Indigo and Improv

indigo diamonds pillow 1

They go together at least as well as ebony and ivory and possibly as well as peanut butter and chocolate. The last part of that sentence may seem a bit audacious, but check out the pillows I made this past week at my teaching stint at the National Quilt Museum.

indigo twinkle 3 indigo diamonds pillow 1 indigo ring 3

In the interest of absolute accuracy, I only made the tops during my class and I had dyed much of the fabric as samples before I ever got to the workshop.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had the students devote the last day of the workshop to sewing with the fabric they had created. Well, they were busy and the museum provided me with a machine, so, in order to set a good example, I got busy too.

Towards the end of the last day I asked each student to tack their work up and talk about the design decisions they made as they constructed their blocks and/or tops. I did the same, in fact I began the session, and I talked about focusing on one shape in each of the tops and combining pieced versions of that shape with ones that had been created via the dye process. What I didn’t talk about, because I didn’t realize it until someone else mentioned it, was how important play and experimentation had been to crafting these three pillow tops.

At home, I’m so married to my to-do lists and my awareness of deadlines that I almost never gather some fabrics and just move bits around until they make sense. I’m always busy sketching and planning. As is probably true every time I teach, I learned something new and really valuable. I’ve got to have time to experiment and potentially find new ways of working. I’m so excited about working this way: combining improvisational piecing with indigo and procion dyed patterning and not just shibori dyed patterning, but wax resist patterning as well. Maybe the next experimentation session should involve a newly learned dye process?

I’m almost always excited about the work that I do, but this newly discovered area has energized me in a new and different way and taught me something about the value of allowing myself time to play and possibly fail, but certainly try new techniques.

I’m definitely adding THAT to my to-do list.

BTW, quick, shameless self-promotion: these pillow covers are now available in my shop.

What Rhymes with Paducah?

pile of fabric

I don’t know. I wasn’t brought here to teach a poetry workshop. Rather, I came to Paducah, Kentucky and the National Quilt Museum to teach an Arashi/Itajime Shibori Dyeing workshop.

And, though I’ll walk away still not knowing what rhymes with Paducah, here’s what I have learned:

1. When they lose your luggage and therefore limit the supplies you have for your dyeing workshop, you can figure it out and the solution may be better than your initial plan.

2. When they lose your luggage and then find it, the best named business on the planet,, will deliver it right to your door.

3. When you’re nearly 86 years old and your house was flooded just the day before, you can still come to a dye workshop and proclaim, ” I’m so glad I came.”

4. When you have enthusiastic and focused students, great stuff gets made.

Our workshop extended over three days which turned out to be just enough time to make fabric for some serious patchwork play on the third day. Our focus was on making small pieces using either procion dyes and Itajime or clamped, shaped resist shibori or indigo dyeing with the option to explore pole wrapping or Arashi shibori.

They made a lot of fabric.

dyeing fabric indigo dyed fabrics 1 pile of fabric

Towards the end of the second day I encouraged the students to begin organizing their fabric and considering how to organize it into a block or quilt top.

student work 1

Then it was time to break out the sewing machines, cut and audition fabric placement, and make some design decisions.

beverly top laura 1 laura 2 laura 3 laura 4 gail charlene martha

When I planned this workshop I was unsure about my idea to have the students devote an entire day to sewing with their fabric, but, ultimately, I’m glad I did.

First off, it prevented many if not all, from making a bunch of fabric and then tucking it away in a drawer and never using it, either because, being their “hand dyed” fabric, it was too precious or they just didn’t have a sense of how to explore piecing with this particular material.

Also, it forced them to work outside their comfort zones and that’s often where real creativity lives.

The cherry on the top of all this for me was, because my students were happily working on their compositions, I got to work on a few myself.

More words and pictures about that in my next post.

Mock Blocks

twinkle pillow cover

Remember mock chopped liver? Yeah, neither do I, but I’ve been making something mock for years and though I’ve written articles about, taught workshops, and even filmed DVDs focused on it, I only realized this morning that Mock Blocks is what I should call this:

twinkle pillow cover

If you’ve been following my work for a while you’re probably familiar with this. I’ve made a bunch of versions and variations of this technique.

mock blocks windmills zig zag pillow mock block double wedding ring

Essentially I use a shibori dye technique, itajime, on commercial fabric, to imitate traditional blocks. The patterning, whether it’s nested squares, circles, triangles, or whatever is not pieced or appliqued, but dyed on to the patches.

And, as I mentioned earlier, this process is not new to me, but, as I’ve been gearing up to teach this technique later this week at the National Quilt Museum, it’s dawned on me that I finally have a “cute” name for it.

Lately, my mock blocks have focused on stars, many of which I’ve clamped, dyed, and possibly even discharged( bleached) in much the same way I’ve always worked.

itajime stars

For this particular workshop, though, I’ve tried to add indigo dyeing as well, so my star mock blocks have also looked like this:

indigo stars detail

One of the reasons I decided to add indigo to bag of dyeing tricks, particularly for workshops, is, other than I’ve been seeing indigo EVERYWHERE, it allows the students to get more “instantaneous” results. That might seem like a silly thing to say considering you have to dip into the indigo bath multiple times to achieve your finished color, but, when I work with this technique and procion, I allow the dye baths to sit for at least 4 hours before rinsing. Dipping on and off for an hour or so is therefore faster than vat dyeing with cold water dyes.

My workshop will feature both dye processes and we’ll play with discharging as well and layering colors and making something with some of our hand crafted fabrics. In other words, we will be really busy for 3 days, but we’ll have so much fun.

What I Did This Summer

improv circles pillow 1

Well, maybe not ALL summer. In fact, just last week for one day, but, in the interest of coming up with a creative title…

As I mentioned the other day, I sewed along with my students in my Improvisational Piecing workshop.

So much fun. Usually, I just walk around and envy everyone sewing, but this time I divided my time between walking around and stitching myself. Also, I, like my students, worked from a pre-selected set of 17, Kona cotton solid, fat eighths.

I found it, I think, as liberating as my students did. I was also amazed at how far 17 fat eighths could go in terms of piecing.

Firstly, I worked on the class project, a version of the “Nate Quilt” that appeared in my book, Fresh Quilting: Fearless Color, Design, and Inspiration.

nate pillow 1 nate pillow cover detail

I made my block (in terms of the final quilt, this is a single block) as I instructed my students, crafting one patch at a time, cutting all my strips and squares freehand, and then making design decisions about adding or deleting fabric in order to make the patches fit together.

By the end of the day, I had finished, again like many of the students, and decided that, when I got home, I’d quilt the block and back it to make a pillow cover.

nate pillow back2

My back features one of my hand dyed and patterned indigo prints and I love the way the wonky squares in the print mirror the wonky sewn squares in the cover.

But, that’s not all.

improv drunkards path improv circles pillow 1 improv circles pillow detail 2

I also made this Improv Drunkard’s Path block. Full disclosure: I only made one of the four patches in the class and I did so to demonstrate that curves were as amenable to being improvised as straight seams, but, this pillow cover definitely had its beginnings in my workshop and still exclusively uses those same 17 fat eighths.

Here too, I chose to quilt and back it into a pillow cover and feature one of my newest hand dyes in the zippered backing.

improv circles pillow back

Frankly, I think there’s still enough fabric to make a third pillow cover in yet another improvised pattern.

I’m currently gearing up to teach a dyeing workshop next week at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky, so don’t see myself getting to that before I return from there, but I’d like to try and squeeze out a third pillow cover from these fabrics. It makes me feel so thrifty!

Both of the pictured pillow covers will be making their way to my online store, but only one is there right now.


All together now…

shipshewana 8


Isn’t that a great name? It makes you want to say it over and over.

What/where is Shipshewana? It’s a town just a few miles east of Mishewaka, Indiana on Highway 20. It’s also where I went last week to teach my 10 Ways to Love Improvisational Quilting workshop as part of the annual Shipshewana Quilt Festival.

I’ve taught this class a bunch of times and always enjoy seeing what my students come up with, but this time may have been the best of all and I credit it to one, simple tweek which, sadly, was not my idea.

Kim Desper, festival organizer and buyer for a local quilt store, suggested that, rather than send out a fabric supply list and have folks cull from their stashes, we should provide the fabric as part of the class. And, that’s what we did. As they entered the classroom, each participant was asked to pick 17 fat eighths from a wide ranging collection of Kona solids spread across the back table. This little change was brilliant because it allowed the students to focus on the process and structure of working improvisationally.

Look how happy and focused they seem:

shipshewana improv 1 shipshewana improv 4 shipshewana improv 2

Now, check out the amazing blocks they made:

shipshewana improv 3 shipshewana improv 5 shipshewana 8 shipshewana 10

I was very impressed with their fearless approach and focus and I think limiting the fabric choices to a pre-selected number of solids was key.

I definitely want to repeat this “experiment” in another workshop.

Another terrific thing about this particular workshop was that the organizers provided me with a sewing machine, so I worked along with my students. I absolutely loved that and have since finished two different improv blocks, quilted them, and backed them into pillow covers.

More about those soon!

Plus One

plus one pillow 3

Raise your hand if you sometimes feel like technology sucks.

I was happily writing this post, pithily making some convoluted point that would eventually lead me to talking about a newly designed and crafted floor pillow, when things went awry and I found myself making desperate phone calls to the folks who host my site.

This thing, technology, is supposed to make it easier for us to communicate and share ideas, but, honestly, sometimes, I’m not so sure.

I’ve lost my initial train of thought. The pithiness is all gone and all I have left is this:

AG plus one floor pillow

I’m currently designing three projects for a soon-to-be-released catalogue. I’ll have much more to say about the catalogue soon, but, in the meantime, this floor pillow, featuring Allison Glass’s Handcrafted II prints is the first of those project.

Back to my technology rant: I want to add that when I design anything, fabric, quilt, home dec item…anything, I still use pencil and paper and try out my ideas in fabric or as collages. Also, I’m in the technology generation. I grew up with computers. They just don’t speak to my creative process.


plus one pillow 3

The folks from the catalogue asked me if I had a specific fabric collection I wanted to work with and I pondered that for about 3.2 seconds before answering Allison Glass’s Handcrafted. I have not been disappointed.

plus one pillow 4

I love the colors and weight and simplicity of design in this collection and I love the way it pairs with solids.

For this project I stuck to the fabric in the collection, but I also designed two quilts and those have the Handcrafted II prints combined with commercial solids.

I mentioned in the post about the Ikon pillows made with design remnants from my upcoming fabric line for Moda that I feel like I’ve made a real shift in my work and, as I’ve designed and sewn these items, I’ve noticed the same thing. It’s pretty exciting to watch yourself change, all the while noticing that it’s happening without you necessarily “directing” it.

Apparently I’m evolving. Who knows? Maybe next time I describe my design and crafting process I’ll mention working out my ideas on a computer?

Nah, I don’t think so.

Fabric Friday

bias stripes 3

Ok, little warning: I had every intention of posting this last Friday and even wrote it ahead of time, so I could just press a button and publish the post Friday morning while I was out of town. Apparently, even if it’s pre-written, you still have to remember to click the button in order for the post to go live. So, enjoy the post and pretend it’s Friday.

Doesn’t alliteration make writing titles so much easier?

It also allows me to get right to the point because, hey, it’s Friday and I’m featuring some new fabric on my blog and in my shop.

First up, a new version of my citrus slices fabric in new shades and a new scale.

mini slices 2

What do you call something that’s smaller than it used to be? Well, mini, of course. The mini-ness is achieved by carving this pattern into and stamping with a wee potato. For the record, not quite fingerlings, but something of comparable size, just round rather than long.

Side note: this concludes the cooking portion of my post.

Anyway, this fabric is first dyed into a lovely pale blue, then patterned with aforementioned stamp and over dyed into a rich chocolate brown. It is then boiled and washed and ready to go.

I’ve also been experimenting with combining stripes in different ways.

bias stripes 3

I’m calling this design bias stripes for obvious reasons, but it’s different than the bias stripes I’ve done in the past.

bias stripes 2

I opted to pattern the fabric so that the white stripes( hey, somebody should use that for a band name) only covered half the fat quarter. I then immersed the entire piece in a very happy shade of marigold, added more stripe patterning, and over dyed into ochre. This was followed up with a bit more patterning and a final dip in red. Though it’s a lot more work, I can’t help myself when I get interested in a patterning direction and I’m definitely drawn to create more patterning that changes across the surface rather than functions exclusively as a repeat.

skinny stripes in marigold and black

Also, new to my shop are several more fat quarters of these skinny stripes in two shades. This patterning is hand drawn with a wonderful, traditional tool called a tjanting tool. I’d liken it to a fountain pen for wax. It takes a fair amount of practice and, I’ve noticed, is even sensitive to how much wax is in my melting pot, but, when it works, it delivers the most amazing line quality.

I currently have it in this version of marigold and black and an orange and chocolate brown combination.

skinny stripes in brown 3

I’m always making fabric, though some of that is for already existing orders and some for future commercial fabric collections, but I hope to start featuring some goodies exclusively for my shop on a weekly basis.

So, stay tuned.


Ikon Remnant Pillows

ikon remnant pillows 8

It’s been just about 6 weeks since I turned in my designs for my next line for Moda Fabrics, Ikon. I won’t see the strike-offs, finished yardage, or start crafting projects to promote this collection for a while, but I can do something with the remnants.
ikon remnant pillows 3

By remnants I don’t mean discards or rejects.

I’ve mentioned before that, unlike most fabric designers working today I don’t design my collections on the computer. Rather I create them as pieces of fabric. I pattern each piece with wax, dye it, possibly add more patterning and additional color. When I send in my designs I don’t upload them, but rather gather bits of fabric and ship a package.

ikon remnant pillows 4

Not everything makes it into that package. Sometimes that’s because two designs are too similar in patterning or I feel like a design would work better in a future group. Other times the design is shipped and sampled as a strike-off but deleted or deferred to create a cohesion in the final collection.

ikon remnant pillows 7

One way or another, there are definitely leftovers. Usually I don’t do anything with those leftovers, but this time I laid them out and was inspired to sew them into pillow tops. This inspiration may have been prompted by a friend’s upcoming birthday, but, inspired I was.

One of my earliest design decisions was to work with the remnants as they were. I wasn’t going to cut them all into a uniform shape or attempt to make them work into a specific block. I just sewed the scraps together, trimming, adding, and adjusting as necessary.

ikon remnant pillows 8

The only measuring I did was to make sure the pillow tops ran about 18″ x 18″ as they would then work with standard pillow inserts and be pretty substantial in size.

To finish the pillows, I quilted the tops, dyed some pima cotton in a deep, luxurious shade of red and sewed that yardage into two zippered backings. I’m a big fan of zippered backings; they make replacing the pillow forms so easy and keep the back looking super smooth and professional.

ikon remnant pillow 7

Happily both pillows have gone on to their new home and I get that wonderful feeling of having made something beautiful and appreciated with every last bit. I think that pretty much sums up why we make things.

Better than Before: Pseudo Book Review with Shop Update

half triangle stripes pillow full view

How do you combine a pseudo book review and shop update?


I recently listened to Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives. As a side note, I have no affiliate links to Amazon, so, though the Jewish mother in me asks” Why are you not reading this book? It could only help. Do it for me, ” I have no financial stake in this. My point in bringing this up, other than recommending this book, is to describe how her advice has helped me and brought me to posting pictures like this:

half triangle stripes pillow full view

Now Gretchen (we’re on a first name basis) didn’t tell me how to dye this fabric or quilt the pillow top.She didn’t give me handy tips on adding the zippered backing, but she did help me understand how I respond to expectations and how I can apply that knowledge to the habits I want to adopt or shed. For those of you familiar with the book and the four tendencies, I’m an obliger. half triangle stripes quilting detail

She, or rather her book, also helped me with scheduling my time, a must-do for someone who works freelance.

So, over the past week or so, rather than just make a simple to-do list, I’ve actually been listing the day’s tasks alongside blocks of time. And, you know what?

in the amber 1

I’ve gotten a lot more accomplished.

mini slices in red and yellow 3

I’ve patterned and dyed more fabric, both existing patterns and new ones, made more finished items, and designed more quilt patterns.

skinny stripes in wasabi and black 2

Also, though I’ve always enjoyed my work, I’ve been having more fun lately because my work seems more focused and organized.

new bundles april II

I’ve also read more this week, a habit I definitely wanted to improve, and taken care of some long-standing nagging tasks.

new scrap bundles april

And…drum roll…I even blogged and updated my shop.

That may not be much to everyone else, but for me, that’s definitely better than before.

So, if you’re interested in anything pictured here, click here to see more. They’ll be more items added, by the way. No amount of scheduling can make the day longer than 24 hours.

And, if you’re interested in Gretchen’s book follow the link above. If you’ve read the book and want to share your thoughts in the comments section, I would love, love to hear what you have to say. The next best thing to reading (or listening) to a good book is discussing it.

I’ve Said it Before

floor at cocoa and cinammon 2

I hate to use a cliche. Well, actually, I don’t really hate using cliches. I do it all the time. If I want to know if my daughter is ready to leave the house I ask, “ready, Freddy?” And if we’re going our separate ways I shout out, “See you later, alligator.” Truth be told, I’m a lover of cliches, so, I’m going to embrace that about myself and declare, “Inspiration is everywhere!”

I was in Durham, North Carolina this past weekend visiting my eldest daughter as she makes her way through her first year of Law School at Duke University and got a chance to look around.

Guess what? Yeah, inspiration is everywhere.

farmers market mushroom 2

Like at the local Farmer’s Market. There’s no denying the shape of the mushroom is beautiful, but how about the color combination of the pale gray mushrooms and the intense turquoise baskets they’re nested in and the ‘block-like” quality of all the boxes lined up in rows?

mushroom up close

The stripping of the interior of these mushrooms is pretty spectacular too. Definitely reminds me of thin strips of fabric improvisationally sewn together.

floor at cocoa and cinammon 2

It’s not exactly a stretch to see the quilt/fabric patterning inspiration in this floor at a downtown coffee shop called Cocoa Cinnamon.

nasher 1

Yesterday we went for Brunch at Duke University’s Nasher Museum. It’s a small, but beautiful space and it happened to be Family Day, so we strolled through the galleries once our bellies were full. Interesting though, or maybe not, I was less inspired by what I saw at the museum then by what I happened to catch in the previous couple of days just walking around town.

Despite that, I’m sharing a few pieces that I think relate to quilts and fiber.

The above piece ranged across a very large wall with all manner of mostly polyester clothes patched to the wall at varying angles. It was very colorful and felt a bit like a tee shirt quilt gone amok, a quality which would probably improve most, if not all, tee shirt quilts.

nasher 5

I also came upon these yarn figures hanging on the wall. I like that they seemed almost to represent words or symbols, that I wanted to “read” them. I’m not absolutely sure I thought they held much interest beyond that.

nasher 7

The quilt inspiration is pretty obvious in this painting by Gerhard Richter. I think I’ve even pinned a few of his painting to my “inspirations” board on Pinterest. It was nice to see and a bit heart warming. Simple shapes rendered in beautiful, intense colors have a powerful impact.

It’s good to know I still think that’s true.