All posts by nimbletheedle

About nimbletheedle

I began threading needles for my Gram at age three and designed my first piece of clothing at age five. I can remember sewing late at night with a flash light tucked under my chin. I hand-turned the fly wheel on my Mom’s Singer sewing machine so she wouldn't know I was sewing after bedtime. My Mom also introduced me to quilting. She wanted a quilt but didn't know how. She asked me to help her make a Grandmother’s Flower Garden. We chose the fabric she liked without looking at the fabric content. Mom found the little octagon block in a magazine and we had to enlarge it. We made it out of cereal box cardboard. Following the vague directions in the magazine, I made several flower motifs. I learned many lessons from that first attempt which still resides in a box not finished. One lesson I learned is that I don’t have to finish every project. Some projects become lessons and examples of what not to do. This has become quite freeing. I am more willing to try something new just to see what might show up at the end.

Clean and Oil Your Machines, Please!

Oh my gosh, my biggest pet peeve is a sewing machine filled with lint. I have seen many very expensive sewing machines being maintained with the respect of a used car. You put gas in the old clunker, so it should go when you want it to. I know someone who never changed the oil in her vehicle because no one told her to. Guess who had have the motor replaced? And my husband told me, a maintenance guy he worked with would change his car oil but not the filter. A maintenance guy, really!?!


Sewer can be the same way. They expect their sewing machines to be ready to use as soon as they sit down. They know how to wind the bobbin and how to thread it. What more is there? They use their sewing machines until they don’t work anymore, then go out and buy a new one. You all love your new sewing machines at first. They sew like a dream. Your new machine almost purrs as you sew. Then gradually the new sewing machine doesn’t purr anymore, it growls and groans. Your stitches are loopy, the thread knots up and keeps breaking. It gets louder and louder until one day it jerks to a stop.


I have a friend who loved her Bernina when it was new. Then over time it didn’t stitch the same so she bought a new Janome. Now I’m a big Bernina fan, so this didn’t make sense to me. I asked to look at her machine. The first thing I did was pop off the needle plate. She gasped! “What did you do? You broke it.” I hadn’t broke anything. There are no screws in the needle plate so she never thought it would come off. There was no surprise as to what I found under the plate in the feed dogs: lint that had been compacted into felt. After cleaning the feed dog area, I started on the bobbin area. She knew how to take the bobbin and bobbin case out so that area was not too bad. Then I unlatched the shuttle hook. She gasped again and more lint. Once all of the cleaning was finished I proceeded with my sewing machine oil. Now she was asking questions. “Is that where you are supposed to put the oil? I was never sure.” And surprise. The machine was running again with a slight purr. It still needed to go in for service and a thorough cleaning and have the timing reset, but it was sewing again quite nicely.


Now that I’m teaching more quilting and sewing classes, I’ve seen many brands and models of sewing machines. On every supply list with every class I teach, it says to clean and oil your machines before class. About half of the students look at that statement and scratch their heads. There is at least one student in each class who has that sewing machine I know hasn’t felt oil in over a year. And they all gasp when I get out the screw driver, brush and sewing machine oil.


So here are my top tips for maintaining your sewing machines:

  • Read your sewing machine manual for how to clean and oil your machine.
  • Ask your sewing machine dealer to show you how to clean and oil your machine.
  • When I bought my first real sewing machine, the bobbins held less thread and the thread was linty. I would clean and oil my machine 1 time per bobbin of thread.
  • Bobbins are larger and hold more thread. We have more choices of weights of thread and some are very fine. Therefore bobbins can hold more thread than before. Now I sometimes clean and oil my machine 2 times per bobbin.
  • Just because I clean and oil my machine a lot does not mean I don’t have to take it in for service. If I’m sewing an average of 20-40 hours per week all year long, using a variety of specialty threads and doing a lot of machine quilting, I will take my machine in 2 times per year for service. Mostly I take my work horse machine (Maude – Bernina 440) in 1 time per year and my portable (Kermit – Bernina 230) every other year.
  • Bonus tip: Cut your thread up at the top of your machine near the spool. Then pull the thread out of your machine at the bottom near the needle. Lint and loose threads collect along the thread path. Pulling the thread from the bottom is like flossing your machine. Pulling it up backwards through the thread path will bring all the lint and garbage up to the tension dics at the top of the machine. Now your tension won’t work properly. This one was a hard lesson for me to learn. It cost me 2 trips to the dealer in one year. I won’t do that again.
  • And while I’m writing about cleaning and oiling your machines, I will say one thing about canned air – DON”T! Check this link out and see why:

The Condition of Quilting Tailings

*Tailings are the debris left over from mining for silver and gold, much like the scraps we acquire from making quilts.

I did a short demonstration at my quilt guild a couple of years ago on how to piece the Bow Tie Block. I don’t know why this simple Bow Tie Block captured my interest. Was it the possible color combinations, or the ease of piecing? Maybe it is the awakening of a love of scrap quilting. It’s like my love of popcorn. I can’t stop. I want to make Bow Tie Blocks in every color combination from my scraps. I’m not much of a traditional quilter so my scraps are very heavy with batiks and fabrics that read as solid. I have very little in the way of prints and multi colored fabrics. If I want the combination of blocks to sing, I would need more scraps.

My little boxes of tailings. At the end of a project, I sweep the remains of my cutting into little boxes. The idea is to use these boxes for quick creative jump starters. Everything in the box is already color coordinated.
My little boxes of tailings. At the end of a project, I sweep the remains of my cutting into little boxes. The idea is to use these boxes for quick creative jump starters. Everything in the box is already color coordinated.
Only one block was singing, but not the music I was hoping to hear.
Only one block was singing, but not the music I was hoping to hear.

I knew better than put the word out to all of my quilting friends that I needed scraps. If I did I would have more piles than I could fit into my car let alone my house. So I listened for opportunities to acquire the little gems I was looking for. My sister-in-law was the first to donate to my cause. She had a big plastic bag she wanted to give to our Community Service Committee. All of those little pieces would have been tossed aside because it would have taken too long to cut into usable units. Our Community Service Committee needed yardage to work from to create the kits they passed out to our members. Her bag of treasures was like a gold mine to me. It was filled with a variety of prints in lots of colors and many design styles. And most of it was already in even little stacks that allowed me to cut multiple squares at one time. Most of my scraps were single strips of end cuts, jumbled into a wad and shoved into small boxes.

This will take me years to sort and cut my little squares.
The hand-me-downs. This will take me years to sort and cut my little squares.
The varied designs add more texture.
The varied designs add more texture.

The next bag of scrap jewels came from a new quilter. We were sharing our latest quilting projects when I told her I was working on a scrap project. She had only been quilting for a couple of years and she offered her growing collection to me. Her scraps were grouped into color groups and again mostly even little stacks. Before I could sort through this pile of reserves, she gave me a bucket of scraps from her sister. This recycled kitty litter container of scraps resembled the appearance of my left overs, a twisted pile of tailings that begged to be shifted through.

The Bucket. Lots of conversational prints.
The Bucket. Lots of conversational prints.
from the bucket. Conversation prints are bringing life to the pile of blocks.
from the bucket. Conversation prints are bringing life to the pile of blocks.

As I sorted and cut my 2 ½” and 1 ½” squares for my Bow Tie Blocks I noticed something about the size of everyone’s scraps. I found strips as narrow as 1 ½” and quite a few 2 ½” strips. There were a few stacks of right triangles. These were what I would expect to find in a scrap stash from a traditional quilter. What I wasn’t expecting was the large pieces of fabric. These pieces were the size of a fat quarter and larger. What made these quilters decide these pieces of fabric were now scrap? Were they just finished with the project and had overestimated the amount of fabric they would need? When I look at my fabric stash, I see individual crayons. As long as I can still hold the little stub of color and make a mark, I keep it in my stash. It has to get fairly tiny before I can relinquish it to the scrap pile or even the trash. My scrap pile would keep a miniature quilter happy for several life times. I am not a miniature quilt maker so maybe it’s time to pass my scraps on to the next person.

My little boxes of tailings.
My little boxes of tailings.
Pink & Orange. Fresh off the ironing board, ready for basting and quilting.
Pink & Orange. Fresh off the ironing board, ready for basting and quilting.


The call came at 11:58 pm the other night. “Mom, are you still up?” (I had a few quilts missing labels and late night movies held my interest.) “I’m engaged!” Seeing as they have been talking about marriage for the last couple years and the timing was finally right, my surprise was not the same as my daughter’s. I knew this was coming and had been holding off thoughts of her future marriage until the question had been asked. Now I can be excited. She will plan her own wedding while I hold her hand. My daughter has always been a planner with the focus of a microscope. My job has always been the one to hold her emotions while she works through her decisions. While she rides the emotional roller coaster, I’m there to see that her seat belt is on and securely fastened. So until the date is set I will refrain from asking her about the wedding quilt. That’s not to say I haven’t planned a quilt for her and her new husband-to-be. I have several designs I’ve been playing with. (The program on my old computer I was using to draft my quilts, was wiped off with the virus so all was lost.) My struggle is she likes simple modern designs in neutral colors with no accent color.

fabrics chosen for a neutral background of a Cutting Through Design
fabrics chosen for a neutral background of a Cutting Through Design

I love bold statements swimming in color. So I will wait until the conversation turns to joining their households to find a compromise. (Bonus – my new son-in-law-to-be has been raised by a Mom who quilts. The first time he came over he went straight to my design wall and commented on a wall quilt he liked.)

7 Circles - 2013 Design process: Cutting Through, Faced Shapes, Couching, Beading
7 Circles – 2013
Design process: Cutting Through, Faced Shapes, Couching, Beading

I also have a step-daughter who is getting married soon. Her wedding date has always been out there waiting for the right time. About a month ago they finally set the date for this spring. She lives out-of-state and I have not seen her in a long time so thank goodness for the internet. From the pictures I’ve seen, I know I can make her wedding quilt loud and bold. I started an Asymmetrical Hunters Star in black, gray and white with red accents over a year ago with this marriage in mind. I’ve got to work fast to get the top done and find a quilter who can fit it into their busy schedule. I have most of the pieces cut for the Hunters Star. Now I have to clear my design wall so I can get busy.

This is one of several samples of a Drunkards Path class I'm teaching. I need to replace the purple pieces with brighter purple. I'm still moving pieces around until I'm happy.
This is one of several samples of a Drunkards Path class I’m teaching. I need to replace the purple pieces with brighter purple. I’m still moving pieces around until I’m happy.

Poked, Prodded or Challenged

I have not Blogged in almost a year. I have had people poke me to remind me of this and ask for more. I have been prodded by others who ask me why I haven’t posted what’s going on in my quilting studio (aka kitchen, dining room, living room, my daughter’s old room, the rec-room, and garage – you know all of the places you can find my stash and quilting supplies). I have been sewing, quilting, volunteering in groups that sew and quilt, and have gone back to teaching sewing and quilting. I’ve had many ideas of what to share but have not sat down to capture those brilliant moments before they disappear.

This is my niece Cassie's graduation quilt. Class of 2014. I found this in a tutorial from
This is my niece Cassie’s graduation quilt. Class of 2014. I found this in a tutorial from

Over the last couple of months a friend of mine has invited me to join her in several challenges. There have been three challenges cast out to me by her in less than a week. And each time I said “Yes”. So what’s going on in my brain that causes me to jump at a challenge and not a poke or prod? A poke is nice but not exciting. A prod makes me feel guilty and slows me down. But when I hear or see the word “challenge” the creative part of my brain gets over stimulated. This over stimulation turns off the logical part of my brain that holds my schedules and commitments. It also sends a surge of endorphins into my pleasure zone. It’s not until after I have committed and the endorphins have lost their spark, when the logical part of my brain kicks in. I have other commitments on the calendar, and now my integrity is at issue. My creative side will justify my “yes” to my logical side and I have to get creative with my time and schedules so every promise is met.

Prairie Point Summit Sample for a class I'm teaching.
Prairie Point Summit Sample for a class I’m teaching.

I have been challenging myself to post more on Facebook, real posts not just commenting on someone else’s posts. I’m better at reposting a post I find amusing. I am a member of several groups on Facebook and I post there from time to time. If I want others to know what I’m up to in my life I share with them face to face or over the phone. Social media feels like shouting into the wind.

"Flight" HST Challenge for my Quilt Guild.
“Flight” HST Challenge for my Quilt Guild.

Now that this has been said I am declaring a new challenge. I challenge myself to posting real stuff in my blog and on Facebook at least once per month. My creative and logical sides are in agreement. “Yes”.

Inky Jams and Paper Thin

I’m working on a series of pieces that I want to have words on and it has to be done fast, inexpensive and easy. Printing on fabric is perfect. I can use lots of different fonts, sizes and arrangements. I have used my home printer to print on fabric before and it has worked great. You just iron your fabric to the waxy side of freezer paper, cut it to the same size as printer paper, put it in your printer and print. So that’s what I did. The first sheet came out just as I remembered with no problems. The second sheet got jammed up in the printer. The third sheet got jammed up as well.


Okay, now I’m beginning to wonder if the printer is out of whack. So I print the copy on plain paper and everything is fine. I tried it again and the fabric/wax paper combination jams again.


Now I’m on YouTube checking out other options and suggestions. It looks like I did everything right but now I’m becoming concerned about the fabric not being pre-treated and the printing running and fading once I get the printing to work again. This bunny trail leads me to Dharma Trading Company ( to buy Bubble Jet Set 2000 and Synthrapol.


Okay back to the drawing board. Someone on YouTube said to press the fabric into the wax firmly and to check for bubbles in the fabric. Alright back to the ironing board and pressing. Now the fabric and the wax paper are one, really one. The printing goes better but now I have black marks on the top edge of the fabric.


So it’s back to YouTube. I learned about the little fuzzy pieces of threads that might be on the leading edge of fabric/wax paper. These little threads will grab the ink in the printing process and spread it around. Now I’ve got my finest appliqué scissors trimming the fuzzy threads off the edges. Yea, one sheet goes through okay. Boo, the next one jams.

I need a break before I tear my hair out. It’s back to the bunny trail. I’ve got enough trashed samples to try something. Let’s see if the printing will run or fade if it gets wet or washed. I put one of the printed disasters into the bathroom sink and turn on the water. Nothing happens. I swish the fabric around in the water. Nothing happens. I scrub it and I can barely see any change. I add some soap to the water, swish the fabric around and scrub it real hard. Finally I can see some real difference. And after all of the water, soap and scrubbing, I can still read the printing.


Alright, I am using black ink only. Maybe the stuff I bought from Dharma works great on colored printing. Wait, I just remembered something I learned many decades ago about colored fabrics that have dye running in the wash. White Vinegar!


I still use it with my fabrics that refuse to hold their dye when wet. Dye catchers are great most of the time, but some fabrics are still a problem. So why not use White Vinegar and water to set the ink? It’s cheap, fast and worth a try. I soaked the good printed fabric pieces in a solution of 1 part Vinegar and 4 parts water for a few minutes. Well, maybe longer as I got side tracked.


I’m still bummed about the printing. It’s more Youtube and more information to glean. If the wax paper is curling as it enters the print rollers, maybe I need a heavier paper. Now I have the cardstock out. (I have a partial ream of bright green left over from an anniversary party.) I start this time by cutting the fabric slightly smaller than the cardstock. To get the fabric to stick to it, I used temporary spray adhesive to the back of the fabric and then iron the two together to seal the deal. To keep the fuzzy fibers from catching the rollers and causing ink to spread, I use Scotch Magic Tape on all of the edges. This kind of tape sticks and is removable.


Yreka! Finally I have a process that I can get to work fairly consistently. Yeah, I know. There is ink on the tape that transferred to the fabric edges. Now I know why. The tape wasn’t pressed down real good before I sent it through the printer. There is also some discoloration at the bottom of the fabric not in the photo. The can of spray adhesive I was using was running on low and the fabric shifted in the printing process.


No matter what method works for you, I hope my inky jams and paper thin messes will help when your printing on fabric goes wonky. And with Valentine’s Day this week, think about printing something personal to include in your quilted gift. If you start with the fabric and the freezer paper method, maybe your first try will work too. If not, go with my last method and skip the frustration. Please let me know if you have a better way of printing on fabric that doesn’t jam up in the printer or cost a lot of money. And if you do try to print on fabric, share in the comments what you did with it. I’ll post on Thursday what I just finished now that I have some successful pieces of printed fabric.

Ice and Does It Really Matter

So what have I been doing the last few days?

  • Saturday: I emptied half of the spare room so we could fit in another large shelving unit. Now most of the boxes of fabric, sewing supplies, and drafting notebooks are off the floor.
  • Sunday: Super Bowl, I moved 2 more laundry baskets of fabric off the futon so we could watch the game. Bad move; I pulled something in my back. My sewing project changed to studying a new quilt book for a class I’m taking next week while I iced my back.
  • Monday I worked some more on my Fortune Cookie Fortune series and iced my back again. I’ll post a tutorial next Tuesday about my challenges printing on fabric.
  • Tuesday I worked on the design wall with my Bow Ties and iced my back some more. Here’s where I’m at:

I’m trying something I learned from Alex Anderson on about creating an implied boarder. I think my “white/black” triangle insets are losing the zig zag pattern. It needs more sameness to create the flow I’m looking for as the triangles zig and zag between the bow tie blocks.




Okay, It’s starting to look better. The best things I’ve done so far are to put everything on the design wall and take pictures. All of the areas that glare at me from the small photos look just fine on the wall.  I think my biggest challenge is my small pile of “white/black” fabrics. I guess its back to the quilt stores to buy some more fat quarters.



  • Wednesday was my guild meeting. As program chair, I invited Bill Volckening  to come speak about his New York Beauties. Wow! Check out his website. He brought several tubs of quilts covering the last 150 plus years and everyone was stunning. One of the things Bill pointed out that I found surprising had to do with the skilled execution of each quilt. All of the older quilts were not perfect in their piecing. The points weren’t pointy, and seams didn’t match. The newest quilts were pieced with precision. While both sets of quilts were beautiful, he noted that the newer perfectly pieced quilts looked flat next to the older less perfect quilts. This got me thinking about all of the time and effort I put into my piecing, quilting and finishing. I struggle at times to create the design in my head so every seam is straight and true, every fabric is perfectly placed (note the photos above) and then fear the quilting will ruin the top. In the end my quilts have a story to tell beyond the perfect and not so perfect sewing. I just need to remember when I’m at the sewing machine deciding if I need to rip out that last seam or not, will it really matter to the story if the points don’t match.


I Susan (a.k.a. nimbletheedle) who believes she can use up all of her fabric in her life time (I plan to live to 252 years old) am joining Quilting Hottie Haven’s third annual DaGMT (Drop and Give Me Twenty) event and pledge to quilt for at least 20 minutes every day of the month of February, 2014. This will help me FINISH the projects that are out for all to see in my living room, dining room and kitchen (really this is my work space) giving my husband a place to sit without moving something out of the way, and maybe a new space to put the ironing board so it won’t be used for a staging area and drop off point at the top of the stairs. It is also my hope that the other hotties joining DaGMT will hold me to account to my commitment least they find me buried under an avalanche of blocks, scrap fabrics, bags, boxes and totes of unfinished dreams and promises. I also want to thank quiltingpiecebypiece who I found while stumbling around , which led me to and her brilliant concept DaGMT.

So let the games begin. Here’s what’s on my design wall right now.Image

first step

Every journey starts with the first step. Not necessarily. I have had journeys start with standing in one spot not sure where to put that first step. I stand there thinking about the journey and where it will take me. I have even marched in place looking like I am on a journey and never getting anywhere. Regardless of when the journey starts for me, I am always on a journey even when I’m standing still.

 Today this journey takes another route I’ve been planning for some time without realizing it. My daughter, Amanda loved stories when she was growing up. She was always asking someone to tell her “Once uponama time”. Soon after my Dad asked everyone to write him stories instead of buying him gifts. He wanted stories about our growing up. So for years I made up stories for Amanda and wrote stories from my memories for my Dad. Dad thinks I should write a book and my Mom thinks it should be a children’s book. Maybe later, now I want to sew, create and teach.

 Because I am a story teller, everything I sew has a story. Quilters will tell you that a quilt isn’t finished until you put a label on it. I’m with the quilters who say it’s not done until the paperwork it done. I like to document the process so I can see where I am and where the quilt is going. I can also use the documented process to help teach others how they can do it themselves. So often my finished pieces find homes so fast, I have a hard time remembering what I made or how I made it. The joy of documenting the story of each project comes from hearing others tell the story again. It is here that I will tell the stories. I will show you what I’m working on and some how-to-do-it yourself. For those who don’t sew, you will hear the stories that each piece has to tell.