Monday, December 31, 2012

My Goth Chic Sewing Palace Chandelier!

Partially Transformed Currey & Co. Chandelier
Original "Largo" Chandelier
The sewing room transformation has begun!  That hideous ceiling fan is gone, replaced by a very Goth-looking incarnation of a Currey & Co. "Largo" chandelier that has been languishing in my garage for over a year.  Originally this fixture had three different painted finishes: rusty brown, verdigris, and gilt gold, along with silver leafed amber chandelier crystals.  There was a lot going on, and although the dimensions of the fixture were perfect for my space, I wanted to get rid of the gypsy circus riot of colors and make it more neutral. 

I briefly considered repainting it white or ivory so it would disappear into the walls more, but I didn't want the headache of primers, multiple coats, and incomplete coverage, so I went with a satin oil rubbed bronze and just sprayed the whole thing.  Or should I say, Bernie sprayed the whole thing, because apparently I am not to be trusted with spray paint in his garage. 
Bernie as Decorative Painter!
New Candle Sleeves on Order
I ditched the amber faceted crystal pendants, and replaced them with the smooth chandelier pendants that I took off my master bathroom fixtures.  I hated them for the bathroom, but I love them with the "new" look of this fixture.  I had been using these pendants as Christmas ornaments, so they were easy to locate at this time of year.  I had eight of them and they were exactly the same size as the amber pendants I was replacing, so I only had to order four more as replacement parts from Minka Lavery.  The candle sticks have to go, too -- they were too orange and one of them was damaged -- so we left them on during painting rather than removing them first and taping the electrical components.  I've ordered two different styles of ivory/white candleabra candle sleeves from, as well as six clear rosettes in approximately the same diameter as the octagonal amber crystals that were originally wired in place at the base of the leaves. 

Crystal Rosettes on Order
Right now I have six 40-watt "Reveal" candleabra bulbs in this fixture, which is hanging 7' off the ground, and already it's a big improvement over the amount of light I was getting from the wretched ceiling fan.  However, this room is going to need a lot more ambient lighting from cans or track lights in order to light the space evenly, without shadows, as well as beefed-up task light, especially at the cutting table.  So that's next on my husband's agenda, and while he's figuring that out, I'll be going through the mounds and mounds of accumulated "stuff" and hopefully filling some trash and/or donation bags. 

Here's one last view of my room as it looks today:

Chandelier Sans Candle Sleeves, Missing 4 Crystal Pendants
I'm really digging the look of my creepy chandelier!  I love my red painted sewing cabinet, so I'll stay with that, and I'm planning to paint the rest of the shelving and cabinetry red or deep black/brown as well.  Mismatched finishes really contribute to that feeling of overwhelming clutter.  The walls will be a very pale ivory, to keep the room feeling light and bright.

One little disclaimer: I would never, EVER, not in a million years, spray paint a chandelier this way for my dining room or for any of my interior design clients' projects.  A chandelier that originally cost close to $2,000 now looks like it cost about $500.  My faux finish artist could have changed the finish for me much more professionally and created something exquisite, but I keep reminding myself that this is a SEWING ROOM, after all, not a dining room slated for Architectural Digest, and I'm trying to snazz it up as inexpensively as possible.  A $7 can of spray paint is just what the Design-on-a-Dime Design Doctor ordered!

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Sewing Studio Has GPS: Giant Purse Syndrome!

According to The Daily Mail, the average woman's purse now weighs a whopping 5.2 pounds, and it's causing quite the increase in related back and shoulder injuries.  Why would women want to schlep around such heavy bags?  It's partly a fasion-driven phenomenon, but I think we naturally trend towards larger and larger bags over time.  You start out with a small handbag in your teens, which you pack full of makeup and a hairbrush, maybe a travel-sized can of hairspray.  Then you move up to a medium-sized bag as a young adult, so you can fit your cell phone and your planner, your keys and maybe even a novel.  Once kids come along and you get used to having a monster diaper bag to fit bottles, toys, iPads/iPods/kindles, Cheerios, water bottle etc., you get hooked on the capacity of the big bag and you pack it so full the seams are nearly splitting and tell yourself "If I got a bag just a little bigger than this one, I could fit EVERYTHING I need..."  The reality is that, the bigger the bag, the more crap you will fill it with, the less often you will clean it out, and the more difficult it will be to FIND what you're looking for when you need something!
This is my Sewing Studio when we first moved in, before we'd finished unpacking
Which brings me to the current disaster of my sewing studio.  When we bought this house with a 21'6" x 15'6" bonus room to completely dedicate to my sewing, I thought I had died and gone to heaven and I was sure I would never again feel cramped for space to create.  The previous homeowners even had a full-size pool table in this room.  My sewing room has a high vaulted ceiling, is flooded with natural daylight from the beautiful windows, and is located at the end of a narrow hallway on the second floor of our home, so no one traipses through my space on the way to some other part of the house, and I can leave in-progress projects out while I'm working on them.  Perfect, right?
This is what my sewing studio looked like a week before Christmas!
Welcome to my Chaos...
Unfortunately, just like the stuff you "need" in your purse expands to fill your handbag, the stuff I "need" in my sewing room has expanded to fill my room to the point where I don't even have room to work anymore.  My cutting table is overflowing with several in-progress projects, new rulers and other tools that I haven't found homes for, and new fabric not yet pre-washed and added to my stash.  My bulletin boards are overflowing with project ideas and inspiration ripped from various magazines.  My sewing cabinet and several folding utility tables surrounding it are similarly loaded down, and all of my storage pieces are overflowing.  It's time for a change, don't you think?  Since January is all about resolutions, renewal and reorganization, I'm planning a complete overhaul of my sewing studio for the New Year!
Step One: The Painful Purge! 
I've already started the first step, going through everything to figure out what to keep, what to throw away, and what to donate or sell.  I have accumulated quite an assortment of high-end drapery fabric and trim remnants from my interior design business, for instance, things that I couldn't bear to toss in the trash because they were so expensive, but they are mostly in pieces that are less than one yard, that don't coordinate with anything else in my own home, and they are all wrapped around tall cardboard fabric tubes so they take up a lot of real estate.  What am I REALLY going to do with these?  I remember a professional organizer once telling me that you have to consider the cost of storing items that you aren't using -- is that item worth giving up space that you could be using for something else?  Well, right now all those bolts of fancy drapery remnants are costing me the ability to run a vacuum over the carpet, preventing me from seeing or accessing everything that is buried behind them, making me feel claustrophobic and overwhelmed, and making it impossible to even consider bringing a comfortable chair or two into my room so my husband and kids could hang out with me while I'm sewing.  It's time for them to go!
Step Two: Redesign Furniture & New Floorplan

Next, I'm going to redesign my existing custom sewing cabinet, cutting table, and storage furniture to improve their function, ergonomics, and use of space. 

Santa Baby did not bring me a new sewing machine for Christmas -- but Bernie and the boys did!  My new Bernina 750QE is a bit heavier and has a larger footprint than my previous Artista 200E/730E machine, so it won't fit into the opening of my existing custom-built sewing cabinet without modifications anyway. This is a great time to make changes to the size, shape, and storage options of the sewing cabinet as well.  I'm toying with the idea of designing a larger table with two lifts on opposite sides, one for the main sewbaby and the other for the serger, which currently sits on a table top full time, taking up valuable surface space.

I'll do a new floorplan in my design software to come up with the best layout for the room (borrowing some basic principles of kitchen and bath design), and once I know where the main furniture and workstations are going, I can design a new lighting plan for the room.  Although this space has great natural light during the day, it's currently lit by a measly four bulbs on a ceiling fan that was mounted way too high to begin with and a few inadequate lamps and task lights scattered around the room.  The whole room is on a single electrical circuit as well, and every time I plug my iron in, the lights dim.  I keep my computerized sewing machines plugged into a UPS at all times to prevent damage from power fluctuations, but the truth of the matter is that the existing wiring is inadequate for the way I'm using this room. 
Step Three: Structural Upgrades, Electrical & Lighting
"Largo Chandelier" from Currey & Co.
So I'm planning to add two additional electrical circuits, one just for the iron, one for the lighting, and one for everything else.  I'm going to replace the ugly ceiling fan, which I can't turn on when I'm sewing anyway because it blows things all over the place, and maybe replace it with a fun chandelier (I have this Currey & Co. Largo Chandelier in my garage that used to be in my dining room, and I'm already thinking about repainting it in Oil Rubbed Bronze and changing out the amber crystal drops for clear ones).  Then we'll have to add additional can or track lighting around the perimeter of the room to provide even lighting without shadows -- maybe the new LED cans, which run much cooler than traditional bulbs and provide truer color rendering.  I love the red paint on my sewing cabinet, but I think the wall color and surfaces need to stay light, bright and neutral so I can focus on the colors of my project fabrics.

Step Four: Rebuild Sewing Furniture & Built-In Storage

Koala DualMate Plus IV: Pricey, Very Little Storage, and Inadequate Support for Large Quilts
The goal here will be to maximize efficiency and space.  I've looked at commercial sewing furniture from Koala, Horn, and other big name manufacturers, but they all seem to sacrifice storage capacity for the ability to fold up when not in use, and the prices are outrageous for what they are made of.  I'd like to design one large sewing cabinet for my sewing machine and serger to share, with the ability for both machines to completely lower and hide within the cabinet when not in use and no wasted storage space beneath the cabinet.  The cutting table needs to be large enough for basting a large quilt or cutting 54" wide home dec fabrics when needed, but perhaps it can have drop down leafs so that it doesn't eat up so much floor space all the time.  Storage solutions for fabric, thread and notions needs to be sized to fit contents.  Who knows -- hopefully I can even fit a small seating area and a wall-mounted flat screen TV in the redesigned room, to entice my husband to hang out with me more often while I'm sewing?  Right now he sits on the floor with his iPad and both of our hundred-pound Rottweiler puppies pile onto his lap. 

I've ordered a couple of books on sewing room design and organization tips for quilters from Amazon, and I've also been scouring Pinterest and the blogosphere, looking for suggestions and best practices from others.  If you know of any resources I may have overlooked, please share them with me in the comments!  I'm hoping that, if we can start this project in January, we can wrap it up by the end of March so I can get back to sewing again.  Not that I don't plan to commandeer the dining room as a sewing space while my room transformation is in progress...  ;-) 

So, that's what I'm planning for the new year, once the trees and decorations are all taken down and packed away.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Twelfth Birthday, Lars-of-Ours!

It's Lars's Birthday Today!
So, this is what TWELVE looks like!  Our birthday prince has spent his special day in front of the television, watching back-to-back Star Wars movies while simultaneously playing the new Nintendo DS games that he received for Christmas yesterday.  Grammy and Grampa joined us for a birthday dinner (the birthday boy specified that he wanted "pizza from Lorenzos with only cheese on it, AND those breadsticks and fried mozzarella sticks with the sauce to dip them in"). 

Oh Yes, I CAN fit 12 Candles on a Cupcake!
We had cupcakes from SAS with little LEGO brick candies stuck in the frosting, and I crammed twelve candles into Lars's cupcake (despite the disapproval of the other, more sensible adults in the family).  Then Lars opened birthday presents from his relatives.

Of course, when your birthday is the day after Christmas, you have to delay your birthday party with friends in order to minimize scheduling conflicts, so we'll be doing some kind of crazy sleepover party mid-January for Lars and his peeps.

Happy Twelfth Birthday, Lars-of-Ours!

Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Christmas Eve!

Some Snowy Church in New Hampshire
Okay, so we're not having a white Christmas here in Charlotte, North Carolina, but a girl can dream, can't I?  ;-)  I just wanted to take a quick moment to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, especially since I didn't mail cards out this year. 

My parents will be here soon for Christmas Eve dinner, featuring my husband's rouladen and a Pumpkin Gingerbread birthday cake that Anders baked for my dad (with some help and supervision from Bernie).  After dinner, we're headed to the 11 PM Christmas Eve service at church, and looking forward to the service wrapping up the same way it does every year, singing the last verse of Silent Night a capella in candlelight.  We'll make our way home after midnight, and the boys will probably fall asleep in the car -- which is why we packed a bag with their pajamas so they can change out of their church clothes as soon as they get into the car. 

Tomorrow morning, around 3 AM if I'm lucky and even earlier if I'm not, the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies who claim to be my sons will spring out of their beds with an explosion of noisy energy, zoom through the house like Tasmanian devils until everyone is awake, and then whirl down the stairs to see what Santa has brought them.  Tomorrow will be barely-controlled chaos, but tonight -- Christmas Eve -- is all about peace, tranquility, and the only Christmas gift that any of us needs:

Nativity stained glass window, St. Mary's Catholic Church, Dubuque, Iowa
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Of Christmas Trees, Candles, and Electric Lights

Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn, 1942
Lars and Anders were watching Holiday Inn for the first time this morning, enjoying the silver screen shenanigans of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  Anders, my snappy dresser, especially enjoyed Fred Astaire -- dancing in TUXEDOS?!  What's not to love? 

I was startled when I noticed that the Christmas tree in this scene was lit by actual CANDLES.  In 1942?  Didn't they have electric Christmas tree lights by then?

First Electrified Christmas Tree, 1882
Well, my curiosity was piqued, so I did a little online research and found that, although Edward Johnson, Vice President of Edison Electric Company, first wired up electric lights on a Christmas tree in his home in 1882 as a publicity stunt, the majority of American Christmas trees continued to be lit by candles for another half century.  Wealthy people began electrifying Christmas trees for their parties around the turn of the century, but not only did this require hiring electricians to individually string and wire bulbs together, but they also needed to be hooked up to generators.  The first pre-strung lights weren't introduced for sale until after 1917, but even then they were so expensive that some department stores rented them rather than selling them outright. 

Still, Holiday Inn was made in 1942, and it was a big Hollywood studio production -- surely they could afford electric lights for their sets, right?  So here's the really interesting part, the part I knew but had forgotten: The introduction of electricity was confined to urban areas for decades, creating huge disparity between the lifestyles of city dwellers versus the millions of Americans who lived in rural areas.  This was because the power companies paid to create the infrastructure necessary for providing electricity, and it just didn't make good business sense to spend a lot of money running wiring to rural areas that were sparsely populated, with so many fewer potential customers.  It wasn't until after World War II that the majority of Americans had electrical power in their homes -- so, in 1942, the Christmas Trees in "rural Connecticut" absolutely would have been lit by candles, because the farm-turned-inn and the entire town of Midville, Connecticut would have still been without electricity at that time. 

If you're interested in reading more about the history of electric Christmas lights, I found the most complete history here from the NECA National Electrical Contractors Association.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

5 Days 'Til Christmas: Advent Eye Candy from the Art World to Set the Mood

"Saint Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem," by James Tissot, 1886-1894
Notice that I did not say "five SHOPPING days" until Christmas.  The shopping is finished, the homework and projects and tests and classroom parties are finished.  The decorating is finished, and the cookies have been baked.  Now all that's left to do is "watch and wait, which is what Advent is really all about.

So, I thought I'd take a moment to share some of my favorite depictions of the Christmas story in religious art.  It's interesting to me how differently artists imagine and interpret the Bible narrative, filling in the blanks and injecting much of their own culture and perspective into their portrayals.  My favorite is "Saint Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem" by French artist James Tissot.  I can almost hear the innkeeper calling down the stairs, "There's no room in the inn!"  Joseph seems frantic, Mary looks nervous, and Tissot achieves a fairly realistic background of what Bethlehem might actually have looked like two thousand years ago.  The depth and perspective in this painting really draws me into the scene and into the story.

"Adoration of the Shepherds," by Angelo Bronzino, c. 1540
Next, we have the "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Angelo Bronzino, a 16th century artist from Florence.  I really love the idyllic, pastoral landscape in the background of this painting and the rich jewel tones of the garments -- even though I know it's preposterous.  Prior to the invention of synthetic fabric dyes in the 19th century, vivid colored textiles could only be achieved through laborious processes requiring thousands of tiny bugs, mollusks, or plant materials, and vibrant fabrics like these would have only been available to the wealthy and powerful.  Actually, the artist probably chose these colors for symbolic reasons rather than attempting to imagine what the holy family was actually wearing when Christ was born.

Which brings me to the last painting I'll share tonight (this morning?  How did it get so late?!):

"The Star of Bethlehem," by Edward Burne-Jones, Watercolor, 1890

Burne-Jones, a Pre-Rafaelite Aesthetic artist, has reinvisioned the nativity in an idealized medieval European forest.  The magi who have come to pay their respects to the Christ child are bizarrely dressed in what appears to be irridescent silk dupioni and an exquisite jacquard tablecloth -- I know this is ridiculous, but I love how this artist depicted these unlikely fabrics so skillfully, with such a high level of detail and realism.   They called it the "Aesthetic Movement" for a reason -- this is absolutely gorgeous.  Can you believe this was done in watercolor? 

Well, I set out to write a nice post about Advent and focusing on the "reason for the season," but (typically) I ended up right back where I always do, obsessing about FABRIC!  Ugh! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ta Da! Paper-Pieced Star for my Advent Table Runner

I finished my 12" paper-pieced star block for my Advent table runner!  Isn't it pretty?  I doubt I'll have any more time to work on this between now and Christmas, but at least it's started.  I played around with fabric choices for a LONG time before I started this block, and I think I achieved exactly the effect I was hoping for.  Hooray!

And now I'm off to bed.  At 1:45 AM, on a SCHOOL DAY.  Morning will be painful, but that is why God in His infinite wisdom has blessed me with espresso beverages, n'est-ce pas? 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Just for Fun: Let's Design a Sewing Machine for BOYS!

Bernina Activa 215, with Custom "Skin" for Lars-of-Ours
This morning, as I was reading V & Co's post about how she's teaching her sons and daughters to sew, I was reminded that my son Lars has asked to learn sewing a few times.  I actually bought him a toy sewing machine from Pottery Barn Kids when he was 5 or 6, but it was a disaster -- even I couldn't get that lump of garbage to sew a straight seam.  The market is flooded with cheaply made SMSOs (Sewing Machine Shaped Objects) marketed for children who are first learning to sew, and not only are most of them guaranteed to frustrate any child to the point that they give up and never learn to sew at all, but almost all of them are also bright pink, covered with flowers, and look like something out of a Barbie Dream House. 
Umm, not for MY son!!
You would think you could buy a decent first machine for a child to learn on from a major sewing machine manufacturer, but they have all fallen prey to the Barbie Unicorn Princess Plague as well.  Case in point: the Singer machine at left.  This is obnoxious and foolhardy on the part of manufacturers, because they are deliberately alienating half of their potential customers.  Yuck! 

Bernina at least has a black Bernette sewing machine geared towards children that sells for around $250, but they had to go and put flowers on the front of it.  They might as well put a big warning sign on the front of the machine saying "BEWARE -- SEWING IS ONLY FOR GIRLS!  SEWING WILL MAKE YOU GROW BOOBS!":

Bernette 46: Would be a great gender-neutral child's machine, but for the flowers

Lars hasn't mentioned wanting to sew in a long time, and honestly, I doubt he is serious about it.  But if he ever did want to learn to quilt, I think I'd have to find him a nice, used Bernina Activa machine on eBay.  I've seen the used Activas selling for anywhere from $400-800 at auction, depending on which model and how old the machine was.  For about $30, you can custom design a "skin" decal for these machines at using any graphics your heart desires, and the decals can be peeled off and changed as the child's tastes change.  Since I was designing this one with almost-twelve-year-old Lars-of-Ours in mind, I used an "Armageddon" image along with another image of a flaming electric guitar.  I wonder how many boys would be interested in sewing if a reasonably priced, entry level sewing machine that looked like this one was part of Bernina's regular lineup?  Hello, Bernina -- is anybody out there???

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sneaky-Peeky: A Paper-Pieced Star for My Nativity Table Runner

First Quadrant of my First Ever Paper-Pieced Block!
I have to leave for church in 10 minutes, but I'm so excited about the project I started last night that I had to post a quick preview.  I have a narrow console table behind the sofa in my kitchen/family room area where I display my nativity figures, and I'm currently using a store-bought quilted runner beneath them in reds and greens, but that table runner doesn't do anything for the muted colors of my nativity figurines.

Auditioning Fabrics with my Nativity Figures
I got an idea that I should make another runner in deep blue for Advent, with a gold star right in the center where the baby Jesus in the manger goes.  I've had Carol Doak's book 40 Bright and Bold Paper-Pieced Blocks (available from Amazon here) for several years, but had never gotten around to attempting paper piecing until now.  I spent several days reading and re-reading Carol's instructions, trying out different fabric combinations with my nativity figurines, and going back and forth between the different star blocks in the book before I finally settled on "Chris's Block."

I made four copies of the 1/4 unit that makes up the block, using special paper for foundation piecing (also already in my stash) that is supposed to be thin, strong, and resist transferring printer ink onto my ironing board.  I planned out my fabric placement with my sons' colored pencils, selecting colors as close as possible to my fabrics to get an accurate sense of how the finished block would turn out.  I wrote the color names of each fabric on the corresponding section of the paper foundations, lined up my pre-cut rectangles in numerical order, and sat down at my machine for some very weird upside-down sewing with my fabrics completely hidden by a piece of PAPER that I was sewing through.  This gave me ANXIETY, and I probably held my breath while I was sewing each seam.  However, I followed the instructions, kept the faith, and when I was finished I ended up with what appears to be a correctly sewn quarter of my star block.  (Note: my camera was crooked; the block is actually perfectly square).  Yippee!

I've got some gifts to wrap up for shipping and homework to supervise this afternoon, and my boys are singing in our church's Christmas concert this evening -- Lars even has a solo -- so I'm not sure whether I'll have a chance to work on the remaining three quadrants of my star today.  I only have a vague idea of what the rest of the table runner will look like, but at least I've made a start.

Happy Second Sunday of Advent to all of my Christian friends and family, and Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends!

By the way, I'm linking up to SewCalGal's Quilter's Christmas Party today.  If you have a moment, please pop over to join the fun, see what holiday projects other quilters have been working on, and learn how you can help make a difference by supporting Operation Homefront.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Santa Baby: Slip a Bernina 750 QE Under the Tree...

Dear Santa Baby,

You can skip the yacht, the sable coat, the Tiffany tree ornaments, the duplex AND the checks this year.  I'll pass on the deed to that platinum mine, too -- let someone else deal with the labor strikes in South Africa this year.  I'd trade them all away for the new 750QE sewing and embroidery machine from Bernina.
Bernina 750QE Sewing Machine

Yes, I flirted briefly with Bernina's top-of-the-line machine over the summer, the 830E or the 830LE (the Limited Edition version of this machine even had pretty swirling red graphics on the outside of the case -- pretty, but probably ultimately very distracting).  The 8 Series was released about 4 years ago, and my Bernina dealer made several valiant attempts to sell me on this machine.  However, the staggering $12,999 MSRP on the 830 machine is WAY out of my comfort zone.  Moreover, it's really not the perfect machine for me.  Why not?  

Friday, November 30, 2012

I'm Sew Inspired to Knock Off Mackenzie-Childs Jester Stockings and Christmas Tree Skirt!

Jester and Festoon Stockings, $240 EACH
Aren't these Jester and Festoon stockings from the Mackenzie-Childs catalog adorable?  They would look darling on the kitchen fireplace mantle, next to the kiddos' tree (the one decorated with miniature toys, candies, and all those handmade preschool ornaments that can never be thrown away). 
Unfortunately, the folks at Mackenzie-Childs must have gone stark, raving mad, because they want $240 EACH for these stockings, made of silk and polyester satin fabrics and rayon trims.  There are four of us, so we'd be kissing a THOUSAND DOLLARS goodbye for new Christmas stockings if I was going to order these (which I have NO intention of doing, Bernie, so please stop hyperventilating.  You're freaking out the dogs).
Court Jester Tree Skirt, $740
Anyway, you can't stop with the stockings, can you?  I mean, with these wild and whimsical stockings hung by the mantle with care, you'd need to get the matching tree skirt or no one would notice you had a tree at all.  Since the Mackenzie-Childs Court Jester Tree Skirt is $740, you're looking at close to two thousand dollars just for a tree skirt and stockings.  You could buy a sewing machine for that kind of money.  Not a sewing machine as nice as mine, mind you, but a very good sewing machine...
Which brings me to the point of this post.  For past generations, home sewing represented thrift because readymade "store-bought" clothing and soft furnishings were so much more expensive than the cost of the fabrics required for making them.  Now that so much of what we buy and wear is cheaply made overseas, home sewers can expect to spend MORE to make a garment themselves than they would pay for a similar readymade garment, unless you're talking about super high-end couture.  If someone has the skills to successfully knock off couture garments from Chanel, Dior, etc., they can find fabrics from those fashion houses at Gorgeous Fabrics and Emma One Sock and save thousands of dollars while looking like a million swanky bucks.  Unfortunately, I do not have couture garment sewing skills.
Court Jester Tree Skirt, for Crazy People with Money to Burn
But this Christmas tree skirt and stockings?  The sewing is not difficult, and the fabrics and trims are not expensive, either.  I could definitely make something like this, and have a blast doing it, too.  I probably have a few fabric odds and ends already stashed away in my sewing room that would work for this, I definitely have leftover fringes and cording trims, and I could pick up similar fabrics to the ones used here at or Mary Jo's Cloth Store in Gastonia and probably spend less than $50 for the tree skirt AND four stockings!
By my calculations, if I can make this tree skirt and stockings for $50, I will have SAVED close to $1700.  Stay tuned... 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November FMQ Challenge: Cinnamon Roll Spirals with Sarah Vedeler

November FMQ Challenge: Spiral Swirlibobs in Two Sizes
Yay!  I finished the November Free-Motion Quilting Challenge exercise, two whole days before the end of the month!  Nevermind that I still have four more months to make up before the end of the year, plus the December tutorial...  One at a time!

This month's challenge tutorial comes to us from Sarah Vedeler, an accomplished quilter and designer of gorgeous machine embroidered applique designs for quilters.  Sarah provided us with the formula for a basic spiral, template pages to print and trace for practice, and encouraged us to quilt a whole fat quarter sandwich full of rows of spirals in two sizes. 

I prefer to practice doodling new quilting designs in various iPad drawing apps, since I always have my iPad with me when I find myself waiting in the carpool line, the Starbucks drive-through, etc.  So I traced over the PDF template over and over with my stylus, erasing my "chalk" marks and starting over on the same template again and again.

Then I switched to a different drawing app, one with a graph paper background option, and practiced drawing the spirals freehand.  It wasn't as easy as it looks, and most of my spirals were shaped more like the wheels on the Flintstone family car than like actual circles.  After a few days of this, they did start getting better.

So tonight, I layered up a seasonal snowman printed fabric on top, Hobbs Tuscany Silk batting scraps in the middle, and an ugly brown paisley fabric for my backing. 

Sarah had instructed us to mark out 1" and 2" grids on our practice sandwich so we could practice two sizes of spirals.  Unfortunately, I had trouble with ALL of my marking pens and pencils today -- the purple and blue markers, chalk and soapstone pencils -- none of them would make a line on that green snowman fabric that I could see long enough to draw the adjacent line.  I finally grabbed the musty, ancient cigar box full of tailor's chalk that once belonged to Bernie's grandparents who were tailors.  Now, do as I say, not as I do -- you're NOT supposed to mark the front of your quilt with tailor's chalk because it is intended for marking the WRONG SIDES of garment fabric, and it might not wash out of a finished quilt.  But I had this whole box, with so many colors, and I didn't want to put the challenge off another day, so I threw caution to the wind and tried white, gray, yellow, and finally a lipstick red piece of tailor's chalk.  Again, I would never use this to mark a real quilt.  Who knows what kind of dye makes it red?  I'm planning to wash my practice sandwich now that it's finished, to see whether the markings come out or not. 

Also, now that I'm done with this, I notice there are bulges of fabric puffing up between my spirals, and I don't really like that.  So, if this was for a real quilt, it might be worth it to actually quilt the grid lines with water soluble basting thread before quilting the spirals.  Then I'd only have to mark the first line, and I could use that guide thingy on my walking foot to space all the other lines evenly.

Cinnamon Roll Surprise!
Oh, and the surprise?  When I flipped my practice sandwich over after quilting it, I discovered that my "ugly" brown backing fabric had been transformed into cinnamon rolls by the quilting design!  Mmmm...  I wonder if there's any chance I could convince my husband to go out in search of cinnamon rolls at 9:30 at night?  I'm suddenly hungry...

So, my November FMQ challenge is completed and crossed off my list. I still have four more months to make up in addition to the new challenge that will be posted in December.  I wonder if I'll be able to fit them all in by the end of the year?  I want to thank Sarah Vedeler for sharing her spiral tutorial, and SewCalGal for hosting the challenge.   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: 163 Favorite Patchwork Patterns, in Japanese!

163 Favorite Patchwork Patterns
パッチワークのお気に入りパターン163 by Shufutoseikatsusha
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is amazing -- Someone mentioned it on a blog, and I hunted it down online and ordered it on Amazon here.  I paid close to $50 for the 200+ page paperback book, which shipped from a 3rd party Amazon seller directly from Japan, and nervously awaited the book's arrival, hoping I wouldn't be completely flummoxed by the fact that this book is entirely in Japanese. Well, the clear, full-color photographs of the front AND back side of each block design, as well as clear illustrations with numbers and arrows designating the order of construction of each block, make it easy for anyone with basic knowledge of patchwork construction to follow. 

photo from
Each block is line drawn without seam allowances, so basic drafting skills will be needed to create templates for the blocks in sizes appropriate for your project. And the blocks themselves -- WOW! The patterns get progressively more challenging as you flip through the book, but there are so many vintage block designs that I had never seen before, so many that I know I want to make. This book was worth every penny that I paid for it and then some; it's now one of my favorite quilting books. Highly recommended!

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Wrap-Up 2012: Grampa's In-House Catering Service Saves the Day

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!  I hope you all had a wonderful, restful day, complete with good food and surrounded with the blessings of friends and family. 

We have so much to be thankful for this year.  The cease-fire in Gaza reminds me of how fortunate we are to live in a place where violence is rare and the day-to-day safety of our loved ones is something we can take for granted.  We're thankful for our home, our livelihood, our community, and for the wonderful teachers who bless our children with their dedication and enthusiasm every single day.  And we're thankful for the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies who go by the names Lars and Anders, our rambunctious sons who try our patience daily but also fill our lives with so much joy that we wouldn't trade them for the world.

Those are the Big Blessings, but honestly, what I was most thankful for this Thanksgiving was Grampa's In-House Catering Service!  Since Bernie has been traveling so much for work this month, and I was busy working on a design project for a new client on top of my responsibilities as Chauffeur, Algebra Tutor, Science Project Supervisor, and Keeper of the Video Games for the two princelings, I just didn't have the time or energy for the weeks of cooking necessitated by our traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu.  Then, to make matters worse, Bernie stumbled and fell on the stairs last week, spraining his ankle pretty badly, so he was on crutches and unable to fulfil his usual role as Thanksgiving Sous Chef.  My father, who is himself recovering from shoulder surgery, came to the rescue.  Bernie managed to do a remarkable job cleaning our house with a crutch under one arm, pushing the vacuum cleaner with the other, and laid out roasting pans and other equipment.  I set the dining room table, decapitated some roses and arranged them in a bowl for a centerpeice, and my parents showed up on Thanksgiving morning with a completely prepped Thanksgiving meal to cook in my ovens: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and green bean casserole.  I had made my Cranberry Citrus Compote and Cinnamon Molasses Pumpkin Pies ahead of time and stocked up on champagne and our favorite pinot noir, and my mother made the gravy, so we managed to pull off a decent Thanksgiving feast between the four of us.  Dad's apple cider brined turkey was delicious, and all the tastier because I didn't have to fret over it myself.  Thanks for coming to the rescue, Dad!  :-)

Photo Shamelessly Stolen from SewCalGal
This was the most relaxing Thanksgiving Day I've had in a long time.  I even managed to sneak upstairs to my sewing room to whip up another Dresden Plate while everyone else was watching the Westminster Dog Show downstairs.  Which is why, when I saw this adorable quilted turkey with Dresden Plate tail feathers on SewCalGal's Thanksgiving post, I had to snatch it for myself.  By the way, Darlene -- as I'm counting my blessings, you're on the list.  Thank you so much for your 2012 Free-Motion Quilting Challenge.  I know you have put a lot of work into organizing and hosting this year-long event on your blog, lining up expert quilters, sponsors and prizes, and getting the tutorials and winners posted each month.  I am amazed by how much my FMQ skills have improved, just by spending one day each month practicing a new technique.  Thank you for bringing this community of quilters together from all over the world to inspire and encourage one another!

My Dresden Plate, One of Eight
As of right now, I have 7 Dresden Plates pieced, and I just need to assemble one more before I get out my embroidery module and machine-applique the red flower centers to all of the blocks (using Marjorie Busby's fabulous embroidery design for Accuquilt precuts). 

Rose Dream Block from the Kansas City Star, click here for Tutorial
The plan is to alternate Dresden Plate blocks with the vintage Rose Dream block that the lovely, talented, and unbelievably generous Charise of Charise Creates was sweet enough to redraft as a 14" block for me, just so it would work for this Dresden Plate quilt.  Charise, I'm thankful for you, too -- and can't wait to see what other challenging and unusual blocks you'll be sharing in your Vintage Block QAL in the coming months. 

The Rose Dream block was published in the Kansas City Star in 1930, around the same time that Dresden Plate quilts were most popular, so I feel like the two blocks make sense together historically.  The curved piecing looks just a bit more challenging than the drunkard's path blocks I mastered for Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt, and I feel like the combination of curved lines and pointy little squares will be a nice complement to the pointed edges on my Dresden Plates.  I've traced Charise's enlarged pattern pieces onto template plastic and carefully cut them out, but I haven't cut any fabric for these blocks yet.  I'm still considering different options for the background fabrics in this quilt, and I think I'm going to use one of my software programs to audition a few alternatives before I make a commitment.  I don't have any of the dedicated quilting software programs like EQ7, and I don't have the ability to create a new block design in the quilt design function of my Bernina Artista embroidery design software (and there's no way this Rose Dream block would be one of the block designs in the software's design library.  However, I think I will be able to use my Minutes Matter Studio interior design software program to do some mock-ups for this quilt, since I can draw any shapes I want, fill them with fabrics, and import, crop, and duplicate photos in Studio.  I'll let you know how that works out.

Meanwhile, my hallway is piled high with boxes of Christmas decorations, and my family is chomping at the bit to haul out the holly and decorate Christmas trees.  Lars and Anders have even been cleaning their bedrooms, with actual cleaning products, because Bernie told them he wasn't going to set foot in the LEGO store this year unless they could put away all of the LEGOs they already own.  Who ARE these whirling dervishes of bedroom cleaning, and what have they done with my sons?!

Whatever you're up to this weekend, whether it's holiday decorating, shopping, or just relaxing and enjoying leftover turkey, I hope you have a chance to reflect on your blessings and spend time with your loved ones.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgving, Simplified: Profanity-Free Pumpkin Pies

The Crust that Saved Thanksgiving
Go ahead -- judge me.  I don't even care.  Every time I bake a pie, I dread making the crust.  It's always too crumbly, except when it's too sticky.  It slides around all over the counter when I try to roll the dough into a circle, no matter which fancy plastic pie baggy or silicone pastry mat or sheets of parchment paper I attempt to control it with.  And it never fits into my pie plates with enough overhang to make a cute little fluted edge like it's supposed to.  Yes, you have more choices when you make your own pie crust, and the cinnamon pecan pie crust that my molasses pumpkin pie recipe calls for is probably tastier and slightly more interesting than a plain, ordinary crust.  Then there's that whole "I made it from scratch" thing, and it's only once a year...  So this morning, I dragged out all my ingredients, and read through the recipe yet again, biting my fingernails, beads of sweat glistening on my forehead, and snarling flames shooting out from my ears and eyeballs when anyone dared to interrupt my concentration by speaking to me. 

I examined my glass pie plates, an assortment of Deep Dish Pyrex jobs ranging from 9" to 9 1/2" diameter, and contemplated dashing out to Target or Bed,Bath & Beyond in search of shallower, "standard" 9" pie plates.  Then I envisioned the hassle of parking, holiday shopping crowds, and the distinct possibility that neither store would even have the kind of pie plate I was looking for, that I'd hunt all over town for it all day long, and that I STILL would have to come home and roll out pie crust afterwards.
Well, nuts to that -- Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to relax and count your blessings, not a time to teach your children new swear words as your pie crust disintegrates all over the kitchen counter.  I'm making my molasses pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, but this time I'm using these delightful Pillsbury Pet Ritz frozen pie crusts from the grocery store that come already shaped in their own little disposable pie pans.  I blind-baked the crusts with my pie weights, mixed up a batch of my favorite molasses pumpkin pie filling, poured it into the crusts, and baked them as usual. 
Cinnamon-Molasses Pumpkin Pies with Profanity-Free Piecrusts
This Thanksgiving, I will be thankful that the folks at Pillsbury make pie crusts so I don't have to do it anymore.  And, if anyone in my family misses the original pecan pie crust enough to give me grief about it?  Well, they are welcome to sell their souls to the pastry devils and learn to make pie crusts on their own.
Now, with a smile on my face and a latte in my hand, I'm going right upstairs to my sewing room to make another Dresden plate. 
"Thanksgiving Pie," Norman Rockwell, 1930