Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nords! I thought it was Friday!

Well, that’s disappointing. If it had been Friday, I would have been well on my way to a three day weekend and a showing of Twilight at the $3 theater. (Hey Allison, I just might need that $3 after all!)

The real Friday will be fun. It’s been a while since I had a night out with my friend Karrie. She’s the one who's responsible for my Twilight obsession and it’ll be her third time seeing the movie. Oh the perfect perfection of Edward…

Anyway…let’s talk about something else. The lovely Regina (a fellow sewing and Twilight enthusiast…see? there’s just no escaping the obsession) found my blog and asked me to share some of my sweet quilting tips.

First, I always use a rotary cutter, a self-healing mat and a clear plastic quilting ruler. They are absolute magic!

Until two weeks ago I was using a 6”x24” ruler. It was ok but sometimes I’d want to cut a strip of fabric, say, 10” and then I’d have to turn the ruler sideways and only cut 6” at a time. Then I bought this:

magic ruler!

A 15” square ruler! It’s the most wonderful thing in my quilting arsenal. You can square up blocks accurately in seconds, it’s weighty so it doesn’t shift when making long cuts and it has black and yellow markings so it shows up on all colors of fabric. I can’t believe I went so long without this. I got it on “50% off all cutting tools” day at JoAnn Fabrics.

*edit* I don't do this next step anymore but if you're new to 1/4" seams, you might want to give it a try. *edit* I also mark all sewing lines with a tracing wheel (I used to use the tracing paper too but it was annoying to have to buy more all the time) and I use a lot of pins, the long quilting kind. They’re expensive (in my world, $5 for pins is expensive) but they’re worth it when you can get them on sale.

When I first started sewing I bought a White sewing machine for about $99. It weighed about 20 lbs and was deafeningly loud. It was raw power! Then a year ago when I started to get serious about sewing, I bought a Singer at the local quilt shop. It’s whisper quiet and can do some fancy stitches. I like it now but it took some getting used to in the beginning.

I piece everything with a 1/4” piecing foot or, if it’s already set up, my walking foot. They’re both the same to me. I use a darning foot for free motion quilting (I can lower the feed dogs on the new machine) and the walking foot for straight quilting.

I always use cotton thread, cotton fabric and Warm and White cotton batting. I always chain piece and I iron all seams open.

When I finally get off my butt and work on the bento box again, I’ll take some pictures of what I mean by all this. But that could be a while so I suggest you check out some of the blogs on my sidebar and see how all those talented ladies do things. There are some really great quilting tutorials out there.

Determined AND terrific.

Everyone seems to be doing something really cool these days. Like, designing quilt patterns or writing books or admiring things made from their own fabric designs.

I’d love to be doing any one of those things yet I can't because I feel bogged down by the weight of my unfinished projects. Projects I’m so unenthusiastic about that I don’t even want to share them here.

I’ve always been the sort of person who gets more creative while avoiding a boring project. I feel so creative that I just have to start a new project, leaving the old one to lurk in the corner, staring maliciously at me, making me feel guilty. But then those new projects go unfinished and then they’re the ones I avoid while starting new projects. A vicious cycle.

While I enjoy the random bursts of creativity, I know I’d be happier if I were the sort of person who didn’t procrastinate. For the past few months, I’ve been trying to be the sort of person who finishes up those boring projects so they’re out of her life. I’ve been trying to be the person who, when possible, takes those boring half-finished projects and turns them into something she’s excited about.

My unofficial goal for the year is to finish a quilt a month. So far, I’ve finished two (one I haven’t shown here because I haven’t given it to its recipient yet). These were new quilts…start to finish in one month each but there are also a lot of previously started quilts on the to-do list for the year.

I’m never going to be the sort of person who can resist trying out a new idea when inspiration strikes (remember the bento box I was so whipped up about?) And that’s ok because I’m also going to be the sort of person who works hard to finish up old projects, even if they aren’t as exciting as new ones.

I’m going to be more like Dwight:

Be like Dwight!

First on my list is a quilt I started way back in October of 2006. It was my first (and only) block-of-the-month project. I wasn't very good at keeping up with the group but I think it's because I lost interest in piecing traditional blocks about halfway through the year.

August Block

I think I can actually finish this quilt this weekend but I don’t want to jinx myself. I got a good start last night during LOST and I can only imagine what I can accomplish when I'm not only sewing during commercials. Instead, I'll pop in a movie I've seen a dozen times and get to work. Good times!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Follow the lines.

Hey everyone...just a quick note about the free motion flowers from the other day. What’s really going on is this:

finished!

I found this blue fabric and I just had to use the white flowers as a guide for my quilting. It was a lot of fun and it turned out to be an easy way to make sure I covered the entire thing evenly.

This is the only quilt I’ve made using this technique but I’m definitely going to use it again in the future. I like the idea of whole cloth quilts (like my blue and pink one) but I'd also like to try it out with a pieced quilt. Next time I find a backing fabric with a neat design, I'd like to try quilting the whole thing wrong side up and see what happens. I like the idea of designs popping up unexpectedly on the front of the quilt while the designs on the back are highlighted.

Here are some other quilts I like that use this same technique. Hmmm...it appears that I really like the look of hand quilting. Too bad I'll probably never get around to trying it myself.

It looks like it’s going to be diamonds then…

Fact: I don’t like piecing quilts with difficult shapes like diamonds, curves or triangles.

Fact: I’ve never tried piecing diamonds or curves because the triangles were bad enough.

Fact: I’m annoyed that batiks cost so much and are difficult to shop for online.

Fact: I’m annoyed at how thin some batiks feel compared to quilting fabric (even though they cost more than quilting fabric).

Fact: Bears eat beets. Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.

Fact: I’m planning a diamond quilt (similar to these quilts) for my aunt using batiks in varying shades of blue to give the effect of water.

Fact: I’m out of my mind.

Question: Where do you get your blue/teal batiks that don’t have designs on them?

Question: Can you think of any quilt pattern that, when assembled, looks like water and is not made out of diamonds or curves?

Question: Don’t you wish it was Thursday so you could watch The Office?

That is all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Free motion quilting, mistakes and all.

Last week my friend Kit asked me to show off some of my free motion quilting and I hate to disappoint. First, I'd like to show off the two mistakes I make most often.

Large stitches:

free motion quilting

This is what happens when I move the quilt too quickly while running the machine too slowly. This happens all the time because it feels weird to run the machine so fast…it goes against my sewing instincts. But, it’s necessary and I’m getting better at it, I think.

The opposite problem happens when the quilt is too heavy or gets stuck on a corner of the table or gets bunched up against the side of the machine so that I can't move it very easily...I get stitches that are too small. I need to remember to slow the machine when this happens.

Skips or points:

free motion quilting

Skips happen for a couple of reasons:
-I stop quilting to readjust my hands and I can’t remember what direction I was quilting and I end up with a curve that isn’t very smooth or worse, a point instead of a curve.
-I stop quilting to readjust my hands and the quilt pulls to one side before the needle is down.

Since I haven’t found a good way to avoid this problem every time and since I have to readjust my hands quite often, I try to stop quilting on a light colored fabric if I’m using a light colored thread. That way this mistake isn’t quite as visible.

Here's an example of better quilting…smooth lines and mostly even stitches.

blue flower quilt

So, as you can see, more practice is definitely necessary. I'd like to make a doll quilt or table runner to practice on something small and easy to maneuver. I'll show you how it turns out, mistakes and all.

Sucess!

I finished five blocks for the Bushfire Quilt project:

stars

I hope they'll work well with other people's blocks.

I'm also ready to head to the post office today so it looks like I'll actually accomplish something I said I would. Whew!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bushfire Quilts

I'm not one for joining things like sewing groups or swaps which is good because I'm also not very reliable when it comes to making something and then sending it out on time. Actually, I only assume this is true since I'm not good at meeting my own deadlines. I might be willing to try a swap someday but it would probably have to be something very small at first.

Anyway, that said, I'm actually going to try to try to make something that will be sent to someone else, and for a good cause which should help motivate me. I'd like to make some quilt blocks for the Bushfire Quilt Project.

Tia Curtis and many other kindhearted people are taking these blocks and turning them into quilts for the people of Victoria, Australia who have been affected by the terrible brush fires.

Bushfire Quilt Project

I thought about joining in the efforts for a few days but then forgot about it as I often do when things don’t directly affect me. (I'm not always a jerk...just sometimes.)

But, anyway, the lovely Jenn of Quiddity Quilts reminded me that this would be a great way to use up my triangles AND help people.

Do you remember the part in Gone with the Wind where Rhett Butler runs off to join the war effort after the war is mostly lost? That's how I feel most of the time when it comes to joining things. I try to avoid it as long as possible and then succumb to the pressure eventually, especially with books (Harry Potter and Twilight for example).

But I want to help and I like to quilt and I have all those triangles and it's not too late (deadline is the end of March) so I'm going to make a couple of blocks this weekend and send them out on Monday afternoon. The post office is the hardest part of the plan, the step at which most of my projects fail. I have to go there to mail something else, though, so chances are good I'll actually succeed this time.

How do you guys feel about joining in on things like this? Have you ever done it before? Are you one of the many people who've joined the Bushfire Project?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fabric storage

Everyone's been talking about their fabric stashes which makes me want to talk about mine. I'm only going to talk about my quilting fabric for now since the rest of my stash is for clothing and costuming and is way out of control. So, if you're interested, read on.

When I buy new fabric, it goes directly into the washer. When it comes out of the dryer it gets a good ironing, I cut off any selvedges that have writing and fold it up according to size.

I used to store all my fabric in clear plastic bins but I never really knew what I had. It felt locked away and I’d have to rifle through the bin to find what I wanted. Then I realized I feel more inspired if I can see everything so I decided to put my fabric in stacks on my shelves. For ½ yard cuts or larger, I fold my fabric using this technique.

I measured my shelf, divided that number by four, subtracted a half inch or so and then cut a piece of foam board 5.25”x20”. This gives me four stacks per shelf without crowding or leaving too much unused space:

large folds of fabric

Anything between ½ yard and approximately ¼ yard gets folded up the same way using a smaller piece of foam board (3.5”x20”). They go on top of the larger stacks, sorted by color.

Any piece of fabric smaller than a fat quarter goes into small plastic bins. When a piece is large-ish, at least the size of my hand as a general rule (but this depends on my mood), it goes into these bins, sorted by warm and cool colors.

large fabric scraps

When a piece is smaller than that, it goes in these bins, again sorted by warm and cool colors. This is where the strips end up as well as some truly tiny pieces. I keep anything that’s at least .75” x .75”.

small fabric scraps

Selvedges go in another bin as well as triangles.

selvedges and triangle scraps

I haven’t found a good use for the triangles yet but when I do, I don’t want to have to dig around in the other scrap bins to find them.

Any fabrics that are poor quality or ugly go into another bin. If the pieces are large enough, they get cut into 3.5” squares for a quilt I’m making for myself. If they’re not large enough, I save them to make cards or bookmarks or other things that won’t need to be washed a lot.

And finally, when I trim up blocks or have pieces smaller than .75”, they go into this bin:

tiny scraps

I forgot to take a picture this morning but here’s one from last year. It’s now packed to overflowing! Instead of throwing all this away, my plan is to use it to stuff toys or pincushions. I haven’t made any toys or pincushions in all the years I’ve been quilting but if I ever do, I’ll be prepared.

So that’s it. I’ve tried lots of storage ideas in the past 3 years but this is my favorite so far. It’s simple which is the key to its success. I can see what I have at all times and I know right where to go when I’m in search of something in particular.

So, what about you? How do you store your fabric and scraps?

Why I quilt.

I was asked a while back (and forgot about it until just now) how I got into this whole quilting thing. So, here it is:

detail

I spent a lot of time in fabric stores in my early twenties. I remember seeing, for the first time, the huge wall of quilting cottons, arranged by color, lit by spotlights like a painting in a museum. I desperately wanted an excuse to buy some…I needed to buy some. I didn’t even think about quilts but if I had, I would have dismissed the idea just as quickly as I had dismissed the idea of making bags or clothes. At the time I was only into making historical costumes and could not justify buying fabric that couldn't be used for that purpose. Quilting cotton cost nearly as much as velvet which helped put things into perspective.

In 2006, my very best friend started making quilts. I thought “that’s dumb…why buy fabric just to cut it up and sew it back together?” I thought it sounded like a lot of work and besides, I hated quilts. They were all “old lady” and boring, not to mention the cost in dollars and in time.

Then I went to her house and saw the quilt she made. It was a simple baby quilt, squares and tied at the corners. I hate to admit it but my first thought was “I can do way better than that.” Because, yes, I’m a jerk and a perfectionist and I really knew I could do better. And so, the challenge was set…I was going to make a quilt, even though I didn’t like quilts.

I made this quilt for my boyfriend and did all I could to keep it as far from “old lady” as possible. I made sure to use lots of black, red, gray and, of course, skulls.

I was going to quit there. I had fun making the quilt but it was a lot of work. And I still didn’t really like quilts. But then the fabric called to me. Finally, I’d found an excuse to buy all the bright beautiful fabrics I’d seen on that fateful day in the fabric store.

So now, I quilt. I quilt because I love fabric. I quilt because I love color. I quilt because I love designing my own patterns and blocks and layouts. I quilt because it improves my sewing skills. I quilt because I love snuggling up with a blanket and a good book on a cold night. I quilt because quilts get all crinkly when you put them in the dryer.

laura's quilt

There are things about quilting that I don’t like. On bad days I sometimes hate everything about it. But in the end, the good outweighs the bad. In the end, I feel like I’ve accomplished something important, like there will be something of me left to comfort my friends and family when I’m gone.

So for now, this is why I quilt.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If you love something...

This piece of fabric has been looking at me. I can feel it. It’s been sitting in its bin, all sweet and cheery, yet the way it stares at me is making me feel a little guilty. I thought it was happy to sit there forever (and I was happy to keep it forever) but I’m beginning to suspect that it's not happy afterall.

warm fabric scraps

You see, I was trying to keep it safe, to keep it from growing up and leaving me as so many other pieces had. To keep it away from rough use, from spilled coffee and pens without caps. But the more I looked at this little piece, the more I felt its unhappiness.

chocolate lollipop, anna maria horner

Now I realize that while some fabrics are content to sit on my shelves, smiling at me day after day, some fabrics would much rather see the world. Some fabrics long for adventure, to be admired, to be useful. That’s not to say this fabric doesn’t love me, that it wouldn’t stay with me forever if I asked it to. But if I truly loved it, could I really ask it to stay?

In my heart I knew the right answer. I had to set it free before I lost my nerve, before I could think about the dangers awaiting such a tiny piece of fabric, such a vulnerable and sweet little scrap. I spent most of the day yesterday pulling other willing scraps from the bin and letting them tell me what they wanted to be:

pink and green quilt idea

I was afraid that they’d turn into something I wouldn’t understand, something so different from me that we wouldn't be able to connect as we used to. I would always love them but I worried that I wouldn't be able to make them happy anymore.

But look:

pink and green quilt idea

All my worries were for nothing. These scraps have gone out on their own, they grew up and I love them even more than ever.

I set them free and they came back.

Friday, February 13, 2009

An expected and unexpected gift.

Did you know that, on occasion, I spend time sewing historical costumes? And did you know that, for the past eight years, I’ve been attending the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in full Elizabethan regalia? And did you know that my aunt is a very talented knitter and occasional Renaissance Festivalgoer herself?

Do you want to know why I’m asking these questions? Well, this is why:

knitted bag with beads

Sometime last year my aunt Kathi told me she was knitting me an amulet bag to wear with my festival gowns. Before she started, I saw the pattern and the beads and the miniscule knitting needles and couldn’t believe she’d chosen to work on something so special just for me.

At my grandpa’s funeral, she gave it to me but not before she told me that she almost didn’t give it to me because it wasn’t perfect. She said she would make me another more perfect version soon because she was determined to master this pattern.

knitted bag with beads

I know, intimately, the crippling power of perfection and I can understand why she didn’t want to give it to me. On the other hand, if there are flaws (which I didn’t try to find), I certainly don’t care. I love this little bag more than she can imagine and flaws (if there really are any) would never change that.

She also gave me an even greater gift…a lesson learned by her example. Even though the bag wasn't perfect, she got over her fears and gave it to me anyway. But more importantly, she hasn't given up on improving her skills. It’s as if she said "this is good enough for now but not good enough for always". I really like that…it makes the imperfections of the moment seem more like stepping stones to future greatness.

knitted bag with beads

I’m so lucky to have such talented people in my life. They provide so much inspiration in times when all hope of inspiration seems lost.

Next week I want to talk about my very talented brother and show you some of the beautiful things he makes. I’m so immensely proud of him.

I also hope to have some things to show you all come Tuesday. Long weekends are always good for finishing projects…so many free days just waiting there, full of potential. I can’t wait!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A life not worth blogging...

Oh my gosh, I’ve been so bored lately. Isn’t the saying something like “only boring people get bored”? Well, it’s true in my case. I’ve been a boring person lately.

Every night I sort of walk around my house thinking “oh my gosh, I’m so bored.” I wander past the secret project I’m working on, past the pile of unwatched Netflix movies, past the two books I’m currently reading, sigh and think “I have nothing to do.”

So, since I haven’t been doing anything that’s blog-worthy, I’ll post some of the things that caught my interest before I became an utterly bored and boring person.

First, check out the Kindle 2, Amazon’s new wireless reading gadget.

I seriously love this little invention (and that’s saying a lot since I don’t care about techy-gadgety devices at all). I can’t actually recommend it since I don’t own one nor do I know anyone who owns one but I think the concept is awesome. It’s so tiny and yet it can store 1,500 books…books you can download in 60 seconds without the aid of a computer or internet connection.

I really wish it made sense for me to buy this. As much as I love reading real paper books, how cool would it be to read books as if we lived in the future? Only the future is now! Can you believe it? Part of me feels like this is lame, because real books are so cool, but I have to admit that the convenience factor is a big selling point. No more trying to fit huge books in my tiny purse…no more having to buy large purses just to fit my books. Seriously, this is an actual problem for me since I don’t like buying new purses nor do I like large purses.

*An aside* If you've read this far and you’re a maker and seller of purses/handbags on etsy.com or similar, feel free to post a link to your shop in the comments. Maybe lazy people like me would like to see your bags and possibly buy them because we hate shopping for them in real life.

Moving on, the realist in me understands that the K2 will be obsolete faster than my current library will physically disintegrate. So re-reading my Kindle books in 10 years will probably not be possible, right? Since I do like to re-read books more often than not, this is my biggest concern. That and the cost…I tend to borrow books or get them for very cheap so the initial cost + the cost of each Kindle book + the cost of a new battery/repairs (or upgrade to a new Kindle when this one is obsolete) is more than I’m willing to spend on books...especially books that are not physically real.

On the other hand, having all my favorite books with me at all times, right there in my purse (with free bonus access to Wikipedia and The New Oxford American Dictionary) is definitely a tempting (and comforting) thought. So, we’ll see, I guess.

Secondly, check out what's going on at the Metropolitan Opera.

Have you guys heard of this? I’m blown away by the awesomeness of this idea. Real operas, performed at the Met, are broadcast live to movie theaters around the country, nay, around the world! I don’t know about you but I love a good opera. Unfortunately, I don’t love spending onwards of $100 per ticket. These live performances at my favorite theater cost only $22. And while $22 isn’t exactly a bargain matinee, it still offers people an affordable way to broaden their horizons.

Ian and I are planning to see Madame Butterfly but I’d love to take the time to see them all. I’ll let you know what I think after the performance in March.

Thirdly, I was listening to MPR the other morning and they did a segment about this new recording of Vivaldi's Concertos for Two Violins . I absolutely adore Vivaldi AND the violin so concertos for two violins, well, consider me in love. I was so excited to buy this cd but then I was dumb and pre-ordered the Twilight DVD at the same time and now it won’t get here until March! I thought they’d ship the items separately but they won’t. Serves me right for being so obsessed about Twilight.

And speaking of Twilight and obsession…just in case you want Edward to stare at you while you sleep, well, you can buy this life-sized Edward cardboard cutout. It’s not quite the same but it’ll have to do since Edward isn’t real. Also, I wish he was wearing his cute jacket…you know the one I’m talking about.

So, that's it for now. Sorry I've been slacking lately...hopefully I can find something to do tonight that will be worth posting about tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

First finished quilt of 2009!

Laura and I exchanged our holiday gifts last night so now I can finally show you what I was working on in early January.

laura's quilt

I started this quilt after a failed attempt at another gift. I don’t want to give up on that idea so I’ll keep it a secret for now. I was staring at said failed gift and thinking about what else I could make for Laura (now a week past christmas). Then I remembered I hadn’t made quilts for any of my friends yet. Then I remembered she loved the fabrics in my (soon to be) ginger blossom throw pillow. Then I remembered this picnic quilt. I think we can all agree that when things come together like this, you just have to go with it.

laura's quilt

The quilt is made up of 16" squares for an overall size of 64"x80". I wanted it to be large enough for cuddling on the couch. I was worried that the large squares would be boring but after seeing all the squares together, I'm really happy I tried it. The fabrics get a chance to shine and with fabrics as beautiful as these, it just feels right.

laura's quilt

It's quilted with white thread in a medium, wandering sort of pattern. I'm still getting very uneven stitches but I'm sure Laura won't mind. I wonder how many quilts I'll have to make before I'm happy with my free-motion skills?

laura's quilt

I was planning to use green flannel for the back but when I saw this in the store, I knew it was meant to be. The pink is divine, a perfect match and the scrolled crowns and hearts are so very Laura.

I'm working on a few other quilts and haven't forgotten about the bento box. My creativity is slowly creeping back after my sad week last week so stay tuned for more updates soon.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Possibility of Mornings

I didn’t know I was a morning person for a really long time. Close to 26 years, actually. About a year ago my boyfriend showed me a Sarah Silverman interview (or skit or something) in which she claimed that every morning she sits up in bed with a huge smile on her face and says “It’s morning time!” And it hit me then…I love mornings! I love it when it’s morning time!

The “mid-winter, 6am, still dark, have to go to work” mornings are definitely no fun to start but, after a shower and before I have to leave, I can usually get some sewing or cleaning done. I just want to do things, I have the energy to do things.

On weekends, I’m usually up by 7am and working in the studio by 7:15. Coffee, pajamas, bad hair, the works. The sunrise is getting earlier and studio is always filled with soft light through the south-facing windows. The downstairs neighbors are still sleeping, there are no noisy cars outside…sometimes the birds are up even though it’s cold.

sunny Saturday morning

I love mornings because they’re filled with possibility, with potential. In the mornings when it’s too early to make calls or run errands, I can take the time to do whatever it is I want to do. No obligations, no worries…just me and my coffee and my pajamas and my sunshine and my studio.

scrappy log cabin blocks

In the mornings, I can accomplish in an hour what will take three hours in the evening. Having a day job means lots of slow, tired evenings but that one Saturday or Sunday morning a week makes up for it.

scrappy log cabin blocks

This weekend I had Saturday morning all to myself. I straightened up the studio, I dug through my scrap bin and I sewed some scrappy log cabin blocks. For no reason other than that the sun was streaming through the windows and these equally sunny scraps were calling to me.

scrappy log cabin blocks

I’ve completed six log cabins and have a seventh nearly completed. Well, actually, they’re all waiting for me to buy some white fabric so I can square them up properly. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them. Perhaps I’ll take four and turn them into a pillow. Maybe I’ll save up 12 and turn them into a wall-hanging for my studio. Maybe I’ll save up 20 and turn them into a baby quilt. Maybe I’ll add another row to each and turn them into potholders. Who knows? If I want to make more blocks then I need to make more scraps which means more quilting which means it’ll be a while before I get to making whatever it is I’m going to make.

scrappy log cabin blocks

It’s not like me to sew without a plan but sometimes the possibility of mornings rubs off in the most delightful ways. So, what’s your favorite time of day? When do you feel the most productive? Do you take advantage of it or do you let it pass by?