3 Reasons to Take Classes on Techniques You Already Know

When I saw that my quilt guild had a beading class with Lisa Yoder coming up, I debated with myself about taking it. I’ve been beading on fabric for years and have even done demos at the guild on basic beading techniques. What more was there to learn?

Fortunately, I talked myself into taking the class. After all, a class gives me a chance to practice a skill I won’t practice at home. I’ve taken multiple machine quilting classes over the years, even after I started getting compliments on my quilting, and never regretted it. Classes remind me of things I’ve forgotten, and I always learn something new, though it may be something small.

Here’s what I got from taking Lisa’s class:

1) Inspiration: Lisa’s quilts are hand-sewn gems, tiny bead-encrusted worlds that are delicate, whimsical, and breath-taking. I loved her work.

Hand-sewn and beaded quilt by Lisa Yoder.
My studio the day after Lisa’s class: Beading frenzy!

2) Fun: I thoroughly enjoyed making my little beaded quilt during class (and yes, I got all but a dozen of those beads on during the 3-hour class). I remembered how much I love to bead things.

The beading I did in class (fabric is 3.5 by 5.5 inches).

3) Learning: Even though I’ve beaded for years, Lisa had things to teach me. She did some things differently than I do. I gave them a try because I was in her class and discovered some tips to make beading go more smoothly.

As a rule, I love to learn. But it’s easy to forget that just because I know how to do something doesn’t mean there isn’t more to know. I’m really grateful I took Lisa’s class. Not only can old dogs learn new tricks, but there are so many new tricks out there waiting to be learned.

3 Tips for Working with Beads

I’ve been beading on fabric for years, but thanks to Lisa Yoder’s To Bead or Not To Bead class, I’ve just learned some new things that make my beading go more smoothly.

1) Use a beading pad. Lisa provided supplies for her class, and one of the items was a beading pad. It’s a rather fat and squishy fabric that is fuzzy on both sides. It keeps your beads from rolling around, making it much easier to pick them up with the needle. It’s ideal when you are adding one bead at a time.

My beading pad. It also doubles as a needle holder. I keep my pad in a recycled food tray for added safety.

An unexpected bonus: it makes it really easy to return your beads to their storage container as well. You just pick up the cloth and pour them in. It’s like using a paper funnel, only the beads roll more slowly so you have more control.

Bead pads also make it easier to pour beads into their container.

2) Use a single strand when beading. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have had the habit of doubling up my thread and knotting it that way for years. My thought was that it was easy insurance — twice the thread per stitch — and it would keep my beads from falling off the quilt. What I didn’t realize is how hard it was making things for me. Using a single strand means keeping track of the loose end (which can be particularly tricky when there are lots of beads on your thread) but it also means it’s a snap to un-thread and fix any problems that come up. It reminds me of what I learned when I went to a standing desk: reduce the effort involved in doing something, and you increase the likelihood that you’ll do the right thing.

3) Use a bowl or jar of beads to string lots of beads at a time. This is something I remembered after class, when I was home and beading madly (inspired by Lisa’s class). You just stab the needle into the mass of beads and pick them up at random until you have as many as you need. It’s faster than picking them up one at a time.

Dip your needle repeatedly into the mass of beads to pick up a bunch at once.

Stitch Meditations: Don’t Box Me In

For years, I have been searching for a form of mediation that really works for me. As someone with a busy brain, sitting still and trying to think of nothing borders on torture. I do a little better with guided meditation, unless I’m asked to make decisions. Visualizing my favorite place or the last time I was deeply happy stop me cold — I spend so much time trying to figure out the answer I miss the instructions that follow.

One thing that does work for me is moving meditation. Anything that requires me to focus in and stay on task can help quiet the rest of my mind if I let it. Combine it with an activity I love like sewing, and I’m in. Hence, my interest in Liz Kettle‘s daily stitch meditations.

I’d seen examples of Liz’s stitch meditations on Facebook but it was only after she posted a video on how and why she does them that I was inspired to try it myself. I took notes on the few simple rules she follows and made plans to put together a box of supplies so that I could sit down and sew-meditate without interruptions.

The only problem was that I couldn’t figure out what I should put in the box. I have a room full of sewing supplies. How to get down to just the essentials when I couldn’t be sure what I would need? Clearly, I needed basic tools: needle, scissors, thread, thimble. But what color thread? What size needle?

I also needed something to use as a base. Liz uses flannel, but I don’t have any right now so I cut up some felt. My fabric scraps are already in a clear plastic jug where it’s easy to see them. It didn’t make sense to transfer them to the box.

My scraps (in a handy see-through jug)

One thing went in the box without any thought: my entire (tiny) collection of perle cotton. Decorative stitching looks much better with nice fat thread.

My incomplete stitch meditation “kit” (L to R): Finished meditations, sewing thread, needles, felt bases,  and perle cotton.

Even though my kit wasn’t ready, I decided to start in on stitch meditations. I would learn what I needed as I went, and after a while, I would be able to fill my meditation box with confidence.

I’ve only been at it for a week, but I’ve learned two things already. First, I quickly developed a step-by-step process for my meditations.


Second, I found out I like having access to my entire studio. It’s not overwhelming, like I thought it would be. I look at the piece and think: “I need red thread” and I go get some. Or “I need something spiky” and I dig through a drawer of found metal objects until I find just the right thing. I have an idea of what I want and can quickly find what I need, or something very much like it.

From pretty to gritty: as I got used to stitch meditation, I started letting the pieces reflect my mood.

The colors and materials that appeal to me change a lot from day to day, especially now that I am starting to actually settle into the moment and express my emotions instead of just making something pretty. I’m using colors and materials that are not my usual choices. I may be able to make myself a travel kit at some point, but right now, I’m still learning what sort of things I need. I imagine they will change with time.

The best part of stitch meditation is that I am devoted to it. It’s fun. There’s no thought of skipping it. The half hour (or less) that it takes doesn’t feel like a waste of time. My first meditations weren’t very restful because I was figuring things out, but by the end of the week, that had changed.

I make all my choices based on gut feeling, then think about why I made them while I sew. What does this color mean? What does that remind me of? How am I feeling today and why? I am still playing around, trying to be as relaxed and easy going as I can with every stage of the process, but already it’s starting to talk to me and tell me things I didn’t know.

Only time will tell if this is truly the meditation method for me, but right now I’m thinking: this is it!

What about you? Do you find sewing meditative?

It’s OK to Spread Yourself Thin Creatively

This morning, I came across a note to myself that says: “Maybe I should give up quilting.”

This was a scary thought for me. I’ve been quilting for over two decades. I have a studio full of fabric, thread, batts, and unfinished quilts.

It’s not uncommon for me to think I need to cut back on my creative pursuits. I’m interested in so many fiber arts: soft sculpture, knitting, spinning, crochet, embroidery, and of course quilting. I’d like to learn how to make lace by hand, too. Then there’s drawing and painting, art journaling and book binding. And of course, I write whenever I can.

As a result, I’m constantly telling myself I would be do better work if I stopped spreading myself so thin and just focused on one thing. Wouldn’t I get more writing done if I stopped making quilts, spinning wool, and knitting sweaters for dinosaurs?

Whenever I consider cutting back so I can focus, resistance swells in me. I don’t want to cut back. I like variety. I like doing different things throughout the day or week. And I get different things from my various interests. The satisfaction I get from writing is very different from the more tactile activity of sewing.

Fortunately, I never acted on the idea of getting all the quilting supplies out of the house.

Recently, I’ve had bouts of insomnia that have left me drained. I always want to be making things, but when I hit a certain level of fatigue, I make more mistakes than stuff. When I go through a period like this, dragging around too tired to move, I need something that is repetitive and automatic, no serious thinking involved.

This is why I love to quilt.

Some stages of making a quilt take tons of thought and energy. Planning the project and choosing the fabrics are high-energy tasks for me. But once all the decisions are made and it’s time to just sew fabric together? That’s the sweet spot in the project when I’m tired. The mindless stuff that is boring when I’m feeling good is restful and restorative when I’m feeling bad.

My current project: The Scrap-o-lator Quilt Pattern by Dianne Springer

Danny Gregory said it best in his book The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are. He tells us to dabble in the things we’re interested in, instead of expecting to become experts or professionals. We’re free to spend as much — or more importantly, as little — time as we want on our passions.

If I had gotten rid of my quilting stuff, I would be looking for something to do, to help me rest when I can’t sleep. I’m so glad my sewing machine and fabric scraps are willing to wait around until it’s the right time for me to work with them.

What about you? Are you interested in more things than you can learn in one lifetime? What do you make when you are super tired?

DIY Coloring Book Inspirations

I use lots of different sources for the doodles in my homemade coloring books. Here are some examples of the many things you can use to make your own designs.


1) Use your own photos. I drew my dog Cora by looking at an old photo fo her, then decorated the wall with hearts. Feel free to trace the image if you aren’t ready to draw it freehand.

The doodle I made of Cora, and the photo I used for inspiration.


2) Draw jewelry.  Sometimes I draw a ring or earring I’m wearing. Other times, I go for something more elaborate, like this brooch from the Middle Ages that I saw in an art book.

A brooch from the Middle Ages and my doodle based on it.

3) Copy patterns from fabric. I often copy designs from fabrics around me: look at carpets, curtains, table cloths, and napkins to find ideas. If the design is too complicated, simplify it.

The left hand pattern is based on a table cloth; the right hand is based on a place mat.

4) Draw simple symbols. Your doodles can also come from your head. Draw hearts, stars, flowers, a smiling sun. Simple designs can be made more elaborate and colored in many different ways.

Repeat or decorate a simple shape for fun coloring.

5) Get close. When there aren’t any obvious patterns nearby, I start looking at the texture of things, like the fabric of my shirt or running shoes, or the stitching on a jacket or jeans. These form patterns that can be drawn large and colored.

The stitches on the hem of my t-shirt (top) gave me a pattern to draw in my coloring book (bottom).

6) Draw architectural details. Something as simple as a doorknob or electrical outlet can be turned into a doodle for your coloring book. More complex details from old buildings are fun to draw and color, too. One of my favorite sources for architectural ornaments is the book The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones.

Get this book in the large format if you can find it. It’s worth it!

The world is full of patterns you can play with. Traditional quilt blocks, tile floors (whether in your bathroom or the state capitol), brick walls and walkways, and fencing can all inspire doodles for you to color. Keep your eyes open and be brave. It doesn’t matter if your drawing doesn’t look like what you saw. You’ll still have something interesting to color when you’re done.

What cool patterns have you found to doodle?

Tips and Ideas for Your Coloring Book

Whether you are coloring in a pre-printed book or coloring your own doodles, there are some things you can do to make your pages look glorious. As I’ve already mentioned, I love using markers to color. Below are some tips for working with markers, and some ideas for how to make your pages look great.



1) Make a test sheet. I like to test my art supplies on the paper I’m using. Markers can be particularly deceptive: the color on the outside doesn’t always match the color of the ink. You can make an organized chart in rainbow order, or something more informal. Just make sure you label your tests so you can refer to it as you go.

My test page for two different sets of markers.

2) Watch out for bleed through. Marker ink often bleeds through thinner papers. To keep the color from coming through onto the next page in your book, stick a sheet of scrap paper behind the page you are coloring.

3) Use the same color in several places on your page. This is my trick for getting a harmonious page, especially with doodles. It’s easy to get caught up in changing color schemes from frame to frame, but for the whole page to really sing, make sure a few of the colors show up in more than one frame to tie the page together.

I used blue-green and gold in most of the designs to help tie this page together.

4) Pay attention to contrast. How dark or light your colors are relative to one another can affect how your design looks. A fast way to learn what does and doesn’t work is to make a sample page with the same design in a grid, then color each box differently to see what happens.

The value and color between the flowers and their centers has to contrast a lot or you don’t see the flowers at all.



1) Use color theory to choose your coloring scheme. We all learned about the color wheel when we were in school (if you need a refresher, go here). It’s a great resource for choosing colors for your doodles. Some common schemes are:
a) monochromatic: using shades, tints, and tones of a single color

Monochromatic color scheme (with just a touch of yellow)

b) analogous: using two or more colors that are adjacent on the color wheel

Two examples of analogous schemes: the first is yellow/yellow-orange/orange/orange-red/red; the second is yellow/yellow-green/green/blue-green.

c) complementary: using colors opposite one another on the color wheel

Two examples of complementary color schemes. The first is red-orange and blue-green. The second is the more traditional red and green.

d) triads: using three colors that are equal distance from one another on the color wheel (at the corners of an equilateral triangle)

The color wheel triad in this doodle is red-violet/yellow-orange/blue-green.

e) combine schemes: I like to add the complementary color to an analogous scheme to make the colors pop even more.

The yellow-to-red analogous colors are even brighter thanks to the blue-green I added (which complements the yellow-orange at the center of the analogous run).

2) Blend colors for a different look. You can blend your marker colors within a design to get a more sophisticated look. This works best with analogous colors because they visually blend into one another, especially if you have a larger marker set with lots of shades, tints, and tones in it. It also helps to work quickly, while the ink is wet, so the colors bleed into one another a bit.


3) Experiment with one design by coloring it different ways. One of my favorite doodles is the one I call X-box. I include it some version of it on most of my doodle pages. It’s simple to draw but offers lots of options for coloring.

X-box colored six different ways.

Do you have any tips or ideas for coloring with markers that I missed?

Make Your Own Coloring Book

Adult coloring books are all the rage, and I understand the appeal. Back in 2011, I was in pain for months before surgery fixed my problem. Exhausted and hurting, I spent hours coloring to distract myself. It was absorbing without being difficult, and very relaxing. But I didn’t use published coloring books. I made my own.

A sample of a coloring page from my homemade book (9″ x 12″)

I’ve always been interested in drawing, but at that time I believed I couldn’t really draw. I felt so awful that everything seemed hard. Doodling gave me permission to play with markers without making Art. The funny thing is, the more I practiced, the more beautiful my pages got. With time, I included sketches that actually looked like things I saw around me. Eventually, I got up the courage to take online art courses.

If you want to take your coloring to the next level, then it’s time to make your own coloring book. You don’t have to be an artist to doodle (and you can doodle even if you are an artist!).

You can make your coloring pages on loose sheets of paper or in a sketch book. I like using wire-bound sketchbooks because they lay flat and keep my doodles in chronological order. I mostly use larger formats (11″ x 14″) because I like room to spread out. I do take smaller sketchbooks (5″ x 8″) with me when I travel. Not all my pages turn out great, but it’s nice being able to look back at them.

To help you get started, here is how I do it:

1) Draw frames. I do everything freehand because I like the hand-drawn look of my imperfect rectangles, but you can use a ruler or a stencil to draw your frames. Also, they don’t have to be square. I’ve made pages with triangular frames, curvy frames, even frames that make a picture of a flower.

Draw frames to fill the page

2) Fill each frame with a different pattern or image. There are lots of sources out there that can teach you different patterns to doodle (Zentangle is probably the most famous). But you can easily come up with your own. All you have to do is look around and copy what you see.

Here are the patterns I used for my sample doodle page:

Draw a pattern in each frame (designs described in post text).

A) Basket weave: texture copied from a basket on my table

The basket I looked at and the pattern I drew from it.

B) Simple grid: super easy to draw with lots of coloring options; I drew mine on an angle relative to its frame because I like how it looks

C) Stylized zipper: this is a simplified drawing of one half of a zipper with the teeth turned into rectangles. You can use any pattern you see around you. If it’s too hard to draw, simplify the elements and draw that.

D) X box: this is a pattern inspired by a quilt block I really like. Like the grid (B), it’s easy to draw and has lots of interesting coloring options

E) Bubbles: lots of circles drawn different sizes. You can do this with any shape you want. And you can make them overlap (like I did) or just fill the space with them. Whether or not you draw them so that they disappear behind the frame is also up to you.

F) Sawtooth borders: draw a series of lines (straight or curvy) and then fill them in with triangles. You can fill each strip with any design you like, simple or complex, and make the borders in one frame all the same, alternating, or all different.

G) Scales: A simple C shape drawn to pack the space. You can add as many echo lines in each scale as you like (the sample shows one echo line).

H) Tiles: draw a single shape over and over, packing them together but leaving a set amount of space between the adjacent tiles. I used triangles here, but this works with all sorts of shapes, even really strange ones.

3) Color your designs. I’ll talk more about coloring tips in my next post, but here are the basics. You can use anything you have or like (markers, colored pencils, ballpoint pens, gel pens, crayons, etc.). I used markers because I loved the strong color and the way the ink flows on to the page.


I bought a set of Prismacolor Premier artists markers so I would have lots of colors to work with. You can use smaller, cheaper sets (which is how I started), but I like having lots of color options.

My doodle page, after coloring (approximately 5″ x 5″)

Even a limited set of markers can make for a great looking page. Here’s a monochrome page I colored using the black and gray markers from one of my cheaper sets.

Colored with grey and black pens (5.5″ x 8.5)

Of course, you can still make your own coloring pages even if you have only one pen or pencil. Just shade in part of the designs to add light and dark.

“Coloring” page made with a single pen (5.5″ x 8.5″)


My favorite thing about making my own coloring book pages is that the results are so personal. When I look at a doodle, I remember the thing that inspired the pattern. For the more unusual patterns, I remember where I was (visiting a friend, sitting on an airplane, hanging out in a hotel room) and what I was looking at (a piece of pottery, the fabric on the seat in front of me, the pattern on the bedspread). Like any kind of drawing, even doodling can open your eyes to the world around you.

Next week: Tips on coloring your homemade pages.