Monday, July 30, 2012

Drunken Dragons Quilt FMQ: The Final Stretch

Blazing Sun or Rose of Sharon?
Okay, so this is what I'm doing to fill in some of the dead space around the digitized quilting motif I stitched in the center of each circle of my drunkard's path quilt.  I probably should have practiced this first before starting in on the actual quilt,  because for one thing, I'm not executing this design very smoothly.  Furthermore, now that I step back and take a look at it, what I intended to be quilted flames shooting out from my blazing suns now looks an awful lot like LEAVES around a ROSE OF SHARON flower.  Shhh...  Don't tell Lars I'm quilting flowers into his Drunken Dragons quilt!  At this point, I just want to be finished already and on to something else.  I'm hoping that my flames/leaves will get better as I work my way throught the 35 quilt blocks, so I'm skipping around all over the quilt top as I do the free motion "flames."  The idea is that the wobbly early attempts will be less noticeable if they aren't all consecutive.  I suppose I could add more flames and/or echo quilting between the flames.  I'm going to quilt a few more this way tomorrow, then step back and make a decision.  Nothing good happens in my sewing room after 10 PM anyway!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Yes, Dear, I Want You to Vacuum the Rottweilers

The Dyson Groom Tool
Back in April, I ordered the nifty Dyson Groom tool attachment for my vacuum cleaner.  It sounded like such a great concept -- suck the dirt, dust, dander and loose fur right off the dogs before it gets deposited all over the house.  It's basically a retractable slicker brush attachment that clips onto the vacuum hose.  So anyway, my husband is usually the one who handles Puppy Spa Day at our home.  The dogs are used to him trimming their nails, cleaning their ears, putting ointment in their eyes (Lulu caught a thorn on her eyelid once), shampooing them with the hose in the driveway, and other unpleasant but necessary doggy care ordeals.  Naturally, I purchased the dog vacuuming contraption thinking that Bernie would be the one vacuuming our dogs.

My husband's reaction: "You want me to go after a couple of hundred-pound Rottweilers with a vacuum cleaner?  Are you NUTS?!"
Otto and Lulu, Ready to be Vacuumed!

So the Groom Tool sat in the closet in its little box, unopened...  until today.  I found a video of a sweet female Rottie named Blue getting a Dyson grooming here, and found several positive Amazon reviews extolling the virtues of how well the Dyson groom tool works for Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and other medium-to-long-haired dog breeds.  I thought, what's the big deal, really?  If that man with the lovely British accent can vacuum his puppy princess, then surely Bernie can vacuum ours!

As it turns out, dog vacuuming is best approached as a two-person sport.  We started out with baby steps, so each pup only got the vacuuming treatment for a minute or two.  They are not especially fond of the vacuum.  Ahem!  Positive reinforcement, a.k.a. Treat Bribery, was the order of the day.  Bernie held the dog's collar in one hand, and the vacuum brush in the other hand, and brushed a few strokes down the dog's back -- while I stood at the other side, feeding a steady stream of liver-flavored dog treats the entire time the vacuum brushing was going on, and gushing "What a good, GOOD doggie!"  Then we switched off the vacuum, took off the collar, and gave some more treats.  Next puppy!

Honestly?  It wasn't so bad.  We didn't have much dirt and dog fur collected in the vacuum canister afterwards, but Bernie wasn't trying to be thorough today -- just a few strokes in conjunction with treats to build a positive association for the dogs and condition them to accept the procedure.  We plan to try it again in a couple of days, and work up to a more thorough grooming with just one treat at the end of the session.  The dogs aren't thrilled about the vacuum, but hey -- they weren't too wild about the nail trimmers or the hose the first time we used those, either.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Plodding Along with FMQ

Quilting Along on the Drunken Dragons Quilt for Lars
When my boys left for Florida without me on July 15th, I consoled myself with the thought of how much quilting I was going to get done while they were off galavanting around with their grandparents for three weeks.  You know that expression, "Life is what happens while we're making other plans?"  I've been doing a lot less quilting than I'd planned and a lot more moping around the house, sniffing their pillows and missing their boisterous noisiness.  I had this grand ambition of completely finishing Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt and having it on his bed in his bedroom when he arrived home on August 3rd, but I'm not sure if I'm really on schedule for that anymore.  The good thing is that, now that I'm past the halfway point and they'll be home in 8 days, I'm not feeling so gloomy anymore and that gives me the positive energy to get back in the sewing room and put my goofy rubber quilting gloves on again!

I did get a call from one of my favorite design clients on my secret bat phone a few days ago, so I'm coming out of my self-imposed hibernation to help her with some pillows and bar stools.  I got such a warm welcome when I stopped by the design showroom yesterday that I felt like the Prodigal Son.  Kill the fatted calf!  Rebecca needs pillow trim again! 

I promised myself that this would be a brief post so I could get back to quilting.  Speaking of which -- it's coming along pretty well, and I really do see it getting better and easier.  I'm looking forward to some smaller quilting projects after this is finished, so I can experiment with some different FMQ designs. 

8 Days until my little cuties come home!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ugh... I held out hope until the very end. And of course, I have high expectations going into the novel, because it's Margaret Atwood. But ultimately, no.

I did not like that the character of Zenia was pure evil, that she was this web of lies and smoke and mirrors, and that we never got to find out what was really going on with her, no motivation, no background story, nothing. I didn't like that the other three main characters were so spineless, snivelly, and weak, letting one woman who stole their men ruin their entire lives. I got an annoying First Wives Club vibe and imagined the character of Roz played by Bette Midler, with Goldie Hawn cast as Charis and Diane Keaton playing Tony.

Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Bette Middler in The First Wives Club, 1996.  Photo from
 I kept reading anyway, hoping for some revelation, some twist to come at the end of the novel that would upend everything, a dazzling finish that just didn't materialize. I didn't like that the men in the novel were all so weak and wishy-washy, either. The only strong character in the novel was this Zenia person, this female devil incarnate who was different things to different people -- kind of like that mirror in the Harry Potter book that showed each person their heart's desire, only Zenia reflected back and exploited the weakness of whomever she was with. Maybe that was the point -- maybe her character was only partially formed on purpose. Still, not my favorite Atwood novel by a long shot.

View all my reviews

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Belated March FMQ Challenge: Thread Dancing with Ann Fahl

My Belated March 2012 FMQ Challenge Efforts
Having only joined SewCalGal's 2012 Free-Motion Quilting Challenge this month, I was disappointed to see that Ann Fahl's tutorial for the month of March had been removed at the end of the month as per Ann's wishes.  I followed the linkys to see what other challenge participants had done that month, and then I was even more disappointed to have missed out on it.  I ordered a copy of Ann's book, Dancing With Thread, (available here from Amazon, or you can order it from Ann's own web site here) and, using Ann's book as well as the posts and photos from those who completed the challenge during the month of March, I think I was able to figure out the gist of the March exercises. 

Photo from
Now, why did I need another quilting book when I already have so many?  (That's my husband you hear, groaning across the Internet).  My other machine quilting books, by Harriet Hargrave and Diane Gaudynski, discuss how to achieve very traditional effects with modern machine quilting, but Ann pushes the boundaries with quilting that is fresh and modern, a celebration of modern tools and techniques rather than a faster or easier way to simulate the heirloom quilting seen in antique quilts.  I've read all about why I shouldn't use Coats Clark thread or bargain/ancient thread or polyester-wrapped regular sewing thread for quilting.  I've experimented with the 40-weight variegated quilting threads from YLI, and lately I've been using a combination of invisible monofilament nylon thread with Mettler 2-ply 60-weight cotton embroidery thread on my Drunken Dragons quilt, and I like how that looks.  I know that some quilters use silk threads for dense heirloom quilting, although I haven't tried that yet myself. 

Well, Ann Fahl quilts with rayon and trilobal polyester embroidery thread!  To me, that sounds like a diet expert telling me to eat chocolate for breakfast.  The caveat is that Ann makes primarily wall quilts rather than bed quilts -- she knows her quilts will receive very little wear and will seldom be washed, and realizes that these threads are not ideal for every project.  She also uses invisible nylon monofilament thread in every one of her quilts, but only for quilting in the ditch and quilting around appliques or embroidered motifs.  That's kind of how I feel about the monofilament thread now -- I loved it in the ditch, but was disappointed with its invisibility otherwise.  Ann says that she even uses the invisible nylon thread in the BOBBIN, which I had originally wanted to do on my Drunken Dragons quilt but did not attempt because I couldn't find information about anyone else using monofilmant in the bobbin successfully, and I worried about how I was even going to get that stretchy thread wound on a bobbin properly. 

Meanwhile, I have a whole tub of rayon embroidery thread that I never use anymore since switching to Isacord for embroidery, so I decided to play with rayon threads for this exercise, as Ann recommends in her book.  I didn't have the titanium topstitch needle that Ann likes to use for quilting, so I used a Schmetz embroidery needle instead.  I started out with my 60 weight cotton embroidery thread in the bobbin, but then I found a bobbin wound with pink embroidery thread (rayon?  Isacord?  No idea!) and popped that one in the bobbin case.  My batting is Hobbs Tuscany Silk, because that's what I have scraps of at the moment. 

I divided my fat-quarter-sized sample sandwich into four quadrants with purple disappearing marker, and tried my hand at each of the four quilting motifs that I saw in the March challenge linkys.  I did the Loop and Twist design first, because it's similar to the way I quilted most of my Very Hungry Caterpillar quilt.  Since the quilting on that quilt came out much denser than I'd intended, seriously shrinking up the quilt top, I deliberately tried to keep my loops and twists larger and more open this time, with more puff between the lines of quilting.  I liked it, and I think the larger Loops and Twists might even look good in the heavier variegated YLI threads, on the right quilt. 

"Loops and Twists"
Next, I attempted the variations with stars and hearts instead of loops.  That was harder than it looked!  The stars were kind of fun, but my hearts all look like sickly philodendron leaves.  It's okay; I'm not a big fan of hearts, anyway! 

Stars and Hearts

On to the spirals!  I have to admit, I didn't care for the Spirals when I first saw the drawing, but when I started quilting them with the rayon thread, they were so much FUN!  I've been practicing other kinds of spirals a lot lately -- the kind where you spiral from the outside in, and then spiral back out again, and I discovered that Ann's version of cutting straight out from the center is a lot easier and less stressful for me.  It also looks better in thread than it does in a black and white drawing.  I'm so glad I tried it, and I'll definitely be using that soon. 


Last but not least, Spirals + Petals = Little Flowers.  Again, I don't see myself quilting flowers onto a project any time soon, but you never know.  The most interesting thing about this exercise was learning to travel out far enough from the previous flower to have just enough room for the next flower, without too much of a gap between them. 

Spiral Flowers

Another fabulous idea Ann shares in her book is creating a Quilting Ideas notebook or scrapbook, which I had coincidentally just started to do on my own prior to reading her tutorial.  I had been collecting quilting ideas on my Pinterest board for awhile, and then one day I printed them all out and stuck them in a three-ring binder next to my sewing room so I could remember them and have a visual reminder when I attempted to recreate those patterns on my own.  Now, in addition to those Pinterest photos, I also have the monthly FMQ Challenge Tutorials filed in my binder, both photos and hilighted text, as well as the handouts I received at the quilting class I took at my local quilt shop and some ideas torn from magazines. 

You know what the hardest part of this whole FMQ challenge is for me?  It's choosing the fabric for the practice sandwich.  I stand there, sadly contemplating all the lovely fabrics in my stash, and I feel like I'm selecting a victim for ritual sacrifice.  I am trying to use solid fabrics for these practice exercises so I can see what I'm doing and concentrate on the quilting without being distracted by a print, but I don't have very many solids in my stash at all and I hate to use them up like this.  I know others are making crafty little tote bags and table runners and such from their samples, but I just want to practice for the sake of practice and then get back to my big quilt for Lars.  So what I really need to do is go out and buy a selection of solid practice fabrics and make up a big pile of fat quarter "sandwiches" with batting, backing, and solid fabric on top, all ready to go.  Maybe I'll get a half yard of each fabric so that one FQ can be a FMQ Practice Victim, and the other FQ can go into my stash.  Yes, I said it -- I need to BUY MORE FABRIC.  Now we'll find out if my husband really reads my blog, or if he just skims through and looks at the pictures...  ;-)

Back to work on Lars's quilt!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer Social Studies Project Recap: Finished On Schedule, Over and Out!

Lars's and Anders' Projects On Display in the Dining Room
Lars and Anders both finished their projects a few days ahead of schedule, and both boys did a great job! 

If you missed the earlier posts about the 2012 Summer Social Studies Research Projects that have been going on at our house for the past five weeks, you can catch up here. 

In the last lesson plan I posted, I talked about research note cards being like LEGO blocks, and each note card should only get one "brick" of information unless it was a set of related information that only made sense together, like a LEGO figurine that consists of a head, body, arms and legs.  Why do I care how much information they put on the note cards? 

Fast forward to two little boys getting ready to write their research papers. 


The hardest part of writing for many students is that intimidating blank screen or blank sheet of paper.  If you do your notecards the way I suggested, the paper practically writes itself. 

1.      First, sort the notecards into pile by subtopic, then put each pile into a logical, sequential order of supporting details.  Subtopics?  Supporting details?  Do you see where this is going? 

2.     Once your notecards are organized, use them to type up an outline for the research paper.  Why type the outline instead of writing it out by hand?  Because, if you save the outline file under a new name, you can use it as a roadmap for writing the paper, without ever having to face a blank screen or blank sheet of paper. 

3.     How does this work?  With your outline file open, move your curser to the top of the page, right under the title, and start writing the introductory paragraph at the top, right before the outline, and then delete the I. INTRODUCTION portion of the outline. 

4.     What's next?  It's right there on the screen -- II. SUBTOPIC WHATEVER IT IS and IIa. Supporting Detail One, IIb. Next Supporting Detail, etc.  Another thing I like about this method is that you can skip the introduction if you want, write the main body paragraphs, and then go back to write the introduction and conclusion once you’ve finished with everything else.

5.     There you go – your first draft is finished!  Put it away, and look at it again tomorrow with fresh eyes to see if you can tighten up your writing and correct any typos.  Then give your paper to someone else for proofreading and suggestions.  Once you’ve incorporated the revisions, you’ve got a final draft of your paper that you’ll be proud to turn in!

This method worked especially well for Anders, who usually requires a great deal of supervision, cajoling, encouragement and chocolate bribery in order to produce any written work.  Using the computer, replacing his outline with text as he worked down the page and incorporating notecards that he had already organized ahead of time, Anders produced some of his best written efforts to date with MUCH less assistance than usual. 

Anders' Project on the Republic of Ireland
Lars's Project on Japan
In addition to the main research papers, they also selected and completed several additional assignments from a list of choices in the original assignment packet.  Anders wrote essays about Irish folklore, strengths and weaknesses of his country, and designed a new flag for Ireland.  Lars researched and wrote about a famous Japanese historical figure, designed bumper stickers advertising his country, and created a board game that teaches players about Japan.  They each created a trifold display board to present what they learned, and Grammy and Grampa will be coming over on Saturday for their presentations and a celebration/sendoff dinner.  Meanwhile, tomorrow after camp finishes up, I'll be driving little boys to the LEGO store to pick out a little End of Project Prize. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Serger Love: Coffee-Dyed Lace Trim + 3-Thread Rolled Hem = Skirt Rescue!

Finished -- Ta Da!
I bought this RTW skirt from Ann Taylor Loft several years ago, and I really love it.  Brown is a good color for me, even in the summer, and this lightweight cotton skirt stays cool and comfortable and goes with several different tops in my closet.  I was annoyed to discover last summer that the main skirt fabric had been shrinking.  The skirt lining was hanging out below the hemline, looking for all the world like a saggy old slip.  So I had this great idea -- I'd let out the hem (it was originally just turned twice and topstitched) and add a lace trim to the bottom of the skirt to make up for the lost length!  I ordered some crochet trim online, but when it arrived it looked too creamy ivory.  I set the skirt and the lace in a pile in my sewing room and promptly forgot all about them.  Remember the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?  Well, I have a little Island of Misfit Mending in my studio that grows bigger and bigger, full of things that I could easily fix and wear again, but never seem to get around to...

Bernie's Coffee Press/Dyebath
So summer came around again this year, and after ransacking my closet in search of this skirt I finally remembered that it was in my sewing room.  I did some online research and decided to try dying the crochet trim with coffee.  Because I only had a yard or two of trim to dye, I used Bernie's French Press along with dark French roasted coffee (using WAY more coffee than I would if anyone was going to drink it) and boiling water.  Then I used Alum (found with the spices at the grocery store) as a mordant to (hopefully!) set the dye, since the skirt will need to be washed periodically and laundry detergents are designed to REMOVE coffee stains. 

Lace in the Coffee Bath
As you can see, the lace looked much darker wet than it did after I rinsed it out and dried it, but that's okay.  All I needed was a coffee brown tinge of color, and it looked pretty near perfect once it had dried.

"Natural" Lace Before Dying (it looked brighter and yellower IRL)

After Coffee Dying
So I dyed this lace about a month ago, and then put it back in my sewing room Misfit Mending pile because I was in quiltermode for one thing, plus I hadn't quite figured out exactly how I was going to attach the trim to the skirt.  My garment sewing experience, after all, has been limited to the occasional Aquaman outfit or Jedi cloak, as required by my Trick-or-Treaters.  I've never attached lace to anything before.

1300MDC Serger, Photo Courtesy Bernina USA
It took a mending emergency to get this project completed.  One of my favorite fitted sheets came out of the dryer with a split corner seam this week, and I wanted to repair it with the same three-thread-overlock-plus-chainstitch that had been used originally.  Well, I have a great serger with coverstitch and chainstitch capability, but I had not used it since I overcast the edges of the waistband on Princess Petunia's pettiskirt a year and a half ago.  I know this because it was still threaded up with turquoise thread.  Sergers/overlock machines may seem intimidating to those who haven't used them before, but honestly, they are not difficult and the speedy, professional results are well worth the hassle of setting them up and tweaking tensions, etc.  Or at least they wouldn't be difficult if the serger manual hadn't been written first in Swiss German, then translated to Mandarin Chinese, then into Russian, then into Swahili, French, Arabic, Italian, Gaelic, Pig Latin, and finally into modern English.  My Bernina 1300MDC serger purrs like a kitten and sews beautifully and reliably every time, but it came with the absolute worst instruction manual I've ever seen.  It took me two hours to get the machine threaded up and adjusted to the stitch I wanted, all because of one little lever that was flipped the wrong direction.  If I used the machine more often, I'd remember how to do this without reading the instruction manual every time...  So I decided that I'd figure out how to serge my coffee-stained -dyed lace to my brown skirt while I had the serger out -- and before I forgot how to operate it again!

Guiding Lace Against Blindstitch Guide, Barely Trimming Fabric Edge
I consulted my Bernina Serger Technique Reference Book and decided to attach the lace trim to the skirt with a 3-thread rolled hem, using my Blindstitch Foot as a guide for the edge of the lace.  Unlike the user manual, the Serger Technique Reference Book is well-written and full of large color PHOTOS.  In my opinion, it should come with the sergers, but I had to purchase it separately.  Having consulted my book, I starched both the lace trim and my flimsy skirt fabric, so it would have enough body to roll properly as the stitches were formed.  One downside of a project like this is that I didn't have any scraps of the skirt fabric for testing purposes, so I had to wing it and hope for the best.  I used the edge of the Blindstitch Foot guide to keep the lace lined up nice and straight, about a quarter inch from the edge of the skirt fabric, right sides together, and positioned the skirt fabric so that just the fraying edge threads would be trimmed away by the serger knife.  Just a few minutes later, the trim was attached.  Serger love!

I did open a side seam just a couple of inches before attaching the trim along the hem, so I'd have a starting and stopping place, so I just stitched that closed on my regular sewbaby and then secured the cut edges of the crochet lace with some additional hand stitches in matching thread.  Again, I'd procrastinated putting the lace trim on the skirt for so long -- it was amazing how fast and easy it was once I sat down to do it.  Now that it's finished, the skirt looks like it was always supposed to be that way, and the lining is no longer hanging out.  Who knows, maybe this small success will encourage me to tackle the rest of the mending misfits in that pile?  Well, let's not hold our breath...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July, Rottweiler-Style!

Image from The T-Shirt Game
Happy Fourth of July, everyone!  I hope you're all relaxing with friends and family, enjoying the day.  My Lars woke up with a headache and a fever this morning, so the kids have been lounging in front of television watching cartoons all morning.  Later on, we'll head over to my parents' house for some splashing in the pool and Grampa's BBQ dinner, followed by fireworks and sparklers for the kids. 

I found the cutest Rottweiler garden flag when I was searching for a Fourth of July image for this post.  Too bad I didn't have the foresight to order this a couple of weeks ago:

Rottweiler Patriotic Garden Flag, from

I hope Lars feels better soon.  He always seems to get sick on holidays!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July FMQ Challenge is Challenging, Indeed!

My July FMQ Challenge Sample
I have jumped onboard with an in-progress Free-Motion Quilting Challenge for 2012 hosted by SewCalGal.  Each month, a different expert in machine quilting will post a guest tutorial for the challenge on SewCalGal's blog.  Challenge participants must complete the practice exercises at some point during the month, post their results on their own blog, and link back to that month's tutorial post on SewCalGal's blog so everyone can be inspired and encouraged by the efforts of others.  Isn't that a fantastic idea?  There are even prizes!  What better way to stay motivated to continue practicing FMQ long enough to see improvement!

July's challenge tutorial was written by professional quilter, teacher and author, Angela Walters.  The exercise involved stitching overlapping squares and rectangles, filling each one with a quilted fill pattern to create the illusion of layers of decorative tiles.  If you want to see what this looks like when it is done well, you can check out the July tutorial here

For this practice piece, I used a scrap of Hobbs Tuscany Silk batting sandwiched between two fat quarters of quilting cotton, with orange 60 weight 2-ply Mettler cotton embroidery thread in the needle (Schmetz 75/11 Quilting) and in the bobbin.  I used my Bernina 200E/730E machine, but did not use the BSR Bernina Stitch Regulator foot.  I wore goofy rubber-tipped gloves that make my hands sweat, and I had that Teflon Super Slider thingy on the surface of my sewing machine cabinet, completely surrounding the needle to eliminate any drag when moving the quilt sandwich.  In short, I have no excuses!

What did I learn?  First of all, it took me over an hour to fill this placemat-sized quilt sandwich with all of the quilting you see above.  That was longer than I'd expected.  Second, I felt like this was an "intermediate" exercise, but I only have "beginner" skills right now.  I have not practiced enough with any fill stitches yet to where I could comfortably fill a given area without getting stuck in a corner or accidentally leaving an unquilted "island" surrounded by quilting so that I can't get to it.  I tried spiral swirls, which I've admired but have DEFINITELY not mastered, and I also tried filling some tiles with meandering/stippling.  I started in the bottom left corner of this sampler and was working my way up, as Angela suggested, and I discovered that I am not very confident quilting in that direction!  I also have not practiced straight lines, as you can tell from the shaky edges of my "tiles." 

Close-Up Included to Make Others Feel Better About THEIR Quilting!

After quilting tiles on the bottom half of my sampler, I decided that I really needed to practice the background fill stitches I was using, so that's what I filled the rest of the sampler with.  I quilted my name and the date, I worked on my spirals and stippling, and even practiced some skinny echo quilting in a couple of places.  I think the tile concept is interesting, and it's something I'll come back to and try again once I've got a better command of the basics.
Why Oh Why Are My Meandering/Stippling Stitches Always Enormous?

Even though it's July already, I've pledged to complete all twelve months of the challenge.  That means I have January through June to catch up on.  But before I do that, I'm determined to get Lars's "Drunken Dragons" quilt back under the needle for some free-motion quilting!