Thursday, February 28, 2008

At last, some time alone with my sewing machine

Alrighty, then. The kitchen is cleaned up, supper from the local barbecue joint consumed (it wasn't a cop out - this place was written up in Southern Living for the quality of the barbecue and it is de-lish) and husband and his brother ensconced in the living room watching some kind of guy thing (didn't even ask). So I slipped off to the kitchen to assemble some blocks on my new made-for-me-not-someone-else project. It's a log cabin construction built on a 60 degree angle.

I found Moda's "Allspice Tapestry" jelly rolls on sale for a price that worked out to be less than the store's yardage cost, and pounced on them. Hey, I'm not cutting strips if I don't have to. I'm making log cabin diamonds with 2" wide centers and two rounds of 2" finished strips. Dark center/light row 1/dark row 2 or light center/dark row 1/light row 2, set alternating. I'm using every print in the entire collection - love the scrappy look.

But I must say, there must be a special patron saint for foolish quilters who attempt anything with this many bias edges. The slightest little tug while feeding the diamonds through the machine and you're off-sized. I have never worked on anything so picky.

There's a lot going on. My houseguest is here and I had to deal with a vet visit, too. My cat had a rough day at the vet's getting her teeth cleaned. They half scared her to death. I don't know what exactly transpired except she's timid and all the animals and people there overloaded her. She came home woozy from the sedative and absolutely hysterical. I was very worried. She was even hissing at me and at my husband, her favorite person on earth. He calmed her down and after the sedative completely wore off she was better. So she's curled up in the kitchen chair next to me and I'm giving her a little extra kitty TLC. I just don't know how this cat got so fragile, but she's easily pushed to the edge. Just doesn't have the stamina to take a great deal of stimulus at once. I think if we ever had to leave for a while I couldn't board her; I would have to hire a cat sitter.

Sometimes it seems like everything in my life requires special handling. My husband has had health issues, my mom is mid-80's and is dealing with her health conditions and is a cancer survivor, my brother has been diabetic for 45 years, I have a chronic health problem, even my cat, for heaven's sake, is not robust. At times it feels like an awfully lot.

Oh, whine-whine-pout-pout. Go and sew some blocks.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sewing addiction

I have a houseguest, and haven't sewed on any of my projects since Saturday, because first I was cleaning and preparing, and now cooking and entertaining. I'm in withdrawal......whimper, whimper. I wonder if I could get up really early tomorrow and get a few blocks done before I have to cook breakfast? I just need a little fix!

"Tagged" - postscript

In the interest of full disclosure, here are a few more random facts, beyond the seven listed in the "tagged" post:

I love blue and white china. If I were rich, I'd collect antique Spode, but I have to be content with the reproduction stuff. More than a few birthday and Christmas presents have been Blue Willow porcelain.

Decorating style-wise, I'm an Anglophile. I love English porcelain and furniture. I watch BBC America's "Cash in the Attic" and swoon. The beautiful things they pull out of attics and garden sheds! When a Hammersley "Victorian Violets" tea service wouldn't even fetch 10 pounds at the auction, I was whining "I'd buy it in a minute!"

My current cat is the first in a long line that likes my husband more than me. She likes me; she adores him. Yes, it hurts.

I have a terrible addiction to Diet Rite cola, which my husband wants me to break. I'm trying. It's HARD.

I get emotional about movies, but not nearly as badly as my sister-in-law. Still, bad enough. We watched "We Are Marshall" yesterday, and it got me. Yes, I'm a softy. But, I'm also originally from near there, and I remember the crash and aftermath well.

I like to write letters and cards, probably more than calling people. I adore beautiful stationery.

I am addicted to the written word. I will read anything with printing on it. And any room without books is just unfinished, plain and simple.

There's seven more random facts about me.

I've been tagged!

I've been tagged by Joan of My Quilt Life blog.


Once you are tagged, link back to the person who tagged you.
Post THE RULES on your blog.
Post 7 weird or random facts about yourself on your blog.
Tag 7 people and link to them.
Comment on their blog to let them know they have been tagged.

Seven weird or random facts about me:

1. I'm impatient to the point of mania. Even waiting for small things drives me to distraction. Example: while waiting for my houseguest to arrive Monday (I didn't know the exact time he would be here) I was actually pacing the floor. If something is going to happen, I want it NOW!

2. I only have one work speed - high gear. It was very useful before I retired, where I got a sort of miracle-worker reputation for production, but it was only because I am incapable of dawdling.

3. I retired a little early last July, and even though I worked there 30 years, I don't miss it at all. Oh, I was fond of some of the people, but not the friendships-outside-work-too like my husband had. You see, I worked in a profession that was 95% men, and these men absolutely didn't make friends with women coworkers, because either they didn't know how or thought their wives would kill them! At least the age group men I worked with. So I wasn't leaving behind social ties that were critical to me. I think that's why retired men have it so hard.

4. I am probably the only Luddite with an engineering degree in existance. I unabashedly hate a lot of the current technology. IPod? Don't have one. My cell phone (which is turned off 90% of the time and only on when I'm away from home by myself) doesn't take pictures, surf the net, play games or act as a GPS. It's a PHONE. Period. I don't do online gaming. My blog is the first and only time I have ever used a computer for amusement. Computers are just tools to me, most of the time.

5. Speaking of phones, I would much rather talk to someone face to face than on the telephone. At work, I would get up and walk down the hall to some else's desk to discuss an issue. If you're talking to a disembodied voice, you're losing half the communication cues from their body language. How inefficient it that?

6. I hate to shop in stores. All that trudging around and looking, looking, looking - just torture. Even fabric stores. It's overwhelming. Much better to go online and search for a particular thing. Internet shopping is a godsend. I bought every Christmas present this year (and for the last four or five) online.

7. I'm not a "joiner" or "group leader" person, but paradoxically, I like to be in control of whatever I'm involved in. So, I have coined the term "pushy follower" to describe myself. I won't be the one at the podium, but the assistant stage-managing from the curtains!

Well, that's me, warts and all.

Now who can I tag? I'm new to this blog thing and don't have hundreds of blogs to choose from. If you've already been tagged, feel free to pass it up.
Linda J., Taniwa, Elaine Adair, Paula, Katie - OK, I'm out of names!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Baby quilt

I found the pattern for the baby gift quilt I need to make by August. Even better, Heart of Dixie fabric shop has some of the Meadowbrook Farm fabric line left, so I can get the striped fabrics used in the blocks. This is a relief because I've been doodling designs and nothing is striking my fancy. This one is absolutely perfect. It's traditional, it's colorful, it's unisex, and it's also 50" x 66" so the child can use it even in after graduating to a youth bed.

What a relief!

A sample of my work

Here is a small tour of some of my quilts, with a few cautionary tales thrown in. Some of the quilts are not bound yet because of interruptions due to family illnesses and other issues. Most of these were made at least two years ago. I hadn't sewn much in the 18 months before the first of this year due to interruptions.

This is a scrap quilt which I made on a whim and had machine quilted. Notice the border near the white dot. Here's a better picture:
See the tangled stitches next to the edge? The tension evidently messed up on the longarm machine. Their response was basically a shrug. What are you going to do? Not pay them and not get your quilt back? Definitely never use them again. I still have to pick out that area and requilt it before I can complete the binding.
This is one of my favorite quilts. It's a Thimbleberries design I did about 1996. Two of the tan blocks in the corner of the border don't match the other two. Why? I hired it hand quilted, and the air erase marker she used didn't air erase. And wouldn't come out, no matter what I tried. So I had to pick out the quilting, replace the patches (didn't have more of the original fabric) and requilt before I could bind it. I don't trust air and water erase markers.
I made a quilt design called "Amadeus" but I had a lot of scraps left so I made.....
.....this. But I had to buy the setup and border and backing material! Funny how scrap quilting still seems to cost money.

This one was supposed to have an appliqued vine in the brown border. Yeah, that's going to happen. If you look closely, you can see cat hairs. Her highness has been using it for a nap pad.

I had never made an all-one-shape quilt before, so I made this one. But I had to put borders. Quilts don't look finished without borders, to me. This is where a lot of my scrap collection went.

This was made of a Thimbleberries fat quarter collection. I had to buy backing and a few more pieces for the corner triangles.

I found this design on the cover of Australian Patchwork and Quilting. That's when I learned that fabric companies may not release new lines at the same time outside the U.S. This collection had already come and almost gone in our stores. I had to look for weeks and weeks to find all that I needed!

Another heartbreaker. Notice the border on the right side - how wavy it is. It was overstretched on the quilting machine. I haven't finished hand sewing the binding yet because it broke my heart.

And there's lots more: the purple one because I had never done a purple one; the one with teal because I fell in love with that large print and had to use it; the one with the curved piecing because I needed practice. The one on the right is another fat quarter collection.

And there's still more. A few at the top of the stacks were done by my grandmother, and there's a couple of gift quilts from mom, too. If you look carefully you can see a lot of Thimbleberries and Robyn Pandolph fabric.

Well, that's part of the collection, and the end of the tour.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Getting ready for houseguests

My brother-in-law called from Prescott, AZ on Thursday. According to his timetable, he should reach our house late Sunday or early Monday. I fired up Google maps and determined that on his declared route, he had 1775 miles to drive. In three days? I have the feeling he won't be here by Sunday night. In the meantime, though, I have to make the house ready for company.

Surprisingly, there's not that much to do. Finish some laundry, check the status of the hall bath, run the vacuum, restock the fridge. Things I would have done anyway this weekend. After a houseguest leaves, I tidy the guest bedroom and change the bed, so there's not much work in the guest room, except make sure there's Kleenex on the nightstand and that all the lightbulbs work. The door to the guest room is usually closed, so it doesn't even get dusty.

Two people just don't make that big a mess unless we're into a major project. The most work this morning was stowing all my sewing stuff. Since I sew in the kitchen and the den is adjacent, I would tuck my sewing machine into the bottom of my desk, lay the work in progress on the paper shredder in the corner, and stand the tabletop ironing board and iron on the floor beside it, along with my sewing box, extra fabric, rotary cutting board, rulers and other supplies. It wasn't really a mess, but looked cluttery. So everything went back where it was supposed to reside and the den is pristine.

The only big task remaining is sweeping. I'm guilty of putting off running the vacuum until it is critical because the cat is deathly afraid of the sweeper. We're not sure where this came from because when she was little she was absolutely fearless. The older she gets, the more leery she becomes. We both baby her terribly, so we're probably fostering this timid behavior, but it's partly because of a couple of incidents that really, really scared her (but neither was with a vacuum cleaner). Her worldview seems to have changed to "It's a dangerous place out there" although her whole universe is 2000 sq ft of carpeted, climate controlled house! Who knows what goes on in her head.

Well, hold on to your fur, kitty-cat, because here comes the Hoover.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A walk down memory lane

My quilting bookshelf....

And below it, my old Engineering textbooks.

How's that for contrast? It's like Jekyll and Hyde.

After sorting all my magazine patterns into organized idea notebooks, I tackled the bookshelves. I have bought quilting, embroidery and needlepoint books for almost 30 years, and had filled a shelf and a half in my bookcase. Looking at that area, I decided yesterday that some of them hadn't been moved in years and needed to go. I can always donate books to the local library, and they're glad to get them. Whatever doesn't go in the collection, the library can sell at a yearly book fair to raise money. Either way, it's good for them and I get more room.

So I stacked up the books on my desk and started flipping through them. Had I made anything from them? Did it include new techniques I could master? Did the author's design sense mesh with mine? Authors ended up on the discard pile that you might not predict. For example, I had two Jinny Beyer books that did not come back to the bookshelf. I love her fabric lines, her technique is impeccible and her quilts are beautiful, but her design asthetic and mine never meshed. Forgive me, but her quilts always reminded me of the Indian bedspreads we all had in college! (I wasn't a hippie, but I knew plenty of them.)

The books also documented changes in taste. I used to make very planned, color-coordinated, 5 and 6-fabric traditional quilts. As time goes on, my quilts get scrappier and scrappier. I still like the traditional patterns, but I also experiment. The Linus quilts are helping me break out of the traditional box, too.

I kept finding designs in old books that I had made and given away, some I had forgotten about. One was a birdhouse design from Lynette Jensen's first book. It was made in the Thimbleberries color palette, with the birdhouse blocks strip set, and was lap quilt size. I remember hunting for the plaid for the binding. After a good friend was diagnosed with cancer, I gave him the quilt. I was told it was on his bed when he died. I'm glad he enjoyed it.

I found a small photo album of some of the quilts I made from 1991 to 1993. That was the time I made a quilt for everyone in our immediate families. The quilt I made for his mother was returned to me after she passed away and is in my quilt closet. It shows years of washing and wear; it makes me happy that it was used, not just admired.

There are a couple of pictures of baby quilts in this album, and for the life of me I can't remember who received one of them! A lot of fabric and thread under the bridge.

After I decided which books still had things to teach me, I returned them to the bookcase and was delighted to see that I had emptied half a shelf. Uh oh, nature abhors a vacuum...........

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A sign that you've been doing your hobby a LONG time

I am sorting and filing quilt patterns I have torn from magazines over the last 20 years. I decided that it was time to finally get a handle on all the paper that is just randomly crammed into three ring binders. I knew that there were patterns I would not want anymore, so I got some new pretty binders, some page protectors and 5-tab dividers and commandeered the kitchen table to sort, classify and purge so I can have an idea file that is actually usable.

As I sort, occasionally I come across a pattern and think "Gee, that's nice - I should make that soon" -- and then, "Oh, yeah, I DID make that."

Well, there's 50 quilts in the house - sometimes you forget!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Like I haven't been making enough quilts... ... ...

I got an email from a former coworker who left for a better job shortly before I retired. I hear from him sometimes, when they have life changes to share. They are expecting their second child in August, so I need to start thinking about a baby quilt for them. They don't know the sex yet.

My husband suggests I finish the "Give a Hoot!" quilt and give them that one, but I think I had better wait until I know if it's a boy or girl. His wife has a little more traditional taste, I think, and the Hoot quilt is a bit bright and eccentric, especially if it's a girl.

Most of my baby gift quilts just look like traditional quilts, only shrunk. Occasionally, I'll do a juvenile pattern, such as the tropical fish or the sailboat quilts I did for my hairdresser's twins. I did a Turning Twenty design in blue and yellow for the first child of the friend who's expecting in August. They're house-hunting, so by the time the baby's arrived they may have nursery colors picked out and I can coordinate a quilt with them.

I can't tell you how many times I've made a cute baby quilt to my color preferences, and when it's presented been told that it is the colors the parents picked for the nursery. It gets spooky. Maybe I should emulate Karnak the Great and just touch my head to his email on the computer screen and get inspired! (Sorry, had to sneak a Johnnie Carson reference in!)

Charm pack dandruff!

Well, I didn't expect to get punished for succumbing to the allures of Mode Charm Packs and Jelly Rolls in quite this way. I bought a Jelly Roll and Charm Pack of Moda's "At Water's Edge" yesterday because I loved the fabrics and wanted an instant gratification project. I wanted to do a log cabin variation and the idea of not having to cut all those strips was too much to resist. I knew that there was a price penalty because I let Mode do the cutting, but sometimes, you just want to spoil yourself.

As I unpacked and unrolled both of them today on my desk after planning the layout, all the fuzzies and threads from the tiny zigzag cut edges of the charms and strips started shedding, and before long it looked like my cherry desk had dandruff!

And, they weren't easy to clean up, either. The particles were so small that I only pushed them around as I tried to wipe them up with a kleenex. They were static charged and stuck to everything - the desk mat, the clock, the lamp. Finally I had to get my microfiber dust cloth and douse it liberally with Endust before I could banish all the little specks. But the stuff is still all over the carpet around my desk. What a mess!

This is karmic payback, I know it is. Be warned. You might want to unroll these jelly roll packs outside and shake them before you give your sewing room a case of fabric dandruff.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What's new on the quilt front

My brother-in-law has started driving east from Seattle. He has sold his house and stored or disposed of furniture, and is ready to resettle near his birthplace. We will see him in a week or so, or however long it takes him to circumnavigate the snowy places in the Rockies. I'm sure there's still plenty of snow in the western states. His quilt is complete and waiting for him. I am so anxious to see if he likes it. I sewed the name label on the back last night. Now, it's well and truly not mine.

I need to start binding my brother's quilt today. Next month I will drive north to visit my Mom. My brother lives in the same town, so it will be a chance to take the quilt home to him (I never trust mailing them, after than one was lost/stolen/whatever). It is for his birthday, but will be a little early. I'm going to talk to Mom about whether she wants to hide it for a few months. However, I'd rather he open it when I'm there. I have given too many quilts as gifts and never been present to see the recipient's face. That's half the fun!

Saturday, February 16th, was Project Linus' Make a Blanket Day. Since my chapter didn't have any plans, I decided that the week around the 16th would be my personal quilt-fest. Here is what I did: I have four more tops pieced and ready to quilt.

The first is Wild Thing, the top I had to re-border.

The second is called Trains Trains Trains. The backing has trains, too, on a yellow background.

The third I have named Give A Hoot!. The backing also has owls. It's from a great collection called The Wise Old Owl by Kristen Powers.

The fourth is a traditional Churn Dash pattern and re-used the bunny border from Wild Thing. It doesn't photograph very well; the colors are more vibrant in person. I threw in the orange because it looked too tame and washed out with the pink I was originally going to use.

As soon as the binding's on my brother's quilt, I need to rev up the Juki and get these machine quilted. Even though I have not ventured into deep waters in the machine quilting (stippling is just beyond me at this point, even though I love it) and only do geometrics and in-the-ditch type things, it causes a lot of mental angst. Hopefully, it will get easier. I also need to dig out the scrap batting and spray baste, and practice free-motion. My machine came with a free motion foot, and I had forgotten! It was stored in the box of accessories for years.

Well, I think I know what will occupy the rest of the month. These four, with the Bow Ties baby quilt already completed, will bring my Project Linus total to 10 for the year. If I get them done by the end of the first quarter, I can take a breath for a few months and work on some of my WIPs and UFOs - I have a ton of them.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

Well, that is Chaenomeles (x. superba most likely), flowering quince, often called japonica, and japonica doesn't bloom in February. When I was a kid, the huge japonica bush in my mother's yard bloomed in time for school to let out for the summer, around the first week in May. It was planted behind our swing set, and I remember trying to push the swing high enough to brush the branches with my feet. (By the way, these ornamentals do fruit; the pomes look like small apples, even though they're not edible. They're hard as a rock. My brother beaned me in the head once with a pome while hitting them with a badminton racket. He said he didn't mean to; I needed stitches.)

Our weather is crazy. This is why the spring bloom display is messed up every year. About this time we get a warm spell - it's 64 degrees right now - and all the plants say "Hey! It's spring. Better get a move on." In a week or two we'll have a cold spell and the frost will kill everything.

I'm staring at my dogwoods and pleading with them not to bloom early.

Give a hoot!

These are a few of the blocks I am making for a small quilt. The fabrics are from the "The Wise Old Owl" by Kristen Powers, that I fould at the local Hancock Fabrics. I used two companion fabrics previously on another quilt, as the backing and border. This yardage is printed with rectangular images of these funny owls, which I fussy-cut and bordered various ways, both on-center and off-center. Love the owls!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ugly duckling no longer

Finally. We have a solution. In this picture you can see the new small dots and dashes border, the blue binding, and the fish fabric which will be the backing. I only wish that there had been enough of the fish fabric to use in the border, but you can't have everything. You can see how well the fish fabric would have worked. At least now the backing and the front don't fight.

That dot and dash border takes far longer than you would think. You can see that the edges of the outer fabric are starting to fray from handling. I just want to quilt this puppy and get him on the road. It has overstayed its welcome. Since the pattern name X-quisite doesn't fit it (no, definitely not) I think I'll call the design "Wild Thing".

While we're talking about ugly duckling quilts and design issues, this is a good time to mention that I've been reading Lisa Boyer's books "That Dorky Homemade Look!" and "Stash Envy". This was the perfect week to discover this wonderful humorist. If you're not overly serious about your quilting, if you've never used the word "art" to discuss one of your projects, if you still do it for the love of the pastime and not the praise of others, run out right now and buy these books. I hadn't read anything for a while that made me laugh until I snorted. For example, consider one of her suggested guidelines for quilt judging: "Bonus points are awarded to the quilter who can take a pretty fabric and make it feel sorry that it ever existed." I like this girl!


With seam ripper in hand I dispatched the bunny borders from my ugly duckling first thing this morning. They're too nice to be wasted on that dog. I will make a nice pastel baby quilt with them.

Now, as for the pieced part of it: What could I do with all those bright blocks? I'm too cheap to toss them - that's good fabric. So, I dug around in my stash and resurrected a length of a VERY bright tropical fish print.

Unfortunately, there's only enough for a backing, but it's bold enough to stand up to the colors in the blocks. I'm going to use more of the brights and the dotty neutral and make a sort of dots and dashes border (two strips of light, sandwiching a pieced strip of long and short chunks of various brights) and bind it with the dark blue.

Now, I think I can live with it. It's still not an art piece, but it doesn't make me wince. Too bad I don't have more of the fish print. I could have made a cool border or block element with these brights. This all happened because I was trying to stash-bust, and used what monotone pieces I had, even though they were too loud for the print border. Live and learn.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A roast chicken to make the angels weep

First off, a disclaimer: I did not invent this. Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa did. But boy, did she do good. First, you need to get a good chicken, and that's getting harder and harder, since they have NO fat on them and roast up dry and stringy as shoelaces. The local Food Lion had an all-natural whole chicken, no growth hormones, no chemical supplements, no additives, no antibiotics, vegetable and grain fed. It was the best chicken I've bought in a long time and it deserved to be treated well.

And it's easy-peasy. Get a couple of lemons and a head of garlic. Slice the lemons in half. Slice the garlic head in half along the circumference, so you can see the halves of all the cloves. Wait, you say, that's a LOT of garlic. Yes, it is, but don't worry.

Stuff the lemon halves and the garlic head in the chicken, as much of it as will fit. Leave out a half a lemon if it's tight. You can also stuff in some fresh sage if you have it, but I never do and I don't miss it. Rub the softened butter on the skin of the chicken. Truss the bird, place in a v-rack in a roasting pan and roast at 425 degrees until 185 degrees in the thigh meat. I have experimented with starting the roasting upside down, and flipping it halfway through to crisp the breast skin. That way, you get browned, crisp skin all over and the thigh meat is exposed to the heat and cooks faster, lessening the danger of drying out the white meat.

That's it. Really. No salt, no pepper, no fancy seasonings. It's great.

And if you cook a pot of green beans with ham for seasoning, like I did, and make some mashed potatoes, what oh what more would you need?

Patience training through applique

I've talked about how applique is not my cup of tea. It's probably because it's not an instant gratification activity, and I am ALL about the speed. I tackle things at 90 mph, I'm stubborn and I can have an alarming lack of patience. I'm so bad about patience that during a personnel development seminar at my former employer one of the guidelines I wrote for myself was "motion does not equal progress"!

Thus, I am fully capable of careening through a project without thinking things through. It's this type of behavior that created that dog of a quilt I pictured yesterday. Luckily, it doesn't happen often. All these things were in my head when I was writing about that ugly duckling quilt. I decided I needed a project that would make me slow down.

That's when I stumbled across the "Hearts-A-Flutter" BOM from SUZGUZ Designs ( The blog JulieKQuilts ( - nice work, by the way!) posted a picture of her progress on the first block, and it looked like something even the applique-averse might tackle. Aha - said I. I can't tear into this project like a house a-fire because I WON'T HAVE THE PATTERNS YET!

When I received the first email, I decided that it looked like a good design for 30's fabrics, and I already had a stack of them in my stash. I only have to buy a couple of pink fat quarters and the background fabric. This is really a trying situation for a control freak, because I don't know what the rest of the months will look like, how much fabric I need, what the final layout will be, what size it will be. Torture! But I'll just have to wait. It won't kill me.

Maybe it will.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ugly duckling

Maybe this should have stayed a UFO. I cut it out several weeks ago but was not happy with the concept. Since it would have been a waste of good fabric to ditch it, and since the bunny rabbit border/backing is so cute, I decided to finish sewing the blocks together, and let it be whatever it turned out to be.

Last night, I took the stack of blocks to the guest bed and started laying them out in rows. I tried X's and O's, chevrons, random, but the way that looked the best was this diagonal line that reminds me of pulling ribbon through the holes of eyelet (OK, maybe you had to be a child of the 1950's to remember having dresses with eyelet and ribbon trim - I admit that I haven't seen much eyelet on girls' clothes nowadays). All the colors come from the bunny fabric. The pop of color is good, but I freely admit it's not beautiful.

I hope when it's all quilted and done, a child will like it for its bright colors and bunnies. It seemed to get the kitty-cat seal of approval.

ADDENDUM: That border's coming off! It's far too cute to waste on this mess. I'm going to make a new quilt and use the bunny border and backing, and see what oh what I can do with the rest of it. Maybe a pieced border with a lot of the light color to tone it down. Otherwise, the poor recipient will need sunglasses.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mac and cheese!

It's got to be the number one comfort food (well, maybe number two behind really good mashed potatoes). Well made macaroni and cheese is a wonderful thing.

And, it's so easy, if you don't try to trick it up. Start with a good large elbow macaroni. Why the large elbows? Because you get more pasta flavor and the cheese sauce has more surface to hang onto. Use really, really good hoop cheddar cheese, that yellow cheddar with the red wax coating cut in wedges from cheese wheels. When it melts, it makes lovely cheesy strings. I bought some really good cheese at Publix recently.

I start with a white sauce -- butter, flour and milk. A good proportion for a not too thick white sauce is two tablespoons of butter two tablesponns of flour per cup of milk. My recipe is based on two cups of milk, so 1/4 cup of each. I'm assuming you know how to make white sauce*. After the sauce is prepared, season with cayenne pepper, for bite. You decide how much; from a pinch to a maximum of 1/8 tsp. is probably plenty. You don't have to salt it, because the cheese is salty enough. Use one cup of grated cheese for the two cup recipe of white sauce. Melt the cheese in the sauce, and stir until smooth.

While you're making the sauce, the macaroni should be cooking, 10 or 11 ounces of it; boil it until it's tender but not limp. Drain the macaroni well and put it back in the empty pan. Add another 1/2 to 1 cup of grated cheese (depending on how decadent you want to be) and 2 to 3 tablespoons butter. Stir this around until the butter is melted. Now pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir.

That's it. What, you say, no crumb topping, no casserole dish, no oven time? Nope. And here's why: I don't want crunch in my mac and cheese. Just smooth, velvety cheese sauce and tender pasta. This is not a high-stimulation food. But, if you have to have the topping, use buttered bread crumbs and keep the oven time to a minimum, or you'll dry it out. You're just toasting the bread crumbs.

This recipe is not for the high-pretension cook - or the high-cholesterol diner, unfortunately. But hopefully a little indulgence occasionally won't kill you. This isn't something you eat every day, but when you need comfort food, this is just the ticket.

*If you don't know how - melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Stir and cook for two minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in the milk, avoiding lumps. Cook until it thickens.

Winter cleanup

It's brush pickup week, here in my city, the week when the city works your zone picking up all the stuff that you can't put in the trash cans - branches and trimmings from outside, large trash items, the occasional mattress or refrigerator that ends up on the curb. The city is divided into quadrants so they only show up at your door every four weeks, and you'd better get the stuff out there or you will have to look at until March. But not on the curb TOO early, or they gripe. No earlier than the Saturday before your week starts or you can get fined. (where are you supposed to put branches and stuff you've been collecting before your Saturday? Good question. I stack it under a venerable maple tree in my back yard. Very attractive!)

If you have a lot of trees like I do (but far less than when I bought the house - the white pines were sacrificed because if there's an evergreen that makes more of a needle mess, I haven't met it), there are always branches to pick up after storms, or trimming in winter to do when the ornamental trees are dormant.

After I carried all the branches downed by windstorms to the curb I tackled the perennial problem of honeysuckle taking over the bushes. Last week we had a warm spell and a lot of growing stuff tried to wake up prematurely. My japonica actually has some pink blooms peeking out on the almost bare bush. And among those blooms were honeysuckle tendrils valiantly trying to grow through the winter. Now, the main stalk on some of these vines is almost as large as your thumb, and buried deep in the middle of these large bushes, so the best you can do is to start pulling out the vines and cut as low as you can reach. You know it's futile because it will come back, but you try. While you're in there you try to get some of the volunteer hedge sprigs too, which always seem to sprout in the middle of an existing bush. I tried to eradicate the hedge row thirteen years ago but once you have hedge, you will always have hedge somewhere. It has a will to live that's incredible. You'll find sprouts all over your yard. How it got there, who knows.

I also trimmed back the Rose of Sharon and other bushes that were getting too large, and eyed the Crape Myrtle, which in my yard are as large as trees. Too much to get into in one afternoon; it will take the ladder and the whole day to thin out the spriggy tops of them. While I was trimming I kept an eye out for bulbs. Jonquils are sprouting, but I don't have crocus any more; the squirrels dig up and eat the corms, so I just gave up. Jonquil bulbs must not taste good. They also leave my amaryllis alone, thank goodness. They leave the iris alone, too, but those aren't planted in a sunny enough spot and don't bloom much. I really need to move them. I would love tulips but those are too expensive to become squirrel food.

The forsythia in the front yard is way too big, but I will have to wait until it blooms to trim it back. If we have another one of these warm snaps, it may try to bloom, and ruin the spring display. We may also have a spring cold snap like last year, which nipped a lot of the spring blooms, like the dogwood.

We seem to get winter in two doses here any more; it gets cold right after Christmas, then warms up a little, and then winter returns and frostbites all the growth that tried to poke out in the premature spring. It's one of the ways gardening is becoming difficult here. That, and no rain in the summer. We get most of our precipitation in the winter months, and after about May it just doesn't rain. If you don't water, everything dies back or goes dormant. Even the leaves of the large trees like my huge maples are wilted on the top branches. And if you live over the border in Georgia, watering bans are enacted and you have to just let everything die. I try to rescue my azaleas and dogwoods and all my flowers, but the lawn is on its own. Just too expensive. My neighbor had a $200+ water bill for the lawn in one month, and this was a separate water line connection for the outdoors, with no sewer fees added. After that month, I noticed it was getting a little crispy in his back yard.

All this is hard when you really don't have a green thumb, and are just trying to keep your lot from becoming THAT HOUSE on the street, the one with the ugly yard. Thank goodness most of my front foundation plantings are hollies and nandina and pyrocanthus, which you just about can't kill. The front holly bushes were getting too leggy so I trimmed them back until they were literally bare sticks, and they leafed back out. But the holly gets you back. These are armored plants; heavy leather gloves required to handle them. I joke that I don't need a home security system on the front windows, I have holly bushes!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Speed demon strikes again

This is what happens when your husband sleeps late and you are left rattling around the house all morning alone. In defense, I cut it out last night and it only took about 2 1/2 hours to put together, including a breakfast break. It's all Thimbleberries and the printed blocks come from the "Lazy Crazy Quilt" group from a few years ago. I would love to find the fabric from that group printed like a crazy quilt to use for the backing. If anyone out there has a 60" length to spare, please contact me. I would love to buy it from you.

NEWS FLASH!! I just found the fabric and ordered it online from a quilt shop in Baton Rouge. Isn't the internet wonderful?

Six for them, one for me

Here's number six for Project Linus. It's quilted in the ditch around the bow ties and the design extends into the border. This is not a big one, just 36" x 42", little baby size, because that's all the block pattern fabric that I had. I wanted to use it up, and this was a quick pattern.

Now, one for me. I was rooting through my stash when I came across some fabric from Thimbleberries, probably from 4 or so years ago. It's printed like small applique squares, 7" and 3.5" finished size. I have 8 large squares and 20 small ones. It was leftover from a baby quilt I made for a co-worker. The complete line had yardage of the print designs used in the blocks, so you could add sashing or a pieced design around them and reinforce the appliqued look. It's in the lovely murky colors that I prefer.

So, I got inspired. I dug out all the matching fabric that I still had, and made up a plan. There will be 35 blocks, 5 x 7, randomly selected, either the large printed block, a solid calico block, or a small printed block with sashing to bring it to 7" square. There will be a 3.5" border, pieced from all the calico scraps with the 3.5" print squares in the corners. The backing is a neutral print from Thimbleberries (because that's the only one I had enough of) and the binding is green print. And that uses up every scrap of the matching fabric! I think it will be darling and be very "me".

Back to Project Linus: I have decided to donate 24 quilts to them this year. I've already finished six, and that leaves 18 over 10 1/2 months, which I think is a do-able. I can get in a sewing fit and turn out 3 or 4 and then take a break, holidays or such. They're all machine quilted and machine bound, and I'm not choosing such hard patterns, so I think it's possible.

This chapter of Project Linus is rather small, and I'm not sure how many quilts she's taking in. The neighboring district is huge and handles 2000+ quilts a year, but I don't think ours did more than 250 last year. So we all need to step up. Part of the problem is that the coordinator just took over the program in the last 18 months and hasn't had the support to build much group focus. I don't think she has meetings now. If all the blanketeers got together occasionally for work or socializing, we could maybe get some momentum going. This is NOT a criticism of the coordinator. She took it over when the last one had to stop, I believe for health reasons, and I respect all the work she does. We contributors need to pitch in more. I think I may suggest a picnic/potluck this summer when it's warmer to start building some comraderie. I hope she would consider hosting it. Her house is close to a nice park, which we could use.

Oh, dear, I'm turning into a "group" person.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Cooking with Campbell's soup - really

All I knew was it was chicken for dinner. Two boneless, skinless breasts were thawing in the refrigerator. And I was completely out of ideas. Then, I remembered that I used to stuff the butterflied breasts with a mushroom stuffing and bake in a cream sauce. Well, cream was out - literally, didn't have any - and figured that my bod didn't need any more cream sauce. What was in the pantry? Ah, cream of mushroom soup (not the condensed kind, the ready to eat variety). Not bad on the calories. Let's see.

I sauteed a few sliced up mushrooms, added some bread crumbs, seasoning and nutmeg, with a bit of butter for moisture. Then, I butterflied the chicken breasts and stuffed them. Wiped out the skillet where the mushrooms were cooked and added a bit of oil, then sauteed the breast bundles on both sides. After that, poured the soup over the top and simmered covered until the chicken was done. After removing the chicken, stirred in a slurry of cornstarch and water to thicken the sauce.

Sliced thinly and fanned out artfully on a platter with the sauce drizzled over the top, this didn't look like a Campbell's recipe. It looked pretty fancy, actually. And it was good. And quick. I should bite my tongue before I mock a Campbell's soup recipe again.

Not quite as computer-inept as I thought

Check out the sidebar - I added a slideshow of my Project Linus quilts this morning and I didn't have to ask anyone a question! That's pretty good for me. I used to honestly try to keep up on new PC developments, until one day I just said "Enough". I learn what I need to learn at the time I need it, and I absolutely don't do any reading up "for fun" because it isn't.

Computers aren't fun for me. They're a tool. Like a hammer. I ran analytical software at work before I retired and I prepared calculations and other documents, but all this web hoo-hah? Nuh-no. To put it in perspective: when I started college in engineering, we used slide rules. I don't own an I-Pod, my cellphone doesn't take pictures and I still own a turntable, although it isn't hooked up at the moment. (Hi, I'm an old dog, nice to meet you.)

The slideshow is only rotating pictures of five quilts, but it will be more interesting when I complete a few more. I'm sewing as fast as I can!

Friday, February 8, 2008

How I display quilts for photography

I finally had a brain burst and figured out how best to photograph small quilts. Push-pinning them into the door facing was not working, and trying to lean over them on the floor to get a decent picture wasn't either. So, while staring at the closet door, I realized that there was enough room on the facing in front of the bi-fold doors for a small tension rod. I hied myself to the local Walmart and got this rod and a package of clip curtain rings. Voila! (OK, you're all probably already doing this, but it took me a minute to get it!) The only problem is that it can't be a permanent installation since the doors don't open with it in place, but it's quick to put up and take down.

I was contemplating mounting a long curtain rod with clip rings above the two closet doors in that room, so I could hang larger quilts and tops to photograph and study while in process, but my husband looked at me like I was crazy. I know, it would look stupid while not in use, but it would be a permanent thing, and this method won't handle quilts wider than maybe 60" (the doors are 48" wide).

Also, check out the backing on the new Linus quilt: Hoot owls! Isn't it cool?

This was my fifth Project Linus quilt. I delivered the stack to the local coordinator yesterday afternoon. I also asked for a stack of labels so I could sew them in myself and save her some work. (She's not getting a lot of help; this chapter is small.) I already have the next quilt in process. OCD to the max! At least it's for a good cause.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Now, to prove that I am consistent in my inconsistency.....

....THIS one I like! I know, I know, there's orange, there's purple, there's bright. I have no idea why this one hits me and the last one doesn't. It may help that the pattern is simpler. Can't wait to start quilting.

And, yes, those are hoot owls in the border!

How my poor pitiful unloved quilt almost became a UFO

Sometimes you push the envelope and produce something new and different and better than your usual. Sometimes you do it and it becomes a UFO because it's just not lovable. It is so NOT YOU that you can't lavish the attention on it that it deserves. I am in the middle of that quandry right now.

This all started because I was trying to make bolder, brighter quilts for Project Linus, things kids would like, not my usual muted (someone said "muddy" - no, I didn't take offense, it's true) colors. I'm making a Clay's Choice block in 30's repro prints, set in white tone-on-tone print, with a bright print strip in the border which matches the backing, bordered on either side by white fabric. The print is kind of cute; it's all kinds of penny candy printed on a purple background, which is really bright but not as garish as it sounds when described. There's BBBats and licorice Scotties and orange slices and peppermints and ribbon candy. The print has purple, pink, orange, bright green and bright yellow, so I selected 30's prints in those shades and pieced the Clay's Choice blocks, using all fabric from my stash. The purple print was all I bought. Oh, yes, there are also Clay's Choice blocks in the corners of the border, and a 1" scrappy pieced border of 30's fabrics between the blocks and the outside border. Anyway, here's a picture:When it came time to put the outside border on, I discovered that I didn't have enough of the white fabric, so I rummaged in my neutrals box and found another tone-on-tone white to use. Stash-busting, remember? It looked fine under the light above my sewing table so I cut and pieced the borders and applied them. I happened to lay it on the back of my reading chair in the den after pin-basting, where it was in natural light. That was when I discovered that the whites aren't exactly the same shade. The border is whiter than the block backgrounds. But it was already sewn together and sandwiched and basted.

The difference in the white fabrics glared at me. Momentarily I debated ripping the border out, but figured that I couldn't match the other background fabric any better in the stores, so it was probably the best I could do. I decided to go ahead and machine quilt it.

It fought me from the first stitch. I stitched in the ditch around the stars, chaining them together by continuing the stitch down the inside border. It shifted, it pulled, it stretched, until finally the blocks were quilted. Then I started on the border and it completely defeated me. It was distorted and I hated it. So this morning I picked all the quilting out of the border and started anew, with parallel lines from the inner border to the edge. Finally, it was done.

There was a point there where I almost cut off the outer border and just made a wee little quilt, but the size (it would only have been 26" x 42") stopped me. That's hardly big enough for a little baby. It's final size is 42" x 58".

The binding is now done and, unfortunately, I still don't love it. It gave me too much trouble, and the colors are just too bright, too NOT ME. Perhaps a child who loves purple will take to it, and I really hope that happens. If the project had been for me, it would have landed in the never-to-be-finished pile days ago. I'm going back to muted colors for a few quilts, until I feel I can stick a toe in unfamiliar waters again.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Super Tuesday Blahs

I try not to blog about divisive issues, but tonight I just can't help it. This day is about over, and thank goodness. From the moment this morning that I voted in our primary - not for the person I wanted to be the party nominee but for the person I least didn't want to be the nominee, it was all downhill. The oval I colored in on that ballot this morning has bugged me all day. It was a non-choice. I detested all the possibilities but felt duty bound to participate in the primary election. So I picked the candidate whose experience, background and platform was the least likely to make my head spin clear around like that girl's in The Exorcist.

Let me make that clear: I wasn't picking this candidate; I was NOT picking the rival candidates. Let's all contemplate that statement for a moment. How depressing can an election get?

Does Blogger mangle your post's formatting when you add pictures?

I have been fighting this from the beginning and am eager to find out if others have formatting problems with Blogger. If I add a picture to a post that has more than one paragraph, the line spacing after that first paragraph gets messed up and the lines are all crammed together. Most of the time I can fix it by selecting all the text, changing the font, publishing and then editing it and changing the font back to what it should be. This doesn't always work. You can see the problem on my post of January 31, which would not fix itself no matter what I tried. It's not that this line spacing problems really affects the post, it just looks terrible and inconsistent and the obsessive neatnik in me can't stand it. Does anyone else have this problem? I also can't make it insert a picture anywhere but the top of the blog.

So I put it to the readers: Does Blogger do strange things when you are posting?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Do I really need to wash a new quilt.....

.....before I take it to Project Linus? Why, yes, yes I do. Don't ask me how this happened. I just turned my back to check on dinner. At least she's lying on safety pins, not straight pins.

The project I will take with me to the old age home.....

.....because it won't be done by then!!!!!!

Every traditional quilter has a Baltimore Album in some stage of completion stuck in the closet. Here's mine. I learned two things from this project: one, it will take for blessed EVER to finish, and two, I don't like applique much! You see those little gathered bluebell flowers on the heart block? I would rather eat dirt than do more of them.

Regardless, I will perservere. I may only get one block a year done, but at that rate I can use my social security money to quilt it when it's done.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

What I did last summer

While I'm in a posting mood (Oh, who am I kidding? I'm avoiding dusting!) I will show-and-tell two crib quilts I did for a friend's grandsons last summer. It's a pattern called School of Scrappy Fish by Bottle Quilt Co. and it is paper-pieced. I had never done paper piecing in all the years of my sewing and I enjoyed it, but am not sure enough to do it again. I'm proud of the workmanship but it was very out of character to make something by a published design. The only other thing I have made by a pattern in years was one of those "turning twenty" design things and I gave it away for a crib quilt. It was pretty but kind of a yawn.

These fish, on the other hand, are bright and bold and just great. You will notice that I appliqued eyeballs on them because they looked kind of blank without eyes. That's black fabric with white polkadots. I centered a dot on each applique circle. I wanted to put "google eyes" on them but couldn't find ones I felt were safe for a baby quilt. I also appliqued a sailboat on the backing for a label.

By the time I was finished paper piecing fish I was heartily sick of the process, however much I liked the result. Just look at how many pieces went into the seahorses!

Coimbra Pottery

Here are a few of my Coimbra pottery pieces. They are made in Portugal, where pottery works date from Moorish control of the Iberian peninsula. The Moorish influence in the painting style is evident. They are all new pieces, bought in places like Tuesday Morning and T. J. Maxx, where they are discounted. Otherwise they are too expensive.

I have 22 pieces so far. They appeal to me because of the elaborate design and variance on a theme you will see on each piece. They are all hand painted and each painter has his or her own style of doing borders, flowers or decorations, although the animal and floral themes are repeated on everyone's work. The back of each piece is signed, so you could possibly only collect one painter's work, for consistency, although I love the riotous color of the mix.

I didn't know a thing about Coimbra pottery when I bought the first piece. It's the round trivet on the bottom shelf in the picture. I bought it because it matched my redecorated kitchen, I loved the colors, and it was on the clearance shelf at T. J. Maxx for $10.00. I thought it was a steal. After that purchase I started reading, and became fascinated.

The patterns and colors appeal to the scrap quilter in me. Others are not so charitable. One minimalist friend pronounced it "gaudy". She also thought my scrap quilts were a little much, too. To each her own.

O frabjous day! Calloo! Callay! (and one little boo-hoo)

I have finished my brother-in-law's quilt! It took most of the day to sew on the binding; I finally completed it while listening to an absolutely dreadful movie on TV with the cat plunked down in the middle and protesting every time I had to move the quilt. I have already posted a picture of the top, so here's one of the completed quilt showing the backing.

Two things I'm happy about and one, not so. I love the way the longarm quilter kept the striped backing so straight; it was a design choice that made me very nervous but she handled it well. I also like that the back is ornate; you could turn it over and use it like a wholecloth quilt or bedspread. That stripe may not be everybody's cup of tea but it makes me happy. Long ago I quit using solid colors or tame tone-on-tone prints on the backings. I wanted the backing to make a big statement but not have to be pieced. Large prints and stripes like this are a wonderful jolt. Just hope that the recipient doesn't think it gaudy!

The only thing I am not so happy about is the tension in the longarm quilting at part of one edge. It's something that only a quilter would notice or be upset about, but while binding I realize that the stitches there are little tight. This is a peril of hiring your quilting. I use the same service but depending who's at the machine you can be surprised, sometimes badly. One quilt got overstretched so much I haven't finished the binding yet after several years, it just makes me upset every time I pick it up. I had to do some surreptitious trimming to make the edge straight. The border still looks wavy. It broke my heart because I loved the colors and pattern. I didn't take any work back to them for years until the business sold and the new owners hired better quilters.

This overstretching seems more prevalent when I use poly batting. Cotton lies flatter and is less prone to distortion. I only use poly batting on gift quilts where the propensity of cotton batting to shrink a bit when washed would only freak them out (not quilt-o-philes). I like the heft and low-loft surface of cotton batting and the little shrinkage makes those puffs between the quilting lines that seem to suit my scrappy designs. Looks old-fashioned.

Well, before I get too cocky, there's still one more to go!

Friday, February 1, 2008

There's hand sewing in my future

The longarm quilting service just called - the quilts for my brother and brother-in-law are done. This is timed just right because my brother-in-law has closed on his house and will start driving east in about a week. That will give me time to do the binding on his quilt. I can postpose competion of my brother's gift since I won't see him until probably March.

I kind of dread all that hand sewing on the binding. I do a straight grain, doubled binding, machine sewn onto the front of the quilt and turned to the back with hand blind hemming. I also miter the corners. On large quilts, that's a LOT of hand hemming, but I don't need to say that for the majority of blog readers who see this. You all probably do the same thing, and know that sometimes it feels like you will never, never finish that binding. It's like blind hemming a football field!