Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Good-bye to the Bunny

Recently, I was invited to join a satellite group of our quilting guild, something I have wanted to do since I joined the guild.

For those of you who don't know, satellite groups are smaller groups of members who meet outside the regular guild meeting.  They usually have a specific goal or common interest, like modern quilting, or hand quilting, for example.  I thought it would be a great way to make new friends.  But whenever I asked about them, all the satellite groups were full, and trying to start a new one proved to be a slow and tedious process that resulted in nothing.

I was pleased to be invited at last (apparently someone had to drop out, so they had room for a newbie.) I looked forward to meeting everyone, and I was very happy that one focus of this particular satellite group is helping Community Projects, a.k.a. charity.

Little did I know what I was getting into!

Because it is That Time of Year.

It turns out that, for a holiday project, we were each supposed to make either a Christmas stocking (not gonna happen) or a pillowcase, and put a little gift in it, and wrap the combo up, and then we were to exchange gifts at our next meeting, unwrap them, ooh and ah over the general adorableness of everything, and then donate it all to charity.

That last part I liked, the ooh-ing and ah-ing, and the donate-y part.  The rest, in all honesty, seemed like a lot of bother.

Every year at this time, I become even more of a curmudgeon than usual.  It's the four-month long frenzy of commercialism that annoys me.  It starts before Halloween now, and doesn't end until after all the after-Christmas sales.  It seems less like a religious or spiritual holiday than a business model.  Not appealing.

Add the fussiness of making a small project when I have fifteen other projects that truly excite me, and I become a Negative Nellie of the first degree.  ("Making it and then wrapping it?  So one can unwrap it, when it isn't even a gift for oneself?  Why?"  The Curmudgeonatrix hath spoken!  Or rather, hath thought, but hath kept her thoughts to herself.  Until now.)

But, I wanted to be part of the group, and I didn't want to rain on everyone's parade, and I like making things for charity as a rule, so I says to myself, I says, Suck it up and make a pillowcase, for heaven's sake!  Aloud, I just said, "Okay," and tried not to grimace too much or be snarky.  (I'm clearly making up for that here!)

I scavenged in my stash, found some free fabric (thank you, Sonja and Rhona), added a little of my own batik for spice, and followed the simplest pillowcase pattern I could find.

The result is cute enough, I think, and for the gift that went with it, I had the perfect knitted item already to hand:  Herbie Bunny.  I made him awhile back when I was teaching and all my students were making these bunnies, and I wanted to be able to help them, and it is in fact a very easy bunny to make (click here for the link to the free pattern).

But I am ready to release him into the wild, because around here, he has become simply another thing to have to move in order to dust.  (Curmudgeonly?  What, me?!)

Some child needs to cuddle him.  So say good-by to Herbie Bunny.  Safe travels, my friend!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Quilting Tip #247

When laying out pieces of cut fabric, in preparation for sewing them together, it is inadvisable to place one's full cup of coffee beside them, especially if the table one is using is a TV tray that can easily be jostled.

Especially if there is not much room between TV tray and cutting table.  Especially if one has Quilter's Butt, from sitting around sewing.

Especially if one's fabric is white.

Which leads us to Quilting Tip #248:  Always buy more fabric than you think you need.

The blue and orange rinsed out well in cold water and a little soap, but let's just say that it's a good thing I had a little extra of the white.

This has been "Lessons Learned the Hard Way," a Public Service Announcement brought to you by Yarn In, Yarn Out and… coffee.
Quilt in progress

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Missing the Traces

Awhile back, I heard tell of people throwing leftover scraps, strips, and strings of fabric in bags and just pulling out pieces randomly and adding them to a project.  The stuff of legend!  Of fantasy!

I'm much more of a planner by nature, but it sounded like fun to be more spontaneous.

I had been wanting to try piecing a wonky log cabin, and I finally had a day free.  I pulled out my box of scraps and began.

At first it was a mix of fun and frustrating.  I wanted to make 12.5 inch squares, and it seemed to take longer than it ought, considering there was no pressing with the iron, no measuring, and I was being so random and supposedly carefree.

Alas, there were simply not enough pastels and neutrals to realize my vision, such as it was.  These two not-quite-squares are now in my "good heavens what shall I do with them?" box.

I then tried some wonky patriotic-colored log cabin blocks with the same planning-free approach, but it still took so long to put together a 12.5 inch square, I was beginning to get a little annoyed.

Kicking over the traces was not as much wonderful fun as it was made out to be.

It was good to get out of my comfort zone, but I soon headed back in.  At least partway.  More structured patterns for me!

These blocks were donated to the quilters' guild and became someone else's problem.

I did find that the random method works great when doing what are essentially half square triangles.

The deal is, you separate the different basic colors, tossing the scraps into separate bags, for example, the reds with the reds, the whites with the whites, and so on.  Then you sew them onto a muslin or paper backing.

I had started out by laying all the scraps out on a table, which gave me way too much opportunity to be picky.

With the bags of scraps, I couldn't really see everything that was available, so I learned how to grab strips randomly, telling myself frequently, "Don't think too much, don't try to organize."

This was much faster than making those log cabins.

These three--the two patriotic star quilts, and the "lightning" one--all went to veterans.

I have an idea, using different colors but the same technique, for a kid's quilt.  I'm building up a stash of different colored scraps before I begin.  Yes, true to my nature, I have a plan!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bountiful BaaBoo

Hearthside Fibers is at it again:  providing major yarn support with their beautiful yarns.  I mentioned several design ideas to them, and they sent me these fabulous fiber-y treats.

First, for a one-skein knitted shawlette, their BaaBoo yarn in the Galway Bay colorway.  It's variegated, as you can see, with soft colors that blend really well together.

I love the BaaBoo!  It is luscious to work with, featuring Merino wool (the Baa) and bamboo (the Boo), and a smidgen of nylon, making it machine washable and great for all our fingering weight projects, even kids' stuff.

It's about 438 yards per skein, perfect for a shawlette or a pair of socks.  Plus, it's really fun to say, "BaaBoo."  Irresistible.

I also got enough BaaBoo for a larger knitted shawl I have in mind.  I've got the Wingtips colorway (the grey), and a skein each of Grape Jelly and Orchid for dashes of color.

I've worked on a prototype--I still have some math to figure out to give it the shape I want, but I'm zeroing in on a plan.

Last but not least, they sent me more of the wonderful Polwarth and Silk DK weight that I used for the crochet Symphony Infinity Scarf.  This time it's the "Extravagance" colorway, about 280 yards per skein.

I haven't decided what I'm going to do with it yet, but I might just crochet another Symphony.

Can't wait to wind this stuff and get down to some serious fiber play!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Shadowbox for Beginners

 I chose a block of the month from a past Guild newsletter for this charity quilt.  After I started making the blocks, I saw a friend who was making a similar pattern, only she had the wits and experience to do some strip piecing first for the boxy bits, which makes it much easier.  If only I had thought of that!

Live and learn.

I'm not crazy about the end result here, especially the atrocious pieced backing.

At least I used up some less-than-stellar donated fabric, and practiced free motion quilting some more.  Here's hoping someone at the hospital will appreciate it despite its imperfections.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How to Clean a Squeaky Wheel

I finally finished plying most of the pound of teal fiber I bought over three years ago.  There is just one partial bobbin that has a thicker single than the rest, so I've set that aside for now.

Clearer photo
The reason this fiber took so long to ply, never mind spin, is that my Louet S-10 had become a squeaky wheel.  It sat around unused for so long, it developed a very loud, complaining sound, and every time I tried to ply, it was pitiful and painful to hear.

I thought it probably needed oiling, even though the S-10 supposedly is made in such a way that it never needs oiling.

An expert spinner friend of mine agreed it needed oiling, so I went on the hunt for some wheel oil at the nearest fiber festival a few weeks ago.

No one had any wheel oil for sale, and I was feeling frustrated, until friend Elisa guided me toward yet another woman spinning away at her booth.

I explained my situation and the wheel in question, and she said (and I paraphrase), "You don't need oil.  Just take a wet wipe and wipe down all the parts where dust has probably settled, and that should solve the problem."  She even offered me a wipe.  People are so generous!

I said I would use just a damp paper towel or something, and she said it would be better to use something with a little more cleaning power than plain water.

Closer to the actual color
I am well-stocked with wipes myself, so I came home, grabbed a couple of wipes, carefully removed the bobbin with the partially plied strands of singles coming off the other two bobbins, and wiped down wherever anything joined or poked into anything else.  Twice.  Then I carefully put everything back together, with only minor tangling and cursing, and it really worked well.  Still a bit of squeaking, but nothing so painful as before.

Now that I am done plying, I am going to give the wheel another cleaning.

And now I have hundreds of yards of what appears to be fingering weight yarn--yippee!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Totally Cool Tote

Results of latest class:

Yes, I made this!  With much help from the instructor (thank you, Debbie).

Note how it stands up, all on its own!

And look!  It has pockets!

Pockets and ability to stand are both requirements for project bags, in my opinion.  The last thing you want to be doing is trying to knit or crochet and having your tote fall over every time you pull out another length of yarn.

This tote has already found its first project.  You can see the little red row counter nestled next to the knitting, which unsurprisingly is color-coordinated with the bag.  (How did that happen?!  Ha ha ha, it matches what I'm wearing too, of course.)

I actually was not last to finish sewing in this class!

I actually had enough time in class to finish the object in question, and not to go home with yet another UFO!  This is unheard-of for practically every class and workshop I take, regardless of project, teacher, location, or the weather.

I am determined to make more totes, too.  It was so much fun watching this take shape, literally.

I've already cut out the fusible interfacing, called Inner-Form-Plus, for a couple more totes.  Way cool, and useful too.

Who knew I would branch out from quilting?  (Probably every other quilter in the world.  I'm the last to know….)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Quilt Gestation, Part 2

Welcome to Why It Takes So Frickin' Long to Quilt One Lousy Quilt, Part 2.

Today we investigate further the mysterious elasticity of time, the root cause of which appears to be quilting.

Quilt begun months ago, now gestating
This phenomenon has never before been logically explained, nor will it be now.  We interviewed dozens of quilters about it.  Okay, maybe not dozens, maybe only three or four.

Yet all agree that the old adage, "Time flies when you're having fun" applies here in reverse.

"You're having fun, and yet the months drag on," says one quilter who prefers to remain anonymous.

Says another, "That little crib quilt with the cute yellow duckies on it, that you think you can quilt in an hour or two, ends up taking six months!  And all because you suddenly decide to outline every damn duck with free motion quilting.  It's the middle of the night, the baby's long since born, and you get all fancy-schmancy with the quilting.  Happens every time."

Quilt finished months ago, still haven't blogged about it
Says yet another, "I gotta tell you, I was hurt when my first grandson absolutely refused to take his baby quilt with the adorable bunnies on it, just because I only got it done in time for his high school graduation.  I think it would have looked charming in his college dorm room.  Some people are so ungrateful!"

The sad truth is that while many quilters experience extreme elongation of quilting time, there seems to be no cure, and no money set aside to search for one.  It all goes for more fabric and batting, apparently.

Or thread.  You always need more thread.

If you are interested in supporting my research, feel free to donate through my PayPal account.  (Although I reserve the right to spend it on fabric instead.)

Also gestating

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Quilt Gestation: Why It Takes So Frickin' Long to Quilt One Lousy Quilt

Challenge fabrics
Welcome.  As promised weeks ago, today we finally discuss the gestational cycle of the quilt top.

The question, "Why does it take so frickin' long to quilt one lousy quilt?" is one that has been asked for millennia.  Here we present some possible answers:

A)  The quilter is a perfectionist.
B)  The quilt top design is unusual, requiring an unusual design for the actual quilting itself.
C)  The quilter is sloooooow.
D)  The quilter is continually distracted by other projects.
E)  The quilter is a beginner and has very little clue what she is doing.
F)  All of the above.

Let's follow the gestational cycle of one particular quilt.

This quilt was born of necessity.  A quilting challenge was issued, the gauntlet was laid down, and the challenge was accepted.  The seed of an idea was planted--several seeds, in fact, most of which never germinated.

Finally one seed began its tenuous journey towards life.  Were there moments of stress and regret as the quilt top grew?  Of course.

Did a high wind blow many of the pieces off the design wall one day?  Of course.

But in the long term, the quilter was happy to have accepted the challenge.

Notice, it is a "modern" quilt.  Not only was it made recently, it bears no resemblance to traditional quilts of yore.  Or your.

No pattern was followed;  no pattern was written;  it is one of a kind.  One might call it an "art" quilt.  Or one might call it a disaster.

Whatever you call it, once any quilt top has reached its full growth, it frequently goes into a state of suspended animation.

Quilt tops are larvae which do not always metamorphose into actual finished quilts.  They can gestate for months, even years, in cocoon-like project bags in closet or garage, before they are ready to emerge and begin their journey to full adulthood.

This quilt top, however, skips the cocoon stage, due to the urgency of a deadline for a quilt show.

The top migrates a short distance to batting and backing, is pinned into a quilt sandwich, and then… we wait.

Many hours are spent staring at the quilt trying to figure out how to quilt it.  Ideas are considered, tossed aside, then reconsidered.

At last the stitching begins.

And continues.  On and on.  For many moons.

First comes straight line quilting with the walking foot.

Then we see a bit of free motion with the free motion foot.

Then comes ripping out the free motion bit because it looks dreadful.

Then, more free motion.

Is it overly busy?  Perhaps.  Are we ripping any more stitches out?  Not on your life!

The back

The binding is sewn on just in time to find out the appearance at the quilt show has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.

Never mind!  It's a UFO that has become an FO!

More of the back
Thanks to Joey and Deb, it is hung at a local shop with the other two challenge quilts, for several weeks.  (Gee, it looks so small next to the others!  After all that work!)

Now it's hanging in another show at the Faulkner Gallery in the downtown Santa Barbara public library.  The FO has a journey of its own….

Thursday, October 8, 2015

One-Skein Wonders for Babies

Hooray!  The book is out!  How about that adorable cover?

The inside is full of adorableness, too.

One-Skein Wonders for Babies includes my knitting pattern, "Tuck Me In," which uses only one skein of James C. Brett Marble Chunky for a preemie size blanket.

The pattern includes directions for making a larger blanket as well.

©Geneve Hoffman Photography
Note the beautiful photo they took of my blanket.

My home-grown photos are cute, but there's nothing like a professional photographer (with a professional baby!) to capture the cozy essence of the "Tuck Me In" blanket.

As always with the One-Skein Wonders series, this is a classy compilation of beautiful patterns by some great designers.  I feel honored to be in such good company.

The book is available now on Amazon and at your local yarn shops.

Indulge today!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Little House on the Incredibly Tiny Prairie

Have you ever started a project and wondered, "What in the world was I thinking?!"

Well, of course you have.  Silly of me to even ask.

Recently a friend was cleaning out her stash.  (That is the beginning to one of my favorite recurring stories!)  And, as the story always seems to go, she was giving away Stuff.

Among the Stuff this friend was releasing into the wild (and my closet) was a bag full of probably hundreds of small pieces of muslin stamped with various patterns for foundation piecing.

Log cabins and flying geese, cats and fans and houses, sailboats, and even smaller flying geese.

In the back of my mind, I have been wanting to use scraps to make some miniature quilt tops, just for fun.  And lo, the Universe (and Carol) provided!

She also gave me a bag full of scraps of fancy-schmancy fabrics, which I thought I might use.

But I do like working with cotton, so that's what I decided to use for the first one, at least.

And as I pieced, I questioned the wisdom with every itty-bitty seam.  I cheated on a couple: the sides on either end of the house are actually designed for four pieces of fabric, and I only used two.

I am pleased with the result, which measures 3.5 inches at the moment.  You can see those perfect 1/4 inch seam allowances at the edges and point of the roof:  the gift of foundation piecing.

I have this one tiny house sitting out on a table, and I admire it every time I walk by.  And someday, I will make more itty-bitty houses and flying geese, and I will use them for something!  (I have an idea….)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Designer's Dilemma

Despite my best intentions to give myself a break from designing and just knit someone else's pattern for a change, once I started working with my handspun, I ended up getting another idea.

I had swatched away with #6 needles, and then #5 needles, and I thought I was happy with #6.  I liked the drape.

Once I started making the actual shawl, however, I wasn't seeing the kind of clear pattern I prefer.  This yarn is fairly evenly spun and plied relative to my earlier efforts, but not as even as, say, Debbie Bliss Merino 4-Ply.

Plus, I found this particular handspun to be a bit stretchy.  Very nice to work with, but not as eager to hold its shape at such a loose gauge.

So I frogged the little bit I had knitted, and started again with #4 needles and my own simple (so far) design.  I like it much better with the #4s, and have more ideas for jazzing up the pattern.

I also started the Trousseau again using a different yarn, fingering weight, perfect for that travel project I need.

Meanwhile, I have been busy attempting to design something for a crochet publication, with a deadline coming up in about a week.  I've tried a dozen different ideas and hated the results of each one.  Some things look better in my head than in the yarn.

I've shelved the project for today.  I'm working on something I really like, but they want something for a spring issue, and this is more of a fall or winter thing.  Pooh.  I may submit it anyway, just for kicks.

In other news, I missed the beautiful Blood Moon the other night, but I did get to see an amazing sunset a couple of days prior.  Better "live" than in a pic, but you get the drift.