Friday, October 31, 2008

War of the Chipmunks

Let me start off by saying that I like chipmunks. Of all God's little furry rodent creatures, they are the cutest. Having said that disclaimer, for all their cuteness, I don't want them living under my house. They're messy. They pull down the heating duct insulation to make beds. They sit on my water heater and poop. A lot. They tear up anything I try to store in the crawlspace.

So they had to go. Unfortunately, all my crawlspace vents look like this:
They're not the super high-techy ones with the bi-metal springs and self-closing louvers. They're 40 years old and I have to close them myself by pulling on the handle in the center; and, more importantly, all the screen wire has rusted and fallen out. So when these are open in the summer, it's a little chipmunk doorway. And, in the case of the vent where the cable TV and DSL wires enter, it's a doorway all year long because the cables obstruct the closure of the flap inside the vent. Even when the flap can close, it doesn't lock in place or anything so they have been able to push it open.

This is the year when I decided that the chipmunks have to spend their winter vacation somewhere else. They're highly adaptable little creatures who have made good use of the proximity of humans and their houses, but for untold eons they have gotten along just fine without access to the underside of a brick rancher. This year they're going to have to resurrect some of that native chipmunk-smarts and make a burrow or something. I know that they'll be fine. And I'll still have duct insulation.

After a trip to the Ace Hardware, I took my roll of hardware cloth (not cloth at all, but a heavy screen with 1/4" openings - but so apropos for a quilter!) and a roll of wire, and started attaching new screens on the outside of the vents. Especially the one that won't close all the way.
So listen little critters, the Calico Quilter Super-8 motel is closed for business!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The REAL wish book!

Has anyone else received the Hancock's of Paducah paper catalog? Be still my heart! 168 pages of fabrics in all their full-color goodness, from Kaffe Fassett to Moda and most everything in between. Forget Sears; this is the REAL wish book!

The perils of collecting; or, the porcelain traffic jam

I have written about being a sucker for Coimbra pottery. If I'm out on the loose and have a minute to spare, I will duck into T. J. Maxx or Homegoods or Tuesday Morning and see if they've received any pieces. They only get a few and they go really fast. So far, I've usually bought smallish pieces, due to serious storage issues. I started out with a few pieces displayed in the marble-topped round end table. Then they crept into my glass-front secretary desk in the foyer, the hutch on my desk in the den, even on the shelves my husband bought for storing CDs. One tray even resides on my dresser holding perfume bottles.

A few days ago I found a nice divided tray. The hunt was on for a display spot. I tried rearranging the stuff in the secretary desk; no good, the tray was too large. Then to the dining room, the den, the living room. Nothing worked. This was by far the largest piece I had bought and it defied every cabinet with its size. Then I decided that the Coimbra would play nicely with my pre-war Japanese tea set.

CAREFULLY, I removed the pieces from the case. They are about as thick as a sheet of paper and it terrifies me to touch them. Then out comes the blue and white tray which stood behind them. A quick rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul trip around the house exchanging plate stands to locate one large enough, and the tray settled into the shelf, surrounded by the blue and gold tea set. Perfect!

Now, where I am going to put the blue and white tray?

Books and book storage

Paula has been rearranging and modifying her bookshelves, and it got me thinking about book storage. Once I had a wall of bookshelves in my den when I lived in Knoxville, Tn. My father-in-law built them for us after we moved, and it seemed like we could never fill that many shelves. Of course, we did. When we moved, there was nowhere for the books to go, so they spent two years in boxes in the basement of our new house.

Before we moved again, we thinned out the boxes and sold a huge number of unwanted books at the local used book store. After the next move (into an apartment while we hunted for a house), most of the remaining books were stored in my mother's garage, where they sat for seventeen years. Needless to say, I no longer remembered what books we had, or even missed them much. When I was home last June, we sorted through them and gave most to the library. The only books left in storage there are two boxes of those belonging to my husband, which I couldn't get rid of without consulting him.

While all those books were in storage, we were of course collecting more. I don't have a one single place to store books now; they're all over the house. Luckily, this house had a bookcase built in by the chimney in the den, as well as the bookcase that matches my desk. We have two barrister bookcases that my father-in-law built for us, and an old stacking bookcase we bought from Yield House thirty years ago. When I redid the kitchen I made sure there was a glass-doored cabinet for cookbooks (at least the ones I use regularly).

So books are everywhere.
In the den:
In the guest room:
In the kitchen: And dining room: In the spare bedroom (aka computer room):And usually on a lot of side tables and nightstands. Having something to read is a constant in my life, and I try now to keep the book I have finished purged and donated to the library, unless they are special. They could very easily take over the entire house.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A trip to the bookstore

I left the house all civic-minded this morning to go and vote early. My state has had early voting for several years and it was handy when I was working. I always thought of it as a great advantage. Then I got to the mall and saw the line at the temporary polling location. There were probably 150 people there, and the line wasn't moving very much. I had used this early voting location for congressional races in the past, and it seemed to be one of the worst-managed and slowest-moving ones in the city. So, I decided that I didn't have over two hours to stand in line today and would vote on Election day. On the way out of the mall I stopped by the cut-price bookstore (you know, the ones with the huge tables of books that look so tantalizing but you can't find anything in the piles!) and decided I would give them five minutes and see what I could unearth. Well, it was worth the stop.

I found the Edmund White biography of Marcel Proust that I had always wanted to get, for $3.00 in hardback, no less. And a very nice traditional applique pattern book by the AQS for $7.99.

And this little gem for 99 cents:
I couldn't resist the title. Even if it's complete drivel, it's worth 99 cents of entertainment.

And oh, yes, I went out later to the other early voting location at the local recreation center and voted.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Show and tell

Here's a little show and tell for a Monday morning. This is my teacup block swap quilt. Because the 3 blocks I received were so different in fabric and execution than mine, I decided to use the nine of mine that I got back on the front and inset two of the three others on the back (one went to a bloggy friend). I found the Moda "Bistro" line fabric and it was just what I needed. Now, it's a coffee cup quilt for my husband, the coffee drinker.

Here's a detail of the border. Love the design.

And a picture of the back, showing the two swap blocks.

Here's the Thimbleberries Club 2002 spring wall quilt, finally appliqued. I will be sending all four of the Thimbleberries designs to be quilted this week. I think I will have a special quilting job on the coffee cup quilt since it's applique.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What's your favorite quilting magazine?

Without a doubt, mine is Fons and Porter's Love of Quilting. Every issue I find a quilt that I want to make. In the most recent issue, I found three! (Oak Leaf and Rose, Pinwheel Play and Christmas Sparkle - I'm definitely making the first one after the first of the year, and the others are going in my holding pile. I even know what fabric from my stash I'll use.).

McCall's Quilting, American Patchwork and Quilting, and Quiltmaker all have appealing patterns at times, and I often clip photos and designs for my inspiration notebooks. I read Quilter's Home for the articles, but Mark Lipinski's design aesthetic does not jibe with mine at all and I'm letting the subscription expire. None of them appeal to me like Fons and Porter. It's the only magazine than I devour when it arrives, muttering "Oh, that's great!" under my breath and dog-earing page corners.

Their designs are what I call "updated traditional". Their patterns are firmly rooted in traditional designs, with just enough modern use of color and layout to make them fresh and new. They seem to appreciate the history of the craft. I have nothing against abstract quilts, pictoral quilts, and all the other design innovations in the art, but they're not me.

Keep 'em coming, Fons and Porter. I'm waiting.

Friday, October 24, 2008

There's no such thing as a new idea....

.....someone else has always gotten there first.

I was tracing freezer paper applique templates (96 leaves - count 'em, 96) and thought "Wouldn't it be great if you could buy packs of freezer paper precut into 8 1/2" x 11" sheets to feed through your printer? That way, you would only have to trace one page of shapes, scan it and print all you need."

It's a really good idea. So good, in fact, that a company already markets it. C. Jenkins Company has both 8 1/2" x 11" and 12" x 15" precut heavy weight freezer paper sheets in 50 sheet packs. I just ordered some. I'll let you know how it works.

My mom continues to remark about all the work it takes me before I get down to the appliquing part. All that tracing, cutting out, ironing on and basting. She, of course, can needle turn beautifully. I, of course, can't do it worth spit. Oh well.

My next big applique project will be the Oak Leaf and Rose pattern from Fons and Porter's Love of Quilting, Nov/Dec 2008 issue (this is the picture from the magazine). While I still plan to do both the autumn leaf wreath and another Thimbleberries applique project in the coming year, but I will push this one to the head of the line because it's brightly colored, and my husband has remarked that he would like something NOT BROWN for once. Admittedly, I like subdued colors. But this quilt, with its teals and reds and greens, is definitely NOT BROWN and will be all for him.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quilt with a hole in it

I just assembled a quilt top with an intentional hole in it. Let me explain.

I'm doing the Hearts A Flutter BOM in Civil War Repro fabrics to give my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas, if all goes well. I have the ten monthly blocks appliqued so far, and recently bought fabric for the sashing, border and backing. It would be cutting it pretty tight to get the final December block appliqued, the top assembled and hustle it to my longarmer to be done before Christmas, so today I cut out the sashing and border and sewed together the top with the ten blocks I have, leaving gaps in the sashing to add the remaining blocks in November and December. It looks a little strange, but I wanted to get a jump on completing it. The applique patterns haven't been emailed to us exactly on the first of each month, so if December's is late, I may still have to wrap a photograph of the top for their present and give it to them after the holidays.

On another front, I'm finally putting together my teacup quilt from the failed block swap (see here ). It has to be called a coffee cup quilt now, though, because I'm using the Bistro line from Moda, which has coffee mugs and coffee pots. Just perfect for my coffee-drinking husband; I can't stand the stuff.

Comments, please

I need to solicit opinions on a design. Yesterday I posted a photo of my mocked up design with fabrics. Today, I drafted the design in order to manipulate colors. I have two possibilities and need your opinions. Which is better?

Here's my fabric mock-up. Notice that in the blocks with the red centers there are four red triangles; in the blocks with the blue centers, they're blue. In the red-centered blocks, there are green plaid corner squares and squares flanking the red center. In the blue-centered blocks, the corner squares and the squares flanking the blue center are brown print.

Here's what I was thinking: in order to carry the colors throughout the quilt more evenly, what if I swapped the red and blue triangles and the green plaid and brown print squares? That way, ever square would have both red and blue and both green plaid and brown print. I made a colored drawing. There's no fabric print, but it shows the color distribution.

This one has the colors the same as the fabric mock-up:
And this one has the swapped patches so that every block has red, blue, green plaid and brown print:

What do you think? Does it improve the design, or muddy the water? Comments, please!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A different way to audition fabrics for a quilt

I dropped off the Meadowbrook quilt at the longarmer's yesterday and stopped by at my local quilt shop for some green fabric for an applique. (I had every shade of green imaginable in my stash but the one I needed. Typical!)

After I found the green, I wandered through the shop to see what was new. My, they have a great selection! Right in the front was an old park bench stacked with new bolts from Benartex, the Cider Mill Road line. And they had the blue colorway too. I had been looking at these online, and the blue is just the color in my kitchen. I had been very tempted. Well, when confronted in the flesh with my temptation, I gave in. I had no idea what pattern I would be using, so I estimated how much I would need for a wall quilt or lap quilt, and hoped I had guessed correctly.

That evening I started thumbing through my books and magazine files. Nothing was working until I came across a pattern from "The Quilter" May 2005, called Coventry Cottage. It was a simple pattern with the same block done in two color combinations. When it was set together, it looked like three blocks, set on point. How interesting!

But would it work with my fabrics? I could cut out and sew up a few blocks to test it, but I wanted a faster way. I don't have EQ and usually draw and color up test blocks with pencils. But I wanted the patterns in the fabric to show too. What to do?

I jumped out of bed this morning with the solution. I drafted a reduced scale block, cut out small patches of the fabric and glued them to the paper. It worked great. Then I scurried to the scanner, scanned the blocks, and arranged the blocks in the center pattern of the quilt. Now, I could see that it would work just fine. And here is my scanned and reproduced image of the two blocks. See the illusion of blocks set on point? It's really just two blocks, one with yellow borders and one with green. I'm going to enjoy making this quilt. Now, what about the borders? Back to the scanner!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I never worry about anyone else causing me trouble, because I do such a good job of it myself

I finished piecing the allover design using the Benartex fabrics that I posted about yesterday. This evening after supper I started poking around in my stash closet to find another UFO to complete.

I pulled out a half-completed strip set Ohio Star using a lovely autumn leaf fabric for the setting triangles. As I unpacked the patches and completed blocks from the bag, I tried to remember exactly how this one went together. I was drawing a blank about the border; there were a bunch of triangles but no clue how they were supposed to be assembled.

I remembered that the pattern was taken from a book I had, and that the book showed the quilt with a navy and tan floral as the setting triangles. So I pulled up a chair and started thumbing through books.

After I had gone through five or six I started to get worried. What if I had sold the book last spring? Or donated it to the library? I knew I didn't have any more of the fabric, so if I couldn't find the pattern, how was I to put the border together?

At last, I opened a Marsha McCloskey book and there it was. Whew! That was close! I never thought about the UFO's in my closet when I thinned out the bookshelf.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I finished putting all the rows together in my maybe good-maybe not project and here is a picture of it sans borders. You can see the lighter radiating diamonds around the center and see how the darker "blocks" turn different directions.

Here's a close-up of the center:

Oh, and here's a part of the footboard of my bed. Isn't it grand? I had wanted a metal bed for ages when I found this one in the JCPenney catalog about five years ago. It's a sleigh bed shape and aged iron color. I absolutely adore it. Here's the best part. The whole bed - headboard, footboard and frame - cost $250.00. And, believe me, that's really cheap for a nice heavy metal bed frame.

Do you see a pattern here?

This is a mock-up of a pattern I am working on now. I made it using the draw functions in MS Word because that's all I have. It's an expansion of an allover pattern that was originally designed as a lap quilt. I made it queen size by expanding and extrapolating the pattern. The colors don't match the actual fabric, but are made high-contrast to show the pattern. The actual fabrics are from the Benartex Meadowbrook line from about five years ago. The blue squares are all smoky plums, and the reds are salmon and coral. I used a fat quarter bundle and sorted the fabrics into six piles: Salmon, plum, light green, dark green, gold, cream. It's very scrappy since it uses all 40+ fabrics from the collection.

When you break the pattern down, there are three blocks used:

Here's the thing: I can see a pattern when I look at the flimsy, but my husband says he doesn't, that it just looks random. It might be a function of the fact that the actual fabrics are more subtly colored. It might be that the eye wants to force all those intersections of half square triangles into pinwheels when they're not. I don't know; it might be why I shelved the project nearly five years ago and didn't finish it. I'm going to reserve judgment until I have the top competed. I love the colors, even though it may not be the most successful quilt I ever made. Can you see the pattern? It helps to move back from the screen and squint a bit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Keeping the old brain cells running

Since I've retired and don't interact with many people on a daily basis, I was afraid that I would "stagnate", for lack of a better work, without more daily mental stimulation. I have fallen into a few habits which I feel keep my brain percolating. They also happen to be fun.

The first is a computer Scrabble game, which I have always loved to play. It's pretty hard, even at the lower levels because, well, the computer has the whole dictionary in its memory, and I definitely can't say the same. Nonetheless, it's a great tool to keep the vocabulary skills up. I play a few games every day.

The second is Sudoku, which I didn't really like at first but has become addictive. I have several puzzle books and pencils (with erasers!) lying around the house for odd moments, and I work a few before I turn in at night. Good for keeping the logic circuits lubricated and running smoothly.

Add in my quilting for stimulating creativity, and I think I have a well-rounded brain program!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Don't you love it when a plan comes together

The leaf wreath quilt design is coming together. I didn't even have to go shopping for the coordinating plaid or the fabrics for the leaves. I shopped my stash and found a great pumpkin/cream homespun small plaid for the sashing and binding and all the fall leaf colors for the appliques in my box of Jenny Beyer fat quarters. I also found a 1/4 yard cut of a basketweave print which will be dissected to make the grapevine wreaths that will form the basis of the leaf wreaths.

I think if I make three long 1/4" bias strips per wreath, I can lay them down in an interlaced circle to form a grapevine wreath. I've never tried this before, so it will be an experiment. If I got really wacky, I could make the wreath in each block different: one round, one heart-shaped, one horseshoe-shaped, one with a basket-like bowl in the lower arc of the circle (I actually have a wreath like that for the front door). Ouch, I'm making this more complicated by the hour.

This is becoming a very time-consuming project, especially since it will all be hand appliqued. It will probably have to wait until January when all my BOMs are completed and the made-to-be-swapped-but-weren't teacup block wall hanging is done too. That one is waiting for the fabrics on order, which will come from the Moda "Bistro" line.

My Hearts-A-Flutter BOM is coming along nicely. I'm working on the October block in the 30's prints for mine, and as soon as it's done I will make the block in the Civil War repro for that gift project.

On this day I showed the blocks made in Civil War fabrics. It is going to be a gift lap quilt for a family member. Can't say any more - don't know who's reading this!

Since it's planned as a Christmas gift, I figure that as soon as I get the November block done, I will cut out the sashing and border and sew together everything except the spot where the final block will go. That way, when the last pattern is published, I can jump right on it, add the finished block to the almost completed top and get it to the quilter ASAP. I need to reserve some time with her so I know it will be done by Christmas. Of course, I also will take a picture of the completed flimsy and have that on hand in case I need to wrap the photo with an IOU instead of the quilt! You just never know.

All these BOM's have made me feel like I didn't accomplish as much as I wanted this year, but I have only to look at the box where all those blocks are stored to see that it's an illusion. I've actually gotten a lot done this year, especially when you count the dragonfly applique.


Hancock's Fabrics had a Columbus Day sale yesterday so of course I had to check out the cottons. Nothing was appealing to me until I saw this lovely leaf print. It might be difficult to see in the photo, but the background is black, with dark taupe leaf shapes under the toss of multi-colored leaves.

I wasn't sure what I would do with it but liked it because I don't use much black and it would be different. So I bought what was left on the bolt, which turned out be slightly shy of 3 yards. It would make a good border or focus fabric.

After I got home, I remembered that the latest issue of Quilters' Newsletter had two pages of leaf applique designs. That was probably percolating around in my subconscious when I bought the fabric. So now I know what I will eventually do: an applique quilt with blocks comprised of wreaths of fall leaves, using this as the border and a coordinating plaid for the sashing. Now all I have to do is find the plaid. Any suggestions?

It's strange how your brain is working on designs even though you don't realize it.

Oh, yes. I had to hang the fabric on the den door to get a good picture. Look who had to investigate.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wall quilts R Us

I promised pictures and pictures you shall have. Let's not notice that they were promised on September 30th, shall we?

This was pieced in, gulp, 1998. It was never quilted because that was the time where I ran out of longarmers and couldn't find anyone whose work I trusted. Lo and behold, this year I found June, bless her little heart, and she did lovely plume-y swirls on all the star blocks. Love it.

Here is the star wall quilt top I completed before my trip home. Better photo, more true colors. It's adorable.

This little beauty is SOOOO not my style you would need DNA evidence to link it to me at all! But it's bright and pretty and I like it a lot. The quilting design is still up in the air. It's got so much going on, I may just have it quilted in the ditch.

Here is the Thimbleberries Christmas wall quilt I pieced in 2002 and never had quilted. It's going to be sent to trusty June just as soon as I can call her, along with its other quilty brothers. That'll keep her busy until New Year's! Let's think of it as her own personal longarmer's Christmas Club account.

This is the summer wall quilt from the 2002 Thimbleberries Club, made with my fabrics. It looks very like the model, but the plaids are brighter.

Here is the fall Thimbleberries Club quilt. All those tendrils are hand appliqued, by the way. I just don't like machine applique. It takes a little longer, but I'm happier with the results. Love the pieced pumpkin.

The spring Thimbleberries quilt is still in the works. Lots of appliqued leaves.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Possibly the best cat bed, ever

Does anyone else have these cat cubes? I have NEVER gotten Her Highness to sleep in any other pet bed, but this one she loves. I saw it at Walmart last year but when I went to buy one at Christmas (OK, she gets a Christmas present under the tree - wrapped and everything. She usually opens it too.) they were sold out. I found this one last week before I went home to visit. She wasn't very excited at first, but I left it on the worktable in the computer room (but didn't remove the tag) so she could consider it while I was away. I figured I would return it later.

The first night I was gone, she wandered into the computer room where my husband was online, jumped on the table, sniffed the cube a few times and crawled right in. And there she stayed for the whole evening. The next day, the same. Now she loves it. She's in there right now. He's usually on the computer in the evenings, and she can sleep in comfort and keep an eye on him at the same time - can't miss a mooching opportunity, don't you know. The only thing I would change about it is to make it a bit larger. She's a big thing, and the foam sides of the cube bulge when she stretches out. Twelve pounds of cat in a ten pound size box.

I suppose you could make one in a color to match your decor. The sides are 1/2" thick foam squares covered in nylon fabric, and the bottom is a 1 1/2" thick foam square covered on the inside with fleece. Just add a hole on one side for an entrance. One benefit of a covered bed like this is the cat's body heat makes the inside good and toasty. Great for the winter.