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.

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.

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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.

Lilacs and Chaos

When the chaos in my mind and in my sewing room reaches the breaking point, it helps for me to get out and smell the lilacs.

lilacs1

This is my favorite time of the year.  The promise of warm weather, the anticipation of wonderful, summery things.  Those last few days before the kids are out of school, when expectation runs way ahead of itself.  Lemonade and carnivals and rides on golf carts.

Green leafy things and colorful blooming things, and thunderstorms and sprinklers and fresh sweet corn and tomatoes.  Farmers markets, and sandals, swimming pools and vacation adventures.  Road trips and plane trips and hikes in the woods.  Barefoot feet and long conversations on patios, decks and kitchen tables with air conditioners humming.

Trashy novels with no deep meaning, except maybe a lovely or surprisingly sweet ending.  Grilled chicken and kabobs and sun on my painted toes.  Lawn mowers and bicycles and screen doors.  Red, white and blue, or basically white with any color.

Big juicy watermelons and fruit salads for breakfast with a warm croissant. Sunsets and bug spray, sparklers and beach towels.  Water slides, hoses, and ice cream trucks.

Parades, tears, laughter, dirt.

Lilacs open the door to it all.

Sewing room chaosMy sewing room is in chaos.  I have at least 3-4 projects running simultaneously.

But all is well and all will be well.

The lilacs are in bloom.

lilacs2

Fun With Chalk Cloth

Chalk ClothI’ve been meaning to work with chalk cloth again for awhile now.  I had made a table runner at work with “Chips”, “Dip” and other appetizers scrawled on it in the chalk marker. It turned out great and has inspired many others to try their hand with chalk cloth.

I made this one to sit on our kitchen island. With a busy household, we all come home at different times.  This way, anyone can make the grocery list right on this cloth and text me a picture, or I can leave another non-urgent message…(Hint: Clean your room!)  It also serves as a decorative table runner.  I could easily add a dowel across the top and hang it on a door so no one can miss it.

Chalk cloth markerI added a little holder for the marker so it doesn’t disappear as so many things do in our house.  The thing to remember about chalk cloth if you’re thinking about using it, is that you do need the special marker that washes off with a damp paper towel.  If you choose not to use the marker, you can certainly use regular chalk, but that involves a lot more chalk dust…and you must first prime the cloth by covering it entirely in chalk.  Use the side of a piece of chalk and run it from end to end.  Once all that is erased, your chalk cloth will then be ready for use with chalk and an eraser.  In the kitchen, I prefer the markers, which you can get in multi colors if you are so inclined.

chalkclothlaceI had a lot of lace from my mom’s stash, and so I added a little border.  Also, as you can see, I added a binding.  I do have a backing, but no batting in the middle. I added the binding by sewing it first to the back side, and then bringing it around the front and using a simple straight stitch along the front.  Fast, simple, easy!

Chalk cloth embroideryI used the Chalk Cloth florals embroidery designs from OESD.

They stitched out beautifully, although were a little denser than I expected.

Chalk cloth embroidery

This was a simple and inexpensive project that functions well in our house.  Don’t be afraid to try some new things with chalk cloth. Just a few other ideas:

  • Use as a wall hanging
  • Frame like a picture with a saying or just a cute embroidery design
  • Fun placemats for kids (and give them each their own marker)
  • Hostess gifts
  • Wedding shower gifts (Wouldn’t it be great to embroider Mr. and Mrs So and So on it as a table runner when they entertain?)
  • Little gift bags made of chalk cloth personalized with someone’s name

The possibilities are endless…and if you run out of ideas, don’t forget to head to Pinterest to be overwhelmed with them.  Have fun with this versatile and quirky product.

Paducah in Springtime

quiltweek1

For the first time ever, I headed out to Paducah for AQS QuiltWeek.  It’s almost impossible to get a hotel there during that time. But a local expert who teaches every year had a conflicting teaching engagement and offered her room to me and a fellow quilter, with the request that we book it again for her next year….a great chance to see the show!

This opportunity came up fairly quickly, so I didn’t book any classes.  The two of us were free to roam around the town in addition to the convention center and National Quilt Museum. Paducah is an industrial town, with a lot of old world charm and history…cobblestone streets, cozy shops and restaurants, and a beautiful riverfront area with a flood wall painted in murals that tell the town’s history.

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qultweek3

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The convention itself is enormous, with vendors spread out on two floors and a separate pavillion.  This made it a bit confusing to find everything, and certainly a lot to walk through.

Along the way, we found local art quilter Emily Parson, with her quilt on display in the gallery.

quiltweek5Is that teal color stunning or what?  The quilt pattern – Windy – is available now at Emily’s etsy shop.  Check out her website or contact her at info@emilyquilts.com for more teaching information.

No trip to Paducah is complete without a stop at Hancock’s of Paducah.

quiltweek7I tried to take a panoramic shot of the store, so you could kind of see how enormous it is, but I don’t think it captures the whole thing. It’s an overwhelming adventure in itself and women were going by with cartloads full of bolts.

Finally, I highly recommend a stop at Kirchoff’s Bakery downtown.  What a place to have a special treat–old fashioned bakery goods with artisan breads, muffins, and cookies.  (Of course, you don’t want to miss the boy scout strawberry shortcake just outside at the convention center either!)  Whatever else happens, you won’t starve in Paducah during QuiltWeek.

quiltweek2

 

Needle Punch Felting with Machine Embroidery

needle punch felting 2
I’ve been playing with wool lately, and was reminded by the upcoming Bernina Inspirations class, that I can do needle punch using my machine embroidery.

For anyone who is a Bernina software user, Designer Plus allows you to do needle punch.  All you need is the needle punch accessory (which you can use with or without embroidery).

needle punch toolWhen you set up your machine for needle punch, you need to do a few things:

  • Inset the needle punch needles in your needle holder in place of your regular needle.
  • Change your stitch plate (there’s a special one for needle punch) and be sure to tell your machine that you made the change.
  • Put on the correct needle punch foot.  This not only helps to glide over roving and other wool or fabrics, but it also keep your fingers away from those needles.  You’ll often want to hold the roving in place to keep your design intact.
  • Completely remove your hook system, not just the bobbin.  Take everything out, and close the bobbin door.
  • Turn off your top and bottom thread sensors.

needle punch feltingIn the software, you literally just go to the Digitize toolbox, click on the PunchWork icon and digitize a shape.  Any shape.  And the software will generate one thread color to outline the shape, and then fill it with needle punch.  It’s amazingly easy.

I digitized the shape of this tree, measured it out and laid out the roving within the parameters of the shape.

And then I watched the machine do all the needle punch work.  Pretty impressive.

However, I did follow along with my fingers positioning and re-positioning the roving to be sure it stayed where I wanted it to be while the needle was punching.

Next, I layered an embroidery design on top.  Since I had gone with a tree shape, I was reminded of the tree of life embroidery design in the Sepia Petals collection from OESD. I ended up using the tree background file.

The result was interesting both visually and texturally.

Still exploring my love of wool.  It’s freeing and almost unpredictable as an art form or craft.  I think that’s why I enjoy it so much.

If you are interested in learning more about Bernina Embroidery Software or needle punch, think about attending your May Software Inspirations at your local Bernina dealer.

You just never know what you’ll be inspired to create!

needle punch felting 3

My Love Affair (with wool!)

wool trees 5I’m not really used to working with wool.  It really doesn’t behave like cotton.  Yet, its rich textures have just been a delight.  I love the way thread sinks into it.  I love the way thread can sit on top of wool, as well.

It inspires me.

I’m also a fool for anything hand-dyed and much wool is currently hand-dyed. (And not cheap, I might add.)

wool trees1This project really has been one of texture.  I experimented with a number of different Aurifil threads, but kept falling back on a nice 30 weight in different shades of neutrals.  It has just enough substance to show up, but is not so thick that it starts to cause problems in the machine.

wool trees 2I wanted this to feel a lot like a walk in the woods near the house. Twisty, gnarly branches — barren, waiting for spring.

Here’s a peak at the back side of this project, for those of you who appreciate a look behind the scenes.  I think it’s every bit as interesting as the front, maybe even more so.

wool trees backI have done some projects with wool and roving before. This floral below was one of my favorites. Something about wool is much more free-form for me than rigid piecing in cotton.

You can read more about the roving project here.

If you find you are interested in experimenting in wool, there are plenty of places to start.

Wooly Lady has joyful patterns and plenty of hand-dyed wool.

Sue Spargo also has a lot of hand-dyed fabric and beautiful threads for hand embroidery.

Need to get the creative fires burning again? I recommend a quiet little rendezvous with a few different shades of wool…ooh la la.

Final piece.

The Splendid Sampler — An Update

splendid_button_4

Since this project goes on for 100 blocks, I thought I would give an update every 10 blocks or so.

For now at least, I am really looking forward to every block, searching for the time to make it before the next block rolls out.  (New blocks come out every Sunday and Thursday). Even more than that, I am enjoying seeing all the other work that others are creating, on the Splendid Sampler Facebook page.

Here is a look at my blocks so far. This grouping includes one of the bonus blocks which I did before the group even started.

IMG_0397 They include everything from hand embroidery to digitizing and machine embroidery, as well as needle-turned applique and raw edge applique.  I have not done any paper piecing, though some of the blocks have made that available.  I am holding out for a slightly more complicated block…one that would be more difficult to piece traditionally than to paper piece.  Maybe a little flower or something like that.  With 90 or so blocks to go, I’m sure something will come along!

Luckily, I’m still finding time to do some of my own work as well, which I will share in an upcoming post. I’m really into neutrals these days, with a pop of color, so I see a theme emerging. A peak at my next project.

wool

 

Vintage and Ribbons and Lace…Oh My!

I seem to be the curator of all the textiles in our family (and also the antique photos and other historical family memorabilia.  Please don’t ask me why I have Grandpa’s tax files from 1968.  I truly don’t know.  Furthermore, I don’t know why I keep them.)

This blog is not about my mother-in-law who in her own right was a spectacular quilter and craftsperson/artist. I do have some of her quilts and have already informed my 13-year-old son that if he ever decides to get married, if his bride-to-be does not lovingly cherish family quilts and heirlooms, then she’s simply not the girl for him.  No pressure.  My first-ever blog post was about my mother-in-law.

The cedar chest in our bedroom holds treasures from the beautiful, meticulous and patient artist-women who came before me — the women who taught me to use my hands to make things.

samplingI literally have hefty-size bags full of handmade doilies, table runners and dresser runners.  Grandma was the expert, but my mom made them as well

A friend of mine referred to it as tatting.  I don’t think it’s exactly the same, as my family never ever referred to tatting…they worked exclusively with a teensy crochet hook for hours, days, months, years.  I believe tatting sometimes requires something called a shuttle.  A word of caution:  when you google tatting, you can expect to learn about the tattoo process. Oops.  Try lace tatting instead.

Anyway, the most impressive piece I own — to me,at least — is the tablecloth handmade by my grandmother.

tablecloth wholeIt fits the standard kitchen table.  But that’s not the most endearing part.  It comes complete with a few gravy stains I can’t seem to remove.  But that’s not my favorite part either.  My favorite part is that at one point she apparently ran out of one thread color and finished it in another.  Mom told me that Grandma finished the last bit of it in white, which you can clearly see in some of the photos.

I love this.

Upon closer examination, I think she started in white.  And then changed her mind about the color, just judging by the way it is assembled. She switched to a taupe — apparently she had a lot more of that thread. Or maybe she really did run out at the very end.  If you are a craftsperson, you know this feeling. For heaven’s sake, I’m almost done, who cares, this is fine.

tablecloth detail2I’m so glad this happened, because I’m not sure I would have believed that a human being actually created this.  It is meticulously stitched in some of the tiniest little crochet stitches I have ever seen.  And I am trained enough to recognize crochet stitches.  Of course, I saw Grandma working on things like this, but when you’re a teen, it hardly makes it onto your radar.

grandmas tablecloth detailThese days, I’m awestruck by its beauty.

My mom made beautiful works of art in yarn. She was a master knitter, at least until she had a stroke 15 years ago. While I love the yarn, I have no space for all that, so my sister will have to pick through it.

I, however, poured over her sewing notions.

In the last few years, she made little homey decorations for the kitchen.

mom's decsThe trim says charming things like “You are the apple of God’s eye,” and “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

moms decs 2ribbons and laceI’m not ready to let any of this go.  The women who came before us had real lives of creation, sharing, loving and giving. We honor them by appreciating their handiwork. All handmade. All the time.

grandmas crochetgrandmas doily1