Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Scrappy Persistance

It's been more than 5 months now since my dominant arm started hurting for no apparent reason.  One doctor thinks it's myofascial pain.  Another doctor thinks I have a pinched nerve in my elbow and has referred me to a neurologist.  It will be interesting to hear what the neurologist thinks.

Meanwhile, I'm plugging away at things as best as I can.  Some days I function almost normally.  Some days are so bad that I can't click the mouse button or push a cross stitch needle through a hole in 11-count Aida cloth.  Most days are somewhere in between.

I finished handquilting The Crooked Man's Christmas Quilt with embroidery floss and a big stitch, and I mean a big stitch!  Under normal circumstances, a quarter-inch stitch is easy and relaxing, but with my bum arm I had to lower my standards and call half-inch stitches good.  Needless to say, this quilt has a very primitive art look about it.

I'm wary of cutting into any of my larger pieces of fabric, so I've been working with scraps.  If I slip with the rotary cutter and ruin a scrap, it's no big deal.  I've also been puttering around my sewing shed and finding orphan blocks and samples of various piecing techniques and  mixing these finds with scraps to create small projects.  I'm getting pretty good at putting zippers in cosmetic bags!

A few scraps leftover from the Pixie Garden quilt became a cute little bag.  My niece loves TinkerBell, so I have one Christmas gift done.

Here are two more small bags of no particular size.  I cut the fabric then look for a zipper to fit!

This odd-size bag was made from a sample of bargello piecing that was going to be a doll quilt until I cut it in half to make bags.


A few more scraps became a storage case for my collection of crochet hooks.  The carrying strap was a hanging loop from a pair of pajama bottoms (who hangs pajamas?) and the cricket button came from my collection of whatever-am-I-going-to-do-with-these buttons.  It's perfect for camouflaging the stitching for the hook-and-loop tape.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

More on the Leftover Floral 9-Patch Blocks

When I finished my ninth floral block, I began thinking about ways to set the blocks.  My first thought was to set them the same way as the Crooked Man's Christmas Quilt, but the purples were overpowering and needed to be subdued somehow.  Green sashing was my first thought,  I tried dark green, light green, medium green.  None of them seemed right.  The purples still hogged the show.

The blocks sat for a week until one day I noticed the light pink fabric I had used in the ninth block sitting in my basket of fabrics to put back on the shelf.  I auditioned that and was quite pleased, but it needed cornerstones.  A little more digging produced a scrap of dusty rose fabric that helped bring out the pinks in the floral fabrics used in the original blocks.  Adding both pinks helped draw the eye back to the 9-patch blocks instead of staying on the purples.

I thought I was done at this point, until I happened to spy some scraps of a Disney Tinkerbell print (I think one of the pixies is Tinkerbell).  The colors went so well with the 9-patch units and the purples that I had to find a way to use them in this project.  After a little fussy-cutting, I figured I had just enough rectangular pieces to make a top and a bottom border if I pieced the rectangles together with strips of floral fabric.  Hiding under a stack of Christmas fabrics, I found a little pile of floral scraps, some from the original 9-patch blocks!  (Why didn't I look there sooner?!)

Soon as I began piecing the borders together, my quilt's name changed from Leftover 9-Patches to Pixie Garden.  It's a quilt most any little girl would love, but I have to admit that I rather like it, too.  Someday, I'll take a better photo, but this gives an idea of what the top looks like.  The dark purple is the only fabric that wasn't a leftover or a scrap.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Year of Leftovers

I've been dealing with some strange muscular issues that, while not completely derailing me, have slowed me down to sloth speed (that's about 6 feet per hour according to a tv show I watched).  One day in April, I woke up unable to move my arms without weird cramping pains that were most pronounced when my elbows were bent.  Doing something with a side-to-side motion, like moving a carton of eggs from the counter to the refrigerator, was practically impossible (without dropping the eggs!).  No one really knows what's causing the pain, but through trial-and-error I've learned that keeping my elbows bent and using the computer mouse make it worse.  So I'm keeping mouse use to a minimum and finding activities that make me straighten my arms every few minutes.

I've been hand-quilting the Crooked Man's Christmas quilt with 6 strands of embroidery floss, cutting the thread as long as I dare so that my arm has to straighten as far as possible each time I take a stitch.  And I'm doing the same with a couple of unfinished plastic canvas and cross stitch projects.  I don't recommend cutting yarn and thread that long as a rule, but in my case a bit of tangling and a few unwanted knots are worth the risk right now.

After finishing the Crooked Man's top, I found a short stack of eight 9-patch blocks made 5-plus years ago.  In the same basket were some sashing strips leftover from another project from several years ago.  The colors were right, so I sewed the sashing strips to two sides of the 9-patch blocks, thinking I'd find find a coordinating fabric scrap somewhere for the other two sides, then I'd sew the blocks together into a table runner.

Well, I found a coordinating fabric easily enough, and finished the blocks,

but I couldn't make myself sew them into a table runner.  I have no use for a purple table runner, and I couldn't think of a friend or a relative who would want a purple table runner.  But what else can you make with eight square blocks?  The choices are rather limited.

So, I decided to rummage through my scraps and try to make a ninth block that was similar enough to blend with the other eight.  This is what I came up with:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

All Wrapped Up in Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks

Sometimes my dial-up internet service works fairly well.  Sometimes it doesn't.  Lately, it hasn't.
Sometimes my 60-year-old body works fairly well.  Sometimes it doesn't.  Lately, it hasn't.
Between the two, I've been doing things in slow motion lately, really slow motion.  But, on the bright side, any motion is better than no motion!

While I've been trudging along at snail speed, volume 11 of Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks came out.  If you look on page 36, you'll see "All Wrapped Up," a block that I designed for using those large prints that are too beautiful to cut up into little squares and triangles.  It's a little difficult to see the focal fabric in a small photo, but it features a calico cat and two kittens.

When I first designed the block, I happened to have Christmas fabrics in my EQ fabric palette and used a few to color the block.  The result reminded me of a Christmas present tied with ribbon, so I named the block All Wrapped Up.

This is what the block might look like set without sashing in a small quilt:

Getting away from the Christmas colors, here's an example using a juvenile print as the focal fabric.  (Eeks! The reduced size kind of makes it look like a kitchen print!)

As a runner, the block design loses the pinwheel and circular effects, but it's still quite a striking design for showing off a beautiful print or a beautiful quilting design.

Adding sashing makes the design look a bit like a complex plaid.

I think I like it best set without sashing.  But then again, some fabrics might look best with the sashing.  Which way is your favorite?

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Crooked Man's Christmas Quilt: A Photo

Here's the nearly-completed top draped over a lawn chair!  The colors really pop in the bright sunshine.  I hadn't added the border yet when I took this photo.  From a distance, it's difficult to tell that this project began with strips of not-so-square squares sewn together with a disappearing quarter-inch seam.  So far, I'm pleased with my effort of turning quilty lemons into lemonade.

Here's a schematic of the block design those 9-patches developed into.  Perhaps 9-Patch in the Courthouse would be an appropriate name for it.

My next step is to sandwich the top with batting and backing.  Since this is the type of quilt that only gets used one or two months a year, I'm not going to put a lot of expense into this part.  I have a fleece throw that I purchased on sale last December that's just about perfect for the back: red with large green and white dots.  And I already have a small size poly batting on hand.

Once sandwiched, I'll have to decide on how to hold the layers together.  I don't like machine quilting with fleece backings, so I've already discarded that option.  The two options I'm debating are 1) tie it with yarn, or 2) hand quilt it with embroidery floss using the big stitch method.  Both seem appropriate for a quilt in the crooked man's crooked little house!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Crooked Man's Christmas Quilt: To Sash or Not to Sash

When it comes to sewing blocks together, we quilters seem to have only two options: we can sew the blocks together, side by side, or we can sew strips of fabric called sash or sashing between the blocks.  Sometimes I wish there were more options, but every time I think I've found a new one it turns out to be a variation of sashed or not sashed.

For this project, I deliberated both options.  My go-to method for most projects is to use sashing between the blocks unless assembling the blocks without sashing creates a new design effect, as when Snowball blocks and 9-Patch blocks are sewn together.  In this case, sewing the blocks without sash would have created colorful 9-patches floating in a sea of white -- not the effect that I wanted.  A red or green or even blue sash would have disrupted the white sea, but I was concerned that the constant size of the sashing strips would emphasize the irregular size of the white framing strips.  I know I named this The Crooked Man's Christmas Quilt, but I really didn't want to emphasize the irregularities!

So, I decided to add another round of framing strips in the style of the Courthouse Steps block.  To distract the eye from comparing the irregularities in the blocks, I framed four of the blocks with red fabric and five of the blocks with green fabric.

I couldn't fit much on my scanner, but this should give you a good idea of what the blocks look like.  When I sewed the blocks together, I alternated the red and green.  It was sunny yesterday and I took a photo of the nearly completed top, but forgot to save it to my flashdrive.  Here's a virtual rendition of my quilt made in Electric Quilt.

Tomorrow, I'll try to get the photo on my flashdrive!  (My desktop computer doesn't have my camera's software on it, so I have to download photos on my laptop in the trailer, save photos to a flashdrive and bring it over to the house where my desktop is.  Someday I'll get everything organized in one location.  Someday.)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Crooked Man's Christmas Quilt: Salvaging Imperfect Blocks

After squaring up my nine crooked 9-Patch blocks, I was amazed to find that three of the blocks actually measured 6.5 inches square!  But the other six don't.  So I'm using a technique called "framing" to make all nine blocks come out the same size.

Basically, framing is the process of sewing borders around blocks to make them all the same size.  Framing is often used when quilters want to incorporate different size blocks -- like 3-inch, 4-inch and 6-inch blocks -- into the same project.  It can also be used to make those oddly sized printed fabric "blocks" (common in children's prints and novelty prints) a uniform size.  And I've heard of block swap participants using this technique to make swapped blocks all uniform in size.  (Theoretically, a quarter inch is the same on every sewing machine, but different fabric weights and thread weights and cutting methods can make a difference in the final size of a block.  But block swaps can still be fun.  I've participated in several over the years.)

After looking over my stash of Christmas fabrics, I decided the prints were all too busy to work well to frame my 9-Patch blocks.  I choose a basic white-on-white instead for this job.  I want my uneven 6.5-inch blocks to come out as even 8.5-inch blocks, so I cut 2" strips of white fabric.  This is wider than what I actually need, but it gives me some wiggle room when trimming the blocks to size.

The white fabric doesn't show up well on the white page background, but I hope you can see that I sewed strips on the left and right sides of the 9-patch blocks.  After pressing these strips over, I sewed strips on the remaining two sides of the blocks.

My next step is to trim all nine blocks to the same size, then decide whether to sash or not to sash.

Monday, April 13, 2015

At a Standstill but Moving Along Anyway

It's mid-April.  My mom is settling into her new apartment, but half of her things are still here at the house.  I can't move into the house until it's cleaned and some repairs are done, but I can't do those until Mom's things are dealt with.  At the same time, I more or less have to be in the house because it's heated by a wood stove.  In this cool, damp climate, if the house isn't heated it will deteriorate even faster.  I tried working from my trailer and running over to the house every two hours to put wood in the stove, but that proved to be inefficient.  Sooner or later (usually sooner), I'd get involved in something and totally forget about needing to feed the wood stove, then I'd have to spend an extra half an hour or more building another fire and getting the house warmed up again.

So, I sort of halfway moved into the house.  I brought enough kitchen supplies over here to prepare meals.  I got a phone hooked up so that I have internet access on my old desktop computer.  And I set up my old manual sewing machine on the kitchen table so that I can work on small projects when I get a few minutes here and there.  It's not ideal, but it'll have to do for now.

Last week, Mom gave me a small bag of fabric scraps she no longer wanted.  Amidst the scraps of children's prints, I found 25 strips of 2.5" squares of Christmas fabrics.  Mom must have been working on 9-patch blocks but gave up on the project.  After examining them, I could see why.  She must have cut the squares with scissors, as few (if any) were cut exactly square.  And although her seam allowances often started at 1/4th inch, they dwindled down to 1/8th inch or less by the time she reached the other side.  Mom sews for the fun of it.  She has never been that concerned about accuracy and for this reason has more success working with larger squares, like 5" or larger, where she has more room for fudging.

There were two many strips for me to toss the lot in the trash with a clear conscience, so I decided to see if I could salvage the project.  First, I resewed all the existing seams as best I could without ripping out the original seams (the squares weren't square anyway so why bother, was my thinking).  After pressing, the strips looked like this on the back side:
And this on the front:

I cut a few 2.5" squares from my own scraps and sewed two more strips to make 27 total, then sewed them up into nine 9-patch blocks:
Most of the seams don't match up, but a few do!  They actually came out looking better than I first thought possible.  As I was working on these, the nursery rhyme about the crooked man with the crooked little smile kept coming to mind, so I'm calling this project The Crooked Man's Christmas Quilt.  Tomorrow, I plan to rummage through my stash to find an appropriate sashing fabric.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Another Curve Ball

Just when I thought I was back on track, life threw another curve ball.  Yesterday, my mom learned that an opening came up for her at the senior housing center that she's been wanting to move to.  Her apartment will be ready on the 16th of this month.  She spent most of today on the phone dealing with utility companies.  It took two hours to get her phone service changed!  So now we have eight days to sort through her things and pack.  She hasn't moved once since she moved out here nearly 65 years ago.  I don't think I'll be doing anything quilt-wise for the next ten days, at least.  A magic wand would sure come in handy about now!