Saturday, January 31, 2009

Crowded Head, Crowded Room

January has been an incredibly busy and stressful time at work. Those Christmas holidays were so long ago. And everything that I am trying to think about at once manifests themselves on my desk, my dining room table, the kitchen counter, and the floor of my bedroom. The more stressed I am, the messier my outer environs. Bottom line: you can tell what is going on in my brain by what my office or home looks like. This is what I was looking at this morning:

At last count, I ended up with nearly 20 fabrics for the black/white/red Double Wedding Ring Quilt. I only need 8. These are the six I picked for the arcs:
The DWRQ is a traditional pattern, but the color scheme I'm working with isn't traditional. And I wanted non-traditional black/white prints. I loved the one with the women dancing with the musical notes. And the rest I like because of their geometrical shapes. This is what they looked like once I cut them in strips:

For the corner squares, I wanted red and a tone-on-tone black. I had several reds to pick from as well; VickiW donated to the cause, as did Eileen. But in the end I went for this one, with a cool geometrical shape on it:

I needed 60 squares of this fabric, and I found the tea box VickiW gave me was perfect for storing 10 squares in each of the six compartments. Next, I chose my black, which I already had in my stash. It is tone-on-tone paisely print that I used in my mother's quilt:

I cut 60 of these squares and added them to the red ones in the tea box. Now they can't escape during this project!

With work being out of control, I decided I needed a day of sewing to help me get back in my meditative groove. After picking out my fabrics, I was ready to play with my new 18 inch templates from John Flynn for the DWRQ and make a test block. You may remember that I made my first block with the 15 inch templates and decided the 18 inch must be easier. I was right.

I made my first arc:

And then I made another three for the first block:
Only 94 more to go! Here are my first "footballs" as John Flynn calls them:

And here is the first block:

Here you can see the difference between the 15 inch block and the 18 inch I did today:

I can testify to the fact that the 18 inch is infinitely easier for a beginner like myself. My 45 mm rotary cutter was able to handle the curves on the templates MUCH better. Sewing the curves was WAY easier, and overall, it was a happier experience. I love the result. I love my red fabric. One block down, only 19 more to go.
Things I learned today:
1. The 38 mm rotary cutter I bought for this project is the brand I don't like. I need to remember that and not buy another one and give this one away.
2. I need smaller, finer pins for pinning these curves. The long quilting pins I have just aren't getting the job done. I think what I am looking for are applique pins.
3. I tried an experiment in making the "footballs": I used both the walking foot and my regular quarter inch foot in sewing the arcs to the curved middles of the footballs. Hands down, the regular quarter inch foot was better, easier to handle, and resulted in a smoother football which laid flat.
4. I need more Saturdays like this; sewing at will, baking bread, shopping for grocerys, and watching golf, to make me feel more composed during the week when work threatens to consume all my attention. Yay for the DWRQ!

No Parting Shot tonight; I wore myself out uploading these photos!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New England Weekend

Eileen's "learning by doing" weekend did not disappoint. Loy and I had many opportunities to learn by doing, i.e. functioning as Eileen's labor force in piecing crib size baby quilts. Eileen has a tradition of giving each neice and nephew in her family a hand quilted baby quilt when he/she is born. This is no small feat, given that Eileen is the youngest of 5, and her husband, Larry, is the oldest of 14. That is fourteen. That isn't a typo. And yes, they are Irish Catholic.

This is the quilt top I spent my time on. It is an Irish Chain quilt, for a nephew whose name I can't remember: Brian, Patrick, Kevin, something like that. I love it:

Loy designed it, placing the colors, and I pieced it. Eileen supplied the fabric and the inspiration! The center fabric is a really cool map fabric that both Eileen and I bought at Joyce's Quilting Adventures several years ago:

The other baby quilt was made using a "All Things Bright and Beautiful" panel with Loy adding the borders:

I have "homework" on this one; I was sent home with fabric to make the binding!

Other activities included taking photos while playing in the snow! Eileen's house in her hometown, Mass:

And this is one of my favorites, reminding me of Robert Frost's poem where he speaks of the snowy woods as "lovely, dark, and deep":

On Saturday, I decided it would do us good to take a "bracing" walk near the harbor water. It was 19 degrees out, so clearly I was not in my right mind. The sun was shining, but when the wind blew off the ocean, I felt parts of myself stinging with the cold. I believe that was the coldest walk of my life.

As a reward for not freezing to death, we took a trip to a LQS, mostly because I was on the hunt for black and white fabrics for the double wedding ring quilt. My test block last week made me decide that I needed more light to medium fabrics for the arcs of the rings, rather than dark fabric. My test also convinced me, along with Summerset's advice, that I should do 18 inch rings, rather than the 15 inch that I had ordered. I had planned to order the 18 inch templates off the internet, but held off in the faint hope that I might find them in a quilt shop. And I did! Shortly after I walked in, I saw John Flynn's template for the double ring quilt. In an 18 inch size! Score! It was the only one. Providence, sure 'nuff:

And then I found and bought several black and white fabrics. By the time I start this project, I'll probably have so many, I'll need input to weed them down to just six fabrics for the arcs. But here's what I bought:

And I saw some kitty cat Christmas fabric that was on sale that was just too cute not to get:

All in all, it was a fabulous weekend, with great friends. Loy and Eileen spent a great deal of the time knitting. Eileen is knitting a sweater for me (see? she does projects for us too), and Loy is knitting a sweater for herself with wool she bought in the Shetland Islands on our last trip to Scotland last May. I'll show you photos of the sweater Eileen is making for me when it gets done, but I am really annoyed with myself for not taking a photo of Loy's sweater. The yarns she got in Scotland (a myriad of greens) are beautiful and it is going to be one fantastic sweater.

Finally, as the Parting Shot: Loy made me a cermanic bowl. Not only does she knit, sew, make lace, make jewlery, and blow glass, but she throws pottery. She is the Craft Queen:

Monday, January 19, 2009

This is what a miracle looks like

When I flew home from Boston, Mass today, not only did Tammy's husband, Glen, pick me up from the airport, but Tammy cleaned my house. When I left on Friday, the kitchen sink pictured above was full of dirty dishes. Why? Because I have been so busy at work the last two weeks that I haven't had time to empty the dishwasher.

So not only did Glen take a couple of hours out of his day (and leave work) to pick me up at the airport, but Tammy cleaned my kitchen and straightened up the living room. This miracle is amazing. Especially because last week Jennifer at Conversion Diary told everyone about a special friend of hers who came over and cleaned her house. And in the comments section of Jennifer's blog I wrote "How can this miracle happen at my house?" And lo, and behold, it occurred! This a spontanteous gift from Tammy because I am pretty sure Tammy doesn't read Jennifer's blog, much less the comments section.

How do you get friends like these?? Where do you buy them? I don't know. They are clearly a gift from God.

More on the trip, and the quilting, later. But here is the Parting Shot: Snow in New England. Really beautiful:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Off to the Great White North! Brr!

I'm packing you see, for a trip to Boston, Mass this weekend. The only thing that could get me up there this time of year is the birthday of my dear friend, Miss Eileen. She has played the birthday card, so I am forced to endure 15 degree high temperatures (why, oh why wasn't she born in August???).

There will be quilting. Eileen's college roommate, Loy, will be joining us, and Eileen uses these little weekend get togethers to practice what she calls "learning by doing". Ostensively an opportunity to learn new sewing and quilting skills, this is really Eileen's chance to get us to piece some quilt tops for her so she doesn't have to. Eileen's not really a sewer, she's more of a hand quilter. This usually works out for me in the long run, however, as I can get her to hand quilt something for me as payback. I get the better end of that deal.

And as the weather will never break the freezing mark, I anticipate that as long as Eileen provides food and fabric, there will really be no reason to leave the house at all.

Parting shot: Eileen and me in the Lake District, England, in May 2007. Look at that sunshine! That hardly ever happens in the UK for us!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Let's Try Something New

It was a day of trying new things. I received my workbook and templates from John Flynn for the Double Wedding Ring Quilt, and I decided to give it a try. Now, normally I hate doing test blocks. I feel the same about muslins. Just seems like a lot of work, but it doesn't get you any closer to a finished product. But given that I have never made a Double Wedding Ring Quilt block, . . . well, actually, since I have never made a quilt block with a single curved seam, I decided the test block would be a good idea. Mandatory, even.

Especially after I read John Flynn's instructions. I'm sure he has simplified the process quite a bit. But I really wouldn't know since I've never attempted this quilt block in it's traditional incarnation. The DRWQ block pattern is not for the faint of heart.

My plan is to use black/white medium fabrics for the arcs of the rings, and black and red solids for the corner blocks. All on a white background, of course. Since I was testing, the last thing I wanted to do was to purchase more fabric for just a little test. And the stash came through, and I had all I needed; there was no reason to venture forth to the LQS on a Sunday. (Think about that next time you contemplate stashbusting!)

Here is my first arc all done. I was very proud:

And here is my first arc with the center - my first curved seam for a quilt block:

And these are my first "footballs" as John Flynn calls them (he is a man, so I expect sports terminology in a quilt lesson):

And here is my first finished "block":

I would only have to make 19 more of these for a quilt!
It was difficult. I'm certain if I decided to go forth on this project, I would get better at it (I'd have 20 opportunities). The directions only made sense as I actually constructed the block, so a test block is desirable. This block is made using John Flynn's templates for the 15 inch block. The workbook has fairly extensive directions, but the templates also came with directions. They differed in detail in certain sections of the process. Sometimes I found the workbook instructions more clear, sometimes I found the template instructions better. So I would suggest you get both if you also decide a DWRQ is in your future.

Other things I decided: I'll need a smaller rotary cutter than the 45 mm I was using. A smaller cutter will get into those curves better. And a cutting mat that rotates will also make cutting out and trimming a more pleasant experience. Finally, my "ring" fabrics need to be more medium to light in value, rather than dark. The dark arc fabrics take away from the black corner square, in my opinion. Something to think about when I am choosing fabrics for "real".
I'm going to let this sit with me awhile before I decide whether I want to actually do this. But I can't let it sit too long, otherwise I'll forget everything I learned from the test block. I seem to see-saw between difficulty in quilt projects: I'll do something complicated, then I'll want to do something simple, like the Strip Gift Quilt, and then I'll want the challenge again. I think I'm reacting to the simplicity of the Strip Gift Quilt!

Parting Shot: My New Year's goal of breadmaking is coming right along. I got the book "Artisian Bread in Five Minutes a Day" and followed the instructions. Absolutely no problem. And it was delicious!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Asian Strip Gift Quilt Top Done!

Despite my injured hand, I was able to get the borders on Tammy's Asian Strip Gift Quilt and it turned out very well. It's hard to photo because it is so big (82.5 inches by 97 inches) and I am reduced to taking pictures in the backyard grass, but here are a few:

I can't wait to see what it will look like after it is quilted. I am thinking gold thread for the quilting, so of course I need to find the perfect backing fabric. Which I don't have. Another excuse to look at, and shop for, fabric. Good thing my New Year's goals don't include reducing fabric purchases.

But the borders were the only things I managed sewing-wise. My hand absolutely would not allow any cutting out; I can't put any pressure on it, so I satisfied myself with getting this quilt top done and not pressing my luck.

To further my goal of making a double wedding ring quilt and to occupy myself, I ordered an instruction book and a template from John Flynn's website today. I'll take a look at it and see what I am in for when it arrives. Apparently, he has a strip piecing method for the rings. If you have any experience with this method (or any other advice for a double wedding ring quilt!), please let me know.

Also, inspired by Judy over at Patchwork Times, I asked Santa to bring me this book "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" so I could learn how to make bread. I made my first bread dough, ever, tonight, and it is the refrigerator waiting to be baked tomorrow. I'll let you know how my first bread baking experience unfolds!

Parting Shot: My Christmas gift from VickiW! I love it, and it is hanging in my sewing room/former dining room where all the magic happens. She saw it on Etsy and thought it was "me". She was so right:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sewing is a Dangerous Sport

Happy New Year! I'm back from Cotton Creek, Alabama and I was all set for a day of sewing, when the leaf of my sewing table crushed my left hand as I was setting up to sew on the borders of the Asian Strip Gift Quilt. It was caused completely by operator error, so I have no one to blame but moi. My hand is bruised and swollen on both sides north of my wrist, but I have decided that it is merely a sprain and not broken, because I am completely into self-diagnosis. I've done my best to keep ice on it, but my ice therapy is sporadic at best because 1) ice is cold, and therefore uncomfortable, and 2) I can't type with ice. It hurts to type, but this won't be long.

While at home I couldn't stand not sewing anything, so I made Mother some new curtains for the bathroom. No photos of course, but they were nothing but rectangles with a pocket for the curtain rod. I keep my first sewing machine (bought at Sears) at Mother's for just such an occasion. They turned out pretty, but I felt like I was sewing in primitive circumstances. I used my father's engineering/surveying rulers for measurement, and without my rotary cutting mat, I was reduced to ripping the fabric to get a straight line. Let's just say I got in touch with my family ancestors' sewing methods.

On the day before I left, I visited the Front Porch Quilt Shoppe not far from Cotton Creek. I love this quilt store. Melanie has a beautiful shop located in an old refurbished farm house with high ceilings and wood floors, all the better to show the numerous quilts hanging about. She mostly deals in Moda fabrics, but the selection is outstanding and she has lots of quilt books and patterns. She was having a sale on many fabrics for just $ 3.99 a yard, and I bought lots of fabric with quilt backs in mind. I hope to use them soon.

I don't do New Year's resolutions, but I do make goals. I note that last year my goal was to sew 20 garments. I just checked my list and discovered that I made 18, as far as I can tell. If I had known I was that close, I might have squeezed two more in. I do remember that I made two jeans skirts from some old pair of jeans I wasn't wearing anymore, so I'll count those two as garments made, and declare my goal met.

So my goals for 2009, sewing-wise, appear to be more quilt related this year. First, I want to make a quilt for myself since I have had the fabric for more than a year. It perfectly matches my bedroom decor, so I have been itching to get at it. If I don't make it first, all my other projects (and work) will interfere. Also for 2009, I want to make one of Mary's Heartstrings quilts, which I think will be fun. I've already started cutting my strips from leftover fabrics. And finally, I have always wanted to do a double wedding ring quilt. I think I'll start researching patterns and techniques to make this happen.

I wish everyone a very Happy New Year - and I can't wait to see what y'all create in 2009!

Parting Shot: Anne (right) and me at Anne's New Year's Eve party. Mother gave me the dress for Christmas, although you can't see much of it. A great way to ring in 2009.