I used decorative buttons, because, why not?

A friend saw this on my Facebook page, and bought it for a friend of hers who works in alternative energy. I was thrilled, but sad, because now, I thought I didn't have a windmill quilt!

So I made another one. This has fewer windmills, and instead of buttons, I sewed hex nuts to the centers. 
Then it occurred to me that hex nuts are probably the last thing you want holding rotating blades, because they will unwind eventually, right? But I didn't want to take those nuts off, because they're so darn cute! 

And it wasn't until after I'd finished the piece, that I remembered I'd made windmill-themed fiber art more than 50 years ago. This thing has been lying on a bureau in my bedroom for so long that I almost never notice or think about it.  (Note what's happening in the upper right corner when I tried to photograph it.) 

It's felt and embroidery thread, made from a kit, probably in the 60s, when I was in elementary school. I cut the pre-marked shapes out of the felt, and followed the stitching directions, which included zigzagging leaf veins, and square stitches for the windmill blades. It's clever and adorable, and none of this was my idea -- I just followed  directions, which is how so many of us begin our fiber art adventures!

After I finished it, it followed me around. I found it in a box and laid it out in my bedroom a couple of decades ago.  

So after making the quiltets above, I noticed it again, with new eyes, and decided to take its picture. My grandcat loves when I get laser-focused on taking a decent photo, and as you can see in the upper right of the photo above, and below, she wants to help. Here's where she wound up, sitting-in for quite a while, until I finally tricked her into leaving.

So not only is this piece worn by age, sun, and never having been washed, but now it's also embedded with cat fur.

And now, I thought, I own TWO windmill fiber art pieces. But wait, there's more! Writing this blog post I remembered I had  another windmill, in my quilt "Nonsense Town," which is only about year old.

It's in the top row, center. 

It's sort of a cross between the Dutch technology in my Sixties sampler, and the sleek newfangled California model. Newsflash: This windmill, on this quilt, is now a puzzle on The Quilt Show, because of my recent episode! Find the puzzle here

So now, if any one happens to ask me, "What is the recurring lifelong theme of your quilts?" instead of answering, "Um, I'm not sure," I  have a concrete answer: "Windmills!"

Was a sampler your first fiber art? Do you still have it? Have you taken its picture?

For more about the relaxing confetti-raw edge applique technique, go to

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Hark! I Hear a Baby Boom! Be Prepared!

(Below, a brand-new human on a recently finished quilt. Eyes are covered to protect anonymity.) 

Is romance in the air? For whatever reason, in my world, babies are a-poppin! Fortunately, I am prepared! Here's my neonatal kit: An oversized shoebox full of maybe 200 4" squares, some of them sewn into 9-patch blocks.

Unpacked, below, you'll find stacks of squares, many tourniqueted with torn white fabric strips, and the category name scribbled in pencil on torn-paper labels, in handwriting so terrible (mine) that I can barely read them. 

In the photo above, the categories, starting on the top row left and going across, I discern piles of:

  • Transportation; Ocean; Nature. 
  • Middle row: Music; People; Creatures
  • Bottom row: Science; Sports & Games; Food (that's garlic on top).

Not shown: Places; Black-and-White Prints; Rainbow Geometrics; Sky-Aerial Transportation-Flying Bugs (one category!) and the biggest pile of all, the sublimely descriptive "Stuff".

I periodically cut these squares from my novelty fabric stash, and then, when I hear rumors of a human emerging shortly, I sort the squares thematically into 9-patches, and organize those blocks into quilt tops. Here's the front the quilt upon which the baby above is laying.

Below is the back. 

The strips for the back didn't come from the shoebox; it came from a larger, more densely packed container (a pastel blue suitcase, circa 1965 -- no wheels!), which features scraps not only inside it, but also upon it, and surrounding it for a radius of several feet. 

(Especially when the cat tunnels into it, clawing out heaps to create a cave.)

(Below, the video evidence).


Next, a closer look at the back. It was wonderful to revisit scraps I hadn't seen in years. It was like greeting old friends! (I thoroughly washed this quilt after finishing it, to get out the kitty cooties.)

Below are some of the front's nine-patches. In the middle are science-related fabrics. 

Next, below, on the upper right are nine sky-themed fabrics (and you can see why bugs and transportation are part of the aeronautical category, along with UFO's and eagles.) 

(The hand is in a black-and-white border, and a "cats" nine-patch starts on bottom.)

Next, a meeting of two different nine-patches: Random Creatures on top, Places on bottom (the latter includes houses, a carnival, a map of Southeast Asia, and a Manhattan subway map). Black-and-white border squares are on the right. 

This one's People, real (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and imagined.
Below is the Food unit (lower right). Stuff squares are above it (pencils, erasers, computers, stamps, crayons, cellphones, laundry.) 
And this is the cat block. On bottom is more Stuff, including....
...directly above, a Featherweight sewing machine! Was I happy when I found that fabric!

This "random animals" nine-patch has one of my favorite fabrics, anteaters on pink.  Also note Elvis, top row center.

And sew forth! Keep in mind that it took me 30 years of minimal-impulse control to accrue this encyclopedic collection. 

If you're hanging around people capable of surprising themselves and you with a baby, you might want to get a head start now by cutting squares. I promise you'll have a lot of fun, laugh, and best of all, you will, as the Boy Scouts say, Be Prepared! 

For more photos of my baby quilts, click on the term in the word cloud on the right. I hope you will consider signing up for my occasional newsletter, a

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Thready Scrap Basket, or Scrappy Thread Basket, or Baskety Thread Scraps (A Tutorial)

Let's give scrap baskets a double meaning! Made from scraps, especially thread scraps, this basket is also a good place to throw them! It's about 4.5" high and 3.5" across. I used silk, so it's extra fancy, but you can use any fabric and threads you like. 


 One end overlaps the other. Three metallic buttons seal the flap, and I put more buttons below the top edge. The view shifts as you turn it...

Contents include:

-- An old freemotion quilting practice sandwich, 

--  Long scrap fabric strips, as background,

-- Ravelled threads on top. Most are threads that have peeled off my silk dupioni collection; there are also strands of a thick gold thread that will never go through my machine. Any decorative thread scraps will work. And,

-- Vintage metal buttons.

I didn't take photos while making the basket above, but here's a tutorial with a dramatic recreation (but different colors).

I started by cutting an old quilting practice sandwich to around 11" x 4.5". Below, the  blue square on the right was a tension test with flannel. Since that patch is not thick (and it's covered with stitches), I just left it there. On this side, the white fabric doesn't reach all the way down to the bottom edge of shape, but that's okay; this entire side, including the batting along the bottom, is about to be completely covered.

The reverse side does have fabric reaching to all edges. That means I can decide later if I want to leave this interesting side showing on my final piece, or cover it with another piece of fabric so neither the old nor new stitching can be seen on back.

I covered the front with long, rough-cut silk scraps, each a couple of inches high, overlapping their long edges by at least a half-inch.

I drizzled that with  clots of unravelled dupioni, and other decorative threads, plus small scraps and strips. 
Keep adding. Pretend you are Jackson Pollack.
Too much is never enough (imho.)
Once you're happy with it, cover it with a layer of tulle.  If you're lucky enough to own tulle in several different colors, audition them all -- they have unexpected and subtly different effects! Here, I decided I liked the black tulle best.
Carefully pin the tulle in place, all the way around the edges of the practice sandwich underneath (it's hard to see the pins, but there's the yellow head of a flower on the lower right).  

Do a rough trim of the excess tulle. (I used my rotary cutter, above). Bring it to your machine and quilt as desired! I used my walking foot, and a shiny rayon variegated thread, to quilt wavy echoing lines. 

Alternatively, you could use a freemotion quilting foot and do more elaborate designs! 
At each end, I turned the corner, turned again, and used the walking foot's edge to echo the previous line.
When it was done it still looked pretty messy.
Time to trim all the edges even with the backing practice sandwich. 

My ruler helped me cut an even rectangle.

To finish the edges, I did a corded edging all the way around. This involves zigzagging a thick dark blue embroidery thread (6 strands) all the way around. I used a medium-loose, very wide zigzag, with dark blue thread in top and bottom. 

Here's a short video of the process....

At corners, stop with your needle outside of the corner, and turn. 

All done! 
A better view of the edging (left)

Next I cut a circle of Peltex Ultrafirm interfacing, with one fusible sided. I fused silk to one side, and sewed another fabric circle to the reverse side. This gave me the base. 

(The flowery outside is former pants). I hand-stitched the lower edge of the embellished panel around the round base. 

Here's the view looking straight in. 
There's so much more that you can do with this idea! You could fold it into a little case for your earbuds.
In 2018, I used it to make a whole lot of  heart brooches. Find a tutorial at the end of this post.

And I made schools of fish and other ocean creatures (my tutorial is here.
My fish pattern book is on etsy, here.)

As you can see, this technique is adaptable and  addictive! Find the Create Whimsy article that triggered this round of objets, here

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