Saturday, June 4, 2016

Quilting with Pain

For the last 13 months, I've been dealing with pain in my dominant arm.  I won't bore you with all the details, but about two weeks ago I was treated with three shots of botox and have been 95% pain-free for a week!  I'ts time to get back to work as normal.  But first, I'll share some of what I've learned this past year just in case someone else is dealing with a similar situation.

1.  Prioritize.  Decide what you want to do or have to do, then temporarily block everything else out of mind.  None of us move as quickly when we're in pain or recovering from an injury.  We can't do all that we used to in a day.  Driving myself crazy about everything I wasn't getting done was only slowing me down further.

2.  Think small.  Small projects weigh less and are easier to maneuver when muscles aren't cooperating.  They also take less time to complete and therefore give us a sense of satisfaction more quickly -- something we all need when we're feeling down in the dumps.

3.  Find work-arounds.  One of my dad's favorite sayings was "There's more than one way to skin a cat."  Less colorfully put, there's more than one way to do almost everything.  On days when I couldn't use scissors to even snip threads between a chain of sewn patches, I cut the threads with a seam ripper.  I wedged one end of my rotary cutting ruler under a desktop bookshelf to help hold it in place while I cut.  If I'd had a couple of C-clamps handy, I would have used them.

4.  Practice the fine art of "fudging."  Even though I found a way to rotary cut fabric, my squares weren't exactly perfect.  But fabric isn't stone.  Fabric has some give and take.   I found two methods of "fudging" that made those less-than-perfect squares work: easing and short-sheeting.  If you've sewn sleeves into armholes or collars to neck holes, then you know about easing, the technique of making a slightly longer piece of fabric fit to a shorter piece of fabric. When sewing rows of patchwork together, I pinned at the seams then stretched the shorter patch as I sewed.  I used short-sheeting when the points of half-square triangle units didn't quite fall in the right place.  I matched the points where they should be, rather than the edges, giving one piece slightly less (or sometimes slightly more) than the standard 1/4" seam allowance.

5.  Utilize pre-cuts.  Dealing with fabric that's already cut in strips, squares or even fat quarters is a lot less strenuous and time-consuming than wrestling with yardage.  My favorite online source of pre-cuts is Connecting Threads ( because they have a wonderful policy of not charging extra for cutting.  They also have many of their basic fabrics (solids and blenders) available as pre-cuts, too, which makes it easy to design almost anything.  Pre-cuts can sometimes be found on sale at other online fabric shops.

6.  Invest in specialized tools.  If your "disability" is more or less permanent, it might be time to consider purchasing tools that can do the things you can't, like ergonomic scissors, die cutting machines, etc.  My one word of advice here is to test before buying expensive tools if at all possible.  For one thing, these tools aren't all made alike.  For example, I found that the handle on the Sizzix Hot Shot die cutter was easier for me to turn than the handle on the Accu-quilt Go! cutter.  Secondly, no two quilters are alike.  A product that works well for me may not work at all for you.

My last tip: never give up on doing something you really enjoy doing.  Be persistent in finding ways to adapt.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Scrappy Persistance

It's been more than 5 months now since my dominant arm started hurting for no apparent reason.  One doctor thinks it's myofascial pain.  Another doctor thinks I have a pinched nerve in my elbow and has referred me to a neurologist.  It will be interesting to hear what the neurologist thinks.

Meanwhile, I'm plugging away at things as best as I can.  Some days I function almost normally.  Some days are so bad that I can't click the mouse button or push a cross stitch needle through a hole in 11-count Aida cloth.  Most days are somewhere in between.

I finished handquilting The Crooked Man's Christmas Quilt with embroidery floss and a big stitch, and I mean a big stitch!  Under normal circumstances, a quarter-inch stitch is easy and relaxing, but with my bum arm I had to lower my standards and call half-inch stitches good.  Needless to say, this quilt has a very primitive art look about it.

I'm wary of cutting into any of my larger pieces of fabric, so I've been working with scraps.  If I slip with the rotary cutter and ruin a scrap, it's no big deal.  I've also been puttering around my sewing shed and finding orphan blocks and samples of various piecing techniques and  mixing these finds with scraps to create small projects.  I'm getting pretty good at putting zippers in cosmetic bags!

A few scraps leftover from the Pixie Garden quilt became a cute little bag.  My niece loves TinkerBell, so I have one Christmas gift done.

Here are two more small bags of no particular size.  I cut the fabric then look for a zipper to fit!

This odd-size bag was made from a sample of bargello piecing that was going to be a doll quilt until I cut it in half to make bags.


A few more scraps became a storage case for my collection of crochet hooks.  The carrying strap was a hanging loop from a pair of pajama bottoms (who hangs pajamas?) and the cricket button came from my collection of whatever-am-I-going-to-do-with-these buttons.  It's perfect for camouflaging the stitching for the hook-and-loop tape.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

More on the Leftover Floral 9-Patch Blocks

When I finished my ninth floral block, I began thinking about ways to set the blocks.  My first thought was to set them the same way as the Crooked Man's Christmas Quilt, but the purples were overpowering and needed to be subdued somehow.  Green sashing was my first thought,  I tried dark green, light green, medium green.  None of them seemed right.  The purples still hogged the show.

The blocks sat for a week until one day I noticed the light pink fabric I had used in the ninth block sitting in my basket of fabrics to put back on the shelf.  I auditioned that and was quite pleased, but it needed cornerstones.  A little more digging produced a scrap of dusty rose fabric that helped bring out the pinks in the floral fabrics used in the original blocks.  Adding both pinks helped draw the eye back to the 9-patch blocks instead of staying on the purples.

I thought I was done at this point, until I happened to spy some scraps of a Disney Tinkerbell print (I think one of the pixies is Tinkerbell).  The colors went so well with the 9-patch units and the purples that I had to find a way to use them in this project.  After a little fussy-cutting, I figured I had just enough rectangular pieces to make a top and a bottom border if I pieced the rectangles together with strips of floral fabric.  Hiding under a stack of Christmas fabrics, I found a little pile of floral scraps, some from the original 9-patch blocks!  (Why didn't I look there sooner?!)

Soon as I began piecing the borders together, my quilt's name changed from Leftover 9-Patches to Pixie Garden.  It's a quilt most any little girl would love, but I have to admit that I rather like it, too.  Someday, I'll take a better photo, but this gives an idea of what the top looks like.  The dark purple is the only fabric that wasn't a leftover or a scrap.