Monday, December 21, 2020

Finding Pleasures

 Good morning and welcome to the shortest day of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere) which means it's also the longest night of the year.  It's always a gray time of the year here in Northeast Ohio -- we crave sunshine as there's still a big hunk of winter weather ahead!?!  So today, I have few quick ideas to share that are helping me stay hopeful as we finish out this epic year.

First I want to call your attention to a thoughtful knitter from England who hit the nail on the head for me yesterday with her Instagram post when she shared she is missing the "markers" in her life that give her a sense of time and place!!  Bingo!!  She says it better -- her Instagram handle is @adventuresinwool  

That inspired me to start watching for even the littlest "markers" like the Christmas rose buds lifting up outside the window to reset my sense of time.

Next, do you have your phone set to notify you every time something happens?  A couple weeks ago when our power was out for 18 hours, my phone battery was very low so in an attempt to extend it's life, I turned off all my notifications.  One reason I haven't turned them back on is that I can't remember how I did it in the first place but I think not having the pinging of Facebook and e-mail and Instagram and weather has been very nice. (Could I be feeling a bit calmer?!?)

Miraculously, I lost weight since the Covid restrictions began in spite of a strong fascination with making sourdough anything.
But that all changed about two weeks ago and the scale is snickering at me.  The winter/holiday calories are stalking me for sure.  I know what the problem is -- not enough vegetables -- I don't like many vegetables so I get lazy about eating them during the winter.  Yesterday's resolve is to have a smoothie for lunch the rest of the week -- nip this weight gain in the bud and probably feel better in the process (and be able to eat an entire fruitcake by myself).  
Join me??
This cooking everyday, every meal is getting to be a bit of a drag.  I'm a scratch cook but a lazy meal planner and there are days when I don't think far enough ahead and finally remember around 3 p.m., I need a plan.  
Tell me you do the same?
My favorite last minute recipe these days is Shredded Chicken from Inspired Taste -- ready fast and  quite versatile -- check it out HERE.   Also crushing on fish tacos with slaw instead of salsa.
 (And let me know if you find another good recipe while you are browsing there!!)

I'm a process Christmas decorator anyway and so most days, I'm remembering to do something to build personal holiday pleasure.  After a big windstorm 10 days ago, I foraged a few pine boughs from neighbors and plucked some things from my garden and spent a mild morning making a centerpiece for the dining room table.  
No one will see it except me and my daughter, but I enjoy doing this.  It has been a favorite annual tradition (marker!) for many years.  I'm not dragging out everything this year but I have chosen to do the decorating I enjoy the most like this swag of Santa ornaments over the fireplace (another marker!).
Finally, I'm not making as many last minute gifts this year but when I do, I'm using the FUN fabrics -- not stashing them any longer.  Look at this cute pencil pouch I made for my grandson!
It's a pillow panel (which I couldn't live without but haven't figured out what to do with it) and it's perfect for the "map making" supplies I gathered up for his Christmas gift.
Monday, I stopped by the neighborhood quilt shop to pick up a book and spotted this delightful Christmas fabric -- without hesitation I snagged the end of the bolt and a couple coordinates.
It was crying out to be used ASAP.  Pillowcases have to be one of the universally quick makes for folks like us who have stashes of fabric.  I've made quite a few for my grandchildren but never any for myself.  So yesterday afternoon, I made this pair for me!
Cheers the bedroom right up and even though the quilt doesn't fit this bed perfectly, I use it for December because it's one of my favorites and perfect for the season.
Relief seems to be on the horizon but we'll still need to be patient and kind to see this through to the end. (If you haven't already watched Stephen Colbert's interview with the Biden's on YouTube, I encourage you to do so!)
 Be kind to yourself this season so you have the stamina to be kind to others.
Keep the season simple and positive.
Think about the markers that give you a sense of stability in your world and make sure they happen in some way, even if it's not the usual way!
Make this holiday season unique and we'll talk again in the New Year!



Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Inflating Flat Mary

 Even though I'm not a fan, it was encouraging to me that the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade figured out a way to happen this year!  If they can blow up those monster balloons to walk around the block, maybe I can inflate myself back into a daily machine piecing routine!?!

So for the past couple weeks, I've been finishing up a table runner I cut out late in October.  I used the large hexagon template in Marti Michell's Set G (template #42 - 2" finished on each edge) and a pack of 5" Moda holiday charm squares.  To piece it, of course, I used the Set-In Piecing Simplified technique from my teaching guide.  By assembling it in sections, I can employ the chain piecing strategy without any "leader or enders".  It's an easy project for practicing or refreshing this skill. 

As I get back to daily piecing, I've noticed I'm making more little mistakes than typical.  Each time I need to "undo", I'm trying to remind myself how lucky I am to have such excellent "ripping" skills.  My mom started me early and the sentence I remember clearly from those days -- "Mary, I think you better rip that out" -- so here I am, sixty years later, ripping out seams with professional skill!!

When I had this all assembled, I put it on the design wall to enjoy the surge of pride that comes with a finished piecing project.  "That's not right" -- sad face.  Leave the studio, come back later, take it down and start to rip out the seams to fix it. Fifteen minutes into it, I realize I'm ripping apart the wrong end of the runner -- arghhh.  I'll be back later.

It's all fixed now!!

 I'm so glad I wrote up a tutorial about finishing zigzag edges without binding several years ago so I could go back and see what I did!!

The complete process is HERE along with another link to how I set up the backing so I can stitch all the way around the piece with no stops!  If you don't have the 1" fusible batting tape available, you can cut strips of any lightweight fusible interfacing to use.  And definitely trim 3/8" from the edge of the batting instead of just a bit over 1/4"!

The plan for today is to quilt it with a simple grid and gold metallic thread!  
One more finish for the year!!
I made this one 9 hexagons long down the middle and it measures 10" by 30".
To keep the momentum going, I decided to follow along with the Moda Winter Frost sewalong -- here is a link to the startup post.  Their model quilt uses a palette of blues and the Bear Creek setting option just sucked me right in!!  I have a lot of blues plus that shelf is very tidy since using them for the finish of my Halo Quilt in the fall.  
And then my favorite blue winter quilt that hangs in the dining room is moving out this winter with it's owner, so . . . . . . . . totally justified that new project like a pro, didn't I?!?

The working pile on the floor next to my cutting table grows a bit every day.  I'm printing out the instructions in "black and white" making it easier to focus on the value placement rather than getting frustrated by not having "that specific print".   

 I've kept up with piecing the daily blocks (except for one which I don't like and might leave out).  I will confess to being a bit cranky about some of the instructions so if I have a different technique that I know gives me good results, I'm not above substituting that.
(Sorry, Moda designers.)
So I'm not pressing seams open -- doing that interferes with my ability to accurately line up seam intersections and it makes the pressing more time consuming.

These cutting lists can look daunting so I taking time to analyze and add notations helps me to be efficient -- is there a common denominator for print A which means I can cut all the pieces needed from a 2" strip rather than cutting four 2" by 1 1/2" rectangles and then four 2" squares, etc.
There has only been one set of "templates", so I rough cut them from the paper pattern I printed, laid them on top of the fabric, and used a rotary ruler to guide my cutting -- quick and accurate.
I'm not a fan of making units bigger than necessary and then trimming them down to the correct size.  I know that's a popular teaching technique these days, but it only works on simple units. 
It does not work on this unit!
The principle only works when you can align a central point or line and trim evenly on all sides.
The instructions called for trimming this unit after all four pieces are assembled.
If you must trim it, it needs to be done before the center diagonal seam is stitched, not after!
Can you hear the cranky tone in my voice?
Trouble is that piecers will think they've done something wrong when the last diagonal seam misses the mark at the corner of the square but the error is the instruction, not the piecing. 
After the poor results of the first one, I rescued mine by trimming the large triangle to the correct size before stitching the diagonal seam, laying it on top of the pieced unit and measuring the seam allowance from the edge of the plain triangle -- better but not perfect.
The only way to make "trimming" work for this unit is to cut the corner square, 2 1/4" not 2", and then trim the pieced triangle unit and the large triangle to the correct size before stitching the diagonal seam.
That is easier with a tool like Marti Michell's Multi-size Half Square Triangle.

While I'm here, let me explain my experience as an instructor working with piecers who trim all their work to the "right" size.  Because they rely on trimming, they have not developed the skill of stitching consistently accurate 1/4" seams because they don't have to.  That's fine until they tackle complex units with irregular shapes some of which may require templates.  
Trimming doesn't build piecing skills.
End of rant!

So the view from the sewing machine is looking busy.
I'm pleased with the Winter Frost blocks (I love blue quilts!) -- check out my Instagram feed to see some of the other blocks I've pieced -- @hueymary
The hexagon piece on the right isn't growing very fast but looking at it every day will eventually pay off -- my subconscious is on the job and one day, I'll walk into the studio, look at the design wall and just know what to do!!
Almost all of us have some sort of holiday ahead of us this month and it won't be typical.
I'm trying to override "not typical" and make it "unique" instead.
Gift making and shopping needs to be done sooner.
Celebrations need to be smaller and simpler but more festive and more frequent --
(i.e., eating the Christmas baking now instead of saving it for the BIG day).

How about you?  Have a plan?
Stay well and strong!


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Where is Flat Mary?

Since I've been asked that question a few times this week, I thought I better update you. Okay, they didn't ask where "flat Mary" was, but that's the best word I can come up with to describe my current state of mind.  I'm not unhappy or sad, but I am flat -- unmotivated by the things that usually motivate me.  I have to say thanks to those who have come looking for me this week!

I really admire the folks who've managed to stay completely absorbed by their avocations during these unique times.  I have hardly been near my sewing machine for over five weeks but I have been happily busy most days.  It's that time of year in this area where the garden needs to be prepped for winter and so that's been accomplished with the exception of a couple little tasks that need to happen today just in case this is the last mild day.

I've been knitting everyday -- working a few Christmas gifts that I won't share but I did finish this sock test knit for Sandra C Designs -- it's her newest pattern and you can find it on her website or Ravelry.  That trim above and below the stars is a Latvian braid and much easier to create than I imagined!

I am focusing on using yarn that is "in stock" in my stash (which thankfully isn't as overwhelming as my fabric stash) and it feels good!  The socks are made with a self-stripping yarn and happy coincidence, the longer dark gray sections were just enough to get all the way through the star sections.  I also made three sets of thumb-less mitts on strings for guess who??
We had a bit of cold, slightly snowy weather so they tried them out already.
I have finished two quilts recently -- my black and white rainbow version of Mississippi Mud is ready to bind.  I kept the quilting very simple!  If you missed my posts about this new color version, you can check it out HERE.
My proudest finish is the temperature quilt I pieced in 2017 that documents the beginning of the eighth decade of my life.  I hand quilted it using pearl cotton in several colors (so I didn't have to go shopping!?!) with "big stitch".  
The backing is a fabric I loved so much that I had to have a big hunk but could not cut it up for piecing.
It's a large lap robe size and it doesn't go with anything in my house but I'm keeping it just the same!
I did a ZOOM lecture for a guild in Indianapolis a couple weeks ago and it went really well.  I was a bit reluctant at first since it's been two years since I stepped away from teaching. Maybe if I get energized this winter, I'll organize Power Points and update a couple of my lectures and get back out on the circuit?!?

The activity that has almost totally absorbed me for the past six weeks is my husband's family history!
I sit here at my desk several hours every day (until my brain can't unravel on more thing) and scour genealogy websites looking for clues and information about this group of people.
As a teenager, I wanted to be a history teacher and I seem to be returning to my interest through this work.  Doug's grandfather was estranged from his mother as a teen and carried that hurt forward in his life by not sharing any of his early life or family history with his children or grandchildren.

That void has become the focus of my research and the discoveries have amazed me -- so far on his mother's side, I've taken almost every line back to a Puritan emigrant from England in the mid 1600's!  Yesterday this map that another person shared on an Ancestry profile caught my eye and several ancestors' names popped out at me plus a couple clues that might help me find another person.
I'm so hooked!!!
The hard part of this history is learning about their involvement in the subjugation of the native inhabitants of the area.  I'm determined to include that part of the family history in a more realistic way than in the past. 
My desk binoculars are close at hand, too so I can keep track of what's happening at the feeders and around the back yard.
I was delighted to have this big fella show up last week -- pileated woodpecker --
but not quite as happy to have this big fella roaming around out back.
I can't decide if he's a 8 point or 10 point but whichever, he's big.  There was a second buck and the two of them were stalking a doe and they made several laps through the yard during the course of the day.

I continue to largely ignore the news as it is so disconcerting to me. To compensate, I'm watching for positive posts (mostly on Instagram) that motivate personal reflection. A couple weeks ago, @katgoldin of Gartur Stitch Farm in rural Scotland shared a post in which she focused on the accomplishments of the past six months in the face of the disruption her family and business have endured.  
That reminded me to watch where my focus is directed!!

Early in October, knitting designer Marie Greene's ( said it so well in a newsletter -- "Being creative gives us unlimited ways to cope with stress and uncertainty. There's something about funneling that restless, worried energy into something useful that makes us feel like we really do have a handle on things (even if we don't)."   Here's a link to a recent podcast of hers -- love her cheery voice as much as her positive ideas!  

I've realized that once I "get started", I'm good.  Setting a small goal yesterday for today is helping because "thinking" first thing in the morning isn't my strong suite.   I pulled out another charity quilt this morning to get back into a daily machine quilting routine.

And yesterday,  I've tidied up the design wall and plan to spend the next dreary day up in the studio pushing forward with this neglected piece.

Given the good vibes that have been produced by folks checking up on me, I'm motived to do the same and pay it forward over the next couple days, checking in with a few friends.

Have a pleasant weekend and I won't stay quiet for so long again.


P.S. Someone contacted my "flat blob, Willie" so here he is enjoying the sun puddles this morning!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

I'm still here, are you still there?

 Last week, I found this happy place -- so many pumpkins and squash and gourds!
I just let myself have at it -- it was like fabric shopping but I don't have to make anything out of them!
I can just sit and admire them!
Then we can eat them or feed them to my son's chickens!
Win, win!!
Fall happens so fast here and I don't want to miss my favorite parts of it.
So I've been indulging myself and staying outside as much as possible.  That means there hasn't been much stitching (saving that for the rainy days just around the corner).  I'm doing as much walking and  birding and puttering in the garden or knitting in the back garden as I can

On a good day, I can enjoy several of my past times simultaneously without leaving the yard!
This red-breasted nuthatch and it's sidekick spent most of a sunny afternoon "planting" sunflower seeds around my flower beds while I carried on knitting close at hand. 
(I couldn't get them to understand there are new seeds everyday so no need to hoard!?!)
I'm knitting Katie's Kep, the featured pattern for this year's virtual Shetland Wool Week, when another knitter's version on Instagram caught my eye -- it was a perfect interpretation of the landscape colors I'm seeing all around me.  
(Check out the hashtag #katieskep on Instagram for an eyeful.)
A creative spark flashed in my brain and suddenly I was snapping pictures on my walks to interpret in another version of the Kep (Shetland talk for cap).
(Note: walking into a pawpaw grove with the woman I raised to bird with me!)
Of course, I don't need another project.  
One of the discoveries I've made about myself during "isolation" (or perhaps just finally admitted) is that I have the attention span of a gnat!!
The result of this is a lot of UFO's.

However, if I have a specific reason to make something, I'm much more likely to finish.
So happily, my subconscious (love that part of my brain) figured out while I was poking through my yarn stash that I could make mini-Fair Isle mittens for the triplets using those color inspirations.
Creative inspiration + "need" = finished project . . . of course, I'll finish Katie's Kep first! 
Last week, at the end of a babysitting day with the triplets, their mom brought home their first set of wheels!! 
Smiles all around!!
He is a natural at steering and one of his sisters was as happy to push as he was to drive.
I must say I was feeling pretty glum when I started this, but that cup of coffee and "talking" with you has cheered me right up.  There was crummy news this morning (I need to have a tooth extracted) and wanted to cry all the way home -- it's not that awful in itself, but it's just one more thing?!?  
So when I got home, redirecting my energy and my mind was absolutely necessary.
And there you were, waiting for my return to this page.
So thanks for reading!
Think I'll head outside and deadhead some plants.
Hope you have strategies for lifting yourself out of the doldrums!!


Friday, September 18, 2020

What Day Is It?

 If you haven't reached the age of Medicare, you may not realize what a scary question that can be.  You see there are these nice, well-meaning (younger) medical types who ask us mature ones that question regularly.  It's part of the question battery to confirm one's mental condition. 

I'm pretty sure I would have flunked that question this week!

It seems everyday, I've had to figure out what day it is -- thank goodness for date books and calendars!! That and a conversation with a friend a couple days ago made me realize September is on the way out and I've not done one thing to reach my studio goals for the month!?!

I haven't even been in my studio for a week!  What is that all about??

It didn't take a genius to figure it out once I walked through the door!  It's a mess . . . again.  And avoiding it means it's time to tidy up.  So I tackled this mess just inside the door.

As usual, it was a treasure hunt!  I found long-forgotten teaching samples most of which I discarded (!!!) but I kept this cheery stack that will make a sweet little 9-patch quilt.
And my photo album from high school and college -- made quick work of this and pared it down to 10 pictures to keep!
(I feel like I should point this out to my kids so they know I'm trying to thin things down.)
It really didn't take long until I could sweep the rug and then I was entitled to sew!
These are step samples from teaching Double Irish Chain -- I can't even remember the last time I taught that -- why am I saving them???  One of the challenges of dealing with sample pieces is that it's hard to toss them when they are made from pretty fabric and skillfully pieced!  
But I've gotten pretty good at wrangling them into something usable.  I don't do improv piecing  but I do organize random blocks and bits improvisationally! 
It's a little runner (I think) and it's in the "to be" box with that hunk of fabric now, so in the future who knows what it's destiny will be?
A clean floor and a little pieced top entitled me to cut this new charm pak up into 2" hexagons
and lay out a little Christmas runner.  It can be my "sew-off" project over the next couple weeks while I get that set of blocks on the design wall into a finished top.
This morning, I got up all perky from yesterday's studio time and layered up my temperature quilt from 2017 so that I can start hand quilting it this fall!  
So back to what day of the week it is -- I woke up this morning wondering if time was as important two hundred years ago as it is today (probably thanks to history musings related to my current genealogy research, which is also why my desk is so messy).
I suspect it was important to know day from night and recognize the seasons but I don't believe the exactness that we live by now was important.   These past six months have given us a taste of that and might be why I'm experiencing this sense of being adrift in time.
I am getting comfortable with the lack of commitments and a thin schedule.
How about you? 
I wonder if I'll slowly drift back into the modern frenzy when this is finished.
I don't think I want to do that, but I don't want to flunk the date question either!?!

That desk needs a good tidy-up . . . . tomorrow.