How to Sew on the Subway

28 Apr 2010

Something about the spring weather has me out and about more than usual these days. During the cold winter months, I like hunkering down in my sewing room all night long, but lately I can’t resist venturing out into the sunshine whenever possible, taking road trips on weekends, and dining al fresco downtown in the evenings—in short, I’ve been spending more time commuting than I have been at the sewing machine. However, as my fellow quilters will understand, this can also be frustrating; sometimes I find myself torn between a busy schedule and the need to create. Fortunately, I’ve found a solution that lets me have my cake and eat it too.

I decided that this is a perfect time of year for a bite-sized approach to art making, so I’ve been working on individual 12"-blocks composed of appliqué and reverse appliqué, and backed with a layer of batting. And, since lugging my sewing machine around town isn’t a feasible option, I’ve been embellishing them with hand stitching. Nothing too fancy, mind you, since keeping your stitches even and aligned can be a challenge in a bumpy subway car—but you’d be surprised what some simple chain, buttonhole, and back stitch can achieve.

Now, I have to admit that I’m not normally a low maintenance sewer (or traveler, for that matter). I like being surrounded by stacks of fabrics and piles of thread (and I’ve been known to pack the car with four bags when leaving town for 48 hours). But this new approach has forced me to minimize my materials and I’ve discovered that all I really need is one pincushion-full of needles, an embroidery hoop, thread shears, and embroidery floss (which I still wrap around cards, a habit that I developed in middle school when I used these threads to make friendship bracelets). So, while I’m looking forward to a little quality time in my sewing studio whenever I can squeeze it in, I’m also enjoying this rather nomadic approach to art making.

I know I’m not alone here; one of the most common frustrations I hear from fellow quilters is that between the obligations of life, work, family, and friends, there’s never enough time. How do you find the time to make art when life gets busy? What are your must-have materials for creating on the go? Share your techniques with your fellow quilters!

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jabotquilt wrote
on 28 Apr 2010 1:00 PM

While I don't always have sewing stuff with me, I do ALWAYS have a sketch pad and pencil, in the car, in my purse, everywhere.  I can jot down ideas, or work on designs or just sketch... and some do turn into my next piece of work.

dottied wrote
on 29 Apr 2010 6:16 AM

I keep several projects going at a time - something that is involved, time and concentration intensive (a portrait quilt), a quick pick up (knitting socks), little time (make fabric paper for future use), several hand sewing projects (little landscapes, multi media art quilts etc), and I also work on multiple quilt tops in stages (cutting, pinning, sewing).  If it is small enough to fit in one of my tote bags (about 12 x 14) it travels with me for opportune moments

on 30 Apr 2010 7:32 AM

Pippa, Thank you for this idea.  I'll be on vacation this summer and I think I will take some things along and make 5x7 landscape quilts, maybe using found objects from the trip and fabric.  Stitch up a sketch in the afternoons while resting.  What fun!


Pippa's Blog wrote
on 16 Jul 2010 12:42 PM

Isn’t it funny how the summer can be the busiest time of year? Of course, there are always those