Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Other Obsession

Besides planning quilts, making quilts, quilting quilts, and other quilty activities, I also like to read. Anyone who knows me knows that I spend a lot of time with my nose buried in some book or other.

This year all the stars aligned themselves in my reading favor and I received many, many books for Christmas. Thank you, thank you, friends and family!

Something that I like to do when I get a new book, or even a book from the library is spend some time looking it over. I check out the title page, see if it has a table of contents, look at the pictures, scope out the maps (always a good sign if a book has maps), and riffle through the pages. I like to be acquainted with a book before I dig myself into it. So that is what I have been doing this afternoon, as I try to tidy up the post-Christmas clutter in the livingroom.

This year I want to keep a journal of the books I read. I have tried to do that in the past, but one thing or another always seems to intervene. Having this blog might help--it gives me a place to think aloud about my reading as well as my quilting. Reading, a lot like quilting, is a solitary activity. You may discuss the books you've read with others, but they're not there when you're actually doing the reading. (I know I've bored my family to tears when I've suddenly insisted on reading what I thought was a particularly wonderful passage aloud to them.)

This pile of books is not my only material. I also have a shelf in the diningroom bookcase dedicated to "next reads." And then there is the pile on my bedside table.

On the top of that pile is Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham. It is his account of the discovery of the Incan city, Machu Picchu. I got interested in this after I saw a documentary about South American exploration on the History Channel a few months ago. According to the reviews, most of Bingham's conclusions about the Incas were flawed, but the account of his discovery is worth reading the book. I haven't had a chance to get much farther than the introduction, but it looks good so far. It also contains Bingham's original photographs and drawings, which is a plus.

Another book I'm reading is at the top of the stack pictured above, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson. It was a gift to myself last year, because I had always wanted to read it, and the copy in our school library is always out. I just love this book and it is a treat to read around the Christmas holidays. For anyone who hasn't read it or seen the movie, it is about a family of "bad" kids who nearly take over a Christmas pageant and in doing so, teach the "good" kids a thing or two about the real meaning of Christmas. That sounds sentimental, but the book isn't.

On the quilting front, I think I have been able to get the fabrics for the mystery quilt to play nicely together. The green is what I had planned for the border, but I'm going to use it in the blocks instead. I had chosen another green, but it fought with the pink. I want the colors to be distinct, but able to blend in well with each other. Dreamily harmonious is the look I want. Pastels are not usually my first choice, but I have been eyeing this fabric in the quilt shop for months.

I spent the morning chain sewing the first few blocks with my new friend the quarter-inch foot and I have a good start. I want to have the top pieced by the end of January. We'll see!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My New Friend

Say hello to my new friend. It is a quarter inch foot for my vintage Featherweight. I got this little baby just before Christmas, but it took me until yesterday to have a chance to try it out. Wow, does it make a difference!

You see that little black fence on the right side? It rides just outside the seam as you sew, and it actually makes it difficult NOT to sew a quarter inch seam. I was feeding little HS triangles through the old gal WITHOUT pinning first and getting nice even straight seams. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I spent yesterday cutting out fabric for the guild mystery quilt and trying a first, test block. Unfortunately, two of the fabrics just won't play nicely together, so I am going to have to use something else for the second color. I think what I was planning to use for one of the borders is going to work. I just have my fingers crossed that I bought enough of it.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men...
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Break!

The Swedish star above is my favorite Christmas decoration. My husband gave it to me a couple of years ago after I mentioned seeing it in a catalog. Doesn't it look like a feathered star? Once this goes up, I really feel that Christmas is at hand.

My Christmas break starts this morning, which is why I am sitting here with my second cup of coffee instead of madly dashing out the door for school. My husband just left for work and I am sitting here contemplating what I am going to do today.

The first thing is pick up my son at the airport. He is flying in from Texas today for a nice long Christmas visit. We haven't seen him since Thanksgiving and that was only for the long weekend so we are all looking forward to having him around for a while.

Second, the house. We are back home with a newly refinished and workable (!) bathtub, so I need to get busy cleaning and decorating for Christmas.

Third, shopping. Groceries and, yes, Christmas presents. As usual for the past few years, we're not exactly sure how many will be coming to Christmas dinner here, but I've ordered a 16 pound turkey and we'll be ready for whoever shows up. With the Christmas presents I am at the point where I just need a few more things. Hopefully that can be accomplished with a trip through the mall and a couple of other stores close by.

I am furiously working on one last Christmas present which I will probably be able to finish tonight. After that it should be smooth sailing through the weekend. My daughter and her boyfriend arrive on Friday night, and we'll all be together for the holiday. That is MY best and favorite Christmas present!

Since this is supposed to be a quilting blog I thought I'd add at least one quilty thing this morning. When I returned to Hancock's for the binding material for the little Christmas mat I made for my secret Santa pal, I saw these beady eyes staring at me from the fabric racks. Could I resist? I could not. The opposite side of the panel is cats with the same quizzical eyes. Wallhanging? Table mat? Pillow? Who knows? My sister-in-law gave me a book about sashiko quilting last year, and I thought...well, you know how THAT goes. I'll find a home for it somewhere!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Power Shopping

I hit the stores this morning and managed to get all the out-of-town presents bought. Wrapping is for tomorrow. Mailing out is Monday.

We are inching toward actually being ready for Christmas. My daughter came down last night in order to run a race across the river this morning. She and my husband found a beautiful little Christmas tree this afternoon and it is set up in the livingroom. Not decorated yet, but that's for another day. I found this wreath at a roadside stand during my travels today.

We are still camped out at my in-laws' house. The shower door assembly is here, but it will be tomorrow before my husband begins to install it. It then needs to be caulked, and that means another day or two before we can move back home, since we won't be able to use the bathtub until the caulking is dry. Did I mention we have only one bathroom? People I know are astonished that we managed to raise two children in a house with one bathroom. I think it taught all of us courtesy and respect for the privacy and rights of others, not to mention the meaning of a QUICK shower!

I finished binding this little table mat the other day. It is a gift for my instructional assistant at school, a woman of patience and kindness who I know will appreciate it. I tried to get a picture of the quilting in the border. I am rather proud of it because I did it freehand, rather than going through the tedious business of marking it. I am never satisfied with quilt marking tools. I am thinking of trying pounce next, since chalk, soap, and marking pencils all drive me batty.

I went to the fabric store this morning intending only to buy pearl cotton to make the hangers for the lollipop ornaments (yes, I finished 25 of them last night!), and found this beautiful Christmas fabric, made by the same company (Alexander Henry Fabrics) as the lovely orange and green fabric I bought last week. I was already in the checkout lane when I spotted it, but I just had to go back and get some. I cut off a small piece and just finished sandwiching it so that I can make another small mat. (Sorry, the picture is not great, but the light here is fading.) I don't say this very often, but this material is too pretty to cut up and piece, so I am just going to quilt around the designs. It is for my secret Santa. I think (!) I can get it done in time for the reveal on Wednesday. I just needed one more holiday project to work on...

Our dog Shiloh seems to be adjusting to her new surroundings. She went blind about two years ago, so a new environment is a little stressful for her. Luckily my in-laws' house has a fenced in back yard, so she can wander and sniff to her heart's content without us worrying that she'll fall into something. She used to be terribly camera-shy, but now our only problem taking a picture of her is getting her to sit still long enough.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


There I was just going with the flow, when suddenly I looked up and I realized (gasp!) that Christmas is just 10 days away! This weekend: power shopping. I am going to have to put aside everything and get myself in gear.

I've got a couple of projects that are nearly complete--little crafty things I am doing for friends and family, but the rest of it comes from stores. Which you have to drive to. And go into. And shop in. And buy in. And then bring home and wrap. Then mail. Yikes! Just thinking about it makes me want to pour another cup of coffee and consider other options.

Part of the problem is that we have been camping out in my in-laws house for the past few days while we had our bathtub reglazed. It was only supposed to be a 48 hour deal, but then, as always with home projects, the timeline got changed. Now we're going to get a new shower enclosure. Which has to be ordered. And delivered. And installed. Oh my.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Love in the Afternoon

...A lot of people make quilts just for your bed for to keep you warm. But a quilt is more. It represents safekeeping, it represents beauty, and you could say it represents family history.

--Mensie Lee Pettway

We drove up to Indianapolis today to see the Gee's Bend quilts at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. This sculpture greets you as you enter the museum grounds.

We had never been to this museum before and I wasn't sure what to expect. It is definitely worth a trip if you are ever in the area. The museum and grounds are in the suburbs in a large parklike setting. There is too much to see in just one afternoon. We're going to have to go back for an even longer visit sometime.

But the quilts, oh my goodness, the quilts! This exhibit has 70 quilts, and they are magnificent!

Pictures weren't allowed in the gallery, but you can see some of them at the Gee's Bend website.

The photos don't convey the dynamic colors and what the catalogue calls "unexpected compositional variations". The ones I liked the best were the older ones because they look more spontaneous than some of the more recent ones.

We ended up not having enough time to get to Indy's north side to Trader Joe's, but didn't even care!

Organized Chaos

While checking out some of my favorite quilting blogs I came across Mathea who talked about the challenges of organizing all the stuff that comes with quilting and crafting. I'm not brave enough to try to take pictures of my mess! Even though I have a spare bedroom to use as a sewing room, my projects are always spilling out into the living room, dining room, and anywhere else I happen to sit.

Last year I bought a bunch of semi-opaque plastic shoe boxes to use to store my fabric and put them on the shelves in my daughter's old bedroom. I also moved our old kitchen table in there to hold my cutting mat and other supplies. When I began to use the featherweight I moved it in there also, along with a smaller utility table and the ironing board. Her old bed serves as a fabric storage table/design board. You would think that a whole room would be sufficient for anyone, but no..... Projects keep inching their way downstairs to take up residence in the dining room (where the TV is) and the living room (where they get moved when I straighten up the dining room) and then the steps (where they sit, waiting to be moved upstairs again).

One of my goals for this year's Christmas break is to try to find a way to put things away so that I can find them again when I want them. So far, inspiration hasn't hit me as to how this can be accomplished!

Today we are heading up to Indianapolis to see the Gee's Bend Quilt exhibit at the museum of art. I am really looking forward to this, having read quite a bit about the quilts on the net. My husband is coming too, with the added incentive of a quick trip to Trader Joe's for some wine.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Butterfly Quilt

This is the butterfly quilt that my husband brought home night before last. His aunt made it, although we don't know when. My mother-in-law had it for many years. It is hand-quilted and it looks to me as if the butterflies are hand appliqued on with a blanket stitch. She did really beautiful work.

You can see the blanket stitch better in this close-up. She also did some beautiful hand quilting in between the blocks and on the border, but it is impossible for our camera to pick up those details.

The batting is so thin, I think it might be a piece of flannel.

This is like a little piece of spring time here at the beginning of winter.

Yesterday I went to a little craft sale at the home of a local weaver and ran into a couple of teacher friends whom I haven't seen for a long time. It was fun to catch up while I looked through all the crafts. I found a couple of little Christmas presents which I won't go into here as it might spoil a surprise or two!

I also went to the quilt shop and had the owner double check my math for the fabric amounts for the borders on our guild mystery quilt. I love coming up with the design and directions for the quilt, but I when I have to figure yardage, my eyes start to roll back in my head. Interestingly, she had one of those fabric calculators, and after we had figured out the yardage the good old fashioned way with a quick sketch and lots of numbers, she fed the dimensions into the calculator and it spit out the same yardage as we had figured! We just had to add on a little bit for insurance. I always wondered if those calculators worked. EQ will figure yardage, but it always assumes that borders will be made with length of fabric pieces, rather than width, so it over-estimates, in my opinion.

On the home front, I got some more quilting done on the log cabin table mat. It is really going quickly.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Winter Blows Into Town

Last night we went to bed with temperatures in the 50's. Today, it has dipped down into the 30's and the wind this morning was strong enough to blow over trees.

I can't ever get used to winter. Sigh.

This weekend I guess we'll just hunker down and do indoor things. I decided to use some of the wrong size log cabin blocks to make a table mat for my instructional assistant for a Christmas present. I got it finished, sandwiched, and basted this afternoon and I started quilting it just after dinner tonight. I know she'll like the vintage fabric and the log cabin pattern. I just hope I can get it finished before winter break! It's going pretty quickly because I am just stitching in the ditch, although I'll probably do something a little fancier in the borders once I get there.

My other goal for this weekend is to make the rest of the Christmas yo-yo's so that I will have them ready to make the lollipop ornaments for the people at work. We all exchange little token gifts with the others at school, and each year I try to come up with something different.

My husband brought home a beautiful quilt his aunt made. I'll post a picture later--there isn't enough light right now. It has appliqued butterflies which look to me as if they were blanket stitched by hand and is all hand-quilted. It is a delight.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving Weekend

We had a small but wonderful Thanksgiving this year. My daughter was not able to come for dinner (she went to Michigan to her boyfriend's family dinner), but my son flew home. We hadn't seen him since July, so having him here for a few days was great. This year I only had to cook for the three of us, but my sister-in-law came in after dinner and we managed to have a pretty lively time of it.

The rest of the time I spent working on various projects, trying to get something DONE. My problem is that I have too many different projects all going on at the same time and I am beginning to feel that I am just spinning my wheels.

I did finish this little origami bag. A member of our guild gave us a demo on how to make them during our November meeting. Although it looks like some of the other origami bags I have seen in other people's blogs, it is not made the same way. All in all, I wouldn't recommend this method because it is a little complicated to sew, and from what I can tell, it comes out practically the same as the others. Still, I am proud of it and am currently using it for a mini-sewing bag since it is just big enough for a spool of thread, a tiny pincushion, a small pair of scissors, and a six-inch ruler.

I also worked on the log cabin blocks. They are not coming out the same size as the blocks I made at the retreat. GRRRR....I am still not mastering machine piecing and I am feeling pretty frustrated! Hand sewing, while more time consuming, gives me more control over what I sew. Oh well, I'll either have two really tiny log cabin quilts, or I'll figure out a way to combine the two sets as part of one quilt. Somehow.

When I went up to the fabric store after work to buy the cording for my little blue bag, I found this lucious material on the 50% off rack. The picture does not really do it justice. The colors are much richer, and the fabric is a nice weight. Now, what in the world will I do with this?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Vintage (?) Knitting Pattern

Years ago when I was a little girl (make that many years ago), my mother had a knitting pattern for mittens. It was really just a generic pattern that worked with worsted weight yarn on four needles. It was included in a booklet with lots of other glove and mitten patterns. She made many mittens for us over the years. I can remember being called in to try on the half-knitted mittens so she get the the thumb or the hand or the cuff the right length. I had to thread my hand through the triangle formed by the needles to try it on without pulling any of the stitches off the needles.

We always had to have more than one pair of mittens each year because they got soggy when we played in the snow. Then you had to go in and get a dry pair or your hands would get too cold to play outside any more. She would dry them by hanging them on the back of the stove. You could tell how long we had played outside by how many pairs of mittens were hanging there.

Cut to twenty-five years ago. I was picking through a bin of old knitting patterns in a discount store and I found the same pattern! Naturally I bought it. I used it to knit mittens for my children--and I did the same thing as my mom. I would call the kids to try on the half-knitted mittens to get the thumb, or the cuff, or the hand just the right length. We don't get as much snow around here as we did in Cleveland when I was little, but my kids always had warm, dry mittens to wear outside.

Somehow, I lost this pattern. After searching through all my assorted craft patterns, I had given up on ever finding it again. I had started searching the internet for a good, generic mitten pattern when I thought to check out Ebay. Lo and behold, there was my good old knitting pattern! I got my husband (who actually uses Ebay and has an account) to order the pattern for me.

The thing I love about this pattern is that since it is so simple, you can add any kind of fancy thing you want: stripes, patterns, little pattern stitches, etc. I just find it amazing that this pattern is still around. I'm not so sure that I appreciate it being called "vintage." But, I am looking forward to getting it in the mail and trying some more mittens. You never know--it might snow.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Yo Yo Mama

It has been a weekend of odds and ends sandwiched in between real life things.

I did string the leftover yo yo's into a garland. Yo yo's must be the quilting equivalent of potato chips--can't stop at just one! They are so insanely, mindlessly easy to make. Just take a few stitches, draw up, tie off, and you're done. Now I am thinking about going back and buying some more of the red and white material to make more. I keep thinking how dramatic the red and white will look next to the dark green of the Christmas tree.

I also finished the turkey mat. This is a paper piecing project I began one dark, rainy October afternoon. I finished the turkey and started quilting it the same night. You can't see it that well in this little photo, but the binding material looks like wood grain which I think sets off the mat just right. This is only my second paper piecing project.

I found the
pattern on-line. This might be the first time I have ever finished a holiday project before the actual holiday it was meant for. Except for the yo yo's above!

I'm not sure how much I like paper piecing. All I can say for it is that it goes quickly and you can see the results right away. It did push me to actually use my sewing machine, which I am afraid gets a little lonely shut up in its black box most of the time.

The third thing I worked on are these granny flowers. I had many, many hexagons cut out and ready for sewing at our retreat weekend, but I spent nearly all of my time making the log cabin squares, so these have just been sitting in the bin waiting for me. I bought the material as part of a kit at a quilt show several years ago. Unfortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it) I don't have the instructions any more. It was supposed to be some sort of baby quilt--there was about a yard and a half of muslin and six fat quarters of depression prints.

My plan now is to make the flowers just as you see them, and float them on a sea of muslin with some fancy hand quilting on the white blocks. The hexagons finish off at 1-1/2 inches. I guess I'll just keep at it until I run out of muslin. This particular muslin is a creamy off-white which I am sure I will never be able to find again. I'll worry about the border, etc. when I get to it.

This is pretty much how I make most of my quilts. I just find material or a quilt block that I like and then keep sewing until I run out of material or energy. As I said, most things I make are pretty small to keep them manageable. I do have some bed-sized quilts, but just tops. Hand-quilting a bed-sized quilt by oneself takes soooooo long!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Soggy Wednesday

A dreary, wet November day. But, an easy day for me. The third grade went on a field trip and then this afternoon we had a "Stranger Danger" assembly for the whole school. I spent most of the afternoon getting caught up on grading papers and writing lesson plans for next week and the week after. Unbelievably, I am caught up!

I spent the evening finishing up the Christmas ornaments I am making for the guild meeting tomorrow night. I'll try to post some pictures if I can get my camera and computer to communicate. (Long pause while camera and computer negotiate truce.) There it is. I found these in Best-Selling Bazaar Patchwork by House which I won as a door prize at a guild meeting last year. When I saw the red and white material in the store I thought it would be perfect for these. I made extra yo-yo's and now I'm going to string them together into a garland.

The yo-yo'swent pretty fast, especially after I finally got it through my head that taking BIGGER stitches around the circle makes the center smaller. Taking smaller stitches draws too much fabric into the middle, making the middle circle too big.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

This is the project that I have been working on. It started out as a possible mystery quilt pattern for my quilt guild, but then I changed my mind (about the mystery quilt part) and now I have 96 of these nifty little units. They are called Brave New World. You can make many, many blocks by rearranging groups of 16. Or even more by making groups of 25. Or 36, and so on, and so on...
I used the digital camera to take some pictures of some possible arrangements. At the beginning I was thinking of an all-over design, but now I am more inclined toward a sampler quilt with six blocks in different arrangements.

I had a lot of fun making these little units. It was stress-free because I made a concious choice not to try to"match" any of the colors. I didn't buy any new material for them; these were all from my stash.
I seem to have a large stash of "earthy" tones, left overs from various other projects. I usually gravitate towards these colors in any quilt shop I visit. : )

For now, I'm just playing with the different arrangements and seeing how I like each one. This is almost as much fun as actually doing the sewing!

I also have a set of log cabin blocks I made at our last quilt retreat using most of the same fabric. Hmmmm....maybe I can combine them somehow.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hello, Out There!

I've been reading some of the quilting and crafting blogs for the past few months and I've decided to jump in. My quilts are usually pretty modest because I mainly hand-sew, so anything I do takes months, not hours or days. Having that long a lead time gives me a different perspective on things, kind of like hiking through a forest rather than driving through it.

But, I have so many ideas for new quilts, it's about time I pulled myself into the 20th century (never mind the 21st) and got going. At the rate I've been going, I'll be in my nineties before I get to the bottom of my stash. So, I'm beginning to teach myself how to piece on my trusty 1953 Featherweight and I'm trying to push myself to work a little faster.

As soon as I learn how to post photos I'll put up some of my work.