>> Friday, January 28, 2011

I love this quilt. Now that it's finished. As previously noted, using 1.5" strips produces a wonderful visual effect alongside a harried mind. Luckily I had more strips than necessary so the blocks that didn't quite fit together made their way to the recycling trash bin without too much worry or pain. I thought about making some "not-quite-perfect" coasters but I realized they made my eyes hurt. So I spared my eyes at the cost of a touch of fabric. In a few cases, I ripped out the seams to use the scraps in the border. Recycling thus occurred, and my green sensibilities felt better.

I just love looking at the quilt, with the deep chocolate brown and Arcadia prints twisting and turning all over. As you can see, I opted for a mix of straight line quilting, along the diagonals and along the vertical seams (which look diagonal in the picture above).

The back shows off the quilting well. It has two rows of Arcadia charm squares amidst a cocoa sea. The quilt crinkled up really well in the dryer, and it should have arrived in Stamford, CT today. I should have mailed this about a month ago, at which point it was still 6 or so weeks late. Late only if one believes in giving baby gifts that coincide with an actual birth which, for me, is more of an aspiration than a reality. As a friend reminded me, however, no kid is going to outgrow a quilt in a few weeks or even a few months. It should take Ezra Noam -- a name I really like, by the by -- at least a few years.

{Warning: Unintended Post Office tangent ahead. Read at your own risk.}

My new local post office did not extend a welcoming hand when I went to mail the quilt this week. I am well aware that the USPS faces severe deficits, and I really try to support the postal service. I think, on the whole, it does pretty well. But let me suggest that persnickety enforcement of "rules" does not help increase business. I packed the quilt in a flat-rate envelope. I fully admit that stuffing a quilt into said envelope makes it thick. But I could close the envelope on its own and didn't even add tape as I often do. The postal worker deemed it "manipulated" and thus unfit for the flat-rate because it was thicker than 1/2".

Yet the postal service website says, "When sealing a Flat Rate Box or Flat Rate Envelope, the container flaps must be able to close within the normal folds. Tape may be applied to the flaps and seams to reinforce the container; provided the design of the container is not enlarged by opening the sides and the container is not reconstructed in any way." I should have taken a picture, but this envelope was "closed with the normal folds," not "enlarged by opening the side." and was not reconstructed in any way. Moreover, I've sent many a package like this before with no trouble whatsoever. And had I paid for the mailing online or at a self-service kiosk, it wouldn't have been an issue.

What bothers me most about this situation is not that the worker made an assessment or cited a rule, but that the assessment and citation didn't actually flow from the most-available posting of the policy. If there is a new rule in place that says FREs can only be 1/2" thick -- which would be a terrible rule, in my opinion -- then that rule ought to be on the website for all to see. But it's not.

To wit, I'm well aware I am not the only person who has faced this problem. I've heard that some small fabric businesses are facing this as well -- a good fabric shop can fit 7-8 yards in a flat-rate envelope and still close it. It's thick, but it's closed. But some post offices are refusing these packages and applying an arbitrary-in-that-it's-not-posted-publicly policy of 1/2" (or so) thickness only. And I'll spare you my consternation with the obnoxious enforcement of the post office's "all credit cards must be signed" (that is, no "check ID" allowed) policy.

I didn't mean to use this post to vent, but I did. I will end with this point: blaming my packages for the postal service deficit is not exactly going to endear me to the USPS, though I will continue to use the postal service because I believe in the importance of a postal system that is accessible to all, no matter where one lives. But perhaps the Postmaster General would like to clarify the FRE thickness issue -- and I suggest adhering to the "if it can be closed, it counts" method.


Ducks in a Row

>> Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I finally joined the "Mug Rug" craze, months late, I know. A mug rug is basically a large coaster, big enough for your mug of coffee/tea/hot chocolate/hot water (that would be me, I do love hot water + lemon) to hang out alongside a snack. This was also my transition project from my old machine -- which, now that it's no longer "my" machine, I've taken to referring to as Gus -- to my new machine -- which still needs a name. I had the orange and white half-square triangles left over from a different project and found a way to repurpose them. As I stare at the image now, I think I like it better rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Crane your neck, turn your computer, or just imagine it. The triangle orientation somehow sits better that way. Handily, in real life this is accomplished super-easily, with the flick of a wrist.

I debated showing you the back of this little guy because, frankly, I'm not thrilled with its appearance. I had 14 HSTs and used the last 2 on the back. While I like the orange/white/aqua color combination,  don't like how this layout looks. It doesn't help that the binding has some real crappy spots. I may need a new binding method for smaller projects, as I've found that my method works well for larger items (challah covers and placemats) but rather poorly for the small ones. Lessons learned...and perhaps applied in the future.

In other news, I was unpacking all my sewing equipment and accoutrements, and I found a broken ruler. I don't know how or when it snapped not-quite-in-half, since everything else made the trip just fine. This was my first ruler, and I've had it for 8 or so years. It was a fine ruler, and I'll probably keep its broken pieces since they're handy for little strips. I've pledged to myself not to buy anything for sewing this winter -- a fabric diet plus -- to make the accounting for the new sewing machine work out. I have a 6" x 24" ruler so there's nothing I can't measure and cut, but I was fond of my first, and for many years, only ruler.


My Saturday Evening Companion

>> Sunday, January 23, 2011

My new sewing machine arrived earlier this week. Once I made a decision about what to get, I thought the hard part was over. But ordering a sewing machine is, it turns out, a complicated affair. First, the sewing machine industry may as well be run by the mob, given the racket companies insist on maintaining. From what I can glean, the major sewing machine manufacturers do their best to suppress information by requiring their retailers to keep prices off the web and limiting markets such that retailers can only sell to people within a certain geographic realm. A lot of retailers only carry 1-2 brands and don't necessarily have a full selection, thus limiting options as well. For example, I stopped by a local Bernina dealer and the very nice saleswoman informed me that she only carried machines under $300 or over $850. And then only some of the models. While I've heard fantastic stories about strong relationships between sewers and their local dealers, I wasn't getting that vibe in my area. And I move around, so even the best local dealer is not going to be able to help me when I'm 1000 miles away.

While I'm sure there are magical dealers out there somewhere that stock all brands and machines in every price range, that seemed not to be the case in my area. I thus moved online, where the sewing-machine-mafia continues to enforce its will. Internet dealers seem to carry more brands but often not the most recent models. For my needs, that was just fine.

I ordered a Janome MC4400 from Sew Vac Direct. Or tried to. As you may be able to see above, my machine is not a 4400 as they were sold out (but still available to order). I received an email from them that included a link to the MC5200. I didn't realize that I was supposed to tell them that this would be a suitable replacement until I called. And I called because they told me that I needed to add my shipping address (where I'm currently living) to my credit card (which goes to my home address where I'm not currently living). I didn't want to do this.

From Sew Vac Direct's perspective, this request centered on preventing fraud. From my perspective, this was absurd: do you add an address to your credit card account every time you send a gift from an online retailer? Moreover, when it comes to credit card companies, I believe in keeping everything as straightforward as possible; otherwise, bills will inevitably be sent to the wrong address (even if you usually get them online) and somehow payments won't be recorded and the interest rate will skyrocket and your credit score will plummet (even if you pay your bills in full online every month). It's just the way of life with credit cards: if their is an opportunity to mess with you, they will, so do everything to avoid it.

Several phone conversations later, Sew Vac Direct agreed to send the machine to my parents' house because they could confirm -- online -- that they lived there, which apparently they couldn't do for my brother's address. There are substantive issues with fraud-prevention that assumes what kind of information can be gleaned or confirmed online: it doesn't surprise me that my parents are linked to their single-family-home-in-the-suburbs-in-which-they've-lived-for-30-years address while my brother is not tied to his apartment-in-the-city address. I recognize that fraud prevention is especially important for small, internet-based companies that sell goods valued in the hundreds of dollars, but there must be better methods than those that (unintentionally, I think) discriminate by housing type and location.

In any event, despite my frustration with the ordering process, I actually think Sew Vac Direct is a great company from whom to order. First, they did respond to my emails and notes in the order form. Second, when I called them, I talked to real people and real people who could get things done. Nothing is more frustrating than calling and talking to robots (which was my experience with those devils at Comcast earlier this week, but I digress). Their employees were responsive and ultimately made this order happen. Third, they answered my questions about the MC5200 and sent me, gratis, 2 extra feet that didn't come with the machine but I wanted. Therefore, in the end, I would recommend buying from them, and I share my earlier frustrations to be informative and suggest, publicly, that there are better fraud-prevention mechanisms out there.

I'm now spending a good amount of time with the manual and the machine. Indeed, it was a lovely Saturday evening of getting to know you -- figuring out how you work, determining what makes you zing (or wince), and how to use all sorts of features I'd only heard about before. After all this, I think my machine needs a name. Any suggestions?

Thus far, some of my favorite features are the needle up/down programming (not shown here), the window onto the bobbin (so helpful to know if it's going to run out soon), and all those amazing markings to identify seam allowances and distances for quilting (at least that's what I'll use it for!). More updates soon!


Lickety Split

>> Saturday, January 22, 2011

My bag-making adventures continue with Rae's Lickety Split bag. This is a great bag and a great pattern. I'm a sucky pattern reader so it of course took me several read-throughs to full get it (even after I watched several people make them a month or so ago under Rae's tutelage). But once I got it, I got it. This bag used an Alexander Henry print on the outside and Amy Butler dots on the inside. Although it's a little hard to see here, the AH print's repeat is perfect for the pattern as you get the blue flower with ovals in the same spot on both sides.

Because I am thoroughly incapable of just following directions and instead need to modify everything, I moved the pockets from the sides to the middle of the bag and only put them on the inside, here shown on the outside. I'm not a fan of outside pockets and don't use them so these stay ensconced on the inside and are quite useful. Indeed, this bag is marvelous. I made it right before I moved, and the morning I left town, I used it to throw in all the last-minute things that need a spot -- phone charger, ipod charger, phone, ipod, wallet, snacks, etc. Here in DC, I find it a great bag to accompany me around town -- I can toss a book, a water bottle, and an array of smaller items in it. The pockets hold my phone and wallet (at least when I remember to put them in the pockets) so I don't have to scramble to reach my phone when it rings. Who am I kidding? I almost always scramble to grab my phone since even with it's charmingly distinctive ring, I have to remember that that sound is indeed my phone.

I made another version of the bag for a friend. Here I used a combination of Art Gallery prints, with the more sedate whisps on the outside and louder Sugar print on the inside.

And a creamy pocket. I just liked the cream with the sugar. It's how I take my coffee, after all. Of course, she may decide to flip the "sides" or reverse it everyday or what have you. It's her call.

And, finally, a gratuitous artsy shot of the strap. And the side edge of my brother's fancy bar stool chair.


DQS10 Inspiration Mosaic

>> Sunday, January 16, 2011

DQS10 is underway, and I received my partner's information this morning. I hope my inspiration mosaic gives my partner some hints and clues as to what I'm loving these days. Putting this together showed me how my tastes have shifted -- so many of my current favorites are based on solids and circles put together in really bold and striking ways. Of course, not all fall into this category, and my love for trees and birds, hexagons and squares persists as well. The missing square is supposed to be Elizabeth's Tokyo Subway Map quilt. There are some really neat derivatives of that quilt in her flickr group, and I'm definitely thinking about ways to use the idea for quilts of my own. Whatever the individual fabrics, colors, and designs in my mosaic, I do think they all share a sense of movement.

That said, this mosaic is intended to be inspiration so whether the quilt comes out of it directly or indirectly, or emerges from reading my blog or scrolling through my Flickr favorites or consulting a magic 8-ball, I'm excited to see what you make. And with that, let the DQS10 partner stalking begin.....


Waiting Impatiently

>> Saturday, January 15, 2011

Although I toted my sewing machine with me, from Michigan to DC, it's broken. It was broken when I left the Mitten State and remains broken. I think it's fixable, but it's not worth the money to fix it. I took it with me in case someone could easily fix it or I magically figured out how to do so.

My never-named but loyal machine served me well for about 6 years. My grandma gave it to me as she had it but wasn't using it (to be honest, I don't know why she had it because I never saw her sew). It was a low-end Brother, but it worked well for me. I want to reiterate this point: I grew tremendously as a sewer, quilter, and bag-maker while using a low-end, very basic machine. I bought a darning/free-motion quilting foot, but aside from that didn't alter or add a thing. I found that it really didn't like bobbins that didn't come with the machine, so I stuck with the 4 originals. To the new quilters and sewists out there: you can do a lot with a basic machine. If you're just starting out, use what you have access to or can easily afford. You can learn a lot without the bells and whistles.

That said, when I realized I would need to acquire a new (or new-to-me) machine, I decided it was time for an upgrade. I'm at the point in sewing and quilting where I can reasonably consider a machine a worthy investment and an item worth spending money on (which says a lot as my family knows that I'm notoriously frugal when it comes to buying things). I admit that it helped that when I returned home, I discovered that the bank account into which I deposited my high school and college job earnings contained more savings than I realized.

When it comes to big-ticket items, my decision-making process is a hybrid of my mom and dad. My mom is a pretty quick decision-maker; my father likes to deliberate. I like to research until my gut tells me something is the right option for me, research it some more, sleep on it knowing I've mostly made a decision, check a few more websites in the morning, and then commit. In this case, I dwelled with the Janome MC4400 for a couple days. It had the features I wanted, I found it for the right price, and it just felt right. When I read Rashida's review, I knew it was the one. But I still needed some confirmation or a touch more reassurance. When Rashida affirmed that she still loves her machine a few years later, I was sold.

So then I ordered it, which became a saga unto itself. And so I wait, rather impatiently for it to arrive. As this post is getting pretty long and wordy, I'll save the saga for my next post, as I wait a couple more days for UPS to get a machine to me, via my parents' house...

On a more positive note, I received good news this week, via its own circuitous route through my spam folder. I got into...


My Morning Walk

>> Thursday, January 13, 2011

I'm now ensconced in my brother's apartment in DC. It's the perfect location for me: I can walk to the Library of Congress and to the National Archives downtown. There's a metro stop 5 minutes away that places me on the line I need to use to get to other libraries and archives. I knew this would be a great place to live, but I didn't realize how great until I got here. I love cities, and I love walking in cities. I get to walk around DC every day and look at some pretty amazing buildings, like Senate office buildings.

Or the Supreme Court. The line of people is waiting to attend oral arguments. I want to try and observe one myself this winter. Although I grew up in this area, I've never been inside the Supreme Court, and I'm a little bit of a junkie. Handily, it's immediately adjacent to the Library of Congress where I'm spending many of my waking hours these days.

Although the snow melted by the evening, the little dusting we got was sparkly yesterday morning. For those of you from non-snowy climates, not all winters are the same. Compared to the Midwest, the East Coast is much sunnier in the winter. All of these pictures connect to quilting as well. Project Modern's Challenge 2 is a monochromatic quilt. DC architecture, with all its white/grey stone and marble, not to mention exquisite detailing, has given me a lot of ideas. I don't know if any of them will make it beyond my head, but it's fun to make the world around me into quilts as I walk to work.


To Health: A Quilt

>> Sunday, January 9, 2011

I offered a few glimpses of this quilt in the making. It started as a quilt to contribute to 100 Quilts for Christmas but its purpose and intended recipient quickly shifted. (I donated a different quilt to my local children's hospital but, in the frenzy of dropping it off, failed to take a picture.) A close family friend has been fighting breast cancer this fall. Once I realized that I had cut enough strips to make a good-sized lap quilt rather than just a kid's quilt, I decided that it needed to go to someone I know, and hte Maer house would be its new destination. I returned to DC on Wednesday and stopped by to drop off the quilt on Thursday night, the day before her surgery. I like to think that a warm and cozy quilt is just the right thing to return to and recover under.

I backed it with a deep aquamarine fleece, which makes it very warm and comfortable. I love how the straight-line quilting shows up on the fleece. When I back a quilt with fleece, I don't use batting as I find the fleece thick enough on its own. I used to shy away from lots of quilting with fleece backs, but I've become very comfortable with quilting fleece and now quilt it as I would any other quilt.

Red and aqua has long been a popular color combination, and I really do like the pairing. This quilt brightens up a room without being too flashy. Coincidentally but fortuitously, it matches the new chairs in Maer house perfectly.

There are some fabrics I love at first (online) sight and others that I need to see in person. The red print at the top of the picture -- Alexander Henry's Farmdale Blossom -- is one of the latter. I was sort of meh about it when I first saw pictures. But then I saw it at the Stitch Lab in Austin and had to buy a bit. I only bought a 1/2 yard, so I'm using it sparingly for now -- one strip in this quilt and some more waiting for other projects...


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