Monday, October 31, 2011


Lars as an Archer (from one of his books) and Anders as Darth Vader Sans Mask
Trick-or-treating has pretty much wrapped up for the night, and our little Halloween marauders have been tucked into bed despite the sugar high incurred by scarfing down as much candy as they could possibly manage before bed.  Lars dressed up as a character from one of his favorite books, and Anders sensibly chose to leave his Darth Vader mask at home so he could see where he was going.  For the first time this year, I left Bernie at home to hand out candy and I took the boys trick-or-treating myself.  It was fun to be out in the neighborhood with all of the kids and other parents instead of left behind with a too-tempting bowl full of candy.

As promised, I got a picture of our pumpkins once they were lit:

I also took pictures of my favorite carved pumpkins on other people's front steps -- more ideas for next year!

Skull & Cross Bones Pumpkin

Ghostly Pumpkin
Another Cute Ghost Pumpkin
This little monster pumpkin was my favorite!
Happy Halloween, everyone!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween! The Jack-O-Lanterns of 2011

Happy Halloween!  Lars and Anders did some trick-or-treating to collect food for Loaves & Fishes today after church with their youth group, and then they rolled up their sleeves for some serious pumpkin carving with their daddy.  We did some internet research yesterday and found some great jack-o-lantern ideas, which I posted on that Pinterest thing here.  Because we were pressed for time, we shamelessly copied two of the pumpkins straight off the internet.  Only Lars's pumpkin is a completely original concept. 

Lars Carving his Pumpkin
We carve with drywall saws at our house.  Oh, and I use that "we" very loosely -- I haven't personally carved a pumpkin in years.  I like to draw the face on a pumpkin, and then hand it over to my handyman husband for the gut-scooping glory of the actual carving.  It's a joint effort -- like parenting.  Yeah.  Also, someone needs to have clean hands so she can photograph the activity for posterity!  You will be happy to know that, at the end of the carving party, everyone in my family still has all of their fingers firmly attached to their hands where they belong.

Anders Carving his Death Star Pumpkin
Once Anders saw the picture of a Star Wars Death Star pumpkin, his mind was made up.  It took him longer than anyone else, but he stuck with it until he had a Death Star pumpkin of his very own.

I found a picture of a cannibal pumpkin "eating" another, smaller pumpkin.  It was more interesting than an ordinary triangle-eyed, zigzag-mouthed Jack-O-Lantern, challenging, but achievable.  I drew the face free-hand with a Sharpie marker and then handed the pumpkin off to Bernie for execution.

See how much he enjoys carving pumpkins?  Who am I to deprive him of this joy?!
We had carefully selected a little baby orange pumpkin to be the "victim," and here he is, all carved and served up to the jaws of the big, mean pumpkin:

Unfortunately, this little baby pumpkin fell out of the other pumpkin's mouth and smashed on the driveway.  I had to go to three different grocery stores before I found a little green squash of the right size to sacrifice to our cannibal pumpkin.  Here's what we ended up with the second time around:

Here are the boys' finished pumpkins:

Anders' Death Star Pumpkin

Lars's Jack-O-Lantern
...And here they all are, hanging out together on the front steps, waiting for the trick-or-treaters to come tomorrow night!  I'll try to remember to take another picture right after we light them tomorrow.

I think I will also rearrange the pumpkins when Bernie isn't looking.  I'd rather group all of the pumpkins together on the right side of the steps.  There aren't that many of them and they look weak spread out like that.  Also, since we use candles, it's safer to keep all of the flaming pumpkins on one side so I can herd the little princesses and caped crusaders up and down the opposite side, away from the pumpkins. 

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Teacher Workday, Here We Come

Today is a teacher workday.  Two little rascals, home from school all day!  You'd think I could sleep late this morning, but you'd be wrong.  I set my alarm for 6 AM, thinking I could walk the dogs before the boys got out of bed, but when my alarm went off the boys were already awake, plotting against me in Anders' room.  I heard them as I staggered down the hall: "Track 11!  Play track 11!  That one will really wake her up!"  Then, a blast of Led Zeppelin at an ungodly volume nearly knocked me off my feet.  Led Zeppelin?  Really?!  They are 8 and 10 years old!  So much for a leisurely morning.

So here it is, ten before seven, the evil music player has been confiscated, puppy dogs have been fed their breakfast and are out in the back yard, and little boys have been slightly calmed by a brief separation in Time Out while I made my latte.  It's still pitch black outside, but the blessing of caffeine is beginning to bring me to full consciousness so I can plan my day. 

I'm going to need to walk my dogs, and I will need to bring Lars with me to prevent mischief and certain doom while I'm out of the house.  This means I will need a bribe -- Ribbon candy?  A chance for computer or video game time?  Or maybe a trip to Starbucks later?  Anders I would trust with my banking password and the car keys, but Lars?  Not so much.

I have some pillows for a client that I need to pick up from my drapery workroom later today, so my little "assistants" will be coming along for the ride.  We can go to Starbucks afterward, if they cooperate and behave well in the car. 

Lars with his Vanilla Steamer, Anders with his Kid's Hot Chocolate

They really dig the cake pops at Starbucks, along with their beverages of choice: a Kid's Hot Chocolate for Anders and a Vanilla Steamer for Lars, who mysteriously has no enthusiasm for chocolate whatsoever.  Obviously, little boys who wake up and terrorize me with classic rock before the sun comes up don't get anything with so much as a drop of caffeine. 

What else is in store for us this day?  Lars is going to his first sleepover birthday party tonight, which means that I need to take two little boys to Target to select a gift today.  I think I'll delay Target as long as possible, because my Bernina dealer is in that shopping center and there's a good chance my sewing machine might be serviced and ready to pick up by late afternoon -- cross your fingers!  I'll also need to get Lars's overnight things packed up.  My decorative painter will be coming by to work on my dining room ceiling at around noon, so we will need to stick around the house for most of the afternoon (I'll try to post some pictures of that later).  I have some business calls and paperwork to attend to at some point.  Oh, and I need to get the Halloween costumes down and figure out what each trick-or-treater is going to wear (and referee any ensuing fights), because immediately after we pick Lars up from the party tomorrow morning we're taking our boys to the Phantom of the Lollipop concert at the symphony.  Bernie should be back from his business trip by late this afternoon, thank the Lord.

Man, just thinking about this day is making me exhausted.  Do I hear the water running upstairs?!  I need to go...  Happy Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Temptation in Red: The Bernina 830LE Limited Edition

As you all know, I sew over pins.  On my drunkard's path blocks I'm sewing so slowly that the needle just deflects when it hits a pin, but just before starting this quilting project I whipped up a quick window treatment from leftover fabric for a window in our exercize room.  When I'm sewing fast, I usually am careful to pull the pins out right before they get to my presser foot, but this time I charged over those pins, full speed ahead, and hit two of them.  One got bent into the shape of a square root sign, and the other broke my needle and the pin. 

So, as I was slowly sewing those first drunkard's path blocks, I started to hear a little metallic click with every stitch -- a sure sign that I had knocked my timing out of whack when I sewed those pins (alas; I have heard that clicking noise before!).  My sewbaby hadn't been in for a tuneup in over a year anyway, so I brought her in to my local Bernina dealer for service on Monday afternoon. 

You know how the car dealer desperately wants you to use their service department so that every time you get an oil change, you're wandering around lusting after all the gleaming newer models on the showroom floor?  Well, that's what it's like at the Bernina dealership.  Except that at the car dealership you have no real urgency.  They have a newer, shinier version of my car with more bells and whistles?  Well, they'll still have it next year or the year after, or whenever I need a new one.  They are having a special discount promotion?  Well, they always have special promotions going on; that's nothing new, either.  But the mad marketing geniuses at Bernina have come up with a fancy, beautiful, shiny RED version of their top-of-the-line sewing and embroidery machine, and it is a limited edition -- only 4,000 of them were made.  Here she is, Miss Sewbaby America, the Bernina 830LE:
Bernina 830LE Limited Edition

Bernina came out with the 830 machine a few years ago, just as the economy began to tank, by unfortunate coincidence.  The computer in the 830LE is much faster than the one in my 200E/730E (my machine is the older 200 model, but upgraded to do everything that the 730 can do), and there are some other neat bells and whistles, but the main draw for the 830 is that it has a gigantic bobbin that holds 40% more thread (which means less running out of thread in the middle of machine quilting or in the middle of stitching out a large embroidery design) and that the machine itself is much larger, with 12" of space to the right of the needle instead of the 7 1/2" of space I have now.  That's a big deal when you have rolled up a quilt and jammed it into the space to the right of the needle so you can get the middle part of the quilting done. 

Still, the price tag on this sewbaby is such that it might as well be a car, and I know tons of people who do amazing quilting and embroidery work on machines just like the one I already own.  Bigger bobbins are not thousands of dollars better than regular bobbins, and I feel the same way about that extra workspace -- nice, but not necessary, and not worth a five-figure price tag to me.  But it was a lot easier to say no to the regular 830E machine, which is bulky, masculine, and boring:

Regular Bernina 830E
See what I mean?  Exact same machine, does exactly the same things, even costs $500 less than the Limited Edition, but it's so ordinary

Meanwhile, with my head out of the clouds and my feet back on the ground, I really love and prefer my 200E/730E and it does everything I could ever need or want it to do.  No upgrading to the flashy red sewbaby any time soon.  I'm just hoping that my dealer gets a chance to service my machine before the end of the day today so I can pick it up and sew some more Drunkard's Path blocks for Lars's quilt this evening.  

And, by the way, I am still going to sew over the pins in my quilt blocks, but I'll think twice before sewing over another pin at high speed.  It's hugely annoying to have to stop working in the middle of a project for an unplanned well-baby trip to the sewing machine doctor!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Quilting at the Speed of Natural Selection: The Drunken Dragons Quilt Continues

First Seven Blocks of Lars's Drunken Dragons Quilt Completed
There's no such thing as "Quilt-In-A-Day" at my house.  I like to quilt at the speed of natural selection, so slowly that progress is barely perceptible...
Anyway, I had seven blocks finished by this afternoon.  I'm starting to get the hang of this.  Initially, I was having some issues rotary cutting with my templates -- the templates were slipping, shifting slightly on the fabric between cuts.  I tried out these Fabric Grabbers, which remind me of the little rubber stickies that you put on the edges of cabinet doors to prevent slamming. 
Fabric Grabbers applied to Drunkard's Path Templates
I haven't made up my mind about the Fabric Grabbers yet.  They completely eliminate the slipping and sliding -- BUT-- they raise the acrylic templates about an eigth of an inch from the fabric surface.  So now I'm getting a little distorion and movement of the fabric between grabber dots.  In order to eliminate this problem, I would need to put a lot more dots around the edges of the templates, and I don't have any more of the dots.  I really wish there was a flatter, thinner version of the fabric grabber product out there.  One of my acrylic rulers comes with grabby areas already on it; I wish I could make these little templates like those rulers.  Anyway, the Grabber dots are on the templates for the time being. 

UPDATED December 3, 2011:  I ended up taking the Fabric Grabber dots off all of my templates and rulers and I will not use them again.  Because they raise the templates up off the fabric, use of this product results in fabric shifting under the template while I'm cutting, creating a level of distortion that is unacceptable to me.  I'll be on the lookout for something thin and flat that I could put on my rulers and templates to reduce slipping without sacrificing accuracy, and I'll post about it if I find something that works.  I'm considering trying plain old double stick Scotch tape, but I'm guessing that so much fabric lint would get on the tape that I'd have to replace the tape on my ruler after each and every cut, which would be really annoying...

Here you can see I have quite a few pieces cut.  I'm not keeping count, but I've cut four of each shape from most fabrics.  Now I'm playing around with them, matching them up as I go along.

The batiks are my favorites, and because they tend to be a little stiffer and more tightly woven, they are also more stable on the bias curved edges than some of the other fabrics. 

You know, when I was researching construction options for these blocks, I found some sources who said pinning the pieces together prior to sewing them was "optional," but for me, it's been absolutely crucial.  With these 7" blocks I'm getting the best results when I use eight pins.  First I fold each piece in half to locate the center, and then I fold the edges in to the center mark to find the center of each half.  I line up the fold marks on the two pieces (making sure the straight fabric edges remain parallel to one another), and the first pin goes in the center, like this:

Next, I pin the outside edges together, like this:

Then I match up the quarter marks on the top and bottom pieces and put a pin there as well.  The pins I'm using are extra-fine silk pins, and they go perpendicular to the fabric edge and go through the fabric twice.

In the photo above, you can see how the opposite curved fabrics still twist away from one another on the left, where I haven't yet placed the final pin, but the curves are lined up nicely on the right where the additional pin is in.

There, now this block is completely pinned and ready to stitch.  It's important to pin in this order -- center, end, quarters, and then eighths -- because it helps evenly distribute the fullness so you have a nice, flat edge to stitch.  You'll use your finger to flatten the area between pins as you stitch, making sure those fabric edges remain perfectly aligned with one another and with the edge of your presser foot (if you're using Bernina Foot 37) or whatever else you're using for your scant 1/4" seam guide.
I know my fingers look creepy so much larger than life, but I wanted you to see how my left hand is keeping any pleats or creases from forming in the stitching line.  Honestly, the trickiest thing about these Drunkard's Path blocks is getting them pinned together well, and after that it's as easy to sew them together as any straight-edged pieces would be.

My eyes started to get tired and the little crease marks I was making to divide my fabric pieces into halves and fourths were difficult to see on some fabrics, so I eventually started to mark little ticks with a piece of tailor's chalk in the seam allowance instead of folds.  I have a big cigar box full of these little wedges of tailor's chalk that my mother-in-law gave me -- my husband's grandparents on both sides were tailors and this box of fabric markers belonged to them.  So Lars's quilt is being made with notions used by his great grandparents.  How cool is that?
MUCH easier to see then little folded crease marks!
Here's that block from before, all sewn together.  There's just a sliver of the blue fabric peeking at the edge, but the seam is pretty darned accurate.  Let's press it open and take a look at the finished block:
Ta-da!  Piece of cake!

You know, I've thought about it some more, and the oversized Drunkard's Path blocks I'm making might actually be MORE difficult than the smaller ones, because the curved seam is longer and if you don't get it pinned well, there's a greater chance something will slip or stretch along the long, bias-curved seam.  The bigger blocks are probably easier to cut with the rotary cutter, but maybe the smaller blocks would be easier for begginers to sew after all.

Now that I've worked out my process, I don't have to continue one block at a time.  I sat down and pinned several blocks at once so I could chain-stitch the patches.  Here they are, all ready to be fed to the Sewbaby:

When I called it quits for today, I had a total of seventeen blocks finished for Lars's quilt:

By the way, this is not how I intend to lay the blocks out in the quilt.  I'm just moving them around right now to get a sense of what colors and values I have, so I know what to make more of and what to back away from.

Monday, October 17, 2011

So, You Always Wanted a Cleaning Service?

Some people will think I have no right to complain -- these are the people who do not have the luxury of a cleaning service, who either devote a great deal of time to cleaning their own homes, or who have simply resigned themselves to lower standards of cleanliness than what they would like.

I know that I'm very fortunate to have a team of professional housecleaners swoop in every two weeks for a thorough top-to-bottom clean.  I have only enjoyed this perk for the last several years, since my business took off to where house cleaning had become something that either didn't get done at all, or that took up ALL of my virtually-nonexistant free time.  I know what it's like to look around a filthy house, seeing dust, grime, and cobwebs everywhere and knowing that I would probably never get to it all because I had to prioritize the bathrooms and kitchens, and there was never more time once those areas were spic and span. 

Diane Keaton in Baby Boom
So, in the beginning, I alternated wildly between tearful gratitude that the cleaning people were coming and a horrible guilt that I wasn't able to "do it all" like the supermom movies of the '80s promised we could.  Diane Keaton managed to take care of a baby, a home, and launch a multi-million dollar baby food corporation in the movie Baby Boom, and I didn't see a maid service or anyone else helping her.

For me, the cleaning service is about the eternal balance between time and money.  When I had more time on my hands than money in the bank, I was cleaning my own home as best as I could.  When finances permit but time has grown scarce, a cleaning service enables me to give my client's projects the time and attention they deserve, and still have time left over to supervise homework and play dates, read to my kids at night, and occasionally even spend time with my husband.  So yes, I know I'm lucky to have a cleaning service, but still...

I have to tell you that, the day the cleaning service is coming, I have to do a bit of straightening up in preparation for their arrival.  They're coming to clean, not to neaten and organize, so it usually takes me a good hour to get rid of piles of mail and clear off surfaces, lay out clean sheets in all the bedrooms, set out the cleaning products I want them to use on my granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and hardwood floors.  My husband will sometimes help with this, but then I have to listen to him complain, "Why do I have to clean the house and pay a cleaning service to do it?"  Because in his mind, if you put the junk mail in the recycle bin and pick up the toys, the house is clean.  Vacuum cleaners, disinfectants, and other cleaning products are all superfluous.  Whatever.

So today, it's cleaning day.  Because my cleaning service usually arrives around 11:30 AM, I talked my husband into bathing our dogs in the tub and hosing all the mud off of the inside of our screen porch first thing in the morning, before the cleaners even got here, so the dogs wouldn't track all that mud into our nice, clean house.  After bathing the dogs and hosing down the outdoor area rug in my screen porch with a bleach/water solution, my darling husband heroically decided to address the mud at the root of the problem -- the areas near the back door where grass never seems to have been planted.  It's a shady area, and although he tried seeding there a few weeks ago, it's constantly muddy from the rain and sprinklers and the dogs are running and skidding in it -- that seed doesn't have a chance at germinating. 

So, minutes before the cleaning service arrived, my husband headed out for the first of several trips to Lowe's to purchase strips of sod.  While the cleaning service was working on my second and third floors, I was working in my first floor office and my husband was loading, unloading, and rolling out heavy sod out in the mud and muck.  Sweaty, tired, immersed in yard work -- are you getting a good visual?  And remember, before starting the sod project, he had already bathed two uncooperative, pony-sized Rottweiler puppies in the bathtub and hosed down a muddy screen porch. 

At my husband's request, I had made a point of asking the "team leader" of my cleaning crew to be sure and dust the ceiling fans in my kitchen, which were filthy with dust after having been forgotten several weeks in a row.  When they came to dust and vacuum my office, I went upstairs to my sewing studio, thinking how nice it was that I could cut out a couple of blocks for Lars's quilt while my office was being cleaned.  But alas, no sooner had I turned on the lights and picked up my rotary cutter than the head cleaning lady came rushing down the hallway insisting that I'd "better come quick!"

My ceiling fan, the one in the vaulted ceiling above my kitchen island, was completely unscrewed from the motor and dangling precariously about 14' above my granite countertops with nothing at all holding it but electrical wire.  My eyes nearly bugged out of my head.  If that wire broke and the ceiling fan came crashing down on my countertops and sink, it could easily cause $20,000 worth of damage in the blink of an eye.  What was even more infuriating was that the cleaners claimed they "just barely touched it" with their dusting pole when it suddenly broke free from the ceiling, that it "must not have been screwed in all the way."  I lunged for the phone and called Bernie, who was loading up more sod at Lowe's, and he came racing home to switch gears from landscaper to electrician. 

This is the third time we have had problems with this cleaning service and hanging light fixtures.  Since we both work from home, my husband actually caught one of the cleaners lazily spinning my kitchen chandelier to dust it instead of walking around the table, and he warned them that the fixture would eventually unscrew if they continued to do it.  They promised not to spin the chandelier anymore.  But then my dining room chandelier, which is oblong (oval) instead of round, was hanging diagonally one day after the cleaners left instead of being lined up with the dining room table.  Obviously someone was spinning or twisting the chandelier while dusting it, which was annoying since we had already asked them not to do this, but when I called them about it they insisted that "it must not have been screwed in tightly enough."  Can I just tell you that my husband has personally replaced every single light fixture in this house, and there is no way that  he would only partially screw in a ceiling fixture.  It's not like we had hired some shady handyman electrician who just wanted to get paid and get out.  Plus my husband had caught them red handed, so to speak, spinning the kitchen chandelier just a few weeks earlier.  And now the Casablanca ceiling fan in my kitchen, which has a good 3" of threading that screws the fan into the motor housing, is mysteriously barely screwed in as well?  There's no doubt in my mind that, when they did remember to dust it, they were rotating the entire fixture from the stair landing, in the same direction each time, until finally today they knocked it completely loose.

So, those of you who wish you had the luxury of a cleaning service for your home, let me tell you how the rest of our day went.  My husband spent the entire afternoon reinstalling the ceiling fan, dropping dust, lint, and filth all over my countertops, stovetop, kitchen sink, and floor, cussing and complaining (justifiably) the entire time.  The cleaning service had offered to come back after their lunch break to finish mopping beneath the ceiling fan, since my husband's ladder had been in the way when they left, but when they called a few hours later he was still struggling with it.  By the time the ceiling fan was back where it belonged, it was time for Bernie to pick up the kids from school.  I spent the next hour and a half re-cleaning my stove, countertops, sink, and floors.  If you hate cleaning your house now, imagine how you'd feel about writing someone else a big check for cleaning your house and then having to spend the rest of your afternoon cleaning up the mess they left in your home.  What on earth would I have done if Bernie had been out of town when this happened?  Could I even have gotten an electrician to come out fast enough to save my countertops from a meteoric ceiling fan crash episode?

Here's the deal with my cleaning service, and unfortunately, I hear the same thing from other people about their experiences with residential cleaning services.  The first time they come out, they are gung-ho and they leave your home spotless and gleaming, but it tapers off after that and they start skipping more and more, spending less and less time cleaning your home, making you feel like you have to go around behind them inspecting in order to get what you're paying for -- and if you had time to do that, you might as well just clean your house yourself.

Before they left today, I did have to remind them to vacuum my sewing studio, but I didn't notice until hours later that my laundry sink is still all dusty -- it's obvious no one touched it.  This matters because, when I hired the cleaning service, the owner of the company walked through my home with me and we discussed all of the areas I wanted clean and what my expectations were -- and they calculated how much they were going to charge me based on my high expectations which are not being met.  I'm paying for my studio, laundry room, walk-in closets and pantry all to be dusted and vacuumed or mopped, whether they remember to do it each week or not.  And it's not like I couldn't think of anything better to spend the money on, either, with Stewardship Week going on at church, the capital fundraising going on at the kids' school, and the dreary college fund investment reports making me feel like I should just bury money in a coffee can instead of trying to invest.  Ugh. 

What do you think, Internet Friends?  Do you have a cleaning service, and if so, is yours working out better than mine?  I am really shaken by the incident today.  Someone could have been badly injured, my gorgeous granite countertops that I've had less than a year could have been destroyed, and my kitchen could have been demolished just five weeks before I'm scheduled to host my husband's entire family for Thanksgiving dinner.  I feel like I need to interview some other cleaning companies, but we've had other services in the past and they routinely broke things like secondary bath shower fixtures, vanity lights, and a stove burner, to name the oopses that come immediately to mind.  Is this just something I need to expect and deal with when I hire a cleaning service, or are there better companies out there? 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

First Block Sewn for Lars's Drunken Dragons Quilt

First Block of Lars's Drunken Dragons Quilt (and yes, I know these are not dragons)
Ta-da!  This is the first block of Lars's new Drunkard's Path quilt.  This is my first-ever block with a curved seam, and although I was nervous about it I am pleased to report that the finished block is 7 1/2" square on the first try, just as it should be.  Yay! 

Elsa's 7" Drunkard's Path Templates
WhileI was at the beach this summer I found these oversized Drunkard's Path acrylic templates at a quilt shop in Murrells Inlet, SC and knew right away that they would be perfect for this project.  The finished size of the blocks is 7" x 7", and I'm guessing that starting out with bigger curves is easier than starting out with smaller blocks, since smaller blocks would have tighter curves.  You'll see in a minute what the big deal is with curved patchwork.  The other reason I liked this big Drunkard's Path block is that my son picked out a couple of large-scale dragon fabrics for his quilt, and I needed to do something with big enough patches of fabric that we would still be able to tell they were dragons after we cut up the fabric.  Finally, I have been promising to make this quilt for Lars for THREE YEARS.  Large blocks consisting of only two pieces of fabric and one seam per block should sew up pretty quickly, so there is actually hope of Lars getting to sleep under his dragon quilt before he heads off to college in eight or nine years.  So yes, I know it's inappropriate for Lars's dragons to be drunken, but every quilter knows exactly what block design I'm using when I say Drunkard's Path, no matter what Crazy Curves nonsense the template maker calls them.  By the way, you can get these templates on Amazon here, and if you want to make the quilt shown in the photo on the package you have to buy both the 7" and the 3 1/2" sizes.  So far I just bought the 7" because there is a very strong possibility that I already own templates for the smaller size.  Just like there is a very strong possibility that there is actually carpeting in my sewing studio, buried deep beneath the mountain ranges of fabric.  Shhh...

The Drunkard's Path block pattern can form several different overall quilt designs depending on how you lay out the individual blocks before sewing them together into the quilt block.  My quilt probably won't be much like the photo on the template package.  Maybe I'll add some circle appliques, or maybe I'll arrange my blocks completely differently. 
Drunkard's Path variation by Kate Sharaf of Needle and Spatula
I just stumbled upon Kate Sharaf's blog a moment ago and was delighted to see that she just did a post showing different layout possibilities with these blocks, so instead of hunting for images to show you, I'm just going to send you on over to Drunkard's Path Block Design Ideas at Needle and Spatula.  Go ahead - click away and check out the lovely possibilities.  I'll be waiting right here when you're finished.

So, I probably won't be doing any kind of layout that ends up looking like big happy flowers for Lars, but some of the others could be interesting.  Maybe I'll even let Lars help lay out the finished blocks, if he's interested.

I know someone is going to ask about size.  This quilt is going on a twin bed with a ridiculously thick mattress, but there is storage built into the platform of the bed and I don't want the quilt to hang down too far.  I decided I want the finished quilt to be about 70" wide by 105" long, or 10 blocks by 15 blocks, and I actually measured the bed to come up with this.  I was generous with my measurements because quilts shrink a little when they are quilted, even if the fabrics are prewashed and/or preshrunk (mine are). 

In my studio, every quilt starts with a mess!  I've strewn all of the fabrics from my stash that I might possibly want to use for this quilt all over my cutting table.  Here's what that looks like:

I ordered some more fabric from eQuilter that hasn't come in yet.  A good fabric stash is like the biggest, bestest box of crayons.  There's no way I'm going to use ALL of them in the same quilt, but I like having lots of options to choose from.  Lars's bedroom has sort of a chambray blue wall color, and he has vivid, shocking ORANGE wallpaper in his bathroom.  You can see Lars's bedroom here.  So I want his quilt to be predominantly blues and oranges to tie these two spaces together, with some purples and other colors mixed in to keep it interesting.  Lars is excited about the dragons, but my goal is for the dragons to be something he can appreciate up close, not something we see from the hallway before entering his room.
"tatsu" dragon fabric from Alexander Henry Fabrics

This is the fabric that inspired the whole dragon thing.  I love the colors: that bold orange against cool purples and blues, and because they are sort of Asian dragons instead of childish cartoon dragons, I don't think Lars will outgrow this fabric.  Another plus is that, once I cut this up, the large scale dragons are going to be less obvious on the finished quilt.

Here you can see that I've started cutting fabric (and the other, smaller scale dragon fabric at bottom left).  I'm using a 45 mm rotary cutter for the straight edges, and a 28 mm rotary cutter on the curves.  This is another first for me, cutting curves instead of straight lines with my rotary cutters -- it feels really weird but I'm starting to get the hang of it.  I'm "fussy cutting" my dragon fabrics as well as some scraps of a lizard print fabric that I used in Anders' last quilt.  "Fussy cutting" means I'm cutting through one layer of fabric at a time so I can center exactly the part of the pattern that I want beneath my clear acrylic templates.  For the other fabrics I'm going to cut through four layers at once to save time.

Before we start sewing, a word about machine setup.  Before I start a new quilt, I clean every speck of lint out of my sewbaby and give her a drop of oil.  I put in a new size 70 Schmetz quilting needle and switch to my 1/4" patchwork footsie, which is Footsie 37 on a Bernina.  This foot gives me a perfect scant 1/4" seam allowance just by lining the cut edge of my fabric up with the edge of the presser foot.  I also switch to my straight stitch throat plate, because its smaller needle hole gives better support for straight stitching and greatly reduces the annoying problem of your sewing machine trying to eat the little patchwork pieces you're working with.  I use 50 weight 100% cotton thread, usually Mettler or Gutermann, and a stitch length of 2.0.  I engage the needle stop down function on my machine, and yes, damnit -- I sew over pins (slowly!) despite the dire warnings from the owner's manual telling me not to.

Now you can see why curved seams are scary!  You have to match up a concave curve to a convex curve, and ease it in so that hopefully you get a nice, smooth curve without nasty pleats when you press the seam open.  I consulted several different books in my personal library, and each one gave different advice about sewing this type of block.  One book said Drunkard's Path blocks should be hand sewn.  Another suggested clipping the curves, but I didn't want to weaken the seam if I didn't have to, since this quilt is going to see a lot of wear and washing.  I went with the advice in The Quilter's Ultimate Visual Guide: From A to Z -- Hundreds of Tips and Techniques for Successful Quiltmaking

Okay, here we go -- let's start sewing!  Because I know I'm more likely to have a severe oops on the first try, I deliberately did NOT select one of Lars's favorite dragon pieces for the first block.  Instead, I'm using a leftover fabric from a previous quilt for Anders.  I remembered that Lars was very wistful about these lizards at the time, and I like working fabrics from past quilts into current projects whenever I can. 

I'm sewing very slowly, and despite all of my pins, these opposite curved edges still try to creep away from one another. 

See how easy it is to line the cut edge of the fabric up with the edge of Foot 37 to maintain a perfect seam allowance?  By the way, I'm using a medium brownish-beige thread for all of my piecing on this quilt.  It would be way too inconvenient to have to stop and change thread color constantly, so I've chosen a neutral thread color that will disappear into my bold, bright fabrics.

This is the finished block.  I pressed the seam allowance toward the lizard fabric, since it's the darker of the two in this case.  Not bad, for all my fear and hesitation, huh?  My block measures exactly 7 1/2" square, just as it should, and I got a nice, smooth curve and a flat finished block on the first try.  I had my seam ripper handy, but I didn't even need it (this time).  Wahoo!  I only have about 149 more blocks to go...

By the way, I deliberately did NOT cut out all the pieces for 150 blocks before I started sewing.  I want to be able to lay things out and adjust my fabric choices mid-stream.  I cut out about 15 of each shape so far, just enough to get me started.  Once my additional fabrics come in from eQuilter, I can make semi-final decisions about which fabrics are in, which ones are out, and sort them by value to ensure I get the balance I want for my mix.  Stay tuned! 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Design for Today and Tomorrow: Insights from Michael Payne of HGTV's Designing for the Sexes

Rebecca with celebrity designer Michael Payne
Although I'm still sick with a nasty cold (Bernie insists I have SARS), I drugged up on cold medicine and filled my purse with cough drops and Kleenex so I could attend the WCAA Charlotte Chapter Expo last Friday with guest speaker Michael Payne
Michael Payne is best known for his nine years as the original host and interior designer for the HGTV hit series, Designing for the Sexes.  His design career has spanned three decades and he has authored a book called Let's Ask Michael: 100 Practical Solutions for Interior Design Challenges.  He currently has licensing agreements with a variety of companies to produce the Michael Payne Home Collection of furniture and accessories, is a popular speaker at design industry events throughout the country, and teaches a design seminar at UCLA.  On top of all that, he's a genuinely nice guy, insisting that we address him as Michael instead of Mr. Payne, patiently answering all of our questions throughout his presentation, and mugging for photos with us afterward.

The topic for Michael's morning seminar was Designing for the Changing Economy and Changing Lifestyles.  We all know the economy still leaves much to be desired, and those of us in the biz know that tighter budgets require even more skill and creativity from designers in order to meet our clients' needs functionally and aesthetically without breaking the bank.  Even in tough times, Michael reminded us that authenticity, quality and service are still more important to clients than price tags alone.  After all, no one needs interior design services the way they need food or health care.  What we're doing is about luxury, enhancing people's lives by enhancing their space so that it looks better, works better, and makes them feel better.  Everyone wants lower price tags when we're having budget discussions, but if the quality isn't there when the draperies and furnishings are installed we forget how much we saved and focus instead on how disappointed we are with the outcome.  It's the same with service -- as interior designer Mary McDonald remarked on a recent episode of the Bravo reality design show Million Dollar Decorators, interior design is really a service industry, and you need to be there when the client is upset or when things go wrong.

Green Design circa 1947: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, ill. Clement Hurd 
One of the major trends Michael discussed is the increasing importance of green design.  No, not like the Great Green Room with the Telephone and the Red Balloon (sorry; couldn't resist!).  Green Design isn't about a color or a certain look, it's a conscious decision to be aware of how the choices we make impact other people and our Earth, and a commitment to make the most responsible choices we can throughout the design process to respect the environment and the needs of the rest of humanity.  Although there has been a lot of buzz about environmentalism in the design world for some time, the frustrating thing for designers and our clients has been the relatively limited choices -- and very high price points -- of ecologically-friendly fabrics, floorings, and furnishings.  Furthermore, although consumers care more about the environment than ever before, many are confused about what green design really means.  Michael gave the example of his prospective clients who proudly showed him their newly-constructed home, supposedly all "green" design, including renewable bamboo flooring throughout.  However, where did that bamboo flooring come from?  Asia.  How did it get to California, to his clients' home?  Well, it went on a truck from the forest to the port, where it was loaded onto a ship, then it was brought all the way across the Pacific Ocean, unloaded onto another truck...  Oh!  The carbon footprint of this bamboo flooring turned out to be enormous, so that sustainably harvested hardwood flooring from the American Northwest would have actually been kinder to the Earth.  If you're interested in learning more about how to make greener choices in your home, ASID has a great overview of green design for consumers here. 

According to Michael, sustainable design is going to become the norm rather than the exception in years to come, and prices will come down naturally as demand increases.  It's our job as designers and consumers to keep asking the companies we do business with for greener options; executives are gathered in their conference rooms trying to figure out what we want to buy -- if we tell them (over and over again!) that we want socially responsible, environmentally friendly products, they will give them to us in order to meet consumer demand.  Some of the exciting new products already on the market are LED (light-emitting diodes) lights that come in a wide range of color temperatures to satisfy our longing for light that is energy efficient as well as attractive, and even OLED (organic light-emitting devices) products for surfaces based on the phenomenon of bioluminescent marine life.

Another interesting, somewhat related trend Michael discussed was downsizing. Michael pondered whether someday we would all question the idea that an individual has the "right" to build whatever they want on their land, regardless of the effect on other people, and whether it was okay for individuals to squander more than their share of utilities and natural resources just because they could afford to pay for it. It's certainly an interesting idea. He referenced a family of four living in a 10,000 square foot home, who spent most of their time huddled together in a small seating area off their kitchen that was only big enough for a sofa, one chair, the fireplace and television. These clients and others Michael works with have subsequently moved into much smaller homes by choice rather than necessity, asking for well-designed, multi-functional living spaces without all those extra rooms that no one ever used. This challenges designers and architects to create multifunctional spaces, because it takes a lot of careful planning to successfully move a family from a 10,000 SF home to a 500 SF home that meets all of their needs for storage, meal preparation, entertaining, etc. as well as aesthetics.

"America's Largest Home" at 175,000 SF: Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina

I'm not seeing voluntary downsizing with my own clients here in Charlotte yet, but it's certainly interesting to think about.  Michael cited a recent study done by the National Association of Homebuilders indicating that, for the first time in decades, the size of new homes in the United States is expected to shrink 10% by 2015.  The economy undoubtedly has something to do with this, but Michael feels that consumers are also asking for smaller homes after living in larger homes that didn't really fit the needs of their family.  A big problem with massive homes has always been that with so many rooms and windows, it costs a fortune to furnish and decorate it, and clients who have recently moved into much larger homes tend to be shocked when they find out how much more they will have to spend on furnishing and decorating to make that castle feel like a home.  That's something I've seen a lot of in my market, particularly with clients who relocated from smaller homes in the much more expensive real estate markets of the Northeast.  With lower housing prices and property taxes, New Yorkers moving to Charlotte often can double or triple the size of their homes without paying any more than they did up North.  However, when homes are smaller, clients can afford to invest in quality furnishings and beautiful finishes that will last a lifetime simply because they don't need to purchase so much of everything.

Other trends Michael sees on the horizon include increased use of motorization whenever budget allows, especially in window treatments, clients rediscovering wallcovering in a big way, and of course he talked about the hottest color trends for the near future.  Fashion trends trickle down to interior design, so the best place to find out what the hottest colors for home furnishings will be next year is to take a look at the runways today, or to check out Pantone's Fashion Color Reports, just a mouse-click away right here

That pink honeysuckle color is Pantone's Color of the Year for 2011.  Do you see what I don't see here?  No red anywhere -- and there's no red in the Pantone fashion forecast for Spring 2012, either.  Let's all have a moment of silence for red, shall we?  :-(

The reason we have to care what Pantone says about color is that manufacturers pounce on these forecasts and incorporate the predicted hot colors into all kinds of products for the home, from towels and bedding to surfaces and accessories.  In a way, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it's also a great help for a DIY homeowner working with a tight budget.  I can promise you that you will have a lot better luck finding what you want at lower price points if you choose an on-trend color scheme that's going to show up everywhere from the high end stores to places like Pottery Barn and even Target.

So, all in all, this was a great seminar.  I got to connect with fellow designers and workrooms as well as vendors at the event.  Several of the products vendors were showing tied in directly with what Michael had to say, like the gorgeous Missoni fabrics from Old World Weavers through Stark and the overscaled paisley fabrics from F. Schumacher & CoSomfy was on hand to talk about motorization options, and I picked up a new drapery hardware line as well.  Sniffles be damned; it was a day well spent!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Day I Died and Went to Fabric Heaven: The Textile Archives of Pierre Frey

One of the highlights of last month's trip to Paris was a behind-the-scenes presentation at Pierre Frey.  Pierre Frey is a family-owned luxury French design house that was founded in 1935 but now encompasses four brands: Pierre Frey, Braquenie, Fadini Borghi, and Boussac.  Just to whet your appetite, check out some of the current offerings from the house of Pierre Frey:
Pierre Frey


Fadini Borghi

Pierre Frey does not have a showroom in Charlotte, North Carolina; the nearest to me is in Atlanta, which is a five hour drive, so although I knew of Pierre Frey by reputation I wasn't as familiar with their offerings as I would like.  I love the rich, exuberant colors and fresh reincarnations of traditional patterns that Pierre Frey is famous for, and I was delighted that designers Deb Barrett and Susan Schurz arranged for a handful of us to squeeze into the tiny archives room at the company's Parisian headquarters for a private presentation from archivist Sophie Rouart. 
Sophie Rouart captivates her audience in the Pierre Frey archives

The room was lined with wide, shallow metal filing drawers containing more than 30,000 original documents (designs, fabrics and carpet samples) dating from the 16th century to the present, which are preserved and cataloged for use by Pierre Frey's internal designers and prestigous clients as inspiration for new designs.  Documents originating from Pierre Frey's four brands are stored and protected here, but many others are rare pieces acquired at auction.  Sophie explained that, when she attends auctions with the owner, he wants to bid on fabrics that he thinks will translate well and sell in today's market, whereas she implores him to buy fabrics based on their rarity and uniqueness to round out the collection, even if they are a little "bizarre" by today's standards.

It was fascinating to see how Pierre Frey uses historical textile documents in their current line.  Some fabrics are recreated as close to the originals as possible.  Others undergo changes in scale or colorway in order to give them new life.  In the next two photos, the antique block printed textiles on the left have been reinterpreted with embroidery for the current Braquenie fabrics on the right.

Broderie Villeneuve, Braquenie

Broderie Champeigne, Braquenie
Of course, in historical preservation work, the goal is to replicate the original fabric as faithfully as possible.  Sophie showed us how this cotton print fabric was recreated for the Mezzanine above Marie Antoinette's bedroom at the Petit Trianon palace at Versailles.  Although the reproduction fabric was created using modern printing techniques and is much wider than the original fabric, care was taken to incorporate some of the flaws which were commonplace in hand-printed 18th century fabrics for authenticity.
Sophie points out the intentional flaws in Marie Antoinette's reproduction fabric
Antique Wood Block used for printing fabrics, one color at a time

Sophie showed us how, unlike today's screen printed fabrics, antique hand blocked prints have dye showing on the wrong side of the fabric:
Fabrics like this one were produced by hand, one color at a time, in a labor-intensive process requiring a highly skilled printer.  Each printer took great pride in his work, and was required to sign his name to the selvage of each piece of fabric he completed.

I have so many gorgeous photographs from the archives; it's hard to decide which ones to share with you.  Look at how they have reinterpreted this classic copperplate Toile de Jouy pattern as a jacquard damask in cotton/silk for Braquenie:

Les Quatre Vents in three colorways, Braquenie, original document at top left
I love the Amethyst colorway, don't you?  Here's a similar fabric, recreated more faithfully to the original but with the scale of the pattern increased in the modern version on the right:

Then there was this gorgeous antique applique fabric.  I love the metallic thread couched along the edges of the flowers:

Now, doesn't this look like a creepy spellbook straight out of Harry Potter?  A treasure obtained at auction, Sophie isn't sure what purpose this book originally served.  It contains no writing, but it's filled with page after page of antique fabric samples.  Perhaps it belonged to an upholsterer, who in those days would have been responsible for not just upholstered furnishings but also bed hangings, wallcoverings and window treatments as well. 
What an amazing resource!  Most of the fabric pieces in the book are too small to show a full pattern repeat, so they can't be reproduced, but they give a wealth of information about fibers and techniques, and are a great source of inspiration. 

Okay, I've saved the best for last.  This little hand painted diorama is a scale rendering of the interior design concept for a train car designed for none other than Napoleon III:

Railway Car Interior Design, presented to Napoleon III
Isn't that amazing?  Can you even imagine giving a design presentation for an emperor of France?  The detail of this model is incredible, and it's entirely hand painted.  I'll take my design software any day of the week, thank you very much, but I felt so honored to be able to see this piece of history not through the thick glass of a museum case, but up close and personal, just as it was originally presented to Napoleon III.