Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fall Momentum

Fall is finally here and things couldn't be busier at our shop! For example, the fourth series of our popular $5 Quilt Club has already begun, with only the second talk occurring this upcoming Friday and Saturday. Patchwork Party is still in full swing which means our mail-order department is always buzzing preparing kits or mailing out our exclusive block to all of the "party-goers." And since the Holiday Season is practically around the corner, we've also been stocking up on all of the gifts and projects you'll need for those special, heart-warming gifts. Somehow, I even managed to squeeze in a small trip to a local quilt show to give a talk on Isaac Singer and his famous Singer Sewing Machine.

But before I go into too much detail, can you tell what is so special about the Singer Sewing Machine pictured below? (I'll share the answer at the end of this post.)

Antique Singer Sewing Machine

Singer Sewing Machine Case

The $5 Quilt Club remains one of the more popular events at our shop. Recent topics we've covered in class have included the First Ladies of America, She Flies with Her Own Wings (about Oregon), and Lewis and Clark's historic journey west. This year's theme is extra special: "Well Behaved Women seldom Make History." We're exploring how famous women of the past listened to their hearts, found the courage and fortitude to speak up, and exerted themselves to try and change their corner of the world for the better. We started out with Frances E. Willard. This coming Friday, we'll be talking about Elizabeth Cady Stanton. If you're making plans for the weekend, be sure to stop by the shop and register for these talks. You'll have lots of fun and learn a lot!

In addition to the $5 Quilt Club, Patchwork Party is still going strong! If you haven't take the time to visit the official site and look at all of the wonderful blocks we're offering this season, you'll want to set aside a moment or two to do just that. There is still enough time to collect your blocks and finishing kits to make an unforgettable Holiday Gift! The weather is getting a bit colder out where I live, and frankly, I feel there's nothing better on those days than to spend a little time snug in my sewing room with the patterns, fabric and threads of a new quilt project spilling out onto my lap.

Okay, so have you figured out what is so special about that sewing machine? It's the hand crank on the side. With the introduction of electricity, many of these machines were converted to electric by the addition of a motor. The hand cranks almost disappeared. With a motor, you could do twice as much work thank cranking by hand--and it didn't bother your shoulder as much either! No wonder so many of these machines were converted to electricity. When you see a Singer like this one today, it will more than likely have a motor on it--not a hand crank. Next time you're antiquing, you'll notice what I'm talking about.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rotary Cutters and Chocolate: The Secret Connection!

Who would have thought that a tasty chocolate bar could have helped inspire the creation of an indispensable quilting tool? But, it did!

In 1956, Mr. Y. Okada was just a young man working in a Japanese printing company. And at that time, workers in printing companies used either razor blades and standard knives to cut paper. But, Okada noted, workers spent a lot of time either sharpening blades, or when the blades were finally used up, replacing them. So one day, as he ate lunch, Okada tried to think of ways to reduce that time and improve efficiency.

Now, as you know, some chocolate bars (my favorites included!) are molded into squares that can be snapped off into smaller bite-sized pieces, and Okada's lunch had just such a treat that particular day! As Okada snapped off pieces of his chocolate bar, it occurred to him that a cutting blade might also be made into similar segments. A blade could be made with multiple cutting edges that the worn edge could be "snapped off" just like a chocolate bar, thereby exposing a sharp new cutting point.

With this insight, Okada and his colleagues founded a company to manufacture these new type of blades and called the company OLFA, which is a Japanese word meaning "breaking a blade." Ever since that time, OLFA has gained and held the market for premium cutters, knives, and blades. And, in 1979, OLFA developed the first rotary cutter for quilters, making cutting fabric faster and more accurate.

OLFA also produces a self-healing mat, the rotary cutter's companion, that makes it possible for quilters and sewers to make clean, accurate cuts through multiple layers of fabric. (I can cut up to six layers of cotton with mine!) And quilters, using their natural resourcefulness, quickly extrapolated the concept and developed quick-cutting techniques upon which more than one company in the quilting industry is based.

Essentially, a rotary cutter is a rolling razor blade that looks like a high-tech pizza cutter. You can use it to cut fabric into strips, shapes, and pieces. The blade in OLFA rotary cutters are made from tungsten, which ensures a sharp, durable edge for reliable and accurate cutting. But one of my favorite features of OLFA rotary cutters has to be the safety guide that can quickly and easily be operated with my thumb. I use the safety shield every time I put the cutter to a piece of fabric (and so should you!)

OLFA makes rotary cutters in many sizes: from tiny (18mm) for the smallest projects like miniatures with tight corners or curves, to the largest (60 mm)—the size I use. Furthermore, rotary cutters come in two basic designs: original and ergonomic. And both are currently on the market.

The Ergonomic Rotary Cutter, also in several sizes, features a unique handle which provides a comfortable grip for the user as it has been shaped to fit the hand. If you happen to have arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, or any other repetitive stress conditions, this would be the cutter for you! You can also use the locking feature to allow the blade to lock open for comfort or to close for safety. This one is so easy on your hands that, after you've used a few times, you will abandon your other cutters in preference to this one.

As far as the mats go, OLFA rotary mats are self-healing and durable, which means that you can make multiple cuts of fabric without dulling the blade or slicing through the mat. They can be used on both sides and are marked with a one-inch grid to help you measure and line the fabric up on both the straight or cross grain.

We use rotary cutters and mats every day and couldn't do without them! If you ever bought fabric from us, or received it in the mail, you can be assured that we cut it with our favorite and well-loved rotary cutters. With over 20 years of supporting quilters behind them, OLFA says they are committed to providing products to quilters before they even know they need them. But personally, I’m waiting for OLFA to provide more time in any given day in which to sew!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Summer Redwork Adventure

Where did the summer go? I can’t believe it’s already September 9th. Time just seems to have passed so quickly I didn’t realize it’s been so long since my last post. Here are the highlights of a recent adventure to Washington State.

On August 4th and 5th, Stephen and I went to the Pomeroy Living History Farm where I gave talks on the History of Redwork Embroidery.

The Pomeroy Farm is really beautiful. Near Yacolt, Washington, the farm is an interactive educational museum depicting domestic and farm life from the early 20th century. There is a log home built around 1920, a working blacksmith shop, a barn, various animals, herb and vegetable gardens, a pasture, and a woodlot. My trip was scheduled to coincide with the Pomeroy Farm Quilt Show showcasing beautiful quilts on the fences and in the barn. The weather that weekend was absolutely perfect for a quilt show--in the 70s with a nice light breeze to gently blow the quilts around in the sun. Vendors sold a variety of old quilts, fabrics, notions and other goodies, and the Redwork embroidery club from Anna Lena’s in Long Beach, Washington were on hand to demonstrate Redwork embroidery techniques. They also brought along a variety of quilts for the show.

Pomeroy Living History Farm

A Quilt Display

My talk centered around Redwork embroidery and how it got started here in the United States in about 1876. It was during that year a display of embroidery from the Kensington School in England was featured at the Philadelphia Exposition. The Kensington Stitch, as worked by these students, became known later as the outline stitch--the type of needlework used to create Redwork embroidery. Eventually, this work was simply called Redwork (or Bluework if you were working in blue). For illustration, I brought my collection of antique Redwork quilts, pillow shams, splashers and other items with me for show and tell.

Redwork Embroidery was extremely popular as a method of adorning everyday items through the 1920s-30s. It is currently enjoying popularity again. I enjoy doing Redwork myself. In the evenings, especially when I’ve had a busy day, I work on Redwork embroidery projects to relax and have fun.

Vendors at the Pomeroy Quilt Show

Noel Johnson of was at one of my talks and took a selection of photos of me with my quilts and Redwork embroidery items. (Click here to take a look!) I wish you could have been there with me. The first guy in Mr. Johnson’s selection of photos is Farmer Bob, owner of the Pomeroy Farm. He introduced me before each session. The other guy in the Hawaiian shirt is my husband Stephen. He helped out during my sessions; he spent the rest of the time exploring the Farm and generally having fun.

If you are ever near the Pomeroy Living History Farm during their open farm weekends, you will want to see for yourself how fun and educational this place really is!