So Much Sewing

>> Sunday, June 1, 2014

I know it's been forever and a day since I last posted, and much of that period stemmed directly from the lack of sewing time. Between February and early May, I'm not sure if I sewed a stitch. Finishing a dissertation will do that to you. But the dissertation is done and defended, and I've enjoyed a nice chunk of relatively open-ended time. Thus May has been, err, was (it's June today, woah), a wonderfully sewing-filled month.

One of the first things I did was make a long-planned wedding gift for Joel and Sibyl. They got married in September which was a lot of months ago, but I had zero time to make things back then. I did have time to purchase fabric, however, and I picked out some fun fabric for cloth napkins that also formed the basis of the color scheme and aesthetic of a table runner. At one point, my mom wondered what I was going to make for them, since I had already given Joel a quilt.

Joel and I were roommates back in the day, including the days in which he began dating Sibyl, and we spent a lot of time enjoying good food (not to mention our stunning ability to polish off whle jars of pickles and olives in one setting). Quality napkins and a table runner for Joel's super awesome craftsman-style table (which he found at a yard sale and was already in the apartment when I arrived) fit the bill.
Handily, Joel was in Ann Arbor for work this week, which meant that I not only got to give his wedding present to him in person but we got to take some fantastic parking lot pictures. Who doesn't need a few cars in their crafty photos? As it turns out, one of the awesome things about making gifts for people with whom you lived is that it's pretty easy to nail their aesthetic -- a task made even easier when you have quite similar taste. So the table runner has two sides, the little bits and bobs side and the chunks of cool fabric side. Both are intended to work well in the neat green kitchen J+S have in Seattle.

Initially I was a little uncertain about how to quilt this, given those tiny bits and a lot of negative space. I opted for undulating free-hand echo curves which I love. I used several shades of gray, blue/aqua, and black. While I could pretend that this was a design decision, made to reflect nature and the Pacific Northwest, the truth of the matter is that I ran out of both the medium gray and aqua while quilting and thus needed to add in more and more colors. Happenstance for the win.



>> Thursday, February 20, 2014

This one is a longtime time coming. It started as a honeybun and became a rocketship over many many months. At first I thought I would make a huge chevron sort of thing or maybe some dramatic diagonals. I didn't really have a plan, just a desire to make a baby quilt and use this Hello Betty honeybun that, frankly, was shedding the edges of its 1.5" strips all over my other fabric.

That Y-seam provided an unexpected learning opportunity. Which is to say, I had never sewn such a seam before and thought it quite intimidating. (This is, of course, the result of not planning out the quilt ahead of time, because that Y-seam is actually quite avoidable, but I digress). Luckily, the Ann Arbor Modern Quilt Guild is full of really smart sewers and kind teachers; Ginia very patiently helped me figure this out. Because when you're going to sew a Y-seam for the first time, it's not actually advisable to do one with huge pieces of fabric and lots of bias edges. But challenges: I like them? I like them.

I started quilting with the 1/4" echo quilting. It was great for stabilizing the quilt. However, if I'm being honest, it also became tedious and tiresome rather fast. After 4 hours, I needed a new plan, because I did want to finish this quilt. Hence the stippling which, as home quilting goes, is usually quick (relatively) and manageable. In hindsight, I think some flame quilting in the negative space (Kona natural) would have been cool but since I just thought of that now, it was not meant to be.

Bound with more Kona natural and sent to California: rocketship is out and about.


Point the Way

>> Thursday, February 13, 2014

This was a giant paper-piecing experiment designed around those little slivers of Marimekko fabric. I'd been hanging on to the delightfully silver neutral stripe print for a whole now, and never found fabrics I felt worked with it. In challenging myself to use it, I decided to focus on the colors it included: silver, cream, beige, purple. Without a lot of the fabric to use, I wanted a bold, minimalist design. So I made myself some paper templates (good way to use up 12" scrapbook paper that's lingered in my art supply collection for years) and got to work. The quilt consists of 8 pieced blocks and 4 solid blocks).

Paper-piecing produces pretty perfect points. I made some freezer paper templates of each of the 5 shapes -- the center (1) and edge triangles (2) as well as the slivers (2) to help with cut with minimal waste and avoid almost-but-not-quite-covering a piece of the template (which still happened...but only once...and in a very fixable way). When it came time to quilt, I got a little adventurous and used different thread and different quilting patterns for each fabric. The silver squiggle is my favorite.

For the first time in a while, I went for a super simple non-pieced back. I had just the right amount of this fun, squawking bird print (picked up at Ikea, a few years back), and it added some pattern-y goodness to the minimalist front. A sweet grey binding later, and the quilt was done.

Well, almost done. After I washed, dried, and took these pictures, I noticed that one of the purple seams had come partially undone. This was really weird, since it was a full 1/4" seam and I've never had that happen before (partial lie: it happened with imperfect 1/4" seams when I was a newbie quilter). A little steam-a-seam and a few repair stitches later, and the quilt flew off to Connecticut where it resides with young William (and Cynthia and Andy).


A Midweek Peek

>> Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Confession: as a somewhat lazy laundress, I often find that an imminent need to do laundry offers an incentive to finish a quilt. Otherwise, it might take a while for that quilt to get all soft and crumbly from the washer/dryer rumble.

The blocks above emerged from a desire to use the neutral striped Marimekko print, of which I had some but not a lot, and for which I was uncertain about coordinating colors. So it's a very neutral quilt. Not my usual color scheme, but a pleasant experiment with paper-piecing (of my own devising, though perhaps there are comparable blocks out there in pattern-land).

The quilt is ready to send off to its new owner. But I need to take pictures, and this -3 nonsense to which I awoke this morning (cozy under flannel sheets, several quilts, and a down comforter) has not exactly inspired a photo shoot. According to my weather app, it's 10 degrees warmer now, at a whopping 7, which might be sufficient enough for some whole-quilt shots outside.


The Baby at the Bachelor Party

>> Thursday, January 16, 2014

{I'm taking this opportunity to do a little #latergram style blogging. This post is brought to you by August 2013...}

Apparently not everyone has gender-inclusive bachelor parties, complete with the attendance of a baby (neither mine nor the bachelor's, for the record). At least, that's what Jenny and I gleaned when we served as chief participants in Joel's bachelor weekend. We got a lot of odd looks when we told people what we were doing. Which mostly involved gallivanting in a park, eating really good food, imbibing delicious drinks, going to a spa, attending live theatre, eating amazing cookies, and hanging out.

Did I mention the cookies? They're amazing.

I took this opportunity to multi-task and give Elody her baby quilt. Improvisationally-pieced with (mostly) Modern Meadow prints plus a little magenta and yellow for pizazz, this quilt came together quickly over a couple days. Lots of vertical movement and negative space, just how I like my quilts.

And Elody seemed pretty content as well, even as we wrapped her and unwrapped her for our high-class on-the-couch photo shoot. The back has 2 prints, both with lots of blues and purples. It's all straight-line quilting, at random intervals. I can't really remember why I chose to quilt it like that, but I like it.


Lurching forward

>> Friday, January 10, 2014

I had forgotten how slippery a ruler could be, how hard I needed to press down to keep it locked into place as I cut fabric. The rotary cutter glided against the edge, and all the sudden, it wasn’t even. It wasn’t that perfect 2 and a quarter inch I sought, I needed, to finish a quilt that had languished for weeks and even months. The quilt, the many pieces of fabric sewn together, just so, says a lot about the past 6 months. Or, rather, its construction does. Or, really, the fits and starts in which it was put together, sewn together, the long slow crawl in which it was constructed, made, shaped into being.

It started in the summer, a new project for a friend’s baby. It started, like most of my projects, with a glimpse of an idea, a passing thought about shapes and color. It started with strips of fabric, hastily thrown together one warm summer night when I needed to sew, when my mind moved faster than my hands. And then it sat, as these things sometimes do, while I took care of the rest of my life. I prepared to teach my own class, I scurried to meet a bevy of early fall deadlines, I marched through a suite of Jewish fall holidays, I prepped materials for the looming job market that inched closer and closer. All the while, a large block sat on my futon, and ideas about what to do with it flitted through my head.

Finally, some breathing room, some space between other obligations, arrived, and I returned to the quilt. I attended several sewing events at Pink Castle Fabrics, used the huge design wall to figure out the real plan for this quilt, learned how to sew a Y-seam to make the ideas I had work, and finally, the quilt top was done. A month later, I pieced together the back, splicing and sewing yardage that coordinated with the front. It came together in an evening and, with more deadlines met, I worked again, basting and quilting and watching as a glimmer of a thought materialized as a quilt. I was almost done. The quilt almost finished. The gift nearly ready to be sent.

And then my world crashed down around me. Not softly, but harshly.

My dad died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Without warning. It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving and I was close by, in the metro area for a conference. He was supposed to meet me for lunch and he never made it.

The details of that day aren’t fuzzy. Some elements are impressionistic, but they’re still sharp and painful.

Days marched on, time moved ahead, and we lurched forward, incrementally, taking small and tentative steps into a new world, one whose contours are still unfamiliar and whose boundaries are not yet charted.

It had been 7 weeks since I last touched the quilt, forty-nine days of trying to gather new bearings. I knew I would sew again. Some of the obstacles were merely practical: for long chunks of the past few months, I was away from my stash, from my rulers and cutting mat, from my sewing machine. I glanced at blog posts here and there, I thought about shapes and let ideas percolate. I thought about closing the blog, knowing that my posts had waned long before November 24 and not really sure when I would want to return, if ever. I mentioned this in passing to my brother last week. And he told me to keep it. My brother who may or may not have ever read a blog post told me to keep it. So I did.

Last night I finished the quilt. I’ll wash it soon and mail it and maybe post about it. More likely, truth be told, it will show up on Instagram (you can find me there as two_hippos) and that might be it. Or I may squeeze out time from dissertation-writing-winter and post about it here. I'm not yet sure, but I'll figure it out.


Into the Blue

>> Friday, August 30, 2013

A few weeks ago, about five days before I left Michigan for a conference in New York, I made plans with my friends Josh and Adam who, as it turned out, just returned to the city with their new son. Josh and I have been friends since high school and it's the sort of friendship sustained over irregular yearly-ish visits rather than regular emails and phone calls. Hence it was only when I announced I was flitting through town that I learned about Leo's arrival. At which point a flurry of fast sewing and quilting ensued.

I decided to continue the minimalist monochromatic series with a perennial color favorite: aqua. (Also, I knew I had enough solids or near-solids to make this design work, which is not something I can say for most colors. Aqua: it speaks to me and makes me buy it.) Working on a fast deadline meant that simplicity reigned, and a giant starbust seemed fun and (relatively) simply. I drafted 4 20" blocks on butcher paper and paper-pieced the quadrants. Keeping giant pieces of fabric in line was a tad tricky, but I only had to unpick and resew 2 seams, which I considered a victory.

Keeping with the simplicity theme, the back consists of two large pieces of fabric from Erin McMorris collections: a large red chunk from Weekends and a smaller saffron bit from LaDeeDa. I had been waiting for an opportunity to use the large red flowers, as chopping this particular large-scale print seemed counterproductive. I made this quilt a couple weeks after Rossie's thoughtful post about gender and quilting, and I was particularly pleased to use a giant floral print on a quilt for a boy because, seriously, flowers are awesome for everyone (in fact, it was a former male roommate who taught me that sometimes you should just buy flowers for yourself, because they're lovely and pleasing to look at and increase joy).

The quilting is "echo-plus," which is to say quilting lines offset about 1/8" from each seam, plus a line through the approximate center of each wedge. Enough to hold the quilt together but scant enough to keep it soft and drapey. When I arrived with the quilt, I learned that my color selection was prescient as Leo's room has a Tiffany blue accent wall.

Black and white chevron-striped binding? Yes, please. I adore this binding. I'm convinced it's brilliant, so don't tell me otherwise. The stark contrast between the soft aquas and the robust black thrills me. Also I got to sew it with black thread and I so rarely use black thread that I think the spool has been with me for at least 5 years. It was crying out to be used.



>> Thursday, August 22, 2013

I was not really prepared for the summer onslaught of babies. Lots of my friends had babies; few quilts were on their way or even gestating in my brain. But this quilt's concept, the fabric pull, and the mulling over of design started this winter, after I made this emerald quilt. I thought it would be cool to do a series of minimalist monochromatic quilts, all offset by a binding in a different color. And since I bound the emerald quilt with orange, I figured orange should be next in the sequence.

At one point I envisioned a giant asterisk quilt. But as June turned into July and I decided to make the orange quilt for the forthcoming bebe of my friends' Sarah and Danny (#2, actually), I was feeling less asterisk-y and more linear. I wanted to play the oranges off one another, and the slats of some blinds provided inspiration. Some Riley Blake circles helped finish off the quilt front when I ran out of the darker orange solid (measure before sewing, why bother?)

To contrast the linear nature of the design, I quilted a giant offset spiral, which is almost impossible to see, but I think conveys the idea of light streaming through an upstairs window. I am very pleased with the peppy aqua binding as well.

The primary backing fabric came all the way from Liberia. My roommate did some research there last summer and, knowing my love of fabric, brought me back a couple different pieces. The selvage on this one noted "veritable real wax super binta" on one side and "guaranteed real wax" on the other -- so definitely a legit batik print. Although I'm not a fabric pre-washer, there was a slightly waxy residue on the print and I wasn't sure how color-fast it was, so I did pre-wash it. After a washer-dryer cycle, it feels like old thick cotton sheets, and while there was a little bleeding of the navy dye, it was barely noticeable. Danny and Sarah departed Michigan for New Orleans in July, and I was pleased to be able to send Karl off to the land of beignets and jazz with his new quilt.



>> Thursday, August 8, 2013

I have learned many things this summer, including the fact that mental blogging does not, it turns out, translate into actual blogging. Thus I have a bit of a blogging backlog to address--which is to say, to actually blog, rather than contemplate blogging while running, showering, doing dishes, walking dogs, or any other sundry activities. First up: Windmill.

This quilt started as an experimental block initially created to use the blue/green stripe (a Marimekko/Crate & Barrel outlet print). I had a vision for the block -- and the eventual quilt -- but plunged into sewing before I figured out the best way to make the block. The best way is not to paper piece the half-square-triangle-with-stripe and add a border, for, as the above image indicates, it's very hard to line up correctly. Had I paused and drafted a paper-pieced design for the whole block, well, that would have been smarter. But I didn't, at which point the block design changed to fit what I had and what precision I could handle.

Semi-bordered squares: perhaps they suggest motion more than stasis? Let's go with that line of argument. When my friends Ethan and Hagit had a baby this spring, I decided I should finish up this quilt top and send it off to Cincinnati, where they've graciously offered me meals and more when I was there for research last year.

At which point I realized I could use some fun Ed Emberley prints (dogs & frogs) for the back, and plucked some other coordinating prints from my stash. The quilting appears a little more clearly on the back -- I used elongated squiggles in the spokes of the windmill and stippling throughout the rest of the quilt. The thread became unintentionally variegated as the two spools of deep blue were not, as it turns out, exactly the same. But I'm cool with variation and impatient with shopping, so a mixture of blues turned out to serve my needs perfectly. I'm banking on Daniel not noticing for a long while, if ever...


Eph + Eph, or How to Make A Chuppah

>> Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sometimes you show up to graduate school and find out that another cohort-mate went to your alma mater, albeit 6 years after you did. Then you bond over purple cows, and become friends and office-mates. You meet his partner (who also attended your alma mater), who eventually moves to town, and you hang out some more. Eventually they get engaged and you offer to make their chuppah (wedding canopy) and, finally, about 4 months before the wedding, it's time to make it. So, how to make your friends a chuppah, in 10 easy steps.

1. Have friends who also have thoughts about design. A&Y looked through my blog and some flickr groups and we met to discuss what they liked and found compelling -- something modern, something with purples and blues, and something containing both regularity and surprise. I suggested a modern, random half-square triangle design, and they agreed -- provided they could choose the colors.

2. Ideally your friends have an eye for color too. We took a field trip to Pink Castle Fabrics, back when it was still in Brenda and Jason's basement. There they learned that fabric is mesmerizing and captivating and makes decision-making difficult. They found out that there are a lot of shades of blue and gray and yellow and white (and many fewer of purple). But they persevered and selected a fabulous stack o' fabric which consisted of: white, lake, marine {more aqua-blue than slate-blue in real life}, regal {more purple-y than it looks on the screen or in pictures}, charcoal, and yellow. I confess I was a little unsure of the lake blue at first, wondering if it was too pale, but it worked well.

3. Start cutting (6" strips, cut into 6" squares). I started cutting at a crafty meet-up, where Rae dubbed the bundle of solids, "vestment-like."  Makes a lot of sense for a wedding canopy!

4. Sew: I divvied up the squares into factorial-like piles and started sewing. Somewhere along the way, my arithmetic went awry and as I finished -- or so I thought -- trimming the squares (down to 5 5/8"), I realized I needed about 18 more squares. At which point I grabbed some fabric, cut some squares, and sewed them together, without much thought as to the precise number of squares per color.

5. Iron for awhile. Consider vacuuming the "design floor." Get all determined and sweep and vacuum said floor. Start laying out squares. Move around as seems wise, or possibly because you step on some squares and mess up the order.

6. Maintain some semblance of order. As you may be able to see, I made myself little tags (right bottom) to keep the rows in order. For what may have been the first time ever, I did not mess up the order and need to unpick and resew. That might never ever happen again. But I think it's a strong endorsement of tagging rows in some fashion (mine are bits of fabrics with numbers written on them -- very high tech!).

7. Press seams for some time. Catch up on the season finales of NCIS, NCIS-LA, Castle, and whatever other shows you like.

8. Baste. I used a white flannel sheet as batting and a white cotton sheet as backing. I basted it over my ironing board, which I find is the best way to keep everything aligned, tight (I iron the layers as I pin baste, thereby smoothing out any wrinkles).

9. Quilt. I opted for what I like to think of as a lattice-like curved grid (a technical term to be sure). On the top I used white thread, and on the back I used white, purple, and yellow (purple and yellow being ze college colors and all).

10. Bind (in Kona Regal) and admire your handiwork. Also revel in finishing 2 weeks before the wedding and one week before your friends need the chuppah.

Enjoy watching two lovely people get married. Celebrate with them, think lovely thoughts about the ceremony (sunburn notwithstanding), take lots of pictures, play with fun filters, and wonder why capturing the gorgeous deep purple is so so hard.


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