Thursday, May 26, 2016

Silhouette-In-The-Box

For the past few weeks you’ve heard me lamenting over a couple of super secret projects I’ve been working on. With wicked deadlines looming, it seems inevitable for my mind to wander a bit (but just a bit) to projects that might be next up on my to-do list.

I recently took the plunge and purchased a Silhouette Cameo cutting machine and it’s still in the box. I do have a couple of really good reasons for that: 1) the previously mentioned deadline stuff that really must take first priority in my craft room, and 2) I think I’m a little nervous about opening the box! (I mean, Jeesh!, even the sticker on the top is a bit intimidating!)




Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely excited about the possibilities, but learning new tricks is always a little intimidating. And the Silhouette tool isn’t necessarily designed for quilters and fabric.

Enter my friend Shelly Stokes. She has been working with fabric and her Silhouette machine for a couple years now with amazing success. Shelly and I recently chatted by phone about my unopened box of Silhouette goodness, and I thought I’d share some of that conversation. If you have a Silhouette machine or if you’re thinking about purchasing one for your quilty hobby, you might just be interested in reading more. . .




Here’s a bit of my conversation with Shelly:

Shelly: Thanks, Joan. I’m excited to chat with you and your readers today.

We’ve been talking about the Silhouette cutting machines on and off for the better part of a year. Maybe longer. A lot of the how-to materials already out there are aimed at non-fabric crafters, it’s been tough to figure out how we could make this thing useful in the fabric world.

Me: Right. All I see is paper this, vinyl that, rhinestones, cards, t-shirts, (oh my!). I like all kinds of crafts but for me, quilting comes first, what about us FABRIC people?

Shelly: You’re right. What about quilters and fabric art fans? Can a Silhouette cutter work in our world too?

Me: First things first. Can the Silhouette cut fabric? I’m not too keen on treating my soft quilting cottons with additives so they become stiff and paper-like just to be able to cut it.

Shelly: I had a lot of questions about this, too, Joan. When I went to the big All Things Silhouette conference in Atlanta in April, everyone I talked to said we had to stabilize the dickens out of fabric in order to cut it on a Silhouette. But, I decided to be a doubting Thomas and do some testing.




And what do you know, it worked! The fabric does need to be stabilized, but we’ve got options - quilter-friendly options. Fusible web when we want it -- or freezer paper when we don’t want to add any stiffness. So yes, we can cut fabric without making it as stiff as a board.

And before you ask, yes, we can use scraps! I know you’ve got bins and bins of tidy scraps that are just perfect for your projects. It’s super easy to press scraps to freezer paper and let the machine do the cutting.

Me: Yay! Shelly, you know me too well! I love finding new ways to use my scrap fabrics!

We’ve talked about using the Silhouette software to create designs. Do I have to make my own designs? Or are there designs out there that I can buy to get started?

Shelly: Good question. There are tons of great designs in the Silhouette Store and in lots of places around the internet. Sometimes a design will be just what I want, so there’s no need for me to start from scratch. But often, I might like the vine on one design and the leaves on another.




Using the software, I can cut the two designs into pieces and then put them back together for my project. Here’s an example. I purchased the two designs on the left from the Silhouette Store. Then I cut them apart with my super cool erasing method and put them back together to form the drawing on the right. I didn’t have to draw anything and I got a design that’s just right.

Me: That’s pretty slick. What if I want to make my own design?

Shelly: You can do that too. And it’s not rocket science. A lot of drawing programs (especially Adobe Illustrator) have 20 gazillion tools and options and possibilities. For me, they are downright intimidating.




But the Silhouette Studio software is a drawing program that has been put on a serious diet. The people that designed it did a great job of distilling the tools down into a simple easy-to-use subset of what you find in something like Illustrator. They kept a lot of good stuff, but dramatically reduced the complexity. (Can you tell I’m a little excited?)

Me: Yup. You are definitely excited. And you’ve got me excited, too. But I’ve got more questions… What about applique patterns? I hate the tracing part of the prep - light boxes and reversing shapes – bleh-h. I’m always so anxious to get to the sewing. Can the Silhouette help me there?

Shelly: Absolutely. There’s a pretty decent tracing capability in the Silhouette Studio software. You can scan a paper pattern or take a photo of it, then import it into the software for tracing. It’s much faster once you get the hang of it – and it’s fun!




And get this. Change the cutting blade to a marking pen, then draw the applique shapes directly onto the fabric with the Silhouette. Change the pen back to the blade, and cut around the shape to add the seam allowance. How cool is that?

Me: Okay. You’ve convinced me that I should open the box. I just know there are some really fun things waiting around the bend at Hummingbird Highway using this machine. Sew Along, anyone? I still have to get over those ‘fresh out of the box’ jitters. . . .I’d rather not experiment to figure all this stuff out. Waiting in the wings, I’ve got two or three project ideas . . .

Shelly: I’ve got just the thing for you and your Good Migrations readers. I’ve done the heavy lifting for you. I did all the experiments and figured out how to make this machine work for quilters and and the fabric art folks that hang around with me. And I’m running a class that starts on June 6th. It’s six modules over eight weeks. We’ll cover everything we talked about here today and a bit more.

Me: Sounds perfect, but that’s right around the corner. I’m up to my eyeballs in deadlines. Do I have to be online at a certain time? Will I have access to the lessons after the course ends?

Shelly: No worries, Joan. All of the lessons are pre-recorded. You do them when it works for you. You have “forever” access to the classroom, so you can start when your schedule lets up and come back whenever you need a refresher. I’ll be answering questions in the classroom for two weeks past the end of the eight weeks, so there’s plenty of time even if you start late.

Me: Wait. "Classroom?" Do I have to go someplace for this? Sounds like it could get complicated. Do I need any special tools to take the class?

Shelly: Good questions. And nope, you don’t have to go anywhere, the entire course is delivered to your home computer. The lessons are all online; a new step is introduced roughly once per week for a period of eight weeks. You don’t even NEED to have the Silhouette machine, but I suppose the course will make the most sense if you’re seriously considering that purchase in the near future. 

Once you enroll, you’ll receive a series of emails. One of those emails will be a supply list. I want you to learn how to use the machine to make some real tools you can use for future projects. But don't worry, you don't need bunches and bunches of special materials. Just enough to try things out.

Me: Okay sign me up! What if someone wants to learn a little bit more about the June 6 workshop?




Shelly: You’ll find all the details at the Silhouette for Fabric Art information page. If you’ve got a Silhouette that’s gathering dust (or still in the box! * a-hem! *), this is the perfect time to put it to use!

Click here and check out the deets. If nothing else, you have to check it out to see how tidy Shelly's desk is! Mine looks just like that! *wink!*

I'm in! Really, I've already enrolled. How about you? Do you have Silhouette Cameo cutter? Do you use it for quilting?

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Keepin' it Real

It's nearly summer time and my closest friends and family know that my beverage of choice for the summer months is Iced Tea from the local dairy distributor. It's sweetened tea and comes in a plastic gallon-sized jug. Love the stuff.

iced tea


The other day, before heading to a friend's house for a semi-sorta-weekly hand sewing get-together, I loaded my car with my sewing supplies, fabric, and a Mondo Bag (made of absorbant fabric) full with two quilts that were ready to bind--nearly complete projects (part of that secret project stuff I talked about last week).

On the way, I ran couple of small errands. UPS store for a package drop-off and the Byrne Dairy store to replenish my diminished supply of tea back at home. The most significant detail in this part of the story was that the clerk who cashed me out at the dairy store asked if I wanted a bag for my jug-o-tea. I thought for a minute--I usually don't take a bag because the jug has an easy-to-carry handle--then I decided the bag might come in handy when I carry the tea and the rest of my quilty stuff back into my house later after the sewing get-together.

Off I went to sew and relax with friends. With all the crazy activity and tight deadlines in my work studio, this was a nice opportunity to unwind and take a small break from the frenzy.

I finished the binding on one of the quilt projects and got a good start on the second one. Great conversation, good food, lots of laughs - typical girlfriend sewing evening. But, as always, the time slipped by and it was time to head home, driving under a beautiful clear star and moon filled night sky.

Upon arrival at home, I made a couple trips into the house with my belongings. First trip included the mondo bag full of quilt/binding projects--I set those down by the kitchen counter. Back out to the car for the rest of the stuff, including my flimsy  little bag with the tea in it.

As I reached the kitchen counter, I felt the weight in my hands shifting ever so slightly, and I realized that I didn't have the bag with the tea-jug by both of its handles. *Rut-roh.* As I felt the weight shifting even more, everything started to move as if it were a movie running in slow motion. It was too late to make adjustments, and before I knew it the jug slipped out of the bag. . .

Bang!

Crack!!

Glug-glug. Glug-glug-glug.

The jug dropped three feet from the counter edge to the hardwood floor and cracked. Thus began the tide of sweetened tea splashing onto the floor from the gaping hole in the side of the jug. Soon every crack in the floor and the kitchen carpet were saturated--and fingers of the sticky fluid were racing toward the refrigerator to settle in underneath there, too.



Glug-glug-glug.

It only took a moment for realization to sink in and, once the slow-motion footage stopped, I acted quickly and did what any busy, deadline-oriented quilter would do. . . I grabbed the bag full of quilts and got them out of harm's way.

Glug-glug-glug.

Next I grabbed the jug (one might think I should have grabbed that first!). Now only about 1/3 full of tea, the jug and its remaining contents went in the sink in a single, sweeping, sticky wet movement. Swiftly, I grabbed the roll of paper towel next to the sink and ripped off three or four squares to begin the late-night clean up. (Three or four? Seriously! What kind if miracle of physics was I expecting from these disposable paper products?)

To switch gears only a little. This week is Quilt Market week - the big trade show that supports the quilt industry. Vendors include pattern and book authors (like myself), fabric manufacturers, and industry distributors--all scurrying this week to get their products ready for the grand display. Among the buyers: your local quilt shop owner. Due to my current project commitments, I am, sadly, not attending this Spring's events in Salt Lake City, but I'll watch with great interest from the sidelines as the pictures of the industry's latest offerings appear on social media outlets.

The booths will be beautiful and well-staged, showcasing the newest and finest 'perfection' that this industry has to offer. I'm sure you'll see many of the same images on your social media feeds. As you ooh and ahh, keep in mind that behind every beautifully-staged photo, is often a wild ride of spilled iced tea and frantic clean-up.

Quilters, like many small business owners, are a lot like ducks that swim across the water's surface. Beautiful, calm, and purposeful to those who see her from the waters edge. But underneath the surface, practical webbed feet pedal like mad to maintain forward progress in a changeable watery environment. 



Just keepin' it real this week. That's all. And laughing at myself just a bit.

By the way, the quilts survived unscathed. The Mondo bag holding them, not so much. Nothing a little laundry soap won't fix.

The carpet didn't fare well . . . It was long past time to replace it anyway. A new one was ordered first thing this morning.



And the worst part. I'm still out of tea.

When your world hands you chaos, how do you 'keep it real?'

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sneaky Secrets

Since I've been back from the Scrappy & Happy Quilt Cruise to the western Caribbean, it seems the activity in my sewing studio has been a whirlwind of activity, and I can't really SHARE that much of it yet. And I'm about to bust! So, I hope you'll settle for quick synopsis in the form of sneaky peeks. I promise, as soon as I can share more details, I will!

There are patterns for this summer's Row by Row Experience™ shop events. Six shops have hired me to create their patterns. I can't share their designs just yet because I don't want to steal their thunder, but I will say that if you travel to Nevada, North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York, you might just find a row pattern there written here on the Highway. More details soon!! Very soon!



Samples to be made. Might this be a sneaky peek of one of the rows mentioned above? Hmmm. You'll have to wait and see. . .



Sometimes a different technique needs to be tested. Scraps come into the picture to see how well the technique works. . . .



How about a Shop Hop pattern for a Western Pennsylvania hop this fall? This project is woefully behind schedule (100% my fault!), so it's on deck for completion this month!



Then there's a big, BIG project with many facets. That one is top-top secret. It involves applique. . .



. . . piecing and quilting. And so much more!



Whenever there is a spare minute or two, a project just for fun is available to stitch.



With all this sewing going on, it seems I don't have time to take the wrapper off these delectible magazines. Must make time!



Do you have any secret projects going on, too? Gifts for Mother's Day, for the Grad or a special event this summer. Do share!

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Quilting on a Ship

Thought I'd share a photo journal of last's week's Scrappy & Happy Quilt Cruise to the western Caribbean with Stitchin Heaven Travel. Needless to say, it was quite a fantastic voyage. Enjoy!

Dave and I arrived in Galveston, TX a day early to avoid potential flight delays. We got to walk around a bit to get used to the tropical plants and weather.



Dave spotted this B-17 from our hotel window. Being the military history buff, he had to take a closer look at the flight museum on Galveston Island.



Finally, departure day arrived.



Our ship: Royal Caribbean, Liberty of the Seas.



And our fearless leader, Deb Luttrell of Stitchin Heaven, and me, selfie style.



Wow. The promenade. Big ship!



Our first day at sea, and we're busy working on the project, Runaway Thread. Right, Kim?



By the end of the first day, Sara was making great progress!



This group of gals from Texas flashed a smile in between seams.



Our fearless captain introducing his senior crew. Over 4000 guests on board.



And there's plenty to do while we're cruising to our first destination. This edible bear greets us at the entrance to one of the dining halls, the Windjammer.



Oh, the desserts! Yum!



Our first port, Roatan, Honduras



A puppy dog in the state room upon our return from dinner.



Our second port, Belize. Dave and I took a diving excursion. We picked up some gear for the dive on the Spanish Lookout Caye. So peaceful. This little island resort could be a destination all on its own. 



No drinking until diving is done! Dave grabs a cold one at day's end. One of our fun dive crew, 'The General' gives him the 'thumbs up!' This was an un-Belize-able day!



A boy gets hungry after diving. . . . I'll have what he's having!



Our third stop at Cozumel, a ferry ride, and long bus ride to Chichen Itza. At the center of this ancient holy place stands the Temple of Kukulkan. Amazing! Up until 2008 you could climb the steps which is no longer allowed to keep the ruins from deteriorating. If you stand in the spot where this picture was taken and clap your hands, the echo sounds like the call of the quetzal bird. How'd they do that?



Anyone for a game of basketball? The captain of the winning team is beheaded in a ceremony of honor. (Yikes!)



Back on board and one more day to sew. Look at that border coming together!



And back in port in Galveston under cloudy skies. This fishing boat just outside our stateroom stirred up a lot of interested from the seagulls and pelican.



As well as several dolphins!



It's mind-boggling to imagine the scramble of activity that takes place to prepare the ship for its next group of passengers setting sail in just a few hours.



83 quilters, three teachers, Deb and her staff. Thank you so much for the wonderful memories!



I'm telling you, don't miss the next 'Scrappy 'n Happy' cruise adventure in January. . .

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Catching a Creative Wave

With just one sleep and a few hours left before we head out for the Scrappy & Happy Quilt Cruise with Stitchin Heaven Travel.

I simply canNOT wait! For the three days that we're at sea we'll be quilting away on the too-much-fun-for-words quilt, Runaway Thread. The banner on this newsletter shows the very edge of this fun quilt.



Making the Runaway Thread project can generate a few extra scraps, and we certainly wouldn't want to leave any scrap left unused, so this past week (yes, with less than a week to go--I can sometimes be such a Last Minute Lulu!) my creative brain won't rest until I prepare a couple of project extras for the lucky quilters on the trip!



Here's another sneaky-peek that's coming along for the ride:



And what's a party without some party favors? Just a peek, wouldn't want to spoil the fun!



Hope to see you on board! And if you missed this boat, there'll be another in January. . . just sayn'

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fancy Stitching

As a quilt book and pattern author, I can get tied up with the technical stuff involved in the process of developing quilt patterns and making samples. I can make a scant quarter inch seam with the best of them, but sometimes I like to try things that might take my skills a little off the beaten--or should I say "quilted'--trail.

Whether or not you've joined the Splendid Sampler experience online, perhaps you've noticed that many of the 'Splendid' blocks featured here in this newsletter or those that keep popping up online in several social media outlets, feature hand embroidered embellishments, like this block, designed by Alyssa Thomas of Penguin and Fish.



Some 'Splendid' blocks don't feature any embellishment at all, but a little bit of hand stitching adds just the right amount of interest or texture to a block--Splendid Sampler project or otherwise--to make a plain block pop.



Hand embroidery is one of those things I twiddle with from time to time. I can do a really consistent chain stitch and running stitch, but the other, 'fancier' stitches, not so much. I need a little practice, and a good teacher. What better way to hone these skills than with a project that I'm building just for me! Then I don't have to worry about stitches out of place for photography or for samples.

For example, here's a Portuguese knotted stem stitch, adding texture to a block center.



And I'm getting some help. Well, sort of. My friend Shelly Stokes of Cedar Canyon Textiles introduced me to Mary Corbet and her website a couple months ago. Mary's site is loaded with exquisite samples and helpful demos for all kinds of hand embroidered stitches. . .

A floral embellishment. . .



How about a buttonhole up and down stitch with added color from French knots and straight stitches? I need to work on this one a bit more to get comfortable with it. Even so, I'm happy with my first attempt.



I highly recommend Mary's site and her newsletter, if you're like me and would like to hone your hand embroidered embellishment skills.

Happy Stitching!
joan ford