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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday Twiddling

No new pictures of the Baby M quilt, because I have nothing new to show. I have several more failed attempts at quilting that I could talk about, but I'd rather not. I will say that at the moment there is nothing that needs to be picked out. That's because earlier this afternoon I ripped out my latest attempts, pulled out all the pins, repressed all the layers, then put the whole thing back together again. I couldn't bear to leave it for the night yet again with a trip to the frog pond scheduled for the morning, so I just left it on the cutting table in all its unsullied glory. Tomorrow I'll give it another go.

I did satisfy myself today that the problem is not in the machine or the way it is set up. I unthreaded everything, cleaned out what lint I could see, rethreaded everything, and put the walking foot back on. Then I took a practice sandwich and stitched a few lines to see what happened. It sewed beautifully. So that's not the issue. I really hope I have good news to report tomorrow.

In the mean time I decided to see if I could move forward with some form of quilting and got out Calico Cats, a hand-quilting project that's been in progress for some time. It's too hot to quilt in my lap, so I've got it set up on the dining room table. The only glitch with that is I've turned off the AC in that part of the house since I can close it off, and only open it up at night after the cats have been put outside and Molly is asleep in her crate. In the early morning - like before sunrise early - I can work for an hour or so before it starts to get too warm. I'm out of practice and I had to hunt up the tools, and my callouses will need time to develop, but I have managed to quilt 2 of the cats so far this week.

I've been keeping my tatting handy for when I want to sit with my feet up in the afternoons. This is my newest creation, and includes a technique that is new to me, called the Josephine knot. It's the small circles between the larger rings around the outside. A bit fiddly, but I always like learning something new.

Molly wanted to be in the pictures today, so I finally managed to get one that was worth publishing. Between the fact that she's nearly monochromatic, and she doesn't stay still unless she's asleep, she's next to impossible to get a good picture of. But giving her a toy helped. She has always loved soft toys that are nearly as big as she is. (She also loves pulling the stuffing out of them, so they don't last very long; I usually buy them at the thrift store.)

The weatherman has promised us a break from the 100+ heat tomorrow, and I hope he keeps that promise. I can handle 90 a whole lot better than I handle 100.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Sweltering Sunday

The temperature has been over 100 every afternoon for about a week. I didn't get home until about 3:00 this afternoon, which means I was out in the worst of it. Even in an air-conditioned car, I got home feeling half baked. The fact that I slept for about an hour and a half is testimony to how much this kind of heat drains me.

I didn't post yesterday because I didn't really have anything new to say, except that the Baby M quilt continues to kick my butt. I took all the basting pins out, repressed the backing, relayered and repinned the whole thing. I found a box of basting pins I had forgotten about so was able to put in all the pins I wanted. But when I stitched the first line I still ended up with things shifting. So I stopped and picked out what I had just sewn, and put the project on hold until I can think more about the problem and what's causing it. I have some ideas, but I'll tackle it another day.

While I was in the studio I got out the box for the Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt and pulled out a piece of the green pindot that frames all the blocks. I then hunted up the book that had the directions, and made a new template for cutting blocks. I pressed the fabric and left it on the ironing table. Again, I will come back to that another day.

By the end of the day yesterday my fingers were very sore. The combination of tatting, hand stitching, and pulling out machine stitches made the tips sore and the joints achy. So I was happy to come to the end of the day and sit with my knitting. I finished another hat yesterday, so decided to take pictures of the two I have for this month. These are part of an ongoing project for the patients at Arkansas Children's Hospital. These two were made from my alarmingly large stash of novelty yarn, and are just basic top-down beanies knitted until I get to the end of the skein.

Once I woke up this afternoon I decided to start by finishing the tatted cross I had started a day or so ago. This was a pretty simple pattern once I got into the rhythm of it, and I'm quite pleased with the finished result. The little snowflake next to it is one I finished a couple days ago. They look yellow in the photo because of the light, but are actually snow white. Eventually they will be stiffened and pinned out to give them more precise shape. But even unblocked they look pretty good. I think I have enough thread on the shuttle for one more snowflake, so I'll probably do one of those next.

Now I'm ready to relax with some knitting. I'm working on a hat that uses a new-to-me stitch, and the ribbing is now finished, so I'll start with that and see how complicated it is. Then I'll try to get a few rows of baby sweater done before I call it a day.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Friday at the Frog Pond

As ye sew, so shall ye rip. Ugh!

I remember my research adviser asking me one time, "why is it that you don't have time to do it right the first time, but you have time to do it wrong, then do it over?" Apparently I haven't learned that lesson in the last 40 years (along with a few others, I'm sure.)

It started with thinking "this is just a crib quilt, I don't need to do a ton of basting on it." This was reinforced by the recognition that I don't have a lot of basting pins available at the moment because they're all holding other quilts together. So I spread out the layers, threw a few pins in, and started to quilt.

Two lines of stitching later I realized I already had a pleat in the back and it was only going to get worse. So I pulled the quilt out of the machine, unpicked those 2 lines of stitching, and went back to the cutting table to throw in more pins. They didn't help. When I did one and a half lines of stitching I realized the extra pins just masked the problem but didn't make it go away. So once again I pulled the quilt out of the machine and started unpicking the stitches. Then the podcast I was listening to ended, and I realized it was already suppertime, and I decided the smart thing to do was quit for the day.

So tomorrow I will begin by continuing the frogging process, then pull out all the pins, and relayer the quilt, paying more attention to doing it right rather than doing it quickly.

I had some things I had to do today that weren't fiber related, so I didn't have a ton of time. But I did get the problem fixed on the Grandmother's Flower Garden, and tomorrow I can start adding the third column of blocks. I'm going to have to cut more green hexies, because there are placed that need to be filled in, which probably means cutting another template. I can't remember the last time I cut quilt pieces by marking them with a template and cutting them with scissors.

And now it's after supper, so I can relax with some knitting. I have a hat on the needles that is nearly finished, so I think I will finish that, then reload the needles. I keep those in the car for when I have waiting time at appointments or construction zones. I hope to also make some progress on the baby sweater that's part of Christmas knitting.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


The heat and humidity got to me today. At least that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. The only thing I did in the studio today was drop off the quilt batts I made a quick trip to get early in the morning so I could work with them later in the day.

I did finish sewing together the top of Baby M's quilt yesterday, and found a piece of extra wide backing that was long enough. I got that cut down to size and pressed, then realized I didn't have any batting smaller than queen size, so decided to let that project rest until I could get a smaller one. All I need now is enough energy to pin the layers together and then made decisions about what thread to use for the quilting.

I putzed along at other projects, but can't say I accomplished much. I did get a tatted snowflake finished and started another cross. I figured out what I have to do to fix the Grandmother's Flower Garden; I didn't start the second row of blocks in the right place, so now the rows don't line up properly. Resewing the top block will fix that, and I may get to that tomorrow. A little bit of cross stitch happened,

I'm just glad supper is over and I can head to the Big Easy, pick up the baby sweater and knit. I think I can handle that. Maybe.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


Today I did something I used to do quite often, but haven't done as much lately, and that was spend the whole day sewing. I had a few errands and some household chores on the list, but as the day went on and I got "in the zone," I decided they weren't anything that couldn't be put off a day so I just kept on with what I was doing. The end result was that the top to what is being called "Baby M's Quilt" is well along in it's construction. The blocks are together in groups of 4, so finishing the top tomorrow is entirely possible. This is a very simple quilt, with no borders, and just straight line quilting next to the seams, so I expect to be able to count it as a finish in a few days.

When I needed a break from standing and cutting and climbing up and down the stepstool I have to use to reach high enough on the design wall, I went up to the house and stretched out in my favorite chair, which I call "The Big Easy." I got another block set in the Grandmother's Flower Garden and did a little bit of cross stitch. The kit I'm working has a lot of beads, and I know I'm supposed to do all the cross stitch first, but it's hard to see how the design all works just now.

And I finished this tatted cross. I found a small goober after I had the ends sewn in, so it's not perfect, but it's the first one I've done in a while, so I can live with it. It finished about 5 inches long and 4 inches wide. I thought I was working with size 10 cotton, and it turned out I had size 20, which is smaller, but I think the finished size is good, so I may stick with the smaller thread. This afternoon I printed out a snowflake pattern that uses 2 shuttles, and I'll give that a go later this evening.

I will also get out some yarn this evening and get started on a baby sweater that's on the Christmas list. I wanted to finish it last month, but it turned out that the 2 skeins of yarn I wanted to use were of very different dye lots, and I just couldn't make it work to my satisfaction. So I bought new yarn and will start over.

It is Day 4 of the Yarn Sabbath, and I have to say I've not missed it as much as I thought I would. Having several projects sitting out ready to just pick up and stitch has helped a lot. But besides that, I was just ready for a change of pace. It feels good to be working on crafts I haven't done much of lately.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Monday Muddling

Today started with errands and appointments, so there wasn't a lot of studio time. Still, I managed to accomplish a few things and keep the forward momentum going.

First, I finished my UFO inventory. I ended up with an even 60. These are projects which, with two exceptions, have pieces cut and at least some piecing done on them. The two that are just piles of fabrics are baby quilts that need to be finished this fall, so they went on the list. A couple aren't really even on the radar for ever finishing, but I liked the idea of ending with a nice round number, so I included them. The total number was about what I expected it to be, although I was hoping it would turn out to be less.

Now I will pick what one of my online groups calls "The Fab Four." These are four projects that will get the majority of my attention until they are finished or I get to the end of the month, whichever comes first. At the beginning of September I will choose four more - maybe some of the same ones - and keep the process going. I like to pick projects that are in different stages of completion, so that I can rotate from machine piecing to basting to quilting. Sometimes that isn't possible, and I have to be fairly monogamous when I have a project in the machine. Each project has it's own needs for how the machine is set up, and changing the settings to work on more than one at a time isn't worth the time wasted.

Right now I have the baby quilt going through the machine. I finished a couple sets of blocks today and should be able to start assembling the top by the end of the week. I'm hand piecing the Grandmother's Flower Garden, and that's a good project to work on in the early morning while I'm having my coffee. Then there is a quilt that is getting hand quilting. I haven't pulled that out this week yet, but I will figure out some way to work on it without having the whole thing in my lap in 100-degree weather.

I was trying to find some other form of needlework that I could work on while sitting in the easy chair with my feet up. Hand piecing works, and so does tatting, but I needed something else. So I went hunting for counted cross-stitch. I knew I had a partially completed angel that I started back in the 90's, and I found it as well as the directions and the box of floss, so that has now come up to the den. In the process I found a couple of kits for cross stitch and beads on perforated paper; I will work those up first and figure out something clever to do with them.

While I was pondering and thinking about embroidery, I suddenly had a vision of a piece of crazy quilting, with all the embroidery along the seam lines. I remembered that I had started some crazy pieced squares using necktie silk remnants that I bought in New Orleans. I haven't dug those out yet, but I'm inspired. Something will happen along those lines before the month is over.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Evening and Morning, the Second Day

Sunday is a work day for me, and I'm usually pretty tired by the time I get home. I have to drive about an hour to get to my church, so it's usually around 2:00 by the time I have lunch with the folks and drive home. That means not a lot gets done that involves getting out of the easy chair. But I did go down to the studio late in the afternoon and get a little bit done.

Since this quilt was on the cutting table, I decided it was the easiest to move forward - and it has a deadline since the baby is due the end of this month. It's a very simple quilt - just half-square triangles, but keeping the colors straight means I have to use a couple of brain cells once in a while. I had some blocks sewn but not squared up, so I started with that, and that helped remind me what my notes meant. Then I cut some pieces and got another set of blocks into the machine. Since it had been a while since I had used the machine, that meant winding bobbins, cleaning out lint, and all that good maintenance stuff. By the time the blocks were sewn I was tired, so I quit before I did damage with the rotary cutter.

This morning I got out this Grandmother's Flower Garden that has been languishing for the past 20 years, waiting for me to get inspired to sew the blocks together. For years this was a travel project because it was easy to hand piece in the car. But once the blocks were done, and a layout established, it got put away until my life settled down a little. Then I rediscovered knitting and hand-piecing no longer had a place in my life. But now I need hand projects that don't involve yarn, so out it came. By the time I went to the studio this afternoon I had the whole first column put together. From here it will take more time to add each block, because there is more sewing to attach them to each other and to the first column. But I may actually finish this puppy some day. Hand-quilted, of course. So maybe in the 2020's.

The other hand work that I can do from the easy chair is tatting. The last time I had a booth at Christmas Marketplace I sold every tatted cross I had, so I'm starting with those. White seems to be the preferred color, since that's what everyone's grandmother used, but I have a lot of white tatting cotton, so that was an easy choice. It's slow going right now because I'm remembering how it works, and my fingers have to get toughened up where I wrap the thread around my hand, but it will get better. And it's a great craft for summer when it's too hot to sit under a big heavy project.

I feel the need to add one more kind of project. Something a little more artistic, but still not involving yarn. I think embroidery of some sort, but I don't know what yet. I'll have to explore that over the next few days. I know I have unfinished counted cross-stitch somewhere; maybe that will fill the gap. And maybe I'll just invent something new. Who knows.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

State of the Studio Report

I can't believe it's been a year since I've posted to this blog. Definitely way past time for an update.

The pictures show that nothing much has changed. Surfaces are still piled high, There's clutter everywhere. I can't remember the last time I dusted or swept the floor. It's the same story - mostly.

But that's about to change. I realized at one point last spring that I'd gotten more than a little obsessive about knitting, crocheting and yarn in general. I was starting the day with a stash-busting project, then working my way through a cycle of projects, with and without deadlines, through the day. Quilting and sewing had pretty much gotten shoved to the side.

So I decided it was time for a yarn sabbath. A month of working on crafts that didn't involve yarn, at least not knitting or crocheting. I thought I would do it in June, but I got involved in a stash-busting marathon, and then I went on vacation, so it got deferred until I got home. Now it's August, and it's time. So the needles and hooks have been put away, the various projects have been stashed, and I've pulled out sewing needles and tatting shuttles, and there may even be some cross stitch before the month is over.

My first project of the day was a baby blanket that I had started doing blanket stitch on. It's been a while since I've done this kind of embroidery and my stitches show it. But it will get better, and the end result will be a crib blanket for donation. I worked a couple of thread lengths, then my fingers started to get sore from pulling six strands of floss through fleece. It will be my early morning project for a few days at least.

After lunch I went down to the studio and started working on my first big project of the month - an inventory of all the UFO projects. Step 4 of the AA 12-step program says "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." I won't say it's a fearless process. Coming to grips with how many projects are in various stages of completion requires a great deal of courage. I started a spread sheet to track progress on the list. So far there are 36 entries in the spreadsheet and I haven't started into the project boxes on the shelves. But it needs to be done. So bit by bit I'll work on it.

Once I have a list, the plan is to choose 4 projects at a time to move forward at least one step. And there is also the option of saying that I'm done with that project and it needs to leave my house as is, either to the thrift shop, to Ebay, or to the animal shelter as a cat bed. 

When I turned 60 I looked at the shelves of project boxes and told myself I did not want to be looking at those same projects when I turned 70. Well, I turn 65 next week, and I'm not half way there. So it's time to get serious and start moving things out. Inventory is the first step.

This quilt, called Crazy Geese, is the one currently decorating my design wall. I finished the top about a month ago, but there hasn't been anything in progress to replace it, so it's been allowed to stay. It was a long-term UFO - started some time in the late 90's I think - so moving it to the finished top stage was a major event. Quilting will have to wait a bit, though, even though the unquilted top drawer is full to overflowing, because there are other projects that have to take priority. A friend is expecting a new grandbaby by the end of August, the two honorary grandbabies born last year should have quilts for their first birthday, and wedding quilts are due and overdue. 

My plan at the moment is to post new entries every day this month. I hope I can follow through with that. I'm a bit excited to see what I can accomplish in a month where sewing and quilting are the focus. I did decide last week that some knitting can happen at the end of the day, since I am working on Christmas projects, and I'm not sure I want to be working on something where my skills are rusty when I'm tired. We'll see what happens.