• Laser Cutting,  Painting

    Laser Cutting and Magic Making

    Cactus Coloring Kit, wood outline - SamanthaSews

    After years of pining for a laser cutter, and many hours and dollars spent renting time in various maker spaces, I finally jumped in and bought my own laser.

    It’s a dream come true, and it’s also anything but easy. Most of our quality time together so far has been purely mechanical: tweaking the exhaust to make sure the fumes are extracted; calibrating lens focus and bed depth; running test cuts on each of my materials… just thinking about it wears me out!

    But I’ve also had the chance to start making some art, some experiments, and some magic. I’m able to play in a way that I couldn’t justify to myself when I was paying for hourly rental time.

    I spent the last few weeks tweaking an idea that finally became this Cactus Coloring Kit (now on Etsy). I’ve been thinking a lot about which direction to take my tiny business, with focus on defining my core values. My personal “mission statement”, or at least my truth, has long been, I love making things. I love making shirts, quilts, dresses, necklaces, stuffed animals……. pretty much anything but face masks. (why are masks so annoying to make??!)

    Cactus Coloring Kit - laser cut wood cactus
    It would be neat to use collage as the medium for the cactus kit… maybe this will be my next “product tester” task!

    This cactus coloring kit fits right into that truth: I get to make something that helps other people make something. How perfect is that? Maybe it’s someone like me, who knows that they love making things, and this kit is a nice flow activity. Or maybe it’s someone who’s decided they aren’t creative, but they want to color a cactus… then they end up with art, and realize creativity is nice and not scary. I love that I might be a part of either of those stories!

    It’s a really fun product, and I am loving my job as Product Tester/Painter much more than my other job as Laser Setter-Upper/Maintenance Worker. The cactus art is as easy as a paint-by-number or coloring page, but the framed outline turns it into Art, with almost a stained glass effect.

    I shipped an early concept to my cousins a few weeks back, and we had a coloring happy hour over google hangouts with progress updates every half hour or so. “How’s yours looking?” one of us would ask, then we’d all ooh and ahh at the screen. It was so much fun to be making art, separately and together.

    Here’s a video of the magic. It’s so fun to watch this machine at work!

  • Quilty,  Sewing

    QUILTID-19 Photoshoot: My Completed Rainbow HST Quilt

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt
    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    She’s DONE! My quarantine quilt, labor of love, darling QUILTID-19. A rainbow of light despite the torrential downpour that is our world these days.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt
    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    A project of this magnitude deserves an all-out photoshoot, so I folded up the quilt, stuffed it in a backpack, and trekked to the park. This quilt and palm trees were just made for each other. It was such a joy for me to lay out this quilt in the bright sunshine, and I reveled in the fact (fact!) that this quilt is gorgeous. And also the very basic fact that it is finished!

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    I’m always curious to know what block sizes other quilters use – the ratio of block-to-quilt size has such an impact on the flow of a quilt! So here’s what I ended up with.

    • Finished block size: 4 ΒΌ”
    • 15 blocks wide x 18 blocks long (270 blocks total, 540 triangles total)
    • 67.5″ wide x 81″ long

    I used a Queen-sized mattress as my guideline – a regular queen mattress is 60″ wide x 80″ long. So if this quilt goes on a queen bed, it will cover the top but it won’t really overhang the edges. I will probably use this quilt on top of a normal, fluffy comforter as a winter layer, so I don’t mind that it won’t cover the sides of the bed.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    Of course, I made this giant quilt while living in Miami, so it’s unlikely to be used on a bed anytime soon! But I’m so glad I took the time to make it and I know I will treasure it for years to come.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    Thanks for following along on my quilt journey. I hope you’ve had as much fun as I have watching it come together!

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    Click here to see all the posts about my Quarantine Quilt, QUILTID-19.

  • Quilty,  Sewing

    QUILTID-19, Part 7: Binding

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    Once the quilting was out of the way, this quilt could basically finish itself. I still had my sewing room rearranged for optimum quilt sewing, so I forced myself to add the binding before I was allowed to restore order. After quilting was finished, I trimmed and squared the whole quilt, and sewed a basting stitch around the perimeter to hold everything in place for binding.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    I chose this cobalt blue fabric, which is also included in some of the quilt blocks, for the binding because I love a good striped binding and it coordinates well with the quilt top as well as the quilt back. I cut bias strips at 2.5″ wide and folded them in half, following the instructions in this tutorial: Attaching the Binding – Village Bound Quilts.

    I machine-stitched the folded binding to the raw edge, right-to-right on the front with my walking foot. I decided to hand-stitch the final, folded edge on the back. This was slow and tedious, of course – a lot of hand stitching. But I had read a few posts and tutorials on quilt binding, and one of them waxed poetic about the hand stitching process, and that appealed to my sentimental side. I had spent so much time and effort on this quilt, and this was the last step – why not take the time to do it in the neatest way possible, especially when that meant snuggling up with my new quilt on the couch?

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    I pressed the binding first, so it was already laying with a proper fold. This made the hand sewing very straightforward, but it was still slow. I think I made it around the perimeter in 3-4 movies, probably about 6 hours total (spread over about a week).

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    But again, this was my view as I did my stitching, so it was a pretty happy place to be.

    Tying that final knot was very anticlimactic. I couldn’t believe that after hours and months (and seven blog posts) this quilt was actually, truly, done! Such an accomplishment.

    And don’t worry, I gave this quilt the photoshoot it deserves. That was really fun. Stay tuned, because this quilt + palm trees are made for each other.


    Click here to see all the posts about my Quarantine Quilt, QUILTID-19.

  • Quilty,  Sewing

    QUILTID-19, Part 6: Machine Quilting (on a home machine)

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    After completing this quilt top in mid-April, I followed what I consider to be a time-honored tradition among quilters: I lovingly folded the completed quilt top and placed it in a drawer to be completed “later”.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    In my defense, I had to order batting, and craft supplies have been slow to ship during the pandemic – both because of the generous surge of home mask-making, and because people have been rediscovering the joy of making things with their hands, which are huge things to celebrate! But by the time my batting arrived, I was fully immersed into Me-Made May and excited about garment sewing.

    But finally, after about 6 weeks away, my quilt was calling to me again. I didn’t want the pandemic to end without completing my quarantine quilt! And yes, now I realize that was pretty naive of me, as sadly it seems that COVID-19 is nowhere near over. But any motivation is good motivation. So I cleared out all the flat surfaces in the sewing room and started pin basting.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    My big cutting table is about as wide as the quilt, so I was able to work in sections for the pin basting by clamping the backing taut to the table, then smoothing the batting on top, then adding my quilt top.

    For pin basting, I couldn’t bear the thought of opening and closing the hundreds of safety pins that this huge quilt would require. I also don’t own hundreds of safety pins. So I used regular pins. The Clover flower head pins worked best for this because they’re very long, but I only have 100 of those so the remaining 180 or so pins were my normal long glass-head pins. These still worked, of course, but they weren’t as easy to use.

    I put one pin at the center of each of the square blocks, and my blocks are 4.25″ square finished, so my pins were 4.25″ apart in all directions. With a different quilting design I would have wanted more pins, but for my straight lines it worked fine.

    I can’t necessarily recommend this method in good conscience because I pricked myself with pins constantly. It’s a lot of wrestling to get the quilt through the machine, line after line, and with all those open pins it was like wrestling a porcupine. But at the same time, I’m probably never going to buy or deal with that many safety pins. So yeah, I’d do this again, scars and all.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    I moved my sewing machine table off the wall and butted it up against my cutting table to give me extra surface to work with while quilting.

    I had toyed with the idea of free motion quilting and watched some videos, but I couldn’t decide on a design and decided that this quilt was not the time to experiment, both because it is enormous and because it is very precious. I also didn’t want to use a dense design because I wanted the quilt to remain soft, pliable, cuddly. So I kept it simple, just diagonal lines running parallel to the corners of each block (45 degrees).

    I didn’t want to run the lines through the corners of the blocks, so I offset them to either side. My biggest reason for this choice was that sewing through the corners would exaggerate any corners that didn’t line up perfectly, or any quilting stitches that weren’t straight. I also think that this offset supports my “gradient” look – it helps to blend the blocks into a cohesive unit, whereas stitching along the edges or corners would emphasize the seams between the blocks.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    I laid out my lines with chalk pencil (this Chaco liner is my favorite, the rolling wheel means you always get chalk, it doesn’t soak into the fabric, and it doesn’t get “stuck”). I only laid out 4-5 chalk lines at a time, because the quilt rasslin’ would rub away the chalk eventually. This was also good for my back (and brain) to have alternating activities – wrestle a few rows of stitches through the machine, then lay it out and draw again.

    I wore these quilting gloves, they were a Christmas gift from my wonderful mama that I wouldn’t have thought to buy, but they were hugely helpful. Nice and grippy, and of course they also provided an extra layer of protection from the hundreds of pins that tried to attack me at every moment.

    If you look closely at the quilting stitches, you can see that on every third line I added an extra line about 3/8″ away. No reason for this, I just wanted something a little more different and fun.

    It’s important to note that I sewed every single line in the same direction, from the top left corner of the quilt toward the bottom right. This means that although the quilt back ended up with some wrinkles due to fabric shifting, all those wrinkles are in the same direction. I also used a walking foot – there’s no way I could have done this without one.

    The other key to getting a project this size through the machine – don’t make the machine fight gravity. Hopefully all early sewists are taught to not push or pull the fabric through the machine, it’s all about guiding and steering rather than forcing. This is still true for machine quilting, but it’s important to constantly adjust the bulk of the weight so that the machine can easily and evenly feed the fabric. Here, that meant adjusting after every 10″ or so of stitches, balancing more fabric on the table or in my lap so that the fabric under the machine was never taut or dragging.

    QUILTID-19: Rainbow HST quilt

    Wrestling a quilt of this size through a home machine was no joke. I’m very glad I decided to stick with straight lines. I also don’t think it would have worked to do any sort of grid or diamond pattern – think standard quilting – because every single intersection of stitches would have created a big wrinkle in the backing. It’s certainly possible, but I would have needed a LOT more pins and a more stable backing solution than just my four clamps. As with many projects – the method I used was the right choice because it allowed me to get this project DONE.


    Click here to see all the posts about my Quarantine Quilt, QUILTID-19.

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing

    Me-Made May 2020: The Value of Refashions in a Handmade Wardrobe

    Me-Made May: refashioned t-shirts

    As I mentioned in my intro to Me-Made May 2020, the true value in MMM is the opportunity to reflect on my handmade wardrobe. When I’m wearing me-mades every day for a month, I’m able to make better decisions about what I should make next, and what I probably shouldn’t make again.

    When I look at the clothes I’ve sewn, I tend to focus on the exciting pieces: the dresses, the printed tops, the jumpsuit. But when it comes to everyday wear, the basic pieces are the ones I reach for again and again, but never giving them the credit they deserve. And possibly the most overlooked of all are my refashions : the items of clothing that I have modified, slightly or extensively, to better fit my body and my style.

    These are two of my favorite t-shirts, first because of the designs but second because of the way they fit and feel. They are well worn and well loved because I took the time to make them fit me better than the “one shape” t-shirts they were when I bought them.

    The Guster shirt is the softest shirt, but it was a unisex shirt that just fit me like a square. I wanted to wear it because it was so comfy, but whenever I had it on, I just felt like a bum. So I took the sides in very slightly and added a little bit of shaping along the side seam. I also shortened the sleeves. Finally, I removed the neck band and cut a bigger neck hole with a little bit of a V-shape. The new neckband needed to be longer than the original, so I patched the back of the neckband with a piece of the fabric that had come off the sleeves – if you look at the photo you should be able to see the seam.

    (p.s. here’s my favorite Guster song, Come Downstairs and Say Hello. The line “be calm, be brave, it’ll be okay” is pretty perfect for our current uncertain times.)

    This neckline trick is my favorite t-shirt upgrade. It makes a huge difference in the “frumpy factor” of your average tee. I did the same thing after I bought this amazing shirt from Mood. The fit was fine on this one, but the neckline was really high and awkward. I love wearing black, but with the neckline that high, I looked extra ghostly. So I did the same neckline trick: removed the ribbing, cut a new neckline, and lengthened the ribbing with a scrap before reattaching it.

    Because how could I NOT wear this shirt all the time? The only t-shirt I’ve ever seen with a golden yellow sewing machine on it. I love it so much.

    These are straightforward fixes but they do take effort. I am very fast at seam ripping, even overlock stitches, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. And you might be reading this and thinking, “wow, that is so not worth it,” and that’s where I disagree. Refashions are just like any other handmade article of clothing for me in that my number one goal is to be happy wearing it. I’m not saying any of my clothes are perfect – they’re certainly not – but when I can make a small change to increase my happiness in a big way every time I wear the garment, that’s hugely worth it to me.

    American Apparel Afrika dress - knit dress with black and white print and 3/4 sleeves
    Even the model looks uncomfortable.

    Another basic refashion is the one I did of this knit dress. I found it at the thrift store and loved the fabric, but the sleeves were just weird. The dress was sized “One Size” – thanks, American Apparel, I won’t go into the obvious exclusion in that move but this dress is a size Small for sure. And the sleeves were more like size XXS. I could wear the tunic just fine, it’s form fitting but comfortable, but the sleeves were not properly sized to the garment (or my chaturanga shoulders).

    Basically it was a poorly drafted series of three tubes – 1 body and 2 arms – but I still loved the fabric so I was willing to experiment. I chopped off the sleeves but left about 1″ of sleeve remaining, so I could turn it under and hem for a little cap-sleeve dolman look. With the sleeves taken care of, the only challenge left was the neckline. With the “all tubes” pattern drafting, the neckline wasn’t really a neckline at all but a straight line, and when I wore it the extra fabric just gapped and flapped. I cut a slightly round neck and added some elastic along my neck hem instead of ribbing to keep the fabric from stretching out.

    Now it’s comfy, wearable, and I kept the most important feature of the original: the pockets!

    Not all me-mades have to be fancy or elaborate. Often it’s the simple things that bring the most joy!

    And if you want more ideas for “real” refashions (beyond a neckline or sleeve chop), Trish has done tons of amazing refashions and her blog is full of inspiration!


    See all my Me-Made May Instagram posts here: #samanthasewsMMM2020, and here are all of the Me-Made May 2020 blog posts.