Wednesday, March 02, 2016

March State-of-the-Studio Report

I'm always glad to see the first of March. I feel like if nothing else I've accomplished surviving another winter, and that has to count for something. I'm expecting my yard man to show up any day to clear away the winter debris and knock the weeds back. We're supposed to have temperatures in the mid-seventies by the end of the week, and that makes me very happy.

My studio makes me very happy right now, too, even though I haven't done much in the last couple of days. Some good things happened this month.

First of all, the top of Bennett's quilt is nearly finished. All the pieces have been made and some of it has been "chunked" together. It's a bit wild and crazy, but it's for a toddler, and I hope he has fun looking at all the crazy prints and hunting for elephants that are turned the wrong way. I have high hopes that it will be finished all the way to binding and label by the end of the month. That will make me very happy indeed!

The reason I have such high hopes for a finish is that I've been working hard at learning free-motion quilting. Now that Bertie is in residence I was able to set Betsy up for FMQ and leave her that way, and she seems quite content with that. I had bought a Supreme Slider for the bed of the machine, which Leah Day recommends, so that is now installed. I found my gloves with the sticky dots on the fingers and palms and have convinced myself that they are worth wearing, even though I don't like them. I started watching Leah's Craftsy classes. And most importantly, I started practicing. Practicing a lot. That's my pile of practice sandwiches, and they are all filled with stitching. I still have a lot to learn. I'm not good at following a line yet, whether it's travelling back over a line of stitching, or following a line drawn on the fabric. And I can't make a round circle to save my life. But I can't do it with pencil and paper either, so I offer that as an excuse. But my meandering has gotten pretty good, and a couple of the designs from Leah's class look good enough to be seen in public.

In fact, I got so enthusiastic about my progress that I got a real quilt out of the "basted and ready to quilt" drawer and started working on it in between practicing on scrap sandwiches. I tried working one block as "stitch in the ditch" and that looked really bad, so I'm in the process of picking that out, and I'm doing a simple sort of flower motif in the pieces blocks. In the rest of the blocks I'm just doing a meander. I'm using black thread in a red and black print, so the stitching can hardly be seen except in the pieced blocks, so there's no point in doing anything fancy. I started by stitching in the ditch between the blocks with my walking foot, so everything is nice and stable. There have been some issues to work out, but I've dealt with them, and I'm satisfied that when I am finished I will have a quilt that I will be willing to send out into the world with my name on it. Since this is the first time I have even tried to FMQ on an actual quilt, this feels like a HUGE accomplishment.

Other than that, I haven't done a lot. I did clear away the leftovers from Bennett's quilt so I could use the cutting table for other things, and I started cutting Christmas stockings from old jeans. Someone gave me two trash bags full of jeans, and I have hopes of turning them into things that will sell at Christmas Marketplace. But cutting is slow work, especially since my wonky hip limits how long I can stand, so it will be a while before I have anything more than a stack of shapes. I do plan to sew them with the serger, and bought the navy thread so I can do that last week.

The rest of my accomplishments for February involved yarn. During Lent I work at making blankets out of my leftover scraps, and I already have 3 finished ones in the closet, ready for the next appeal following a natural disaster. I'm also working on things that can be Christmas gifts. And then there are the hats. Lots of hats. Some will go to Arkansas Children's Hospital. Some will be offered for sale at Marketplace. Some are available for donation. I just like making hats. They're small and can be cute or sophisticated, simple or complicated, made from scraps or cashmere. I keep several in a bag that goes with me every time I leave the house. It's what I do.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

February State of the Studio Report

I'm happy to say that the studio is looking a lot better than it was a month ago. I can't say I've gotten a lot done, but the room looks more like a working space than a dumping ground, and that's progress. And there's evidence of projects moving forward, and that's good news.

Let's start with the fact that the rocking chair is empty. It's not piled with things that should be elsewhere but aren't. I put this chair in this room originally with the idea that it would be a comfy place to sit and hand stitch. It's never quite worked out that way, but I have tried to keep it free from clutter. (Let's agree not to talk about the matching love seat, at least not for now.) For most of last year there was a plastic crate of pillowcases on it. Now that has found a new home, and the chair is once again available for seating. This makes me happy.

The ironing table is free of clutter. This is also a good sign. It means I need the full surface for ironing, which means fabric is being used and projects are being worked on. The cutting table is
also free of clutter; the only fabric on it is stuff I'm using for a current project. Everything else has found a different home, and I actually have room to put the different components that I'm using. It helps that I'm only working on one project right now that involves cutting; that doesn't happen all the time. But I'm liking the amount of space I have to actually work; I may do this more often.

The big news of the month of course was the arrival of Bertie. He is proving to be a very capable assistant, and I've been enjoying having him around this past week in particular now that Betsy is set up for free-motion quilting. His "home" still needs a bit of work. I need to find a place that the serger can live when not being used. That will give me more work area to the left of the machine, which is where it's most needed. I also need more light there. For now I'm making the lamp for the sewing table do double duty, which works, but I think I can do better. Moving the dehumidifier out from under the table will also help, as it's right in the place I want to put my feet. Those things will happen with time.

The design wall has been repaired, and the quilt on it is actually starting to look like a quilt. About half the components have been assembled and pinned up to begin to establish the size and the arrangement. I got the top edge established yesterday, and that made the whole thing feel more like a quilt and less like a hodge-podge of mismatched pieces.

But the star of this week is Betsy. As I said earlier in the week, I'm determined that I'm going to learn how to do free-motion quilting and get some of the thirty-odd unquilted tops lurking in the drawer under the cutting table turned into quilts and out into the world where they can do some good. I made some adjustments to how I set up the machine and got out some equipment I had bought but never used, and all of a sudden it seems to be working. Even on Monday there were parts that were looking good, and even the parts I wasn't happy with weren't terrible. Yesterday I practiced some more, and was all set up to practice more today when I decided it was time to get out a quilt top and start working on an actual quilt. This sampler is a quilt I had basted last year, so it was all ready to go. Today I put the walking foot on and stitched in the ditch between the blocks, so now everything is well stabilized. Tomorrow I'm going to try free-motion stitching in some of the blocks; nothing fancy, basically more stitch in the ditch but without having to rotate the whole quilt top every two inches. I also have those plain blocks where I can practice something a bit more exotic.

So February looks quite a bit different than January did. The possibility that I might finish a quilt this month is actually pretty exciting. And I feel like I'm starting to make some progress toward developing a skill that has eluded me for longer than I care to admit. Finishing that sampler will represent a major step forward for me as a quilter. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 01, 2016

It's February!

A new month means new goals. That's both exciting and terrifying. On the other hand, it means I can cross January off the list, and I'm okay with that. It wasn't a wonderful month, and I'm glad to see the last of it.

As usual, I got more knitting done than anything else, just because I can do it sitting in my big comfy chair with my feet up. I finished a couple of projects that were left over from Christmas, and made progress on a couple others that didn't have a specific time line attached to them. My donation project for the month was white baby blankets for The Preemie Project, and I got two finished and a third started. These are less than 30 inches square, so they go pretty quickly. I also finished a couple of hats that will go toward a couple of different projects, and a prayer shawl. So I worked my way through a good bit of yarn.

This month my donation focus is on using up scraps and leftovers. My favorite blanket pattern for scraps is the Never Ending Spiral. It works up quickly and you can use every last inch of the yarn. You can change colors whenever you feel like you've got enough of a particular color or you just get bored. Or you can exercise some control and keep at least one of the strands the same from beginning to end. These usually go to Warm Up America but I always keep a couple on hand for emergencies. Right now I've got one going in baby yarn, and as soon as it's finished I have plans to do one that uses up all the grays in my scrap bin.

Meanwhile, the studio got neglected for a bit, but with a new month, I'm determined to find some sort of focus and move things along. I got out my Craftsy classes on free motion quilting, set up Betsy with all the tools and accessories, and did 15 minutes of practice.
Even being rusty, there were portions of my stitching that I would have been quite happy to see on an actual quilt. This was one of the good sections. The lines could have been a bit straighter but I was more focused on getting a nice even stitch length, and this looks pretty good for not having done this for a couple of months. I did add a Super Slider to the machine, and I think that may have made a difference. I also ramped the motor down to one-quarter speed, so I could just put my foot down and still have a speed slow enough that I could keep up with it.

There were some other sections that weren't quite so pretty, showing that I still need a lot of practice. I also haven't done much with trying to learn specific patterns or designs. But my goal for this month is to practice every day, and maybe even get up enough courage in a week or two to get a quilt out of the drawer and work on it.

And since I was already there, I did a bit of piecing on Bennett's quilt. I also did a little bit of house-keeping, like sweeping the floor, but that got old pretty quickly. Mainly I was just getting used to being in that space again, thinking about my projects as something I will enjoy spending time with, rather than as something that should have been finished two years ago. I was remembering that one of the basic lessons of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way is that you have to put in the time. Sometimes it's exciting and sometimes it's painful, but if the time isn't spent in working, nothing happens. It's so basic, it almost seems ridiculous, but I do have to remind myself of that every once in a while.

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.

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.