Monday, 12 October 2015

Hope Bag - My school holiday project.

I'm back teaching this week, but man, the school holidays were not the relaxing, craft filled experience I had anticipated. Husband and au pair both away on over seas trips meant we got Big Mama in for an extra set of hands to cuddle my two babies who put it on big time having Daddy away.

That being said, I did manage to finish the Tara Rebman Craftsy class 'Quilt as You Go Patchwork Bag' and it was amazing. Tara is incredible and after having her talk to me for so long, I feel like she is my friend! Ah the delusions of media. Aside from the great, transferable techniques Tara teaches, the piece of advice that has made the biggest impact on me is this. If you have fabric you love, use it. We all stash. It's part of quilting. Don't be afraid of ruining larger cuts by taking pieces out - it doesn't matter! 

So this is what I did. I picked some of my favourite fabrics and added some extras to make my bag, and I LOVE it. The bag is made from various quilting cottons with an upholstery fabric on the bottom to make it a little sturdier. Then to finish off this lovely bag, the word Hope has ended up right there on the flap, completely by accident. 

Hope. An interesting concept. And one that is amazingly perfect for my life right now. We've been through the ringer this last 2 1/2 years but have come through. We are on the up and this bag is a lovely representation of the hope I have for the future.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Hubba Hubba Quilt Follow-Up

I first posted about this cute quilt back at the end of July (see here), but got busy with my special request quilt and working the new school term. Today however, I finally finished it and am ultimately happy with the results.
Seam pressing took forever!

Basically, I cannot believe so much effort went into making such a small quilt. It's about 40 x 60 inches which is fine for its destination, but this sort of fiddly piecing is not something I'm signing up again for in a hurry. I was so disciplined pressing all the seams the right way and 'pin wheeling' the bigger junctions. Despite all this, there are still many puffy seems on the quilt top that made the actual quilting quite difficult.

I chose to do an all over free motion pattern for this one and in hindsight, I think I made things a bit trickier than they needed to be. Given the thickness of some seams, I should have chosen a simpler, more geometric design. That all being said, the hot pink thread I used looks great and really gives the project a lift.

What did work really well on this project was that I was able to use the backing to do the binding due to the relative small size. It meant the binding took no time at all and I used a bit of a decorative stitch to add to the project theme - a quilt for a little girl.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Special Request Quilt - Featuring Machine Embroidery and Appliqué

It happens every now and then, a good friend calls with a special request. Mine came last month in the form of a gift quilt for a lady who's family was in the midst of much turmoil. My friend lived far away and thought a quilt would be a nice way of sending them a warm hug. I agreed and got to work.

It's times like these that a good fabric stash comes in real handy. Some graph paper and a brainstorm later, and we were running. The 'client' has two young girls but my friend wanted a more timeless quilt that would grow with the children and appeal to the mother too. I decided to do a simple patchwork design accented with some designs done on my Bernina Embroidery Attachment. It took AGES to stitch out the 9 different designs (Ecco from Embroidery Online) but the result was well worth it. 

The quilt features 6"squares with 2" borders. In hindsight, I think the 6:2 ratio is a little unbalanced, I would have preferred a smaller border. Never the less, the quilt still looks great. The fabric is 'Weekends' by Erin McMorris for Freespirit Fabrics and I used some Kona Solids for the embroidery backgrounds. Once the embroidery squares were done the sewing of the quilt top didn't take so long and I used strips of the fabrics to make the backing colourful and interesting in its own right. 

The only real difficulty I found with this quilt was when it came to sandwiching. The quilt was about 62" square and I really struggled to find a surface big enough to get all the layers placed right. Check the photo for my creative table enlarger. 

To finish of the project I used Westalee Rulers to make a beautiful continuous rope on all the 2" strips. It really didn't take so long and once I got in the groove the rulers really made the process quite quick. The squares feature a combination of ruler designs and free motion quilting to highlight the beautiful fabrics. 

In my haste to get the quilt off to its new owners I forgot to take a proper photo - drat! But hopefully I can get one later down the track. What's most important is that the quilt was made with lots of love for people who need a little extra support right now. This is why I love quilting. I get to make unique and beautiful creations to bring joy to others. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Simple Sewing Machine Maintenance for Quilters

Sewing Machine maintenance is critically important for the long-term health of your machine. If you are sewing pretty much every day, especially with batting, you really must get that fluff out from the workings of the machine every day. Simple maintenance means less trips to the service centre, less expenditure (more money for buying fabric) and more time sewing!

One of the best pieces of advice I've received about sewing machine maintenance, is not to wait for the machine to tell you it needs oil. I don't usually sew every day, but I sew most days. A tiny drop of oil once every week or two is great. Do NOT over oil. Wipe excess away and always wipe off excess with a fabric scrap.

Basic Process

Step 2
1. Remove bobbin, bobbin casing, foot and thread. You can remove the needle too if you think you may get into trouble.

2. Take off stitch plate. For mine, you just push in the corner and it pops up.

Step 3
3. Open bobbin housing and remove parts.

4. Get your nifty little cleaning brush that comes with every machine and go crazy.

5. Add a tiny bit of oil (when required).

6. Put everything back in the right spot! This is important. If not, the machine won't work. ;)

I'm always amazed what gunk comes out of my machine even if I had only cleaned it a day before. Push the bush into as many nooks and crannies you can.

Don't blow in your machine. Sewing machines don't like moisture (oil is not moisture). Most important thing to remember is that any sewing creates lint build up in the machine but batting, of any sort, is particularly messy. It takes no time to quickly open the machine up and clear out the lint. Well made machines really do last a lifetime and this simple maintenance will ensure smoother sewing for all.

NB: Your individual sewing machine manual should explain how to strip down your machine for cleaning.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Hubba Hubba: A quilt for a special little girl - Part 1

I love making quilts for people and have attempted, somewhat successfully, to give quilts to my close friend's children on their birthday. With one such first birthday coming up in October, I recently set about piecing a quilt. What makes this quilt especially important is that the baby's mother is one of my closet friend's who lost a baby girl late in her pregnancy the year before. Often it is only through tragedy that we can appreciate the gifts we have. 

As most good project do, this one started off with the purchasing of a couple of cute Hubba Hubba charm packs during a Hobby Sew pre-cuts sale. I love the bold colours that still have a girly feel, perfect for a quilt intended to follow a child through to the teenage years. Having spent a lot of my quilting time on appliqué designs I was keen to try a more complicated pieced quilt and eventually settled on this one from the Moda Bake Shop, but half the size. I don't even know the name of this block, but I should end up with a roughly 40" x 50" quilt. Seemed easy enough; charm squares paired with some cute spotted fabric to tone down the sometimes extremely bright prints. I generally really enjoy the cutting out stage of making a quilt. I love cracking out the graph paper and working out how many metres of fabric I need to get the bits I want. In this case however; I think I underestimated the time it would take to do the blocks properly. They are small, cute and a little fiddly. 

My workroom can often be a busy space. Between my dog and children there is almost constant interruptions and distractions. Given that I didn't have much fabric to spare with this quilt I was keen to avoid mistakes at any cost and to find an efficient way to work through the various steps. The quilt is made from 80 charm squares which are initially sewn to 80 5"squares of spotty fabric. I thus decided to do each step 80 (and ultimately 320, but 80 sounds better) times. 

The first stage was easy, sew the 5" squares together all around the edge then cut twice through the diagonal. Great. I then pressed these now triangles into squares. Not too bad. Then it got tough. I now had 320 squares that needed to be trimmed to 3". Ouch. No kidding, I think I aggravated an old wrist injury from holding the ruler still. Lucky I started the project so early as I am not progressing anywhere near as fast as anticipated. I've just had to do a little bit here and there when I've had time so as not to ruin my body in the process. It's done now though and I'm almost half way through sewing two quarters together to form two halves. The rest of the quilt should come together a lot quicker, right??

Here is the lowdown on this little girl's quilt. 

  • 2 x Hubba Hubba charm packs (80 squares used)
  • 1 x 1/2 yard of four different spotty fabrics = 2 yards (I'm going to use the leftovers for binding). Cut these into 20 x 5" squares per fabric.
  1. Sew charm pack pieces to spotty pieces with a 1/4" seem all around the edge.
  2. Cut the sewn squares in half diagonally, twice. 
  3. Press these now triangles into smaller squares.
  4. Trim the now 320 squares to 3" making sure the seem is centred diagonally.
  5. Sew into cute blocks pressing seems all the same way to make a pinwheel in the middle (this will be explained further in the next post).

I'm impatient to get through to the quilting stage of this project cause I have some grad plans to use my circular rulers along with some FMQ to create something pretty on top. But tell me, what are your tips for getting through the tedious trimming stage? I honestly think I would have died had I decided to do the quilt bigger.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Princess and the Pea - Quilt and Growth Chart

When my baby girl was born, my Mum had set a bit of a precedence with the Jack and the Bean Stalk growth chart she'd made for my son (see here). In true Big Mama style, she came out with this wondrous pair: matching Princess and the Pea cot quilt and growth chart. I had some input into the colour scheme but essentially this is all Big Mama's design and work. She has incorporated some machine embroidery to do Aimee's name and birth details but the majority is appliqué with free motion quilting. As is usual, I don't think the photos do the beautiful quilting justice so you'll just have to take my word for it. 

I love the thought of Aimee snuggling under this gorgeous quilt, all warm in her cot. These are true works of art and pieces I'm hoping Aimee will keep for years to come. I just wish she had kept the pattern pieces from the appliqué! I think there'd totally be a market there.

Monday, 13 July 2015

The Easiest Quilt I've Ever Made

As stupid as it sounds, I totally get mummy guilt when I spend too much time sewing, even if half the time the children are in the room with me playing. In an attempt to free myself of said guilt, yesterday I made my son a play-mat quilt. He is a three year old boy so the obvious choice was Lightening Mcqueen!

Here are the instructions.

1. Buy licensed panel from fabric store and accompanying themed fabric to go on the back.
2. Sandwich together with your choice of batting.
3. Quilt as simply or as detailed as you feel you have the time and inclination for.
4. Bind in matching colour.

For mine, I did the equivalent of 'in the ditch' stitching around the black border, a larger stipple all over the centre and wavy lines with intermittent stars in the red border.

Done. Love. Happy days.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Sewing through ones finger - A right of passage or what not to do?

I finally did it. I sewed through my finger today. Middle finger on my right hand. I was using a quilting ruler, it got a bit stuck on a seam, and in went my finger. Ouch! In fact it's not so bad. Only hurt really to start with. Very strange seeing an entry and exit point though. What worried me more was that I got a drop of blood on the quilt I was working on. All fixed now but it certainly added to the drama in my house this evening.

What I was wondering though, have I just passed some sort of sewing right of passage? Did I just earn my self a little quilting kudos? Or on the other hand, am I being a bit careless? The stupid part is that I own a special poking tool to keep those fingers out of the way. Add to that, yesterday I dropped my sewing scissors and stabbed another finger on the same hand. What's going on? I'm claiming sewing kudos cause I'll sure as anything be back on the machine in the morning!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Helicopter Appliqué Quilt - a lesson on selecting fabric and colours. - UPDATED

It's a common problem: Find a quilting design I love, decide to replicate, can't find the same fabric. Solution: Do it from your stash!

This gorgeous appliquéd and pieced quilt was made for a friend's baby on the occasion of his 1st birthday (see here for what I made his older brother). The design comes from 'Cherished Quilts for Babies and Kids', produced under the Better Homes and Gardens label, but I've completely changed the colour scheme. And what an agonising process it was picking all those fabrics!

As mentioned in my previous blog, I'm a fabric addict, probably like anyone reading this piece. I buy up things I like when on sale so that hopefully my overall production costs will be a bit less. For themed appliqué like this, I find fat quarter bundles a real saviour; someone else has done the hard part of matching the complementary fabrics. Despite this, it did take me a long time to select exactly which fabrics I would use. Main considerations are:
  1. Do I have enough? Particularly relevant for binding, which is the same fabric I used for the helicopter body. 
  2. Does the pattern look ok given the size of the pieces? i.e. small vs large pattern.
  3. Do the fabrics match given their locations on the quilt? Nothing worse than fabric standing out for the wrong reason.
  4. Take your time.
I started with the central appliqué panel and was clearly happy with the results. I was then unsure how to proceed with the rest of the quilt and happily found some white fabric with colourful spots that complimented the busy design nicely. As with all quilt piecing, photographing potential layout is a great way to see the overall look of a quilt before stitching it together. I also had great fun quilting this one with the square border blocks giving me ample opportunity to hone the FMQ skills. I couldn't have been happier with the finished product but let me tell you, I spent so long swapping potential fabrics in and out and seeing how they all went together. What did I learn? Do exactly that. Take your time and make sure you're happy BEFORE anything starts being cut out. Happy quilting!


After writing the above article, a family member asked me to make another quilt like this for a little boy who is about to be adopted into the family. At very short notice, this is what I came up with thanks to a cute charm pack and some leftovers! Which colour scheme do you prefer? The original or the replica? 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Quilting Rulers - what's the big deal??

I've been a fan of Free Motion Quilting since I got into quilting about four years ago. It's such a wonderful art-form and in all honesty, I draw better with my sewing machine than I do with a pencil in my hand. That all being said, I've always been interested in what machine quilting rulers had to offer. There are several types on the market and I have recently investigated the Westalee rulers. I chose this brand mostly because of their specially designed foot which prevents you from accidentally slipping and stitching over the rulers. They also have an excellent range of YouTube clips that show how to use their various rulers. Even better than that, they are entirely Australian owned and made. 

This is my favourite so far.
I started off with the sample pack of rulers to get a feel for the concept and how I may be able to use them in my quilting. It didn't take long for me to fall in love and imagine all sorts of ruler possibilities. The rulers are covered in various markings that mean each one can be used to create different designs. I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to manipulate the ruler and fabric I was working with and the little grip strips you can purchase on the website held on nicely as I stitched. The new catalogue recently published shows endless possibilities for imaginative quilt blocks, borders and really anything you want. 
Perhaps the feature that most interests me is the way Free-Motion-Quilting can be integrated with the ruler work. The rulers give that precision that I love but also leave space for the free motion designs I've got so good at doing. Here are some cushion covers that were quilted to try out the rulers. The Westalee foot also fits really well on the Bernina low-shank adaptor I already had - but are available for all machines. 

The most difficult part for me when using the rulers, is regulating my stitch length. I've been totally lazy lately and have been using the Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR) for all my quilting. This is not a major issue as I used to do a fair bit of quilting without the BSR, but pedal regulation is a skill I need to brush up on.

Now I'm desperate to piece a few quilts so I can practice more ruler work!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Fabric addicts 101
I just love that feeling of having an idea for a new quilting or craft project, walking to the sewing room and having all the supplies there ready to go. It's easy and means you can take advantage of the inspiration at hand. That my friends, is why a fabric stash of reasonable size is a necessity of any serious or hobby quilter/crafter.

Is it possible to own enough fabric? And how on earth does one ever manage to stop buying it? I'm a money conscious mama - so I like to buy on sale. But as my husband likes to remind me, how much of a saving is it if that fabric just sits in a drawer. He just doesn't get it. How will I ever be inspired if I don't have pretty patterns to look at? And I will use it... one day...

I love the perfection of seeing folded yards of fabric and neat little fat quarters all in matching patterns and colours. Never be ashamed of your stash. I always think that there are worse things I could spend my (or my husbands) money on. And, perhaps more important than anything else; it makes me happy!

Where to buy?
So I've heard that fabric is about to go up in the USA. This will no doubt carry over here, especially with the low Australian Dollar. Never the less, the Fat Quarter Shop is a must visit website. It's important to buy up big to balance out the cost of postage, but that's not hard. Check out the sale items as you can filter by percentage off.

Closer to home, Craft Depot is a cracker. They have sales all the time and clear fabric for $5 and $10 per metre. The postage is reasonable and they ship really quickly. Get on their mailing list so you know when sales are on as right now, they have an extra 20% off all fabrics except the $5 ones. I may have bought nine metres of beautiful, modern florals.... on the spur of the moment.... whoops...

Got these during a precuts sale at Hobby Sew
Locally, I try to stay away from Spotlight and Lincraft unless I'm getting something simple or something that requires huge quantities. Unfortunately the nearest Spotlight to me is in NSW (across the state line) and the closest Lincraft is crazy small and completely disorganised. Thankfully, Canberra has a couple of smaller shops that have a fantastic range of fabrics. My favourite is Hobby Sew. Not only do they do online orders, but the store is jam packed with precious fabric. It also helps that the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. It's vital to be on their mailing list as they regularly put out catalogues with some great deals.

Please post pictures of your fabric stash. Where is it? In boxes? Oh shelves or in drawers like mine??

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Machine embroidery for kids 101

One of the best things my mother ever convinced me to do, was purchase the embroidery module for my Bernina 440QE. I simply LOVE it, though it perhaps doesn't get used as often as I would like (familiar story!). 

However, I recently had a very productive Saturday embroidering beautiful embellishments on some clothing for my children. My new favourite website ( has recently become well acquainted with my credit card and I am bursting with ideas for quilts with machine embroidered details from some recent purchases! 

Tips for embroidering children's clothes

  1. Use good quality embroidery files that are specifically designed for your machine. File formats get confused when changing from one system to another. Also be careful when changing the size of the design, that your software can accommodate it. The cheaper, free software doesn't usually cope well with big changes. 
  2. Don't cut out your pattern pieces. Children's clothing is usually quite small, and if you cut out the pieces, it can be difficult to hoop-up. I like to draw around the pattern pieces and cut them out after the embroidery is finished. This also allows for potential distortion sometimes caused by embroidery designs. 
  3. Don't be stingy with stabiliser. Double thickness tear-away is essential for intricate detail, especially when using finer fabrics. 
  4. Don't cut your bobbin thread too short on the back to avoid possible unravelling with washing etc. 
  5. And as with anything, make sure you're using a nice, sharp needle that is the appropriate size for your thread. If you're having trouble with threads breaking, consider trying a new needle. An 80/12 sharp is a great starting point if in doubt. 
I don't anticipate all these clothes will be sewn up immediately, but it's nice to have them sitting there ready to go next time I'm looking for a quick project. The cutting out and embroidery are the time consuming, annoying bits anyway! Will post more pictures when the clothes are finished!


I finished off these pieces during a mother's day marathon sew. In total, I finished off the pink dress (only needed buttons and button holes), dinosaur vest (dino buttons are just for show), Hawaiian style shorts for the boy and this cute onesie for the cold winter weather that has descended upon us here in Canberra. Let me know what you think - I'm particularly impressed by my model!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Back on Track - A Summer of practicing quilting skills

Starting Simple
Its nothing new to say that having children takes up time. Thus it has been with me since the birth of my lovely girl almost a year ago. Add to that me finishing off my masters and my poor sewing room has seen a lot of dust and my hands have lost that quilting touch. 

Having moved house again in September of last year I now have an entire room dedicated to me, my sewing room and my lovely stash of fabric. Yippee! But what good is it when this room sits idle with the door shut? I was lucky enough to have two weeks of no study last November and set about some quick panel quilts to get back in the grove. Some fast piecing and simple free motion quilting to whet my quilting appetite and help get ready for bigger, more important projects.

Check out my fun summer of skills development!

Rattle toys I will give away as gifts. The appliqué faces are cute and the kits were easy to make up. I LOVE the lion. Will have to wait for a special baby to give them to. 

This is another kit purchased at the Craft and Quilting Fair last year. I made it up for a friend who has two little boys. They travelled seven hours in the car to spend the weekend with us in Canberra and took this little beauty (when it was finished) home with them. This task helped me get back into Free Motion Quilting. I outlined the main shapes around the panel and then free handed some grass to liven up the green areas. I had a few tension issues which were very frustrating, but the finished mat came up nicely. 

Being married to a pilot, I bought this cockpit panel years ago at Patchwork By the Sea in Brighton, South Australia for about $10. Another pilot friend of ours is ready to have their second baby so I thought it was the right time to make it up. Amazingly, I had the perfect colours to add the border and quilted it with a nice stipple. I wasn't happy at all with the quilting on the cock-pit part. I tried to follow the lines of the image but it just didn't work. Given my time again, I would do some sort of pattern over the entire image - maybe even in nylon thread so as to not detract from the picture. 

I was then asked by my neighbour to make a Christmas stocking for her baby daughter. I don't like the shape or lack of detail on the stocking itself, but it was made to order. Best part of this little job was that she minded my 3 y/o while I worked on it! Winner! 

Finally - I made something for my children. It was supposed to be another quick panel quilt for them to have in the lounge room for watching TV etc, but it turned into a dragged out project thanks to husbands travelling overseas for work and me starting teaching again for the first time in almost three years. Never the less, I found time over the Easter weekend to finish it off and am happy with the results. The time consuming part was quilting around all the letters and their pictures. I just LOVE the accompanying fabrics too. I honestly can't remember where or when I bought the fabrics but they are all from the same collection and just came together so well. Something I did wrong on this quilt - I used as much of the panel as possible to have the biggest quilt possible at the end, but this just means that the alphabet squares on each end are disproportionately bigger! Silly! What I did well though was the border. I free handed various patterns all hodge podge around the edge and it just looks amazing. It really did get me in the groove for what will hopefully be a winter full of much creation in my wonderful sewing room. 

Please share what you like to work on when you need a quick project!