Dreaming of a new sewing space…

I love living in the city.  I love that my tiny house doesn’t cost much to heat or cool.  I love not having a yard to maintain (but I would love my own garden).  I love knowing my neighbors by name and walking to the grocery store.   I love my roof deck.  I love the vibrancy and diversity of Center City Philadelphia.  But, the one thing that is hard about living in an urban row home is that we don’t have a ton of space, and the space we do have has to be used wisely.  

It’s a fact that my sewing habit has expanded, but I don’t have an extra room to dedicate to sewing.  It was one thing when I was sewing a pillow once a month.  It’s quite different now that I’m sewing on a daily basis.  (Basically anytime I’m not working, volunteering, running with my dogs, sleeping, eating, showering or reading – I’m sewing.)   My “sewing corner” is about 8×8 feet and that’s all I have to work with.  I love my sewing corner, but I rearrange it on a near weekly basis trying to find my groove.  I’ve had both desks in various positions to try to find the perfect fit.  (I haven’t found it yet.)

Things I love:

Sunlight!  There is so much sunlight in my 3rd floor sewing spot!  During the day it’s radiant.  It really helps with Winter blues.  And if I want to take a break, I can just hop out onto the roof deck.

My husband’s dj / music equipment is set up in the same room so I have a handsome, bearded jukebox playing tunes while I sew.  (He’s also a great cook.)



Storage:  I basically don’t have any.  Aside from a few drawers and a tiny shelf unit that I have sitting next to my desk, I’m constantly looking for places to stash stuff.  (Like under the desk…  See:  sewing machine, distilled water for my iron, scrap boxes, oh my!)


Mish-mashed look:  This station sits right in the corner of our main rec room / living area and to be honest, I just want something that looks nicer.  Calmer.  More put together.  Organized.   That wooden desk has been my desk since I was 9 years old so it has some nostalgia working for it, but it’s not cutting it for this purpose.   I recently bought the white Gidget sewing table and I’m not super pleased to be honest.  It’s pretty wobbly and WAY too low for me.  I’m not super tall (5′ 8″), but I feel like the desk was made for someone much shorter than myself (and there is no height adjustment for the overall table.)  I’ve actually been sewing with my machine on the table top (not dropped down) just to give myself a few extra inches so I don’t strain my neck from trying to see what I’m doing.  Plus, my new Juki has a very large extension table so I haven’t been using the drop down anyway.  (LOVE my Juki…)

Cutting and pressing:  I have a fairly large cutting matt, but I’m constantly moving my matt and moving my ironing board.  I swear I spend more time moving stuff around than sewing some days.  I would really just love a large workspace to do both.

So I’ve been pinning like a mad woman and below are some of my dream set-ups and ideas.  Most of them are IKEA-hacks and would probably cost less than $150, which I love.  (Considering I spent almost that much on my Gidget sewing desk, I’m OK with this budget.)

This one comes from Anna over at noodlehead and I simply adore how clean and bright it is.  This is my DREAM set up.

Look at this beauty! IKEA bookcase + table top + legs.

Erica from, Why Yes, I should be doing something else used IKEA bookshelves too for a super clean look.

This is technically a scrapbooking table, but I love how organized it is.

Originally posted by Karen at easypatchwork, this was picked up by IKEA-hackers and you can tell why.  Drool, right?  Look at all of that storage space!

So tidy! So compact! So much space to cut!

I also realize I need to go vertical to store stuff.  (I actually bought peg board this weekend and I can’t wait to set something like this up!) 

This one comes from bhg.com

I love how the workstation has usable wall space below the shelves. I will probably instal a peg board below my wall shelves.

I can’t wait to get started.  And naturally, I’ll post pics along the way!


A week of little projects

Usually as soon as I finish piecing a quilt, I’m already frantically searching for a new quilt to work on.  (I did just get the latest issue of Quilty today, and I have three quilts earmarked for the future from this issue alone.)  But for whatever the reason, I really feel in the mood to do a bunch of small projects lately.  Perhaps it’s because I have my wedding coming up in three months and the thought of tackling something “big” makes me want to cry with everything on my to-do lists.  (For those of you who know me – yes, I’m already married, but we eloped nearly ten years ago.  In May we’re having a proper wedding:  White dress, bridesmaids, photobooth and all!)  Speaking of which, I have a ton of wedding-related sewing to tackle in the next few weeks.  (More on that later.)

This is what I’ve been up to this week:

Charity Quilt for the Philadelphia Modern Quilt Guild:  OK, can I just say how excited I am to be a member of the PMQG?  I’ve only been to two meetings and I’m hooked.  This month we’re putting together a charity quilt and each member has been asked to make HST blocks.  (I also volunteered to sit on the Outreach and Web committee so yours truly wrote a blog post about the charity quilt on PMQG’s website.)

Follow the lines!

Follow the lines!

Turns out I’m a big fan of 1. Paper Piecing and 2.  Half Square Triangles.   I got a total kick out of coming up with various designs and I was shocked at just how many designs could be made with those little HST.  So much bang for your buck!  I’m thinking that a HST quilt (or maybe a few throw pillows) is in the works for 2014.  I just LOVED it.  Paper piecing has also been on my list of quilty-things-to-try and this was a nice primer.  The guild will be putting the quilt together at the MOD Retreat.  (Sadly, the retreat is sold out.  But QuiltCon was just announced an you bet I’m NOT missing that!  Excuse to go to Texas + Quilt Conference = AWESOME SAUCE.  Speaking of sauce, I can’t wait to eat some Texas BBQ.)

Check ‘em out:


Block of the Month (Pile O’ Fabric):  The 2013 BOM series is free and covers a lot of the skills and techniques I want to learn.  The first two blocks were easy and I love how they turned out.  It’s no surprise I decided to use blues and greens – they’re my favorite.  The instructions are clear and I love that there are videos posted for some of the more delicate techniques.

Pillows or a quilt?

Pillows or a quilt?

I haven’t decided if I’m going to make a quilt out of the blocks yet.  I’m not a huge fan of quilts with random blocks, so I kinda want to make ridiculous number of throw pillows out of the monthly blocks.  (My husband is going to kill me.  I’m under the impression that a house cannot have too many pillows.)  I’m still going to free motion quilt them, but I’m just not sure they’re destined for a quilt.  Wouldn’t these blocks make great pillows?  I figure, I’ll have tons of holiday plush-presents come December if I go that route too.  (But I’m keeping these two!)  TBD.

InstaBee 2014:  Elizabeth over at andpins told me about the InstaBee at our PMQG meeting.  Her hive was already full but she promised to message me if she heard of any hives opening up.  Yesterday she did and within six hours, Hive 15 was full and I was one of the lucky bees.  (After being one of the unlucky 15% of runners who didn’t get into the Broad Street Run this year, it felt good to be on the inside.  But this is probably the wrong blog for that.)  We’ve set up a FB group, come up with a logo (my silly design), and are already talking about months & blocks.  This is my first quilting bee and I’m giddy.  Yes, I think I drank the KoolAid.  I’m officially a quilt-nut.  Nice to know I’m in good company…

Hive 15 Instabee


I’m going to need to start making two types of to-do lists:  Quilty To-Do’s and Everything Else To-Do’s.  I feel like my entire life revolved around my sewing last week.  (OK, that’s not true.  I got a long run in on Friday (didn’t blog about it), cleaned the entire house on Sunday, and organized and pulled off a very successful fun-run-slash-brewery-tour fundraiser for The Monster Milers.  Oh and I had a cold all week.  I also successfully went through hundreds of tissues.  A job well done!)

So, the big news!  I bought a “big girl” sewing machine:  a Juki TL-2010Q. Isn’t she pretty?   I feel like she’s the Kitchen Aid mixer of sewing machines. (You know what I mean.)  Not many bells-n-whistles, all-tough, all-machine.  She knows what she’s supposed to do and dammit, she’s going to be the best at it.  I didn’t want anything to fancy – I just wanted a machine that could do a mean straight stitch and quilt without fail.


Pile O’ Fabrics’ BOM Skill Builder: Block #1
& my sweet Juki TL 2010Q

Last weekend, I was attempting to quilt and gave up after a few minutes of horrible stitches.  I’m not going to bash my old machine (Brother cs6000si) because it was a great beginner machine.  It was perfect for those first few months of sewing: when I wasn’t sure if it was just a new fad and didn’t want to spend hundreds dollars on a toy.  I sewed a few curtains using it, oodles of pillows, 4 quilt tops and a few pieces of clothing (without much frustration at all.)  But I could not use the machine to quilt, as much as I tried.  (And seam ripped.  And seam ripped.  Then ripped some more.)  It simply didn’t have enough ooomf to pull quilt sandwiches in a consistent manner.

I knew it was time for an upgrade.  And I knew I wanted something simple.  I posted in the PMQG’s forums, looking for advice about upgrading.   Within hours I had awesome suggestions about models and the best inside tip:  Find a a show-model machine.  Reputable dealers will sell like-new machines for a discount, often with deep discounts, and 100% warrantee coverage.  SewVacDirect had one such deal.

I have to say – I’m a fan of buying used!  I was expecting to spend a few hours getting all of the settings just right.  Um, try sewing within 20 minutes of getting the machine plugged in.  The hardest part was figuring out the automatic needle threader, which I still have not mastered.  (Even after watching how-to videos about 36 times.)  I figure the dealer must have made the adjustments (that I didn’t have to do) before the show.  It’s like I got a discount AND had a professional set up the machine.  (I know I should have bought locally, but there are no dealers in Center City Philly, and I only venture out of the City every few weeks.)


First two blocks done!

Within 24-hours I had pieced Block #1 and Block #2 of the Pile O’ Fabric’s BOM Skill Builder (from 2013 – it’s free!)  More on that later.  And within 48 hours I cut and pieced my first block for the Philadelphia Modern Quilt Guild’s Charity Quilt.  (More on that later too!)  I am thrilled with my purchase.

And how did I live without an automatic thread cutter before?  How. Did.  I.  LIVE?


My First Quilt (Finished 2012)

Back in 2012, I took the plunge and signed up for a quilting class at Spool in Philadelphia.  (Spool was an amazing quilting & sewing studio/shop that closed in 2013.  It broke my heart a little when they closed their doors.)  Over the course of a few weeks we learned basic quilting skills:  Cutting, piecing, pressing and machine straight-line quilting.  It was the perfect primer and I highly recommend taking a class at a local sewing/quilting studio if you want to learn how to quilt.  I learned so much in the “Beginner Quilting Class” and I truly miss having a local studio with classes. (Part of the reason I joined the Philly Modern Quilt Guild is because I know I still have a lot to learn.)

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Once I completed the quilt, I gave it to my Grandmother.  She keeps it on a blanket rack in her room and no matter how many times I say, “Grammy, you know you can actually use the quilt, right?” I always find it in the same spot.  On display.  (It’s not meant to be a display quilt at all, but I can’t argue with her.  At least I know it’s loved, even if it’s from a distance.)

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It’s nothing fancy – just a simple nine-patch, lap quilt.  But it gave me the confidence to try quilting at home.  Of course I didn’t take photographs of it before I gave it to her, so I snapped a few on my phone last time I visited her.   It’s not perfect but I was so proud of it, and still am. Looking back, my fabric tastes have changed, but everyone has to start somewhere.  (And Grammy thinks it’s awesome, which is all that really matters.)

For the sake of this post, I made her curl up under the quilt.  Hopefully it becomes a habit…

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For quilt #2, I actually made the same exact quilt, using different fabrics.  (And then gave that one to my Mom.  See a pattern?)


Quilting is in my genes…

I’ve been running around saying things like, “I don’t come from a family of quilters.”   And wouldn’t you know it, I have to put my foot in my mouth.  I was talking to my Mom the other day about joining PMQG and she said, “You know your Great Grandmother was very active in her local quilting bee in Texas?  In fact, one of the only memories I have of her is a quilting bee meeting that was going on while we visited.  She had a bunch of women in the back room of their home and they were working on a quilt.”


How did I not know this?

I really hope they looked like this:

Quilting Bee
Or maybe like this:


You see, my Mom’s father (my maternal grandfather) died in the Korean War when my Mom was five years old.  My grandmother (AKA “Grammy the Magnificent”) remarried an amazing man a few years after the war (and I honestly believe he was one of the most amazing men to walk the face of the earth.  He passed away a few years ago, and I know I am a better person for knowing him.  Sometimes it makes me sad to think that I don’t pass on his bloodline.)

I guess I never really asked many questions about my real Grandfather’s side of the family.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to know more about them, it just never really crossed my mind.  After a few generations, the families just kinda did their own thing.  I vaguely knew they were from Texas, but that’s pretty much it.  Knowing that they were also quilters makes me feel oddly connected to a family that share my genes, even though our lives have never intersected.

So wait, it gets better.  My Mom then said, “You know, your great grandmother’s quilting bee quilted a quilt for me for when I got married.  I still have it somewhere.”  No effing way!  No the problem is, “somewhere” to my Mom could mean a lot of things.  She doesn’t tend to get rid of things.  Good for situations like this, not so good for finding the quilt – it could be somewhere (AKA anywhere.)  However fate intervened in the way of a major ice storm, which knocked our her electricity, which caused her sump pump to go offline for three days, which caused her basement to flood.  Now before you worry that I’m callous and wishing destruction on my Mom’s material possessions, relax.  This actually forced us to do something we’ve been meaning to do for years:  rent a dumpster and throw out tons of worthless junk she had been storing in the basement and sort through the valuable stuff.  (I actually think she was happy for the excuse.)   Honestly, most of it was old boxes and such.

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My husband and I filled a dumpster. Yes, I AM the best daughter in the world.

But guess what we found?  The quilt that was given to her on her wedding day from my Great Grandmother.  I think I squealed and then asked her if I could “borrow it” for a while.   It was a bit musty smelling, but a quick wash took care of that.  The colors are still vibrant!

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I’m nursing a cold right now and it’s lovely to be curled up under a family heirloom quilt from the 1960’s.

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Check out the rad, vintage fabrics used:

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So what do you think?  Should I try to track down some of my quilting family from Texas?  It could be a fun project.  I might just ask Mom n’ Grammy if they have any known contacts…


My First Philadelphia Modern Quilt Guild Meeting

Let’s talk about inspiration shall we?  Since Spool closed in Philly, I’ve been getting most of my inspiration from behind a computer screen. And no doubt, blogs are great (ahem).  Online tutorials have kept me learning for the last year without taking a single “class,” I have been able to view QuiltCon lectures for FREE, and don’t even get me started on Pinterest.  But, I really wanted to connect (in real life) with quilters, and thus I found the Philadelphia Modern Quilt Guild after a quick online search.  The meeting started with a Secret Santa gift exchange and the gifts were pretty mind-blowing.  (I’m already a bit intimidated for the holiday season this year!  It’s one thing to give a gift to a friend who has never touched a sewing machine.   It’s something else to give a gift to someone who may have been sewing longer than I am old.  But that’s why I joined the group.  I have questions, they have answers!)  There was a brief show-and-tell (show-and-drool) and a bit of event planning.

Holiday Gift Exchange awesomeness...

Holiday Gift Exchange awesomeness…

Even though this was my first meeting, the group let me in on the MQG Riley Blake Fabric Challenge.  (I had read about it online and was a bit bummed I missed out on the action.  I was pretty pumped to have the fabric in my hot little hands.)   Essentially, guild members are given complementary fabric and told to create something.  Anything.   So that’s on my agenda for the next month.   I don’t have a ton of time before the end of the challenge, so I think I might just make a pair of simple placemats.  Some of the photos posted on the MQG blog are simply amazing.  I’m just happy to be involved!

Riley Blake Fabric Challenge for the Modern Quilt Guild

Riley Blake Fabric Challenge for the Modern Quilt Guild

Oh and I got an MQG pin, so I feel quite official.  Awesome sauce.

How fancy!

How fancy!


Sunday Sewing

The polar vortex has turned me into a bit of a hermit lately.  (I lie. I went out to see Damien Jurado last night and it was wonderful.)  For the last few weeks, a good chunk of my weekend days have been spent behind the sewing machine.  (My reading life is taking a major hit with this quilting-craze.  As much as I want to curl up under a quilt with a good book, I kinda just want to quilt that quilt instead.)

The first two quilts I made were from a lap quilt pattern that came with my quilting class at Spool (now closed).  I did not deviate from the patterns at all.   For my third quilt (front and back pieced, still un-quilted), I used a pattern from one of my favorite quilting books, Modern Minimal.  Part of the pattern was a section that was made up of improv piecing.  I was so nervous about moving ahead without a clear pattern.  I was convinced that it couldn’t be as easy as the pattern claimed it was.  Which is funny because by the nature of improv quilting, you really can’t mess up.  (OK, you can mess up, but that’s what seam ripper is for.)  I soon realized that improv piecing was not only fun, it also allowed me to tap into my own creativity.

So, for my fourth quilt (pattern by Cherri House in City Quilts), I’ve been having some fun figuring out what the back will look like.  Previously my backs consisted of a nice print that complemented the piecing on the front.  Nothing fancy or tricky.  Improv piecing gave me the confidence to realize that I don’t always have to follow someone else’s patterns.  I made a few sketches (sketches!) and figured out a way to use up most of the leftover scraps I had from the quilt front.

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Not at all to scale, but still fun to make my own “patterns.”

Of course, I have some amazing co-pilots to help me pin and piece.  Without opposable thumbs, they’re more moral support than anything.

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Jax and Lola – my cheerleaders

After a few hours, viola.  My quilt back for quilt #4 is done!  Now the stressful part:  the quilting.  I’ve only machine quilted two quilts, and I’ve had a bunch of stitch-issues with my machine.  In retrospect, I believe the issues may have been due to a needle/thread combo that wasn’t working out and I hope to avoid some of the problems I had with my second quilt.  (I’m taking advice from Elizabeth and I’m going to try out a new thread.)  I practically gave myself blisters from all of the seam ripping I did, so I haven’t been looking forward to this part.  But now I have two quilts that are totally pieced and I’m determined to quilt one of them before I start cutting for quilt #5.   I understand why people send their quilts away to be quilted, but I just want to know that I can do it.   Wish me luck…

The finished quilt back...

The finished quilt back…