Link Love – FREE Patterns for the Tiki Tote & the Persimmon Dumpling Pouch

I’ve gotten some requests for more information about two projects I posted on Instagram recently – the Tiki Tote pattern from Bluprint (featured on the Midnight Quilt Show with Angela Walters) and the Persimmon Dumpling Pouch from Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness. Not only are both these patterns FREE, but they also have free video tutorials that show you exactly how to make them.

My Instagram post showing the Tiki Totes, Persimmon Dumpling Pouch, and a couple of basic zipped pouches.

I found these projects are a lot of fun – both to make and to use.

It all started with a jelly roll (collection of 2.5″ strips) that I picked up on clearance from Bluprint…

Jelly roll – coordinated collection of 2.5″ strips – a fun way to play with a wide selection of fabrics!

Continue Reading…

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What I Did This Summer… Fun with Sew Alongs on Instagram

First block in my Moroccan Tiles quilt

First, for those who enjoy a little backstory:

(if you don’t care about backstory, skip on down to the Sew Alongs – I won’t be offended!)

One of the challenges of pursuing your passion (or something related to your passion) as your vocation is the risk of adding so many financial and/or performance related pressures that what once gave you joy becomes another source of stress instead. Back when I was showing and selling my work in galleries, I found myself in the very odd position of not being able to afford my own work. The amount of money I could make by selling my art quilts was too high for me to justify making anything for myself when I had a family to help support! Later, when I was designing quilts and writing quilting books for Martingale & Co. and teaching both locally and all around the country, I found my sewing and quilting time so limited that I felt I couldn’t justify taking the time to sew or quilt anything just for fun – everything had to be something I could either sell, show, include in a book, or use as a teaching sample. I love to experiment and play the “what if” game, but I felt very constrained in my experimentation – I had to be pretty confident in the outcome in order to justify the expense of time and resources. I couldn’t allow myself to take the kinds of creative risks I yearned to take. 

Another of my Moroccan Tiles blocks

This phenomenon was exacerbated for me when an apparent mini-stroke almost 10 years ago (combined with long term symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis) left me not only reliant on aids like wheelchairs, walkers, and canes to get around, but left me with impaired fine motor control and strength – and mostly unable to cut fabric, sew (by either hand or machine), and especially quilt.  As the severity of my symptoms fluctuated, I was able to do a little sewing, but it was mostly (of necessity) related to my role as Creative Director for Lakeshore Sewing. 

I coped with this by turning my creative focus to writing, drawing and designing fabric – things I could do even when confined to bed, and sewing small items when able.

But something changed this spring. As my mobility, dexterity, and energy gradually improved, I started sewing again. Small stuff at first, like bags and purses; but eventually even quilts. While I am still very much affected by MS, I am physically doing the best I have since 2009/2010. And I am so happy!

But I also know that I want to approach my sewing and quilting differently than I have in the past – I want to keep more of the joy. As I was discussing this with my sister, she mentioned to me that I was reminding her a lot of a book she had recently read by Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. As soon as I could, I bought a copy for myself and started reading. I devoured it!

I won’t get into a full book review here, except to say that I heartily recommend it for anyone and everyone who is interested in living a creative life – not necessarily as a vocation (although it’s applicable for that, too), but as a way of living. One of the most important take-aways for me personally was not to get caught up again in always creating “original” or marketable work, but to allow myself to freely and without the pressure of expectation pursue any rabbit trails that might catch my eye and capture my interest.  Allowing myself to play and to participate more fully in the creativity around me has become a new goal for me.

Which brings me back to what I did this summer… Continue Reading…

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Shimmer Quilt – Part 2

Wow! I really need to catch up! There’s been a lot going on our lives – both good and bad (or at least very challenging and saddening); most notably the passing of my beloved Aunt Peg, aka Margaret Hochberg. She was one of those very special souls who exuded love and comfort to all those around her and worked tirelessly (often behind the scenes) to help everyone she could. She was a woman of deep and abiding faith who genuinely practiced what she preached in the most positive sense of the word. She welcomed and mothered us all.

One of my favorite sewing-related memories of Aunt Peg was the way she always came through when one of us (siblings, children, nieces, grandchildren, etc.) needed a special garment, whether it be for a wedding, performance choir, holiday photos, or just because.  She had an amazing ability to look at the collection of pattern books with us in the store, listen to all of the changes we wanted (which by the end, could render the purchased pattern all but useless), and somehow produce a garment that not only fit, but was just what was wanted. With her example, she taught me to create freely – modifying, adapting, or skipping commercial patterns altogether.

I think it’s especially appropriate to think about Aunt Peg today, as my approach to this quilt was definitely inspired by that freedom. 🙂

In my last post, I showed how I fused the 3″ clamshell templates cut from ink-jet printable, iron-on Wash Away Applique Sheets to the back of my fabric.

Sorting my fabrics into groupings – starting to get an idea of how I might arrange them…

The next step was to use a wash-away fabric glue pen along the seam allowance of the upper edge of each clamshell and then fold the seam allowance over just a little bit at a time, easing in any extra fullness. (I found this the quickest way to get a nice stable turned edge along the top of each clamshell.)

I laid out my clamshells into groupings of 4, overlapping the clamshells so that no raw edges of fabric would show when all the pieces were sewn together. In some cases (particularly with the darkest blues and purples), I used a light box to help me see exactly where the edges of the wash-away applique paper were underneath the fabric.

After playing with various arrangements, I settled on a final design. washing the color from left to right and values from bottom to top. But I needed to cut some more clamshells…

“Shimmer” clamshell quilt by Beth Ann Williams, pondering the layout…

Continue Reading…

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Shimmer Quilt – Part 1

This next series of posts will explore the process of creating a new quilt inspired by shimmering sunlight and shadows reflecting off the rippling surface of Lake Michigan.

My initial starting point was this selection of ombre fabric. I’d never worked with fabrics like this before, so I thought it would be a fun challenge to come up with a design that would take advantage of the gradated colors. 

Ombre fabric from shop.mybluprint.com

The next step was to think about what kind of shape or shapes I wanted to work with. I’ve never worked with clamshells before, but I’ve always loved them. It seemed to me that clamshells would lend themselves to the kind of organic movement I had in mind.   Continue Reading…

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Fun with Paints – Acrylic Pours

I am very grateful to note that the dryer, hot water tank, chimney and furnace I mentioned in my last post have all been repaired and/or replaced.  Yay!

But my sewing machines, fabrics, and tools have yet to be unpacked and sorted out.  (They will be soon – I just haven’t had time!) Meanwhile, I have been in some serious need of quick creative therapy…

Happily, I came back from my recent trip to New York to see my sister all jazzed up and inspired by her very patient and very inspiring hands-on demo of acrylic pours. I love messing around with paint, but this technique was new to me. In retrospect, I kind of wish we had gotten the paints out at the beginning of the visit instead of detouring into the art room at 10:30 pm the night before we were to leave first thing in the morning, but sometimes things just happen that way. And honestly, there’s nothing we did during our visit that I would have wanted to miss; so on second thought, I’m tickled pink about my late-night introduction to acrylic pours – even though I did come home with paint on my favorite robe 🙂

Also happily, when we popped into Michaels after our trip, acrylic paints and packaged sets of 10″ x 10″ canvases were on a huge sale, and I had another stackable coupon on my phone for an additional 20% of the entire purchase. I took it as a sign and loaded up on inexpensive materials I wouldn’t worry about using up.

The basic concept Amy showed me was very simple. We mixed individual small plastic cups of white acrylic paint and a few additional colors with an extender to make them flow more easily, added just a bit of silicone, and then filled a larger plastic cup with a layer of thinned white paint, then a color, then white, and so on. Then we placed a canvas on top of the cup and flipped the whole thing over, pulling the cup away to allow the paint to spread out over the canvas. This is very messy, so plenty of newspaper, paper towels and plastic garbage bags were extremely helpful. She also lined a large box with plastic to contain the paint that ran off the edges of the canvases. 

Supplies I purchased for my experimentation. I also picked up a couple of cheap vinyl tablecloths to cover my worktable and floor, as well as thin plastic gloves. 

But it’s also surprisingly complex! Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Free-Motion Quilting!

This is the eleventh in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

I’ve layered my quilt top, Hobb’s Heirloom Fusible Batting, and backing fabric, and fused the layers together.  It’s a little unusual, but when I use fusible batting, I like to rough cut my batting about 2″ bigger all around than the quilt top and the backing fabric about 4″ bigger all around than the quilt top. This allows me to wrap the extra backing fabric around to the front and cover up the exposed batting – which helps keep the heat-activated adhesive in the batting from getting on my iron when I press around the outer edges of the quilt.  (This extra fabric and batting gives me something to hold onto when stitching close to the edges of the quilt.)

When I use fusible batting, I like to wrap extra backing fabric around to the front to cover up the exposed batting. No worries if it looks messy – it will all get cut off when I’m finished quilting.

I’ve decided to go with the variegated pastel Rainbows thread as my top thread and pale yellow Bottom Line in my bobbin. I’m using a Schmetz Embroidery needle, size 80, as this particular spool is one of the very early batches of this thread, and is a little more delicate than later versions. The Embroidery needle has a groove on the shaft that will help reduce friction on the thread, and therefore reduce the possibility of fraying or breakage.

On a quilt like this, I usually start on one corner and work my way across the quilt.

Working my way across the quilt

Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Choosing Thread for Free-Motion Quilting

This is the tenth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

The quilt top is complete, and as I discussed in my previous post, I’ve decided to free-motion quilt this project.  I’m raring to get started!  I’m leaning towards a variegated thread that has a nice sheen. Although you don’t usually notice the color of the thread used for the quilting until you are right up close, it can have significant impact on the finished quilt.

A quick refresher for a few of my readers who aren’t quilters:

  • A “quilt” is traditionally composed of 3 layers: quilt top (which may be pieced together, appliquéd, or whole-cloth), the batting (I’ll be using 80/20 Hobbs Heirloom Cotton batting), and the backing fabric.
  • “Quilting” refers to the stitching (by hand or machine) that is done to hold the 3 layers together.
  • “Free-motion” quilting refers to dropping the feed dogs (the feed dogs are what normally moves the fabric through the sewing machine as you sew) and creating a design by moving the fabric manually (kind of like drawing on paper, except in this case, the pencil/machine is stationary and the paper/fabric is what moves).

A few of my personal observations about my thread choices:

  • I like thread with a bit of shine! In my early days, I often used rayon thread, but I switched to high-quality trilobal polyester threads such as Isacord, Rainbows, and Fantastico (the latter 2 are from Superior Threads) as they became available. These newer threads have beautiful sheen, are reliably colorfast, virtually lint-free, and are much less likely to shred or break while you are stitching. (Note: you may still get lint build-up in your machine from your batting and backing, as well as from your bobbin thread, if you are using cotton.)

    I like the subtle sheen this thread adds to the quilt. The pastel color changes show up a little better in person than they do on camera.

  • I especially enjoy variegated thread – especially brands such as Rainbows or Fantastico, both of which change color every inch.  

    Fantastico thread from Superior Threads

Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Machine Quilting Options

This is the ninth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

The quilt top is complete, and I’m considering my options for machine quilting the quilt top, batting, and backing together.

There are no rules about how best to quilt a bargello quilt, only preferences.

Sometimes I feel that adding a lot of free-motion quilting might distract from the power and clarity of the design.

In those cases, I usually opt for clear MonoPoly thread in my needle and a walking foot (or even-feed foot) on my machine and hide the stitching “in the ditch” between the vertical rows. Fire on the Savannah from Colorwash Bargello Quilts is a good example of this – you can’t see the quilting on the front of the quilt unless you examine it extremely closely.

Close-up of the quilting on Fire on the Savannah from Colorwash Bargello Quilts by Beth Ann Williams

Another “in the ditch” alternative is to stair-step the quilting, following the design line.

Close-up of the backside of a version of Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts made by Sandy Harvey. Note the “stair-step” quilting along every third fabric in the vertical rows. This stitching is hidden “in the ditch” on the front of the quilt.

At other times, I deliberately use lots of free-motion quilting with highly visible thread (and a free-motion foot) to add an additional design element to the quilt. You may not notice the quilting from a distance, but it can be a fun surprise when you get up close! I also like to use the color of the thread as an additional unifying element in the quilt – the subtle sheen or veil of color it creates across the surface of the quilt can help reinforce a cohesive impression of the design as a unified whole rather than emphasizing individual colors or pieces of fabric.

Here are some close-ups of the free-motion machine quilting on some of my bargello quilts:

Close-up of the quilting on Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts by Beth Ann Williams

Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Measuring & Sewing the Borders

This is the eighth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

I’ve picked out my border and am ready to sew it on.

When I first started quilting many, many years ago, I would just lay my border strip across the end of the quilt, sew it on, and then cut off any extra border fabric that extended past the edge of the quilt.

Sometimes this method seemed to work just fine; but other times, I would find myself grappling with quilt edges that were bowed instead of straight, wavy edges, or even little “volcanoes” or bulging areas within the quilt.

The problem was that the outer edges of a pieced quilt sometimes seem to “grow” or stretch a little more (from handling?) than the interior of the quilt. This tendency could be exacerbated if the pieced quilt had a lot of small pieces, strip-piecing, bias edges, or even just a lot of cross-grain pieces – especially if the fabrics in the quilts varied even a little in weave. (High-quality batik fabrics usually stretch a little less than high-quality quilting-weight cottons, which usually stretch a little less than chain-store quilting cottons, etc.)

What I eventually learned is that perfectly flat quilts with perfectly square corners are much easier to achieve if you follow these tips:

  • Always measure through the center of the quilt to determine border lengths
  • Always cut parallel borders together, so that they are exactly the same in length
  • Pin, pin, pin! 

BUT if the discrepancy between the center of the quilt and the outer edge of the quilt is more than 1/4″, I recommend strategically trimming the quilt top or “squaring it up” before proceeding with the borders!  

Here is how this method looks in practice:

I like to add the side borders first, so I begin my measuring through the center of the quilt vertically

Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Auditioning Borders

This is the seventh in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the Cascade pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.
The body of the quilt top is complete, and now it is time for the border. 

Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts – ready for borders! (the blue painter’s tape numbers at the top of each vertical row can also come off now)

When I teach quilting classes or workshops, I usually caution class participants to wait, if possible, to make their final choice of border fabric until the interior of the quilt has been completed. This is because the sum can be much more than its parts! The way the colors, values, and visual textures of the fabrics interact with each other, as well as with the border fabric, can produce significantly different results from what you might anticipate.

Furthermore, like any scrap quilt (or multi-fabric quilt), a bargello quilt can often be made to read as a “blue” or “brown” or “green” quilt simply by adding a border of that color.

I find it helpful to lay the quilt top out on top of any fabric I am considering for a border so that I can see the border fabric on most or all of at least 2 sides of the quilt top.

To illustrate, I’ll share with you some of the border fabrics I “auditioned” for this project: Continue Reading…

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