Posts tagged ‘quilts’

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

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

Waiting for the Repair Guy with an iPhone

I’m a busy woman. Lot’s to do. Last week our garage door broke, the lawn tractor died, and the cable went out. Everybody but Sears was willing to believe me when I said I’d be home at the appointed time. Sears had to call and speak to a real person before they would drive over.

The weather was warm and the sun was out. Not too many days like that left before the snows blow, so I made sure Sears had my cell phone number and headed out to the yard to dye underpants and clothesline. 

I may be busy, but I’m not boring.

The plan was to whip off both rubber gloves as soon as the phone rang, iPhones being so blasted innovative that you need TWO hands to answer the dang things: one to hold the phone and the other to swipe your finger across the screen. I could answer my old phone with one hand. That’s progress for you.

I had the phone on top of the deck railing so I could hear it, but I missed the first call that came in because I couldn’t get my gloves off fast enough.  (It wasn’t Sears.) I moved the phone closer to where I was working. When Sears finally called there had been enough false alarms that I figured out a new way to turn on my iPhone: instead of swiping with my finger I kept my hands off the phone, bent over, and swiped it “on” with my nose.

The “Nose Swipe” is re-enacted here.

The Nose Swipe also keeps other people from borrowing your phone.

Underpants are on their way to members of the Yo-Yo-Sisterhood of the Traveling Panties who ordered them. And, fresh hand-dyed clothesline is ready to be purchased.

Look at all the beautiful Ami-dyed clothesline for making bowls! Directions, too!

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I promise not to answer your phone with my nose.

October 8, 2010 at 5:37 am 13 comments

Quilts From The Selvage Edge

New AQS bookI love this idea; why didn’t I think of it first?! Karen Griska beat me to it, but I’m not jealous. I am in AWE. She’s made “new fabric” by stitching together selvages I’ve been throwing away or slicing up accidentally. Her book is chock full of really different quilts, the ultimate in scraps!

You’ll never look at your stash the same way. Forget your stash, you might want to go dumpster diving at the end of your next workshop. What treasures might you find?

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June 7, 2008 at 7:00 am 6 comments

Ami Simms

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