Monday, December 30, 2013

In From the Cold

I'm sad because we're taking down Christmas d├ęcor. There's a naked tree in the corner and it's making our living room darker. Call it the post holiday let down if you like, but I'm not ready to let Christmas go, just yet.

I was lamenting to myself the other day that with me making the majority of gifts this year the holiday quilt for our home got put on the back burner so everything else could get done. First thing in the morning on 12/27 I walked into my sewing room, as is my habit, and I wondered what to do with myself. I'd had a list of things that needed to be done for Christmas and now I could chart my own course. It was then that I remembered the jelly roll I had purchased at the start of November: Kate Spain’s In From the Cold.

Enjoy a look at each of the fabrics in the line.
I also remembered that I had discovered a pattern designer around the same time and purchased a Pattern by Sweet Jane: A Good Day for this purpose. I had been looking forward to trying out one of her patterns for a while (I also purchased her book and two other patterns from her Etsy shop. Can you tell I was a bit excited?)
Also, it gave me an excuse to play with my new toy:

Meet my Brother NX570Q

I've just started cutting the pieces for the Good Day quilt, but I've got 360 days to finish it.

Next week's blog post will be tardy due to me traveling. Hopefully you can stand the anticipation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

UFO Round Up, Part 1

I am happy to report that I will be going into the new year with no unfinished projects! Well, at least non that were started before December of this year...

This is the infamous baby quilt that had been hanging out in my craft closet for, well, way too long. Especially now that the baby that I made it for is now 18 months old. I love how this turned out. I found the fairy tale print fabric on clearance at one of my favorite fabric store haunts along with the coordinating repeating print.
It's girly but not TOO girly, right? I can imagine a little girl making up stories to go along with each picture or have the quilt as a starting point for a parent to tell her stories.
Here's a close up of two of my favorite squares. And yes, I did trace quilting on each block. And yes, I now know what the benefit of a knee lift would be.

Rapunzel with her long flowing mane ending at her captive tower.

The frog prince waiting for his kiss. Have to say, I love his wry little smile.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Rise of Franken-Pillow

The other day I was sewing busily along. I needed to start machine quilting the charm quilt and, well... I didn't want to. But I wanted to sew. I wasn't going to let myself start another large scale project when I had Christmas presents to complete, and frankly I just wanted to have a purely creative few minutes. I looked to the right of my sewing machine where my cutting board lives and saw a variety of scraps from different projects piled about. I grabbed a few and stitched them together, then cut them at a "strange" angle and continued to do so until I came up with this:

A tour of scraps from the last 10 years of my quilting projects.
Somewhere between the sewing and cutting the purple swirls and adding the sushi fabric I decided this would be a great gift for my 9 year-old niece. In part that decision was because two of the fabrics in this quilt are from her baby quilt (the red checker print and the strawberries), and also in part I didn't know what to make her since she's too old for dolls and too young for the body products I am making. I ended up stopping at a 16 1/2" square because beyond that it was going to get a bit cumbersome. Perfect size for a throw pillow too.
Larger scraps from my collection for the back of the pillow. Another fun element. Who says the back of anything has to be one solid piece of fabric?

I sandwiched the crazy quilt with some scrap cotton batting and muslin and then I went to town quilting it. This part was just as fun for me as putting the pieces together. It might have been more fun if my machine had more than two decorative stitches. After putting it together and stuffing it, this is what I got.
Voila, Franken-pillow!
(To be accurate it would be Frankenstein's pillow,
but Franken-pillow is more fun.)

I'm proud of myself for getting a project done in time to ship it and not pay an exorbitant amount to get it there before Christmas.

Honestly, sewing Franken-pillow was a blast. I haven't had that much fun at my sewing machine in a while. Is that strange to say when I love quilting so much? Maybe ... maybe not. If I think about it for too long my head starts to hurt, but what it comes down to is this: Quilting, or the process of making a quilt, is a lot of repetition and guidelines about which piece gets cut at what angle and placed where. Crazy quilting is, well, I don't want to say its the opposite, but it's not as precise. It's a way to be a little more wibbly-wobbly with what some would call the "rules" and just go for it. Just sew, for the sake of sewing. Also, it's a great way to use up scraps!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Whipping Up Trouble

I have terribly dry hands in the cold weather time and I've been dying to try out the hand lotion recipes from the EcoBeauty book I mentioned last week. I admit, I went a little crazy buying supplies when I got the book - Almond oil, cocoa butter, not to mention the 3 lbs. of raw Shea butter... So what's a girl going to do? Whip up something good.
The first lotion I made was the Shea Lotion which is predominately almond oil with some Shea butter and water. It was indeed a lotion-y consistency. I'm not sure how I feel about it though, it's a little watery for my liking but it certainly moisturizes, but it isn't a long term result. I used it the next day and it made my legs super soft. I kept using it on my hands at my desk and it felt like I needed to reapply for the desired effect. I will admit though, last week was extremely dry weather and that may have exacerbated my own dry skin.
Wanting something that used more of my abundant supply of Shea butter (what can I say, I got a really good deal!) I started searching the web and came across Wellness Mama: Whipped Body Butter. This recipe has equal parts Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Olive Oil, and Coconut Oil.

Foamy and smooth after a 10 minute whipping. Makes me glad for my stand mixer!
Coming out of the bowl I knew I was going to like this mixture better. It has a richer texture more like a cream but not too dense like a store bought body butter. Made me feel better about putting them in these decorative "canning" jars for gifting since I discovered they didn't have a liquid tight seal.

Lovely little peaks of whipped body butter.
What's interesting about this mixture is that it's solid at room temp but as soon as it touches skin it starts to melt. I've only done test patches of this  but this stuff makes my hands go "ahhhhh".
Off to more holiday crafting madness...

Monday, December 2, 2013

All Mixed Up

As Thanksgiving day approached and the days off of work teased me with possibility, I put the last few stitches on Miss Kitty. I had a scary moment when I got everything but one arm stuffed and realized there wasn't enough... so I improvised. I used some small scraps (1" or less) I had in my cast off pile mixed with the little stuffing I had left and voila! It's a little lumpy but a 22 month old likely won't notice.
Isn't Miss Kitty cute? I embroidered rosettes instead of buttons on her lapel to be more little kid friendly.
My next endeavor after waking from my turkey coma was to try out recipes from a book I discovered: EcoBeauty by Lauren Cox. I had a light bulb moment when I saw it on the shelf at Powell's and thought it would be a great way for me to treat my lady friends for Christmas. My first step was to make liquid soap. No, I couldn't use dish or hand soap. In the book it easily lays out to grate some bar soap and mix equal parts soap with water. 
I don't know what happened, but I ended up with a jar of liquid soap that was the consistency of mucous.

I'm nothing if not persistent. I thought to myself, ok, I just got the ratio off and I only need a 1/2 cup for this bath salt recipe. So I took a tablespoon of what was in the jar and got it down to about what liquid soap should be like, added a little blue food coloring for fun and mixed the batch of "Bubbly Bath Salts".
As you can see, what I ended up with was rock salt with clumps of blue soap in it.
Next endeavor: Lip balm! This went a lot more... smoothly. The small batch I think helped the most. I ended up with yummy chocolate and vanilla tubes to share with my friends. I was silly and didn't take pictures though.
I've got to finish the charm quilt and make a few other gifts... I think I'm right on schedule for gift giving. I must be in another dimension, this NEVER happens!

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Crafty Christmas

I'm going to diverge from my typical topic. This, and likely the following posts through the holiday will be about the gifts that I'm creating. I'm planning to make most of my gifts for people this year. Well, the women folk anyway. I have a hard enough time BUYing things for the men in my life let alone making something for them... and there's only so many quilts you can make for one person.

 I'll start with one of the gifts I am making for my little girl. This is a fun rehash of a doll I made for my niece years and years ago. I purchased the PDF pattern from MMMcrafts which you'll still find in their Etsy shop here: Katy Kitty Doll PDF pattern by MMMCrafts.  Below is a picture in it's beginning stages:

The solid purple body parts are flannel which I prewashed/shrank. The face, eyes, and soon other decorative parts are felt which I will embroider (to the best of my ability). The clothing is scrap quilting cotton. She'll have a little skirt too.
There's a lot more handwork on this project than I'm used to, but I find myself completing these portions out of my creative haven - either in front of the TV or on my lunch break at the J-O-B.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Charmed, Still

This is a continuation of the "Charmed, I'm Sure" charm pack quilt that I posted last week. You can find it here:
 We left off with having completed one set of 4 squares with sashing:
Continue sewing sets of these together until you have six sets. The idea of this is that you have fewer seams to match.

It's kind of hard to tell, thanks to my lack of photography skills, but the top is broken into two parts. The top half and bottom half each have (from left to right) two sets of two of two squares across and three down, and one set of three squares by three squares.
 If you haven't noticed by now, it'll be really easy to accidentally mix up your carefully randomized squares. I recommend only taking one set at a time or putting some other system in place so you don't have to rip out seams and remember where things went.
Next sew each set of two by three to it's neighbor so you'll have two sets of four by three squares and two sets of three by three.

Then you put the top sets with the bottom sets to make two halves.

Put your two halves together, making sure to carefully match the post and sashing.
I thought it was still a little plain so I added borders with my extra yardage. The inner border is 1 1/2" finished and the outer border is 2 1/2" finished with 4" squares at the corners. If this is your first quilt, I recommend doing a simple one strip border sewn on each side..
Ta-da, you have a quilt top!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Charmed, I'm Sure

I started sewing the Christmas quilt using one charm pack, Moda’s Countdown to Christmas.
First thing I did was lay out the 42 squares that came in the charm pack on my project board and fool around with their placement until I was happy with it.I had tried a few different layouts, trip around the world, diagonal, and nothing was working for me. So I decided on random placement for the 5" squares.  I realize that I have a problem with being "actually random" so I have to be "purposefully random". I laid the blocks out in a seven by six block grid as randomly as I could, and just made sure no two of the same color were touching.
After I was happy with the layout of the blocks I was worried that I wouldn't have enough fabric to make a lap quilt. Then light bulb moment: Sashing! I also call it the quilter's friendly extender. I had purchased some yardage from the collection when I ordered the charm pack, and boy am I glad I did.

Cut 100 2.5" X 5" strips of your sashing fabric. I like to use off white or another light color.
 Then sew one sashing strip to the top of each charm block.
Then cut 2.5" squares. Lots of them. I chose two different colors and I will alternate them.

Then sew the 2.5" squares (or "posts") to one end of each remaining sashing strip.
Then sew one sash and square strip to the left side of each charm block.

When you get to the end of your row of seven, sew one sash and square strip on each side.
Then we begin to assemble the quilt top!
Starting on the left start sewing together pairs of the sash & square combo.

Then sew together one paired sash & square combo to the one below it.

That's as far as I've gotten as of Sunday. The most time consuming part is cutting the sashing and posts, and even that doesn't take too long. After this, the top goes together quite quickly, but that'll be next Monday!

Continued here:

Happy Quilting!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Quilting With Pre-Cuts

I’ll be honest, until recently I thought pre-cuts were silly. I thought they were limiting and expensive. I hadn’t purchased any pre-cuts except for the occasional fat quarter and fiercely resisted the thought that a pre-cut might be a good idea. In fact, I scoffed at it. But, I kept coming across all of these great pattern books that called for a charm pack or a jelly roll and I thought to myself, it can’t be that bad. Then I did the math: in one charm pack you have 40 different 5” squares of fabric for the price of one yard of designer fabric. With a Jelly Roll you get 40 2.5” strips of fabric for the price of three yards of fabric. For me, the clincher was knowing the variety I would get in one of the pre-cut packs. I wouldn’t have to stand in the fabric store for an hour or more trying to coordinate 30 different fabrics to only get a ¼ yard of each then only use one or two 5” squares. And unless you have access to a full line of a fabric, it’s nearly impossible to find all of one line in the same place. Yes, it is possible to do a stash buster or a scrappy quilt with these patterns, but sometimes that’s not an option.

So, I’m endeavoring on my first two pre-cut quilt projects, both with Christmas collections. One using a charm pack, Moda’s Countdown to Christmas:

I’m regretting only getting one charm pack as it will make a smaller quilt than I had anticipated, it will require a bit more creativity from me... but that’s half the fun! I also purchased one using a jelly roll, Kate Spain’s In From the Cold:

 I’m looking forward to being able to “throw together” a quilt quickly. Hopefully I'll be able to share progress next week.

Monday, October 28, 2013

UFOs: Unfinished Objects

I don’t often leave a quilt undone. I’m not bragging, I just like to be able to see a project from start to finish and typically it’s a gift for an event so there’s a timeline to adhere to. I have two projects that have been living as UFOs (or Un-Finished Objects). One is a  baby quilt that I started for a little girl who was born four months after mine, and the other is a quilt I started one summer home from college (there’s actually a completion date of 2001 stitched on it. EEK!). And while I understand it, I am horrified that these projects have gone so long without completion.

Recently, I got very excited about a quilt designer and was digging through my fabric to start working on a new project when I came across the unfinished baby quilt. I’ve dug past it a number of times in the throes of creativity, but this time was different. I stopped and I looked at it - with three of the four borders on it was so close to being done that it was almost sad. So I stopped my new quilt digging and pulled out the unfinished quilt with it’s accompanying fabric and sewed the final border on it. I added a second border after some thought, and found some polyester batting, tacked the layers together and started quilting it. It is still in the works as I’m teaching myself how to trace-quilt in the process, but my goal is to have it complete and shipped to the little girl by her 18 month birthday.

The 2001 quilt is an interesting story (I’m not going to say it’s an odyssey). My parents discovered it this past April when they were cleaning out their house to move covered in a plastic Gottchalk’s  bag in the back of one of their closets. Since then it’s relocated to my craft closet, layered and quilted, and the binding just needs to be stitched on. I have looked at it so many times perched on top of the plastic bins that hold my fabric that it’s become part of the scenery. I’ve ignored it for the simple reason that I don’t like it. What’s the sense in finishing a quilt that I don’t like? Really, to just clear space in the closet if nothing else. This past weekend we went on a family trip with my in-laws and I promised myself to make major progress on sewing the binding on or not start a new project until I had.

I’m happy to report that the 2001 is nearing completion I’d say about an eighth of the binding is left to stitch. I have decided that once it’s done I’m going to gift it to a good friend. The baby quilt is another story. While I’m making progress I’ve found that trace quilting is not as easy as I thought it would be. I will post pictures once the quilts have gone to their intended recipients.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Vintage Inspiration

As much as I love modern patterns and design, I’m also really drawn to vintage reproduction fabrics. There’s something about them that attracts me and makes me wonder what they would have been used for in the era they were designed. I admit I have a reluctance to buy them as they typically don’t “go with” many of the quilt patterns that I like to make or the fabric store will not have enough variety for on project.

A week or so ago I was digging through my stash looking for a fabric for another project and discovered a scrap bag of vintage 1930’s era reproduction fabric. I pulled out the bag to look at after I was done with what I was working on. The bag had 9 different fabrics that looked they were end of bolt cuts (on edge was uneven) , ranging from 6” by 22” to 17” by 22”. At the time I was enjoying looking at the fabrics  but I was a bit stymied as what to do with them.
Some of the reproduction fabrics.

I remembered a quilting book that I had just acquired called Three Times the Charm by Me and My Sister Designs. The patterns are primarily geared toward charm packs, but nothing says I couldn’t just cut the fabric strips to size. So I did just that, I cut down the fabric to 5” squares - enough to produce two more rows than the pattern called for (the pattern makes a 30” by 30” quilt finished, and to me that’s too small for anything other than a wall hanging). I could have likely finished the quilt top in one day given the opportunity, but life with a toddler doesn’t allow for such graces. I was able to finish it in about 4 two hour stretches. It turned out to be a quick, sweet little pattern.

The finished quilt top is 36" by 36"

It’s nice to have a project finished fast - it reassures me that my projects don’t always have to be a huge and time consuming undertaking.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Small Scale

Often as I cruise around the internet I find quilt blocks I love, or techniques I would love to try. I often find a reason to not try or to take a while to get around to it mainly that I don’t want to make a full scale quilt to try one block pattern or ruin a quilt that I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on with a new technique that went horribly wrong. So, recently I had a light bulb moment: No one said I HAD to do these things on a larger scale, I was just imposing that imperative on myself.

I've been wanting to make place mats for our dining table for a long time. Something to dress it up a bit without taking a lot of time. So after picking out two one yard cuts of coordinating fabric I tried two new things: designing my own pattern, and machine binding.

On a small scale, such as a place mat, designing my own pattern isn't nearly as terrifying as say, a queen size quilt. It was a lot easier for me to look at the fabric, play around with it without cutting into it and deciding what I wanted it to be, and voila, I created my own beautiful, one of a kind, reversible place mats. Would I do it again? In a heart beat.

Machine binding is one of those things that I've found amazingly divisive among other quilters. You have people in one camp that swear by finishing a quilt binding by hand with a blind stitch. It’s time consuming, but the end result is a very tidy, completed quilt. Those in the machine binding camp swear by saving themselves a ton of time with the end result still being a very tidy, completed quilt. I’ve always finished the quilts by hand because that’s how I was taught.

When I was looking at these lovely little place mats that I had designed and the raw edges with the cotton batting protruding I thought to myself, there couldn't be a more perfect time to try our machine binding. This way I can finish four tiny quilts in this fashion and get enough experience with the technique to know if I really like it or not. Would I do it again? For small projects, probably. But not likely for a larger quilt, especially one that’s a gift.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Scrappy Trails

It used to be that as I sewed I would throw away any piece of fabric that was too small for the project I was working on. Or if I had finished the project anything less than a six inch strip went in the garbage. I shudder at the thought of how much fabric and money I wasted before I knew any better. Ever since the day I realized what I was wasting I started keeping scraps from a two inch square on up.

At first I started throwing these scraps in with the rest of my stash. I soon found out what a horrible idea that was. I can’t say how disappointing it is to think I’ve found the perfect piece of fabric to find it’s only a two inch square. So, I started a separate bin for scraps. It started small at first but the small clear plastic box was quickly overwhelmed and I realized I needed some sort of organization to the chaos. So, I began to research “the best” way to sort my scraps. I figured it would be better to use up the scraps and start fresh.

I had never really made a scrappy quilt before, but I was inspired by the Quiltville blog and seeing all of her fabulous scrappy quilts. I decided to take a chance and clear out most of my scrap collection then start my scrap storage system with “new” scraps. I also ended up collecting scraps from friends to add variety to the quilt I was making.

At the time I was also working on the Amish quilt and felt that the scrap quilt was a perfect project to be working on. There couldn’t be a better contrast to the strict regulation of an Amish quilt than the freewheelin’, whatever goes, of a scrap quilt. It’s been fun to seesaw between the two quilt types.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sunshine and Shadows

My Husband and I purchased a new bed in October of last year. It’s a beautiful maple wood frame and headboard handmade by Amish Craftsmen. After the bed was set up I thought to myself “I need to make a quilt for this bed.”

My first thought was that since the bed frame and headboard were made by the Amish it would only be appropriate to have an Amish style quilt on the bed. So I began my internet search to find my inspiration. I discovered a design called “Sunshine and Shadows” that I loved. The key thing with an Amish quilt is they are all made with a specific range of solid color fabrics. Typically I would say that solid colors are boring, but this is tradition! So, on my next trip to the fabric store I carefully chose my nine solid color fabrics, went home and began to sew.

A quarter of the way through I discovered that my blocks were much larger than in my inspiration quilt. I decided to sew on, hoping I would be happy with the result anyway. When I finished piecing and looked at the quilt top - no, I was not happy with it. 

So, I folded it up, put it in a plastic storage bin in my sewing closet and began again. This time the squares were half the size and as I sewed the first quarter I found myself much happier with what I was producing. But, disaster struck - my sewing machine jammed and would not stitch for the first time in the 13 years that I’ve owned it. So, to the repair shop it went.

I borrowed my mom’s sewing machine, a circa 1974 Singer, and continued on, undaunted. As I lay out the strips I had just completed next to the first quarter I realized that the seams were just slightly off. It was enough that it wasn’t noticeable at first, but the further down the strip you looked, the more off the squares were. Apparently I had misgauged the ¼” seam allowance on the unfamiliar machine. 

Frustrated and discouraged I put it away with the other attempt. Something was telling me I was bound to not finish this quilt.

Sometimes time and distance are the best medicine for situations like this and just writing this blog post, four or so months later, and taking the accompanying photos has inspired me to try again. I may finish the larger square version, or rip out seams on the smaller square version, but either way our bed should have a finished quilt on it by the end of 2013.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Quilting Books

I like to describe my quilting style as “modern traditionalist”. I like to honor the quilting patterns of a more traditional feel while using more contemporary fabrics (bright colors, fun prints, and more fluid rather than geometric designs) and occasionally trying a more modern pattern. I’ve had a love hate relationship with quilting books ever since I acquired my first one. Before purchasing a quilting book I like to be able to flip through it to be sure that I like at least half of the patterns in it. Having an 18 month old at home and an almost full time job doesn’t leave me a lot of free time to browse the stacks. I often rely on the internet to find a new book I might love. What’s frustrating about this option is that the previews that are available are often limited at best, only showing one or two patterns. If I’m really lucky, my local library will have a copy in rotation so I can have a proper look at it before whether or not to buy it.

Many of the books that I have come across have been extremely traditional - both the author and the patterns they offer - frequently using antique floral prints that I feel only fits in grandma’s house. I have a hard time getting past fabrics that I don’t like to see a pattern I might love. Alternately, when I’ve tried to find a more modern quilting book, I find myself staring down at an uber modernist pattern book. It seems to me there may be no happy medium in quilting books, and if there is, I’ve had difficulty finding it.

I end up relying on free patterns I can find online or in my own imagination. Let me tell you, I am NOT very good at coming up with my own quilt patterns. In fact,  if I am presented with a fabric for a quilt and have no pattern prior, it leaves me a little stymied, but that’s another blog post. So, I continue to search for the perfect quilting book (for me) and taking full advantage of websites kind enough to give me patterns for free. Here are few of my favorites:

Quiltville: This is a great resource for scrappy quilt patterns (or not so scrappy). It’s a great quilting blog too.

In Color Order: She does focus mostly on quilting but has other fun sewing tutorials too.

Quilter’s Cache: This is a collection of literally hundreds of patterns which you can search through by size or alphabetically. It only gives you instructions to make one block at a time, so you have to do a little math and designing on your own to make a quilt.

Monday, September 9, 2013

My First Quilt

When I was in the 8th grade we were assigned to write a journal as a character on the Oregon Trail. I was also part of a mentoring program at the time, and my mentor happened to be a quilter. She and I made a small quilt to cover the composition book that I was using for the journal. I still fondly remember sitting in the dining room of her 1940’s era home, carefully guiding pieces of fabric through the sewing machine. I remember my mentor’s sewing room with a sewing table in front of a wall of windows looking out on their beautiful backyard, the opposite wall held a shelving unit with bins and bins of fabric. I remember wondering at the time why she had all of that fabric. With her careful guidance and instruction, quilting soon became a great love for me.

The quilt we made that day was a log cabin pattern in finished two inch squares. I didn’t know at the time how insanely small those blocks are for the amount of work that goes into them. When I endeavored to make my own quilts, they were much simpler and my amount of knowledge still relatively small. And now, nearly eighteen years later, I have made a wide variety of quilts (finishing at least three a year) and have my own closet full of fabric and oddly enough still consider myself a beginner when it comes to quilting. There are so many patterns that I fear to attempt because I don’t think that my skill level is on par with it. I still look for “Quick and Easy” patterns. I tell myself it’s because I don’t want to spend too much time on one project before it’s finished, but I think in reality it’s more because I don’t want to disappoint myself if I’m unable to complete it.

So, I’m starting this blog as a way to grow as a quilter, as a way for me to be accountable to someone other than myself for growing and evolving. I want to stretch my patchwork wings. I want to use this blog as a way to connect with other quilters, and learn that it’s okay to mess up and that it’s all part of learning and growing.


My Dad was kind enough to send me this picture of my first quilt which now resides as a throw pillow on their bed. He also corrected that each of the log cabin squares is 3” finished. I honestly shrink back in horror at this quilt, but I remind myself that a first try is never perfect.