Please join me in welcoming today’s guest Melanie McFarland as she shares with us her love of sewing and teaching others to sew. She’s also giving away a copy of her latest book “Out of the Box With Easy Blocks” along with a matching coffee mug. See below for how to enter.

Sewing has always been fascinating for me, and some of my earliest memories are of my mother, pins in her mouth, stitching up something great, with my brother and I in tow. Our other siblings (five of them) were in school and we were home with mom & Jack LaLane, on the TV. Pfaff was her machine of choice: a huge, black powerful engine, set in an enormous cabinet, with a knee lift! How I loved to hear it roar, as I awaited the newest addition to our clothing or linen closet.

pre-kindergarten photo
My pre-kindergarten photo… note the torn sleeve trim on the left. I guess mom couldn't keep up with the demand!

When I was about 10, mom received her teaching credential, and off she went to the public schools early education program. We were in school by then ourselves, so it was an easy transition. However, I missed the additions to my wardrobe. Mom made the creating appear easy. She was an art major, graduating in 1944, from Rosemont College, PA.

Paper, markers, crayons, & glue were within easy reach. Creating was always encouraged. Somehow, I must have figured I could do this, too. So I rummaged through her sewing cabinet and found a pattern I liked and suitable fabric. Mimicking her, I laid out the pattern pieces, pinned to the lilac-printed eyelet cotton. I cut along the outer lines, and around the notch bumps. I cut armhole and neckline facings. It was a darted, shift top. Remember those? In fashion school, we’d call it the “basic fitting block”, or “sloper”. The style was in the fabric, not the design. It had a zipper down the center back, as did most garments then. I still don’t like to put in zippers, but I do love the newer “invisible” ones – whew, sewing just got easier!

first quilt
From my first quilt, made in 1976, entirely of used jeans (+ some machine appliqué!)

Naturally, I took sewing instruction in high school. My sister, Paula, paved the way for me and convinced our teacher, Mrs. Olivia Fraioli, to let me skip the basics and move up to advanced sewing. That was the highlight of my day. Sewing and creating was a wonderful outlet, for teenage angst.

I was introduced to the world of fashion when a rep from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, FIDM, paid a classroom visit and my closest friends encouraged me to enrol. I spent two years in school and then did my time, 25 years, in the garment industry, working my way up from pattern maker to designer and beyond. Travel to far-flung places became the norm, with well-known companies, like Gap and Disney. Telling people that knowing “how to sew” got me to such exotic locales as Istanbul, Cairo, and Singapore, was entirely truthful!

Who wears short-shorts? I guess I did. This is my embellished work-of-art from high school days.

For the past four years, I’ve spent an hour a week in the company of young men and women inspired by sewing. Volunteering at a public high school each week keeps me grounded. These students create the most original and conceptual garments, irrespective of their ages. Each time I visit, I’m reminded of their curiosity, intelligence, stamina, perseverance and utter disregard for negativity. If they think it can be done, there’s a way to do it. After every visit, I’m energized to return to my studio and create, too. Last week was their crowning glory: they completely designed and choreographed a fashion show. I only served as a facilitator.

Julia and her quilt at Road to California Quilters Showcase, January 2012

My destiny seems to be centered on sewing. I LOVE to be surrounded by fabric, able to create on a whim. Because I find it so empowering, making something from nothing, I love to “pay it forward” and teach others to sew. My first student was a neighbor, Julia. We started when she was just seven, but already she was a veteran from a local sewing program. Last summer, we made a quilt together, using pre-cut squares and strips of Kaffe Fassett prints in reds, blues, and greens. Julia entered it into the (Road To California) quilters showcase in January, in their “Next Generation” category.

Julia's quilt
Close up of Julia's colorful, original quilt design.

Recently, another young friend, Flo, who’s 10, came over to learn sewing techniques. Flo has a passion for fashion and is quite intrigued with reality television shows such as “Project Runway” and “Fashion Star”. (These are too “real” for me, dredging up fashion career horrors that I’d rather delete from memory.) Thinking pajama pants would be the perfect first project; she quickly assessed the “stash” and settled on red dots and stripes. Pants are ideal as there are minimal seams and few fitting issues. It’s safe to say she’s hooked on sewing and one of the benefits for me of sewing with my young friends is that when we talk I learn about popular teenage culture. This information is priceless; as they sew, the words just tumble out.

Flo in her original design pajama pants, creating "yoyo's" with the Clover yoyo maker.

I’m not sure what my life would be like today, if I hadn’t discovered sewing as a hobby way back when. Perhaps I’d be a cake decorator or an architect, but my life could not be more exciting than it is now!

Here's a more up-to-date photo, posing with my book cover quilt.


Out of the Box With Easy Blocks

I’m doing a drawing for a free copy of my book, “Out of the Box With Easy Blocks” along with a matching coffee mug. If you would like to enter, please reply to the following question: “What quilting fears have you recently conquered or are you still working on?” Mine is machine quilting. It’s taken me FIVE years to summon the courage to quilt my own tops!

Winner will be selected randomly next Wednesday, May 16, 2012.

For more on Melanie’s sewing and quilting observations and experiences, visit her blog:


Congratulations to Pat who won Melanie’s book give-away. Check your email for a message from me.



Sewing – A life-long passion
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58 thoughts on “Sewing – A life-long passion

  • May 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Still working on free motion quilting. Thanks for the giveaway!

  • May 9, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Mine also has been free motion quilting. What a wonderful journey you’ve had, Melanie. Thanks for sharing it! And thanks for the giveaway!

  • May 9, 2012 at 8:23 am

    Oh this is an easy one this week {wink} – I recently started a LARGE quilt for my grandchildren — a naptime blanket for down by the lake — and I stepped out of my box to do Machine Applique with Invisible (non cotton) thread !! Ouch — I didn’t think I would ever do this — but I have and I’m still creating… so I guess it wasn’t so bad… {smile}.

    Love hearing about your progression – and your dedication Melanie — the world is a better place with you here !

    Thanks for sharing.

  • May 9, 2012 at 8:27 am

    My quilting fear is getting the seams to match up, as I’m a beginning quilter. I have a bali Pops kit to make and hope I’ll be able to do a good job.

    trilliumcreates AT gmaill DOT com

  • May 9, 2012 at 8:34 am

    gosh….I can’t think of a quilting fear….that I would run out of reasons to quilt, or fabric to do it with…..that the quilt I just put so much time into finishing for someone special will be saved for a “special occasion” and never be used.

    Love your big chicken quilt. Thanks for the chance to win your book.

  • May 9, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Still struggle with paper piecing! Thanks for the chance!

  • May 9, 2012 at 8:47 am

    LOVE seeing your process….

    I am working on my fear of quilting my own quilts – beginning to love free form straight-line =]

  • May 9, 2012 at 8:52 am

    My greatest quilting fear, like yours, is free motion quilting. Every year I make each of my four grandchildren a quilt for Christmas, and every year I try to do something new with each one. However, after spending weeks finding the perfect pattern and fabrics, cutting, pinning, sewing, appliqueing, creating, I panic at the thought of “ruining” all my hard work with unattractive quilting. BUT, I am going to try this year!

  • May 9, 2012 at 8:57 am

    What a great the quilt on the front cover. I would love to be able to machine quilt a lot better.
    Thanks for the opportunity to win the book.

    Happy days.

  • May 9, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I love the ability to sit at my machine and just sew something, anything. I have found that I can go to my sewing area without a task in mind, and before long the ideas just start coming in and I take off. I am rewarded with a happy and joyful life because I can now create to my hearts content. Thank you for sharing your journey. I look forward to hopefully winning the book, looks like a lot of fun

  • May 9, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Thanks so much for a chance to win this great book.
    I recently conquered mitred borders which I ‘m really thrilled about using more in my quilts.

  • May 9, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Still working on free motion quilting; thanks for chance to win!

  • May 9, 2012 at 10:12 am

    I’m still trying to conquer my fear of free motion quilting too. I do pretty good on just straight lines, but anything more terrifies me.

  • May 9, 2012 at 10:23 am

    My great fear has been applique, I conquered that fear last year with my first applique quilt. Now I just have to try something other than circles. Paper piecing is my new fear.

  • May 9, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Lovely to see the wonderful work of the next generation – and to see and hear the enthusiasm of a greater mentor!
    About 4 years ago I decided I was going to conquer freemotion quilting and do all my own quilting. It will be a life long learning experience, but I love it!

  • May 9, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Oh paper piecing!!! I use to come out in hives just thinking about it. Then I decided to have a go and make a mug rug…which then became three mug rugs….I think I could be hooked!! Thanks for a chance to win your lovely book.

  • May 9, 2012 at 11:38 am

    My quilting fear is also machine quilting a big quilt I have made! I have not mastered my fear yet but I am working on it. I have began working on smaller project that need to be quilted and I am having a few sucessess. I also signed up for a Cratsy course on basic Machine Quilting. I am trying to overcome my fear of destroying a pieced large quilt, when I do I think I will find it very rewarding. Thank you for your giveaway I would love to win a copy of you book, it seems very whimsical, I love that bird on the cover, is it a Rooster? I also collect coffee mugs so this is the perfect contest for me. I hope I win I really do!

  • May 9, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I’ve been sewing for nearly 50 years, but I confess machine quilting is my biggest fear. I’ve quilted a few baby and lap quilts by machine and have been happy with the results but free-motion quilting is still a dream of mine. Your new book looks fascinating. I love the pieced bird on the cover quilt.

  • May 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    My biggest sewing fear is working with knits! I haven’t yet conquered it, but am hoping to try some simple projects this year!

  • May 9, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Machine quilting on my home machine is hard for me. I do have A mid arm so use it for most things.

  • May 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    The fear of not having enough time or energy to make all the quilts that I would like. Great looking free range chicken!

  • May 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    needle turn applique. I love it . I still have to conquer my fear of free motion quilting. I’m still in a ditch.

  • May 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I can not believe ..! My biggest fear is also free-motion quilting. Again and again I intend to use in my quilts but at the last moment I go back and finish alcolchando in straight lines. For now I am taking courage and do so in small tablecloths:::

  • May 9, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Still working on my q-fears: finally going to the front of my short arm machine and start trying free-motion quilting. I will get there eventually… thanks for a chance!

  • May 9, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    My q-fear is free-motion quilting. I am getting better little by little but haven’t attempted a larger quilt, only wall hangings and table toppers. Your book looks very interesting!!!!

  • May 9, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    I just tried doing letters from your play words book….. that was hard!!!!

  • May 9, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Free motion quilting for sure! I even have the Bernina BSR! It’s amazing that taking the first step is usually the hardest. Your quilt is so darn cute! Hoping to be a lucky winner!

  • May 9, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    I have to say pinning or making the quilt sandwich. Second is the quilting. I have done a couple, but I need to make larger ones this time, so I just need to do it and get over that fear.


  • May 9, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    I have been trying to do free motion quilting. Not doing to good yet. But I am FMQ on baby quilts because they are small.

  • May 10, 2012 at 12:00 am

    I would say time. I have started over and now have children from 22 to 18 mos. I’m trying to deal with the only a few minutes. Fear of frustration over implementation. It sometimes drives me crazy that the moment I sit at the machine the kids think they need me.

  • May 10, 2012 at 12:37 am

    Even though I have been machine quilting for more than 5 years, I still have to build up my courage for nearly each quilt I make. However, my biggest foe is applique, and I haven’t even seen clearly enough yet to try to make friends with it. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  • May 10, 2012 at 2:13 am

    I’m really keen to work on my own designs but keep falling back on other people’s designs. I need to take the plunge and just do it.

  • May 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I’m working on machine quilting my first quilt. I have been freaking out about quilting it myself and I finally said that I might as well start learning now instead of putting it off. :)

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  • May 10, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Hi! I used to paint with Acrylics and my hopes and fear is to paint blocks or add art to some of my blocks. What I am afraid of is that they will smear, or fade to fast with washing. I’ve thought this out, and I am starting a small wallhanging that I will paint and see how it goes. I loved reading about your paying it forward with sewing!

  • May 10, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    I would love to win the book. It looks so fun. My only fear in quilting is color selection.

  • May 11, 2012 at 1:00 am

    My quilting fear is that someone would laugh or just not get it (and thus not get me).

    I love playing with fabrics, I’ve even added rabbit fur to one small quilt!!!

    But I’m terrified to show in case it’s too odd. I know, it says more about my personal fears but hey, it’s my biggest quilting fear, other then cutting my finger tip off while rotary cutting…oh wait I did that and it grew back, see nothing to fear.

    I love the cover of your book and your quilt!!! I would really love to see the inside of the book too…just sayin’….LOL. It seems to be something right up my alley.

    Thanks for the chance!

  • May 11, 2012 at 4:21 am

    “What quilting fears have you recently conquered or are you still working on?”

    One of my Quilting fears (just 1 ) is measuring. I still consider myself a beginner quilter and still have measuring difficulty. I am close to solving it but not quite. I often think it is “right” and then find something is off…but I keep trying. I love quilting and will continue working on all my fears.

  • May 11, 2012 at 4:50 am

    I love the fact that you work with children. I am a retired teacher and newbie quilter. My biggest problem is 1/4 seams, I do fine at the start but as I near the end they go all wonky. I too have to learn to free motion since I can’t afford to have it done professionally so I am biting that bullet each time I start a project.

  • May 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you for sharing the story from your life! So interesting to get the timeline from the clothes… My greatest fear that I just have to overcome is free-motion quilting!

  • May 11, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Paper piecing! I have always been afraid of it, and this year I have not only conquered the fear but I just designed my first entirely paper pieced quilt! Thank you for sharing your sewing journey.

  • May 13, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    My biggest fear in quilting is when I get to the borders! I am always so fearful of them being rippled when I get the top on the frame for quilting! I’ve recently had to force myself to put borders on quilts that gifts for others. I have to admit, most look better with borders!

  • May 15, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I recently began paper piecing – something that I thought I would dread but am really liking. Thanks for the opportunity to enter your giveaway for your wonderful book.

  • May 15, 2012 at 10:31 am

    I feel I have more control when sewing by hand. But am not brave enough to quilt on machine. Just do yarn ties, doesn’t look so good but works. TY

  • May 15, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Well, I am still struggling with free motion quilting…
    Love your quilt and would be thrilled to win your book :-)
    Thanks for the chance!


  • May 15, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I am learning free motion quilting! I have always sent my quilts to a long arm quilter and I never realized I could quilt my own on a home sewing machine! My friend and I took a machine quilting class last year at AQS show in Knoxville, TN, and it opened a whole new world to me! Still learning because I am a perfectionist, but I am getting there!!

  • May 15, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I’m still afraid of paper piecing. I will tackle this one day, but having fun with some other things in the meantime. The book looks wonderful!

  • May 15, 2012 at 10:34 am

    My greatest fear when it comes to quilting is using limited color! I love the looks of one or two color quilts, yet I haven’t yet been able to create a quilt this way as the other colors and fabric patterns slowly but surely sneak in the quilt until all the colors of the rainbow are present.

  • May 15, 2012 at 10:34 am

    I still need to conquer making the 1/4 inch seam. I just can’t get it right!

  • May 15, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I recently tried a pattern that wasn’t marked easy or beginneer. I took a big breath and went for it- it isn’t perfect but it turned out ok. So happy I went for it.

  • May 15, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Machine quilting by far. I have concurred exact seams and appliqué hand and machine but the machine quilting is scary because it’s on a pretty finished top I worked so hard on and by the time the top is finished I’m attached to it so I don’t want to ruin it I have to get over it so I’m trying to practice on not so important top or is this wrong since all tops are special? Love the chicken quilt and would love to make it and quilt it after I practice more

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