Thinking About it Thursday: Apps, Planners, and Blog Posts, O My! (More New Year Organization)

I think it's time to return to my Thinking About it Thursday posts. This one is more wordy than they usually are but I've got some 'splainin' to do.

I saw this book referenced on someone's blog and thought, "Color me intrigued." I now have one in my reflective little hands: The 52 Lists Project by Moorea Seal. I'm an inveterate list-maker so the idea of using lists to reflect in a meaningful way seemed like it would be right up my alley. I received it on Tuesday, and did the first week's list and can already highly recommend the book. It's a beautifully designed book, the list topics are really interesting--many are pretty unexpected--and each one has a suggested action item at the end that can make even random-seeming lists make sense in your life. It's obviously designed to start in January and go the full year, but if you got it at a different time of year, you'd just start in that section of the book. The weeks aren't dated but they're organized seasonally.

Since I got this the first week of January, I started with the first list, which had to do with goals and dreams. I've done a lot of work on goals over the last few weeks (years, really), so I thought I'd already know what would come out of my pen when I sat down to write. But as I let myself go "stream of consciousness," I discovered I had a lot of other less-obvious goals, dreams, wants, or whatever you'd want to call them, that hadn't been formalized into my mind-maps in my planner. I don't believe in overloading myself with goals, but many of them were simple things, such as the fact that my husband and I have gotten into a bit of a rut with our date nights and always go out to dinner or a movie (or if we're really time-efficient, dinner and a movie). So now I've added into my planner reminders to find area events and check museum hours and such. Little things that are so easy to do but tend to get lost when we're busy!

One of the things that showed up on my list as a goal (I won't call it a resolution) for 2017 is to be a bit more regular in my blogging and podcast than I was able to be last year.

1. I now have a goal of blogging at least once a week, preferably twice, even if I don't have anything of value to say. I also have a goal of posting a podcast episode once a month--and if I don't have much to say, it'll just be a short one!

Looking forward to that? LOL. I'll try to keep it interesting. There will likely be less quilty stuff and more general life stuff than I like to do, but it is what it is. However, I'm hoping the accountability of seeing "write blog post" or "post podcast episode" on my task list will keep me to another of my goals:

2. Embroidery or sewing every week, even if it's only 10 minutes. (That's 10 minutes a week, not 10 minutes a day. I know my limits at the moment.)

I'm more likely to be able to do consistent, short bouts of embroidery as there are some rather obvious moments in my daily schedule that could be more productive than they've been in the past. It's more a matter of making sure I have everything at-hand where I'm most likely to use it, so it's an easy pick-up-put-down kind of thing. I will finish that dang Halloween BOM by next Halloween, dang it.

3. Change up my personal-life task-tracking system to be more readily accessible.

I've been using LifeTopix for years and really like it on a lot of levels, but the developers have focused on making LifeTopix deeper, not broader. In other words, it's an extremely feature-rich program but it hasn't increased in user-friendliness nor in expanding it's platform (it's only on Mac/iPad/iPhone). Since getting an Apple Watch for Christmas, plus looking at how I really work during the day, I decided to test out a bunch of other task-management apps and am now using a combination of Todoist and Google Calendar to replace LifeTopix. I haven't deleted LifeTopix yet as I may ultimate decide Todoist doesn't quite hack it, but so far, so good. Todoist is available on ALL platforms--so I can sit at my computer and throw a bunch of tasks on there as they occur to me, I can be on my phone or iPad, or do fast checks and updates on my watch. It's also a lot faster to enter tasks in with appropriate schedules and priority than it was on LifeTopix, so setting up my reading schedule once I get my syllabi should be a lot faster. There were some workarounds I had to find out in order to get Todoist/Google to be as close a replica to LifeTopix as possible but so far, so good. (If you'd be interested, I could do a post that reviews the apps I tried, pros and cons, and why I ultimately chose the one I did. Let me know.)

4. Using a paper planner. (No, I haven't missed the irony that this comes immediately after talking about apps!)

Studies have shown that writing something by hand really does cement it better in our memories and, somehow, makes things feel more significant an important. As digitally-oriented as I am, I really wanted the more physical experience of working with a paper planner. I'm now using a Passion Planner. Again (you know me) I did a ton of research and downloaded a bunch of sample pages from several options but really liked that the Passion Planner had a lot of ways you could customize it to your own needs. Sure, customization means printing things hard copy, cutting them apart, and taping them into your planner, but that's just a good excuse to use some cute Washi tape, right? My planner and my digital apps work in consort with each other. I sit with my planner last thing at night and first thing in the morning to review my goals for the day. No work stuff is in here--just personal goals. Task items then get added to Todoist but I also have pages in here for reflections, notes to myself, inspirational quotations, habit checker lists, and so forth. Right now I'm finding it super-useful. We'll see how things go when I get back into the full mayhem of school in session.

There are a lot of other little things I'm working on but those are the biggies. On my Fight the Funk Friday post I'll share some things I've added to my healthy-living tools. Or, more appropriately, added back in again. And by then, maybe I'll have done some embroidery to share!

A Little New Year Organization

I passed these up the first time they came on sale but when they came on sale again the week after Christmas I decided--despite really not wanting to spend any more money at that point--they'd solve a lot of other little annoying difficulties I was having, so I bit: the ArtBin cubes for their Super Satchel series. (Still on sale if you're interested!)

I'd had a couple of the ArtBin Super Satchel bins for awhile, but this fall realized they'd work better for embroidery storage than what I'd tried before. (I talk about this in episode 202 In Which I Organize Thread.) Once I had a few more bins--also bought on sale or with coupons from Joanns--I realized I didn't really have a good place to keep them all in a way that would be easy-access when I only wanted one bin at a time. Enter the storage cubes. I put them on a wish list but held out on ordering them until last week, and then got them put together this morning.

They work great. You can adjust the little sliders for the cubes to whatever size you need--as you can see, I've got three different sizes at the moment. The sliders mean that you can pull one bin out at a time--which is much better than stacking them on a shelf as I'd been trying to do before, meaning I'd have to pull three off to get at the fourth one down. Love this solution! And you can see that I even still have room to grow! Empty slots, and the middle-sized bin on the lower shelf is actually empty. Note that ArtBin has several different types of bins--it's specifically the Super Satchel series that fits in these cubes. I have another ArtBin that's too pudgy so it has to live somewhere else.

The cubes are not that hard to put together although the instructions could use some improvement. Still, if you've done this kind of furniture before it's a pretty familiar process. They also come with wooden dowels to put between the two cabinets so you can stack them two-high and it's pretty secure. (They don't recommend doing more than two as it would have a tippy-factor.)

I haven't gotten anything done over my vacation in the way of quilting or embroidery, but I'm spending much of the rest of today getting myself set up to have an embroidery project ready to go for TV time at night and maybe even finishing a sewing project or two. My last day off must have some creative work involved!

Craftsy Class Review: Bead Embroidery--Beyond the Basics with Myra Wood

Online Machine Embroidery Class

Fair warning: Adding beads to your embroidery is pretty addicting. I'm still working on embroidering my first crazy quilt block because after adding a little bit of beady-bling to the first section I embroidered, I'm suddenly off and running with those beads. Every section now has beads added, and I'm finding myself planning my embroidery designs based on where I'll be able to add the beads. Who knew? (Knitters and crocheters, check out the very end of this post for including beads in those crafts--you too can join in my addiction!)

My sudden increase in using beads meant that I was looking for as many ideas as I could get, so I quickly dove into Bead Embroidery: Beyond the Basics with Myra Wood.

Bead Embroidery: Beyond the Basics is a sequel class to Myra Wood's original Bead Embroidery class which I reviewed a few weeks ago. If you've never used beads before, you could certainly start with this Beyond the Basics class, but I'd recommend starting with her other class first as this one only has a short segment about the basic stitches. In fact, within a few minutes of watching the first lesson, I realized this class would be a "watch only" class for me. Beyond the Basics focuses on pure beadwork, rather than beads added to embroidery projects (as in her first class). This class is about how to do those beautiful, wonderful, over-the-top bead encrusted accessories such as amulets, cuffs, buttons, and boxes (etc.). Those are something I enjoy looking at and can appreciate, but it's not at all on my radar to do at this point. 

My quickly-growing bead stash

My quickly-growing bead stash

However, even if this style of beadwork isn't something I'm doing right now, I don't feel that watching the class was a waste of time. First of all, who knows? Someday I may decide I need a big ol' bead encrusted amulet necklace that's just the right finishing touch on a special outfit. Not something I see happening anytime soon, though. However, mostly, I did pick up some good information about color planning and design that's been useful as I've been doing the mostly-embroidery-with-beads-thrown-in work on my crazy quilt block. Besides, after watching this class, I could see myself adding beaded fringe to the finished crazy quilt since it'll likely be a wall-hanging and, if I do, lesson 7 will come in very handy.

So, dear readers, it's really up to you to decide what your goals are for learning bead embroidery. Do you mostly want to add beads as accents to your embroidery? If so, Bead Embroidery would be the class for you. If, however, in your viewpoint The Bead is the Thing, then you'll want to ratchet up to Bead Embroidery: Beyond the Basics for sure. 

In either case, Myra Wood is an excellent teacher. She takes you step-by-step through each stitch or technique and discusses how to fix it if things go awry. The information about products to use is very helpful, especially when it comes to making cuffs or things you need to be able to bend; she also gives extremely helpful tips about covering edges and gaps that may appear.

The invasion of the beads

The invasion of the beads

This is definitely a technique class rather than a project class. Although she makes several suggestions of projects (a bracelet/cuff, amulets, beaded boxes, fringe on lampshades and such) and gives some verbal direction as to how to do them, there aren't a lot of step-by-steps for them. The only class project that's covered in the downloadable class materials is the bracelet/cuff, and even that is definitely sketchy in the materials. It doesn't really give a pattern or dimensions, just a suggested design. If you choose to do any of the projects she talks about in the class you'll be listening to her verbal directions and figuring a lot of it out on your own.

As always, I highly recommend reading the discussion threads in the class itself. You'll pick up a lot of good information from her responses to other students' questions. Plus, there's some nice eye candy as people post pics of their works in progress. Also, do check out the student project section for the class (which you can do without buying the class)--great inspiration!

The Basics

  • Seven classes, from 18 to 22 minutes each.

  • The first lesson talks about materials and a little about overall design; lessons three and four cover additional design considerations such as focal points and dimension. 

  • Lesson two is about the four basic stitches used in this type of bead work.

  • Lesson 5 gives basic instructions about how to finish off projects such as a beaded cuff and buttons, as well as how to attend to the edges of the beadwork for any project.

  • Lesson 6 is how to do beaded embellishments and appliques, which a very helpful tip about using store bought applique patches as your foundation for the beadwork.

  • Lesson 7 is fringe and beaded accents.

I enjoyed Bead Embroidery: Beyond the Basics with Myra Wood even if I won't be doing this level of beadwork anytime soon. As I said above, there were a lot of good tips and design information in this class that have been useful to me as I've been doing my more embroidery-based beadwork. Certainly, if you're into doing some serious beadwork, I'd highly recommend this class!

P.S. For you knitters out there, did you know you could also play with beads? Check out Laura Nelkin's Knitting with Beads or Betsy Hershberg's Brilliant Knit Beads! Also, if you crochet, there's Amazing Crochet Textures with Drew Emborsky that includes beadwork.

(Disclosure: As a Craftsy affiliate, clicking on Craftsy links in this post help support my podcast and blog. Thank you!)


Product Review: Janome Free Motion Couching Foot

Recently I read an article from Quilting Arts Magazine when I was in a bit of a weak spot, I suppose, and I immediately bit and ordered the foot it spoke of, without reading any reviews of the foot first. Fortunately, I wasn't overly disappointed--I think I've probably used enough of these tools now to know none of them is perfect. The product in question is a free motion couching foot for Janome machines*. Couching is when you hold one larger cord or yarn down on fabric by crossing back and forth over it with a smaller thread--you can do it by hand, of course, or you can do it with a sewing machine by using a zig-zag stitch. I've done it by machine a handful of times; it works okay, but it's hard to do tight or really smooth curves by the standard methods. I thought this FMQ couching foot may be the answer. 

It is, partly. I give it maybe a 6 out of 10--possibly a 7 if I have more practice with it.

I talked about this foot on my podcast episode this week, so here are the photos that may help illustrate some of the drawbacks I talked about.

It comes with two sizes of feet in the package; one with a slightly larger hole and one slightly smaller. It would probably take some trial and error to figure out which foot you need for the yarn/cording you're trying to use.

Here's how you thread it--it was a little tricky to get the yarn up and over from the back of the foot. It involved lots of bending over and squinting, but I persevered.

You have to pay attention to the settings the package tells you to use for your needle. I broke my first needle. Oops. There's a very tight little hole for that needle to zig-zag over the couched thread so you've got to make sure the zig-zag settings are correct. 

The package suggests to allow the cording/yarn that you're couching to "pool" behind the foot. Believe them. It really needs a lot of slack to work right--every time it used up the pool and started feeding right off the little ball of yarn I had, it would start skipping stitches and missing the yarn altogether. This might be tricky if you were couching on a larger project that would limit the amount of space you have for pooling the yarn; I was just doing a small test piece so I didn't have any problem.


As long as you move slowly and work with the limitations, it does actually work. Here's some of what I was able to do. This is all free-hand; I didn't sketch anything out ahead so I was truly, truly free-motioning. 

Normally I'd probably use an invisible or matching thread so the thread wouldn't be visible; I used a beige thread because that's what happened to be in my machine at the time, and this was just a test. Plus, I thought it might be helpful to be able to see the stitches. (The metallic thread you see sticking out is actually part of the yarn.) 

The stitch tended to shred this particular yarn--it would work better with a tighter ply, or a cording. Still, this sort of "foamy" look could be cool if that's what you're going for. Just test any cording you're planning to couch with this foot first to make sure you're getting the results you expect.

The foot works remarkably well, really, given that the concept of couching and the concept of free motion quilting are sort of counter to one another. The only consistent time I had problems (other than when the yarn wasn't pooled loosely enough behind the foot) was when I moved left to right. It missed the yarn just about every time. That's where I'd have to do more experimenting to see if I could figure out a way to counterbalance that.

Anyway, using the free motion couching foot worked better than doing the same thing with a regular foot. It still has weaknesses, but with what I'm doing, they probably aren't huge weaknesses. The long and short of it is, I'm glad I got this foot; I think it'll be fun to play with in the future.

*There are also FMQ couching feet for other brands of machines. Just Google!

Craftsy Class Review: Stitch It with Wool with Kristin Nicholas

Once again, I loved doing an embroidery class! After doing Sue Spargo's class and still having a boatload of butterflies to finish, I figured the next best bet was Kristin Nicholas' Stitch It with Wool: Crewel Embroidery. I assumed it would be pretty easy to incorporate any new stitches I might encounter into the butterflies.

I wasn't positive what "crewel embroidery" was and how it differed from regular embroidery before I took this class. As I've now learned, the only real difference is the thread. With crewel embroidery, you're embroidering with yarn. There is actual crewel embroidery yarn, but you can also use regular yarn as long as it's a smooth yarn that will glide easily through your fabric. I have a couple of thicker perle cottons that I decided fit the ticket, so I was able to practice one or two of the stitches even though I don't have actual crewel yarn. It's now on my shopping list, though. 

Most people likely associate crewel embroidery with Jacobean design, as crewel was hugely popular in that era. Click here for a great Pinterest collection of Jacobean design in fabrics. However, it doesn't have to be Jacobean to be crewel (which sounds like a song title): You can do any ol' embroidery you want with yarn. Mary Corbet has a nice description of crewel on her website. The thickness of the yarn may dictate a bit what stitches you're able to do, but for the most part, it's the same thing. 

I dig Jacobean design, so that was part of what attracted me to this class--if you do the actual class project, it's got a bit of a Jacobean flair to it. Or maybe it just reads that way to me because they're done in wool. Whatever: they are cute projects, but I chose not to do any of them at this stage: I just wanted to focus on finishing those dang butterflies. I have a couple of books on Jacobean applique that I inherited from my Mom and have never used--I'm now imagining them as embroidery patterns instead of applique patterns. I suspect I may be using those books any time now!

Satin stitch worked in perle cotton

Satin stitch worked in perle cotton

Many of the stitches were the same in this class as in Sue Spargo's, which one would expect; there are certain foundational stitches to embroidery that will show up in any class. It's how those stitches get built upon and layered that can make the difference. That means, of course, that Kirstin Nicholas has few new variations and stitches in this class, even if they were the same stitch "families." Plus, every teacher will have slight variations on technique which are helpful to learn--it gives me more options when trying to figure out which technique I wear most comfortably. Additionally, she gives some tricks to making stitches work as well with wool as with floss, or in terms of helping you learn how to choose the best stitches for success with wool, and so forth.

I enjoyed Kristin Nicholas' teaching style. She's very straightforward and clearly demonstrates each stitch. She also has an excellent lesson at the end about how to keep your skeins of stitching yarn from becoming a tangled mess (something I had to learn the hard way, unfortunately), as well as how to block and steam an embroidery project when it's completed. This wasn't covered at all in Sue Spargo's class, but the difference in materials makes it less necessary for a Spargo-style embroidery project than the Nicholas-style. 

I've only got the one project picture above for this class as now I'm in sort of a free-style mode on the butterflies--just picking and choosing what stitches I want to use from all of the Craftsy classes I've done (another review coming today!), plus a couple of books I've picked up. But the next embroidery project I'm designing in my head is heavily influenced by this class, and I may well end up picking up some crewel wool so I can get a feel for how it works. Unfortunately, most of the yarn scraps I've collected from friends are "weird yarns," or the type that need to be couched rather than used in embroidery.

So, in summary, I did enjoy this class and I feel like it added to my general repertoire and comfort level with embroidery. I don't recommend either Sue Spargo's class or this one higher than another--they have both been great for me!

The Basics

  • 7 classes, ranging from 24 to 34 minutes in length. 
  • The first class discusses supplies, how to begin and end a stitch, how to deal with a mistake (helpful to start right out with that!), some ideas for finishing, and how to transfer a design onto fabric.
  • Lesson 2 is basic stitches and lesson 3 is how to embellish those same stitches to add layers of interest. 
  • Lesson 4 addresses what she calls "fancy stitches," which are largely stitches that involve knots of some kind, such as pistils and bullions.
  • Lesson 5 are fill stitches--I got some good ideas here, although on my butterfly project I don't need much in the way of fill stitches. But they'll likely play into whatever my next project is.
  • Lesson 6 is sculpted stitches, such as Turkey Work and the Spiderweb stitch.
  • Lesson 7 is finishing and inspiration--she has a nice gallery of work, although her examples are all pillows and relatively simple designs. She discusses her focus on beginners which is why I think she only had those examples--they're an "easy bite" of embroidery, so to speak. However, I always like to see what we could aim for as our expertise grows: I'd have enjoyed seeing more complex pieces as well. 

So, my review of Kristin Nicholas' Stitch it with Wool: Crewel Embroidery is definitely two thumbs up. I may actually make a trip this weekend to one of the two places near-ish me that sell crewel wool so I can really go to town!

(Using Craftsy links in this post and on this site help support my podcast and blog: Thank you!)



Craftsy Class Review: Painted Pictorial Quilts with Annette Kennedy


I've been working on Painted Pictorial Quilts with Annette Kennedy for awhile. Let me clarify that: I've been watching Painted Pictorial Quilts with Annette Kennedy for awhile. I've owned this class almost since I first joined Craftsy a couple of years ago. I'd started watching it back then but decided that I needed to have the time and space to commit to the project, so I set it aside. This time around, when I pulled it back into rotation again, I decided not to do the class project but, instead, to watch the lessons and apply techniques to my own projects.

Therefore, there are no pretty pictures of projects-in-progress on this review. That's not to say that the two class projects aren't really wonderful projects--I seriously debated one of them because it's of a calla lily that is gorgeous (and calla lilies are a personal fave). But ultimately, I determined that I didn't need one more project on my list that would distract me from other things already in my head, so I focused instead on watching the lessons and absorbing her techniques.

I had to debate how I was going to approach this review a little bit--I'm not able to be as completely enthusiastic about this class as I have been about most others, but the primary cause of my lesser-enthusiasm has to do with how Craftsy approached the class, not anything to do with the subject or teacher. So let's get that out of the way first...

You can tell this is a very early Craftsy class. They've definitely fine-tuned their methods over the years. To whit: There are some difficult patches in the earlier lessons where the camera was zoomed so close in on Annette's hands doing the painting that it was actually difficult to follow. She encourages you to move the fabric around so you can always be painting from a comfortable angle--great tip, but with a close-in-zoom it actually triggered my motion sickness a bit as the project was constantly flipping back and forth and often moving off-camera, so the camera had to zoom out quickly and then zoom back in to catch up with where she was positioned again. There were several periods in which I just had to close my eyes and wait until things settled down. You don't see that in more recent classes--they've gotten much more professional and polished in their video.

The other thing that Craftsy does much better now is fades/cuts during longer processes. In this class, you are watching every single stroke she makes with the paint brush. Annette does a great job "vamping," or talking while she's painting and occasionally giving additional tips or information, but this class could have been a whole lot tighter without losing any of the content if they'd shown her doing a particular technique for a couple of minutes, then either sped up or cut back in after she'd finished that section. There are a ton of lessons and they're all pretty long--I had to keep sort of gearing myself up to take on another lesson, and I watched most of them at double speed. I think the class could easily have been cut by about a third and we wouldn't have lost any value whatsoever.

It struck me that there are times in this class you are quite literally watching paint dry.

Now, those are my only knocks on this class and, again, it has everything to do with Craftsy getting better at what it does than anything having to do with the content or teacher. So let me get back to the more positive aspects.

Annette Kennedy is an excellent teacher. Earlier lessons talk about how to design a painted project, as well as all the supplies you'll need. She spends one lesson each on how to assemble the two class projects before starting in on the painting, so you pick up some good information about creating applique from photos and how to turn photos/drawings into pattern pieces, and so forth. She explains why different types of strokes are most appropriate for different parts of the painting; she spends a lot of time talking about blending colors and getting different values of a single color. There's a whole lesson devoted to color blending and another devoted to depth and dimension. Even with all the work I've done on color over the last few years, I still picked up some very useful information from these lessons as things work differently in paint than in fabric or other media. 

The class projects really are very cool. If you're looking for some guided projects to help you really have these techniques sink in, I would highly recommend doing the class projects. The class materials include all the patterns and painting guides you need to follow her techniques. As I was watching her paint (and watching, and watching), I did mentally design about five different painted quilts based on what she did. 

Even though I didn't do either of the projects, I did pick up a couple of additional supplies after I had the opportunity to watch how she used them. I've only just recently started playing with fabric paints and hadn't understood what a floating medium was for until I watched this class; I also realized that mixing colors with the brush was far less useful than using a palette knife as she does--so I now own a few inexpensive plastic palette knives, thanks to Joanns. This whole fabric painting thing will go much more smoothly in the future, I think, thanks to Annette Kennedy.

I'm very much looking forward to being able to put Annette's techniques into use in future projects. At the moment, I'm just debating whether my next journal quilt will involve textile paints (and her techniques) or colored pencils (and Lola Jenkins' techniques). Or it may, instead, be straight embroidery based on the crewel wool embroidery class I'm about to finish. So many options, so little time...

The Basics

  • 15 lessons, ranging from 12 1/2 minutes to 1 hour and 8 minutes. Several lessons are around an hour; several others are between 30-45 minutes. Only a small handful are about 15 minutes. You really get a huge volume of material, here.
  • The class materials (9 documents) are several pages long, mostly because of the patterns. There are some helpful reference pages among them.
  • The first lesson spends time on an introduction of Annette Kennedy and of the Craftsy platform, and then she talks a bit about the two class projects.
  • Lessons 2-4 give a nice foundation to what's to come: how to create visual depth, turning photos into designs (you don't need to know how to draw, BTW), and various brush strokes.
  • Lessons 5-7 focus on the calla lily project, which gives you a lot of experience in blending, shading, and creating dimension.
  • Lessons 8 and 9 are on color and depth and dimension, including selecting color schemes, how to achieve different color effects with paint, how to create distance and scale, and so forth.
  • Lessons 10-13 focus on the canyon project; this gives you the opportunity to take what you've learned on the calla lily even further.
  • Lesson 14 is on quilting and finishing, with useful tips about how to emphasize the focus of your project through quilting, and a little bit about painting after quilting as well.
  • Lesson 15 is a "bonus" lesson that describes how to do a sun print collage with fabric paints. If you've never seen how to do this, the lesson will introduce you to a very cool way to create fabric. 

I have sort of a one-thumb-up, one-thumb in the middle on Painted Pictorial Quilts with Annette Kennedy. I want to emphasize, though, that the thumb in the middle would be very much up if Craftsy had done this class using the parameters it has now worked it's way into: in other words, if it had been a bit tightened up and had better camera angles in the earlier lessons. If I only look at content and teacher, it's two thumbs up. 

Craftsy Class Review: Embroidering Texture and Dimension by Hand--with Sue Spargo

Oops. I wanted to get this review done in April. When did it suddenly become May? I think when part of April suddenly became winter again it threw my whole sense of the calendar off. 

If you've been listening to my podcast or following my blog at all in the last few weeks, you'll know that I've just completed a Craftsy class that probably had just as much impact upon me as Jane Dunnewold's The Art of Cloth Dyeing did a couple of years ago. This time it was Embroidering Texture and Dimension by Hand with Sue Spargo. I am off and running with this embroidering thing now! Woo--just watch me go!

I have been a fan of Sue Spargo's designs for years, starting back when I went through my first felted wool stage probably a decade ago or so. I enjoy Spargo's slightly more bright and fun primitive style. She can do the Americana/country thing (popular in the felted wool world), but she also does straight-up funky, which I love. I had bought her Creative Stitching book a year or two ago; it's pricey, but especially after doing this class* it's also become my go-to. Love that book. I'd tried teaching myself some embroidery from books before but there's absolutely no substitute for watching someone do it, so when I saw she had a class on Craftsy, I bit.

I decided to, for once, do the class project. It's been awhile since I've done that, as I usually use techniques on things I've already got going or had already planned to do. But as I looked at her design, I realized it would be a great way to use some of my stash of felted wool that was languishing. Plus, her "project" is more a lot of design suggestions that you can put together any way you want--which suits my "independent cuss" nature. When I started working with her suggestions for building a layered background, I ended up with something I really kind of dig. I went an entirely different colorway than she has (she used brights), based on the wool I already had in my collection. It took me so long to pull fabrics for this that I took some short-cuts on building the background--I fused, rather than needle-turn applique like she does, and later I learned why a standard applique technique would've been far preferable. But that's why we take classes, isn't it? Now I know.

She suggests 15 butterflies for the project, so 15 butterflies I did. I ended up ordering just a little more felted wool for the butterflies because I didn't have quite enough in a color range that really worked together. As a point of interest here, I bought my wool fabrics from Erin Rissberger of Quilting Acres on Etsy. She'd sent me some samples years ago when I interviewed her for the podcast (Episode 45)  and I just love her colors, so I was thrilled to be able to use them in this project.

The butterflies took a long time to put together too, as you layer those as well. I'd approach how I did all that layering very differently next time, so I really should've payed better attention to Sue's advice in the class (and in class discussion). Here's a tip: watch and read before doing! Another note--I also ended up buying her book Creative Texturing to help me make some decisions here. This book walks through the process of fabric selection and layering to create more visual interest on your projects. I'll be referencing that book a lot more in the future too.

Finally, I got to the embroidery. This class walks through several stitches, generally in order of complexity, which often means in order of difficulty. However, I did find stitches in later episodes that were actually easier for me to manage than ones in earlier episodes, so it's not entirely a progressive thing. 

Some stitches I took to like a duck to water. Others took a little more trial-and-error. One was my Waterloo--just couldn't quite get that Rosette Chain stitch down. I'll go back to it again after I've got more experience to see if I can't conquer that darn thing. (She does say it's the hardest one she teaches in the class, so there is that.)

And this ain't the half of it...

And this ain't the half of it...

Mostly, I had a ball taking Spargo's advice to heart--play with as many threads as possible! There is so much more to the world of embroidery than DMC embroidery floss and a #8 perle cotton, for as much as both of those are quite nice. Still a fan of the perle cotton, especially hand-dyed types. Yums.

I've used a huge variety of threads in this project so far, and still have more to try. Fair warning: It easily becomes a new addiction. It does also make learning embroidery slightly more complex because threads behave differently and require different needles, so every new stitch I tried was a test of trial-and-error before I finally found the right combination for what I wanted to do. But that's also just practice and experience--after just a few weeks of this I already have a better eye for what types of threads are likely going to give me more immediate (read: stress-free) success for certain stitches. 


I also got into adding beads to my embroidery based on one of her lessons. Another dangerous addiction.

So, can you tell I loved this class? It's definitely two thumbs up! If you're brand new to embroidery (like I was, for the most part), I advise making liberal use of the "30-second repeat" button and changing the speed of the video to go more slowly for certain stitches. (I had to watch the cast-on stitch technique a few times since I'm not a knitter.)

Sue Spargo is an excellent teacher, by the way. I really feel like this class gave me a very firm foundation in embroidery, even if I never took another class again. That being said, I'm now working on my second Craftsy embroidery class, already bought a third, and the fourth is sitting in my wishlist for later. I haven't finished the butterflies yet, so I'm currently using it as the project for these additional embroidery classes--meanwhile, I'm already mentally designing my next embroidery project.

The Basics

  • 7 lessons ranging from about 17 minutes to 30 minutes.
  • The first lesson is about creating the project you'll later be embroidering. I could've done with a little more information here, I think. I suspect the issue is that she's not giving directions for a specific pattern but, rather, making suggestions for things you may want to do; I think, since it was a new technique for me, I'd have preferred seeing her walk through a specific project first, and then talking about how to launch off from that to whatever you wanted to do yourself. In any case, I did figure it out and, of course, you don't have to do a specific class project at all, if you don't want to.
  • The second lesson talks about tools--needles and threads. I found this very helpful the first time, but even more helpful when I went back later after I'd done a lot of embroidery and watched it again. That time I had a better frame of reference for what she was talking about. The second lesson also gives the first couple of stitches--the Pekinese stitch (one of my faves!), and couching.
  • Lesson three is decorative edging stitches, including the fly stitch--which quickly became one of my go-to stitches, crested chain--another great one, and the aforementioned Waterloo stitch, the Rosette chain.
  • Lesson four is dimensional stitches and I had great fun here--bullion knots, drizzle stitches, bullion cast-on stitch, and double cast-on stitch (which I skipped because by then it had taken me so long to circumnavigate a butterfly with bullion knots I wasn't inclined to take on the even-longer-term double cast-on).
  • Lesson five is woven stitches--loved doing the circle with a gorgeous thread on this one.
  • Lesson six is beaded stitches. "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!" I now have a storage container specifically for the beads that somehow magically appeared in my house after doing this lesson.
  • Lesson 7 is finishing touches, with another couple of slight more extensive stitches, plus a lot of really cool ideas for using embroidery in bindings. Can't wait to get my butterfly project finished so I can revisit this lesson.
  • The class materials are so-so; 6 pages, three of which are templates for the suggested project. There's an extensive supply list that felt overwhelming at first--and you don't actually need all of it to do the project, but you're likely to want all of it and more if you really get into this! The second page gives some hints and tips, which were partially useful.

A long review, I know. But I. Loved. This. Class. Remember, embroidery doesn't need to just be for embroidery projects and crazy quilts. It's easily done as an accent on any quilt or quilted project. I'll definitely be using a lot more of it in my art quilts. If you think you may even vaguely be thinking about adding embroidery to your quilting repertoire, you really need Embroidering Texture and Dimension by Hand with Sue Spargo.

*You don't need the book to do the class, but it was quite helpful to have on hand when I was practicing the stitches she demonstrated.

(Using Craftsy links and banners on this page helps support my podcast and blog. Thank you!)

Craftsy Class Review: Clever Cuts for Efficient Quilting with Debbie Caffrey

I don't have this ebook from Craftsy yet but it looks interesting, doesn't it? I think I'll grab it as soon as I'm done writing this blog post. 

So, in the name of finding more efficient ways to make progress on quilts as my time grows ever-more-limited, I once again looked to Debbie Caffrey. Well, to be clear, I bought this class primarily because I'd enjoyed her other one so much. Clever Cuts for Efficient Quilting, like her first class (Cut To It: Strategies for Smarter Quilting), is an excellent reference class that you'll want to keep referring back to for years to come!

Like Cut to It, this class doesn't have one specific project for you to do in order to practice techniques, but there are several patterns included in the class materials if you do want to put one of her cutting methods immediately to use. For me, however, I was just watching the lessons to see what was there so I'd know where to go for future reference. Hence, no pretty pictures to go with this review--sorry.

For my general thoughts on Debbie Caffrey as a teacher and the usefulness of the techniques she teaches, see my review of her first class. I can just keep saying "Ditto, ditto, ditto." I can't say it enough--these are both excellent classes to have. 

Do you need to do the other class before doing this one? Not really. However, I do think they build on each other to a degree, and she does reference the other class periodically in this one. However, you could easily do this class as a stand-alone and be just fine, I think.

This class includes a few more tips on organization, accurate cutting and piecing, and general ideas about when these techniques would be useful. She then discusses tube piecing, diamonds and set-in seams, lots of information about working with Tri-Rec rulers, and then some ideas and tips for piecing borders. 

The Basics

  • Seven lessons, ranging from 24 to 38 minutes
  • Lesson 1 is fundamentals of cutting and piecing, including tips for accuracy; lesson 2 focuses on organization, as well as tips for sewing, pressing, and cutting; lesson 3 is strip-tubing (I've done that before and it's fun, fun, fun!); and she demonstrates a fish block that would make a very cute baby or child's quilt; lesson 4 is all about diamonds and set-in seams, as well as a bit of drafting of templates; then lessons 5 and 6 focus on Tri-Recs in a variety of ways. Finally, lesson 7 gives several ideas and demonstrations of different types of borders; I really liked one of those and could see it on one of my UFOs, so I'll be referring back to that lesson again in the next few weeks.
  • She addresses left-handed cutting considerations, too, for all you lefties out there!

Once again, as with her other class, I highly recommend Clever Cuts for Efficient Quilting with Debbie Caffrey. If she does a third one, she'd have a hat trick! For now, it's just an excellent pair.

(Using Craftsy links on this post helps support my podcast and blog. Thank you so much!)

A Nifty Little Tool

I keep forgetting to talk about these, and they're the best new quilting-notion-y thing I've gotten in awhile!

There are any number of "bobbin buddies" out there (and the vast majority of them are named "Bobbin Buddies" which makes it difficult when searching for a particular type). The problem is, most of them don't work with Aurifil thread spools. I've tried golf tees, I've tried clampy things, I've tried blue stopper-type things, and rubber bands just annoy me.

So when I saw a picture of this new type in a magazine, my heart sang. This Aurifil Girl may have finally found the solution!

It took me a few minutes of Googling to find the right ones because the magazine didn't list the supplier. Go figure. But I tracked them down at Erica's Craft and Sewing Center. I got the 20-pack and absolutely love them. They're perfect for my Aurifil but, of course, also work in all the other spools I use too. 

I'm a happy camper. Sometimes it's the little things...