The Basics Photo Quilts

Once again, we come to the point on this blog where it’s reasonable to look into a new quilt type. The reason for this specific interest for this post is because I happened to figure out that making a certain type of quilt is a lot less difficult than I expected. In fact, I’m toying with the option of making one of these for a Christmas present this year.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s look at the quilt type I’m referring to, and then we’ll go into the ease and benefits of making one.

The type of quilt in question is a photo quilt, and it gets its name in the way you might expect—it includes photographs in its design. Now, you can order a printed throw like this through a store, but if you’re going to own or gift something that’s as sentimental as a series of personal photographs, it makes sense to add in that additional personal touch of sewing it yourself.Picture 1

Up until recently, I never realized how simple this prospect could be because I couldn’t grasp how printed photographs made their way to a quilt—unless, of course, you bought the quilt that way. As it turns out, the process is actually simple. You can treat it like a general patchwork quilt—so long as you have printable fabric at your fingertips.

With that one addition to your sewing supplies, you can browse through your pictures to find the perfect ones for your project.Picture 3

If you’re going to create a photo quilt for a wedding gift, for instance, concentrate on images of the right couple together. Once you find enough fitting photographs for the prospect, scan them if you only have print copies and get to printing on that fabric! From there, you’ll need to rinse it and iron it to keep the ink from ruining in the wash or bleeding where you don’t want it to go. You can find those details here.

You can pick and choose other fabrics that complement the theme and look of the images to build the rest of the quilt, and you can tend to the trimming and sizing of the photo blocks in the same manner that you would any other fabric style. Essentially, you’re doing nothing differently expect printing and preparing some of your fabric rather than purchasing all of the fabrics already printed.Picture 1

This is a simple prospect, but it’s a wonderful idea to add personalization to quilts for your own home, for a nursery, for a gift… The process shows care because you searched for the right pictures and because you took the time to piece everything together yourself rather than run to a store to have it printed for you. In a world so technologically advanced, this is one of the ways to use technology to bring a personal quality to something homemade.

Remember that the fabric you pair your photographs with can add value to your work in that they can carry out a particular theme that you’re going for. If you’re creating a graduation quilt (like in the link provided) and you want to showcase all of the graduate’s high school friends for a keepsake to take to collage, choosing fabrics that represent their school’s colors or mascot would be useful, as would ones that reflect typical graduation items—like caps or diplomas.Picture 1

For a Mother’s Day present, you could consider what your mom’s favorite colors and items are and use them for inspiration in regard to other fabric choices. If she adores light blue and lilac, pairing the photographs with those hues can add a level of care to the overall product since it’s another bit of evidence that you know the recipient well enough to pattern the design for them.

You could also use these for your own purposes as well, such as printing off photographs from your trip to Rome or Venice for a European-themed work that showcases the pictures you took during your stay. Even a moment that might seem trivial could be represented through one of these quilts, like the first time you baked with your children. Just take enough photographs to commemorate the experience, then pair your printed photographs with colors that reflect the baked goods you created together. It’s a big way to remember in detail such a small moment.Picture 1

Overall, I’m very much interested in trying my hand at this quilt type, and you can expect updates as I go through the process of trying to construct one. It’s so personal, and I look forward to testing the waters on the matter—especially to see how well the ink stays in place through my own personal experience.

Have any of you ever tried a photo quilt? Suggestions? Let me know!

All in the Family

All in the Family

One of my work colleagues is currently in the process of setting up a costume shop for a new period television show. Setting up a new shop is a pretty big job. There is so much to do and lots of decisions to make.

Setting up a new shop is a pretty big job.

Setting up a new shop is a pretty big job.

My colleague asked about sourcing options for rolls of muslin and whether buying online or locally in the city made more sense. I actually have some very strong opinions on the subject. I believe very much in supporting local and family owned businesses. Sewing Machines Plus is a family owned company in San Marcos, California and I am happy to contribute to their blog. If you are local to that area, or if you live in a place where sewing supplies are not plentiful, or your only choice is a big name chain store, I encourage you to check out the Sewing Machines Plus website as an alternative.

If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere

I happen to be lucky enough to live in New York City where there is still a garment district. In the city, it is still possible to get pretty much anything you need sewing-wise from the garment district or other local businesses, though it does sometimes take a bit more time/legwork and actually talking to a real live human in person to procure what you need.

I always get my muslin from Steinlauf and Stoller on 39th Street. It’s a small, narrow store with not much of a traditional showroom. You have to ask one of the crotchety older gentlemen behind the counter for what you need. He’ll probably grumble a bit at you and ask you what you’re making and what you need the thing for but he’ll eventually reach into some drawer or cupboard, or disappear into the depths of the storeroom and pull out the thing you need. All in all, it makes for a very authentic New York experience.

Another one of my favorite supply places in the city is Oshman Brothers in the Lower East Side. They’re a third generation family business and are always super helpful with digging out the specific supplies you’re looking for. They are, though, closed on Saturdays.


In true NYC style, Andy’s is not actually a store but rather a workshop in the back of another store (True Hair Company) at the end of a hallway lined with random dress form parts.

In true NYC style, Andy’s is not actually a store but rather a workshop in the back of another store (True Hair Company) at the end of a hallway lined with random dress form parts.

Andy’s dress forms is the last dress form manufacturer left in New York City. They also repair forms. Their website cautions you to call before coming by the store. In true NYC style, Andy’s is not actually a store but rather a workshop in the back of another store (True Hair Company) at the end of a hallway lined with random dress form parts. Going for a visit is always an adventure. But if you’ve been once, they are likely to recall your name and know what show, or shows you work on, and treat you like one of the family.

Another store with limited hours and a recommendation to call before stopping by. Manny’s was once one of the most magical stores in the city, with shelves stuffed full of amazing millinery trims and notions. The place used to offer a bit of a treasure hunt. Now, they are much more streamlined and organized and don’t stock as many things as they once did. Sadly, this is the result of the decreasing demand for millinery supplies and the consumer trend of shopping at big name “convenient” outlets.

The New York City garment district isn’t dead yet but it has certainly suffered somewhat of a decline, as have many family owned and run businesses in the U.S. If you can, get out and support your local fabric and sewing supply store. And if there isn’t one nearby, check out an online family owned store such as Sewing Machines Plus who still believe in the personal touch. You’ll be glad you did.

The Joy of Quilting

The Joy of Quilting

You remember that cookbook “The Joy of Cooking”? It was ubiquitous when I was growing up. Full of stuff we’d never eat today. Since I was a kid, for me, the joy of cooking was really in the eating…My dad would take a recipe from that cookbook, modify it in some way and serve up the tastiest meals.

Similarly, for me the joy of quilting is in the using. I’m not a quilter, but I love the results of someone who is. I prefer projects that are quicker and involved bigger pieces. I’m not into small details…but I appreciate the skill and expertise of those who are.

The Joy of Quilting

Your imagination is the limit

What amazes me about quilting is the amazing patterns. Everything from Acorn to Zig-Zag and everything in between. I find it fascinating that using the same pattern, but different fabrics can generate such different, yet similar, quilts. Each one is personalized and special.

To me, quilting harkens back to a previous era…to our roots. And that fact makes me wish I could get into it the same way I have knitting or spinning yarn. I appreciate modern conveniences like electricity and indoor plumbing, but have always felt pulled to master more basic skills.

Family tree

Another thing I love about quilting, and quilts in general, is that they can capture and carry a personal or family history. They tell a story. By using blocks made from worn clothing or other well-loved items or new fabrics that represent something, quilts become a means of carrying history forward.

Quilts are works of art. I think most people think of them as something to put on a bed and a way to keep warm. That’s true, but they’re also works of art. If a quilt is used to capture a story or family history, a better display might be hanging on a wall or displaying on a rack. This way, they preserve the story and act as a conversation starter so the story can be shared.

I may not be a quilter, but I love quilts. The sense of history and a hint of romance. I find them inspiring and feel they connect us to our roots, What’s your joy of quilting?

Homemade Gift Tips

Homemade Gift Tips

It’s the month of Christmas, guys! Are you anywhere near ready? I have some presents still to buy, but to be honest, I might start planning one Christmas before the current one is over. Love of holidays? Crazy organization? Awareness of a budget? Maybe one, two, or all three things—maybe even a few more!—but the bottom line is that a good chunk of my Christmas shopping is finished. Yay, me!

I’m not so naïve as to think that’s the case across the board though! In fact, someone might be thinking, “Yeah, I need to work on that shopping list…” while reading this post. If that’s the case, stick around! I have some tips coming up that you might find useful!

Make it personal

I bought a used record online for about $10 & I don’t if I’d ever seen my mom so happy opening a present.

I bought a used record online for about $10 & I don’t if I’d ever seen my mom so happy opening a present.

In my experience, gift-giving can go best when you really think about the person instead of how much you want to spend or how impressive other people might find the gift. Example: My mom had been saying for years that she wanted a certain record—yes, record!—and one year it occurred to me that buying her said record could be a good idea. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Maybe I was caught up on the it-has-to-be-new concept for a Christmas present? I’m not sure. Long story short though, I bought a used record online for about $10, give or take, and I don’t know that I’d ever seen my mom so happy opening a present.

If you think outside of the box instead of putting a series of labels on what you’re supposed to buy, it opens a door to a category of gift that will be the focus of this post: homemade. Who says you can’t give someone something you made yourself? Sure, you might not have bought it in a store, but you took the time to craft it with your own hands! Not only can it be a beautiful gift, but there’s a sentimentality to it that might be harder to achieve from something store-bought.

Decisions, decisions…

Still, as with store-bought gifts, it pays to think about what you’ll craft instead of flippantly deciding on something. With that in mind, here are a few tips for any of you who want to change up some of your I-need-to-buy-a-present items to I-think-I’ll-make-something choices, specifically gifts that need a needle and thread to create:

  1. Know your recipient! This could be key no matter if it’s store-bought or homemade. If you have an idea of the recipient’s personality, you could find it easier to plan your gift. Your friend who loves rockabilly, for instance, might love a purse made from material with a 50’s theme! Is another friend’s kitchen decorated in sunflowers? Then maybe a table runner made with sunflower-based fabric could be an option! If you can tailor your gift for the person you plan to give it to, the level of appreciation that person has might seriously increase!
  2. Manage your time. This one might be something to keep in mind for next year since Christmas is so near! But if you decide that homemade gifts are the way to go, don’t underestimate the idea of pacing yourself! Working on a dozen gifts in three weeks might be hectic. Deciding in January that you want to do homemade gifts for that year’s Christmas though would let you space your work out over months—and trust me when I say that pacing yourself can be a WONDERFUL idea!
  3. Consider your budget. Just because it’s homemade doesn’t mean it won’t cost some money! Sure, there are cheaper homemade options than making curtains, quilts, or clothing, but I’m talking about sewing here! Once upon a time, I decided I was going to make my mom a homemade quilt, and I might have ended up spending more on the supplies than I would’ve spent on a store-bought item. But I had a certain fabric I wanted to use, and it required more panels than I thought it would… The bottom line is you shouldn’t assume homemade automatically equals cheap, so if you need to work within a budget, still consider that budget! Should you realize the supplies you need for your projects are going to run too high, tinker with your ideas. Is there a different fabric you can use that’s cheaper, but still a good option? Can you scale it back—maybe make a throw instead of a full-sized quilt? A beauty of crafting your own gifts is that you can make those kinds of calls because it’s your creation!
  4. Browse. You might not be window shopping, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look for ideas online! Pinterest is a clear example of a place to find those ideas. In fact, I was inspired while writing this post, and you can now find my “Homemade Gift Ideas” board here! Even running a Google search can help you get the creative ball rolling by giving concepts that you can alter and tailor to your gift-giving wants. Though the overall idea might have come from someone else, the details—what fabric, what color, what size—can still come from you! You can find a series of sewn gift ideas here ! FYI, I love the cross-stitching lyrics one!

How about you, readers? Are you pro-homemade gift?

Families, Mentors, Legacies and Sewing

Families, Mentors, Legacies and Sewing

My first long-term professional job in a Costume Shop was at The Alley Theatre in Houston, TX. The Alley has two stages and puts on a creative and diverse season of plays, often mounting the regional premieres of new productions. I certainly never intended to live in Texas for as long as I did but I spent my 20s at The Alley. The Alley is where I grew up and where I learned the basis for pretty much everything I know about sewing and pattern making.


Years later, I was having a conversation with some friends and co-workers about our professional backgrounds. One of them asked me if I was still friends with the people I knew when I worked there.

“Friends?” I said, “They’re family.”

Then I got to thinking about family and home, mentors, and the sense of ‘belonging’ somewhere, of finding your people. Sewing is often a solitary activity. In fact, I spend most of my time these days in my little windowed corner at Steiner Studios sewing and patterning by myself. Some days, I miss being in a shop with others, everyone working and creating together.

There were days at The Alley when we would all be bent over our machines or projects, working diligently and quietly. Sometimes there was music playing, sometimes NPR (there weren’t podcasts yet), then suddenly, from the silence, someone would say, “Ummm…do we have any more of this fabric?” And everyone would burst out laughing. Ha. Tailor humor.

Nothing Beats Experience

The thing, or person, I miss most from those years in theatre, though, was my mentor, Jorge, the man who taught me patterning, millinery, and gave me to courage and tools to think outside the box and trust my instincts.

I don’t have a degree in any sort of Costuming or Fashion Design and I only ever took one sewing related class at college. Lots of people I know follow patterning or draping guidelines from a particular book. I don’t dispute that many of these books are extremely useful with their formulas and precise calculations (I own and reference many of them) but I always like to say that I pattern from the heart. I know that sounds dorky but that’s the way I work. Pretty much ten times out of ten I end up at the same result as I would if I had followed some directions in a book.

And, yes, I have tested this theory many times.

The point, I think, that I’m trying to make is that the books are useful but they only tell you the how, not the why. I always want to know the why. I believe that once you figure out why something needs to be done a certain way or why that curve should look like that, the how easily follows. I also believe wholeheartedly in mentors. I think our country and society is sorely lacking in that arena. Here’s a great paper about the importance of mentors.

My Mentor

“Are you going to save that thread?”

“Are you going to save that thread?”

One of the best and lasting gifts I’ve ever received was Jorge’s knowledge. I am his legacy. I hope that in my approaching old(er) age I will be able to give back and share his knowledge which has become my knowledge to someone young and just starting out. In this way, he, and eventually me, will continue to live on. How humbling to think that I might have a legacy to leave.

Teach someone, even if it’s just one someone, the things you know and have learned through the years. Before books and computers, people passed their stories and knowledge to their children who passed them to their children and so on and so forth. Create your own legacy. The knowledge and talent you have so worth passing on.

Jorge has been gone from this world for over ten years now but every single time I am unwinding a bobbin because I need an empty one and its less than halfway full, I hear his voice in my head, “Are you going to save that thread?”

And often, I do. I wrap it around a manila card because you never ever know when you might need a bit of bright green thread.

Quilt A String-Pieced Scrap Quilt For Baby

Quilt A String-Pieced Scrap Quilt For Baby

Here is an easy scrap quilt idea that is great fun to make.Here is an easy scrap quilt idea that is great fun to make.

You could clear out your scrap stash to make this gorgeous gift.

Blue is my favorite color, so I had heaps of blue scraps. That is what gave me the idea to make this crib sized quilt for a special new baby boy. You could choose a different color of scraps for this, or you could choose to not restrict your palette and clear out a random colorful scrap pile instead.

You will need:

  • A variety of cotton scraps
  • 48 5-inch cotton muslin squares
  • 12 2.5 inch muslin squares
  • 1 yard border fabric
  • Crib size batting
  • 1.5 yard backing fabric
  • Quilt binding or fabric to make binding

To make the patchwork squares:

Press and cut your colorful scraps into approximately 1 inch wide strips. You will trim strips to the desired length as you construct the squares.

Take a muslin square and angle the first scrap strip diagonally, from the bottom left corner to the top right corner of the square. You can create a sort of uniformity in your blocks and allow for the Xs and squares effect achieved in this quilt by choosing one color scrap to use as this center piece in every square. In this case, I chose navy. All squares are made with navy as the longest, first piece in this quilt.

Next, choose another strip and place it right side down atop the first strip, then sew along one side using a quarter inch seam. Flip the second strip down to face up, then press.

Once you've added the last little strip to cover the corner, you can turn and repeat the process to fill in the other side of your square.

Once you’ve added the last little strip to cover the corner, you can turn and repeat the process to fill in the other side of your square.

Then add another strip, placing the third right side down atop the second, and sew using a quarter inch seam, then flip with right side up, and press.

Please do not skip the step of pressing each strip neatly down after sewing. Careful pressing makes the difference between neat and well made quilts and something that is more of a mess!

Repeat the process, using shorter strips and smaller scraps as you get close to the edges of the square. Once you’ve added the last little strip to cover the corner, you can turn and repeat the process to fill in the other side of your square.

Now you have your first completed square.

You have your first completed square.

Place the square right side down and trim excess strip ends from the muslin square. This is most easily accomplished using a rotary cutter, or you can trim the excess with scissors instead.

Now make 47 more.

Now make 47 more.

Now you have your first completed square.

Make 47 more.

Assembling the quilt top:

Once you have completed all your patchwork squares, sew them together into rows.

Different looks can be achieved by varying the placement of the squares. You could turn them all in the same direction or assemble them where they form the X’s and O’s pattern pictured here. This is one of the things that makes quilting so much fun, that the same simple block can be turned different ways to vary the look of the completed top.

When joining the squares, take extra care for the tiny corner triangles, as it can be easy to make a careless mistake and miss joining these “ears” properly. This is easy to avoid by being careful in joining the squares and avoiding rush.

You also have options in this design: once you have completed the joining of the strip patchwork, you could call the quilt top done. Or choose to border the patchwork with a solid fabric. You could make borders of equal widths, or you could choose to add an additional embellishment, as I have here, with smaller blocks set off with borders. I did mine this way to indicate the top of the quilt and bring the design to the right dimensions for a crib sized quilt..

To make this quilt as pictured, sew 3.5 inch border strips around all sides of the patchwork design.

Prepare the three smaller blocks in the same way as the larger ones, using 2.5 inch muslin squares for the base.

Join these into a row by alternating the small patchwork blocks with 4 4.5 inch squares of the border fabric.

Sew this strip to the top edge, and finish the top by adding one more 3.5 inch strip above this.

To make the “quilt sandwich”:

  1. Cut your backing fabric 3 inches bigger all around than the top, press well, and place it right side down on your table or workspace.
  2. Carefully smooth the batting atop the wrong side of the backing layer.
  3. Press the top and seams one more time, taking extra care, then layer it wrong side down on top of the batting layer. Smooth nicely.
  4. Then baste all three layers together, using either long running stitches or quilters safety pins.


Meandering stipple stitch.

Meandering stipple stitch.

You can quilt this using the quick and easy route: the “stitch in the ditch” method of quilting over the seams that joined the individual blocks, or drop your feed dogs and use a meandering stipple stitch in one long line that (ideally) never crosses itself, guiding the quilt using your hands, working in sections until you have covered the entire quilt.  I quilted this pretty closely, like this:


Trim the excess batting and backing, using your scissors or more quickly with your serger.


Use prepackaged quilt binding or make your own. Sew binding strips together and then sew to quilt top, beginning along one side. Leave approximately an inch free at the beginning of this seam to join the binding ends once you have sewn it down all around. Join them, then fold over and sew the binding down on the back of the quilt using invisible whip stitches sewn by hand or using your machine if preferred.

Now you have made a beautiful heirloom gift that will be treasured forever!