Homer Quilters

Our rooms at the Kachemak Community Center looked more like a textile factory than a quilting bee for a few weeks this fall as we tackled our stash of fabric, strips, blocks, and partially-to-fully-finished quilt tops as a group. Finished quilt tops were married to batting and pieced backs, measured, and packed with binding fabrics. Bags of orphan blocks became quilt tops. New quilt tops were designed; coordinating fabrics, blocks and strips were gathered, accepted or rejected, and sewn together. Some are still in process, but overall, about twenty quilt tops were made ready for quilting. Once they're quilted, we will bind them and put them into our service quilts inventory. Not surprisingly, even with all this recent productivity, we still have a lot of fabric in our group stash -- just like at home.

Several of us attended the "getting ready for the holidays" meeting in Soldotna on November 5 and enjoyed making the ornament, zippered bag and chapstick-holder keychains

So now we're mostly back to working on our own projects when we're together. I looked around the room today and reflected on how much I have learned from these women. I thought I was a pretty good quilter when I came to Homer, but in three years my skills have easily doubled thanks to Thursdays at the Kachemak Community Center and our retreats and sew-ins. I know more now about color, design, patterns, pressing, thread, tension, rotary cutting, how to save scraps...and tools! Wonderful tools for quilting! And unnecessary tools, too -- the ones that seemed fabulous in the photo in the catalog but don't get used after you buy them. This is the power of group quilting -- you ask for a product review and you get one!

This week at Thursday quilting, I decided to focus on tools and notions to see if I could pick up some ideas for holiday gifts. I have found over the years that giving my husband and sisters a list is far more successful than letting them go to JoAnn unguided. You may have had the same experience. So I asked my fellow quilters what are their essential, go-to, "can't start sewing without" tools and toys. The ones you have to have in sight when you sit down for an hour or an afternoon of sewing. The answers, like every time I ask these kinds of questions, were a perfect mix of substance and silly, time-honored basics and items I had never heard of:

The basics: pins, pincushion, scissors, seam ripper, sewing machine, good fabric, good thread (although there was no agreement on which brand is best), rotary cutter with good blade, erasable marking pens or chalk, and good light.

The practical additions: Ott lights, a stiletto to feed fabric, 6" ruler, Fray Check, a quilted sewing machine mat with pockets (thank you, Dana!), pipe cleaners to clear dust and fuzz out of machine and bobbin holder, a thread-catcher bag with pincushion, small sharp snips (say that three times fast), iron and ironing board next to your sewing machine (or across the room so you burn a couple of those chocolate calories with each pressed seam), pizza boxes (clean) to keep UFOs in, and a thread puller. (I am not exactly sure what that is, but apparently every long-arm quilter knows.)

The frills: bendable LED lights that attach to your sewing machine, a good sewing chair, self-threading needles, batting tape, batting scissors, flannel backed table cloth for a design wall (or a real design wall), telescoping magnet to pick up pins and needles from floor (cheaper at the auto parts store than at JoAnn; I didn't know that), magnetic pincushion (but keep it away from your computerized sewing machine), Best Press spray starch, square-up rulers, a small rotating cutting mat, a color wheel, "show and tell" with feedback from the group (because hubby's "That's nice, honey," doesn't always cut it), small scissors on a retractable lead, mini iron next to sewing machine (or, conversely, a really big custom-made ironing board), plastic or cardboard project boxes, and organizer totes for bringing tools and notions to retreats.

The sustenance: chocolate, coffee, Diet Coke, Twizzlers, and bourbon (no, I won't tell you who said that one!).

The mood-setters: TV in the background, books on tape, podcasts, and Janis Joplin on CD (that may or may not have been said by the same person who needs bourbon!).

The "wow, I wish I'd thought of that!": seam ripper with magnifying glass AND a light, Clover's fine "U" shaped pins that nest seams perfectly as you sew blocks together (thanks, Linda! I have a feeling Ulmer's sold out of those the afternoon you mentioned them), small adhesive foam blocks that attach to your sewing machine to hold needles (from the office supplies store), Omnigrid quilted travel case that holds rulers and other tools, hot iron and crystals for instant bling, blue painter's tape to hold opposing seams down when making Bargello rows, and temporary quilting tattoos to impress (or horrify) your friends.

The point, naturally, is that not one of us, and not one of you reading this, agrees with all the tools on these lists, whether they belong on the lists at all, and whether we covered all the critical and nice-to-have items. That's what keeps all our notions suppliers in business, I suppose, and helps keep us continuing to grow and learn in our quilting craft.

That's it for now -- thanks for the input on your favorite tools, quilting friends. Now I know just what to put on that gift ideas list for Rick.