Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gained a little weight?

I just completed safety pin basting a small quilt top, only 42" x 60", but when I picked it up from the table it seemed soooooo heavy. For a second I thought, what the heck? I thought I bought low loft batting. Then it hit me -- there's about five pounds of large safety pins in it! Sometimes I just don't know about myself!

Seriously, when I pin baste, I don't kid around. Because I haven't done a lot of machine quilting, I want to be sure that nothing moves. The first one I did recently I didn't pin enough and I had "wandering" problems with the backing shifting relative to the top. Not anymore. I have a large tin of corrosion proof safety pins and I use them liberally. The only problem is reclosing all those pins to store them after they're taken out of the finished project. I dump the open pins in a bowl and sit down in front of "Law and Order" or some such nonsense, and only stick myself occasionally!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Housekeeping foibles

This is my pantry. Yep, labels. Even my mother laughed. I can overlook dust on my dresser, but I label the Tupperware!

My latest completion

This is my latest small quilt for Project Linus. The pattern is Dutchman's Puzzle and it's 36" x 42". It may be one of the cutest baby quilts I have ever made. I love the baby block fabric in the border and backing. It is from Avlyn's Bedtime Bunny collection and came from, which has a wonderful selection of fabric. I wish you could search their site by something other than color, but that's my only gripe. At least they have a category for juvenile fabrics, which is what I am buying recently. I wanted to use my stash exclusively, but I don't have bright kid-friendly fabrics.

Just do it

I have completed the machine quilting on two of my Project Linus quilts, and while I am in no danger of being included in the permanent collection of the museum at Paducah, they aren't that bad.

I decided to quit obsessing and just do it. After the second one was safety pin-basted, I plopped the sewing machine on the kitchen table and tore into it. And you know what? It's OK. I stepped back and tried to look at it objectively, and guess what I saw? A really cute baby quilt that someone will appreciate. If anybody thinks my machine quilting could be better, they're right - but in the final analysis, so what? I'll get better at it as I go along, and this quilt will make somebody happy.

I can make myself nuts second-guessing and obsessing about whether what I have made is good enough. This has to stop.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Of shoes and sewing machines

As I sewed on a mitered corner border this morning, a thought occurred to me: I always kick off my shoe on my pedal foot when I sew. It's much easier to feel the pedal and to modulate the speed. Navigating the mitered corner, starting and stopping on a pencil mark, I realized that I get much more control on the pedal in my stocking feet.

I honestly can't remember when it started, but I think I have been sewing sans shoe for years and years. Not at first, though. My first sewing machine was a Free Westinghouse Model ALB in a cabinet with a knee lever speed control. I inherited it from my grandmother. It now resides at my Mom's house. She had one exactly like it, so now there's two. One downstairs, one upstairs, but she doesn't use either. Her workhorse machine is a White that Dad bought her for anniversary at least thirty five years ago. It sits upstairs in her sewing room, on a huge wooden partner desk from Mom and Dad's business. She also has a Singer that she bought for herself because it was small and light and easy to bring out and put away for quick jobs, that she keeps downstairs.

I used that Free Westinghouse from the time I was six or seven. It was made in the 50's and only sewed a straight stitch, but it was absolutely bulletproof. Every stitch of my clothes through high school and part of college was made on it. I bought a White machine with a zig-zag stitch after I started working, and wore it out making clothes and quilts. I'm sure the Free Westinghouse is still going strong. It was built like a tank.

The knee control was one of two things I grew to dislike about my old machine, though. That, and the fact that it was in a narrow cabinet, so when you pulled up a chair you weren't sitting in front of the needle, but in the center of the sewing machine head. That's a thing I'm a stickler for. I sit to the left of center of the machine so I am directly in front of the needle. Makes it easier to see what you're doing.

To be absolutely honest, you also have to be skinny skinny skinny to use that old sewing machine because the cabinet is so narrow. Sitting crammed in that little spot between the two front legs became, shall we say, tight?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

It's tough out there

Here in the upper southeast, we don't suffer from the cold like the Midwest, for example, but it's still hard on the wildlife. Our temperatures get into the low 30's / upper 20's at night, and only up to the high 40's during the day. (I know, to some of you that sounds like Hawaii!)

The birds are finding shelter wherever they can. When I walk out to the mailbox in the afternoon I provoke a flurry of brown thrushes bursting from the holly bushes in front of my house. They flit out into the trees and wait for me to go back in so that they can snuggle down on the bottom branches of the bushes out of the wind. The birds find any sheltered spot that is accessible, but most of the bushes are bare and offer scant protection. Two sparrows had even settled into the silk flower arrangement in the basket hanging on the wall outside my back door. Proximity to humans was the lesser of the two evils.

I haven't seen a chipmunk for weeks. Probably, they're all snug in a burrow somewhere (I haven't checked under the house for a while - that becomes Chipmunktown every winter, no matter how hard I try to seal up access). Only a few squirrels are out foraging; one was industriously sorting through the mulch under my oak tree yesterday, to see if he or anyone else had buried more acorns there.

All this gets me thinking about the bird feeding. I had stopped for a while during migrations season, and then the presence of two local hawks worried me. I was afraid that I would lure the poor birds into a trap. But now I feel that we must start feeding again. Berries and seeds are mostly depleted on the bushes in my yard; probably it's the same everywhere.

And, the cat and I miss them. It was always so cheerful to sit in my den every morning reading the news online and watching the activity in the dogwood trees, while my cat peered from behind the curtains and did the "fearsome-stalking-kitty" routine. I'll keep an eye out for the hawks. I wish they'd go back to Lookout Mountain or somewhere - what are they doing in a subdivision, anyway?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

It's not a lot to look at, but it's mine

I machine quilted the second Project Linus top to practice on since it's simpler and I wouldn't cry if I completely messed it up. It's not top quality but it's done. It kept trying to distort on me.

I started to use spray baste, but then I remembered an unfortunate incident with some quilted shams for my bed. The spray baste bled through the top fabric and stained it. Must have sprayed too much, but I was gunshy to try it again.

Oh, well. Live and learn. I have to wash it since Queen-of-all-she-surveys wallowed it good and proper before I could shoo her off. Cats are born quilt-testers.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I just aged ten years in a day

....or maybe more. You see, I have been dying my gray hair for years and today I took the next step in going back to my natural hair color (whatever that is; I haven't seen it for 10 years and back then it was awfully gray). My hair was dark ash brown back in the day. I started going gray in my early twenties. By 35, I was amost half gray. By my mid 40's, I was sick of it. I had dabbled with hair color before, but this time I jumped in full force, and returned to brown completely.

I liked it. I didn't feel so old when I looked in the mirror. But it's expensive to keep up (I know that many people can do the job themselves, but I'm too much of a klutz). After I retired I decided to go back to gray hair. So, my stylist and I formulated a plan to slowly go lighter and lighter brown, then start streaking in light blond, and camoflage the gray roots. Let me tell you, when you're almost completely gray on top, when the roots grow out you have a skunk stripe on your part! And, FYI, you can't just use a color stripper and take the dye out if you have really gray hair; the red in the dye is stubborn and you may get pink hair. We've done this; you have to recolor it to get rid of the pink.

We proceeded through the tints, 7N to 6N to 5N, lighter each time. I had been walking around with light brown/dark blond hair for a few months now, so I told her it was time to start the highlighting and let the roots grow out. I have to get a new driver's license picture in July and I want to look like myself in it.

Well, she highlighted. Boy, did she highlight. And then, after the addition of an ash rinse, she took the towel off my head and I about fainted. It looks gray again. Well, it looks like someone who was naturally blond with lots of gray. It's not bad. She did a masterful job. It's just a shock to the system for your looks to change that radically over a two hour appointment.

I'm not mad about it or anything; this will greatly speed up the growing out process and I won't have those "bag over the head" horrible months when you are making a drastic hair change but the hair hasn't caught up yet. It's just kind of shocking to look in the mirror.

On a more productive note, I have finished the machine quilting and binding on my first Project Linus quilt. Yay!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Who uses my quilts the most?

I admit that I put the quilt there because in the afternoon there's a nice sunny patch on the table by this south-facing window, and I knew that Queen-of-all-she-surveys would like it.

I'm such a pushover.

Once burned, VEEEERRRRY shy

Well, the burn on my palm has progressed from a big painful blister to a tight sore scaly patch. The other blisters have deflated but are still sore too. I know that soon the old skin will slough off and it will be finally healed but I'm impatient. It's getting in the way. I forgot and picked up my husband's computer, and the weight on that area really smarted. It's just too irritating to have a hand out of commission.

And, boy, have I been careful in the kitchen! The last three meals I cooked, I was so paranoid. I just have to find a happy medium. A person can't be this leery around hot stuff. Even the steam iron is making me nervous. I was pressing blocks and when the heat from the steam around the edge of the iron came near my fingertips I jerked my hand back.

At least I've finished taking the Keflex the doctor prescribed. It kills my stomach. I've had indigestion for 7 days.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Looking for a machine quilter to contribute on Project Linus quilts

I have recently started piecing small quilts for Project Linus. I have completed two tops, about 42" x 60", and am working on a third. After it is completed, I will either tie or machine quilt them.

Here's the quandry. I love to piece but am not fast or very good yet on machine quilting. I have several sources where I get most of my stuff quilted on a longarm machine. I would like to find someone who enjoys machine quilting, either on a longarm or a regular sewing machine, to partner with me. I can piece if she will quilt. That way, we both do what we are good at and more stuff gets made for the kids.

If anyone reads this in the Chattanooga TN area and is interested, please leave a comment and maybe we can work something out.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First quilt pieced for Project Linus

Here is the finished pieced top for my first Project Linus quilt. It is 42 x 59. The backing will be a pink trellis print fabric from Maywood and it will be bound using the green strips lying to the left of the quilt top. I am very happy with it. It is also 100% stash-supplied, even the batting. Haven't decided on the quilting style yet.

OK, full disclosure time, This quilt was cut out and pieced while I had a big ol' bandage on my left palm because stupid here burned her hand while cooking dinner on Monday. Weeeeell, there are also small burns on three fingertips so add three more band-aids to the total. A skillet handle that I didn't think was still hot and I made contact. Ended up making a trip to the local doc-in-the-box and everything. It's healing well and a nuisance more than anything. It's official -- I'm a idiot.

One more thing - most of the photos for this blog are taken with a pink Fujifilm Finepix Z3 that my husband gave me for Christmas. In my mid-fifties, I'm finally discovering my inner girl.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What are you grateful for?

Working on my Project Linus quilt this afternoon got me thinking about gratitude. I am grateful that I found this way to give a little to a child somewhere. I don't feel that I have a huge number of skills that charities could use, but I CAN sew. I also have a nice stash of fabrics to draw from, for which I am grateful. I have a nice roomy spot in the kitchen to sew, and I have a husband that doesn't care if the sewing machine is whirring for hours and sewing stuff is all over the kitchen.

I am profoundly grateful that my husband's health issues are stabilizing and we can see a time ahead that won't be all doctor's visits and medical concerns. I am grateful that I could afford to retire a little earlier that I had planned to help him this summer. After reading in a blog of a quilter's loved one going through a terrible illness, I am grateful that our health issues can be managed as well as they are.

I am very grateful that I still have my mom in my life. She's in her mid eighties, and going strong. We don't live near each other but we can swap ideas and chat on the phone for hours. Even if she does call right back after we'd hung up because she remembered one more thing she was going to tell me (which drives husband a little nuts).

In this age of mortgage defaults and high housing costs, I am grateful for this home, even if it IS a 60's rancher with paneling in the den! (The paneling has kind of grown on me.)

And, I am grateful for all the quilter's blogs I have discovered recently, who inspire and inform me, and make me feel a part of a network of talented, creative ladies. Quilters and bloggers, I salute you.

Hi, I'm Jan and I'm a sew-a-holic

There has to be a twelve step program somewhere that can help me. No sooner do I get a project idea in my head than I'm rooting among the stash boxes and pulling out fabric. Then I'm cutting and then I'm sewing. It's an addiction, I tell you.

The local coordinator for Project Linus answered my email and provided some information about the program. I'm really excited to contribute to it. Heaven knows, I don't need another quilt myself. I have only been making gift quilts for some time now, and the people I know can't provide enough occasions to keep my habit satisfied! So now I will start making Project Linus quilts, and the first one is already halfway pieced!

I wanted to use my burgeoning stash to supply the project quilts, and I really don't have the bright, kid-y colors that you would normally think of. But I do have a lot of scraps from my Robyn Pandolph-inspired days and I pulled out a pink trellis print about 5 ft long that would be a great backing for a pink and green girly-girl quilt. I know that somewhere there's a 4 or 5 year old girl going through a pink phase that would love it. So, I found a tone on tone ivory, a bright pink, a bright green, and a floral with a pink background and roses. Twelve "Card Trick" blocks later, I will have the pink quilt of some little girl's dreams. I've got six blocks pieced already.

I will also get machine quilting practice out of this plan. Win-win, all the way around.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

After the fun, the housework

Time to put the sewing machine away for a while and concentrate on my neglected house. The problem is, dusting is my least favorite task in the world. I blame my mother. No, seriously. When I was a kid, if my brother and I did something bad, she would put a dustcloth in our hands and set us to work. He was taller, so he did the shelves and tops, and I was stuck with the bases and legs. She had antiques, so I dusted a lot of claw-foot table legs in my youth. And carvings. And raised panels. It's a wonder that I like traditional furniture, but there you are. Still dusting those crevices and carvings.

But it did lead to a great family story. When I was in first grade, my teacher had a corner shelf in the classroom filled with seashells and pretty nature collections. On Parent's Day, she had the class tidying up the room for visitors. I had no sooner walked through the door that morning than Mrs. Boggs put a cloth in my hand and said, "Please dust the corner shelf and arrange the seashells." My indignant response was, "What did I do?"

She was trying to be nice since she thought I had an artistic bent and would enjoy working with the shells. She didn't understand my response until my mother told her that she used housework for a punishment, and I probably thought that I was being disciplined for no fault that I could see. They got a good laugh out of it, but I STILL HATE DUSTING!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Quilt shops in the Chattanooga TN area

I want to give a thumbs up to two quilt stores that are within driving distance from my home. Both have a great fabric selection and all the tools and supplies you could desire. I'm not affiliated with either one or even take their classes, but they are a great resource that any quilters near Chattanooga should know about.

Lavender Lime Quilt Shop, at is the biggest little shop you have ever seen. It is tucked away in a strip mall and from the outside just wouldn't seem to have room for all the great stuff they stock. If you're near East Ridge, TN stop by.

Sew Bee It, A Quilter's Garden, at is located near Rossville, GA. It has recently changed hands, and while I haven't visited the store since the new owner took control, I used to go quite regularly and loved it. Their website has a virtual tour and the store doesn't appear to have drastically changed. They have a great selection, a varied class schedule and good classroom facilities. I think they're worth a look, too.

Me, I'm going to fight off the impulse to browse the stores for a while. If I just didn't have all those great online stores bookmarked..................

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My fabric stash

This is my fabric stash. On the top shelves are some of my quilts, both ones I have made and others from my mom or grandmother. Earlier this year I had the time to devote to cleaning closets and decided I had to get a grip on my stash, once and for all.

So I started sorting. And folding, boxing, and discarding. And agonizing whether I would really use a piece of fabric or should cull it for the greater good of the storage situation. When I was finished culling, I had filled two of the extra large ziploc storage bags with the handles (not the food bags, the ones 2 ft x 3 ft). After years and years of buying fabric, I found some that may have been my taste in the 90's, but seriously wasn't now!

Now that I had a pile of fabric that I loved, wanted to use, and needed to be able to retrieve easily, I hit on the idea of the boxes on shelves. I hied myself to the Lowe's and bought shelf standards and brackets and shelf boards. The boxes came from the dollar store (cheapest source). They supplemented some I already was using. I set my sewing machine on the left (the large bag on top holds cutting boards, rulers and a large quilting hoop) and the boxes on the floor are patterns and kits. Behind them on the floor below the bottom shelf are quilt batting and home dec fabric leftovers.

So, maybe you are wondering what I did with all that discarded fabric? I found a senior center about 40 miles away which had a quilting group. I called them and made arrangement to drive up on a meeting day. Needless to say, they were agog. Those old ladies are going to be supplied with fabric for YEARS. It worked out well for everyone.

One of my favorite quilts

While I'm posting pictures today, I thought I'd add this of one of my favorite quilts. On Martin Luther King Day in 1995 we had an ice storm. I awoke to find every tree and surface encrusted with ice. I live in the southeast, so that's pretty unusual. Since I couldn't stand up on my driveway, I sure wasn't going to try to drive to work! (When I called the office, I only found one person on the entire floor had made it. Later, they declared it a "freebie" day and I didn't even have to use vacation.)

With a totally free day, I decided to haul out the sewing machine and my new Thimbleberries book and start on a new project. In those days, I was better, and didn't have a dozen things started at once. I raided my stash (now, THIS is why you have a fabric stash!) and started sewing. I completed the piecing in a day. I was helped by the fact that we had Sunday dinner leftovers to reheat for supper.

It was quilted by the local longarm quilting establishment in a small clamshell pattern. It has hung in my den for years. (And , yes, that's paneling on the wall! It's a 60's house.)

And that's two quilts for the year!

I just finished piecing the second quilt top since January 1. The top for my brother's quilt is completed and I am very pleased with it. It was a simple pattern but very effective. The only thing that gave me any additional work was the striped inner border. I usually don't cut borders on the cross grain. If they're cut on the straight grain they are much more stable and easier to apply without distorting the blocks, especially if the blocks have a lot of diagonal seams. But, to get the look I wanted, I had to use this fabric on the cross grain. I sewed together the widths with a diagonal seam because it was less apparent, but matching the striped strips on the diagonal was more work than I anticipated. The same striped fabric will be used on the bias for the binding. The backing will be a small companion print to the large border. I tacked it to the guest room closet door frame to photograph it! Seriously, I would love to know how anyone photographs completed quilts or quilt tops.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


The quilt top I started piecing on January 1 is finished. It is a rather uncomplicated traditional pattern, but with all the colors and prints in the scrappy fabric selection, it has a lot of movement and is quite pretty. It would be ready to take to the longarm quilter's shop tomorrow BUT there is a problem with the backing.

I am using Eleanor Burns' Through the Seasons Spring striped fabric on the backing. I had bought all that the shop had, and thought that I would have enough to sew together the backing (it involves matching a wallpaper stripe print). However, when I decided that this quilt was for my brother-in-law, I enlarged the quilt top. Now, I don't have enough for the backing. However, luck was with me. Heart of Dixie fabric shop in Alabama had more (on sale, no less!). Now I just have to wait for the order to be delivered. They're usually speedy. Hopefully, the quilt will be at the quilters by next Wednesday.

But there's no rest for the wicked. I just hauled out the fabric for my brother's quilt and started sewing!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Fabrics of a feather stick together

I prefer to make scrappy quilts, with many fabrics used in the design, and try to select the fabrics in each block so that they are evenly distributed on the quilt top but similar or same pieces don't end up side by side. Kind of controlled randomization - not truly random, because in a true random disribution sometimes the same pieces would end up together. But, it seems like the harder I try to evenly distribute the fabrics, the more those similar fabrics seem to congregate!

The quilt I am currently making has 42 blocks. (See previous post for picture). Each block has an Ohio star in the middle, with differently colored points in each block. Around the star are six pieces of fabric which form sashing when the blocks are joined. I started by laying out 42 center squares, then 42 sets of points and background pieces. Then, on each pile I distributed the sashing pieces, being sure that colors and similar fabrics were not duplicated in a block or in adjoining blocks.

Nevertheless, while assembling the blocks I have to keep trading out pieces so that the same fabrics don't end up too close together in the sashing. It's exasperating. The harder I try to remove patterns in the distribution, the more they appear.

It's a little bit of chaos theory right here on my kitchen table.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New year, new quilt

I wasn't thinking about buying fabric, I had just found the new quilt store near the Goodwill donation drop. It looked interesting - well stocked, well organized, the clerks cheerful and helpful. So I thought I'd take a look around.

And then I saw the red fabric. Now, you have to understand that I almost never use red anywhere. Don't wear it, don't decorate with it (unless it's Christmas!) and seldom put it in quilts. But this was subtle red, with a William Morris influence to the flower print, and I realized that I really liked it and should buy some for my stash.

Let's talk about that stash. There is a five foot wide closet in the third bedroom / computer room / general-messy- projects room and it's FULL. The top two shelves in the closet are filled with completed quilts and the rest contains sorted boxes of fabric, quilt kits, tools, patterns, sewing machines, batting. Let's just say that if I never bought another scrap my hobby would be well supplied for the rest of my days.

After I decided to buy some of the red fabric, the floodgates opened. It was a large-ish print so would be better used in borders and center squares of blocks. Since I like to cut borders on the straight grain without seams if possible, and since I almost always do bed-size quilts instead of wall or lap quilts, that meant at least three yards of red print fabric. I got four yards to be safe.

But would the red have companions to mesh well together? Maybe the color scheme was so different from my usual choices that my stash didn't have coordinating fabrics. I decided that I would pick up a bunch of fat quarters that pulled out the colors in the main print.

You notice that I haven't talked about pattern yet. I didn't know. That would come later. This happens often. A fabric catches my eye and I know I will do something with it, so I get it, and sure enough a project comes to mind. I don't buy many kits and almost never copy a quilt from a magazine. My taste runs to traditional patterns and color combinations. I'm not a fabric artist. It would be wonderful to be that creative, but it's just not in me. I make bed quilts, cheery and comfortable.

So, when I return home I have the quilt-in-the-making all bagged up. I should stash it in the closet and work on another project that's already started, right? Nope. In the car on the way home I had decided to make an Ohio star with sashing built into the block (see picture). So, as soon as I got home I just HAD to cut it out. Then, I just HAD to make the first row. It's an addiction, I tell you.

But after that, our horrible summer started and we were consumed with doctor visits and outpatient procedures. It didn't really stop until after Halloween, and then there were the holidays. So, the quilt had to wait until today.

And now I have a reason to complete it. My brother-in-law is moving back east from Seattle after retirement. He might also remarry - that's not set yet. But wouldn't this make a great wedding present? Wedding or housewarming gift, it's going to his new home.

The only problem is, last month I went back to the quilt shop after delivering some toys to the Toys For Tots barrel at the shopping center. There was this beautiful burnt orange print, you see, and my brother just loves orange............