Posted on July 24, 2014
Part of what I’m learning as I explore this idea of margin this year is that we learn our priorities based on what we DO, not on what we say we WANT to do. Money where your mouth is, and all that. And this year, I deliberately made very few commitments, knowing that I didn’t want to take the risk of cutting things out in order to give myself more margin just to have all my time given away again to NEW things. I chose to commit to both the Modern Instabee and the Handmade Birthday Club for one specific reason, though: I didn’t want to have my margin isolate me. On the one hand, there is great power in saying NO to things, in regaining some room to maneuver and the power to choose. On the other hand, there is a risk that by saying no to TOO many things, I would find myself with no connection or tether, afloat without direction. My hope was that by committing to both of these groups, that I’d be connected to something bigger that would require me to organize my time and prioritize these other folks in a way that would balance out my (occasionally selfish, though not always in a bad way) newly-discovered margin.
And I kinda sucked at it.
What I discovered is that it was very tempting to procrastinate, and the thought of margin never really entered into it. It is always easy to find things more urgent, and to push off the things that are important. But I’ve discovered the truth of urgent vs important: that when we only focus on the urgent/important things, we are constantly putting out fires, but never creating; when we focus only on the urgent/unimportant things, we are constantly changeable, and feel out of control; when we focus on the non-urgent/unimportant, we are irresponsible and dependent on others; but when we focus on the non-urgent BUT important things, we are gaining vision and discipline, we are reaching into our creativity and building a foundation on which all the other cool stuff can grow (all of these discoveries were confirmed and illuminated by the matrix here, based on the 7 Habits).
Bottom line: I found myself three months behind on my quilt blocks for Modern Instabee. THREE MONTHS. And it preyed on me, daily. I felt like I’d really let people down, even though they assured me they weren’t in a hurry and that it was OK. I knew that really, I’d let MYSELF down, and that I had betrayed one of the key things I want to gain from building margin into my life: the ability to pour into relationships rather than into crises.
As of today, though, I am TOTALLY CAUGHT UP. See, that margin stuff really works. We spent ten days on vacation, just my husband and our kids, driving up the coast to visit with my sister and her kids and my mom for a few days, back down the coast for a work conference for my husband and some beach time for me and the little ones, and it allowed/forced us to put our hands down and be still. And when we got back, I was ON FIRE. I can’t even begin to describe the joy and energy with which I approached tasks I had been putting off for aaaaaaages. Man, I even cleaned out my entire email inbox for the first time in over a decade. Woot!! Plus, I was able to use my energy and focus it on the projects I most wanted to invest in and get them off the list. Double woot!
Kenna chose the String Circles block, which was really fun to put together and used up a bunch of scraps. She sent us all out the background fabric–and thank goodness that she sent extra. I sewed this up once, but the background was slightly off-grain, and so the final piece was both too small and a bit wonky along the edges. I might have let that slide in the past, but I wanted what I make for my Bee ladies to be really high-quality, so I took it all apart and re-cut the background and sewed it up again. Much better!
The second time through, I took extra care in the placement of the background, marking both the inset circle and the background pieces in quarters with my chalk marker–you can just see the pink marks in this image. It made it even easier to match the pieces up and get a really smooth, pretty result.
Abby chose the Cordelia’s Garden block, which looks suuuuper fussy, so I left it for last. In the end, it wasn’t fussy at all–the majority of the work was in the cutting, rather than the assembly. Once that step was done, the HSTs got sewn up, and the rest was just repetition. And lots of pressing.
I am especially pleased with my points–look at that matching!! On the first of these HST-to-HST seams, I didn’t get a perfect match, so like the circles background, I took the seam out and re-sewed it. And the extra seven minutes pales in comparison to the satisfaction of getting it right. Sigh. Contented quality workmanship.
The final block was Liz’s Bluebell’s Cabin. This one seemed like it would be the simplest of the three–and in construction, it totally was–but because Liz asked us to really stay with a “true green,” the fabric selection portion (which always takes me the longest, anyway) was extra careful. Liz wanted a real grass green color, and I pulled fifteen or more different fabrics to narrow down to the eight here (since I didn’t want to repeat any fabrics in her block).
Then the cutting came, and the fun of getting to plan what little segment of each fabric would get to be shown for each portion of the block. I loved getting the stripes just right, and the ducks in a row. Literally.
In the end, this was another lesson in margin: putting first things first (thank you, Steven Covey) allows me to have more space and time to focus on the other building-up activities that can make me feel like I’m moving forward rather than treading water or reacting to crises. Which leads to the next lesson that I’m already learning: keep the momentum going.
How do you keep the momentum going when you get on a roll? I’d love to have a list of techniques to try, because the satisfaction and peace that come from having all the urgent/important tasks checked off so that I can focus on the creative, forward-reaching non-urgent/important tasks is intoxicating.
Posted on July 23, 2014
Before heading off to Camp Stitchalot, I wanted to do something nice for all the campers. Since this particular camp session didn’t include formal workshops, I wanted to make doubly extra sure that every camper there was remembered and felt special, and that I’d made an effort to get to know them all individually–it matters so much to me that people love sewing and find joy in it, and over time I have come to see that connecting with one another is the surest way to bring more happiness to your craft.
So: something sweetly handmade for each camper. Now, I admit that I didn’t fully process that there would be FORTY campers. I added in another six gifties for the instructors and for Brenda and Rossie, who did all the heavy lifting in organizing camp for the rest of us. That’s a lot of last-minute sewing–because, naturally, while I had thought to make gifts weeks and weeks ago, it wasn’t until the last few days prior to leaving that I finally made the time to sit down and DO the sewing.
The result is these sweet little pouches. I equipped them with sewing supplies and some Whipstitch goodies, but very deliberately sized them to work equally well as a glasses case or for “personal care” products for the ladies, if you catch my drift–always nice to be subtle where those are concerned, and keep them from bouncing about too much in one’s handbag (that applies to sewing supplies and glasses equally well, of course).
The fabric were all pre-quilted–I made sandwiches of a fat quarter plus batting plus another fat quarter of a coordinating fabric, so the exterior of each pouch is different from the interior (for most of them–I did make 40, after all, so they’re all a little different). I struggled and struggled for what fabric to use for each as bias binding, but ended up using the same for every fabric I chose: this lovely Robert Kaufman Quilter’s Linen in chartreuse. It had all the right qualities: it matched or complemented every fabric I chose; I have an entire bolt of it; and it’s one of my very favorite colors. In fact, it’s a dead match for my go-to thread, Guterman 712, with which I have on on-going love affair, since it is the perfect thread choice for approximately 72% of my sewing projects (white is appropriate for another 21%, which means I rarely need an odd color of thread).
I also used the same buttons for every pouch–a lovely 1″ coconut number I brought back from Hawaii–and added buttonholes to the flap on every pouch. I thought long and hard about using Velcro, instead, but I really thought the buttonholes were nicer, you know? Classy like.
By no means do I argue that this is my very best sewing. I MADE FORTY, Y’ALL. Some of the stitches are riiiight on the edge of the bias tape, and some of the ends where the tape overlaps along the side are imperfectly lined up. But I think the end result is pretty great: they’re a really good size, and I filled them with lots of goodies for folks at Camp. Everyone got a Whipstitch patch, and a bookmark, and a new seam ripper (those got a serious workout, I can tell you), along with a garment tag, some sweet little pins with button heads, and a hand-sewing needle. They were such fun to giveaway, and I actually ended up with extras, so a few folks who bought tons from my IG destash got one in their packages, too!
Another simple but satisfying gift project to have on hand!
Posted on July 21, 2014
Before we took our recent ten-day family road trip up the Eastern Seaboard, I flew into a wild sewing rage and made a stack of things to take with us. I knew I wanted some very specific things for our kids’ suitcases: our boy needed more shorts, our girls needed tee shirt dresses that would feel like jammies and be comfy enough to wear for the whole of a long day of driving, I wanted a tee that was loose and easy to wear while staying awake to keep my (driving) husband company, and sun hats for the children while they were on the beach, since they steadfastly refuse to stay under the (village of) umbrellas even when they’re not in the water. Whew! To be honest, I also wanted to make myself a new duffel, but man, you gotta quit while you’re ahead sometimes.
Right around when I was busy making my totally
insane reasonable list of last-minute sewing projects, Amanda over at Westwood Acres posted on IG that she was having a flash sale on these Heather Ross Briar Rose knits and BAM! Before you knew it, I had eight yards of the stuff sitting on my cutting table! How did THAT happen?!?
These were crazy quick to stitch up–I always use the lightning stitch on my sewing machine, same as I tell my students in my Sewing Knits class, but then finished off these seams with my serger, just for neatness. The neckline is a ribbed cotton knit that I had in my stash–whaaat?? I love it when things like that happen. The color was purr-fection.
The original plan was to make dresses for both of the girls, but I ended up choosing to make a dress/tunic for the youngest, and make an A-line tee for her older sister. I started with the Schoolbus Tee from Oliver + S, and made some adjustments to length and volume to get there. For the youngest, I added 4″ to the overall length, plus I swung the side seam out by 3/4″ on each side to increase the volume just a hair. I added a casing of the ribbed cotton on the back waist, with a length of elastic to cinch the waist a bit. Short sleeves, and a simple neckline of the rib knit folded in half and stitched/serged on the interior.
For her older sister, I added volume using the slash-and-spread method, giving just a slight, slight A-line to the silhouette so she’d have a little more space. My thinking was that back in the third row of the minivan, she might appreciate a little extra breathing room in her shirt while we drove, you know? Other than that, construction was the same, with the fold-in-half neckline method I use for my Sewing Knits students.
On the second day of our trip, we woke up in Fredricksburg and drove the hour or so into DC to see our nation’s capital. The girls wanted to wear their matching shirts (oh, be still my mothering heart!!), and walked and walked and walked and sweated in the humid heat and were totally comfortable. Sigh. Does making clothes for your kids get much better than that? They like them AND they wear them? So. Happy.
With school starting in our neck of the woods in a scant three weeks (eeep!!), I suspect I’ll use more of my knits stash to make a stack more of these shirts for the girls–and the boy. Part of the fun is making changes to the basic pattern and seeing to what degree I can tweak it to get a different look. These changes were slight–but next time, we might go for something even more fun. Color blocking? Gathered skirts? Ruffled hems? Hmmmm….
Posted on July 9, 2014
Here’s my monthly video update following this year’s progress with my One Little Word: Margin. I don’t plan these videos, so this one’s especially stream-of-consciousness, so buckle up.
Posted on June 27, 2014
I agreed to be part of the Oakshott Ruby Mini-Quilt Challenge with Sew, Mama, Sew mostly because I didn’t really know anything about Oakshott cottons. I think I had a vague idea that they were crossweaves, meaning that the warp and weft fibers of the fabrics are different colored threads, which can lead to some really cool shifts in shading. But beyond that, I was pretty much flying blind. Which, I think we can all admit, is both exhilarating and intimidating.
The fabrics came, and were just what I’d thought: crossweaves with variations in color and shading depending on the angle and the light. I love fabrics like this–Moda makes some, and so does Westminster, and they’re always so interesting to look at and work with. These Oakshotts are fairly substantial, and I don’t think would do well for garment sewing, but they’ve got a nice hand for quilting, and since the challenge was to make a mini, I dove in.
I was initially inspired to make something like this, but as I was cutting and prepping my colors, realized that (1) I would have to work at a teeeeensy scale in order to make the effect of the inspiration piece, and (2) that the monochromatic palette I was given might not read as clearly as I wanted for a design of that type. So I shifted gears and decided to used the monochromatic colors to my advantage, in the form of a stylized paint chip layout.
The result, if I do say so, is pretty exciting. I love the way the variations in the threads give a real shimmer and movement to the squares when seen in the light, and I love the way the shades of red and orange and purple work their way across the body of the piece from left to right. I made this into a pillow cover, thinking that the roundedness provided by the pillow insert would show off the changes in color a bit better–part of me wants to see MORE of the layout, though, and I’m undecided about whether it would have been best left as a mini.
See how at different angles the threads catch the light and change colors? Look at that bottom right corner, where a single square morphs from red to purple. I wanted that effect over the whole body of the quilted piece, and think the shades I was given really provided that.
Construction was pretty straight-forward postage stamp stuff, and after making a zillion postage stamp quilt blocks, took me under an hour for this 14″ square piece. This shot gives you a good glimpse into the structure of the fabrics: see how the threads running one direction are a bluish color, and in the other are red? Those are the warp and weft fibers–running perpendicular to one another–and by weaving them in two different colors of thread, the fabric achieves a real dimension to it that you can’t get with a standard one-color flat weave.
The quilting was pretty basic, too. I considered quilting on the diagonal, like both my scrappytripalong quilts, but thought that might detract attention from the gradations of color. Then I thought I’d quilt 1/4″ away from the seams on both sides, but realized after doing the first pass that by quilting on only one side, I had suggested (without mimicking) the lines between the color chips on a paint sample card. And so I left it with quilting on a single side of the seam. At 2.5″ squares, that’s more than enough quilting to stabilize this piece, and I think it gives a nice counterpoint to the changes in color. All the quilting was done in a medium neutral grey.
There are points on the piece where two squares of the same color touch, which is fine–I didn’t want for every single piece to be a different shade, since I wanted to create the illusion that the color was changing gradually across the body of the pillow.
Special thanks to Sew, Mama, Sew for inviting me to play along–I loved getting to meet these fabrics and see what they can do! And thanks to Oakshott Fabrics for providing the fat eighths I used for this pillow. Something tells me it needs a matching partner to play with, and I have just enough left!
Want to win your OWN fat eighth bundle of these delicious red-toned fabrics? Leave a comment below (or on any of the other Oakshott Ruby Mini-Quilt Challenge posts) and you’re in the running! Good luck!