Friday, January 15, 2016

Getting to Know You

This week has been all about Bertie and I learning how to work together. So far it looks as though we're going to have a lovely relationship.

The one minor disappointment was discovering that, contrary to my belief, he did not come with a 1/4 inch piecing foot. Walking foot, quilting foot, and all sorts of other lovely accessories, yes, but not that piecing foot. So I had to order one. That wasn't Bertie's fault. Nor was the stab wound I received the first time I tried to change the foot and jammed my finger up against the needle. But I have healed from my wound, and the foot has now arrived, so all is well.

I had a bunch of leftover half-finished projects lying around, so the first order of business was to get those finished and out of the way. The easiest to finish was the dog bed. I've started collecting all my leftover pieces, and even some yarn, in a muslin bag, which gets sewn shut when filled and put inside a pretty cover. I then donate it to my local animal shelter to be used for a dog bed. I had a muslin bag full, but hadn't made the new bag or sewn the cover (although it was cut) so that was test #1. It was all straight sewing, but did involve multiple thicknesses of upholstery fabric for the cover. And I went all out and made buttonholes and used the button sewing foot for the closure.  The buttonholes weren't perfect, but that could possibly be related to me not reading ALL the directions ALL the way through. Possibly. Anyway, it's a dog bed, and the dog won't care. It's now done, and the new muslin bag is sewn up and hanging in place to catch the next round of scraps.

The second project was to sew up some gift bags that were already cut, at least mostly. Again, all straight sewing, but I did get to try out the free-arm feature at the end, so there was something new involved.  I didn't care what the seam allowances measured as long as they were reasonably consistant, and Bertie did a good job of keeping the layers together and sewing through some fairly substantial interfacing. I did miss the needle-down feature on Betsy a lot in this project, but I'll just have to learn to live without it. I also experimented with very carefully sewing over pins since the little ribbon loop was too small to just hold with my fingers. Again, no problem, although I don't plan to make a habit of doing that. I get away with it on Betsy most of the time, but I know it's not a good thing to do any time, so I'm trying to break myself of that habit. These are now also done, and put away with other holiday things for next year's Christmas marketplace.

The third project, that is actually still not completely done, didn't involve Bertie at all. I had some fabric left over for making microwave potato bags, so I bought a package of batting specifically labeled for this use and cut six bags. Only one is completely done but the other 5 are layered and pinned and ready to be finished. Betsy was already set up with the cotton thread for these (everything has to be 100% cotton or it melts in the microwave) so I'm making sure she doesn't feel neglected while I put Bertie through his paces. These also will be for next year's Marketplace, so no hurry to finish, just one more thing cluttering up my surfaces. I still have more potato fabric, so will get more batting as I have money to spend on such.

Today, then I finally got to try some quilt piecing with Bertie. The foot I bought has the guide edge on it, and I am really happy that I bought this foot. It projects a little forward of the actual foot, so it's really easy to get the pieces lined up just the way they need to be I only did a couple of seams, but I was really happy with the way they came out. They're the two pieces with the flowers on them here. Nothing fancy, but just good sensible design.

The other thing I managed to get done today was to get the project plan I worked on New Year's Day out of the suitcase and into the studio. I learned a long time ago that I am not a linear planner; I am a global planner. I was one of those people that wrote the outline for my term papers after I wrote the paper. That means I can't sit down with a paper and make a prioritized list unless I dump everything out in no apparent order first. It's just the way my brain works and I've learned to live with it.

New Year's Day I had the house to myself, a Post-It note pad the size of the dining room table and a bin full of markers. I started by writing down everything that I knew I wanted to make progress on in the very near future, with some minor efforts at sorting them into categories, then choosing a few of those projects and figuring out what I needed to do to make them happen. It's messy and some would say totally chaotic, but it works for me. And now I can cross things off as they're finished and draw circles around new things as they work their way into the planning stages.

There's still stuff sitting on surfaces, but the studio is starting to look more like a work space and less like a dumping ground. I got the stuff that needed to go to the thrift shop gone yesterday, so there's only one box of stuff left that needs to be repacked and stored elsewhere. There's still some fabric for non-quilty projects sitting out, but that will get moved soon, along with some other tools that I need to make a home for. And I sewed two quilt blocks today! Yay me!

Thursday, January 07, 2016

There's a New Kid in Town

"Begin as you mean to go on." This is a saying I heard for the first time a few years ago, but it has stuck with me, and its truth has born itself out many times in my life. It has particular significance at New Year's, since it could serve as a harbinger of the year. It can be applied to the quality of work put into a project. I'm sure there are other ways it can be interpreted as well.

For me, it has mostly to do with organizing each day. I have always been an early riser, and I find that I can often get a lot done in the hours before the rest of the world is awake. If I start the day well, and that usually means avoiding the temptation to plop myself in front of the computer or the tv, then most often the rest of the day will be productive as well.

Through the summer and fall I most often used the early morning to work on projects in my living room and dining room. This is where I do hand quilting and embroidery, and sometimes knitting if it's something that doesn't need helpful cats around. That part of the house has no air conditioning, so in the early morning it was still cool enough to be pleasant there, especially with the morning sun coming in. But now that we're into winter, it's too cold to work in there, since the only heat comes from a space heater that is an energy hog. So now that I'm trying to get into a work rhythm again, I decided I would head to the studio in the early morning.

I got quite a lot done in a short period of time this morning. A lot of things got put away, and other things got organized so they could be worked on easily. Some dusting happened, and there are actually some clear surfaces now, so projects can start moving forward again.

And then Bertie arrived. Bertie is the new sewing machine I ordered earlier in the week to give me a second machine, freeing Betsy, my beloved Bernina, to dedicate herself to free motion quilting.  

Bertie is an inexpensive machine that comes with a lot of lovely accessories for quilting. There's no computer to get mucked up and it came with a whole host of rave reviews. I was given some money at Christmas, and decided that, as much as I need things like groceries and house repairs, a gift should be a gift. I had decided a year ago that Betsy needed a helper, and had hoped I would find one that was "free to a good home," but without success. So the Christmas money went to purchase Bertie. And while I haven't put him through all his paces yet, it appears that he will do quite nicely the jobs I mean for him to do.

I named him for a character that appears in several books by Alexander McCall Smith. In the stories, Bertie is a very clever six year old boy. He takes cello lessons, and is learning Italian, and he has regular sessions with a psychotherapist, but he is only six, and that imposes limitations on him. It seemed an appropriate name for this machine. He can't do everything that Betsy can, but he is quite clever. I hope we have a long and wonderful relationship with each other. 

As I cleaned and sorted today, I lined up a couple of small projects that just need a small amount of time to get them finished and out of the way, mostly things that are leftovers from the Marketplace mayhem of November. Tomorrow I'll let Bertie tackle them. He too, needs to begin as he means to go on.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

January "State of the Studio" Report

I wish I could say I'm starting the year with a spotlessly clean studio and a clearly defined list of projects to work on. The truth looks a great deal more like this:

In November I set up a booth at our Christmas marketplace and did my best to sell some pretty things and make some money. And then I came home, dumped everything in the studio and closed the door while I madly knitted away at Christmas gifts. In other words, there are still remnants of projects I made for Marketplace lying around, and the place is a wreck.

To make it worse, my sweet but not-so-bright cat Gracie got shut up in the studio one day and in her efforts to find a way out she managed to half tear down the design wall: Fortunately, the project that was on it was completely pinned, so no damage was done to it, but it was not a pretty sight. Clearly she has failed Test #1 of meeting the prerequisites for becoming a studio cat; she is no longer under consideration for that post.

Then there was the day I loaded up the car with boxes of things to take to the Salvation Army thrift store in Greenville, only to discover that the store has closed and there is no thrift store of any kind there, at least not that I could find. So all those boxes got dumped in the studio for the Christmas holiday. I've tried really hard over the years to keep that sort of stuff out of my work space, but for the short term there was no other alternative. We won't talk about the store room; this is not the place to tell horror stories.

So, the year is starting with a completely trashed studio. Every surface has something on it that doesn't belong. There are remnants of half a dozen projects lying around: And we won't even think about things like dust and dirt.

In the interest of starting somewhere, I decided that I would concentrate on two things today. The first was to get the design wall back to functional. That meant some climbing on stepstools and hammering tacks, but otherwise was a fairly simple job. Once the flannel was back in place I smoothed out the quilt pieces that had gotten rumpled, and declared it back in business.

The second was to clear a space for the new sewing machine that I hope is going to arrive tomorrow. I have been wanting a second machine for at least a year, with the idea that I could then leave Betsy set up for free motion quilting and do other work on the new machine.  That has also been accomplished. We won't talk about where the stuff that was on that table went; I can deal with that another day. For now the fact that the table has been cleared off and dusted is good enough. This table is close to my other sewing table, so I can use the rolling chair for longer stints or a folding chair for short projects. I will need to figure out some sort of task lighting there down the road, but I think that will be an easy fix.

So the year has begun, even if rather slowly. Over the next few days I'll be working at clearing other surfaces and putting things that need to be stored for next year's sale away. I think I can make the trip to the thrift store in Bastrop I like to take things to tomorrow, which will get that pile out of the middle of the floor. And then we'll see what kind of fabric goodness I can make happen before too much more time goes by.