360 Degrees

>> Saturday, April 30, 2011

Or close to it. I finally pieced the inner circles for Lily's Quilt-Along. Since I lack easy (read: free) access to a printer right now, I had to make my own template, for which she handily gives instructions here. Her instructions assume, however, that one has a compass handy. And I don't. It's one of many things I lack as I live nomadically this spring. Actually, that's not exactly true. I don't think I've owned a compass since 9th grade geometry, and I'm sure I don't have one in Michigan. But somehow I feel like I could find one to borrow there more easily.

However, the absence of such tools merely calls for a little creativity. In this case, I started by tracing a plate that produced an 8.5" diameter circle, and proceeded to use my ruler to make marks denoting a 3.75" radius, after which I connected the marks, and cut out my circle template. Geometry class didn't go to waste, even if I never figured out how to write simple, elegant proofs instead of long, inelegant ones.

But I digress. I sewed a circle into the dresden plate! Rather than appliquing it on top. I recognize this may not be meaningful to more than a handful of people who read this, but I feel quite good about this accomplishment and newly acquired knowledge/ability. And I could not care less that it is imperfect.


Nestle's Crunch

>> Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dense straight-line quilting creates texture -- and uses thread! -- like nothing else. Quilting this little guy took 4 full bobbins of thread, plus a smidge of bobbin number 5. But it was totally worth it, and produced my Nestle's Crunch version of Lynn's Zinnias quilt. Technically the background color is Moda Betty's Brown, but I like to think of it as chocolate. And the single strip of colorful pieced triangles + the texture give it a little crunch.

Don't mind the folds and wrinkles, please! I waited about a week to take pictures of it as the rain made finding decent light near impossible, and even when it wasn't raining, most surfaces were quite wet. I folded it up and took it with me in the car just in case I found a photo op. When the rain departed, I snapped a few pictures under grey skies and didn't think to iron it until editing the images. I started with 3" squares of fabric, pieced the half-square triangles, and semi-randomly sewed them together. I tried to avoid using the same combination more than 1-2 times which technically makes the process non-random,but I didn't plan it out either, hence "semi-random."

Since I didn't plan the front, I ended up with way more half-square triangles than necessary. The leftovers from the front became part of the back, and I added a row of pinwheels to a yard of aqua/brown/orange/white dots that in this photo look oddly grey. It's not grey in real life, however! I used my 1/4" piecing foot for the first time while sewing the triangles for this quilt and what a difference it makes! I confess that I had long assumed that foot was silly, since I could use the edge of my regular foot or markings on my machine. But I was wrong; it makes a big difference, and these represent the most even pinwheels I've ever produced.

Ah, these colors are much more representative of the quilt itself! When quilting, I opted for (intentionally) wobbly lines. In order to ensure they didn't get too crazy, I sewed straight lines about 4-5 inches apart and then added the scraggly ones in between, using brown thread on the front and white on the back. I think it's neat how the quilting appears behind, but fades into, the pinwheels.

This quilt has arrived in California, where Benjamin will get to enjoy it. Well, I don't think he's cognizant of it yet, but I know his parents like it and that's quite a compliment coming from another sewer.  Sarah and I are both sewers, but she has mastered garments -- she sewed her own wedding dresses while I panic at the thought of sewing a simple skirt (one day I'll figure it out) and thus stick to quilts. Several friends who make clothes say that clothes-making is easier and faster than quilt-making; I accept the speed argument but continue to admire anyone who can make things that, you know, actually fit someone's body. Types of sewing aside, Sarah and Matt sent me a surprise bundle of fabric for my birthday last summer, and while I would have made Benjamin quilt anyways, it was extra special to do so for the child of friends who know just what to give a quilter.


Practice Makes...Decent

>> Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I've been interested in the circle of geese block for a while, as in almost 2 years. A couple months ago, I finally printed the paper template, and recently I sketched out a quilt using this block. I decided to test it out first, which was a really good idea. Despite reading the very clear tutorial carefully, the first quarter-block was a mess. Had I not reused the paper template, I would show you just how much of a mess it was. Suffice it to say that I managed to use pieces that were too small and sew pieces together incorrectly. My second try was better, but somehow I sewed fabric to itself multiple times. The third try only required ripping out 2 pieced lines, while the my 4th version included only one episode of fabric sewed to itself (I pinned and everything but still accidentally folded fabric onto itself).

I really like the block, but it was wise to start with my scrap bin instead of the planned quilt fabric. I'm not sure how many of these blocks I have in me -- making one took a good 4 hours. I'd like to believe my next effort will go faster since I now know what I'm doing, but I'm sure I can find some new mistakes to make. I'm still trying to work out how to minimize fabric waste since I feel like I need to use much bigger pieces than necessary to ensure I fully cover each section.

In the meantime, I'm debating whether I want to make this block into a larger quilt or enlarge it slightly and create a challah cover. Either way, turquoise is definitely my dominant scrap color!


That Disapproving Glance

>> Monday, April 25, 2011

I buy most of my fabric online. I don't live close to an amazing local quilt shop and, as a grad student on a budget, I have to watch my pennies. I therefore shop online and never buy anything not on sale. But my sister found and bought me a Living Social deal for G Street Fabrics, and I had $50 to spend which was handy since I'm participating in the DC Modern Quilt Guild's Kona charm pack challenge and needed a base solid. (Of course, as I write this, I remember that the DCMQG card gets a 10% discount at G Street and I forgot to use it. Darn.) In any event, I went to purchase multiple yards of Kona (I ended up deciding on mustard) and while I would never spend $7/yard on it, the deal made it effectively $3.50/yd (at least in my head) and it was a gift anyways. While there I spied some Central Park Trefoil in Reservoir, and since I needed to spend $50, I decided to buy some of that as well.

I brought the bolts up to the counter to get the yardage cut, and the woman helping me asked what I was making. I replied, "a quilt." At which point she put the 2 bolts next to one another and smirked, disapprovingly. Now they don't coordinate exactly, but they look fine together. Moreover, I never said I was using them together (although I might use the Trefoil on the back of the quilt I'm making), but she assumed I was incapable of making decent fabric choices. Mind you, the quilting cotton selection at this G Street (there are 3 locations) is not, in my opinion, incredible if you like modern fabrics. There are some nice prints amidst the ones I dislike, but it wouldn't be my first-choice shop. And now, deal aside, I'm even less interested in supporting them: the prices are high (standard for a local shop), the selection is, for me, middling at best, and the service is less than impressive.

As it happens, when I got home, I saw this wonderful confessional post about things we don't often say aloud, or put in print/on screen in blogs. I liked that Rachel wasn't afraid to acknowledge she doesn't like every "hip" thing out there. And the waterfall of comments were engaging, honest, fun, and thought-provoking to read. For the record, I'm also not a Pips fan (too cutesy), only found a few Innocent Crush fabrics interesting (but haven't bought any), wasn't enthralled by Tufted Tweets, hate Denyse Schmidt's Greenfield Hill line, and ignore all giveaways that require anything other than simply leaving a comment. I like blogs whose full posts show up in my reader and rarely click over if they don't. I spend too much time reading blogs and not enough time sewing, but I can read blogs from anywhere and can only sew where my machine and material are. I really should name all of my quilts after crime shows since I watch all sorts of shows while piecing and quilting (Criminal Minds is my current show-of-choice; aside from the whole sleuth thing, I really like the random literary name drops in each episode.) And finally, I respect local quilt shop loyalty, but I refuse to fetishize it: as noted above, local loyalty isn't always deserved.

I also appreciated Deborah's response which is, as usual, thoughtful as she asked the flip side of Rachel's question: what makes you feel empowered as a sewer? I love a good online tutorial, and right now I'm really excited about figuring out how to sew circles. I first encountered Lynne through DQS10 (she's my awesome, on-top-of-it swap mama), and I decided to plunge in with her Quilt Along. Because I never follow directions completely, I'm sticking with 2 big circles and I'm not going to use the quilt-as-you-go method. However, I've pieced the dresden circles (I suppose I should take some pictures) and am now approaching the actual circle sewing. Lynne is tremendously generous and her blog is full of all sorts of fantastic tutorials. I certainly find that empowering. In addition, I just won a copy of Rebecca's Curlicue Crush pattern from Lesly at Pickle Dish. It's the first stand-alone quilt pattern I'll own, and I hope I finally figure out the whole curved piecing thing. Lesly's doing it as a quilt-along as well, which will be nice for support in my inevitable seam-ripping.

And that picture up top? I'll be showing the whole quilt as soon as I know it arrived at its destination.


To the Metropole

>> Friday, April 22, 2011

In March, my friend Amanda came to visit me in DC (as did her husband, who handily took the above picture). She had just finished prelims (the big exams that separate coursework from dissertation work in grad school), and I had every intention of giving her a present, especially since I wasn't there to take her out for a drink or buy her a cupcake when she was done. I had promised her a scarf, after all. But, like usual, I was behind.

When I went to Michigan last weekend, I was determined to bring a belated gift, and the gift turned into gifts: a coordinating scarf and bag. When I saw the madras fabric above on sale, I knew exactly what I was going to do: make a linen and madras bag. Now I think these materials work well together as a summer-weight bag to begin with, but it also reflected Amanda's work. {nb: please indulge my inner total nerd for a moment.} She works on the British Empire, and linen (Ireland) and madras (India) represent two textiles the empire regularly imported from its colonies, near and far.  Moreover, she's off to the metropole, London, for research in about a month, so it seemed appropriate to give her a bag made from materials that tied the capital to its far-flung colonies, some of which she studies.

I also made her an infinity scarf from 2 madras prints. I don't regularly use madras but it was super easy to work with, and this scarf is a perfect spring/summer accessory. As it turns out, Amanda had wanted an infinity scarf -- she is far more fashionable with her clothes and accessories that I am, but I pay enough attention to the sewing world to coincidentally make something she wanted. A perfect pairing, I think.

One of the fun surprises of the madras was that it turned into stripes when I folded it for the bag handles. This is definitely my favorite photograph, and might even be my favorite part of the bag. I should mention that the linen cooperated with the madras. I know linen is notoriously difficult to sew with, but it was fine for a simple tote bag. I'm not sure it would have been as fine for a more complicated bag, but I have some left so I might try.


Bag It

>> Monday, April 18, 2011

I had a whirlwind trip back to Michigan for a conference + seeing friends, returned last night for a day in the archives, and, since Passover starts tonight, I'm off to a seder in a couple of minutes. But I wanted to briefly post about this bag I made last week for a friend who a) loves bags, b) loves green, and c) helped plan the roundtable we organized. The picture is terribly blurry -- night, no flash, and poor overhead lighting will do that. But I sort of love the unintentional artsy blurriness; had I more time, I would have futzed around with the colors, exposure, and saturation to make it truly crazy. The bag does use some of the Marimekko fabric I picked up last week -- when I bought it, I knew this piece would be perfect for a Katie-bag. I made it by modifying this "wasp-bag" tutorial to work with the materials and sizes I had. There are some things I would change if I make it again, but I'm pleased with it overall.

And with that, chag sameach to those who celebrate Passover!


Marimekko Winner

>> Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The handy random generator picked #16, which corresponds to Katie B, who wrote, "What a great find! I'd love to turn the fabric into some pillows." I'll email you to get your address and send you your goodies. The rain finally stopped but it's too dark to take pictures outside; hopefully, I'll get a chance to show you a few of the things I've been making soon.


Wrestling with Angels

>> Monday, April 11, 2011

Great friends know how to make you laugh and know just the right way share information. Last winter, Claire emailed me with the subject heading "your quilting" and a message that read "makes me want to have a baby. Seems like a good enough reason, no? ;-)" She then clarified that she was not actually pregnant, and the whole exchange made me smile: it's a good friend who can take information and package it just right, in this case knowing that I'm not a baby person but love making baby quilts.

In fact, for me, making baby quilts is a form of processing, a way of getting used to the idea that my friends are having children because, as my real-life friends know, yours truly is not a baby person. I've learned that this approach to quilting and thinking is not necessarily something that makes sense to people who think newborns are the most adorable things on this planet. I recognize that this puts me in a tiny minority, but it is what it is. I was therefore deeply grateful to Claire for calling me to tell me her news before I came to see her as it gave me time to get used to it.

In addition, Claire and Michael named their son Jacob Samuel, and their drash, or exegesis about his name, discussed the ways in which both biblical namesakes wrestle, literally and figuratively, internally and externally, with multiple ways of being, living productively in tension with who they are and who they want to be. As Michael wrote, "little Jacob, the biblical Jacob is not 'my guy' because of his triumphs and successes – he is “my guy” because he faces real struggles and has real shortcomings.  He tries and fails, and tries again." Both strive imperfectly for peace and pathos, but persistence in the pursuit is what matters most.

Jewish custom surrounding childbirth differs significantly from American traditions: wait until after the first trimester to announce someone is pregnant, don't buy stuff or prepare a nursery, don't hold baby showers, don't call the child by name until after the bris (ritual circumcision) or naming. None of this is mandated by religious law, but rather stems from a mixture of pragmatism and spiritualism: don't be presumptuous about what will happen and don't let evil spirits have a chance to intervene. Painting what will be the child's room seems to be a common boundary among many people I know: paint ahead of time but leave everything else until later. In this case, I knew that Claire and Michael had selected yellow, and I made this quilt with a yellow room in mind. I used a modified version of Ashley's rectangle-squared block. I adjusted the width to maximize the use of a Hello Betty retro  layer cake I had and thought would look great in a yellow room.

I used some remnant squares on the back, along with Laura Gunn's Tile Mosaic in Turquoise (from her Lantern Bloom collection). I love the subtle pattern of the turquoise print, with its hints of brown, orange, and cream. I free-motion quilted it, and bound it with a solid chocolate brown. When I made the quilt, I thought of the strip along the back as the "top." But when I prepared to add a label, I decided one of the solid squares in the strip would be a perfect spot, at which point the strip migrated from top to bottom. Of course, as the picture shows, there's no real top and bottom, and the quilt can lie any which way.


Holy Marimekko! (+ Giveaway)

>> Sunday, April 10, 2011

I spent several hours yesterday sewing with members of the DC Modern Quilt Guild. One of the local public libraries has a fantastic space with tables and lots of outlets. I knew some people and met some new people and made progress on a quilt. All of which was great. I also got to eat some Thai food (my favorite cuisine) and learned that the Crate and Barrel outlet stores sell Marimekko remnants for 95 cents a pound. You read that right: the same stuff that retails for 45 dollars/yard is sold for 95 cents a pound.

At least sometimes. Since there was an outlet not too far away, I headed over there and had a great conversation with a very knowledgeable sales person. Not only did she bring out another basket of fabric from the back, but she told me that they hadn't been selling remnants for a year. But C&B reduces fabric on the bolt to $4.95/yard during their spring sale in an effort to move inventory, and they had enough remnants to put out a barrel (literally, they're in a barrel). Most of the remnants come from store decor so they may have some staples in them but are otherwise in good shape.

I walked out with 7 pounds of fabric for less than 7 dollars (as a reference point, I think a yard of quilting weight fabric is about 6 ounces based on shipping costs). While perusing the store, I noticed that they are also selling napkins made out of Kaffe Fassett fabric for about $4/napkin (outlet price!) so I'm not too concerned about their profits.

But in honor of this splendid find and recently surpassing 400 posts, I'd like to share some with you. To win some Marimekko fabric remnants -- if you don't sew, these can easily be made into cool wall hangings with canvas/wood and a staple gun or glue -- leave a comment on this post telling me what you might do with the fabric.

The fine print: 1 entry per person, giveaway open until Wednesday around 6 pm, make sure to leave a means of contact, open to US and international commenters.


Ann Arbor Modern Quilt Guild

>> Thursday, April 7, 2011

I'm so excited to see this happening....of course, it started while I'm away from Michigan, but I look forward to meeting up with everyone in the guild when I'm back in town. In the meantime, R0ssie made some fabulous logos -- the one above is my favorite of the batch.

While there is a guild not too far away from Ann Arbor in Brighton, the meetings never really worked with my schedule. It's sort of like the gym -- the closer it is to me, the more likely am I to make it. Except of course, when I'm in DC and traversing the metro region by car for 45-60 minutes seems totally normal. On Saturday, I'll be meeting up with my local DC quilt guilders in Arlington, and I'm hoping that weekend = no (who am I kidding) little traffic.

I've got several projects in the works. Two friends had babies within 3 days of one another in late March, and while I was ready with one baby quilt, I'm scurrying to finish the second. I know they read my blog (hi Claire! hi Sarah!) so even though I'm not sure that they're reading it right now, I'm going to hold off on pictures until the gifts arrive at their destinations.


A Day at the Lake

>> Saturday, April 2, 2011

It's not quite lake-weather in DC, though it is supposed to get warmer tomorrow. But this is a long overdue wedding quilt for two friends, Cynthia and Andy, who got married in August when it certainly was lake weather. Growing up, both spend a lot of time in the Adirondacks with their families and, over the past decade or so (!), have spent a lot of time there with one another. As soon as I saw their invitation, which used multiple shades of blue and included an image of a boat, I knew blue would be central to whatever I made for them.

Joel Dewberry's Modern Meadow line in the "Pond" palette was perfect for this project. When it first came out, I knew I would find a use for it, and I had squirreled away 8 prints and 2 coordinating Bella solids. I stored this group of fabric in my bin of "special project" fabrics -- these are the ones I know I want to use together and wait for the right project. This table runner was certainly the right project. I mulled over possible designs, at first thinking about making sailboats and wonky stars. I played around with some layouts and tried to find a sailboat block I liked. But nothing really stood out. So I opted for sashed bricks (3.25" x 6.5" bricks and 1.5" sashing), a design that I think is great for displaying the wonderful fabrics in this collection.

While the brick design is somewhat traditional, I went for modern, improv, and funky on the other side. When I made the bricks, I cut 3.25" strips from each of the 10 fabrics and then 3 bricks from each, which meant that I had plenty of the strips left. I started to chop and sew and see where it went. I got so into it that when I sewed all the rows together, it was much bigger than the other side, at which point I trimmed it down. I like how the two sides use the same fabrics in really different ways, both because they show how fabric can be deployed in a variety of patterns and also because it gives Cynthia and Andy two options for display.

I used the white sashing as the guide for quilting, only sewing within those lines but meandering around the bricks in no particular order which created a neat design on the other side (this picture was taken before I washed the runner).

Originally I thought I'd bind the runner in the navy solid, but as I put it together, I decided that the "flower fields" print would be a better option. I'm glad I chose it as I think it helps bring both sides together in ways a solid would not.

And there were still more leftover pieces of fabric. Coordinating coasters were in order, and I made 6: 2 each in 3 different designs. The one peeking out from the bottom has a strip of modern meadow fabrics across the middle, with white on either side. As hard as it was to send these off, I loved sending them to Cynthia and Andy who are just fantastic people. And, since they live just outside NYC, I'll get to hang out with them later in the spring when I'm in New York.


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