I bought my primary sewing machine — a Janome HT2008 — at a sewing expo in March 2008. I’d been sewing on an inexpensive, no-frills Brother machine I’d purchased at a big discount store. The extent of my research into the HT2008 was scanning the reviews on PatternReview.com (thumbs up) and a quick Google search to see if the expo price was much of a bargain (it was).

Fast forward to 2015, where the research leading to the purchase of my new sewing machine took about three years.

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My new Juki TL2010-Q.

Why the difference?

I’m often asked for sewing machine recommendations because of my job. Teaching and working at a quilt shop, plus writing sewing books puts me in contact with a lot of people who want to sew or already sew. My discussion about what machine to buy nearly always starts with the question: “What do you want to sew?”

In 2008, I had an inkling that I wanted to write a book and I knew I wanted a sewing machine that would allow me to continue to make bags and clothes. What I did not realize at the time was that the type of sewing I do would change, as would the amount of time I spent sewing.

I came to realize I needed a sewing machine that could handle the volume of work that I do, but also had some key features that weren’t available on my little Janome. The two big features I really wanted were an auto thread cutter and more harp space.

The thread cutter is just one of those things that seems so trivial but playing around with the feature on my friends’ machines made me realize how useful it really could be, especially for someone who tends to forget to trim her threads. Ahem.

Harp space — the room from the right of the needle to the body of the sewing machine — really makes a big difference when you sew oversized things. While I do make the occasional quilt, I’m just as likely to sew a historical costume with yards and yards of fabric. Both of these types of project would benefit from a much larger harp than that of my HT2008.

Initially, I looked at machines — specifically Janome — that had all the features of my existing machine as well as the ones I decided were a priority. And I quickly found that the cost of those machines was really a bit more than I was certain I wanted to pay.

I absolutely believe in investing in the best tools for the job you do and this is no exception. But many of the machines I found were really more machine than I needed. I don’t need a built-in alphabet: I have an embroidery machine. I don’t need 1,000 stitch varieties: I need the three I regularly use (straight, zig-zag, buttonhole).

The more I researched, the more information I found that led me to a simple conclusion: I needed two machines.

That might sound a little crazy but there’s a method to my madness. In a commercial clothing manufacturing facility, each piece of equipment does exactly one thing. My late mother worked for the Arrow shirt company as a band creaser. Her job was to crease the neck band of men’s shirts. That’s all she did and that’s all her equipment did. I have already applied this philosophy to other tools in my sewing room: I have a serger and a separate coverstitch, rather than a combo machine, plus an embroidery-only machine, as well.

And thus the decision was made to invest in a straight-stitch only machine with a separate garment-sewing machine for my other needs. I quickly narrowed down my search to two machines: the Janome 1600P-QC and the Juki TL2010-Q. Reviews led me to realize that either would work well for what I needed, so it really just came down to price.

That’s how I found myself sitting in front of a 2010 at the most recent sewing expo, putting it through its paces with a stack of fabric samples I’d brought from home. Soft n Stable sandwiched between fabric.Timtex sandwiched between fabric. Red satin coutil. I chatted with Karen Pharr, Juki’s sewing educator (really, Juki ambassador) about what I do and what I was looking for.

I came, I sewed, I bought.

It might be a love connection.

QuiltCon is here, which means the QuiltCon Scavenger Hunt has begun! Follow me on Instagram (thatcraftaddict). Then find at least 15 of the 20 Instagram photos on the list below for your entry to be complete. Happy hunting! The Scavenger Hunt form is now closed. Thanks for playing!

If you’re on social media with other quilters/sewers, you’ve probably been watching as many of them prepare to descend on Austin, Texas, for QuiltCon 2015. New bags and outfits have been made, buttons prepped for swapping, #HelloQuiltCon introductions made. Like me, maybe you’re relegated to watching not just the QuiltCon prep but the entire event unfold on social media.

What’s a non-QuiltCon attendee to do?

Since you’re already going to be “liking” and  commenting on the flood of pictures that are about to fill your screen, why not take part in the Unofficial 2015 QuiltCon IG Scavenger Hunt? (Not affiliated with nor endorsed by QuiltCon, The Modern Quilt Guild or anyone involved whatsoever with QuiltCon.)

Head over to IG and follow me (thatcraftaddict). I’ll post the scavenger hunt list on Thursday, Feb. 19, at 9 a.m. Austin time, along with a link to the form. There are 20 items on the list and you need to enter at least 15 in order for it to be considered complete. The form will close at 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 23 (again, Austin time). I’ll randomly choose from the completed entries and send that person a prize.

The biggest downside of writing a book is that I’m left with pretty much zero time for sewing for myself. But it’s February and the obligation sewing is long finished, so when I had a day off from work, I was ready to whip up a little something for me.

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I prefer tracing off patterns so I can make modifications more easily.

I’ve had the Myla Tank pattern from Sew Liberated for a while now (just because I don’t have time to sew for myself doesn’t mean I don’t collect patterns and fabric for future use) and when I saw the gorgeous Speckled navy lawn by Rashida Coleman-Hale for the newest Cotton+Steel line, I knew I’d found my match. The fabric reminds me of malted milk Easter eggs, which I love. Also, navy with splashes of aqua — my two favorite colors. *swoon*

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Sew Liberated Myla Tank made with Speckled lawn from Cotton+Steel.

The pattern guides you through finishing all the seam allowances with French seams. Since I have a serger (purchased because I’m too lazy to do French seams), I finished my seam allowances with it instead. Even with the French seams, though, I’d say this is a pretty speedy pattern to sew — with the exception of binding the neck and arms.

Ah, teeny binding. Not my favorite, for sure. But I think a wider binding would be far too bulky in those spots. I’m half tempted to make another but add a seam allowance around the neck and arms and do at least a half lining. On the fence about that, though, because …

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Sew Liberated Myla Tank made with Speckled lawn from Cotton+Steel.

I like the top and I’m going to wear the heck out of it but I’m not sure it’s the best fit in the chest-al region or the most flattering style for me. There’s just enough gaping around the arms that I will have to wear a tank or other top underneath. I do like the length, especially because I wear skinny jeans or leggings fairly often and this would work well with both.

But first I’m picking up more of that gorgeous lawn (maybe in the purple colorway, too) so I can make more pretties with it.

 

One of the best things about this sewing/quilting world is getting to meet cool people like Penny Layman. I wasn’t familiar with Penny’s work when I met her, which was probably a good thing because I might have fangirled all over her!

Needless to say, I was incredibly excited to see that she had a book coming out and I could not wait to get my hands on it. (Note: I paid retail for this book.The Paper-Pieced Home, published in December 2014 by Interweave, is just as lovely and charming as Penny, perfectly capturing her style on every one of the 136 pages.

The book has 40 paper-pieced blocks in a variety of sizes and 10 projects that show off those blocks, things like his-and-hers shoe bags and a tablet cover. Block patterns are printed from a CD that’s included with the book, which I love. It’s so easy to not only print out exactly what I want but I can reduce or enlarge the patterns before printing. Plus the patterns are lightly tinted to make it easier to discern the differences between sections.

I don’t have much experience with paper piecing, so I actually sat down with the book and read it before I printed a thing. Crazy! But I really wanted things to turn out well. Penny does a great job of breaking down the steps involved and gives really helpful tips so your blocks turn out as well as the examples in the book.

So like anyone trying something for the first time, I chose the simplest block pattern in the book for my first attempt.

OK, not really.

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Sewing Machine block from The Paper-Pieced Home by Penny Layman

Maybe starting with the Sewing Machine block was not the best idea. But Penny told me it was really easy in spite of all the pieces. So I crossed my fingers and jumped in. And it turned out super cute! I goofed on a couple of pieces, which I didn’t realize until the block was done, but I pulled out the seam ripper, removed the section, made another and put it all back together. It’s not perfect but it’s my first time and I’m pretty happy with it. Happy enough that I immediately made another block:

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Book Block from The Paper-Pieced Home by Penny Layman

This one would have been an ideal first block to start with! I used the new Text Sunprint by Alison Glass for Andover, some Kona solids and a tiny bit of some Patty Young fabric I had on hand. I think this one is going to get incorporated into a tote bag for Miss L to use for library books.

I’ve already got my eye on a few more blocks to play with, including the most fabulous, funky shoe in the history of quilt blocks.

 

For the majority of my most recent book-writing adventure, I did little sewing that was not related to my book. So when that final manuscript deadline rolled around, I let a couple of friends talk me into signing up for some swaps.

Swaps are nothing new. I have actually taken part in a couple but it’s been years since I’ve done one. Still, I knew that my inclination would be to ignore my sewing machine for six months after going pedal to the metal for so long. A swap could be just what I needed to recharge my sewing mojo.

First up was a quick holiday hot pad swap organized by the delightful Mo Bedell. Small project with a Christmas theme? Heck to the yeah! Of course I’ve never made a hot pad and had not sewn binding on anything in months, so it was a little  more of an adventure than I expected. But I thought they turned out cute (yes, I made two):

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Holiday Hot Pad swap pieces (binding in progress).

I have some weird addiction to buying cute Christmas fabric, so it was easy to “shop” my stash and pull together a few fabrics for the hot pads.

Next up was the Schnitzel and Boo Mini Quilt Swap over on the Instagram. I’ve really only made one mini quilt before (and it went to a dear friend), so I was a bit nervous about this one. My swap partner provided lots of likes and clues in her questionnaire but her IG profile was private so I ended up stalking her quilt board on Pinterest to get an idea of her style. She’d written that she liked Lecien’s Flower Sugar and her Pinterest had some scrappy star quilts on it, so I took a leap and came up with this:

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Schnitzel and Boo Mini Quilt Swap

The star is actually one of the blocks from our Block of the Month quilt. I changed up the setting so the star points would nest with each other, rather than keep the stars in evenly spaced rows. I really love how the setting creates this pretty pinwheel in the center! I was trying to use fabrics in my stash so the white squares are a mix of white-on-white fabrics I had on hand. It’s such a sweet little quilt and I plan to play with the design a bit to see if a larger quilt will work.

There are many things I love about working in a quilt shop. Talking to people about what they’re making is right up there near the top. It’s not unusual to hear people downplay their projects. “It’s just a quilt.” “It’s nothing special.” “I’m just a beginner.”

One of our regulars was telling me recently that she makes quilts for the high school graduates she knows but that the ones she made weren’t anything special because she’s still new to quilting. And it dawned on me that she really, honestly thought the quilts she was making weren’t anything remarkable — which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

If you take the time and love to make someone a handmade gift — especially something like a quilt — you are giving them something they will treasure for years, I told her. You may look at it and see all the mistakes you made but the recipient sees you and feels loved. If you gave that same person a comforter from Target, that blanket will go in the trash when it’s no longer worth using. But that person will seek out someone to repair the worn spots, the damage from years of loving use, of that beautiful handmade gift you think of as “nothing special.”

Whether or not we intend it, our quilts, clothes, stuffed toys — they’re all special for the love and thoughts that go into making them. If that doesn’t make it an heirloom, then I don’t know what does.

I’m not quite sure what happened to this year. Didn’t 2014 just get started? How is it possible that we’re already 10 days into November?

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At least I’ve already got a head start on my holiday sewing. Last year I picked up a copy of Simply Modern Christmas by Cindy Lammon. The projects were just lovely and I could see myself making so many of them — and not limiting myself to holiday fabrics. Of course, I couldn’t resist making a cute Christmas quilt.

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The retro Christmas fabrics from Michael Miller just spoke to me! And the Kona in Pool was a perfect match. It’s a lot of flying geese but chain piecing made the work go a little faster. It’s not a huge quilt — small enough to back with one width of fabric — but great for showing off a big chunk of theme fabric.

My buddy Elizabeth Beck did the quilting and I wish I had snapped a better picture of the quilt so you could see her beautiful work! The quilt is on display at Intown Quilters, if you’re local.