Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Last Minute

Or, as the car manufacturers call it: just in time delivery. I maintain if it weren't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done, and that it doesn't really matter how long before the deadline it is accomplished, as long as it's before.

So, as my children pile into their cars to head north to soggy Green Bay, I decided we needed little Christmas Stockings for the lot of them. Stockings have been a fun part of our holiday tradition. I loved finding silly little things to include. Every year the kids each got a flash light, that was standard, and an orange in the toe. (Kids these days have no idea how precious an orange in December once was, but they're getting one any way.) One year I found little guns that shot discs, they were so cool! I'll never forget seeing the air filled with colorful little circles, and how the kids just howled with glee over them. The discs were all lost within days, I half expected to find one when we moved out.

We always hung the stockings on the kids' bedposts. It was our scathingly brilliant method of keeping the kids from pestering us before 5 am. (Works with Easter baskets, too.) It was so sweet to wake up to whispering, giggling boys who thought they were pulling something over on us.

These are little stockings, just big enough to hold a clementine in the toe, and we'll include a small can of silly string and other silly things, and some candy of course. They are ridiculously easy to make, and would be a fun way to give a little something to the nice folks in your life. The stocking is just eight inches tall and about four inches wide at the top.

I used flannel, which I washed in hot water and dried on hot to shrink for fluffy goodness. I used a 1/4" seam allowance to sew the stocking shapes right sides together. The dual feed function made it easy to sew the bulky fabric without shifting. A walking foot would be great for this. To make your own stocking with these instructions, cut the cuff so that it is 1/2" less wide than the raw measurement of the top of the stocking, and twice as tall as desired plus 1/2".

To make it easier to turn, I used a back stitch at the beginning and end of the seams. My B820 has a stitch with a built in securing function. It's handy because I never remember at the beginning of the seam, and this stitch will remember for me. (How many other fancy functions do our machines have that we forget about?)

The short end of the white flannel rectangles are sewn together. I pressed the cuff seams open, and since the iron was hot, I pressed the first and last couple inches of the stocking seams too. It will make it easier to sew the cuff in place, and clipped the seam allowance at the curve. The stocking isn't turned yet.

*For those who have more than a last minute, you may want to embroider the recipient's name on the cuff, you'd want to do that before sewing it. I'm just going to write their names on with a fabric ink pen.

Now, here's where it gets a little crazy, but it's super easy. The cuff is folded in half, wrong sides together, matching raw edges and the seam.

Slip the cuff over the stocking. Match the cuff seam to the back seam of the stocking. It looks like the stocking is a little bigger than the cuff, but it's not.

A couple of pins, one at the seam and one opposite will help keep everything in place. Make sure all three layers of fabric are aligned.

Here's the magic. This is a tiny opening, it's even too small it fit over the machine's free arm. So, we're going to sew it from the inside.

 Let the bulk of the stocking sit above the foot and just rotate the seam into the foot. (The first time I saw this done my poor little head almost burst. Of course it's easier! This is why we take classes.) I don't back stitch to start.

But I do finish with back stitching over the beginning of the seam.

Turn the stocking right sides out and then gently fold the cuff down over the top. The cuff seam is hidden in the fold. I'll be sewing on little yarn loops for hanging, but they could have been included in the cuff seam.

Who doesn't want an excuse to do a little sewing right before Christmas? Next I think I might whip up a couple of valances for the guest bedroom. Just kidding. Maybe.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas

It's going to be a full house for us this year, something I never imagined when thinking of our first Christmas in Green Bay. "Home" has been Saginaw for us for so long, I figured that's where the guys (and their girls, who all still have family there) would head for the holidays. It turns out that home is where I am (and Kent of course, too), even if they've never been here before. I can't tell you how much this surprises me and fills my heart with joy.

Silly girl that I am, I thought that I might actually get my Christmas Yet To Come quilted in time for this year, but progress has been slow. I'm struggling with the design for the quilting. The trend towards hyper-quilting continues and I've seen some so extraordinarily quilted that I am left breathless.

The truth is this style of quilting takes a lot of planning and marking, two things that I really don't enjoy (understatement here, loathe might be more accurate) when it comes to the quilting part. I'm more of a "quilt what comes first and figure it out as I go" kind of girl. So for now, I'm just finishing the ditch stitching and adding a quarter inch echo around the applique. Once the holiday has been savored I think my brain will clear and I'll be able to make a plan, or not plan, and move forward.

This has been a year of changes for us and changes can be very hard, even good ones. We love pretty much everything about Green Bay, but it still doesn't feel like home. There are days when I just want to put everything back where it belongs, where it sat for so long before.

Having the boys want to come here, just because we're here (well, there was also a promise of a tour of Lambeau Field but that came after the plans were made), both confounds and comforts me.

My wish for you, this holiday season, it that you'll find peace with where life puts you today, and revel in the joy and power of hope for tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Secret Agent Spy Stuff

It's been deliciously quiet here, so I have been quiet on the blog. The days have been filled with the satisfyingly mundane chores of everyday life. Nothing to see here. Little things give me ridiculous pleasure, like having a clothes chute from the master bedroom to the basement laundry, but are hardly worth a blog post. (Well, except for this one, I guess.) My days are a lovely mix of quilting, knitting, spinning and cooking. I have finally embraced this gift of unregimented time, this sabbatical from the frantic pace of teaching/travel/publishing of the past decade or so.

The weather has been unseasonably warm, autumn has lingered well into winter. They are predicting some measurable snow for over the weekend, so I'll be hustling to get the last of the tulip and daffodil bulbs into the ground later today. I'm down to the last forty or so, which shouldn't take long. I've already planted nearly a hundred bulbs. This spring there will be color!

A Fine Romance did get put aside for a while. There are other things that I'd like to get cracking on, and there were a couple of deadlines to be met, for projects I can't show you. I've sent off a block to Quiltmaker for their 100 Blocks publication. I really like it and think it needs to be quilt, so I will be fussing around with layouts until I find one I must make.

I've also been messing about with some new machine quilting techniques. I can't show you that either just yet. I can tell you it's been the most fun I've had with my clothes on. After years of swearing that I'd never wear gloves for quilting (when will I learn that "never" usually means "next week"), I've discovered that gloves are just the thing for this new process.

I still hate having to take the gloves off to thread the needles or even work the touch screen on the sewing machine. Until someone makes quilting gloves with the special conducting fibers in the fingertips, I've solved the problem by cutting the tips from the thumb and index fingers on my right hand glove. It also serves up a bit of cooling. Since my inner child is playing with matches again, any cooling I can get is a good thing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What I did on my October vacation

October is a weird month for me. I love everything about autumn. It's been lovely to learn what colors the trees around us will become. On my street, autumn is golden. It's been amusing to see how neighbors deal with falling leaves. I'm not saying it's competitive lawn care, but I will say that I have a few meticulous neighbors. It's been a learning curve for we country bumpkins.

On the first Saturday, we met our son and his family in Milwaukee for a day at the zoo.He was in town to run a marathon. We had a delightful day with our grandchildren, right up to the point when my granddaughter sneezed right in my face. Well, it was still delightful afterward, but I knew what was coming. Sure enough, ten days later I'm out for the count. Children are adorable little germ bombs.

I was invited to offer a little demo of my applique technique during the day meeting of the Evergreen Quilt Guild here in Green Bay. These demos are supposed to be informal little snippets of tips and technique, offered up by members of the guild. Well, of course I went over the top. It's what I do. I made little kits and patterns for everyone. These things are tiny, and heaven knows I have the stash. But I love it when I can be the pied piper for applique. I'm pretty sure they now know that I'm a bit obsessive, but you know, if I'm going to do something, especially any kind of teaching, I just have to do my best.

This. This is freedom. I agonized, agonized, for a week about what to do with the leftover parts. I had bits and pieces of pumpkins and leaves and templates printed on Wash Away Applique Sheets just nagging at me. Perhaps a table runner, but no, I'd want to make the pumpkins larger. Maybe just a little candle mat, no, I'd want to add so much more to it. What I want is to be done with it. So there. The leftovers served their purpose, their job is done, time to go into retirement. Permanently. (Oh, wait. I don't think I've emptied the can yet. There is still time...) In case you want one of your own I've uploaded the pattern (free) to my Craftsy pattern store. LINK

So here's where October gets weird for me. I loathe Halloween. I pretty much hate everything about it. (Am I the only one?) It's become so gory, it seems to celebrate the evil and ugliness around us. I know, it's a thing, but I find myself hunkering down, closing in during the last week or so of October.

I will admit that I got a big kick out of handing out candy this year, something we haven't done in twenty years. The little ones are the best. Still, I'm relieved that November is here and we can celebrate our better natures in Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Danger Zone

 This project is in real trouble. After months and months of work, this quilt is on the verge of becoming a WIP (a Work In Progress, otherwise known as a project laying about that isn't actually being worked on) or, more ominously, a UFO (UnFinished Project).

Half of the center applique is done. The rest is mostly pinned on and will be stitched in place today. All of the parts are sorted and just waiting for their curtain call. But I'm losing steam. I'm losing interest in finishing.

It might be the distractions. I have several projects waiting in the wings, projects that I am itching to get to. The beguiling thing is that the projects are sneaking into brand new processes and I am always enticed by the opportunity to learn something new.

I have this stack of software waiting to be loaded onto my computer. It's embroidery software for my Bernina 880, including the cut work tools. The 880 has a stitch designer function, allowing me to create my own decorative stitches. I want to design new applique edge stitches, I can already see them in my head. I'm anxious to get started, but I have this big project I need to finish first.

And then there's this pile of stuff. Have you seen the quilting they're doing with rulers and domestic sewing machines? Check this out. How did I not know about this? Of course I had to run out and get a sampling of tools and equipment. There just might be an easier way to finish quilting Christmas Yet to Come! Of course I'll need to practice, and for that I'll need practice projects. Oh, but I have this big project I need to finish first.

Of course, none of that even takes into account of all of the other distractions around here. I have this terrific new electric spinning wheel to master. And while it is the coolest thing since forever, I still love spinning on the traditional wheel, so it needs some loving attention.

As for the loom, well, I'm just not sure about that. If it's going to take up prime real estate in the living room it certainly needs to be warped and worked on. It may be looking for a new home shortly. Not sure that the weaving bug has really stuck with me. But for now, I really have to concentrate on this big project.

I worry that if I put A Fine Romance aside it will never be finished, look what's become of Christmas Yet to Come. It is still waiting to be quilted. Or worse, it will lurk in the background, making me feel guilty for not wanting it any more. Oh, wait, it's currently staring me in the face and making me feel guilty for not wanting it any more.

I'm not sure when I gave up multi-tasking projects to become a serial processor. Well, that's not completely true. I think of myself as monogamous within crafts, it's okay to work on more than one project as long as I'm cheating on quilting with knitting, or spinning or weaving. (Lucky for me that gardening, baking, and decorating are chores, not hobbies or I'd really be toast.)

Indecision might turn out to be my best friend. I am making good progress even while I think about setting it aside. What do you do? How do you stay faithful to large projects, or is that just silly? Am I the only quilter in the universe who works on one quilt at a time?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Just a couple of knots

So much has happened since I started this project that I couldn't remember if I had a plan for the center of the flowers. Well, that's not true. I know I had a plan. I always have a plan. Not remembering the plan meant that I needed to come up with one pretty quick.

I was fairly certain that wool was involved, so I started by cutting circles out of different colors of wool. I had to remind myself that testing isn't wasting, that it would be so much better to toss a couple of circles of fabric than regret dozens and hours of work too.

In the end I settled on yellow. I haven't used much yellow in the quilt so far, and it adds a nice sparkle. I tried different sizes, considered cutting star shapes instead of circles. But, in the end, the yellow circle ruled the day.

(I can't believe how much the glue shows in these pictures. I sure was sloppy with it. No worries, though, it will all be gone in the first wash.)

In the end it was really all about the french knots. They make me ridiculously happy. Using #5 perle cotton makes them look like fat and happy seed beads. Some how the plan (see, I did have a plan) changed from a simple circle of knots to a center full of knots.

All that is left for me to do is to make the bias strips and get to stitching all the parts and pieces to the backgrounds. Doesn't seem like much, does it, after coming so far?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

There, now here

We have all this stuff. Too much stuff, depending on who you ask, but I'm not asking today. The trick is making it fit. Not fit, like finding a place for everything, but finding what's right for this house. I'm having trouble using what we brought with us to decorate where we are now.

To be honest, it was all starting to feel a bit stale. A couple of years ago I realized that I hadn't redecorated in a very long time. It was as if I had finally found just the right thing for each space and then left it there. I was happy with it, and then, suddenly, I wasn't. Now I've brought it all here. I'm torn between comforting familiarity and the idea of trying to make this house into the one we left. (I tried to convince Kent that we should just sell all of it and use the moving stipend to start fresh, but he wasn't persuaded.)

This is the kitchen chandelier that came with the house. Meh.

This is the chandelier that we brought with us. It was perfect in the old kitchen. It has a sweet story. My mom found it at a yard sale for a song. Knowing how much I love blue willow, she thought it would be perfect for me and had it in the trunk of her car when we found the Saginaw house. Hanging it was one of the first changes we made when the old house became ours.

I can't decide. Wall color aside (it will be gone as soon as the weather shifts us from garden to indoor work), does it fit? Can I decorate the kitchen around it? (You have no idea how badly I'd love to paint the cabinets white. If they were real wood it would have already been done.) Does it stay, or does it go?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Small victories

It was truly of moment of truth when the sashing strips were sewn together for the quilt borders. These strips were challenging little buggers, with all the angles and matching points. It didn't help things at all that they were constructed in the hotel room, with a jerry-rigged cutting table, mini ironing board and dodgy hotel iron.

There certainly is a lot of "character" in the edges, that's for sure. Truthfully, I spent more time dreading the easing it was sure to require than it actually took to sew everything in place.

Look at it! They match up to the border perfectly. Perfectly. Not a bit of stretch needed! You know this doesn't happen often, so when it does, you'll have to forgive me my little bit of crowing, please.

I'm proud of the quilts I make, but they are far from perfect. There are a lot of secrets tucked between the quilt top and the batting.

But then we're like that too, aren't we. We like to present our best face and keep our failures tucked away. I think we're the most interesting when the facade falls away and we're our truest selves. Feel free to look for the flaws. I think they are the best feature. But, for once, for this part of the quilt, no easing required!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A garden where none was before

It is fair to say that the folks who owned this house before us were not into gardening. They said so themselves. Most of what lives in the ground here has been in place for almost thirty years. Like the evergreen bushes that left the front yard earlier this summer, and the ones blocking most of the sunlight into the studio.

My original plan was to turn this area into a dry river bed, shade garden. It was dark, gloomy and uninviting. But when those nasty bushes (does anybody really like them?) were removed my whole plan changed.

Suddenly we had sunlight! When I say "we" worked in the garden mostly I mean Kent does the hardest, sweatiest parts and I zoom in at the end and make the pretty part happen. I'm also usually the one who thinks up the plan. Luckily, Kent is willing to play along. The walkway stones are leaning on the retaining wall while the sod goes in.

The angel, who has followed us from Wisconsin to Michigan and back to Wisconsin again has finally found just the right spot. Since this corner remains pretty shady, I've planted ferns around her. The birdbath end of the path gets marvelous afternoon light, so it's planted with sunny to partly shady plants that will bloom in the spring. I couldn't resist adding in a couple of mums for fall color. (I just may sneak a few pansies in there before the end of the planting season.)

With the bushes gone I can see the entire garden from my desk. The bench is a wonderful place to be quiet and thoughtful. I think this will be the last big change we'll make to the yard this year, honestly there's not a whole lot left to do. Next spring Kent would like to turn that screen tent into a true gazebo. Slowly we are making this place into our place. It's hard to feel fully invested here, with the ties remaining to the house in Saginaw, but we're coming along. It may take a while to feel truly at home, but we do like it here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

And then there were eight

Step Eight is up. That's it. That's all, she wrote. Ta-da! All of the steps for A Fine Romance have been posted. Actually sewn? Well, that's a bit of a different story, now isn't it?

Considering all that's happened in the last eight or so months, I'm actually pretty pleased with how much I've accomplished. All of the blocks are pieced, just waiting to be joined together with the last of the sashing strips, and that won't take long. The borders are pieced too.

I'm glad that I saved some of the simpler blocks for the end of the project. Usually I like to advance the skills required as the project continues, it's the teacher in me.

This time around I decided that this quilt would really be all about the applique, any teaching moments would be a lucky bonus. This month's step includes the math to make any size square-in-a-square block, so I did manage to squeeze a little extra information in there.

While it feels like the quilt is nearly done, I still have a bit of work ahead of me on the applique. All of the bits are glue basted, just waiting to be stitched together. I feel some embellishing coming on, but I just haven't decided how involved I want it to be. French knots are on the list for sure, beading remains to be seen. For some reason I think I might want to add a bit of black to the center of the open faced flowers. Talk me out of it?

I've got my nest set up. The machine cabinet is finally repaired (it was broken in the move) so I can comfortably sew. A brand new "In Death" from J.D. Robb just came out. I wonder what I'll finish first, the audio book, or the stitching on the applique? Oh, well, I always have Craftsy on the computer to help pass the time.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cutting Big

Here is my layout for cutting the strips for the border background for A Fine Romance. The bulk of the fabric is supported by the chair. (What can I say, I liked it so much I bought the entire bolt.) Years ago I invested in a couple of extra large rulers, 16 1/2" and 20 1/2" squares. I don't use these very often, but they make quick work of the job when I do. Using them meant I could cut up the needed pieces for the border easily.

I know lots of quilters are limited in space and budget. I started out as one, I've been building my toolbox for more than thirty years. But I feel compelled to, once again, caution against using the markings on the cutting mat for measuring.

This is a brand new mat. I put my ruler down on the mat with the measurement lines aligned.

This is what I see at the other end of the ruler. In the space of just eighteen inches, the lines are clearly off. But here's the thing. We are cutting huge hunks of fabric for the borders for A Fine Romance. And while these lines are off, in the whole grand scheme of things, this smidgen is not going to amount to a hill of beans. Just be wary of using the mat for anything that might need to be precise.

I don't know why this picture rotated, but here it is. To get my 13 1/2" x 40 1/2" rectangles, I refolded each strip so that I could cut with the least amount of waste at one end. Doing this has the added benefit of placing the fold off center of the piece. Sometimes those folds are hard to remove, so moving them off the center focal point can help to disguise them.

To measure using the mat, instead of trying to align the ruler at the 20 1/4" mark (which will give us a 40 1/2" rectangle), I like to use the ruler to add the 1/4 inch. The one inch marking lines on the mat are easier to see than those little intermediate hash marks.

Now that autumn has arrived I'll be spending less time and energy getting our new gardens up to speed, and more time in the studio. I have just a few circles left to glue baste and I'll be moving on to stitching the flowers together. We are only a few days away from the last step of this block of the month project. How is yours coming along?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Step Seven, with a side of emo

For the more tenacious folks following this block of the month, you've already discovered that Step Seven has been posted for a couple of weeks. For those of you waiting to hear from me, here you go. (And so sorry once again, for the delay in the notice.)

Now for the side of emo. The stress and worries of the job change and big move have caught up with us at last. We've been under the gun, unsure of our fates since the beginning of January. I think that now that we're feeling more settled into our Green Bay life we've relaxed enough to feel all of the pressures of this huge change in our lives. Let's just say that the word "snippy" has been forthwith banned from all use in the household.

The Saginaw house is still for sale. We've finally dropped the price to what I thought we should have started with the first place. And we buried a St. Joseph, which felt a little sacrilegious to me. Once I saw the little statue all boxed up in a special "this is the guy to bury" package I felt a little less squeamish. He's been in the ground all summer. So much for the quick results. On the other hand, while working in the front garden here we found the St. Joe that the former owners of this house buried. He's now on the kitchen windowsill where I can remind him on a daily basis that he's got a job to do.

The wonderful old Saginaw house truly was the house of my dreams. It was a landmark, it had a life of its own which it graciously shared with us for twenty years. I loved saying, "I live in a house built in 1860." Or, "We live in that old farmhouse next to the park", and have everyone know exactly which house that was. (I think half the county walked through it during the estate sale two weeks before we bought it.)

In moving here we were no longer interested in "the house of our dreams". We had that. We have just want we wanted, enough space for our toys, enough dirt to garden, all on a quiet street. It didn't start out as something special, but, as Kent reminds me, it will be by the time we're done with it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Same but not same, the leaves part two

When I first learned to applique, more than twenty years ago, uniformity and perfection were the hallmarks of excellence. In many applique circles, especially those grounded in the traditional style, these values continue today. Even as I was developing my own applique technique, my initial goal was to create a process that would allow me to quickly and efficiently make precise and uniform templates for my applique motifs. Stapling and cutting multiple layers of template material gave me that outcome, and I appliqued on happily for many years.

But lately, I find my desires are changing. Leaves are never uniform in nature. They twist, they change colors as they mature and they're all different sizes.

One of the nicest things about my applique technique is that I can make changes on the fly. Early on I decided that I'd cut out each leaf individually, all eleventy-million of them, a far cry from the quick and efficient method I worked so hard to perfect.

One of the most frequently asked questions in my classes is where to cut: inside the line, out side the line or exactly on the line. I always reply with "somewhere near the line". Since I cut each element from a complete motif (as opposed to exploding the design and cutting each element individually) it doesn't really matter how the cut is made. The shapes will fit together again, guaranteed!

For example, here's a basic leaf template. It looks like I more or less followed the line for the outer edge. Also notice that each half of the leaf has a letter name and a penciled in number. I call these notations the "address", so I'll always know which halves belong together.

When it came time to cut the halves apart I totally ignored the line. My only concern at this point is that the two halves end up on a different fabric.

After all of the leaf parts are trimmed for the seam allowance, they are sorted by letter and shape. You can see that I missed the line on quite a few of the leaves. From here, the pairs are matched up and it's time to start glue basting.

This is my lap sized light pad (about 11" x 14"). I've covered it with a bit of template plastic so I'm not getting glue directly on the surface of the pad. I need my scissors to clip a few concave seam allowances. You can see on the leaf about to be basted that the cut was so wild that I had to transfer the address to the skinny half, no biggie. The cuticle stick is what I use to control and adjust the seam allowances until they are smooth and perfect. No fancy, expensive tools needed here. I use a simple white glue stick, which is on the table next to my beverage of choice. I have my feet up on the foot stool, I'm onto season three of Foyle's War on Netflix now, and I still have about a third of the leaves to go.