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!