Monday, March 28, 2011

String blocks find a home

Remember the string blocks I didn't want to use in my Quiltville mystery? Here is where they are finally being incorporated in a quilt: I have no idea why I didn't like them in that quilt but do in this one. Maybe these blocks are not as colorful and don't fight with the strings. Anyway, I think it will be interesting. Lots of blocks yet to go!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Don't call me "Mister"

Several weeks ago I was reading a news article about the upcoming royal wedding. (Oh, right, like you haven't.) I admit that I'm a sucker for feel-good stories and what's better than the fairy tale marriage of a prince and a beautiful commoner? Just as I followed the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana (ouch, that turned out badly, but it started so beautifully), I have checked out the press coverage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton's wedding next month.

I'm not much of an Anglophile, although my heritage is primarily English, with a little Scottish and Irish thrown in, mixed with a daub of Native American and perhaps other nationalities too (I'm a typical American mutt). I do identify with British culture because it's pretty much bred in the bone and have to admit I find a plummy English accent to be terribly soothing when delivering the bad news on BBC America. And, when it comes to radio entertainment, in the empty space between Morning Edition and All Things Considered on NPR, regularly I find that the only things worth listening to are on BBC 4 radio, thanks to the "Listen Live" function on the internet. So maybe I'm more of an Anglophile than I care to admit.

Anyway, when I was reading this story about the wedding plans, I came upon a statement that good wishes could be conveyed to the couple at a palace email address, although if you wanted a response you should write to them the old way on paper at Prince William's official residence. Well, I thought, wouldn't that be neat to get a response from the royal family's staff?

So I pulled out my stationery (not engraved, but very nice) and composed a short letter wishing the royal couple the best on their upcoming nuptials. I can't remember the exact words, but it was a pretty good letter. I addressed it, looked up the postage online, stamped the letter and mailed it.

Today I braved the terrible rainstorms to check the mail and what do I find but an airmail envelope from Buckingham Palace with the Queen's insignia. Cool!

I hurried inside out of the damp and opened it, not looking carefully at the envelope. The salutation took me aback:

Dear Mr. C________,

Mister C________????

In case my readers haven't figured it out over the years, I'm a girl.

I took another look at the envelope. They got my first name wrong too.

So much for "thank you for your kind and thoughtful letter of 14th March."

Note to the royal social secretary, or whomever you are, Mrs. Claudia Holloway: Better look at the mail a little more carefully next time. It wouldn't do to insult an actual somebody like that. Because you really stuck your foot in it with this nobody from the Colonies.

You're very welcome.

Friday, March 25, 2011

She can sleep anywhere

This doesn't look comfortable. She's barely hanging on to the back of the couch but she's sound asleep. I wish I could relax like Molly can.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tedium, worry and deep, deep sadness (and a physics lesson)

I'm filling my day with trimming small HSTs and listening to the ever worsening news on the radio. The trimming is the tedium part of the title. When you're making 1 1/2" finished HSTs you need to be careful of even 1/32" size discrepancy because it adds up quickly. So I make a batch of 24 and then trim them. It's dull work that leaves my brain space to fret about the world situation.

The worry and sadness are from what I hear on the radio. The earthquake and tsunami news was depressing and sickening, and the situation at the nuclear plant is worse. I worked in the nuclear industry for 30 years and know far too much to take what the news agencies and the Japanese government are saying at face value. Things are bad, very bad, and getting worse at Fukushima Dai-ishi. A fire in the spent fuel cooling pool? There's nothing there to burn except the zirconium fuel rod cladding. Unit 4 was down for maintenance and the fuel rods were unloaded and stored in the pool. Because it's old fuel doesn't mean that the isotopes in the fuel pellets aren't still decaying and emitting heat. You have to keep it cooled. If it caught fire they let the pool where the fuel bundles were stored go dry while coping with the other units and now unit 4 may be the worst contaminator of the bunch. And what about units 5 and 6, which weren't operating either? What about their fuel pools?

The unit that was described as possibly having damage to the suppression chamber is a great worry too. This is a structure at the bottom of the reactor vessel which is full of water and can have cooling water injected into it to bring down the temperature of the system. It's fully exposed to the contaminated water around the melted fuel rods and is carrying particulate contaminates. If that system is breached, then the contamination may be capable of spreading outside the plant. And that's the bad stuff - cesium and other long half-life isotopes.

The news reporters are getting on my nerves with their utter ignorance of what they are reporting. When they get an expert to interview, they won't shut up and let the expert explain anything. One host on CNN infuriated me because she seemed to be trying to steer the expert into saying things in the most inflammatory way possible. This guy had long-time industry experience from the IAEA and I wanted to hear what he had to say because he was making more sense than anyone they had brought on the programs in days. And she wouldn't close her mouth and let him.

Finally, please someone, explain to the CNN talking heads what radiation and contamination mean and how they differ. Radiation is emitted energy from unstable isotopes in the form of alpha, beta or gamma rays or neutrons. You can use distance from the emitting source, limited time near the source, or shielding (such as metal) between you and the source to limit your dose of ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation causes cellular damage to the body, both genetic and somatic (meaning to your children born later or yourself).

Ionizing radiation (ionizing means that the alpha, beta or gamma rays or neutrons are damaging the atoms of your body that they come in contact with by disrupting their atomic structure, thus causing you harm) comes from many sources, not just nuclear plants. You are exposed to radiation from the sun every day. The people in Japan most at risk for direct doses of ionizing radiation are those 50 workers still at the plant trying to save it. I very much fear that even with all caution they are getting high exposures. Every time they are mentioned in the news I want to cry.

On the other hand, contamination means that you have particles of material which are emitting radiation that have become loose from the source and can be spread through the air or on surfaces. These particles can get on your skin or be breathed in or ingested, and either way you get a dose of radiation from them, from the outside or inside of you. Some of the particles, like iodine isotopes, target specific areas of the body. Others can do widespread harm.

Contamination can be spread by the weather, like the wind or the rain. It can infiltrate into small spaces. Nobody's house is completely airtight, and airborne contamination can get inside. From there it can get inside a person's lungs or on their skin or be swallowed. When you see people being checked with a Geiger counter on the news they're being scanned for contamination. That won't measure the radiation dose you may have received but it will tell if you or your clothes are contaminated.

Having all this industry exposure makes watching the news difficult because the facts aren't going to be available at the technical level I want. Add to that the evasive announcements from the Japanese government and it becomes even more exasperating.

I've gone on far too long about this, I guess, but I want to educate people about what they're seeing on TV.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hey, Quiltville Chat members, does this look familiar?

Oh, yeah - 1 1/2" HSTs! Lots of them. No, I'm not making another RRCB quilt - but the design does have some similarities, and it is planned to use those string blocks I didn't put in my mystery quilt. I've also cut this one down to 72" square. Of course, I could always make more blocks if I'm not too burned out. It might end up bed size.

On another front, here is a picture of what I finished yesterday afternoon, the Cluster of Lilies quilt:
It's not complicated and it's not fancy but I love the colors. I'll have the longarm quilter cover it with feathers and it will be spring-like and beautiful.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Trying to think normally in a not-normal world

The situation in Japan is bearing on my thoughts this morning. Beyond the horrific damage and suffering that the population is facing due to the earthquake and tsunami, there are the dangers from the malfunctioning nuclear plants in Fukushima prefecture. I worked in the nuclear power industry before retirement; I am well aware of the possible consequences of these malfunctions.

The news is frustratingly non-technical. I know how these plants operate and am trying to piece together from the press releases the actual state of the plants, but what we are told is not complete or exact, so I have to guess. Why didn't the backup power diesel generators start at the plant? What happened to the equipment so that cooling is difficult to reestablish? We can't be sure of anything from what we have been told.

Meanwhile, I think about bloggers I have met online who live in Japan. I don't know enough about the country to know if they live very close to the nuclear plants. I think some are nearby, at least in neighboring prefectures, but how far away is that? For people that I have never met face to face, I am very concerned about their welfare and safety, and am grateful that they continue to blog when possible to keep us apprised.

But what to do? It would be easy to sit and brood and worry. When that is the option, I find it best to keep my hands busy, at least. And what better way than to piece quilt blocks? So I downloaded the next block of Barbara Brackman's Civil War sampler and got to work. Now that it is complete, I have added it to the design wall with the others and need to post a picture of my progress:
Not a great picture, mind you, a little crooked, but a picture nonetheless. Here are her ten blocks plus her alternate block for the seven sisters stars, and my pieced star that might also be a substitute. Twelve blocks using mostly fat quarters of the "Arnold's Attic" collection plus a few Brackman Civil War repros. The kind of colors I love.

I'm still looking for an eagle and shield applique pattern for the center block in the layout. Any ideas?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Downloaded fabrics and the next HST torture quilt

Here's a example of downloaded fabric files from Connecting Threads. Here is a photo of one of their quilt kitsAnd here is my drawing in EQ of a block with their fabrics:

And here is my drawing of the whole quilt:

Pretty neat.
On other fronts, I think I have finally decided what to do with the string blocks from RRCB. Here is the main block, which I have started calling Triangle City. All the blue triangles will be scrappy, the background will be scrappy white on whites and white on creams and the brown will be a single focus print, a brown paisley which I found at Walmart. It's nice fabric too.

The whole quilt will look like this:

Haven't decided if it will be a couch quilt or a huge bed quilt. But I like the design. Husband doesn't of course because he hates brown.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What I just tripped over - er, found

Under the heading of "if it were a snake it would have bit me", I just stumbled on the fact that the Connecting Threads company website has EQ6/EQ7 compatible downloads of their current fabric offerings, which integrate seamlessly into your EQ fabric libraries.


I love it! I just downloaded the fabrics for one of their groups that I just ordered and colored the EQ design I had planned for them with the actual fabrics I will use. This is spectacular.

I have been muttering to myself about why don't the fabric companies do this so you can design in EQ with their new collections. Now I find that Connecting Threads has already accomplished it. Have any other fabric companies done this too? Am I just out of the loop?

I would love to know if anyone can tell me.

A home for orphaned string blocks

I may have figured out what to do with the string blocks I didn't use in the Quiltville mystery quilt. They are already trimmed to work with a 10 1/2" finished block, a rather funky size, so I was unsure what to do. If I trimmed any more, their little corner triangles would become minuscule.

Then I was browsing the Connecting Threads website and saw a quilt called Treasure Chest. That quilt's block was bigger and different but it got me to thinking. And when I did I came up with this idea:

This would be the full-monty, use-up-all-the-string-blocks version that would be as large as my last Quiltville mystery quilt (which was very large, indeed) but it could be made smaller. The main block has some minor similarities with that quilt's block, but I think it looks a bit better with the string blocks. Maybe it's the red/white/blue color scheme. Maybe it's all the little triangles (all 1,296 of them). Whatever it is, I like it. But this would not be made quickly. It would be a real commitment quilt.

I don't know if it's to be or not, but it's a good idea.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who's that man in the hat?

I've driven four hours today and I'm a bit worn out, but here's two observances from my life:

First, a look at the coat rack in my back hallway. Notice the hats on the pegs. These are my husband's. From them, you could surmise that he's: A: A Greek fisherman
B: Marlon Brando in "The Wild One" or
C: Engineer on the Old No. 7

Or someone who likes hats.

The fourth peg is reserved for my handbag, because having a place where it lives saves a lot of searching for keys etc. Just always put it on the peg.

Now, on the quilty front, a sneak peak at block two of Esther Aliu's applique BOM, courtesy of her photo on her blog:
Lordy, Lordy, what have I gotten myself into? (Compare and contrast with block in the last post. Wince, sigh and moan at your leisure. Yipes.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hearts Desire

Well, I couldn't resist another BOM, this one applique, so I joined Esther Aliu's "Heart's Desire". Here's a picture but please do not enlarge it or look too closely. I admit that I'm not very good at applique; my points are not pointy enough and my inner corners get a little frayed. But my intentions are good:I post it more for your information than for any intent to brag. Seriously, I need to get better at this. My technique stinks.

A small craft iron has been ordered and a bottle of Best Press procured, along with a small brush to apply starch to the turned under edges before pressing. Ms. Aliu illustrates this as the way she prepares freezer paper applique. Me, I just turned under the edges and basted them. Who knew? I'm admittedly low tech.

Since it's a mystery BOM I'm going the safe route and mostly using her colors; however, I had different hearts prepared but changed them for the ones with blue flowers because they just seemed to blend better with the blue center petals. And, by the way, that circle in the center is my addition because my points weren't going together as I wanted.

All in all, this is supposed to be a full-on applique quilt top, 74" square. This might not be a good thing, and I fully expect that it won't be finished by the end of the summer when the last installment is released. I just hope it doesn't turn into a WIP.