Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fabric Junkie

Apparently it has been too long since I've bought any new fabric. I found myself with an overwhelming urge this week. I drove downtown, parked the car, walked into my local quilt shop, and announced to the proprietress, "I need a fix!"

She stared at me a moment and then burst out laughing. Could have been worse I guess.

I see now that I've got the pictures out of order. These pieces are from my second stop that day, the shop where I meant to buy only thread. They are batiks and they were all on sale. Couldn't pass that up!

So were the little embroidery scissors. I have embroidery scissors, even a pair of storks, but these were so cheap ($3.99!) and so cute that I bought them anyway.

And here are the cuts I bought from my LQS.

The black and white prints are fat quarters. The other two are half yard cuts. See, I didn't need a lot of new fabric, just a hit.

Since then I've been sewing scraps into blocks again. It was some precut triangles from an old project that got me started.

I guess I should take a picture of the quilt these were leftover from. I'm not sure I've ever shown it here and it's one I actually still own.

When those were all used up I moved on to the miscellaneous patches I've cut up over time.

I've come to the conclusion that sewing these simple blocks gives my brain the opportunity to recruit the necessary energy for more creative projects. That's my story anyway, and I'm sticking to it!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Weekend Play

I meant to get back online over the weekend to wish everyone a beautiful Easter...

But I confess to getting distracted. ;- )

I played around a bit with some bright prints that will eventually end up in QuiltDiva's hands.

Then I found myself sewing scraps and a couple of new pieces of fabric into simple blocks.

My friend D~ spent some time in the big city south of us recently. She brought back this fun skull print to share with me.

The first block I made with it was this liberated star. Then I went on to make a couple of Shoo Fly blocks. With the completion of the puzzle quilt that went to Japan I need to build up my stash of available blocks for the next quilt like that one. I think I finally get that I most enjoy working block by block rather than with strips or by some other "production" method. Which is not to say that I will never use one of those other methods for building a quilt, just that my instinct is to work a block at a time. So why not go with what you know?!

In closing, let this doting grandmother share with you her favorite picture from Easter Sunday.

I remember straw hats, white gloves, and shiny patent leather shoes from the Easters of my youth. This one is more likely to remember those sparkly pink sunglasses!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Three Happy Things

1. It's very challenging to get a good picture of a nervous bird...

But I so wanted to share his lovely color with you! It's a little ridiculous how happy this bird makes me. Simple pleasures for the simple minded I guess. ;- )

2. I've needed a new purse for months now. The one I've been carrying has become raggedy around the edges. And since the addition of the Nook to my daily life my purse is no longer big enough. I've been carrying around my handbag and a tote bag with my travel sketchbook and Nook and whatever else I've felt the need to have with me. (Frequently I end up sitting in the car while someone else actually goes into the store to do whatever shopping is required. So while I need my wallet and other things, I also need something to pass the time.) Since I won't go into most department stores anymore it's a bit of a challenge to find just the right replacement handbag.

You'd think since I sew I could just make a bag for myself. Unfortunately that's not the sort of project I enjoy. I ordered one bag online that I thought was going to work but it turned out to be much bigger than I wanted or needed. I regularly get reminders to click through the donation sites over here, and I've ordered products from their shop before too. Recently they had bags and totes on sale. I took a chance on one and, hallelujah! It's perfect!

Not only is the bag big enough for my essentials and my extras, it's made entirely of fabric (and not quite as washed out as it looks in this photo). That means no vinyl or plastics off-gassing. It's padded too. My Nook and camera and cell phone should all be safe and sound. The label on the front there is sewn to an outside pocket that is perfect for my camera, which I often would forget to take with me on outings. Inside there are six pockets lining the side walls. I love this bag.

A couple of years ago my sister in law sent me what was intended to be a scissor or rotary cutter fob. I've personalized my lovely new bag by adding it to the zipper pull (which is the only thing I would change about this bag; I'd have the zipper bigger/stouter).

3. My sewing table looked like this last week:

A little of the QuiltDiva's mojo rubbed off on me and now it looks like this!

Now I'm going to take all this happiness and stitch it into some new blocks for new projects and good friends. :- )

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Finished Swap Quilt

When I finished embellishing the lower half of my swap quilt I had to figure out how to balance that out on the upper half. I decided to go with star sequins. I think it worked. ;- )

I found two leftover pieces of binding in my stash that couldn't have been more suited to this quilt. I only eyeballed the placement of the joining of the pink and the green. Look how perfectly it turned out! Talk about serendipity! (Hmm, that might be a good name for this little quilt!)

Here's a close up of the heart:

And here on the back you can see the quliting a bit better. I used Fast Finish Triangles to make it easier for the recipient to hang the quilt. I love that technique for little quilts. I first learned of it in the AAQI Priority Quilt pages.

I purposefully used two different fabrics for the triangles. I wanted the upper ones to stand out from the background and I wanted the lower ones to be pale enough for me use as labels.

That's all that's left to do and then I can pack this gem up and send it off. :- )

Monday, April 18, 2011

Playing in the Sunshine

We had a couple of days of gray skies - nothing unusual there - and heavy rain, which is unusual. Saturday was an improvment, with cloudy skies but no rain. Yesterday was spectacular!

The sunshine on the leaves of the rose bush outside my studio window inspired me to do the quilting on my swap quilt.

Mostly I just stitched loosely flowing lines in a sparkly yellow thread. But in a "grassy" area I went so far as to attempt lines that could indicate grass or bushes.

Of course I couldn't stop at just quilting. I had to add a few embellishments. I think this is where real playtime happens for me: embellishment!

I had to gussy up the house too:

Having done that, the upper half of the quilt looked pretty barren. I'll show you how I dealt with that in the next post. ;- )

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Doin' It My Way

Things have improved here in the Magpie's Nest. But Mr. Reilly had to go to the groomer today and he's likely to bring home some fumes on his newly shorn body that will have an adverse affect on me. I thought this might be a good time to pop in and show you what I've been doing as I recovered from the last toxic exposure.

Mostly that would be playing in my scraps. Victoria has arranged for a mini quilt swap over on the 15 Minutes of Play blog. I signed myself up just in time to be included. She's calling it the "Something From Nothing" swap since the challenge is to make a 12" square quilt out of nothing but scraps.

I had some parts and pieces laying around and started sewing them together to see what I could come up with. Victoria is a big fan of "making fabric" from scraps so that was the mindset I was in while I was sewing the parts and pieces together.

I managed to create three 12" blocks.

The problem was that none of them looked like cohesive compositions to me. In my eyes they just looked like a conglomeration of scraps. Victoria probably would have cut shapes out of this 'made fabric' and worked further with them. There were too many seams already for me to be comfortable with that procedure. Also, I'm not a quilter in the technical sense of the word so I couldn't rely on quilting to give the blocks the polished, finished, look that I would want my mini quilt to have. It was discouraging. Eventually I decided to try one more time, using a slightly different approach.

Some time ago when I was piecing scraps a house and a tree magically showed up. I'd set them aside at the time but I got them out to see what I could do with them. I also had a three inch heart block that I had pieced intentionally but completely out of scraps. All I needed to do was figure out how to combine these elements...

Ta daa! The bird is printed on a larger scrap that I received in a swap. This little top was more fun to make and makes me happier than any of the previous efforts. My first instinct is to hand quilt and embellish it but I'm afraid I don't have time to accomplish that before the shipping deadline. So under Phoebe's needle it will go (Phoebe is my Pfaff sewing machine). I suspect I will quilt it the same way I pieced it: by the seat of my pants. That seems to be how I roll! ;- )

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sunshine and Shadows

We've had a few days of lovely sunshine lately. In spite of that I've haven't been at the top of my game. Pictures of what I've sewn are still in the camera and I don't have the energy to download and tweak them. I do, however, have pictures of a couple of quilts my friend C~ created recently. This first one was made of orphan blocks and bits. I believe it all began with the giant turtle at the top of the quilt.

She found a couple of other turtle blocks; they have 3D heads and feet. There's a house block and a little triangular chicken. Lots of fun things for a child to enjoy. :- )

She also left this small crazy quilt with me to bind.

I found the perfect fabric to use for the binding too. It's a stripey print with oranges and purples in it. The binding is on, the quilt is ready to be returned to C~, but I don't believe I have a shot of the finished product. Gotta do that before she comes to collect it! She gave me some scraps from this quilt; they will be fun to play with when I'm feeling more the thing. Which brings me to the shadows part of this post. Feel free to exit stage right (or left, depending on your preference) at this point.

I get so frustrated when my body shuts down like this. I ran into the slightest bit of fragrance and now I'm barely functioning. It nearly always begins with a burning sensation in my sinuses. That turns into an intense headache that no ordinary analgesic will tame. Many hours later I'm lethargic and slightly-to-moderately depressed. I know that the depression is a direct result of chemical exposure, not merely sadness or discouragement - although there are elements of both of those emotions present. I've paid close attention over the years since I was made aware of the potential effects of chemicals on sensitive systems. I now suspect that the depression I suffered for years before the MCS diagnosis was actually chemically induced a lot of the time. There were other challenges in my life of course, everyone has them, but I bet they would not have been the mountains they were had I not been suffering from serious chemical exposures on a daily basis.

My intention is not to be a downer but rather to try to educate anyone who may be reading this post on the prevalence and the powerful effects of the miasma of chemicals in our environment. The simplest, most innocent products can contain toxic elements. Rarely will you find any ingredients listed on a label. Consumers have no way to protect themselves or their families in most cases, short of just not buying the products (which is pretty much what I've had to resort to). It's totally a case of "let the buyer beware" but in this busy world who has the time to do the research? Who even wants to? I sure don't. And I wouldn't if I weren't forced into it. Just know that the lotion you slather on your skin, the shampoo you use in your hair, the perfume you put on your body, the cleaning agents and fragrances you use in your home all have toxic ingredients. Your body absorbs them and over time they build up. Some of them cause cancer. If you're lucky your liver and other organs are able to process them appropriately. My liver can't even process the low levels of these toxins so I have to be extra careful. And I suffer whenever I'm not able to adequately protect myself.

Hopefully what I'm experiencing now will have passed by the end of this day and I'll have my energy and enthusiasm back tomorrow. There is much in my world to rejoice over and I want to share those things with you more than I want to share my misery. Again, my only goal in sharing my misery is to enlighten and educate to the best of my limited abilities. If you've hung in with me this far I thank you and I hope you benefit somehow from my experiences.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

In a manner of speaking. Margaret's Hope Chest is celebrating four years of making and donating quilts. They just sent ten quilts to Japan. Now they're trying to refill their coffers by asking folks to send in their unfinished quilt tops, any size, as long as they are clean and usable. I really didn't think I had anything but I looked anyway. Lo and behold, look what I found!

It's the beginnings of a Double Irish Chain from back in my teaching days. It only measured about 30 x 50 inches though, and there was plenty of fabric in the bag so I did some cutting and sewing and turned it into this:

A 50 x 70 inch top. I know I had borders planned for it. There may even be something around here I could use for a back. But you know what? It's gone. Outta here. The reason that top was only three blocks by 5 blocks when I found it was because I did not enjoy the process involved in making the blocks. It's one of those where you cut strips, sew them together, then cut sub-units and sew them together. I kept getting lost! It's much easier for me to cut the stupid little squares, place them on the table next to the sewing machine, and sew them together one by one.


The top is now on its way to Margaret's Hope Chest. I hope some lovely quilter will turn it into the stunning quilt it could have been. Part of me feels bad for not finishing it myself but there was way too much negative energy involved. I need to go sew some scraps!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Puzzle Quilt - Done & Gone

When I left you the last time I had a top row fleshed out for my Puzzle Quilt. Here it is all filled in. You may notice I made another stack of Flying Geese units off to the left side. Other than that I simply used whole cloth strips to compensate for the blank spots.

The next step was borders to bring it up to the size I wanted. Of course I had something in mind as I was sewing that top row to the rest of the quilt and, of course, something better came along before I got there! My LQS had a selection of bolts the owner really wanted gone. I used some of one for the outer border and binding and yards of another for the back.

The inner border or frame was cut from a multi-color print I found in my stash. That white background against the black background of the outer border really make the whole top pop in my opinion.

My long arm quilting friend had an opening in her schedule and was able to meander quilt this for me in a matter of hours. Her name and mine are on the label on the back.

Here's the final product:

No detail shots I'm afraid. We were lucky to get this picture in between rain showers. I don't think I could be more pleased with the way this quilt turned out. And now it's on the first leg of its journey to someone in Japan who will hopefully find it a happy distraction and a warm comfort in the days ahead.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Puzzle Quilt, Installment 4

Unless I'm mistaken, this is how far I'd progressed with what I'm calling my Puzzle Quilt at the end of the last post.

That row of Hourglass blocks across the bottom (they look like square in a square blocks because of the way I've set them) is mostly sewn into place. If you look closely, however, you'll see that the bottom edge of the Contrary Wife block is shorter than the Hourglass strip. It did not occur to me to just add a strip to the bottom of Contrary Wife. Instead I took out one of the strips in that compensating strip of strips between Contrary Wife and the small Churn Dash blocks. It was definitely the more time consuming way to fix the problem but there you go.

At this point I decided I wanted to make the quilt wider. Back to my box of orphan blocks. I found another birdhouse, I believe made by the same person who made the first one. It was about 11.5" square so I planned the column of blocks to finish at 12" wide. As it turned out, this was the place for that light red plaid 10" Churn Dash block. I used a few of my odd 6" blocks and made up a few more to fill in gaps.

You'll see some more of the Hourglass blocks too, making their way around the star in the lower right hand corner. I was thrilled to discover that I could make them turn a corner and keep the colors and values where I wanted them to be. The light in the right-most Hourglass is a green and the dark in the block above it is also a green. In person they blend together a little better. So here's the top, 60 inches square-ish. Now it needed to be longer.

I could either add a row to the top or the bottom. I didn't like any of the bigger blocks I had left at the bottom. Plus I kind of liked the Hourglass strip acting as a sort of border for the bottom edge. So I framed up a 12" Shoo Fly someone else had made to make it finish at 15" and used that height as my goal for a row across the top. That blue Spinner block finally found a home, along with a few of my Bow Tie blocks. In this row the only block I had to make on the spot was the Shoo Fly with the red background (9").

I think I can show you the final product in the next post. Once I filled in the gaps in that top row it was only a matter of adding borders to bring the whole thing up to size. I'll tell you right now that I couldn't be more pleased with the way this quilt turned out. It was surely meant to be. :- )

Friday, April 1, 2011

Puzzle Quilt Part 3

Sorry to keep y'all waiting so long. I've had my nose to the grindstone (no, not literally!), the pedal to the metal (if you count my sewing machine's foot pedal), and been working my fingers to the bone (raised a blister on my needle finger - I've never been comfortable with a thimble). The puzzle quilt is nearly done as I write this but let's back up and show you how I got to where I am now. Or at least another step in the path I've taken.

My friend C~ brought these orphan blocks to me a little while ago. I think they were actually from someone else's stash:

You may have noticed the Dresden Heart block on the design wall in the last picture of my last post. I tried out all three blocks in this quilt at one time or another. The Dresden Heart is the only one that made it into the final product. It acted as a great anchor for the lower right side of the quilt. What I needed, however, was something to then fill the hole between that and the big Contrary Wife block on the left side. First I tried a ten inch Spinner block:

Too much blue all in one place for my taste. How about this Churn Dash, also ten inches?

Maybe. But what if I sewed some five inch blocks together to make a 10" unit?

I rather like that. Now, how to fill in that strip between the small blocks and the big one?

What about a strip of strips? I'd been piecing these odd strips together while I was over playing with the 15 Minutes bloggers. I first saw Sujata doing it for one of her quilts (the one she calls Confetti I think). I find I have a lot of those short little strips in my scrap basket. They work okay when you're first starting out a liberated log cabin or crumb block but I wasn't using them up very quickly that way. This seems like a good idea and may become part of my standard repertoire. Sort of like sewing those odd half-square triangles into sawtooth strips.

Meanwhile, my lovely canary officially has a name now: Mr. Bingley. Those of you who are familiar with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice may recognize it as being the name of one of the characters from the story. The description of Mr. Bingley's personality just seemed to suit my little bird. Darling Daughter came up with a unique and accurate moniker too: Colonel (kernel) Corn (as in the color of my bird). Fitting, but I just couldn't go there. ;- )

I promise to be back soon with the next installment of the construction of this quilt top.