Monthly Archives: September 2009

Anatomy of a Career

If you’ve ever read my sparse ‘About‘ page you know that I worked as a designer for many years. When I started out I designed mostly printed materials and worked predominantly for non-profit organizations. I didn’t set out specifically for that to happen—but one job led to another and who was I to complain. One of my clients was moving into the digital age right at the start of the web (now you know how old I am) and they paid me to figure out how to get a website up and running for them.

So I became a website designer.

I worked in a freelance capacity for a while and then took time ‘off’ to have my first child. Seven years later I found myself single and in need of a job. I was insecure about freelance work and had other concerns including competing against new graduates who were hipper and cheaper than I was. So I tried something new. And then something else. (I had some success at both of those somethings, and one in particular makes a good story, but I digress.) Still, I keep coming back to website design.

I’ve mentioned here before that the Commonplace household hasn’t been immune to the economic downturn and that we’ve made some rather large life changes in it’s wake. So work I must. But, like many women I know, I long to have flexible hours that allow me to be available to my children. I hate the thought of being carried away from them on a commuter train or sending a babysitter in my stead to the school play. (If you do either of these things, please don’t consider yourself judged. I’m only commenting on what feels right for me.)

Any work I have is word of mouth and as is often the case with the cobbler’s kids, I have no shoes website of my own (yet). Designing websites is a big field and like everything else, I have areas of strengths and weaknesses. Since I work alone I don’t have the resources that a big website production company has and I sometimes turn away work because it’s beyond the scope of what I’m good at. It occurs to me that rather than throwing darts at fish in barrels (Niall, chime in here on the metaphor mix-up please) I might be better off narrowing down my scope of work and focusing on the area of my strengths.

So, if you’re still with me (thanks and), I’d like to introduce you to my newest project:

My plan is to cover all areas of blog development from domain name registration through hosting and SEO (search engine optimization). I can work within self-hosted platforms (i.e. Blogger, Typepad, WordPress, Squarespace. etc.) or provide hosting and software (WordPress or Moveable Type) on my own servers. I can do small items like buttons and banners all the way through headers, backgrounds and total re-designs, custom WordPress Templates and e-commerce sites and multi-media sites. Of course I’ll still design ‘regular’ (non-blog) websites but I feel that narrowing down my scope allows me to really focus my time and energy.

I’m excited to share the news here first because I have found this community to be very supportive in the past and frankly, I’m hoping for more of the same. Also I kind of needed the accountability of having made a public announcement.

I’m planning to give away a full blog re-design (or design from scratch if the winner doesn’t already have a blog) in conjunction with Parkcity Girl’s Fall Blogger’s Quilt Festival (for which, by the way, I designed the logo). So spread the word and come back next week for more details.

Thanks, I Needed That. (And My Two-Cents on Machine Quilting.)

Maybe I should post every time I need encouragement about finishing a project. (Help, I’m avoiding scrubbing the toilets. etc.)

All of your encouragement got me in gear and the momentum took hold. I finished the single missing block, sewed the rows, pieced the back and quilted the entire quilt.

I almost always use off-white thread to quilt but didn’t think it would work here. The choices were clearly brown and gray. Since I thought the brown fabrics were a little more dramatic and stark than I had expected, I went with the gray in the hopes of softening the overall look of the quilt.

I’m pleased with the results except that gray on brown can be very revealing of mistakes…

I got a lot of questions about my quilting technique after posting the Cripple Creek Quilt so I thought I’d answer them here.

Let me just say that I’m no expert and my quilting leaves much to be desired but I have come quite long way in the one year since I ventured out of the ditch. I’m sorry to tell you that the only way I really saw improvement was with practice. There isn’t any magic trick that will take you to the next level. I did watch/read as many tutorials as I could. The two that I found the most useful were Amanda’s and Elizabeth’s. The most important thing I took away from Amanda’s was seeing how often she stopped and re-situated her quilt and the most useful thing I learned from Elizabeth was that I could put my left hand *under* the quilt and grab it from there. (Hey, it’s the little stuff that matters.)

I didn’t have too much trouble getting my stitches pretty even after a few practice quilts but my ‘designs’ were awful. I found myself getting caught up in the speed and not planning out the design very well and never really knowing where to go next. I ended up with lumpy squishy blobs, not the graceful swirling lines I was looking for. The thing that helped most with this problem was sketching. I just doodled my ideas – yes, even plain old stippling – until it flowed naturally and moving the quilt was just muscle memory. Another thing I remind myself while I’m quilting is to slow down. Sometimes I’m going going and I make bad choices because the momentum has hold of me. I have to remind myself to stop, breathe, assess the area I’m in and start back up. I also hum.

As for the technical stuff: I always clean the machine before quilting a new project and I use a new needle. One time I forgot to put my feed dogs down and honestly I couldn’t tell the difference so now I don’t bother with them. Also, (I know there are opposing camps on this) I don’t wash my fabric for the most part before I use it. The exception, of course, being recycled materials (clothes and the like) and then I wash everything. While I’ve found it to be true that when using cotton batting you’ll get a nice crumbly quilted feeling even with washed cottons, I find it to be more pronounced with unwashed fabrics and therefore ‘softens’ my imperfect quilting.

I hope someone finds this helpful and if you have any tips you’d like to share I’d love to hear them.


The pathetic part of this story isn’t that I have nineteen out of twenty blocks finished or that I finished those nineteen blocks in three days but haven’t been able to get the last one done in three weeks or that my brother’s birthday is less than two weeks away—it’s that I have three other projects in the exact same state of unfinished-ness in the basket under my desk.

Somebody kick me in the ass please.