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!


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!!


Thursday, April 16, 2020

So They say . . . .

. . . . if one does something for 21 days, it becomes a habit (usually to encourage folks to keep trying to exercise or study something) but really?!?  My daughter, Alison who is working from home tells me it's day 34 of our isolation marathon.  Today, it took some effort to get my engine firing on all cylinders -- whew, this can be such hard work!

When I finally left the house for a walk (alone), I was rewarded by finding this little clump of wildflowers -- azure bluets I believe -- and some spring bird song.
I swung past my local garden center and picked up some broccoli and lettuce seedlings for my planting trough and discovered the peas are sprouting when I opened the polycover to plant them!
Well, that's good!  

Then it was time to survey all my seed trays and see if anything else has sprouted?  
See those little green sprouts?  I've been waiting for that to happen for a month!!
What a lovely little sight.
I'm having to find ways to spark myself up every day -- probably that isn't as new as it feels but having to use different resources and strategies to maintain a positive mindset makes it feel new.

Then a friend shared the following "explanation" from Jennifer Yaeger LPC, a trauma specialist of what many of us are experiencing -
1. Parts of our brain have shut down in order for us to survive.
2. As a result, we are not able to fully process a lot of what is going on around us.
3. Feeling somewhat numb and out of touch with our emotions is normal, especially if you have lived through trauma before.
4. Some people are also more apt to feel hypervigilant or anxious while others become hypoactive or depressed.  Neither means anything other than indicating your predisposition to dealing with extreme stress.
5. In depth processing of trauma happens years later, when we feel emotionally safe to deal with it.
6. When in the midst of trauma, just getting by emotionally and functionally is okay.  Lowering expectations and being kind to yourself and others is vital.

So there you go!!  We are case studies in trauma.  Since this might last all spring or longer, I'm just going to keep sewing and going out into the backyard - pretend it's 1905 and get contented with what I have.

So in the spirit of being content with what I have, earlier this week I stumbled across a "sew-along" for Jen Kingwell's pattern, Halo.  Since that pattern has been on my "want to do" list for a while, I decided to give it a go.  My first stop (looking for my pattern) uncovered this book of Jen's with two UFO's lurking inside?!?
Yikes, will the UFO discover journey never end? 
These were two "supersized" Glitter blocks (inspired by an Aussie quilter in an overeager moment).  They are very pretty but . . . the challenge is eliminate -- finish or pitch?
Happily, I was inspired to set them together for a small mat (instead of making more)!
A cheery assortment of quilting threads,
an afternoon of simple walking foot matchstick quilting,
and a pre-folded binding experiment. 
resulted in a delightful little tray mat for my favorite tea tray!!
Now I just need a warm sunny afternoon on the front porch with a friend to enjoy using it! 
The black and red project is out on the sewing table to be my current "sew-off" project.  One block is completed and when the other three are ready, it will make a great large pillow cover!
UFO's no more!!

I did find the Halo pattern and have started cutting bits and pieces for it while putting away fabric piles from previous projects in my continuing effort to tidy up the studio!
If you'd like to get sucked into this sew-along, too -- click HERE for the details
It's only two blocks a week and you can make any size piece!
Easy, right?!?

 I finished the charity quilt over the weekend and then it took a couple days to get this twin size quilt layered and ready for the next phase of my #aprilquiltingmarathon.
It's my Kinship Sampler from #100day100blocks2019
(It's going to run again starting July 1, 2020 -- check it out HERE!)
Willie kept up his end of a very intellectual conversation about all this weirdness while I pin basted on Tuesday.
The quilting began yesterday morning.  By working in several short (20 to 30 minute) sessions, I had  three rows done by the end of the day.  I'm learning that stopping when I start to feel tired/get sloppy is definitely the best strategy!
I'm using a modified Baptist fan, primarily because there is less retracing the quilting to get to a new start point and my retracing ability is not great.  (HERE'S a link to a post I wrote about how to machine quilt Baptist fan -- same concept, just simpler changes of direction).
  I expect it will take the rest of this week and next week to finish the quilting.
The highlight of the past week was visiting with the triplets!  We spent an hour out on the patio with them Easter afternoon.  
I made teething biscuits for their Easter goodies and everyone got right into them.
We hadn't been together for a month and there were so many little changes -- fun, fun, fun!!
Well, I just finished off the chocolate chips and ordered a skein of hand-dyed yarn "I can't live without" -- time to head to another part of the house, far away from the computer and the kitchen and do some sweeping or sewing or knitting or something!

Let's all promise to be gentle on ourselves.  
Call a friend, write a note, make a mask, smile at everyone!
Do what you can and don't fret about the rest of it.


Thursday, April 9, 2020

Working at home?

When my son informed me three weeks ago he'd be working from home temporarily, I jokingly quipped "me, too!"  Little did I suspect that situation wasn't going to change for weeks.
My children's librarian daughter is working from home -- hard to be a public librarian without a public -- and learning how to connect via the web in more ways.
So the challenge all around is to stay well and stay busy and stay cheerful.
Very challenging goals!!

In this part of the world, it helps that spring continues to progress and thus far it's been quite pleasant.  The spring bulbs are blooming in the typical progression, I'm trying to convince a pair of robins NOT to nest on top of the power line into my home again, and the neighborhood pair of crows are establishing their homestead in a large tree 120 feet south of my backdoor.
And there are little surprises, too which always brighten the day.  The red osier twigs I cut for my "Monty Don" style cloche are sprouting leaves?!?  I wonder if they will sprout roots down below, too? 
I've been sticking to my commitment to quilt some every day!
This is the view across my kaleidoscope quilt at one of the section joins -- see the batting seam on the left, the center seam of the quilt top sections, and to the right is the backing seam.
If you missed that post, it's right HERE.
Look how flat that quilted up!!!
By Monday afternoon, I was ready to trim the quilt! 
The first step of the binding happened Tuesday morning and I spent the past couple evenings sitting outside on the front porch to work on the hand stitching!
This morning, the sun came out just long enough to recruit my daughter to hold it up for me and
 "ta-da", I have a finished quilt!!  I still need to wash it and next time I change the bedding, this quilt is going on the bed for a cheery spring view! 
I use to feel like my wheels were spinning when I finished a project even though there were always a few waiting in the wings for my return.  These days, I've started thinking a little ahead and decide on the next project while I'm finishing the current one.  
This traditional patchwork quilt is a retired teaching sample that I started to quilt during my charity group's gathering last month and since it just needs three or four more work sessions, I pulled it off the shelf this morning.
If you are joining me this month for the #aprilquiltingmarathon, here are a few tips that might be helpful based on my own experience with machine quilting.

I don't love the quilting phase of making a quilt and burying the threads is my least favorite part of the process.  I have discovered that it is more tolerable by employing one of two strategies.  
First, is to quilt edge-to-edge so there aren't any thread ends to bury!!

Second is to bury the thread ends as I go rather than letting them all accumulate (and overwhelm) at the end of the quilting.  I use one of those self-threading needles to "pop" the short threads easily into the eye (John James is my favorite brand).  
I've discovered through observation that when I pause and take time to pull out a loop of thread before pulling the needle through, the thread is more likely to stay on the needle and come all the way out where I want it to be.  That one little thing has made the task much less annoying.
I always keep a self-threading needle tucked into this little "cushion" within easy reach at my machine so I don't have an excuse for not burying the threads as I go!
During the winter, I misplaced one of my "quilting gloves" -- annoying but at least I didn't stitch it to the back of a quilt!?!  So to "make due" I grabbed one of my light weight outdoor gloves and wore it on one hand.  When I finished the quilting session, I noticed that the hand with the outdoor glove wasn't as achy as my other hand (arthritis you know).  
That was a lovely discovery!
So I bought a bright pair of light weight outdoor gloves and these are my quilting gloves now!
Warm hands are happy hands! 
 I have learned to start quilting even if I just have one idea for a section of a quilt.  With this quilt, all I could think of to begin was to "stitch-in-ditch" along the sashing.  
Next decision was to add the parallel lines to the outer setting triangles.
Two weeks passed and when I came back to this piece, I added the center flowers which are based on the "pumpkin seed" motif. 
Notice that the flower petals are not perfect - but it stills looks like a flower.
While I rarely unstitch and redo a motif, I do pay attention to how I stitched through a motif to learn what gives me the best results.  I know by looking at this flower that the final line (right side of upper petal) was stitched away from myself  and that is always my "weakest" movement.  
By knowing that, I can avoid it or change my stitching path.
This morning when I sat down at my machine, I knew I needed to add more quilting to the blocks but didn't have the energy to trace the outline of the patchwork.
I traced out some ideas with my finger of different ways to proceed around the blocks -- it needed to relate to what I'd already done and it needed to have a minimum of starts and stops!.
Simple diagonal squares that intersect the corners of the design repeat the quilting in the setting triangles, emphasize the central flower, and there are only 4 sets of threads to bury!
Since I use a thick plexiglass ruler and a "follower" foot when machine quilting, I only needed to mark the starting point (X) and stop lines for each corner.  If I didn't have those two tools, then I would draw lines with a chalk wheel or use masking tape to guide my stitching. 
I finished all eight blocks in the quilt -- tomorrow the borders!!
One more thing to mention -- if you are trying to build your machine quilting skills, rather than focus on making everything "perfect", focus on building a specific skill.  For example in the past, I've focused on making my free motion stitch length more consistent.  One thing I learned as a result of that was that when I get tired, my stitch length control is very poor.  Another goal has been to make my stops/starts along a line of stitching invisible so I can't tell where they occur.

One of the perks of quilting up UFO's and charity quilts has been it gives me so much practice.  My skills have improved and I'm finishing more pieces all the time.  As my skills have improved, I've become less of a quilting procrastinator -- much of that stemmed from a lack of confidence but without all the practice, I would not have built the confidence.
So come on, get out a quilt top and let's do this!!
Watch my hashtag on Instagram #aprilquiltingmarathon for more ideas and encouragment!

Let's go back outside!
  Are you contemplating some vegetable gardening this summer?  
I read this morning that an English seed company is getting 8000 orders a day compared to their typical 100?!?
Maybe we should start online seed companies?

My garden helper commandeered a couple straw bales for me last fall after some Halloween festivities and they are being prepared for this year's cucumber patch.
Straw bale gardening is a pretty simple set-up for growing veggies.  My reference for it is Straw Bale Gardening Complete by Joel Karsten -- I've borrowed it from my library and read it a couple times -- this spring I discovered it on Hoopla (a library hosted reader app).
I've planted peas in the raised trough and this morning I opened the cover up to take advantage of the rain.  It's zipped shut now that the sun is shining to absorb some rays and I'm looking for peas to be sprouting in the next few days!
Be honest, did you just skip to the end to see if there was a picture of the crew?
That's my son (Dad to them) playing goofy with them.  They are all crawling and they really are as happy as they look here (most of the time).  I'm missing them a lot but staying away is best in the long run for all of us. 
My mask making count is nearing 50 at this point.  I'm using up that stack of batiks and sharing them to friends now that I've got my family covered.
Do you think quilt fabric masks will be a fashion trend by the end of the year?

Thanks for reading today's post -- I'm feeling chatty and there's no one here to talk with me so you are it!!
Stay well, stay busy, count the daily blessings, share a blessing!
God bless you abundantly!

Linking up this week with TGIFF over HERE!