Wednesday, November 27, 2013

So, Do You EQ? And More Importantly, Should I?

Photo Courtesy Electric Quilt, Quilt Design by Deb Crine

I have been intrigued by the possibilities of Electric Quilt (EQ)software for several years, but have not purchased it yet. In my interior design business, I went through several purchases of design rendering software that worked great if you limited the furniture shapes and drapery styles in your projects to the vector line drawings that came preloaded into the design software, but whenever I wanted to create something totally different and unique for a client (which turned out to be most of the time), the software ended up being a nightmare and a limitation instead of the great time saver I thought it would be. My husband calls those my "shelfware" purchases, software I invested in that I end up not using, and it's just sitting on the shelf getting dusty and making me feel guilty.  I do have Bernina's DesignerPlus embroidery design software (v6)  that I use often and I did eventually find an interior design software that I was able to use successfully most of the time.  I understand that every software package has a learning curve and I am willing to put in the time to learn how to use a new software program, as long as the investment of time and money will pay off with the results I'm looking for.  My frustration with design software in the past has always been hitting a roadblock when I want to design something "outside the box" of what the software designers anticipated users would try to do.

Layout I Wanted To Use
So, EQ: I'm interested for two reasons, but not sure if EQ can help me with either. First, I like to use as many different fabrics in my quilts as I can and with my recent scrappy Drunkard's Path quilt for Lars's bedroom, I was not able to use the layout I wanted because I ended up not having enough value contrast for the pattern to show up. 
See how the "path" pattern didn't show up with my blocks?
I do like how this quilt turned out in the end, but I had originally planned to make a Drunkard's Path quilt and I'm pretty sure that it's a Mill Wheel or something else when you lay the blocks this way. 

Finished "Drunken Dragons" Quilt with Alternate Block Layout

It annoys me to have started out making something from scratch, and then to STILL not have it end up the way I wanted it to be. 
I know that I could have previewed fabric selections ahead of time on the computer using the Drunkard's Path block that is surely already included in the EQ software
s block library, and I understand that there are even "stash" CDs available with major manufacturer's current fabric offerings so I could have played with color and value alone, or actually filled each patch with a fabric pattern the way I fill drapery panels with fabric in my interior design software. But there's no "Rebecca's Stash" CD with all of MY fabrics, and whereas I might use three or four fabrics in a window treatment design, there could be HUNDREDS of fabrics in a single quilt.

I know from the EQ web site that you can scan in, upload, and save your own fabrics in EQ7.  The web site also says that the software will "automatically scale" your fabric so the design you create in EQ is what you get when you make it up in your actual fabric.  It seems as though you can also rotate patterned fabric in EQ to accurately preview "fussy cutting" options for large prints in EQ7, but I don't know how well those functions really work.  Also, I often use fabric scraps for which I no longer have big yardage pieces to scan, and if I had hundreds of tiny scraps to audition it would take forever to scan them all in.  I wonder whether there is an easier way to play around with color and value for scrappy quilt designs in EQ7?

Vervain Monado fabric, Havana colorway
The other thing I was hoping that I could do with EQ7 is to create some really weird curved blocks. I love these traditional, huge scale drapery prints that have pattern repeats that are basically on-point quilt block shapes, except that the top and bottom are pointy and the sides are curved, like tessellated onions that fit together, like the Monado fabric from Vervain shown at left, which is actually my kitchen drapery fabric.  Wouldn't it be cool to do Baltimore style applique on blocks that fit together that way, maybe even with serpentine sashing from modified hexagon shapes?  I have never seen a quilt like that before -- would EQ7 allow me to easily create a templates for a block and borders like that so that everything (hopefully!) would fit together and lay flat at the end? Or when they say you can "draw any block" with EQ7, is that limited to square or rectangular blocks with straight lines?

The F. Schumacher linen print shown above is one of Bernie's favorites.  I suppose I could just do boring (but expensive!) drapery panels from this fabric, but the more I look at this print, the more I'm seeing applique possibilities with lots of embroidery embellishment.  Those darling little green grapes or berries or whatever they are: stuffed!  The little dots on the edges of the taupey beige border around the urn: French knots!  And instead of making every block the same on my quilt, I could do a different historical Baltimore Album urn with flowers on each block. 
So...  Do you have EQ?  If so, do you use it?  Can it do what I want it to do?  Any advice or suggestions greatly appreciated. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Weekend Recap: Getting Our Thanksgiving Groove On

Does Martha look smug to you in this picture?  If so, it's probably because SHE was organized enough to order her fresh heritage turkey for Thanksgiving on November 1st instead of waiting until a week before the holiday.  Also probably because one of her underlings cooked this turkey, and she just gets to glide in after being professionally styled and made up, slip on an apron, and pose with the beautifully cooked golden bird. 

I'm not yet recovered from Halloween (and no, I do NOT remember where I hid your candy, boys, so stop asking!), but the show must go on and Thanksgiving Dinner will open to an expectant, hungry crowd in just a few days.  When I called to order my fresh turkey a few days ago, Whole Foods informed me that they had already pre-sold their entire fresh turkey inventory for both their heritage and their organic birds.  Then I called Earth Fare and managed to snag their very last available fresh organic turkey.  Whew! 

The Victor With His Vegetable Prize
Yesterday morning Bernie and Lars went on the 15th Annual Buttercup Squash Scavenger Hunt.  They go from one grocery store to the next in their search for this delicious but elusive squash, overcoming obstacles like crowded parking lots and trolls disguised as produce specialists who insist that butterCUP squash is the same thing as butterNUT squash (no, it isn't).  Midway through their squash odyssey, Bernie called and requested that I send photographic proof of this squash variety's existence to his iPhone so he could battle the scorn and ignorance of the grocery clerks with the weapons of Truth and Technology.  Ultimately, as usual, he arrived home triumphantly with twice as much buttercup squash as we need for his Buttercup Squash and Leek Soup.  Every year, I ask him whether he really wants to go to all the trouble of tracking down the squash and hacking them up to make his peppery soup with them again, and every year he replies that he looks forward to the Squash Hunt and it would not be Thanksgiving without it.  He cooked and pureed his soup Saturday afternoon, while I made the Cranberry Citrus Compote. 

Cooked Whole Cranberry-Citrus Compote, cooling on the stove top
It feels good to have some of the menu items crossed off the list already.  Tomorrow or the next day, I'll need to bake spiced pecans for the stuffing and make the roux for the gravy.  I also have to throw one of those green bean casseroles together for the annual school feast, which happens on Tuesday. 

A lot of cleaning happened this weekend as well, with even Lars pitching in to dust and polish furniture in the dining room, living room, and in my office.  We always put up our Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving, and I told my family that every room has to get a thorough cleaning before any decorations can come out.  Now that everything is spic and span and gleaming again, and my house is smelling like holiday food, I'm starting to feel more enthusiastic about the approaching holiday season.

Meanwhile, Bernie has been working hard on the built-ins that I designed for Lars's bedroom to accommodate his staggering collection of LEGO sets (which he refuses to disassemble, and which had previously occupied nearly every square inch of his bedroom FLOOR).  We repainted the walls in Sherwin Williams 6523 Denim, which really makes the white trim paint pop and looks much more "big kid" than the sky blue wall color that he had previously. 

Lars's Built-In LEGO Display Shelving Nearing Completion
Lars started putting LEGO sets away on the new adjustable shelving (deeper than book shelves, so they can accommodate even the largest assembled sets), but he stalled out and left piles all over the place.  I think a Mommy Intervention will happen while he's at school tomorrow -- organization is not his strong suit, and right now Bernie can't even get past the toy piles to measure for the doors that go on the bottom cabinets and the drawer fronts that go on the two drawers beneath the window seat.  At some point I'm going to make a cornice to go above the window and a boxed cushion and throw pillows for the window seat itself.  The main objective is to create order out of chaos before Christmas morning and Lars's birthday the very next day.

Although I helped Anders work on his quilt this afternoon, I have not had a chance to work on any of my own sewing projects in several days, which is making me irritable.  My applique blocks for Jingle are all finished and what with all the cleaning, holiday planning, homework assistance/supervision, and back-to-back 504 Plan meetings at the kids' school last week, I haven't gotten up to the sewing room at all.  It's really a bummer not having a hand sewing project to carry around with me.  I've promised myself to knock out the last four pieced blocks for my Jingle quilt first, and then I can start in on the large center medallion applique piece.

Where did this weekend go?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Help Me Choose Lars's School Photo! An Internet Poll

The deadline for ordering school pictures with the Early Bird discount is tomorrow, and I can't decide which proof to select for my seventh-grader, Lars.  From my younger son's proofs there was a clear winner that both Bernie and I easily agreed upon, but this year we were pleasantly surprised (remember his demented school photos from years past) to have several good pictures of Lars to choose from, and we just can't make up our minds.  Please help!

Option One: Here Lars looks very serious, sweet as an angel, and contemplative.  This is like an altar boy head shot, or the perfect photo to attach to a prep school application, but he is not looking directly into the camera -- so we'll call this the Serious Away option:

Option One: Serious Away
Option Two: Here Lars is also looking serious and projecting Big Kid Maturity, but looking straight at the camera this time.  This is the Serious At Camera option:

Option Two: Serious At Camera
Option Three: Here, Lars is cracking up laughing at something the photographer said to make him smile.  His eyes are twinkling, and his personality shines through.  Twenty years from now, this photo would remind me EXACTLY what Lars was like when he was twelve:

Option 3: Twinkly Eyes
Now, which do you prefer?  My husband likes the Serious ones the best, and he says I should definitely send one of the serious ones to his parents and not the cute twinkly-eyed one.  I kind of want one serious and one twinkly one to capture both sides of his personality, but I'm not sure which serious one to pick.  Therefore, I'm opening it up to an internet vote!  If grandparents are reading this post and have opinions about which picture they prefer, they should speak up in the comments, email me directly with their preference, or forever hold their peace.

The above photos were taken by St. John's Photography, and since they are proofs, I am posting them on the Internet without their knowledge or permission.  A mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do...  Ahem.  Please cast your vote below.  The poll will close on Friday at 8 PM, since tomorrow is the deadline for the discount on my photo order:

Which Photo Would You Choose? free polls 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Adventures in Reverse Applique and Fussy-Cutting: Jingle Applique Block 7 Complete, Pieced Block 7 Underway

Jingle BOM Applique Block 7 Complete!
Somehow, despite the trials and tribulations of my crusade to find the perfect jeans, I managed to complete the last applique block for my Jingle Block of the Month quilt, designed by Erin Russek of One Piece At a Time.  Ta da!  I used that mid-loft polyester batting for my stuffed berries again and I do feel like I'm finally getting the hang of them.  I also fussy-cut the birdhouse out of a piece of Hoffman Florentine fabric that I've been hoarding in my stash for several years now (I fussy-cut the corner squares for one of my pieced blocks from this fabric as well).  I wanted my bird house to look as though it had been elaborately painted. 

Hoffman Florentine fabric, stashed several years ago
Jingle Blocks Completed: 4 More Pieced Blocks Remain
That's just one of those fabrics that is WAY to gorgeous to cut up, don't you agree?  But now that I've started hacking it up, cutting little squares and birdhouses out of the middle of the yardage, I might as well get as much out of it as I can.  I'll be trying to incorporate more of this fabric in the four remaining pieced blocks for this project.

I deliberately put a bright yellow roof on my birdhouse, consciously trying to add more of that color to the remaining blocks to balance out the Bright Yellow Star block.  Finally, I tried my hand at reverse applique for the first time with this block, because I wanted the door of my birdhouse to recede rather then project outward like the center of a flower.  I didn't know how to do reverse applique with the starch and press method I've been using to prep all of my other applique shapes for this project, so I followed the directions for needle turn reverse applique in The Best-Ever Applique Sampler book from Piece O' Cake Designs.  I also fussy-cut the little partridge "inside" my birdhouse from a little scrap of Twelve Days of Christmas themed fabric (keeping the partridge, losing the pears). 

Fussy-Cut Birdhouse with Reverse Applique Door
I hope I got my applique stitches close enough together on that door and that I didn't clip the fabric allowance too close to the stitching line.  It will be quite the bummer if that fabric starts to fray and come apart once the quilt is finished!

I've been auditioning fabrics for the remaining pieced blocks and I think I have Pieced Block 7 all cut out and arranged the way I want it now.  I just need to trim those pesky corners off so the pieces line up properly and then I can start sewing them together.  I've fussy-cut the outer triangles from my Hoffman Florentine fabric and deliberately incorporated more bright yellow with this block as well.

Jingle Pieced Block 7 Cut Out and Ready to Sew
Each of the applique blocks for this project has taken me about two weeks to complete, start to finish, but sewing the pieced blocks by machine should go MUCH faster as long as I measure, starch, and press throughout the construction process to ensure the blocks finish at exactly 9 1/2" square with nice, sharp triangle points.

Erin's Layout for the Finished Quilt
Meanwhile, as you can see in Erin's layout design picture at left, there's still that large center medallion to do, all applique.  I've been prepping the shapes for that intermittently as I worked on the other blocks, but I still have the stems, a lot of leaves, and all of the stuffed berries left to make. 

I'm still not loving the bright yellow, but I'm hoping that the red and green setting triangles and borders will tone the yellow down significantly in the finished quilt.  We'll see.

I'm linking up to Applique Tuesday at A Quilting Reader's Garden. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Do I Need To Start Wearing Garbage Bags, Or Will Someone Please Tell Me Where to Buy Normal Rise Jeans in 2013?

Catherine Sarah Young of The Perceptionalist Models Trash Bag Dress
No, this is not me wearing a plastic trash bag --yet.  I found that bit of fashion inspiration at The Perceptionalist, the science/design/art/environmentalism blog of Catherine Sarah Young, in a post entitled "Hacking a Garbage Bag as a Dress.  Because Apocalypse."  Aren't you just smitten already?   

Now, you may be wondering WHY I am scouring the Internet for fashionable ways to wear a Hefty bag.  Fine; fair question.  The answer is that I hate clothes and clothes shopping, yet I dislike being cold. 

Stupid Jeans In Stores Everywhere, Photo Courtesy The New York Times
Suddenly that trash bag dress is looking pretty chic, isn't it?  I desperately need to buy jeans, but the Fashion Fascists are still dictating the stupid low-rise pants mandate and I refuse to buy another pair of jeans that won't stay up without the help of a bulky, uncomfortable belt.  Hello, jeans designers!  My WAIST is actually SMALLER than my hips!  If the top of my jeans didn't end at the widest part of my butt, my pants would stay up all by themselves, even after stretching out a bit throughout the day!  Yes, I know what you're thinking -- the helpful sales twits have explained to me that, if I would just consent to buy my jeans in a smaller size, perhaps we could get them to fit tight enough around my hips to stay up sans belt -- kind of like how a tourniquet stays in place when it's so tight that it cuts off your circulation.  This, of course, leads to the unpleasant phenomenon of Upsqueeze, more commonly known as The Muffin Top:

Nakedness is not an option at this time of year due to the cold factor -- never mind the accompanying societal disapproval and laws against exhibitionism; my objections are all about comfort.  As unflattering as the trash bag dress may be, it does look more comfortable than sausage-casing jeans, and the plastic bag might actually make a good insulator and windbreaker.  Unless anyone has other options that I should consider???

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Instant" Gratification With Machine Embroidery: The Pieces of Pi T-Shirt

Lars Models His New Pi T-Shirt
I have wanted to embroider this Pieces of Pi design from Urban Threads onto a shirt for Lars ever since I first saw the design, and I finally "got around to it."

Pieces of Pi Design, with Pi Symbol Formed by the Actual Digits of Pi
I used a size 80/12 ballpoint Organ embroidery needle with Mettler 60/2 cotton embroidery thread.  The design required the Mega Hoop, oriented horizontally rather than vertically, which meant that I had to open up one of the side seams in my plain orange T-shirt so that I could hoop the shirt properly.  I fused a layer of OESD Poly Mesh stabilizer to the reverse side of the T-shirt, which would have been plenty of support for this open, light-stitch-density design, but then I realized that if I tried to hoop the T-shirt itself, I'd be going into the seam where the sleeves attach.  I could have reduced the embroidery design, of course, but BIGGER IS BETTER for a T-shirt design -- no resizing for me!

Stitching Completed!
I decided to hoop a piece of lightweight tearaway stabilizer (bad decision; read on to find out why), and then I adhered the unhooped T-shirt to the stabilizer with 505 spray adhesive.  I used a couple of ordinary office supply binder clips to keep the excess T-shirt fabric out of the way of the needle, and turned on the basting feature in my Bernina 750 QE to further secure the T-shirt to the stabilizer before the design stitched out.   That's the stitched box you see just around the design area -- they are long basting stitches that easily come out once stitching is complete.

After the design was embroidered, I simply used a 4-thread overlock stitch on my serger to close up the side seam again.  And then I would have been FINISHED with this insta-project, if it weren't for that pesky tearaway stabilizer...  If I had thought this through better, I would have realized that the paper-like qualities of a tearaway stabilizer would create a stiff, scratchy bulk behind the embroidery design.  I wanted the design area to be as soft and comfortable as the rest of the T-shirt, which is why I chose a light stitching, low-density design in the first place and polymesh stabilizer.  So I spent the next hour and a half painstakingly ripping out every little speck of tearaway stabilizer with a tweezers...

Picking Out Tearaway Stabilizer with a Tweezers
I love how beautifully this design was digitized and how well it stitched out.  I really like the cotton embroidery thread, which I had never used for machine embroidery before.  I do have several other Urban Threads embroidery designs that I want to put on shirts for the boys, and Anders is begging me to make a Pi shirt for him as well.  I'm going to have the same issue of needing to hoop a separate stabilizer and this tweezer nonsense was VERY ANNOYING, so I think I'm going to try using a water-soluble stabilizer in the hoop like Aquamesh or Sulky Solvy next time.  That way, once the embroidery is complete, all I'll need to do is submerge the T-shirt in water or run it through the laundry and that extra stabilizer will just dissolve and rinse away.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Jingle BOM Applique Block 8 Completed!

Jingle BOM Applique Block 8
I've finished another applique block for the Jingle BOM (Block of the Month) quilt I'm working on!  This is my husband's favorite block so far, so it's kind of fitting that I finished it up on his birthday.  Happy birthday, Sweetie!  Of course, looking at the pictures, now it is bothering me that when I "eyeballed" the placement of the circles in the very center of the block, I was off and it's CROOKED.  But I do love the print fabric that I used on those four large petals -- I've had that in my stash forever and this is the first time I've been able to use it.

Before you all start congratulating me on my progress, know that I still have not even started applique block 7, the large center medallion applique, and I am behind 5 pieced blocks as well.  So the odds are, this is NOT going to be done in time for Christmas 2013.  Which is fine; after all, it's all about the process, not a race to the finish line!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I Spy Quilting Feathers!

I Spy Feathers in My Morning Latte!
Hmmm...  Methinks that Rush Espresso owner Paul McConachy has much promise if he ever gets tired of the coffee business and decides to pursue quilting instead.  Do you see those lovely feathers he created on top of my nonfat lattes?  He does that every single time, even for customers who are not quilters and who probably don't even appreciate it. 

St. Joseph's Lily by Embroider Shoppe, photo by SewCalGal

Well, I lied to you, Internet, and promised you a machine embroidery blog hop post today that is not going to happen.  I was planning to stitch out and review these gorgeous three-dimensional lily embroidery designs using South African embroidery designer Embroider Shoppe's fantastic designs, but I was unable to source all of the specialized supplies for the project in time so I had to drop out of the hop at the last minute.  I wanted to show you the designs anyway, because they are so spectacular and I really do want to attempt them some day.

In the photo above (taken by SewCalGal at Quilt Market; see her post here), what appears to be a vase of flowers is actually a vase of three-dimensional embroidered petals and leaves.  There is no fabric, just two types of embroidery stabilizer and thread for those petals and leaves.  Isn't it amazing that you could stitch something like that with your embroidery machine?  Embroider Shoppe has lots of different flower styles to choose from, including many lily varieties as well as hibiscus and poinsettias that would be perfect for holiday decorating.  Here are some of the ways I would use these 3-D floral designs:
  • Embellish a ribbon-wrapped headband with 1 or even 3 lilies for your favorite little fairy princess
  • Adorn an elegant wedding or shower gift with a single lily and a wide satin ribbon for an extra-special presentation
  • Create special hair ornaments for bridesmaids, brides, or prom by attaching embroidered flowers to hair combs or pinning in place
  • Attach a wire ring to each individual blossom for custom napkin rings -- dust with glitter or tiny Swarovski crystals to inject some glamour into your next formal table setting
  • Use 3-D embroidery flowers in place of tassels on drapery tiebacks and window valances, with thread colors customized to coordinate with your fabrics

I would classify these embroidery designs as "embroidery CRAFT PROJECTS;" that's my only caveat.  Looking through the project directions, the actual embroidery part looks pretty straightforward although you do need two specialized stabilizers, Sulky Fabri-Solvy and Sulky Soft and Sheer Extra, in order to end up with free-standing petals and leaves that can be water dampened and shaped properly.  However, the supply list includes lots of non-sewing tools and supplies that you may already have on hand if you do a lot of craft projects, such as wood burning tools, hot glue gun, acrylic paints, fishing line, floral tape and florist's wire, and there is definitely some skill involved in using these items to create realistic-looking stamens for the flower centers.  I understand that Embroider Shoppe may be coming out with a video tutorial soon demonstrating how to create these flower parts and assemble the flower itself, and I think these projects will be a lot more accessible to embroiderers with different skill levels once they can watch a demonstration in addition to following the written instructions.

Fall ME Blog Hop copyEven though I wasn't able to pull it off this time around, the Fall Machine Embroidery Blog Hop is still in full swing!  Please visit the other blog participants to be inspired by the projects and designs they are showcasing, and to enter in the SPONSORED GIVEAWAYS that each blog will be hosting this week.  Here's the adjusted lineup for the blog hop:


Monday, Nov 4th

Tuesday, November 5th
I Have A Notion

Wednesday, November 6th
Patsy Thompson Designs 

Thursday, November 7th

Friday, November 8th
Stormy Days; SewCalGal