Crazy is Good

I was sitting at the kitchen counter one day, staring at the valance over my window.  I’m ready for something new.  I get this from my mother who changed curtains in the kitchen to match every holiday and season.  In the fall, we had leaves, after Thanksgiving, holly and berries, in the spring, the lovely florals went up…you get the picture.

I don’t have cafe curtains, though I have thought about them.  But sitting there, staring away, I had an idea.  What about a quilted valance?  Better yet, what if I made matching seat covers for the chairs?

Suddenly I was excited about a project.  All I wanted was colorful and different.  So that’s what I made.

window3The valance is made of crazy quilt blocks, 8 1/2 inches unfinished. I grabbed all sorts of scraps I had lying around…some were from fatquarter bundles, some random, some leftovers from other projects and just began sewing.

The beauty of this project is that it doesn’t take any real focus or concentration.  The 1/4 inch seam doesn’t have to be perfect.The colors can be anything you want…no matchy-matchy stuff. Just square it up to 8 1/2 inches, then sew them together.

crazyblocks1 If you have never sewn this way (improvisational is what some call it) you will love it. Well, some people like me love it, and others find that they need more guidelines.  But, the freer you are with the blocks, the more fun it gets (if you can let go of the need for perfection.)

And the result is happy crazy.

window1For this valance, I assembled 3 rows of blocks, measured the window and the rod, and created a quilt sandwich and quilted the whole thing.  Then I came back and added the scallops and bias binding.  From the top, I just folded it down enough to form a rod pocket and sewed it in place with a couple of straight seams.  The binding goes all the way around, it’s just turned down at the top so you don”t see it.

And because the quilt is heavier than plain fabric, even with a lining, it hangs nice and flat.

I love it.  It’s exactly what I wanted.

Then I turned to the chairs.

chair3Each chair requires an additional 9 blocks.  I only finished one chair so far, but it goes fast. The blocks on the chairs are not quilted…just nine blocks sewn together.  I studied the chair to see how the cover was attached, and I could see that they started in the back. ( I am NOT an upholsterer, but would love to be…I don’t think it’s as easy as it looks when you get to armchairs and things like that!)

Anyway, I started in the back and pulled the fabric to the front, using a staple gun.  I did allow myself enough fabric to double the seam where it’s stapled…I didn’t want the fabric to fray and unravel.

chair2Just pull taut from the back  to the front and staple it down.  It doesn’t look very taut in this picture, because my hands were on the camera, but when you are working, you really need to pull tight, with one hand and staple with the other.

chair1You can do this.

I am loving how this turned out.  I know it won’t last forever, but now that I’ve changed the covers once, I can do it any time.

sinkwindow1Finally, I made another little valance to go over the sink, which is a smaller window.  Same process, fewer blocks.

This was fun stuff.  If you can make a quilt, you can make these valances and chair covers.  It’s just taking the same principles and adjusting to different shapes.

The Back Story of One Quilt in Madison This Weekend

When you work in a quilt shop, you talk to people.  You get to know them, you share stories, you find out their struggles and generally share tips, life hacks, experiences, and sometimes we even talk about quilting and fabric.

Yesterday, a young man walked into the shop.  I’d seen him many times before, he does gorgeous and unusual piecing…technical stuff. He likes to bring them in to show us, and we love to see his work.  Honestly, we love to see everyone’s work, it’s so inspiring.  But his is always a bit different.  One quilt he brought in was completely Harry Potter themed, with books and potions and characters all arranged on a series of shelves, with tiny pieced accents and Harry Potter memorabilia.  Cool stuff.

I turned to greet him, “Hey, haven’t seen you in awhile!”

He shuffled his feet a bit, as uncomfortable early twenty-something young men do, and said, “Well my mom got sick and had a long illness and died.”

At that, all of us working stopped in our tracks and went over to him. We offered our condolences and then he said, “After she was diagnosed, for the next 9 months we worked on a quilt together, and it’s showing in Madison. She died the day before it came back from the quilter.”

At this point I needed a Kleenex.

I asked if he had a picture of the quilt.  It was stunning…gorgeous…meticulous.  It reminded me of a Judy Niemeyer. He said he did all the cutting, pinning and pressing, his mom did the machine sewing. He told us that they matched every single thread, and if something wasn’t absolutely perfect down to the thread, they corrected it.  He said the medallion in the middle had 24 pieces of fabric coming together at the center and he managed to get it down to about 1/8 of an inch thick. He said Best Press is his friend. When they went to square it up it was 100 inches by 100 inches precisely.  They worked on it in the nine months that she was still feeling OK.

I cannot include a picture because it’s in competition in Madison at Quilt Expo this coming weekend Sep 8-10.

As part of the show, he’ll be having his picture taken with the quilt.  He said he’ll be bringing a picture of his mom to hold up so she’s in the shot.

If you will be at Madison Quilt Expo this weekend, you may want to send a little love and encouragement his way.

And, I don’t know, his quilt may or may not take Best of Show or any award at all.

But it sure is a winner.

 

 

 

Keepin’ It Together

So I finally got around to making one of these Sew Together bags.  Have you seen them?

sewbag5sewbag6

Here’s your convenient link to purchase the pattern. Or ask your local quilt store to get it in for you.  It’s from a designer named Sew Demented.  That should give you a hint.

One blogger noted that everyone wants to receive one as a gift….because no one wants to actually make one.

Here’s the thing.  It’s not a difficult bag to make.  It’s extremely functional.  It just takes a little time and patience and the more varieties of fabric the better.

And all the cool kids are making it.

Take a peek at Pinterest.

sewbag7I had never heard of this pattern until I made the sample for our Bernina Software Inspirations class.  Turns out the “software” part was the easiest thing to do. (And the embroidery software is optional…you can quilt or just leave the front of your bag plain).

sewbag1The idea behind this bag, is that you can carry all your sewing supplies in it and keep things organized.  You will see in the pictures that the bag has 3 zipper pouches with pockets in between.  If you have a fear of zippers, you will overcome it completely with this bag. In my humble opinion, the hardest part of any bag project is getting everything cut ahead of time.  And with this bag, you’ll want to use as many different types of fabric as possible.  The fun part is how scrappy and colorful and interesting each one can be.

Grab a fabric line you love and get a bunch of fatquarters from that line.  The brighter the better, and a fun binding doesn’t hurt either.

At this point, I highly recommend using this tutorial to assist in your assembly.  Read the directions in the pattern, then read this tutorial.  They are very helpful.

sewbag2The pattern calls for you to lay your fabrics in order and you install the zippers assembly-line style.

sewbag4After the zippers, you attach the sides, then the exterior of the bag is attached and binding added all the way around, including the zipper which holds the bag closed.  It’s pretty ingenious. Between the instructions and the tutorial, you should have no problems.

I started at 9:30 in the morning, and stopped to shop, get lunch, talk to my son after school, eat dinner….and I finished by 7 pm.  The next one would go even faster because I now understand the construction, and wouldn’t have to spend as much time reading.

So go ahead! Step out of your quilting comfort zone and try one of these fun bags.

 

You Can Take the Girl Out of the Farm…

I didn’t grow up on a farm.

I grew up on the south side of Chicago.  Went to high school in the Marquette Park area, spent countless hours on the CTA as a kid. I rode the bus to go to the library, the movies, to meet friends and to visit relatives. I knew every stop on the 62 line, from my house through Bridgeport and Chinatown and into the city.  I knew when I could catch an express bus and when it might be just as fast to take the local.  After that, I went to college across the street from the Water Tower downtown.  And then I got a job at the Sears Tower, where I worked for years til the corporation moved to the suburbs.

I know the city.  I am a product of the city.

But.

My grandparents on my Dad’s side had a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin.

We traveled there a couple times a year and almost always during haying season, because my Dad (and other uncles) helped them to bring in the hay and get it into the loft.  For those of you who don’t know, August is usually the best time for that sort of thing.  Hot, dry, with long days. Fill up the hayloft with bales so the cows have enough to eat all winter.

Me, I could not wait. Could. Not. Wait.  To wake up early with Grandma and Grandpa, around 5 – 6 am to milk the cows. I would wear a little head scarf (like Grandma) and follow them around the barn, play with animals and taste fresh milk.  And by fresh I mean straight from the cow before it goes into the strainer while it’s still the temperature of the cow.

I spent hours in the milkhouse afterward having conversations with Grandma while she cleaned all the equipment. I watched her hands, I studied the underground “cool pool” where they kept the milk cans up to their necks in cold water til the milk man came to pick them up. I fed and petted cows, guided them into the pasture, shoveled poop, chased kittens and chickens, and sat down to true, hearty meals.

farm1farm2I was a farmgirl.

To this day, I live as far west from the city as possible, on the edge of the suburbs, where the land becomes fields and the fields become grain and the horizons are long and rolling.

I drive past farms every day. I shop at their stands, I take cooking classes there, and in these long, last, few hot days of summer, I miss the work of the land and the animals.

But I remember the farmhouse kitchen, where my mom and aunt always had a hearty breakfast waiting after milking time. I remember the canning and the baking and the processing of fruits and vegetables. It was a tiny room, so well-organized, and was the absolute heart of the house.

Yesterday, I made a blueberry croustade.

I have been tweaking the recipe for awhile.  For a long time I fiddled with making my own pie crust every time.  But I soon grew tired — and frustrated — by that, and these days I mostly settle for Pillsbury which gets me 80% of the way there in .0001% of the time.

Here’s to farms and haying and long summer days. Here’s to fresh baked pies cooling on the counter top. Here’s to whip cream made from actual cream. Here’s to homemade goodness and the people in our lives who make it good.

Blueberry Croustade (Pie)

–2 pints (large) or 4 cups  blueberries

–1/2 cup sugar

–3 T corn starch

–2 tspns lemon juice

–1 T fresh ginger

–1 package Pillsbury pie dough.  You need 2 rounds.

Be sure to use enough corn starch…3 teaspoons is too little.  Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Line the dish with your pie dough.  I cut up the second round to use it to curl up over the top. One pie round is not enough. You need both.

Combine the rest of the ingredients.  I use a cheese grater to shred the fresh ginger. I would not recommend substituting powder. At all. Use the actual ginger, peel and grate.

Bake for about 30 minutes but keep an eye on it.

The whole prep takes a total of about 5 minutes. Seriously, maybe 10 if you include rinsing the blueberries.

Whipped cream is a must, ice cream optional.

Have a great end of summer season.

blueberry1blueberry2

 

 

 

Splendid Sampler — Half Way Home

Splendid SamplerAre there any Splendid Sampler participants still out there?

I know there are.  We were in the neighborhood of 20,000 strong when we started last February.  I know many of you are up to date and still participating…and many, many more of you, like me, are hanging on…barely.

We knew when we started that this would be a long and unpredictable journey. A yearlong commitment to any project is risky, and in this one, we really had no idea what blocks would be thrown our way.

My special thanks to all the designers who have donated their time and effort to these wonderful blocks.  While I have deep respect for all of you, I may not sew out a few of your blocks.  Please don’t be offended.  Sometimes the stress of learning a new technique, combined with time constraints, just has me putting off a few blocks.  Also, in fairness, If I had the same taste as all 75 or 80 designers, I wouldn’t have much of my own. So, every now and then, a block just isn’t my thing.  That’s OK.  I still appreciate the work, and I probably would take the time to do them under different circumstances.

But, hey, it’s my quilt, and at the end of the day, I reserve the right to be a little choosy.  That said, I have ventured into many an area I never thought I’d enjoy–like hand embroidery.  Believe me, I still fall back on machine embroidery when I fall behind…or when I don’t really want to do any applique.  Then I just digitize the whole block.

Splendid Sampler

But a few of them I’ve done by hand, and while time-consuming, they have that unmistakable “slow stitched” look.

Splendid SamplerNo matter how you look at it, I am still proud that at the end of this year or the beginning of the next, I will have an amazing, interesting, unique and lovely quilt all pieced and ready to be assembled.  It will be both a tribute to fellow quilters and a learning process on my part. In this picture, I left the blocks in their cellophane sleeves so they don’t begin to fray from too much handling.

Splendid SamplerNow back to the business of filling in some of the blocks I missed along the way.

Splendid SamplerIf you are inclined to join, feel free to hop on board.  You can find the block patterns and all you need to know right here. 

The Splendid Sampler Facebook page is also a great place for inspiration and community–see everyone else’s projects!

New blocks come out every Sunday and Thursday, and bonus blocks are plentiful.  The patterns will be available for free for a year and then they will all be assembled in a book. (You know we’ll all want the book!)

Keep going Splendid Sampler lovers…we’ve rounded the corner!

 

The View from 10,000 Feet

twojackI went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain.
There’s more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line.
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

–Indigo Girls

Sometimes you need a little perspective.  Recently, my family and I traveled to the Canadian Rockies to see the mountains and the wildlife, and to take some pictures.

In middle age, I had forgotten to take into account the altitude and the toll it would take on our bodies.  So that was a bit of a shock to get used to…harder to breathe and exercise, less stamina.  For people who normally live at 500 ft. sea level, a week at 5000 feet was a bit rough. It’s subtle however.  You don’t really feel anything at first, it kind of sneaks up on you.  And we spent  a lot of time going up and down mountains as well, so we were much higher than 5000 feet at many times.

But the thing that stayed with me the most was the lovely quiet.  Standing at the top of a mountain, I had a moment, and one that will stay with me for a long time.  The trees and the mountains, so majestic, were perfectly natural in their environment.  The wildlife, so real and unfettered in its surroundings, was also natural.  The only thing for as far as I could see, that was not comfortable and completely natural in this environment, were humans.

We are the disturbers.

In order for us to be there, we have to change the environment.  We have to chop the trees and move the mountains for our roads and buildings.  We tear up the earth for ski runs and paved trails.  We carve a way so that more of us can come through and enjoy the scenery.  And the more of us that are in any given place, the further everything gets from its natural state.

A little depressing.

In fairness, Parks Canada does a remarkable job in the National Forests to protect everything.  In fact, they would much rather scare off the humans than disturb a bear doing its bear thing.  I think that’s admirable. I think it’s necessary.  Because it seems to me that we are the ones who can cause the problems. We are the ones that disturb the balance of nature. We are the ones who interfere, who travel with all our RV’s and campers and rental cars.  We are the ones purchasing souvenirs, bringing our lunches into campgrounds, making garbage. A bear on the side of the road can cause a traffic jam for half a mile, with people jumping out of their cars trying to get a picture, creeping right up to the animal with their cars, crowding, crowding, crowding.

Don’t get me wrong. We did the same thing.  Are you kidding?  Of course we stopped to see a bear eating along the roadside.  But we were not part of the crowd that was walking up to a wild animal.

Truly, it was  an amazing trip with a view that we could not imagine, being from the flatlands of the midwest. But it really pointed out to me how uncomfortable and intrusive we humans can be.  It’s good to see that the world holds vast places where we are small and insignificant. And that the wildness and the wilderness do just fine without us.

I’m adding a gallery of some of our pics:

Tiling Your Machine Embroidery

These days, we’re all finding new ways to machine embroider.  From quilting to in-the-hoop, to applique, I’m amazed at the new life coming into this part of the sewing scene.

This past week I spent some time stitching out a beautiful pattern from Embroidery Online.  Here’s a link to the collection, called Modern Expressions Tiling Scene.

tiling2I started with a great palette and moved on from there.  I don’t think I ever would have dreamed of putting some of these colors together without the designer’s keen eye.  The pdf printout shows a nice layout of the design, and while my personal colors were slightly different, they were very true to the original colors.  I also stayed very true to the thread colors of the original design.

The stitch-out was actually pretty light and easy, as nothing about the design is terribly dense.  Even at less-than-top-speed, each block took only about 20 minutes.

tiling1tiling3The pattern instructions called for two layers of tear-away stabilizer, which worked very well.  I had my doubts about how nicely it would press out in the end, but it lays really flat.

The end result is a very modern looking design, great for a wall-hanging or a table runner.  This was waaaaay easier than I thought it would be.  Read the instructions thoroughly, and you’ll have no problems.  At the end, you trim each block 1/4 inch from the final thread color, and it really keeps your block sizes uniform.  When stitching together, just hold a decent quarter inch and you’ll be fine….it’s a forgiving pattern. Press your seams open.

While I still have to quilt and bind it, I think I’ll just quilt in the ditch.  Still, a great weekend project, and I really fell in love with the finished look of this.  Have fun!

tiling scene

Are You a Happy Glamper?

glamping 2You can’t fool me with colorful new fabrics and joyful projects and slick looking retro-styled trailers and chef-inspired meals on Pinterest, cooked over wood-burning fires with tents and campers lit softly with warm beds and bathrooms and lighting.

glamping 4

I have been camping.  And there is nothing “glam” about it.

I pitched tents that required directions and patience to assemble…long before they snapped together in minutes.  I canoed down a muddy stream in a strange state in the pouring rain with a boat partner who had no idea how to steer. The couple behind us had a large black snake slide into their canoe. That’s the definition of horror.

I’ve slept on air mattresses that flatten completely by morning, on earth that slopes and slowly rolls me downhill all night till I’m shoved up against the door.

I’ve cooked real meals over an open fire and inhaled more than my share of campsites (especially in a state preserve where everyone is close to the next campsite and all are burning God-knows-what all night long.)

I’ve bathed in lakes and cold community shower stalls, discovered 5 ticks on one foot, and been terrified of the fierce growling in the middle of the night no more than 6 inches from my head on the outside of the tent.

Yes, I’ve been camping. Or do you say glamping.

Love it or not, the trend is hot hot hot.

And sewists are all over it!  Take a peak at this link to hand embroidery that everyone is into these days.

hand embroidery

glamping 3Since I’ve been obsessed with in-the-hoop bags, here’s another.

I purchased this design from an Etsy shop called Disorderly Threads.  You can purchase the design here.

It’s a lot of steps for a small design but the instructions are pretty clear. I love how it turned out and made a couple of them.

glamping 1The idea of glamping is 100% fun, and retro and cute.

And if you’re looking for me, I’ll just be enjoying the whole trend vicariously from under the covers in my cozy, warm, dry bed.

Kid in a Candy Shop

Growing up, we always had a little shop, a shop filled with gag gifts, toys, records (The one near my house always carried the top 30 hits of the week on 45.)  And candy.  Lots and lots of candy.

Of course.

On this rainy summer afternoon, after a nice brunch, my 13 year old and I stopped at the town candy shop called Rocket Fizz, a place we’d never been before.

rocket fizzWhat a hoot is this place.  And what a throwback to my childhood…at least somewhat.

The places I hung out were often small and dingy.  Parents were almost never to be found.

Here, though, we saw crowds of teens moving in and out…boyfriends and girlfriends, parents and kids, you name it.  And the kids working there, were forever re-stocking candy and bottles.

rocket fizz3It’s about as crazy full of candy as any place I’d ever seen.  But not just your average candy.  It’s full of stuff we saw growing up.  Nesco wafers and Clark bars and Pixie Stix, not to mention all the usual suspects, like Mike and Ike, and Nerds.

rocket fizz2rocket fizz5Beyond all the mounds and mounds of candy, they had the most bizarre collection of soda.  I can’t remember all the flavors, but I do recall seeing a bottle with Osama bin Laden’s picture and a reference to Seal Team 6. Also one with Stalin on the label…something about The REAL Red Soda.

rocket fizz6But candy and soda were not the only points of interest.  Here were the gag toys I remember…some of them updated, some of them exactly the same.  Chattering teeth, finger puppets, Grow Your Own Therapist…quite a collection.

rocket fizz7As if all this isn’t enough, I asked the gal at the counter what these little Asian packages of Kit Kats were.

kitkatjapanSold in Japan, they are flavored:  Raspberry, Green Tea and Sweet Potato.  She told me the sweet potato flavor supposedly tastes great heated in the microwave.

Hmmm…think I’ll stick with the old-fashioned American chocolate version, thanks.

We left with a bag full of Ring Pops, a Toblerone, and bottle of Virgil’s Root Beer (for me).

I love retail.

And I love being reminded that shopping should be fun.  We all need a reason to come out of the house to shop, a reminder that everything doesn’t have to be a big box store with giant aisles.

Here’s to the little shops, the fun ones, with color and humor and inspiration and reasons for me to return. Here’s to the places where no one working or shopping looks weary or bored or defeated, where delight and surprise is around every turn, in every bin, where the unusual can still be found and the silly still has a purpose. Where you can spend only a few bucks and walk away feeling like you found a treasure.

Rocket Fizz, we’ll be back.

 

Little Ruby, Little Bags

minibags1cropSo I’ve been having fun with Little Ruby fabric from Bonnie and Camille.

At first I made some larger bags from a layer cake.  Then I made a bunch of tiny little coin purse sized bags from a charm pack.

All of this is done with machine embroidery using software.

smallbag1smallbag2I took the simple design of the larger bag and reduced the sides and bottom, keeping the zipper positioning lines the same.  Then I switched to a larger hoop and made three copies of the bag.

smallbagmulti

In the hoopI hooped sticky-back tearaway stabilizer, stitched out the zipper placement lines for all three.  Then, I placed the zippers and stitched out the line at the top of the zipper first for all three bags, then the bottom part of the zipper for all three.  Those fabrics top and bottom are just folded charm squares, with a small piece of batting in between.

After stitching the first batch, I went back to my software and moved them all a little farther apart from one another, so they don’t overlap.  I also added thread color changes between each step, just so the machine would stop stitching for me to place the fabric.

Finally, I put a tiny charm square quilt sandwich on top to form the back and lining of the bag.

multibagThen an outline stitches around each of the bags. It is set as a triple stitch and goes over the same line three times.

NOTE: DON’T FORGET TO MOVE THE ZIPPER PULL INTO THE CENTER OF THE BAG BEFORE ADDING THE BACKING!

That note is mainly for myself…believe me, if you do it once, you’ll remember not to do it again.  It’s not a terrible fix, but takes a little time and fidgeting.  You have to rip the seam to get the zipper pull through, and then re-sew the outline seam on the machine (not embroidery.)

When I take them out of the hoop, the first thing I do is tear away all the stabilizer from the outside.  Then with a little more care, I tear away the stabilizer from the inside of the bag.  This is actually pretty easy…a little bit of fussing to get it out, but not much.  Because the outline of the bag is a triple stitch, as well as the lines holding in the zipper, the stabilizer tears away very easily.

minibag2The final step is to cut away the excess fabric and zipper, and turn the little goodies inside out.  I give them a quick press and done!

minibagmultiThe final mini bags are about 4 1/4 inches by 3 inches.  My main goal was to use as much of the charm squares as possible without wasting.

If you own software…any kind…I encourage you to try building bags like this.  The digitizing is only rectangle and lines, and the corners are slightly curved.  Your expenses?  A charm pack and some matching zippers.  You likely have some scraps of batting lying around that can be used.

In a day, you can have stacks of lovely little bags to give away or to keep.  They are just about the perfect size for credit cards, ID, business cards, etc.

Here are some peonies for you, just for fun. Because they’re blooming and are gorgeous.

peonies