Posts filed under ‘Quilting’

Quilt Labels: Make It Personal

ThLee'sQuiltLOWreZe tradition continues, but this time with a twist.

I’ve shared that I make quilts for nieces and nephews. Now we’re on the second generation, quilt #2. This is Lee’s Quilt and I added something a little different. I “signed it” with a QR code. A what?!

A QR code, or Quick Response code, is a type of bar code.  It is read by a machine and contains information about the object to which it is attached, like this quilt. W-H-A-T?!

qrcode.23776260This is a QR code for Great. Now what? Well, if you had a smart phone, you would download a free app like QR Reader and you would hold it up to the computer monitor, line up this little black and white code through your smart phone camera, wait for the little beep, and you would magically be taken to my website.

(Don’t ask me what to do if you are reading this blog post on your smart phone, although there is probably an app for that too!)

My website. Big deal.

Wait! There’s more! You can purchase a QR code professionally printed onto a fabric label. They are called  Story Patches and they come  in “sew-on” or “iron-on.” Incidentally, while I appliqued this onto the quilt after the top was finished, I could just as easily have pieced it in. And, it would have lived just as happily on the back of the quilt as on the front of the quilt. Watch the video to see how the QR code works and to see close-ups of the quilt.

The hardest part is deciding what you want the QR code to do. In addition to linking it to a video message, you could link it to a photograph, an audio message, or a written document. Best of all, you can change the video, photo, audio message or document any time you want. The QR code can be “read” by scanning, or by entering the letter code into a web site.  There’s no expiration on the QR code either. They’re also washable.

StoryPatchesIf you’d like to try a Story Patch (QR code) on your next quilt, I carry both the sew-on and the iron-on in my online store . Click here. If I’m coming to your quilt guild I’ll be happy to save you shipping and hand deliver these and/or any other lightweight items to you when I come. Just give me some advance notice.

Ami Simms
(810) 733-8743

August 11, 2014 at 7:04 am 18 comments

Back to the Beginning

From inside the buggy.

My quilting career began almost 40 years ago in an Amish home in  northern Indiana. I thought the women gathered around the quilting frame in the living room were sewing on a trampoline. I was clueless. They asked me if I wanted to quilt too. Of course I said yes. I wanted them to like me. I figured if they liked me they would invite me to come live with them and then I could learn about Amish culture by participating in it. And then I could write a really long paper with lots of footnotes and graduate from college.

They asked if I wanted a thimble. I declined. They giggled. I bled. Not only did I jab my finger on the underside of the quilt with the point of the needle, but I rammed the eye of the needle into the top finger too—the one that should have been wearing  the thimble.

I made huge ugly stitches but I didn’t give up.  They assumed I could sew. I didn’t tell them that my sewing was limited to the apron I butchered in Home Eck, and the Superman outfit (complete with cape and tail cozy) that I had sewed for our cat. Years later, my Amish friend told me they ripped out all my stitches after I left. I don’t know what they did about the blood.

As luck would have it, my Amish friend invited me home for dinner after the quilting. She probably thought if I was as good a cook as I was a quilter I would starve to death without intervention. That day changed my life. There’s just no other way to put it. I began visiting the family, staying a few days at a time, and have been blessed with a friendship that not only enriched my life, but nurtured a passion for quilting. I did get better at quilting. It would have been hard to get any worse.  I never got very good at milking or driving the buggy. In fact, when my friend Ida let me take over the buggy reins (above), the horse knew a total amateur was at the helm. Joe (the horse) turned around, looked me in the eye, and then marched off the side of the road!

del_Shipshewana_logoI’ll be going back to Amishland again at the end of June. This time I’ll be teaching for the Shipshewana Quilt Festival. I hope you can come. I’ll be giving two lectures, a workshop, several Schoolhouse lessons, in-store demonstrations, and I’ll be part of a panel discussion too.  Come! You will feel right at home. See the quilt show, visit the vendor mall, check out the local quilt shops, and events. Don’t forget to come by and say “Hi.”

For more information and registration information, click here.

Don’t forget to bring your thimble,

Ami Simms



June 5, 2014 at 4:23 pm 14 comments

Piecing Sticky Template Plastic

Carol's Bear Family

Baby Bear from Carol’s Zoo

Piecing Sticky Template Plastic couldn’t be easier. And that’s great because once you use Sticky Template Plastic for small shapes, you’re going to want to use it on large shapes too.

I just finished making Carol Cruise’s Baby Bear ( and thought I’d show you how to piece Sticky Template Plastic for the larger Mama Bear pattern, with Carol’s permission, of course.

Step 1:  Iron the paper pattern on low heat. You will still be able to see and feel the fold lines because Carol uses sturdy paper for her patterns but it’s important to iron the creases out and make the paper FLAT.

02Step 2:  See how many sheets of Sticky Template Plastic you need. It looks like I can do this pattern with 3 sheets and a small piece leftover Sticky Template Plastic from another project. I want to make sure I cover every bit of the design.

Click the images to see them larger.

03Step 3:  For small shapes the release paper is removed and the Sticky Template Plastic is placed sticky side up on a flat surface. For larger shapes and multiple pieces of Sticky Template Plastic, the pattern is on the flat surface, right side up.

Peel the release paper off the first sheet of Sticky Template Plastic and place it on the pattern. Make sure you know exactly where it needs to go before you lower it onto the paper pattern. ( Line it up by looking at the top and the left side of the pattern.)

04Step 4:  Remove the release paper from the next sheet of Sticky Template Plastic. Hold it at an angle against the edge of the piece already in place with just the edge touching, not the sticky surface. Make sure the edges align at the sides as well. Then, lower the rest of the second sheet onto the pattern.

05Step 5:  Peel and stick the next sheet of Sticky Template Plastic, holding it an an angle against the edge of the sheets already stuck to the pattern.  Lower it to the pattern.


06Step 6:  Here’s my scrap piece of Sticky Template Plastic. It was a “corner” so I knew it was a perfect right angle with two straight sides. If it wasn’t a corner I would have made sure that the left side, the side touching the previously placed sheet of Sticky Template Plastic, was perfectly straight. Notice that I dropped it down a little. Because there was space between the back and the front pattern pieces, no sense wasting the Sticky Template Plastic. I also had slid a corner of the release paper underneath as I placed the sheet in Step 5, again so as to have some leftovers for other projects. You can see the release paper way over on the right.

07Step 7:  To keep the entire template (composed of several pieces of Sticky Template Plastic) rigid, cut scraps of Stitch Template Plastic about 1/2″ wide and stick them over the “seam.” They don’t need to cover the entire seam. (The other lines you see in the image are fold lines. Those are secure under the Sticky Template Plastic.)  The joins won’t interfere with the performance of the template in any way, in fact they may help when templates are flipped over to cut the reverse shape (for the other side of the bear) because they will keep the slippery side of the plastic from sliding on the fabric. If you want the template to fold (so you can store it more easily) skip this step. Just know that over time the original paper pattern will tear at the fold. And, the more pieces of Sticky Template Plastic you use, the more difficult it will be to fold.

08Step 8:  Now all I have to do is cut out the pattern pieces!


 Sticky Template Plastic isn’t available in stores yet, but you can order it directly from me


Thanks for stopping by,
Ami Simms


April 17, 2014 at 9:23 am 10 comments

Another “Opportunity”

Ami & Niki

Ami & Niki

My cousin Niki is one smart cookie. There isn’t a lot that gets her down. Just look at that smile. That’s us at the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative booth last year in Houston.

I was thinking a lot about Niki the last few weeks. I was in need of an attitude adjustment.

Way back, when the AAQI had just started out, Niki was one of our quilt registrars. She had never seen the “back end” of a web page before. That’s the part where all the editing goes on. She quickly learned, as we all have, that one bad keystroke can cause a major problem. Except that Niki doesn’t have “problems.”  She has “opportunities.”

Recently I decided to channel Niki. My recent “opportunities” have all been associated with writing and designing the pattern for my new Amazing Puzzle Ball pattern. I won’t bore you with the details as they were all computer and software related issues (er, “opportunities”), except to say that I have learned a bunch of new things. As soon as I started flipping out, I tried to re-frame the problem as an opportunity. It really helped!

Shana's Quilt

Here’s a quilting example. Do you remember the quilt I made for my niece? It was Lesson 4 in Five Things That Will Help You Become A Better Quilter. I had a major “opportunity” with this quilt as I put it in the frame. I didn’t call it that at the time, but looking back, my attitude was in the right place. Had it not been, I don’t know if I would have ever finished the quilt.

You see, I was putting the quilt in the frame, and I accidentally pulled a little too hard. Oops!

I sewed the rip shut, but I needed to hide my mending. I covered it with prairie points.


That created another opportunity: I had four prairie points sitting in a lump on one side of the quilt all by themselves. That looked pretty silly. So I added more prairie points all around the outside edge. That made it look like that was the plan all along. Not only did the prairie points give me a secondary design element, but it suggested a quilting motif too. Win-Win!

Life is full of problems, large and small. “Opportunities” abound.  It’s all in how you look at them.

Ami Simms

March 1, 2014 at 4:41 pm 24 comments

The 2014 Crumb Quilt Challenge

Diana wrote in after the January 1st newsletter asking about sewing room organization and we got into a nice discussion about fabric storage. Ultimately she was looking for a way to store and USE UP tiny scraps leftover from other projects. It got me thinking.


Sew through a little scrap of fabric to hold top and bottom threads out of the way. Particularly useful for machines that seemingly unthread themselves at will, make “bird nests” unless you hold the thread tails, or chew fabric edges of each new seam.

I suggested that, like some quilters, she sew two quilts at once. The first quilt would be the “real” quilt, and the second would be a scrap buster. It could be a miniature 9-patch cut from leftovers, for example. The idea would be after every seam in the “real” quilt, she’d sew a seam in the stash buster. The second quilt would anchor her threads as she sewed the first, much like a “parker” (photo at left) would. A little more time at the sewing machine, but ultimately another quilt is born.

scrapsThen, last week I met Megan Null at the Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild. She was in my Twisted Sisters workshop and shared that she had found a way to use up the little scraps going from “chunks” to “wedges.”  (Too technical here. Sorry.) These are the narrow triangular scraps I’ve been telling students to just throw away.  I know. Feel free to smack me upside the head next time you see me.


Well, Megan got me thinking . (All this thinking!) Back in the 80’s I had made a quilt with my hand-dyed fabric and didn’t want to pitch the scraps. Instead, I crazy patched them together for a border. I also added tubes (empty, stuffed, and elasticized) to add some dimensional interest. Because of the border, I called the quilt “Confetti” (left).

Click the thumbnail for a close up of the border.Confetti Border Detail

I used the technique again in Picture Play Quilts, calling it O.T.F. Patchwork (Off The Floor Patchwork). See pages 12-13. This time I didn’t want to throw away scraps leftover from fussy cutting conversational fabrics. Click the pictures below.

Outer Border Inner Border

So, let’s put this all together. Back to Megan! She was kind enough to let me shoot a video of her showing her “Crumb Quilt” strategy. When you watch the video below, note how small her patches are. She also has a plastic box with a lid right by her sewing machine to put the little scraps in until she’s ready for them; it’s to her right and not on camera for very long. Also, be amazed that she wastes nothing! (Check out the pillow!)

And here’s the challenge: Make a Crumb Quilt!

1. It has to be completed by the end of 2014. Send me a photograph so I can share your work online.

2. Crumb pieces can be any size. They can be the focus of the entire quilt, a design element, or part of the back.

3. You have to piece it at the same time as you piece another quilt. (I will never know.)

That’s it. Hit the comment link and let everyone know you accept the challenge. Let’s see where this takes us!

Happy “crumbing,”

Ami Simms

Pam M

Pam M

February 1, 2014 at 5:20 am 196 comments

5 Things Will Help You Become A Better Quilter

January is always a good time to reflect, take stock, set goals, and look forward. So is October, in case you’re reading this in a month that isn’t January. For traveling quilt teachers, however, January is the beginning of the new teaching season, so I’m taking advantage of the rollover to 2014 to think about my teaching goals.

Then and NowI’ve been mulling it over and I’ve decided that I basically want to help students, both the ones I meet in person, and the virtual students with whom I interact electronically, to become better quilters. (And coincidentally, that’s what I want for myself, too!) Why better? Because better is more fun.

Doing something well is tremendously satisfying. And fun. Doing something even better than you did it before is even more satisfying, and more fun. Fun is good. Success always feels better than failure. Confidence beats doubt, satisfaction trumps frustration, and in the struggle for good over evil, well, OK I got a little carried away there.

So, as a teacher, how can I help you become a better quilter? It’s a five-part plan:

1. Practice Makes Perfect. We’ve all heard that old chestnut, usually from our parents in reference to piano lessons we weren’t all that thrilled about taking. Repetition can enhance muscle memory and will certainly make you feel more comfortable with the process. Familiarity with the basics of quilting, through practice, can build a secure foundation for learning more complex skills. Yada-yada-yada.

Practice is good, and you should practice with sufficient frequency that you can actually call yourself a quilter, but you need more. You need…

Machine Piecing & Hand Quilting2. Feedback. Sounds like you have to hook your brain up to electrodes and hang around with somebody in a white coat all day long. Not at all.  Feedback requires evaluation of some sort, either by you or by a knowledgeable bystander. Feedback at the basic level is comparing the quilt you’re making now to the one you just finished. Does it look better to you? Worse? How so?

Feedback can be looking at the diagram in Step #4 of the pattern and checking to make sure yours looks like theirs. (And trying it again if it doesn’t.) That redo often involves doing something differently. If you are tweaking the process, feedback is examining the outcome to see if there is a difference and if that difference is positive or negative.

Feedback at the highest level is putting your work in the hands of a quilt judge who will evaluate your quilt against quilts made by your peers and against an established standard.

Think of feedback as an awareness of where you are in relation to where you want to go.

So where do you want to go? What would help you become a better quilter?

Corners3. Define Better. You can’t get better if you don’t know what better looks like. When I first began quilting nearly 40 years ago, I hadn’t seen very many quilts. I had no idea what the standard was for traditional patchwork. I thought if I shook my quilt top and nothing fell off, I was doing OK.  I didn’t know what a good binding looked like either. Now I do.  (The list of things I didn’t know when  I first started quilting could fill a book. Oh wait! It DID! I’ll even autograph it for you!)

You need to go out there and look at quilts! Find quilts (or parts of quilts) that inspire you. Recognize them as examples of excellent craftsmanship or design or whatever it is that floats your boat. If they are worthy of your emulation, then you have just defined “better.” Now you have something to aim for.

Just keep in mind that getting there is a journey over time. You can’t fix everything at once. More importantly, it’s a journey that requires change.

4. Embrace Change. I know there is comfort in doing things the same way we have always done them.  But, make quilts the same way, over and over again, and it is unlikely you will become a better quilter. (That fun quotient goes way down when you realize you’re not getting closer to your goals.) Growth and learning require change, and change is risky.

TrShana's Quilty a different color combination; attempt a new technique; experiment with a tool you’ve never tried before. It could be wonderful, or horrible, or somewhere in between. The quilt could turn out less than you hoped for or better than you ever expected. Sometimes you just don’t know until you try it. So, try!

If the fear of failure is overwhelming, lower your expectations. Instead of making a prizewinner, make a baby quilt. Knowing the finished quilt will be barfed on might make it easier for you to risk experimenting with design, construction, color, or technique.

I made this quilt (right) for my niece Shana. I had never made an asymmetrical quilt before. I wasn’t sure if I would like it. (Turns out I liked it a lot!) So, step out of your comfort zone and give yourself permission to experiment.

5. Be Gentle With Yourself. Never before have quilters had so many opportunities to become better at their craft, nor more people telling them how to do it! Magazines, books, guilds, quilt shops, blogs, videos, quilt shows, workshops, television shows, list serves, newsletters, smart phone apps, webinars, and radio shows all tempt us with beautiful quilts, tools and techniques, patterns and advice. Take advantage of what is available, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Seek advice, but pick your own path. And remember, it’s nearly impossible to go from quilts you let the cat have her kittens on to Best of Show without experiencing a learning curve of some kind. 

Set reasonable goals and, above all, be gentle with yourself. Make sure your inner voice speaks to you with the same patience and compassion you would speak aloud to a young child learning the same skill.  You don’t want to be your own worst enemy. After all, becoming a better quilter is supposed to be as much fun as being a better quilter. Rock it!


I’m here to help. Sign up for my NEW newsletter. You’ll get a quilting tip in every issue.

Your comments about this blog are encouraged!

Ami Simms

January 15, 2014 at 7:18 am 48 comments

7 Great iPhone Tricks

iPhone 5I’m a fan. I love my iPhone. I text, check email, take pictures, edit movies, use it to MapQuest from point A to point B, and, oh yeah, I make calls on it too.  Here are my favorite tricks:

1. Flashing Light

You probably know how to assign ringtones and get your phone to vibrate, but did you know you can make it flash a bright light with every incoming call too?  Go to Settings –> General –>  Accessibility,  and then scroll down to HEARING. Turn on LED Flash for Alerts.

In the video below you’ll hear my phone barking (that’s my “normal” ringtone) and you’ll see it flashing too. Fun, huh?

As far as I can tell it only flashes for incoming calls and alarms I set through the Clock feature. (That flash is pretty bright in a dark room. That’ll get you up in the morning!)

2.  Silence Telemarketers

Free Ringtone RecorderYes, by all means call the “Do Not Call Registry” from your cell phone (888-382-1222). For those calls that get through, however, I created a contact called Dirty Filthy Telemarketers. Next, I created a SILENT ringtone using and a Ringtone Recorder.  I put the volume all the way down and let it record NOTHING for 30 seconds. Then, following the prompts from the app, I downloaded the ringtone and emailed it to myself. On my desktop computer I opened the email and downloaded the attachment. To apply the ringtone I had to drag it into iTunes (I’d rather rip a 3 foot seam), click the Ringtones Tab, select “Sync ringtones,” and then click “Synch/Apply.”

Then, all I had to do was edit the Dirty Filthy Telemarketer contact on my iPhone and select my silent ringer under Ringtone. Whenever a telemarketer gets through, I add their phone number to the Dirty Filthy Telemarketer contact. When they call again (and they will) I hear total silence. My light might go off, and my phone might vibrate, but I know a silent ringer and the words Dirty Filthy Telemarketer on my welcome screen means it’s someone I don’t want to talk to. At last count I have 60 numbers under that contact.

3. Auto-text (Keyboard Shortcuts)

ShortcutsAt any one time there can be four volunteers working on the AAQI website. Before anyone publishes the site we have to ask everyone else if it’s OK to publish. It’s no fun getting dumped off the page (and losing your work) during a page publish. So we text. It gets pretty annoying to type, “OK to publish now?” to three people several times a day. I did discover Group Texting. (Start with New Message and hit the + sign for all the people you want to receive the text.) “Auto-text” is even more fun! Yup, you can set up keyboard shortcuts. Now when I type PTP, my iPhone offers, “OK to publish now?” If I want to indeed type that, I hit the space bar and there it is. Poof! Send. Done.

To set up all your favorite phrases like “Are you bringing home dinner tonight?” go to Settings –> Keyboard and click Shortcuts. Then click the + sign in the upper right corner and type in the phrase you want a shortcut for. Hint: You should pick a Shortcut (a name for the phrase). It’s marked as optional. Pick a sequence of letters you don’t ordinarily type, otherwise you’ll get that particular phrase a bit more often than you might want.

Try this:  Set up a few auto-text  phrases on someone else’s phone. Every time Steve types “Ami,” the phone completes the phrase with “the woman I love and adore.” I wonder how that happened…

4. Take Charge of UFO’s

There’s an app for that! Seriously, you can spin the wheel to decide which UFO (Un-Finished Object)  you should sew. The app is called Decide Now! and the paid version lets you input the names of all your unfinished quilts. Or a good number of them at least. I didn’t put in too many for fear of overloading my iPhone’s memory.

Spin 1Spin 2

5. Other Uses for Earbuds

Earbud shutter releaseEver want to take a picture of your hand doing something? It’s pretty hard. Sure you can hold the iPhone and press the up or down volume button to take the picture with your left thumb, but here’s another way.

Plug in your earbuds and hold the volume up/down bar between your lips. When you’re ready to snap the shutter press either end with your lips. Click! (Try not to drool.)

If all your pictures are blurry because tapping the screen to take the picture makes it move, you could also just use your free hand to push the volume up/down on the earbuds. It also works to turn video on and off.

6. Screen Shots

Wonder how I took the pictures in tip #2, #3, and #4? The pictures show exactly what was on my iPhone screen. Simple. I took a screen shot by holding down the Home Button at the bottom of the phone and clicking the on/off button on top of the phone. Click! What you see is what you get.

7. Decorate Your iPhone

Picture PhoneMy iPhone is wearing a “skin.” It’s a plastic stick-on image I created by uploading one of my pictures. There are also stock photos available, but wouldn’t your phone, tablet, laptop look terrific wearing a quilt?  Check out or for all sorts of fun.

Aren’t These Cute?!

Keep Your Cords Sew Organized! You can buy them online.

Spooled (tm)Spooled 2


Ami Simms

October 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm Leave a comment

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