Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fabric Buying 101

Fabric can be divided into catagories:  Basics and Trending.

Basics:  These fabrics are exactly like the name implies, basic coordinates.  Kona Solids, Moda Marbles, and RJR Handspray are examples of basics.

Trending Fabrics:  These are collections with prints and colors in the latest style and current trends.  Trending Fabrics are always a limited production run.

Why is this important?  Basics are always re-orderable, and available, higher quality basics will have little or no deviation between production runs.  Trending Fabrics have a life span, and you better get what you need while it's available.  Flip side to that, is that you rarely see Basics at closeout prices or steep discounts, it is a fixed supply at a fixed price.

Trending Fabrics sometimes end up at deep discount if by the end of the product life cycle there is a lot of overage, the manufacturer will blow out the remaining yardage to recover what money they can from it, this brings me to our next to important concepts in fabric buying:  Order vs. Speculation.

Production based on Orders:   The manufacturer only produces as much of a new line as has been ordered.  This is how Moda does it, which is why if a fabric shop does not order the collection a few months ahead of time the odds of that shop getting the collection after it is released is minimal at best.

Production based on Speculation:  This is how most manufacturers produce fabric.  Somebody decides how popular they think a line will be then produce based on that assumption.  Some calculate this better than others, but this is where closeouts and bargains come from.  When they miscalculate and over produce they drop the price to move it out and recover some of their investment.

Why am I telling you all this?  An educated shopper is a better shopper.  The real price of quality cotton fabric  about 10 bucks a yard when you find quality fabric at about half that price, it is because somebody screwed up.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Sewing Cave

With the new year beginning I am sure at least one, maybe two of you out there made some sort of New Years promise to yourself that you are going to sew more.  In the words of my brother "I want to help you be successful".  So lets talk about the most important thing that promotes personal sewing/quilting, the Sewing Cave.

It could be a sewing room, but that sounds so bland, when I think of a sewing room I picture a table, mounds of fabric and a sewing machine.  A sewing Cave is all that and more.  A kicking music system, a few posters for inspiration, and if you are lucky a deadbolt so you can lock yourself in.  There is lots of stuff involved in the creation of an inspiring sewing cave, so here are some of my ideas:

Music:  Music always makes it better.  No need for a fancy ipod, a second rate CD player works just fine to get the good vibes flowing.

Table:  It does not need to be a fancy custom made sewing table.  Just something good and solid with a decent work area.  Second hand desks and old dining room tables work well, card tables and plastic folding tables not so much.

Privacy:  This is important in any cave.  You need to be able to escape.  Sure people can come in when invited, but you want to be able to shut the world out when your mojo is flowing.

Embellishments:  Normally you think of buttons and pretty thread when you hear embellishments, but for your cave this refers to all the cool stuff that gives your space personality.  Posters are cool, Jango Fett can over see your cave if that is what you are into.  Bumper stickers give personality to cars, think of what stickers could do for your sewing machine.  Keep Out and Radio Active signs on the door might be fun too.

Television:  Not a good idea.  It will do nothing but distract you.

Storage: Storage and organization is important. When you have a mess that is out of control it can be discouraging.  A place for everything and everything in its place.

Waste Basket:  This goes along with organization.  Get a decent trash receptacle and don't be afraid to use it. When in doubt throw it out.

These are some of what I would consider basics for a decent sewing cave.  Everyone is a little different so adjust accordingly.  Remember the whole idea behind a sewing cave is to inspire and make quilting fun.  Because like I have said before if you ain't having fun you are doing it wrong.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Big Ambitions

I was thumbing through a catalog of new books I had (owning a store you get stuff like that in the mail) and as I looked at some of the titles and description it got me thinking:  I should write a book.  Now my planned opus will not be overly ambitious, the  title will be   "Ninja Quilter" or something cool like that.

What follows is the introduction for my upcoming book.  Feel free to comment and if you know somebody that knows somebody that knows anything about what it takes to get published let me know, throwing this book together should be relatively easy getting published will be the trick.

Quilt Nazis: An Introduction

They don't call me Ishmael, but even if they did I am not sure why you would care because this literary masterpiece is not about me. I suppose this is where I tell you what this book is about and the intended audience and all the other crap the intro is supposed to bore you with. I won't. The index is pretty self explanatory, look up a topic of interest and turn to the appropriate page for enlightenment. The intended audience is whatever poor soul gets sucked in by the cover and/or title.

Instead I shall use the introduction to tell you why I wrote this book. Aside from destroying the environment by wasting paper on its printing I wanted to use this book to combat the Quilt Nazis.

Nazi: a person who is fanatically dedicated to or seeks to control a specified activity, practice, etc.

Quilting is a hobby, something you do by choice for fun. If you are not enjoying it you are doing it wrong. This book is intended to be nothing more than a guide to keep it all in perspective and maximize your pleasure.

fun: a source of enjoyment, amusement, diversion, etc.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's the software stupid

If you are in the market for an embroidery machine, consider this... the software.   The big difference between the low end and high end machines aside from maximum hoop sizes, is the on board editing features.  Admittedly the color touch screen makes laying out and tweaking patterns easy, but if the pattern is perfect before you start those features may not be so important.  That is where the software comes in.

Every manufacturer offers their own version of embroidery software usually ranging in price and features, some are better than others.  Your software needs just two things to start you on your embroidery career.  A variety of fonts and a decent digitizing feature.

Brother's software package that has these features MSRPs at around  $400.  Now many of you that have gotten into embroidery may have paid closer to $1000 for your software, and Brother has that option too, but I don't think it is entirely necessary.  The only thing that the high end software offers that the mid level may not is more robust image editing tools.

Now something to keep in mind is that machine embroidery is more a work of graphic design than it is sewing.  Following that line of thinking,  graphics design programs  work great for embroidery.  GIMP.NET,  or PAINT.NET are  free programs that have everything you need to manipulate images, and a heck of lot easier to work with than most embroidery software.  Do your logo or graphic up in than "digitize" it with your embroidery software add lettering with built in fonts and you will have a decent finished product with software that cost half of what you should have spent.

This technique is also nice because you can play with at no cost and if you discover that graphics design is not really that much fun, you may want to reconsider your embroidery craving.

Feel free to disagree with me in the comments section, I am far from an embroidery wizard, that won't happen until next week.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

12 Days of Christmas

When I was a kid I always thought that the "Twelve Days of Christmas" was a reference to Hanukkah.   The theory was wrong on so many levels, the least of which is that Hanukkah is only eight days long, four days shy of my twelve.  So I have decided that this blog post will be my Christmas Special written in the spirit of that kid whose Twelve Days of Christmas was Hanukkah.

For those that are not familiar with my full body of literary genius, I sometimes make oblique references to a wandering Jewish philosopher and his entourage of fishermen.  I go to church on Sunday and I happen to think that the Jewish man in question has a sense of humor (if  He doesn't I'm in trouble, Matthew 24:20 is his only joke on record.).  My personal view of Christmas and the world in general is founded in large part on that guy, so keep that in mind as you continue reading.

Christmas for the most part was a political move for the early Christian establishment to co-opt competing pagan festivals and strengthen its power base. (Yes my love of conspiracy theories goes way back but pine trees and yule logs have nothing to do with a carpenter's kid from Nazareth.) So when I hear about this group or that group protesting Christmas in schools, or making a stink because some governor put up a "Christmas" tree instead of a "holiday" tree I have to laugh.   Christmas is a hodge podge of beliefs and traditions that some how all got glued together by the story of a baby boy.  With that thought I am now going to launch into some religious history and theories to spread a little bit of tolerance and love this Christmas season.

We are going to start with Abraham.  At least half of all the worlds religions think Abraham was a pretty important guy.  He had two kids with two different women, and a lot of today's problems can arguable be traced back to Abraham's dysfunctional family.  His oldest kid, Ishmael spawned the Islamic faith and they feel that by right of primogeniture they are entitled to Abraham's inheritance.  The Jewish and by extension the Christian faiths claim Abraham's inheritance through Isaac who was the chosen son because he was the only child of Abraham's actual wife. Both have valid arguments, but I don't think either makes a good enough excuse for blowing up the other.

Isaac's kid Jacob had twelve kids by four different women (consider that next time you want to get all judgmental on the Sister Wives, "polygamy" is integral to the Judeo-Christian narrative but it would take an act of God to convince me to try it, I have a hard enough time with one wife).  One of those kids was named Judah.  His tribe became known as the Jews.  So Jews are a specific branch of Jacob's family tree, and if you read your Good Book Judah was not even the good son, If memory serves me correctly they had to talk him out of killing his brother for a styling coat and he had to settle for just selling the the poor kid to a couple of passing Egyptians.

But despite the dubious family lineage this Jesus fellow that every one made a big fuss about was born Jewish and died Jewish, so to player hate a tribe for a few bad apples doesn't seem very fair.  If you believe a Jewish kid from Nazareth is the redeemer of the world or not how is a day of celebration a bad thing?

We all want to be Mexican on the fifth of May regardless of our stance on illegal immigration.  We all claim an Irish uncle on Saint Patty's day, so why can't we pretend that the Jewish kid is an Irish Mexican who got some gifts from a few wandering queens (see how I worked in the Hispanic vote and the gay vote, maybe I should run for president).  Peace on earth and goodwill toward men can never be bad thing and I believe the "Christ" in Christmas makes that possible in my little corner of the world, and if you want to be culturally sensitive think about how happy Daddy Abraham will be that we remembered his Great Grandson's birthday even if the day is conveniently close to the winter solstice and the Day of Mithra.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Batting: We are not talking baseball.

"Who took the jam outta your doughnut?" - Tommy (named for a Russian ballet dancer, not the gun)
Batting or "stuffing" for the less sophisticated among us is the jam in the doughnut.  The doughnut is going to be yummy no matter what you put in the middle of it, but some jams taste better than others.  And so it is with batting the middle of your quilt is often an after thought, but it could add some flavor.

How heavy do you want your finished quilt to be?  The default batting for most quilters is the good ole' Warm n' Natural.  It is a good all around cotton batting, but not always the best choice.  Standard weight cotton batting can get heavy in a large queen or king size quilt, now imagine that giant quilt after it gets wet (yes you will have to wash it at some point)  cotton weighs substantially more when wet so moving the quilt from the washer to the dryer could give you a hernia.   

Synthetics (a.k.a polyester) have the advantage of having a lighter weight and not putting on extra weight when wet.  But in smaller projects that lighter weight often results in poor "draping".  A table runner or wall hanging won't display as well with lighter batting.

Do you want a puffy quilt?  If so you want a high loft batting.  Wool and high loft polyester give a third dimension to any project.  But remember loft and weight are two different things.

How close are you going to tie/stitch your quilt?  Stability is a reference to how far apart you can stitch/tie the batting and it won't shred or separate on you. This is important to keep in mind because if your batting falls apart inside your quilt it may still be pretty to look at, but it will suck to sleep under.  

Not all batting is created equal.  Some brands are better than others.  Synthetics and blends especially can vary greatly between brands.  Often as with most things in the quilting world you get what you pay for.  So don't be afraid to ask for samples if you want to try something new or unsure of what you are getting.

There you have it, things to consider when putting the jam in your doughnut.

"You took the #$%*&  jam outta my doughnut, Tommy. You did." - Turkish (a funny name for an Englishman)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Quilt Repair: One Man's Opinion

I had some one stop by the store last week with a worn out quilt. They wanted advice on the best way to repair it. So naturally I though it would make a good blog post as it is not an unusual question. The best advice for repairing a worn out quilt actually comes from a Jewish carpenter who made himself a name a few years back gallivanting around with a couple of fishermen.

He said: "No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse."

By rent he means tear, not the monthly bill. So I have to second the opinion. If the tears in your quilt are a result of worn fabric I would not advise repair, a worn out binding is a different matter and can be easily replaced. If the tears in the quilt are the result of something like a dog chewing it or a vindictive ex-wife, those can actually be repaired without a problem and the quilt can go on to live a long happy life.

Now I know the next question you are gonna ask is: "What do I do with a worn out quilt?" but before I address that let me tell you how to avoid a worn out quilt. The quilt that inspired this weeks blog was only 15 to 20 years old. It had been well used, but the real source of its demise was the fabric it was made from. I have a 15 year old quilt that I love but can't use because it was made before my mother became a fabric snob. There is a reason decent quilting fabric costs $10+ a yard. Eddie's favorite "blanket" gets washed at least once a month and has more miles on it than my '74 VW. It is going on 10 years old (he stole it from his older sister). That quilt was made post fabric snob. The thing is faded in a few spots and stained in others, but there are no holes worn in it. So remember you get what you pay for.

Now back to the original question. What do I do with it now? Cut it, frame it, and hang it. This works good with worn out quilts, or even your dead aunt's collection of unfinished quilt blocks. Cut your old quilt or half finished inheritance small enough to fit into a picture frame and turn it into art. Make 4 or 5 pieces out of one quilt and artistically arrange them for an even more sophisticated effect. A quilt cut up in a picture frame is still better than collecting dust in the attic. A quilt was made to be used and appreciated, not squandered and forgotten.