JQSG- Exploring the Work of Shizuko Kuroha

Welcome to month 14 of the Japanese Quilting Study Group!  You can find all previous posts from this series here.

Several years ago at Quilt Festival, I stopped by the Quilt Mania booth and fell in love with the cover of a book- Indigo and Sarasa.  This was my first experience ever with Japanese quilting, and it’s probably still my absolute favorite quilting book.

Shizuko Kuroha






The quilts are spectacular.  No matter how many times I look through the book, I’m amazed at how she arranges shapes and colors.  (The link above will show you nearly a dozen pages of quilts within the book).  For example, she not only sews with hexagons, she sews with irregular hexagons, so that over the course of a quilt, some hexagons will be perfectly symmetric, and others will have sides skewed, such that the whole quilt seems three-dimensional.  Some of my favorite quilts of hers involve drunkard’s path blocks set to resemble curved pinwheels.  The sashing between the blocks is also pieced, and creates a swirling flowered effect.

After the stunning photographs, my second-favorite aspect of this book is how simply, and eloquently Mrs. Kuroha shares the story of her journey as a quilter.  The publishers did an amazing job of letting her gentle voice shine through the pages.

And finally, this book is a treasure trove of instructions.  She goes in-depth with explanations of hand-piecing, and every single step is illustrated with a clear photograph.  If you’ve ever wondered how to start and end seams, cross seam intersections, or anything else, this book has your answers.

Just last year, Fons and Porter published a book with Mrs. Kuroha called “Log Cabin Restructured”.  It also has a wealth of piecing instructions, a beautiful gallery, and tons of information about sewing log cabins– even log cabin hexagons and curved log cabins.  This book focuses far more on projects than Indigo and Sarasa, and is a bit simpler to follow because it is only written in English (Indigo and Sarasa has both French and English text).

Both books, however, are lavishly illustrated and chock-full of valuable quilting information.  If you’d like more information about Shizuko Kuroha, check out this interview from Quilter’s Newsletter.

Next month for our study group, I’ll have some updated photos of my hexagon and rail fence quilt.  I’m also hoping to attempt a project from Indigo and Sarasa, so I’ll have some progress and impressions to share from that learning experience as well.

Happy Stitching!


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Adjusting Tension on the Artistic SD

It is so difficult to tear myself away from the studio and type at the computer instead!  But I love you guys, and want to share more of my new adventures in sit-down longarm quilting!

Last week I *hinted* at some problems I had after the factory bobbin ran out.  To be honest, it was not the machine’s fault.  I got all excited, loaded up some shiny (and slippery!) Glide thread, and tried to wind my first bobbin.  That didn’t work so well.  The bobbin came out rather sloppy. Let’s make a long story short and say I went a little overboard turning tension knobs on my machine to try and fix the problem.  Somewhere along the way, I kinda forgot whether I was supposed to go “righty tighty” or “lefty loosey.”

I started looking up YouTube videos for help.  By the way, if you want to know more about the Artistic sit down and can’t find stuff, look at the Tin Lizzie youtube channel.  Same machine, and lots of good information. While I was on youtube, I came across a Jamie Wallen video, and the lightbulb went off.  The lady I talked to at Quiltcon had mentioned Jamie Wallen!! His video on bobbin tension ROCKS.  If you have tension issues, check it out here.  Once I knew my bobbin was good, my husband and I sat down at the machine to fix the top tension.  Then I did something that gives me heeby-jeebies when my kids do it to my domestic machine– I turned the tension knob TWO FULL TURNS. Yes.  Evidently, that’s how a longarm rolls.  Finally, we got the tension back to awesome, and I have been merrily stitching away ever since.

After watching the Jamie Wallen tension video, I saw that he had a series on swirls, so I watched those too.  Before my swirls looked like this:

old swirls








I love swirling, but the space between always looks weird.  His videos were another “aha!” moment, and now my swirls don’t have the funky spaces between them:

new swirls







This is such a fun design to stitch!!!!  I did a whole baby quilt with it:

practice quilt







You can see the swirls better from the back side:

back of quilt







Over the past week, I’ve made a BUNCH of practice quilt sandwiches. I cut them all the same size, because I wanted to turn them into fabric buckets.  These are working much, much better than the paper tote bags I had been using to store scraps.  When the bucket gets full, I can unfold the top for more space.  And it’s a great visual reminder to start using the scraps from the unfolded buckets.

Scrap bins







So that’s my world at the moment.  I am absolutely thrilled silly with this machine.  It’s sort of like riding your bike without training wheels.  I press the foot pedal and the quilt flies.  I don’t have to worry about shuffling the quilt, or adjusting my hands every couple of moments.  It’s exhilarating.

What’s new with you?  Are you enjoying spring sunshine from your studio, or outside making the most of this welcome change from dreary winter?

Happy Stitching!


Posted in Midarm Quilting Machines | 5 Comments

Setting up a Janome Artistic SD

My new midarm finally arrived!  Here’s a peek inside the box as I opened it up:

peek in the box






Yep, I bought a Janome Artistic Sit Down machine.  And I can’t wait to tell you all about it, so this post may run a bit longer than usual!!

If you’re buying a machine like this one, may I recommend a few things while you’re waiting for it to arrive?

1- Buy a surge protector.  You void the warranty if you plug this straight into a wall outlet.  Which means I couldn’t even turn mine on when we set it up late at night.  I bought one rated for 2000 Joules, based on a website I found that recommended the rating for Gammill longarms.

2- Make a pile of quilt sandwiches from scrap fabrics so you have lots of opportunities to play around with stitches and tension once you’re set-up.

Speaking of set-up, I wanted to walk you through how we put mine together.  The table is easy and quick to set-up.  The directions are well illustrated with photographs.

Then comes the machine set-up.  Be prepared to spend some time on this.  I was expecting something along the lines of a domestic machine, where you fit it into the table, plug it in and start sewing. This one requires a bit more work, but the manual does a good job of walking you through most of it.

First of all, the manual tells you to install the plastic belt guard over the belts on the far right of the machine.  My belt guard did not fit at first.  Fortunately, my husband and father-in-law were both on hand to assess the situation, and realized that they could move the belt plate over to the left just a little.  Once that was done, the belt cover fit better.

Next, the manual tells you to install the thread holder.  I did that all by myself!  Easy peasy.  Then I went back to the pile of stuff that came in the machine box and found a large plastic rectangle.  The manual didn’t say where it went, but I figured out pretty quickly that it covers the area behind the needle.  If you’ve already installed the thread holder, you have to take that back off to put on the rectangular cover.  Oops.

behind the needle open






protecting behind needle






Here’s a full view of my machine almost all set up.  I still need to install the lamp.  It comes with a long cord that you have to trim and insert into the plug. I want to get some little hooks to keep the cord from dangling into my workspace. In the meantime, my trusty Ott light is working fine.

all set up






The machine comes with a pack of ten needles, and five large M bobbins.  One of those is prewound from the factory, so I used that one for these initial test pieces.

first stitching





Not too bad, huh?  I’ll be posting a follow-up to this about my experiences after the bobbin ran out. Let’s just say I learned a WHOLE lot about how longarm tension is different from a domestic machine.  After a couple of days, I got it all sorted out and I’m now happily stitching along again.

Last but not least, I wanted to share a couple of pictures with you to illustrate the difference in harp space between a domestic and sit down longarm machine.  It drives me a little crazy that all the sit down longarm advertisements show a placemat or tiny quilt sandwich under the needle.  I want to know what a REAL quilt is going to do under that needle.  So here’s a comparison for you.  The quilt is a version of my Pinwheel Jam pattern, measuring about 62 by 72 inches.  I picked a point smack in the center of the quilt, and put it under the needle on both my 6600 (with about 9 inches of harp space), and on the new Artistic (with 18 inches of harp space).

Pinwheel jam on 6600






Pinwheel jam on Artistic






Yep, so far I’m as pleased as punch with this new machine.  Now I’m off to practice on some more little sandwiches.  Soon I’ll be quilting that Pinwheel Jam quilt!

Happy Stitching!



Posted in Midarm Quilting Machines | 6 Comments

A New Double Wedding Ring Project

So, I’ve finally wrapped up enough UFO’s that I can start on a new project without too much guilt.  Actually, this isn’t a new project.  It’s a double wedding ring quilt for my sister and her husband.  A wedding gift.  This summer, they’ll celebrate their ninth anniversary.  I’m not a little behind on this one, I’m a big behind.

Wedding ring progress






I’m using the Judy Neimeyer wedding star pattern for this.  I know there are a million wedding ring patterns out there, but I like this one.  I’ve already made two DWR’s from this pattern, so it’s comforting to stitch something I know well.  I’d forgotten how fun paper piecing can be.  These arcs are going together quickly.  The progress will slow down a little once I start of piecing the curved sections, but for now, it’s moving right along.

This week my kiddos are off for spring break, so I doubt I’ll make much progress on sewing.  But it will be a fun break for everyone.  Especially if the weather starts acting like spring!

Oh, yes– and Happy Birthday to my sweet, incredibly patient, sister Hillary!!

Happy Stitching!



Posted in Double Wedding Ring | 6 Comments

Hand-Piecing Hexagons

We’ve had a crazy spell of weather here in North Texas.  After assuming winter was nearly over with a lots of 60 degree days, we’ve suddenly been pelted with snow, sleet and all sorts of other weather reasons to close school. Which is my excuse for completely forgetting a Japanese Quilting Study Group post for February.  If you’ll forgive me, here’s the belated JQSG post.  You can read all the other posts in this series by clicking the blog tab above.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m hand-piecing the hexagons for my Hexagon and Fence post quilt.  It’s a wonderful slow-stitching process, and I have nearly 70 of the 140 hexagons pieced already.  I have found several tools and resources to be especially helpful.

tools for hand piecing






First up, that weird little ring thread cutter in the middle of the picture.  I impulse bought one from Willow Lane Quilting as soon as I saw that Yoko Saito used one.  I started wearing it on my right-hand (I’m right-handed), and found it awkward and difficult to use.  Several months later, I saw a picture in a book of Yoko Saito wearing it on her left thumb, so I tried that.  Pure genious! Now I can’t sew without it.  Having that tiny trimmer right there means I never have to set down my sewing to cut a thread, never have to wonder where I set my scissors last time. I just sew, trim and keep going.

I am also in love with the Japanese Tulip needles.  They’re very firm, and the piecing needles are long.  That means I can sew an entire hexagon side with one fill of the needle.  These needles are also sturdy.  I sewed five patches on a scout vest before breaking one.

And finally, I purchased Shizuko Kuroha’s book, Log Cabin Restructured, a couple of weeks ago.  While I’m not a huge fan of log cabin blocks, I absolutely love Shizuko’s book, Indigo and Sarasa (that one will get a more in-depth review soon).  But her log cabin book paid for itself on pages 11-13.  She gives absolutely FANTASTIC illustrated instructions on hand-piecing and quilting.  These include a brilliant explanation of how to close up tiny “holes” that sometimes occur at seam intersections when hand-piecing.  It’s easy enough that I’m going to go back over every hexagon flower I’ve already sewn and tidy up any little holes.

So, that’s my toolkit for success with hand-piecing.  It’s a great way to distract myself from looking out window, hoping that maybe today, the snow will melt and my new midarm will arrive!

Do you enjoy hand-piecing?

Happy Stitching!



Posted in Japanese Quilting | 2 Comments

More on Midarm Quilting Machines

Back in December, I posted about my quest to learn more about midarm, or sit-down longarm quilting machines.  This past weekend, I had the opportunity to learn more about several machines at Quiltcon.

I spoke with the kind folks at the Innova booth for quite a while, and watched a quilter demonstrate some gorgeous free-motion feathers.  Several features of the Innova sit down machine appealed to me.  First and foremost, if you ever decide to go from a mid-arm to a full-fledged longarm, you can take the Innova machine and put it on a frame.  The Innova also has stitch regulation capabilities.  Instead of a little doohickey to attach to your quilt (like on the Pfaff and Handiquilter machines), the sensors on the Innova are built into the machine, right under the needle.  I’m not a fan of stitch regulation of any sort, but this seemed like a very smart way to go if you want regulation. The quilter also pointed out that the Innova has a tall, narrow shaft holding the needle, to give more visibility behind your needle.  For more information and pictures about this machine, check out the Innova website.

Then I had a chance to test drive the Martelli Bella Sedere. This machine had some interesting bells and whistles.  The table is designed such that you have a large cutting surface behind the machine, for a kind of “all-in-one” sewing workstation.  What’s cool about it is that you can raise and lower the entire table with the push of a button, so you can cut (or quilt) sitting or standing. You can even raise only one side of the table, if you wanted to quilt at an angle (think drafting table).  The workstation comes with a huge range of Martelli tools, including their rotary cutter (which I blogged about here). For more information on the machine, check out the Martelli catalog.

I can’t remember either machine’s price exactly, but they were definitely in the $9,000 range.

Finally, I tried out one other midarm machine. . . The saleslady was a hoot and a half.  She showed me all kinds of gorgeous quilting on it, and even pulled out a ruler and did some ruler work in the demonstration.  Then she sat me down at the machine and walked away so I could play around.  It was lovely.  When she came back, I wistfully asked her the price on it.

And just about fell out of my chair when she answered.

Compared to everything else I’ve seen on midarms, it was very reasonable. And the show special price was even better.  Sooo. . . we bought a midarm!  To hear more about it, you’ll just have to check back in a couple of weeks when it arrives :-)  I promise, there will be plenty of unboxing pictures, and a full review of how easy/hard it is to set up.  I’ll even share my first attempts at quilting on it, no matter how embarrassing they are.  Until then, I’ll be rearranging my studio to make room for this lovely.

Happy Stitching!


Posted in Midarm Quilting Machines | 6 Comments

Hexagon Troubleshooting

The other evening, I decided to sew some of my hexagons together for the Hexagon and Fence Post quilt.  (You can read more about that quilt here.)

You would think, by now, that I know how to sew hexagons together correctly.  But this layout is kind of weird, in that you sew rows of flowers together along two hexagon sides, and then lay them on an angle for the border.

So I sewed two rows.  Each time, I lined up the rosettes so I was sewing two hexagons on each rosette.  Here’s how it looked:

orientation wrong






I spent a good thirty minutes looking at those two rows.  They were not going to fit together, and I was completely baffled as to why they wouldn’t fit.  Then my sweet husband asked what was wrong, and figured it out in about thirty seconds.  (He’s an engineer.  And far more detail-oriented than me, evidently).

Apparently, you can sew two rosettes along two hexagons two different ways. If you look only at the center hexagon, it’s easier to see, at least for me.  In one of my rows, the centers were on point. On the other, they were flat across the top.  So essentially, that row of three was sloping up, while the longer (correct) row was sloping down.  Here’s a picture with the centers oriented the same:

centers same






Truth be told, I’m glad to have this all settled out now, instead of a couple of months down the road, when all 130 hexie flowers were sewn together.  I made a new row of three:

corrected row






Took the old one apart, and then kept on rolling.  Now I have the entire top left corner of the quilt done.

upper corner






Have you ever sewn hexies together wrong?  Or is it just me?!

Happy Stitching!


Posted in Hexagons, Japanese Quilting | 7 Comments

Kindergarten Quilt Finishes

As a lot of you probably know by now, each November-January, I spend a good bit of time on a service project for our kids’ school.  (And if you’re new here, you can read about this project here, here, and here!)








Basically, each year the two kindergarten classes participate in a service project to help new mommies in our community.  The kids make a painted hand print on fabric.  Then they bring in a square of fabric from home.  Then I get all those hand prints and squares, and turn them into one quilt for each class.  Finally, the quilts go to moms and new babies.  It’s an incredible project, and amazing to be a part of.









This year, I was especially touched by one of the blocks a child brought from home.  See that sunbonnet Sue applique block?  It was hand pieced by the little girl’s great, great grandmother. Wow!  I was super careful and lined the fragile block with lightweight interfacing before sewing it into the quilt.  I just love the fact that this family chose to share an heirloom with a complete stranger.

I’m really trying to pare down the amount of fabric stashed all over my studio, so I made a couple of extra baby quilts from large panels.  I love how easily these sewed up.  I even did the binding by machine.  Sometimes it’s just delightful to baste a top, sit down and stipple mindlessly, and have a quilt finished by dinnertime.

















Despite these fun finishes, I still have a two-foot tall pile of quilt tops waiting for quilting.  Yikes!  Guess that’s what I’ll be working on this weekend.  Besides helping our five kiddos get over this round of stomach bugs, of course! Ah, the joys of motherhood are without number, as my mom always says.

Hope you have an absolutely delightful St. Valentine’s Day weekend!!



Posted in projects | 4 Comments

Simple Bowl Cozy Tutorial

Back before Christmas, I posted about making some fun bowl cozies.  I made a bunch more for Christmas gifts.  Which was all well and good, except for one major problem.  I broke TWO of my heavy-duty, Titanium sewing machine needles on the final round of topstitching.  Not cool.

So I started wondering- was there some way to make the cozies WITHOUT having to turn them right-side out and topstitch the opening closed over all those layers of batting and fabric?

Bowl Cozy






Yes.  There is.  And the added bonus to this method is you get a schnazzy little border along the top of the cozy that makes it look all spiffy.  So here’s my tutorial for simple bowl cozies.  A huge thank-you to Andover Fabrics for providing the lovely Allison Glass Sunprint fabrics that you see in the pictures below.








  • One 10″ square fabric (leftover layer cake squares work great)
  • One 12″ square fabric (this will be the outside of the cozy and the border layer)
  • Two 10″ squares of Pellon Wrap ‘n’ Zap batting (hint:  a one yard package will make six cozies)
  • 100% cotton thread
  • Template plastic- this is optional, but may be handy if you’re going to make a bunch of these.
  • Clover wonder clips- also optional, but they certainly make life easier


1. Layer one square of batting and the 10″ square of fabric- wrong side touching batting.  Pin baste.


2. Center second square of batting on the wrong side of the 12″ square of batting. Pin baste.

basting 12 inch







3. Quilt both squares.  On the 12″ square, don’t quilt beyond the batting (i.e.- on the fabric that extends past the batting). You can free-motion quilt these, or do straight lines, anything goes here.







4. Make a dart template from my dart template (it’s free, just a little one page document I created instead of explaining the dimensions of the triangle). You can make yours with template plastic, or just cut it out from plain paper.

5. Fold the 10″ square in half through the middle of the sides right sides together, and line up the template along the folded edge.  Mark a dart on the top and bottom sides.  Make sure the top of the dart is aligned with the middle line of the template.  Unfold the square and refold through the middle of the other two sides.  Mark darts on each end of the fold again.

10 inch template






6.  In the same manner, mark darts on the 12″ square.  This time, however, align your template top with the top of the fabric square.

marking darts







darts marked 12 inch








7.  Sew darts, stitching on the line you traced in steps above.

sew darts






8.  Trim excess fabric from darts, leaving about a 1/4″ allowance between your seam and cutting line.

clip darts






9. Press dart seam allowances open.

10.  Take both squares and line them up so that the batting squares are aligned.

wrong sides together















11.  Now you’re going to double fold that extra fabric from the 12″ square to create your border.  I find it easier to start this at a dart.  Fold the extra fabric so that it touches your 10″ square.

center first fold







12.  Now fold the 12″ square fabric again so that the fold overlaps the 10″ square fabric.  Pin in place, or hold with clover wonder clips.  Continue folding and pinning until you reach the corner.

center clip







13.  As you turn the corner, fold the next edge of fabric into a small triangle that touches the 10″ square.  Fold again to create a mitered corner.  I like to pin at the very edge of this corner so that when I’m sewing the border down, I don’t have to remove the clip until my needle is in the fabric on the second side.

corner fold






corner clipped







14. Continue folding and pinning around the other three sides of the cozy.

all clipped







15. Topstitch all the way around your cozy, keeping your needle a scant 1/8″ from the fold line.

finished two







16.  Enjoy your new bowl cozy!

17.  Try it with a yummy bowl of baked oatmeal from this terrific recipe.








Cozy can be machine washed and dried.

Happy Stitching!





Posted in Tutorials | 3 Comments

Yoko Saito Sightings

Welcome to my Japanese Quilting Study Group!  If you’re new here, click on the group tab above to see all posts in the study.  (And if you have a blog, feel free to grab a button and help me get the word out.  Thank you!)

Last year I promised we’d explore the works of other Japanese quilters this year.  But for January, I’m sticking with Yoko Saito.  Her name just seems to be in the air lately.  Before we get to all that, however, here’s a quick progress picture of my Hexagon and Fence post quilt.  The rosettes outgrew their initial box.  Here’s 68 of the little hexagon flowers (I’ll be making 186 total; I still have a long way to go!) and some of the tiny rail fence blocks.

January 2015 progress






For Christmas, I received two Yoko Saito books.  Happy day!  Today I’ll share my impressions of Strolling Along Paths of Green.  If you have not yet splurged on a Yoko Saito book, I HIGHLY recommend this one as a starter.  Unlike Taupe Color Theory, this book includes tons of photographs of the project steps.  The book has a multitude of lovely plant-inspired applique motifs, 18 bag designs and two quilt projects. I’m looking forward to making a couple of these to expand my bag-making skills.  I’ve never been a huge fan of applique, but this book may just convince me otherwise.

productimage-picture-yoko-saitos-strolling-along-paths-green-34_jpg_980x700_q85 (1)








Speaking of lovely floral appliques, have you seen Quiltmaker’s 100 blocks volume 10?  It has a block from Yoko Saito!!!!  How cool is that?!?  You can see it in the top right corner of the cover:









Quiltmaker did an awesome job of explaining the block and including a special tip for making such tiny bias stems.  I’m going to try this one soon, and probably just frame the block by itself for a lovely mini-quilt.

Lately I have spent far too much time on the internet, pouring over some of my favorite bloggers’ impressions from the 2015 Great Tokyo Quilt Festival.  I’m linking to specific posts below, but be sure to scroll around on their blogs, several of them have multiple posts pertaining to the festival.  Someday, I hope to see this show in person, but until then, these blogs are the next best thing! I especially love the exhibit about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie.

Sashiko and other stitching

Queenie’s Needlework

My Quilt Diary

Happy Stitching!


Posted in Book Reviews, Japanese Quilting | 6 Comments