My essential sewing supplies

I’m often asked for recommendations for essential sewing supplies. In addition, I’ve just begun offering sewing lessons in my home. So this post is for my students and anyone else who is interested in having the best tools for sewing.

Required for all sewing projects

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Rotary cutter/ruler/mat plus extra blades: I like Olfa cutting mats and rotary cutters and Omnigrid rulers. I have this Olfa rotary cutter, this Omnigrid 6″x24″ ruler as my main ruler (plus a couple others, such as the 4″x14″ ruler in the picture ), and this Olfa cutting mat. I also like to watch for sales on extra blades because they are pricey and it’s nice to buy them when they’re on sale and not when I’m in a pinch and really need one but they’re full price. (Technically speaking, you could get by with just fabric scissors. However, using a rotary cutter/mat/ruler is infinitely faster, easier, and especially more accurate. They are definitely worth the investment.)

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Fabric-only scissors: At a minimum, you should have one big pair for cutting fabric and one small pair (good for hand sewing, snipping threads, etc). For big scissors, I have had this pair for 8+ years and am only now needing to get them sharpened – they’re really great. For small, I have this little pair and like them because the tips are really sharp.

Be sure to threaten family members and friends with DEATH if they use them for anything other than fabric!

Seam ripper (totally required, you will mess up) – I like the Dritz ergonomic one. You want to be comfortable when ripping out a really long seam.

pins and a pin cushion: I highly recommend using a magnetic pin cushion, because it’s 60 million times easier to use than a traditional pin cushion! Just throw your pins at it. I like pins with a round head but I have also discovered that everyone has very distinct preferences for pins so choose what you like.

Super helpful but not absolutely necessary

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Seam gauge – You really should have a seam gauge if you want to sew clothing but I also use them for bags and even sometimes for quilts. I have four because I’m always losing one around my sewing room, thinking that it’s lost forever, buying another one, and then finding the lost one . 🙂

Zipper foot – If your machine didn’t come with one and you think you’ll want to sew zippers for clothing or bags, you’ll need to purchase one. This is specific to your machine.

Walking foot – If you want to do any straight line quilting (required for this), much sewing with flannel or knits, or if you want to make bags, a walking foot will make your life WAY easier. I use mine all the time and would consider it a required part of my sewing equipment. More expensive machines come with them. My machine is high quality (cost around $400) but I had to buy my walking foot. I think it was around $30.  It was definitely worth the investment for the long term. You’ll need to buy one specific to your machine.

Quarter-inch foot: Most machines come with a standard presser foot that is bigger than 1/4″ (usually 3/8″). If you plan on doing any quilting, you should sew a sample seam to determine what your standard foot is and then purchase a 1/4″ foot if you need it (specific to your machine). I love mine and use it as my main presser foot.

Extra bobbins and a bobbin holder:  You’ll want to have extra bobbins so that you can easily use multiple colors of thread.  Usually the machine only comes with a few. With lots of extra bobbins, you’ll want a place to store them. I have a cheap bobbin holder (like this one) although there are nicer ones out there.

Pro Tip: Be sure that the bobbins you buy are compatible with your machine. I have to buy bobbins directly from the Viking dealer because the “standard/universal” bobbins don’t fit.

215Let the record show that I only rolled up my flexible measuring tape because that’s how my mother stores hers and I didn’t want her to have to cringe when she looked at this picture. 🙂 Usually, mine is in a jumbled pile.

Flexible measuring tape – This is required if you’re planning on sewing clothes. You’ll use a flexible measuring tape to take the necessary measurements for choosing the pattern size and/or drafting a pattern.

Hera marker – I just got one of these and it’s SO much better than using fabric markers for marking lines when doing bags and quilts.  It’s definitely optional but if you think you’ll do much quilting, the Hera marker is cheap and super awesome! I wish I had bought one long ago.

Wonder clips: As with the Hera marker, Wonder clips are not necessary at all but they make life WAY easier when sewing bags, binding quilts, or doing anything that is thick and difficult to get pins through.

Fabric marking pens: When tracing patterns to cut out, I just use a Ultra Fine Tip Sharpie (much cheaper than using an erasable option). If it’s in a place that will show in the finished product, I usually use this water-erasable marker (although be careful about applying heat to it afterwards).  For dark fabric, a white erasable pen is also useful.

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That’s a good start! There are plenty of other gadgets out there but there are the ones that I use all the time. You might have noticed that I missed fabric and sewing machines. Those two huge topics need their own posts so those will be coming in the next few week.s

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When Making Milk Is No Longer Your Vocation

I loved being able to nurse my babies. If you read through all my nursing blog posts, you’ll see that although nursing definitely wasn’t easy from the beginning for me, it was a huge part of my identity as a mother. I loved the incredible calming power of nursing for my children, particularly when they were older. Sometimes, nursing was all that I could do to help them cope with a changing, challenging world and it was enough.

When Ellie was nearing four years old, I was really ready for her to wean. I had a nursing 20-month old and I was ready to not be tandem nursing any more. With Marko, as he approached four, Ellie started telling him that he was going to stop nursing soon (because that’s what she had done). And inside, I was saying, “NO! You don’t have to stop! Why would you stop? You love nursing with a passion! Let’s keep going!” But, as he neared his fourth birthday, he started to get lazy with his latch, I had to often unlatch him and ask him to try again and by the beginning of December, it was clear that it was probably time for him to stop. I, however, wasn’t really ready for it when, one night while at dinner at Yiayia’s house, he announced that he didn’t want nursing anymore. I just thought, “yeah, yeah, you’ve said that before” (because he had). But that night, he asked for “one little scoop” (maybe just to prove to himself that I was still willing to say yes?), nursed for about a second, and was done. He had weaned himself just like that. And I was saying, “Wait! I didn’t get to enjoy our last time nursing together! I didn’t get to be all sentimental about the end of this chapter in my own mothering life! It’s just over?!?! That’s it?!” Yes, that was it. The next night, we laid down together on his little bed to cuddle for sleep and he didn’t even ask to nurse (nor has he asked since). Clearly, it was the the right time for him and I’m grateful that we trusted him to stop when he was ready.

And now, four months later, I’m getting ready to leave for my church’s women’s retreat this weekend. The last time I went to the retreat was in spring 2010, when I was four months pregnant with Ellie. Ever since then, I’ve had one (or two) nursing babies and it’s been impossible to get away (because we’ve never used bottles with our nursing kids). I’ve never been away from my children at night (or for longer than 6-7 hours at a stretch) except for the night we were gone from Ellie when Marko was born. Now that I’m not nursing any child, I can get away and it feels really unsettling, to be honest. They’ll be totally fine with Nik, of course. It’s just that for six year, two months, and five days, I couldn’t physically leave them and I loved being able to fill a need for them that no one else could. I didn’t mind not being able to leave them. Now, however, I’m settling into new roles, finding a new vocation, moving forward on my mother journey. It’s good, it’s right, and it’s sad, all at once.

For 1435 days for Marko and 1461 days for Ellie (which, although two years worth of those days overlapped, I still count them individually), “milk and love flowed from me to [them]”. I’m grateful for how those 2,896 days forever shaped who I am and what I will become.

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Post written and published in approximately 30 minutes – be proud of me for squashing my perfectionistic tendencies and just writing. 🙂
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Happy Easter!

Hosanna in the highest! Let our King be lifted up! Hosanna!

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Happy Easter!

Love,
Nik, Laura, Ellie, and Marko

The kids and I sang this song as part of our church’s choir today. I’m so grateful to have been able to sing this powerful message with them!

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2017 Q2 Finish-along Goals!

I like to dream about having abundant sewing time and consequently make absurdly long lists of things I want to sew. Therefore, I give to you the laughably ambitious list of what I hope to sew in the 2nd quarter of 2017 (i.e. April – June).

A little zippy pouch for Ellie, using the Noodlehead tutorial I’ve used so many times before (as requested by her after seeing the one I sewed for her cousin):

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A zippy wallet and a matching Makers Tote for myself, both also Noodlehead patterns, in fabric matching my Sewing Circle Tote and my Sidekick Tote.  I will be so deliciously, nerdily matchy-matchy!

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Two totes for Bmore Bags, a fundraising effort for the House of Ruth (fabric and pattern provided to me):

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A cover for the little cabinet in our guest room bathroom. We don’t like the way the fake glass looks (and especially don’t like the scallops) so I’m going to use this fabric to make a very simple whole cloth quilt to put on the front (probably with Velcro).

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I need to add the words, “HE IS RISEN!” to the back of our Happy Birthday bunting so that we can use it for Easter too. Obviously, I need to do this ASAP. I’m going to use Wonder-Under to fuse the letters on. When I made this last fall, I purposely made the back with those greens so that I could make this side for Easter and then forgot to actually do it. Oops.

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I’m going to turn this in-progress four-block New York Beauty into a very fancy cafe-style curtain for our downstairs bathroom. I’m going to add some pink paper-piecing butterflies to the back (so we can enjoy them when we’re in our yard).

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This fabric perfect matches our dining room/living room paint. I bought it in 2013 (oops) and had planned on making a table runner or place mats with it. Instead (or at least to start with in Q2), I want to make napkin rings, four total, each with one of our initials, in the hopes of being able to use our cloth napkins a bit longer (and reduce laundry).

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Also for our guest room bathroom, these English paper pieced hexies need to be quilted onto background fabric and turned into a curtain/decorative work of art. I really should be able to finish this in not much time. I already did all the hard work! That blue Kona swatch in the middle is the color I’m planning on using for the background. It matches the accent wall in our bathroom.

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Finally, this seems pretty silly to add but I do want to finish them: I embellished these store-bought curtains last spring to hang in the upstairs bathrooms of our community association hall. But they’re too long. So I need hem them shorter and also make the hanging pocket at the top bigger. I just want them out of my sewing room!

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With the yard work season about to come into full swing, I’ll be glad to get half this list done! 🙂 Wish me luck!

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My No-Shave Experiment – The Research (860 Days and Counting)

This is part 4 in my “No-Shave Experiment” mini-series. Here’s part 1 – the reveal, 1a – a call for personal experience, part 2 – the rant, and part 3 – the reflection.

Back in September 2015, I finally finished reading Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, by Rebecca Herzig. I typed my notes into a draft blog post and it sat there for many months. Lately, I’ve felt the need for some closure on this “No-Shave Experiment”, begun in November 2014 (because it’s really not an experiment for me any more) and so I’m going to try to push through and finish the final three posts in the series.

Rather than try to mold my notes (taken almost 18 months ago) into any sort of coherent report, I’ve organized them into categories but just left them in note form. For the most part, these are my own summaries of what I read.  Sentences/phrases in quotation marks are taken directly from Plucked. (Any errors in the quotations are definitely mine.)

Hair Removal (HR) through the ages:

  • Overall impression: hair removal as both racist and sexist (the more hairy the person, the more crass, visible body hair = “dirty foreigner”)
  • HR among non-native women in the US started around 1910/15 as hemlines started to rise – considered essential for sleeveless gowns
  • HR as a way for middle-class American women to “separate oneself from cruder …lower class, and immigrant [people]”
  • shaving = with the need for private bathroom/indoor plumbing, therefore a mark of the well-off
  • By 1938, for women, any hair not on scalp is considered excessive. Also, Gilette’s need to sell more shaving stuff after World War 1 (to keep up higher sales due to the bare faces needed for gas masks) motivated them to start advertising to women. Advertising avoiding mention of blade and instead referring to “caring for niceties of personal habit.” Shortages of nylon/silk in WWII meant women started to go bare-legged and wanted to maintain the look of stockings, hence needing to shave.

Hair Removal (HR) in more recent times:

  • unshaven armpits as political statement – feminism, symbolic reminder of the often “repetitive, expensive and often invisible labor of maintaining hair-free flesh” – either as trivial nuisance or very embodiment of women’s oppression.
  • For advocates of Black Power and Black Nationalists, revised treatment of head hair became a vital element of resistance to racist perceptions of beauty and Eurocentric standards of appearance. [I think that this was a direct quote from the book because they don’t sound like my words but I didn’t have the quotes in my notes so I’m not sure.]
  • “The treatment of armpit, facial, or leg hair…provide women’s liberationists with a malleable and visible symbol of their commitment to the ‘natural,’ unconfined body. Simply by ceasing shaving, advocate of women’s rights might quickly establish their identification with larger social movements.”
  • Another [maddening] example of “gendered social control”: the forcible, mandatory shaving of pubic hair at the beginning of labor. (This is a practice that thankfully has almost completely died but still makes me furious to think about it happening.)
  • “visible body hair on women signals political extremism” – like the radical PETA activist in the [possibly a hoax] NRA advertisement.
  • “If God gave it to me, why should I shave it off?” (A question I ask myself a lot and found it interesting to see it expressed in this book, not written at all from a Christian viewpoint.)
  • About waxing: Waxing depends on “conversion of petroleum waste into valuable by-product” – i.e waxing is NOT a carbon-neutral activity.  The Brazilian wax came out of porn (if everyone has shaved legs, how can we make porn more shocking?). Waxing brands/formulas are not regulated like cosmetics (i.e. no mandatory testing procedures). Brazilian waxing is SO incredibly painful for the client but also bad for the workers (repetitive strain injuries, noxious chemicals/fumes) and primarily depends on cheap immigrant labor.

On why people say they shave

  • “Over time, hairlessness, once perceived as characteristic “deficiency of the continents” (i.e. of indigenous peoples), [has become] normalized – a persistent standard of health, beauty, cleanliness, and desirability.”
  • “When asked, however, Americans tend to downplay the influence of such norms and values [see above].  Instead they attribute their own hair removal practices to “personal” goals of increased attractiveness, elevated self-esteem, and enhanced sexual pleasure.” They attribute their decisions to personal choice, individual freedom = the “right” to shave (To which I have to thing: Really?!?! – as in, you’re glad to have the right to spend a bunch of money and time taking hair off your body?)

In Conclusion

“The uneven effects of “personal” enhancements are distributed broadly, temporally, and geographically.  Those uneven effects, moreover, are routinely excluded from ethical and political debates.  Plucked is,first and foremost, a call to remember those excluded others: the staggering volumes of sweat and blood and imagination and fear expended to produce a single hairless chin.”

As you can probably tell from my editorial asides, I just kept getting more annoyed, the further into the book I read.  If you’re interested in the history of hair removal, I really do highly recommend reading the whole book.  I’ve barely scratched the surface with these notes.

P.S. Want to read more? Check out this article in The Atlantic. It quotes quite a bit from Plucked and the comments section was really fascinating to me. (I NEVER read the comments section these days but got sucked into this one for some reason.)

Still to come: the [anecdotal] RESEARCH and the RESOLUTION (Can you guess what it will be?)

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Handmade Christmas 2016: Owls and Stars and Colors, Oh My!

I can finally reveal the final four presents that I sewed for my family for Christmas. These four were definitely sewn in 2017 but they still count as Handmade Christmas 2016, right?

My niece and nephew were both two this Christmas (or close to it) so I made them color books! I used my own tutorial, which I’m so glad I wrote because otherwise I’d have to be reinventing the wheel every time I make these! The last one I made was for Marko, over two years ago.

img_0406img_0407And because I know my mother likes to see the inside of these also, here are the inner pages. Finding all the different fabrics for these books is probably my favorite part of sewing them.

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I figured I shouldn’t totally ignore Annika and Andrew’s families however, so for Chris and Katie (Annika’s parents), I sewed an owl from the Fancy Forest quilt pattern (same pattern that Rachel’s fireflies came from). For those of you who follow me on Instagram, here’s the front of that crazy bunch of orange seams!

img_0396I drafted the paper piecing pattern for that arrow myself.  It’s not perfect but it was fun!

img_0398had fun doing some irregularly-spaced diagonal quilting on this one!

For Jon and Leah (Andrew’s parents), I sewed them a Striped Star in blues and greens. I thought I knew the lesson that the less you use a color, the more you notice it but was still fairly surprised by how noticeable the tiny strips of green came out. I also had fun using the leftovers from Ellie’s Easter dress as the back ground.

img_0394img_0395inner green fabric also seen in Marko’s quilt and the blues seen in this table runner

As with the other pillows I made this Christmas, I closed them with an invisible zipper (using this tutorial) and backed them with soft, fuzzy flannel.

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Here they are, all best buddies before the owl and Annika’s book headed to Alaska and the star and Andrew’s book headed for Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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These four projects are also Finish-along finishes for first quarter, 2017!

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Beehive, March 2017 – Here We Come!

This post is primarily for the other quilters in the #beehiveswarmmerrilee but if you want some paper piecing tips or just are curious about my quilting life, read on. 🙂

This year, for the first time ever, I’m participating in an online quilting bee, organized by Alyce at Blossom Heart Quilts, called The Beehive.  I’m the “Queen Bee” for March so this is my post to give instructions to my bee-mates.

First, my block:

I’ve chosen the “Treasure Hunt” block. It’s paper-pieced but it’s a really simple design with no crazy angles.  So if you’re new to paper-piecing, this will be a great first project and for those of you who know how to paper piece, it will be super easy.

Here’s my sample block:

052colors of tools not purposefully matched to colors of block 🙂

Color Choice

I’d like the block to contain a variety of monochromatic grays of different value (i.e. dark gray to light gray). I’d like them to be as close to true gray (if that’s a term) as you can, so not veering into blueish-gray, reddish/purplish-gray, etc. I’d also appreciate leaving out any florals or stereotypically feminine patterns as this is a quilt for my husband and me to share.

055 the grays I am using

061examples of grays from my stash that didn’t work – either wrong color (the gray/white polka dots are way too blue) or wrong design (those bikes are a nice gray but the print has blue in it too)

In real life, these two piles look very different but they were super difficult to photograph (even when playing with warmth, saturation, etc during editing). So I hope the side by side comparison helps a bit.  The blues on the left are either too blue/green  or too pink to work (plus the one with flowers – no thanks!).

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For the two accent colors, I’d like bright green and bright orange, matched to these two colors if you can:

So, in summary, you’ll need four grays, plus green and orange.

Color Placement

In the interest of helping the repeating pattern really show itself, I’d like the darkest gray to be on A1 and the lightest gray to be on A5.  For the accent colors, please make A3 orange and A5 green. When I sewed my sample block, I wrote a description of each fabric directly onto the template to ensure I put the correct fabric in the correct place.

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I wrote on all four templates as you can see, and then lined them up before sewing, just to make sure that I had written the colors correctly. A little anal perhaps but I hate making mistakes and seam ripping with paper-piecing is a HUGE pain!

Some paper-piecing tips:

Alyce has a great paper-piecing tutorial so definitely read that if you’re new to paper piecing.  And please, pay particular attention to measuring the template after you’ve printed it.  When I first printed it, even though I thought I’d told the printer to print the correct way, it still shrunk it a bit.  So be sure your template measures 6.5″ before you start sewing.  Remember to print 4 templates!

This blog post has a couple introductory videos if you want a paper piecing visual.  I don’t agree with her assertion that you have to use fancy paper.  I just use plain old copy paper and it works fine! (And Carolyn Friedlander agrees with me – she’s the one who told me to use it when I took her class last spring!) I also don’t bother pre-perforating my lines.  Just the actual sewing makes the paper plenty easy enough to rip out.  I do pre-crease all my lines before I start sewing though.  That way, I don’t have to stop after every seam to crease the next line.

A few other thoughts:

1. As Alyce and Carolyn recommend, I use cheap copy paper and don’t have any issues with it other than when ironing open seams after joining sections.  The ink usually smears so I use a press cloth to keep the ink on the press cloth and not on the iron (and consequently my block).
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2. I don’t use the printed seam allowance as my guide for the edge of the block.  Rather, I cut that off a bit (with scissors in advance) and then use my ruler to add a 1/4″ just like I do for all other seams in the block.

047looks off but it’s correct because I cut down the paper before sewing!

3. When joining sections, Wonder clips are your best friend! Also, I first join the section using my longest stitch (which is a 4 on my machine) and then check to see that the sections are lined up correctly and that the back line is correct also. If it’s lined up correctly, then I just go back to my usual paper-piecing stitch length (1.5) and sew back over the seam to finalize the seam.  If it’s off, the long basting stitch is really easy to remove from the fabric without ripping the paper.
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looks pretty good!

4. When the instructions say, “Remove paper from the seam allowance”, it means remove the paper from the SA after you’ve joined two sections.  (This didn’t make any sense to me until I started.

049paper gone from the seam allowance (on both sides)

5. After I make the final seam to join all sections in a block, I remove all my papers before ironing that final seam.  I find it a lot easier to get the last seam ironed accurately with the paper gone (plus you don’t have to worry about ink smearing).
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6. I know some people like to keep the papers in their blocks until the whole quilt is pieced but I do NOT.  So please, pretty please, take out all the papers before sending your block to me.  It will be easier for you to mail and so much easier for me when completing my quilt top!
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7. Finally, this block produces a lot of fun tiny triangle scraps.  If you don’t want them, I’d love it if you send yours along to me.  I have thoughts of trying to make something out of them.
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And now that I’ve totally overwhelmed you with way too much information for one little block, I hope you have fun sewing! Thank you SEW much! 🙂

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