I recently turned a bunch of random scraps into a protoquilt.  The one above is a new bookshelf runner for my craft room.

Protoquilting is a term I’ve been using to describe my random projects that serve to practice quilting techniques that may one day be used for a king-sized mammoth quilt for our bed.  Protoquilting is my rationalized pasttime because, really, the thought of creating and quilting a king-sized quilt on my little machine is a little terrifying.  So, protoquilts.  Cute and easy.

This particular protoquilt was quite inspired by this lovely baby quilt.  I found myself enchanted by pebble quilting and thought I should give it a try. I love the way it turned out!  And it feels really great in your hands. The beige comes from a skirt that I previously made and cut up.  I like it much better now.  And the finished product kind of matches my sewing machine cover.

Instead of holding it on my lap, it’ll be serving to keep the grit and water off of my bookshelf from these here plants.

* New year’s resolution:  Learn how to take great care of a jade plant!  (i.e., see how long I can make it keep living…)

Posted by robyn on February 1st, 2012 under crafts, sewing | 10 Comments »

Craft Room Explosion

Explosion Mess Disaster

The other day I felt like making something other than a PodPillow. I noticed my scrap basket was overflowing and I thought I would see about using those.  A craft room explosion was the result, although somewhat temporary.  Eventually, just about everything was organized into neat little scrap bundles.

Order from Chaos

The rainbow scraps at the bottom were pulled out for the project, which I’m just finishing up now. More when I’m done!

Posted by robyn on January 21st, 2012 under crafts, random, sewing | 1 Comment »

Bernina 440QE: Cleaning and Oiling Your Machine

Oil and Brush - Perfect Partners in Crime

Each year around the holidays – or more specifically, while I’m in the middle of the holiday sewing craziness – I lament about how infrequently I manage to perform the maintenance that I know my machine so desperately needs at this time of year:  cleaning and oiling!

First, the procrastinator makes an appearance:  “Just one more bobbin.” or “When I’m done with this quilt!”

Next, denial sets in:  “Wow, where are all these fuzzies coming from?  Must be this batting.”  or “Really, I’m sure that ca-chunk-ca-chunk-ca-chunking is just the dishwasher.”

But the dirty dishes are still piled up, and your projects continue to flow through the machine, one after the other.  And you don’t do it.  Or at least, I don’t.  Not nearly enough.

But there’s no excuse!  It’s so easy and takes about 3 minutes.  Below are the steps for you to do it yourself.  At least someone will be cleaning their machine, even if I’m not.


Cleaning and Oiling Your Machine

Getting started:  Unthread your machine and put it in the “needle up” position.  Turn it off. Find your brush and oil.  The ones pictured above came with my machine.

Step 1 – Approach:  Quietly, gently approach the machine in its native habitat.  Speak in soothing tones, so it doesn’t suspect anything.

Your machine, in its native habitat.

Hunting for fuzzies.


Step 2 – Open the top:  Press open the stitch plate beneath the presser foot and remove it.

Woah, this could get ugly. See the fuzzies already trying to escape?


Run! Here they come!


Step 3 – Defuzzify:  Brush out all the fuzzies and gunk, bits of broken needles, toast crumbs, dog hair, extra threads, whatever else is stuck in there:


Cleaning out the top of the machine.

This can get a little messy, and it's hard to get into all of the nooks and crannies.


Step 4 – Appreciate:  Admire your clean machine top, and replace the stitch plate:

Admire your clean machine top

Clean and fuzzy-free.


Clean top with stitch plate.

Clean top with stitch plate.



Step 5 – Bobbin area: Open up the bobbin door, and remove the bobbin.  Clean out the fuzzies you can see.

Bobbin area

Clean out what you can see. More detailed cleaning will follow shortly!


Step 6 – Release the bobbin hook: Now, release the housing that holds the bobbin hook in place. There’s a handy little lever on the top left of your machine to release it. Push this lever to the left to release the housing.    The housing will flop down:

Press the lever on the top left of your bobbin area to release the metal/black plastic housing

Press the lever on the top left of your bobbin area to release the metal/black plastic housing. Not so conveniently for this tutorial, my thumb is covering it up.



Step 7 – Remove the Bobbin Hook:  Open the bobbin housing and remove the spiky part that sits on the right-half of the bobbin area.  This is called the bobbin hook.  It’s the part that rotates around the bobbin and makes stitches.

Remove the bobbin hook.

Remove the bobbin hook. Boy, I need hand moisturizer!

This is what it looks like up close:

Bobbin hook up close

Bobbin hook up close. I hear this item costs about $70. Treat it nicely!


Step 8 – Clean like the wind!:  Now clean out the hook and the rest of the bobbin area with your handy little brush so it looks like this:


Cleaned out bobbin area



Diversion! – Understanding the inside:  Small side trip! The bobbin hook sits inside the housing and “races” around in a circle while you’re sewing to make stitches.  The little track that it goes around on is called the race. Ultimately, this is the part that needs the oil on it.

Race - the part that needs oil

The race - this is the part that ultimately needs to have oil on it.


Bernina Hook

This is the part of the hook that sits in the race.


There are two different ways to get oil onto the race.  Are you ready?  3, 2, 1…


Step 9 – Option 1 – Oil the Hook: 

Bernina Hook with Oil

The hook, getting a one-drop oil bath.


Step 9 – Option 2 – Oil the Race:

Oiling the race

Oiling the race - One drop is all you need!

Place one drop of oil at the bottom of the race hook.


Please note: You only need to do ONE of the above methods.  You DO NOT need to do both.  When you’re done with your chosen method, the rest of the steps are the same:


Step 10 – Put Humpty Back Together Again:  Reinsert the hook into the race and close the housing again:

Clean and put back together

Clean and put back together.


Step 11 – Run the machine and listen to it purr:  As the hook turns in the machine, oil will be distributed along the race.  Run the machine without any fabric in it until the oil is distributed.  This saves you from the disappointment of getting a bit of oil on your project as the machine settles in to its new-found lubricated state.  Machine sounds better, doesn’t it?

Take the machine for a spin

Take your new tidy machine for a spin.


When should you oil your machine?

I’ve heard a lot of different things:  Every bobbin, every 3-5 bobbins, at each needle change, every day, never…  But my rule of thumb is usually the following:

1) After using up 3-5 bobbins.

2) When it start ca-chunking – sometimes the machine just sounds like it needs oil.  When this happens, I oil it.  It’s possible that it hits this mark after the 3-5 bobbin stage, and comes from my minor neglect, but I will deny this if anyone asks. ;-)

3) When Bernina tells you you should – Bernina will display a cute little oil can icon on the front of the machine after about 180,000 stitches, indicating that it’s time to oil.  Almost all the sewers I know oil more frequently than this, but it’s a good reminder to get once in a while, and it’s a cute icon, to boot!


What you shouldn’t do when oiling: Compressed Air

People say that compressed air is ok for the older mechanical machines that are not computerized.  However, most sewing pros I know don’t use compressed air on their computerized machines, for fear of blowing the dust into the internals of the machine and messing something up.  I’m not sure I buy it completely, but better safe than sorry!  I steer clear of it just to be sure!


Hope this little tutorial was helpful.  Happy cleaning!

Posted by robyn on December 31st, 2011 under bernina 440 qe, crafts, sewing, sewing machines, tutorials | 78 Comments »

Fabric and Photography


Now that I’m back in the sewing groove, I’ve decided to refresh some of the fabrics I’m using.  Thankfully, it wasn’t hard to decide where to start (it never is when it comes to finding new fabric, realistically).  I’ve been fairly preoccupied with yellow as of late, as evidenced by a new paint job in the bedroom, which is a very strong goldenrod.  (Check it out!)

My favorites of the recent batch include some prints from Lotta Jansdotter’s Echo collection, pictured above.  I think grey makes such a lovely pairing with yellow and I’m determined to find many uses for this combo wherever I can.

Next, is Joel Dewberry’s new Heirloom collection.  I got a half yard of each print in the Ruby collection.  I was head over heels for all of the pictures I saw online, but was much less enamored of the actual set when it arrived.  Here’s the tempting online picture that drew me in:


(From Fat Quarter Shop – a great online fabric store)

The real thing arrived the other day and was…I don’t know…richer?  Less what I expected.  Here’s what arrived:

The yellows are quite mustardy, and the whole collection is a bit more vivid than I had anticipated.  But I like it!  And I will find lots of great spots to use it.  I had hoped to use it for a quilt for the bedroom, to match the new curtains in another of Joel Dewberry’s prints, but I just don’t think it’ll go.

Anyway, that’s what’s new here.  Oh!  And not too long ago, I saw some other bloggers talking about light boxes they made.  Light boxes are used to take well-lit still shots with little to no shadows.  Having one is really key to great photos, especially when you don’t have the luxury of natural daylight during your photo times.  Check out In Color Order Jeni’s here, and the tutorial that helped.  I had been using a makeshift light setup for the longest time and it really wasn’t very good.  It relied on natural light (not much of that these days, with full time job and dark evenings), and so, inspired by the examples I’d seen, I decided to make my own.  Since I didn’t have a cardboard box, I decided to go to the hardware store, use the stock of power tools at my disposal, and make this a more serious and sturdy creation.

It’s larger than I should have probably made it (it’s 2’x2′), but it’s awesome! Light in our house is really sub-par, so having this around is giving me thoughts of covering our entire house in white fabric and pointing flood lights in through the windows.  Maybe a project for another day.

Posted by robyn on December 4th, 2011 under crafts, random | 2 Comments »

Back to it.


It appears that a year has come and gone since the last time I posted to this here little blog.

A lot has happened since I last popped in.  A busy year to be sure, due to all sorts of things.  But in terms of craft chronology, it went something like this:

Nov – May: Sew lots and lots (and lots!) of Podpillows.  Become best friends with my local post office clerk. Stockpile fabric.  Drive down the price of barley at every supermarket for miles around (seriously – from $1.29 to $.89.  That was all me, I swear).

June – Now – Abandon sewing machine.  Put Etsy store in “vacation mode.”  Spend time recovering from craft overload.

After a few months of recharging, it was this here Joel Dewberry fabric that drew me back into the fold.  I spotted it at the second-newest fabric store in town (yes, there are TWO new fabric stores in town.  Craft heaven.) and I bought some.  I made this wristlet and lots of curtains for home.  Here’s the wristlet!

It’s my first foray into flower adornments.  I used this awesome tutorial.  It’s also my first foray into Melissa Averinos fabric (also found at the aforementioned fabric store.  Did I tell you it’s a discount fabric store, too?  Love!).

The inside has six slots for credit cards, and, of course, a custom pocket for an iPhone.  I carry this sucker everywhere.

Isn’t the power of new fabric amazing?  Anyway, glad to be back!

Posted by robyn on November 19th, 2011 under crafts, sewing | 10 Comments »

What I Did with my Extra Hour of Daylight: Pink Patchwork Belt

Growing up, I was the type of tomboy kid that refused to wear dresses and play with Barbies, and would instead prefer riding my dirt bike around town.  My mom had to try all sorts of tactics to get me to agree to finding and buying a dress for some special occasion (chorus concert!  family pictures!), while attempting to stave off the inevitable cranky fighting that would occur during these mutually-dreaded trips.  It pains me to think of what a picky, annoying mess of a dress-hating daughter she had to deal with, but she was a pro and had the patience of a saint.

My favorite (and probably the most successful) tactic of hers was when she’d have me wait in the dressing room in some department store, and go out to the sales floor alone and find a few things without me.  This way, I couldn’t veto everything at first sight.  She’d return and only enter with the dubious goods once I’d closed my eyes.  She’d put one of the dresses on me (eyes still closed!) and we’d discuss the merits of the dress (“isn’t it comfortable?  feel how soft!”), all with eyes tightly shut.  She’d then have me open my eyes, having worked to create a more positive attitude, and have me look in the mirror to see this much talked-up dress.  It actually worked and I can remember leaving with a dress on a few occasions.

I’m not sure when or how it happened, but, now, many, many years later, I own lots of dresses, and no one had to coerce me into buying any of them (…my eyes were open the whole time).  Perhaps even more surprisingly, the most frequently seen colors in my closet are now pinks and purples.  In fact, at times it feels like those are the only colors in my closet.  Ryan would agree.

So, when I took a break this weekend from PodPillow production, I decided to make this pink patchwork belt.  Happily, it matches just about everything in my wardrobe and I love it!

And now that I’m on such a girl-roll, I’m on the lookout for Barbie fabric.  Do they make that?  Just kidding.

Thanks everyone for your suggestions on how to get my craft juices flowing.  I think I may make a wristlet next.  I need something to tote around work that holds an iPhone + a credit card + my (non-existent-but-planned) DD large iced tea cup cozy so that my hands don’t freeze this winter while I feed my daily addiction.

Posted by robyn on November 7th, 2010 under crafts, sewing | 3 Comments »

One Woman Sweatshop

The craft scene at the Dog Named Banjo household has been all PodPillows, all the time.

These things are multiplying like Gremlins and heading all over the world to far off lands, battling Customs officials to make their way to desks and eventually cushion adorable little Droids, iPhones and Blackberries everywhere.  It’s been a lot of fun, and a lot of work.

Besides the PodPillows, I’m in a bit of a craft slump.  Where do you head for inspiration when that happens to you?  Can you recommend a fun, easy project to help get me back on the wagon?  Note:  In true fabric-hoarding fashion, I have ridiculous piles of unused fabric around every corner, spilling off my ironing board, covering my chair that I swore would be for sitting (not piling), just waiting for something good!

Posted by robyn on October 27th, 2010 under crafts | 24 Comments »

A new quilt!

I made another quilt!  This one is for Melinda & her family, who received it the other day.   Now that she has it in her hands, I can show it to you!

It’s a strip quilt made from lots of colorful polka-dot fabrics, and also includes my favorite Elephant fabric plus some Flea Market Fancy that I’m surprised I still haven’t used up after all this time (though, it’s on its last legs to be sure, heading into “scrap” status at this point).  Melinda’s family includes two adorable children.  I’m hopeful that the kids find this quilt’s colorful disposition not quite as blinding as I do, and instead find it to be fun and joyful instead.

Here’s a view of the front:

Here’s the back (or – the other front)! Mostly brown, some more polka dots for good measure:

I’ve got a few more projects on the docket, but I’m laying off the polka dots for a while for the next up.

Hope you’re all having a great weekend!

Posted by robyn on September 12th, 2010 under crafts, sewing | 7 Comments »

Cherry Pitter

Recently I started to crave cherry pie.  I’d rarely eaten cherry pie and had never made it, so I’m not sure where this came from.  Very likely it was a remnant of my RAGBRAI trip, where pie is a staple food group each day along the way.  On the way home from my Iowa adventure, I passed through Ohio, home to Lehman’s – a place with the most awesomeness packed into one store.  It’s a store that caters to the Amish community, which doesn’t use electricity.  They carry lovely old-fashioned items for the home, including all manners of kitchen items to get jobs done without a power cord.  Grain mills, pickling crocks, things for canning, juicing, pressing, grinding, and preserving are all stocked in abundance, many of which are labeled with Lehmans’ signature good, better, best labels of quality.

I drove at least an hour out of my way to drop by and see what wonderful gadgets and other intriguing items I could find, and came home with the Lehman’s Best Cherry Pitter, made by Leifheit.

When I got home, I bought a bunch of cherries and embarked on some serious pitting action.  The pitter’s advertising is strong, armed with the label of Lehman’s “best:”  pit 26 lbs of cherries per hour!  Make prize winning pies!  Automatically lifts the cherries and drops them in your bowl!

It all started out great.  Cherries piled high into the top, waiting to be pitted.  It turns out that the cherry pitting experience with this device was loud, extremely messy, and definitely not foolproof.  Each cherry being pitted makes a loud and startling mechanical thump.  Before I knew it, it looked like there had been a cherry massacre, with juice splattering absolutely everywhere, and my hands covered in red.  There was lots of futzing to get the cherries to fall into the little ditch so the pitter could do its thing, then fishing through all the cherries all over again to find the ones that weren’t actually pitted (turns out this baby has about a 10-15% rate of error…).

It’s much faster than the ones that do one at a time by hand, but the time it takes to go back to make sure you got all the pits makes it not worth it.  To add insult to injury, I learned not long after that I’m not really much of a fan of cherry pie!  Oh well.  It was fun to try.

Posted by robyn on September 8th, 2010 under cooking | 1 Comment »

Fruits of our (local) labors

Happy Labor Day weekend!  We’re celebrating birthdays this weekend – mine and Ryan’s and a good friend Mike’s.  For the occasion we’re making piles and piles of food all with the theme of being local.  The weekend started with major procurement of local foods from nearby farms, farm stands, and markets.  Final results include:  Coffee ice cream made with local raw milk (and locally roasted coffee beans), dishes with loads of fresh corn, tomatoes, potatoes, and cukes, a fresh turkey from a nearby turkey farm, beverages with local booze & honey from local bees, and from our very own garden a bazillion herbs that can be found in just about everything else.

And three pies – pumpkin, blueberry, peach, all with locally-grown filling ingredients and homemade crusts.

I’m looking most forward to this here ice cream made with our brand new ice cream maker!  You can see the beginnings above:  warmed milk, cream, and sugar and coffee beans, steeping for at least an hour. This is delicious and creamy by itself, but then comes a custard made from egg yolks and more milk and cream, then more cooking, stirring, tending, and finally, freezing.  Trust me when I tell you it is worth the labor.

Posted by robyn on September 5th, 2010 under cooking | 3 Comments »

Handmade High Tech

I'm Robyn. Thanks for stopping by! This is my craft blog.

Contact me at robyn [at] dognamedbanjo [dot] com.

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