Monday, November 28, 2011

In The Meadow We Can Build A Snowman...

You should all be very thankful that you can't hear me singing! Even though I think I sound pretty good, I have it on trusted authority that when someone strikes up a tune, I should keep my mouth shut. Instead of singing about snowmen, I'm going to stick to telling you how to sew one. Use this photo for reference, I don't have step-by-step photos to share - but I know you can do it if you just follow along!

This great big gift bag is the perfect alternative to paper gift wrap for those of you that are going "green". Totally machine washable and cute as the dickens, this bag can be used year after year. Why not start by personalizing a bag for each recipient? I used a basic blue dot fabric for the body of the bag, but for those that don't like snow, how about a Hawaiian print? Pink candy cane stripes for the girly girl in your family or what about an ultra conservative plaid for Dad? Check your stash, you know there are fabrics in there and you can't remember why you purchased them. This is a great opportunity to put a nice size piece to good use.

To make one bag you are going to need:

1 1/8 yard of bag fabric, trimmed to 36" by the width of fabric

1 yard of black or whatever you like for the hat

1/4 yard of red, or any color for the hat band or 2 yards of wide ribbon

scrap of orange for the carrot nose

scrap of black for the eyes and mouth

18" square of PUL waterproof fabric for the face, you can order that here:

18" square of flannel for lining

2 yards of cord for the drawstring

threads, fusible web and basic sewing supplies

I have an instruction sheet that details exactly how to make the bag step-by-step and also includes the applique shapes for the snowman face. If you order the package of PUL fabric we will happily include one with your order. You are probably wondering why you need PUL for the face. You don't. It is just a beautiful bright white fabric with an exceptionally smooth texture and it makes a great looking snowman! The 18" square of flannel is to be used as lining for the PUL. Like any white fabric, depending on the print you are using behind it, you might get some shadowing. I like to line the white to make sure that doesn't happen. After all, you will be looking at this bag for years to come!

Step one is to construct the snowman face. You are going to draw an 18" circle on the PUL. If you have a Quick Trim & Circle Ruler that I designed for Creative Grids, flip the ruler over, find the center, count 9 spaces away (that's half of 18) and draw the perfect circle. If you don't have a ruler, start rummaging around the kitchen for something round that is around 18" that you can trace. If you want to see what else the Quick Trim & Circle Ruler can do, click here to see the video:

Now that you have seen it, I'll bet you want to order one, click here:

Now back to our Snowman Bag:

Layer the PUL on top of the flannel and draw the circle that will be the snowman's face. If you have the pattern, trace the eyes, nose and mouth pieces onto the fusible web. Press the fusible web onto the appropriate color fabric. If you don't have the pattern, cut the shapes out freehand. You know what a carrot looks like - just cut! How bad can it be? Coal comes in all shapes, you can't get that wrong!

Fuse the facial features to the PUL keeping everything inside the circle. You will want to use a pressing cloth when you iron on the PUL. Stitch the features down before cutting the circle out. If you have kids, get them involved with arranging the face, they know how to create personality!

Now stitch the face centered on one 36" edge of the background fabric. The head should extend past the edge of the fabric by about 2 inches. This helps it to look like the black hat is on the snowman not hovering above it. Trim the snowman's forehead even with the edge of the fabric.

Cut the black hat fabric into two sections measuring 18" by 36". Match the raw edges and stitch one section to the top of the snowman's head and the other to the opposite side. If you know how to make the pillowcases with the finished cuff seams (we call it the hot dog method) add the hat fabric using that method and all of your raw edges will be concealed.

If you have never used the roll-it-up method before, my friends over at American Patchwork & Quilting have a great step-by-step tutorial on their Million Pillowcase Challenge site. You can click here to see it:

Now cut the hatband fabric into 2 strips measuring 3 1/2 inches by 34 inches. Fold about 1 inch of fabric to the backside on each end of both pieces and press. Stitch both pieces into a long tube. Press the tubes flat. Center each of these strips 1 1/2 inches up from the seam line on the black fabric. Top stitch along both long sides on both fabric strips. You can also use a nice wide ribbon to make these casings - faster and easier, but don't forget to finish the ends!

To assemble your bag, fold it in half with the right side showing, matching the seams. Stitch both sides using a scant 1/4 inch seam allowance. Clip the corners and turn the bag inside out. Stitch the side seams a second time using a heavy 1/4 inch seam allowance and all of your raw edges will be hidden.

Insert the cording through the hatband to use as a drawstring.
Enjoy - for years to come!

Bibs, Bibs and More Bibs

I love having grand kids. I also love having an embroidery machine. If you have both of them, you can make absolute magic!

Our Granddaughter Madeline just cut her first tooth and her brother Grant is following right behind. They are in the drooling-all-over-everything stage so some quick and easy bibs sounded like a great idea. AnitaGoodesign has an adorable embroidery CD to stitch out bibs in the hoop, so I decided to give it a try.... I loved the results!

To make the bibs you have to have an embroidery machine and a hoop that will accommodate a 7 or 8 inch stitch area. I use a BERNINA 830 with a Jumbo hoop, so I had all the equipment I needed.

You will want to have the following on hand:

8 1/2 inch square of fun fabric for each bib

8 1/2 inch square of PUL water resistant fabric for each bib

Thread to match or coordinate

No-Tie shoelaces or ribbon for ties

Water Soluble Stabilizer

The bibs are available on the CD in two sizes and two styles. Select the one you prefer and load it into your machine. I stitched out the larger size, and naturally I had to make both the boy and girl versions!

Hoop just the stabilizer and thread your machine with the same thread top and bottom. Any brand wash away stabilizer will probably work, I had OESD Aqua Mesh and it worked great! Because I planned to make more than one bib, I didn't cut my stabilizer to the size of the hoop. I cut a long length, about 40 inches and started my hoop at one end. See the photos below.

Stitch out the placement line on the stabilizer.

Place your fabric and the PUL wrong sides together, the same way you want them to look in the finished bib. The PUL is wonderfully soft, but water resistant, so nothing will soak through the bib. It is easy to sew, in fact this is the material that they are using for the newfangled diaper covers. It also works great for purse lining, it stays clean and everything in your bag stays dry. Back to the bibs....

Place the fabric/PUL over the placement line with the PUL on the bottom and stitch the tackdown stitches.

Take the hoop off the machine (but don't take the fabric out of the hoop!) and trim the excess fabric. I trimmed one layer at a time to get a nice clean cut. It also allowed me to take extra care not to snip the stabilizer layer!

Put the hoop back on the machine and stitch the satin stitch.

Your done!

The satin stitch finishes all of the edges, including the neck edge. It also stitches two small eyelet holes, one on each side to insert the "no-tie" shoelace into. You can pick-up these curly shoelaces in any discount store. They are permanently curled and stretch. To use these to hold the bibs in place you poke a hole in the eyelet and slide the shoelace end through the hole. If you prefer ties, you can always tack a ribbon in place instead. I found the no-ties in white, red and black.

Because I left a long length of stabilizer all I needed to do to make the next bib was gently tear the first from the stabilizer and slide my hoop further down the length. This photo is of the first two I stitched, then I realized I could put them even closer together. Very little waste. When you have them all stitched out, rinse away the excess stabilizer and let them dry. You can press the bibs if you need to, but do it on the cotton side. If you find that you have to press the PUL, press on the woven side or use a pressing cloth.

Once I got going, it was very hard to stop! The scalloped edges took a few minutes longer to trim, but they were just as quick and easy to make. Speaking of quick, I am lucky enough to have several machines to stitch on, so while the 830 was humming away making bibs, I was able to use another machine to stitch up a quilt top.

The package of PUL is enough to make a dozen bibs, which makes the cost for the PUL about 44 cents each. A set of bibs would make a killer shower gift for a new Mom. You can even personalize them. I passed over the decorative stitching on some of the bibs and added names or initials using the fonts built into the machine.

These things are like potato chips - you can't make just one!

If you are just joining us, scroll down through the previous posts to see additional ideas and a peek at future projects.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Button Tree Sweatshirt

I love this project for several reasons. Not only is it festive and easy to make, but it is really fun to wear. The buttons make a little jingle sound when you move that kids absolutely love.
First, lets get the "Don't make this shirt for anyone that is small enough to bite the buttons off the front" warning out of the way. Grant and Maddie are going to have to wait a few years for theirs.

You are going to need:

1 bag of Laura Kelly green buttons. (One bag is probably enough for 2 kid size shirts.)
Green sewing thread

1 sweatshirt, the color of your choice, it doesn't have to be red.

1 embroidery hoop. Hand embroidery or machine embroidery, the hoop just needs to be a bit larger than the size of your tree.
1 triangle pattern - you are going to make this yourself so you will need 1 sheet of paper.

1 small rectangle of brown fabric if you want your tree to have a trunk

Brown thread for the tree trunk applique

A Button Sew-On foot for your machine, it's a #18 if you are a BERNINA owner.

Basic sewing supplies

Create your triangle tree shape by folding a sheet of paper in half lengthwise. Place your rotary ruler on the paper so that one edge extends from one corner of the folded paper to the opposite diagonal corner. Cut. (Yes I know that cutting paper with your rotary blade will dull it - use an old one. Having an extra rotary cutter with a not-sharp-enough-for-fabric blade at this time of year helps with gift wrapping too!) This is your tree pattern. Trace it on to the front of your sweatshirt using a removable marking pencil.

If you are adding a trunk to your tree, use a bit of paper backed fusible web fused to the brown fabric and cut a rectangle. Fuse it in place and stitch around it. The trunk isn't necessary, everyone will realize the green triangle is a tree without the trunk. I just added that step for you purists. Not making a trunk has one added benefit. After the holiday you can cut the buttons off and replace them with red buttons in the shape of a heart! Same shirt - new look!

Now put the shirt into the embroidery hoop. You want the shirt flat on the bottom of the hoop as you would for machine embroidery. For you hand stitchers, this is upside down. Put the outside of the hoop on the inside of the shirt. Push the inside of the hoop down from the outside of the shirt and secure. This will allow the shirt to sit flat on the surface of your sewing machine.

You didn't think we were going to sew those button on by hand did you?

Look at your buttonhole menu. Is there a picture of a button? Press it. All machines that do a zigzag stitch are capable of sewing buttons on. If you think about it, all that is required is a zigzag stitch that doesn't go anywhere. If you don't have a button sew on feature, set your stitch length to zero and your stitch width to match the holes in the buttons. The holes in buttons are pretty standard, so once you determine the setting you are good to go.

Set your machine up for free arm sewing. Slide the hooped shirt under the presser foot. You might have to take the foot off to get the hoop past the needle depending on what type of hoop you are using. When you have the shirt ready to sew, secure your Button Sew-On foot in place. - What? You don't have a Button Sew-On Foot? Ok, you can use another wide base zig-zag foot, but the process isn't going to be as much fun. Having the right tools makes the whole process SO much easier. BERNINA's #18 foot has little rubber feet that hold the button in place as you stitch. If you don't have that foot, you are going to have to sew slowly and keep a careful eye that the button doesn't slip and break your needle.

Place a handful of buttons on the shirt and scoot them into position inside the tree shape. Arrange them randomly using only the sew-through buttons. Save the ones with a shank for another project. Hop from button to button as you fill in the shape. If you have scissors built into your machine, this is a great place to use them. If you don't have scissors, just hop from button to button, you can trim all of the carrier threads later. Fill the entire triangle shape with buttons. Trim threads and enjoy!

Here are some helpful hints:
To keep the stitch spacing, some 4 hole buttons get stitched in parallel lines, smaller ones get stitched in an X. Look at the distance between the holes to tell the difference.

Make sure the whole tree is inside the hoop you select, you can't move the hoop after you have started to sew buttons.

Don't use a t-shirt, the buttons are too heavy. You need a sweatshirt for support

Turn the sweatshirt inside out to launder it so that the buttons don't get caught in the wash.

If you don't have a button sew-on stitch or scissors built into your machine, let Santa know, he might be in a generous mood this year!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Holiday Gift Ideas

For those of you that didn't get up in the middle of the night on Black Friday to forage for bargains at some big box store that insisted you show up before dawn to get a deal, this post is for you.

Over the next week or so I have decided to post my favorite gift giving ideas. Most of the projects don't require a long involved explanation and those that do have materials or patterns that you would probably need to purchase. I am going to make that easy too. I've added links to our website for those items. If you order the product to make the project and we have an instruction sheet, we will toss it in your package, free of charge. We also offer FREE SHIPPING on our website.

How's that for a little bit of Holiday Cheer?

This is a sneak peek at the projects for those of you that might want to product shop a little early:

Number 1 on the list is our Button Tree Shirt. The photo is a close up of a red sweatshirt that has been decorated with green buttons. Where did I get all those green buttons? I ordered them - don't try dying them yourself.... ask me how I know.

Sundays post will give you the tips and tricks for making this project unbelievably simple. I know you will be too busy supporting your local small business on Saturday to get any sewing done! Click here to order the buttons:

I have twin grand babies, Grant and Madeline. This is their first Christmas and as any Grandma with an embroidery machine knows, you have to sew like crazy for them before they are old enough to have an opinion!

These bibs are an "in the hoop" project from Anita Goodesign. You can order the design CD here:

I will give you my tips for making them fast and efficient later in the week.

For those of you that are going "green" our Snowman Gift Bag is the perfect alternative to paper gift wrap. This huge reusable bag is large enough to hold an entire stack of gifts for one person. You supply the fabric - which might just be in your stash - and when you order the white for the face we will include the instructions for making the bag.

The snowman face is made from PUL waterproof fabric. You are going to want some of that to back the baby bibs too! You can order it here:

Our 12" by 16" Gingerbread Button Pillow kit is a customer favorite! There is plenty of time to make this great little pillow because you won't have to waste any time running around town looking for the embellishments. We include them right in the package! The gingerbread men are already pre-cut and pre-fused in the kit as well. All you do is the fun part. We will talk zippers around Wednesday.


Speaking of customer favorites, have you made the Microwave Potato Bag? Amazing, simply amazing.

Click here for fabric by the yard:

Click here for Warm Tater Batting:

If you are looking to dress up some bottles of wine for the gift giving season we have the perfect pattern for you, Wine Butler! A few tips and one of my secret tricks and you will be making these in quantity faster than you think possible. The pattern is available on our website:
When you order the Wine Butler we will toss in a copy of our more family friendly Holiday Mix Gift Bag. It works for wine, but it also works for some non alcoholic mix that I will share with you as well.

It is going to be fun!

Let's stitch up a festive holiday together!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Small Business Saturday

Remember when Black Friday happened after Thanksgiving?

This year it seems that nervous big box retailers are doing everything they can to jump the gun and offer Black Friday deals as early as possible. Is that really necessary? Is it really a deal? I've never been one to get out of bed at some ridiculous hour to stand in line in the freezing cold to push and shove my way to a "deal". For years our family made the trip to the downtown department stores on the day after Thanksgiving. Not really for the deals, more to support our downtown shopping district, enjoy lunch out with the kids and check out the decorations.

I like to shop local and being an independent shop owner I am acutely aware of what it takes to support an independent business. In the past two years there has been a growing movement to dedicate the Saturday after Thanksgiving to small business. The movement is called Shop Small. The idea is that small, local business contribute far more to your local economy than big box retailers. We tend to support other local business as our suppliers, we employ your neighbors and more of the money you spend with us stays in the local community.

Added to those efforts this year is the idea that you can and should shop local for those on your holiday gift list. For example, instead of the hot new toy that was most likely made in China, why not purchase an enrollment in one of our museums programs for kids? Instead of a shirt and tie that was stitched in some third world country why not get Dad a gift certificate for some lawn work from the guy around the corner? You get the idea.

If you live in my neighborhood and you are shipping packages to friends and family I recommend that you use Barry at The Shipping Depot in Shoppers Plaza on Rt 8. Barry and his staff are the friendliest people I know and they always go above and beyond to satisfy their customers.

The Hartwood Restaurant and Whispers Pub have been a favorite place to send our customers for lunch for years. My daughter worked there through high school and although the kitchen staff has changed the owners are still dedicated to providing a unique place to eat with excellent food. Located on Harts Run Road in Glenshaw, I know anyone on my gift list would love a gift certificate for a meal there.

Another excellent lunch spot is the B&Z Deli at the corner of Harts Run and Saxonburg Blvd. Casual dining with sandwiches made to order and take-out available. I'm not really sure if they offer gift cards, but a ready made meal is always welcome over the busy holiday season.

Speaking of ready made meals, pop into A Fare To Remember in Shoppers Plaza, right next to The Shipping Depot when you are visiting Barry. You can stock your frig or freezer with delicious, gift worthy, meals to share with family and friends.

I absolutely love Sarah that cuts (and colors) my hair at Super Cuts in Gibsonia. Unless they are bald, everyone on your gift list gets their hair cut. While the salon may have a name that seems like a national chain, most are franchise stores that are locally owned.

Obviously I also want to recommend that you purchase gift cards from local specialty shops, like your local quilt shop, that would be of interest to people on your list, but I also want to use this space to allow you to make additional suggestions of independent business that you recommend. Make a suggestion by leaving a comment. None of the business I've mentioned here ask me to advertise for them, I'm just a satisfied customer.

For our part in Small Business Saturday we will be offering free demonstrations in the shop from 10:00 - 4:00 featuring all American made products. If you are in the area, stop by, bring a friend, and shop small!

Friday, November 4, 2011

What is Karen up to now?

Busy, busy, busy. When you own your own business there is always a laundry list of things that you need to do. If you are working on controlling expenses, you think you should be working on advertising. If you are working on advertising someone has probably called off sick and you have to cover... well, you get the idea.

This week I am working on FUN. Nothing but FUN and I am having a blast! Last week I was in Houston attending International Quilt Market. To be honest, I can't remember the last time I came home feeling so totally jazzed about what I found. Fabrics, yes. There are always tons of fabrics to choose from and this season there are about a dozen new companies from which to choose them. Some years there is an obvious "hot" new item that everyone is excited about. Not so this year and I like it better that way!

When there isn't that special "one thing" that everyone gravitates to, you have to be more creative in your buying. You have to dig a little deeper to find the gems that you can polish and make sparkle in your own store. This Market I went out of my way to attend workshops and demonstrations that I normally wouldn't have time for. WOW! Talk about inspiration! I packed my overweight suitcase with fun stuff that I couldn't wait to get home to try.

This week is where the rubber meets the road for those new products. Sure they look good under the sparkly lights of the convention center, but before we offer them to customers I have to test them myself. Can I make them perform their tricks here at home? More importantly are they well designed enough that my customers will want to play with them too? Here in the "test lab" where I am creating new projects for our upcoming Handmade for the Holidays event I am happy to say that all of the new products have passed the test with flying colors!

In addition to new products I also gather a ton of ideas for projects that I create and write instructions for here at home. We have a huge button bin that we use on a regular basis but somehow it never seems to get any smaller. I saw some great dyed button projects at Market. Instead of purchasing the dyed buttons I decided to come home and dye our white and clear ones. How hard could it be? Hard. I sorted for about an hour, dumped the white and clear buttons into Kelly Green Rit Dye and waited... swished, stirred and waited. Then I waited. 36 hours later I had the buttons in the photo. These were all in the same dye bath for the same length of time.

Why some are light blue and some are lime green and absolutely NONE of them are Kelly Green is a total mystery to me. Frank Panion, my beloved high school chemistry teacher always said I made more chemistry in the hall than I made in class. My husband wondered why I thought I could dye buttons. My staff wondered why there was a strainer of buttons in their lunch sink! Easy fix. I ordered the already dyed buttons from our distributor!

So the button dying didn't work. Big deal. They are cool colors and I will find a use for them... eventually. I still enjoyed the thrill of seeing what would happen. Meanwhile I stitched up some batik rayon samples that are going in the wash tonight. I played with the new spritz dyes until I absolutely had to stop myself or there wouldn't be any left for customers. I steamed, fused, gathered, clipped and stitched. I've made the mistakes, learned some lessons and now I absolutely can not wait to share the success stories with my customers so that they can roll up their sleeves and have some fun! Sometimes the best thing you can get is permission to play for awhile.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I had every intention of creating a new post last week, but there just wasn't time! The kick-off of our newest edition of BlockWatchers Club was on Monday evening. Tuesday was spent with the North Pittsburgh Quilt Guild teaching a class and then presenting at their meeting in the evening. Wednesday I met with a group of young people to talk about owning your own business and Thursday and Friday were spent here in the store with BERNINA educator Paula Harmon. Whew!

If you missed attending Sewing Celebration or Celebrate 8 here in the store, you missed a really good time - and great goodie bag if I do say so myself! Paula had projects to inspire everyone from beginning sewers to experienced embroidery pros. Several customers were inspired right into a new machine and they will be spending the next few weeks exploring the possibilities with their "new baby" - Congratulations! You are going to love it! Unlike bringing a real new baby home, we are always here to support you and you can stop by and ask us as many questions or get help on as many techniques as needed. I can't guarantee that your "new baby" won't keep you up at night, but at least this one has an on/off switch!

What better way to unwind after a busy week than to spend the whole day sewing? That is exactly what I did on Sunday. Our Quilts of Valor group was hosting a sewing day in the classroom here at the store, so I had to be here to keep an eye on things. We aren't open on Sunday, so I had the whole BERNINA area to myself. One 820 to sew on and one 830 to stitch out embroidery. The ultimate spoiled sewer!

While the 830 stitched out these adorable elephants for a Timeless project for Market, I assembled the hand print quilt for my sister. Leslie's kids, my niece and nephew, attend a private school - in Illinois, and she is in charge of the Fall Fundraiser this year. That means I am in charge of helping her by making a quilt. All quilters understand this issue. You are a quilter and you love what you do, therefore you must be willing to make your Mother/ Sister/ Friend/ Neighbor/ Old High School Teacher/ Co-worker/ Person that sits next to you on the bus/ Etc a quilt. Especially if it is for a very worthy cause.

I don't actually mind doing this for Leslie. She did all the hard work. She worked with the kids, did the hand prints, mixed the textile medium in and heat set the blocks. I only had to do the parts that I love and with 2 sewing machines it was easy to multi task! Boy did it feel good to sew and accomplish something! Now I am going to use her as an excuse to spend another day at the sewing machine while I get the quilting done.

Sneaky huh?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Back In The Swing Of Things

Home is a good place to be.
We have been back from our shortened cruise adventure for about 10 days now and I consider myself older and wiser with the lessons I have learned. I can share this much with you:

#1. Never book a cruise that leaves port the weekend of a Monday holiday.

#2. If you are traveling during hurricane season, buy travel insurance*.

#3. If you are sailing on Norwegian Cruise Lines, don't expect a straight answer from anyone on board the ship or on the phone.
*I reserve the right to amened that statement after we settle the claim with the insurance company!

To make a long story short. Our cruise that was scheduled to leave port on Sunday didn't leave until Tuesday. According to NCL this was the result of dangerously high seas. That's odd, because the marine report called for 4-6 foot seas on Monday. Labor Day. A national holiday here in the U.S. One of those holidays where union port workers would have to be paid holiday overtime pay. I have a feeling that the "safety of their passengers and crew" was less a determining factor than their bottom line.

This is a photo of the Music Park that I took while we were waiting for out ship to come in - doesn't that look like a nasty day for sailing? Note the ominous skies and wicked winds.

NCL graciously granted us a "refund" for the two days and two ports that we missed. They decided the best course of action was to apply that credit to our shipboard account. We didn't use the entire credit so now we have to wait 3 weeks or more for a refund. We were told that our pre-paid dive trips in the ports that were skipped would be refunded to our credit card. We were also told they would be credited to our shipboard account and that they would be refunded via check. I am quite sure that if I asked 6 more people I would have six different answers. It is going to take weeks, possibly months to straighten everything out.

We did finally get to dive in Costa Maya and Cozumel. We saw sharks (not the dangerous kind) lots of Lion Fish, my first eel - a huge 5' long green eel, lobster and beautiful tropical fish. The best part of the vacation. Although I have to admit that the beniges at Cafe DuMonde were pretty good too.

Oh, one more thing to share on the list of things I have learned:

#4. If you get sunburned on the first day out wearing a tank suit and all of the evening wear you brought with you has a V neck, you are going to look ridiculous at dinner!

Now I am going to enjoy the rest of National Sewing Month by doing a little sewing. Until Friday, when we have to leave for Quilting Around Chautauqua at the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, New York. Are you going to be there? Stop by and say "hello". I am giving a lecture on Sunday Morning and my husband and I will be manning a booth in the ballroom of the Anthenaeum Hotel. It is a fun weekend and well worth the trip!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Caution: Vacation Ahead

Some days I wonder why I even make plans to leave my house.

I've already decided that my tombstone should read "It was a good idea at the time". I've been stranded in Washington DC because my seat was given away, had my luggage lost in Philadelphia (numerous times), been grounded by hail in Denver, sat on the tarmac in New Jersey for hours, driven home instead of flying because of ice in Florida. I've been searched, patted and swabbed in the best and the worst airports in our country and abroad. Why won't I learn to just stay home?

Earlier this summer I was pouting because we hadn't made plans for a "real" vacation. Not the visit the kids, kiss the grand babies, give a lecture while you are their kind of trip, a REAL vacation. The kind where you go for nothing but relaxation and enjoyment. My husband had pretty much told me to put my big girl panties on and deal with it when I received a very enticing offer in my email box. Oh that wicked email. Norwegian Cruise Lines was offering a ridiculously low rate on a cruise out of New Orleans starting on Labor Day weekend. It would have been an absolute sin to pass up the balcony rate. Seven days, 4 ports and 3 dive sites that we have never been to.

My husband is an avid scuba diver and he talked me into joining him about 10 years ago. I really do love to dive, but the absolute best part is that all I have to do is suggest a diving trip and he is immediately agreeable. I found some cheap flights, booked a balcony and relaxed knowing that I had a "real" vacation to look forward to.

Then Lee showed up.

We lived in Florida for almost 8 years. I know when hurricane season starts and I know when it ends. I also know that cruise lines make adjustments to their itinerary when necessary to avoid storms. I'm OK with that. I honestly have to say that when Lee showed up, much earlier this week, I thought we had dodged a bullet. Then it was as if Lee realized that moving at the pace it was it would blow through New Orleans before Saturday and that wouldn't interrupt my plans. The travel gods couldn't have that, so Lee immediately SLOWED DOWN. It has been pummeling those poor people in southern Louisiana with rain for days.

This map shows the current conditions in New Orleans. 24 hours before our ship is set to sail. NCL decided not too long ago and notified their future passengers that it is too dangerous to bring the ship into port so those passengers currently on the ship get an extra day at sea, well south of the storm. Those of us that are set to board the ship.... we loose a day. Oh, and they suggest that we change our travel plans to arrive at the port no earlier than Monday evening. WHAT? Change travel plans to fly into a tropical storm a day later? Are they kidding? Setting aside the fact that making a change with the airlines weeks or months, let alone hours before your planned flight requires a credit line and willingness to strap yourself to the wing, what makes them think those planes won't be grounded? I realize they make their living on the water, but do they not know that they gauge these storms by SUSTAINED WINDS?

We are sticking to our original travel plans. Our flight on Sunday is from Pittsburgh to Houston and Houston to New Orleans. There is an excellent chance that the Houston to New Orleans segment will be canceled. No problem. I know Houston well. I attend Quilt Market there every year. Better yet, this month is the Texas Shop Hop. Almost every shop in Texas is participating. With 24 + hours to kill we will rent a car and hit as many Houston area shops as possible. I guess this vacation just turned into a business trip.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I Heart Ohio

I spent the better part of last week traveling the Ohio countryside with my husband. If you ever feel that the whole world has gone "you know where" in a hand basket, pack your bag and head for rural Ohio on a summer day. It will do wonders for your outlook on life.
This was not a vacation trip, it was work related. We probably would never have found our way to Greenville Ohio unless I had been invited to speak, but it was well worth the trip. We began the week in Maumee, Ohio, home of Checker Distributors and Creative Grids Rulers. I was one of the featured speakers for their annual Open House - my absolute favorite summer event. This is a wholesale show for shop owners, long armers and quilting professionals. The event is fabulous and the dinners each evening where the vendors and demonstrators have the chance to catch up with friends and network with other people in the industry are an absolute highlight. It was at this event last year that I learned from Sue Hausmann that my husbands official position in our company is as CEO. Which really stands for Carry Everything Out. I'm sure that he agrees because that is what he did for most of the week!

Finishing up after the Creative Grids designer meeting on Tuesday and having to be in Greenville, near Dayton on Thursday made the trip home to Pittsburgh silly, so we headed south to visit the grandbabies! Wednesday also happened to be my birthday and I don't think that I could have found a better way to celebrate than holding, hugging, snuggling, feeding and changing these two, especially when it was capped of with an all you could eat crab leg dinner on the kids deck!
Thursday we headed for Greenville and the Great Darke County Fair. I was the featured speaker on Friday afternoon and offered a class on Saturday morning at Smiths Merchants in nearby Arcanum. That left plenty of time to explore Greenville and the Great Darke County Fair. This isn't your average county fair, this is the largest county fair in the country and they have everything you think they should and more.

There were chickens - beautiful chickens - an entire barn full of rabbits, a swine barn and a Cow Palace. The Domestic Arts building was filled with quilting, crocheting, cross stitch and needlepoint. I was wondering why cooking wasn't represented in the Domestic Arts category until we found an entire room full of entries for the best pies, cakes and cookies, jellies, jams, etc. in a different building with flowers and vegetables.

My husband found his own way of enjoying the fair offerings.

This is him enjoying Greek food:

Sweet Potato Fries

Rootbeer Float

Bourbon Chicken

Fried Ice Cream

Hot Sausage

Fruit on a Stick

Foot Long Hot Dog



And then he picked out the tractor of his dreams.

I had to break the bad news to him that he couldn't bring it home. But the fair was so much fun that we might just go back and visit it again next year.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Isn't this a great looking quilt?

You can see it in person if you stop by the shop. The 60" by 80" sample is on loan from the pattern designer, Blue Underground. The name of the pattern is "A Bit Askew". I was immediately drawn to it the first time I saw it at Quilt Market and I'm thrilled that my customers will have the opportunity to see it in person.

I think everyone that looks at this type of quilt sees something different. Some people take one look and all they see is a hot mess. Others see creative possibilities. What if I used that pattern and all of my blue scraps with only red accents? What if I made it larger by adding solid black sashing between the blocks? Hmmm. Imagine the possibilities.

Do you want to know what I thought the first time I saw the quilt?

Remember the old commercial with the cracked egg in the frying pan? "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs" immediately came to mind. I thought "This is your brain, this is your brain in a quilt"!

Follow me here. To me, all of the black and white areas represent the mundane things I have to remember that clutter my brain everyday, grocery lists, when to pick up the dry cleaning, what size underwear my husband wears, etc. Those bright colored strips are the bursts of creativity! They are the fun, the excitement, the new quilts, fabric shopping trips, new patterns and new designs - the things that make you happy! I know for a fact that all of the stuff in my head is "A Bit Askew" and I love that there are "bursts of creativity" in every square.

I wonder what would happen if I made my own version of this quilt and reverse the fabrics? Every strip would be exciting, bold and beautiful with a few black and whites tossed in for accent. I would not straighten the strips, because to be honest, I like my life "A Bit Askew". With a brighter more exciting pallet and room for fewer mundane things, I wonder if it would be overwhelming? One thing is for sure, my husband would have to buy his own underwear.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pavement Hell

Let's start with the assumption that inhaling the fumes from hot asphalt year after year destroys brain cells. At least that would provide some plausible explanation as to why my 4 DAY paving project took 4 WEEKS to complete.

Yes, I've been living in blacktop hell and I think of Phil as the Devil himself.

Phil is the person that we contracted to dig up our front parking lot, add several inches of new limestone for drainage and repave... IN APRIL!

We had a very wet spring. That put Phil behind. I understood. Mother Nature is not to be messed with. Phil assured us that he would be here in May. I understood, shuffled classes, made adjustments. No Phil. June 1st, Phil was still behind. More shuffling, more adjusting. I suggested that Phil wait until the first week of August to do our job. We are closed the first week of August and he could have the whole place to himself for an entire week. Phil laughed. He would be long gone by August 1st. Ours was a "little" 4 day job - if that! Probably wouldn't take more than 3 days. He would be here next week at the latest... he recited that exact statement to me each week for 4 consecutive weeks.

July 1st, just 4 months behind schedule, Phil delivered equipment to our parking lot. Then Phil got sick. He sent his "crew" to do the job. "The Plan" was for the men to dig up 1/2 of the lot, stone it and put down the base. Customers would have half of the lot to use. The next day they would repeat the process for the other half of the lot while customers parked on the base. Day three was "planned" to be a Sunday when we are closed, the top coat would go on the entire lot.

That would have been nice.

That isn't how it happened.

Phil's guys didn't understand "The Plan"

Phil's guys tore up the pavement and delivered crushed concrete. Crushed concrete isn't limestone. Limestone drains, crushed concrete doesn't. That explains the giant puddle in the photo. The whole reason for doing the job was to provide drainage and prevent heaving in the winter. We paid for limestone - We wanted limestone. We made them rip several ton of crushed concrete out and do it again. That took a week. Phil's guys weren't happy. Phil understood, but he still couldn't make them understand "The Plan".

Then the hydraulics broke on the paving machine and I left town for a week. My darling husband promised me that he would do his best to have Phil out of our life by the time I got back. I still love him anyway.

While I was away the Stooges managed to dig a trench and fill it in, forgetting that it was to be filled with the rock that was in the truck just 3 feet away. Do over #2.

They also managed to dig up our entrance drive (thank heaven we also have an exit drive at the opposite end of the lot) park their equipment and leave for the weekend. I was not happy when I returned and neither was Mother Nature. She stormed and dumped 18 inches of mud in our catch basin. Phil's guys had to clean it out.

I have a friend that keeps threatening to make t-shirts that say "Life is hard. It's even harder when you are stupid". I would like to buy them for Phil's Stooges.

Yesterday was the virtual straw that broke the camels back. Paving day. They were finally ready to put the top coat on the entire lot. Remembering "The Plan", they were to pave one half at a time. I remembered the plan - they didn't. I began to eye the steamroller and plot evil deeds.

All of our customers were forced to use the back parking lot - where the workmen stashed all of their equipment and trucks eating up more than half of the parking spaces. Then they had to enter through the back door and climb down a flight of stairs! We also had to receive UPS, FedEx and a tractor trailer delivery of a sewing center and cabinet down that same flight of stairs. Phil had to go. What ever it takes, Phil needed to be gone by the end of the day!!! I had had ENOUGH!

At 6pm I returned to the lot to find this. They ran out of asphalt with 3 feet left to go!

Just shoot me now....

Today they returned to "finish" the job, get out of my life, and they are done....

Except that they have to come back "later" to paint the lines for the parking spaces. I said "Great, you can do that next week while we are closed". Phil looked at me with his best Customer Service smile and replied "Can't. I'm on vacation next week."

I hope my $24,000 has a good time at the beach.

Monday, July 25, 2011

And the Winner is........


Your comment was selected by the random number generator to receive the free fat quarters! I also want to thank everyone that participated. We received some wonderful feedback and we will look closely at your requests as we do our future planning.

Judging from the comments that we received, most of you will be happy to see the new website when it goes live in the near future (keep in mind that "near" is relative - I think the first of September is really, really, near - but plan is to have it ready for the first week of August!) I agree whole heartily that it should have been done much sooner, but it is extremely time consuming and tedious work. Once we are up to speed, maintaining it will be easy, but doing all of the background work isn't my idea of a fun job. Let's face it, we here at The Quilt Company are all about the fun. It is why we come to work each day.

Then there is that little matter of ever changing technology. Our suppliers have been preaching "Social Media" as the way to go for over a year now. I have a website that is getting a total overhaul, I am repeatedly told I don't blog enough, I have to create yet another Facebook page for the store so that you can "like" us (ignore the current page - it isn't a business page and the new rules require a specific business page, it will go live with the new website)

Industry big wigs can't believe I don't tweet on Twitter. Really? Do all of you really want to know the details of my world? Because I can pretty much guarantee that the tweet I would be sending this morning would read something like "Of course it is RAINING! Now the fricken asphalt guy has yet ANOTHER reason that he won't be finishing the parking lot today". Later I might have to tweet that you should "Ignore the lump in the parking lot paving - I realize it is shaped like a body that has been flattened with a steamroller but that is a coincident. For the record I haven't seen Phil". That would probably get me into trouble and I would end up residing in a place that won't allow you to have pins, needles, scissors or other sharp impliments. Then where would we be?

The whole reason for the survey was to get a good idea of what my customers really want. I hear you - Sunday hours. Every now and then Sunday hours might be possible, but 7 days a week? Not happening. I have a life outside the shop too. More evening hours? We are already open on Monday and Thursday until 9pm. That is more hours than any other quilt shop in our area. You love Brandon - I can understand why. We have award winning customer service when it comes to our BERNINA Tech. Fast, reliable, and reasonably priced. What more could you want? How about 3 years of FREE Cleaning and a fabric discount? That is what is in the works for our those that purchase their BERNINA from us and we still have the absolute best prices on machines. Events - we are planning even more! Trunk shows for October and January. Handmade for the Holidays is planned for the Community Center so that everyone that wants to can attend.

If you are sorry that you didn't take the opportunity to voice your opinion, it isn't too late. You won't be in the running for the free fat quarters, but you can still speak your mind. Email me directly: mailto: I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Don't Forget!!

The Quilt Company will be CLOSED FOR VACATION

from August 1-6.

Monday, July 18, 2011

On The Road Again

Hello from sunny and sweltering hot San Antonio, Texas

I'm off again on another business trip. This time to south Texas in the middle of July for BERNINA University. I lead such a glamorous life. Why a company would book a convention in south Texas when the average daily temperature is in triple digits is beyond me, but a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do.

I do have to admit that the River Walk here is absolutely beautiful. Anyone that has the opportunity to visit would have to be jealous that their hometown doesn't have one. Wait - I live in the Pittsburgh area and we have three rivers! How hard would it be to dig a few canals, line them with fabulous shops and restaurants and beautiful landscaping? Someone should get right on that.

If you follow my blog, you already know that some of my travel woes are legendary. This trip started out a bit rocky when I attempted to print my boarding passes the evening before we left. A process that should be no big deal. Three hours and six phone calls later and I will admit to heaping some serious verbal a** kicking on the customer "service" operator, I had the required boarding passes. It took that long because the discount ticket agent that I used (Cheap-O Air - which should have been my first clue) "adjusted" our flights way back in April and "forgot" to "push the change thought the system" - for three months. Despite the phone conversation I had with them just three days earlier.

On the first flight I had the opportunity to catch up on some serious business reading. On the second flight I had the joy of sitting next to Quinn, an 8 year old traveling alone on his way home from his Grandma's and a trip to Disneyland. His very thoughtful Grandma packed him an entire backpack of sugary treats to keep him occupied on the trip. - gee thanks Grandma. I can attest to the fact that a zip lock bag of Oreo's, Sweedish Fish, Starburst Fruit Chews and a Slim Jim topped off with a can of Sprite are a volatile combination. - special thanks to the flight attendant that offered me a free glass of wine, but that even I don't drink at 10:30am. But I digress.

One of the business articles that I read was on Customer Service - or the lack of it, which I was experiencing first hand. In this article the business Guru's make a point that in order to provide excellent customer service, you should ask your customers what they want. Good idea.

So while I am sweltering on the River Walk here in south Texas, I have chores for you. Respond with a comment to this message and answer the following questions. I know that many of you are located in other states so you don't shop in my store, but you may order from us online. You can respond to my questions with answers that would apply to your own local quilt shop. Take part, participate, I will make it worthwhile. You have until July 24th to leave a comment, on the 25th I will use a random number generator to select a comment to receive a beautiful 8 piece fat quarter bundle. - that 2 yards of fabric for doing a little homework! Here are your questions:

What ONE thing could we do to improve customer service?

What ONE service could we add to make it more convenient to shop with us?

What ONE class or event could we add that you would like to attend?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More from Shipshewana

This is my second year attending the Shipshewana Festival. Last year I was there to teach Schoolhouse sessions, that event happens on Thursday. This year we also had a booth at the Vendor Mall in the Quilt Show.

It is a wonderful festival in an Amish town in northern Indiana. The drive there is totally relaxing as you watch the cities disappear and the corn fields roll by. Every business in town participates in the multi day event that starts on Wednesday and runs through Saturday and it also corresponds with the local Shop Hop.

This year the featured speaker was Kaye England. If you don't know Kaye, you should! She is one of the funniest quilters I know with tons of stories to share. She was a shop owner for years, but she has sold the stores to travel, teach, write and design fabrics. Kaye's personal collection of quilts were displayed in the automobile museum - sorry, I didn't have time to take photos there, but I can tell you that my husband thoroughly enjoyed his visit to see the cars!

The photo above was another of the impressive quilts in the quilt show and vendor mall. Beautiful piecing and lots and lots of quilting to show it off!

This ribbon winning quilt absolutely knocked my socks off! The applique was trapunto, the quilting was done by hand and the over all effect was absolutely beautiful. Look at all those stitches!

What made it even more impressive was the size. This photo shows that quilt hanging next to another ribbon winner.

From a distance I couldn't imagine why this Mariners compass wall hanging didn't have a ribbon on it. The colors are beautiful, the points are precise and the information indicated that it had been hand pieced. Upon closer inspection I could see that the quilting was done by machine. For some reason the quilter decided to quilt each point using a blanket stitch, making it appear that the points had been fused in place. All that handwork and no ribbon!

This Ohio Star quilt has 221 stars that measure THREE inches each! They were all set on point with three inch solid squares between them. Look at the amount of machine quilting there is in each square.

The blue border points were micro stippled and the white ones had these beautiful feathers.

I thought this large bed sized quilt was impressive! Bargello quilts have always been one of my husbands favorites and this multi directional one had him thinking that I should make one for our bed. It had me thinking that he should learn to quilt!

Why not put the Shipshewana Quilt Festival on your list of things to do in June 2012?