Archive for the ‘New Toys’ Category

Mad Science and Art Part 2

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

blue flowerw

One of the great things about being an artist is that  you get to redefine how people use all kinds of artistic toys.

There’s a mad kind of creativity that ends up reaching for the oddest tools at the strangest moments. It’s how we grow.  In the main, it’s embarrassingly awkward, thrashing around with with the pile of things that might work.

This week I was shaping leaves and flowers with Innovative Crafts  Heat and Shape. We’ll have a full article in the Winter Issue of Crazy Quilt Magazine, and you can read it there. 

ironing toolsw

I spent yesterday trying out different curling irons on this stuff. This is from a woman whose worn a pixie hair cut at least 40 years of her life.  We even tried out the one with balls. It didn’t exactly  work the way I expected but it did curve petals.

None of it happens if you can’t try and fail with abandon. I lack any rational linear ability to reason in straight lines. That’s ok. I can thrash through one weird idea after another with abandon. The only times I really get into trouble is when someone sets up a system that will only work one way. I’m not very good at systems that only work one way.

And after I’ve dyed fabric in the crock pot and quilted my quilt upside down with a Sweet Sixteen, what did you expect?

Waiting for Ezekiel: My Dog got out of Jail!

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Earlier this year we lost Cara Candice Canis, to bone cancer. Cara was a spectacular 11 year old greyhound girl and if you came to the studio she would carefully bark to announce your arrival. Her highest accolade for everyone was to come behind and sniff.

It takes a time to register a loss like that. Greyhounds are strong pack animals and I too am part of the pack. So changes like that affect us all strongly. And take a while for adjustment. But it appears two dogs do not make a pack. Bird at 10 thinks running anywhere except after loose rabbits is beneath her. Fin is suffering the prickles of boredom  and caught ( and tried to take home) a baby squirrel from the park. So much for Carry Out.

So we went to Gems, Greyhounds of Eastern Michigan, where both Cara and Finn had come from and asked about  new dogs. A number of their dogs go through a prison program for 10 weeks where they learn all the basic civilities.

For those of you who don’t know greyhounds, it’s not who they normally are. All of mine sit, after a fashion. It’s better than jumping up and taking a visitor’s eye out. But they don’t normally do sit, down stay stuff overwell. So if you have a greyhound who does, it’s sort of the canine  version of Einstein. They understand what you’re asking. They just can’t figure out why you should think it that important. And how it relates to them.

So  we’re waited for the dogs to get out of Jail! Hence the Steve Goodman song. Any greyhound who actually comes when called is an astonishment as well.

TGIE is The Greyhound Inmate Experience.Teams of two inmates are given  a greyhound to love and train for 2-3 months. The combination is a miracle in itself. These men work 24/7  with the dogs and earn their love and trust. The dogs come out knowing basic commands and their first caring relationship with people. It’s a win win win situation, at it’s very best.

Unfortunately we couldn’t find the right cat safe dog with Gems. They told me about the other groups involved in  the program.

Last night the wait is over. We adopted a fabulous 3 year old boy from the program. His racing name was Craigie Ruston. But a racing name means almost nothing to a  dog. They called him Rusty at the prison. We’re calling him Ezekiel.

 Ezekiel came from Allies for Greyhounds in Western

Michigan. All greyhound groups are treasures. They protect and place the oldest breed on the planet. But Allies was particularly kind and helpful. You can find them on facebook as well. 




 Zeek loves to chew, loves belly rubs and will have whatever you’re having. I’m in love.

Finnie and Bird are a bit out of joint, but Finn particularly liked someone to yard crawl with him. 

Hercule and Momo have already explained that they are holy people, not to be spoken to, watched, chased, scared or eaten. I wouldn’t have wanted to be hissed at that way.

So come to the studio, come meet my new boy. We’re all studio bound this afternoon to dye a big batch of fabric.


And love some animal and let it love you. We are all here for a reason.

Bernina Skins! How Cool Can It Get!

Saturday, August 18th, 2012


Remember the old black sewing machines with great decals? They had beautiful swirls or flowers or flourishes. Of course it was cosmetic, but how cool!  I often wonder how people must have thought about them when they bought those great old machines.”George, I want the one with the flowers.” No, Nancy, we’re getting the one with the sphinxes. ” It’s some measure of how folk felt about them when you see the pictures of the sod house with the sewing machine out in front.

Here’s something I want in the worst way! I love skins. I’ve skinned my computers, mp3 plyers and phones. I’d skin the cats but I don’t think the vinyl will work that way.


Bernina has set up a way to skin your sewing machine. It’s really mostly for the Activa series.  I won’t be able to order them for my 2 twenty year old Bernina Records, more to the pity.  But I absolutely love them!


They have a gallery full of designs. You can pick and crop them as you will. But you can also put your own design up and fit it to your machine


Here’s what I chose for my machine. I had several quilts I liked but the one that worked out best was Fall Confetti. I loved how it looked. Just the right amount of detail. But I wanted the praying mantis ( who really is my alter ego) to be front and center on the sewing machine column.




My Machine Skin

So I flipped her. I flipped the picture and then sized it so she was just there, directing people to the right buttons.






Mine hasn’t arrived yet. I really can’t wait!









The site for skins is at You can follow these instructions: Click on Start > SkinDesign > Product > Specials > Bernina.  Design skins are available for the BERNINA artista 635, B215, activa 210, activa220, activa 230, activa 230PE, and activa 240.

Before you say it’s silly, imagine this. You have 10 sewing machines in a classroom. They’re pretty much the same. And you say to a kind and helpful student who is packing you after a long class day, “Would you pack up my machine?” They wouldn’t have to ask, “Which one is yours?” And you wouldn’t go home with the wrong machine. At least that’s what I’m telling the tax person.

 There’s another great post on this at

Big Huge Labs, New Toy!

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Some while back, Dale Ann Potter just showed off this very cool online toy from Big Labs called a Color Generator.

How many times have I looked at a project I was trying to explain to someone and said,  “Well, here’s the colors.”  I went into Photoshop and guessed as best I could. 

This is so much better. Big Huge Labs has this color generator that can be plugged right into Photoshop. How cool is that?

They also have a mosaic tool, a puzzle tool, a badge tool, and a way to make magazine covers, calendars and endless other publications. Wow said backwards.

Dale has her excellent work on her site, but she also is superb at finding neat and cool things the rest of us should know about and maybe don’t. Her site is at where you’ll also find her blog.


Painless Color Swatches!

Paint Stick Update: New Toys 2

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

painted fabric 1

The last time I talked about paint sticks, I had rubbing plates hanging from the ceiling, paint sticks everywhere, huge piles of fabrics I was waiting to dry and no idea how they would work in quilts.

That’s about par for a new toy. You don’t always know how to use it.

There’s a great book out called “Poke the Box” by Seth Godin. It’s kind of a one note wonder, but the premise is rock solid. It really doesn’t matter what the instructions say. You learn any new tool by taking it out and poking at every button, switch and display it’s got. You learn by poking the box. You watch what it does and when it does something bigtime cool, you see if you can repeat it. 

863 vinery

So I was a bit worried when I took my first couple of oil stick rubbed scraps and used them as surface designed starting spots. They remind me of wall paper. I love them.

From a practical point of view, I stipple less. But they fill the space with glowing light and color and I think I now have all the rubbing plates except the ones for Xmas.

Poke the Box! Take a new toy out. Don’t worry about what will happen. Poke all the buttons and switches and see what you’ll come up with.

You’ll find all kinds of cool information about paint sticks at

Laura Murray Designs

And at

Cedar Canyon Textiles

You’ll find Poke the Box on Amazon  

And you’ll find my very cool new quilts on my web gallery 

Check them out!

The Secret Handshake: New Toys!

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

I hate recipes for cakes that don’t rise. You know. The ones with one  absolutely essential element left out. It really offends my sense of fairness. There you are looking at your  very flat cake and wondering  what is wrong with you.  I hate it as a student. I abhore it as a teacher.

I don’t suppose there’s a quilter on earth who hasn’t tried paint sticks by now. I certainly did. Several years ago I bought some rubbing plates and some paint sticks and made a god awful mess on several pieces of fabric. I stuffed them into a box and they went into the archeological project pile, perhaps never to be seen again. 

And it would have stayed that way if I hadn’t been to the Shaumburg Expo. I wandered into Laura Murray’s booth and she very gently told me “You’re doing it wrong.”

This was not an offense. This was a grace and a revelation. She had two gadgets up her sleeve that made paint sticks work for me. I’ve been playing all week since.

My dad had two saying about any task at hand. “If it’s too terrible, too hard or too long, you have the wrong tool. “And  “you can use a hammer as a saw, but it’s awfully hard on the hammer and whatever you are sawing.” So true. The right tool always makes it better.

In this case the two right tools were the Grip and Grip mat, which holds your rubbing place firmly in place.




The second object  was a temporary spray glue. I’m using 505 spray to hold the fabric in place. It makes sense that if either the fabric or rubbing plate are moving around you’re going to get a messed up rubbing.








Now that I know the secret hand shake, I need to figure out where I want to put it and how I want to embroider it. That may  take longer.

Summing up:

If something isn’t working right, go ask someone who knows. There may be a new tool that makes it all better. Or at least possible. This is the moment for moral guidance, information and a tutorial or two. Take it, be glad, please pass it on. And support the people who are generous with their information. They’re pure gold.

You’ll find paint sticks and rubbing plates at both  Laura Murry Designs and at Cedar Canyon Textiles. You’ll also find that great Grip-n-Grip mat that makes it work so much better. And  on both sites you’ll find tutorials and help that will give you the secret handshake.

Schamburg Expo

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Introducing people to bobbin work on the H Q Sweet Sixteen









I was at the Schamburg Show at Quilters’ Haven’s booth on Friday Showing off the Sweet Sixteen. I sat most of the day doing bobbin work. There is nothing like watching people try something new. It occurred to me afterwards that that is exactly what expos are for.

Where else can you talk to dozens of different shopkeepers in one place? Or try out new paint sticks? Or buy all kinds of new notions. Wade through the thread booth. Or see all the new fabric. Or drool quite so over all the quilts ( albeit at a distance). It’s easy at this point in my career to be a bit jaded. I felt that way until  I stumbled into Laura Murray’s booth and walked out with an indecent amount of paint sticks which she’d graceously showed me how to use correctly. (Don’t ask. Trust me. I was doing it wrong.)

There’s a miracle that happens when you see new things. Your mind grows to take them in. Just a little. There’s also a miracle that happens when you show people new things. You remember just how cool at that is.

Now who wants to pass up a miracle?

You’ll find Quilters’ Haven at

Quilters Haven
4616 E. STATE ST.
(815) 227-1659

They’re an awsome store committed to helping you find the best new cool way to make you able to make  what you want to happen with your quilting, happen.

You’ll find Sweet Sixteens

there too, and you may well fall in love. I have.

You’ll find Laura Murray’s very cool stuff at her site,

And you’ll need to wait for another expo to luck out and find them all neatly in one room.


Good Scissors: Great Tools

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

When I was a 13 year old brand new sewer my neighbor lady, Mary Annis, got me a pair of scissors and said” These are your sewing scissors. Don’t let anyone else use them for anything else.”

What a lovely idea. I’ve never known how to make that stick. You know the moment. I need to cut open a box, cut the cat’s claws, cut a wire, and there’s no other pair of scissors you could find. So, they got used. And abused. The only thing that can possibly save them from being used for box cutters is to never bring them into a room with a box in it. My scissors live brief glowing glorified lives that go down in functional burn out.  God help me if they learn to call the tool version of the ASPCA. The only help for that is to carry junk scissors with me at all times  in my apron pocket or to have a box cutter in a designated place in every room of the studio and house.

I’ve also had a down on plastic handled scissors since the orange ones of the seventies. Those were functional but not a long haul. I’ve gone mostly with sharp all metal scissors for a while. But lately I’m noticing that those babes are heavy.

So when Havel sent me a box of scissors I was delighted with the smooth movement and the razor edges. But they had two things that really excited me. They had a nicely curved set of embroidery scissors which I always look for because those are the best for cutting threads.



But they also had aTeflon coated scissors for cutting fusible web. YES! They don’t gum and they are made for the purposes. There is just nothing like a good tool designed for the right reason.




I’m going to pin a pair of junk scissors in my apron pocket so nothing bad happens to these.

You’ll find a bevy of Havel Scissors in many good stores, but also on their site at  Havel Sewing. They’re smart innovative tools that really make a difference.

New Toys! Smooch Paints

Friday, February 24th, 2012

hand and wing background

I live in dread of new toys. And I LOVE NEW TOYS. It is a conflicted thing. What I really live in dread of is distraction. I can be whisked away by some new product and nothing gets done for weeks except odd little experiments. So often I bring home new things and they sit and percolate for a while.







smooch paints

I brought home these cool Smooch Paints from the AQS Des Moine Show where I was teaching. They have a hand sprayer and you use them with stencils, if desired. They clean up with soap and water and set with a hot iron. There’s a glittery component in them.



hand stenc

I added some very cool stencils I love this grouping of henna like hands.





ladybug and background

ladybug and stenciled background

You’ll find Smooch Paints at Embellishment Village.  They have endless and fabulous toys on their site and at many different quilt shows.

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