Friday, November 27, 2015

What's on your playlist?

Thanksgiving isn’t a very big deal round here, mainly because our family is on the other side of the country. But the Other and I are always happy to have some time off from regularly scheduled programming, and though working for myself means never being caught up—there’s always some quilt I should be sewing, or a pattern I should be writing—I like to take advantage of the long weekends to indulge in my playlist.

Not a music playlist, but a crafting or needlework playlist. It’s easy to get caught up with whatever sewing I need to do for my work commitments, which takes away from the joy of creative exploration just for the fun of it. So I try not to let myself feel guilty when I work on projects that are just for play, and I always have an active “playlist” on the go of things I can pick up to work on when I just feel like sewing. Or embroidering. Or weaving. Or whatever—just creating.

But you don’t have to be a pro crafter to benefit from a playlist. Any kind of high-volume, deadline-based crafting can lead to burnout. Lots of quilters are extremely generous with their charity sewing, and this time of year especially handmade gift-giving obligations can get overwhelming. Even just feeling like every project has to be finished or have a purpose can take the fun away. I think taking a break for some play projects actually energizes the “work” sewing. Here’s some of my play. (Affiliate links included where appropriate.)

Needle threader shisha sampler

I add to this freeform shisha-embroidery sampler whenever the mood strikes, which is usually when I have new threads to try out. It lets me play with fibers and stitches without worrying that I might “ruin” something that has to get photographed for publication. But these experiments can and do lead to ideas that get used down the road, so it’s actually a useful exercise. Oh, and if you couldn’t tell, those are the tops of needle threaders instead of actual shisha mirrors. I’m fascinated by the different obscure faces on them but I don’t very often use a threader, so they might as well get stitched down!

Vintage bargello

I found this 1973 bargello needlepoint kit several years ago when visiting my parents. Embroidered with super-chunky yarn, it was already partially finished, so it was a relatively simple job to fill in the rest of the pattern. I just worked on it when I didn’t have appliqué or other handwork to do while watching TV. Maybe someday I’ll finish it into a pillow; maybe not. There are no obligations on the playlist!

Pigeon No. 1

I’ve mentioned my fondness for pigeons before. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s a big market for pigeon quilt patterns, so this appliquéd pigeon was just for me and just for fun. Before starting him, I’d sewn a quilt of yarn-dyed stripes for Stitch, and though the quilt was simple, I’d loved sewing it because it was such fun to fondle all the woven fabrics. I wanted more, so I started amassing shot cottons and shirtings in enough shades of grey to make a pigeon. But he only suggested more pigeons: scruffy pigeons. Fat pigeons. Pigeons wearing top hats. Pigeons made of silk. A whole series of pigeons.

Pigeon No. 2

The second pigeon stayed with yarn-dyed cottons and continued my experimentations (in other projects) with irregular English paper piecing. I’ve been delighted with the exploding variety of yarn-dyes available, and was able to include some slubbier ones in this pigeon, as well as some extra tasty Oakshott Cottons. Some of the tiny triangles in his feet were fairly challenging, but that was part of the fun. (Obviously he still needs an eyeball.)

Use your playlist to explore a new craft—for me, weaving.

The Other’s keen eye for thrift-store bargains has netted me a range of secondhand looms, so my playlist also includes tinkering with weaving. Sewing, quilting, and embroidering share a lot of tools and methods, but weaving’s a whole other thing, which I have no training in—but learning about it really engages the creative juices. So I’m going to take advantage of this weekend’s Black Friday sales to stock up on some weaving instruction. Pickup Stick & Finger Control Techniques looks intriguing on Craftsy, where all classes (including quilting!) are on sale for $19.99 and under. And Interweave’s $5.99 ebooks and videos sounds like the perfect opportunity to indulge my curiosity in inkle weaving. I may be a quilter by trade, but one point of the playlist to encourage such indulgences—you never know where they might lead.

So what’s on your playlist?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Irons for appliqué


I’ve had several students in my appliqué class on Craftsy ask about the mini iron I use and where to find one, so I thought I’d give a little info about a couple good options here. Any iron will do, but for small or detailed shapes, a smaller iron is easier to maneuver than a regular iron from the laundry room, and if you do a lot of appliqué with freezer paper templates and starch, it’s definitely worth the investment. If you can’t find one of these irons at your local quilt shop or fabric store, you can buy one online using the affiliate links below.


The actual iron I use in the class videos is a Dritz Petite Press, which is compact and lightweight, with adjustable angles for the head so you can position it most comfortably for you. I like a slender iron like this because it feels much more natural in the hand than a big clunky iron, so it’s easier to place precisely and move around along seam allowances. The weakness of this iron, though, is that it doesn’t quite get hot enough to easily press large freezer paper templates onto fabric, so I still have my full-size iron on hand alongside it.


An “iron on a stick” sealing iron like this one (often but not always branded as Hobbico) gets hotter and has a larger sole, so it reduces reliance on the regular iron for appliqué tasks. These are heavier than the Dritz ones, a good thing if you like a little more heft in your hand but not so good if you you have any hand troubles. The head is also fixed, so the handle angle is what it is. I’ve also seen heavy use by appliqué addicts burn out these irons, but you can extend their life somewhat by unplugging them to turn them off rather than ever turning the control knob to the off position.

I’ve personally used and been happy with both these irons, though there are certainly other options—many quilters have found travel irons that work well for them. Like any other appliqué tool, there’s no one-size-fits-all best; what works best for you is best. If you’ve used one of these or have another favorite iron for appliqué, please share your insights in the comments!