4 Things Quilters Need to Do More Often

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Clean the lint out of your machine

People don't realize how much the build up of lint can affect their stitch quality. Hint: it's a lot. My bobbin will actually start to make a distinct rattling noise once it's passed a lint threshold, so I'm always mindful. If you have a drop in bobbin, it's important to lift out the entire bobbin case and dust under there as well. Just remember not to use a can of air unless you have an open path for that dust to exit the machine. Otherwise you're just blowing the mess further inside.

Give your cutting mat a spa day

Cutting mats take a lot of abuse and don't get nearly enough love. You can extend the life of your cutting mat by keeping it hydrated. Yes, hydrated. Once a week (or sooner if it seems dusty), I spray my mat with a water from a squirt bottle and wipe it down. Every couple months or so, I'll put it in my bathtub and fill it with enough warm water to cover it. I soak it for 10 minutes before rubbing it down with a washcloth to work out any fiber bits that have gotten stuck in the cuts on the mat.

Stretch those muscles

I always feel silly when I tell people how I'm experiencing muscle pain in my upper back and shoulders from binding a quilt or doing EPP. At a recent checkup, my doctor made me feel a little better about it. She told me that any kind of repetitive movement, even small movements like hand stitching, are likely to cause pain over time. She showed me some upper back stretches to do every half hour or so when doing handwork and it's helped immensely! Doing stretches for quilting may sound dorky, but it's better than an aching body.

Wear sunscreen

Just because you're sitting inside doesn't mean you're immune to sun damage. Chances are you have some kind of natural light in your sewing area, and that means you're being exposed to UV rays. Even compact fluorescent light bulbs can emit UV radiation (which is one of the reasons I use LED bulbs). Sun damage is the number one cause of skin aging. If you don't believe me, just look at this photo of a professional truck driver. I wear sunscreen on my face every single day. And no, the SPF in your makeup is not enough. You should be applying 1/4 teaspoon of sunscreen to your face. As a personal note, I've found that Korean and Japanese sunscreens both feel and perform better than heavy, greasy American brands that leave you looking like Casper. I personally love Tonymoly's Mango SPF50+ PA+++.

Tips for Aspiring Fabric Designers: Pitching to Manufacturers

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

There are tons of great resources out there for aspiring fabric designers when it comes to the actual design process. Creativebug's video course series and Kim Kight's book, A Field Guide to Fabric Design, are two of my favorite resources I suggest to newbies. But over the past several months, as I was helping a friend on her fabric design journey (she just signed to her top choice! Yay!), I realized there aren't as many resources out there for the process of pitching your collections to a manufacturer. Let's try to change that. I'm going to share some tips with you based on my experiences when hunting for a licensing deal.

1. Look for manufacturers where you stand out, not "fit in"

For starters, don't put your eggs in one basket. Unlike with magazines and book publishers, it's acceptable to submit your work to multiple manufacturers for consideration simultaneously. So which ones are you going to try first? Well, almost every aspiring designer (myself included) seems concerned finding a company where their style "fits in well" with the other designers in that company's catalog...wrong move!

While pitching to one manufacturer, the art director commented that my work would likely end up competing against a designer they represented because we're both into colorful, playful, modern prints featuring animals. She explained that shop owners would probably choose to buy my collection or the other designer's due to the similar themes and colors. They generally look for things they don't already have because manufacturers are looking to reach new audiences rather than have their designers compete for existing ones. Of course their are exceptions. Companies like Cloud 9, Art Gallery, and Blend have a more narrow brand image and may be less likely to consider collections that don't assimilate with their style.

Visit the websites of manufacturers look through their roster of designers. Ask yourself, "Does this company represent a broad range of designers?" If so, ask yourself if you can fill a gap in their portfolio.

2. Pitch in person

Manufacturers get dozens, sometimes hundreds, of emails every week with submissions from artists. Some review them as they get them. Others have regularly scheduled meetings where they flip through submissions as a team. Either way, your work can easily get passed over. I believe pitching in person has a stronger impact and creates a more memorable impression. Furthermore, modern quilters tend to be interested interested in the designers themselves, which means personality and presence sometimes plays a role in marketing. As the designer, you're part of the "product," so showing up in person will help convey how serious you are about your aspirations.

3. Don't fuss over a pretty package

When I was in the pitch phase, another aspiring designer I met eagerly looked through each other's portfolios. Mine was just an album of designs on my iPad while she had a beautifully crafted scrapbook. Each page featured a print along with photos of her inspiration for that print (plants, architectural elements, etc) and a paragraph about the design. It was kinda like one of those "nailed it" Pinterest fail memes where my iPad portfolio seemed like the fail in comparison. I tried to regain my confidence by telling myself my work didn't need a fancy book to earn a licensing deal; the quality of my designs would speak for themselves. And they did! In talking to various art directors, they confirmed that they don't pay much attention to the "fluff". It's the fabric they're concerned with. Instead of slaving over the perfect presentation, focus on creating more content.

4. Make some digital project mock ups

Have you ever been "meh" about a certain fabric collection that later won your heart when presented as a finished quilt? Why not do the same thing with your fabric designs? Make a digital mock up of quilt patterns using your fabrics to show how great it performs as a collection. This tip has the added bonus of helping me work through issues I might not have noticed with my designs, like a lack of color contrast or scale. Manufacturers like to see that you have an eye for quilt design as well as fabric design because it'll make the collection easier to market. Make your talents easy to see.

5. Be bloody persistent

Early on, if I didn't get a timely response to an email, I took it as a flat out rejection. We women are conditioned not be "nags" so we sometimes feel bad about being persistent. Well, in this industry you need to be persistent as hell. It's nothing personal, these are just busy people and it seems very common to have to pester people for a response. As a general rule, I follow up on emails 1-2 times a week until I get a response. I've only ever gotten a snarky reply once, and it was pretty tame, so don't worry about being annoying. As long as you are polite and professional, no one will hold it against you.

Why I Switched Back to Thread Basting for EPP

Monday, June 20, 2016

In the past, I've been a big proponent of glue basting for English Paper Piecing (EPP). But, surprise! I've switched to team thread basting. Scandalous, I know.

At Quilt Market, I had the pleasure of meeting Jill Shaulis and Vicki Olsen of Yellow Creek Quilt Designs, my neighbors in the Windham Fabrics booth. They were stitching up their own pattern, Stars in the Garden, I was drawn in by the tiny 1/2" hexies. After some chatting, she converted me. I'm happily thread basting my current EPP project and here's why I now prefer it to glue basting:

1. Glue basting doesn't really save time. 
The main I and most people who were/are glue basters ditched the thread is because glue basting is supposedly faster. Just a few swipes with a glue stick will do the job faster than threading a needle, knotting your thread and basting, right? If you're slow on the draw with your needle, maybe so. However, even if glue basting saves you time on the prep work, you will end up paying it back when it comes time to remove your papers. Having done a number of glue basted EPP projects, I can attest that peeling the paper away from the fabric takes some time. With thread basting, a seam ripper or pair of thread snips will make quick work of your basting and release your papers without a struggle.

2. Glue basting gets sticky.
The Elmer's glue sticks I formerly used for basting have a fairly wide diameter (about 3/4"), meaning a flat swipe covers applies more glue than I need for a 1/4" - 3/8" seam allowance. The result is exposed, sticky paper. I would sometimes compensate by applying the glue at an angle, similar to a lipstick bullet, but this would cause my glue stick to start getting deformed. Either way, I had sticky fingers within a few minutes. I imagine this is what a child's hands feel like. I swear, tiny children are always sticky. I think they secrete grape jelly from their skin like amphibians. Anyway, I hate being sticky. Thread is not sticky. Problem solved.

3. Glue basting shortens the life of your EPP papers.
Even with the baby-strength purple Elmer's glue sticks, a glue stick is still a glue stick. When the time comes to remove my papers, I count myself lucky if I can remove my glue basted papers without outright ripping them. At best I can reuse them 2 or 3 times before they become a sticky mess or fall apart. With thread basting, I can get many more uses out of the papers as the needle holes take a lot longer to accumulate to a point where the papers stop being useful. Less paper waste is better in my book.

4. Thread trash is better than plastic trash.
I like to do what I can to be environmentally friendly when possible, and I've started feeling really guilty about generating unnecessary plastic trash. While the Elmer's glue sticks are cheap and last longer than the F&P refillable glue "pen", they get used up surprisingly fast. I was going through 6 packs of glue sticks on a regular basis, and each empty plastic tube made me feel bad. Tossing a small handful of cotton thread snippets in the trash is obviously a greener option.

5. No more hunting for hiding papers.
Once your project is all stitched up, a glue basted piece looks the same a piece that's had the paper removed when viewed from the right side. I used to find myself hunting for (and finding) hiding papers after I thought I had removed them all. With thread basting, there is no doubt where those papers are still hanging out.

6. Thread basting is easier for travel.
I like taking EPP to guild meetings or appointments that require me to sit in a waiting room. The problem is that glue basting requires a work surface unless you want some extra sticky fingers. Meanwhile, I can thread baste easily without a table, so I don't have to worry about prepping pieces in advance.