sew memphis blog

sewing-related gift ideas

wondering what to give that sewing enthusiast in your life for the upcoming holiday? here are twelve ideas for those whose souls are fed with needle and thread!

our hand-sewing DOWRY SCARF KIT is great for those who want to spend some time away from their machines and snuggled up next to the fire. the kit includes 9 different fabrics from anna maria horner’s new dowry collection, fringe bobbles, embroidery thread, instructions, and a needle. After a little ironing prep-work, this project can be toted over the river and through the woods! suited for ages 12 and up. ~$24.50

the quilters on your list will enjoy this AURIFILL MAKO COTTON VARIEGATED THREAD! made from long staple egyption cotton, this 50wt thread is great for all-purpose sewing, quilting, and appliqué. ~$5 each or 2 for $9

these LITTLE WALLETS are great to give as kits or to whip up and give as finished products! each kit comes with the pattern, velcro, interfacing, and two fat quarters of your choice. warning: this project can be habit-forming. ~$12

everyone knows that seam rippers are sewists’ most essential (and most dreaded) tools. but the QUICK RIPPER isn’t dreadful. it’s fun! this bad boy rips out seams in two seconds, allowing you to spend more time constructing, not deconstructing! battery is included. ~$29

the little ladies in your life might like this KID-STITCHED CUPCAKE PURSE KIT, great for kiddos ages 6+. the kit includes felt, thread, buttons, instructions, ribbon, pattern, and needle. ~$20

the small sewists on your list will also love the sewing school book series by memphis’ own amie plumley and andria lisle. SEWING SCHOOL 1 is full of sweet hand-sewing projects, and SEWING SCHOOL 2 is for the machine-sewing littles. book 1- $16.95, book 2 – $18.95

and while we’re on a kid-sewing roll, check out our new CRAZY FOX KIT for ages 6+. kit includes felt, fabric, stuffing, pattern, buttons, needle, instructions, and thread. ~$20

those who aspire to live “with substance and style” will want to transport themselves into the pages of ANTHOLOGY MAGAZINE, a quarterly publication that is part exotic home-tour, part hand-made field guide, and part thrift shop treasure log with occasional recipes, playlists, and book recs thrown in. sew memphis is proud to be one of the very few mid-southern stockiest of this jewel! $24.99

for those who need somewhere to “stache” their pencils, makeup, or facial hair grooming supplies, this kit is the perfect gift! whip up this STACHETASTIC ZIPPER POUCH and give them the finished product, or just pass along the kit, which includes instructions, pattern, zipper, and fabric. ~$22

create the fabulous ELSA THE ELEPHANT for the babies and young children in your life. this machine-sewing kit includes soft flannel elephant fabric, stuffing, yarn for the tail, and embroidery thread for the eyes, pattern, and instructions. ~$25

the FLYING SAUCER TRAFFIC JAM QUILT KIT is a fun option for quilters of all levels. the kit makes a crib-sized quilt and comes with 8 fat quarters, a yard of sashing fabric, and instructions. ~$38

finally, our gift cards are guarunteed crowd-pleasers! they come in increments of $5 and are wrapped in your choice of hand-made fabric envelope.


sew (memphis) mama sew giveaway! [winner announced!]

thanks to the “true random number generator” at, we have chosen a winner! congratulations are in order for sam, who wrote:

It’s giveaway day

I have a quilt underway

Your fabric is perfect

To prevent quilt neglect

sam, we will contact you and get your address. and to everyone else who entered, thanks for filling our week with hilarity and a sense of connection with fellow sewing addicts!


a limerick for you:

we’re new to the fabric shop scene.

a fabulous year it has been!

our storefront’s replete

with friends who are neat,

so we thought

a web store‘d be keen!

a haiku for you:

at sew mama sew

they’re having a giveaway.

who wants free fabric?

some plain-written regular old sentences for you:

the sew mama sew blog has always been one of our favorite sources for stitching inspiration, so we are thrilled to be part of the giveaway week that they’ve got going on over there. we are giving away this fabulous charleston farmhouse fat quarter stack by felicity miller!

to enter, leave us a little poem in the comments section about why you love to sew. it can be a limerick, a haiku, or some random string of words that comes to mind. embarrassingly awful entries are encouraged. if your high school english teacher would hate what you’re writing, you are on the right track! we will select the winner on may 10th at 5 p.m. pacific standard time. we will ship the stack by may 15th, though we will not ship internationally.

after you dust off those writing skills, go on over to sew mama sew and enter some more giveaways!

come back and see us!

on the fly quilt

inspired by the improv modern quilting i did at quiltcon, and motivated by an auction coming up at the kids’ school (and a recent shipment of new fabric), i decided to take on a little project. just look at rashida coleman-hale‘s tsuru fabric:

doesn’t it make you want to make a quilt too?

i started with eight different fabrics: three tsuru fabrics, one amy butler cameo, two free spirit solids, a thomas knauer flock, and a flower doodle by kim schaefer. i cut 1/3 of a yard of each, but because i wanted this to be an intuitive, create-as-you-go sort of process, i went ahead and cut each fabric into haphazard strips as i was cutting them off the bolts. some were fat, some were skinny, some started out wide and narrowed quite a bit, some were straight and boring, but all were the width of the fabric, which is 44 inches.

for the next step (which was so much fun!), i put away my rotary cutter and ruler and just used scissors. i created 16 log cabin blocks, and i had no plan in mind whatsoever. you can find a great description and video of this process at this modern log cabin quilting blog here. i have always enjoyed making this type of block but this was especially fun because there was no measuring, and i made everything up as i went along.

sometimes i pieced together the center squares.


sometimes i pieced a strip, or embedded another little bitty log cabin inside of a strip.

i had fun using one fabric to frame the center square, as in the blue tsuru fabric below.

i also love making half of a frame out of one fabric and the other half out of several more.

in this one, i finished the block and was unhappy with how much red was in the outer frame. so, i just cut off a corner and pieced together a new one. i think this one is my favorite!

the best part was that when a block looked like it didn’t need anythings else, i just stopped. some of my blocks were pretty square but most were slightly rectangular and more like my four-year-old’s attempt to draw a square. even better! all of the blocks had sides that were somewhere between 7 and 15 inches.

for the next step, i busted out the rotary cutter and ruler again and framed each block with dark grey fabric — about 7 yards in all, but to be honest, i lost count. i decided that i wanted each grey-framed-block to be 21 inches by 21 inches, so i measured and cut my grey strips accordingly, rounding up on the amount of grey fabric each time i measured to make up for the fact that my blocks were so wonky. so for me, my grey strips were usually somewhere between 7 inches and 10 inches wide.

next, i put a puffy sticker on my cutting mat at the cross point of 10.5 on the x axis and 10.5 on the y axis (in other words, in the middle of the 21 inch by 21 inch square indicated by the cutting mat numbers). then, to square up each grey-framed block, i put it on the mat and made sure that the “middle” of each original wonky block (that is, the block before the grey was added) was on top of the puffy sticker (since i could feel the sticker through the fabric). i cut away the excess grey so that i ended up with 16 squared-up 21 inch blocks.

after arranging (and rearranging) them on the playroom floor, i sewed them together, constructed a backing out of more lovely tsuru fabric and a free spirit citrine solid, and set about the task of quilting.

i do not love machine quilting, but this was not bad at all. i simply quilted in a bunch of wavy diagonal lines. if some overlapped, oh well. if some had a few sharper corners, no big deal. i was really happy with the end result. the waves fit in with the improv theme, and the quilting felt creative this time instead of an excercise in (failed) precision, as it usually does.

i folded over the backing to create the “binding,” and whal-la! here is the on the fly quilt! it measures about 81″ by 81″ and fits nicely on a double bed. if it doesn’t sell at the auction, it’s coming back home with me!




quiltcon day three

saturday was my last quiltcon workshop, and i cannot WAIT to recreate the whole experience at sew memphis very soon!! i joined 24 other women from charleston, to ann arbor, to alberta in a collaborative sewing project called “the modern improv round robin” with sherri lynn wood.


after some basic introductions, we brainstormed about what improvisation is in general. here is a bit of what we came up with.

then sherri lynn gave us a little demo of improv quilting.

her block did not come together randomly, we learned, because she was making choices as she designed and sewed. but it did come together unconventionally, as there were no rulers involved. the process had much to do with intuition. oh, and she also showed us how to cut and sew gentle curves, a technique i enjoyed trying out as the day progressed.

we warmed up with a guided meditation and did our first thirty minutes of sewing in complete silence. needless to say, this was a faaaaaaar cry from the atmosphere in the jay mccarrol workshop i took the day before. i loved both settings, the raucous and the reserved. what does this say about me?

anyway, here is what happened: we were all instructed to bring a wide variety of scraps and fabrics contained in sturdy vessels that would be passed from person to person. we were also told to bring one yard of “signature fabric”. for the first thirty minutes, we were to use our own materials to complete one modern improv quilt block. this would become the center of each person’s quilt. sherri lynn would ring a bell, and we would pass the block and its accompanying box of fabric along to the next person. that person was charged with adding to the existing piece. we continued the day like this, sewing and passing every thirty minutes, and our quilts grew bigger and bigger as they journeyed down the row. we were told not to employ the same techniques with each quilt but to study each quilt for a minute and respond to what was already there. also, we were challenged to sew a piece of our signature fabric into each quilt. my signature fabric was the jessica hogarth scooters from her velocity collection. notice it in the top right of the block i made to be the center of my quilt.

it was so much fun to see the progress in each quilt. in the picture below, i received the block with the green polka dots. i responded with the block below it, echoing the shape of the green dots with some pink dots in a smaller scale.

a couple of hours later, i caught a glimpse of this quilt and it looked like this:

my baby grew up so fast!!!

here are some other examples of works in progress:

check out my quilt at the top of the above pic. this was taken just before our lunch break and reflects the work of four people.

this was messy work, as you can see!

at some point, a camera crew from martha stewart living came in and starting snapping photos. they told me the name of the piece they were working on but i promptly forgot it. if anyone reading this remembers under what heading we are all going to be world famous, please let me know!

i tracked down my quilt about an hour before quittin’ time and was so positively thrilled with what i saw!!! in this picture, deb is showing off her contribution.

finally, after six hours of sewing and somewhere between 10 and 12 passes, sherri lynn called time, and we took turns displaying our quilts for everyone to see. it was very gratifying to see how much each quilt had changed since i had worked on it, and i just LOVE the quilt these ladies made for me out of my fabrics!

members of the sew memphis community, sharpen your rotaries and start saving your scraps! i hope to get an improv round robin on our calendar before too long. this day was just too much fun not to repeat!


quiltcon day two

yesterday’s workshop was entitled “kitchen sink patchwork skirt.” here are some alternative titles i’ve generated:

  • buffoonery with jay mccarrol
  • help, i have fallen into a pit of scraps and i can’t get up
  • a study in perfectionism spectrum disorder
but anyway, here is a shot of my view from the back row. i had fun sewing on the top-of-the-line machine provided by janome!

first, a word on jay. we carry his fabulous fabric at sew memphis, and i was excited to spend the day with him. he did not disappoint. when he wasn’t singing “we are the world” into his mic while we were sewing, he was banging on a vintage cookie tin (my vintage cookie tin) while marching around the room, parade-style. he referred to me  as “boo boo kitty” for the whole class, which i’m pretty sure wasn’t a compliment, but one can never tell with jay mccarroll!

the instructions were to sew together a bunch of scraps as fast as we could, and then use our scrappy pieces to cut out and assemble a basic skirt. we each took our measurements and received our version of a quick pattern that jay had sketched out earlier. the pattern included interior pockets and a waistband, two elements that were new to me. about the pockets: they were so much fun to make and so easy!! i can’t wait to make more things with pockets!

i really wanted to get to the skirt construction part, so my piecing was pretty reckless. i observed some really impressive, meticulous piecing going on around me though.

there were a couple of women who snuck in the back and were working quietly away behind me. i was thrilled when it dawned on me that these ladies were rashida coleman-hale and melody miller! rashida is the designer of the tsuru collection that just arrived at the shop a couple of days ago! melody designed some of my favorite fabrics, many of which adorn the throw pillows in my home. i also solicited the help of violet craft  in fitting the pattern to my body. violet designed this fabric, which has been a favorite at sew memphis:

my new best friends, rashida (far left) and melody

i met up with my husband, andy, during the lunch break for some austin tex/mex and a brewsky. he came back with me to the workshop and settled in to make himself a swimsuit.

just kidding. but he did take in the sights and sounds of the alternate universe that is quiltcon before posing for this pic.

in the end, my skirt was SUPER HEAVY!!! there were all of those scraps, a lining, and pockets!!! i’m not sure i can ever wear it for real. maybe as a costume… even though violet helped me to size it, it was still HUGE!!! she was on the right track though. next time i make this skirt, i am going to apply her logic to a greater degree, use a solid piece of fabric, and skip the lining.

here i am, modeling my new clown costume/patchwork skirt!

improv quilting round robin is on the agenda for today. thank goodness it’s not a single elimination tournament! i’d be screwed!

quiltcon day one!

yesterday, i strolled over to the austin convention center for the official start of quiltcon. good thing i didn’t accidentally sign up for this conference instead, which is  also taking place in said convention center:

i spent a lovely day with lizzy house and friends learning how to block print on textiles. i don’t know which was more exciting, the excellent instruction, the inspirarion i got from my fellow students, or an ENTIRE DAY FREE TO DO NOTHING BUT MAKE STUFF!!! anyway, what follows are pics of the process. first, lizzy prompted us to sketch. she called out words and ideas, and we were to suspend self-judgement and just draw. we were all in our own little worlds, and as you’ll see, what resulted were a wide variety of designs.


next we got a carving demo, and we all got to work carving our selected designs into lino blocks. i drew a little snail like one i saw the day before on the sidewalk. i don’t even like snails, so i am not sure what i was thinking. but i do like this little guy. he needs a name!

finally, we loaded up our brayers with ink and experimented with printing on fabric.  i learned quite a bit from the process and hope to use all of the tips and tricks i learned along the way in future printing projects (and perhaps a class at sew memphis)!

at the end of the class, we dried and heat set our fabrics and put them on the wall to discuss. lizzy lead us through a discussion about the process, what we learned, and what insight we might apply to future projects. it was so much fun to see everyone’s designs go from sketches, to carvings, to printed fabric. there were some really talented ladies there. i was soaking it all in!

on the way out, i ran into my friend and sew memphis teacher sarah. sarah spent the day in an improv modern quilting workshop and made these fabulous blocks! we collapsed in the floor of the convention center to share our work.


i have MANY more photos of the expo and modern quilt show, which i promise to post soon. but for now, i’m setting out for the convention center again for another day of creativity and inspiration. today’s class: kitchen sink patchwork skirts with jay mccarrol!

quiltcon preview

my introduction to quiltcon, the first ever modern quilters conference in austin, tx, occured today in the memphis airport. memphis is my lifelong home, and consequently, this airport has been the launching pad for many of my adventures. but today’s wait to board the plane was filled with unprecedented chatter about quilting blocks and rotary rules and japanese fabric and paper piecing. i looked up to see this fabulous bag at the feet of my new friend, ellen mckee, one of three ladies from cincinnati who were also making the pilgrimage to austin.

i knew i was among my people!

once in austin i stopped in at the convention center. even the check-in counters were cool.

the festivities will begin tomorrow, and i will be taking lizzy house’s workshop entitled “block printing on textiles.” sew memphis customers might recognize these fabrics designed by lizzy:

i can’t wait! stay tuned for updates!

~mary allison

wax prints and waxing poetic

this post is about fabric.

but it’s also a post about friendship and travel and global sisterhood and little old southern gals doing transformative things.

i have recently re-connected with a dear college friend, kacey. we had many adventures together back in the days of the jennifer aniston haircut and the novelty of email. but i think there is a part of both of us that remains in the fall of 1997, when we discovered together the big, beautiful, ancient world that exists across the pond:

eating gelato outside the pantheon in rome

the day we invented cell phones during our tour of stonehenge

at a B&B in wales, the morning of princess diana's death

i travel often in my mind back to that epic voyage. maybe kacey does too. i’m not sure. our semester of european studies was just the beginning of her exotic journeys. she’s been traveling ever since.

kacey, her husband, and their two young boys now live in tanzania.

this is the second iteration of their life in africa, where they put their time and talents to use in their community. they have met others, who are doing the same thing, and among them is jenny williamson, a mississippi native who started the courage to be you, a non-profit organization that brings rescue and restoration to women and children who have been forced into sex trafficking. there is a “courage house” in tanzania, which is a country of origin and transit for trafficking.

but back to the fabric. kacey’s parents left the memphis heat behind in june and spent the month in old moshi, kilimanjaro, tanzania with kacey and family. susan and i commissioned kacey and her mother to do a little shopping for us in the markets, and as a result, these beautiful african wax prints are now gracing our shelves at sew memphis!

come on by 688 cox and check them out. when folks purchase this fabric, 40% of the proceeds will go to the courage to be you.

this is a post about fabric. but it’s also a post about friendship and travel and global sisterhood and little old southern gals (including you?) doing transformative things.

introducing… open instruction!

if you are having trouble with a new pattern or want to sew something new and different in the company of someone who can help, open instruction is for you! or perhaps you need no help at all but want to spend a few hours sewing with others.

the cost is $12 for good sewing advice and good company. bring whatever you’re working on and your own machine, or borrow one of ours (first come, first served). each week, we will post open instruction hours on our facebook page but if you are not on facebook, don’t fret! call us at 901.244.6224 and we’ll give you the skinny.

we can take up to eight folks in the classroom.

see you soon!

opening day highlights

yesterday was a success on many accounts! not the least of which is the fact that i now have an answer if ever anyone should ask, “what’s the best part of your job?”

pin cushions arranged by zoe (3)

it’s not the fabric. (but god, i love the fabric!)

it’s not the kid-friendly nature of the shop. (but i’m grateful to have my kids with me at work, and my little guys delight in the company of shoppers’ children.)

sarah makes the first purchase!

it’s the people! i saw many dear friends yesterday and met so many interesting, wonderful memphians. what a privilege it is to gather with folks of all ages in a creative space.

come join us.