Sunday, September 27, 2015

September Summary

I know y'all probably think I've been a slacker the whole month and have done nothing but watch old TV series on Netflix and eat potato chips. That's not true. At least not the potato chips part. The problem has been that I've been working on secret Christmas stuff that I can't show. I can show you the picture of the bags containing the stuff - - -
but that's all you get to see. Tomorrow it all heads by special courier to Canada where it will be picked up by another courier next month and carried on to Paris. The stuff destined for Spain will have to wait there until one of the Spanish comes to visit. It's all very complicated and involves having Christmas deadlines in September, but it saves the cost of international shipping, which is more than the cost of the goods. (I know, Auntie Lauren made them, which means they're priceless; I'm over that.)

When you prepare gifts to be scrunched into the corners of suitcases, fancy wrappings are out. In fact, TSA doesn't like it when you carry stuff that's gift wrapped and will make you unwrap it if they're having a slow day and need to break in the newest rookie. The solution is fabric gift bags, and I'm getting rather good at making them. This is a new kind I made for the first time yesterday. They look a bit like a lunch sack, but the tie means they'll stay closed. This one is filled a bit full, so the top doesn't fold down quite so neatly as in the pattern, which can be found here: Fabric Gift Bag. I have an idea I'll be making more of these before the gift-giving season is over. Perfect size for something like a pair of socks or mittens. And of course the size can be changed.

I did get a new quilt started. This one is for a young man who will be having his first birthday this coming week. I'm using the ideas in Judy Sisneros' book 9-Patch Pizzazz: Fast, Fun & Finished in a Day. The main print has so much white space between the figures that cutting it into small pieces means you only get to see bits and pieces. This allows for using bigger chunks of that fabric, but then breaking it up with nine-patches sewn from companion fabrics. I have no idea what this quilt is going to end up looking like, because the construction is very free-form. I'll just keep adding things in and taking things out until it looks the way I want it. I'm incorporating some scraps from another quilt that happened to be lying out and that turned out to be perfect color companions, so we'll see what turns out. 

Meanwhile the current Christmas crunch is over and October looks fairly clear of deadlines. There are a couple in the middle of the month, but one of those projects is nearly done and the other won't take more than a day or two once I get all the materials together in one place. I'm finishing up a couple of knitting projects that don't have any particular purpose in mind other than giving me something to knit in social settings. I'm starting on the next round of Christmas goodies. And Marketplace is less than two months away, so time to get serious about that. 

Monday, September 07, 2015

Lazy Labor Day

It may be September, but the temperatures and humidity have been as bad this weekend as they've been all summer. Needless to say, I've not been the most energetic creature on the planet. I've gotten a little bit of knitting done today, and I sewed in a label, but other than fixing food and eating I haven't done a whole lot today. So be it.

But, all things considered, this has been a productive week. Baby M is finally finished all the way to the label, although the label will need to be edited now that Baby M has made his appearance into the world two weeks early. That's easy enough to fix, and I'll get the quilt in the mail sometime this week.

Now that it's all finished, I've thought of a way I could have dealt differently with the top's refusal to lie flat. The moral of the story - don't have quilting lines cross each other. I could have quilted independent squares in each block, without crossing any seam lines, and the look of the quilt would have stayed essentially the same. I'm taking this into consideration as I'm planning the quilting in the next vintage top.

I also finished this small quilt, that I've always called Prison Bars. This one behaved a lot better, surprisingly, although the finished quilt doesn't want to lie quite flat. I suspect a bit of steam will help that happen, but for now it's going into the closet where finished quilts live. It has a label. It's official.

I'm not all together happy with the maroon binding, but this was a case of necessity dictating choices. Ideally I would have bound it with the same navy I used in the body of the quilt. But I finished this top 20 years ago, and that fabric is long gone. Since navy is one of those colors that is notoriously difficult to match, I opted to use the same fabric I used for the backing. There are small bits of that color in the print, so it's not a completely random choice. But I think it calls attention to itself a bit too much.

I do like the quilt, and I'm thinking that I may have to do another one some day. I think it was the first quilt I made where you start with a large square of fabric, cut it into segments, insert a second fabric, then recut in a different direction and square up the resulting block. Rotary cutters were a relatively new invention, and this was an early design, created by Georgia Bonesteel, that took full advantage of its capability. I think it holds up to the test of time, and I'd like to see what would happen with a feature fabric and a set of strips in coordinating solids.

The other finish for this week was a set of place mats that are to be a wedding gift. The pattern was one I bought on a trip to Iowa last fall. It uses four fat quarters. Pieces are cut and shuffled, and the result is four place mats with the fabrics in different places. I worked from yardage, so did a double set, two of each color placement. I suspect there will also be napkins before the day of the wedding, but they're just a matter of cutting the fabric and making hems.

I also spent a little time this week trying to come up with a plan for the next baby quilt, which ideally will be done by the end of the month. I bought fabrics a year ago, but coming up with a plan for using them proved a bit of a challenge. I made a couple of test blocks and wasn't at all happy with them. But now I think I have a workable idea, so before the week is over I'll start working at putting that together.

Now I'm trying to wrap my head around the idea that I have Christmas gifts that have to be finished by the end of the month. I think I need to knit faster. No - that just makes me crazy and leads to mistakes and frustration. The good news is I've discovered the newest Doctor Who series. 116 episodes suitable for binge watching! One stitch at a time.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

It's September!

And that means I have survived another summer in the Delta. I know September will still be very warm, but there's an end in sight. Can you hear me taking a deep breath and breathing a sigh of relief?

September also means my Yarn Sabbath has come to an end. It felt very strange to sit down after lunch and pick up knitting after a month of not doing that. I welcome yarn back into my life. We're still friends. But I hope I have a slightly less maniacal relationship to it. At one point this afternoon I felt my shoulders tighten up and realized I was going for some sort of land speed record with my needles. I had to stop, put the knitting down, breathe a few times, and then start out again at a deliberately slower pace. Even though I do this thing to produce lovely finished objects, I have to remind myself that it's supposed to be relaxing and meditative, not a competitive race to the finish line.

The big news of the day is that Baby M is finished. Completely finished, all the way to the labels.
I finished the hand sewing of the binding on Sunday, then gave it a day to rest. Today I went back in, finished sewing down one of the labels, and did the rest of the quilting around the outside, double checked it for anything else that was missing, and plunged it into the washing machine for its first bath. Because of the black, I was a little concerned about color transfer, so I used a Color Catcher, but there don't appear to have been any issues. After 30 minutes in the dryer I spread it out across the living room couch, which is in a cat-free zone, to finish drying. With any luck it will be on its way to its intended recipient before the end of the week. And the baby isn't due for another couple of weeks. I love it when that happens! It's so rare.

Then I gave the machine a good cleaning and started on the next project on my Fab Four list. I've always called it Prison Bars, although I think its real name is Garden Trellis or something like that. The pattern was in one of Georgia Bonesteel's books from the 90's, and I know I made the top in the summer of '95. I had a huge love affair with that print fabric. It got used as a feature fabric in at least two quilts, and I think I even found a small piece of it to put in Crazy Geese. I basted it sometime last year, and now I'm anxious to see it finished and on display somewhere. It's not very large - about 40 inches square if I remember right.

The big question mark as I started quilting this was whether or not the fusible batting I used was going to perform as it was supposed to. I had pinned around the outer edge of the quilt, just to keep some sort of accident from pulling the layers apart, but the only thing holding the middle together is the fusible adhesive. I have to say it has performed its job. Most of the middle is quilted, and there are only a few places where some minor puckering has happened. But that is more likely the fault of the piecing than anything else. I'm not doing anything fancy with the quilting, just following the outside edge of the navy bands. It's graphic enough without adding another design element to it.

With any luck I'll finish quilting this tomorrow. Then I'll have to see what the next project to go into the sewing machine will be. I've left Thangles out where I can see it, and I may try to start quilting that this week. I have an idea what I want to do with it, which is always a good place to start. I also have a bunch of pillowcases cut out and ready to sew. This is a donation project that I'm trying to get caught up on. I don't need them finished until December, but I have a bunch of them to sew. And I need to get started on a set of placemats for a wedding present. I looked today at the fabric I had thought I would use for those and realized I don't have enough, so I'll have to develop another plan. I'll study on that while I quilt tomorrow.

 And now I'm going to download the pattern I had picked out last week to cast on today, find the yarn and the needles, and start my first new knitting project in a month. I'm back!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ay Carumba!

This morning I was thinking about all the projects I've got going this fall and decided I needed a calendar so I could keep track of deadlines and make progress goals for the big stuff like Christmas Marketplace. So I pulled out my favorite blank calendar pages and started filling things in for the rest of the year. Then I had a moment of complete and utter horror.

Christmas is four months away. Marketplace is three months away. I have to have projects done to send to Canada by the end of September; that's one month away. None of the things I wanted to have done by the end of August are done. That's when I decided the most sensible thing to do right then was take a nap.

I did that. The calendar didn't change. The list of projects didn't change. Nothing changed except that it was now an hour later and I still hadn't had lunch.

I know how to eat an elephant. But it's hard to concentrate on taking one bite at a time when the dog is barking and there are mosquitoes buzzing around your ears and the phone is ringing, and there are six new and vitally important things to read on Facebook.

Of course the sensible thing to do would be to put away the things that don't have deadlines and get to work on the things that do. But I also know if I put away the Calico Cats and the Grandmother's Flower Garden it may be ten years before I pull them out again. And I really would like to see them finished in my lifetime.

So after lunch I worked on a couple of things for Marketplace. And then I worked for a while on the Baby M quilt. And now I'm about to get out Bennett's Christmas sweater and move that project forward. In the morning the Calico Cats will still be waiting for quilting. And there are still four more days left in August. Stay calm and keep the calendar handy.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Monday Muddling

Finally! Baby M is behaving! I was really wondering if taking it all apart for the umpteenth time and basting it with thread instead of pins was really going to make a difference, but it did. I've got 4 rows completely stitched, with 2 rows of quilting on either side of the seam. And these 4 rows are going to stay.

I had to go back and watch the videos to make sure I had the method right, and it turns out I didn't. Here is the link to the Sharon Schamber's quilt basting method that I have used in the past and found completely successful. What I had forgotten was that the batting floats between the top and the backing, both of which are rolled onto lengths of board. Once I had that corrected and just relaxed and took my time, all went smoothly.

I have made a couple of changes from the way she describes the method. I was having a bit of trouble getting the winding onto the boards started; the fabric wasn't winding tightly and evenly enough for me. That was easily corrected with a couple of short pieces of painter's tape. The tape just holds the edge of the layer to the board long enough to get the rolling started; there's no pulling or tension on it, so there's no risk of distorting the fabric. And of course it's easily removed at the end.

The other change is that she says to remove the basting thread before you quilt into a space, so you never sew over the thread. I usually leave it in place until the quilting is done. It takes a little more time to remove at the end, but I'm certain that nothing is going to shift even a little bit in the process. If I'm going to quilt very densely I will remove the thread once I have enough quilting done to stabilize the piece, and I will remove a knot that's in the line of stitching. But otherwise I leave it in.

One thing I do to speed up the process is thread several needles onto the spool of thread at once, then pull them off one at a time as I need more thread. I discovered this weekend that I can load several needles onto my needle threader at one time, then slide them off onto the thread all at once. Saves a lot of time hunting for my glasses and getting the light just right to thread the needle. I think at the moment I'm using a heavier thread than Sharon does. She says she prefers tatting cotton. I had a spool of DMC size 30 crochet cotton, so that's what I'm using. I've also used perle cotton in the past.

I guess I've learned my lesson: take the time to thread baste it and forget about the safety pins. Once I had Baby M in the machine I started basting the Thangles quilt, and it's now about 1/4 basted. When I put that one up on the design wall I discovered that the top has some issues. I made it fairly early in my quilting career, and I think it was my first quilt that has the blocks set on point, with setting squares in between. There is some bubbling in those squares, which means they're a little bit bigger than they ought to be. I won't swear that the borders are going to lie flat either. I'm basting this one a bit more closely than I did Baby M in an effort to localize those issues and I'll deal with them as I do the quilting.

Other projects are progressing, but there's nothing very exciting to show. I have 3 rows of blocks put together on the Grandmother's Flower Garden; I can't remember how many rows there are, but it's going to be a big quilt. And there are now 3 rows of cats quilted on Calico Cats.

Next Tuesday my Yarn Sabbath will be over. I thought the other day I should cast on a new project as a way to "break the fast," but of course have no idea what I want to start. I have a week to think about it. I'm sure I'll come up with something.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wednesday Already?

And so it goes with good intentions. I turn my back for one minute and the next thing I know a week has gone by without a post. I do, however, have several excuses. The first is that I haven't really finished anything new and so didn't have any pretty pictures. And of course, it's all about the pictures. The second is that I've been fighting off a cold since last Friday and hardly had the energy to lift a needle, let alone the bandwidth to figure out what to do with it once I picked it up. So it's been a week without a lot to show for it. Some quilting on Calico Cats has happened. Some assembly of Grandmother's Flower Garden has happened. Some quilting on the Baby M quilt has happened. And there have been a few experiments, but none that led to anything spectacular.

One successful experiment was this hat, which I'm calling Lacy Squares because that's what the stitch pattern is called. I found the pattern in a pattern-a-day calendar that I have used for several years, and thought it would make a nice feminine hat for Arkansas Children's Hospital. I had to fiddle with it a little to make it work, and then of course I had to invent a way to decrease stitches at the top as unobtrusively as possible. I think it works. The yarn is Hobby Lobby's equivalent of Caron's Simply Soft, which makes a very soft hat with very little structure. I hope the ribbing holds it snugly enough to the head. I've written up the pattern and sent it off to a friend for a test knit. If she gives it a green light I might even offer this one up on Ravelry. I can't say it's completely original, but what in knitting really is. In the end it's all knits and purls anyway.

Today I did finish this tatted bookmark. I used some size 8 perle cotton I had lying around, which is a pretty fine thread, but it worked well. Because the thread was so fine I had to add extra repeats to make a usable length; it ended up about 7 inches long. That meant it was a slow project but not a difficult one. And I still have some of the thread, so I'm looking for another project for it. It's a sort of antique gold color, so not a snowflake. Perhaps another bookmark or a cross. I'm trying to create things that will sell at Christmas Marketplace in November, and trying to guess what people will buy always gives me a headache.

When I logged the Lacy Squares hat into my "yarn used" account book (yes, I am that kind of person) I realized I had only used about 150 grams of yarn this month. This is in contrast to an average monthly usage well over 1000 grams. It has been a successful yarn sabbath. Of course I'm looking at the calendar and realizing Marketplace is coming, and Christmas is coming. But so is September, and I'm not chafing at the bit all that much. I've needed this time to break out of the pattern of needing to finish things and use up my yarn stash and somehow in so doing prove that I am a useful and productive human being. In fact, I'm already working on a plan to do more of this kind of thing for 2016. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday Whiffling

Today was mostly spent doing some necessary household chores and moving a few projects forward. I did finally get a few lines of acceptable quilting into the Baby M quilt. It's not what I had pictured it would be, but it's okay. I think if I had used cotton batting, the whole thing would have been more successful from the beginning, but the polyester will be okay. I decided to start from the middle of the quilt and work toward the edges instead of trying to run one continuous line from edge to edge. It means having to bury thread tails but I would rather do that than rip out stitching every day for another week. There's a lot more stitching to do than shows in the photo, but it's proof that I've made a start, at least.

Before I left the studio for the day I checked my Fab Four list for this month and pulled out the next top to be basted. I have 20 tops in the drawer waiting to be basted and quilted, and another 6 basted and ready to be quilted. While I have a quilt in the machine being quilted, the cutting table is usually clear, so that's a good time to get another quilt basted. I had chosen this one for the Fab Four list because it's relatively small, and the backing fabric was in the drawer with the top. I know I made this top when I lived in Tallulah, which means sometime between 1998 and 2003. There was a block-of-the-month using a special paper called Thangles to make half-square triangle blocks. It was the first of several quilts I made using shades of black/white/gray for the blocks; I had less fear that I wouldn't like the way the blocks went together when I didn't know what the final quilt would look like. I'm not sure how I'm going to quilt it yet, but I can study on it while I'm doing the basting.

Nothing else worth showing pictures of. I've done some thread crochet snowflakes, but they look like a rumpled mess until they're stiffened and pinned into shape, so you won't see those for a while. I started another tatted cross, hoping to empty the shuttles so I can rewind with a different thread. I did some more on the Calico Cats this morning, but that's going to be a long time in the finishing. I've done a little knitting in the evenings, but usually by the time I sit down with that, I'm too tired to work for long.

Time to bring Molly in for her supper. The cats have already eaten. Then I'll pick out a movie and settle into the Big Easy.