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!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Of Capitulation, Resignation, and Thanksgiving Mules

Well, folks, I tried to reason with him.  In vain I sought dialogue and dreamed of a compromise that might streamline this year's production of Thanksgiving Chez Moi.  I ransacked my trove of cookbooks for simpler recipes, considered paring down the list of side dishes, and reducing quantities.  Then I sat down with my obstinate German husband and proffered my suggestions one by one, summoning forth all of my patience and carefully laying out reasonable arguments in favor of small changes, just this once, just this year...

And he shot down EVERY SINGLE ONE of my ideas.  He will not give up his buttercup squash soup.  He will not agree to a smaller turkey (and he is already scheming to safeguard the leftovers lest his mother-in-law attempts to run off with all the turkey again).  He will not permit Thanksgiving to be hosted at anyone else's home, and he is vehemently opposed to disposable plates in lieu of fine china.  After an exhausting morning of negotiations with my mule of a man, I am now committed to doing everything exactly like we've done it every other year.  

Me and Bernie, Discussing Changes to Our Thanksgiving Menu
Ah, well.  At least there is no stress of the unknown, since we've been making these recipes for nearly 20 years now.  And the one concession I got is that Bernie is going to do the work of prepping the stuffing on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving so that I can concentrate on pumpkin pies that day.  (Now it's in writing, Bernie, and the whole Internet has witnessed it.  No backing out!)  The stuffing is pretty elaborate and takes a couple of hours what with cooking the wild rice, chopping and browning the apples and vegetables, etc. Last year I ran out of time and had to buy pies from Dean & DeLuca on the way home from church on Wednesday night.  They were nowhere near as delicious as my recipe.  The molasses pumpkin pie is MY favorite part of Thanksgiving, and I'd just as soon serve everyone popcorn, jelly beans and toast for dinner as long as we have my pumpkin pies for dessert!

Popcorn, Pretzels, Jelly Beans and Toast
So far today I've reserved my fresh 22-24 pound organic turkey from Whole Foods and placed a Harris Teeter order for all of my non-perishables and wine, and I'll pick up the groceries later this afternoon.  Hopefully Harris Teeter will have that buttercup squash for Bernie's soup and we won't need to waste time enjoy the hunt of visiting every grocery store in Charlotte looking for it this year.  Because squash soup, herb butter, and spiced pecans all need to get made and frozen this weekend.

Ah, my husband is so lucky he's cute!  It will all be fine, though.  It will be even better than fine -- it's going to be great.  My mom is bringing her green bean casserole and an apple pie, because she is NOT fond of my molasses pumpkin pie (more for me!).  My friend Lisa is bringing a yummy apple salad and I think maybe something with sweet potatoes, too.  And, as I said, I've already selected and ordered plenty of wine.  With the year we've been through, we certainly have a lot to be thankful for.  When all is said and done, gathering friends and family together over good food and good wine is EXACTLY what we all need this year for Thanksgiving.

Let the Culinary Games begin!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Of Recuperation, Thanksgiving Hostility, and EQ8 Quilt Designs

First of all, I am glad to report that Bernie is back home again after five miserable days in the hospital.  His ICD (Implanted Cardiac Defibrillator) is now working to pace (and if necessary, to shock) his heart out of those lethal ventricular rhythms and he's doing well; just a bit stiff and sore from the surgery.  Since I spent most of the last week either in the hospital, driving back and forth from the hospital, or driving kids around, I have no actual sewing projects to show you.  

I did, however, bring my laptop computer to the hospital, and I spent some time working on a couple of quilt designs in my newly upgraded EQ8 software while Bernie was in surgery and recovery:

Variable Block Applique
This is not necessarily a quit that I'm planning to MAKE, mind you -- just an experiment with the Variable Block layout.  Primarily I was interested in familiarizing myself with the new software interface and locating all of my favorite design tools.  But do like the idea of combining traditional applique with modern color schemes and non-traditional layouts, so I may come back to this idea later.  I'm still a long way from finishing my Frankenwhiggish Rose applique project and have no plans to start any new applique until that one is finished.

60 x 80 Charity Quilt
This second quilt is one that I might actually make.  The goal with this one was to make a 60" x 80" charity quilt that would be relatively quick and easy to make, and interesting enough to hold my attention.  (Of course I always think I'm designing something simple, and then it ends up being not simple at all...)  Anyway, this row quilt fits the size parameters for Lutheran World Relief Mission quilts, and features fifteen 12" blocks, three of each kind.  Here are the challenges:
  1. Lutheran World Relief says their Mission quilts are used by recipients primarily for warmth, so my go-to thin cotton battings wouldn't be appropriate for this one.  100% high loft polyester is probably the most practical choice, but I've never quilted with that before and I don't want to mess with raising the height of my presser foot or anything crazy like that.  Those of you who regularly make charity quilts, what do you recommend as far as batting?I don't actually have the fabrics I used in the design of this quilt. 
  2. My husband is likely to be annoyed with me if I buy all new fabric for a charity quilt when I literally have a roomful of fabric that I have bought and never used, but most of my fabric stash is either fat quarters or purchased for a specific project.  Before I could make this quilt, I would have to make as many fabric substitutions as I could from my stash and still would probably need to shop for more fabric.  I have quite a few quilts that I've designed and purchased fabric for, but never actually started -- so I'm really, really hesitant to rush out and buy STILL MORE fabric.  In fact, I really should be on Fabric Shopping Probation until I use up all of the fabric I've already purchased!
  3. I am seriously overextended right now and have no business starting any projects at all -- there is at least an 85% chance that I would buy the fabrics I needed but never get around to actually making this quilt.  At least not as a Thanksgiving project, like I had in mind.  I probably wouldn't even get to this until next Spring.  Who am I kidding?  That fabric could be stashed under my cutting table for 5 years without ever seeing the light of day.  I get stressed out over the meal preparation for Thanksgiving every year, and now I want to add a charity quilt project on top of everything else?!
Which brings me to my next topic: we in the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving two weeks from today, and I'm feeling slightly hostile about it.  I've been reevaluating our family traditions (to the chagrin of my husband, who wants the SAME EXACT MEAL EVERY SINGLE YEAR): Roasted turkey with vast quantities of rich, high-carb side dishes and desserts that require weeks of preparation, hours of cleanup, and put us all into a food coma afterwards.  This "traditional" menu makes very little sense historically, since potatoes were not yet cultivated in North America at the time of the first Thanksgiving.  The Pilgrims had not yet built any ovens for baking, and they had completely run out of sugar so there were no desserts and no sugary cranberry sauces, either.  According to one source, the First Thanksgiving included venison, lobster, deer, swans, corn porridge, and seals on the menu.  Fascinated as I was by this bit of trivia, I shared it with my husband.  His response?  "You want me to CLUB A BABY SEAL for our Thanksgiving dinner?!"  

Seals and Swans for Thanksgiving Dinner?
But SERIOUSLY -- Since we're especially thankful for our good health and beating hearts this year, shouldn't we rein in some of that culinary excess and serve a lighter, healthier menu that doesn't require so much work?  Because how, exactly, does stuffing ourselves with carbohydrates and giving ourselves indigestion reflect a thankful heart?

What Bernie Wants for Thanksgiving
And so I'm torn.  Part of me wants to skip the next two weeks of meal prep entirely and just order my Thanksgiving meal catered from Dean & DeLuca, focusing my energies on other things (music, exercise, current UFO projects, new charity projects, staying on top of reading for a class I'm taking, Christmas cards and caroling that's about to kick off next weekend)...  But another part of me feels like these holiday memories are a gift that we bequeath to our children, and that makes me feel a strong compulsion to order a raw turkey and start making and freezing vast quantities of squash soup that no one besides Bernie wants to eat.  Because threatening to withhold pumpkin pie from my children if they don't eat their vegetables is a time-honored family tradition.

-- Will Rebecca ever actually MAKE any of the quilts she designs?  Will her family be forced to eat turkey cold cuts and frozen tortellini for Thanksgiving dinner, or will she succumb to the pressure from her recuperating heart patient husband and cook the ridiculously overblown feast everyone is expecting?  Will she eat an entire pumpkin pie by herself for breakfast the next day?  Find out next time...  ;-)

Today I'm linking up with:

Friday, November 3, 2017

Lessons Learned from Long Arm Quilting the Cheater Cloth

Happy Friday!  This post comes to you from the cardiology floor of the hospital, where I'm hanging out with my sweetie this weekend.  It's like a romantic bed and breakfast, except the breakfast is only for Bernie and the housekeeping staff keeps barging in at all hours of the night to draw blood and check his vitals.  He had an ICD (Implanted Cardiac Defibrillator) put in yesterday but it's not working yet, so they're holding him hostage (monitoring him) until they can try some other stuff on Monday.    

Finished Cheater Cloth Sample, After Washing
I thought this was as good a time as any to wrap up my Cheater Cloth practice project and record some final thoughts.  The photo above was taken after washing, and it doesn't look half bad, does it?  I might even be tempted to bind it and find a home for it, except that the design was printed off-center on the fabric I don't have four complete rings around the Dresden plates and I'd have to cut off too much to center that one Dresden plate in the middle.

So when I took this project off the frame and flipped it over, I saw two problems that would have been a big bummer if this was a "real" quilt.


YUUUUUCK!!  Eyelashes!
Somewhere in the middle of quilting this project, I decided to switch from Glide thread with those little magnet bobbins to a different thread with cardboard prewounds, and apparently the bobbin was too tight or top tension was too loose, because I had this ugliness on the backing.  Tension looked good on the top of the quilt and when I poked my head under.  Lesson learned: From now on I need a sample quilt sandwich off to the side of my frame for checking tension, especially when changing thread types mid-project.

Yucky Number Two: Pleats From Too Much Backtracking 

See That Horizontal Tuck?
Because quilting straight lines with my ruler was one of my primary objectives with this practice piece, I backtracked a lot to get from one section to another, traveling along "seamlines" that I'd already quilted.  So I got a couple of tucks like this one.  It wasn't nearly as noticeable after washing the quilt, though.

So I trimmed the excess fabric and batting away...

...And I serged the edges with a 3-thread overlock.  I wanted to be able to assess the quilting after washing the piece, but wasn't going to bother with binding it.  Serging the edges was faster and easier.

3 Thread Overlock In Lieu of Binding
(How do I love thee, Sergei, my Bernina 1300 MDC serger?  Oh, let me count the ways...)

After a tumble through my washer and dryer, the practice quilt has a nice, snuggly, bumpy texture.  Despite fairly dense quilting throughout, it still has a nice drape to it, too.  It almost looks like a real quilt, doesn't it?!  I feel like I'm almost ready to put a REAL pieced quilt top on my frame next.

I've got a handful of free motion patterns that I feel comfortable with now, and I got much better at quilting straight lines with my ruler by the time I got to the bottom of the practice piece.  I just have to go REALLY SLOWLY and concentrate on what I'm doing and I should be fine with stitching in the ditch on a real quilt.  I might even get brave enough to use monofilament thread in the ditches and then my oopses will be even less obvious.

My math quilt is next in line to be loaded onto my longarm frame, and I haven't decided how I'm quilting it yet.  Do I stitch in the ditches with my ruler and then add free motion fills, or do I attempt a simple edge to edge pantograph?  I'm leaning towards the pantograph, because I know I'll want to do something more custom on my bear paw quilt.

Here are a few parting shots of the cheater cloth quilt:

My Favorite Star
This was my favorite star block, with loopies on the blue triangle points.  I think that on a real quilt I need to think more about contrasting dense quilted areas with less densely quilted patches for contrast.  Nothing is popping out when I quilt the snot out of EVERYTHING.

Way Too Much Quilting On This Star!
This star was my least favorite.  Way too much quilting overall, and the white thread for the pebbling on the blue triangle fabric makes them blend into the adjacent blue and white print.  If I'd used blue thread for the pebbling that wouldn't have happened, and my pebbles wouldn't be so obviously lumpy, either.  But see how the blue and yellow square that was left unquilted puffs up?  I need to plan for more "pop-up" patches in my real quilts.

Freaky Feathers
On this star, I was experimenting with feathers in the blue star points.  They're crooked and uneven, but they look a lot better after washing than they did fresh off the frame.  I think that I'm going to need to do some marking when I try to put feathers on a real quilt.

This cheater cloth project was definitely not a waste of time (or thread), but I think it's time to try a real quilt now, don't you?  I just won't get to it until sometime next week, though.  Meanwhile I've got some hand sewing here with me at the hospital.

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

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