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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Easy Dresden Plate Tutorial Using Kaye England's Cut for the Cure Specialty Ruler

My First Dresden Plate!
Happy Almost-Thanksgiving, everyone!  Before I get wrapped up in other things and forget, I wanted to do a quick post to show how quickly and easily my Dresden Plate came together using Kaye England's Cut for the Cure 22 1/2 degree wedge ruler.  Honestly, the most difficult part was choosing the fabrics.

Cut for the Cure Wedge Ruler, available here
There are probably other companies making similar rulers for Dresden plates, but I really like the way that Kaye's rulers give such great visibility and accuracy, and that a portion of the proceeds from every sale benefits the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.  I was lucky enough to take a class with Kaye when she was in Charlotte last month and she was such a hoot -- one of the most informative and entertaining teachers around. 

So, how does this ruler work?  Well, you start by cutting your fabrics into strips based on the size you want your Dresden plate to finish -- notice I said the size you want your PLATE to finish, not the size you want your BLOCK to finish.  There's a little reference chart with instructions that comes with the ruler, advising you that your plate will finish approximately twice the width of your strip, plus 2", so I cut my strips 5" wide (5" + 5" + 2" = 12") and I ended up with a Dresden plate that has a diameter of 12" and needs to go on a 14" block.  Which is fine in this case -- I like seeing so much of my pretty fabric prints, but I should have cut 4" wide strips for a 10" diameter plate if I wanted them on 12" blocks. 

Once you have your strips cut to the correct width, you just lay your ruler down with the skinny edge flush with the cut fabric edge, and cut wedges all the way down your strip, rotating the ruler 180 degrees after each cut.  I'm right handed, so I cut from left to right:

Cutting Wedges from my 5" wide Strip

...And Cutting More Wedges from Another Fabric
The cutting really goes fast once you get the hang of it.  I think I had four layers of fabric that I was cutting through, but as long as I had the ruler carefully aligned with the cut fabric edges, every cut was accurate and precise.  I just love that bright pink fabric with the "plates" on it.  Plate fabric for a Dresden plate, get it?  ;-)

Here's the stack of wedges that I ended up with:
Cutting Complete and Ready to Sew!

Isn't that just the cheeriest thing you ever saw?  The yellow floral fabric and the butterfly/tulip prints are my favorites.  And the pink plate fabric is also my favorite, and the deep blue fabric with cherry blossoms are my favorites, and the yellow fabric with flowery polka dots and tiny birds is my favorite, too.  Don't even get me started about all of the favorite fabrics that I couldn't include...  Using a 22 1/2 degree ruler, you get plates with 16 spokes.  I could have used just two different fabrics, four fabrics, or sixteen different fabrics, but after playing around for a LONG time I ended up with these eight fabrics for my plates.  I was determined to only use fabrics that were already in my stash, and I tried to balance the colors, values, and scale of the prints.  Those little precut flowers will be appliqued to the center of each plate after they are assembled, but before I applique the plates to the background blocks.

Sewing the Outer Points of Each Wedge
The first step is to fold the outer (wider) end of each wedge in half, right sides together, and sew straight across with a 1/4" seam allowance.  This goes really quickly if you're chain piecing (see above) and you have all your wedges lined up next to you, ready to go.

Inner Corner Clipped about 1/16" Away from Seam Line
Then, you clip the inner corner to remove excess bulk, turn the corner and press your point, taking care that the seamline is centered:

Turned and Pressed
...and then you match up pairs of wedges and chain stitch them together at the sewing machine, again using a 1/4" seam allowance.  It's important to stitch these from wide to narrow, making sure that the outer edges match up perfectly.  If the strips don't match up perfectly at the center of the plates, it won't matter because those raw edges will be covered by the applique.

Chain-Piecing Individual Spokes Together
The only challenging part about this is staying organized so your wedges end up with the fabric placement the way that you intended.  I did have a couple of oopses where I had to get out my seam ripper because I sewed two pieces together that weren't supposed to be adjacent on my plate.  By the way, I'm using 50 weight Aurifil Mako cotton thread for piecing, with an 80/12 Universal needle, a straight stitch plate, and my #37 1/4" Patchwork footsie.  No pins necessary!

Some directions will tell you to press these seams open, but I chose to press each seam allowance towards the darker of the two fabrics, just in case a dark seam allowance might show through a lighter colored fabric in the finished plate.  Once I'd clipped these units apart and pressed them, I paired them up again for chain piecing:

Chain-Piecing Pairs of Wedges Together

...Until I had four quarter-circle units completed, like these:
Quarter Plates Finished

Once you get to this point, you just sew the four quarters together, press the seams, and then you're done:
Ta Da!  First Plate Completed!

In vintage Dresden plate quilts, the raw edges at the inner circle are sometimes turned under when the plate is appliqued to the background block, allowing the background fabric to fill the center.  In other versions, a circle is appliqued at the center of the plate to cover the raw edges, often in a bright solid color like yellow or red.  My plates are going to have a red flower machine embroidered applique design at the center, and since I wrote these Dresden posts in backwards order, you'll have to click here if you want to read about that.

So far, I've just made this one plate, but I have at least 10 or 11 more flowers and lots of wedges cut out for the plates, so I'm going to stitch up a bunch more before I begin appliqueing them to the background block fabric.  I'm planning to alternate my plate blocks with a vintage pieced block design that dates back to the same period as the Dresden Plate heyday, but that's another post for another day.

Meanwhile, I've got some pie crusts and cranberries crying out for my attention.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Prequel: Dresden Plate Inspiration, Eye Candy & Fabric Selection

My First Dresden Plate
Last Friday I posted here about how I used Marjorie Busby's machine embroidered die-cut flower design to finish off the center of my first Dresden Plate.  Congratulations to Rita for winning the embroidery design giveaway!  Rita selected the same flower design that I used in my block.  I hope she enjoys it as much as I have!

Today's share a little background information about the Dresden Plate pattern in general and the particular quilts that inspired me to want to make one of my own.  I have admired Dresden Plate quilts for a long time.  We have one in my family that passed to me when my maternal grandmother died, but I don't know who the maker was.  [Now let's find out if my mom still reads my blog -- Mom?  Are you out there?  Do you remember who made this quilt?]

Our Dresden Plate Family Quilt, with Lars, Anders, and my Hound of the Baskervilles (Otto)
Of all the names hand-embroidered in the centers of the blocks, the only ones I know for sure are that Grace is my grandmother and Gladys is one of her sisters.  Word to the wise, quilters -- LABEL your quilts!  Everyone knows you made them today, but someday your great-great-grandchildren will have no idea unless you put your name on it someplace!  At least we know it was made in 1944.

Judy Anne Breneman has written a brief historical overview of the Dresden Plate quilt pattern here, complete with photos and interesting trivia.  The pattern was most popular in the 1930s, and the bright colors and cheery prints in my 1944 quilt are very typical of vintage Dresden Plate quilts from that era.

Contemporary Dresden Plate versions that I love include this cheerful baby quilt made by Claudia Shearer of Couch Potato Quilts for her niece's son:

Made by Claudia Shearer, 2008, San Francisco, CA, and blogged here
...And this beautiful Dresden Plate and applique quilt, designed by Erin Russek of One Piece at a Time.  This pattern is available for sale in Erin's Etsy shop here, and proceeds  benefit a charity for a child with a serious medical condition. 

"Miss Kyra" by Erin Russek, 2012, blogged here, pattern available here

So, for my own Dresden Plate, I wanted to capture the playful spirit and clear, bright color palette of the vintage quilts, but using modern fabrics instead of reproductions.  When the Machine Embroidery blog hop opportunity came along, I knew that Marjorie's batik die cut flowers would be the centers of my Dresden Plates, so I dumped fabric all over the floor of my studio and played around with combinations until I came up with an assortment that felt balanced and that complemented the fabrics Marjorie had chosen for my flower appliques.

Fabrics Auditioning for my Dresden Plates

Because I've gone on long enough for tonight, you'll have to wait until my next post to see how quickly my Dresden plate came together using Kaye England's Cut for the Cure 22.5 degree wedge ruler from Nifty Notions. It was quick, easy, and lots of fun, so if you've ever wanted to try Dresden Plates I encourage you to take the plunge!  Have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Machine Embroidery Blog Hop & GIVEAWAY: Flower Power Dresden Plate

Dresden Plate with Machine Embroidered Flower Applique Design

Today's my day to post for SewCalGal's Fall Theme Machine Embroidery Blog Hop!  Well, other people's projects were fall themed, anyway.  I sometimes have difficulty following instructions...  ;-)

This week's Blog Hop showcased Marjorie Busby's machine embroidered applique designs, which she digitizes to work with modern die cutting tools  such as accuQuilt GO! and GO! Baby, Sizzix, Silhouette, and Slice Fabrique, etc.).  I have none of these tools, but I've been eyeing them with interest so I jumped at the chance to play with machine applique using die-cut fabric pieces. 

This week's Blog Hop showcased Marjorie Busby's machine embroidered applique designs, which she digitizes to work with modern die cutting tools such as accuQuilt GO! and GO! Baby, Sizzix, Silhouette, and Slice Fabrique, etc.).  Although I don't currently own any of these tools, I've been eyeing them with interest so I jumped at the chance to play with machine applique using die-cut fabric pieces.  I was able to select any of Marjorie's designs, and I chose the Flower Applique that uses the GO! Round Flower shapes from Accuquilt, die #55007.  Since I don't have the die cutter or the die for these shapes, Marjorie was sweet enough to request my color preferences in advance and then she mailed me a whole bunch of precut flower pieces, with fusible web already applied prior to cutting.