Mini Quilt Swap – the big reveal [drumroll please]

Three weeks ago, I posted pictures of the package that went off to Ireland as part of the Atlanta and Irish Modern Quilt Guilds’ mini-quilt swap.  Karen, my swap partner, lives in a small town near the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland.  She confirmed that she received my package this week, so I can now share pictures.

The only things I knew about Karen were that she liked the color red, polka dots and birds.  No question the backing fabric would be a fussy cut of a Moda bird print I’d picked up over spring break.  But what about the quilt top?  I was inspired by a trio of mini-quilts in a recent issue of Stitch Craft Create. I had several bird fabrics in my scrap bins left over from previous projects.  So I let my creative muse out of the bottle to play…

This fussy cut bird was my inspiration.
My interpretation of the Friendship Star measures 12-1/2″ square.
Backing fabric was simply too gorgeous to cover with a traditional quilt label, so I used one of my custom printed labels attached with French knots at the corners.

Sewing Machines for Kids (and other newbies)

Earlier in the summer, I had an interesting conversation with an acquaintance who teaches adult sewing classes.  New students, especially adults, can be intimidated by other seasoned stitchers with their fancy machines.  Keep in mind that buying a sewing machine is a lot like buying a car.  Starting out, you want a quality machine that will get the job done for a reasonable price.  If you do decide sewing is your thing, then be rest assured you can always trade-in and trade-up in machine.

So, what do you really need?

A low shank, preferably center needle mechanical machine that does:

1.  Straight stitch
2.  Zig zag stitch
3.  Buttonhole

Yep, this will cover just about all of your sewing needs, especially if the straight and zig zag stitches are fully adjustable.  Anything else is merely icing on the cake.


I’m not saying that you shouldn’t buy a computerized sewing machine.  However, in my experience, mechanical machines are a lot less intimidating to new stitchers.  They are also lot easier for the teacher/parent to troubleshoot problems. A low-shank, center needle machine also means speciality/replacement presser feet are more readily available.

Potentially important consideration – the bobbin case

A machine with a vertical (front-load/oscillating) or horizontal (top-load/rotary) bobbin case is a matter of personal preference.  Some older machines such as the Singer Featherweight, Singer 99 and 15 class clones from the 1950’s have a side loading bobbin case.  I have front, side and top loading machines in my studio.  For me, a top loading bobbin means easier access to change the bobbin.  It’s right there under the presser foot – not hidden down below where I have to remove a free arm extension or try to get my fingers into the small opening on a flatbed like Ruthie.  I also don’t have to keep up with a separate bobbin case, which can easily get lost.  Some folks swear stitch quality is better with a traditional, vertical bobbin case.  I can’t really tell the difference.

The take away for you, dear reader, is that the type of bobbin case will dictate what sort of extra accessory feet will work with your machine.  Most “starter” machines also come with a vertical bobbin case.  A top loading bobbin usually costs a few dollars more.

Gee, this thing weighs a ton!

Vintage machines are usually made out of metal and they are HEAVY.  Great if you have a designated sewing space where the machine can be out all of the time.  Consider a lightweight (yes, plastic) machine if portability is an issue.  A free arm is a nice bonus, too – but not absolutely necessary. (I learned to sew on a flatbed and my main machine – a Janome 6600P – is a flatbed.)

The bottom line (or price)

Most parents want to minimize their expenses, but keep in mind that even a gifted machine or yard sale bargain will most likely require a basic service call and may need accessories (carry case, presser feet, owner’s manual, etc.) to make it road worthy for a newbie stitcher.  From personal experience, I recommend budgeting $100 to get a previously loved machine ready to stitch and plan to spend a minimum of $150-$200 to get a decent, new mechanical sewing machine.  Shop your local dealer, if at all possible – especially if you have never touched a sewing machine before.  You’ll want the owner’s guide classes that are included with the price of your machine.

I recently purchased a Janome 5812 on sale @ Hancock Fabrics.  I wanted a lightweight free-arm machine to augment my two classroom workhorses – Ellie and Ruthie.  The 5812 met my requirements and has a top loading bobbin, to boot.  The lighter weight (11.2 pounds) means it has more plastic than I’m used to, but that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make for a super portable machine.  This model is also full-size, not 3/4 size or mini. Quite frankly, I was really surprised at how well it sews on a variety of fabrics.  This little machine handled a scrap of silk fabric with no skipped stitches and no puckers.  I gladly went to the Janome dealer today to pick up the the one snap on foot and metal shank that I didn’t have on hand.  To the feet included with the 5812,  I added the H (straight stitch), F (applique) and O (1/4″) feet, plus the metal snap on shank.  [I also have a walking foot and darning foot I can borrow from another machine, if need be.] From my stash, I added extra bobbins, needles, a lint brush and a small screwdriver set.  Although there is storage for accessories in the freearm, they fell out every time I removed the storage box.  So, I repurposed a funky metal tin to hold my sewing machine accessories and small scissors.  Now, all I need to add is a tapestry tote bag to carry the machine.   Total investment a little over $200 for what I think will wind up being my travel machine in addition to classroom machine.  FWIW, my students also recommend the 2212 and the MyStyle 100 for models under $200.00.


As the new school year fast approaches, several of my coworkers have been checking in and the conversation always starts, “So how’s your summer been?”.

Hmmm…equal parts relaxing, productive and frustrating.

Grateful for the 8 weeks off to catch up on my sleep, play with the dog, have lunch with friends and putter around my sewing room.

Productive in that I have almost knocked out the entire summer to-do list, in spite of the constant companionship of the “pet me monster” (my dog, Boomer).

Frustrating in that my children’s sewing classes didn’t pan out the way I’d planned.  Felt like I spent three weeks of precious summer vacation chasing my tail.   Trying to locate space in which to teach privately or hold small group lessons (other than my home or subdivision clubhouse) turned up many dead ends.   The obvious suggestion by interested parents was for me to teach classes after-school at my existing worksite – which is unfortunately out of the question.  School board policy prohibits “private tutoring for pay” on school property by district employees.  Even running an after-school arts and crafts club through my LLC is not okay.

My goal was to find a fabric or craft shop  centrally located where I could rent space by the hour or as a percentage of my teaching fees.  I did find one, but I am limited to the hours the shop is open and when adult classes aren’t being held in the classroom.  Oh – and no Saturdays either if an event is going on (which is most Saturdays at this particular shop).    If I were a resident of a certain local city, I could rent space at the recreation center quite reasonably by the hour for sewing classes.  Non-resident fees are simply too much.

Oh well, I’ll keep looking and again, I keep going back to the local church with the established arts program.  It would be worth contacting to see if there’s any interest.  Someone also suggested I look at offering my arts&crafts club  in the neighboring school district.  There are 2 or 3 elementary schools fairly close that I could probably get to in a reasonable amount of time after I complete my duties at my own school.  Will have to consider that.

The big BUT in this whole endeavor is I have to see the upcoming local school calendar before I can plan anything.  That has yet to be made public and probably won’t be until preplanning.  Yes, the district calendar is available, but the local school calendar contains information regarding staff meeting days, PTA nights and other special evening and Saturday events we will be required to attend.

As frustrating as finding space for sewing classes has been, business did come in unexpected ways – namely commissioned quilts by friends and repairing antique quilts.  This has been a very pleasant surprise.  I will be vending at a craft fair in late August to test the waters again.  My previous foray into craft fairs several years ago at a school Christmas craft extravaganza was not a good one.  I am grateful for the other doors opening when it seems like the window for teaching classes keeps getting slammed shut.



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