Posts tagged ‘Quilting’

Old Dog #2

OldDog#2-OverallAdding another quilt today in the Old Dog: New Tricks Series.  The original block, from my now de-constructed quilt, ended at the edge of the blue background and the bottom of the dog. I added a busy floral border and a simple cross-grain applied binding. To clarify, to make the binding I fold my fabric selvage edge to selvage edge. Then I slice the fabric as most of us do for patchwork shapes:  perpendicular to the selvage edge. Each strip has the selvage edge on the short sides. I find cross-grain strips have just enough “give” for straight-sided quilts. They’re faster than cutting binding strips on the bias.

OldDog#2-BlueBackground'Trying new things with each of these little quilts is my goal.

This time out I quilted straight lines in the blue fabric using my walking foot. I don’t think I ever quilted concentric squares before. The lines are 1/2″ apart. Rather than marking lines, I moved my needle to the left and used the edge of my presser foot as a guide. Although I traveled “in the ditch” along the edge of the dog to get to the next quilting line, there were still plenty of starts and stops. Each pair of threads (beginning and ending) were hand finished. I threaded them onto a hand needle, wove them in between existing stitches, and then buried them in the batting.


I quilted around the spiral motifs in the green fabric (dog’s body) in pale green thread.  It looks better from the front, but here’s a picture of the back where you can see the stitching more easily. Until I run out, all the quilts will have the paw print fabric as backing.OldDog#2-circle motif on back

I quilted a string of circles in the border. I’m glad you can’t see them very well on the front. (Someone needs a little more practice.)

I traced a nickel and then attempted to free-motion quilt on the lines, making the circles in two passes. (One pass in violet, the other in teal in the photo below.) Like I said, I’ll do better with more practice.OldDog#2-CirclesFromBack


While the dog’s ears are quilted, I still have a hard time quilting through their faces.

There’s more “quilty” stuff at

March 1, 2016 at 9:29 am 10 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

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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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

As Luck Would Have It

Ghirardelli Twilight DelightI love when the universe conspires to make me happy.

First I discovered my new favorite chocolate. It was part of a goodie bag prepared for me by the Program Chair at the East Cobb Quilting Guild in Marietta, GA two weeks ago. Hotel Snackage. It was so delicious I took a picture of the wrapper, the chocolate having been most enthusiastically consumed earlier. Rapidly consumed. All in one sitting.

I love dark chocolate. Ghirardelli Intense Dark (Twilight Delight) is delicious. That dark chocolate might even be good for me is an added bonus. It’s loaded with antioxidants, improves blood flow, is high in vitamins and minerals, and might even harden my tooth enamel! That’s pretty wonderful, isn’t it? I feel healthier and so much less guilty already.

Happy Day! I found the very same chocolate at my grocery store when I got back home. I wolfed down another whole bar in one sitting. I can feel my tooth enamel getting as hard as concrete. I think my quarter inch seams are looking straighter too…

But wait. I just got back from Rite-Aid. I was shopping for knee-high’s and little bottles of hair spray for my upcoming trip to visit with the Cabin Fever Quilters’ Guild in Fairbanks (still a few spaces in the workshops). Rite Aid moved the little bottles of overpriced travel cosmetics again and as I wandered around looking for them (their plan all along) I bumped into the Ghirardelli chocolate section!

They had bars and individually wrapped squares of my Twilight Delight right there on the shelf! And the individually wrapped squares were ON SALE! I snagged two bags for $6.00  (the sign told me to) which was actually less per ounce than the big bar! (I did the math.) My thought here was that if I got the individually wrapped squares not only would it be less expensive, but it might slow down my rate of chocolate consumption. I would be spending several extra seconds opening up the little wrappers. (That was before I thought of opening them up with my applique scissors.)

Hang on. It gets even better. When I paid I used my Wellness Card (Rite-Aid’s loyalty program) and I got $2 for buying the knee-high’s (no idea why) and another $2 for the buying the chocolate (no idea why). So, what does this mean? The chocolate will still be on sale until the end of the month and I’ve got $4 in free money. I can get two more bags of Twilight Delight tomorrow for only $2. At that price I might even be willing so share. Would anyone like some knee-high’s? Hair spray?

Chocolate? What chocolate? I don’t see any chocolate.


Ami Simms is a traveling quilt teacher and the inventor of Sticky Template Plastic. Sign up for her free newsletter so you don’t miss more helpful “news” like this.

September 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm 94 comments

Rocks, Podcasts, and a Facelift

On the way home from Ann Arbor where our daughter lives, we pass a small open area just after an overpass and before the train station. It’s on the right hand side of the road. There’s really nothing there except some busted up concrete and a bench. It may not even be a real bench, just something you could sit on.

Instead of sitting there, somebody started stacking pieces of concrete. When I first saw it, I kind of noticed it and kind of not. Things flit in and out of my head so fast I hardly notice. The first time we drove by there were only one or two pieces on top of each other. On the way home the next time a few more. “Odd” registered on my radar, and that’s about all.

When I taught for the Thimble & Thread Quilt Guild in St. Louis, MO last month, Program Chair Cindy Neville shared a favorite website of hers called

GravityGlue photo

The website, along with a blog and FaceBook fan page belong to Michael Grab and the art of stone balancing. Click the ABOUT section of the web page and watch the video. It’s a slow start, but the sound of the rushing water is very pleasant. Read about how and why he does this and then scroll back up to the video to see how the stack of rocks is progressing. The photography of Micheal’s “installations” are amazing, powerful and serene all at the same time. (Yeah, I’m hooked.)

As soon as I saw the image of the rock piles in Ann Arbor popped into my head. Click!

A2 Gravity Glue?

Tell me if you don’t think these are somehow related. I think there is someone in Ann Arbor who is Gravity Gluing! Am I right?

So what? I love these little gems of fellowship. Imagine you’re out in the real world, not at a quilt show or anything. You look up and you see someone wearing a patchwork vest or carrying a quilted tote bag. Doesn’t your heart beat a little faster? You may not know them from Adam, but you’re kindred spirits just the same. There’s a thread (literally, sometimes) of common interest and shared experience that draws us to one another. We are social animals after all. You may not run right up the the person and ask, “Do you quilt?!” but you might, depending on how many non-quilting family members are around to roll their eyes at you.

Now I’m hoping I see somebody stacking concrete chunks the next time we drive home from Ann Arbor. I’m going to roll down the window, wave, and shout “NICE ROCKS!”

I rarely remember to listen to this National Public Radio news quiz when it airs on Saturday morning, but I download the podcast every week. It’s my favorite. If you’ve never had the pleasure, take a listen for yourself. This was the show that aired on June 22 I think. It was particularly entertaining.

I usually listen to the podcasts in bed with ear buds. This is both good and bad. Either I laugh out loud or fall asleep. I’m just hoping that I don’t laugh in my sleep as that would be very odd. And no, I’ve never turned over and strangled myself with the cord from the ear buds, nor have I had any trouble sleeping with them in my ears.

I have had trouble listening to podcasts while sewing . I just stop sewing and sit there, entranced.

I’ve been wanting to update for almost two years. The editor is so old it is no longer supported. Tech support just laughs when I call. Well, I just took the plunge, somewhat accidentally. Very Helpful Dan walked me through it and before I realized what I had done, I was upgraded. No turning back now. Sink or swim.

Tweaking it has taken days. I’m not ready for the “reveal” just yet, but in a few days I’ll be asking you to head on over with a red pen to the NEW version and help me find all the busted links, misspellings, and other embarrassments. If you can’t ask your friends, who can you ask?

Meanwhile, in the comment section below, please share whatever you hated about the OLD site (above), still up and running until I finish the re-design. That way I can make it disappear with the update. Or, tell me what you liked so I won’t get rid of it.

One of the things I want to add to my newly designed website are links for “social media.” So here’s today’s poll. If I missed one, please write it in a comment below.

Thanks for reading, voting, and commenting!

Have a great weekend,

Ami Simms

PS: Here’s the photo Uncle Bud sent of the New Mexico landscape in 1958.


July 5, 2013 at 11:57 am 85 comments

An Adventure in Time

I went to bed Friday night with a dull ache in my head. I was beat. Too many long days in a row. I was looking for an adventure on Saturday, something different, something out of the ordinary, but I had  no ideas.

I slept in Saturday morning. Scooter was in a cuddly mood (good dog) and Steve was getting ready for errands and some time at school. About 8:30 a.m. Steve came in to tell me that he just heard my father’s name on the radio! My dad died in 1984.

Retired Staff Sgt. Harry Millnamow, 91, had just been interviewed on WJR, a Detroit radio station, about a reunion of the 483rd bomb group from WWII in Romulus, Michigan. My father’s name was mentioned in this context. The veterans were meeting at the airport Marriott. Well, there was the adventure I was looking for!

I jumped out of bed, showered and dressed, called the hotel to confirm, and threw a camera and the quilt I had made about my dad’s life into a bag, and headed towards the airport. It took me a little over an hour to get there.

As I drove, I spent equal amounts of time wondering why I was doing this and trying to recall anything my dad might have told me about the war. He didn’t say much. I remember asking when I was little, but I was born 10 years after he came home. The things I remembered were rather odd:

1. He was in Ft. Collins, CO and Tampa, FL before he shipped out. I have pictures of my grandparents and mom visiting him there and remember that he had to shake his boots before putting them on to make sure the snakes and scorpions fell out first. He spent most of his tour of duty in Italy, a place called Foggia. In 1962, when we lived in Italy we went to Foggia and he pointed out metal structures (perhaps from runways?) left behind by the allies that were then incorporated into some of the buildings. I was seven years old then, so who knows if I even understood what they were.

2. He was a sergeant and was in “intelligence.” He said he never saw combat, but I question that now. He was hit in the back by a machine gun. Not a bullet, the gun. It came loose from it’s moorings in the plane and slammed into him. I think one would have to have been flying in the plane at the time for that to happen. He spent some time in the hospital and had a “bad back” for the rest of his life.

3. While in Italy, a crazy colonel shot bugs off the inside of his tent with a pistol, there was a monkey in the camp, and my dad and his buddies liberated an anchovy factory!

When I got to the Marriott I met Jim and Bea from Hampton, VA and Ken and Ruth from Ft. Myers, FL in the hotel lobby, along with a few others. They took me under their wings, and took me to lunch too.

We spread the quilt out on the table at the Bob Evans and I showed them things on my dad’s quilt from the service.  His dog tags are there, some medals, the stripes from the sleeve of his uniform, a public library card from Ft. Collins, a US Army Air Force identification card written in Russian, strips of silk fabric with a silk screened map of Europe he was supposed to use had he been captured, and part of a hat he got when he and my mother drove from Michigan to Colorado in the early 80’s for a similar reunion of the483rd.

After lunch it was suggested that I spread the quilt out so those attending the Memorial Service could see it, which I did. Quite a few came by before the service and even more afterwards.

I never did get to meet Harry Millnamow. He lives in the area and wasn’t scheduled to come back until the banquette last night, but I couldn’t stay that long. I hope someone passes along my card to him.

It was wonderful chatting with the veterans and their families, although none of them remembered my dad. With each new group I mentioned the oddball things I remembered my dad telling me about the war. Nobody remembered the crazy colonel or the anchovy factory, but one gentleman remembered the monkey! When he couldn’t quite recall the monkey’s name, it popped out of my mouth: Hypo! (Don’t ask me how that happened!) The monkey hung around the photo lab and “hypo” is the solution used to develop film.

Yesterday was a wonderful adventure. A shoe box of old photographs, even if I could have found them in time would have been OK, but there is nothing like a quilt to start a conversation. I’ve got a copy of Creating Scrapbook Quilts all packed up and ready to mail to Ken and Ruth who asked for a picture of the quilt.

Looking forward to my next adventure!

Read more about the reunion here.

October 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm 24 comments

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