Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt

After several years owning "The Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt" book but not making the blocks, I have been seduced into joining Izazette's group   by the thought of a lovely quilt made all of such small parts.  The EQ BOM this year was 6" blocks and showed me that I can sew accurately enough to do them.  I'll be starting the quilt in January.  In preparation I've been thumbing through the book looking at the blocks.  One, I have to admit, stopped me cold:

Look at it.  Heavens, just look at it!  Those pieced chevron bars, the triangles, the diagonal seams.  All in a 6", YES 6 INCH, block.  Yipes, there are 57 patches in that block.  This looks like a job for foundation paper piecing.

I have found several other instances that give me pause.  The author is fond of 5 x 5 blocks, which are difficult to parse out of a 6" square, and require cutting on 1/16" intervals that is often not very accurate.  And she really seems to love those bias diagonal seams.  This is going to be an accuracy workout.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

And the mystery quilt looks like this....

It's supposed to look like the bow on a package, and it's cute.  I may add another outer border of the red print before I quilt it but for now, in the "Later" drawer it goes!  

Mysterious times

Oh, I'm living in mysterious times here.  There's the Quiltville mystery, of course, and then there's Quiltbug's Christmas Eve mystery, a New Year's Eve mystery on the quilt-talk group and a New Year's Day mystery on Planet Patchwork.  Not to mention Barbara Brackman's Civil War sampler, with a surprise every Saturday.   How, oh how do I get myself committed to this many mysteries?

I used to be leery of them because I did a few and didn't much like the results.  But Bonnie Hunter's Quiltville mysteries are always wonderful, and I have enjoyed the last few mysteries I did in the quilt magazines, so I thought it would be entertaining to jump right in and do the two over the New Year's weekend since we're not going anywhere and won't have company.  Plus, now that I have a sewing room my stitchery doesn't interfere with my cooking space in the kitchen.  I can close the door and block off all the mess.  It's all good.

I stumbled on the Christmas Eve mystery in an advertising email from Quiltbug.  I have done their simple mysteries before and used them for charity quilts, and this one was a small table topper in Christmas colors, so why not?  I can always use another decoration quilt for next year.  They started posting instructions yesterday for cutting and color selection, and put up the first instruction for making oodles of HSTs (which had to be trimmed to size, yuck - I even did that on the kitchen table while monitoring supper cooking).  Now the first instruction of the day has been posted and I'm finished, along with my Civil War block.

Time for breakfast.  And then, making a pumpkin pie, sugar-free pumpkin custard for me, and haystacks.  Do you make haystacks?  They're simplicity itself, with just butterscotch pieces, pecans and those crunchy chow mein noodles.  But they're addictive.  Husband asked for some this year, and it will be hard to mix them up without sampling the goods. Dratted diabetes!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Quiltville mystery step 6

...and a day early.  Thank you, Bonnie Hunter, for posting the next step of the mystery quilt on Thursday so we could get our sewing done before the Christmas Eve crazies hit.  And here it is the result of my work today:
I've got some ideas where those red string block triangles and gold/shirting triangles made in previous steps are going to go, but I mostly hope that the next step incorporates some of the third color, which is green in my case.  The red and gold are beautiful, but I was initially thinking about a red/green quilt and would like a bit more green in the mix.  In the meantime a comment from my step 5 photo that the golds reminded the viewer of butterscotch has given me a name for this quilt, with its buttery golds, reds and light greens:  Butterscotch and Peppermints.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Orca catch-up

I forgot to post my picture of Step 5 of the Quiltville mystery when I finished on Saturday.  Here it is:

Still haven't got a clue what the design could be.  You did good, Bonnie!  No guessing this one!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Don't try this at home

After producing untold dozens of cookies this week for everyone else that I couldn't eat, I decided to do an experiment this morning and bake some spritz cookies with Splenda that I could actually have.  Admittedly, I would have to count the carb grams in my diabetic diet, and each spritz cookie would have 3 grams of carbs so it wasn't inconsequential, but it seemed a worthwhile experiment to have some Christmas goodies that were diabetic-friendly.

I settled on spritz cookies because almost every other recipe that I had called for at least some brown sugar, and you can't easily swap white sugar/white sugar substitute for brown sugar.  It's a moisture thing.

In case you don't make them, a spritz cookie is a formed cookie made by extruding a dough through a cookie press which consists of sugar, shortening, egg, flour, a bit of salt and baking powder, and whatever flavoring you want - vanilla, orange extract, peppermint extract, etc.  They are simplicity itself, and are a lovely sandy textured butter cookie.  I have eaten them since I was a wee small child because Mom always made them at Christmas.  I remember tossing them for our dog to catch in midair when I was tiny.

Anyway, I got out all the ingredients and fired up the mixer, cringing all the while at making more mess in the kitchen considering all the washing-up I had done on Wednesday and Thursday.  As I mixed the dough, substituting Splenda for sugar one-to-one as the package directed, it seemed that the dough was a bit dry, but with a little mixing it fluffed up and formed up nicely, and went through the press just fine.  I popped the first sheet of cookies in the oven and waited.

After ten minutes they came out delicately browned and looking exactly right.  I let them cool a minute and carefully moved them to a cooling rack.  After a few more minute of waiting, I popped one in my mouth.


First off, they didn't taste sweet at all.  What happened to - you can bake with Splenda?  I have made pumpkin custard with Splenda throughout the year and it turns out fine - not sugar-sweet, but recognizably dessert-like.  These cookies tasted like baked flour balls.  There was not a hint of the vanilla, no sweetness, no butteriness.  Just crumbly flour.  The cookies were so dry that they immediately broke apart into a lumpy powder in your mouth that was extremely unpleasant.

In short, they were a complete failure.

What did I do wrong?  I am convinced that I didn't do anything, that it was the Splenda.  Sugar has characteristics that make it absorb and hold moisture in food.  If you watch "Good Eats" with Alton Brown, you know that in baking he classifies sugar with the wet ingredients in the recipe.  Evidently Splenda doesn't do that effectively.  And it didn't provide enough sweetness in the recipe to counteract the starchy flour.  So, you got flour balls, not cookies.  Not going to try that again.

If anyone has baked with Splenda and had good results, I would love to know what I could have done differently.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What's Christmas without a Bumble?

My latest Christmas tree ornament acquisition:

I have a pretty traditional looking tree until you start looking closely. Witness this post from a past December.    How many other people have an ornament that looks like a circular saw?  Or a sock monkey?  Or a radio that actually plays?  I had to get Bumble to complement my Rudolph the red nosed reindeer with a nose that lights up.

Count your blessings

A member of one of my Yahoo quilting groups is going through some very tough medical issues.  Some of the group have banded together to make a quilt for her, and I continue to marvel at the love and selflessness manifested by a group of people who have probably never met face to face, and how readily they commit to  supporting one of their own.  It proves again what I have seen many times - quilters are some of the most generous and thoughtful people you would ever want to meet.

This also prompts me to sit down and evaluate just how lucky I am.  Sure, I have health issues (and my husband has some that are more difficult to live with) but we are sitting here warm, dry, well fed, safe and relatively financially secure.   And that's a lot of blessings to be grateful for.

As Christmas approaches, those of us that are on the lucky side of the coin toss should give thanks that we are OK.  These sorts of things get buried in the back of our thoughts during the holiday hubbub, but we should never lose sight of all the good in our lives and be cognizant of how fleeting our good fortune can be.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Oh, it's that time of year again when I bake myself into a stupor assembling cookie boxes for neighbors and such.  Not family because they don't live close to me, although I am going to make a batch of peanut butter fudge to mail to my brother-in-law tomorrow.  But the people on my street get cookies, my hairdresser and her partner, the mailman, the trashmen, the lawn guy, etc, etc.  Lots of cookies.

I have blogged about this before so I won't retread that ground, except to say that this year, like last, was different because with the diabetes I can't partake of the cookies.  However, I want to know how they turned out, so I passed on lunch and blew my carb allotment on tasting.  They're all pretty good.

Some, not all, of them

Just how many cookies did I bake?  Lord, I have no idea.  I lost count.  But there are chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal, snickerdoodles (I would make them just for the name, but they are SO GOOD), spritz, orange, and coconut.  Multiple batches of each - the dining table is covered.  The only drawback is the smell of sugar and baked goods is about to make me barf.  I'm making a pizza for dinner because I need spicy to counteract all this sweet. 

After dinner I will spread out large pieces of waxed paper and portion out bags of each kind, then load the cookie boxes and write the cards.  I can do this while "White Christmas" is on TV.  Isn't that just the quintessential holiday evening?

Monday, December 12, 2011

What not to buy for your wife for Christmas?

This article cracked me up.  It said that household appliances were not a good gift for Christmas because no woman wants to be reminded that you think of her as the person who does the chores around the house.  Well, not every woman is a looking for gold and diamonds under the Christmas tree.

I once got a really nice Kitchenaid mixer for Christmas.  I was tickled beyond belief because I had lusted after this expensive mixer for ages and was happy to receive it.  However, the reaction from the women at work was universally "Yuck!  What a miserable gift!"  I was mystified.  I loved my mixer.  It wasn't a gift that said "Gee, here's something to make you work even harder around the house."  It said "Here's a Kitchenaid mixer because you wanted one and you love to bake."

I refuse to believe that most women are so mercenary that they wouldn't appreciate a practical gift.  On the other hand, I spent my working life as an engineer surrounded by 99% men and maybe their opinions have rubbed off!  Or maybe I'm just naturally practical myself.

If anyone is looking for a person to give a carpet cleaner for Christmas, I promise I would appreciate it!      

More Orca Bay

I forgot to post a picture of the step 3 and 4 blocks for Quiltville's Orca Bay Mystery quilt when they were done, so here they are:

Aren't those red string triangles for step 4 awfully cute?

And there are more gold and shirting bits too, from step 3: 
We also had these parts from steps 1 and 2:

I still haven't a clue where this design is going!  This is fun!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

No surprises here

An ironic side effect of using EQ to design your quilts:  Remember when you didn't have a way to visualize your designs other than perhaps graph paper sketches?  Remember when you started to join your blocks together and got your first glimpse of the completed quilt design, and what a kick it was, watching your quilt come to life.

Well, with EQ, it can be a case of "been there, done that".  Unfortunately.  Here's an example:

An EQ generated image of the quilt I made for a Christmas present:
An actual photo of the quilt: 
See what I mean?  Definitely no surprises there.  Of course, the possibility of making a complete dog of a quilt has been vastly diminished, but after you draw and visualize the quilt, actually making it may become anti-climactic.

In some ways, the thrill is gone.

This is a little sad.

Monday, December 5, 2011

There's a Christmas in there somewhere......

I have evaded, I have avoided, but now there is no escape.  First I had to unpack my suitcase from my trip last week and do the laundry.  Then I was catching up on the Quiltville mystery, the Civil War block of the week, the EQ block of the month.  Then I was putting borders on a nearly completed project.  Then I was making a pot roast for dinner and couldn't leave the kitchen.  

Then I ran out of excuses.  It's time to decorate for Christmas.  

Up on the ladder I went in the garage storage closet, dragging boxes down on my head, packing them into the kitchen and piling them on the table, until I had this:
 Oh good grief.

I don't know why I dread this so much every year.  Putting up the tree is easier, in some ways, than the Christmas village I did last weekend before I left to visit Mom.  Here's a photo, although I don't know why I bothered to take a new picture since it looks the same every year:
Now, THAT takes a while.  If you blow up the photo you can see all the little stuff that takes so long to unpack and place in the scenes - the people, the trees, the animals, the miscellaneous stuff like the lighthouse sign and the bird bath.  It simply takes FOREVER to get all that stuff off the shelves and unbox the parts, to put away my husband's antique radios from the shelves in the living room and put out the bases on which the display is arranged, to string the lighting power cords.  Of course, it's lovely when it's done and I would miss it dreadfully if it wasn't installed each Christmas, but the work, oh my, the work....

Compared to this, how hard is an artificial tree?  Why do I cringe so at the job?  Maybe it's the breakability factor.  We have blown glass ornaments, which is a deadly combination when put in the hands of a perennial klutz.  Or the going around and around and around to string the tinsel until you are dizzy.  Or - who knows?  I only am sure that I put it off until I can't any more.

All my quilt projects are caught up (except that I saw a great tessellated design done in blue and neutrals in the last quilt magazine I received, one that got me pulling blue fabrics and dreaming about it this morning - but I digress).  I have leftover pot roast for dinner, I have no other tasks at hand, it's time to trim the tree.

Watch my back.  I'm going in.