Amazing Friends

>> Thursday, July 29, 2010

After yesterday's stormy grumpiness, some good news was in order. And good news came in the form of a brown box delivered by the UPS guy earlier today (details in a moment) which reminded me of just how awesome my friends are.

For example, Chelsea brought me the hibiscus above. I wouldn't know that it was a hibiscus since my gardening knowledge consists of being able to identify poison ivy (bad) and cala lilies (good). Beyond that, I'm stumped. After taking pictures of the pretty hibiscus, I realized that it was probably the model for Anna Maria Horner's centerpiece pattern in her Garden Party collection. If I'm correct, everyone else probably knew that already; if I'm wrong, well, I don't know anything about flowers anyways.

Prior to my birthday, a large box with an unknown return address arrived at my house. I stared at the return address for a while, trying to figure out who lived in Glen Burnie. Then I realized that my friend Beth had told me that she was sending my present early and I should open it early (the return address was her husband's work address). Inside there was another box.

A fun box. I'd seen these boxes in magazines -- they're made from rolled magazines -- and they're even cooler in person. Inside the box were all sorts of treats -- cupcake mix, sour jelly bellys (my favorites), sour candy (notice a theme), and the like. She knows I'm in the midst of prelims-reading (I know I've been noting that a lot...I'll stop mentioning that in 3 weeks when they're over, I promise), and sent me treats to accompany that reading (and keep my blood sugar up).

Then there are the totally out of nowhere, unexpected gifts that are just so perfectly thoughtful -- like the surprise Amazon giftcard from my friend's parents and today's brown box delivery.

My friends Sarah and Matt sent me a delightfully awesome assortment of fabric, with the cute hippo patch grinning from inside. As you might have realized from this blog, I love fabric. And when you love fabric, there's not much that exceeds getting a surprise box filled with great fabric.

The hippo patch has a flannel hippo friend, a blue flannel hippo friend at that, as well as a colorful stack of half-yard cuts of Amy Butler fabric as traveling companions.

Just the other day I was thinking about how my stash lacks an assortment of greens, and the stack included several greens, including the martini dots which might be all-time Amy Butler favorite. The adrenaline rush from this package still hasn't subsided (and that's a good thing!).

Finally, I'm off to visit my friends Joel and Jenny (and Max) tomorrow. We'll have a long weekend of working and playing, eating and drinking. Jenny and I share a birthday and Joel is moving to Seattle soon, so we'll be celebrating and trying not to think about being spread farther apart in a month's time. Joel was my roommate and remains one of the most generous people I know. He's not only planning his drive west to drop off some furniture he no longer needs with a friend who has recently moved back to the US, but he made this weekend possible for me by using his frequent flier miles to get me a plane ticket. I don't know very many people who when thanked profusely for this would say "Don't thank me, just think of it as screwing over the airlines for what would otherwise be an insanely expensive ticket." Seriously awesome, he is.

I know myself well enough to realize that I can get tunnel-vision when I'm in the midst of work and stressed about everything that I need to do, take care of, and finish. But it feels good to pause and think about all the amazing people I know and friends I have, near and far. Thank you all!


Power Down

>> Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Image from here

I am officially done with summer showers and thunderstorms. Finished. There is nothing pleasant about the humidity that precedes the storm, the 15 minutes of pounding rain that turns the driveway into a little river, or the droplets and rivulets in window sills from the angled rain. Oh, and then there are the trees that fall and take the power with them.

 {The actual tree downed near my house. Poor car and car owner.}

And while no electricity can be fantastic when one, say, chooses to go camping, it is much less fabulous when one's regular work requires, say, light.


More positively, a big thanks to everyone who helped celebrate my birthday yesterday. It's always nice to get phone calls, facebook messages, and emails from those close and far away. A couple friends took me away for lunch and pottery painting (I painted a spoon rest, to be revealed when I get it back all fired and glossy). I went out to dinner and drinks with friends (wonderful reminders of the world outside of my daily work). I intended to show you the lovely hibiscus that a friend brought me, but I'm at work without the camera. Maybe tomorrow...



>> Monday, July 26, 2010

Sometimes I like piecing backs more than making the quilt front. I had this epiphany the other night when I squeezed in a tiny bit of sewing for a baby quilt. The quilt top is complete, and I'm very happy with it. As I've been doing more and more often, I took the pile of leftover fabric pieces -- strips and rectangles and squares -- and used them as a starting point for the quilt back. I didn't have a real plan and simply started cutting a piecing. There will definitely be a patchwork section (2" to start, 1.5" square when sewn together), some larger pieces of fabric from the front, and a solid. I haven't decided on the solid yet, but it will be one of the ones from the patchwork section. I am full of admiration for people who make big patchwork quilts since they require a ton of work. Just the little section I've got represented a couple hours of work and that included some strip piecing.

As I worked on this, I realized how liberated I felt to just piece and see what happens. I think the patchwork section will be oriented horizontally, but I might switch to vertical. I'm not sure yet and I don't mind one bit. It's fun to let the piecing direct the design rather than faithfully execute a plan. I suppose this method works for me precisely because it's not the way I generally operate. I'm all about plans and lists and step-by-step work. But when the creative side gets to play, it rejects those plans and lists and patterns. Usually, anyways!

Totally off-topic: I just learned about these custom-made vegan shoes. Made in Ethiopia with recycled materials. So cool. And totally reasonable prices --  $38 plus $14 for shipping seems as good as you can get for custom-made shoes. How they fit, I have no clue. But perhaps my friend who will be moving to Ethiopia in less than a month can find out for us.

Only mildly off-topic: I need a new iron, and my cheap frugal side says buy a cheap iron since the last cheap iron lasted 4+ years. That's less than $2.50 per year. But then I wasn't convinced the current cheapies were heavy enough and thus didn't leave the store (Target) with a new iron -- cheap and light or slightly more expensive and heavier. I'm not even sure what weight would be good for an iron, so I chalk this up to being totally indecisive and overthinking everything. I also contemplated buying a shiny metal trashcan for the kitchen since I'm not overly fond of the plastic one currently in use but my cheap frugal side said that the plastic one was perfectly serviceable and thus will stay until it cracks or something.


Across the Atlantic

>> Monday, July 19, 2010

Although my arithmetic skills are generally quite good, sometimes my counting skills fail me. When I made this quilt, I found myself with 3 extra blocks. I'm not sure why, since I'm well aware that 3 x 4 = 12, but somehow at the end of piecing I counted 15 blocks. In the end, it was a handy error, as they provided the impetus for this quilt.

In my ongoing efforts to play with negative space, I added extra white and then placed the squares on a red background. I played around with the layout, and decided that I like the slightly off-center version best. At one point, I though I might do a column of the blocks, but that seemed kind of boring.

You can see the quilting here -- I started with a semi-oval (a technical term, I'm sure) to mimic the shape of the egg in the chicken print. From there, I moved in and out, adding rows by using the edge of my regular pressing foot (I don't own a walking foot) as the guide. sometimes I moved over a precise 1/4" and sometimes I allowed for extra space between the lines. It was a little tedious but that memory has faded.

I had a lot of the yellow chicken print left and just added some black and white fabrics to break up the design. The top print is from Alexander Henry and the bottom one is a black and white damask, but I'm not sure who makes it. It's been in my stash a while now. The binding is Michael Miller's Ironwork's in Ebony.

This is or will be making its way across the Atlantic to its new owner, Henry. I don't think his mom reads the blog, but I could be wrong. The uncertainty about its shipping status reflects the fact that I brought this home with me in early July and left it with my mom to ship because I knew she'd also be sending a gift and it makes sense to consolidate international shipping.


Strappy Shoes

>> Friday, July 16, 2010

This post is for my sister and my friend Torie. I am providing evidence that I do, in fact, own a pair of black strappy shoes. They did not believe me when I made this claim even though the black strappy shoes pictured above once belonged to my sister.

Oh look, I own a pair of silver strappy shoes too. I even purchased these myself (a rarity since hand-me-ups from said sister usually account for the fancier elements of my wardrober). The heels of the black shoes are the same as the silver ones (because my sister wanted evidence that they were thin heels, not chunky ones).

Admittedly, if I had my way, I would wear Chacos almost all the time. I have the green and blue ones pictured above as well as a pair of blue and white ones with a slightly less hardy sole. And until it gets too cold to expose one's toes, I do wear my Chacos most of the time. As my officemate has observed, I likes shoes with tread. But I am aware that weddings generally require fancier footwear. (However, should I have a wedding, everyone has my permission to wear whatever they want, from rubber flip flops to sequined stilettos).

Back to more typical posting, this picture reveals at least 3 different projects I've got in the works. Hopefully I'll have more to show soon, though work + disgusting humidity has really put a damper on sewing this week.

Have a great weekend!


Three More Bags

>> Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Today's post title won't win any titles for originality, but it is accurate. I've been experimenting with bag-making this summer, and these are the results. The bag above has pleats and a rounded body. I used fabric from Moda's Hello Betty line for the outside and a red bella solid (not sure what it's called) for the handles. It's interfaced, so it's pretty strong. The bag started out much longer but I didn't like the shape, so I trimmed the bottom and resized it. I based the top pleats on the Buttercup bag and made the rest up as I went along.

I wasn't sure what to line the bag with, but then realized that this Michael Miller dot fabric that I got as a remnant from JCaroline Creative when she closed much of her shop worked perfectly -- and was the exact size I needed. I gave this bag to a friend of mine who just moved away to Boston, and I hope the bag will accompany her on her new adventures there.

I give a lot of baby gifts and wedding gifts. This spring I realized I need to be better about giving gifts to all of my friends, especially those without what my college alumni magazine calls MLEs, Major Life Events. Admittedly this decision came in conjunction with reflecting about my own upcoming 30th birthday (less than 2 weeks!) and thinking about what it means and how to celebrate a birthday when you're single and in the midst of crazy preparation for exams. While I haven't totally worked out the celebration part, I decided that I would make sure to send off more unexpected gifts to friends, especially those without obvious MLEs. There are a few friends with whom I always exchange birthday gifts -- they're awesome and I'm grateful for and to them. But it became time to expand the circle, and this linen tote made its way to a friend celebrating her 30th birthday in June.

I made this bag right after the Hello Betty bag above and opted for a few adjustments. Notably, this bag has sharp, triangular points at the bottom rather than a rounded bottom. I think the points work really nicely with linen. I didn't interface this bag, though in hindsight, I probably should have. The handles -- which I make by cutting a 5" strip, pressing it in half, pressing the open edges toward the middle, and sewing the edges of the now 1.25" strip -- are strong, and I think a slightly heavier bag would be best with them. It's lined with a Robert Kaufman print whose name I don't know. A lot of bag making patterns instruct one to leave a hole in the lining and then slip stitch it closed after the bag is finished. My slip-stitching is very poor and I lack the patience to work on it. I've found that leaving a gap at the top, between the handles, which I'm going to top-stitch anyways, works better for me.

Finally, here's my mom's belated Mother's Day present, which I gave her when I went home at the beginning of July. It's a tote made from denim, with the partial dresden plate to spice it up. Because the denim is heavier than quilting cotton, I didn't interface this bag though I usually interface tote bags. I had this in my mind and I'll confess that the finished version doesn't exactly match my mental version, but I like it nonetheless. I think I'd like to try it again with a wider bag. The dresden plate and lining are both from Heather Bailey's Pop Garden line.

My favorite part of this bag is actually the red contrast stitching on the handles and around the top of the bag (2 lines around the top). I love how the red stands out. My mom took this with her to a baseball game and said it was the perfect size for a sweater, book, and drink....or some combination of items that she told me but I can't recall exactly.


Catching Up

Today has been a catch-up day in multiple realms. I finished up some reading and completed some write-ups for a meeting tomorrow. I went grocery shopping which means my refrigerator has caught up to my hungry stomach. I almost finished my sister's birthday present -- it might be done by the end of Bastille Day and getting it done by the end of the birthday counts, sort of. And it's time to catch up the blog.

I was totally delinquent about posting the fabric I won from a giveaway on jcaroline's blog. The giveaway was for a total of 2 yards of Michelle Bencsko's new organic collection, Cloud 9, from Contemporary Cloth. I picked 1 yard of Flock (top), 1/2 yard of Sandpiper (above), and 1/2 yard of Meadow (below).

  *All images from Contemporary Cloth*

I also recently learned that I won a gift certificate to Pink Chalk Fabrics as a result of donating quilts to BASICS/Promesa through Victoria at Bumble Beans, Inc. I'm trying to hold off using it until August because a) there are some new collections coming out that I have my eye on and b) I'd like my new fabric to be a post-prelims treat. Speaking of which, today (or yesterday by the time I hit publish post) marks 1 month until those prelims. ["Prelims" refers to "preliminary exams," which are the exams that separate the coursework stage from the dissertation stage of a Ph.D. program. Every discipline, department, and program works a little differently, but in my case it means a written exam and an oral exam.]

And finally, three friends had babies between July 2 and July 12, so some new quilts coming soon...


Stone-Snow-Arcadia Quilt

>> Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Adventures in neutrals commenced with this quilt. I've always been fond of bright colors, but it was time for a challenge. And I had some jelly roll strips of the circle print from Arcadia and wanted to design a quilt around them. Enter the neutrals: Moda's Snow (which is more off-white than white) and Stone.

Only after I finished the quilt did I realize that my default quilt has become a variation of wonky square-in-square blocks. Not that that is a problem, but I honestly thought that most of my quilts didn't repeat patterns and yet I've made quite a few wonky squares (or wonky log cabins). They are both quick and time-consuming. While they require very little planning, they do take a while to put together and adjust as necessary. In this quilt, I love the little floating pieces on the center left as well as the stone strip conjoining the bottom right and right middle blocks. A willingness to insert those little pieces and see what happens is, I think, a new stage of my design thinking and quilt making.

As soon as I pieced together the top, I knew I would stipple it. Luckily, my darning foot cooperated this time and the stippling went smoothly (with off-white thread).

Before I pieced the back, I picked out the binding (Slate Dots from Amy Butler). I didn't have any obvious binding fabrics and therefore auditioned quite a few before opting for the slate dots. Once I figured that out, I picked the fabrics to piece together for the back. I decided on a new quilt labeling strategy: piecing the block I would use for the label into the quilt back. That white rectangle at the bottom became the label. Since I make the back a little bigger than the front for ease of basting and quilting, I had to make sure I positioned the back in a way that was definitely included in the quilt and didn't run into the binding. A few extra checks as I pinned and it all worked out.

Hmm, the back porch stain has taken quite  a beating in this summer's thunderstorms but I like the weathered look for quilt pictures! This quilt arrived in California for Erez, the third child of friends of mine. As a family, I think they've amassed the largest two.hippos-made quilt collection at 3 and, as Maya noted in a lovely email to me, they mark my progress (from this to this to the present) as a quilter.


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