Starting a New Project: Process

Someone asked me to explain my process for choosing fabrics for a new project, so I thought I’d document my process here. Maybe it will cement it in my own mind : )

This new project is an offshoot of the sketch that I drew for my quilt kit. I liked the way the drawing looked, and I started thinking about making the double wedding ring with a single pattern piece, instead of using the two inch blocks for the pattern. In talking it over with my friend, she suggested the idea of doing the kantha stitching in the pattern (I keep saying pattern because that piece is not an oval, and I don’t want to call it a football!)

Right now only about half of my stash is in the studio, and only about a tenth of it is readily visible. And yet, I found inspiration in those few pieces! I started out with these two pieces that I had bought recently. I do love the color and the patterns on these.


And then I started trying to find fabrics that would go with them. I was looking for a “color wash” effect. Nope, one’s too bright, and one’s too dark. That pale one might work, and for sure I like the gray/blue paisley.


My solid fabrics were in the house, so I tried those next. Nope, too solid. I wanted patterned fabric. But not TOO patterned : )


Trying more solids. Nope. Give it up. You’re going to have to take a trip out to the storage shed.


Oh, but before I go out there, I auditioned the contrast colors that I had spied in the studio–oh yeah, those are going to work great!


Trying out more mostly solids in that red/magenta/coral/orange color way. These pieces could be solid colors, because they would have the kantha stitching on them, and I don’t want too much pattern to distract from the stitching.


Alright, out to the storage shed, where I picked through my blue and red/orange/pink tubs to see what I could find.


I found quite a bit!


And then narrowed my choices down, and laid them out neatly so I could keep walking by and looking at them.


Sometimes I am stubborn, and leave in a fabric that I love, even though it seems to stick out (like that dark bright blue in the middle front.) Sometimes those fabrics surprise you, and they do work. But lots of times I am finally forced to eliminate them.

And that’s how I choose the fabrics for a project. Most of the time I do not use all the fabrics that I have chosen, and most of the time I need to go to my stash for another color or pattern. Many times this is the fabric that I need to make the quilt “pop.”

Choosing the fabrics is probably my favorite part of the process.


Homemade Quilt Kit!

Have I talked about this before? I really like pre-cutting all the pieces for a quilt and making my own little “quilt kit.” The first time I did this was before I had my carpal tunnel surgery. I knew I was going to want to sew, and I figured if the pieces were already pre-cut, I could probably manage to sew them together. It worked great! Here is a link to all the work I have done with my “zig zag double wedding ring.” I really love sewing the squares on this way.

I had been thinking about doing another of these double wedding ring quilts, and then I bought a charm pack. They are a nice way to start the collection for a quilt. Then of course you have to go through your stash to try to find enough fabrics that will go with that charm pack. I thought I would try making the backgrounds deeper colors of the pastels that were in the charm pack. And then I had the idea to add a big print to the quilt. So I decided I’d better check it out before I cut out all those little squares. Here’s the drawing I did. I liked it!


So the next day I got busy cutting out little squares and big squares. Before I cut all of them out, I did do a test block to make sure I had the right amount of little squares to make each oval.


And here is my quilt kit, all ready to go. It was the perfect thing to have on hand as there was more renovation going on this past week. I didn’t have a lot of time to sew and no time to think, so in my spare minutes I could just go out and zig zag a few little squares to one block.


The Studio, Decorated, and as Clean as Its Gonna Get

For the first time, I have enough room to host my little group of sewing ladies! We meet together once a month to sew and chat. With the living room renovation, and the studio added on, there is enough room for all of us to fit into my house and have room to sew.

I decorated the walls last week:

The wall by the sewing machine. The empty frame is a bulletin board for inspirational thoughts or pics.


The wall by my comfy chair:


And one of my favorite quilts, by the back door:


And this afternoon, I put most of the stuff away (SO GLAD I have a closet in this room!) So this is as clean as this room is probably going to get. All ready for the good times tomorrow!


Oh, and this morning I put together my “big board” ironing board. So excited to have this. I have a little pull-out ironing board that I use for piecing, but this will be great to use when I am making my quilt sandwich, or just needing to iron larger pieces of fabric. You can see that I made it to fit on top of the little desk, so the desk can do double duty as a cutting and design table or an ironing board.


My contractor was nice enough to pick up some plywood and cut it to fit. I made it only about 1 inch bigger around than the desk. Its 3/8″ plywood, so it is not too heavy or awkward to carry. I covered it with 4 layers of batting and stapled those in place, and then I laid it on the top layer of cotton fabric, and stapled that in place.

I am so blessed to have this new room that is dedicated to my art. It is a peaceful place to work.

What Happened Next

This post could be subtitled “The Extreme Value of Having a Mentor.” I have spoken frequently of my love for the work of Marianne Burr. I have mentioned occasionally that she has been a real mentor to me. 

After my last post, here is what happened next. Marianne Burr sent me an email offering her ideas to fix the little quilt, but only if I wanted it. Did I want her help??? What followed were a series of emails that ended with me actually cutting off a bit from two sides of the quilt to take the cross out of the very center of the quilt. And I added a second “circle” of hand-stitching to echo the one circle. I used a contrasting fabric for the binding. There are some other ideas that Marianne (and also Loretta, in the comments) added, and I might eventually add even more to this little quilt, but with Marianne’s encouragement, I did as much as I could before the deadline, and then actually entered it in that competition. I have no illusions that it will win, but the whole process of continuing on, re-evaluating, and refining a piece of work was extremely valuable for me.

Here is the quilt, with the changes made:


And a close-up:


Do you have a mentor?



Yesterday I made myself sit down and finish the straight-line quilting on the new quilt (that I talked about yesterday.) Sure enough, I was right. I don’t like it. Its not very interesting. I won’t be entering it in the contest. I was so discouraged. I started that bad thinking–“what are you doing? what made you think you were an artist? what’s the use?”



I left it on the design wall and headed out to the gym, not knowing whether I’d ever quilt again (haha, drama queen.) I had to stop at the post office and pick up a couple of quilts that had been returned from a small gallery showing. I opened the box and looked at them. Ahhh, a glimmer of hope. I LIKED these quilts!

Of course I felt better after my workout. Still, I might never make another worthy quilt…

When I got home, I decided to put the two little quilts on the design wall to enjoy them for a bit. And then I had the idea to put some more quilts up there. I cleared all the works-in-progress off the wall, and put up my own little quilt show. Wow, look at all those quilts I’ve made THAT I LIKE. And that quilt you don’t like–it isn’t such a bad little quilt. It just needs a little help (like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.)


I’ll be back in the studio today, just sewing a couple of pieces of fabric together…

The Value of Journals

I am a journaler. I’ve got the journal collection to prove it. Mostly they are journals of my spiritual life, with some daily rubbish musings thrown in for good measure. When I started quilting, I started doodling designs. And when I started the housetop quilt series, where I combined God’s word with my quilts, my journals overlapped. I take my daily spiritual journal to church to take sermon notes, and more often than not, there is a quilt idea in there–a verse or a new theme I can explore, or a beginning doodle design. Sometimes I have the start of an idea already in there, and it gets filled out while I listen to the sermon. Sometimes I go to a quilt seminar, and I have another journal or notebook with me, and a new idea gets started in there. That’s the trouble. I have a lot of journals. More than one going at one time. And they all have ideas in them. Oh well. As long as I can find them when inspiration hits, I guess that’s what counts.

So here’s an idea progression. I actually had to find three journals to see the evolution of this idea that I wanted to share with you.

Remember the little 7X10 quilt I did in January? I liked that quilt. So I played around with different ways to include a cross and a circle in the same quilt.


Then, when I was at the Ricky Tims’ Quilt Seminar, I was doodling. I had done this once before, and I really liked it. The idea was to stitch different sized squares and make a feather that would just fit within the confines of that square. I was having so much fun drawing these little feathers that it was very hard for me to make the decision to put the cross-hatch designs into the drawing. Once I did, I loved it.


Then I was at a conference called Intersection of Faith and Art. Again, a lot of lectures, so I had ANOTHER journal with me. And I drew the design with the circle behind it. I liked it!


And then I noticed that there was a contest online. I could do this design on this hand-dyed fabric. Lovely. I’ve been working very steadily on this quilt (its 26X32.) I’m about 3/4 done, and now I don’t like it. The contest deadline looms. If there wasn’t a deadline, I would take a break and think about what needed to be done to make it better. So now I have to decide whether to abandon the contest, or to finish it as is, and enter.


Either way, I do need to finish the quilting that I have started. Yesterday I took a break from it. I did not make one stitch on it. But today I will get back to it. Who knows? Maybe when its finished I will like it again.


I did it! I made it a goal to add my two new quilts to Etsy. The first one took forever, and was rather painful. The second one was a snap.

These two quilts were so fun to do, and really got me back on track, working consistently in the studio. Unlike what I do many times (finish a top and then put it away to “think” about it) I decided I needed to quilt these, finish the edges, AND put the words on them. In other words, COMPLETE them! What a blast. And then as I was completing them, I thought, why not challenge myself to list them on Etsy, as this seems to have been built up into a near paranoia in my mind.

Done, and done! Wow, that feels good.

The Eyes of the Lord:






And, in The Signature of Jesus series (because a cross appeared in my ‘improvisational’ work):





You can see them in my Etsy shop by clicking here.

Back at it!

Saturday I felt good enough (caught a cold at the end of my trip) to try to get back in the swing of spending a day in the studio. I was having trouble starting work again in my brand new space–you know, the inevitable messiness of a new project.

So I started out small, with an orphan block and a few solids I had left on the table before I left on my trip (remember, I made a little travel quilt to take with me.) And pretty soon I came up with this little composition that I really liked.


There were still some bright solid scraps left on the table, and I was feeling pretty good about my accomplishment, so I thought I’d go ahead and make one more little quilt top. I went into my bin of solids to add a few colors, and pretty soon I noticed that I was choosing much quieter, more subdued colors. So I decided to just go with that. I wanted to make some smaller pieces. I made four, and then found a bit of a pale print to frame them, and I thought I was done.


But the longer I looked at it, I realized it needed a little something more. So the next day I just took the scraps of the same colors and started adding them onto the sides.


I really liked this composition too! So much so that I decided I needed to go ahead and quilt it today.


(close-up of the quilting)



And best of all? Look–my sewing table is still clear, waiting for the next project!



Maybe with the additional space I’ll actually be able to start a new habit of putting things away when I’m done with them. Well, I can dream, can’t I?

P.S. Here is a shot of the design wall in place. That dark piece is one of Ricky Tims’ hand-dyes. I have it up there auditioning for a big project I have in mind.




Working on the Studio

When I returned home from this long trip, my living room was completed! That meant that I could start moving some of the stored furniture out of the studio, and start to see the studio as a real studio, not a furniture warehouse and substitute living room! Its taken a few days, but I’ve got the bare bones worked out. Decorating will come later. I’ve got a few of my small quilts and other pieces of art put aside to use in the studio.

This picture shows the design wall. I took it off of my bedroom wall, and the covering (some type of fleece/flannel stuff that I got at Walmart) looked a little dingy. And it had gotten a little stretched out of shape from the removal process. So I decided to take that fabric off and try washing it. It came out great. I am hoping to get the design wall actually put up today. Its an awkward job, but I think I’ve got a plan! It will be a 7 foot by 8 foot design wall. My track lighting will go where that bare lightbulb is, and I am hoping that it will be useful in trying to get good photographs of my quilts.

You can also see the arrangement of working furniture in this picture. Of course my sewing table is under the window. And the work surface/cutting table/desk is right there in the middle. But the smaller piece of furniture that is a little taller than the desk is a really useful piece that I bought at a quilt show a few years ago. It is a light table, that has a small ironing board that pulls out (that I use ALL THE TIME,) and it also has 4 drawers that house my regular thread collection. I am thrilled that it fits in this position. It means that I will be able to easily iron small pieces and seams as I am working at my sewing machine.


Here it is with the little ironing board pulled out (needs to be recovered!)


 The sewing table, already a little cluttered, as I attempt to get back in the swing of things. And next to it is my grandpa’s cupboard that will house most of my stash. I wanted to get something to set it on, but am having trouble finding something with just the right dimensions. So for now it sits empty on a piece of cardboard. I won’t fill it with fabric before I find its final resting place!



And a view of my hand sewing corner with my comfy chair, the doggie bed nearby, and the former CD cabinet that will be great for storing all those small bits and pieces that we quilters end up with (I believe they are called notions in the stores…)


The next time I write, I hope I will be reporting on a correctly installed design wall and a new bit of creative work!