Friday, September 15, 2023

First, Manhattan, Now the World, in Scrappy Quilts

Did you ever want to make a city quilt, but weren't sure where to start (pun intended)? I once trod in your shoes — but now I can help! 

Hot off the press, five years in the making, here's my new 96-page book, 'Scrap Cities: Joyful Modern Architecture-Inspired Quilts.' 

Cities are fascinating in a billion ways, and a quilter could spend a lifetime making city-themed quilts — which I feel like I just did (In fact it's only been about five years).

'Quilted New York,' the book before this one, took me a year bent over a smoldering keyboard, plus before that, happily shlepping around Manhattan, photographing every building (sidewalk, wall, bus, etc.) that struck my fancy. I had a blast, but drove my family, computer and left knee, nuts. What I got from it: meniscus surgery ($ thousands), a new computer drive ($ hundreds), and the following book: 

'Quilted New York, Celebrate the City with Fabric and Color,' was published  in December 2022. It's a love letter (with an occasional 'what the heck?' but a stronger word) to the city where I was born, and which gave my parents a shot at the American dream. 

While working on it, I collected material that applies to ANY city — and I sewed quilted cityscapes of Chicago, Los Angeles, and multiple fantasy locations. (Here's Chicago, for example.)

So, naturally, after finishing the New York book, I wondered, could I turn my mountain of leftover ideas, photos and projects into an any-city book? 

The task seemed infinite...I plodded...I experimented...the days rolled by (water flowing underground)...until a few weeks ago, when I realized it might be done. (The last building I added was this:

...based on this photo my friend Gail Solomon just took while travelling in Holland.)

What the two books have in common: A method for pressing raw edges to the back during piecing, instead of afterwards. This makes fabric buildings strong; when you finish piecing them, their trickiest edges are already neatly turned, you can easily and quickly appliqué them anywhere you want -- especially overlapping OTHER buildings, to replicate the magnificent clutter of big cities.

What's the difference between the two books?

'Scrap Cities' has instructions for 25+ buildings. Some are inspired by real buildings; some are pure fantasy. 'Quilted New York' has instructions for 11 structures, all inspired by real NYC buildings. 

-  There are NO quilt patterns in 'Scrap Cities,' although there are many examples and suggestions. You decide which buildings and how many to make. The book helps you brainstorm ideas and arrangements, to create anything from a 1-building pillow to a 3-building wallhanging, to a 12+ buildings bed quilt. 'Quilted New York' has two different quilt patterns for quilts about 60" square or larger.
- 'Quilted New York' encourages you to improvise, within limits. 'Scrap Cities' goes much further. It shows you how to use the book's patterns and ideas as a launching point to design and create your own buildings, whether inspired by a real one, pure fantasy, or a hybrid! There are sections on windows, roofs, stairs; curved buildings, triangle-based buildings, etc. This beach house-themed quilt is in the "stairs" section:
'Scrap Cities' is unique in that it offers a variety of fun ways to create artist's perspective, using strategic cutting of geometric fabrics; and/or value choices; or literally adding a side-view onto a forward-facing building, to give it a  3-D 'wow' factor.

'Scrap Cities' also offers ways to incorporate fun novelty fabrics, for a baby or child's quilt, and/or for an eco-cities quilt; plant flowers, vegetables, chickens, your cat, etc., on balconies and rooftops! Below is a lush rooftop garden of Kaffe Fassett kale, serenaded by a violin-playing angel. It grows on a pieced zigzag plaid building that's a takeoff from real buildings shown in the book. The treehouse trunk is made with fusible raw edge applique, but the cabins are all turned-edge, and appear dimensional thanks to a simplified attic windows trick explained in 'Scrap Cities.' 

(On the lower left, riding the cable car are...The Beatles!) 
“Modern” in 'Scrap Cities' subtitle ('Joyful Modern Architecture-Inspired Quilts') has two meanings—the modern quilt movement, with strong graphics and simplification; and modern/contemporary architecture. 'Scrap Cities' projects take inspiration not only from what's formally called "modern" architecture, but also from elaborate Art Deco structures, turgid grey Brutalism, "postmodern" whimsy, and more! In the last category, here's Frank Gehry's 8 Spruce Street Tower in lower Manhattan, with  inexplicable yet charming stainless steel ripples.

And here's my version, made with an improv curves technique. (This could also serve as a river.)

Where to learn more about either of these books?
'Scrap Cities' in digital (PDF) form is in my etsy shop, here. Find the paperback in brick-and-mortar and online quilt and book shops, or in my etsy shop, here

'Quilted New York', (84 pages), is sold in paperback and digital form. In digital (PDF)  it's here. In paperback, buy it from quilt or bookstores, or directly from my etsy shop here 

Interested in both? A digital bundle to purchase both, with $10 off the total price, is here

See more of my cityscape quilts on my website, here. And everything else in my etsy shop is at 

Now that 'Scrap Cities' is finished, is another cityscape book in the making? I'm torn. I still have a few leftover patterns for Los Angeles buildings....

Which cities would you like to make in fabric?

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The Eggs Came First: Rubber Stamping a Quilted Chicken "Thank You"

A weird thing I've discovered living just ten miles from downtown LA is that loads of people keep backyard chickens! If you drive through some neighborhoods early in the morning, you can hear the cock-a-doodle doo's! 

The urban farmers include one of my DH's colleagues; he and his wife regularly gift us with a dozen beautiful eggs, in assorted sizes and colors. I truly never knew a plain old unseasoned egg could taste so good. 

This is my thank you gift to them. The message is one they included in a note that came with one of their kind deliveries. They adapted it from milk commercials. It reads, "Happy Chickens Lay Great Eggs." 

I rubber stamped the words onto vintage bias ribbon. Rubber stamping is incredibly easy to mess up, so it's a good idea to stamp out duplicates, just in case. Here's how they looked right after stamping. 
Both versions came out okay, except "chickens" in the third strip down has a shadowed "I", so I didn't use that one. To prevent ravelling at the ribbon ends, I dripped a bit of 'Fray Check' on each. Once it dried, I hand-sewed them in position with thin thread and a running stitch.
I also did a little hand-quilting with perle cotton, wending my way through the raw eggs (above) and the fried ones (below).

The chickadee on the right is from a vintage border fabric that I suspect is from the 1960s or 70s.

I used the ink pad below, "Crafter's Acid-Free Pigment Option Pad," by Color Box. In theory, after heat setting, it should be permanent. 
I've had the pad for  years; and I keep it stored in a sealed plastic bag - so most of the colors still stamp out quite well. (Can you buy the same thing today? I searched but couldn't find this particular configuration online - but I did find very similar pigment stamp pads from Color Box, one of them with the eight colors arranged like a flower.)

For the letters, I used these tiny, quarter-inch, adorable stamps. 
(I accidentally stamped the wrong end of the "E" into the pad, and it may never recover.) The brand is Studio G, and they still make these! 

The green chicken is from a fabulous African fabric gifted to me by my friend Alexandria (Thank you!) The back of the piece shows what it looked like before I surrounded it with eggs! 
So which came first, the chicken or the eggs? In life, the eggs came to us first, but in this wallhanging, I started with the chicken in the center, so I'd say the question is still up in the air!

Sunday, April 2, 2023

From Apple Core Template to English Paper Pieced Bridal Vase

I'm been playing around with turning flat quilting templates into 3-D constructions. Here's one of my new experiments

It's 8" tall. I think it's a spinal column vase, and it started with a 2.5" template acquired years ago. 

Longtime quilters recognize this as a classic apple core shape. Google "apple core quilts" you'll find books, patterns and kits to make scrappy quilts with hundreds of pieces this shape. Especially "charm" quilts, with a different fabric for each piece.

The results are definitely charming - but never charming enough for me to want to make one. Because of the curves, you have to do a lot of scary clipping on inside seams, and precision sewing.  

But the novelty factor drew me to that template a couple of weeks ago. The great thing about making small projects like vases (as opposed to quilts), is that you only need to make a few of the same shape, rather than hundreds! 

I start by cutting out the shapes from an old cardboard mailer. I taped pieces together, and played. Here are two  candidate formations: 

I still wasn't sure where I was going when I started making fabric versions. I pulled gorgeous prints from Michelle Freedman"Fire and Ice" collection from Maywood Studios. (Michelle is a fantastic designer; find her quilt patterns at

I cut 12 apple core shapes out of stiff interfacing with fusible on one side. I cut an oversized apple core shape out of the featured fabric.  I placed it face up on the non-fusible side of each interfacing shape. Then  I wrapped the seam allowances around  to the back, and fused them in place there. This required a whole lot of scary clipping at each piece's waist line.

On the reverse side, I essentially needle-turn appliqued the "lining", to cover the raw edges that came over from the featured side. Again, abundant clipping.

I made six with Michelle's fabric on the featured side; plus 6 more pieces with a dark purple batik.

(In my polyhedron-making book at the bottom of this post,  I make all sorts of bowls and brooches, and more this way; but all those shapes have nice straight sides - hexagons, octagons pentagons, etc. - no clipping required.) 

I experimentally sewed the pieces together with embroidery floss and large stitches, doing what English Paper Piecers call the "flat back stitch." I figured I could  go over it later to replace the big stitches with smaller ones. (Spoiler alert: that's not going to happen until this thing falls apart!)

The cardboard model showed me that I needed the base to be flat; otherwise the vase would rock! So I cut the four pieces on the bottom row (in the photo above) in a straight line before covering them with fabric. 

I brought the last edges together, and here we are. It not only reminded me of spinal column, but a curvy a corset...of a bridal gown...bridal buttons leapt to mind, so I sewed small vintage shank buttons down one edge.

You can't see them from the back. 

This is all trial and error! Before I hit on the vase, I strongly considered a bracelet. Flat, it would look like this: 

Which also reminds me of a spine. And in a circle, minus one piece, you'd wind up with this cuff (Imagine it without the binder clips. Although if I could find sterling silver binder clips, they could be a feature!) 

If you're interested in learning my technique for covering (much easier, straight-line) interfacing shapes and using them to make interesting containers of all sorts, check out my newly updated book, "Stitch-a-hedron; English Paper Pieced Polyhedron Gifts and Accessories to Sew," available as a digital pattern in my etsy shop, here, and also soon on Connecting Threads! 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Quilty House Portrait: A Labor of Love

I've made a lot of cityscape quilts, and I always have a blast doing them. Here's one, "Nonsense Town." 

And here's a closeup of some of the buildings. Let's look at that orange one. 

With a single plaid, I suggested zillions of windows. The other buildings, similarly, have relatively few pieces representing hundreds of windows.

Below is an even simpler example, a potential skyscraper made from two print fabrics. It would take 4 minutes to cut out and sew together. The darker perspective side gives it a nice dimensionality. Modern skyscrapers require so little time to represent so much living/office space.

And here's a 14" pillow I just finished for a dear friend, who I've known since 2nd grade, portraying her charming childhood  home. This took freaking months.

We started with some old photos, including this one: 
Online, we found more photos, though none with a good head-on view....
She also sent me a lovely sketch that a friend had made 40 years ago. Unfortunately for me, the artist  opted for geographically-accurate foliage in some of the trickier areas, perspective-wise, so it didn't give me a lot of guidance.
I came up with my first draft of a pattern by tracing the dark, ancient photo, with her standing in front. (The disruptive lines are the tree.)

I wanted to include her, but she nixed that. So, after several drafts from several angles, here's the simplified drawing : 
(I moved the tree. It ended up disappearing completely.)

The tracing and drawing was done in my graphic design program, CorelDraw (but you could do this all on paper). Then I upsized it to about 14", which required four sheets of letter-size paper. I taped them together, taped the whole thing to a window, and started tracing pattern pieces. 
I traced every element of the house onto a new piece of paper. I cut them out, flipped them to the back, and traced them onto the back of paper-backed fusible web.  Here are just a few.
We also had to work out the colors. Since computer color is unreliable, I sent her to the hardware store to look at paint swatch cards. She sent me 8 of them, with notes. 
From those I picked a palette. Most are solids, but there's a faux red brick novelty fabric, and the plaid on the bottom represented the grid under the porch. I chose pieces a little darker because I knew the house would need contrast for its many different sections to show. 

My friend had some more specific requests. She wanted a Dutchman's Pipe on the porch, and since I had no idea what that was, she sent me photos.

Layer by layer, I traced each piece, cut it out, and pressed it in place, on top of an applique press sheet. When everything was just barely fused in place, it was time to choose a background. I set the house on a couple of different candidate skies and took photos to send her. This one's dramatic...
But perhaps a little bleak; good for a Wuthering Heights pillow. 

I liked this one, but the batik didn't really go with the flat house colors: 
I liked this rainbow/unicorn sky, and my friend is a very colorful person. 
And more. The one she selected was also my favorite, with puffy white clouds. I think it gives the house a dreamlike quality, appropriate for a nostalgic memory project. 
After fusing the house onto the large sky square, I stitched everything in place, using a machine satin stitch, or, for the tiniest pieces, straight stitch (like the dark strips of the porch railing). 

The windows needed panes - I hand-embroidered those with white pearl cotton, using a backstitch.  I also hand embroidered the heart motif in the top red triangle, and the other red trim areas.  
I called my friend to find out what color her doorknob was and what side of the door it was on. For that, I used a vintage metal shank button.  She also mentioned the mailslot on the door, which I hadn't seen in any photos, so that was a last minute addition.
And she requested a lilac bush on the left. 
The lilac blooms and bush were cut with pinking shears, fused in place, and then freemotion stitched. I chose a fantasy aqua color because a more botanically-accurate dark green was in the house on that side.

So speaking of fabrics, how many separate cut, fused and stitched pieces would you guess went into this house? I'm counting around 70, not including the background sky. 

(There's one more fabric on the pillow's back, a different sky, because I ran out of the puffy cloud fabric on front. The  pieces are overlapped, with hook-and-loop tape holding them in place.)
This project was a labor of love. It made my dear friend very happy, which was the point. I learned a lot that will be very useful. But it does leave me with a burning question for you and me: If a client (who was not a lifelong friend) wanted a 14" pillow with a portrait of their gorgeous, detailed, gingerbread-style home, how much would you charge? 

Interested in portraying much more real estate, much faster?  Check out my new book, "Quilted New York; Celebrate the City in Color and Fabric," at