Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Quilting on my mind

With quilt month quickly coming to a close I find myself with three quilting UFO's and a three works that are "in process". This photo is of the first quilt top I ever pieced; the purple monster that has been hanging around my fabric stash for, oh I don't know, like 3 years. I have finally gotten around to getting some backing fabric and batting. The second UFO is a wall hanging that I am almost finshed with. I have the perfect spot to hang this one, just above the staircase. I am also supposed to be finishing up my quilt for the quilt-a-long. Just have to find the time, somewhere, to do it.

On to the three "in process" pieces. here is a photo of the fabric I sent off for the BTRS lap quilt swap. I can't wait to see what my partner sends me in return! Then I purchased some Amy Butler (see below) and assorted solid fabric. Coupled with my FFF fabric from Sew, Mama, Sew I have enough to make two more lap quilts - this way I'll have one for each of my girls. These are the three "in process" pieces as I haven't really even started on them yet.

Quilt month has definately shown me that I am interested in quilting; and I am able to make a quilt from start to finish.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Tigerlily Tinkering is looking for some good comfort food recipes. Go on over and share! She's posted a wonderful family recipe for Tomato Bisque in hopes of enticing you to post one of your own. I think I'll add a family favorite from around here: Cheesy Herb Risotto.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Time to play catch-up

I took a break from helena - even though the entire body of the piece is finished, sleeves too. I decided to take a little break before the edging and ties, however, because I got frustruated. It is WAY TOO BIG for my little one. Ah well, she can wear it next winter...and maybe this spring. It is a lovely sweater, but I failed to measure her and compare to the pattern before starting. Even though she is only turning 1 next week I decided to make the 2 y.o. size. My husband looked at me and laughed. He reminded me that in woodworking there is the phrase, "measure twice, cut once." In my case it should have been "Just measure."

During this break I went back to the advent calendar and decided that I had better get a move on with making the rest of the stockings before December rolls around. Here's progress on the newest one. If memory serves me I think I have 7 more to make before the holidays.

Once I finished up that little one I cracked open the Ann Budd book, Getting Started Knitting Socks, and proceeded to work on a pair of socks for myself. I'm up to finishing the leg of sock #1. I am using a worsted weight wool/silk blend, a cheap find at Joann's last week, in a purple hue and am loving it so far. The look and feel of the sock is making me much happier than my recent mango creation. The book has provided clear and simple instructions so far. She gives basic instructions and measurements for every weight yarn. This allows you to customize your socks as you want. Since the yarn has great variation I am working the sock in a k3p1 rib around the leg and down the top of the foot. This lets the yarn to take center stage, rather than a pattern.

I also received a package this week from KnitPicks. I bought some wonderful sock yarn during a recent sale and it finally arrived. Four skeins of green: two solid (Essential Sock Yarn in grass) and two handpainted (Imagination Hand Painted in Frogprince). I can't wait to knit these up too! I think for the solid I am going to work the Embossed Leaves pattern from Favorite Socks: 25 Timeless Designs from Interweave Press. I can't wait!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quilt-a-long: Week 13

Week 13: The top is finished! I went with a nice white background and will use the backing fabric to make the binding. Since all the other squares were made from fabric in my stash I didn't have enough of any one color to do a binding. I also don't think that a mixed-pattern binding would look very good on this quilt - given all the colors and patterns in the blocks. For this one, simple is better I think. Next week: the final construction. I am coming close to the end of my tutorial...it has been a wonderful journey.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is tagging like receiving an e-mail forward?

Yesterday I was tagged by another blog, What did she do today? I think this is great! It means that people are checking in on my work: looking at it, leaving me comments, e-mailing me about it and hopefully being inspired by some of it. I also don't mind sharing random things about myself. But, will I tag another blog? Probably not. Most of the blogs that I read/ visit have already been tagged by others anyway.

I suppose, for me, being tagged is a bit like receiving an e-mail forward. I don't mind getting forwards. In fact, I usually read them and chuckle, returning to my other work a little lighter and happier. Do I ever forward those e-mails to others? Usually not.

So what should I do? How's this: If you are someone who visits my blog - and you have not been tagged, but would like to be - leave me a comment. I will tag you in my next post and then we'll get to learn some things about you too. Am I breaking blog etiquette by not tagging others? Not sure. I hope not.

Seven Random Things About Me
1) I spent a good chunk of the day yesterday learning how to launder my couch upholstery and foam cushions because one of the little ones had an(other) accident...a most unpleasant task to tackle.

2) I have red hair. My oldest (twin) daughters are blond and my littlest one is a redhead like me.

3) I am writing a dissertation on the glass ceiling in higher education.

4) I've broken my left wrist twice, my right wrist once, my left knee once and my right ankle once too. I've also had my gall bladder removed. I still have my tonsils and appendix though!

5) I make, and eat, chocolate chip cookies more often than I should.

6) I am a registered member of the Cherokee Nation. I carry an Irish name but am mostly of German and Native American descent.

7) I have lived in Mexico, Washington, DC and New York City.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Soups On!

Hello fellow soup-swappers! What a great idea this is; thanks to Jessica for hosting. Here are two recipes for some favorite fall soups. Another favorite is curry butternut squash soup (The Silver Palate Cookbook), but there are enough butternut soup recipes in the mix already. Here's one for the mushroom lovers among us, and one for those of you that don't like mushrooms (but also don't have peanut allergies).

I usually post food-related stuff on my other blog: Eat, Sleep, Kids, but decided to put this one here as I came to it by way of a crafty blog friend. Thanks for the tip Amy! Consider joining if you have a recipe that you'd like to share. I think that you are technically supposed to have made the soup over the weekend, but in my case that didn't happen. Too many house projects (painting!) and family visits. At the rate we were going we were lucky to have even fed the kiddos before dark last night.

Mushroom Barley Soup (from Real Simple, Nov. 2005)

1 C. barley
1.5 T. olive oil
2 med. onions, diced
1/2 t. kosher salt
dash black pepper
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
20 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
5 C. chicken or vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
8 springs fresh thyme

**Serve with crusty bread. Sourdough works great.

In a medium pan bring the barley and 4 C. of water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until tender, 30 or 40 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions, salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the onions have softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and cook, covered, for 6 minutes more. Add the mushrooms, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, covered, until they release their juices, about 4 minutes. Add the broth, bay leaves, and thyme and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in the cooked barley and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Season with additional salt and pepper.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ghanaian Groundnut Stew (adapted from Extending the Table)

1 lb. stewing beef (500 g)
2 C. onions, chopped (500 ml)
1 clove garlic
ground red pepper to taste
1/2 t. ground ginger (2 ml) or 1 T. ginger root, minced (15 ml)
2 C. stewed tomatoes (500 ml) or 2 large fresh tomatoes, mashed
1 beef bouillon cube
1 t. salt (5 ml)
2 C. water (500 ml)
1/2 C. peanut butter (125 ml)
1 T. balsamic vinegar (15 ml)
6 fresh scallions, chopped

In heavy frypan or saucepan, brown beef in 1 T. oil (15 ml). When browned, add another 1 T. oil (15 ml), onions, and garlic. Saute 5 minutes. Add red pepper, ginger, tomatoes, beef bouillon, salt, and water. Cover and simmer 30 minutes, or until meat is tender. Meanwhile, in small bowl, mix peanut butter, balsamic vinegar, and 1/4 C. (50 ml), stewing liquid. Once 30 minutes has passed and meat is tender, slowly stir peanut butter mixture into stew. Cover and simmer, stirring frequently, another 30 minutes. Add more water to thin if necessary. Serve over 1/2 C. rice (125 ml) and top with peanuts and freshly sliced scallions.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Quilt-a-long: Week 12

Week 12: Backing fabric. This is the last square! I can hardly believe that I made it to the end. I did feel myself getting burnt out as I completed this block. My seams don't exactly match up, but since I am at the end I felt like just going with it. No seam-ripping this time.

As I started working with the background fabric I began to notice lots of fading and water stains. But I am just going to move forward with it anyway. Keeping the backing fabric is what gives this piece a sentimental twist. I'll have to be sure to note that on the label for this one.

For next week: the background fabric, cutting, repairing and ironing the backing fabric and making the sandwich. If I am feeling really motivated I might even make the binding strips in anticipation of finishing this one up. First I need to get my hands on a 1/2 inch bias tape maker.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

His and hers bags

Here's the his-and-hers bag set I made for my brother-in-law and his partner. They just moved in together and I am sure these will come in handy with the ensuing grocery shopping trips.

They moved from a coop into their own place, which is a bit of a transition when it comes to eating, cooking and grocery shopping. I speak from experience. Just after Dan and I were married we lived in the same coop of 8 people. The dinners were communal (with one person cooking per week) and the shopping was done weekly, based on a standard 'staples' list. Staples included beans, rice and other pantry items, but also included tons of fresh, local produce, artisan cheese and fair-trade coffee...to speak nothing of the ever-full jar of chocolate chips located above the refrigerator.

Because the monthly coop share (rent) included both board and food, we lost all touch with how expensive food was to purchase. There was a house account set up at the local food coop so no cash ever really exchanged hands. When it was your week to shop you just went to the store and filled up bags with all kinds of goodies.

Needless to say we were in shock about the cost of food after about a month of being responsible for purchasing our own. I hope these pretty bags will help these two adjust as well (or at least make is seem less painful to pay so much for food).

These will also be posted in my flickr group of Sew, Mama, Sew-inspired tote bags.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


It is slow going, but here is my progress on the helena sweater for Maddie's big day. I've got about one more repeat on the skirt and then it is on to the sleeves, the ties and finishing the edges. I'm really happy with the color (bright, but not garish) and not too 'girly.' We have enough pink in the wardrobe, that's for sure. The pattern is great to follow so far and I haven't run into any problems. I did need to frog it, just after the bodice, (three times!) before getting the lace pattern correct, but that was my error: too much late-night-knitting-while-trying-to-catch-up-with-the-hubby isn't such a great thing. I am making the 2 y.o. size which means she will have to grow into it, but maybe she'll get an extra year of wear out of it too?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Baby quilts

I love quilt month. It has given me the opportunity to blog about many of the things that make our daily lives rich and unique. Here is one such example.

The women in our neighboorhood have a tradition. Everytime on of their daughters or sons has a baby, a quilt is made. It is mostly coordinated and constructed by the mothers in the neighboorhood, but Ten Finger Workshop and I have been in on making a few too.

We come from a close knit community with very talented and loving mothers, all whom have become friends too now that we are having kids of our own. It is hard to explain what it means to receive on of these quilts upon the birth of a child, but it means a lot. Everytime I was frustruated about colic, unable to sleep or navigating some such parenting trial, I only had to look at these quilts to know that many families have gone before me, and lived (rasied wonderful kids) to tell about it.

Each quilt is unique and the individuals invited to contribute squares vary from family to family. I recieved two quilts when the twins were born and a third when Madeline arrived. Below are some of my favorite blocks, but they are all special, unique and made with love.

Essentially, when a daughter or son is expecting, one of the mothers from the neighboorhood sends out an invitation for squares. They go to family members, friends (near and far; many squares are sent internationally) and the neighboorhood women. All who can contribute, do. Once each block is complete it is sent to one of the the neighboorhood women that has volunteered to do the sewing and then the magic happens. Little elves pour over the squares and find just the right background and backing fabric. The quilt is assembled, pillowcase style, and finished off with hand ties. Don't they look amazing?

However, it isn't just the uniqueness of the squares that makes me speechless when I glance into my kids' rooms and see these quilts strewn about, no doubt from some recent make believe adventure. It is the love, time, attention and care that went into making them that means the most. People stiched love, care, their thoughts and prayers for me and my family into each square. That is what makes me speechless.

I only hope that I can do the same for my babies one day, when they have babies of their own. This is a tradition worth carrying on forever.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I did it! I finished it!

Ta da! Here is my first completed quilt, ever. I feel awesome about it. In fact, I feel high from it. I am also irrationally attached to it. I have been carrying it around the house with me just to look at it. Is this strange? Am I coming unhinged? Or, am I just totally in love?

Thanks to everyone for your supportive comments on the previous quilting posts. I took your good thoughts with me into the sewing room - and with your help I accomplished something great! Also, without quilt month, I'm not sure I would have been motivated to get to this project just now. I am so happy that I did though.

The actual quilting wasn't as bad as I expected. I really did need to just jump in and give it a go. I was scared by all the advice I received about getting the layers to lay flat, basting stitches, being sure to start from the middle and work your way out, and on. I thought I would totally mess it all up. But, I just decided to ignore that advice for a moment and went with what I felt the most comfortable with.

The event started last Friday night with my brother-in-law's girlfriend. She helped me tape the backing down and lay the layers flat. Then I went to town with the spray adhesive. This stuff works miracles I tell you. We rolled out the batting (I went with a low loft cotton), sprayed again and then placed the top. We finished with some basting pins for extra insurance.

I did the quilting on Saturday and made binding strips too. For my quilt design I made a square around the outside border and continued with a line down the middle, vertically. Then I went left to right horizontally in a random pattern, following the seams on the front of the quilt. I trimmed it square and attached the binding.

I made the binding myself, which was fine as I had done this before. But attaching it correctly required me to return to the computer for quick tutorial. Well, a big shout out to HELLOmynameisHeather, who has an amazing continuous binding tutorial here. I only ripped one seam on my journey to a finished binding, and that was due to a problem with my machine needle, not the tutorial. As for attaching the back side of the binding, I did that by hand. Here is where I have more questions:

1) Are there special needles for this kind of sewing? Special quilting needles or something?

2) What kind of thread should I be using for this part of the project? Hand-quilting thread, or just the stuff I machine quilted with?

3) Is this why they invented thimbles? My fingers were pretty sore at the end of this exercise, and I've never used a thimble, but maybe this is precisely why they were invented. Any advice here?

4) Are my stitches too close together? I erred on what I thought to be the closer-together side of things for fear that the binding may come unattached. But do they actually need to be this close together? Any experience or advice here would be awesome.

Additional project notes: The pattern is Yellow Brick Road by Atkinson Designs. The fabric for the front is a mixture of patterns (some batiks) that I picked up from a quilt store in upstate New York. The backing is Kaffee Fasset, a floating flowers print in green. The finished size is about 40" by 50". I trimmed the border to make it just narrow enough to fit the backing fabric selvedge to selvedge. I figured why piece the back if I don't have to?

It turned out great. No ripples, no rumples and it seems to be a rectangle. I am totally sold and ready to tackle another one. Good thing I signed up for the BTRS lap quilt swap!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Quilt-a-long: Week 11

Week 11: Green batik. I went with some of my left over batiks for this second-to-last square. Since I decided to go with the backing fabric on the 12th square, I needed something more modern to balance it out. I like this square, but the contrast between the green and white is a bit striking to my eye.

I sure have been learning a lot about quilting through this adventure. Lots about which fabrics look good together (mostly by pairing many fabrics that don't!), and how to piece things to make nice blocks. My skills are improving as the weeks go by and I am feeling more confident about tackling a larger quilting project.

Lap Quilt Swap

Now that it's quilt month, I feel like quilts, quilting projects and everything quilt-related has been coming out of the woodwork. Maybe it is just that my creative energy is focused in that direction right now. Anyway, there's a great quilt swap happening over at the Bend-the-Rules swap blog. I just signed up. Should be a lot of fun. The great part about this swap is that you can pick your own fabric; or be surprised by someone else's creativity...it's your choice!

If you want to join in you've got until the 14th.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Knitting books, of late

I know that I am driving the local librarians mad. I have put a reserve on practically every knitting, sewing and home decorating book that has been published in the past ten years. I get an e-mail almost every-other-day saying that I have a new book in. Here is just a sample of what I have been browsing lately (mostly knitting-related).

One Skein (Radford)
One-Skein Wonders (Durant)
Knitter's Almanac (Zimmerman)
Knitting New Mittens & Gloves (Melanson)
Aranzi Cute Stuff (Aronzo)
Favorite Socks (Budd)
Mason Dixon Knitting (Gardiner & Shayne)
Last-Minute Fabric Gifts (Treen)
Vogue Knitting: Ultimate Sock Book
The Knitters Book of Yarn (Parkes)
A is for Apron (Mornu)
Knitting Vintage Socks (Bush)
Getting Started Knitting Socks (Budd)

Eventually I hope to report on the books that I find most useful and the ones that I would ultimately like to purchase. However, library lending it is for now. Here is a link to my previous post on books in case you're curious.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Vintage Quilt

What great timing. My Mom passed along this vintage quilt this past weekend and now I get to feature it on my blog during quilt month. Unfortunately there isn't much of a story to go with the quilt. We know that it belonged to my maternal grandmother (she was my Mom's step mom), who was from Tennessee, but other than that we don't have any history for it. Unfortunately my grandmother passed away in 2004 so we don't have anyway of knowing more about it.

I love how used this quilt is. It was certainly put to the test over the years. I am not so sure about how well it will stand up to our kids, so I think that I will stow it away or keep it in our room for now. It doesn't go well with our modern style bed, but that's ok because the colors are so soothing.

I love the hand stitching and all the little quirks: the lower right middle block with the mystery blue squares and all the bits and pieces (especially the interior squares) that seem to have come from somewhere else because there are multiple seams throughout that are not from piecing the quilt. There also is no border - the blocks run right to the edge of the blanket. It seems to have been completed in a pillowcase fashion with hand quilting design and top stitching around the outer edge. Might it be fair to say that necessity was the mother of invention here? I am also left wondering many things (which I think Jacquie will appreciate): Were the blue squares pieced in because the maker ran out of other fabric? Are the mystery seams from fabric that was reclaimed to make this quilt? Why was the quilt made? Who used it? How far has it travelled?

And so I turn to the rest of you for the future of this quilt. Does anyone have experience restoring a quilt like this? It is worth it? Could/should I turn it into something else? Or should I just care for and love this one as is? I don't want to mess with a piece of family history, but I don't want it to fall apart in my care either.

I am making great progress on my own first quilt too! Pictures forthcoming, I promise.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mango socks are complete

These are nice socks. Very soft, very cozy. The pattern was good to me again and I am happy with the result. However, my search for a new sock pattern has begun. I wanted something simple and basic since this yarn had such dimension to it already. It didn't really need any design work to make it pretty. But these socks have left me feeling a bit...underwhelmed. Not that I need to be totally 'wowed' by everything I make, but since I'm investing the time and energy why should I settle with just, "these are nice"? I also wish I had made the leg of the sock a bit longer - this length leaves me feeling a bit like I should be attending a sock hop or something. I am sure they'll be great for winter lounging, with tea and the NYtimes. But next time I go for a sock it's on to something new.

One thing I did learn from making this pair - and from every book at the local library on knitting socks - is that I am likely using the wrong size needles. To make a true, functional sock I probably need to go down to a size 2 or 1 needles. This pair was made on size 5. While at my LYS I saw a sample sock knit up with the same yarn on a size 2. What a difference it made! My sock is certainly softer, and lighter, but the other seemed more substantial - like it would survive a winter in my clogs. These socks, not so much.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Quilt-a-long: Week 10

Week 10: I don't think there is a color that can describe this block. Is busy a color? Too busy?

What great feedback I have received from all of you about the quilt top on thread color, backing and batting! I feel that I can move forward on it. I am getting really excited to do the final piecing and quilting on this one.

But, there are other quilts begging to be finished first. And, since it is quilt month (ala Mr. Monkeysuit) I have other mountains to climb.

By way of introduction to any new readers: I am a new quilter. I am learning how to do it by trial-and-error and by the grace of all of you that have been kind enough to share their wisdom. I love cutting and piecing tops. In fact, I have four pieced tops ready to go. I am scared of the actual quilting and haven't really gotten into that part of things yet. So, in an effort to create some sort of quilting curriculum for myself I set out to follow Crazy Mom Quilts quilt-a-long. Her original one started well over a year ago (she's done two others since), and everyone else seems to have done it when she was posting about it. But she still has all the links to the original and I just decided to follow them on my own. I've been posting about my progress for the last 10 weeks and have three more weeks to go until that quilt top should be finished. But, I am going to leave that one on its original timeline and move onto others that have been sitting for an embarassingly long time.

Here is a photo of one of the first quilt tops I ever pieced (original post on the collaborative blog here). It was supposed to be a baby quilt for our youngest. But the top was pieced and then it sat. And sat, and sat and sat. Then I used some of the batting on this project. But, now I'm ready. I am going to forge ahead and give it a try (and buy some cotton batting). Wish me luck and stay tuned. I've decided that I will finish this one within the month!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The matching no-cash wallet

Blogged about here. It still needs a button to finish it off, but I don't have just the right one. I'll have to keep my eye out. Also, the night this gem was finished I took it out to dinner with me. The waitress recognized the Amy Butler fabric immediately and we struck up a conversation about the fabric, patterns and sewing (i.e. hoarding lovely fabric). My husband was blown-away. Apparently he doesn't understand the extent to which Midwestern, 30-something, fabric-inclined, women are obsessed with Amy Butler design (as origninally proclaimed by the salesladies at the local quilting shop).

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gifts (1 for me and 1 for another)

Last week I received this bonnet as a gift from Ten Finger Workshop. She found this one at a garage sale and passed it along to me. What a lovely present! The pattern for this one is different from the other bonnet and seems to be a knit rectangle, that was worked in the round at one end to close it off. Some additional stiches were cast on to make the border and cording. I love the colors and pattern and might try my hand at recreating something like it. Has anybody else come across a bonnet like this? Any hints as to it's origin? Maybe I'll draft a tutorial for it as I go. This would make a great gift for either a boy or girl (depending on color choice) - at least for those of us who reside in the colder climates.

These next photos of are of a wallet that I made for a friend. She wanted something that would hold her cards and cash, but that was the shape of my checkbook cover. Something simple, slender and light. After exchanging some e-mails with fabric choices she settled on an Indonesian print for the exterior and the ever-popular Ghanaian adinkra cloth for the pockets. I love how it turned out and am very happy to have made something for someone else. It was also my first try at designing something. I started from the basic checkbook cover, but branched off in many different and new directions.