Monday, May 18, 2020

Birding Wins!

It's mid-May in Northeast Ohio and that means non-stop birding is in full swing as thousands of birds migrate through the region in their annual spring trip to their breeding habitats.
So sewing and the social media has been largely ignored for the past several days and the only reason I'm here with you right now is that my body declared a "day-off" this morning.
The weather is cooperating, too -- it's raining.
 So I'd rather stay inside and the birds that are just pausing here on their trip farther north are more likely to still be here tomorrow!!
(Long-distance flying in the rain is not a good option.)

The one thing I have been working on for the past week is machine quilting another "big bed" quilt for one of the triplets!  It's the rose star sample I pieced using Marti Michell's template sets.

I've divided the top into two sections and added just the top and bottom borders to begin.
I layered the top half last weekend and have almost finished the quilting.
Working in sections is so much easier on my body as there is less weight and bulk to manage.
(Peculiar angle of picture due to limited large area to spread it all out.)
Next I'll layer up the lower half and quilt it. 
You'll notice that the batting and the backing extend way beyond the sides of the quilt.  That is so I can add the borders and cornerstones after the two halves are assembled.
(I'll organize some pictures of that to share as I do it later this month.)

I started with some simple straight lines in the ditch to outline the perimeter of each block and the setting triangles.  As I was doing those, I realized that additional straight lines from edge-to-edge of the quilt would outline the star points and dissect the setting triangles.
Once that was done, I experimented with the best/easiest ways to add more quilting.
Outlining the hexagon arms of the blocks, the center hexagons, and doing simple flowers in the center were the results of that.
The flowers are simple "pumpkin seeds" radiating from the center of the hexagon to the center of each side which aligned nicely with any seams as some of the hexagons are pieced.
The setting triangles were divided into four triangles by the in-the-ditch quilting so I went back and added more lines to break it up into sixteen smaller triangles making them lay flatter and recede visually.  If a section is puffy, it draws the eye -- sometimes that is just what is needed but not this time.
This morning as I began to quilt the borders, I had a "lightbulb" idea and want to share it as it might be useful to you.  The straight edge guide tool I use with my ruler foot only has straight lines (there are probably some that have more lines but I'm in a "make-do" mode here).
I wanted to stitch a diamond chain/cable in the second border using the sixty-degree angles of the patchwork and quilting in the center of the quilt.

I found this "pointer stickers" in my stash and used them to create two sixty-degree angles on my tool using the angles of the patchwork.  Having two lines going in opposite directions will make the next step easier!
 Now I can position the tool quickly -- the arrow edge is lined up with the edge of the border strip and I quilt along the upper edge of the ruler
 By having a line on both ends of the tools, it's easy to twist it to line up with the right, then the left, then the right and without any marking, I stitched a zigzag line down the length of the border strip.
In this picture, you can see the tool lined up on the left as I stitch a second zigzag line to create the diamonds.
 Everything lined up nicely -- there are a few little glitches but she'll be two when she gets the quilt so it's okay.  And I hope the quilt is worn with love by the time she might recognize that a few of the diamonds are not geometrically accurate.
I can't remember who taught me to "repeat design elements" throughout the quilting process but that's such an easy strategy!  Look at what is done and modify and build on it to do the rest.
Adding some fancy free-motion quilted flowers surrounded with "channel" quilting occurred to me over the weekend but when I got to that point this morning, I realized the flowers needed to be simpler.  
Time to pause and contemplate.
In the end, I enlarged the flower from the center of the blocks with the aid of the large hexagon template in Marti Michell's Set H and added some channel quilting following the white lines of the plaid border print.   This is the view from the back.
I'm pleased with the result but it will mean the borders are more densely quilted than the center of the quilt, so more quilting will need to be added to the center to keep the quilt flat.
Maybe some "big stitch" hand quilting with pearle cotton might be fun??? 
Thanks for letting me share this part of the adventure with you!  Writing this morning has been a great way to procrastinate cleaning house but I need to buckle down and do some of that to make it more pleasant to be here for another week?!?  I have to confess to feeling a bit anxious at heading back out into world this week -- slow and steady looks like the best strategy!

But I did get to visit the triplets yesterday afternoon -- they are soon to be a year old.
Would you look at those eyes -- three different sets but all endearing for sure!
(girl, boy, girl)
Stay focused and busy this week!












Friday, May 8, 2020

Hit the Ball, Drag George

Do you know that golf joke?
It was my husband's favorite I think.
Four guys head out for a round of 18 holes one morning.  Late that afternoon, they finally return to the club house and the manager says, "Where have you been?  We were just getting ready to send someone out to look for you!" "Oh," says one of the guys, "George had a heart attack on the fourth tee and died.  So for the rest of the game, it's been hit the ball, drag George, hit the ball, drag George, hit the ball, drag George."

Anytime I tell that joke (and it's the only joke I can remember), it makes me giggle.
There have been a few days like that this week when that's how I felt.
Do the task because it has to be done!
And then other days, I've moved seamlessly from one thing to the next.
Almost my first thought when I woke up this morning was that I really miss being spontaneous!
I think a super moon during a Covid-19 epidemic isn't doing my state of mind any good!
It could also be the 45 masks my daughter and I are making for the NICU where my triplets grands were for the first couple months.
The mask making is emotionally draining for me.
So to counter this uncomfortable state of mind, I've challenged myself to keep a daily list of the things that happen that are NORMAL to help me stay grounded.
Robins singing at 4 a.m.; dandelion seed heads all over the lawn; putting out the trash; hearing trains pass; doing laundry; spring weeding of the flower beds.
Might this be a mindfulness practice?
 The list is all pretty mundane stuff but it's reassuring to realize what continues uninterrupted!

I have about half of the flower beds weeded for spring -- it's so full of hope and promise -- plants that I love poking through the dirt, coming into bud, full of flowers.  
I know the buds will become beautiful flowers and the flowers will attract butterflies and bees and the shrubs will be loaded with tasty fruit.
(Dwarf crested iris)
All of this regardless of what is happening on the news! 
I've also turned back to writing some Haiku (poems) to seal precious little memories in my mind.

Bumblebee queens fly
among apricot blossoms --
spring pollen gather.
(This flowering quince is gorgeous and full of queens gathering food for their new colonies.) 
The stitching goals for the week have gone largely untouched but when I accomplish a certain amount of the mask making tasks, I reward myself with some self-indulgent stitching.
The quilt I was suppose to layer is still not layered.
But the Halo blocks continue to be enjoyable to piece!  My goal is twenty blocks (four by five setting) before the border units.
So far there aren't many fabric repeats and lots of goodies have come off the shelves to cut a piece and more stacks of fabric have been tidied up!
The is the last "sashed 9-patch" block to be pieced for a wheel chair laprobe for the VA.
The blocks have been good "leader/ender" stitching and all the pieces came out of the 2 1/2" squares basket -- didn't need to cut anything, it was all there just waiting! 
Well, I did chop up squares to make the sashing pieces and cornerstones.
The green stripe at the top of this picture will be the sashing -- I shopped for it via text messages at my favorite shop, Mercantile on Main in Coshocton, Ohio!
Pretty good choice considering I couldn't touch the fabric?!?
It's good to have the kind of relationship with a salesperson who knows my preferences and likes!
Maybe I can set the blocks together in the next week?
This sweet little stitching sampler below is the brain child of Emma at Treehouse Textiles in Australia.  I wish I could visit her shop as her pictures on Instagram always look scrumptious!  Each week she is sharing prompts and some technique videos to add elements to the piece (you can find all of them in her Instagram feed).
The last couple weeks, she's encouraged embroidery details and I really don't embroider.
So I was pleased during a stash rummaging session to come across these two little rabbits to applique to my version.
They remind me of the two rabbits who are running laps around my lawn these days -- is it love?
This stack came off the shelves last evening -- it's time to make some birthday gifts for my youngest grandchildren.  They will be one on June 2nd.  I've had the pattern since I found out they were on the horizon.  The fabrics for the girls were easy to pick but I'm a bit stumped on fabric for the boy. 
Might need to do some text-shopping again! 
Not sure about the hats as they consistently remove stuff from their heads now!
Seeing them last weekend was the highlight of the week!
We stayed outside and I was surprised when my son handed one of them to me!
I've been so good about staying home and away from people -- what a great reward!
Left to right -- girl, son, me, girl, boy, daughter-in-law!
I've had a little outing this morning to the physical therapist who helps me manage my lower back issues (thank goodness she is allowed to work again) and a quick stop at the garden center for bean seeds (a few plants may have hitched a ride home with me).  So now I'm ready to hunker back down at my stitching -- I feel like layering a quilt!!

We are having nasty cold weather for our weekend here in NE Ohio but I hope your weekend will be warm and beautiful -- if it isn't, make your own beauty!!
Until next week,
Mary




Thursday, April 30, 2020

Creative Doldrums?

Day 40-something of our brave new world finds me feeling a bit flat and looking for . . . . .  I'm not sure what I'm looking for?  Almost everyday, I see a post or two on Instagram from stitchers who say they've lost their "creative mojo".  Perhaps that what I'm feeling but I'm not going to stop stitching.
It's been a mild week weather-wise and spring continues to progress at a pleasant pace.
The American toads have returned to my little pond to make babies oblivious to any of the changes inside the house that provides this little piece of habitat for them.
The summer birds are returning and are house hunting around the back yard.
All reasons to be delighted!
I finished one of the triplets' big bed quilts.
The pattern is Kinship: 100 Block Fusion Sampler by Angie Wilson (GnomeAngel) and Bed Proschogo (Skyberries) and a new sewalong is beginning again on July 1, 2020 - details HERE!
It was fun to piece and it's made (almost) entirely from my stash!
I had this small wheelchair laprobe layered up and plunged right into quilting it once I finished the Fusion Sampler!  Layering ahead of time has become a brilliant strategy to keep me moving!
I kept the quilting simple -- strictly straight lines.  Something I realized recently is that less quilting produces a soft drapey quilt and dense quilting produces a stiff quilt so I'm trying to keep that in mind as I determine how to quilt my tops.  
Is this a quilt that will be cuddled or a quilt that will live a flat life (on a wall or table)?
It's finished and ready to donate when that is allowed again.
Here's a little trick I've discovered recently.  When I get out of sync (hands moving faster than machine), my stitches look like this - long and loose.
I can carefully use a pointy object (usually a needle) to pull the stitches tighter and move all the excess thread to one spot.
Then I insert my self-threading needle into one of the adjacent stitch holes, 
push the loop into the eye of the needle and pull the excess thread under the surface of the quilt.
As I pull the needle through, the thread pops off -- I don't cut the thread!!
All fixed! 
Of course, if I would not get cocky and let my speed balance get muddled, I wouldn't have to do this in the first place!?!

The Halo blocks are multiplying
and in spite of the mess I create cutting for each one, it's still fun!
One knitting project is finished . . . .
(High Desert Socks designed by Lindsey Fowler -- pattern on Ravelry, boot socks made with a double strand of sock/fingering weight yarn)
and another is started!?!
(This is the Breath and Hope shawl by Casapinka that she designed for a nationwide - or maybe worldwide - "local yarn shop" promotion that was cancelled this past weekend - available on Ravelry if you don't have an LYS.)
I've pulled out the second triplet quilt to layer today -- it will be done in two sections with the borders added on after the center is quilted and assembled.  This approach will allow me to quilt each of the rose star blocks individually more easily -- less quilt sandwich weight equals easier work.
The feeling that I'm being creative isn't something I find that I can conjure up when I have the time to stitch.  For me, it happens because I stitch everyday.  I have an abundance of projects as you know but I've learned that listening to how I feel about doing the work of stitching isn't the key.
The key is to show up every day and stitch.

Feeling creative is a perk -- and if I'm not engaged in the work, it will elude me.
I could have a beautiful studio and lots of supplies, but if I'm not in there working on a regular basis not only does nothing get made, but I don't experience any of the inspiration that expresses my creativity.  

Right now, I might be spending "too much" time in there but in my life before covid, I established the habit of daily stitching -- sometimes only 20 minutes, sometimes an entire afternoon -- 
but everyday, everyday, everyday!

Perhaps your current (weird) schedule allows you to adopt a habit of daily work that you can carry forward.  Sometimes getting started feels like washing the dishes or making the bed, but my experience is that once engaged it feels much better than that!
In my humble opinion, it's the best cure for building enthusiasm for doing what you love and feeling creative.

For another take on facing the doldrums, feeling stuck -- give one of Marie Greene's recent podcasts a listen!!  Oh, just listen to all of them -- she's so inspiring to me!!

I am heading outside now between the rain -- the peas are tall enough to add the sticks for them to climb and it will be a good time to deduct dandelions from the flower beds -- they are all over the lawn and I don't mind that, but NOT in the flower beds!
Have a pleasant weekend and keep on keeping on!

Mary

Linking up this weekend with WHOOP, WHOOP!








Thursday, April 23, 2020

Are you dressing for success these days?

As a business woman in the 1990's, I was conscious of dressing for my role as a quilt show owner and teacher.  It made me feel professional and I believe it impacted other people's perception of me.
So this morning, when I got dressed I did it for success -- to make myself feel perky!
I put on my favorite spring blouse and a lovely shawl that I knit two years ago.
Then I went up to the sewing room and got to work!
A couple of ideas influenced this morning's decision -- if I don't wear my spring stuff at home this year, I'll miss wearing it at all given the current circumstances.  And I know when I dress too casually, I feel . . . . . how do I put this?  
Sloppy, lazy, unmotivated, yukky.
Right now that is the last thing I need!!

My (huge) cutting table is actively engaged with several projects right now -- all of them vital to my existence (I think).  At times, I've gone through feeling guilty about getting so much personal pleasure from my career -- not often, but when someone rants about how hard or boring their job is, I feel guilty.  When those feelings rise up, I find it helps to reflect on all the good I'm able to do through my sewing skills.
I'm not making dozens of masks like some of you, but I am covering my people -- family and friends.
I'm still producing small quilts to donate to folks when I am able to do that again.  Making these little sashed 9-patch blocks is fun and when I get three more finished, it will make a nice wheelchair size laprobe.  All the fabric is from my scrappy 2 1/2" square stash.
There's also been almost daily stash tidying as I pull fabrics for the several projects in progress and that makes me feel good.  Look how tidy the blue shelves and the red/pink shelf are!?!
The greens continue to be a mess but I think they are next.
I love pulling little fabric combos out of my stash -- makes me feel like I'm back in my shop.
This set of tea wallets are headed to one of my Instagram knitting mentors for her to include in her many generous yarn giveaways.  I was very flattered that she asked me to make some for her. 
 I finally found the book with the Halo block pattern!! 
This is my prep area at one end of the cutting table.  I made templates and am tracing around them and hand cutting most of the fabric pieces.  As I tidy up the studio, I'm cutting a single piece for one of the pattern shapes from everything before I put the fabric back on the shelf.  This gives me a very random assortment of fabrics to use as I lay out each block and that's what caught my eye about this quilt in the first place!  I know it will work because all the fabrics in my stash have been chosen by me and will reflect my taste and style.  That's one of my reservations about buying bundles and kits -- those collections of fabrics are lovely, but they don't reflect my preferences. 
All the curves in this block might put you off but the blocks are going together very smoothly.
Here's a series of pictures I shared a couple days ago on Instagram to illustrate how I handle curves at the sewing machine.  
(This approach is based on my experience teaching drunkard's path with Marti Michell's tools.)

One pin is all you need -- more just get in the way and make it awkward.
Center the two curved edges right sides together with the convex curve piece on top.
When inserting the pin, just prick through a few threads as close to the seamline as possible -- this makes it easier to manipulate the top layer as you stitch.
Now line up the end of the arc with the corner of the bottom piece - corner to corner. 
Take two or three stitches and stop with the needle down. 
Now I use my fingers, but if you are more comfortable with a pointy thing like a stiletto use that, I push the top layer to the right and line up the edges as I work my way to the pin.
 
Don't worry about the ruffly appearance of the top piece but if you are getting little tiny pleats in the top piece along the seam line, that means your seam allowance is slightly more than 1/4" and you need to adjust the seam allowance.  Remove the pin. 
Match the corner of the top piece to the corner of the lower layer at the end and pin to hold it steady.
Taking the time to do this ensures that the arc doesn't stretch distorting the finished unit. 
Continue to match up the edges and stitch to the end. 
Press the seam allowance towards the arc for the flattest result.
The finished unit is square! 
I've had to activate the design floor to see how the blocks are progressing.  The sew-along is advocating piecing two blocks a week for a total of thirty-six blocks and is currently in week four.  I'm piecing the arc units as sew-offs while making masks and then setting together a block every evening as my "reward" for getting through the day!?!  I'm not sure I'll make it to thirty-six blocks as I often lose interest in a quilt design once I've mastered the piecing but at this point I enjoying the process a great deal and hope to make it to at least twenty blocks for a 36" by 45" top.
And so I keep pushing through this period, doing what is familiar and comforting, helping out as I can.  It doesn't feel like enough some days and yesterday just when I was beginning to feel a bit more normal, I learned a friend is hospitalized in ICU with it.  Hard news!
And unfortunately, it likely won't be the last.
(EDIT: 4/27/2020 -- My friend has been moved out of ICU and is recovering!!  Hooray!)
So "dress for success" and keep soldiering on!

I'm going to change into my gardening gear and go wipe out some English ivy!!

Mary