Know Thy Machine


Today I am posting as part of Shruti’s Know Thy Machine Blog Hop.  Be sure to visit Shruti tomorrow, she’ll be asking a question related to my post – and answering puts you in the running for some great prizes from our sponsors!

1. What machines do you have? Brand and Model.

I have, and regularly use, three different machines:

A Janome 7700 purchased new in June 2010; a Bernina 830 Record (made in 1978, purchased used in 2010); and a Singer Featherweight 221, gifted to me by a friend of my Mom.

2. Why did you buy these particular models?

I purchased the Janome Horizon 7700 about one month after the model was first released.  I bought it primarily for the deep harp (or throat area–11.25 inches!), the built-in lighting on the underside of the machine neck, and the free-motion capabilities.  Because I sew clothing as well, a free-arm feature was essential.  I believe I paid around $2200 (retail at the time was $2999).The Bernina Record 830 was purchased off eBay, from out-of-state, sight unseen.  Could have been a nightmare, but it turned out to be one of the best purchases I ever made!  I bought this machine a few months prior to finding the Janome, when I really needed a good, reliable machine, and the purchase was based on the reputation of this vintage machine; which it has definitely lived up to– a solid, metal component, work-horse sewing machine.  I suspect I will keep – and use – this machine forever.

The Featherweight gets used at quilting retreats when I don’t want to haul the much heavier Bernina along, and it is a foundation paper-piecing wonder!  I will have this machine, forever, and I suppose leave it to some well-deserving soul in my will.

3. What do you like about your machine? Have you named it? Have you made a cover for it?

Bernie (the Bernina) and Fannie (the Featherweight) live in their boxes when not being used (the Bernina has a red plastic case that came with it originally, and I use a perfectly sized Sterlite Show-Off container for the Featherweight), but I really do need to make a dust cover for the Janome that sits in the drop-in table my husband and I custom made for it.  p.s. the Janome has not been named.

4. Does your machine give you any problems? Could you tell us a few? 

I’ve had machines in the past that gave me fits; and the most minor sewing tasks with these machines usually led to a headache.  But with these three machines, I have very few problems.  On occasion, I have trouble, but it is typically because it has been a while since I used the machine in a particular way (i.e. free-motion quilting) and forgotten how best to adjust the machine for that particular condition.

The Featherweight never gave me trouble until the last time I needed to replace the belt, and I now have some trouble with the wheel operating easily when I first start sewing with it; once I get it going, it sews wonderfully.

5. What do you sew on it mainly? Quilts, Clothes, Bags etc. How much time do you spend sewing on it? What are the features of the machine that help you improve your work?

My Featherweight is used primarily for paper piecing and simple chain piecing (if you have one, and have not tried paper piecing with it, give it a try–you’ll thank me!).  I sew and mend clothing with the Bernina, use it when making handbags, and I use it whenever I am sewing on heavy fabrics such as denim.  In addition, this is the machine that travels to most of my retreats with me.  The Janome is used for making quilts, primarily.  It came with various darning feet, which was yet another selling feature that attracted me to it.  This machine has improved my free-motion skills considerably, but I suspect if I could find more time to play with it I could do some awesome free-motion quilting!

6. What advice would you give others when deciding about which machine to buy? 

Try out several.  If you have the chance to attend a larger quilt show with vendors, you can visit each companies booth to try out the different models first hand and question their “experts”.  If you are not fortunate enough to have such an opportunity, I would focus on brands that you could have serviced locally or at least within a reasonable distance from where you live.  If the closest Janome dealer is 500 miles from your home, you may want to cross that brand off your list.  Should you have machine trouble, you don’t want to have to pack it up and ship it off to have someone look at it.  In my metropolitan area (population is approx. 600,000) we have a dealer for nearly every brand of machine on the market.

7. Will you share with us a special memory associated with your machine?

I mentioned that this machine was gifted to me by my Mom’s friend, Elaine.  The machine belonged to Elaine’s mother, and she inherited it when her mother passed away.  Elaine knew I enjoyed sewing, so she gave the Featherweight to my mom, to give to me.  I love that I am essentially the second owner of this treasured machine.

8. If you had unlimited resources in the world, which machine would you choose to buy and why?

I don’t expect to buy any other sewing machines in the near future, as I’m very happy with these three (I went through years of having one inferior machine after another — I learned exactly what I wanted and needed!).  But if I had unlimited resources, and could buy any machine on the market, I’d probably go with a new Bernina.

Don’t forget to pay Shruti a visit tomorrow, she’ll be asking a question related to my post – you can win a great prize from one our Blog Hop sponsors!

Your turn…

Do you have more than one machine?

Do you have a favorite machine?

What is your dream machine, if you had unlimited resources and could buy any machine on the market?

Vintage View: Applique Beauties


There were just a few applique quilts amongst those on display at Living History Farms the weekend before last.  But they were all full-size, detailed hand applique, and worth taking the time to show you… even if you never make a hand applique quilt yourself!

This one was a simple, two-color quilt, roughly Queen size, in ivory and a dull brown (they probably would have called the color “drab” at the time it was made–which is very close to what many of us would describe it as today):


I think the label called it a “Rose of Sharon” variation, but if it is, it’s a very simplified variation.  I think it resembles more closely a poinsettia applique pattern I have seen before.  Any thoughts on that?

This is close to the applique butterfly quilt my Mom made just a few years ago, but this is made with 30s solids and feedsacks.  Each butterfly is blanket-stitched by hand in a darker shade of embroidery floss, that coordinates with the fabric of that butterfly:

It looks like it is just a top (or a flimsy), but it was quilted, without batting and therefore referred to as a summer coverlet/quilt.

This one is an older example of applique using chintz fabrics (c. 1850).  The brown spots are from moisture staining over the years, and the fact that they believe this quilt has never been washed.  A quilt collects dry soil (dust, etc.) over time and when exposed to small amounts of moisture (humidity, etc) the dust/soil leaves a rust-like mark.  There were at least nine of these large applique “bouquet” motifs, and this was the least stained example I could find to photograph.

As you can see, some of the fabric petals have disintegrated or been worn away, but it is still a gorgeous example of chintz quilting!

I hope you enjoyed seeing these vintage examples, and that they inspire your modern quilting!  If you have a museum or library, etc., in your “neck of the woods” that displays vintage quilts from time to time, I’d highly recommend making the effort to go see them.  Just admiring the hand work from a century ago is worthwhile, and it always pays to support our cultural institutions by utilizing them.

Do you do applique projects at all?

If so, do you hand-applique, or only by machine?


Vintage View: Pretty Patchwork


I’m not sure when the Trip Around the World quilt pattern first came into being, but back in the day, the squares were pieced individually, often times hand-pieced.

I remember, when I was small, my mom had one laid out on our basement floor (the pieces were all clothing scraps, of 1960s-1970s double-knits–it lives with my sister today).  She had it laid out and carefully pinned, and as she tells the story, on more than one occasion, my little brother and I went down to the basement to play and would shuffle our feet across/through her quilt top, so she had to start again laying it all out.  Hearsay?  Could be, I only remember the pieces and the pins, I don’t recall the mischief making I allegedly partook in.

This one (from the quilt show we went to the first weekend in October) is amazing, the prints make a flawless watercolor blend of color and pattern…

Today, we would make this using a rotary cutter and a strip piecing technique, not individually cut squares (cut with a template and  a scissors!) and aside from making sure you were piecing rows together without flipping them the wrong direction, it would go together rather quickly.  Not these vintage beauties… just imagine the time and attention to detail these quilt makers employed!  Here is another one, very similar coloration; check out the edge and the binding:


And one that incorporates a rectangular piece rather than a square:

And I’ve always admired this variation, very much like Katy’s QAL in 2010:

The fabrics in this quilt are to die for, I could have gawked at it for an hour or two:


Have you ever made a Trip Around the World (or a variation)?

Is this a quilt pattern that is on your Bucket List?





Happiness, delivered.


Yesterday I showed you the wonderful happy I received from Mary. Today, I’ll show what I sent to Cindy in Fresno, CA. Cindy makes all manner of fun selvage items, her most recent came in SECOND in a recent online contest, Texting while Sewing:

I’ve started collecting my selvages, but I had yet to make anything with them.  I knew I had to include something with a selvage for Cindy… but what?   I had seen this pincushion and sewing kit on someone’s blog recently, as part of the Zakka Sew-Along–suddenly I knew this was the item to create for Cindy and just how I would use the selvage!  I don’t own a copy of the book, so I made this up as I went along, and modified it to make it work for me.

The pincushion is filled with walnut shells (why?  They are inexpensive and readily available… and the crushed shells work like emery, keeping your pin and needle points sharp!)

Yep, I buy it at a pet store, a giant bag is under $10.00.  Fill your pincushion with a funnel, and stitch up the opening.  Easy as that.

The pincushion fits nicely inside this roll-up sewing kit, which has small pockets to hold your package of needles, thread, your English paper piecing hexies(!), your scissors, your thimble, etc…

Most of Cindy’a kit came from my scrap bin, except for the green “tree” print used for the binding and one end of the pincushion.  I chose that fat quarter because I had purchased it at Grubers last year, the same weekend I met Cindy for the first time.  The entire kit rolls up and ties nicely, for a fun take along sewing kit:

The band is attached, it is another piece of selvage dots (from a Dr. Seuss fabric as it had the brightest colors I could find!) and satin ribbon for the tie.  Enjoy, Cindy, I had a lot of fun making this for you!

p.s  HAPPY SWEET SIXTEEN to my beautiful Goddaughter, Leah!  

(My God, how did sixteen happen?!?)


Hocus Pocus-ville


This is a pattern I’ve had and been anxious to make up for some time now.  Its a pattern by Crabapple Hill; they design amazing hand embroidery patterns, made into tea towels, pillows, or in this case, a quilt.

I don’t intend to make the full quilt, as I want a wallhanging.  I made just four of the embroideries (I’ll come clean, my Mom actually did the majority of the stitching for me because she was needing a handwork project and I didn’t have the extra time, myself–so I passed the traced blocks onto her to complete for me).  Mom’s hand aren’t as steady as they once were, but she still does beautiful handwork. Together, we made the Pumpkin Patch:

Hagatha’s Laundry:

La Witch Boutique:

and Morgana’s Apothecary:

I’m still deciding on a setting for my blocks, and I may embroider a tree or something to balance them off in the center, eventually.  Here is a very un-glamorous, mish-mash of the four blocks hanging together on my design wall:

I’m very happy with the tone-on-tone print I chose for the background, I like it much better than the solid ivory the sample is made with.  The details drawn into this pattern are amusing and very clever–click on my photos enlarge them and read the little signs, etc. on the “witchy” businesses…  Hoping to have a finish before this Halloween, but time will tell…

Do you do hand embroidery?

If so, what have you made?

Flying Geese in a Brave New World

I attended a workshop last week, hosted by the Des Moines Area Quilt Guild, and taught by one of our local art quilters, JoAnn Belling. She always has stunning quilts to show at our monthly meetings, not to mention the quilt shows where her work hangs…these first two photos are close-ups of some of her free-hand quilting she does on her domestic sewing machine. And, yes, I said FREE HAND quilting…

JoAnn has a fun sense of humor, a great eye for color and believes in efficient sewing (don’t pick up your ruler to cut if it doesn’t have to be exact, make all your cuts while the rotary cutter is in your hand instead of constantly setting it down and picking it back up, string piecing, etc.) She showed us a nifty way of making four flying geese at one time, which I loved! I know there are tutorials around the web for doing this, but if you’d like one I will add it to my to-do list to post one.

The workshop objective was to teach us a quick way to make her “Flying Geese in a Brave New World” block in the quilt, Alaskan Memories, shown above. She also encouraged us to see new patterns in the block, playing around with placement to make new block designs.

Here is my “rough draft” of the block, which looks much better from a distance (is that a bad sign?!):

I decided it needed some reworking when I got back home (Hopefully you’ll see a better finished version here soon!). Here is Anita’s block:

And Emma’s (notice how their flying geese, and Brave New World corners, are pointing opposite directions?), it totally changes the appearance of the block:

Lisa, at our sewing station…

Tonight, I’m heading off to a quilting retreat hosted by the quilt shop I work part-time for… Only one more hour of my workday left and then two+ days of sewing with good friends!