Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve 2017: In Which I Briefly Consider Sewing Goals and Accountability

Once again, here we are: Out with the old, and in with the new.  When I start to see those "year in review" posts cropping up all over the blogosphere, my first reaction is always a toxic mixture of panic, anxiety, and guilt.  Look at all of those beautiful quilts and garments all of those other people finished!  And here I am, with a room full of fabric and a head full of dreams, and precious little to show for myself...  Comparison is truly the thief of joy.

Going back through my posts of 2017, I realize that I finished more projects than I remembered, and I've made significant progress on other projects that are closer to completion today than they were at the end of 2016.  So, here goes not-quite-nothing:

My first finish of 2017 was the Pajama Choir Concert Dress:

Burda 6911 Modified, in Black Rayon Jersey
I really love this dress, and I need to make another one with a shorter skirt so I can wear it more often.  

I also made a baby quilt sample for a beginner quilter class that I'll be teaching at my local Bernina dealer in 2018:
Beginner Quilting Class Sample
I'm happy with that project, too, and looking forward to teaching new quilting students.

I also made a set of oven mitts this year, which came out cute but too small:

Ha Ha Ha, These Oven Mitts Are Too Small
In retrospect, that project was a big waste of time.  They aren't even getting used, and store bought ones are so inexpensive.  Sewing projects take so much more time than you think they will, and I should use what little time I have for sewing to make things that can't be found in stores, like that Burda pajama dress.  I could have finished one of my UFO quilt projects with the time I spent making oven mitts that no one is going to use...

I also made a Killer Rabbit costume for Halloween this year:

Behold, the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog!
That came out pretty successfully, and it was much better than any of the costumes for sale at Party City.  However, I wore it for just that one costume party and I'll probably never wear it again.  Again, I could have used that sewing time -- and the pajama pattern I used to make the costume -- to sew something that I would get more use from, like actual pajamas.

I also finished the Burda 6911 top that I made as a test garment for my comfy choir dress, and was able to wear that for Thanksgiving.  Like the dress, it's a win -- I love the way the V-neck is snug to the body so there are zero wardrobe malfunctions when bending and reaching!  I'm definitely going to make this pattern again.

Burda 6911 Top in Green Rayon Jersey
The gathers are doing weird things in that photo because of the bra I was wearing under it.  It looks much better with different undergarments, but this is the only picture of it that I could find.  

The only other sewing project that I finished this year was the Christmas tree skirt that I made for my mom last week.  I am very happy with that one:

Mom's Christmas Tree Skirt
So that makes a total of SIX finished projects for all of 2017.  Let's reflect on that for a moment, shall we?  An average of one finished project per every two months.  Am I satisfied with that, or will I resolve to be more productive in 2018?

In addition to the finishes, I did make progress on several other projects this year.  I made 8 more pineapple log cabin blocks for my California King bed quilt in 2017.  I still have 8 blocks to make before I can assemble the top and quilt that one:

Pineapple Log Cabin In Progress
These blocks are tedious to piece, but I absolutely love how they are coming out.  I'm still excited about this project and look forward to (maybe) finishing it in 2018.  It will be huge, but nothing my 12' long arm frame can't handle!

I also worked on my Frankenwhiggish Rose applique blocks off and on throughout 2017 (more off than on, truth be told):

Finished Applique Block 1 of 9

After finishing that first block, I pieced eight more block backgrounds and have gotten the flower centers, stacked petals, and stems stitched down on all of them.  I'm currently working on the reverse applique tulips and plan to combine the applique blocks with some pieced blocks or pieced sashings eventually.

We bought the APQS Millenium long arm quilting machine in April of 2017 and I've completed two practice quilts on it so far, although I don't count them as finished projects:

First Practice Quilt on the Long Arm Machine
Second Practice Quilt, Cheater Cloth
Although I'd hoped to have quilted several REAL quilts on my long arm machine by now, I do feel like I've learned a lot with the practice pieces.  That was time well spent for sure.  I have my first real quilt top loaded on the frame now, ready to go, as soon as I 1. decide for sure how I'm quilting it and 2. screw up the courage to JUST DO IT!

It's On My Frame, Ready for Quilting...
Most likely, this Math Quilt will get a very simple allover pantograph design.

And my Bear Paws quilt is coming along, too.  In 2017 I made the sawtooth corner stones and set the bear paw blocks with sashing, and added two of three borders.  This one is really close to being ready for quilting now.  I just need to add another outer border in solid white:

Butterfly Bear Paws Top
This one wants some custom quilting in all that solid white background fabric, don't you think?  I think it's a good candidate for experimenting with those acrylic rulers...

Of course there was more to 2017 than sewing projects.  My husband had SEVERAL unexpected, major heart surgeries.  I sang with two church choirs, a semi-professional community chamber choir called VOX, and caroled in costumed a cappella quartets with the Charlotte Holiday Singers.   I took a fascinating class on Martin Luther's legacy at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, attended Music Week at Lutheridge over the summer, and worked with several new interior design clients as well as hearing from a few repeat clients who were ready to refresh their interiors.  And all this while raising two hooligans rambunctious teenage boys who keep my hairdresser busy hiding my gray hairs...  I kept the fridge stocked with groceries and the bureaus stocked with clean underwear.  I paid all the bills on time, played with my dogs, and even managed to exercise fairly regularly.  I wasn't featured in any embarrassing news stories or reality TV shows, we didn't go bankrupt, no one got arrested, and no one is suing us.  Considering all of that, I'm going to call 2017 a smashing success!

For 2018, I'm hoping for another year like 2017 (except, hopefully, without all the scary medical stuff!).  I'll be focusing on personal, professional, and spiritual growth rather than perfection, prioritizing health and family above keeping up with the Joneses, and enjoying the process of my creative pursuits more than worrying about whether I'm finishing as many projects as other people are.  The only change I'm thinking about for next year is that I may want to spend less time writing about what I want to do and more time actually DOING it...

But all in all, I feel like I'm in a good place on the cusp of the New Year.  I hope you do, too.  I don't need to make a list of sewing goals to try to live up to next year.  The one and only sewing related resolution I'm going to make is to give more priority to creative time, since playing with fabric melts stress away and makes all kinds of craziness easier to deal with.  I think I'd like to make sure I get at least 2 hours of sewing time in every week.  Does that sound reasonable?

The sentiment of the above meme is appropriate to this post, although I have to say, the little dude looks like she's running for her life in a blizzard more than she's finding joy in her journey...

Happy New Year to all of my blog readers, especially to those of you who take the time to reach out to me with your comments, emails, suggestions and advice!  

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Luxury DIY Christmas Tree Skirt for Mom

Happy Fourth Day of Christmas!  I realize that this post would have been more timely if I'd written it a couple of weeks BEFORE Christmas, but I made this tree skirt as a surprise gift for my mother (and she does read my blog).  However, if your own tree skirt has seen better days, or you're looking at a bare tree stand now that the gifts have all been unwrapped, I encourage you to make yourself a custom tree skirt for next Christmas.  

58" Lined Microsuede Velvet ChristmasTree Skirt with Trim
When my mom mentioned that she lost her Christmas tree skirt during her last move, I started shopping for a new one that I could gift to her for Christmas.  I had some serious sticker shock at the Peppermint Forest Christmas Shoppe, where they had tree skirts made out of flimsy polyester fabric (like what a toddler Disney Princess costume would be made of) retailing for $150 or more.  Then I checked online at Horchow and Frontgate, where they had much nicer quality tree skirts but even more outlandish price points of $500, $600, even $700...  And that's for a mass-produced tree skirt with limited fabric and color options.  When you're making your own tree skirt, you can get the size you want, the colors you want, and decorate it any way you want.

This isn't the first Christmas tree skirt I've ever made.  The crazy quilted and hand-embellished tree skirt I made for my own Christmas tree was fun to make but largely a wasted effort, since the vast majority of my hand embroidery and hand stitched sequins and beads get hidden beneath the branches of the tree:

My Crazy Quilted Tree Skirt, Completed in 2010
I worked on that crazy quilted tree skirt off and on for about two years, and I wouldn't ever make one like that again.  It would have been much better to do crazy quilted stockings or even a table runner, something closer to eye level where all those decorative bobbinwork machine stitches and handwork can be seen and appreciated.  

I Had to Crawl Under My Christmas Tree to Take This Picture
There is so much going on visually with most Christmas trees anyway, what with all the ornaments and packages, that I really prefer a solid tree skirt with embellishments at the outer border where they can make a strong impact. 

So, back to this year's project for my mom's tree!  She decorates her tree primarily with red and gold ornaments, with a sprinkling of black music ornaments in the mix.  I made her skirt out of a 60" wide, deep red home dec microsuede velvet home dec fabric that was very stable with a nice drape and no rubbery upholstery backing.  I started with this tutorial from Mary Jo's Cloth Store:

Mary Jo's Tree Skirt, Tutorial Found here
The Mary Jo's tutorial is easy enough to follow for anyone who has prior experience sewing window treatments and other home dec items, but those whose sewing experience is primarily quilting or apparel could probably use the following additional tips and tricks.

Choosing your Fabric:  For this project, a home dec weight fabric is going to be your best choice, along with a drapery lining fabric.  A lightweight quilting cotton isn't going to be wide enough to cut a full size tree skirt in a single piece, and since there is no batting in this skirt it would also be too flimsy to support the heavy machine stitched trim.  You need about a yard and a half each of 54-60" wide home dec fabric and the same amount of drapery lining fabric.

Covered Cording: The Mary Jo's tutorial uses a narrow covered welt cord around the outer and inner edges of the skirt, which you don't even notice unless you look closely at the photo.  This cording serves an important function, because it keeps the lining fabric from sagging and showing along the outside edge of the skirt once it's under your tree.  However, covering 6 yards of cording with fabric adds extra work to the project and if you use the same fabric as your tree skirt like they did, you don't get any extra dramatic impact from all of that work.  I could have covered my welt cord with a contrasting fabric, or done a shirred jumbo welt cord in a contrasting fabric, but I decided to use a 3/8" decorative rope cord instead.  

Shirred Jumbo Welt Cord Would Look Great On a Tree Skirt, Too
You can read about my tips and tricks for covering welt cord with fabric in this post, and you can read about my tips for sewing in-seam decorative rope cording here.  With fabric covered cord, the challenge is feeding the two fabric layers evenly through the machine, so I use Dual Feed on my Bernina sewing machine with large diameter welt cord, but I get the best results with 3/4" diameter welt cord when I use my serger.  With in-seam rope cord, the challenge is sewing close enough to the cord that the fabric tape "lip" doesn't show.

Trimming Your Tree (Skirt): Ideally, if you're going to use multiple trims on the same tree skirt, you want to select coordinating decorative rope cord, fringes and braids from the same collection.  You would think that, as an interior designer with access to a bazillion fabrics and trims, I could have found coordinating trims for this project, but alas -- there was no time for me to custom order anything and I was limited to what was in stock at my local JoAnn's store.  I loved the black and white pom pom fringe but there was no coordinating rope cord to go with it, just this plain black cord...  and some Snow White DMC embroidery floss over in the cross stitch aisle...

DIY "Matching Rope Cord" Trim
I used a size 22 tapestry needle and unseparated embroidery floss, all 6 strands, to whipstitch my white stripes around the black cording, but had to go over each stitch twice so it would stand out enough.  That means each stitch ended up with a total of 12 strands of embroidery floss.  I think I used three or three and a half skeins of floss to go around my whole skirt, and it took several hours -- on December 23rd, mind you, racing against the Advent clock!  But I liked the tree skirt MUCH BETTER after I added the white stitching to the black cord, so it was worth it.

Ta Da!  Matching Trims!
The biggest omission with the Mary Jo's tutorial is that they tell you to "sew fringe inset from your corded edge," but they don't tell you how to get your fringe lined up in a smooth curve equidistant from the edge of the skirt.  If you try to just eyeball it as you stitch the trim down, you'll end up with a wobbly mess.  Here's the trick I came up with for mine:

Marking Fringe Placement Inset 5" from Rope Cord
I chose a 5" tall plastic spool of giftwrap ribbon and "drove" it around the outer edge of my tree skirt, with the bottom edge of the spool riding in the groove between the black rope cord and the red fabric edge. (Note that the fringe gets sewn to the tree skirt PRIOR to lining it.  The seam allowance with the lip cord is merely rolled to the back side in this picture to enable me to get the ribbon spool right up against the cord edge).  The top edge of the plastic spool left a temporary track in the microsuede velvet pile in a smooth curved line spaced exactly 5" from the edge of the tree skirt.  I was then able to pin my fringe along that line, with pins as close as an inch or so apart so the fringe couldn't move out of place on the way from the worktable to the sewing machine.

Because my tree skirt is made of home dec weight microsuede, I used a size 90 Microtex needle and regular polyester all purpose sewing thread for this project, in black to match my trim.  I sewed the rope cord and fringe with a regular straight stitch, elongated to 3.5, but with no other tension adjustments.  I sewed the rope cord with Zipper Foot #4D and sewed the fringe with Open Toe Embroidery Foot #20D, engaging Dual Feed for both tasks.  

Machine Stitching the Inset Pom Pom Fringe
I sewed the fringe down in two passes, placing my stitching just inside the white running stitch embellishment on the fringe.  There IS such a thing as fringe adhesive, by the way, and gluing the trim to the skirt is an option.  However, so many of us store our holiday decorations in areas that are subject to extreme temperatures and humidity, and then we would be dragging gifts back and forth across the glued-on fringe, and i don't think the glue would hold for very long in those conditions.  Stitching the trim is the way to go.

So here you have the finished tree skirt, draped over my ironing board upon completion just after the stroke of midnight announcing the arrival of Christmas Eve:

Finished, In the Very Nick of Time!
...and here it is again, beneath my mom's tree:

Finished Tree Skirt, Beneath the Tree
There was a little bit of silliness initially about the tree skirt being "too nice to go on the floor," but then after running the vacuum cleaner she agreed to put the Christmas tree skirt on the floor beneath the tree as I had intended.  I think she likes it.

Mom's Christmas Tree, Naked No More!
So, that's what I was sewing last week when my blog was silent!  It's a good thing I finished on time, since I had no backup plan...  My mom did some Christmas sewing of her own, making pajama pants for Lars and Anders that were a huge hit.

As for me, this project reminded me that as much as I enjoy the "journey" of making, it really does feel good to FINISH something every once in awhile!  Now that the cookies have all been eaten and the wrapping debris has all been thrown away, I'm mulling my options for what to sew next. It sure would be nice if 2018 could be the Year I Finally Finished a Bunch of Stuff!

Today I'm linking up with Esther's WIPs on Wednesday, Can I Get a Whoop Whoop? at Confessions of a Fabric Addict, Off the Wall Friday at Nina-Marie's Creations, Let's Bee Social at Sew Fresh Quilts, and Midweek Makers at Quilt Fabrication.  Enjoy these last few days of 2017!

Monday, December 18, 2017

The One Where I Bake a Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake, Drench It With Rum, and Foist It Upon My Choir Friends: Baking Secrets Revealed

So I tried out a new bundt cake recipe over Thanksgiving and liked it well enough to do a reprise for our choir's Christmas party over the weekend.  The recipe is from King Arthur Flour and you can find it here.  

Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake with Rum Espresso Glaze
This cake is nut free and dairy free, made with whole wheat flour, and it's moist and delicious without being overly sugary.  It's relatively quick and easy to make, and the Bundt cake pan makes for pretty presentation straight out of the oven, no further decorating required.  My friends and family were raving about this cake and indulging in some ridiculously huge "slices"...  (Bernie!  Lars!)  

Fancy Styled Photo of Sliced Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake, King Arthur Flour
The interesting thing about this recipe is that, on the King Arthur Flour web site, reviewers either loved it like we did and gave it five stars, or else they were really disappointed and complained that it lacked flavor.  Poking around for some more recipes, I noticed that reviewers tend to have the same love/hate reactions for other espresso flavored baked goods, with the haters complaining about a lack of flavor.  My personal opinion is that the disappointed bakers were using inferior espresso powder and/or inferior brewed coffee in their glaze, perhaps along with old, stale spices that were well past their prime, because my cake was ANYTHING but bland tasting.

Here's the deal: You know how you end up with a better quilt or garment when you start with high quality fabrics and threads?  The same is true with baking; ingredients matter.  I'm no baking guru, and I am not a fan of wildly complicated recipes (except for Thanksgiving!).  I just use the best quality chocolate I can find, real vanilla instead of artificial vanilla extract, fresh Penzeys spices instead of stale grocery store spices that have been dying a painful death in my pantry for over a year...  If you don't believe me, do the sniff test: get a jar of cinnamon from your grocery store's baking aisle and a small jar of Penzey's Vietnamese Cinnamon and take a good whiff of each one.  You will be amazed by the difference.  If your spices don't smell like anything anymore, they won't deliver much flavor in your recipes, either.  Spices don't "go bad," but they do fade away over time.  When you bake with the good, fresh stuff, you really do end up with better tasting desserts.  

I get it that not everyone is as particular as I am about their baking ingredients, and you can still bake really good brownies and chocolate chip cookies using Hershey's chocolate chips and fake vanilla.  I will eat your brownies, enjoy them immensely, and I promise not to judge.  But if you want to try a recipe that is predominantly flavored with espresso, I can assure you that the hunt for the good stuff is worth your while!  I had trouble finding my usual Italian import brands of instant espresso powder this year so I tried a couple of other options.  

Do Not Buy This!
First, I bought some espresso powder from Williams-Sonoma.  They carry all of the best bakeware, pots and pans, so I hoped their specialty ingredients might be of similar quality, even though the label says it's made in the United States.  Alas!  I unscrewed the lid when i got home, took a sniff, and I swear the jar could have been filled with dark brown saw dust.  Blech!  Interestingly, this product does get good reviews from Williams-Sonoma customers, but those reviewers report that they are adding this espresso powder to their chocolate baked goods in order to enhance the chocolate flavor.  No one mentioned using this coffee dust stuff in a recipe that actually calls for instant espresso powder as a primary flavoring ingredient.

Not This Either!
The next instant espresso powder that I was able to find locally was this DeLallo brand that I'd never heard of before, and it was stocked in the baking aisle (first strike) of one of the high end specialty grocers, either Earth Fare or The Fresh Market.  The label says it's from Mexico (second strike) and instead of a picture of a cup of coffee on the label, there is a picture of a slice of cake and "perfect for tiramisu" on the label (third strike -- I should have known better!).  But I had no other option, and it had to be better than the Williams-Sonoma stuff at home, right?  Wrong!  The DeLallo Instant Espresso Baking Powder product is even LESS aromatic than the Williams-Sonoma.  But guess what it says on their web site?  They are promoting this product as "a baker's best-kept secret" that "makes chocolate richer without adding any distinct coffee flavor."  Aha!!  These baking aisle espresso powders are really more like chocolate enhancers than flavoring agents that can stand on their own.

My Son Anders With His Favorite Espresso Recipe: Cinnamon Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies
The thing is, with both the Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake recipe and my Fine Cooking Cinnamon Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, success depends on using a high quality instant espresso powder that DOES add a distinct coffee flavor!  If you have ever been disappointed by a recipe calling for instant espresso powder in the past, I urge you to try the recipe again using one of these brands, both of which I finally found on Amazon (score!):

These are Italian instant espresso coffees, and if your grocery store carries either of them, they will stock it in the coffee aisle as it is intended for drinking.  Just as you get the best results when you cook with real wine that is good enough for drinking instead of using "cooking wine" that tastes like vinegar, you get the best espresso flavor for baked goods when you use an instant espresso powder that is meant for drinking.  As I said, both Medaglia D'Oro and Ferrara instant espresso are available online at Amazon (with Prime free shipping even) if you can't find them in your local shops, and although they are both vastly more flavorful than the brands that are marketed to bakers, they are LESS expensive.  That's right, LESS EXPENSIVE.  Whereas the bland 1.8 oz jar of Willilams-Sonoma espresso powder cost me $10.95, I can purchase a pack of three 2 oz jars of Medaglia D'Oro espresso powder on Amazon for just $14 with free shipping.  The DeLallo brand was $4.95 for an almost 2 oz. jar, but I can get three 2 oz jars of the much better Ferrara brand on Amazon for only $12.97 with free shipping.  Sometimes the good stuff actually saves you money.  It might seem absurd to buy baking ingredients online, but if I factor in the wasted gas and wasted time driving from one grocery store to the next, looking for espresso powder...  

So, back to my cake recipe: I baked my cake with fresh, strongly aromatic Penzeys Vietnamese Cinnamon and Pumpkin Pie spice blend.  I used real Vanilla, also from Penzeys.  For the filling, I used Medaglia D'Oro Italian instant espresso mixed with brown sugar and Penzey's Cinnamon, and then, for the glaze... 
How I Make "Strongly Brewed Coffee"
The recipe says to dissolve the granulated sugar in 1/3 cup of "strong brewed coffee" with the option of adding rum (and of course I added rum).  But I didn't glaze my cake with ordinary brewed coffee because I don't own a regular coffee maker.  I have a shiny espresso machine, a commercial coffee grinder, and a cupboard stocked with fresh Lavazza espresso beans.  I heated up my espresso machine, ground my beans, and pulled two shots of espresso like I was going to make a latte.  

Perfect 25 Second Espresso Shots
I dumped the shots into my measuring cup and they were almost exactly 1/3 cup, so I just dissolved my sugar into my freshly-pulled espresso shots, added 1 1/2 tablespoons of Captain Morgan, and then drenched my bundt cake with it.  What better way to ensure a rich espresso flavor than to actually soak the cake IN ESPRESSO, hmmm?

Okay, so that almost felt like cheating.  But if you want to make this recipe and you don't happen to own an espresso machine, you could totally go to your Starbucks or local coffee shop and buy a couple shots of brewed espresso to go for your recipe.  You just might need to heat them up in the microwave if they have cooled off too much to dissolve the sugar.

I've spent WAY more time on this post than what I had intended.  Hopefully someone will find it helpful.  If not, at least I will have a record for myself of where to find my espresso powder next year!  Do you have a favorite holiday baking recipe or a secret ingredient to share?  Let me know in the comments.  :-)

Again, if you'd like to try the King Arthur Flour Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake, you can find that recipe here, and if you'd like to try the Fine Cooking Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies, you can find that recipe here.  Let me know how it turns out.  Happy baking!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Pineapple Log Cabin Therapy: Block 34 of 42, etc.

Greetings from the midst of Advent!  "Busy" does not even begin to describe all the balls I've got in the air right now, but I blocked out some stitch therapy time and managed to complete another pineapple log cabin block this week.  That's 34 blocks completed, 8 more to go, in case anyone's keeping track.

Pineapple Log Cabin Block 34 of 42
Here are the four most recent blocks up on the design wall.  Each block finishes at 17 3/4", and the fabric strips finish at 3/4" wide.

Blocks 31-34 On the Wall, With Bear Paws
Christmas caroling is in full swing, so the Giant Green Dress has been out and about.

Caroling With Cecilia
I'll be practically living in that dress all of next week.  It's such a pain to put on, and I'm sick of wearing it, but the little girls LOVE IT...

My New Buddies
Speaking of little cuties, I ran across a couple of Oldies But Goodies on my computer the other day.  Check out Lars, helping to decorate the Christmas tree on Black Friday nine years ago:

Lars Hauling Out the Holly in 2008
...and here is that very same child, on Black Friday of this year, snuggling with our dogs on a break from stringing lights on the tree:

Lars Snuggling With Rottweilers on Tree Decorating Day 2017
Back in 2008, my son Anders used to smile sweetly for the camera, too.  Here he is showing me a reindeer ornament that he made in preschool:

Anders Showing Off His Reindeer Ornament in 2008
Fast forward nine years, and I am lucky to get a picture of him at all.  I just went through my phone and this is seriously THE BEST recent photo I have of him.

Anders in 2017, Too Cool for Mom to Take His Picture
But in the midst of cooking and entertaining, I managed to get a cute Thanksgiving picture of me and Bernie:

Me and My Sweetie, Thanksgiving 2017
This turned out to be the year that I accidentally dumped ALL of my gravy down the drain (forgot to put a bowl under the strainer!), but no one seemed to care.  

Time flies, doesn't it?  The holidays are definitely different with teenagers than they were when I had little ones in the house.  I would wrap this post up with a pithy observation about the passage of time and seasons of life, but alas, my brain is too tired.  I need to hop in the shower and get dressed for the boys' Christmas show at church tonight.  I'm looking forward to seeing what all the high school kids have been working on for the past few months.  :-)

I'm linking up with Esther's WIPs on Wednesdays.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

More Designs, Dreams, Doodles and Practice Panels

I found some fantastic limited edition panels for machine quilting practice from Liuxin Newman, the Thimble Lady that I just had to share with you.  Liuxin is a renowned author and teacher of hand quilting, hand piecing, and hand applique, and her new digitally printed whole cloth kits would be perfect for hand stitched finishing.  But I'm envisioning using these for practice like I did with my Dresden plate cheater cloth -- except that these are so much prettier to look at, and much more useful sizes.  These would be practice quilts with a purpose, otherwise known as REAL QUILTS!

This Fish O'Rainbow quilt measures 52" x 72" and, with the addition of a simple border or two, it would make a fabulous children's quilt.  You could practice stitching straight lines where you wanted them OR use the lines as markings to evenly space some free motion squiggles.  I especially like all the pearl strings printed on this panel, because I definitely need practice making ROUND pearls instead of SQUARE pearls on my longarm machine!

52 x 72 Fish O'Rainbow Whole Cloth Quilt
See how they've machine quilted the sample?

One Way to Quilt This
I'm sure that, after tracing around all of the circles on this panel with my long arm machine, my ability to quilt rounder circles freehand will have improved tremendously.  This fabric would also be fantastic for embellishing with those bazillion decorative stitches that come with our modern sewing machines, wouldn't it?

This is the other "Just Quilting Kit" from Thimble Lady that intrigued me:

18 Inch Flying Feathers Block
Flying Feathers is an 18" block that you can purchase individually or in sets of 8 blocks, available in the mauve pink colorway or in dusty blue.  Although I'm not as in love with the colors of this one as I am with the happy fishies, I do like that this is all feathers and pearls.  Like round pearls, smooth, graceful feathers that don't look like ogre toes are a challenge, and tracing printed feathers with my quilting machine over and over would probably be a good way to improve my feathers, too.  

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to practice developing muscle memory for quilting designs on my iPad during church sermons:

My "Sermon Notes"
Of course this doodling doesn't translate perfectly at the machine because the Apple Pencil moves smoothly across the surface of the iPad in all directions.  Because of the way a longarm quilting machine carriage rides on horizontal and vertical wheels, there is more drag resistance on diagonal quilting motions than there is on true vertical or horizontal stitching lines.  That's why it's easier to draw reasonably round circles on the iPad than it is to actually quilt round circles on a longarm machine -- they come out square until you learn to compensate for the additional drag at the "corners" of the circle, and the extra momentum you pick up at the top, bottom, right and left points where the machine wants to keep going straight.  

Would you like to know how much actual sewing in real life I have accomplished since my last post?  I sewed ONE WHOLE SEAM yesterday.  I did laundry, got clean sheets on the beds, went for a walk with my sweetie, and had a VOX choir rehearsal starting in on the Christmas Lessons and Carols music.  But I managed to seam two lengths of backing fabric together and trim away the selvages before I left for choir.  That's the nice thing about having a dedicated studio.  If I only have a few minutes, I can sneak off to my studio and just sew for a few minutes.  If I was working on my dining room table, by the time I got the sewing machine out and set up it would be time to put everything away again!

I have high hopes for today, though.  I've got a bit of work piled up that needs my attention, but I hope I'm also able to get that backing pressed and cut down to the right size, AND get that math quilt loaded on the frame today.  I still don't know how I'm quilting it yet, but I'll feel better once it's on the frame and ready to go!

Have a great day, and happy stitching!