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!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Let the piecing begin

This whole project started because my doctor said I need to socialize more. I am an introvert, and I have plenty of toys to keep me a happy hermit. I had a shocking wake up call when my neck doctor suggested I go with a friend to exercise class, and I couldn't think of one person that I would call. Pathetic, right? Sure, I have friends, but they are all quilting professionals who are spread across the globe.

My local quilt shop, the fantastic Quilted Cottage, holds a weekly Open Sew day. No charge, no expectations, just show up, choose a table and set up your quilty nest. This seemed to be the perfect venue for my reentry into civilian quilting life.

When I'm working on a new design for possible publication, I start by making a workbook. Since this quilt is all pieced I can work directly from Electric Quilt, printing out rotary cutting directions for each unit of the quilt.

EQ does amazing things, but there isn't a single button to push to get piecing directions. For my workbook, I've drawn the units individually. The rotary cutting print out only gives the instructions for cutting one block, and no piecing instructions. (Bwha-ha-ha, that is why you need me and other pattern designers!) So, I use these print outs to confirm my math and work out the cutting for the required repeats of the unit. In this case, I need a total of 80 of these little patches. Eighty.

Strip piecing is NOT my favorite. It's just too easy to wander off the seam allowance (forty-five inches is a long way to pay attention), and it's super easy to press pleats into the seams. The Cottage offers lightweight, inexpensive irons for their classrooms (those darned fusers make a mess of them), adding to the challenge of getting a crisp press. I'll be adding my own hefty iron to my travel kit on Open Sew days.

But, sometimes, strip piecing is the best way to go, especially for small units such as this. It only finishes to three inches.

After cutting eleventy-million segments, I'm thinking that maybe strip piecing wasn't the best choice after all. I had to measure and cut each segment individually. If I had cut out all the shapes before sewing, I could have cut multiple layers at once. Plus, it's much easily to maintain that good seam allowance over short seams. And they would have pressed out better. Hmmm. I hate it when I have to tell myself, "I told you so". It's so much more fun to tell it to others.

So, I have two thirds of the little unit sewn. It needs another segment sewn on to complete it. They need to be pressed before I go on to the next step, it will be easier to press the seams one at a time. And, I have a decision to make. Do I want to clip the seams so that I can press them away from the background (the black) for both the red and green squares? I think I should. I also think it will be a pain. Anyone who has taken a class from me (or my Craftsy class) knows what I nut I am about pressing. You can probably guess what I'll end up doing.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Easy Peasy Christmas

Two years ago, when my Sneaky Piecing Tricks book came out, as part of the promotion, I did a Take & Teach class at Quilt Market. I designed a nifty little twelve inch block to illustrate some of my favorite tips and tricks in the book. I really liked the block, and figured that I'd need to do something more with is someday.

After several hours of noodling around on EQ7, I finally settled on a design. (Do you use Electric Quilt? I've been using it since it was a DOS program, pretty much since its beginning. It's addictive fun.) Started with the basic block design and then shifted it around into different settings.

My original plan was to alternate the block with applique, but nothing I tried seemed to fit.

So I started messing about with alternating pieced blocks. After several tries, I found a design that I liked, but I didn't like how the seams fell. I try to avoid piecing the same color fabrics together, especially if I can find a way to sew it as a simple shape.

Then the "what ifs" took over. Can I let go of the idea as creating the block as a block? What if the block were to become the sashing and cornerstones, and the alternate block becomes the block?

I really like how the whole stepping stone thing is working out, it kind of makes it sparkle, Let's add some nine patches in the center of that red square, yeah, the one that I redesigned the block to keep unpieced.

But, yikes, this design is just way, way too busy. And, even though I played with adding more color variation and a third color, I really wanted this quilt to be a little more understated. I have these three fabrics that I wanted to use, no need to make things complicated. (My fabrics are not quite so garish as how these are showing in the diagrams. I'm just using stock fabrics as placeholders.) Nothing understated about this one!

Now here we go. This I like. I like how the little squares sort of sparkle, alternating the red and green makes them wink in and out. The tiny break in the stepping stones echos the crisscross in the center of the blocks. Yep, after about three hours of playing (I couldn't believe how long I had been goofing around!), this is the design I settled upon.

Of course, old habits die hard, and along with all of the messing about with the design, I also consider what will become of it. Shall I publish it as a pattern? Would it make a good block of the month, although I'm thinking it would be more of a block of the week.

I'm calling the design Easy Peasy Christmas, because I'm using red and green fabrics that are dusted with gold. But how lovely it is in all blues! (Gosh, maybe I'll need to make more than one.) I would really want to change the name so quilters will feel more free to use their own colors. Suggestions? Interested?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

First dish towels

I've been exploring the weaving process on the floor looms. The jury is still out, if I will stick with it. Just like so many creative endeavors, there is a difficult step required to get through before the real fun starts. Putting the warp on the looms in physically challenging, and must be done well or nothing good happens after it.

Weaving dish towels is considered the requisite first project for the floor loom, after, maybe a scarf or shawl. It should be rather mindless, sort of like chain piecing, but I find myself agonizing over symmetry. Arrgh! I'm not experienced enough to be able to visualize the entire towel, to make a pattern work over the length. The woven part disappears onto the cloth beam, leaving only about an eight inch section exposed. I forget what I've done, and what I planned to do.

I have a new set of towels on the smaller loom, and I'm planning to be random with these. I'm planning to not plan. There are fewer colors in this new scheme, so I won't have as many decisions to make, which is about as good as it will get. I'll let you know how long I can be random before needing to make a plan. I don't think it will last very long.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In between

The last few weeks have been delightfully quiet, with pretty much nothing that's newsworthy. My days have been taken up with physical therapy on my neck, and then resting until the pain subsides. I've been taking it easy, on doctor's orders, just sort of gliding through days with no real agenda or plan, something that doesn't sit easily with me.

The decision has finally been well and truly made: travel is off my docket for the duration. Instead of visiting over a dozen guilds a year, I will book only one or two. Air travel will be severely curtailed, as I just can't manage the heavy suitcases without the risk of further damaging my neck and shoulders. It is just too physically demanding for me. No matter how I exercise to build upper body strength, the damage can't be undone.

We've been sneaking up on this. Risking further damage to my shoulders by reaching around to pat myself on the back, I'm good at teaching and speaking, and I love it. I've always felt that knowing something only became valuable when I could share it. It's been a very tough choice to make.

And then there's the blog. Many of my favorite bloggers have been soul searching about their blogs. Some have changed directions, some have redefined, even renamed, and others have chosen to stop blogging all together.

It's always been a challenge for me to blog, I just don't think that I'm all that interesting. In the beginning it was just another marketing tool for my quilting career. What will it be now, if my quilting career is in the rear view mirror?

As I've ventured out into other fiber art forms, I've worried that I'd alienate my "base", the quilters who follow my projects, and perhaps, buy my patterns. I love you guys, and I hope you'll stick with me.

I've had tunnel vision while building my quilting career. But now that I'm off that merry-go-round, my interests have grown just so much wider. In the last two years I've learned how to spin yarn, weave on a floor loom, and weave tapestry. I've remembered how much I love to cook and bake, to feather my nest, to knit and read, and sometimes do nothing at all. And above all, I love to learn.

So, from now on, for better or worse, the blog will be about me, my adventures and misadventures (because who doesn't love a good failure from time to time?) I hope you'll come along for the ride. There may even be a quilt or two along the way.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Good Day to Dye

It was something I swore I would never do. I'd given it a shot years ago, and decided that dyeing fabric was something I didn't need to do. I mean, it's not like there aren't a million zillion fabrics already out there, just waiting to be discovered and then chopped into lovely little bits. But....

Finding yarns for tapestry in a range of gradations (especially in the US), is a real challenge. In fact, finding yarns for tapestry is rather complicated all the way around, there are so many variables. Just as with fabric, the medium values are easy to find. It's the lightest  lights and darkest darks that are the biggest challenge.

Just as always, I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how this hand dyeing thing worked. Wanting just small amounts of each color for now, I knew that I wanted to use mason jars and a canner for steam setting the dyes. Figuring out how much dye to use to achieve the desired depth of shade was the stumbling block. Different sources varied widely as to how much to use, so my first batches were way, way more intense than I was looking for.

But the colors came out so clean and bright and pure, it was still super fun to just toss the skeins in the dye and just see what happened.

After a while I just started mixing colors, adding black to skeins that came out too close in color to be useful, or blue, or red.

After my first day of dyeing, I was pretty darned happy with my yarns. It's a pretty good selection, if I do say so myself, especially considering I had no idea what I was doing! Not quite the light lights and dark darks, but hey, that just means I'll have to dye another day.