Posts tagged ‘Ami Simms’

Locker Hooking Tutorial: Make a Rug From Recycled Men’s Shirts

01 OverallThis tutorial is for quilters—who have sewing machines, thread, hand scissors, and rotary cutting tools—and know how to use them. Most of the photographs can be clicked to enlarge them. Back arrow to return to the text.

Step 1:  Fabric Procurement & Preparation

02 Thrift storeHead for your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, Purple Heart, second hand, resale shop, or thrift store. (My favorite one in the area happens to be called “Thrift Store!”) On the way in, look for a sign that tells what color tags are on sale. Most thrift stores either staple little squares of colored paper to each garment with the price, or they pierce the garment with a colored plastic “whatzit” that looks something like this:


Some use a clear plastic “whatzit” to affix the colored paper tag to the item. These are the colors they are referring to in the sign. The last time I was in, green tags were 50% off and blue tags were 75% off. (Colors change weekly.) Huge savings!

04 pile of shirtsI picked up about 27 long-sleeved shirts for just under $50. That’s a good start.

03 tagI ignored anything not on sale. It has to be 100% cotton, and I won’t waste my time with anything smaller than a size LARGE. Stay away from flannel (ravels too much),  thick or lumpy fabric (too hard to deal with), shirts with darts or seams in the back (pleats are fine), or shirts you just can’t stand to look at (they won’t look any better in your rug). I don’t do repeats, at least not intentionally. The more colors, the merrier, as long as they all go together. (In the picture above, you can see the clear “whatzit” holding the green tag to the shirt. M is for Men’s shirt and the price is $2.99.) Except I paid $1.50. Cha-CHING!

04 washerI go from shopping bag to washing machine as soon as possible, and wash in hot water. (De-tag first.) Dry on hot. It’s doubtful that you’ll get any color migration (these have all probably been washed many times before) but just in case throw in a color catcher. (Don’t load your washer quite this full. I was being cute for the camera.)

06LeftoversNext, “fillet” or deconstruct the shirts. That is, cut them apart with hand scissors and harvest the pieces you can use in this project. If you’ve got a straight seam (front of the shirt where the buttons and button holes are) feel free to rip. Don’t bother to cut off the shirt hem, however side seams should go.

The largest piece is the shirt back. If you’re in a hurry to start, grab the back and leave the rest for later.  You’ll be cutting crossgrain (side-to-side, perpendicular to the stripes) so you’ll get the longest strips from the back. Notice that I cut the front side (with the pocket) in half. I saved the pocket and fabric around it for another project like this quilt. You have a choice with the sleeves. I whacked off the cuff and placket on one, and I carefully cut out the placket on the other sleeve. It’s faster to whack off the cuff as you’ll only glean a small amount of fabric if you cut around the placket.

It’s hard for me to throw anything out, so I wad up what’s left and bag it. Leftovers can be used to make quilts like these.  Or these!

Shane'sQuiltOn this “Shirt Quilt,” I buttoned shirt cuffs one to another for the border and covered the raw edges with front placket pieces. (Sorry the photo isn’t the greatest; I made this quilt before I got a good camera.)

Step 2:  Acquisition of Supplies

In addition to shirt fabric, you’ll also need:
Supplies1. Rug Canvas (3.75 mesh).  A 36″ x 30″ canvas will yield a rug about 34″ x 28″ which is the size of my rug pictured above.

2. Locker Hook. It’s a crochet hook at one end with a very large eye on the other.

3. Yarn Needle. Perfect for beginning and for finishing the rug. It has a huge eye and a blunt point.

Visit my web page for information on where you can get the supplies listed above.

PQuilll4. Porcupine Quill. Excellent tool to open holes in folded canvas to allow needle and locker hook to pass through those tight places. A high-end, very pointy chop stick will also work, but it’s not nearly as smooth. Porcupine quills make excellent stilettos too, helpfully pushing wandering quilt patches under your presser foot. Unlike metal stilettos, if the sewing machine needle accidentally hits the quill, the needle will go right through it rather than break off the needle.


Gloves5. I also found these Arm & Hammer “rubber-dipped” gloves extremely helpful. I wear just one: on my locker-hook-grabbing hand. (Look in the $1 stores, or places they sell gardening/work gloves.) The rubber adds significant and necessary padding to the palm and fingers. Without the glove I had finger cramps and bruised a finger so badly I had to stop “hooking” for 6 weeks until it healed!

6. A pair of tweezers are handy when sewing the canvas and to adjust fabric tension as you hook.

BlackBias7. You will also need a yard or two of black, navy, or other dark BATIK fabric. While it shouldn’t ever show, dark is better than light if something were to go wrong and it did show. Wash, dry, and iron the fabric. Cut it into 1/2″ wide bias strips. Each strip will be about 60″ long.


Step 3:  Preparing the Batik


Straighten one side with a cut perpendicular to the selvage edge.


To get a 45 degree angle, fold the just-cut edge to the bottom selvage. Press.


Cut off the fold and set the triangle aside for later.

Image04Cut a dozen 1/2″-wide strips to get started. Repeat as needed. These strips will be threaded onto the Locker Hook and will be pulled through the crocheted stitches. You’ll be using one strip at a time. Then, when you get near the end, you’ll machine or hand sew another strip to it. I know; this is as clear as mud. Hang with me here.

By the way, the rationale for using batik bias fabric strips instead of yarn or twine is four-fold. First, it fills the space and keeps the crocheted shirt strips from coming out of the canvas. Second, sewing fabric strips together is better than knotting them together which makes the joins bulky and lumpy. Third, bias strips don’t ravel or produce long thready hairs which will get tangled as you work with these long lengths. And fourth, batik fabric is tightly woven so the strips will be stronger than regular quilting fabric of the same width.

Step 4:  Preparing the Canvas

IMG_6608First, you’ll need to square up the canvas.  Remove the selvage edge if your piece has one, and trim all four sides so that they look like the picture. All those little pokey things should be just like the picture.  (You can ignore the blue lines. You won’t need them.)

IMG_6609Then, one side at a time, fold over the edge by two rows of “boxes.” Zigzag the fold in place.  Use strong thread, any color, any weight, and use a wide zigzag. The object is to have the “boxes” perfectly aligned and to pierce the horizontal lines (pieces of twine? I have no idea what to call them) with the needle when it passes over.  You’ll “sew air” when there are no horizontal “twines,” but the thread will wrap around and tighten along the vertical “twines” in the canvas.


Tweezers really help yank the canvas over so the boxes line up.


The more you can line up the boxes, the easier it will be to hook the rug when you begin. If the boxes are misaligned, the area in each box will be smaller and much harder to poke the Locker Hook through and bring the fabric up.

Cut out the cornerTo reduce  bulk at the corner cut through two horizontal “twines” (see photo), then turn your scissors majorly toward the left (a 90 degree angle) and cut through the one vertical “twine” which in the example happens to be blue. You will have removed something that looks like this:

Next Side

Now fold up the next side and continue on. Do be careful about aligning the boxes. You’re going to have to jam the Locker Hook in every single one of those boxes, including what’s left of that one at the very corner and pull fabric back up through it. Yikes!

NextSide2Once you turn the corner it will look like this. You have folded and secured the canvas edge so that it will not unravel. Continue zigzagging all the way around.


Then, zigzag all the way around a second time, one box over from the fold. That second round will be much easier, except perhaps for the corners. Use the porcupine quill to open the corner box before you zigzag.


It should look like this.


Step 5:  Starting the Rug

Find a shirt back with the thinnest, most tightly woven fabric. (I like a dark fabric.) Press it, and cut about about a dozen 1/2″-wide strips.

Miter With matching thread,  join two strips together with a mitered seam, back stitching at both beginning and ending to lock the stitches and to keep the seam from coming apart. Trim the seam allowance to a very scant 1/4″. (That’s why you picked a tightly woven fabric.) Press the seam open.

A mitered join (shown) is less bulky than a “butted” join. Bulk is bad.

Thread the yarn needle. Staring anywhere on canvas except  a corner, poke the needle up into a box. Draw the fabric through, leaving a 3″ tail. Poke the needle up and into the next box, wrapping the fabric around the edge of the canvas. Un-bunch and adjust the fabric so that it covers as much of the canvas edge as possible.

As you approach each corner, check to see that the the fabric seam will not wind up at the corner. It would be worth the effort to pick out miter stitches and cut the first strip shorter to avoid having the seam at the corner. Put two stitches in each corner, one for each side.


The porcupine quill will help open the corner box if needed.

TIP: If you forgot to pick a thin, tightly woven fabric for this step, you may want to trim about 1/8″ off the fabric strip as you approach the corner and as you leave the corner. It gets pretty tight around the corners.

The two tails will be tucked under future stitches on the back of the rug later. If you think this is tedious, it is. But don’t give up as soon as you get away from the edge locker hooking actually gets fun. Really.


Step 6:  Cutting & Preparing the Shirt Fabric

Use the shirt backs first. (Then, as the rug progresses, chop up the sleeves, and then shirt fronts*.) Fold the shirt backs in half, press the crease and stack two backs. Rotary cut them into 1″ strips. A dozen strips from each shirt is a good start. Cut fabric from 6 different shirts for now. (You’ll be cutting more later, but I know you want to get to the fun part.) 

CutBackOne could cut strips with the grain on plaid shirt fronts and backs to get longer strips. That is, instead of cutting horizontally across the shirt (imagine the shirt being worn), one would cut vertically. This would not work well on striped shirts as you’d lose the stripe.

StripsArrangedI clip like strips together and pin them to my design wall so I can see fabric choices as the rug progresses. (You can get the cute plastic coated wire clips here.)

ChainMiterChain miter the strips together. Make sure right sides are together and ends are lined up at right angles before you sew through them diagonally. Do not even try to line up the stripes. Use neutral colored thread and dial the stitch length shorter if you’re afraid the stitches will come out. No need to backstitch at beginning or end. Just feed the strips in one after the other. Do one or two colors at a time, or however many you can stand to prep.

 For every inch of batik you thread through the rug, you’ll use 3″ of shirt fabric.  My finished rug (28″ x 34″) weighs 3 pounds. Seven ounces of that is the canvas. Time to buy more shirts?

ClipApartClipApart2Cut seam allowances to a very scant 1/4″ . Chop off the “ears” (little triangles at top and bottom) as you clip the threads that join the chain.

FingerPressSpread the joined strips out on the ironing board, wrong side up. Finger press the seam allowances open. Don’t go crazy, just fiddle with them enough to separate the seam allowances so you can hit several at once with a hot iron. I like steam.

FoldedFold the long strip in half, wrong sides together, lining up the raw edges as you press. If you’re not getting the fold to stay closed, try steam or a hotter iron. If it keeps bouncing open, it’s probably not 100% cotton.

BasketLay the folded fabric in a basket or box to keep it from getting dirty, tangled, or stepped on. You can prep as little or as much as fabric as you want. Don’t do too many at once until you see how the rug looks. You can always revise your strategy on the fly if needed. 

Step 7:  Locker Hooking! (Finally!!)

There is no “right side” or “wrong side” to the prepared canvas. Start at any corner with either side up/down. Just make sure you continue to locker hook from the same side for the rest of the rug. The strategy for this rug is to go around and around, filling up the canvas from the outer edge to the middle. Skip no boxes; one stitch per box.

You’ll notice in the video that I talk about bringing the shirt fabric around the locker hook one way and then another way to keep the more or less continuous length of pieced/folded fabric from twisting as I work. (Twists can lead to tangles.) You can see how this manifests itself on the back of the rug below.

FrontBackFront                                                Back

Click once or twice (depending on your browser) on the picture above to see a very enlarged image. On the back of the rug you can see little slivers of canvas between the rows. That’s why it’s the back. But, if the front needs a vacuum, my rug goes back-side-up and I get just as many compliments. Unless you’ve got your nose in the rug, you won’t see the canvas.

As you near the end of the 1/2″-wide batik strip in your Locker Hook, you will need to add a new length. Keep in mind that you will have to haul your rug over to the sewing machine, so don’t put this off until you’re down to the nubs. Join the new batik strip to the old with a miter join as you did the fabric used to edge the canvas, shown above.  Similarly, when it is time to add to the shirt fabric do so with a mitered join using matching or neutral thread, press seam allowance open, then fold and press as before.

I use a “Manipulated Random” strategy for adding shirt fabric is to a rug. I want it to look scrappy, but I also want the rug to look like a tossed salad—colors and fabrics evenly distributed throughout the entire rug. I also know that alternating lights and darks, helps punch up the colors. So, when I add shirt fabric I do give some thought to what color it will be sitting next to. I don’t like the same exact fabric touching. This is really hard to predict because I don’t really know where one color will end. As I go around and around in concentric squares, the distance to cover is always shrinking, plus shirt backs aren’t all the same width! So, play it by ear. If the next fabric coming up doesn’t look like it will work, I cut and splice.

Step 7: Finishing

Bring thread tails to the back of the rug. Using the yarn needle, tuck them under the shirt fabric stitches.


May 5, 2016 at 8:16 pm 25 comments

Old Dogs, New Tricks

I’m developing a new workshop called Beautiful Basic Binding for Beginners. I know; that’s a lot of B’s. Apparently I’m into alliteration. In preparation for my “guinea pig” class this spring I needed samples. I had originally thought of putting some really nice bindings on pre-quilted muslin squares (ick) but I just couldn’t bear to waste my time on it. So then, naturally, I went into “overkill” mode and thought I’d make five or six new quilts just for the class.

After a shor while my sanity returned and I decided to pilfer blocks from a UFO and turn them into some smaller quilts, which I thought I might actually be able to finish in time for the class. Great plan! I got most of the mini quilts done, showed the rest “in progress,” and pulled about 75 pounds of quilts from around the house for a killer Show & Tell. (I was teaching in my @Home Classroom, after all.)

Well, the class came and went, and I learned a lot! More on that some other time. Today I want to share the deconstruction of the UFO, what has become of the blocks, and why I am so excited about this project.

PuppusDoggusDeconstruction'Those of you who took my Puppus Doggus workshop at Houston Quilt Festival way back in 2002 might remember this quilt top. Still not quilted after 14 years, I figured it was fair game.

At first I thought it was a little sad. I had spent quite a bit of time making the blocks, and sashing them together.  I had also gone a little around the bend painting all the white dots in the border fabric purple. (The white stuck out.)  Plus I had the backing fabric already pieced and the batting cut to just the right size. Should I have let sleeping dogs lie? Not with a seam ripper so close at hand. Besides it fit no known bed and was too large to hang on a wall. And, remember, I was on a mission.

I may have backed into this particular project for all the wrong reasons, but it is turning out to be quite exciting. At first, my plan was to take one block, border it, and bind it. Done; next? But, as I sewed I kept thinking what a great opportunity this was turning out to be.

First, I was working in a “series,” like all great artists are supposed to to. Variation on a theme and all that. I’m sure it’s in the Great Artist Bylaws somewhere. I have never worked in a series. (Sitting up a little taller in my chair as I write this now.)

Second, it was so much fun thinking of all the different ways I could bind each little quilt that I started thinking of all the different ways I could border the quilts too! YES! This is getting REALLY fun now!

Third, as long as I was going to bind them and border them I realized that I should probably quilt them too. How many different ways could I come up with to quilt them?

Finally,  I could share all the quilts one at a time here on the blog so that I could challenge YOU to play along with me. Aren’t you glad you’re reading this?

So lets recap, what do we get to learn, practice, experiment with, and have fun doing? Bordering, Quilting, AND Binding! Why am I so jazzed? We’re talking small quilts here. Small is “do-able.” Small is manageable. Small is why not take a risk and try something you’ve never tried before. What’s the worst that could happen?

Comment below if you want to join this Old Dog and learn some New Tricks with me. Don’t worry, I won’t hold you to anything and, as with all my challenges, you can embrace them or ignore them—no guilt either way.

The Old Dogs/New Tricks Challenge will begin officially with the next blog. If you have any suggestions, let me have them in the comments below. Just remember I get to embrace or ignore them too. Fair is fair.

June 23, 2015 at 5:00 am 223 comments

Baby Watch

Grandmotherhood awaits!

As a quilter, I think it’s appropriate that I’m “on pins and needles,” don’t you? At this moment, we are Due Date Minus THREE Days. We’re having a baby!

No idea if it’s a boy or a girl, we’re just praying for healthy with the full complement of fingers and toes. Sweet anticipation. Jennie and Craig, you’re going to be a wonderful parents. I can’t stop smiling.

And for the record, the quilt was finished before the baby arrived—with matching crib skirt, assorted crib sheets, puddle pads, and receiving blankets.

TLCB-overall-lowrezI did have help. Inspiration for the baby’s first quilt came from a tutorial by Jennifer Grigoryev. I used 6″ white squares, so the scale is a little larger.

I used gray thread for the quilting (to match the walls). And, I’m particularly happy with the little sliver of turImage02quoise in the binding. It’s sewn in, not a flange. (Images get bigger when you click them.)

Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions on what to make for the baby. I’ll share what I learned soon. And if you don’t hear the shrieks of delight when the baby is born, I’ll blog and put it in my newsletter for sure.



Zoey Bea was born on October 12, 2014. She weighed 5 pounds, 11 ounces. She is just a smidge over half a yard long–my little Fat Quarter.



October 10, 2014 at 5:04 pm 92 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

Scooter’s Close Call & The Turkey That Got Away

01Hi! Scooter here. I know you’ve missed me and I have important news.

So last week Mom and Dad went to see Maizie in Ann Arbor. She is my niece dog. (I am Uncle Scooter.) I had to stay home. Anyway, I’m not sure when or how I did this, but I flipped or scrunched, or did something and my dog tags got twisted and caught in my kennel, near the bottom, just by the door.

The picture above is a reenactment. Since I couldn’t see what happened I asked Mom. Mom said she really didn’t notice. She just couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t coming out when she opened the kennel door. I love my “house” but I love Mom and Dad more so when they come home I always come out, shake, and then greet them, showing them my tail and attached rump, which are my best features.

Well, I didn’t come out. Since I was facing the other door, Mom opened the other door. (My house has two doors.) When I still didn’t come out, Mom saw what happened and clicked off my collar. We don’t have a reenactment of that, but she was super fast. Then I came out and shook, and you know, showed them my behind.

Mom was really freaked out. She loved me up more than usual, which is a lot. And she kept staring at me all day and followed me around. This is hard to do because usually I follow her around. So we went in circles. She wanted to see if I was traumatized. My illustrious predecessor, Madison, went a little nutso after a thunder storm zapped the power and set the alarm off in the house when he was home alone. He was never the same since. As Mom has mentioned before, I am different. Way different. Nothing bothers me. I went in my house several times, just like normal, so Mom was reassured I was OK. I am nutso in other ways. The same ways as before.


That night Mom invented a special thing for my collar. It’s called a Tag Restraint. Or a Sock Collar. Maybe we should call it the No Jingle Thing.

02She cut up a piece of microfleece that just happened to be on the floor and just happened to match my collar exactly. (The sewing room is a magical place.) My collar is 1.5″ wide, so she cut the strip 3″ wide and about 9″ long. The straight of grain ran the long way. I don’t know what that means except that the material stretched more sideways than longways so it would stretch to go over my dog tags.

03 Mom doesn’t know how to use a serger, so she picked stitch #12 on her Bernina which moves the fabric up and down as it sews. The seam is stretchy that way.  She sewed a 1/4″ seam and then turned the tube right side-out and pulled it over the part of my collar that has my dog tags.


04 So now my collar looks like a snake that ate a mouse. I have never met a snake before, but I would like to lick a mouse, and I know it’s not really a mouse in there, so I like it. Plus it makes me silent. Except for the gallumphing when I run. After all, I am a big beast with thundering paws!

05 Here I am posing with my tennis ball. The snow is melting now and the lawn is growing balls. Spring is wonderful.

Anyway, I am now Stealth Dog. Except when I bark.

That reminds me; I have a funny story to tell you. So I noticed a wild turkey in the back yard yesterday. They fly in from time to time. They have to fly in because the yard has a big fence around it and they are not incredibly intelligent and they can’t find the gates to open and walk in. Come to think of it, neither can I. Oh well, continuing….

So I spot the turkey. I bark and bark like a maniac, you know like when we have a home invasion. We have those all the time, mostly squirrels in the yard, the UPS delivery, visitors, the dog three houses down, loud birds, wind if there is nothing else going on. Mom tells me to shush. And this is where not paying attention to her really pays off. So she comes to the slidey door to see why I am berserking. She sees the turkey at the back fence about 100 feet away. Then she tells me it’s a bird and birds are our friends. Then I think she segued into a recipe for lemon meringue pie. I really wasn’t listening after BIRD. I think she said I could chase it but it would just fly away, I don’t know. Like I said I wasn’t really listening.

Then she opened the door! I was out like a shot. I chased the turkey back and forth across the yard. First we went fast, then I just loped after it. Then we sped up again. Then Mom was running after us. What a great game! I’m barking, Mom is yelling, and the bird is loving it because he’s not flying away! We have GREAT birds here. The turkey is just running as fast as his little legs can carry him, just like Saturday morning cartoons except for the background music.

By time Mom caught me by the Stealth Collar, the turkey had taken a header in some leaves. It just fell over. I was trying to revive it by sniffing it vigorously in all its places but Mom pulled me into the house. Then Dad went out to investigate. I barked from inside. Dad looked for it by the leaves but it was gone. Then we all saw it walking around by the back fence again! So Dad opened the gate and it walked out. I have looked everywhere for it, but I think Dad scared it away.

That was all very exciting. I think you should watch my video so you can rest a little. I will bark if you don’t. Come to think of it, I might bark if you do!


Scooter Simms

Pleases remember: if you get this blog in your email box, click the TITLE of the blog post (in blue) to get the video to play and to enlarge the images. Clicking the TITLE will take you directly to my blog, where all the good stuff happens.

March 30, 2014 at 1:53 pm 56 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!


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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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Ami Simms

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