Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I think I'm in Love!

Okay, so I love love love my little brother machine. It works like a work horse, is totally reliable and does nearly everything I need it to. If I had only one complaint, it would be the eensy tiny little throat. It's just so plumb difficult to quilt in such a small space! I don't want a new machine, but I do want a new throat (actually, if I could get a long sleek neck for me while we're at it . . . ., but I digress!). I've looked at other machines with larger throats than mine (a measly 6"), but to get to 9" it's upward of $5,000 easy! Now, they're great machines, but I'm not looking for another machine to sew with, just one to quilt with, so I don't need to spend all that money on sewing bells & whistles!

And then I just discovered this:

The Babylock Tiara. Now, name not withstanding, since I'm the last one you'd call "Princess!,"isn't this a dream?! It has 16b beautiful inches of quilting space!! It's essentially a long-arm quilter for people like me not ready to devote an entire room to a longarm machine! Now, it's still pricey, similar to what you'd pay for a longarm on KSL classifieds (or your similar local online classified venue). But I think I'm in love! One machine JUST for sewing and piecing and one JUST for quilting! Each built for their own purpose!

Any thoughts from the great beyond about what machines you use for quilting, what size throat you have, and what you recommend? 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Retreat Report

I think I've been sewing for so many consecutive days now that I've run out of energy for talking about all the sewing I've done! I'm exhausted! After Day 1 of my mini retreat with my friend Sue, I had some more #Xplusalong blocks finished, but mostly these piles of of the pieced bits and bobs waiting to be finished into blocks!

I just plugged away and after two and a half days of retreating I had 61 (of 99) blocks finished. Yay!  

The stack doesn't look nearly as impressive and large as I had hoped it would, after all that work! And to think I'm only 2/3 the way through! Or, perhaps more positively stated, that I'm already 2/3 the way through?! I think of all the blocks so far, this one below is my favorite:

While I was plugging away on my blocks, Sue was working persistently on her gorgeous throw quilt. And, in perfect timing, she finished the core part of the top just before she had to go. Isn't it gorgeous! I didn't get a good closeup photo, but it has the best combinations of fabric! You go Sue!

After I finished my last round of #Xplusalong blocks, I didn't quite have it in me to begin cutting fabric again for the last chunk of blocks, so I turned my attention to finishing my top for the Twisted Quilt I've been working on. Twisted indeed! The pattern is described as being for beginners, but either I'm not a beginner yet or this pattern is more challenging than it's described to be! I followed the directions to the last "T" and yet my blocks didn't end up near the same size as predicted, so I had to improvise! The pattern originally called for 6x7 rows of blocks, but I ended up doing 5x8 and then widening it with a border. Those twisted "x"s look all neatly lined up below, but they took a lot of "convincing" to fit together! Thanks to Sue for her ideas on the arrangement of the blocks and helping me ensure that the blocks all ended up being the same size! So, here she is! Hanging from the back patio in the wind, so don't mind the crease across the bottom!

Now "all" I have to do is quilt and bind!

Many thanks to Sue for a fun retreat!

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's a Sewing Week!

It has been a full week here of sewing and sew-related activities! Phew! Tuesday I headed down to Utah County to visit Ella post-back surgery (ow!) to check in on her and have lunch. We didn't actually DO any sewing, but I consider it a sewing-related day when fabric passes hands! I hit one of my favorite Utah County fabric shops, the Quilting Cottage, to pick up a few more FQs of turquoise, orange, and green for my #Xplusalong blocks, as well as a few pink FQs for Ella--who adores all things pink!

Wednesday was an "official" sew day, taking me right back down to Utah County again. By now I think my car knows the way and they don't even ask for my passport anymore when I leave Salt Lake! April was having a few people over for a sew day, so I lugged my machine all the way down there and . . .  didn't sew a single stitch!! I did, however, cut fabric for my #Xplusalong blocks for the entire time! I optimistically set up my machine, ready to rumble, but it never got used. I cut and cut and cut, only to return home and realize I had STILL MORE CUTTING TO DO!! Sorry for raising my voice there, but since I made the questionable decision of making 7" blocks for a queen-sized quilt, I clearly have a lot of cutting of fabric still ahead of me! But great fun was had anyway, in addition to hanging with April and Marion, we met up with the oh-so talented Emily Herrick for lunch. I had been promised a trip to the infamous Gracie Lou's Quilt Shoppe, which has been described to me know for several years as the textile Mecca. As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw a large bus and joked that there must be a Shop Hop (a.k.a. a feral pack of fabric-hoarding women traveling en masse from fabric store to fabric store on a bus). It was no joke!! We walked in and there were 57 women crammed into that store! We decided to do lunch first and then return after the dust had settled from the Shop Hop storm. So crazy! You would have thought those women had been starved of fabric for a decade before being unleashed into that store!

Having done my time in Utah County, Utah County has now come to me!! My friend Sue (who STILL has no blog I can link to!) is up in SLC with her hubby for a few days, and while he's in a conference during the days, she's over at my house sewing!! It's like a mini-retreat. And boy did we sew yesterday, almost nonstop from 10 to 6! We tease Sue sometimes for not settling down to sew at retreats until hours into the retreat, but she was butt in chair within 5 minutes and sewing away!! You go girl!

I plugged away at my #Xplusalong blocks, and knocked off another 12 yesterday, so now I have 38 finished, and "only" 61 to go! Oy. I finally sat down yesterday and figured out how many blocks I would need once I included 6" borders and 2.5" sashing (thanks Karen and Sue!!), and while 9x11 block rows don't sound so bad to me, 99 blocks are a bit more intimidating!! But I will prevail and, in fact, have already lined up another 30 or so blocks all cut out and ready to sew today:

Don't they look all pretty and innocent lined up like that? Who would think I'd need so many of the pesky varmints! Once they're in this state, I can pretty much knock them out quickly, so I think I can get these 30 finished today, bringing my total up somewhere around 60 blocks, meaning I'll be 2/3 done. Yay!! I have realized, however, that my grey polka dots (seen above in the finished block) won't last me through the last third of the blocks. Sigh. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Monday Morning Check-In

Morning all!

Just checking in on a bit of this and bit of that . . . I've been plugging away on my #xplusalong blocks. I'm up to 23 now!!

As good as I was feeling about knocking off 23 of these suckers, I then started thinking about how many of them I needed for a queen-sized quilt. And then I started thinking about the fact that these are only 7 inch blocks. Sigh. All of a sudden, 23 didn't seem like very many blocks!! This is a case in which I started out so totally enamored of the block itself that I didn't think with the end in mind, and so didn't adjust the block size to better fit the quilt size. Big woops!

Fortunately, I'm planning on inserting a 6 inch border and 2 or 2.5 inch strips in between the blocks. That'll bring me down to about 8x10 rows, so 23 blocks down and 57 blocks left to go!! Sigh. Actually, they do go fairly quickly. The cutting is actually the most laborious part, and that was slower at first because I was still picking out my fabric as I was going!

Actually, the time I spend putting these blocks together will give me some thinking time to consider how to quilt this monster. This will be the largest quilt I have made to date (my pieced scrap border quilt is only 64x64), and since I find it such a wrestling match to quilt in the narrow throat of my darling Brother machine, I usually just do straight-line quilting for larger quilts even though I'm getting much more daring with my free-motiong quilting these days on smaller quilts. My kingdom for a machine with a larger throat!!

Anyway, here's a shot of one of my favorite fabric combinations so far:

It kind of reminds me of Florida. The turquoise is from Lotta Jansdotter's collection, which I just love!

In other news, April had texted me with news of a great sale on batting, which I couldn't turn up, so I headed over to Joan's to see what I could get. Unfortunately, the sale was apparently over and the batting was back up to $280 (insert unhappy face here!). Happily and most amazingly, I found the most totally amazing sales lady at Joann's who gave me a manager's discount and sold me the batting (which was not on sale) at half off! Just to give you a sense of how much I got, 90 inches, by 25 yards, I included a photo to scale next to my sweet (and very large) 85 lb pup Sophie. Yes, it's that big! For ALL those times that Joann's has refused to give me credit for the coupons I've left at home, I TOTALLY forgive you!! Thank you Joann's!!

No Sophie does not seem so excited about participating in this photo shoot! I think she's afraid that this very large tower of fabric is going to fall on her!

Finally, I've at last finished my Twisted blocks! I now just need to piece them together (thankfully the easiest part of the whole process!) and quilt and bind! Yay!

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Little of This and That

So I'm still working away on my Twisted quilt. I don't think I mentioned this in my last post about this fabulous pattern that it does require an awful lot of cutting! The pattern calls for layer cakes, so not having my fabric already cut down to 42 10" squares I had that to do, then I had to cut 32 2" strips, and then cut those strips into 2x14 1/2 strips and 2x6 1/2 strips. I was pretty satisfied (that is, ready to sew) at that point, but there was still more cutting to do! At that point I had to cut the 10" squares into four pieces--essentially 2 triangles and 2 pentagons. You do this by cutting an "X" through the center of the 10" square. After doing that 42 times, I had this:

Only after doing all that was I FINALLY able to begin sewing. Phew! Now, did I mention there's also a lot of pressing in this too?! The (very clearly written and most excellent) directions tell you to sew the shorter white strip to the top left peak of the pentagon (see picture below:

and then to sew the small triangle to that white strip. It does not come out as a neat triangle, however, and has to be trimmed down. 

These pieces are then sewn together to create one block, which when put next to another block creates this: 

Lining up the two pieces was a bit tricky at first, but once Sue showed me the trick of how to line up the two sides, my assembly time sped up considerably! All well worth it, mind you, but definitely labor intensive!!

12 down, 30 to go!!

On other fronts, I realize that I haven't ever really reported on my Christmas gifts. Part of that is that I was so intently focused on sending out holiday gifts in a timely way that I forgot to take pictures. Oh no!! I was hoping that folks might send me pictures of their gifts, but their lives are as busy as mine, so I'm giving up on that hope! Fortunately, some of the gifts never left the house, so I realized that I could report on at least those gifties!

Karen has been known to fling her iPad off the bed in the middle of the night, so at her request I came up with a solution: an iPad bed cozy! I had read a number of tutorials on iPad cases, and I bases my cozy roughly on those, but I added a long, reinforced strip of duck cotton that attached two cases to each other, so that a case could hang from either side of the bed for each of our iPads. I found this totally fabulous Julia Rothman fabric from Windham that I thought was just perfect for the project!

I also used Julia Rothman's fabric for the interior as well--typewriter keys! I had to go back and make the first case a bit bigger, because I realized that you really want to be able to get an iPad in and out of the case without struggling against the fabric--especially when it's late at night! You want it a bit snugger when it's a carrying case.

Now, for the cute shot of the day, a pic of my girl Sophie waiting for me to come home from Emily's fabulous retreat a few weeks ago!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

It's Nap(py) Time!

My dear friend, Ella, is having a baby shower for her daughter Ashley, so I've decided to get busy and make some diaper (that's nappies to you Brits!) burp cloths.

I'd give a tutorial, but there are already a gajillion out there. I'm using Amy Smart's oh so easy to follow tutorial on her blog Diary of a Quilter. What I like about her tutorial in particular is her suggestion that you use a cardboard template for measuring and ironing the seam allowance. It makes it so much easier!!

The prepping of the fabric was the most labor intensive part of the whole process; the sewing itself took a minute or two for each burp cloth. Super simple! Ta da!

By the way, be sure to stop by my friend Marion's blog to see her fabulous tutorial on how to add homemade scents to my very own vodka spray starch!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hitting the Bottle

No, things have not gotten desperate around here! I just wanted to share some of my newly acquired wisdom from the world of pressing. Yes, I've finally crossed over to the "dark side!" I used to call it "ironing," until I was met with enough gasps from my mother-in-law (Hi Carolyn!) and quiltie friends that I've succumbed. I get it. You iron clothes and press fabric (with love and respect . . . snort!).

Anywho, people have been raving for so long about Best Press for helping with pressing and I finally tried it. I like it, but let's face it: I'm cheap! I don't want to spend extra money on things like that when I previously used plain old water! And Best Press, fancy as it may be, is pricey!

I had heard at a recent retreat that vodka works as a substitute for Best Press. I'm not sure how, exactly, as I think the starch from the potatoes in the vodka is cooked out in the distillation process, but apparently it still does some wondrous thing for fabric. So, I did what any self-respecting, price-chopping quilter would do . . .  I googled! There are competing accounts of the ratio of vodka to water, but I've tried it out, and have found that 1 part vodka to 2 parts water (distilled or tap) works like a champ. If you like the scents from Best Press (I don't), you can find scented essential oils at Walmart or Joann's and add them to the mix. Now, I'm still spending money, but cheap vodka is so much cheaper than Best Press! I was literally on my hands and knees in the liquor store looking for the bottom shelf (=worst and cheapest) vodka. A liter of cheap vodka (33.8 fluid ounces) cost $6.42. That, plus a spray bottle from the local Dollar Store, and I'm good to go! But this is truly for pressing purposes only! This "quality" of vodka will rot your gut!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I Know! Twice in a Week!!

Don't mean to shock you all by posting too much now, but I think I've gotten my groove back, and furthermore, I'm kinda feeling my blogger responsibility! I can't just leave my two (official) followers hanging out there waiting with bated breath for my next installment!

So, to continue on my report from the awesome Crazy Old Ladies Cabin Fever retreat that Emily Herrick hosted two weeks ago . . . one of the great quilts that Amber Johnson designed and showed off at her trunk show is "Twisted." I just fell for it instantly. I love the way the white "x"s weave across the quilt. I just knew I wanted to make it! Doesn't the pattern look great?!

I'm making it right now for the family I posted about two days ago. I'm doing it in blues and yellows, with the white "x"s. When I'm finished with this one, which I'm making as a twin, I think I'm going to make it in greens and oranges/tangerine. The first block took a while yesterday, as I figured out how to make it all work, but then I got in the groove and I knocked off 12 of the 42 yesterday--not a bad accomplishment give that it was a ladies' sew day so there was a lot of talking (and fighting for the ironing board)!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Back From the Blog Grave

Hi y'all!

Remember me! I used to blog here frequently? Now don't get huffy! I didn't forget you! Things have just gotten busy around here and it's been hard to get back to the old blog!

Out in my "other" life (that life that doesn't involve fabric--gasp! I know! Is there such a thing?!), I've been busy with job interviews. And that involves dressing up in heels. Oy, I've been out of practice for that!

In more interesting news, I just returned from a totally awesome sewing retreat hosted by Emily Herrick of Crazy Old Ladies Quilts. I had the best time! There were about 30 ladies at the retreat, which was held at the most amazing (and huge) house in the mountains in Springville, UT. We had a trunk show by Natalia Bonner, who showed off her phenomenal quilting skills. I got one of her books, which I've been wanting for a while, Beginner's Guide to Free-Motion Quilting. We also had trunk shows by Amber Johnson from Gigi's Thimble and Katie Spencer of From the Blue Chair. Both are so talented and showed their stunning patterns and quilts. Katie showed off her technique for using her leftover scraps on her quilt backs--such a great way to use up leftover fabric and to create one-of-a-kind backs!

The ladies at the retreat were so talented! Everyone was working on such different projects and it was wonderful to see the diversity of talent and interests! The house has a great room with a loft balcony, and every time someone finished a project she would hang it over the balcony railing for everyone to see and celebrate. So cool! I so wish I had taken photos of everyone's great projects!

This time I was surprisingly parsimonious in the list of projects I brought with me. Usually I bring bag upon bags of projects to work on, but this time I consolidated my things to only one bag, which still left me with several choices of projects. I had finished my baby quilt top for my cousin's son's baby before I arrived at the retreat, so while at the retreat I quilted and binded the top:

This is one of my favorite patterns. It's from  Hooked on Needles and makes a great baby quilt. I pulled out some of my favorite charm squares for this one, including several treasured Heather Ross Munki Munki pieces. I included two of her seahorses, which went really well with the Sarah Jane Out to Sea fabric, especially the mermaids! I did a rainbow-ish color array, using softer colors as this will be for a sweet girl. I still can't figure out what relation Nora is to me: her grandfather is my mother's first cousin. I think that may make her my cousin three times removed, but it kind of makes my head spin to try to figure it out!

This quilt is about 45x45, and uses Riley Blake's Sweet Divinity in pink for the backing. For the quilting I went with stippling. I'm still very much working on my free-motion quilting, but I'm really pleased with how this one came out. I think I'm finally getting the hang of it!

Of course, I was confidently quilting along when I discovered that my tension was screwy and had to undo about four inches in and the length of the fabric. Aaargh! As nice as the place was where we had the retreat, the lighting was not ideal, but I just happened to bring along my headlamp (you never know when you might need it for midnight potty trips!), and it was just perfect for the close-up stitch work. I highly recommend headlamps as critical retreat gear! Perhaps not fashion forward, but definitely a must-have!

In addition to this quilt, I also started my #xplusalong blocks. I saw them on I'm a Ginger Monkey's blog, and I just fell for them! I decided I wanted to use a slightly simpler color palate, so I'm going with aqua, orange, grey, and green. I have 12 done so far, but I have a ways to go if I want to do a queen-sized quilt!

Now that I've done 12, I have a wider range of aqua, more in the darker range, which is pulling out the color more. They look a bit more like the ones in the middle in terms of visual balance. They're pretty quick to make and the blocks are holding my interest . . . which is a good thing, since, as some of you know, I'm not someone who necessarily gets really excited by making block after block!

There will be more news from the retreat later, but before I wrap up, I have an important announcement to share. Due to a horrible situation, a mother and her six children has had to leave their home with little more than the clothes on their back. Some incredible friends and community members are stepping up and providing them with household items, clothes, and living arrangements.

Myra at She Taught Me to Love It is organizing a collection of new quilts for each of the family members, so I'm helping to get the word out. We are looking for new pieced and quilted, twin-sized quilts for the mother and each of her children. There are three boys, aged 6, 12, and 14, and three girls, aged 4, 10, and 16.

It would be great if you could make and donate a quilt for one (or more!) of these children or their mother. If you can't make a whole quilt, then piecing a quilt top or donating fabric, batting, or quilting would be terrific!

If you are able to donate any of the above, please leave a comment with your name and email below. Many thanks!