Thursday, February 27, 2020

Being Real

Scrappy Linen Log Cabin Quilt by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

Last week I talked by phone with my friend Stephanie who asked me to do an episode of her popular Modern Sewciety podcast about what brought me to the decision to retire from professional sewing. As someone who had struggled with these issues herself, she felt that it was an important conversation to have, and I'm so glad she did. We spent over an hour sharing our hearts about the joys and challenges of this work. Being real . . . it seems to be the theme that's guiding this new season. Real conversations about real things with real people in real life. It's messy and difficult sometimes, but it's what we've got. It's who we are. And it's so much better to look at that reality than to try to be something we're not. So pour yourself a cup of tea, pick up your favorite slow sewing project, and settle in with the link right here for some good, honest conversation with friends.

Scrappy Linen Log Cabin Quilt by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

On another note, it's been almost a year since I started working on my scrappy linen log cabin quilt (Sunny Day Supply is actually getting ready to host another round of their annual log cabin sew along that got me started on this one!), but I finally finished it last week just in time to gift it to my niece for her first birthday today. I absolutely love this quilt, and as hard as it is to let it go, I'm so happy that it's going to her.

For months, I was stumped on the quilting. I tried both machine and hand quilting several times, but I always wound up pulling the stitches out when they didn't look quite right. After getting so much wonderful encouragement from friends on Instagram to finish it up, I decided to do the simplest quilting possible on my machine, and it finally worked. The linen had to be handled carefully at times, as it does like to stretch a bit, but it came together in the end.

Scrappy Linen Log Cabin Quilt by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

The back of the quilt is a Melody Miller print, back from her solo Ruby Star days, which I've always loved. I added a tag on the back with my niece's name and mine, which I embroidered by hand. It takes a little extra time, but for something special and personal like this, it's so worth it. The quilt is bound in a rainbow striped canvas print from IKEA that I've been saving for years. I like the touch of whimsy that it adds to the border, and it makes a wonderful frame for the whole project.

Scrappy Linen Log Cabin Quilt by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

This quilt is absolutely packed full of favorite prints that I've been collecting since my very first year of sewing. It almost feels like a time capsule of the past eight years. I love it so much. I hope that every time my niece wraps herself up in it, she'll remember -- as I've always told my girls since they were little -- that she's all wrapped up in our love too.

Saturday, February 22, 2020


Lecien Retro 30's Child Smile Cheater Panel Hand Quilted by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

I'm propped up in bed with a quilt and my favorite patchwork pillow today, enjoying the warm sunshine that's streaming through the windows. My youngest and I were hit hard by a flu bug yesterday, and while she's young enough that her energy is already coming back in droves this morning, I'm feeling weak and wobbly and perfectly content to curl up in bed with my laptop and books when I'm not sleeping. My favorite mix of jazz/swing/blues/big band music is playing beside me on my phone. Click here if you'd like to listen to my playlist too on Google Play Music -- I'm happy to share it with you. While I'm too tired to dance, it's awfully hard to keep still when Ray Charles is singing "Hallelujah, I Love Her So." There are so many memories on this playlist. I used to listen to "Moonlight Serenade" on my favorite Glenn Miller album while working in the office at my part time children's director job at my church during college, and I remember singing along with Frank Sinatra's "Sweet Lorraine" in the mornings on the way to my fifth grade classroom when I got my first teaching job. James and I took swing dancing lessons just for fun back when we were engaged, where we usually found ourselves dancing to "More" by Bobby Darin, which seemed to be a favorite tune for the instructors. And "At Last" by Etta James has always been our special song. So there's a lot more in this music than just melodies for me.

I'm finally making some progress on one of my longstanding reading goals: to make it all the way through the 3-volume The Civil War: a Narrative by Shelby Foote. That's almost 3,000 pages worth of history, and I'm only on page 323, but for a girl like me who loves American history, it's fascinating. Foote has a remarkable way of including little details that really make these people and events come alive, and it's nice to spend an afternoon getting lost in the past for a while.

Last October at Quilt Market, my friend Joanna Burgarino, the editor of Quilts & More magazine, interviewed me for the American Patchwork & Quilting podcast. Joanna was the technical editor on my first book, and she's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. It was so much fun to get to spend this time with her, and I hope you'll enjoy it. You can listen to Episode #459 right here (our chat begins around 22:31) online.

The photo above is a project I started earlier this week, a cheater panel that I purchased from my favorite shop, Sunny Day Supply, which I'm quilting by hand. It's just the sort of slow, simple project I've been wanting to work on for so long, and I love picking it up whenever I get the urge.

Well, I think another nap may be calling my name, so I'd better close up the laptop for now. Hope you're all having a beautiful weekend, friends!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Milk & Honey Beachcomber Bag

Milk & Honey fabric by Elea Lutz for Riley Blake Designs in Beachcomber Bag from Patchwork USA by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt for Lucky Spool

My friend Elea and I have never actually met in person, but it feels like we have. We've talked back and forth so many times through online messages that it seems like we've been friends forever. I've been sewing with every one of her collections all the way back to her Milk, Sugar, and Flower fabric, the last scraps of which I'm still hoarding in a drawer. The cuteness of Elea's designs is perfectly matched by the sweetness of her spirit which comes through in everything she does. I've been so blessed to get to know her from a distance, and it feels like a fitting end to my professional sewing career to finish with a post about her beautiful new fabric line: Milk & Honey.

Milk & Honey fabric by Elea Lutz for Riley Blake Designs in Beachcomber Bag from Patchwork USA by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt for Lucky Spool

Everything about this collection says "spring" to me, so I thought it would be the perfect choice for sewing up my own version of an Easter basket. After a lot of thought, I decided to use the pattern for the Beachcomber Bag from my book Patchwork USA, which I enlarged by doubling all my measurements. This, by the way, is something I do by subtracting the half inch seam allowance from each measurement, doubling the leftover number, and then adding the half inch back on. So a piece that was originally 4 1/2'' x 2 1/2'' would, when doubled in size, be 8 1/2'' x  4 1/2". You can do the same thing to shrink a project, just by halving the numbers instead of doubling them. It's a very handy thing when you want to size a pattern up or down, and I do it a lot!

Milk & Honey fabric by Elea Lutz for Riley Blake Designs in Beachcomber Bag from Patchwork USA by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt for Lucky Spool

I used Elea's prints for the patchwork portion of the bag, alternating colored fabrics with low volume ones. A few Riley Blake basics found their way in there too, as I'm a huge fan of their tiny dot prints which look adorable with just about anything. Black and white RBD gingham is such a lovely contrast to the pastel colors in the center, and the light gray floral print from the collection made a beautiful lining. A bunny twill tape tag on one side and soft, cream colored cord for the drawstrings were the finishing touches.

Milk & Honey fabric by Elea Lutz for Riley Blake Designs in Beachcomber Bag from Patchwork USA by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt for Lucky Spool

Now that my girls are all in their tween years, with Bunny plunging headlong into the teens when she turns 13 tomorrow (sob!), I try to think a bit outside the typical Easter basket contents of candy, plastic eggs, and stuffed animals. I'm a big fan of gifts with a theme to them. In fact, if you've seen my book Patchwork USA, you know that I added a chapter at the end called Share the Journey which lists dozens of ideas for gifting the projects in my book, including themed ideas for sharing handmade presents with everyone from a new mom to a new neighbor. So if you're looking for goodies that would work well in an Easter bag or basket for an older child, here are a just a handful of ideas:
  • Art pack: sketchpad, colored pencils, watercolor set, sharpener, eraser, ruler, drawing books
  • Fun & games: travel games, sidewalk chalk, jump rope, Rubik's cube, deck of cards
  • Spa set: lip balm, lotion, hair accessories, brush, spa goodies, nail polish
We actually celebrated Bunny's birthday with a party on Saturday so that the whole family could enjoy it together. She wanted a retro Palm Springs Spa themed birthday party this year, so that last gift idea came in handy for me this week. I have no doubt, though, that my girls would be perfectly happy to get a repeat of their spa favor bags for Easter once April rolls around.

So congratulations to my sweet friend Elea on another adorable fabric collection. And all of my thanks to the wonderful people at Riley Blake Designs who have been so incredibly lovely to work with over the years. There's no doubt that I love beautiful fabric, but it's really the people that I love the most. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Patchwork Snack Bag

Patchwork Gifts Eco Friendly Snack Bag sewn by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

This week I'll be doing my last two blog tour posts before officially starting my retirement, and I'm so happy to get to do them for two of the sweetest, most talented people I know! Today, I'm happy to share Patchwork Gifts: 20 Charming Patchwork Projects to Give and Keep by my friend Elise Baek. It's a gorgeous book, full of beautiful photography, and the projects are absolutely darling. Elise has a great line-up of amazing people on her tour which you can see here. She's even put together a clever Bingo game so you can play along during the tour to earn prizes. So much fun!

Patchwork Gifts Eco Friendly Snack Bag sewn by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

For my project, I chose the Eco-Friendly Snack Bag. As Elise says in the book, you can use food grade vinyl on the inside if you want to fill the bag with snacks, but it will work just as well for carrying trinkets and toys. I decided to go with a compromise and use mine for storing wrapped truffles, since I like to keep a small goody bag hidden away in my desk for chocolate emergencies.

Patchwork Gifts Eco Friendly Snack Bag sewn by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

The nice thing about this pattern is that the construction is so simple that you can really focus your time on adding lots of cute embellishments. For my label, I used a favorite chocolate print that I've been saving for something special, and it was my guide for all the color choices for the other fabric and notions. After some thought, I decided to give my label finished edges (rather than the raw edges recommended in the pattern) just so that it would hold up a little longer with all the wear and tear that everything gets in my house. As always, I had to add a little tag to the side of my main label made from twill tape. The top of my bag seemed to need a little something more, so I also sewed a tiny text label there along with a few buttons. The sides of the bag are bound in my favorite plaid print from Perfect Party by the Cottage Mama which I just restocked in my fabric stash last week. The only other change that I made to the pattern was deciding not to add a gusset at the bottom.

Patchwork Gifts Eco Friendly Snack Bag sewn by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

I love the simplicity of this piece -- it doesn't even need a snap or a button for closure! -- and it was so much fun to sew. Now the trick will be keeping my girls from seeing what's inside...

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Book That Might Have Been

Bed of Roses EPP Blocks by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

First, let me say . . . thank you.

I wish I could put more into those two words. They don't even begin to convey how full my heart is after reading all the beautiful comments you left on my blog and Instagram account over the past week. I had no idea -- truly, none -- that I would receive so much love and encouragement from so many people. It was really helpful to listen to you talk about your own struggles with finding balance (Isn't it always such a relief to know that we're not alone?), and hearing how much my stories and patterns and books have touched your lives just meant the world to me. I wish I could take each one of you out for a nice long chat with coffee and cupcakes and all the hugs. You are such a blessing to me!

I took my last dose of antibiotics this morning, and it looks like my body is slowly returning to normal after getting pummeled so badly for the last two weeks. Scaling back on all my commitments will, I hope, keep it that way. I've been dealing with massive fatigue, partly due to the medicine, but my energy is starting to come back again. This means, of course, that my typical instincts are kicking in to go-go-go, and I have to keep reminding myself that that's not the way we do things around here anymore. I feel utterly ridiculous trying to explain to people that resting is hard for me, but it really is. The guilt, the restlessness, the crazy way my mind can't seem to get off the hamster wheel when I'm lying in bed at night -- it's hard to break those habits when I've been doing life this way for so many years. A friend of mine was telling me yesterday how excited he was for me to have this chance to slow down. And I said that I'm happy about it too, only I feel like I don't quite remember how to do it. It's like trying to get on a bicycle again when you haven't been riding for twenty years. You're pretty sure you remember how this works, but you feel pretty foolish when you first get started. For so long I've felt like a slacker if I'm not being productive every single second of the day. So learning that it's okay to, say, enjoy a movie with my kids without feeling compelled to keep my hands busy with another sewing sample while we watch it is kind of a big deal for me.

Bed of Roses EPP Blocks by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

I promised that I'd tell you more about the book that might have been, the one that I've been working on for most of the last year. It was going to be called Carnival of Patchwork, and I've been living with it for such a long time that it's still hard to believe that it isn't going to happen. But if you all don't mind, I'd love to share a good bit of the finished content here on my blog over the next few months. It won't be as pretty as it would have been in print, but it will be something fun for you and me to enjoy together. The book was going to be all about playing with patchwork. I wanted to give you tips for playing with patterns, fabric, and thread along with some organizational ideas for your sewing room. And then there were the projects. I probably have at least a third of them done and several in process like the EPP blocks you see in the photos above which are destined to become a pillow. I'll be sharing these with you here and there and maybe giving you the gift of a tutorial once in a while. I would love to see some of these patterns come to life, even if it isn't in the way I'd originally planned.

One of my favorite parts of the design process is pulling inspiration from Pinterest to explain the style and feel that I want for a book. Here and here are the boards I had put together for Carnival of Patchwork. I'm just crazy about these colors and design elements, and they make me so happy every time I scroll through them. When I was on there today, I actually found a whole slew of secret boards leftover from when I was mulling over potential themes for fabric collections several years back. I've now made them all public, so be sure to drop by my Pinterest page to see all the new stuff if that's something you enjoy.

Well, I've got a small stack of papers to grade on my desk, so I'd better get to it before we have our evening TV hour with the kids. Right now we're going through episodes of The Phil Silvers Show (also known as Sgt. Bilko), and it's so much fun to hear my girls giggling like crazy over an old black-and-white show like this one. I hope your week is off to a lovely start, friends!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Why I'm Retiring from Professional Sewing

Criss Cross Applesauce Pillow by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

Oh, my friends, this is a hard one . . . a long one. And I'll need you to be patient with me, because even as I'm typing this sentence, I'm struggling to find the words and to keep the tears from falling. But there's a happy ending to this story, I promise. So let's begin at the beginning . . .

In the fall of 2011, I was an exhausted stay-at-home mother of three little girls under the age of five. My days were long, full of dishes and laundry and mindless cartoons, swinging wildly between frantic activity and tedious boredom. I loved the time I was investing in my daughters, but it was a challenge that left me burned out and stale by the end of each week. It quickly became obvious that I needed some time to play.

And so I tried quilting. 

It wasn’t until I started sewing that I realized how desperate I had been for creative playtime. It energized me, gave me a break from the craziness to breathe and think and make again. I look back on those early days now and smile. 

My new hobby started a chain reaction that I honestly never expected when I first picked it up. It would be easy to say that everything just happened all at once, that it was completely beyond my control, but I know that's not really true. A combination of factors caused things to take off in a big way over that first year -- my love for sewing, my need for community and acceptance, my sometimes compulsive personality that leads me to chase new pursuits with a passion that borders on obsession, and just being in the right place at the right time. And like so many things in life, it was both wonderful and difficult together.

My quilting led me to blogging which then led me to social media. Over time, I sewed samples for fabric companies and publishers, hosted blog tours and sew alongs, and eventually wrote my first book, Sew Organized for the Busy Girl for C&T Publishing. This led to more sample sewing, more blog tours, pattern writing for magazines, and invitations to teach and share my projects. I got the opportunity of a lifetime when Riley Blake Designs gave me a contract to design fabric for them, and I threw myself into the work with a fervor, spending countless hours at my computer sketching ideas for fabric collections. When Lucky Spool gave me the chance to write a second book, Patchwork USA, I was overjoyed, pulling together years of patterns and stories to create what was definitely my favorite project yet. I couldn't have been more thrilled when it was finally published last July.

On the flip side, balancing my creative pursuits along with homeschooling my daughters, keeping house, and staying involved in family and church activities was getting more difficult by the day. "I don't know how you do it all!" people would say, and I felt desperate to maintain that image of being both capable and creative, a busy person with important things to do. But there was no denying that the hobby I adored had become all consuming work, and I was struggling to hold it all together. My own perfectionism and the constant pressure to keep producing as much as I could had sent my to-do list spinning out of control. 

My family was getting the short end of the stick in so many ways. I shudder now to think of how many times my girls asked me to play with them, only to hear, “Not now . . . Mommy has to finish this first.”  And of course, whenever I finished that thing, there was the next thing. So many afternoons and evenings my wonderfully supportive husband took the girls outside to ride bicycles or swim or play in the front yard so that I could meet upcoming deadlines on time. And I would sit upstairs glued to my computer screen or my sewing machine, every now and then glancing outside the window to see them all having fun together down below, feeling an ache in my heart because I was missing out on moments that I knew I could never get back. Even when I was with them, I wasn't always really there emotionally. I remember taking the girls out for a mommy-daughter lunch one day. We placed our order, sat down in a booth, and I automatically pulled my cell phone out of my pocket to check emails. My oldest daughter reached out her hand and gently placed it over the screen. "Stay in the moment, Mommy," she said quietly, with a meaningful look that cut me to the heart.

It was almost two years ago that I started having unexplained health problems leading to doctor visits, with every one ending in the same diagnosis: “It’s stress. You’re doing too much. You’ve got to slow down.” With each warning, I promised the doctors and my worried family that I would handle it this time, really. Yet every time I tried to scale back my commitments, they slowly crept back in . . . and so did the ongoing stress and fatigue. I wanted to have it all, but I didn't know how to manage it all. Eight years ago, the solution to my stress was sewing. Now sewing seemed to be the problem.

But I didn’t want to stop sewing. I just wanted to find a way to make it fun again. How could I return to the place where I began, those early days spent happily stitching away at my dining room table while my toddlers played nearby? Could I rediscover the hobby that I loved so much? Was there a way to balance creativity and everything else in my life? I knew that something had to change, but I didn't know how.

And then last week I was hit hard by a sudden serious infection with which my burned out immune system seemed completely unable to cope. The fact that it wasn't life threatening didn't make it any less frightening, but it was, at last, the wake-up call I had been needing. There's something about lying on your bed in a state of pain, helplessness, and total exhaustion that has a way of clearing the mind. I finally came to grips with the fact that my health and my family had to come first -- truly first -- and that the only way to do it was to make a clean break with the work that was throwing my priorities out of order. There were still tears and discussions with family and plenty of emails to write, but for the first time in ages, I felt a peace that had been lacking in my heart for too long. I had the power to make a choice, and this was the one I wanted to make.

So what does this mean going forward? It means that at the end of February, after I finish two more blog tour commitments which I want to honor, I will be retiring from professional sewing. It means that I will no longer be doing blog tours for sewing books or fabric collections, and that all my teaching will be at home with my three precious girls. It means that I won't be writing any more patterns for magazines or subscription boxes. And it means letting go of a third book which I've been working on for the last nine months. I can't even begin to express to you how hard it is for me to walk away from these things, but I know without a doubt that it's what I need to do.

Yet the truth is that, in spite of my sadness and regret, I feel so incredibly blessed! I've gotten to have a fantastic side career for all these years, work with all kinds of unbelievably talented people, learn a host of new skills, and meet so many dear friends from all over the world in the process. It's been one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life, and I'm deeply grateful for it.

And just because I won't be working professionally anymore does NOT mean that I won't be sewing and blogging and dropping in on social media. Things will be a little different, of course. There will be more works in progress, I think, and more slow sewing, and sometimes just me talking about what's going on in this new life experiment I'm beginning. In the weeks ahead, I'll show you some of the projects I've been working on in secret over the past year for that third book I'd been planning (like the sneaky peek at the top of this post!), and it will be so much fun to finally share them with you.

Honestly, I'm still coming to terms with this change in my life, still figuring out what it's going to look like. It reminds me of when we moved to Texas five years ago and let our dogs Emma and Fritz out into our huge backyard for the first time. After growing up playing on the small patch of grass in our suburban California backyard surrounded by a cinder block wall, they had no idea how to handle the massive stretch of lawn behind our new home on almost two acres of land. That first evening, they stepped cautiously through the gate, sniffing as they went, and slowly they started to walk and then run between the trees with their tongues hanging out their mouths as if they were laughing. It was all good until Emma suddenly spotted the neighbor's dog through the metal fence posts. Having no experience with a see-through fence, she thought she could run through it, headed straight for the unfamiliar dog at breakneck speed, and slammed right into the metal bars. I thought she had killed herself for a minute, but she got up and shook her head in a daze while James went to go bend the bars back into place. I have a feeling that this new life may be something like that for me. At times I'm going to be unsure of myself and go slowly, some days I'm going to be giddy with freedom, and once in a while I'm going to crash and have to shake it off while I figure out what my new boundaries are going to be.

But for now I'm going to rest and heal, read more books, sit outside with my girls while they show me how well they can ride their bikes, have coffee with James without talking endlessly about my to-do list, and enjoy the fun of starting a new sewing project without having to write down any measurements while I do it. I suppose that sewing, like anything else in life, can pull you to pieces if you turn it into something it was never meant to be: a compulsive assembly line, a popularity contest, the measure of your worth. It's time for me to slow down and appreciate this hobby for what it is, to remember why I loved it in the first place, this chance to make something beautiful with my own two hands.

I'm finding my way back to joy, friends, and it feels a lot like going home.
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