Exploring the Possibilities of Scrappiness

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Gosh, has it really been two months since I last posted? Yeeks. Sorry about that.  *taps microphone* Anyone still there?

So, for those who are still following, yes, I’ve been doing a whole lot of sewing, just not stuff to post. For instance, my husband needed a vest to wear to work, because we just couldn’t find anything in any store that was long enough for him. So I had a whole adventure in trying to make clothing for the first time in,… well, I think ever. Fortunately it worked out (just had to figure out how to lengthen a pattern I found at the fabric store), and now I’ll have to make a second one as a back-up.

But I wanted to share what I’ve been doing with scraps lately. Every quilter or sewist has a scrap pile. Every. Single. One. And sometimes our scrap piles start threatening to take over the sewing areas,  so something has to be done. I decided to grab up a bunch of scraps in two different color themes and make some preemie quilts. The rules for these projects were simple: I could only use fabrics in my scrap piles, no “fresh” cuts from yardage (except for the backs); and they had to end up being around 20″ square when finished.

Pink, yellow and white strips assembled into a preemie quilt top.

Pink, yellow and white strips assembled into a preemie quilt top.

For the first one, most of the scraps were already in strips so I just started adding them together in a relatively random manner. I was planning on using just pink and white, but I decided that I really liked the yellow in there, too (to bring out the yellow in one of the flower fabrics). Even the long strips here are from the scrap pile.

First preemie scrap puzzle, quilted and binding sewn to front.

First preemie scrap puzzle, quilted and binding sewn to front.

I found a fairly neutral flower print for the back, did machine quilting in long lines to follow the overall stripe theme, then used some of the longer scraps to make the binding. Realized that some of them were pretty short once you dealt with the angles of making binding, so used the seam ripper a bit here! Makes for a slightly bumpier binding, but it’s not too bad. And when I was done, this is all that was left (with one addition just to make it complete):

Leftover leftovers.

Leftover leftovers.

Nope, don’t have a clue what I’m going to do with that. Maybe make a small clutch purse or something.

I’ll save the second scrap quilt for another post.  🙂  Have a fabulous day!

ps: I’ll try not to wait 2 months before posting again…

Focusing on the Little Things

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So, this month has been busy. My sewing student wanted to try making a zippered pencil case, so I had to find a pattern I liked for that. She had wanted to make one that was three dimensional, not just flat. I thought I had a good pattern, and made a test piece before she came over.

Is it supposed to look like this? Goofy thing didn't want to stay under my needle, despite all the pins.

Is it supposed to look like this? Goofy thing didn’t want to stay under my needle, despite all the pins.

Um, no. You aren’t supposed to be able to see the batting once it’s sewn. Oops! So I quickly switched to flat case mode, and came up with something that would be much easier for her.

On the left is the flattened first case. On the right is the left-handed case.

On the left is the flattened first case. On the right is the left-handed case.

Much nicer. So nice, in fact, someone asked if she could buy it. I made a second one with the zipper going the other way, thinking it would be kind of a left-handed pencil case.

Then someone asked, hey, I really like that fabric, can you make a tissue pack holder from it? Hmm, okay, time to find another pattern. Found one,  made it, didn’t like it, altered it. (Are you sensing a trend here?) Prefer the overlap look, which protects the tissues better than the original pattern, which had a big ol’ gap on top.

Holder with gap was first attempt. I added about an inch to the original length so I could get the overlap.

Holder with gap was first attempt. I added about an inch to the original length so I could get the overlap.

And then, you know, these little things are so fun I just had to make more. Pink was the name of the game for my sewing student’s pencil case, so she worked with one pink print while I worked with the other. And with the scraps from the case I made, what else, another tissue holder! (Although I accidentally sewed it wrong side out. I mean, yes, I meant to make it that way…)

PINK! Those who know me well: try not to faint, please.

PINK! Those who know me well: try not to faint, please.

And I just couldn’t stop with the little things. Hey, is that an appropriate sized scrap?

Love, love, love this batik, especially as it isn't pink.  :)

Love, love, love this batik, especially as it isn’t pink. 🙂

I’m not sure there is any point in listing these on my Etsy store, as small things don’t seem to sell for me there, but I’ll stock up on them for the next craft fair I sell at. Which means I’ll have to make a bunch more, probably using some of my mountain of Christmas fabric, for next December’s Christkindlmarkt.

Okay, enough little stuff. I’ll be making those things all year, I think. I also finished what might be the nicest non-quilted tote bag I’ve made to date:

Best bag yet. Hope I can duplicate it with future bags!

Best bag yet. Hope I can duplicate it with future bags!

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View of two of the pockets inside the tote bag.

I was originally going to just have the orangey with flowers fabric on the outside, and the tomato soup red fabric on the inside. Then I decided to have a bit more fun with it. Going with a semi-color block style, I based the outside on how much fabric I happened to have cut earlier, with the emphasis on the flowered fabric, and did a similar thing for the inside. The pockets (four, one that is split to hold pens, one that is large enough for a large smart phone, and two that can hold keys or a business card holder/small wallet) were made entirely of scraps. I triple-stitched the handles, which are long enough to carry the bag comfortably on your shoulder. Yes, I do love this bag. If it was in blues and greens it would fit me perfectly! So I guess it will be perfect for someone else.

I think my next project will need to be muted grays or something. Oh, wait, still need to make a boxy pencil case out of PINKS with my student. Sigh. Sunglasses need to come back out…  🙂

Something Old, Something New

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Sometimes a piece of fabric just sits around for a long time, waiting to be used and loved. Some fabrics sit around longer than others! In this case, I had some fabric that had been purchased almost 40 years ago. It wasn’t in my possession that entire time, just the last year or so. But it kept staring back at me, crying to be used. I knew where it had originated, but not its entire journey to me. Here’s what I know now after talking to my mom about it.

Fabric from my mom. It seems to have been something before, as there are seams for me to undo, but not sure what it was.  :)

Fabric from my mom. It seems to have been something before, as there are seams for me to undo.

The fabric was originally purchased by my grandparents when I was 6 or so, when they were visiting Tahiti (and returned to Wisconsin to find an ice storm had caused a lot of damage to their property). It’s a very tightly woven cotton, rather like the current batik fabrics in the quilt stores. The dye doesn’t go through quite as completely as current batiks do, so I’m not sure it is a true batik but it is similar. They had also purchased some white fabric with large red flowers on it and my mom made a dress for me out of it. That dress was given new life when, a few years ago, I gave it to one of my husband’s coworkers, and his little girls loved it.

This fabric did not get quite as much love. It was used (possibly by my brother) in a home ec class in middle school to make “jams”. Remember those? Long, baggy shorts that were all the rage once upon a time? This fabric looks like, once the jams were made, they were never worn. He probably used the fabric for the class because that is what my mom had on hand, and then put them away once they were finished. I’m just guessing here.

Pieces of fabric picked apart with a seam ripper. Due to previous deconstruction, it had little resemblance to its previous form.

Pieces of fabric picked apart with a seam ripper. Due to some earlier deconstruction it had little resemblance to its “jams” prior life.

My mom recently told me she had used the fabric in the jams to make a travel pillow for my sister. This explains why, by the time I got the fabric, the disassembly had already started and I couldn’t figure out how it could have been an outfit. I could identify one side pocket, and that was about it.

But good cotton is good cotton, and I thought I could come up with something. So I left it on top of the scrap bin, hoping some kind of inspiration would strike at some point. It watched as I grabbed the Christmas fabrics to make ornaments. It watched as I grabbed a pretty green and blue batik to make a wallet. It watched as I grabbed strips of this or that to make scrappy things.

And then I decided how I would use it. I have lots of black Kona on hand, and some larger scraps were left over from other projects. So I started trimming the brown and black fabric into somewhat rectangular shapes to see what sizes I could get from it. I started with the smallest pieces first and worked my way through the larger ones. Very little measuring was done, it was more like “what will fit together” using the two different fabrics. Using leftover binding from another project, I even had enough for side borders. This thing obviously wanted to be a tote bag!

One section done, with larger pieces waiting their turn.

One section done, with larger pieces waiting their turn.

Tackling the larger pieces next, I decided to have different patterns on each side of the bag. Still using only scraps of the black and the Tahitian fabric, I ended up with this for the other side:

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Second side, pinned and ready to be machine quilted.

The long strips allowed me to use the bigger pieces with less waste. But wait, I still have some left! Pockets it is.

Inside lining with two pockets ready to sew on, and the outer part of the tote bag quilted and assembled (inside out to show the machine quilting).

Inside lining with two pockets ready to sew on, and the outer part of the tote bag quilted and assembled (inside out to show the machine quilting).

The lining fabric is something from my stash that I bought years ago. I have a lot of it, but not sure why I bought it. Amazingly enough, the color almost matches the brown in the Tahitian fabric. What are the odds I’d have that shade??

And now the tote bag is complete. I still have a few scraps of the Tahitian fabric left, tiny things that might just be enough for a wallet or something like that. But at this point, I’ve used enough of the fabric that I feel it finally has a good purpose, and I’ll be listing this bag on my Etsy store for sale (https://www.etsy.com/shop/ExtraShotofQuilt).

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Finished tote bag!

And the Stash Grows and Grows…

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One of the interesting side effects of deciding to make things to sell: my fabric stash has grown much more than it has shrunk! At least so far. I guess my stash was pretty boring, relatively speaking, because people tend to say things like, “Oh, that’s pretty, do you have that in orange?” (Or bright pink, or some other bright color.) My sewing student tends to go for the brighter colors, too. Which means that I have to buy more fabric. Hmm. I guess, at some point, I’ll have enough brighter fabrics on hand that I won’t have to make a run to the fabric store just to finish a request.

Some of the fabrics I picked up once I started making things to sell. The cherry blossom-like fabric has already been claimed by my sewing student for her small quilted purse, our next project.

Some of the fabrics I picked up once I started making things to sell. The cherry blossom-like fabric has already been claimed by my sewing student for her small quilted purse, our next project.

I’ve also found myself picking up more large-print patterns, too, including large florals. Those would have been anathema to me before I started this process of spreading out.

Which all reinforces my original thought that trying to make things to sell would force me to open my mind, spread my wings, and be a bit more daring than I had been in the past.

The Many Lives of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”

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Okay, here’s something many people don’t know about me: one of my favorite books of all time is Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. The first time I remember reading it was in a discarded volume of her published works, shortly after high school. I still have that volume, and that novel is still my favorite of all her works. (“Sanditon” would have to be second, even though she didn’t finish it; someone else did.)

There is something about this story that captures my imagination more than just about any other book. I have a few versions of the movie, even bought the DVD edition of the BBC production when it came out because my VHS copy was getting worn. I bought an illustrated set of Austen’s novels when Oxford University Press had them for sale at a deep discount. I have a free audio book version of the novel, too, downloaded from Project Gutenberg and loaded onto my MP3 player, as well as the free ebook version downloaded onto my smartphone.

But it’s the print retellings that I wanted to talk about here. I am far from being a fan of zombie books, but “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is one of the funniest novels I have read in some time. (I tried reading “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”, but couldn’t get past the quarter mark, it was so awful.) The prequel, “Dawn of the Dreadfuls”, is almost as good; the sequel, “Dreadfully Ever After” is not, but it’s still readable and nowhere near S&S&SM levels. So kudos to the author and editor who pursued that line of thought. Might even watch it if it ever became a movie. One evening at the library, a mother and her son came in for it on the recommendation of his high school English teacher, because he just couldn’t get into reading the original. I think I reassured the mom somewhat when I agreed with the English teacher’s suggestion. Hey, if that’s what it takes to get kids to read, why not?!?

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", one of the funniest retellings of the classic story.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, one of the funniest retellings of the classic story.

The latest retelling I’ve been diving into is a manga version of the story. The text has been changed to more modern language and there are a few other changes to streamline and make the story more understandable to the modern reader (for instance, Charlotte Lucas no longer has a younger sister). Of course, with manga, it’s really all about the illustrations, right? And this one is fun. I’m really enjoying this version, and I’ve only just reached the Rosings Park scenes. I have to say that this version induces fewer cringes re: the actions of Mrs. Bennett and Lydia (Kitty and Mary are drawn but rarely heard from so far). Maybe it’s because their comments more blatantly say what they mean, rather than the more subtle method Jane Austen used originally. In any event, if you know someone who just can’t get into early 19th century speech, this manga version might be the way to go. My thanks to Ralph at Comics and Paperbacks Plus for ordering this for me! 🙂

"Pride and Prejudice" manga style!

“Pride and Prejudice” manga style!

Ralph also helped me collect all the issues of the comic book version of “Pride and Prejudice” put out by Marvel. What I found most fascinating about this version was how they did the covers: each one was a different style, some like a modern magazine cover. (Really? “Bingleys bring bling to Britain”?? Ha!) Some people had a problem with this, but not me. I don’t think the story is boring, why should the covers be the same ol’ same ol’? I think the editors did a great job of condensing this version to fit the format. The artwork is beautiful throughout the issues. I liked it so much I bought the other titles in the series, too.

Cover of the first issue of the comic book version.

Cover of the first issue of the comic book version.

All of these versions are great ways to introduce younger readers to this story. Forcing people to read a novel just because it’s a classic and “they have to” is no way to turn kids or adults onto the wonderful world of reading. Make it fun, make it something more on their level, and suddenly it’s less of a chore and more of a “hey, can I read that?”

And for those who think Jane Austen has little to do with the modern world, I highly recommend the book, “A Jane Austen Education” by William Deresiewicz. I read his book long after I was already a Jane Austen fan, but his observations were entertaining and informative.

Have there been any written retellings that I didn’t like? Not that I can think of. But if you know of one or more than I haven’t included here, please share!

It’s All About the Marketing!

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I was a vendor at a local Christmas art market, and was reminded of a very simple truth: it really is all about the marketing.

Because of my hand injury earlier this year I wasn’t able to make a whole lot for the show, but my table looked pretty decent anyway. At least I covered my space and had a few things left in the bag to put out if other things sold.

Christkindlmarkt table Dec 2014

And here is where the marketing angle comes in. Near the top of the photo, you can see 2 small brown rectangles and a black-with-grey-circles rectangle. Those are business card holders. But I started telling people, in addition to being great for business cards, they could also be used as small wallets for tiny purses and wristlets, or for gift card holders. “Oh! Yes! That’s a great idea!” I sold more of those things for gift cards than anything else.

My husband is an author of action/thriller novels. Usually at this event, we sell lots of copies of the first book in his series, which people give as gifts, but it’s hard work trying to get any of the other 3 titles sold except to those who have become fans of his work. So, this year he designed and I made some mouse finger puppets based on the logo of the mercenaries in his series. You could buy a mouse for $10, or, if you bought two of his books, we’d give you a mouse for free. Guess what? We sold more books when people got something extra for free. (We sold the rest of the mice, ending the weekend with only one mouse left.)

Becki and mouse puppet

Then there was the other vendor that shared our room. (The market was set up in a mansion.) She was also an author (unlike my husband, she writes children’s books) and a quilter (unlike me, she does larger projects on her long arm machine). As we were talking on the second day of the market, she confessed to me that she had this awkward set of placemats: there were 7 of them, with three different colors of binding, and every one used slightly different blocks and were even slightly different sizes. The only reason she had them along was to use as protection for her books. We started throwing around ideas about how to market them: as a different way to set a table for 6 with a centerpiece, as toppers for small coffee tables, etc. She finally decided to put them out for sale. Know what? Half an hour later, a woman came in and bought two of them. All she needed to do was find a different pitch.

So next time you are trying to figure out how to sell something you just can’t sell, try reframing the use of the item and see if you can open some eyes to other possibilities!  🙂

NaNoWriMo and the Independent Quilter

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We are in the middle of NaNoWriMo, and a couple of thoughts suddenly came to convergence in my head. So, I thought I’d share them here.

NaNoWriMo has its supporters and critics. I guess you could count me as a supporter, because I don’t see why anyone shouldn’t try writing a novel and NaNo is a great time to give it a try. There are support functions, writing groups all over the net, forums for fanfic, etc. Yes, as the critics love to shout about, a lot of really bad writing is done during NaNo. It happens. But as a creative event involving thousands of people, I bet some pretty great writing is being done, too.

This month of writing intersected with my thoughts about the different types of quilters out there, with discussions about what a quilt is worth, what is a reasonable price for quality fabrics and thread to use in our projects, and what’s the best and most sustainable way to quilt. And my thought process kind of ran along from there. There are a lot of craft people out there, a lot of people who practice various arts, and a lot of various skill levels in every single one of them. And it suddenly hit me: why does it seem like the self published novelist tends to be looked down on more so than, say, a quilter who sells bed quilts on Etsy or a potter who sells at craft fairs? Is there something more intrinsically difficult about writing a good novel than there is in sewing a well-constructed and beautiful quilt? I don’t think so. Each benefits from years of practice, but every once in a while a beginner can hit on something spectacular. Many people probably believe they could write a really good novel if they tried, but most of these people won’t because while writing looks easy, it can be incredibly hard.

(Note: I’ve tried writing fiction, I really have. My husband will point out one scene I wrote long ago that was really good. But while that scene was very well-written, and evoked a vivid image of the situation, it had nowhere to go and I was unable to come up with a good way to use it. I maintain that I am NOT a writer. I make a pretty decent proofreader and sometimes editor, though!)

So let me use the quilting world as analogy. There are those who make quilts just to give away; those who make simple or complex, large or small quilts to sell; and those who make quilts to enter competitions. In the same manner, there are those who write to share with their friends and family, or simply to see if they can do it; those who write books to sell, either via a traditional publisher or on their own as an indie publisher; and those who write “serious” literature that gets entered into the various literary contests around the world.

Why are those who write just to write looked down on more than those who quilt just to quilt? NaNo-ers are just trying to express their creative sides. Let’s give them as much support as we can. Some of them might move on to the other levels of writing, and in the future you could see a finished and wonderful novel from them that you would love to read.

I’d love to hear comments or disagreements on this.

Every Book Its Reader

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One of the most challenging things about being indie published is finding your readers. As a librarian, I know that every given book has an audience, somewhere. Finding that audience can be frustratingly difficult. When you don’t have thousands of dollars to buy advertising online, or don’t know the right people to help promote a book on their blogs, it’s hard to know what to do with the book that you just spent all that time working on.

And yes, for me this is personal. I think the books my husband wrote are pretty entertaining. He has a way of writing that makes it easy to imagine the story as a movie, watching it in your head as you read. (Could be because he started as a film major in college before switching to journalism, or because he is a serious movie fan who studies why movies work and why they don’t.) Even when I’m editing or proofreading his work, I find it difficult to focus on the task at hand because I get carried away. It’s hard to stop reading for such mundane things as getting some sleep or eating because I get engrossed in the story.

And, yes, most spouses would say that, but I’m not the only one who has said that about my husband’s books. Proofreaders return their copies to us with similar comments in addition to any corrections they think are needed. We use some of those comments when we go out to author events as advertising.

But in order to get into various book promotion sites, we need reviews. On blogs, in GoodReads, on Amazon, or any other book seller site. We need to find people who are willing to read a book written and published by an indie publisher, and publish their opinions of our books. We need those who enjoyed one of our books to let others know why they liked it. We need to let people know that there are now four books in the series, with book five in progress. We need reviews of all four books.

We need to reach those readers who like thrillers with a touch of horror at times. We need to reach those readers who like a female protagonist who is angry, capable, and determined. We need to reach those readers who like fast-paced action, edgy characters, and long-term revenge plots. Women with guns, masked serial killers, a body count in every book.

Are you one of those readers?

Playing Catch-up

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The good news is, my hand is finally mostly healed. Still a bit tender, and no where near as strong as it was (cutting veggies for a tart wiped out all the strength I had that day), so there is still some work to be done there. But it no longer hurts to use scissors or my rotary cutter, so I’m trying to catch up on all the projects I started way back in August!

Part of my therapy was to try to do a bit of sewing without cutting, so in late September or early October I started piecing these 3″ squares I had cut out years ago for a kids project. Halloween fabrics were on top, so I made the beginning of a table runner with them. At some point I realized it was too wide for a table runner, but I could divide it up and make a set of four place mats instead. Good thing my seam ripper is fairly ergonomic, as I made heavy use of it, but here’s the end result:

Set of four place mats, machine quilted.

Set of four place mats, machine quilted.

And a view of the back:

Set showing the back of one of the mats. Lots of little spiders with big eyes!

Set showing the back of one of the mats. Lots of little spiders with big eyes!

It felt good to put the last stitch into the binding of the fourth mat, before Halloween actually shows up on the calendar, but it’s probably too late to try to sell them on my Etsy store. So unless someone contacts me to purchase them, they will go into storage and I’ll put them up for sale next September or so. Still, it was very therapeutic to work on them while my hand was healing, and they were a lot of fun. The machine quilting kind of creates a spider web effect, using dark grey Aurifil cotton thread.

I also started making some tote bags, prompted by a need for a tote bag for a baby shower gift. I found this great owl fabric at the store in the remnant pile, and after I finished cutting it up for the main tote bag I realized I had just enough for a second one. So, today I finished this mother-daughter set of tote bags. The owl fabric has a wonderful dark purple background, and the teal of some of the owls almost perfectly matches the accent fabric inside. The teal accent fabric looks a bit like feathers to me, which is why I went with it, but I think it’s supposed to have a knitted look instead.

This photo shows the inside of the large tote bag, and the outside of the small one.

This photo shows the inside of the large tote bag, and the outside of the small one.

Both the large and the small tote bags have the owl fabric on the outside, with smaller pieces inside forming the pockets. The small tote has the same two pockets shown on the larger one above. The large tote also has a much larger pocket, big enough to hold a Kindle or similar small tablet/ereader (about 6″ wide by 8.5″ high). I didn’t have enough of the teal fabric to make the handles for the small tote, hence the black handles, but I think they go well with the owls’ eyes.

Next project is to start making things that I might be able to sell at a Christmas holiday market the week after Thanksgiving. I have a few ideas, and will post as I have interesting things to share. 🙂

Happy Halloween, y’all!!

It’s a Sale!

Announcing the first ever sale at Extra Shot of Quilt! From Oct. 6 to 12, we’ll launch our first “Cutting Edge Sale,” and most items in stock will be 25 percent off. The reason? My husband is going in for surgery on Oct. 6, and even though he has insurance, copays aren’t cheap. This sale applies to both Mazz Press items and the Extra Shot of Quilt Etsy store.

To see what’s available from Mazz Press, visit the catalog at www.mazzpress.com/Catalog.htm. However, all orders must be made by contacting us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mazzpress (because the Paypal buttons on the site haven’t been changed). All four books, all tee shirts, all music CDs, and all short films on DVD qualify for the discount.

A sketch by Norm Breyfogle of "Stacia Rose" from the novel "The Wild Damned." She is holding "The Mask of The Carrion Crow." Copyright 2010 by Stephen Pytak.

A sketch by Norm Breyfogle of “Stacia Rose” from the novel “The Wild Damned.” She is holding “The Mask of The Carrion Crow.” Copyright 2010 by Stephen Pytak.

To take advantage of the sale in the Etsy store (https://www.etsy.com/shop/ExtraShotofQuilt), use the coupon code “CUTTINGEDGE25”  at checkout to have 25% taken off all orders of at least $10. Had your eye on one of the poppy tote bags? Now is the perfect time to pick it up!

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