Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Of Kiddie Blogs and Mommywork

For the unfortunate children who live beneath my roof, school work does not cease on the last day of school. Homework may end, but the Mommywork is just beginning! I haven't assigned any major projects over the summer (yet!), but instead of having a summer free-for-all we shift to a more laid-back, simplified version of the schedule and routine that has been working throughout the school year. This means that both boys must get dressed in the morning and eat breakfast regardless of whether they are enrolled in a day camp that week, they both must practice piano every day, and if they want to play with their iPods, Nintendo DS or Playstation games, they must complete one Mommywork assignment for me. I feel that this makes the transition back to school at the end of August much smoother, for one thing, and there's much less chaos in the house when everyone knows what is expected of him. Don't worry -- they still have plenty of free time to read, play with Legos, and splash around in Grammy's pool!

The first summer that I declared Mommywork, I picked up a couple of those summer skills workbooks from Barnes & Noble and insisted on a page a day. My shrewd Lars would flip through the book and find the easiest page possible, something he knew backwards and forwards already and did not need to practice. In subsequent summers, I've focused on skills that I knew they needed to reinforce, like memorizing multiplication facts or long division coloring worksheets. This summer, I'd like both boys to practice writing and keyboarding. 

Writing assignments are particularly onerous for both of them, and they haven't been able to take full advantage of word processing time savers like copy, cut and paste editing because they were plucking away at the keyboard with their index fingers, searching out one letter at a time.  I purchased a copy of Type To Learn 4 a few weeks ago, and they've been learning the layout of the keyboard and which fingers go where as they work through the typing game lessons, but in order for their speed to improve they are going to have to reinforce what they are learning through additional typing practice.  I briefly considered asking Anders to type up my grocery lists or copy pages from a book, but then I got the idea of introducing kiddie blogs!  I found the perfect free Blogger templates for each of them and set up their blogs while they were at school, as a surprise.

Lars's Blog
Anders' Blog

As I'd hoped, both boys were elated to have their very own blogs.  Little boys who would have grumbled and complained of child abuse if I asked them to write so much as a paragraph scampered off eagerly to separate computers and began typing away unbidden.  Bliss!

Lars's and Anders' blogs are set up under my Blogger account, and the boys are set up as authors, but not administrators of their blogs.  That means they can post whatever they want, but they can't waste time messing around with their blog layout, template, widgets etc. like I did last week.  I set them up as closed blogs, viewable by members only, and sent invitations to their relatives and close friends.  Their blogs do not generate RSS feeds, are not viewable to search engines, and are not listed on Blogger.  This way, if either of them should happen to post something foolish (remember what happened when other kids found the notebooks written by Harriet the Spy?), it's not out there on the Internet for the world to see, and I can go in and edit or delete anything before too much damage is done.  The downside to this is that anyone who wants to read their blogs needs to physically go to their blog site periodically to check for new posts.  You can't just subscribe to email updates for a blog that does not generate any feeds.

Troll Image courtesy Blogrulon
The other parental safeguard I enacted is that all blog comments are moderated by the administrator (me) and no comments will post until I approve them.  This would be even more important if their blogs were visible to anyone with an internet connection instead of members-only.  Kids need to work on their writing in a supportive environment where criticism is constructive, and the last thing they need is some anonymous "troll" to come along and blast them with hateful comments.  (In case you're not familiar with the trolls of the 21st century, Kristen Lamb has a great post about them here). 

So far, Lars and Anders have posted about LEGO Ninjago and about the Avengers movie we saw recently.  They are spending more time searching the Internet for images of LEGO figures than I would like, but at least they are writing.  It's kind of like the dialogue journal Anders' class was doing throughout the school year, where they had to write about something of their choosing once or twice a week and then their parents or their teacher would write back to them in the notebook.  The difference is that they are honing their typing skills as well as practicing writing, and that they are getting responses and encouragement from relatives all over the country instead of just from one person.  They were positively gleeful about the comments they read this morning before school, and I know they will be excited about sitting down to write some more after piano lessons today.

I'd like to encourage them to branch out a bit, so I'm thinking of making up some index cards with writing prompts or topics that they can choose from, such as "Why Kids Should Rule the World," a book review, Instruction Manual for New Parents of Boys, Best/Worst Thing that Happened to Me Today, etc.  Maybe they can alternate their LEGO advertisements with my non-LEGO prompts!

Do your children write blogs?  If so, what do you do to supervise their interaction with strangers on the Internet?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"In the Hoop" Quilting with the Embroidery Module

...And we're off to the races!  Here you can see I've secured my hooped quilt into the embroidery module of my Bernina Artista 200/730 sewing machine.  Notice the way I have the bulk of the quilt piled up around the sewing machine so the embroidery module can move freely without the weight of the quilt creating drag that would result in distortion or misalignment of the design.  I've also checked and double-checked that no part of the quilt is stuck UNDER the embroidery hoop, which would be truly disastrous!  
40 wt YLI Variegated Machine Quilting Thread
I'm glad I tested out a couple of different thread scenarios.  Although the design stitched out beautifully with the SewArt monofilament nylon thread in the needle and 60 weight Mettler cotton embroidery thread in the bobbin, I felt like my efforts would be wasted on all these fancy quilting designs if I couldn't see them on the top of the quilt.  I went back to those beautiful variegated YLI and Superior Threads machine quilting threads, but since those are much heavier 40 weight threads, I had to switch from a 75/11 quilting needle to a 90/14 needle that left a bigger hole, allowing the bobbin thread to show as little dots on the top of the sample quilt and the top thread to show up on the backing side.  The starting and stopping points in the outline quilting design were also quite pronounced, as you can see in the photo at left.  That's because the machine takes several tiny stitches at the beginning and end of each "ring" of the design to prevent the stitches from pulling out after the thread tails are snipped.  With this heavier thread, those stitches sort of pile up on top of one another, and they jump out at me even more because with the variegated thread it's usually two different thread colors coming together at the point where the two lines of stitching meet.  The knotty thread bumps were even worse on the back of the sample:

Backing Side, 40 wt in Needle, 60 wt in Bobbin
YUCK!!!!  Granted, I could have improved my results with the 40 weight thread by using the same weight thread in the bobbin and tweaking the tension, but that wouldn't make the knots go away.  With 60 weight thread, you can't see where the knots are and you can't even feel them when you run your hand across the back of the design.  Ultimately, I just thought the heavier 40 weight thread looked clumsy compared to the elegance and precision of the 60 weight thread with the tiny needle. 

Top Side, Sample Stitched with 75/11 Needle and 60 weight Cotton Thread
So for the next sample stitch out, I went back to my 75/11 quilting needle and threaded my needle with a light blue shade of Mettler 60 weight cotton embroidery thread, using the same thread in the off-white color for the bobbin.  I overrode the machine's embroidery tension setting and set it at 4.0 since I want balanced stitches and I'm using the same thread top and bottom (most of the time with embroidery, you want UNbalanced stitching with the decorative needle thread pulled slightly to the backing, since embroidery bobbin thread just comes in black or white). 

BACKING side, 75/11 Needle and 60 weight Cotton Embroidery Thread
This combination of needle, threads, and tension settings produced near perfect results on both sides of the quilt sample, as you can see on these red and yellow tractor fabric samples.  Isn't it amazing what a difference the thread makes?  Scroll back up and look at the ugliness I got with the 40 weight thread on that brown tractor fabric.  Same design, same everything, the only difference is heavier thread and the larger needle required to accommodate it. 

So, once I'd nailed down the needle/thread/tension particulars, I snapped a hoop onto one of the circles at the center of my quilt, trying to use the block seamlines to make sure the hoop was centered.  This is actually a lot more difficult than you'd think, especially due to the size and thickness of the quilt.  My first try wasn't centered as well as it could have been, but it's not noticeable from a distance so I decided not to rip it out, since that would leave needle holes in the batik fabric that might not close up completely when the quilt was washed.  I'll try to do a better job of lining it up on the next one. 

First Decorative Quilting Motif Stitched Out

Ta da!  The cotton quilting thread is just a bit more visible against my fabrics than the grid quilting that I stitched earlier with the invisible nylon monofilament thread. 

First Motif Stitched, Backing Side
As you can see from the back side, I still have a lot of space to fill in with free motion background quilting once I get all of these "in the hoop" quilting designs stitched out on the quilt.

It only takes two minutes for my sewing machine to automatically stitch out this design, and unless the quilt gets caught on something during stitching the design comes out perfectly every time.  Again, it would be nice if I could have enlarged my quilting design to 10" diameter to completely fill the big circles on my quilt, because then I wouldn't have to go back and add free motion quilting around every single motif.  (The Jumbo Hoop, available for the Bernina 830LE machine, has an embroidery field of 10" x 15 3/4").  However, free motion quilting is a skill that I really want to master, because then I could quilt any design I wanted without having to first find or create a digitized embroidery file or wrestling to hoop an unwieldy quilt.  That reminds me -- I really need to call that quilt shop in Concord and reschedule my free motion quilting class!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

Okay, so I had a birthday.  This is what my cake could have looked like, but my husband sensibly opted for a single candle in a cupcake instead.  No need for a blazing birthday inferno.  I had a nice day at home with my family, eating lobsters and playing Uno.

You probably noticed I changed my blog template back.  Whatever.  I learned a lot about HTML code that I never wanted to know, but I've finally put things back to normal.  Duplicate blog posts, weird slide shows, and funny locked ad widgets or gadgets or whatever they were have been banished after several frustrating hours of searching through help guides and FAQs.  All in all, it was a colossal waste of time.

Today's the last day of the Memorial Day weekend, but we don't have anything special planned.  I've been avoiding things like laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning the bathrooms, and it's starting to catch up with me.  If I don't buy food today, I'll be packing Uncle Buck-style lunches this week:

School Lunch from the 1989 film, Uncle Buck

A can of sardines, a mayonnaise jar full of milk, a banana that is clearly past its prime, raw bacon, and who knows what that slimey green thing is in the Ziplock bag?  Don't judge me -- even if I sent good food in their lunch boxes, my kids wouldn't eat it anyway.  Sometimes, if Anders brings his food home instead of throwing it away, I can get away with sending the same sandwich to school three or four days in a row.  There's not much you can do when the kid won't eat any sandwich other than peanut butter and marmalade, and he goes to a completely nut-free school.

I hope you're all enjoying your Memorial Day weekend and getting everything ready for the coming week.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

High-Tech Quilting: Editing a Digitized Quilting Motif with Artista Embroidery Software

Bernina Artista v6 Embroidery Software
Well, I finished my last mastery class today for the Bernina Artista version 6 embroidery design software.  Today's class went over the quilt design program within the embroidery software.  I don't think it's as powerful as the Electric Quilt 7 software, but the Artista quilting program would be a good "test drive" to see if I like designing quilts on the computer.

The embroidery software is really cool, and does so much more than I'll ever use it for.  We really just got an overview of the software in the mastery classes.  Bernie printed out the 586 page PDF online help manual for me, and I know I'll be marking it up with notes and referring to it often.  The most immediate benefit I got out of taking these embroidery software classes right now was that I figured out how to delete half of a professionally digitized quilt motif so I can use it on the half blocks at the edges of Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt.

The design I selected for the center of the circles on this quilt is from from retired OESD Collection 788, Quilting Inspirations by Keryn Emmerson, and I've enlarged it to completely fill the width of my largest embroidery hoop.  Then I edited the design, deleting everything on the right half, one node at a time:

Deleting the unwanted portion of the design in my Artista software, one node at a time

This is what I ended up with:

Ta Da!  Half Design Completed
As you can see, the design has a heavy vertical line at what is now the right edge.  That's because the design consisted of closed objects that wanted to remain closed objects.  I went in and deleted lots of individual stitches, so now that heavy line is more like long jump stitches that I'll be able to trim as I go.  If everything is positioned correctly, the quilt binding should line right up at the edge of this design.

Sample Stitched in Invisible Nylon Monofilament
I saved the designs to a USB stick, plugged it into my sewing machine, and stitched out both versions, the full circle and the half circle.  (I used the ugliest fabric in my stash, John Deere Tractors from Lars's preschool tractor phase).  Both versions stitched out beautifully with the needle tension reduced to 1.5 for the monofilament nylon thread in the needle.  Here's the thing, though -- it was so disappointing to have the design stitch perfectly on my sample, and only be able to SEE it on the BACK! 

Same Sample, Back Side Showing 60 wt Cotton Bobbin Thread
I'm now considering using one of my pretty variegated quilting threads in the needle for the quilting inside the circles, staying with the 60 weight cotton Mettler embroidery thread in the bobbin that I've been using all along.  I'll have to stitch some more samples and play around with that before I start stitching this design on the quilt, one circle at a time.  The variegated threads come in 40 weight, which is a lot heavier than the 60 weight thread in my bobbin.  I could just use a pretty blue or orange solid thread in the needle instead, to reduce potential tension issues.  Since this portion of the quilting process is going to be completely computerized, there shouldn't be any "oopses" that need to be hidden with invisible thread.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, everyone!

Friday, May 25, 2012

How Do You Like the New Me?

So, Folks -- what do you think of the new look?  My son Lars and my husband both like the old blog template better, but I was getting tired of it and wanted a change.  I especially disliked the background of the old template, which reminded me of ugly plywood paneling.  I didn't know how to edit the old template to change just the background, so I threw out the baby with the bath water and started from scratch with a different template.

I think the new blog template is cheerful without being too busy or distracting, and the bright colors are refreshing.  I also like that I can list links to my most frequent topics on tabs at the top of the page; this makes it easier for readers to find the posts they're interested in without having to wade through everything else.  I think that the Features Slideshow at the top will also be a useful tool to help readers find the content they're looking for.  I'm trying to make it as easy as possible for my father-in-law to avoid the sewing posts without missing out on any of his grandsons' adventures!  ;-)

Since Lars and Bernie have been so vocal with their opinions, I'm curious about what the rest of you think.  Cast your vote and you just might get me to put the blog back the way it was.  Then again, as obstinate as I am, I might just keep the new blog to spite everyone...

By the way, I set up blogs for Lars and Anders yesterday!  They have been working on their keyboarding skills with a program called Type To Learn 4, and both of them will benefit from practicing writing and typing over the summer.  They are closed/private blogs, so you can't see them unless you're a member.  If you're a close friend or family member who would like to read Lars's and Anders' blogs, let me know and I'll send you an invitation.  They are both very excited about their blogs.  They will be posting throughout the summer, sometimes on topics of their choosing, but I will also give them writing prompts to guide their efforts.  I know they will appreciate your comments and encouragement!

5/26/2012: After spending several hours installing and customizing the Featured Slider at the top of the blog, I decided it's annoying to pictures constantly moving at the top of the page when you're trying to read, so I deleted that gizmo.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quilting Inspiration From End of Grade Exam Proctoring

Quilting Inspiration?

In an effort to be a "more involved" parent, I spent three mind-numbingly boring hours proctoring End of Grade (EOG) Math Testing at my kids' school today.  For some mysterious reason, I was assigned to carry out my duties as test warden in the After Care room rather than in a regular classroom, and there were a total of two seventh-grade students testing in there today.  The After Care room is a dreary, desolate place that is devoid of the posters and students' work which typically festoons the walls of actual classrooms.  Our testing dungeon was enclosed by three grayish-white walls, one garishly cobalt blue wall, and its windows were completely covered with dreary white metal miniblinds (to minimize distractions, no doubt).  There was a white dry erase board, blank except for where the test administrator had scrawled the start time and the time of the next scheduled break, and a few television sets enthroned on their A/V carts were parked in the room as well, but televisions are even less exciting than usual when they aren't turned on.  In fact, the only interesting thing to gaze upon in the entire room was this box of Kleenex:

I stared at this Kleenex box for the better part of three hours today, while simultaneously assisting the teacher/test administrator to supervise two intellectually gifted seventh graders to ensure they were completely darkening the little bubbles on their answer sheets.  I was pretty confident in the students' ability to color in their answer bubbles on their own, and I wasn't about to hover over their shoulders throughout the exam, but the State of North Carolina tapped me to monitor this testing environment and ensure that there were no "irregularities," so that's what I had to do -- with one eye.  Because my other eye was staring at the Kleenex box the whole time.  Multitasking at its finest!! 

Design from Retired OESD Collection #788
Of course, the Kleenex box was only captivating me because I'm on the prowl for quilting design ideas now that I finished quilting in the ditch around all of those big circles.  I went through my stash of professionally digitized outline quilting designs for my embroidery module, and I ended up coming back to the same Keryn Emmerson design (from OESD retired Collection #788, Quilting Inspirations by Keryn Emmerson) that I was drawn to initially (at left):

I'll use my embroidery module to automatically stitch this motif in the center of each circle
The circles on my quilt are 11" diameter, but my sewing machine can only embroider a design with a maximum width of 5.75".  That leaves about a 3" wide ring around my design that I'll need to fill with some kind of free motion quilting.  At first I thought I'd just echo quilt around the design, but that would be almost as boring as proctoring the EOG exams, and if I've learned one thing from my recent free motion quilting adventures, it's that smooth, perfect circles are not reasonable goals for beginners!  Plus they wouldn't really add anything to the quilting design.

So now, back to the Kleenex box (I'll bet the students and the teacher administering the exam think I'm bonkers for staring at that Kleenex box all morning, and then taking a PICTURE of it with my phone before I left!).  Maybe I could free motion quilt some flames/petals/sunshine rays or whatever, similar to the design on the Kleenex box, around the embroidered motif to fill the rest of the space in my circles?  I'm going to stitch out several samples of this motif so I can experiment and practice before I start in on the real deal.

By the way, the jury is still out on the Bernina BSR Stitch Regulator.  I used the BSR for two of my quilt circles, but I found that the foot itself is pretty thick and bulky, and it obstructs my view when I have to stitch away from myself diagonally to the right, so I felt like I was sewing blind for a quarter of each circle.  For this task, I felt much more comfortable using Foot #24 and controlling stitch length manually.  I will try quilting with and without the BSR again when I do the free motion quilting around the circular designs.  Part of me would really like to master free motion quilting without this fancy gadget, because you never know if someday my sewing machine will die a terrible, horrible death at a time when I can't afford to replace it with the luxury, top-of-the-line model.  Pretty much ANY sewing machine can be used for free motion quilting, as long as you can lower the feed dogs and put on a darning foot.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun with Glitter Polish

Channeling My Inner 'Tween: Piano Practice is More Fun with Glitter Polish
Happy Sunday!  As you can see, I've accomplished great things today in the realm of nail polish.  I'm plodding along with my piano practice despite my frustrating tendency to practice the same mistakes over and over again.  Certain measures continue to pop up and take me completely by surprise, like whack-a-moles that I've never seen before, even though I've played the song hundreds of times by now.  There should not be any more surprises!  I've got Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter completely memorized, but my fingers keep tripping over he keys in exactly the same places every time.  It's like I'm a really uncoordinated person trying to dance, who knows all the steps but just can't get her feet to execute them properly.  Last week I started working on the aptly-named Mission: Impossible theme and that's off to a rough start as well.  Since practice, scowling, and swearing weren't helping, I decided to try childish pink fingernails sprinkled with pixie dust to see if that helped me play better.  The verdict?  Well, it certainly can't hurt!

OPI Charged Up Cherry
OPI Last Friday Night
This actually looks even sillier in person -- bright, hot pink, topped with irridescent glitter.  Here, now, I'll pretend to be a Beauty Blogger and I'll tell you exactly which polishes I used, in case you'd like to indulge your own inner 'tween:

I've got an unbecoming shade of hot pink, OPI Charged Up Cherry, layered beneath OPI Last Friday Night from the Katy Perry Collection.  It's really a clear with a bluish tint.  Together, the effect is pleasantly obnoxious.  Anders editorializes that my fingernails look "horribly obnoxious!"  He doesn't even like glittery fake eyelashes -- party pooper!  Hmmm...  I volunteered to proctor EOG (End of Grade) testing at school next week.  Do you think it would be distracting to the kids if I dug those glittery eyelashes out of the Halloween box and wore them on testing day?

Other things that are obnoxious:  Blogger informing me just now that I have exceeded the storage limit in my Picasa album and now I have to pay to upload pictures of blue glitter nailpolish to my blog.  This makes me grouchy.  Doesn't Google know that there isn't enough glitter in the world, and I'm trying to do a public service here?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Garden Surprises, Class Cancellation and BSR Revelations

Surprise!  Forgotten Perennials Popped Up in My Garden
Happy Friday!  I had planned to be in an all-day machine quilting class up in Concord today, but fortunately I called yesterday to confirm before packing up my sewing machine and other equipment and driving all the way up there -- the instructor had to cancel due to a water problem at her home, and the quilt shop did not have my phone number.  This is just as well, because I had to help Anders with a persuasive essay last night and by the time we'd read our latest chapter of the Sherlock Holmes classic A Study in Scarlet and I'd tucked the boys in bed, I was pretty tuckered out myself.

At least I was able to meet with Cynthia at the Bernina dealership yesterday afternoon to figure out why I'm having so much trouble using the BSR Bernina Stitch Regulator.  The mystery was solved in about 20 minutes. 

BSR Foot, photo courtesy Bernina USA
The instructions for the BSR say that you can push the "Start/Stop Button" on the front of your sewing machine to start or stop stitching.  I though that must be the button with the curved arrow that looks like an umbrella handle (you can that see it in the photo at left), but I was wrong.  The Artista 200 and Artista 730 machines do not have a start/stop button!  No wonder I was having trouble controlling the machine, since I was pushing the Quick Reverse button that doesn't do a darned thing with the feed dogs lowered.  Duh...  Cynthia recommended using BSR in Mode 1, operating it with the foot control, and using the needle stop down feature to make it easier to reposition your hands as you're working.  Then you just tap the foot pedal with your heel to raise the needle when you're ready to stitch again, and you're exactly where you left off.  Cynthia says you tend to get a big, ugly starting stitch with Mode 2, which is why she doesn't use that one, and I remember having that problem when I was practicing as well.  So I'll be putting these suggestions to work the next time I get a chance to work on Lars's quilt (hopefully today, if I can tear myself away from the computer).  I'll let you know how that works out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Magical Banana Muffin Bliss!

After several attempts, I have finally discovered the Holy Grail of banana muffin recipes.  Flavorful but not too sweet, these muffins made up quickly and easily.  The taste is similar to my favorite banana bread recipe, with a much lighter texture, and the recipe contains nonfat yogurt, old fashioned rolled oats and oat bran, and there's just a little butter in the crumb topping so it's pretty healthy, as far as muffins go.  Mine are square because my only muffin pan is square instead of round.

The recipe is from the folks at King Arthur Flour, and you can find it here.  I do recommend that you measure your mashed banana to make sure you have a cup and a half, though.  The recipe says 2-3 large bananas will equal that amount, but I needed four small bananas to get a cup and a half.

Happy baking!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Plodding Along, In Circles

Hello, friends and family!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother's Day yesterday. 

I think I'm about halfway done with the free motion ditch quilting around the circles on Lars's "Drunken Dragons" Drunkard's Path quilt.  Thanks to the invisible nylon monofilament thread, the stitching is practically invisible on the front of the quilt -- oopses and all -- but on the back of the quilt you can see the grid of straight stitching that I did along the straight seamlines and the outlines of the circles.  I'm not using that BSR thing to control the stitch length, but I feel like I'm doing alright without it for this task.  The hardest thing is controlling the bulk of the big, heavy quilt while I try to move it in a big, huge circle without any jerks or tugs.  I have lots of jagged spots on my circles if you look closely on the back, so we won't be posting any more close ups of the back from here on out.

One of the sales ladies at the Bernina dealership has agreed to give me a one-on-one lesson on Thursday to show me how to stop and start the expensive BSR Bernina Stitch Regulator contraption and how the different modes work, because the directions that came with the darned thing are atrocious.  People look at me like I'm crazy when I say I can't get the BSR to work for me, which means there must be something REALLY EASY that I'm missing.  My issues are:
  1. I'm unclear about how to start and stop a line of quilting stitches in each of the two stitching modes of BSR.  I need the first 5-7 stitches and the last 5-7 stitches of every line of quilting to be really tiny so they don't pull out when I clip the thread tails.  How do I secure my stitches in Mode 1 if the sewing machine is going to make all of the stitches the same length? 
  2. I'm trying to stitch 11" diameter circles, but I can only control an area of about 4-6" at a time.  That means I slowly sew for a few inches, then need to stop to reposition my hands.  When I pick up my hands to reposition them, the fabric always moves just a smidge, and the BSR laser contraption picks up on the fabric movement and starts sewing again before I'm ready.  How do I disengage the BSR long enough to move my hands?
  3. I tried to use my needle stop down function to make sure nothing shifts when I use my hands, but that's a problem, too -- with BSR, the machine starts stitching when the fabric MOVES, but when I'm ready to start sewing again I can't move the fabric when the needle is sticking down into it.  Am I supposed to use needle stop down, and then manually raise the needle again when I'm ready to stitch?  Then I have to take one of my hands off the quilt to raise the needle, and then the fabric shifts again and my quilting line gets a crooked little snag.
  4. Finally, on  my 18" practice sample, I was not getting even stitches with my BSR at all.  For one thing, most of the stitches were much shorter than the length I had set the machine to.  Then there would be random LOOOONNNNG stitches here and there.  Maybe I was moving the fabric too fast at that point?
Anyway, I'm keeping an open mind about the BSR until I have the dealer walk me through it on Thursday.  Then on Friday I'm taking a beginner machine quilting class at a store about an hour away from me while the kids are in school, and that class won't have anything to do with the BSR because it's a Brother dealership, not Bernina hosting the class.  One way or another, I'm going to learn how to do this.  Saturday morning I have another embroidery software mastery class.  The irony is that, with all these sewing classes, there isn't much time left over for actual sewing!

Have a wonderful week.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spring Blossoms and Shrubberies

The Peonies that I Always Forget to Stake
In my flower dump, a triangular bed surrounding a lamp post at the end of my driveway full of a mishmash of plants lacking any plan whatsoever, I have a peony plant that I always forget to stake until it's too late.  The blossoms are so heavy that they hang down to the ground and get lost in the foliage from the fading irises.  These flowers don't last long, and staking them individually would be a big pain in the butt, but they sure are beautiful, aren't they?

Orange Lilies of Hatefulness
I also have some orange lilies beginning to bloom.  My son Lars, now an expert on the symbolic meaning of flowers thanks to his Language Arts teacher, has informed me that orange flowers mean "I Hate You."  I have no response for that.  I like the orange flowers, and so does he, so in our gardens orange flowers mean "Lars lives here."

Six New 5' Hollies Along Front Corner, Small Elaeagnus Shrubs Along Fence in Woods
Last but certainly not least, Bernie has been taking advantage of the mild Spring weather to get some new shrubberies in the ground along the property line.  Hopefully they'll dig their roots in and get comfortable while the weather is mild, so they can grow and thrive throughout the heat of the summer.  We already had the Little Gem Magnolias and some Elaeagnus (what Bernie calls Smoke Bushes) planted just inside the fence, but we weren't getting the dense screening we wanted from them thanks to the pruning efforts of our dogs.  Otto likes to chase his "Indestructible Ball" along the fence, snapping off branches along the way, and Lulu likes to snuggle up next to the bushes and gnaw on the lower limbs, so the bushes inside the fence look like this:

Elaeagnus, Lower Limbs and Foliage Removed by Lulu the Terrible
The Little Gem magnolia trees inside the fence have been similarly pruned of their lower branches by my dogs, so they are sort of like lollipop trees.

My hope is that the bushes outside the fence will fill in thickly and screen our view of the neighbor's yard, giving us a little more privacy.  We'll leave the elaeagnus unpruned and let it grow shaggy and wild, which will blend in nicely in the wooded area.  They get quite tall around here and grow fairly quickly.

Grow, bushes, grow!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Free Motion Circle Quilting FINALLY In Progress!

Free Motion Ditch Circle, Backing Side
Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt has been languishing in my studio untouched for the past three weeks, ever since my disastrous initial attempt to quilt "in the ditch" along the 11" diameter circular seamlines.  I experimented briefly with both Mode 1 and Mode 2 of the Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR) attachment, which is supposed to make free motion quilting easier by automatically regulating stitch length.  For me, at least with the task of trying to place stitches precisely along the seamline, the BSR felt like a crazy robot driving the sewing machine out of control.  Every time I stopped to reposition my hands on the quilt, the machine started sewing again before I was ready.  Maybe I need more practice with the BSR, and the instructions that came with it are horrible -- maybe I wasn't using it correctly.  For instance, the instructions say "disengage the BSR function" but NOWHERE in the instructions does it say HOW to disengage the BSR function.  Tap the foot control?  Press a button somewhere?  Your guess is as good as mine!

Bernina Freehand Quilting Foot #29
Anyway, yesterday I removed the BSR foot and replaced it with Freehand Quilting Foot #29 to try some old school free motion quilting.  Feed dogs down, upper tension reduced for the monofilament nylon thread, and we're flying without a safety net!  There are a number of different feet you can use for free motion quilting.  What they all have in common is that spring in the shank.  Foot #29 is the one Bernina recommends for freehand quilting without the BSR function, and the clear plastic sole of the foot is supposed to give you great visibility so you can see where you're stitching.  Sounds great in theory, but when I was using this foot yesterday I found that the sewing machine light on the shiny clear plastic created a terrible glare that made it impossible to see my seamline accurately through the clear plastic foot.  I pulled out my Feetures books and discovered that there's another foot, Freehand Embroidery Foot #24, that would probably work better for this task.  Amazingly, I do not already own this presser foot.  My Bernina dealer is out of stock but expects it to come in with their next shipment in a few days, so meanwhile, I'm stuck with my clear foot.

Free Motion Quilting "In the Ditch" with Foot #29
Bernina Freehand Embroidery Foot #24
See what I mean about the glare?  The foot I'm waiting on has an open toe front, which should make it a lot easier to see the seamline I'm trying to follow.  I don't have any idea why they call it an embroidery foot -- I would think the ends of the open toe would get caught in long satin stitches if you were using it for embroidery.

Oh, and notice the gloves in the photo above?  I have a couple pairs of quilting gloves with rubber fingers, which are supposed to make it easier to grip the fabric of the quilt.  I hate wearing gloves, but I'm trying to be open-minded so I'm wearing them for now. 

Close Up of my Non-BSR Free Motion Stitching, Backing Side

The stitching itself is far from perfect as you can see in this picture from the backing side.  I am really happy with the busy print I chose for the backing, because from a distance the wobbly lines aren't noticeable at all. 

Close Up Non-BSR Free Motion Ditch Quilting, Top Side with Invisible Thread

From the front of the quilt, the mistakes and unevenness are even harder to see, thanks to the monofilament nylon invisible thread.  When the quilt is washed for the first time, it should shrink and pucker a little even though the fabrics are prewashed and the batting is a silk blend, and that will camouflage the ooopses even more.  It's not perfect, but it's good enough.  I have a feeling that each circle will come out a little smoother than the last one as I work my way through the quilt.

I don't forsee any quilting time today, though.  I have to get in the shower now so I can vote against Amendment One, even though the latest polls indicate that it's likely to pass.  Honestly, I don't see what the fuss is about.  Why do so many straight people feel threatened by gay marriages? 

After voting, I'll head straight to my piano lesson, and from there I pick up the kids from school.  We'll be rushing through homework and dinner tonight so we can make it to Night of the Arts, where Lars and Anders will be playing trombone and recorder with their classmates in their school's annual arts extravaganza.  Less than 5 weeks of school remain before summer vacation! 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bernina Embroidery Software v6: Manual Digitizing Homework

Bernina Embroidery Software Homework Completed!

Ta da!  Behold, my completed manual digitizing homework for my Bernina Artista Embroidery Software v6 class!  We started with this palm tree artwork (seen below) in the background, and built the embroidery design one object at a time, with right-clicks and left-clicks and stitch angles, oh my!  This simple exercize took me several hours to complete, both inside and outside the classroom.  I have new appreciation for the talents and abilities of professional digitizers!

Palm Tree Artwork Used in this Exercize
I am not going to bother with stitching my wonky palm tree out on the machine.  Truth be told, I doubt I would ever go to all the trouble of creating an embroidery design completely from scratch.  The software manual is almost 600 pages long; it's pretty complicated stuff.  I mostly use my embroidery software for combining or editing professional designs, or for embroidering with lettering.  Still, it's good to go through all the classes because you never know where you might pick up a useful morsel of information.  For instance, on the Drunken Dragons quilt that I'm temporarily avoiding, I was planning to use my embroidery module to quilt fancy designs in the center of each pieced circle, but wasn't sure how to handle the half circles on the edges of the quilt.  I learned that I can open the professional quilting design in my embroidery software, convert the embroidery design to vectors, use the eraser tool to erase half of the quilting motif, and then reconvert it to embroidery and save as a new design to use on those half circles.  So that's one hurdle that I can deal with -- if only I can get the free motion quilting down so I can stitch in the ditch on the curved circular seamline!

I should send my kids to the classes and have them learn how to use the software.  They'd be scanning in pictures of Lego Ninjago warrios and filling them in with all kinds of funky stitch patterns!  Speaking of Lars and Anders, they have been busy performers lately.  They were in four performances of Beauty and the Beast Jr. at their school last week, and their piano recital was earlier this afternoon.  They will be performing on their recorder (Anders) and trombone (Lars) with their classes again on Tuesday evening for the school's annual Night of the Arts, and I understand they will each have artwork for sale prior to the concert.  Busy, busy boys!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was never assigned to read this in school; I'm glad I finally got around to it. It was a quick read, finished in a couple of days. At first it was annoyingly predictable -- I was familiar with the premise of the story. However, I was drawn in as the plot developed and took some unanticipated turns. I was quite surprised by how many of the things Bradbury envisioned in 1950 have actually come to pass: living rooms with giant flat screen TV "walls," wireless earbuds, sensational reality TV shows, advertising merging with programming, and a population so caught up in trivial television programs that the characters on screen seem more real than the people in the room with them. The crises of the world that people SHOULD be talking about (war, poverty, the mystery of why the entire world hates us -- sound familiar?) are completely obscured and shut out by the television programming that, as I read the book, reminded me of The Real Housewives of New Jersey or The Bachelor

Our TV "family?": The Real Housewives of New Jersey
Finally, Bradbury envisioned that government would not be the instigator of book burning in a democracy such as ours, but well-intentioned minorities, self-appointed sergeants of political correctness censoring one word, then one page, then one book at a time until the libraries stand empty and there is not much left to burn.  Think this is all make believe?  Just recently, in 2012, New York City censored its standardized tests to remove references to dinosaurs (might upset fundamentalists who don't believe in evolution), homes with swimming pools (don't want to draw attention to disparity of wealth, which might upset kids who don't have swimming pools), Halloween, divorce, slavery, etc.  Not Jackson, Mississippi, but New York, New York!

By the way, I bought this book for my 11-year-old son Lars to read originally, then decided to shelve it until I had a chance to read it myself first. It's very child-friendly, and he'll enjoy the Mechanical Hound inspired by the Hound of the Baskervilles, which is part of the Sherlock Holmes collection we're reading now.

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