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Awhile back, I shared with you that I drank the Bernina Kool-Aid. Well, a few weeks ago, I visited Orlando, FL, to attend Bernina University. What an experience! And more Kool-Aid!

Martin Favre Welcome at BU 2010

Martin Favre Welcoming Us to BU

The kick-off meeting was a huge multi-media event hosted by Martin Favre, Bernina of America’s president. The opening was filled with audio, video, dancers, showcases, entertainment, education, and, of course, sewing machines. You’re seeing pictures of the screens, since they photographed more clearly than the people on stage. 

Jennifer Gigas and a 380

Jennifer Gigas Introduces the 380

Before we went to Bernina University, we kept hearing about the new 3 Series machines: 330, 350, and 380. It was worth the wait to see these machines in action. They are wonderful machines for sewers of all kinds. I can easily imagine these machines being snapped up by young moms wanting to sew for their children and homes, by sewers who are becoming a little more serious about their work and want to upgrade from their beginner machines, and by sewers who want a second (Or third or fourth – you know who you are!) machine to take to retreats or classes or travel. The Quilt Patch, where I teach and manage the Bernina department, is planning a 3 Series event in late August. If you’re interested, you’ll have to reserve your spot. Look for the announcement on the Quilt Patch website in the next week.

Of course, Bernina University is about more than ceremonies. I took classes and learned until my head was full. My classes included machine embroidery, the CutWork tool software (OMG, too cool!), information about the 820 and the 830, and using online resources like websites and social networking. I saw amazing art-to-wear done as I prefer it – to personalize and augment your look, not to announce your entrance. It was inspirational.
View from the Window

The View from our Hotel Window

I wasn’t looking forward to Orlando in the summer, but northern Virginia was actually hotter than Orlando. Amazing. It felt odd to go all the way to the Land of Disney without actually visiting Mickey, but we had a tremendous view from our window of the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. In the evenings, we watched amazing sunsets and then caught the 9:00 fireworks. All in all, it was a wonderful trip and I came back with my head full of ideas and projects. Now, if I only had more time…


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I don’t know what the scariest stage of a quilt commission is: getting the work, doing the work, or delivering the work. I think perhaps the delivery is the toughest part.

Steve's Photo

Untitled by Steve Alterman

Longer ago than I’d like to admit, some former neighbors decided they wanted me to make them a quilt. Steve and Lynne are avid art collectors and possess an unerring sense of style. I was particularly inspired by one of Steve’s photographs and the commission took shape from there.

As an artist, I sometimes need a shot of confidence. The idea of creating an art quilt to hang in this wonderful house on the beach was, well, intimidating. I had the concept, but I didn’t know if I could take the quilt from concept to reality at the level I felt they deserved.  Finally, I made them promise to tell me if they didn’t like it so that we could work together toward something they did love. That promise helped unstick my quilter’s block and I was able to complete the quilt.

GQH wielding a level

My GQH working on quilt placement

On the appointed day, my husband (GQH, see previous post) and I packed our tools, the quilt, and the dog and headed to the beach. The quilt was designed to be hung above a set of stairs, which created its own logistical challenges. Two ladders, a strong board, and a bunch of bungee cords later, we had a makeshift scaffolding that was more than up for the task.

Eric marked the placement with tiny bits of masking tape until we all agreed that we had found the perfect place for the quilt. He fine-tuned the arrangement with a level and a tape measure and then we (he) drove two anchors into the wall to support the surprising weight of the quilt.

Dressing the Quilt

Dressing the Quilt

Once he finished securing the quilt, I picked my way along the scaffolding and dressed the quilt, removing any lint or dog hair or stray threads and straightening the quilt on the hanging rod. (Did I mention that five dogs supervised this process?!)

The quilt itself is quite heavy. The “swoosh” down the length of the piece is comprised of stones and glass and shells and beads and silk scraps. The embellishments are piled and layered for a lush effect but the added weight posed structural problems. For added stability, I incorporated a layer of buckram behind the quilt top. Then, to encourage the quilt to hang true and straight, I added a second rod pocket, this one along the bottom, for a flat metal slat. This plan worked and the quilt hangs better than I could have hoped.

The Finished Quilt in Place

"Windswept" hanging in place

The result is a quilt that pays homage to Steve’s photo and incorporates the colors and textures they have used to decorate their home.

Windswept (the quilt)


Okay, if you’re a quilter, you may want some detail:

  • The border fabric is Dupioni silk, channel quilted to mimic a gallery frame
  • The background fabric is a hand-painted cotton piece I commissioned from Mickey Lawler of Skydyes.
  • The “swoosh” is made up of glass, Swarovski crystals, pearls of all shapes and sizes, amethyst, Peruvian opal, and a variety of other beads. There is one shell that came from their beach and one black pearl to honor Lynne’s love of pearls.
  • The soft texture that is especially evident along the left of the swoosh is silk “Frazzles” purchased from Judy Gula’s Artistic Artifacts.

The clients are happy. My GQH is happy. I am…thrilled. The stress of creating art for friends was almost my undoing. I probably won’t do that again, but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to make this quilt for this couple.

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Whenever I lecture or teach on the road, quilters ask me what sewing machine I use. Until about a year ago, the answer was easy. I had been sewing with the same brand for almost thirty years, first with a mechanical model and then with a mid-level computerized model. I developed a relationship with the manufacturer and even filmed a webisode for one of their websites. I loved those machines, and so I never really compared brands.

The Quilt Patch

A few years ago, I started teaching at my local quilt shop, The Quilt Patch, also known as Bernina of Northern Virginia. Each time I carried my non-Bernina sewing machine into the shop to teach a class, I was faced with a classroom of mostly Berninas. I started to learn about Berninas and I started to covet those Berninas. When the 830 came out (followed closely by the promise of a more affordable 820 without embroidery capabilities), I started to seriously consider converting. Last year in Houston, I visited the Bernina booth and had wonderful discussions with the Bernina professionals. I played with an 830 and learned more about the upcoming 820. That was the moment when I drank the Bernina Kool-Aid.

Fast forward about a year: My, how things have changed!

Picture of Bernina 820

My New 820

I am now the proud owner of a Bernina 820. I try to put in a few miles every day so that I can learn all about its capabilities. I can’t wait to take the mastery classes!

I am also the new Bernina manager at the Quilt Patch. I’m learning all about Bernina machines as quickly as I can. I go to work full of anticipation and I come home full of new information. There’s so much to learn!

Bernina LogoAnd if this weren’t enough, here’s one more announcement: Bernina has accepted me into their National Artisans Program!  A brand new Artista 730E arrived at my door yesterday. I get to play with that machine for a year, during which I will produce a few products for Bernina and I will put the machine through its paces. I’m really looking forward to playing with the embroidery module.

What a difference a year makes. In future posts, I’ll share what I’m learning about my Berninas. Right now, I have some sewing to do!

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Cyndi Souder, Lynda Prioleau, Kathy Lincoln

Cyndi Souder, Lynda Prioleau, Kathy Lincoln

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could combine the activities we love and then spend time sharing them with friends?

I’m a big fan of tea. No, not drowning a teabag in a mug of hot water; I mean tea in a china cup with delicate munchies and wonderful friends with whom to share it all.

I’m also a big fan of special clothes. I love clothes, but I have a hard time finding things that I think look good on me while being appropriate. I think Stacy and Clinton (You know who I mean!) would have a field day in my closet.

When my friend Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts started talking about offering clothing patterns in her shop, I was very interested. I started sewing a very, very, very long time ago by making a pink short sleeved dress with a stand up collar embellished with a floral ribbon. Honestly! I continued to sew until I realized that I liked quiltmaking more. Flat is easier to sew, believe me. Now I think it’s time to revisit that decision and try to find time to make some of my own pieces.

Judy rolled out her new program, which she calls Artistic Couture, a little while ago with a tea and pattern party. Many of us made garments for the occasion and I managed to create a top. The pants and jacket are off the rack, and the top represents more un-sewing than I’ve done on one project for a long time.

TeacupThe pattern is the Mimosa Top from The Sewing Workshop Collection. It’s sleeveless and comfortable. It should have been really easy to make, but I’m clearly out of practice.  Okay, details. The fabric is a lightweight rayon from Britex in San Francisco, purchased ages ago. Great drape, nice hand. The band that forms the neckline is made from ombre silk (brown to black), pintucked and topstitched — and bought that way from Bohemian Elements last year at the Houston show. The silk wasn’t wide enough, of course, so I had to figure out how to piece it while maintaining the little rows of tucks. Sigh. More ripping commenced. I added length to the front and back and will probably sew the fronts together (eliminating potential gaps and slippage) before I wear it again. All in all, I like it and I’ll use it. And I’ll probably go on to make something else. It was fun.

And, yes, I know that’s the face my grandmother warned against making, lest it freeze that way. Sorry, Nana!

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A Project to Dye For

Dye Pots all in a Row

Dye Pots all in a Row

This is the first installment of  a little project I’m working on. I’m not going to give it all away here, but I wanted to share the first few steps.  

To start, I paid a visit to Dharma Trading’s online store and had a wonderful time looking at all of the shirt blanks they offer. I have a tee shirt project idea (more on that in future posts) and I wanted to add my own colors.

If you know me, you’ve probably heard me say that I patronize fabric dyers because it’s a messy job and I don’t feel compelled to dye my own stuff. The pros do a great job and I’m happy to support them. That said, I was feeling particularly DIY and wanted to dye these shirts myself. I called Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts, who is a good friend and lives right around the corner. She had some dyes mixed and I got to play with them! By the way, if you’re interested in learning to dye your own stuff, Judy teaches this at her shop (Artistic Artifacts Annex) in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s worth the trip!

DyePots225wMy husband says I put the A.R. in Art Quilting and I think he’s probably right. And so how does a person with my control-freak, keep-it-organized tendencies dye successfully? Here are a few tips: 

  • Plan ahead. Take everything you’ll need. Then pack extra.
  • Know what you’re going to put in those dye pots. I wanted to dye lots and lots of stuff, but my time was limited and I remember how grueling it seems to rinse everything once the process is done. I dyed a total of nine shirts and two aprons.
  • Collect dye pots with big openings and lids. I hit the Dollar Store a few years ago for these. It’s a motley mix and they take up a lot of precious storage, but it’s worth it on dye days. The open containers are on loan from Judy. Clearly, I need to go shopping for more pots with lids.
  • Take tubs or bins to put the dye pots in for your drive home.
  • Dye with a friend. It’s more fun and it is the best multi-tasking combination.
  • Take rubber gloves. Yes, I know there’s stuff out there that will clean off the dye, but I think prevention is the prudent course here. Oh, make sure you have that dye-removing cleaner for the unexpected splashes.
  • Wear clothes you don’t care about. I had to laugh this morning when I opened Robbi Joy Eklow’s book Goddess of the Last Minute to her essay “A Quilter’s Wardrobe.” You must have dye clothes, or what you wear will suffer the consequences.

When I take the shirts out, I’ll post photos and say a little about the process. For now, let me say that I wanted to play with value rather than throwing in a lot of different colors at once. (What? Is that a hint about what I have planned for these shirts?) Check back. I’ll post the next step soon.

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I’m blogging here in Hampton, Virginia, at the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival. This is a Mancuso show, which means the show is organized and well-run, and everyone knows what to expect. Well, everyone except the vendors.

The quilters expected beautiful quilts, and we weren’t disappointed. But the vendors had to have doubts when they set up their wares in preparation for the thousands of quilters who attend this show each year. After an informal survey, I’m happy to report that the quilting economy seems to be fine. Fabric is selling. Patterns and books are selling. Threads, trims, and embellishments are selling. I even visited with a quilter who bought a longarm machine!

Sure, we’re watching our pennies. But we’re also quilters. We’re buying what we need to continue making the quilts that comfort others. We’re buying the fabric and kits that make our own hearts sing. We’re generating positive energy and we’re putting it out into the universe. At least for the duration of this show, we’re not dwelling on the bad news from the outside. We’re thankful to be here, thankful to be quilters, and thankful to be part of this community. If only the rest of the world’s challenges could be addressed so simply.


Left to right: Doris, Dian, Kathy, Mary, and Cyndi

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Mother and Daughter Working Together
Mother and Daughter Working Together

This week, I drove to Pittsburgh to meet the ladies (and gentlemen!) of the Quilt Company East Quilt Guild. What a great group! They are friendly, cheerful, and talented. On Monday night, I gave one of my favorite lectures, Fabric Acquisition 101. We talked about what fabrics to buy, how much to buy, and what to do with it once you get it home.

Tuesday was an action-packed day. We started out with my Trees Workshop. Setting up in a spacious and well-lit space, we all shared fabric and ideas as we created our own personal forests. I was so happy to watch these ladies approach this new technique with such open minds. The technique uses freeform rotary cutting (much like Ricky Tims with his Caveman Quilting) and lots of steam. Each participant gets a pattern, but I always hope that every quilter will create her own trees in her own way. The pattern is there for when they go home without me.


What I love about teaching Trees is watching each quilter “get” the concept. They each bring lots of fabric and a vision. As the workshop progresses, many of the quilters abandon their original vision (some more willingly than others) in favor of following the creative process. More than one quilter remarked that the trees they created were not the ones they had planned when packing for the workshop — but in a good way.

Lots of Steam!

Lots of Steam!

After we were finished with the workshop, we were off on a road trip! Elizabeth and Charlotte took me to a favorite quilt shop in Finleyville, PA, called Quilters Corner. What a great shop! They have a little bit of everything. Looking for a nice Moda selection? Got it. Batiks? Um hmm. Black and whites, Anna Griffin, Lonni Rossi, Lakehouse, you name it. Books, magazines, notions, even a corner for holiday fabric and projects. The most striking samples, however, were the applique pieces designed by shop owner Mary Beth Hartnett. From design to fabric choices to execution, the applique work was exquisite. Do you hear me, Book Publishers? Hurry to sign Mary Beth before your competition does. These patterns have universal appeal.

Afterward, we drove through Pittsburgh so that I would have a sense of the city. It was beautiful! We drove on some very scenic roads and saw some amazing vistas. We saw the pink water in the fountains (for Breast Cancer Awareness month), lots of twinkle lights, and diverse architecture. And now I understand why the Steelers do so well. I’d hate to be a warm-climate football team and have to come play in that giant open stadium!

I’m not sure how we packed so much into two fabulous days, but we did. Now I have just enough time to rest up before I leave for the IQA Festival in Houston!

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