Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lovely gifts!

It’s funny how packages always seem to arrive exactly when they’re needed most. I got home from work yesterday and found one waiting for me, all bright and cheery inside my mailbox. Inside were the loveliest gifts from my friend and author of An Open Eye.

I found all this inside the tiny envelope:

Gifts from Jane

A beautiful journal that she covered in fabric…double sided too:

Gifts from Jane

…gorgeous yarn, stickers made from photos of her work, a button and the Twilight soundtrack. I was so excited that I forgot to tend to my Mac and Cheese and it got nuked into oblivion. But it was worth it because, well, because how nice are these gifts? I put in the Twilight soundtrack (oh Edward, how I miss you…) and worked on the quilt block for my grandpa. It was such a lovely evening. Thank you again! The gifts were quite unexpected and much appreciated.

"It never rains on a hero's parade."

I have some sad news…my grandpa passed away on Friday. It was not expected and it happened very fast. I know it was better for him to go quickly but I’m sure we all would have liked to see him one last time, as selfish as it is.

I’ve been moping around for the past few days, avoiding talking to people. The funeral will be sometime this week or possibly next week as he will be cremated.

grandpa

This is how I remember him…laughing, telling stories. This was taken at his 50th birthday party. He was an extraordinary man, a larger than life man. A soldier, a firefighter and a paramedic. A tall tale and a hero.

I haven’t touched my sewing machine since I heard the news…I haven’t done anything but read and sleep. Finally, last night, I felt like making something. A quilt block. For him.

grandpa's block

It’s made with scraps because I knew he wouldn’t have wanted me to make a big production out of it…digging through my fabric, obsessing over colors. It was also a way to reflect on the way he lived his life, making the most out of what he had. He raised six children and they never went hungry...one time he even stole a chicken, leaving a case of beer on that person's front porch after payday, his idea of making things right.

I picked out pieces in green, his favorite color (because he was Irish, he’d say). He loved to hunt and fish, loved nature and bird watching. The last interaction we’d had was this past Thanksgiving when I helped him identify a woodpecker he’d never seen before…just before he left my parent’s house for the last time.

I think I'll use this quilt block to start a family quilt, a block for each person I care about. It'll be a fantastic mishmash of colors and styles and feeling...a representation of love in all its forms. The thought is very comforting.

I'd like to get back to my normal life soon (he would have wanted that) but for now I'm not feeling very creative. I miss my grandpa and know that things just won't be the same without him. I wish I had gotten to know him better, I wish I could remember all the stories he told me over the years. I wish I could know all the stories he never told me. I wish I could feel his scruffy beard stubble against my cheek and hear his deep rumbly voice.

I wish for so many things but most of all I wish he knew how much I loved him, how much I'm going to miss him. I don't believe in heaven or hell or afterlife or reincarnation and neither did he. What I do know, and I hope he knew, is that he impacted our lives (so many lives) more than one man should have had the power to do. We were all very lucky to have known him, to have loved him, to have been loved by him. Goodbye seems too final for someone so strong, so alive in my heart. And that gives me comfort in these sad times.

For now, I wish you all well and I'll be back to post about happier things later, possibly even today. The good helps with the bad and I look forward to that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A bit of a mishmash.

So, a few things today. The first is that I've been a little blah lately. I didn't get much sewing done this weekend and what I did I can't show anyone yet, just in case someone is reading my blog. I only sewed two strips onto one bento block and didn't even bother to press the seams. That's how blah I am. I love pressing seams!

Before I forget, maybe you've seen this already but if you haven't and you, like me, can't throw a piece of fabric away unless it's smaller than, say, 3/4" or something, check out this quilt tutorial. It's a fast and easy way to use up even the tiniest scraps of fabric. The piecing method is also useful for log cabins and, well, a lot of other blocks. Also, if you hate cutting fabric, this method is where it's at!

Also, would you like to see a gratuitous picture of me? We haven't been properly introduced yet.

just me

Also, do you want to hear some advice my mom gave me a few years ago? No matter how little you like having your picture taken or how much you hate looking at pictures of yourself, there will come a day when you'll appreciate having photos of yourself when you're young. Young is relative, of course, and it's never too late to start...so maybe today is the day to take a picture of yourself so you can look back at your youth and remember how sweet it was. That's my plan anyway...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Happy rays of happiness.

Oh dear, how did it get to be Friday so soon? I haven’t been ignoring you all…I just haven’t had much time to work on crafty things. But never fear! I have a three day weekend which means I’ll have time to do lots of…well…crafty things. Can you tell I’m not feeling very creative right now?

The longer I go without getting my hands on some fabric or something, the more, well, un-fabulous I feel. Like, I’m still pretty fabulous but I could be even more fabulous. And the lack of fabulousness, even the tiniest amount, is a tragedy.

I suppose I could talk about my week. The ladies and I went wedding dress shopping Tuesday and Thursday. I missed what I heard was an excellent episode of The Office but it was so much fun that I didn’t even care. Laura was quite conservative with the number of dresses she tried on and was also quite efficient. Last night she found, purchased and took home her dress! Knowing what you want and pursuing it in a confident manner is surely a sign of fabulousness!

Wednesday I picked up my best boy friend Robert and we danced the night away. We’re learning how to waltz and it’s quite energizing! Last year I took an introductory class where we “learned” eight dances in eight weeks and I fell in love with waltz, tango, and foxtrot. Robert is a swell dancer and makes the night so much fun.

I'm very close to finishing the belated holiday gift for Laura. In fact, I plan to finish it this very night! But I can’t give it to her until next Saturday so I can’t post pictures until then. Dang. Why finish a project (I finish so few!) if I can’t post about it? I suppose I’ll do some work on the bento…perhaps I can do a lot of work on it and really blow your minds next week!

Ok, that’s all I’ve got for now. Here’s wishing you a sunny weekend filled with bright rays of happiness.

sunny scraps

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Absent friends.

Last night was snowy and cold. This morning is colder still with a temperature of -17° and a wind-chill of -30°. That’s enough to freeze even this Minnesota girl’s blood.

In anticipation of my busy week, I spent last night relaxing at home. I lit candles, I sipped wine, I made cheesy biscuits, I watched old episodes of Roswell (do any of you remember that show?) and I did some hand sewing. What a lovely evening.

a quiet night at home

Tonight I’m going wedding dress shopping with Laura. I’m excited even though wedding dress shopping makes me a little nervous. All that white, all those butt bows, all the expectations and formality and tradition…it’s a bit much for a non-traditional girl like myself. But, on the other hand, I’m obsessed with dresses and any excuse to get fancied up is ok in my book so I’m sure it’ll be more fun than anxiety inducing.

Tomorrow I have dance class and Thursday Ian and I are going to dinner and a movie. If Twilight is still playing in the theaters this weekend and if Karrie has the time, I might ask her to go see it with me. I’m prepared to dislike it but I remain hopeful that it’ll soften this pain I have in my chest…the pain of having to say goodbye.

It seems cruel to have to say goodbye to someone who has become such a huge part of my life, fictional or not. I see these fictional friends every day…they’re with me on my lunch break at work, they’re waiting for me at home to catch up over dinner and they spend every night with me in bed before I sleep. I’ve only known my Twilight friends for less than a month but I already miss them. Can you imagine how I felt after spending an entire year reading all five Three Musketeer books? I felt that loss dearly.

So, here’s to absent friends: real, imagined or otherwise. I miss you all.

wayward friends

Monday, January 12, 2009

Serenity Now.

This weekend was very productive. I nearly finished a belated holiday gift and I cleaned the studio. Actually, my boyfriend was over to help me clean the studio and he did most of the work. I stood around and threw periodic hissy fits about how I didn’t want to be cleaning. I’m actually a terrible person.

I’ll post before and after pictures later this week once I do some finishing touches. Until then, I’ll show you my fabric shelf. This is the fabric I have yet to sort and fold:

fabric before

And this is the stuff I have (obviously) folded:

folded blue

I can’t express how happy I feel when I look at these neat stacks. I feel so much more creative when everything is neat. I really need to remember this feeling so I don’t let my studio get out of control again.

folded pinks and whites

I also have to remember that it’s ok to ask for help. And once I’ve asked for help, it’s ok to let that person help me. And once that person is helping me, I should not throw hissy fits and make that person’s life miserable. See? I’m learning.

folded orange, yellow and green

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Always a bridesmaid...thankfully.

Hey, I forgot to tell you guys…I’m going to be a bridesmaid! My very dear friends Laura and Brad are getting married sometime this summer/fall and we’re already well into the initial stages of planning.

Laura and I have only known each other for two years but we’ve become good friends in that time. Despite being a friendly person in general, I don’t make true friends easily. In case I never mentioned it before, I’m quite the introvert and homebody. This means I need a lot of alone time and it takes a certain type of person to understand my reclusive nature and not be offended when I don’t want to hang out. Only Laura has managed to get me to leave my house on a Sunday which is, to me, the most sacred of all days: Pajama Day.

It’s funny how quickly all my bridesmaid skills came back once Laura asked me to be in her wedding. When my friend Karrie got engaged five years ago, I put a lot of work into wedding research. It was necessary because up until that point, I hadn’t ever really thought about weddings. Since her wedding I haven’t really thought about weddings.

But upon hearing the news of Laura’s engagement, the proper response clicked into my brain without a second thought…the bride must be wished happiness and the groom congratulations. Did you all know that? I know traditions and etiquette like that are no longer useful (nor were they probably ever useful) but I think it’s sort of fun nonetheless.

Now that my bridesmaid programming has been activated, I’m getting excited for the planning. I’m definitely not a wedding sort of person but I like to throw parties and plan events and help my friends do the same. It’s going to be a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

And just in case you were curious, here’s a picture of me after Karrie’s wedding 3.5 years ago.

Ian and me.

That’s my boyfriend Ian! Oh to be 24 again...24 was a good year.

Bento Box Quilt, Part 2

So, where were we? Oh yes…I have four courthouse blocks to finish before I can move on to the next step in my bento box quilt. But, since I have enough completed to show you the next step, I’ll do that now.

Take your courthouse steps blocks:

Courthouse Steps Block

and cut them up like this:

cut!

cut!

It’s scary but I kept from freaking out by measuring twice and cutting once. Once you have all your courthouse blocks cut into four 8” blocks, rearrange them all like this:

Arrange however you like.

Then you’ll sew them together which will give you a proper bento box block.

Normally when you make a bento box, you assemble the 8” blocks individually like in this tutorial that the lovely urban-quilter found.

I decided to sew one large block and cut it up to get my 8” blocks. The reason I did this was to save time.

Imagine you were sewing 4 individual 8” blocks like in the other tutorial. Each of those blocks has four seams. 4 seams x 4 blocks = 16 seams. Now, my courthouse block has only eight seams and once I cut it up, I have the very same four 8” blocks. Since each seam takes the same amount of time to mark, sew and press, long or short, I’ve saved half the time it would have taken me to assemble each 8” block on its own. Also, I saved some cutting time right from the start since the courthouse block takes only 9 pieces of fabric vs. the 20 for the four 8” blocks.

It took a bit of math to determine the size of the initial block so when I cut it up, the resulting blocks would all measure 8”. I do everything I can to save time and these little tricks really come in handy. I’m not a fast quilter so I have to be a smart quilter.

For those who quilt or sew, what’s your favorite time saving trick?

Resolutions...revolutions?

I know it’s a little late to talk about New Year’s resolutions but that’s ok, I don’t mind. In 2008 I came up with a resolution that I then resolved to use every year: live fabulously!

For me, living fabulously isn’t about buying expensive things or going to fancy places or doing things because I think other people will think they’re fabulous. It mostly means that I’ve given myself permission to enjoy life in whatever way appeals to me the most.

orange and yellow fabric

This could be construed as selfishness by some but it’s not really about that. It’s more about realizing that life is short and I owe it to myself to live it the way that makes me the happiest. And I hope you all know by now that being selfish does not make me happy.

It’s tempting to set some fabulous goals for the coming year but I think I’d rather take things as they come. Here’s wishing you your very own version of fabulousness in 2009.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Predator and Prey.

I very much wanted to quilt this week. My blocks for the bento box are coming along well. I’m also working on a gift for a friend. But this…

Vector!

…THIS…

Vector!!

is making it very difficult. I’m cat sitting and this one insists on rolling around on my fabric. When I try to pick him up he either bites me or hooks on to the fabric with his sharp claws. I’m just waiting for him to bunny kick one of my blocks. Can you imagine the carnage?

I’m not a cat owner and, consequently, I’m uncomfortable trimming his claws. Also, he’s resourceful and I’m sure he’d think of something much worse to do to my fabric. So, everything has been put away until they go back home. I’m picking up my boyfriend from the airport in a couple of hours (they are his bundles of joy) which means I won’t get a chance to work on things until after dance class tomorrow evening. I have big plans for the hour or so before bedtime. I just might have enough finished to warrant another progress post.

I'll definitely miss the cuddly, sleepy kitties but it'll be nice when my fabric is once again safe from those who would do it harm.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bento Box Quilt, Part 1

Whew, now that my trip has been blogged, I can focus on more creative endeavors. This is sick…while sitting on the beach, I kept thinking about all the projects I wanted to work on when I got home. What can I say, my hands like to stay busy.

So, as promised, I’ll take you along as I make my yellow and green bento box quilt.

In my opinion, the first step in making a quilt is to get some inspiration. Not the “oh, that’s nice” sort of inspiration but the “I can’t live another second without that!” sort of inspiration. I can’t tell you how many unfinished quilt tops I have at my house because I wasn’t really excited about the idea from the start.

Search through sites that offer free block patterns (my favorite site but warning: music) or take a look through sites like flickr or etsy for ideas. Usually I’ll really hate a particular pattern until I see it done in colors I like…then suddenly it’s awesome!

I don’t ever buy quilt patterns. I know that probably makes me a jerk but I prefer the challenge of figuring them out for myself. If you just want to get started, though, I think a pattern is a good idea. They usually have nice directions and tell you how much of each fabric to buy.

Once you’ve decided on a block or pattern, you’ll need to decide how large you want your quilt to be. Any block can be sized up or down. I want my quilt to be baby or lap sized. If each of my blocks finishes at 15” and I lay them out 3 blocks by 4 blocks, my finished quilt will be 45”x60” which just happens to be the perfect size.

The next step is to decide how many different fabrics you want to use. I decided on four yellows, two greens and white. I already had more than enough fabric in my stash so I didn’t bother figuring out how much of each fabric I’d need. When I do need to figure it out, I use math or some graph paper. It’s hard to explain here but you just need to figure out the size and number of pieces to be cut from each fabric and then figure out how much space those pieces would take up if they were all laid out on a 40”-42” wide piece of fabric…like filling up a Tetris screen. Remember that each piece needs a ¼” seam allowance on all sides.

My recommendation is to buy more fabric than you think you’ll need because having extra fabric is nice. And make sure to buy quality fabric. In the beginning I didn’t think this was important and I didn’t change my mind for a long time. But now that I’m making things for other people, the thought of giving someone a quilt made with crappy fabric makes me cringe! I pay more for the good stuff but it’s easier to sew and it won’t fall apart after a few washings.

Just in case you wanted to know, I never pay more than $7.50 a yard (before shipping). I also think it’s important to pay a quarter of that for a fat quarter. A lot of people will charge up to $2.50 for a FQ but that adds up to $10.00 a yard. No way! I like to shop on etsy.com and find people who are willing to sell 4 different FQ’s for $7.50 or less. I’m not cheap, I just feel a quarter of a yard should be a quarter of the cost.

Moving on, for each of my 12 blocks I need to cut pieces in the following sizes:

Fabric A (center):
1 – 6”x6”
Fabric B:
2 – 3”x6”
2 – 3”x11”
Fabric C:
2 – 3”x11”
2 – 3”x16”

Start with the center piece. Sew two pieces of Fab. B to either side. Use a scant ¼” seam allowance. I also like to press my seams open instead of to one side.

step 1

As you can see, I cut the side pieces a little longer than 6”. This is so I can go back and trim them to the right size after sewing. Sometimes when I do Courthouse Steps blocks (which is the name of this block) my strips come out too short and since I can’t seem to do anything about it, I cut all strips a little longer. Better safe than sorry.

Next, add the other two pieces of Fab B, pressing seams open each time:
step 2

Add Fabric C in the same way until you finish the block. It should measure 16”x16”.

step 3

I need to make a total of 12 of these blocks. 6 will look like the one I just finished. The other 6 will have a white center, a color and then a white border. This plus another step will turn the Courthouse Step block into a Bento Box block.

Click here for the next installment.

The Temple of Doom

Ok, my last post about my trip. I think.

My mom, my aunt and I were up at 6:30 and felt restless. We still had the van for another couple of hours so we stole it and went to find the Mayan ruins we’d heard were on the island. While the other ladies slept, we drove through the tiny city of El Cedral. The town was sleepy too.
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

We drove in circles, coming to dead end after dead end. We were surprised by these cows who didn’t seem surprised by us:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

We passed tiny houses:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

and fancy houses:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

and finally found someone who was willing to talk to us. We asked about the Mayan ruins and they pointed across the center of the town:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

We got out of the van and walked through the large open huts (all decorated for a christmas celebration)
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

and then we saw it:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

the tiniest Mayan ruin in existence! It was probably only 10’ high. We weren't even allowed inside. Next to it was this fantastically orange church:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

We drove back to the hotel and had a quick breakfast with the rest of the ladies. Then we piled back in the van to go horseback riding:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

I didn’t join them. I was only there because my grandma asked me to take pictures for her. Once they left, I headed down to the beach and waited for their return:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

I still can’t believe how beautiful this crazy world of ours can be.

So that’s it. I might remember some more stories in a bit but for now, these are the most memorable moments.

Wait, one more memorable moment…the first breath of fresh, cold, Minnesota air. It was like heaven on earth. I was so happy to be back in the snowy north, home at last. The sunset that night was even better than the first sunset I saw in Mexico, when the sun sank into the sea, lighting the clouds on fire.

"a prettyish kind of a little wilderness"

Another day we rented a van and drove around the island. The southeast side is covered in a prickly sort of wilderness:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

and the water is angry and magestic:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

The beaches are more stone than sand:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

and the wind is constant:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

My aunt drove us to Coconuts, a funny little bar/restaurant on top of the cliffs.
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

We walked and found this at the top…a huge hut covered in keepsakes from all its visitors:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

We ate chicken tacos, drank Cokes out of glass bottles with a long straws and watched this little guy run around like crazy:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

and this guy take a nap:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

and this guy talk to us in Spanish and English:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

We stopped at some small stores on the roadside:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

There were some interesting things but I didn’t end up buying anything.
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

We took the road back through San Miguel and dropped off two members of our group so they could buy something they had seen the last time we were in town. We drove around in circles while we waited for them to finish up, laughing each time my aunt slammed on the brakes when she thought someone was going to drive through a stop sign. The person at the stop sign always looked annoyed because by their standards, we were the bad drivers.

Up next, our last adventure.

In the big city.

Alright, let’s see. We managed to leave the hotel a few times and I’m happy we did. We drove through San Miguel on christmas eve with a steak and lobster restaurant as our final destination.

The first thing to note is that people in the city drive fast. They pull up to stop signs fast, they drive off from stop signs fast, they weave in and out of traffic and pedestrians do NOT have the right of way. I have no idea how Mexico’s traffic laws differ from ours but surely, we’re not allowed to carry a ladder on a motorcycle, right?
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

Everything was so bright and vibrant:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

and a little run down:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

yet oddly new:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

and sort of hostile:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008

but so charmingly colorful:
From Cozumel, Mexico 2008


I truthfully did not enjoy a lot of our time spent in the city. The chorus of “Hey Lady! Great prices, just for you!” got to me in exactly the way I thought it would. People in the distance smiled and laughed, joked around and told stories. People, when they saw us, tried to sell us stuff.

We did find our restaurant and it was fun, if not especially delicious. I’m not a steak and lobster sort of girl, literally or figuratively. Making the meal much better was a trio of singers that came around and serenaded us while we sipped our margaritas and ate the best grilled bread I’ve ever tasted.

Up next, our drive around the island.