Monday, July 10, 2017

Little Dolly Sewing Kit

Little Dolly Jet-Set Case from Sew Organized for the Busy Girl by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

Everything my friend Elea Lutz makes is magical, and her latest collection, Little Dolly, is no exception.


Vintage florals, dapper birds, loopy swirls that belong on top of a chocolate cupcake -- it's all so incredibly sweet. And with the project book and adorable accessories that Elea has created to go with these prints, there's a very good chance that I'll be sewing some dolls for my daughters before the year's out.

Little Dolly Jet-Set Case from Sew Organized for the Busy Girl by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

For my project, I decided to make a half size version of the Jet-Set Case from my book Sew Organized for the Busy Girl -- just perfect for a traveling sewing kit. I switched out the extra zipper pouch inside for a pincushion and made the exterior of the case out of patchwork squares. I also added a fun tape measure twill tape accent inside and changed the closure to a simple button and elastic. I'm so happy with how it all turned out!

Little Dolly Jet-Set Case from Sew Organized for the Busy Girl by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

To give things an extra handmade touch, I quilted both the case exterior and the pincushion top by hand, using a thick craft & button thread from Coats to add more texture to the piece. I also stitched the binding on by hand to give the case a more finished look.

Little Dolly Jet-Set Case from Sew Organized for the Busy Girl by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

Did I enjoy this project? Let's just say that my husband was quite amused to hear me repeating over and over while I worked, "I love this so much!"

Little Dolly Jet-Set Case from Sew Organized for the Busy Girl by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

You won't want to miss a single stop on the Little Dolly tour:

7/10 Heidi Staples @fabricmutt
7/11 Casey Putney @sewstitchhappy
7/12 Jennie @cloverandviolet
7/13 Lauren Nash @transientart
7/14 Minki Kim @zeriano
7/15 Elea Lutz @elealutz

Happy sewing, friends!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Slow Sewing: the Uppercase Quilt

Uppercase Quilt by Heidi Staples for Fabric Mutt

Back when Janine Vangool, publisher of Uppercase magazine as well as a line of superb books all written "for the creative and the curious," first introduced her second collection with Windham Fabrics, I was taken with the mix of prints. The line (officially titled Uppercase: Dots, Dashes, and Diamonds) seemed just as much at home among modern designs as they were in my collection of vintage reproductions. She was kind enough to have a bundle of fabric sent to me in order to make what I originally intended to be another version of my Big Bear Cabin Quilt. I've learned over the years, though, that plans change, and sometimes the fabric takes you in a new direction. I had no idea that this project was going to alter my entire approach to quilting.

Uppercase Quilt by Heidi Staples for Fabric Mutt

When I started this quilt, I was coming to the end of the crazy schedule that always happens before Quilt Market in the spring and fall. I had been churning out projects for different fabric companies as well as sewing up samples with my own first fabric collection, Five & Dime. It was enjoyable work but stressful, as it always is when you're trying to make a lot of different things of as high a quality as you can manage while still meeting all your deadlines. By the time I picked up the stack of Uppercase fabric, I was riding the raw edge of burnout, feeling physically drained and creatively exhausted. Suddenly I craved nothing more than simplicity, a project that would be crafted with care over time.

I scrapped the Big Bear Cabin pattern in favor of starting a log cabin block in one corner of the quilt and building it out to the opposite edge, placing the prints in color order and alternating between darker and lighter fabrics. After basting the quilt, I spent a month of evenings hand quilting along each of the rows in black thread. Once that was finished, I framed it all in binding made from a black print peppered with tiny white diamonds.

Uppercase Quilt by Heidi Staples for Fabric Mutt

This was by far the largest quilt I have ever quilted entirely by hand, and it was the first time I've hand stitched the binding on the back of a quilt in at least four years. With the simple design and hand quilting, it looks as if I could have just pulled it out of a trunk full of vintage quilts. It feels so different from any quilt I've made before, and I really believe it all lies in the fact that I made this piece slowly by hand over a long stretch of time.

There's something almost mystical that happens when you hand quilt a project for weeks on end. It becomes part of you in a way that a quick project or even a machine quilted project just can't quite equal. You enjoy the hand stitching at first and then after a while it grows a bit tedious and perhaps even challenging but you keep going. And the more you sew those even stitches along the rows over and over again, the more of your heart goes into it. The tedium remarkably transforms itself back into enjoyment, and what seemed like monotony becomes a peaceful sort of contentment. Life happens around you while you're sewing, and that becomes a part of the quilt too. You have conversations with people and you watch favorite movies and you think...you think a lot. It becomes a part of your day that you look forward to, that quiet meditation with your hands that also quiets your heart. And the day comes when you sew those last few stitches and you feel a strange mixture of joy and sadness. It's so wonderful to have it done, but you'll miss it somehow, these nights with this particular quilt in your hands.

Uppercase Quilt by Heidi Staples for Fabric Mutt

I've been a champion for small, quick sewing projects for a long time now. I love sewing little things that can be made in an afternoon or weekend. But over time, I've watched myself neglect some of the projects that I wanted to make because my schedule was too full of commitments to projects that I had to make. There is a danger sometimes, I think, for us to turn handmade pursuits into our own version of a sweatshop. We produce item after item as quickly as we can, needing fresh material for our blogs or our social media accounts. We feel compelled to accept every invitation that comes our way for fear of offending someone or missing out on an opportunity that we'll later regret passing by. Yet I'm reminded again how important it is to have priorities, to make peace with the fact that sometimes I will have to say "no," to set aside time for projects that have no other purpose than to bring me joy -- especially the slow sewing and hand quilting which I've been too busy to attempt for too long.

My Uppercase quilt will always be a reminder to me that the journey of making is just as important as the finished creation. And I'm truly eager to begin my next adventure in the days ahead.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Story Behind Five & Dime

Five & Dime Fabric for Penny Rose Fabrics by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

My first fabric collection, Five & Dime, comes out this month through the wonderful people at Penny Rose Fabrics. It seems like a million years ago now that I made those first sketches on paper for what would eventually become a happy set of prints centered around a 1940's dime store.

Five & Dime Fabric for Penny Rose Fabrics by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

This collection comes from my deep love of vintage style and design, much of which was instilled in me by my parents and grandparents. Even though I was born in 1977, I grew up surrounded by movies and music of the 1930's, 40's, and 50's. I was enthralled by musicians like the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald. My favorite movie stars included Cary Grant, Doris Day, Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, and Bob Hope. And every afternoon, I was glued to our television set to watch Zorro, the original Mickey Mouse Club, and classic sitcoms like I Love Lucy or The Dick Van Dyke Show. My grandmother collected antiques, and she often took my sister and me along to visit her favorite shops in Southern California, always giving us each a few dollars to buy a vintage "treasure" of our own. Most of my hours, though, were spent buried in books from the town library and our own family shelves. I read voraciously, including favorites like the original Boxcar Children books and every copy of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys that I could get my hands on. So when it came time to work on my first fabric collection, I knew that I wanted it to be an illustrated version of this time period that I had come to love so much. 

As I was developing Five & Dime, I was specifically inspired by two of my favorite classic movies The Best Years of Our Lives and Sunset Boulevard, both of which feature scenes in drug stores (including the famous Schwab's Pharmacy featured in the latter). Drug stores and dime stores weren't the same thing, but there's a similar feel to both establishments. Technically speaking, the prices listed in my designs are not all historically accurate, since prices began to go up in the 1940's when stores had to raise them in order to make a profit. 
There's actually a vintage five & dime store building in Fredericksburg, TX which is still in operation -- at higher prices, of course! -- and my daughters loved visiting it with me as part of my research.

Believe it or not, I even put together a music playlist while I was working on this collection:

Sentimental Journey by the Les Brown Orchestra with Doris Day
Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home by Jo Stafford with Billy Butterfield (V-disc edition)
Song of the Volga Boatmen by Glenn Miller
Sweet Lorraine by Frank Sinatra
Opus No. 1 by Tommy Dorsey
It’s Only a Paper Moon by Ella Fitzgerald & the Delta Rhythm Boys
Straighten Up and Fly Right by the King Cole Trio
Tico Tico by the Andrews Sisters
On the Sunny Side of the Street by Benny Goodman & Peggy Lee

The links above will take you to recordings of these songs on YouTube. Every one of these titles is from the 1940s, and I listened to them constantly while I worked on this line. Nothing transported me faster to the time period than the music of these amazing artists!

It's been so interesting to approach fabric design as a quilter. I wanted to create the sort of prints that I look for in a collection when I purchase fabric. Color is always important to me, and I wanted to be sure that my collection included a full spectrum of colors (my color scheme was actually inspired by the cloth bindings of vintage books in our family library). I love text prints, low volume fabrics, and designs for fussy cutting, so I tried to include all of those options as well. Keep in mind that the fabrics shown in this post are all strike-offs, so the final colors will be slightly different in a few of the prints.

Five & Dime Fabric for Penny Rose Fabrics by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

I did lots of research into the dime store phenomenon as well as 1940's packaging before I started illustrating. Vintage packaging absolutely fascinates me. I can't get enough of the colors, the styling, the typography. My illustrations hardly do them justice, but it was so much fun to immerse myself in artwork from authentic merchandise before I started sketching my Packaging print. 

Five & Dime Fabric for Penny Rose Fabrics by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

I wanted a stripe of some kind for binding, so the Diamonds print was born, partially inspired by one of my favorite childhood movies, Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. It prominently features an old song called "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" containing a line that says "Diamond bracelets Woolworth's doesn't sell, baby." Woolworth's, of course, was the most famous dime store chain in history.

Five & Dime Fabric for Penny Rose Fabrics by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

I am constantly using lists to keep myself on top of things in my personal life, so I had to include a Checklist print. It makes a wonderful supporting basic for the collection, and I know I'm going to be using this one in lots of upcoming projects.

Five & Dime Fabric for Penny Rose Fabrics by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

The design team at Penny Rose suggested that I create the Merchandise print, so I spent an afternoon sketching out little groups of items that you would have found in a dime store. This was another print created with fussy cutting in mind, and I loved drawing these tiny sewing notions, toys, greeting cards, books, toiletries, and candies.

Five & Dime Fabric for Penny Rose Fabrics by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

My first steady job when I was 17 years old was working at Howie's Market, a little grocery store in my home town of Sierra Madre, California. A gentleman used to hand letter all the written price ads in the store windows, and that was part of the inspiration behind the Price Tags design. I also modeled this after the hanging price signs in the drug store scenes of The Best Years of Our Lives (such a wonderful movie, by the way -- I highly recommend it). I absolutely love this print, especially in pink. Wouldn't it make the cutest reusable shopping bags?

Five & Dime Fabric for Penny Rose Fabrics by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

It was so fun to put together the details on the Receipts print, coming up with stories behind each of the customers and their accompanying shopping list. This design was definitely inspired by my love for vintage paper ephemera. All the handwriting on these receipts is my own.

Five & Dime Fabric for Penny Rose Fabrics by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

I had originally planned to do a colored floral print on a white background, but I when I started playing with the colors in Adobe Illustrator, I found that I loved the crisp look of white shapes on a colored background. You'll notice peaches, pears, and bluebonnets sprinkled among the flowers -- all a nod to my new home state of Texas.


This collection was an absolute delight to create and so very personal for me. Just for fun, I tucked the names of all four of my husband's and my grandmothers into the packaging and receipts prints. Jeanie Doll, for instance, was my grandfather's special nickname for my grandmother. It gives me so much joy to know that she's a part of this collection even though she's no longer here to see it.

I'll be adding a Fabric page on this blog soon and would love to include shops that are selling Five & Dime. If you're a shop owner who'll be carrying it, please email me or leave a comment on this post so that I can add a link to your website. And if you're sewing with Five & Dime, please be sure to tag me on Instagram @fabricmutt, using the hashtag #fiveanddimefabric. I am so excited to see what you make with these prints!

Thanks for letting me share with you today, sweet friends. Happy sewing!
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