Featured post

Welcome to My Stars Quilts

We at Kansas City Star Quilts are pleased to announce our newest book-publishing imprint, My Stars. We’ll be bringing you beautiful and inspiring modern quilting books by top authors, with top-notch photography and compelling designs.

Our first book under the new imprint is a compilation effort that will come out in September. We’re leading up to the publication of this book by running Q&As with the authors every week on this site.

From here you can visit our bookstore, go to our other blog site and learn how you can submit a book proposal (buttons on the top menu).  Also, read some fun blog posts and get to know our authors. Enjoy!

To reply to this post, click here

Discovering poison green

By Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

To many a modern quilter, the phrase “Civil War fabrics” is roughly equivalent to “brown and bleak” or just plain “old.” It’s easier to love 1930s reproduction fabrics, with their sweet and whimsical prints and happy colors, but those 1800s reproductions take an open mind for the modern quilter to embrace.

I know this because I was once a modern quilter who walked right past the Civil War-style quilts at shows. Booths and shops filled with repros were guaranteed not to get my money.

That is, until I discovered poison green. I still remember the moment. It was at a traditional quilt show, in a booth specializing in Civil War reproduction fabric that I caught sight of these beautiful, rich, dark green prints – in the exact shade of my new handbag. It was love at first sight. poison-green-01A friend who was a recent modern quilting convert from the world of Civil War quilts told me that the color was called poison green, and that sealed the deal. How could I not love a color with that name? I took a few prints home with me, and it broadened my horizons enough that I started to browse that reproduction fabric section of my local quilt shop.



And I discovered so much beautiful fabric. Shirtings, calicoes and miniatures all started to make their way into my sewing room. I fell in love with the names of these older fabrics – cheddar, indigo, Turkey red. I’d always thought of 1800s quilts as bland, brown and plain, but the richness of the colors makes for some truly exciting variety. If you are new to repros, spend some time at your traditional local quilt shop exploring the different prints. Shirtings are a good place to start if you have a love of low-volume backgrounds.

Adding 1800s repros to my fabric stash has given my quilts a depth they lacked. If there’s one negative thing I could say about the trend of bright and bold in modern fabrics, it’s that value is often ignored or overlooked, and collections have a certain flatness. Everything is a mid-tone. Reproduction fabrics do not shy away from the darkest shades of every color, and they add much-needed contrast.

It’s easy to add a reproduction fabric to a fabric stack for a quilt. I follow the same rule I use for scraps: Start with pairs that look good together, and go from there. These two are definitely on opposite sides of the modern-reproduction spectrum, but the blue in each is what brings them together. poison-green-03

I added a few more blue shades to my stack and then complementary colors such as orange and pink to fill out the range. There are several reproduction fabrics in the mix, which are quite lovely alongside some very contemporary prints. poison-green-04

They say that everything old is new again in art, fashion and even quilting. I certainly hope that’s the case for some of these 1800s reproduction fabrics, and we start to see them seep into the mainstream of modern quilting.

Lisa Calle is a freelance writer who lives in Dallas. She writes every Monday. Visit her at Vintage Modern Quilts.

Trade agreements

By Tammie Schaffer

Tammie Schaffer

Tammie Schaffer

When I started quilting, I needed to build a fabric stash. One way that I did this was by swapping 5-inch charms through online swaps I found on Flickr and Swap-bot. I soon found other swaps to join, making small items to trade with others and receiving something cool in return.

Have you ever participated in a craft swap? Swaps can be a fun way to trade skills or supplies with others in the online community.

One of the first swaps I ever joined was the Elsie Marley mobile swap. My lovely partner Jana sent me two mobiles, both made from fabric. One was made from quilted batik leaves dangling from a branch, and the other was made with adorable bunnies with teensy yo-yo decorations. The idea that someone put that much time and detail into a gift for a stranger made me fall in love with swapping. I was hooked.craftswap2

Swaps usually involve smaller items, so they don’t cost a fortune to ship. Mug rugs and miniature quilts are fun to trade, because they are small but easy to personalize. Pincushions, hot pads, ornaments, bags and aprons are all fun swap ideas.

Of course, fabric swaps are great, too, but usually require double postage. You send fabric to a host, who sorts it and then sends some back to you. But it’s a fantastic way to build a charm or fat quarter stash.craftswap3In a good swap, there is a host, who sets the rules and deadlines, assigns partners and makes sure everyone completes her swap. The host lays out clear guidelines for what the swap entails. If you’ve had a great swap mama (or papa), be sure to say thank you.  Running a successful swap takes a lot of time and effort.

The hosts also find angels for anyone who does not receive something from her assigned partner. An angel is someone who volunteers to make a swap gift for someone who isn’t her partner, without getting anything back.

A flaker is someone who signs up for a swap and then is never heard from again. Don’t be a flaker. It will earn you a bad reputation and get you banned from future swaps. Have I ever been flaked upon? Yes, unfortunately. More than once. In one particular case, I had two angels who sent me lovely packages that more than made up for the disappointment.

craftswap4Several sites host swaps, including Swap-bot and Craftster. You have to be a member to join the swaps, but it’s free to register.

SwapDex is another place to look for swaps. Sometimes people run them through their blogs or create Flickr groups for specific events. I host the Denyse Schmidt Charm Swap on Flickr, which will be signing up for round four soon.

If you can’t find a swap to join, you can always host your own.  If you swap with a local group of friends, maybe from your guild or church, then you won’t need to worry about shipping charges.

craftswap5Some good guidelines for swapping:

Read the rules before you commit.

Communicate. If you’re going to miss a deadline, let your swap host know. If it’s a secret swap, she will notify your partner on your behalf.

Ship with tracking and insurance. This lets you verify the package gets to where it’s going, and also covers you in case anything happens to it during delivery. Also, some swaps are in the U.S. only, while others are worldwide. Make sure you are aware if you’ll need to ship internationally.

Make your gift a delight to receive. Don’t swap something you wouldn’t be happy to get in return. It’s important to note that skills might vary between members of a swap. But even if you are a beginner, choose something at your skill level and make it the best it can be. Include extras, such as candy, some pretty pins or cool stationery. Make it personal, and you might make a new friend.

Let your partner and swap host know when you receive your item, and tell her thank you.

How about you? Have you ever participated in a swap? Where is your favorite place to find swaps? Let us know in the comments!

Tammie Schaffer is a freelance writer who lives in Richmond, Kansas. She writes every other Friday. Visit her at craftytammie.

Sewing baskets — and boxes and tins

By Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

I’m generally not the kind of person who collects things, but there is one thing I find hard to resist: sewing baskets. Vintage ones, new ones made to look vintage, tins, handwoven baskets – you name it, and I probably have one.

I recently pared down my sewing room and had to say goodbye to several baskets from my collection. Some are more useful than others, certainly, but I truly love each one that I held on to.  sewing-baskets-00

sewing-baskets-01Some of my favorite baskets are Bolga baskets. They are handwoven in Ghana from elephant grass, and each one has a goat-hide handle. (You can also find cloth-handled versions). Bolga baskets are typically very colorful, but most of mine are plain. I have several of these all-purpose bags scattered around the house for toys, shoes and books.

The baskets are great in a sewing room, though, and I use mine to store finished quilt tops, fabric scraps and a hand-sewing project that I move from living room to sewing room and back or take on car trips. I have a tiny basket that I keep next to my sewing machine for needles, snips and other items that are handy to have close at hand.

Bolga basket are widely sold online, and I’ve also seen them in some big-box stores. My favorite place to buy them is at a quilt show, where I can compare sizes and colors. All of the Bolga baskets I’ve bought had Fair Trade tags, so look for that when you buy one.

sewing-baskets-02My favorite sewing basket, or rather sewing box, combines organization, sewing and midcentury design. I found the sewing box on eBay, and it came filled with vintage notions and supplies, including a darning egg and a set of Boy Scout patches. The going rate for these on the Web seems to be right around $70 to $90, but I’ve seen them much cheaper at yard sales. I use mine to store my crewel embroidery supplies. One day, I plan to sand and restain it, because it does show some wear and tear.

sewing-baskets-03Another jewel in my collection is one that I’ve had for 25 years. I got this one as a souvenir when my family went on a cruise to the Bahamas when I was in elementary school. The basket has had many purposes through the years, and it makes me very happy to see it on my sewing table every day.

sewing-baskets-04The newest addition to my collection is a tin rather than a basket. I found it purely by accident while browsing on Amazon. It’s made to emulate the size and shape of an old-fashioned cigar box. I love the vintage-style graphics and cheeky text. (This is by a company called Blue Q, if you’d like to get one for yourself. They have a whole series of tongue-in-cheek retro style tins.)

sewing-baskets-05There’s one dream basket I’m looking to add to my collection: a midcentury modern-style sewing stool. They have great legs and lots of storage and would make the perfect addition to the living room in my 1950s house. I also love the idea of creating an embroidered or patchwork cover for it to really make it my own.

Image from Reddit

Image from Reddit

What collectibles have found their way into your heart?

Lisa Calle is a freelance writer who lives in Dallas. She writes every Monday. Visit her at Vintage Modern Quilts.

An American pastime

By Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

I come from a long line of quilters on my father’s side.  The women in his family were farmers’ wives in rural Arkansas, and without exception, they were all quilters.

From the few remaining family quilts I’ve had the opportunity to see and touch, I know that these generations of women before me varied greatly in skill and artistry. I imagine they were all much more focused on making something of use rather than the desire to create something beautiful. That’s what drives me, yet I often think of them when I’m working on a quilt. Being a quilter connects me to women I was never able to meet.


I imagine my story is similar to yours. Quilting seems to run in many American families. Quilting is part of our culture and our shared history as Americans.

Several years ago, I sold my quilts at local craft fairs and bazaars, and I was always surprised and delighted by the people who would stop by to talk to me about my work. Tattooed men and women with Mohawks who I would never expect to have any interest in my bright, floral, feminine quilts would stop to chat with me about their memories of an aunt’s or a grandmother’s quilts. I could see the emotion on their faces, and I loved knowing that my work, as different as it may have been from their memory of their relative’s quilts, was still able to connect them with the past and with these nice memories of their family.

The connection that I made with people was my favorite part of doing craft shows. I have those memories of my grandmother, and I want to give them to others through my quilts. I often think about my grandmother when I am quilting and how much I wish that I had taken it up before she died so that I could share it with her. My father’s stories of her pulling down her quilting frame in the spare room after dinner run through my mind nearly every time I’m quilting on my fancy Bernina sewing machine.

Since their retirement a few years back, my parents have taken up researching our family history, going all the way back to the first generations to arrive from Europe. Their research into a particular line of my father’s side that emigrated from Germany was taking place at the same time that I was in a yearlong Baltimore Album class.

Baltimore Album quilts originated in the 1840s in, of course, Baltimore. My distant relative Catherine Renz made the journey from Germany to Baltimore in 1843, giving birth to a daughter on the ship on the way across the ocean. I can’t tell you how often I thought of her while I was working on my woodcut blocks, inking, ruched flowers and all of those Baltimore Album techniques. Just the possibility that she might have worked on her own Baltimore Album quilt made the class that much more enjoyable for me. How she would have envied our irons, starch and freezer paper!

Though quilting is not uniquely American, it is certainly closely tied to eras of our national history and very revealing of the lives of women from a particular time and place. The hobby might look very different even from my own mother’s forays into quilting in the early 1980s, but at its heart, the act of putting needle and thread to fabric hasn’t changed so much that it is unrecognizable.

Quilting remains a wonderful way to soothe the soul and the best way that I know to spend time with other like-minded women.

Lisa Calle is a freelance writer who lives in Dallas. She writes every Monday. Visit her at Vintage Modern Quilts.

Red, white and blue – and modern, too

By Tammie Schaffer

Tammie Schaffer

Tammie Schaffer

The Fourth of July is a holiday that comes with a very traditional color scheme, synonymous with rustic country decor and patriotic buntings. But you can change it up and still make something that looks fresh and modern.

Here are some examples.

redwhiteblue1The July Stars quilt by Allison Harris is made using a classic block, and I love that she added gray. She has a tutorial for the blocks on her site, Cluck Cluck Sew. The mix of reds, grays and blues make it a delightful quilt.

firework quilt

Cynthia Muir of Ahhh … Quilting sells this pattern for her Fireworks quilt on Craftsy. This quilt is really fun and would look amazing in some shot cottons, solids or small prints. At 36 inches by 36 inches, it also could be a fun play mat for a little one.

Star Surround by Melissa Corry is another pattern that uses star blocks. This would look great in all solids and would be a good use for your red and blue scraps. My 24-inch block uses Kona solids in coral, blueberry and coal.

redwhiteblue5This miniature quilt called Fireworks by Windsor & Main would look sweet hanging up all year round. A simple twist on a Dresden plate, this would be really cute as a pillow, too.

redwhiteblue4This is a Las Vegas Modern Quilt Guild charity quilt, another good example the effective use of  red, white and blue.

Are you inspired? Have you ever made a quilt using this traditional trio of colors? Let us know about it in the comments.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Tammie Schaffer is a freelance writer who lives in Richmond, Kan. She writes every other Friday. Visit her at craftytammie.

Imperfect pairings

By Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Scraps are an inevitable part of the quilting process.

I’ve gone through many systems of storage and organization to keep the tremendous amount of scraps in check. I’ve tried sorting by color and size and type. But I’ve realized the system that works best for me is to have them loosely sorted for projects. This makes for a great way to keep something on hand to sew for those times when I only have 20 or 30 minutes to myself. At any given time, I have three or four scrap quilts in the works.

Scrap quilts can be amazingly beautiful, and many of them belie the fact that they were made with what are essentially leftovers. But there are also scrap quilts that look, well, scrappy. No matter how carefully curated your fabric stash may be, there are always a few things in the scrap bin that might border dangerously close to ugly.

Some quilters are open to embracing the ugly fabrics and cutting and cutting until the original is no longer recognizable, but what about those of us who just can’t quite let ugly fabrics lie?

While I don’t worry too much about the rules of scale and value, letting instinct be my guide instead, there are often times when scrap quilting doesn’t quite jibe with my personal aesthetics. It’s hard to be forgiving of those imperfect pairings that sometimes result from the haphazard mixing of scraps. I feel an internal struggle, trying to balance embracing the scrappiness while also sticking to my goal of making only pretty things that I will enjoy using for years to come.


So I’ve come up with a few guidelines that help me when it comes to pairing scraps. The idea is to use up the scraps in a way that results in something that is not a mess of colors and odd pairings. The rules aren’t meant to be applied in every case. Oftentimes, it helps to just use one of these methods to keep the scraps from becoming overly scrappy.

Rule 1: Sort

Even though this might run contrary to the rules of scrap quilting, I often find that it’s helpful to sort like with like. It immediately gives scraps a more cohesive and planned look if there is some element of matching. I use themes for sorting: warm vs. cool colors, floral only prints, small vs. large scale, etc. The sorting criteria can be subtle and simple. It should only take 10 or 15 minutes to divvy up a large basket of scraps in this manner.

Cool colors scrap quilt.

Cool colors scrap quilt.

Rule 2: Omit

Sometimes the key to a great fabric combination is simply omitting one or two dominant colors from the mix.

Scrap quilt without purple or pink.

Rule 3: Create balance

When you have a lot of color and pattern going on, adding the perfect neutral can keep everything in check.  Better yet? Add negative space to give the scraps modern appeal.

Modern baby quilt made with scraps.

Modern baby quilt made with scraps.

Rule 4: Go small

Use small pieces. This is particularly helpful for large scale prints where the colors vary a lot. Breaking them up lets them act as totally different fabrics because you only see a small snippet of each.

Disappearing 9-patch scrap quilt made of 2 ½-inch squares.

Disappearing 9-patch scrap quilt made of 2 ½-inch squares.

Rule 5: Make good neighbors

This is the one rule that I use in every single scrap project. I make sure every fabric is next to something else that complements it. If two fabrics don’t look good together (again, relying heavily on my gut to tell me), I just don’t pair them up. They can still be in the same quilt together, but distance makes all the difference in how glaring the combination may or may not appear.

When it comes to scraps, what are your personal rules? Or do you just go with the flow?

Lisa Calle is a freelance writer who lives in Dallas. She writes every Monday. Visit her at Vintage Modern Quilts.

The power of the hashtag

By Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

To me, one of the distinguishing features of the modern quilting community has always been the online presence.

Between the endless blogs and online resources for modern quilters, you can find information and communication with a few clicks of the mouse. But beyond the sharing of information, there is a real sense of community that has formed through the various social media outlets. People become friends online (and sometimes in person).  I’ve “met” many other quilters online and gotten to know others through virtual quilting bees and charity sewing initiatives – all through the Web.

While I don’t have the time to join virtual quilting bees the way I used to, I still like to feel as though I’m part of the online quilting community. And for me, the best way to do that is through Instagram, an app for smartphones. Instagram is more than a photo-sharing app. It’s probably the main hub of online quilting activity for modern quilters. Chances are good that your favorite quilt book author or fabric designer has an Instagram account you can follow.

power-of-the-hashtag-01Sharing photos with a short caption on Instagram is a quick way to stay in touch with people, whether you know them in real life or not. Add a hashtag to that photo, and it connects you with everyone else on the social media site who is interested in that topic. Hashtag-friendly sites are popping up everywhere. Facebook, Pinterest and, of course, Twitter all use hashtags.

The hashtag phenomenon helps trends and issues spread like wildfire. If you’re looking for inspiration, a hashtag may be just the way to find it. Such Instagram hashtags as #scrappytripalong, #economyblockalong and #swoonalong all spread sew-alongs through the social media site in what seemed like days, with hundreds of quilters participating.

power-of-the-hashtag-04Hashtags such as #sweatandsew have inspired a lot of quilters, including me, to start making fitness a priority. Another popular one, #finishit2014 is meant to inspire you to finish your lingering projects this year.

You also can use hashtags to find items for sale. The recent #thegreatfabricdestash has nearly 40,000 photos of fabric for sale. Hashtags also encourage donations for a good cause.

Hashtags can be personal, a way for you to track your progress on a project, for example. I use a special hashtag for photos of my dogs so I can easily click back through those pictures.

While there is quite a bit of backlash about the impersonal nature of social media, with many people saying that it keeps us isolated from real life, I find that isn’t the case for me at all. Social media isn’t a substitute for real-life friendships, but it is a great way to become friends with people you probably wouldn’t otherwise encounter. It’s a way to stay in touch with people you don’t know well enough to call on the phone or can’t meet up with for lunch.

power-of-the-hashtag-03I also love that sites like Instagram give an instant and more personal connection with quilters I admire that is often missing from blog posts. I share personal snippets of my life on Instagram that aren’t interesting enough on their own to be a blog post. But added together, they really give a picture of my life.

In fact, last year I made a photo book with nothing but Instagram photos from that year, and it’s one of my favorite photo albums.  It shows the small details of life that so often go unnoticed, but they’re the small things that enhance your memories of a certain time and place.

Lisa Calle is a freelance writer who lives in Dallas. She writes every Monday. Visit her at Vintage Modern Quilts.