Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Fabric Rep Trek: Spring Creek Quilts

Ella shows me the pattern
she's using for her first  quilt.
Do you remember your first quilt? What excitement and pride you had when it was finished. This cute little girl is Ella, and she is learning how to make a quilt in a quilting class at Spring Creek Quilts and Fabrics, which is located in Rickman, Tennessee, a town about 12 miles northeast of Cookeville.

In addition to beginning quilting classes Kathy, the owner of Spring Creek Quilts and an accomplished long arm quilter herself, offers a variety of programs including popular Block of the Month (BOM) programs. The shop has been known to have 75 students participating in one of these programs.

During my visit, there was a Sit and Sew session in progress. Some students were working on the center of a garden-themed appliqué BOM project.
Kathy assists a student with measuring and squaring up her quilt top.
Ella was busy at the sewing machine... carefully piecing 5-inch squares cut from a variety of fat quarters. She is quite the extraordinary fist-time quilter as her quilt top has the blocks set on point! You can see how focussed she is sewing those quarter inch seam allowances.
Ella piecing her quilt blocks.
Kathy has been machine quilting for nearly 24 years and offers this service at the shop. The long arm Gammill machine is set up toward the back of the large main room and is kept quite busy, Kathy indicated.
Quilting services are offered at the shop.
Spring Creek Quilts recently relocated to its current location and is a gathering place for new and long-time sewers and quilters alike. 
Applique Block of the Month program.
Kathy provides a warm and friendly atmosphere for all who visit her shop. She is generous with her knowledge and assistance to customers. Her classes and programs offer fun, interesting and beautiful projects and she guides students and nurtures their creative spirit while they hone their quilting skills along the way.
Quilts from various classes and Block of the Month programs.
Spring Creek Quilts and Fabrics, Rickman, Tennessee.

Monday, August 27, 2012

My Fabric Rep Trek: Textile Fabrics

Fabric lovers, sewers and garment makers, you're going to feel like you're in fabric heaven at this store! Textile Fabrics, in Nashville, Tennessee is a seamstress' dream.
Textile Fabrics in Nashville, Tennessee.
Inside this large, expansive store on Nashville's south side, there are oodles of fine fabrics: wools, wool blends, corduroy, knits...
 sheers, silk, bridal, laces and textured fabrics...
sheers and textures
velvets, rayons, cottons, and so much more..
silks, rayons, charmeuse, and other pieces and remnants
 ... even a shelf of African fabrics!
African fabrics
Don't know what to make? There is no shortage of pattern inspiration and instruction for adult and children's fashions, accessories, and home dec projects from all the "big names" (Vogue, Butterick, McCalls, Burda, Quick Sew, etc.), from many indie (independent) designers (Revisions, La Fred, Amy Butler, the Sewing Workshop, Tina Givens, etc.) as well as from heirloom and vintage design companies (Bonnie Blue Designs, Folkwear, Treasures of the Past, to name a few).
Pattern books
No need to sweat the small stuff either, because they have hundreds of notions and sewing accoutrements! Buttons (including an amazing selection of vintage buttons), closures of all types...
Vintage buttons and various closures.
Did you know that knitwear designer, Nicki Epstein, has a line of buttons and closures? Textile Fabrics has them...
Nicky Epstein's line of closures.
and dozens and dozens of trims, laces, ribbons...
Trims and ribbons
Did I mention buttons?
They have buttons!
For all you yarnies, there are yarns in various fibers as well as pattern books, tools and supplies.

Yarns, patterns, needles and hooks
I also found unique and hard-to-find items such as thread and needles for sashiko as well as other nifty notions and gadgets. Anything you can imagine for those craving the needle or fabric arts.
Specialty threads, patterns, notions and clever gadgets.
I have some friends (Marilyn L. and Etta McF.) who told me about this fabulous store. They weren't exaggerating! For those who love making wearables and garments (guild friends, Cristy C., Nancy A., and Sheri S., this means you), plan a day to get lost in here because you don't want to miss any of the eye candy Textile Fabrics has to offer.

There is ample parking—with some shady spaces due to the expressway overhead—and the staff is quite friendly and very helpful.
Textile Fabrics, Nashville, Tennessee

Friday, August 24, 2012

String Quilt Revival

I love old quilts! Their charm, a simple yet elegant design, the exquisite handwork or even a quirkiness can draw you in and provide a glimpse into the personality, lifestyle and aesthetic of a quiltmaker from another time. It's also exciting to see "remakes" of quilt patterns and piecing styles that have been taken from the archives and updated using today's tools and supplies. String Quilt Revival: A Fresh Approach for 13 Classic Designsis a book that does just that.
Barbara Sanders (left) and Virginia Baker with a quilt from their
String Quilt Revival book.
This week, my friend Sherry and I attended the Battlefield Piecemakers quilt guild meeting and a presentation by the co-authors of the book, String Quilt RevivalVirginia Baker and Barbara Sanders—or Ginger and Bobbie as they are called by their friends—are the authors of the book, and they have been traveling to various guilds and quilt shops promoting the book and offering classes on their string piecing technique.
Growing up on a farm in Columbia, Tennessee, Ginger and Bobbie's zeal for quilting and the inspiration for the book came from the quilts their grandmother made. They share this history in their presentation and in their book.
Try a log cabin layout for a string pieced quilt.
They have updated the string piecing technique used by their grandmother, however, by substituting the traditional paper or muslin stabilizer with a leave-in mesh stabilizer. This eliminates the tedious step of removing the paper or newsprint once the piecing is complete (a real time-saver!). The stabilizer, available through their website, is lightweight, washable and has no stretch or bias.
Ginger shows an example of where the individual quilt block fits into the layout.
As they discussed their technique, attendees got to see the quilts from the book in person. The quilts illustrated how different patterns can emerge just by rotating the blocks, changing the placement of color values, or using an interesting print or stripe to create spectacular compositions.
A wiggly striped fabric makes the stars spin.
As with most long-time quilters, both women had an extensive fabric stash. They exercised these fabric collections in making the string quilts for the book and shared the stories about the fabrics and the quilts. In their presentation, they emphasized the use of a plethora of fabrics in both the traditional quilts and the modern versions, illustrating that this variety is what provides the interest and visual excitement to these pieces.

As a fabric rep, I'm imaging the endless possibilities for creative, colorful and interesting designs that today's fabric selection would afford quilters. Even if you have a goodly stash (as most respectable quilters do), incorporating a fabric or three (or five!) from a current line would provide a fresh, unexpected or unifying element to your design and bring your composition to a new level. And, sometimes, you just have to infuse your stash with a new source of inspiration and spice.
Which stars do you see? The white ones or the black ones?
I'm glad I had the opportunity to spend an enjoyable evening with friends and fellow quilters. The String Quilt Revival presentation and the book (which they autographed for me) got the wheels turning! What was old is new again. Pick up a copy of the book, pull out your scraps, buy a yard or two of a new focus fabric, and try this updated technique of a tried-and-true design!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Fabric Rep Trek: The Smocking Bird

The Smocking Bird, in Birmingham, Alabama, is the third shop on my trek that specializes in children's clothing, and heirloom sewing. (Previous posts are here and here.) Doesn't this shop-in-a-house look warm and inviting? Well, it is!
The Smocking Bird, Birmingham, Alabama.
Carol, the owner, and her staff are friendly, knowledgeable and totally customer focussed. Whether you walk in the front door or park 'round back and enter through the side door, you are warmly welcomed by the staff and the charming atmosphere. Adorable little jumpers, dresses and childrenswear made of cotton and batiste fabrics in bright, happy colors hang throughout the shop. They are too cute and just make you smile!
Inspiration through shop samples is everywhere.
Outfits for every season and occasion.
The heirloom sewing pieces—with lace insertions, rows of pin tucks, smocking and delicate ruffles— are gorgeous!
Heirloom dresses and baby gowns.
There was no lack of notions and embellishments at The Smocking Bird. Check out the amazing selection of buttons, ribbons, trims, rick-rack, floss and various smocking accouterments.
A marvelous selection of buttons, trims, ribbons and other sewing notions
that add the perfect detail to clothes and accessories.
As a Janome sewing machine dealer, The Smocking Bird carries a full line of sewing machines, sergers and all the latest in computerized embroidery machines for every need and skill level. As a machine quilter, the Horizon 7700 caught my eye.
A full line of Janome sewing and embroidery machines.
Threads, sewing machine feet and other accessories are available in a large selection.
Sewing threads in a full range of colors and fiber types.
Here is more embroidery threads and a cabinet full of sewing patterns.
Embroidery threads and an extensive selection of patterns.
Carol has been in business for over 27 years and in the current location about 8 years. The second floor was added to this house to make more room for their sewing machines, smocking and sewing supplies on the main floor and to accommodate two classrooms and an office upstairs. Carol and I had a delightful conversation in one of the bright upstairs classrooms about free-motion quilting on Janome sewing machines, flannel fabrics for baby quilts, and the Birmingham Barons (the minor league baseball team for the Chicago White Sox) who play in the southern league with the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Carol (left) is cutting fabric and assisting a customer with selecting buttons for her project.
A custom embroidery business rents the back room and offers embroidery and monograming on tops, T-shirts, rompers, bibs and other children's clothing.

During my visit, I was delighted to hear the chatter of young voices coming from the classroom. A group of girls were in a summer sewing class. You can't start too early or be too young to learn to sew! These young ladies were having a lot of fun while learning a new, creative and useful skill that will last their lifetime.
A group of young girls leaning to sew in the classroom at The Smocking Bird.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Graphic simplicity: the Rail Fence quilt block

Sherry cuts batting for a Rail Fence top.
There is a sense of serene joy about sewing a few fabric strips together to make traditional patchwork blocks. This past Saturday, my quilt guild, the Choo Choo Quilters, held its annual Cuddle Quilt workshop at which we get together and make lap and baby quilts to support the Children's Home Chambliss Center.

This year's easy-sew block pattern for the guild's community service sew-in was the rail fence quilt block. The simple graphic nature of this time-honored quilt block yields endless layout possibilities as well as visual surprises with a mere change of fabric value, color or print.

I don't remember ever making a quilt using this pattern, but found myself really enjoying the process with its single focus on just sewing an accurate quarter inch seam. What could be easier and more relaxing?

We started with 2.5" strip contributions from everyone's stash. This is also a great application for Blank Quilting's Fabrications strips which are already cut and ready for sewing.
2-1/2" strips cut from our fabric stashes.
Yes, the piecing is simple, but by no means is this quilt block boring—in the assembly nor its visual appearance!
Linda is chain piecing the strips.
Ginny presses the strips before sub-cutting into the blocks.
You need your wits about you to lay out the blocks as it's quite easy to have one or two turned 90-degrees out of order. At a distance (or by squinting), however, your eye will quickly pick up the disruption in the flow and movement of the pattern across the quilt top. So, view your layout at a distance (or take a picture with your digital camera or phone) before sewing the rows together. And, beware of the quilting gremlins that try to trip you up when carrying the unsewn blocks from the design wall to the sewing machine. (Can you say seam ripper?)
A rail fence block layout.
We again employed the spray basting option this year after perfecting the team-baste concept at last year's workshop. By about 3pm, we had 23 quilt tops basted and on their way home with guild members for quilting. We also added 5 completed quilts to our donation.
Spray basting speeds up the process.
Below are some of the examples of the rail fence layouts. The placement of lights, mediums and darks in the strip sets offer variations in the pattern's appearance.
Rhonda (left) and Linda (right) with two quilt tops.
Try a striped fabric for one of the strips.
My rail fence version (left) had a doggie print and bright colors.
Becky (right) used a striped fabric. This really jazzes it up!
 This one is a scrappy version.
Ginny shows her scrappy version. The workshop prototype hangs to the right.
A striped fabric makes a fast alternative and offers a woven look.
Vista used a single striped fabric throughout to achieve a woven look.
This classic quilt block has vast potential... try changing the placement of values, the number or size of the strips, the size of the blocks, layout options, or how about solids? 

After being on the road for my Blank Quilting Fabric Rep Trek (see my blog Archives for posts), it was a welcomed change to sit at the sewing machine, chat and catch up with my wonderful guild friends, and make quilts for someone else—and for the pure joy of the sewing process. 

We sewed all morning and into the afternoon, not breaking for lunch. Of course, we had plenty of grazing fodder to keep up an appropriate energy level. And, the eclectic music mix kept heads bobbing and toes tapping through the day.
A workshop feast for the tummy.
Thanks, Sherry, for another fantastic job coordinating this event for the Choo Choo Quilters!
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