Wednesday, February 29, 2012

WIP Wednesday: The One Where I Miss the Memo on Leap Day

So, apparently, Leap Day means we are supposed to celebrate our "extra" day by hosting cool giveaways on our blog and doing something fun and creative like sewing all day.  At school today, in math, Mrs. Hansberry combined Leap Day and Pi day into one grand celebration of the number 29 and 3.14..., complete with snacks (Cutie Pies).  I must have missed that memo.  I don't have any cool giveaway, and I didn't finish much this week.  I'm going to use the construction in my sewing room as an excuse.  And at school... I don't know.  I guess I'm not the cool teacher.  I'm the teacher who gets complaints about homework, today.
Farmer's Wife Quilt block #97, Waste Not.  This was my only block completed this week. The blue doesn't pop out at you as much as I expected, but it's okay.  But since it was paper-pieced, it wasn't really a thrifty way of cutting the fabric as you might assume from the title!
Last WIP Wednesday I blogged about starting a bathmat out of my recycled cotton thrift store sweater yarn.  Here's how it looks so far.  I'm holding 6 (or so) strands of different yarns together on size 15 needles.
This is my current shawl project, the Oslo Walk shawl by Susanna IC.  I ran into some trouble at Starbucks Monday night, when I finished the main lace section and began the section that's supposed to create columns of yarnovers.  See those stitches between the markers?  They are offset by one, and so the yarnovers were also offset by one.  So I tinked back and have decided that when I knit on it again, I will forget about the columns of yarnovers and just do stockinette stitch.  It will save my sanity and showcase the handspun BFL better.

On Monday I blogged about my current machine quilting project... it's now (almost) off the machine and the binding is cut, but not yet pieced.  This was my UFO project for February and it is so close to being done; I'm happy about that but don't have pictures yet.
Scott Janku has been hard at work today on our replacement stair rail.  The old one was made of 2x4's and tilted about 30 degrees from upright.
That's what it looked like 2 hours ago.  It looks... slightly more finished right now.  But yes, it's definitely our biggest WIP at the moment.  And we'll need to be careful walking out of our room tomorrow morning.  But hey, that's our house... a 105-year-old contractor's nightmare.  Whenever we have work done, it's always interesting to see how things are always so much more complicated than we plan on.

Linking up to Freshly Pieced where I'm sure other people got lots more sewing done this week.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New and improved

Today I bought THE purse, the one that will solve all my organizational difficulties.  It's by Fossil, and I got it at Ross for a reasonable price considering its original price.  Since I got glasses I have found that my little red hobo bag is not big enough to keep all the stuff in and zip shut too, so I've been looking for something that will do that and yet not be a humongous shopper bag.  And it's such a pretty yellow!
Yesterday John the handyman came and put butcher-block tops on my counter areas.  They are so much more solid than what I was using!  But I haven't moved back in yet.  John was shy about having his picture taken but he works for Handyman Can! and they do great work.
John suggested a coat of Varathane so I've been doing that.  I was going to leave it plain because I like the smoothness of unfinished wood, but he pointed out that if I put a glass on it it would leave a ring.  It's now had 3 coats of clear satin and I'm waiting for it to get really dry and hard before putting stuff on it.  I also painted touch-ups on the mocha wall paint and used some old black paint to cover the support boards underneath the sewing area.  I almost feel like doing a complete painting job and repainting the cabinets, which are definitely relics of an earlier era.  Maybe this summer.
I asked for a cord hole underneath the outlet (which is the only one on that wall) so I can connect the pedal to the machine without passing it around the front of the table like I've been doing for years.
Next I just have to move all this stuff back in.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Design Wall Monday and Stash Report - Squiggle/loop/star

It's Design Wall Monday, but since my sewing corner is under construction at this very moment, all the action is on my Megaquilter setup, where Aunt Maggie's Quilt from last week is being machine-quilted in what is my new favorite quilting pattern, squiggle/loop/star.  I'm really liking how it looks... whimsical yet not inappropriate for the reproduction fabrics and small pieces.  It's about halfway done and it will be a tight squeeze to get it bound before the end of the month, but it should at least be close (it's my UFO for February).

Saturday at my church a small number of ladies showed up for quilting.  I took Quarta along and taught her how to make string blocks:
Of course that's a messy process as you work:
The other ladies had different projects going:
Sandri is meticulously planning quilts for her granddaughters.  She has an artistic eye for detail in color-coordination and she is carefully calculating how to set rectangles fussy-cut from her focus fabric on point.
I don't work that way at all.  I just tend to jump in and hope for the best, and my sewing area while I work is gloriously messy. 
Cute flannel baby quilt.
Dana brought a painting project - a name train for her nephew.  I like that spirit of finishing up UFOs.  I sat and stitched on one of my applique flower blocks for the 1996 Piecemaker's calendar.  It was a nice morning.  Next time I blog about sewing I hope I'll have some pictures of my improved sewing table and maybe it will even be organized!
Stash report:

I was planning not to make a stash report this week because I didn't finish anything.  But then my mother-in-law came over yesterday and brought a bag of fabric with her to give to me.  This makes my stash-flow look bad because I had determined not to buy fabric this year, but it is pretty fabric.

Fabric used this week: 0 yards
Fabric used year to date: 20.9 yards
Added this week: 4.5 yards from Grandma

Added year to date: 4.5 yards (all received as gifts, not purchased)
Net used for 2012: 16.4  yards

Yarn used this week: 0 yards
Yarn used year to date: 864 yards
Yarn added this week: 0 yards
Yarn added year to date: 492 yards (all handspun, not purchased)
Net used for 2012: 372 yards

Sunday, February 26, 2012


The other day Quarta got adventurous with the edamame pods.  I mentioned that when I was in 5th grade we did a science unit on structures and it got me into building card houses.
So that's what she did the next day.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some Grandma quilts

My mother-in-law has been busy.  These are some quilt tops she had me pin for her; she'll tie them a little later.  However many tops I may finish, she can easily do about twice as many.  And obviously, we both like scrappy!
I really like this little one, with green and blue batiks.
This one is like an elegant tiled floor.

The handyman is coming tomorrow morning: I'll be getting a new countertop for my sewing area.
You can kind of see where the formica surface has peeled away, but what you can't see is that it's my own improvised supports holding the sewing table up, and the sewing surface is warped.  It's going to be replaced with butcher-block and there will be new supports installed by a carpenter who actually knows what he's doing.  I can't wait!  And they'll also be replacing the extremely wobbly rail around our stairs: it's been freaking me out for several years now.

In the process of emptying out the cabinet on the left, I rediscovered my stash of unravelled thrift store sweater yarn, and cast on a 6-strand cotton bathmat with some of it.  I was happily knitting a few sections of that while watching TV this evening.  There's always something therapeutic about mindless cotton knitting, whether it's dishcloths or rugs or blankets.  It's been the kind of week at school where you need therapeutic knitting.  Grades due, 7th grade drama, 8th grade stress, 6th grade squirreliness.  And Tae Kwon Do in my classroom.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

WIP Wednesday

There was sun in the Northwest for a few minutes this afternoon!  I have Aunt Maggie's Patchwork quilt loaded onto the Megaquilter now and it's all ready to go when I get a few minutes to start quilting.  That's my UFO of the month project.
Farmer's Wife Quilt block #93: Swallow
block #94: Tall Pine Tree
block #95: Temperance Tree.
block #96: Tulip.  My husband thought it was a smiley-face.  Oh well.

Linking up to Freshly Pieced for WIP Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Play Ball! - Finished Quilt

The third and final of my quilts to donate to the Cedar Tree auction!  "Play Ball!", 65 1/2" x 86 1/2", machine quilted and hand-stitched binding.  I'm hoping some boy might like it.
Sports-themed fabrics were passed along by my mother-in-law and the piecing was fairly simple.
To make up for the easy piecing of the front, I also pieced the back, with lots of leftover bits of conversational fabrics, mostly boy-friendly.  Some people might question the use of that bit of fabric just to the right of center, with the cards, chips and dollar signs -- I might be one of them, actually.  There was also motorcycle fabric, marginally inappropriate for a Christian school.  But I was into using up fabric and getting it out of my stash and off my conscience.  There's also some Tweety Bird and Spider-man fabric in there.
Proof that I did remember to put a label on it.  The binding was supposed to be much easier than it turned out: somehow I managed to put a seam on two of the four corners (and there were 7 width-of-fabric strips, so there weren't really that many seams, they just hit at the wrong places!)
I'm so excited about this auction!  If you're going, make sure to check out the quilts and bid on them!  I'm doing this partially for selfish reasons... I really want a classroom that is more or less designated for Latin.  I'm tired of sharing with P.E when it's rainy like today and they need someplace that isn't being used so they can do self-defense classes.  And it's also used for serving refreshments for some evening events, and the Seniors eat lunch there every day, and it's used for A.V. and computer storage, and 1st grade reading groups, and... The sooner we get lots of money, the sooner there will be a gym.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Design Wall Monday - Aunt Maggie's Patchwork Quilt

Aunt Maggie's Patchwork Quilt by Lori Smith is on my design wall this Monday.  It was a block-of-the-month kit from my late, lamented local quilt shop, The Primitive Thimble, and its number was chosen for the UFO challenge this month.  If I'm to make my goal for February I need to load it onto the Megaquilter and machine quilt it and bind it before the end of the month.  So I hung it up to see if I could get inspired for the quilting process.
Surveying my thread situation, I realized I had white, off-white, and black but nothing to blend with the tans and browns in this quilt.  So I went to the fabric store this week on my way home from work and picked up a spool of thread.  Camel was too gold, and Khaki was too green, so I went for Dogwood.  I think it'll be a good choice.  I'm still debating what design to use.  I think the most realistic is an allover loopy squiggle; it will get done in a timely way.  But Diane Gaudynski has such inspiring feathers that sometimes I'm deluded enough to think I should try.  Maybe I'll just do one or two feathers as an exercise in humility.  I don't really like elaborate quilting patterns that compete with the piecing in a quilt like this, so it will probably be the squiggle.

Stash report:

Fabric used this week: 4.6 yards (binding for Play Ball quilt and backing for Aunt Maggie's)
Fabric used year to date: 20.9 yards
Added this week: 0 yards
Added year to date: 0 yards

Net used for 2012: 20.9 yards

Yarn used this week: 0 yards
Yarn used year to date: 864 yards
Yarn added this week: 0 yards
Yarn added year to date: 492 yards (all handspun, not purchased)
Net used for 2012: 372 yards

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Latin Teacher

Too funny.  I was just on Facebook and shared the knitting version of this omnipresent meme.  I thought the depiction of a woman cozying up with hundreds of balls of yarn was inaccurate, but said, "It'll have to do until they come up with one for Latin teachers."  Little did I know that Primigenitus was hard at work, Gimping this together for me.  How my son could end up so computer-proficient is beyond me.  Maybe it's because I let him play Civilization as a toddler.  Now here he is, trying to decide on the college of his choice and doing this bit of hacking on the side for his old mom.

But isn't it great??

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Homemade Granola

Homemade granola is the ultimate comfort food/ breakfast food as far as I'm concerned.  My family always wants "fruit cereal" which averages $4 a box or so.  Homemade granola can be made in large batches, so lasts longer, tastes better, and probably is better for you.  I haven't priced it but I'm pretty sure it's cheaper, and it definitely uses less packaging.  As an additional benefit, it makes your house smell even better than baking bread does while you're making it.  Try some!  A sort-of recipe follows:
Here's how I do it: Preheat oven to 375; spray 3 9x13" pans with Pam, and fill them with a mix of grains: mostly old fashioned rolled oats (I buy these in 25# bags and store in a bin in the pantry), 5-grain or 7-grain cereal from the bulk bins at the store, and maybe a little flax seed.  Just about that much, I've no idea of actual poundage or cup quantity.  See that spoon over in the right pan?  You'll be doing a lot of stirring.
Now get your liquids heated up.  I didn't measure, but you want about a cup or 1 1/2 cups of honey, a cup or so of oil, and maybe a little (1/2 C or so) flavorful juice if you like.  Apple juice, orange juice, cranberry juice can all work; I used Mongo Mango juice this time.  Heat in the microwave until it's bubbly.  A little cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc, can be added to the liquids here, or stirred in with the grains.  You can also go exotic with orange or lemon peel, lemon juice, orange liqueur, vanilla, cocoa powder -- whatever enhances the flavor theme you are trying to develop.  Add anything with alcohol or subtle flavors AFTER microwaving.  Pour the liquids evenly over the grains.  Stir, stir, stir.  Pop the pans into the oven for 20 minutes.  Take out and stir, stir, stir.  Put back in for another 20 minutes; stir; add any nuts you would like to have toasted along with the grains; return to oven for a final 20 minutes.  At this point it should be nicely toasted and you can remove from the oven and let cool without stirring; or you might decide it needs another 10-20 minutes of baking.
You will need to fend off the snitchers for awhile until it cools.  Then add your chosen dried fruit and nuts (if you didn't add them earlier).   Again, I don't measure but go for a large handful of fruit and slightly smaller handful of nuts in each pan.  This batch used slivered almonds and dried blueberries (and a tiny amount of golden raisins I had leftover).  By waiting to stir it for the final time until after it's cool, you will end up with a few more clumps of grains stuck together -- which is a good thing in granola.

When I make granola, I plan in advance when I'm doing my weekly grocery shopping.  I buy the mixed-grain cereal, the honey, nuts, and dried fruits to fit whatever flavor theme I want.  Some themes you might like to try:

dried apples, raisins, dates, walnuts
coconut, pineapple, mango
apricot, golden raisins, pecans
dried cherries and blueberries
orange honey, orange peel, orange liqueur, cloves, cinnamon, raisins, pecans

Kitchen shears are great for snipping larger pieces of dried fruits into bite sizes.  Store in an airtight container and watch it disappear fast.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

WIP Wednesday and sneak preview of "This Means War"

WIP Wednesday again! I finished two more Farmer's Wife Quilt blocks this week.  I'm in the home stretch now!  See my layout on the design wall in Monday's post.
Farmer'sWife Quilt block #91: Strawberry Basket.
Block #92: Streak of Lightning.  I liked the purple stripes because they reminded me of the ozone-tinged lightning storms I watched in New Mexico when I was little.
I finished quilting this "Play Ball" quilt that I will be donating to the Cedar Tree auction.  You can't really see, but it's an allover loop/squiggle that works pretty well and went very fast.  It now just needs to be trimmed even and bound.  It will be the third and final quilt I'm donating to this year's auction. 

Knitting and spinning had very little progress this week.  I'm working on my third shawl of the year, Susanna IC's Oslo Walk shawl from Interweave Knits Winter 2010 issue.  I get a row or two done every day that I knit, which isn't every day because my elbow has been bothering me.

Yesterday Steve and I had our first dentist appointments in ... some time; then to celebrate Valentine's day we went out to Thai Orchid and were planning to see "Iron Lady" at the $5 Tuesday showing.  But at the last minute we found out it was canceled to make room for a sneak preview of "This Means War."  So we saw that instead.  Totally different crowd than for the showing of "The Artist" last week.  And totally different previews.

Cute movie... absolutely inappropriate for anyone who isn't married.  It's obviously inspired by the deserved popularity of "Chuck" but it's missing some of the heart and basic sense of morality that Chuck has.  Basic premise: Chris Pine and Tom Hardy play two CIA agents in LA (not sure why a Brit like Tom Hardy is working for the CIA, nor why CIA's LA headquarters should be so palatial, but it doesn't matter) who fall for the same girl (Reese Witherspoon, who is cute like Meg Ryan was cute in romantic comedies a decade ago).  They make some sort of "gentlemen's agreement" that the best man will win, and then shamelessly turn the entire resources of the CIA to opposition research.  Chris Pine plays the same type of irresponsible but rakishly charming character he played in the Star Trek movie, and Tom Hardy does his level best to combine "licensed to kill" with "sensitive new age guy."  Oh yeah, and there's this international bad guy who wants revenge for something completely unrelated and obscure, and of course the obligatory high-speed chase along LA freeways.

The success of "Chuck" has made it obvious that spy thrillers can be combined nicely with the romantic comedy genre.  In fact, I prefer this combination to real spy thrillers.  It doesn't take itself seriously, so it was a nice date movie and had some very funny moments.  It's rated PG-13 but I felt the language, general crudeness, and adult themes put it into R territory and I wouldn't let my teenage sons go even though they are big fans of "Chuck."  Gaping holes in the plot and characters make it highly unlikely it will be up for any Oscars next year.  But there you go.  I don't often get to see a movie and blog about it before everyone else in the world!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Farmer's Wife Blocks on the design wall

I took the time over the weekend to lay out the 91 Farmer's Wife Quilt blocks I have made on my design wall.  I preserved the strict alphabetical order they are in so there are places where I will obviously want to spread out certain color concentrations, but I'm happy with the overall mix of scraps.  I do need a little more purple and bright yellow or gold.  I only have 20 more blocks to make to have enough for a queen-sized quilt.  All of my blocks are made from my stash, and I've challenged myself to use something from a thrift store, or vintage fabric, or repurposed clothing or scraps from other sewing, in every single block.  It has been surprisingly easy to do this... I have a lot of scraps!
I'm thinking I'll probably need to get a solid medium blue for the sashing, and maybe white or off-white for setting triangles and cornerstones.  This is the last time I'll be able to fit all the blocks on the design wall before the final layout.  I have so much enjoyed working through this book and figuring out how to piece all the little 6" blocks.  I've even figured out how to make my long-dormant Flickr account work, sort of... although I'm not putting every picture on there.  I'll link this post up to Judy L.'s Design Wall Monday and Sew Darn Crafty

Time to update the fabric and yarn consumption stats for the week, too:

Stash Report

Fabric used this week: 8.9 yards (Orca bay top finished and pieced backing for sports quilt)
Fabric used year to date: 16.3 yards
Added this week: 0 yards
Added year to date: 0 yards

Net used for 2012: 16.3 yards

Yarn used this week: 0 yards
Yarn used year to date: 864 yards
Yarn added this week: 0 yards
Yarn added year to date: 492 yards (all handspun, not purchased)
Net used for 2012: 372 yards

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book Review: Cornelia Funke's Inkheart Trilogy

I have "read" several books as audiobooks in the last few years, many of which I would not have the time to read otherwise.  Some of the best of the lot have been by Cornelia Funke.  She is a German writer, but her works have been lyrically translated into English and there has even been a major motion picture (although, as almost always happens, it isn't as good as the books).  Advanced readers of any age will like her Inkheart trilogy, which is directed at the juvenile market but may be long and deep enough to dissuade younger or more struggling readers.  There is also an emotional intensity and menacing sense of evil that may disturb some younger readers; but the books are largely free of objectionable material found in many "young adult" books.

In Inkheart, (audiobook ably read by Lynn Redgrave) we meet Meggie and her father, Mo, a bookbinder with the disturbing ability to read characters out of, and real people into, books.  This is, in fact, what happened to Meggie's mother long ago; Dustfinger, a displaced character from the Inkworld, is searching for the man who might be able to put things right again.  But so is the ultimate bad guy, Capricorn, and he has been written to be the ultimate bad guy.  The ability to read people ... and things like treasure ... out of storybooks makes Mo the man everyone wants to control.  Meggie and her father join forces with her bibliophile aunt Elinor to find Fenoglio, the author of the obscure book that started it all.  The adventure ranges all over Europe to its culmination in a medieval Italian village.

The second book of the series, Inkspell, continues the not-quite-resolved issues from the first book; although really, the first book ends at a satisfying point and the sequel was not strictly necessary.  Once it has begun, though, and we are drawn with the main characters into the fantasy world of Inkheart, it imprisons us there, in a world which is lovely to read about but not quite so lovely to experience firsthand.  New villains (Mortola, the Adderhead) arise to prominence and new characters add their complexity to a storyline that begins to escape the control of the fictitious author, Fenoglio.  This book is darker than the first, more frightening to read, and does not deliver a completely satisfying ending; by this time the real author knew that a third book would be written.  The book-within-a-book theme is further developed, but some readers will be put off by the themes of suffering and fated death.  Brendan Fraser does the reading for the audiobook: he played Mo in the movie and delights in a whimsical portrayal of the various characters (If you enjoy Fraser's voice performance, perhaps an even better, standalone Funke audiobook is Dragonrider).

The third book, Inkdeath, attempts to bring order to the chaotic situation in the Inkworld.  There are so many characters by this time and so many dark, confusing and sometimes conflicting storylines, and it had been so long since I had listened to the second book, that I'm glad it was an audiobook or I would have given up.  But, with all that said, the development of the characters and the plot, once it finally gets close to the denouement, is superb.  You feel like it's a bit of a slog getting there, though.  Part of it is intentional: the theme of how to redeem a cursed story where everything is going wrong is prominent in this book even more than the others.  Modern fantasy authors like to tease their readers -- will this be one of those authors who kill off main characters and leave you in a depressed (pardon the bad pun) funk?  Thankfully, this is not.  The resolution of this book, although some characters do get short shrift, is satisfying in a classical way, while at the same time inventive and new.  I came away from the audiobook (read by Allan Corduner, who has an impressive list of audiobook credits) feeling happy that I had ventured into the Inkworld and met its engaging characters.

In a way it is easier for those of us who grew up passionately devoted to books and reading to separate fantasy from reality in reading these books.  We know quite well that it is impossible to bring characters from a book to life by reading aloud, or we would have done it ourselves by now.  So it is easier to appreciate the Inkheart trilogy for what it is: an homage to books and book lovers everywhere, and an exploration of what life might be like if fantasy and reality did collide.  Perhaps drawn out a bit too long, perhaps taking too many characters in too many different directions, it is still a delightful and memorable read... or listen. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In Which Orca Bay Quilt Top is Finished and Receives Kitty Approval

Two seconds.  That's how long it took Muffball ("Muffin" if you want to be formal) to walk onto the Orca Bay quilt top after I spread it out on the floor to take a look.  I think we both like it.  I know I'm glad it's finally all pieced.  The last borders took several re-dos with a lot of seam ripper action.
Please don't tell me if you see any glaring errors, 'cause I'm not fixing them now!
Kermit approves too. 
See how her paws so neatly frame the cat print? 
Now, I love scrappy.  Scrappy quilts and I get along just fine.  But this is by far the scrappiest scrap-fest of small scrappy bits that I have ever made.  I may have to do a matchy-matchy quilt with big pieces next, just to use different quilting muscles.  But Orca Bay is now a complete top, waiting in the queue to be quilted.  Check out the other Orca Bays over at Quiltville in the link-up party.  It's really quite inspiring that so many ladies from all over the world made this quilt.  They are all gorgeous.

While I was sewing Orca Bay together this last week I made 4 new Farmer's Wife Quilt blocks as leaders-and-enders (that's when you reach the end of a seam and just keep sewing new patches together without lifting the presser foot).
#87 - Star Gardener.  I thought of a gardener in outer space, so I thought this cactus-y fabric looked exotic in that way.
#88 - Star of Hope.
#89 - Steps to the Altar.  I used colors that made me think of my own wedding and bridal bouquet in this.
And #90 - Storm Signal.  I will try to lay out all my Farmer's Wife Blocks on my design wall next week so I can begin to think about sashing choices.  I realize they all have very little in common, but I'm trusting the scrappy vibe to see me through. 

Now that Orca Bay is done, I've got the sports quilt for the Cedar Tree auction to piece a backing for and get on the Megaquilter.  After that I need to quilt my UFO of the month, Aunt Maggie's Quilt.  Not so much regular piecing for a bit, maybe... but we'll see.

I'm also linking up to WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced, where lots more is going on.