Sunday, November 27, 2011

Of Course, She's Pink!

So, Christmas has come a bit early to the household here. Perhaps it was the desperation that led me to try sewing with a 90 year-old sewing machine, or perhaps it was that, when faced with insomnia at 4 in the morning, I turned immediately to the sewing machine. At any rate, my sweetie treated me with a trip to the local sewing machine store where I got to feast my eyes and fingers and (foot) on the latest and greatest machines -- working on my fabulous (but admittedly a bit trying) 40 year-old Singer I simply had no idea that computerized machines were that easy?! And not only did I get to play with them there, but I got to take home one for my very own! And she's pink!!

No more fighting with my nemesis the thread tension (the nifty little computer actually mostly takes care of it for you!); no more fighting with the fabric trying to wrest it back in line (you don't really need to hold onto the fabric!); no more squinting to thread the needle (there is actually a needle threader!). . . . now I just have to get used to all the cool features and stitches and such! I can sew so so so much more quickly and at such a higher level with this machine, which is a good thing, since I have a lot of Christmas gifts to whip up in short order! Thank you early Santa!! My sweetie so loves and spoils me!

More to catch up on, but oh so tired! Up at 4:30 this morning with insomnia and a migraine--and sewing since then. So time for mindless TV and then bed!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Under Pressure!

David Bowie keeps running through my head as I continue to fight the tension on my sewing machine. Now I shouldn't put too much pressure on my sweet little Betty, who, bless her heart, hasn't sewn a stitch (before yesterday) in decades, so shouldn't be expected to be too consistent with her stitches. And, after all, I think it was I who may have (wince) tinkered with that knob that just may have been what turns out to be (now that I've unearthed a pdf copy online of the 1930s edition of the manual for this machine) the stitch tension "thumb nut." So after a day of sweet sewing bliss on my 90 year-old Betty, I now get a hot mess on the back of the machine. And I was so proud of reloading the bobbin and everything! Drat!

And I really can't blame this machine, because this is a consistent theme with me. I could blame Singer machines. After all, I've sewn on exactly TWO machines, they've both been Singers, and I've had tension issues on both machines. Both machines would probably (correctly) point their little needles right at me. But it's kinda hard to adjust tension when it's a hit-or-miss formula (if it's messy, adjust tension . . . I mean, really! I need exact instructions: "if it looks like this . . . [insert specific examples of bad stitches] then set the number to X"). Harrumph. Okay, so I'm back to hand-sewing. Time to wrap my fingers in duct tape!

And what, you may be wondering, is that picture? It's the bobbin and shuttle. And all the thread I pulled out of the bobbin. It's been in there I don't know how many decades. Clearly whoever last used it (and the gentleman from whom I bought Betty had it for decades and never used it, but bought it from an older woman who did use it) just added thread on top of thread. Right at the center was an intense, gorgeous green thread that looks as if it was hand-dyed. So cool!

Yes, I don't get out much these days!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving all!

I'd like to start my list of gratitude by announcing the arrival of a new member of the family:

I found "Betty" on Craigslist for an amazing $50! And she came in her original gorgeous oak cabinet! And she's in perfect working order! Alright, so she does need a new cable (that is a ribbon rigged up to make the hand crank work in the meantime), but she works like a charm! As best as I can tell, she's a Singer 128K, making her roughly 90 years old (if I were so bold as to tell a lady's age!). The bobbin is soooo cool -- it is set within a shuttle inside the machine--and yet even on this old machine there is still a bobbin winder! The machine is actually not much different from my 1970 Singer . . . not sure whether that makes my 1970 Singer old, or the technology timeless? And given that my Susie Singer is currently in the shop with a broken gear for another week or so, I now don't have to worry about the withdrawal pains I was suffering from this morning when I woke up. And my fingers really can't take any more of that pesky hand stitching thing! Finishing a binding by hand is one thing, but sewing it on and then finishing it was just a bit more than I had scheduled for my down-to-the-wire tablerunner!

So, welcome to the family Betty! And the name is in honor of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth "Betty" Keating Plunkett, who was born to Irish immigrants in the 1880s and who worked as a seamstress. There's an amazing photograph in my mother's home of Betty in her hand-made, but ever so elegant wedding dress in 1937. Nope, I can't quite aspire to Betty's sewing skills, but I like the thought that she's with me when I sew!

And so, now on to other gratitude. This has been a busy year, with some definitely trying personal and professional aspects. Nonetheless, I am so deeply grateful for the life I live and for the abundant love I have in my life. I am blessed by a family who sticks by me and who I enjoy being with (although who I miss dearly now that I liver farther away from). I have parents who are wonderfully warm, tender, complex, funny, special people who bless me by being in my life. I am also so blessed by having found the love of my life, someone who can make me laugh by being completely silly one minute, who can hold a deeply serious, smart conversation, and who can contain the messy, complex world that resides inside my brain. I am one lucky woman! I am also so so lucky to have found such great friends throughout my life and adventures. I may move to new states, but I never leave them behind in my heart. And finally, I am so grateful to my Sophie and my Zoey, my furry lovey girls are so dearly important to me and provide a profoundly wise and deep love that has changed my life!

In a year that has occasionally been personally difficult, and in a time that I know that has been financially trying for all, I am working hard to remember in my thoughts and actions all those who are struggling every day for the basics, including life, laughter, and love. I want to remember, not just today, and not just in the holiday season, that I am blessed enough that I can always share.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Running to catch up

Done at last! Down to the wire, but finished with the tablerunner for Susan's Modern Christmas Tablerunner Swap. Just as I was finishing my quilting, I snapped a gear in my sewing machine and everything went south. Fortunately, all I had left was the binding, so I ended up doing that all by hand. Originally, I had three houses and three trees, but it was far too long, so I lopped off a tree, which made it look more balanced and also shorter. I hand quilted around the trees and houses with perle cotton, using red, green, and aqua. I then machine quilted the linen in concentric half rectangles.

This is what it looks like in full:

I can't believe I finally finished it! Just in time to send it out way across the ocean to my secret swap partner! I'm sorry to see it go! But, look what I got from my fabulously talented secret swap partner Emily!

Isn't this so gorgeous!! The packages and tree are all pieced, and there are ribbons on the packages that use actual ribbon applique. I totally and completely love it! It is done perfectly and will cover my table every Christmas forever! Thanks so much Emily!

This has been my first swap ever, and it has been such a fabulous experience. It was a bit daunting, with such a talented group of women participating, but they provided great inspiration, encouragement, and humor. I can't believe how much I've learned over the span of the past few months! Rumor has it that Susan is spear-heading another swap post-Christmas; count me in!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sew Grateful!

Yes, this puppy (a.k.a., blob of fabric) is finally actually beginning to look a little bit like a tablerunner! And that's a mighty, mighty good thing as its due date for shipping is in a few days and the anxiety is starting to build up!

Two days of totally amazing inspiration, community, delicious food, hilarity, and humming machines around me at Pamela's sewing retreat kept me going and gave me the encouragement and much needed advice to turn the corner! What a phenomenal community of women! I didn't know a soul going into the weekend and I feel as if I have a new bunch of dear friends after two long, exhausting, but recharging days of sewing, laughing, and companionship! Many thanks to Pam for working so hard on such an extraordinary event! She arranged for two trunk shows: Amy Ellis shared her gorgeous quilts on Friday and talked a bit about her Modern Basics book, and Emily Herrick talked about her fabric collections and shared her stunning quilts (much as I tried, I was unsuccessful in sneaking off with her handiwork!). We were lucky enough to get some of her patterns in adorable little envelope bags that Pamela made for us and filled with all sorts of goodies (she promises to have a tutorial for these on her blog)! I was lucky enough to have Miss Emily as my table partner, so I was both entertained by her wit and also blessed by her wisdom. Thanks Emily for helping me pull the tablerunner top together!

It's a funny kind of thing, the blogging world. You feel as if you know people from reading about them on a daily basis, so when you meet them you kind of recognize them, you know about them, but they (quite reasonably) know nothing about you. So it was great to actually officially meet Amy (of diary of a quilter) officially, and to add some new blogs (and friends) to the list: April, Ella, Maria, and Holly. And to the blogging holdouts: don't worry Sue, I'm still keeping you on the "friends" list!

We also had a simply fabulous hand appliqué class from Jeannette Hartvigsen. Jeannette first showed her amazing, stunning work, then taught us the techniques. We then practiced on a heart. A long, slow learning curve, but so so helpful! And just in time for my top secret Christmas project!

Truly, without the wisdom, humor, encouragement, and time together this weekend with all these women, I would still be sitting in my sewing room with all the separate pieces of my various wonky houses and trees, in tears, with little idea of how to pull it all together -- and without having had the great fun that I did! Thanks to all!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Houses Under Construction!

Thanks so much to all the great visitors and the wonderful feedback! And many thanks to Lee's anniversary WIP Wednesday, which livened up the Shortcookiehouse!

I went back to the drawing board today with the houses for my tablerunner swap. I had originally done one house, which I really liked, but thanks to great feedback on my blog last night (thanks to all the links from Lee's great WIP Wednesday link-up!), I've decided to frame all the houses and trees just in white and then use colored perle cotton thread to hand quilt around each of the trees and houses. So, having trees I already really like (and which are already happily framed in their Kona snow), I went back to my pile of extra designs for pieced houses (I had many more designed than I needed), and then got crack-a-lackin' today on piecing it. Here's what I've come up with:

I had just gotten the pez fabric in the mail this week and was so psyched to be able to incorporate it into this. I'm also pretty happy with my fussy cut of the heron/stork on the roof which I'll now applique on. I think this house is in much better keeping with my trees (pictured poorly in yesterday's post!). I've gotten started on my second house, which is in red tones, but incorporates the blue tufted tweets chairs for windows (with a bird peeking out of one), and the pez fabric as a door. Who knew?! I think I've actually fallen in love with paper piecing!

A bit dispirited by all my dark photos, I actually braved the outdoors today (I know, it was, in fact a beautiful, sunny crisp day today in Utah!) and took some photos of my works in progress that don't make them look quite so milktoasty. What a difference! I know, I'm not quite an Ansel Adams yet (can you picture him dragging quilt blocks around the great American southwest??!).

I know I showed these yesterday, but the pictures were so awful, I had to show them again in proper light so that they actually look like trees! I guess natural sunlight actually makes a difference!

So, tomorrow, I'm back to finish my red house, and then I have just one house left to piece before I can pull the top together . . . which is a good thing, because I have still have quilting and binding ahead of me before I need to send it off in two weeks to ______ (my secret partner's secret destination in a perhaps far-off land!)!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Updates and a Public Service Announcement

Linking in to Lee's anniversary edition of WIP Wednesday. Lots more things in progress than in any other state. . . . def my state of life these days it seems!

Made some headway on the tablerunner yesterday . . . Got two trees pieced, and I'm happy with how they're looking. I have two houses to go, and then I can piece the top together. I'm hoping to get the top pieced together by Friday so that I can get quilting before the weekend. Here's what I have so far:

Yes, my pictures sooooo clearly rot! I have to find a way to actually take pictures during the day so I can take them up close and actually capture the fabric! Everyone else's blogs look like commercials, with people running through fields with quilts flapping in the sunny breeze, children laughing, puppies frolicking, you get the general idea . . . .

The next step is to frame the trees in a bright fabric to set them against the natural linen I'll be using for the top fabric. I've been ambivalent about whether to frame the trees and houses in color (like I have with the house), but I think they can use the extra color. Still not sure though . . . whaddya think?? I guess it would help to see the design? Sigh. I'll get back to that.

On other projects, have just gotten the Ugly Duckling Lizzy House fabric I've been itching for for ages (gotta love Etsy!), and am going to make a Keyka Lou "easy" envelope clutch. I'm trusting that "easy" means "easy." It doesn't have zippers, so for now I can avoid my phobia, although Susan took the jump today and did an amazing job on her pouches, so I guess I'm going to have to pull up the big girl panties and give it a go one of these days!

Okay, now for the public service announcement: just about three years ago I began having problems with my gas furnace in my rented home in PA. The pilot light kept going out. My lovely landlord (and I really mean that!) kept coming over to relight the pilot light, but it kept going out. Strangely, my migraine headaches (which I've always had) kept getting worse, and I kept getting sleepier and harder to wake up (but I've honestly always been hard to wake up as everyone in my life will tell you!). But then, my carbon monoxide detector went off. The fire department came to my house and discovered that the carbon monoxide in my home was at life threatening levels (because I had bought the cheapest type of CO detector, and it only went off after a week or more of CO exposure). All this to say, if you have gas or oil heat, go to your nearest hardware store and purchase a well-made, top-of-the-line carbon monoxide detector with a digital display (that shows all CO levels above zero). I could have died from CO poisoning, and I still live with serious consequences from exposure to this invisible, odorless gas.

Alright, you may now resume your previously scheduled quilting and crafty blog reading!

Oops! I totally forgot!! Guess what I found at the front door today!

I ordered this on Etsy from Daniel Ahn. It's from Korea, and I couldn't find it anywhere else. Yup, dogs dogs dogs! I may have to devote an entire post to the fabric on the right, because when you open it up it's just riotously wild and huge. It has secret Christmas gifts written all over it!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday Update

Finally! Finished my very first stocking! Clearly have to work on my photo techniques, but I didn't want to risk an outdoor shot given the post-snow mud and leaf debris (not to mention the inescapable muddy puppy paws that always follow when I come back inside!). All in all, I'm pretty excited with this! My very first machine quilting, which I shockingly managed to keep on the (fairly) straight and narrow (much easier on the front thanks to the diamonds than it was on the back which is just the red print fabric, but I used a ruler and the fading fabric pen to guide me).
I love this Kate Spain 12 days fabric, so I was happy to be able to use it for this project. I wanted to make a stocking for an older child, hopefully something a foster child can bring with him or her (I'm picturing a girl child with this fabric) as she makes her way in the world). This is for Purple Panda's Stockings for Kids drive for foster children in Central Virginia. When I lived in Southern California, I was overwhelmed at how many homeless young adults I met who had been in the foster system. Once they turn 18, they "age out," and it broke my heart that they didn't have a family support system to help them beyond age 18. I know it's just a Christmas stocking, but I like feeling like I can help a little bit.

I've realized that I haven't shown off my finished mug-ugly rug, so, without further ado, here it is!
Not quite as ugly as originally feared, but most definitely a learning experience! Again, first and foremost a lesson in taking on manageable projects and starting with easier patterns! I'm glad I started with a mug rug, however, as it was a fun size, allowed me to finish fairly quickly, and let me master all the things I need to figure out for my table runner.

Speaking of, the fire is really under the feet now for me to get cooking! I'm falling behind on the rest of the group, I fear! I'm participating in Susan's Modern Christmas Tablerunner Swap, and while I have a house and a tree pieced together, I still have two trees and two houses to go yet, as well as the construction and quilting. Yikes! Time to get the fingers moving! That's number one priority on today's to do list! I hope the secret partner likes it! I spent quite a time tracking down her preferences, and I think I've got her pegged, but it's as it's my first swap I'm a bit nervous. Okay, now back to the sewing machine!

And yes, there is a life beyond the sewing machine, but sometimes it's best to ignore it, and this is one of those weeks!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Ta dah! And yes, clearly still more to do! What a battle I had all day with my tension! I think I must have ripped out twice as many stitches as I ended up quilting, but I think it's finally coming together. I was originally going to get all complicated (I know, shocking, for anyone who knows me), and do a fancy double hourglass design from Cluck Cluck Sew, but I quickly realized that my ambitions overreached my capacity. I was able to get a couple of the hourglasses done to my satisfaction, but I messed up on the cutting, so I could only get a few done. I therefore decided to just stick with the fabric I liked, but to keep with a simpler pattern that I could complete more successfully. I'm doing this for a foster child for Purple Panda's Stockings for Kids, so I definitely want the finished product to be something special! Now back to the salt mines to tackle all those thread ends, the binding top, and then sew the two quilted halves together! Hopefully I can eke out a little more time to make a few more stockings!

And now back to the sewing machine to get cranking on the tablerunner! I was out of the gates early on the tablerunner, but fell behind while trying to track down the natural linen. With most of the swappers now nearing the finish line with their tablerunners, I'm feeling the fire at my feet, especially given the quilting that lies ahead! I wanted to get the stocking taken care of so that I could get back to the tablerunner, so that's what I'm turning back to tomorrow!