Friday, July 4, 2008

Linen Scraps!

Just as the insanity and trouble of the past two weeks finally calmed, and as I started to think about sewing and quilts again, I found a delightful gift in my mailbox. Jude of Spirit Cloth very generously sent me a fat packet of linen scraps, tied with a purple ribbon!

I love them! What wonderful prints and stripes and plaids, and beautiful colors! 
Oh my, this is going to be fun.

Monday, June 30, 2008

On the Road Back to Normal

The rough patch I mentioned in my last post turned into a crisis. The past two weeks were filled with dealing with my parents (80 and 82, both with mild to moderate dementia, and no longer able to live on their own), finding and settling them into an assisted living facility near me (against their completely unrealistic wishes), and getting guardianship over both of them (because there simply was no other acceptable alternative). Trust me when I say I'm leaving out myriad details ranging from unpleasant to very painful.

If there is any lesson here, it's that everyone (including me!) should put together a will and durable power of attorney for finances and for health care. Do it now! And then discuss with your children or other relatives realistic alternatives for your living accommodations and care should you become incapacitated. It will save you and your loved ones from most of what we went through, and will save you money, too (guardianship proceedings in Wisconsin cost at least $2500 per person).  

Anyway, now I'm working long hours to make up for lots of lost work time, and I haven't touched a needle for the last week and a half, or even read my favorite blogs. The good news is that the past few days, since the family stuff has begun to calm down, I've been thinking about quilts again---my red linen fabrics and my cotton twills, getting more hand quilting done, and wondering what everyone has been up to lately. 

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Quilt Therapy

I've been going through a rough patch lately. There's the omnipresent work, of course, but also problems involving my elderly parents---lots of difficult situations and decisions, and a mountain of paperwork. My creativity is very low, but the need for soothing diversions high. I'm very glad I have the linen quilt in the frame. I seldom have much free time, but when I do, the contained and easily controlled world of a rocking needle and (semi)neat stitches is just what I need.

I've introduced a little variety by building fans from both sides. And yes, I'm still stitching lefthanded. In fact, I'm better at it now than I am at using my right hand, at least when I'm using the quilting spoon. It took a while to get the hang of the spoon, but it's working very well, and I really like the relaxed feeling of knowing I'll never get stabbed. 

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Different Kind of Quilt

It all started with this:

It's the hem of a linen skirt I found on one of my thrift store forays a couple of years ago, right around the time I started collecting linen---another piece of fabric that was calling out "Take me home!" 

As they come in, the clothes get washed, then cut apart and put away, awaiting critical mass and enough time. The first linen quilt to come together was the one I'm currently hand quilting, and ideas for a second one are percolating around a set of reds that needs a few more members. A few weeks ago, I was playing with the linens again and another idea came together. 

I've been wanting to try out the fancy stitches on my new machine, and the embroidered linen skirt was a starting point. Here are a few trials:

I decided to not get complicated, and stuck to straight lines of programmed stitches. Even that, though, has plenty of scope for variation. I had a lot of fun with the entredeux foot, too.

I also looked through my linens and put together a nice collection:

I have a couple of other colors in small scraps, too. Printed 100% linen is not all that common, and I'm lucky that the floral goes so well with the solids. (That print at the bottom is 50/50 linen/cotton, and while the colors are good, I'm not sure it will stay here.)

And what to do with this little treasure trove? This past winter, I discovered Spirit Cloth. Jude's work is amazing and mesmerizing, and I spent many happy hours with her blog and photo collections. (Do take a look, if you haven't visited there yet!) In particular, I was entranced by her  Treehouse Quilt. Weaving fabric strips together was a whole new direction. And raw-edged fabric strips, too! I don't expect to ever come close to her artistry, but I've been very much wanting to try a woven fabric quilt project. 

I decided to stay small, which is certainly not my usual inclination, but seemed the best approach with a new technique and limited time. The finished size will be a little more than 24 in by 24 in. The strips will be embellished with machine embroidery, then woven with each other and also into the border. (I'll cut little slits in the border to thread the strips though.) All the strips will have raw edges, with a few threads removed to form a narrow fringe. 

Since this is my first attempt, I'm not sure how I'll handle the rest of the steps.  I will probably build the woven layer on top of a thin muslin, then layer with batting and backing. I'll hand quilt. I haven't decided exactly how to finish the edges, but I'd like to avoid a separate binding.

Fortunately, even though I'm really busy with work right now, it's work that doesn't drain my brain as much as indexing does. Here's hoping I can keep making progress on this. 

Saturday, May 17, 2008

This and That

I can't believe it's been two full weeks since my last post. Yes, I've been wrapped up in work again, but I've been getting in some needle-and-thread time, too. 

Last weekend, I couldn't ignore it any longer. Warm weather had arrived, and I had to start hauling out my really summery clothes. Discovering the alarming number of worn out and stained items spurred me to unearth several lengths of fabric I've been carrying around for literally 20 years, and make a duplicate of a favorite but very worn dress.

Fortunately, it looks better on than in this photo. But in any case, it's primarily a trial run for some better, prettier fabric that I hope to get to soon.

I've been working away on the hand quilting, still with my left hand. It's looking better and going faster, although "fast" is a relative term here.

Here and there, I've found time to make progress on getting the two star quilt tops ready for machine quilting. I made two more large blocks, and I have to transplant one more row of the sashing pieces from the large top to the small one. After that, the small one will need a simple border.

I'm still mulling how to get these quilts basted. Safety pins, straight pins, and spray adhesive are out. I was going to hand baste with small stitches, but the time factor is just too daunting, and besides, the quilting frame is otherwise occupied (forget the floor or even a table). Having a long-armer baste it is a possibility. Thinking a little further outside the box, I figured, what the heck, I'll try using a Flynn frame and water-soluble thread to baste by machine. I don't expect to have particularly good control of the frame, but it's just basting. It's going to be an interesting experiment.

Last but not least, here are a few photos of white-flowered crabapple trees on our grounds. They're really spectacular this year. You'll notice that many of our other trees still don't have their leaves fully out. Spring is on the late side, even for southern Wisconsin.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Expensive Needle Threader Appreciation Day

With an abundance of extremely inexpensive needle threaders available, I didn't see much point in one that cost more than $10 (sometimes available on sale for less). Now I do! I literally would not be hand quilting without this little gadget. 
Yes, it's ugly. No form-follows-function elegance here. The designer couldn't even be bothered to pick a cheery color. But can this thing thread needles or what?! My eyes are not what they used to be, but I can still thread an ordinary needle. However, threading quilting needles goes beyond seeing what I'm doing. The eyes are so small that even with a perfect thread end, I can't get the darn things threaded. 

One solution is using larger needles and getting the ones with the largest eyes. But I use lots of tightly woven fabrics and sometimes hand piece them and occasionally hand quilt them. Large eyes are not good. And even they are not quick to thread. Ordinary needle threaders still require substantial effort and time, break easily, and sometimes are too thick to work with my needles. Enter the Clover Desk Needle Threader! This baby just works. Drop in the needle, place the thread, push the lever down. Done. I even abused it unmercifully, trying to get it to thread John James size 11 applique needles. It took as many as six or seven tries for each threading, and I could hear the poor mechanism clunking against the needle end, the needle itself sometimes popping out of the needle port with the force of it. I was sure I had wounded it, maybe killed it. But no. It still works like a charm on my size 10s! (It may work on certain brands of 11s and 12s; it works on larger-eyed needles also, although not the huge ones.) I've had it for a couple of years now, and it's still working like new. To be on the safe side though, I bought a second one. 

What special little gadgets do you all have that you simply couldn't live without?

Friday, May 2, 2008

New Thread, Happy Quilter

Yesterday, I found a much better thread for this quilt. The greens are lighter, and there's more yellow. I got a second thread too, one with only yellows. The green/yellow one is in the left fan. Hard to see in the photo, which means it's somewhat more noticeable in real life but still muted. The partly done fan on the right has only the yellow thread. This is really subtle, and I plan to use it only here and there. 

Still stitching with my left hand. I've included using a quilting spoon. It was awkward at first, and pretty discouraging to have to figure it out---it felt like a major regression---but it eliminates underneath-finger pricks, use of fingernails to move the needle, and sideways pressure on the fingers---all worthy things to avoid. I can tell that I'm relaxing more, knowing that my fingers are much less likely to get poked. Another benefit is that it actually works and works well! It certainly does a great job on the stitch length I'm aiming for, and I can see potential for standard short stitches, too. Heaven knows what it's doing to the tip of the needle, but so far there's no noticeable effect. 

I see definite improvement in stitch quality and am hoping for a speed increase soon. Right now, I'm somewhere around the 4 or 5 hours per square foot rate. 

Thursday, May 1, 2008

This Thread Isn't Working

The quilting thread I'm using is variegated in colors that go perfectly with the quilt top, and the thread itself is great. But the dark green in it is just too dark and too frequent for what I had in mind. I wanted the quilting to show up, but, well, not quite this much. The photo damps down the contrast a bit. It's more obvious in person. 

The lighter parts of the thread are much better, though, so I'm going to look for yellows, golds, and light greens. And hey, the fabric colors in this photo are so close to real!--even though I took the photo under a fluorescent lamp. 

By the way, I was going for a casual look, with large stitches, but the lines are definitely wobbly and the stitches uneven. This is because though I'm right-handed, I did all this stitching with my left hand. The hardest part was controlling the depth of the needle-travel. I didn't have much fine control. The next hardest task was getting the knack of tilting the needle enough but not too much, and bending the quilt sandwich to get the stitch length right. Meanwhile, I kept forgetting to pay attention to the direction of the needle. The whole process is very slow, too. It really shows how much right-hand skill I take for granted.  

And why, you may ask, am I learning to quilt with my left hand? I make my living via the computer and spend significant personal time on it too. What with mousing and the keyboard layout, my right hand, arm, and shoulder get overused. Right now, I'm only a few steps away from developing significant problems. I have my ergonomic keyboard set up to give my left hand more to do, and I'm trying the same thing with hand quilting.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Bit of Progress

Another work deadline met! It was another long week of long days, but I was done by lunchtime yesterday and took the rest of the day off. I've decided today is a free day, too. 

Yesterday afternoon, after a couple of hours of decompression (and laundry, etc.), I tackled the second half of loading the linen quilt into the frame. I'm very pleased with the final setup! 

I was almost obsessive about arranging the layers. In fact, I laid it all out on the floor first, with the backing taped down, just as if I were going to pin baste. This showed up distortion in one end of the top, so I restitched one entire border. It was worth it---it's much better now. I also went nuts with registration marks all around the edges. I figure they can't hurt, and they give me a feeling of security (whether that's warranted is another issue). 
The next two or three weeks are going to be very busy with three editing projects underway, but at least I have lots of hand quilting to turn to. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Observing My Life

It's been a long week and a half since my last post. Yes, I've been buried in work. The good news is that the index got done on time, and the first batch of my new copyediting project was only one day late. In the book end of the publishing business, making a deadline is not all that usual, so I'm pretty satisfied. 

Since my resolution to keep a better balance between work and the rest of my life, and to make quilting a much higher priority than it has been, I was very interested to observe exactly what happened the past few weeks. On and off, I made a conscious effort to note what I was doing and how I felt about it. Turns out that my work saps my brain power and will. I know this sounds weird, or at least like an overstatement, but it's about the best short description I can come up with. 

After more than, say, six hours of tightly focused work (which is roughly equivalent to a good eight-hour work day at most businesses---who concentrates for a full eight hours of an eight-hour work day? ... I certainly never did), I'm still able to take an interest in the rest of my life. More hours than that, especially on consecutive days, turns me into a zombie.  I had plenty of examples of this. A couple of times I tried piecing some scraps ... the colors didn't mesh, the patterns were jarring, and just pawing through the piles of scraps for a piece of suitable size was simply too annoying. I tried a little hand piecing ... all that attention to detail wore me out within a few inches. Trying to think about new projects or how to handle the next step of current ones always led to a sort of murky dead end somewhere in my brain. I couldn't even get interested in quilt blogs. Pathetic. 

Areas that gained were the urge to chat on the phone with friends, and way too much interest in reading crummy novels. Disturbingly often I found myself sitting, staring at nothing, my thoughts a vague jumble. Walks were favorite. I was relieved to find a natural inclination for at least one healthy behavior.

And now that I've taken off about a day and a half? After 24 hours of no significant work, I spontaneously started to think about getting the linen quilt top into the quilting frame---and really taking an interest. Will it last? The next deadline is looming. 

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Little Bit of Sewing

I can't believe how fast this past week has gone. I've been working long hours indexing a book. Indexing takes a lot of mental energy, and I just haven't had much left over for anything else. 

I did carve out several hours to do a couple of fun things. One is that I started looking for stone tile to put around the fireplace. We need so little that I can afford to look at even the expensive stuff. Made me feel giddy with the possibilities! Incidentally, I saw some bright red ceramic tiles that will be perfect for the walls above the kitchen counters and below the wall cabinets. Much better than paint. I love remodeling projects! Well, more accurately, I love the planning and the results. 

The other fun thing I did was attend a free sewing class for my new machine. I admit I had pretty low expectations---I've been using the machine for over two months and haven't had any problems figuring it out. But I did learn a couple of things and made a cute little bag. 

The most interesting thing about the bag is how the bottom corners were constructed. This method is probably far from new, but it was new to me, and I really like it. I'll be using it for the next grocery tote bags I'm planning to make.

The inside of the bag, after folding the bottom edge up and then sewing the side seam:

The outside lower corner of the finished bag:

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Another Older Quilt

I was playing around with the new camera again, seeing how well it does in low-light conditions. A perfect subject was one of my quilts that we hung last week. It's the last one I made from new fabrics specifically purchased for a project. It hangs in a hallway that gets a little diffused natural light, mainly early in the morning. This is the best, albeit not very good, distance shot, but it shows the wonderful secondary patterns.

It's a bit too yellow, but really, the colors are surprisingly good, given the low light.  The areas that fade out are made from very pale colors. The following view shows the piecing and machine quilting, and more accurate colors. 

It's a fascinating combination of squares, equilateral triangles, and hexagons. It always amazes me that squares and equilateral triangles can fit together to make a flat surface. The nine-patches are 3 inches, finished. Each hexagon is one piece. They are tricky to cut---it's easy to be just a little off, which makes a big difference in how the neighboring patches fit. I had to do some fudging while piecing. 

One of the challenging aspects of a pattern like this is figuring out how many blocks to make. Math is not my strong suit, and I was woefully off in calculating the nine-patch requirements. So, I had a stack of extras that I only recently figured out what to do with. That top is on the back burner for a while.

This quilt is a near copy of one I saw in The Romance of Double Wedding Ring Quilts, by Robert Bishop. It's on p. 49, and the caption reads, "This quite astonishing piece was made by Susie (Mrs. Harry) Bontrager in Yoder, Kansas. Obviously, the artist had a special feeling for Nine Patch blocks, for she has used them in bright colors to make her rings in conjunction with triangle patches. The happy result is  a wonderfully pleasing variation on the double Wedding Ring pattern. Kansas; c. 1935, 95 1/2" x 78 1/2"." I admit I was astonished, too, when I first saw it---and just had to make one! 

The photo here was scanned from the book and went through several transformations, so the colors are a bit drabber than the original. You can see the fading and stains. This quilt got used! 

Using triangles that are darker than the hexagons really brings out the the wide rings instead of the starlike patterns. I'd like to do another with that emphasis. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

One and a Half Steps Closer

Well, I called Hobbs Bonded Fibers directly, and they said they're not making organic cotton batting at all anymore. I'd rather buy organic, but obviously, it's time to move on. 

I also prefer to avoid polyester, resins, and any finishes, while maintaining high quality and easy needling. These are tough requirements, and every choice has pros and cons. I decided on Hobbs wool, because of the easy needling, good quality, and no polyester, and that I happen to have some. The yellow color won't matter under the linen top. I was iffy about having that much loft, and it contains resin, but I decided to not overanalyze this. 

The new leaders for the quilting frame have been a bit of a challenge. The original fabric I bought turned out to smell really bad, and if anything, even worse after washing. Yuck! So, I fell back on some muslin that I already had. It's on the thin side, but it'll work. I have the leaders temporarily taped in place, ready for the final taping. I really wish I could avoid tape. Adhesives have some really nasty chemicals. But this frame has metal poles, and the alternatives I've tried so far are not really workable. So, I'm using tape with a metal backing, which should at least help prevent some of the outgassing. 

This week is going to be very busy, but I hope to have the quilt on the frame by the weekend!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Preparing to Quilt

I'm a couple of steps closer to starting to hand quilt the yellow and green linen quilt top. The hand quilting frame is now set up. That sounds simple enough, but it involved most of a day's worth of schlepping furniture---once we  got started, we just couldn't stop ... we went way beyond just getting the frame in place, rearranging stuff in five rooms! All to the good, however. 

A few days ago, I found some great YLI variegated thread for the quilting. I'm planning large stitches, and I think I'll use two strands of this, since it's only 40 wt. Even with the new camera, the colors aren't quite right, but they're much closer than the what the old camera showed. I'm still getting the hang of focus and depth of field, too. 

I have backing, but no batting yet. I had---finally, after much testing and mulling---decided to use Hobbs organic cotton without scrim, but now I can't seem to find it anywhere, not even anywhere online. Anyone know if it's being discontinued, or something else is going on? 

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Few More Details

The wool/silk quilt has generated several good questions, so I thought I'd post some details about its construction. 

The finished blocks are a bit less than seven inches, and the finished size of the individual logs is about 5/8 inch. I cut the strips 1-1/4 inches wide and used a generous 1/4-inch seam allowance. The finished blocks were all different sizes, of course, so I just used the smallest ones as the new standard size and ignored the overhang of the larger ones while sewing the seams. I purposely didn't trim the larger ones down before sewing, because it was too hard to get an even, accurate edge. 

Not only is the silk not fused, but the strips are not sewn to a foundation. I seriously considered a foundation, but I wanted the wools to lie flat, with their seam allowances under the silk logs, to lessen bulk and to give the silk some extra height. The wools helped to stabilize everything. I didn't plan it, but I think the lack of more structure, and the resulting variation, gives the quilt a sense of energy it wouldn't have otherwise. 

I tried to use any one tie in only two "diamonds." A few got used three times because I didn't have other ties of the right color. So, a quick calculation says I must have used about 45 ties! There are many fewer different wools, and I had a hard time coming up with enough different colors in thinner fabrics. 

If you have the urge to acquire a bin or two full of used ties, I just want to add a couple of cautionary notes. The biggest surprise of this quilt project (my first one involving ties) was how much time it takes to prepare the ties for cutting. Each one had to be deconstructed by opening it up (usually, this means picking out hand stitching along the length of the tie), pulling out the interfacing, and cutting out the lining. Then they had to be hand washed. I put only a few of similar colors into the water at a time, and checked for bleeding. Quite a few ties do not have colorfast dyes, especially the reds. Any that bled excessively were tossed. Also some ties reek when wet. Toss. At this point, I checked again for worn ties (toss) and those with excessive staining (toss). There's quite a bit of attrition. The wet ties were hung on plastic hangers and air dried. Then I ironed each one, taking care to put the fabric more or less on grain---these are all essentially long, narrow strips of bias fabric. 

I started out buying ties for about $1 each (some as much as $2) at thrift stores, but although at first that may seem like a bargain, it's really rather expensive, considering the rate of attrition, and that you usually have no more than a sixteenth of a yard of usable fabric from each surviving tie---and it's a skinny, not a fat, sixteenth. Now I restrict myself to whatever I find in the bins at the Dig and Save (50 cents a pound), and the very occasional "gotta have it" tie at thrift stores. 

Last but certainly not least, I want to give credit to Mary Ellen Hopkins and her book A Log Cabin Notebook. The quilt on the cover, and given in full on p. 4, is the inspiration for mine. This little book is old (1991) but still very worthwhile. She really delves into log cabin variations and design, and covers the ins and outs of sewing log cabins in general. I highly recommend it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Using the New Camera

What a difference! The new camera gives me real colors! Here are new pics of the courthouse steps wool suit/silk tie quilt:

The lightest colors are only a little washed out. (Oops. I forgot to edit out the feet of the step stool I was standing on.) Here's a closer look at one corner:

One of the things I like best about the fabric placement is that the wool and silk always alternate, which tones down the ties and gives all those muted, boring wools something useful to do.

And here is a close-up of one of my favorite ties---the Christmas tie with Santas and reindeer doing the can-can. You never know what you're going to find at thrift stores.

Next, I wondered if the new camera would render greens better ... and it does! Here are braided strips for the new rug I'm making, and the colors are pretty close to the real ones---missing just a touch of the yellow tones. This time, I'm using exactly the same color order in each strip, graded from dark to light.

I really like the subtle color variations.  Olive drab and greenish gray/tan are not my usual palette---and frankly, I wondered if I'd ever use these pants to make anything---but I'm really liking the look. 

This rug will be narrow and longish, to fit directly under the bench in the entry---a place to put street shoes and boots. We can't seem to keep outdoor shoes in the closet, so the next best thing is to keep them as close to the door as possible. 

I'm pretty excited about this new camera. Not only does it render colors better, but it has better resolution and an optical zoom. More photos coming soon!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

View from My Kitchen

These are views from my kitchen. We don't have a window, exactly, but off the dinette, we have a 3-season porch that's three stories up. We got more than 7 inches of snow yesterday. Knowing that I don't have to shovel even one flake of it makes it a whole lot easier to appreciate the view. It was the perfect year to move to a condo!

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Favorite Quilt

I've been very busy with work lately, so sewing of any sort has been minimal for the past several days. Since I don't have anything blog-worthy to show among my current projects, I thought I'd post one of my favorite older quilts. You can also see a tiny bit of this quilt in my blog header.

This was my first try at using exclusively thrifted fabrics for a quilt top. It's made of men's wool suits and silk ties, with cotton batting and a plain white cotton backing (both purchased new). 

The silks are not fused, so some were pretty slithery. A few ties had to be tossed because they were too fragile. And of course I had to deal with huge differences in thickness, even though I stuck with the thinner wools. Seam allowances varied, blocks were slightly skewed, and my mantra throughout was "It's okay, it's okay." It HAD to be okay---there was really no other alternative. Going with the log cabin (courthouse steps) construction was a good choice---it really made the accuracy issue less important. 

The color placement has three separate aspects: light (the "smaller" diamonds) and dark ("larger" diamonds), blue/gray stripes alternating with tan/brown stripes, and what I hoped was a pleasing balance of individual brights. The machine quilting is simply in the ditch. 

You may notice that there's no binding visible on the front. I couldn't easily make a good-looking binding from the wools. I was tempted to do an envelope finish, but there was no way it would come out flat and neat. So, I did a facing of pieced wools, after the quilting was done. It's kind of bulky, and if I do this sort of thing again, I think I'll use backing fabric instead.

Well, I'm just about done with the second batch of the editing project I'm working on. When I finish, later this afternoon, I'm taking some time off! I'm very much looking forward to quality time with my fabrics. Like Kathie at Threadlines, I'm stocked up and all set to spend the weekend in my sewing room, ignoring the 8 or 10 (or possibly more) inches of snow currently piling up outside.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Project on a Whim

I should have been spending my time on other things, i.e., getting my paying work done. But this idea popped into my head yesterday afternoon, and I couldn't wait to try it out. We need a place to put outgoing mail---I had in mind a little holder on the wall by the door---but I didn't want to spend a lot, or have to drill holes, or traipse all over town looking for something suitable, or, maybe the worst, wait until I finally found it. 

I was out doing a couple of errands anyway, when the idea took shape. I picked up a couple of silvered plastic stick-on wall hooks. When I got home, I cut the cardboard backs off two small note pads, trimmed them down, and glued them together, for better stiffness. While that was drying, I experimented with holes to accommodate the hooks. 

I copied the final hole pattern to the cardboard, placing two of them a few inches apart, and had at them with a little box-knife. I checked the holes against the hooks and trimmed and checked and trimmed some more.
I knew which fabric I wanted to use to cover the cardboard. This eighth-yard cut has been traveling with me since 1990 (which means seven different homes). You just never know when a particular bit of fabric will be exactly what you need. I trimmed up a piece and glued the top and bottom edges of the back of the cardboard to the fabric. 
When that dried, I cut into the holes, brought the fabric to the wrong side, and glued the edges.
Then things were stable enough to fold in the rest of the outside edges and glue those. The last thing to be glued was the inside layer of fabric around the holes. This took some patience and a couple of toothpicks.

I stuck the hooks on the wall and added the fabric-covered cardboard. Done! 
The cardboard tilts out just enough to hold a few envelopes, and it's stable enough to keep the mail from falling.  This will not hold up to kids or pets, but it'll be fine for us.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Divided Attention

It's been fun, and I have solid ideas and bare beginnings for some really interesting new projects, but chaos is taking over. Too many different projects, old and new, plus work and generally keeping up with the rest of life, have gotten me slivers of everything, but precious little in the way of visible progress. 

I also have this, now:
That's the uncensored view of my cutting table area (along with the dismal view of lingering snow, bare trees, and no sun). Four separate projects are milling around there. 

It's time to prioritize and focus.  

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cute and Useful

A few months ago, my husband decided it was time to give up his Mr. Coffee-type coffeemaker and replace it with a french press. One thing he wasn't happy with was letting the brewing (and brewed) coffee sit on the counter losing heat. This carafe needed a cozy! 

You see the result above, made from several layers of cotton batting scraps, and fabrics from my stash in taupe, gray, and bright red (not the bluish colors my camera prefers to present). It was fun to cut without measuring and without thinking very much about color placement. Getting the batting layers to form an even circle and stay that way was a little tricky, while I sewed some quilting lines from top edge to bottom edge. And then, I had to ease/gather in the pieced covering (added after the quilting) when I put on the binding. Somewhat unorthodox construction, but it worked. Velcro holds the tab in place. 

By the way, the over-the-top blue flowered and plaid wallpaper will be gone as soon as I can work that into my schedule, to be replaced by off-white walls and bright red under the cabinets. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stash Assessment

Yikes! Do I have cotton twill, or what!

Contemplating another braided rug, I decided to go through all my fabric bins and shelves and find all the cotton twill I've cut up from khaki pants, and also any not-yet-cut-up pants. I knew I had some of both, but expected I might well need a trip to the Dig and Save before starting another project.

In short, I hit the mother load. Looks like I have 12 in-tact pants, plus more than 50 (!!) already cut up (some partially used), plus another 8 or so piles of unusual colors, like purple, bright red, yellow, and lime green (from miniskirts, kids' shorts, etc.). You'd think I'd remember cutting up so many pairs of pants, but ... well, I don't. It's certainly a nice surprise, though.
Those brights are calling to me. I remember my plans for those.....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Two Quilts and a Rug

Despite being out of town for a bit and working a lot, I've tried to do something quilt related every day, with pretty good success. Trying to keep a good work/life balance going. 

A lot of what I've been doing hasn't lent itself to photos or been especially blog-worthy, though. I can't imagine that anyone wants to hear details about me dithering over online purchases of batting, or my quest for the right fabric for new quilting frame leaders.

But I do have some results to share. My first braided rug is done! It's about 2 feet by 4 feet, consumed nine pairs of khaki pants (with very few scraps), and should be sturdy enough to survive years of shoes, melting slush, salt, mud, and washer and dryer sessions. 
For strength and speed, I chose to machine stitch the braided strips together. To avoid thickened ends, I just machine stitched several rows close to the cut ends, instead of binding them. We'll see how those cut ends hold up. I can always trim and finish them a different way later. My sewing machine complained a bit about having to pierce umpteen layers of tightly woven cotton twill (especially at those joins), and I broke one needle. 
I'm planning to make more of these, experimenting with color placement. Although I like the chenille rug a lot, these are less taxing to make and also more rugged (pardon the pun). 

Now, back to quilts. After some mulling, I decided to pare down the scrap star quilt top to a more manageable size. Now it will fit a queen-size bed, with modest overhang. I'm debating whether to try basting it on my hand quilting frame---something I've never done before. The advantages are saving space, much easier access, and an overall more pleasant and ergonomic basting experience. Hmm. 

The 14 blocks (two rows) I took off are now, somewhat rearranged, the basis for a second scrap quilt. I dug out the scrap box that has the leftovers from the original top and found two extra star blocks! Both have stars made of fabric that I like but decided was too dark for this project. But I'm going ahead and including one in this second top, to make a 3- by 5-block center. (The block at the lower left.)

I plan to string piece the multitude of scraps into a border, adding whatever else is in my stash of cut-up shirts to make a decent-sized top. 

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Quick Update

I've been out of town for a bit and, with one thing and another, haven't had time to post. And today, I discover that Blogger is having issues with  uploading photos, so I'll have to make do with just words for now. 

One of the nonphotogenic things I've been doing lately is gearing up for free-motion machine quilting. My past experiences with this have been poor to mediocre, so I've been trying to honestly assess my problems and figure out ways to get through or around them. 

1. Gloves with gripper dots. A few test runs have been very encouraging!
2. A "slider" mat for the needle area. No real trials yet, but I don't think it can hurt.
3. A table behind the machine to support the quilt better (added to a table to the left and the fact that the machine is set down into a table). 
4. My new sewing machine (an admittedly expensive fix!), which provides a 10-inch bed, auto thread cutting, low-bobbin indicator, and a slightly different (and I think better) feel to how the stitching starts (hoping this helps with those huge-first-stitch problems).
5. Sticking with circular designs. No points or straight lines! And nothing that depends on accuracy.

I'm trying to give myself every advantage! 

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Braiding Project

The days have been flying by! I'm working hard to get the first batch of copyediting on this new book turned in Monday, on schedule, so there's been precious little time for sewing. And what time I can squeeze in is not what one would call quality time---I'm pretty brain dead. It's a perfect time for some easy, repetitive tasks.

A few weeks ago I started cutting strips from khaki pants for a first attempt at a braided rug. Yes, another rug project. We are in serious need here! 

I will actually be plaiting, not braiding, which means that the worked strips will be very flat and wide. After some trial and error, I decided that using half-inch strips for plaiting would be manageable and look nice, and having each strip contain four layers of fabric would give enough body without being too heavy.

I start with pieces cut 1-7/8 inches wide, with the grain, and as long as possible. I put them through a Clover tapemaker (cutting a point on the end of the strip helps get the fabric into the tapemaker) and follow with the iron as I pull the tapemaker along. With the two raw edges nearly meeting and pressed flat, I fold the strip in half lengthwise and press again, so the raw edges are neatly encased, and the top and bottom surfaces are identical. I then open out the folds and piece lengths of strips together (a bias join, with the seam pressed open) to get a length a bit more than 6 feet. Then, I fold everything back up and sew near the edge. 

I figure I'll need nine individual strips like the one on the right, above, to make a roughly 3-inch-wide plait. Here are the first strips, grouped by color and loosely knotted together, ready to be woven into 4-foot-long plaits! At the bottom of the photo are more strips ready to be folded and stitched.
This little rug project is going to eat up a lot of pants! I get at least five 6-foot-4-inch lengths from one pair. But that means nine pairs of pants will produce five finished 4-foot plaits. That's a rug only 15 inches wide and 4 feet long. Well, I've certainly got lots of these pants, and if I run out, there's always the Dig and Save. 

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thinking about "What If?"

I've gotten some very nice comments about the colors in my quilts (thanks everyone!), which got me to thinking about how I approach color choices, which in turn had me thinking about my "what if?" moments. I guess the bottom line is that I've wanted to see what would happen if I purposely put restrictions on my choices. This, somewhat paradoxically perhaps, seems to spark my creative thinking---apparently some variation on the "necessity is the mother of invention" paradigm. 

On the day I said, "What if I don't buy any new fabric for quilt tops?" I had to come up with alternatives, which led me to the incredible bounty of inexpensive used clothing in this town. But very few clothes provide traditional quilting cottons. My fabric love drew me to glowing silk ties, wonderful wool suits, linen that I couldn't resist, mountains of cotton twill pants in umpteen shades of khaki and beyond, and more men's cotton shirts than I ever imagined. 

There's a good reason most quilters use the fabrics they do. Most of the other fabrics are a pain in one way or another (and often several at the same time). But I'm completely hooked on the what-ifs and on the quiet thrill of ignoring the usual rules. I'm happily pairing silk ties with wool suits, and figuring out ways to use heavy cotton twills without too many piled up seam allowances. Some things I try don't work out, but most do, at least in my view, and they lead to even more what-ifs. 

Monday, February 25, 2008

Figuring Some Things Out

Well, all that blathering earlier today about my quilter's block regarding the scrap star top made me feel a little better, but what really helped me was a little trip to Lazy Gal Quilting. Looking at Tonya's hand quilting is always nice, and I browsed through her past posts to see some more examples. 

Lo and behold, there was a photo incidentally showing some of her hand basting---with really short stitches. Why didn't I think of that myself?! Yes, it will take more time than the traditional long stitches I've always seen, but it will hold the layers better and the stitches won't be nearly as likely to get caught on things while machine quilting. This just might work! The other downside is, of course, picking out the threads from under the machine quilting, but I'm willing to deal with that, too. Thanks, Tonya!

I'm even getting excited about the prospect of marking some simple designs and trying to follow the lines. Hey, I have a new machine now, with a giant 10-inch bed, and my first attempts at some machine quilting on it were encouraging. I think the way the foot works keeps the quilt more stable than on the old machine. 

Pushing Past Some Roadblocks

This past weekend I made two more chenille pillows (containing the crab fabric as the base fabric, so the crabs are visible only if you push the chenille strips out of the way). I'm chenilled out! They're fine, but not wonderful. One problem is that I washed the pillow forms, and they shrank, leaving the covers a bit loose. Also, my pillow-design skills leave something to be desired, but I'm committed to posting not so good, as well as the good.

Next, I made a little curtain out of some of the linen quilt scraps. It needs a final ironing, and I still need a curtain rod. The strips stretched a bit while sewing, so there's some unevenness, but that's okay. This is for the knee hole below the master bathroom vanity, to cover up my Threads magazine collection and other quilt/sewing-related stuff that I'm storing there.

All this sewing left me with lots of time to think, and one of the main topics was my unfinished quilt projects. One quilt top in particular has run into roadblocks that I really want to clear. It's been done for well over a year now:
The thing is huge! Not any room left for borders, and I'm even thinking of taking off a row, but that's a minor distraction from the main problem, which is that most of the fabrics are from shirts made of very tightly woven cotton---especially the background, which is several varieties of very fine white pima. 

Here's a closeup. Sorry about the quality. This picture was taken later, and photography conditions were deteriorating rapidly.

First, I asked myself, can this be hand quilted? In short, no. With cotton batting, it's next to impossible, unless I stab stitch, which is not only slower than the rocking stitch but will inevitably lead to a messy-looking back with large stitches that are vulnerable to breakage, and this is meant to be a working bed quilt. With wool batting, it's a little easier, but wool is yellow, and I don't want the show-through. Adding a layer of thin white fabric will take care of the show-through but just makes the quilting harder. 

Moving along, I asked, what about machine quilting? I don't have a machine-quilting frame, so I need to baste the layers. First major problem: safety pins damage the tightly woven fabrics. (I looked with a magnifying glass, and yes, they literally break the threads.) I'm not willing to do that, and I can't find smaller good quality pins. I sometimes baste with straight pins, but only small projects. The pins tend to work themselves out, and the points are much too wicked! 

There's thread basting. Done on the floor (not something I look forward to, but doable) or on a table (less accurate but easier), it leaves long, loose threads on the top. Past experience shows that these get caught on just about everything. Done on my hand-quilting frame, the long stitches could be on the back, which I'm not sure is better. 

Or, I could get a machine frame. I can't afford a real set-up, and don't have room anyway, but experimenting with the Flynn frame might be interesting. But frames restrict the type of quilting, and mainly to the kinds I don't do well.

Which brings me to my machine-quilting skills, or, more to the point, the lack thereof. My straight lines done with a walking foot are okay, although I don't think this will complement the design well. As for free-motion quilting, yes, I've practiced---on two good-sized quilts and several small projects, using different feet and studying up on techniques and common problems. I'm not getting better. Meandering and small circles/loops are the only patterns that look decent, and I'm terrible at following drawn lines. Forget corners. I've come to believe that I just have to accept this profound lack of talent. 

I could send it to a professional. The $300 or so is beginning to look like a reasonable trade for the time, aggravation, and less than desirable results of doing it myself. 

Does anyone have any suggestions or comments? I'm open to it all! 

The star top was stored underneath partially sewn tumbling blocks, so I took a picture of some of those, too:
These blocks are hand pieced. I enjoy it, and I purposely do blocks that would be harder to piece by machine. They also contain tightly woven shirt fabrics, but fewer, and the eventual size will be a lot smaller than the star top, so I'm seriously considering hand quilting with wool batting and allowing the yellowish show-through. I'm really looking forward to seeing this one done!

I'd better get back to doing some paid work now, and preparing for the next snow storm. Yes, yet another one. 

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Linen and, Uh, Crabs

As Dave Barry would say, I Am Not Making This Up! A month ago, while scouring clearance tables for loosely woven natural-fiber fabrics for my chenille projects, I found a very nice 100% linen for $2 per yard. There was just one catch---it was embroidered with red crabs. 

They were nicely done crabs. 

But, come on. Who did this manufacturer think was going to pay full price for this stuff? Can you imagine some middle manager saying, "Our research shows that expensive natural fabrics embroidered with crustaceans will command significant marketshare this season"?

Even at $2/yd, I hesitated. I got some anyway, planning to bury it under several layers. I'll post the results soon. 

Monday, February 18, 2008

It Grew

This is the linen quilt top! Eventual finished size should be about 60" by 76", which is quite a bit larger than I planned, but I like it better. Also, I think it will fit the (huge) wall better, as well as being a very usable size. I had cut way too many little strips and couldn't bear to see them stored in the closet, so I kept sewing and had more than enough for four pieced sections instead of three. 

There was some difficulty adding the sashing and borders without distorting the pieced sections (i.e., lots of ripping!), and the raw edges are showing the wear. Good thing I used 3/8-inch seam allowances. I'm handling it as little as possible now (hence, the unpressed look).  

I've been playing with the camera's settings, and this photo is the best so far at showing the real colors. Well, it looks good before uploading, but not quite so good here. Ah, well. 

I'm completely out of appropriate backing fabrics and all batting, so it will be a while before this top gets to the quilting stage. I'm going to hand quilt, and since the weave of most of the fabrics is rather coarse, larger stitches are in order. As for patterns, the current choices are down to either freehand fans, or freehand horizontal wavy lines. Fans have the edge.

Tomorrow, it's back to work for me---a new project is landing on my desk. I'm a freelance science editor, and the middle of winter is traditionally a slow time, so I've had the past few weeks off, thank goodness. I really needed it after about eight months of being seriously overbooked (plus fixing up the house to sell, and buying and fixing up the condo). When you work on your own, it's very hard to say no because there's always the worry that the next offer won't materialize soon enough. But one of my resolutions this year is to keep my work at a saner pace, and keep time for quilting and other things, including blogging!