Recently I sat down with Jenny Doan in her studio to ask a few questions about an important tool of the quilting trade, sewing machines, in honor of National Sewing Machine Day on June 13. As a sewist of many years, Jenny shares the machines she prefers to piece on and some tips and tricks she’s picked up along the way, along with a few fun stories behind her sewing machine collection.
What is your favorite sewing machine?
So my favorite machine to piece on is the baby lock jane which now is called the accomplish, and it’s my favorite because it goes fast. It goes 1600 stitches a minute, and it goes very fast, it’s heavy duty. You’re not going to want to take it to a retreat but you are going to miss it if you’re used to sewing on it because it’s fast, I like to have my pedal to the metal and you know I like to sew fast. Every company makes a machine that’s like this, it’s like a kind of commercial-esque machine, like Juki makes one. I love the Juki [“What is the number on that Juki?” She asks me. I am sitting directly in front of a Juki machine, the “TL2010Q”.] Yep, that’s the quilting machine for Juki and I do like that one really well, I do have one of those as well.
Tell me about your first sewing machine.
My first only sewing machine was a Viking and it had cams to to change the stitches. At that time, I was into all the decorative stitches, because I was 14 years old and just starting High School and everybody wore the chambray button up shirts but they liked to decorate them with embroidery. Instead of embroidery, I would use my decorative stitches. And at that time, you would put in a cam and you’d have like, 4-5 stitches to choose from and they were color coded, so you’d turn all the knobs on the machine, if they were all orange, then they would do the orange stitch, you know, and if they were all blue, then they’d do the blue stitch. I had that machine for years and years and years and then finally it just wouldn’t keep its timing. I wish I still had it, but I think I just got rid of it because it didn’t work anymore. That was my first machine, and I loved it.
Do you have a fun story of a machine you have acquired?
I do have a fun story! So I was in a Goodwill, and they have this little machine, sitting up by the counter and it had $9.99 on it, and so I started to unlatch the lid to look at it, and I got the lid up, about 2 inches, and I just slammed the lid down, buckled it up, and said to the lady working that “I am going to take this.” And so I was with Annie, I was with you [Editors note: Hi! Jenny and I go way back.], and when we got back to the car you were like “Grandma, what’s with that machine, I saw you just open up and close it.” And I said, “Well I don’t know what it is, but it is pink and so it has to be amazing.” I am not necessarily a pink lover, you know, but most sewing machines are not colored that way, especially older ones. And when I took the cover off, I discovered that it was a Morse machine and it runs great and it’s a gorgeous pink color. I keep it in my studio to this day because it was such a fun find and such a fun machine. I really love that one.
I’ve also found a bunch of children’s sewing machines that I love, and the hunt for those is really fun. Because if you go to an antique store, out in the middle of nowhere, you could get one for $8 or you could get one for, you know, $100. You just never know what they’re going to be priced at and what you’re going to get. Those are really fun, they’re collectible and I do have a collection of those.
And we do have a big collection of sewing machines at Missouri Star and there is also a huge collection at the Missouri Quilt Museum.
When and why did you start collecting sewing machines?
Well I actually started collecting irons first. I thought irons were really cool and I could get an iron every place I taught. In my mind, I really could only imagine a few different kinds of irons and then I started collecting them and literally I don’t think I have two that are the same, and I have an easy, I don’t know, hundred of them. They’re just amazing and cool. But the problem with irons is that you can’t carry them on [an airplane] and they’re going to add ten pounds to your luggage and if you mail them home, then it is equally as expensive. So I decided, once I had a fairly extensive iron collection, that I would start collecting children’s sewing machines. And the reason I decided to collect anything is that when you go teach, you fly in, you fly out. But if you have to go to an antique store, then there’s something you can do while you’re there. And you’re either going to go to the best part of town, or the worst part of town, but you’re going to go somewhere. And I have a hard time branching out and being adventurous, I just kind of tend to go and do my event and go home, and so this gave me a little bit of adventure, I was on the hunt for something fun to bring home from that place. And so after I got a few irons, I started collecting sewing machines, which are much easier to travel with, they let you carry them on. That’s when I started collecting those, and they are so fun. They [sewing machines (irons too!)] literally permeate my studio, my house. You’ll see one peeking through in lots of different places, they’re just darling. And there are so many different kinds.
What’s a fun sewing machine secret or hack you have?
So one of the things that quilters complain about is that they literally sit at their machine and sew all day long and it makes their back hurt. So one of the hacks for that is that if you tilt your machine just forward, just a little bit, you use different muscles. And so actually I used to use a roll of masking tape, the 1” roll, you could also get those plastic door stoppers, and slide it under the back [of your machine] because if your machine tilts, then you move differently. You can also move your chair up and down, but I think as I get older, it’s generally those neck and back muscles that are what hurt me, and so I actually think that’s a really cool hack. If you just change the height of your machine, the height of your chair, if you lean it forward, lean it back, do something so that it switches it up.
The other hack I have is that I rarely ever re-thread my sewing machine. I cut the thread, tie the two pieces (the new spool of thread piece to the piece that is currently threaded in the machine) together and just pull it through. And so that makes a cool hack, and a lot of times I’ll buy a really big spool of thread and I used to just keep a Mason Jar next to my sewing machine and I would just have that thread in there and run the thread out of it and then you can use as big a spool as you want, if your big spool won’t fit on your sewing machine. Which usually they are made for a pretty small spool, and so I would always get these giant spools because I hated changing my thread. I would have a light spool and a dark spool and then I would just use those. I would just tie the two threads together and pull it through, I would rarely ever change it.
A woman I was talking to once, she was telling me she was saving up to get a machine and I said, “Go to a thrift store, go to Goodwill, because the older machines, they are generally running great and people get rid of them because they didn’t know how to use them. You can find a great machine if you’re looking to save your pennies at a thrift store or garage sale or something like that. – Jenny Doan
In 1825, 14-year-old Jane Valentine started an Irish Chain quilt. Five years and 10,092 blocks later, her quilt was finally complete.
According to the National Museum of American History, Jane used 130 different cotton prints and a plain white background that is quilted “6 stitches per inch with a flower motif.”
(Keep in mind, every one of those tiny stitches was done by hand. No wonder it took 5 years!)
This week Jenny whipped up a new version of the Irish Chain based on our quick and easy Irish Change pattern. The addition of a sweet little flower block makes this Flower Chain quilt an absolute beauty!
Grab your favorite charm packs and click HERE to watch the tutorial!
Color is king when Kaffe Fassett comes to town! In 2019, we were thrilled to host the world-renowned color guru himself at a workshop and a lecture highlighting his latest projects. It was a feast for the eyes to see the Kaffe Fassett Collective’s designs up close and personal and our fabulous social media manager took a moment to sit down with Kaffe and Brandon Mably to chat about the sources of their inspiration and how they are able to collaborate so seamlessly together. These two amazing guys spoke candidly about their personal influences, the joy of teaching and learning, and how they intend to spread a love of color throughout the world!
You’ve been designing for decades. What eras have called to you the most? And maybe the least?
Kaffe: I would say, probably the most influential in my life was the “hippy” times. You know, I arrived in England in 1964, when the Beatles were just bursting onto the world. And so they encouraged us all to go down to the flea markets and vintage shops and buy wild doorman’s uniforms and make our clothes out of Indian bedspreads and god knows what. You know, there was a freedom of fashion and so forth, so that was an incredible time. I would say that’s probably the most influential event, that freed me up to just make myself up, reinvent myself.
Are there any eras that didn’t provide that inspiration?
Kaffe: I didn’t like when I went through the 50s, because I felt it was very stodgy and conservative. Because, you know, if you grew your hair more than a quarter of an inch longer than everyone else, if you met someone they’d say, “Why don’t you get a haircut? What’s wrong with you?” It was very annoying. You couldn’t be yourself. And that’s why I suppose that hippy time was so important because you could totally be yourself. But I look back at it now and I realize there was a lot of color … all the sort of pastel colors. I mean, it’s interesting when you see a revival of that time that they don’t get the color right. They don’t get enough pink and duck egg blue, all those wonderful high colors; the girls in canary yellow, twinsets and pearls, scarves, and their big, flowing skirts, all that stuff, it was interesting. The thing is, those poor girls, their hair had to be absolutely perfect! If it was in a bob it had to curl under, not a hair out of place, it was very plastic. So, there was a lot of stuff I didn’t like about that time.
And Brandon, how about you?
Brandon: I’m not old enough to have opinions about that. You know, for me, if it doesn’t move fast enough, I’ll grab it. I’m looking for a play on color and pattern and rhythm, and because Kaffe is more into Rococo and brocade and flowers, and I’m more about the repetition of markings, it could be chewing gum stuck to the pavement, it could be a zebra pattern, you know it’s what’s going to make dance and movement and pattern, and they all feed my imagination, but it’s never one thing. One thing will lead to another thing, so it’s never a direct take.
How do you see color evolving?
Brandon: We’re changing. Because in the past we were working with a lot of saturated color, but now you’ll see the fabrics coming out from ourselves have a little bit more edge and a little bit more contrast so when you cut up the fabrics, they give you a little bit more flicker, a little bit more play, rather than being more of a saturation. You will still have that color saturation, but it’s different, and also the patterns and structures that we’ve been inspired by having a little bit more contrast rather than a dense pattern. So, we’re changing all the time and we’re learning from our workshops, other people in our classes inspire us.
What insights have you garnered from people who have taken your classes?
Kaffe: Use of black and white is the strongest thing. Just people doing wonderful, contrasting things ‘cause that never used to be part of my vocabulary so much. I think what I’m trying to do always is to get clearer. I see a lot of my fans will take all of my big flower fabrics and Phillip’s big flower fabrics and put them together and end up with something very mushy, kind of chop suey. And so I try to get more clear and a little bit more definition in my pieces so you can actually see the structure. So, I suppose that’s what’s come out of the classes, really.
Is there a benefit then from using precuts where the collection is completely packaged in one?
Kaffe: It would never occur to me to pick up a package of something and try to make it work. One of the things that we do in our workshops is have people have a huge variety of fabrics to choose from and then sort out the ones that are disturbing the peace as it were, not making the color glow. It’s very difficult to do that if you’re very limited by somebody else’s choice of fabrics you should use. But, you can take anything and make it work.
Brandon: But the prepacks are fantastic for those who are a little bit intimidated by making a choice in so much color and pattern that they’re not used to.
Kaffe: Anything that gets people started, gets you going, is fine with us. Then they can come to one of our classes and refine the whole thing.
You’ve mentioned something about using blacks with the colors and how the white kind of drowns out the color of the fabric.
Kaffe: Well, I wasn’t saying using black, but I would use … I’ve just done a whole range of shot cottons that are quite subtle colors. Those kinds of colors go beautifully with the more florid, expressive colors of flowers.
Brandon: I mean, every color has its place, but white steals the intention from color. Black attracts and pushes color forward, more than what you possibly needed unless you control a color. Lots of shades of whites can be beautiful, lots of shades of darker tones and blacks can be beautiful, but put those with neon colors, they’re gonna fight.
Kaffe: What white does is overshadow the color and, very often, rather than helping it to glow. And that’s what our whole thing, what our workshops are trying to get people to do is to make color be released and have its full potential. Billions of people in the world think white is a wonderful background for fabrics and we just are there to differ with them.
That’s a great experiment though too, right?
Kaffe: You know something, I think you learn as much from what doesn’t work. Okay, now I see that. I never need to do that. I can see that that blend doesn’t work. It doesn’t do anything for the color. So, good. Now I’ve seen all those quilts. I can just go and do something different.
Brandon: We will never stop learning because color is so unpredictable. And it’s not about a theory or a color wheel or a process. Neither of us had any education about color. But what we’ve done is we have a level of confidence to allow ourselves to make mistakes and learn from that.
And what would you say to people who maybe struggle with allowing themselves to make mistakes?
Kaffe: There’s a great fear of getting color wrong. Our whole lives are experimenting and playing with color. We got past that fear.
Brandon: People judge themselves too harshly. One of the big lessons that Kaffe taught me at the very beginning is “have a go. Just try. Keep on trying.” But also if you don’t like it, guaranteed somebody else will. So stop thinking you’re making it for a particular reason. Just enjoy the process and see what comes out of it.
You both experiment with art and creating in different mediums, how do you think that helps you when it comes to designing fabric and working with textiles?
Kaffe: Everything we do is experimenting with color. If you make a bouquet of flowers, if you throw cushions onto a couch, if you choose wallpaper, or whatever. Basically, what we’re doing is making mosaics, we’re making rag rugs, we’re designing fabrics, we’re making quilts, we’re doing knitwear, we’re doing needlepoint—it’s all playing with color. And then we have exhibitions which make a great kaleidoscope of groups of colors, so that that really has a dramatic, theatrical impact to the people that come to that museum and see our shows.
Brandon: It’s an incredible journey what we’re on because we basically hand paint all our artwork, nothing is done on the computer, then it goes off to Charlotte, North Carolina, then it’s sent out to Korea and it comes back in fabric form. And then we get to cut it up and then rearrange that on our design wall into a large scale arrangement and that gets sewn, instructions are written, and then we go out to a lavish location and photograph that. And we choose aesthetic locations that the whole thing has a harmony.
Kaffe: The location actually reflects the color that’s in the quilt.
Brandon: So we’re completely controlling the look. And there’s play, play, play, play, and we never have a plan, until even the photoshoot, we’re living by the seat of our pants. That’s why I have no hair! I used to be a long, blonde, curly-haired, Tarzan-looking, gorgeous George. But look at me now!
With the books, like Quilts in America and Quilts in the Cotswolds, were those unplanned?
Brandon: We go and go a 2-day recce (reconnaissance). So, we access a place. And then we go back. We don’t know what the weather is going to be like. We know what time of year it is. We haven’t got the quilts made. They’re still being given birth to until the week we fly away.
Kaffe: I mean so much so that one of our locations was a fabulous park full of incredible tulips in Holland and we said to them, “Can we come and photograph here tomorrow?” and they said, “Absolutely!” But overnight they cut every flower down in the entire park. And you forget to ask questions like, “ You’re not going to cut your flowers down, are you?” They thought we were coming to photograph black earth, I guess. Because that’s what we had. So we said, “What have you done with the flowers?” They said, “They’re dumped out in the back.” So we took the girls out and threw the models down on top of dead flowers. And that was our shoot. That’s how unplanned it is.
Do you design separately and then come together?
Brandon: Yeah. I mean, we’re in the same space. We’re just in different rooms.
Kaffe: We encourage each other in our designs.
Switching gears a little bit, about how long have you followed Jenny and the Missouri Star story?
Kaffe: Well, I heard about this story. They said this woman in the middle of America has become the businesswoman of the year and then this mythological thing of how it all came about. You know, it’s just amazing. It’s an extraordinary story. Is somebody writing her story?
Social Media Manager: We’ve documented it a few times, but to sit down with her and create a book like yours, we should totally do that.
Kaffe: Totally! Because that’s a great, great story. We came here very curious to see the spot where all this happened.
Brandon: We heard about it at the Houston Quilt Market, it was like a virus, everybody was talking about it, and how this online, educational website was also selling and it was just bringing more interest to the world and how it was kind of encouraging more people. And then we started to hear when they were taking over a town and introducing shops and we didn’t think it would be as together as it was. We thought there would be a shop here and a shop there, you know. It’s not always you can buy a high street (like a main street), it just doesn’t seem possible. So, when we were brought up from the airport, we were driving, driving, driving, we were thinking, where the heck are we going. And then we saw a big, billboard sign saying “Quilt Town” and we were like, hey!
Your designs and your creations resonate with people from old to young, beginning to advanced, why do you think that is?
Kaffe: First of all, there is a big nostalgic element to the way I design. I look at the world of decorative arts: old carpets, old wallpaper, old things, so there’s a big nostalgic element to that. Brandon’s far too young to have any nostalgia, so he produces these very funky, modern, kind of primitive, exciting, geometric designs that work very well with our, Phillip’s and mine, kind of very floral, painterly fabrics. So, there’s a great combination, but I would say that more than anything else, that it’s the color that has grabbed people. For some reason, the quilt world was so enveloped in past history that all the color was browned down. So, we had a lot of browns, ochres, you know, pale creams, and everything kind of had milk in it or earth in it. And I wasn’t into earthy colors. To me, when I travel the world, I see Gypsy caravans, and I’m very attracted to circuses and fun fairs, and, you know, vulgar, crazy bright colors. So, I love all that and I put that into my fabrics. And Brandon does too. His color is vibrant.
Anything you would like to add?
Brandon: Absolutely. I totally agree. I think a big part of why our audience is wide is that it’s a collaboration. There’s three artists involved and Phillip is an extraordinary painter, but it’s Kaffe’s colors that are what people see. It’s very rare that Phillip’s actual, original artwork is seen by the public, and colors, because he doesn’t do colorways, and then Kaffe puts the magic into those. And then he does his own colors. And I kind of give them a little bit of separation or space. They call me “zany”—I should change my name. And yeah that appeals to those who want to be a little bit more daring. And there are those who, if they can’t cope with my wacky contemporary, they can lean more towards Kaffe and Phillip. And so it’s a very good blend.
Where do you see quilting and creating evolving in the next 5, 10 years?
Kaffe: As we have taught over the years and traveled, we see people improving unbelievably, so that our workshops now, there’s nobody that falls through the net. Nobody that doesn’t actually make it to the end of the project. They may have a fragment of something, but they’ve got something up there that tells us the color they’re doing. And so, I would see improvement, improvement, and that people seem to be getting much more our message about how color can be vibrant and sexy, rather than contrasting and edgy. You know, it’s like the formulas of white backgrounds and contrast. When I first came into the industry, this woman said to me, “You have to understand about patchwork, if you’re going to get into it. There’s three elements: there’s the light and the dark and the medium, and you have to have those elements always in a quilt.” And so there are these formulas that people go by, rather than, what makes that color suddenly come alive? So, I would say it’s improving and I have great hopes for the future because every year that we go out, every set of workshops we do, they get better.
Brandon: I believe, I think we’re in a world of education. Missouri Star is a huge part of that by Jenny giving her tutorials, and I don’t think a shop can exist without giving workshops because what you’re doing is, you’re encouraging your customers to be a little bit more adventurous, try something new and daring and step out of your comfort zone. So you feel a little bit more open. So yeah, I think it’s our responsibility to get people to just try and, not just scare them, but try to get them to be a little bit more daring.
We’re so proud to announce that our Missouri Star Starlight Block of the Month quilt will feature fabrics from the Kaffe Fassett Collective prints. Click below to learn more about this exciting new BOM and get stitching with the master of color himself!
The Doan family loves getting together and throwing a party! Especially in the summertime, we gather at one of our houses to be together outside and eat good food.
Sometimes we swim, sometimes we camp, sometimes we bring out the dirt bikes and ride around playing dirt bike soccer, but no matter what we do, we always have good food and good company!
Accompanying our hamburgers and hotdogs and varieties of chips, here are a few of our favorite family barbeque side dishes!
A family barbeque classic — we love our potato salad!
6 medium potatoes (2 pounds)
1 Tablespoon minced dried onion
1⁄3 cup dill pickle relish
2 Tablespoons dill pickle juice
1 1⁄4 cups mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons mustard
1 teaspoon garlic salt (to taste)
4 hardboiled eggs – cooked, peeled and grated.
Cook potatoes in boiling, salted water until tender.
Drain well, and let cool.
Cube potatoes into a large bowl.
Add onion, relish and grated eggs to bowl.
Combine mayo, mustard, garlic salt, and pickle juice.
Add mayo mixture to bowl.
Mix well to coat potatoes and combine all ingredients.
Cover and chill thoroughly. Enjoy!
The perfect barbeque side to compliment your spread!
1 lb hamburger
1/2 onion, chopped
5-6 cans of beans, drained (red, black, and pinto) mix em’ up!
1 green pepper, chopped
1 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 cans chopped tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
Brown the hamburger and cook the onions, then mix it all together in a crock-pot and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours!
Jenny’s favorite is the strawberry pie. We never have a summer party without it!
1 9″ frozen pie crust, baked
1 cup of sugar
1 1/2 cups of water
1/4 cup of cornstarch
1 lb of sliced strawberries
1 (3oz) package of strawberry jello
Bake pie crust according to package directions, remove and then let cool.
While the crust is in the oven, add sugar and water to a large saucepan over medium heat, whisk the cornstarch in slowly and make sure there are no leftover lumps. Stir continuously for about 4-5 minutes until the mixture is thickened and turns a little clear.
Remove from heat and whisk in the strawberry jello mix until completely dissolved. Let this mixture cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, toss in the strawberries and make sure they are evenly distributed. Pour into pie crust.
Place in the refrigerator to set for about 2-3 hours and then serve! (Add whipped cream if desired!)
Do you have some fun family and friend traditions? What are some of your favorite barbeque side dishes?