Monday, January 12, 2015

Wanna Cruise with me?

Warm, tropical beaches. Sunshine. Excellent food. As casual or formal as you please. And quilting!

I hope you'll join me on a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean next March 5-13, 2016 with Quilt Retreat at Sea. That's eight delightful days at sea, eight days to rest and reinvigorate without a care in the world.

My hubby and I love to cruise. It's like staying at a deluxe hotel that also takes us to exotic places. We always return to real life with renewed energy.

This marvelous beauty will take us from island to island. We will be sailing onboard Royal Caribbean’s innovative Independence of the Seas. She recently underwent a $7 million refurbishment. The new features include a Cupcake Shop, an Italian trattoria called Giovanni’s, new digital signage, bow-to-stern WiFi (fees apply) and a poolside movie screen.

Our itinerary:
5 March 2016:          Depart Fort Lauderdale at 5:30pm
6 March 2016:          Cruising and Quilting Day at Sea
7 March 2016:          Labadee, Haiti from 7am to 3pm
8 March 2016:          San Juan, Puerto Rico from 2pm to 9pm
9 March 2016:          Basseterre, St. Kitts from 10am to 6pm
10 March 2016:        Philipsburg, St. Maarten from 8am to 5pm
11 March 2016:        Cruising and Quilting Day at Sea
12 March 2016:        Cruising and Quilting Day at Sea
13 March 2016:        Arrive Fort Lauderdale at 5:30am

On St. Kitts, we'll be visiting Caribelle Batiks, where we'll see first hand how some of our favorite quilting fabric is hand made.

For those days at sea I've designed charming little project that is full of fun techniques . It's a secret for now, but I'll be showing glimpses on the blog from time to time.

Click HERE to find out all you need to know to join us on this amazing tour. Spaces are limited, please check it out right away.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Change in Priorities


Just about seven months ago I rearranged the studio. Yeah, yeah, you all know how I like to sort things, and reorganize, but this time it was different. I took my beloved Bernina from her place of honor, front and center, and shoved her to the back wall of the studio. All to make way for my new obsession: weaving.

It made perfect sense at the time. Looms not only need floor space, but they also need enough room around them to handle the awkward task of warping. Plus, the light (and the view) is so much better on the other side of the studio, near all the windows.

Yesterday we moved my sweetie back to front and center. I've decided to sell the smaller floor loom (the Baby Wolf) and move the larger loom to the back corner. Keeping the larger, heavier loom will allow me to make rugs from all the bolts of fabric I have, leftovers from kits and project work for fabric manufacturers. (I just adore my rainbow of fat quarters and thread.)

After all, I have work to do. I've set some goals for this year, and all of them include quilting! Since my applique book with C&T is out of print, I'll be writing a new one, which I will self publish. I have a project to design and make for the Caribbean Cruise that I'll be teaching on in 2015 (more information here, and coming soon to the blog.) I have a large quilt project I've been itching to do that may or may not become a block of the month (you'll help me decide, won't you?).

Plus, there's this quilt I need to finish, and heaven knows I'll need the space to work on it. (I've almost finished the ditch stitching, I'll have to figure out which fill stitches to use very soon. It's the hardest part for me, the deciding.)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Out with the old

It's probably been just about a year since I last posted about how much I like the clean slate that is January. There's something heady about a fresh new calendar. With the holiday crazies clearly in the rear view mirror, the new year promises the wide open spaces of unencumbered time.

 Of course that's silly. While the parties and family gatherings of the holidays are behind us, each day still has only twenty-four hours.

I'm nothing if not an optimist. Even when the sky is falling down around my ears I still think someday this will be funny. January just feeds my inner Pollyanna. The days are getting longer and there are few things more beautiful than sunshine on fresh snow.

It's no secret that the past several months have been physically difficult for me, but I've had a bit of an epiphany. After the docs pronounced me "as good as it will get", I found myself getting crankier every day. Being told "if it hurts, don't do it", and knowing that everything I enjoy hurts, I felt that all the doors in my life had closed.

During a rowdy conversation with my youngest about life and destiny, free will and predestination it dawned on me why I've been so frustrated.

I don't take "no" for an answer! I never have, even as a kid. Just tell me that I can't do something, or that something can't be done and I'm busy trying to prove you wrong before the door closes behind you.

There's always a way. Where there is life, there is hope. I thrive on hope. So, I've decided if I'm going to hurt anyway, at least I'll have fun while I can. And all of a sudden, I have my life back. Just like that.

There are so many new ideas, projects, techniques and challenges swirling in my head, and I'm breathless with the joy of possibilities. There's a big new quilt in the design stage, dare I say "block of the month"?

Yet another new toy this fall, my Silhouette electronic die cutting machine, just may become my new favorite applique tool. Imagine being able to down load a file and have the machine cut out those pesky templates for us! To learn the machine, I've been making these darling little paper houses, designed by Marji Roy. Too cute, huh!

Does New Year's Day mark a welcome new beginning for you, or it is just another day? Do you make resolutions? What are your hopes for 2015?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Annual Gingerbread House Build

After all the dregs of another turkey dinner are swept away it's time to break out the gingerbread. I just love doing this for, and with, the grandkids. When we broke out the fixings Alex exclaimed, "oh goody, we get to make a mess!" We always have a crazy good time, and every year the houses get just a little more involved.

Nate, my oldest, and Alex get right to work on their houses. We use a three piece cookie cutter set to get the basic shapes. I think I broke down and bought a gingerbread house kit one year, just to get the cutters.

The grands still mostly rely on the cutters, but the kids are branching off into designs of their own.

Amanda and Nicole get moving too. Nicole is a take-charge kind of girl. gotta love that about her.

Of course, as far as the kids are concerned, it's not time for baking until the snowflake aprons and chefs' hats appear.

The real fun begins when it's time to build and decorate the houses. Just look at how intense the two engineers are! They are not content with cookie cutter houses. They always come up with something interesting. Nicole, on the other hand, is all about the glitter, she's my tomboy princess.

Finally it's time for our close-ups.

Alex wanted his picture to look like he was about to smash the house with his arm. I'm not sure that's the kind of thing that Captain America would do, but there you have it.

Amanda's winter wonderland house. Isn't she beautiful? (I'm pretty sure she has no idea how beautiful she is, which is part of her charm.) When it comes to mates, all of my boys have chosen very well.

Especially considering what they have to work with.

But then, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Now showing on the Baby Wolf

This is my Baby Wolf loom. It's smallish, with a weaving width of only twenty-six inches. The position of the warp threads, the ones on the loom, are controlled by shafts, frames of wire strands (heddles) through which the warp is threaded. Patterns are decided, in part, by through which heddle and shaft the thread is passed. With only four shafts, I think of this as my starter loom.

Right now I have it warped with cotton yarn for dish towels, which will (hopefully) become Christmas gifts. (I've you're on my gift list you might want to look away now.) It's really cool thread, called American Maid (from Lunatic Fringe Yarns), it's totally grown and processed in the US. The colors you see are all naturally occurring, and are supposed to deepen with washing.

Putting this warp on the loom made me cry. Repeatedly. The thread is so soft that it fuzzed up and matted together as we tried to crank it onto the warp beam. I had wound a fifteen yard warp, hoping to make a whole passel of dishcloths, but we gave up at about ten yards and just whacked the last bit off. Ten yards will still make almost a dozen towels.

Those threads hanging off the back of the loom are to replace threads that broke in the warping process. The thread is wrapped around a knitting bobbin and a lead fishing sinker is attached with a shower hook to add tension.

I'm learning that pretty much everything has a hard part that needs to be done well, and it usually comes early in the process. Babies need birthing, applique needs templates, quilting needs basting, and weaving needs a warp. It takes discipline and patience to get on with the hard parts, the patience part being the hardest for me. I have to admit to developing a new and specialized vocabulary for warping a loom.

But then we weave. As I dance on the treadles the shafts pop up and drop down, creating pattern and texture as the shuttles fly by. It is this good part that makes me forget all about the bad part until the next warp comes along.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Now with more piecing

When last we met I was regretting my decision to strip piece these units. Much to my dismay, even though I was feeling pretty smug about how carefully I had pressed them at the time, I found all sorts of pleats in the seam allowances at I put together the blocks. Let's just say there was a whole lot of easing going on.

There was also the ongoing question of what the he-heck I was thinking when I designed this quilt to have roughly two billion tiny squares.

The color is a little washed out here, but the alternate blocks are all done. Almost all of the teeny-tiny pieces are done. Yeah, right.

There are also thirty-some sashing strips to be done, and of course, they all contain itty-bitty four-patches. This time I came to my senses and cut first, sewed second. Being able to cut eight squares at a time made short work of it.

I've set them up on my ironing pad for what I call "flip-flop pressing". You can sort of see that the green fabric is showing on each of the sewn pairs. I want these seams to be pressed away from the background fabric, or towards the green fabric. I've alternated the pairs so that the thread within the four-patch will act as my pin for a super tight intersection. Once pressed, the thread was cut between the units, but not within.

Here they are, set on point with side triangles and ready be added into the sashing strips. It was about this time that I finally figured out that some of my piecing issues were due to a slightly generous seam allowance.

I'm working with a machine that is brand new to me, and I can't tell you how long it's been since I've actually sewn anything, so I just figured I was out of practice. But even when I was paying close attention to positioning the fabric, the seam allowance was still too wide. Moving the needle position one to the right solved the problem. I'm glad I figured that out before heading into the more involved parts of the quilt.

This is my "socialization" project. I only work on it at the quilt shop, during Open Sew or Sleep at Home Retreats. I figured I'd be able to knock this quilt in no time at all. About two days into the retreat I was so busy having fun that I forgot about taking pictures, and eventually gave up speedy progress because I was too busy laughing my keister off.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Transforming a UFO into a WIP

Remember this quilt? This is Christmas Yet to Come, the block of the month project for 2011. I loved making this quilt. I loved the over-the-top applique, all simple shapes, but oh, so many of them!

It's a large quilt, 102 inches or so square. I knew that basting the quilt could be a challenge. Buying a 108" backing fabric seemed like the way to go.

This is also the only quilt that has taken me three tries at basting to get it right. Three tries on a quilt that is 102" square.

My first fail came from a rush job at a quilt shop retreat. Because the place was packed full of happy quilters, only a couple tables, of slightly different heights were available. No biggie, right? This is not my first trip to the basting rodeo. Wrong. Puckers and pleats everywhere. Unbasting ensued.

For my second try, I switched over from my default 80/20 batting, which is white, to a black polyester batting that was supposed to be designed for machine quilting. I was concerned about bearding (when the light colored batting comes through the fabric to give it a hazy appearance), and I was hoping the loft of the polyester batt would add to the texture of the quilting. Another epic fail. This time it was incredible static cling that resulted into unruly bubbles on the backing, and the quilt weighed a metric ton. More unbasting.

Hoping that the third time would be a charm, I switched out the poly batt for wool. Wool has a gentle loft, and keeps its warmth despite being very light.

Of I toddled to the Quilted Cottage, on an off day so that there would be lots of open tables. With all the room I would need, I carefully pressed and then secured the backing fabric to the tables.

Starting in one corner, I was careful to leave enough fabric for wiggle room on the edge. I happily basted the majority of the quilt, feeling positive about the outcome this time.

But then I came to the opposite side of the quilt. Aaargh! The backing is short by about eight inches. Of course I started by kicking myself in the rear and then sitting down for a little bit of a pity party. I really couldn't face unbasting this quilt yet again. And when I measured out the extra on the opposite end I realized that it wouldn't have been enough, even if I'd snugged the quilt right up to the edges. Perhaps the quilt is a little larger than I thought, or maybe the backing wasn't 108", I bought it three years ago. Maybe it shrank in the closet, lord knows my clothes do.

In the end I decided to forge on ahead and seam the backing fabric. I started by ripping away the selvages. I had plenty of fabric left over in yardage, so I ripped that as well. The pieced edge will be cross grain while the majority of the backing is on the straight of grain. This might be an issue if this quilt were to be hung, but I'm not overly worried. I'm going to quilt the snot out of it, so the backing should be very stable.

Ripping the fabric keeps the edges perfectly on grain, This might end up being the only "perfect" thing about this quilt.

The sewing, even while being very careful, only took a few minutes. My machine has a dual feed option, which helps to prevent shirring along the seam. Otherwise,I would have used a walking foot. A seam this long, and with so much extra weight to one side, is just begging for trouble.

The proof is in the pressing. The seam was pressed open to eliminate as much bulk as possible. A seam pressed to the side can result in unexpected bumps when quilting. Thanks to the subtle print pattern of the backing fabric, the seam almost disappears.

Even though it seemed like a monumental job, it actually took about a half an hour to complete.

The quilt is now fully basted. Done and Done. Now it's time to finally commit to a quilting plan. I will begin by stitching in the ditch around the applique and the pieced elements. I'm pretty sure the center stars will be surrounded by some sort of grid work. As for the background fill? I'm open to suggestions. Really. Help!