Sep 172011

Right now I’m working on a commission, a t-shirt quilt that includes what must be most every t-shirt this gal has ever owned.  🙂

It’s rather an interesting challenge, trying to get them all into a reasonably sized quilt.  We’re skipping any sashing between blocks, as that would make it far too large to be allowed.  It will be quite busy to look at, but full of memories.

In case  you’ve never made a t-shirt quilt, they’re actually very simple.  Fusible interfacing is pressed onto the wrong side of the t-shirt design to stabilize it.  Then blocks are cut out and treated as quilt blocks.

This is a Tanzanian memory quilt I made last fall, you can read the whole post here.

tshirts from africa quilt

For the quilt I’m working on now I got around the “way too many t-shirts” problem by cutting them into three different sizes, 6.5″ squares, 12.5″ x 6.5″ rectangles and 12.5″ squares.  Two of the smaller squares sewn together are the size of one rectangle, and two of the rectangles sewn together are the size of one large square.


As you can see from the photo above, it’s very helpful to have a design wall to help you sort out just how many completed large squares you will have.  If you don’t have a design wall, find a large table or some empty floor space to lay things out.

It’s also good to have a  couple shirt that will serve as “filler” for those odd areas.  Thankfully my client had some old jammies and two tie-dyed t-shirts that worked perfectly for that.  And here it is, with the all the squares sewn together.  Did I mention she had a LOT of t-shirts?


We had two shirts with designs that had to be cut larger than 12.5″ square.  I solved this problem by making one row that was wider than the rest and filled in the gaps with our filler pajamas and tie-dye.  You hardly notice it in all the busyness. (It’s the second row from the left.)

If you want to make your own t-shirt quilt here are a few tips:

  • Use a design wall or large floor area to plan your layout
  • Save leftover bits of t-shirt until you are all done.  You may need them to fill in the top corners (such as in the blue & white UMass section) or make filler blocks, such as the green/red/yellow section in the top left.
  • Use a light to medium weight fusible interfacing.  If you use the heavy weight stuff  the sewing becomes more difficult.
  • If you have one or can borrow a steam press (such as this Steam Press), this is an excellent time to do so.  It makes the fusing go faster and be more thorough.
  • Be careful when pressing the lettering on t-shirts.  Some of it will smear and/or gum up your iron if you try to press over it. Iron-off hot iron cleaner is a great product to use  if this happens.
  • Use the leftover backs of your t-shirts to protect your ironing surface.  Place the piece to be fused right side down on top of the scrap t-shirt, then place the fusible (fusible side down, please) on that.  If after pressing you find some of the lettering has transferred to the scrap t-shirt, you can just toss it and grab another one.
  • To reduce bulk press the seams open.
  • Don’t even THINK about hand quilting.  Plan to machine quilt, or better yet, just tie it.
  • Each block will stand out better if framed by sashing (as in the Tanzania quilt) but you can squeeze in lots more memories if you don’t sash.

T-shirt quilts are great for graduations and are an especially good gift for that difficult-to-buy-for guy.

Have fun preserving those memories!

Sep 122011

 A couple days ago I was shopping at and ordered these two sweater knits for fall cardigans/jackets:

Boucle Sweater Knit Novelty Stripe Black  

I also ordered a yard of this pink diagonal stripe to make another drapey sleeveless top.  I love sleeveless tops as I can wear them all summer, then layer them under cardigans or jackets for the cooler weather.

Stretch Jersey ITY Knit Tonal Stripe Rose

While I was poking around I came across several ruffle fabrics like the ones below, but had no idea what to do with them, so passed them by.

Stretch Ruffle Knit Turquoise   Rainbow Ruffle Knit Orange/Pink

The day after I placed my order I came across a tutorial to make this absolutely adorable skirt. 

Is that not the cutest thing?  I am SO placing another order.  A yard of the black ruffle knit and a yard of the cerulean, at least.

Stretch Ruffle Knit Black   Stretch Ruffle Knit Cerulean

You can find the complete tutorial here.  It involves a little measuring, two seams and sewing on one waistband.  Super duper easy.

Happy creating!


Sep 102011

Today we have the third and final installment of our three part series, A Primer on Sewing with Knit Fabrics. If you missed Part One, you can find it here; Part Two is here.

Sewing with knits

Many folks who have been frustrated when sewing with knits find there are just two simple changes they need to put into practice.  These often make all the difference in the world in their ease of sewing and happiness with the finished garment.

They are:

1. Use a ball point or a stretch needle (size 75/11 or 80/12 is usually just right for jersey and slinky knits)sewing-with-knits-ball-point-needles

Notice that I only have one needle left, that’s because I’ve been doing a LOT of sewing with knits.

2. Instead of sewing with a straight stitch, use the very smallest zigzag stitch your machine will do.


The top row of stitching is a straight stitch, the bottom row is a slight zigzag.  When the seams are pressed open, you cannot tell the difference.

The rationale for each:

  1. When sewing with knits you want the needle to slide between the threads of the fabric rather than pierce them; this is what a rounded, or ball point, needle will do. (If the needle pierces the threads it causes runs, snags and skipped stitches.)
  2. Since your fabric has stretch, so your seams need to stretch.  (Ever hear that dreadful “popping” sound when you pull a knit top over your head?  That’s because the seams didn’t stretch along with the fabric and the threads broke.)

This very slightest of zigzags looks and feels like a straight stitch, but has just a bit of stretch.  Many machines have special “stretch” stitches, but I have yet to find one I like as much as just a simple small zigzag. By all means, experiment with what your machine can do

So there you have it, sewing with knits is easy, and the finished garments are comfy and fun to wear.  Just keep in mind:

    • Pick the right fabric for the right pattern
    • Cut out with care
    • Use a ball point or stretch needle
    • Sew with a stretch stitch, such as a small zigzag

Now, I want to see all the knit garments ya’ll are going to make!

Sep 082011

Here we are with Part Two of our three part series, A Primer on Sewing with Knit Fabrics. If you missed Part One, you can find it here. Part Three is here.

Cutting out knit fabrics

My favorite tool for cutting out garments is a large cutting mat and a rotary cutter. My reasons are a) it’s quick, b) it’s easy and c) I’m lazy. For cutting out knits, though, there’s another reason, d) it’s more accurate.

As you use scissors to lift up the edge of a knit to cut it, it gets slightly distorted. The more drapey the fabric, the more potential it has for getting distorted. A better method is the following:

1. Cut out all your tissue pattern pieces on the cutting line for your size.

2. Lay your fabric (usually folded with selvedges together) on the cutting mat. The grain lines go along the length of the fabric, the stretch always goes around the body.

3. Do NOT have excess fabric draping off the table, this will stretch and distort your pieces.sewing-with-knits-fabric-hanging-off-table










4. Rather, lay out as many pattern pieces as will fit on the mat, then gently accordion fold or puddle the excess fabric at the end of the mat.sewing-with-knits-fabric-supported-on-table






5. Use pattern weights to hold down the corners of the pattern pieces. (If you don’t have pattern weights, you can just use small cans like tuna fish cans or go here to make your own.)


6. Use a straight edge and a rotary cutter to cut the straight lines. Use the rotary cutter to carefully cut any curves. (If you have very tight curves, use a smaller rotary cutter, like a 28 mm.)sewing-with-knits-22mm-rotary-cutter

Did you ignore my advice and get that slinky knit anyways?

If you absolutely had to have that slinky knit I warned you about above, here’s how to deal with it for the most success. Follow step one. Before following step two, lay out lightweight paper such as unprinted newsprint, tracing paper or tissue paper on the mat. Lay out your fabric on top of this paper, making the selvedges and fold as even and parallel as humanly possible. (Now you know why it’s called slinky.)

Continue with steps three and four. Instead of using pattern weights for step five, carefully pin through all layers (tissue pattern, both layers of fabric and paper underneath) along all the edges of the patterns.  Having your fabric pinned between two layers of paper keeps it from shifting out of shape.  The more pins you use here, the easier the next step will be.


Now you can use either scissors or a rotary cutter to cut out your pattern pieces. (I don’t own any, but I’ve been told that using micro-serrated scissors helps here as well.) Use your favorite method to mark notches, etc.  (You might notice from the photo that I like the quick method of clipping into the notches.  I usually use a water soluble fabric marker to mark the dots.)

Now, go ahead and cut out your pattern. I’ll wait. 🙂

Next time, Part Three, Needles & Stitches (choosing the right ones can make all the difference.)

Sep 052011

You may have noticed that I’ve sewn quite a few knit garments this past spring and summer.  Such as:

turquiose bamboo jacket-Simplicity 2603  simplicity-2364-raspberry   black lycra twist front top-Butterick 4789  simplicity-2219-raspberry-dress  simplicity-2364-aqua   turquiose bamboo twist top-Butterick 4789

Here are a few reasons why I chose knits (besides that fact that my local fabric store was going out of business and had them for one dollar a yard):

  • When you sew with knits you can make a lot of clothing fairly quickly.
  • Knits don’t ravel and generally don’t require much special treatment.
  • Because of their stretch knits are comfortable to wear and easier to fit than garments out of woven fabrics.
  • Most patterns for knits have less complicated design lines and construction is simple.

Some have expressed concern, however, about sewing fabric that stretches.  So here are a few things to keep in mind when sewing with knits.

Choosing the right knit fabric for your pattern, (or the right pattern for your knit): 

Knits have a wide range of stretchiness; you need to choose the fabric that best suits your pattern.

  • Single knits, also called jersey, are what come to mind when you think of a knit garment such as a t-shirt.  A single knit is simply a fabric knitted on a single pair of needles, just like you’d knit a sweater or scarf.  They have stretch across the width of the fabric, but not much along the length.  Jersey is great for tops, dresses and skirts.  If you’ve never sewn with knits before, I’d suggest you start with a jersey in a solid color you love.
  • Double knits are heavier in weight than single knits because they are made using two sets of needles, so the fabric is double in thickness.  It tends to have just a little crosswise stretch and so is good for jackets and pants.  A firm double knit can certainly be used in a pattern designed for woven fabrics.
  • Sweatshirt fleece is a thicker knit with a cozy brushed surface on the wrong side.  It tends to have only moderate crosswise stretch and is great for sweatshirts and sweatpants.
  • Ribbing has prominent vertical ribs on both sides and a great deal of crosswise stretch.  Ribbing is traditionally used for sweater and sweatshirt cuffs, necklines and lower bands, but can also be used for close-fitting garments, such as tank tops. (The blue top above was made out of ribbing. Click on the photo to read the full article.)
  • Four-way stretch knits are usually used for active garments such as swimsuits, leotards and dance costumes.  They have crosswise and lengthwise stretch due to Spandex or Lycra being blended in with the primary fiber. (The black top above required a four-way stretch knit.)
  • Slinky knits drape extremely well and rarely wrinkle.  You’ll know you have a slinky knit if you pick up a length and it flows through your hands like water.  🙂  Despite its lovely feel, and your strong desire to make a beautifully flowing top or dress out of it, I don’t recommend slinky knits for beginning knit sewers.  (If you must have it, I’ll tell you later how to best work with it.)

There is a LOT of helpful information on the back of a pattern envelope.  First you need to look at the recommended fabrics.  In the pattern below you’ll see that this top is sized for stretch knits only.  If I were to make it out of a woven, I wouldn’t be able to get into it. (Well, maybe just my arm, lol.) sewing-with-knits-fabric-recommendations

Next you’ll need to check the amount of stretch your fabric must have in order to work with that pattern.  If you look at the back of any pattern sized for stretch knits you’ll find a rule similar to the one below.


Simply hold a folded crosswise section of fabric against the gauge and see if it will stretch (reasonably easily) to the point indicated.  (If you have to really yank on the fabric to make it stretch that far, it does not have enough stretch for this pattern.  Don’t be tempted, you’ll be sooooorrrry.)

Knits come in many different fibers including wool, cotton, rayon, silk and even bamboo.  One thing they all seem to have in common is that they tend to shrink in the length over time.  (How many too-short t-shirts do you have?)  I always pre-wash fabric for any sewing project, but it’s a good idea to pre-wash and dry knits two or three times before cutting out.

So to sum up, when it says “stretch knits” on the pattern, you only need to keep in mind two things:

  1. Is the fabric appropriate for the pattern style?  For example, you wouldn’t use a lingerie weight tricot knit to make a sweatshirt, neither would you use a sweatshirt knit for a drapey top. (Also note that the fabric suggestions usually give you an idea of what to use, such as in the pattern above where it says “Jerseys, Matte Jerseys, Stretch Velvet,” etc.)
  2. Does the fabric have at least the amount of stretch indicated on the gauge?

That really is all there is to it.

Part Two, Cutting Out Knit Fabrics (including how to cut out those ever-slippery slinky knits.)

Part Three, Needles & Stitches (choosing the right ones can make all the difference.)

Sep 012011

Last winter I was flipping through the Dec/Jan issue of Quilting Arts magazine and saw their “Save My U.F.O.” challenge.  The idea was to send in an UnFinished Object and have another quilter finish it for me.  In return, I’d get somebody’s else’s UFO to work on.

Now, I don’t have time to do all the challenges out there, but this one sounded like fun, and I have found that there’s nothing like a good challenge to stretch one’s creativity in new ways and get one out of a crafty rut.

I had just the perfect UFO to send in and had just a few days before the deadline, and so decided to go for it.

This is what I sent: quilting-arts-ufo-challenge-submitted

Once I’d sent it, I anxiously awaited what kind of UFO I’d get.

Monday, March 28 – Received a HUGE box from Quilting Arts.  Opened it very excitedly to find only a single, unfinished storm at sea quilt block inside.


Tuesday, March 29 – Put the single, unfinished quilt block on my design wall and stared at it.


Tried turning it on the diagonal.

Still bleah.

This 13"x13" doesn't seem like much to start with.

Wednesday, March 30 – Ignored the design wall entirely.

Thursday, March 31 – Started to have an inkling of an idea.  What really is bugging me about that block is the unfinished state of the design.  I’ve always loved the storm at sea pattern, so why not add three more blocks to make a small wall-hanging?  Perhaps then I could appliqué on some waves, small boats, etc.

Friday, April 1 – Sat down with my Electric Quilt software to start working out a design.  Feeling much better about this project now!

I’m thinking  of using tulle or something else very sheer to make water and waves at the bottom.  Hmmmm . . .

Saturday, April 16th – Just got back from my quilting group, so was in quilting mode.  Using only fabrics from my stash I made the blocks to make one complete design.  I really do love the Storm at Sea pattern, especially how it gives the illusion of curves where there are none.  And I’m so glad the block I got was in blues and purples.  If it had been in orange and yellows… well, I might still be stumped, lol.

Didn’t worry about any wonkiness, because, frankly, the block I got was quite wonky.

Tuesday, April 19th – Bought several colors of tulle at Joann’s.  Naturally, I forgot to bring the completed blocks with me, so I bought 1/4 yard of every color that I thought might possibly work.

Saturday, April 30th – Looked at the calendar and realized I have less than three weeks to get this thing done.  Yipes. 

So, I made myself sit down, print out the boat templates from Electric Quilt and then started picking out fabric.  I even sewed one of the little boats.  I think I’m gonna like it.  Now I’m thinking about white lace for froth on the waves, or maybe white pearl strands . . . and what kinds of embellishments can I do on the boats?  Hmmmm . . .

 Saturday, May 7th – It’s been such a busy week, that today I HAVE to make all these little boats.  It feels like drudgery, but hey, where would the world be without deadlines?

Here’s how I made the 3D appliqués:

Print out or draw your design.  Layer fabrics, right sides together and pin pattern to one side.  If you want to add a thin layer of batting, add that to the wrong side of the fabric that will be on the right side of the appliqué.  quilting-arts-3d-applique-step-1j

Stitch all the way around the design on the seam line.  Use a slightly smaller stitch than usual, such as 2.0.


Trim around the appliqué, leaving about a 1/4″ seam allowance.  quilting-arts-3d-applique-step-3

Carefully remove paper.  Clip any curves and trim points.quilting-arts-3d-applique-step-4

Make a slash in the fabric that will be on the wrong side.  quilting-arts-3d-applique-step-5

Turn right side out and press. 


Tip:  Only use batting on larger appliqués.  I can guarantee you WILL lose your mind trying to deal with batting on itty-bitty appliqués. Ask me how I know…

The beauty of these appliqués is that you get the exact shape you want and you don’t have to finish the slit in the back.  You can just add a layer of batting for dimension, or fill them quite firmly before sewing down to your project.  They can be ruffled, gathered, pleated, shaped, stuffed or embellished to your heart’s content. 

I kept these little boats simple, but here are some appliqués from a quilt I designed several years back showing lots of fun techniques: 3d-applique girl in purple dress

The dress and hair were gathered to give dimension, the legs were stuffed to give roundness and shape.

In the below example, the leave were pleated at the centers to give fullness.


So, back to the Storm At Sea quilt…

The tulle made perfect waves when stitched down all ruffled and crinkled.  I layered it with the darkest in the back and brightest in the front to give the illusion of depth.  The boats had to be appliquéd between the layers of tulle.


I used invisible thread to stitch down the waves and edge-stitch the boats.  Have any of you found an invisible thread that isn’t irritating to work with?  I love what you can do with the stuff, but hate dealing with it jumping out of the tension guides at random moments.quilting-art-ufo-challenge-4-waves-close-up

Once all the boats and waves were down I decided we needed whitecaps, so got out the white paint.  THAT was fun.  Splish-splash.


I also added some seashells, just for interest.  I had some sand/glue mixture for scrapbooking that I thought of trying out, but decided this quilt was more about the storm at sea than the beach.


White embroidery floss added a bit more dimension as rigging and the borders frame it nicely. quilting-art-ufo-challenge-complete-close-up

Don’t know but that I went a little overboard adding the shells to the edges.  Ah well…

This was due in to the offices of Quilting Arts by Friday, May 20th, and I managed to get it in the mail on Monday, the 16th.  They received it on Thursday the 19th, so Phew!

Wednesday, August 31 – Finally got my hands on a copy of the August/September issue.  Sadly, my quilt didn’t make the cut.  (The quilters online rated it 4.75 out of 5.  Woot!) That’s ok, it was still an interesting and worthwhile experience.

You can see all the transformations here.  Some are excellent and really, really well done, and some are just “meh,” I’ll leave you to judge for yourselves which are which. 🙂

Happy creating!

P.S.  Speaking of being creative, I won’t be around this weekend, as my brother-in-law will be getting married… on top of a mountain.  Here’s where we’ll be staying, after we hike up there.  Should be fun!  Gotta go pack my rucksack now…


Aug 292011

Hey all!

It’s a beautiful sunshiny morning here in Mass. We had some wild wind yesterday, but we’re fine.

Yesterday morning we’d had our showers, made the coffee and had just turned off the TV after watching some of the footage from points south, when the power went out. This was about 9:30.

We spent the day reading, working on projects (I cut out a skirt and yet another knit top), napping (that wind really lulls you to sleep) and trying to open the fridge as little as possible. (Did you know that toasting a piece of bread with a lighter doesn’t really work all that well?)

At about 7:30 p.m., just as I was lighting the oil lamps and candles so I could continue to read, the power came back on. Just in time for Sunday night football. Yay!

The biggest problem we have in New England with storms like this are downed trees. They fall on power lines, houses, cars and passersby.  The best case is if they only fall into the street, blocking traffic.  I couldn’t find a photo of it, but the next town over from me a tree split a house in half. By God’s grace, the residents were fine.

Other parts of New England were not so fortunate.  There has been severe flooding and a few deaths.  We’re thankful that the storm weakened, rather than strengthened, as it made its way north.  We’ll continue to trust that God, in his providence, is in control of all things, great and small.

So, today we just have to put away all the supplies we don’t need, take our patio furniture back out and thank the good Lord that all is well with our family.

Thank you all so much for your prayers.

Aug 262011

In case you don’t hear from me for a while, no, I am not still in the hammock reading, but it’s quite possible we’ve lost power for a time. Irene is looking like a big one, so we get ready and make the best of whatever will be.

Here’s my cat, Oliver, helping us with our hurricane preparations.


As you can see, he’s in his usual supervisory position.

Wherever you are, hope your weekend is lovely, and maybe not TOO exciting.  🙂


Aug 252011

Hi all.  Sorry I haven’t been a good blogger lately.  I’ve had the opportunity to do some work.  Not the crafty, fun kind, but the on-your-feet-all-day-and-come-home-beat type. 

Then today, I got up, all ready to tackle my backlog of writing tasks and found I had no internet. 


Naturally, this involved calling tech support, rebooting my computer & router several times, rummaging around in the spaghetti of wires behind the desk, all to no avail.  Thankfully the Verizon tech showed up quickly.  Turned out the wires to our house needed replacing. 

Now that’s done, we’re back online… and all my ambition has fled.  I feel like hitting the hammock with a good book. 

If I can get past the guilt, I just might…

But I wanted to let you all know what you have to look forward to in the next week or so.  I have plans for:

  1. A mini tutorial on how to sew with knits (request from a reader)
  2. A how to on making your own t-shirt quilts
  3. More patterns reviews (Yup, still MORE of that raspberry fabric.)
  4. Step-by-steps from an art quilt
  5. A crazy quilt tutorial

So, stay tuned, I’ll be back.  Once I finish that book…



Aug 232011

This scrapbook layout began with an assortment of photos, all of our new baby, but without any particular theme.

Whenever this happens to you there are a few approaches you can take.

  • Simply scrap the pictures, giving the names, the date and perhaps a brief comment about each.
  • Use the opportunity to recount a memory that you don’t have any photos of.
  • Study the pics and try to think of a unifying theme.  It often helps to leave the photos out where you can see them for a few days as you think about it.

Looking at these photos made me think of how blessed a baby is to have folks who just can’t wait to meet him and hold him, and how wonderful it is to be surrounded by love.


The “Surrounded” was stamped with a set by My Sentiments Exactly.  It looked rather flat and boring, so to give them some dimension and interest I went over the letters with Glossy Accents.

My handwriting is utterly horrible, but somehow I managed to get the “by” to look not that bad, lol.

The “LOVE” was done with the Sizzix Shadow Box dies and my Sizzix Big Shot.

Mounting stickers on squares of paper keeps them from getting lost on the page and gives them importance.


All the papers were edged with Distress inks, including Vintage Photo, Broken China, Faded jeans, Peeled Paint and Spiced Marmalade.

If you took my Distress Ink away, I don’t think I’d be able to scrapbook, lol.  They add just that perfect finishing touch.


Happy creating!