Monday, January 20, 2014

Design Wall Monday: Success, Discovery and Despair

Anders Finished his First Quilt Top!
Let's start with the success.  My son Anders finished his very first quilt top yesterday!  The animal print blocks were supposed to be just a practice exercise for learning to sew straight seams, but Anders really wanted to make them into a quilt so we "stretched" them with the jungle print fabric.  The young quilter has selected lime green Minky backing fabric for this project.

So, that's the success.  Now for the disaster!

Pink Selvages?
As I was pressing my red poinsettia fabric in preparation for cutting out the setting triangles for my Jingle quilt, I noticed that this prewashed fabric yardage had PINK selvages instead of white.  At first I thought the dye in this Hoffman "Winter Magic" print fabric must have bled in the wash, but then I remembered that since I had purchased so many different fabrics for this project, I prewashed them in batches according to color.  All of my red fabrics went in together... And, now that I'm thinking about it, I realize that the most likely culprit for dye that isn't colorfast has got to be the two red batiks that are not only sprinkled throughout the pieced blocks, but also used for all of the stuffed berries and cardinals that I have been painstakingly appliqueing by hand over the past 10 months.  There is still SO much work left to do on this project, from the pieced borders and assembly of the quilt top on through the quilting, and the first thing I do with a new quilt after I finish binding it is to run it through the washing machine to remove any markings, dirt, or grime that may have accumulated during its creation.  Am I seriously going to go through all of that work, only to have red dye run all over the place and turn my off-white background fabric pink?!

I tried to remain calm.  Perhaps there was just some excess dye in the fabric initially that was rinsed away when I prewashed it?  Maybe the fabric would be okay now?  To test this, I put some boiling water into a Pyrex cup and dropped snips of the suspected culprit fabrics into the water.  Unfortunately, when the water cooled down and I removed the fabric scraps, the water was definitely pink.  Now, I would never wash a quilt in boiling hot water, and maybe the dye behaves better in cold water, but do I really want to invest another hundred hours or so before I find out?

Bleeding Bird and Berry Batiks  :-(
Here's what I decided to do.  I sewed some scraps of the offending fabrics to scraps of my off-white background fabrics.  Nothing fancy (Anders was laughing at me while I did this).  I'm going to put this little test rag into a mesh lingerie bag and put it in the wash with a load of warm laundry, and we'll see what happens. 

Ugly Test Rag
HOPEFULLY, I can use a couple of dye catcher sheets to absorb any remaining excess dye and then everything will be fine after that.  However, there is a definite possibility that either or both of these batiks will turn out to be perpetual dye bleeders that should never have been used in the first place.  All of the quilting books I have read warn you to test every single fabric before you use it in a quilt, but after testing a few fabrics and never finding a problem, I got lazy and decided that any fabric I purchased from a quilt shop was probably just fine. 

And if it turns out that one or both of these batiks or other fabrics is NOT just fine?  Well, that means hours spent with a seam ripper attempting to unpick my miniscule applique stitches without ripping through my block backgrounds, and completely remaking every single bird and berry in different fabrics, as well as taking apart and remaking every pieced block that contains these fabrics.  Hence the DESPAIR. 

The only upside here is that, by discovering the problem at this point in the project, I still have the ability to remove the offending fabric without the entire project being ruined.  I haven't been able to bring myself to wash that test rag yet, though -- I need time to emotionally prepare in case the experiment does not go well.

Meanwhile, I'm still working away at the center applique medallion, which looks like this right now:

At least I haven't made the berries for the medallion yet.

Well, I'm linking up to Judy's Design Wall Monday over at Patchwork Times, and I encourage you to check out all the other links to see what everyone else is up to this week. If anyone reading this has any suggestions about my bleeding batik dye problem, please let me know in the comments.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mock Jingle Layout With Setting Triangles

Planned Layout for my Jingle Quilt
I need EQ7 software.  I just spent the last two hours here at the computer, trying to rearrange little thumbnail pictures of my Jingle blocks in a Word document because I don't have quilt design software.  It turns out that Microsoft Word is not an ideal software package for graphic design.  It was a glorious pain, but in the end I made it work.  What you see above (click the photo to enlarge it, so you can see the whole thing) is Erin Russek's design image for this BOM, with my own quilt blocks and red setting triangles superimposed in the arrangement that feels most balanced to me.  Then I plopped the image from the center medallion pattern in the center to see what it would look like in a straight setting.  Anyway, here's what I decided:
  1.  My existing blocks are fine, and I don't need to swap out any more pieced blocks.  Once the blocks are surrounded by the red poinsettia fabric of the setting triangles, they blend together much better than they do when I look at them against the off white backdrop of my design wall.
  2. I want to set my center applique medallion straight rather than an point.  I really hated the idea of giant green setting triangles around the center medallion, for one thing, and I really want to do some pieced borders with these blocks without the quilt growing to an unmanageable size.  Setting the center medallion straight should give me about 5 1/2" between the medallion and the other blocks, enough for several smaller pieced borders, and I can also do multiple pieced and plain borders in place of the wide green outer border as well.

Here is how Erin's pattern calls for the blocks to be set:

Original Pattern Designer's Layout

I think this looks great with Erin's fabric choices, but I just have not been able to find a green print fabric that I like well enough between the blocks and the medallion, and when I scroll through my Pinterest boards, I find that the sampler quilts that catch my eye again and again seem to be the ones with multiple pieced and plain borders that are scaled smaller than the blocks they frame.  Do I have the skills to get all of these borders to lay nice and flat and fit together properly?  Well, that remains to be seen.  This whole project has been a learning experience, just like every other project has been, come to think of it.  I think the pieced borders will be worth it even if I struggle with them, because I used a LOT of different fabrics in this quilt and mixing those up in pieced borders will help to tie it all together and unify the finished quilt much better than gigantic pieces of fabrics could possibly do, regardless of whether I used green solid fabric or a green print. 

Meanwhile, I'm still working on the applique hand work for the center medallion and I do have a ways to go with that.  I'm probably a good two weeks out from finishing, since I only work on it for 30 minutes to an hour each day.   Stay tuned...  :-)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Jingle Pieced Block No. 6 Completed -- Last Block! ...Or Is It?

Jingle Pieced Block No. 6 Completed
Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment here or to email me privately with advice and suggestions pertaining to my 54-40 or Fight Alternate Pieced Block.  I really appreciate all of the different perspectives and opinions.  As you can see, I finally completed the last of the pieced blocks in the official Jingle lineup today with Pieced Block No. 6, above.  You can find all of the patterns and instructions for this projects on Erin Russek's blog here.
So, as you can see, I used the same ivory and gold background for this block as I did on my 54-40 or Fight block.  The block I didn't like is the one with all the flying geese that I have stuck off to the side by itself.  Now I only have 4 blocks with that other large curlique cream and gold background print.  I also used more of the strong emerald green fabric in this block, and I REALLY like how this latest block came out.  It's one of my favorites!

All 16 Jingle Blocks Completed -- Plus An Extra
As I look at it all on the design wall now, and especially looking at the pictures (why is it so much easier to evaluate things in pictures versus standing in front of the wall in real life?), there are a few little tweaks I'd like to make to some of the remaining blocks.  Specifically, I'm thinking about swapping the corner triangles on the top LEFT block with the corner triangles on the bottom RIGHT block.  Then there's that TOP right block, the one that I agonized over fussy-cutting all of the outer triangles from my print.  Erin's pattern called for that to be a green fabric, and I think I would have liked that one better if I had followed her recommendations more closely.  I absolutely cannot bear to take that block apart after I worked so hard on it, so I think I might replace that with a totally different block as well.  All of my favorite blocks for this quilt look like stars or crosses on pointe, which I love aesthetically and thematically for this quilt since it's a Christmas project.

Piecing with Bette, my 1935 Singer Featherweight 221
I pieced this block on Bette, my 1935 Singer Featherweight 221.  Although she has no numbers on her tension dial and no seam allowance markings on her stitch plate, I find that I get really, really nice, accurate piecing seams on this machine once I have my little vintage cloth guide screwed securely into place on the bed of the machine.

Bette the Beauty with her Sassy Red Cloth Power Cord
Bette came to me after having had her original foot controller clumsily rewired with what appeared to be an ugly brown extension cord.  Fortunately, the two-button foot controller and the Bakelite plug that goes into the machine were still original parts.  A bit of research revealed that, based on her serial number, Bette would have been one of the last Featherweights to have originally left the Singer factory with a cloth covered power cord. 

Reproduction Cloth Covered Cord from Snakehead Vintage
So I found this gorgeous black and red houndstooth reproduction cloth covered electrical cord from Snakehead Vintage Electrical Supply and Bernie rewired the foot controller with it for me.  This reproduction cloth cord is used for theatrical purposes and for rewiring all kinds of vintage lamps, fans, and other small appliances.  Inside the cloth covering, the wires are encased in a rubber or plastic coating for safety, but the decorative cloth covering gives it that great early industrial look and is just plain FUN.  To the best of my knowledge, the original cloth covered cord for a Singer Featherweight 221 would have been boring black, but I just couldn't resist "accessorizing" Bette with this snazzy red cord to coordinate with the little red felt spool pad.  Anyway, although I bought this machine several months ago, Bernie didn't get around to finishing the rewiring for me until after Christmas, so this last Jingle block was my first time sewing on this machine.

Any more advice or suggestions for my Jingle blocks?  Now that I have all of the individual blocks done, I'm going to refocus my energy on the large applique medallion that goes in the center of the quilt.  I still have a lot of work to do there, but once the medallion is done I'm going to want to put it up on my design wall with the other blocks to work out the layout and explore options for borders and setting triangles.  Unfortunately, my design wall is not wide enough to accommodate the whole quilt, so I'm scheming to move the shelving unit to the right and expand the design wall to a more practical size.

Meanwhile, timers are going off in the kitchen and it's dinner time for our family.  Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Jingle BOM Alternate Pieced Block: 54-40 or Fight!

Alternate Pieced Block: 54-40 or Fight

So as I'm nearing the end of the block construction phase for my Jingle BOM (designed by Erin Russek of One Piece at a Time, patterns and instructions found here), I've been looking at the finished blocks up on my design wall, trying to picture the finished quilt with the setting triangles and borders, and feeling... underenthused.  As I've been hand stitching that center medallion applique, I've been playing out different scenarios for this quilt in the back of my mind.  There will need to be pieced setting triangles, or pieced borders, or both.  And there is at least one pieced block up on that wall that I REALLY do not like. 
So I hauled out a bunch of quilt books and hunted through them for a different block that I would like better, and came up with the oddly-named 54-40 or Fight block (which got its name from James Polk's 1844 Presidential campaign slogan, capitalizing on "Oregon Fever" and Manifest Destiny).  Just a tidbit of history trivia for you there; can't help myself.
Completed Jingle Blocks, Including the Ugly Block
I found this block in two of my quilting books, both of which recommended using templates for the triangle-in-a-square units, and neither of which included instructions for a 9" finished block, the size needed for this project.  I have no idea how to make or use a template and was not in the mood to go that route, but I do own a set of Nifty Notions Cut for the Cure specialty rulers that includes two rulers ideally suited for this block, the Half Rectangle Triangle and the Bias Triangle rulers.  Since I'm making a 9" finished block and my triangle-in-a-square units need to finish at 3" square, I added 1/2" for the seam allowances and cut myself a 3 1/2" strip of green fabric and a 3 1/2" strip of cream and gold background fabric.  I used the Half Rectangle ruler to quickly and painlessly cut pairs of star point triangles from the green strip, and I used the Bias Triangle ruler to just as quickly cut the background triangles from the other strip.  There's even a little notch on the ruler to help you perfectly align the triangles for stitching, and from that point this unit goes together as easily as a Flying Geese unit.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE this block!  I also love that I have learned enough about block grids and rulers that I was able to just look at the block and start cutting, without having to find instructions for my block size or do any convoluted math. 
I do still have one more pieced block to complete per Erin's pattern, one that I actually do think that I'll like, so the Ugly Block is staying on the wall for the time being.  Maybe I'll get adventurous and replace or tweak some of the other blocks as well.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book Review: The Organized Student by Donna Goldberg

Available on Amazon here
The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School and Beyond, by Donna Goldberg, available here on Amazon, came highly recommended by my kids' developmental pediatrician.  I bought it reluctantly, expecting yet another unrealistic book promising miraculous transformations through elaborate sticker charts and token-and-reward systems.  I was pleasantly surprised!

Donna Goldberg, who has worked professionally with hundreds of disorganized middle and high school students on a one-on-one basis, shares a wealth of insight into what it's like to be a student today and the variety of challenges kids face in managing paper, space, and time.  The book is sprinkled with assessments to help you understand your child's school day, questions I never thought to ask but that immediately helped us to identify and solve some of the problems my son was having.  Questions like, Where is your locker in relation to your classes?  How often do you get to go to your locker throughout the day?  How much time do you have between classes, and is there one teacher who always lets you out late? 

Goldberg stresses that there are many different methods of organization, but the one that works best for your child will be the one that she or he chooses and sets up rather than something external that parents or teachers impose upon the child.  Consequently, there are lots of options and variations for each area addressed in the book. 

I read through this book off and on over a period of several months to understand the whole philosophy and process prior to attempting to implement anything, highlighting and flagging as I went along.  Then I went back and reread highlighted sections to create an action plan for addressing these issues with my sons in the order suggested by the author.  So far I've helped my 5th grader to reorganize his backpack and streamline his class binders (he doesn't have a locker yet) and the next step with him will be to set up his "portable office" for doing school work at home.  With my older son, who has been lugging around a 50 pound backpack, I will have to tread carefully and ease him into streamlining his paper flow before we even think about his desk, but I think he may even like to read a few chapters of this book on his own to help him understand why we are doing this and "what's in it for him."
I highly recommend this book to any parents of middle school or high school students, but especially for those who are disorganized and/or who suffer from ADHD related executive functioning weaknesses, but with this caveat: You and your child will need to invest some significant time into implementing the strategies in this book in order to gain anything from it.  If you're expecting to read the book and then instantly see miracles, you're going to be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 New Year's Greetings: Odds and Ends

Hello, everyone, and Happy New Year 2014!  I just finished reading The Hobbit with Lars, and have a few moments to spare before the dryer finishes up and the clothes need folding, so I thought I'd share a few photos briefly.

iPods and Kindles as Pattern Weights
I've been plodding along on the center applique medallion for my Jingle BOM quilt, and discovered that my family's assorted iPhones and iPods make fantastic pattern weights in a pinch, holding my fabric in place over the paper pattern while I position and glue baste my applique shapes.  I'd be able to see the pattern through the background fabric better if I went upstairs to the studio and used my light box, but I'm only gluing a few leaves at a time and it's more convenient to just squint and fudge it on the kitchen counter.

Sewing all those stems down was tedious work, but now that I have the center poinsettia stitched in place and my branches are sprouting leaves, it's fun to see the whole thing coming together.  I'm really enjoying the mix of emerald green fabrics with those crimson reds.  However, now that I'm nearing the end of the project and looking at all of my blocks up on the design wall, I'm not sure that I want to finish the quilt exactly according to Erin's directions:

Erin Russek's Jingle BOM Layout, patterns found here
I have auditioned so many green fabrics with my blocks, and I just don't like any of them well enough to use that MUCH of it in my quilt.  I also feel like too much time and effort went into the individual blocks to just add plain setting triangles and borders and call it a day. 
I really love how another quilter, Pam of Hip to Be a Square Podcast, a.k.a. Pantsfreesia in the Jingle Belles Flickr group, substituted pieced setting triangles for the large green setting triangles around the center applique medallion.  (Much thanks to Janet L for helping me find her blog so I could credit her and link back to her blog.)  I think Pam's Jingle quilt is just gorgeous and I HAD to share it with you:
Completed Jingle Quilt made by Pam of Hip to Be a Square Podcast; read her post here
 Isn't that gorgeous?  You can see more photos of Pam's quilt, including detail shots of the machine quilting, in her blog post here.  This quilt got me thinking about ways I could personalize my own Jingle quilt, maybe adding pieced setting triangles around the center medallion similar to what Pam did, or perhaps adding some pieced borders to the quilt if I can figure out the math so everything still fits together at the end.  I also have a couple of pieced blocks that I really don't love, and I'm considering replacing them with different star blocks instead.  Adding borders might end up enlarging the quilt and requiring two more blocks, anyway, so we'll see.  There's a lot of stitching still to be done on that center medallion.

Kings of Nintendo Playing 3DS Games
Meanwhile, Lars and Anders have been enjoying their Christmas break from school immensely.  Lars got his Science Fair data analysis and conclusion completed, as well as an independent novel project for Language Arts class, and Anders has been working with his dad to get his Dragon Naturally Speaking software to play nice with his little laptop for school.  There has been much practicing of violin, piano, and trombone, and much more playing of video games, as seen in the blurry photo at left.  Here's a better shot of them at Best Buy, scrutinizing the secrets of the LEGO Marvel PS3 Cheat Book as they wait in line to exchange duplicate video games:

Anders and Lars at Best Buy

To my great appreciation and delight, Bernie finished and installed the doors for the built-ins in the living room a few days before Christmas, hiding much of the clutter that has been on my nerves for YEARS:

Living Room Built-Ins Today

Doesn't that look great, just like it has always been that way?  He built the doors from scratch, perfectly matching the paneled cabinetry in the kitchen and throughout the house.  The bookshelves on the sides were original to the home, but the whole center section was missing except for two weird boxes at the top.  Here's what this wall looked like before we bought the house, with the old carpeting and the previous owners' furnishings:

Same Living Room, Before We Bought the House

Bizarre, right?  So I had Bernie subdivide those two oddly proportioned boxes by adding shelves immediately, and he built the base cabinetry at the same time so the built-ins would frame his gigantic television.  There were always supposed to be doors on the bottom, but there are so many things to do when you move into a new home and you get sidetracked with other projects.  After awhile, you get used to the way an almost-finished project looks, and you don't notice it anymore.  So, here's what the wall of built-ins looked like for the last SEVEN years, waiting for those doors:

Unfinished Built-Ins with Lars, Bernie, and Puppies
Scroll back up to see the way it looks with the doors installed again.  HUGE improvement, don't you agree?  It's one of those things that makes you think, "Why didn't we do this a LONG time ago?"  Thanks, Lover!  :-)

Another fantastic gift I received were the completed puppy portraits that my mother finally agreed to paint after much badgering, whining, begging, and insinuation that dog portraits equal love.  Do you remember when I posted about this idea here back in April?  I asked my mom to copy a couple of Renaissance portraits I had seen in the Louvre on one of my trips to Paris, but with my Rottweiler pups' faces instead of the somber humans in the original portraits. 

The Originals in the Louvre

Lulu and Otto, Painted by Mom
 Didn't she do a great job?  I LOVE it!  My puppies will celebrate their 3rd birthday in four days.  It seems like we just brought them home a few months ago, doesn't it?

Says Lulu, a.k.a. Princess Puppy, "Rub my belly, slaves!"

Says Otto, my Sweet Baboo, "PLEASE throw my ball!!"
Oh, and I had one other fun surprise.  My sister Susan sent me this coffee mug that she bought at a Starbucks on or near the Great Wall of China when she was there running a marathon last year.  Doesn't it look great with my granite?  Best of all, I love that it is stamped MADE IN CHINA.  The Starbucks mugs sold at the Louvre say PARIS on the front of the mug and MADE IN CHINA on the bottom, so they are not nearly such authentic souvenirs as this one from Beijing.

Ah, well -- the clothes dryer has been peeping at me mercilessly, demanding my attention.

Happy New Year, 2014!