Feeds:
Posts
Comments
ThreadDrawerDividers

Thread in wall-mounted drawer dividers. No, this isn’t all of it.

To buy or not to buy…
To keep or not to keep…
To use or not to use…

These are pretty existential questions to apply to my humble thread stash, but this is what’s on my mind this week.

To buy or not to buy: yes, by all means, buy. But also choose carefully. I don’t have a huge thread stash, but it’s filled with quality threads. I’m partial to Aurifil, Superior, and Isacord, but there are other brands that I like and that work well. I also buy cones of threads I use all of the time, like Aurifil cotton 50wt in black and an incredibly useful neutral khaki #2370.

To keep or not to keep: keep the thread that’s good quality and not so old that it breaks easily. Don’t give away colors just because you don’t think you’ll use them. You’ll want them when you least expect it. I’ll admit that I have a haphazardly curated collection of old thread from my mom and my sister that I will never use. It may be time to purge that.

To use or not to use: the answer is “use.” Why do we buy yummy hand dyed and variegated threads and then save them for something special?! Your work is special! Use the thread; they’ll make more. Do you need to justify using your “good” thread? Here’s how: if you don’t use your thread, it will eventually age out of its usefulness and then you’ve paid for decorations rather than useful spools of thread.

Based on experience, there are brands I will not buy, will not keep, and will not use. Once a thread proves itself inconsistent, fragile, excessively lint-producing, or harmful to my machine, I kick it out of my studio. And I can’t say this forcefully enough: if you bought thread 5 spools for $1, you got exactly what you paid for.  I get that thread can be expensive. Balance that against the time you spend ripping, restitching, rethreading your machine, troubleshooting when your machine rebels, and possible sewing machine repair bills. Finally, thread from a grocery store is meant for emergencies, not for use on your sewing machine. Possible exceptions might be those general stores in rural areas that cater to fabric and sewing needs as well as groceries.

My thread stash is not huge, but it serves me well. I tend to buy thread for specific projects and I keep threads that are given to me regardless of the color as long as they are new enough to be in good shape. I store much of it in clear boxes, sealing out the dust. In a perfect world, your thread should be protected from dust and from direct sun. Do the best you can. And please, please, have fun using your thread.

In the interest of full disclosure, these pictures represent only some of the thread in my studio. I also have more in my storage room (aka The Black Hole of Quilting Supplies), but there’s no way I’m showing you that! So, you may use your imagination. ContainersOnShelf

checkmarkAll of the planning and all of the lists in the world will not actually get the work done. Writing won’t make it so. To obtain the almighty checkmark, you have to DO the work. That sounds so easy, but what if your body and mind are rebels, refusing to keep your butt in the chair or wandering off in search of more interesting pursuits?

This may be the most important thought I can offer you on productivity, so pay close attention. You will be more productive if you are working on the kind of activity that your mind and body want to do.

  • If you are sitting at the computer and feeling really antsy, then look at your list and find something you need to do that will keep you physically moving.
  • If you’re washing fabric or cutting kits and you are really……really…..tired, stop. Go find something ON YOUR LIST that is less physically active and do that.

In both cases, you’ll accomplish something on your list, but you won’t struggle against what your body and mind actually want to do. (Unless you really just want to sit down with a book and eat cookies. In that case, give yourself a 15-minute break and then get back to work.)

Deadlines are the obvious exceptions to this approach to productivity. If you have a hard deadline, then you are obligated to do specific things to meet that deadline. Unless…you chose that deadline. If the deadline was arbitrary, designed to give yourself milestone accomplishments, then you have the power to change it.

PinkPaperPiecingThis quiltlet is a mostly-done sample for a new class I’m rolling out on paper foundation piecing at the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo in Cleveland. (Yes, I’m working in pink. Get over it. And don’t expect any more of it.)  It’s pieced, it’s sandwiched, and the ditchwork is done. I have planned most of the freemotion quilting designs I’ll do, but I know the quilting will be better if I wait until this afternoon, when I often want to work on the sewing machine. This morning, I’m all about the keyboard.

So, what do you feel like doing today? Can you afford to put off other tasks and do what you feel like doing? Is what you feel like doing on your list? Then stop reading my post and get to work! I wish you a productive day!

OrgTools

These are some of the tools I use to organize and prioritize my tasks.

Let me start by saying I’m a list girl. I have lists for personal and household stuff and I have lists for my professional life. In fact, I’ve broken down the professional tasks into separate lists by topic: shows, teaching, lectures, webwork, business development, development of new lectures and projects (my favorite), and more lists that would bore you silly. The number of things I am juggling can be daunting – in fact, the mass of stuff I have on my lists can be downright paralyzing.

To keep things in perspective and to stay focused (my word for the year), I do three things that keep me sane and help me prioritize:

  • I write down ALL tasks. Tiny and massive, commitments and wannado-projects, I write them all down on the appropriate list. Benefit: Once it’s on paper, I can use that brainspace for other things.
  • I date every task. I include the date for when I added it to the list and if there’s a hard deadline, I add that to the list AND to my calendar. Benefit: Once I see a task that’s been lurking on the list for a while without any action, I either delete it as not important enough to do or I make it a priority to get it done.
  • I create a daily list by pulling the top priority items. I try to create this list at the end of the day when my brain is full of what didn’t get done and what’s looming on the horizon. I sometimes do this in the morning, but it’s overwhelming and counter-productive to sift through the multiple lists early, when I need to set the tone for the day. I start with that didn’t get done the previous day and then take a look at the master lists to see what is next. Benefit: Throughout my work day, I’m looking at that day’s tasks. It’s a manageable list and I don’t lose track of what I must get done.

Once I started making these lists and using them on a daily basis, I realized that I had to learn to say no. There’s this huge pool of what I must do and precious little discretionary time for things that I want to do but haven’t made the list. Recently, I was invited to make a small quilt for a Quilts of Valor fundraising auction to be held at the America Quilts Expo in Des Moines, IA, in May 2016. Do I have time? No. Is it a priority in my business? No. But I’m doing it anyway. I want to do it and I feel it’s right to do it. Something else will have to wait or come off the list entirely. I will shuffle priorities. It’s important to be realistic, but reserve a few “yesses” so that you can do a few things that really feed your soul.

Next week: Productivity through Biorhythms

Some people think that productivity is all about planning. Yes…and no. Planning is vitally important, but it will only get you so far. Sooner or later, you’ll actually have to do the work. As we said in the middle school where I taught: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

 

Red Fabric Ready to Sew into Bags

Planning can save time: I grouped these gift bag fabrics together to avoid changing thread color.

The Road Map
Planning can help you create a road map. Planning can help you determine where you need to go (long range goals) and how you will get there (interim tasks). Planning is safe. Planning is easy. For some of us, planning can scratch that organizational itch, putting all of our tasks and ideas in a nice list where they belong.

 

I use lists when I plan. I have master lists of goals and tasks. To keep from being overwhelmed, I break down big tasks into steps. Every morning, I start with a short list of things that really have to happen that day. In a perfect world, I end the day by assessing what I accomplished and creating the short list for the next day.

BentTreeColorPalette

Not all planning results in a to-do list. This project color palette resulted from careful planning.

I know I need to work on planning when:

  • My work surface is covered with sticky notes and scrap paper covered with mini to-do lists.
  • I’m lost or running in circles. That’s my signal to sit down and plan my day/hour/next ten minutes.
  • I can feel the whoosh of deadlines passing me. Seriously. Being behind and missing deadlines is a signal that I need to plan more effectively. I’m still working on this lesson.

Quicksand
The dark side of planning is like quicksand. We can get so bogged down in planning that we lose track of what we actually have to do. The more we struggle in the planning phase, the harder it seems to get out. Getting stuck in the planning phase can lull us into complacency and render us ineffective.

I know I have to focus on work when:

  • Deadlines are looming.
  • I realize I logged onto Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram just to check in…an hour ago.
  • I want to do something fun or work on a personal project. I earn the time with check marks.

Once you have your plan in place, how do you decide what to do first? Next week: Prioritizing!

 

I think a lot about productivity. I’d like to be more productive. I plan to be more productive. Amazingly, some people actually think I’m productive. So, why don’t I feel productive?

The answers are so simple that I’ve decided to share them with you over the next four weeks. We’ll talk about perfection, planning, prioritizing, and productivity through biorhythms. Ready? Let’s get started!

Perfect vs. Done
When I was working in the corporate world, I had a very wise boss who seemed to have my number from day one. I am a perfectionist. There. I said it. But it’s important to know when you need perfection (math, taxes, brain surgery) and when good is good enough. My boss used to say, “Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Translation: “Please give me your work product – I’m sure it’s fine.” In some cases, he was right.

Tree quilt for client

Perfection (or as close as I could get) was the goal for this client quilt.

If you, too, are a perfectionist, consider why you work beyond the demands of the task. My reasons generally fall into two categories: either I enjoy the process and I get lost in it, or I lose track of how exactly how well this task must be completed. It helps me if I can look — really look — at the task. Will it be published? Will others see it? Is this the first step in a longer process where long-term success depends on high quality work in the beginning? If not, then I can probably find a way to streamline a process and save some time.

If you could spend one hour doing two tasks well enough or one task perfectly, which would you choose? Well, you do get to choose. Now consider what you could do with that saved time if only you could stop working on a task as soon as it is done enough. You simply need to figure out which tasks require perfection (or near perfection) and which tasks just need to be done.

There will be times when your inner perfectionist demands to be heard. If you can afford the time and it will give you satisfaction, give in to that demand (but not every time). It will make you happy…and a happy quilter is a productive quilter.

Picture of my featherweight

Molly, my 1935 Singer Featherweight

My Story: I was recently given an amazing, unexpected gift by a long-time friend and I want to savor every minute of my time with it. (Thank you again, Linda Cooper!) I am now the proud owner of a 1935 Singer Featherweight 221, which I have named Molly. I want to learn all about it, clean and care for it, and take it on the road with me when I might have a little time to sew. I could have sent it out for service, but no. I sent out for the parts and (with my husband’s help) cleaned and serviced it myself. I am documenting Molly’s journey in a notebook. If you know me in real life, this is no surprise. My inner perfectionist wants to document Molly’s history and keep records for when she moves on to her next owner (since I know she will outlast me), and so I gave myself permission. I didn’t have to do it; I wanted to do it. This has made me a very happy quilter.

Next week: Planning — A Road Map or Quicksand?

I enjoy helping people. I really do. In this installment of my blog, I want to introduce you to Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics and invite you to help them.

Craftsy Class Project with Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabric

Craftsy Class Project with Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabric

I have to tell you that I just love Cherrywood fabric. I use it every chance I get. In fact, almost all of my class projects for my new Craftsy class are made from Cherrywood fabrics. (The one non-Cherrywood fabric was a print.) Cherrywood fabric is beautiful, it feels SO soft, and it sews like a dream. But the thing that really sets this hand-dyed fabric apart from the others is the visual texture. It looks like suede! Seriously. They have this one jacket sample in their booth that looks so much like suede that people stop and touch it. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

Have you ever dyed fabric before? I can do it, but I’m not a big fan of the prep work and the mess. It’s fun – and it’s like a birthday present when you open the containers to rinse the fabric and see what you’ve done – but it’s hard work and it takes a lot of time. Sure, I could dye all of my own fabric, but I have other things on my list that I would enjoy more. And I just can’t get that suede look in my own hand-dyed fabric. So, I buy Cherrywood.

This is what it looks like to dye a few yards of fabric and lace and a few tee shirts.

This is what it looks like when I dyed a few yards of fabric, lace, and a few tee shirts.

Now imagine that you are dyeing fabric. Yards of fabric. Bolts of fabric. Every day. Imagine that you are doing this in the tiny basement of an old building where the floor drain continually backs up, the room gets really humid, and there’s no air conditioning. Oh, and there’s no elevator. You will need to hoss things – heavy things – up and down two flights of stairs. Did I mention that this situation was meant to be temporary? Wouldn’t it be great if the building where you work were all on one floor? With lots of great lighting and windows and capacity for more washing machines? And an actual loading dock?

So, the good folks at Cherrywood are buying such a building! They have the finance thing worked out for the building, but they would appreciate your help with some of the remodeling costs that would take this empty shell of a building and make it a wonderfully functional facility with room to grow. And they would really like to be able to use rolling carts to move the heavy stuff from work station to work station. I’m just sayin’.

CherrywoodIndieGoGoFor the rest of July, Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics has a campaign at INDIEGOGO. I encourage you to follow the link and read their story. They are not asking for something for nothing. If you can throw them some help (as little as $5), they’ll throw something back.

I’m helping. Currently, I buy Cherrywood online and at quilt shows. I want Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics to make a successful move, to expand, and to be able to dye enough fabric to sell wholesale to shops. Maybe local shops.

So, I’m in! Join me?

Last summer, I met a new client who told me an old story. She had stuff in a box and didn’t want to move that box around anymore. She wanted to do something with the contents of that box that she could enjoy and that would honor the former owners of the artifacts in the box. Does that sound familiar?

Wedding Gown from 1910

1910 Wedding Gown

So, what was in the box? Three generations of wedding gowns, carefully wrapped in tissue: my client’s wedding gown from the 1970’s, her mother’s wedding gown from the 1940’s, and her grandmother’s gown from around 1910.

About the Design
Working within the confines of a 24″ wide by 36″ long size for the quilt, I needed to use the wedding gowns in a way that would visually feature and honor all three in some way. My client told me it wasn’t immensely important for her to be able to see her 1970’s gown in the finished quilt, but she really did like her braided belt. We agreed that her grandmother’s gown was the most interesting and should be showcased. Her mother’s gown was lovely and handmade, and had features I wanted to highlight.

Wedding Gown from the 1970's

1970’s Wedding Gown in the Box

To design this quilt, I used my Celebration Quilt worksheet to determine color, pattern, materials, techniques, and to make other design decisions. (If you own my book Creating Celebration Quilts or have taken this workshop, you have this worksheet.) While we quilters often think of quilts in terms of strips or blocks, I approached this quilt with layers as my goal. Each generation would have its own layer.

Layer One: Foundation from 1970’s Gown
My client’s wedding gown was made of a white knit, which gave me the additional challenge of stretchy fabric. To create a base layer for this quilt, I found an appropriate backing, added batting, and basted fabric from the skirt of the 1970’s gown to this quilt sandwich as if this gown were the quilt top. I grid-quilted it on my BERNINA 820 at 1 1/2″ intervals to keep the knit stable. Everything else in this quilt would be appliqued to this foundation.

Let me just pause for a moment and say how very hard it is to cut — yes, CUT — vintage garments. Here’s what I tell myself: This garment is beautiful. It lived a wonderful life and is now in a box where it gets no use, has no exposure, brings no joy. If I cut this garment and make it part of something else, it will have a new life where it will be seen and appreciated every day.

Layer Two: Background from 1940’s Gown

1940's Wedding Gown

1940’s Wedding Gown in the Box

My client’s mother’s gown was really special. It was hand sewn from silk and lots of really lovely lace. I wanted to include it so that you could see it was still a dress, but there wasn’t enough real estate in this quilt to highlight both the 1910 gown and the 1940’s gown. I removed the lining from the 1940’s gown and auditioned several layouts that would show the bodice clearly. I also wanted to highlight the points at the cuffs.

Layer Three: Foreground from 1910 Gown
My client’s grandmother was tiny. Her wedding gown looks child-size. Every detail was well-preserved and, well, beautiful. I couldn’t fit the whole gown on the quilt (If I could have changed the quilt size at this point, I would have.) and I hated to lose any of the gorgeous lace detail. I started by removing the lining and then I positioned the dress on the quilt without cutting away anything. I tried placing it vertically, parallel with the sides of the quilt, but that made for a really boring composition. Then, I tried angling the dress to the right and to the left. The diagonal line made the quilt much more interesting and it left some room to the right to show off the 1940’s lace bodice.

Construction

Couching by hand

Couched Floss in the Binding Ditch

Once I knew where everything would go, I pinned things firmly in place and then hand-appliqued everything to the base layer. Where there where big expanses of gown between the stitched edges, I followed the lines of the lace or construction and added more hand-stitching to keep things flat and secure.  Once everything was in place, I trimmed the quilt to size and bound it. To add a little contrast between the binding and the quilt itself, I added a line of Aurifil’s new cotton floss hand-couched in the ditch. It’s subtle, but I think it was an important addition. Finally, I added my client’s braided silk belt. This was what she loved about her gown and I wanted it to show. I handstitched it across the top and left the ends to hang free, framing the other two gowns.

Finished quilt: Three Generation of Wedding Gowns

Out of the Box: Three Generations of Wedding Gowns

A Few Final Thoughts
When I make a Celebration Quilt for a client, I try very hard to use only the materials they supply. Everything in the quilt should be infused with meaning and memories. The only fabrics I added to this quilt were the binding, the backing, and the fabric for the printed labels.

Don’t forget the back of the quilt! When I have artifacts or leftovers that would not fit on the front of a Celebration Quilt, I try to make them work on the back. In this case, I used the lace points from the 1910 gown to highlight the labels. Because the quilt was somewhat unbalanced weight-wise, I added a second sleeve at the bottom for a thin metal slat or drapery weights to help the quilt hang perfectly.

Three labels

This quilt needed three labels to tell the whole story.

This quilt has three labels. One includes the name of the quilt and information about how it came to be. The second label includes pictures of all three brides, including names and dates. The third label includes the anatomy of the quilt, showing a picture of the quilt with arrows identifying what artifacts are where. This is a good idea any time the artifacts may not be obvious or the quilt may eventually go to someone who would not recognize the contents.

This quilt may not be for everyone; it’s not supposed to be. My client is happy. She has hung this quilt in her new home where she can enjoy it every day. An effective Celebration Quilt is personal and meaningful — and designed as a one-of-a-kind piece of art. If you are interested in learning how to make Celebration Quilts, you can buy my book or come to one of my workshops. If you bring the seed of an idea, I’ll help you make a plan. If you want to talk with me about making a Celebration Quilt for you, e-mail me and let’s start the conversation.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 309 other followers