Visit to Superior Threads, St. George, Utah

While on vacation in Southern Utah, I stopped at the head quarters of Superior Threads in St. George and owner, Bob Purcell, graciously gave us a tour of the 25,000 square foot facility.

20130424_10285920130423_105254The store with a large selection of fabrics and, of course, plenty of thread is upstairs. Downstairs, there are shelves and shelves of thread, manufactured in Japan and distributed from here.


20130423_112834 20130423_105704They stock around 2 million spools of thread and ship orders to customers all over the world.

20130423_105107 20130423_105441Every day, they wind over 3,000 bobbins in a beautiful array of colors. The bobbin winding room is noisy with several machines winding multiple bobbins simultaneously. Once the thread is wound onto the bobbins, each bobbin has to capped with white cardboard top and bottom.



A guy spends all day placing bobbins into a machine which does this a rate of about one per second. He removes a completed bobbin with his right hand and places the next one to be done with his left hand.

Seeing the array of wonderful threads, fabric and display quilts was inspiring. Do stop by for a visit. No appointment is necessary and the staff are extremely welcoming and friendly.



Creating a new quilt

Urban Garden

Who knows the origin of a design idea? Maybe this quilt, Urban Garden (aka R3tro), was brewing in my brain for some time, inspired by a combination of different thoughts – a pattern in some paving stones or a window or on a church vestment, the idea of making large scale blocks, the desire to make something that looks contemporary but that utilizes printed fabrics I already own and like rather than the “modern” tendency to solid colors. I was kicked into action by wanting to enter a quilt show with a deadline for submissions of 20th April. After a winter of revising my website, I was definitely in quilting deficit and have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in this project.Urban Garden diagram Here’s the very rough sketch I scrawled out as I ate my breakfast before heading out to sing joyfully on Easter morning – as you can see there was quite an evolution to the final version. In this case, I made it up as I went along. Often I design using computer software (more on this another time).

Urban Garden fabricsHere are the fabrics that I used in the quilt. I liked the black floral and pulled the colors from it. I had purchased a solid light buttery yellow, but decided it looked too washed out, so I went to my stash and found some yellow prints. There wasn’t enough of any of them, so I used four different ones which actually make the quilt more interesting. When it came to the borders, I wanted a stronger yellow so I bought the solid on the far left.

Urban Garden 5 blocksI made the center and the corner blocks first. The blocks are 21”. They went together pretty quickly. I’m quite particular about details and after I started piecing the four-patches, I noticed that the blue fabric with black dots has a direction aspect – the dots appear in vertical lines in one orientation and in horizontal lines when rotated. To maintain the overall symmetry I made sure the lines went the way I wanted. I also manipulated the direction of the leafy green fabric by cutting some pieces across the width of the fabric and others down the length.

Urban Garden side blockIt took me a couple of days to work out the pattern for the four side blocks. I wanted to complete the Trip Around the World-style pattern created by the large floral squares and to continue the lines of leafy fabric on the outer edges to establish links with the corner blocks. Then the leafy fabric was all gone so I introduced the green dots sandwiched by the orange. I put these sections perpendicular to the leafy green parts and the middle one is longer, helping to lead the eye out from the middle and to break up the nine-patch format of the other blocks. The smaller pieced section of orange and blue adjacent to the center block extends the central pattern in the quilt and helps to make the overall design more cohesive.

Urban Garden with sashing Urban Garden 9 blocks

Now that the nine blocks were completed I decided they needed a narrow sashing to separate them slightly. The pictures show the blocks before and after. I thought a black and white stripe would work well, but I only had a small piece in my stash. I found the black fabric with white dashes and I like the way it turned out. Once again, I manipulated the direction of the fabric, so that in some places the dashes look like parallel lines and in others they appear as zigzags.

Urban garden sashing

The borders were tricky and I ruminated for a couple of days – I aimed to extend the pattern out from the center without repeating too many of the parallel lines. By the time I had worked out what to do, I had a deadline of a day to have the quilt ready for my good friend Wanda Rains to do the long-arm quilting. I always tell my students not to rush borders. The borders can make or break the quilt and it is worthwhile putting in the time to do them accurately. However, I didn’t anticipate the piecing taking me as long as nine and a half hours, and at 10.30 p.m. I was mitering the corners on the final black border. Whew, it was done!

The next day, I was teaching a class all day at Quilted Strait in Port Gamble. I dropped the quilt off with Wanda in Kingston in the morning and returned after class in the late afternoon to collect it. Wanda had quilted a lovely overall leafy design which softens all those pieced straight lines and was just what the quilt needed. I scrambled over the weekend to attach the binding and finish the quilt for photography on Monday. I don’t usually churn out a big quilt in two weeks, but this one just gushed forth!


Quilting with friends again!

Our small Block of the Month group recently met at Joanne’s house, near Port Townsend in a beautiful spot overlooking Discovery Bay. This is the view from the window of Joanne’s quilting studio – Bald Eagles fly by and the Steller’s Jays are always busy.


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Joanne shares her studio with her resident feline friend, Lucy. Lucy made herself very comfortable and was oblivious to our activities. Barbara was working on a Disappearing 9-patch quilt for charity. Her church has an active group that makes quilts to send to Africa. Joanne finished machine quilting her quilt and was trimming it up and making the binding. I worked on piecing some Sawtooth Stars.

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Joanne made made these quilt tops using an Eleanor Burns pattern. One jelly-roll makes three quilt tops. After making the ones on the left, she decided that she would like to make one large quilt using the blocks from all three in batik fabrics. Joanne is prolific and always has projects to share and inspire us. She also participates in a group that makes Quilts of Valor for wounded servicemen. Here are three of these quilts ready for binding.



To wash or not to wash your fabric

Do you pre-wash your fabrics before making a quilt? I always do. When I first began quilting in 1986, that was what I was instructed to do and I’ve done it ever since.

20130417_165301Cotton fabrics shrink a little and they don’t necessarily all shrink by the same amount since the quality and the thread count varies. Some people don’t pre-wash fabrics because they like the crinkled antique look their quilt gets when it is washed and the fabrics shrink. Sometimes people buy fabric at a store or a conference where they are taking a class, They want to use the fabric immediately and don’t have access to a washing machine. My advice would be to not to mix the washed and non-washed fabrics. Apart from the shrinkage factor, the sizing/chemicals in unwashed fabrics makes them stiffer and less pliable which may cause minor problems when piecing them with washed fabrics.

Another issue is whether or not the fabric will bleed. All fabrics should be color-fast, but some shed excess dye the first time they are washed. If unwashed fabrics are stitched into a quilt and they lose some dye, the dye will be picked up by adjacent pieces in the quilt and damage will be done, e.g. red bleeding onto a white background. Putting a color-catcher sheet into the washing machine with the quilt to pick up any excess dye will help to overcome this problem.

These days, the general quality of quilting cottons sold at quilting shops is high, and shrinkage and dye loss are not the problems that they once were. However, it’s still advisable to be cautious and aware of these issues.

Counter-intuitive Quilting

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Yesterday I took a workshop entitled “Counter-intuitive Quilting” sponsored by Kitsap Quilters Guild and taught by Patricia Belyea who lectured at the guild last week and share her wonderful Japanese yukata cottons (see earlier blog posting). These photos show Patricia’s cheerful quilt (overall and a detailed shot), Wabi Sabi, which translated from Japanese means love of imperfection. If you look closely at the quilt, you can see some repeated elements. The basic technique involves choosing fabrics to work with and then designing three very simple blocks which are pieced together in a free-form way (we made three of each). When the blocks are put together, pieces are added to fill in any spaces, for example, some of the large flowers. The blocks may trimmed or divided into smaller sections if they don’t fit and the pieces that were cut off may be moved to another area of the quilt top.


Here is Patricia examining my work. For me, the whole thing seemed too chaotic when I put all my blocks adjacent. I liked them better when I separated them and put some space around them. This reflects my tendency to want my quilts to look more organized and symmetrical. It was quite a stretch for me to cut the fabric with scissors to the approximate shape needed and to piece them together without much regard for straight seams – in fact creating wonky blocks was encouraged. The first set of blocks I made, I used my rotary cutter and had very straight seams, than I took the plunge and used my scissors to make some that were much more irregular. The class was inspiring and I enjoyed trying a different approach. Usually I design a pattern, and then choose fabrics for it, although my initial inspiration may come from a particular fabric that I like. In this case we chose the fabrics we wanted to work with and more or less designed the blocks as we went along.



Elizabeth Mador made some interesting blocks using purple and chartreuse fabric and a burgundy that had embroidered spirals. Lisa Jowise had some beautiful oriental fabrics for her blocks. We had a very enjoyable day.

Have quilts, will travel!

I love to travel and teach, exploring new places and going to areas I wouldn’t necessarily visit without the teaching job. I’ve met some wonderful people and like the workshops where I can spend a whole day with a smaller group. It’s fun to see what each student brings to class and how they interpret my instructions. My goal is always for my students, whatever their skill levels, to feel successful, as well as enjoying the class. Quilt guild members always welcome me and are generous with their time, meeting me at the airport and showing me round the local sites which usually include a quilt shop or two. Often I stay at the home of guild member, or sometimes at a hotel.

Traveling quilter1 Traveling quilter2

Packing for these trips is a quite a feat. My most popular lecture is the trunk show where I display up to 40 quilts, but even if I do a PowerPoint presentation, I take as many quilts as I can for the lecture and workshops.  All airlines charge for checked bags, (prices range from $20-35/bag), and I check two that are carefully packed and usually weigh within 1-2 pounds of the 50 pound limit. One is completely filled with quilts and I record exactly which ones so that I can pack in the same way coming home and know that I won’t exceed the weight limit. The other is three-quarters filled with quilts and workshop materials, with the remaining quarter for my clothes. I have to be able to board the ferry to and from Seattle as a foot-passenger, so my hand luggage is a small backpack and a shoulder bag, leaving my hands free for the two large suitcases. I usually take my laptop computer and sometimes my digital projector. Thank goodness for wheels!

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All these quilts fit into the suitcases! After a lecture, the quilts are usually packed up in a hurry and guild members who help, can’t believe how I can fit them all in and still have room for my clothes. They have to be folded with the minimum number of folds to fit into the cases. Usually it takes me about half an hour to sort them all out and re-pack. Another logistical hassle is my books, patterns and the Mongolian products. I can’t carry these in my luggage, so I send a couple of packages ahead. It’s impossible to accurately estimate the number of books that I will sell. Sometimes I sell out completely, and other times I’m left with a big pile. I’ve often been fortunate to sell leftovers to a local quilt shop at wholesale rates. If I can’t carry what’s left in my hand luggage, I have to pack up a parcel to mail to the next place where I’m teaching, or back home.

3-block fans Silk table runners and wall hangings

As part of my fund-raising efforts for Mongolian Quilting Center, I ask guild members for a small monetary contribution. If we raise $100, the guild is given a Mongolian silk table runner or wall hanging which they can use in a raffle or for any special guild event they choose. With 100+ people at the lecture we often raise over $200 in this way, much of it in $1 bills or coins. This may sound trivial, but the coins are heavy and I already have so much to carry! I have to rely on a kind guild member to relieve me of all the change or to take me to a bank.  Guild members are generally extremely helpful and understanding.

Sightseeing highlights from teaching trips have been three Presidential Libraries, the Forth Worth Fine Art Gallery, art in the Mayo Clinic, Chicago Fine Art Museum, Royal Gorge in CO, a variety of botanical gardens and parks, and some incredible beaches. I always love coming back home too, and greatly appreciate the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Japanese Yukata Fabrics

At our last Kitsap Quilters Guild meeting, we were fortunate to have a lecture from Patricia Belyea, Okan Arts, who displayed many beautiful Japanese yukata fabrics and had them available for purchase,

20130326_19410420130326_194608                    Patricia first visited Japan eight years ago and fell in love with the country and the culture. She has since made another four trips there and has hosted Japanese students. She began quilting five years ago and was inspired to use yukata cottons in her lovely quilts, and decided to import them to make them available for quilters here.


Yukata cottons are typically 14-16″ wide and come in rolled bolts containing 10 meters of fabric, enough to make one kimono. In the past, these unlined kimonos were worn for trips to communal bathing pools (prior to the days of indoor plumbing in Japanese homes). They are the official costume for the Summer Festival. Junior sumo wrestlers are required to wear these thin yukata robes and yukata is also used for dressing dead bodies.


The cotton is hand-dyed with silk stenciling. Indigo and white is the most traditional. Later, color was added to the indigo and then color was used without the indigo. The motifs in the patterns are traditional, realistic or abstract. Patricia has around 500 bolts of this 20-50 year old yukata cotton, the largest inventory in the USA. I’m looking forward to taking a quilting class from Patricia on counter-intuitive quilting next weekend, hosted by Kitsap Quilters.

Calico Threads – New Quilt Shop in Tacoma

Last week I went to Tacoma to lecture at Quilters by the Bay. The guild member who hosted me, told me about a new quilt shop that opened about 6 months ago – Calico Threads, located at 2727 N Pearl Street. I had a delightful visit there and the window cleaner was at work when I snapped my photo of the outside of the store!




Owners Donna Denman and Sandi Pickering were friendly and welcoming. Both have several years of experience working at Quality Sewing & Vacuum stores in the area and have a wealth of knowledge on sewing machines and quilting. They have a good inventory of fabric and notions.

Something I loved about the store was an area with several high quality sewing machines set up and ready for use. Donna and Sandi encourage customers to come and sew in the store, without having to lug machines in and out, and they have frequent “Sew-cials”. They enjoy being able to do some sewing too, if they have a quiet spell between customers.

Do visit the store if you are in the Tacoma area. They will be participating in the Western Washington Shop Hop In June.