Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tour de Fleece! Prologue

The goal: Spin at least 30 minutes every day the Tour de France rides, from June 30 (today!) through July 22.  Rest days are July 10 and 17.

The challenge: Spin the 2.5 pounds of orange-dyed superwash wool from Sheep Shed Studios into singles and ply them into a 3-ply, worsted-weight yarn for my Ravelympics project (another Orange Rhinebeck sweater).  I have no idea if this is even possible, but I like a challenge.

The bonus: If I spin all the orange I will choose one of the other fibers pictured and work on that.  Or if I am away from home for an extensive time, I will take my Kuchulu along and work on the top left Dicentra Salt Marsh fiber.

Another bonus: So far, no trademark complaints from the Tour de France people.  And I might even get to watch the segments that are broadcast here.

The host: Ravelry, of course!

The teams: I have signed up for Peloton, Stashbusters, Team Ashford, and Team SSS.  If I spin on my Kuchulu I will link up with Team Jenkins Turkish Spindles.  I can't commit to a photo every day, but I'll certainly do my best.  Most of the photos will be orange, of course!

I had a great time as a rookie TDF spinner last year and made a big dent in the stash, as well as learning to Navajo-ply.  Now it's time to get it to the point where I won't feel guilty if I buy more!

Friday, June 29, 2012

No Emanations or Penumbras Here

I like my constitutional review straight up.  Which is why I like Justice Roberts' opinion yesterday, even though I hate Obamacare and think it will lead to economic collapse if fully implemented.  The obligatory disclaimers: I'm not a constitutional scholar, I just play one on this blog.  (And yes, this blog is normally a needlework blog with a dash of family life and book reviews thrown in.  What can I say, I'm versatile.) It has been almost 25 years since I sat in a Con. Law class, and about 15 since reading Robert Bork's The Tempting of America, which formed my opinions on this issue and I highly recommend.  I would be extremely interested to read Bork's opinions on this ruling, but until I do, I will break with the reactionary conservative take on this and say it was a good ruling, a refreshing exercise in judicial restraint, and possibly the jolt our country needs to get it back on track.  In the extremely bizarre alternate reality where I am a Supreme Court Justice, I might even have written it, although I don't know -- it would take a lot of chutzpah to go against Scalia.

Ideas have consequences.  Elections have consequences.  For too long, the American people and their elected representatives have relied on the judiciary to rescue them from their own imprudence.  But the Supreme Court, like all the courts below it, is supposed to be apolitical.  Remember those statues of Justice blindfolded?  The Court should be above the fray of the 4-year election cycle.  To the masses of angry conservatives: were you this upset about Roe v. Wade, which didn't directly affect your pocketbook?  And if you were, what was your remedy?  Those of us in the pro-life movement have known for decades that we have to take the long view.  In the ordinary course of American life, if we want political remedies, we have to get involved in the political process, which is messy and carries no guarantees.  If we want judicial remedies for political problems, it's like asking for a S.W.A.T. team with fully automatic weaponry to take out a gopher.  The collateral damage of such an approach has been the story of my generation. 

At the very least, yesterday's ruling did not find a new "right" lurking in the emanations and penumbras of the Constitution.  In fact, it looks like it may have significantly restricted the recently very loose interpretation of the Interstate Commerce Clause.  This is a good thing... even a groundbreaking thing.  I suspect this ruling will be studied as a landmark case from now on, and that it is a good thing for America as new cases testing the government's regulatory powers come through the judiciary.  But Roberts has perhaps done even more, by doing less.  He has placed responsibility for good government back where it belongs; the people and their duly elected representatives.  That's all; nothing new, nothing proactive.  Good, old-fashioned separation of powers.  "Individual mandate?"  No, just a fancy-schmancy term for "tax."  And Congress has the power to tax.  Whether it's wise to tax the people this much or not is for the people to decide.  This ruling was not judicial overreach (if anything, it was underreach compared to what we've seen recently): Obamacare was executive and legislative overreach, and the remedy for that is not in the courts.

To take care of the problem created by Obamacare, we the people need to take care of the problem that we elected four years ago.  That has always been the way it is, but sometimes it's easier to get mad than to get busy.  We can't afford that self-indulgence now.  Justice Roberts has given the nation a dose of tough love and sent us on our way to the ballot-box.

If you want further reading, try these:

Hugh Hewitt
Red State
Real Clear Politics
William Kristol

Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum.

Fiber arts blogging will recommence next post with the Tour de Fleece.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

18th Birthday

Eighteen years old, graduated with honors, working part time, going off to college this fall.  I guess I can call him by his real name, Daniel, now that he's an adult.  His birthday meal is always a cookout: the menu last night was hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, corn on the cob, potato salad, baked beans, and watermelon.  But as the traditional birthday pictures were taken with his raspberry pie, I had a flashback to his first birthday meal, the one with the neapolitan cake:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Finished Color Affection

My finished shawl for June is Color Affection.  I really like this pattern by Veera Valimaki, and almost every single one of the thousands of examples on Ravelry.  I don't believe it's possible to have an ugly color combination for this shawl.  And it's big... 93 inches long, and an estimated 900 yards of yarn!  I kept my New Year's resolution not to buy any new yarn until I had knitted my stash down a little bit; the green and blue yarns are both reclaimed from thrift store sweaters (and have both featured in fair-isle sweaters I've knit in the past), and the charcoal is alpaca that I purchased at an estate sale last year (and used in my previous shawl of the 12-in-12 challenge).  I have actually worn this one already, even before the ends were sewn in. Just the thing for stylishly keeping warm when it's still in the low 60's and raining at the end of June!
The bright flowers are rose campion, and you can see a little Jupiter's beard at the right of the top photo.  We like flowers that reseed themselves, take care of themselves, and still look pretty!  In fact, our gardening philosophy could pretty much be summed up as "turn your weeds into assets."

At Starbucks last night I cast on for a new shawl, Summer Flies, and I'm still slogging along on Lady MacBeth, but no pictures of either for the yarn-along.  I've also tentatively chosen a pattern for my blue handpun Wensleydale, but I really shouldn't have more than 2 shawls going at once, don't you think?

Speaking of Jupiter, here's one of the books I'm reading while working on several epic knitting (and soon to be spinning) projects.  I highly recommend it.  Steve and I enjoy reading bedtime stories, and since we both love history, this is perfect.  The one of us least likely to fall asleep while reading (usually me, although not always... I come up with some pretty funny word substitutions when I'm sleep-reading) reads aloud to the other, and we usually make it through a chapter -- fortunately in this book, they're short.  The book is organized very nicely, with duelling timelines at the end of each chapter so you can review what the Egyptians were doing while the Assyrians were doing something else.

The most recent chapter, "Conquest and Tyranny," features Greece, Sparta vs. Athens.  In light of my recent blog posts, I was highly entertained the other night to read about the transition of the first kings in Athens (archons) into annually elected rulers.  The practice was more of an aristocracy or oligarchy than democracy, though:
"The first annual archon," Eusebius writes, "was Creon, in the year of the 24th Olympiad" -- in other words, 684 B.C. ...
In 632, though, the seams of the semi-democratic practice gaped wide open.  An Olympic champion named Cylon (he shows up in Eusebius's lists as the winner of the diaulos, or "double-race," the 400-metre foot race, in the Olympic Games eight years previously) made a bid to turn the archonship into something else.
"Cylon," Thucydides writes, "was inquiring at Delphi when he was told by the god to seize the Acropolis of Athens on the grand festival of Zeus." ...Cylon ... decided that the "grand festival of Zeus" must refer to the upcoming Olympic Games.  What more appropriate time for an Olympic victor to seize power?  And so he ... occupied the Acropolis, announcing "the intention of making himself tyrant."
...But Cylon had chosen the wrong "grand festival of Zeus."  The oracle had apparently been talking about a later festival which took place well outside the city ... Rather than rolling over, the Athenians grew indignant."
                       - The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer, pp. 425-426
 And it continues, describing yet another power-grab that did not end well for its instigator.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Design Wall Monday and Stash Report

So, now for something completely different on the design wall.  I'm making Arrowhead blocks using the technique for Anita's Arrowheads described in Rotary Cutting Revolution.  It's a fascinating technique that requires two 8" squares of fabric, starched together and stitched in a particular way.  Then you cut them in a particular way, press, rearrange, and sew again.  Advantages: these blocks make up fairly fast, and it's fun.  Disadvantages: you end up with bias edges on the blocks, and the starch builds up on the bottom of your iron.  Looking at some of the other patterns in the book, I think this is one of the easier patterns; the others looked like too much work and fuss for me, and I would go with traditional piecing for them.  But this one is great!  I started out just making one test block, and here I am almost 30 blocks later, making a purple bed quilt.  And purple isn't even my favorite color or anything, but I really like these.  I'm just trying to use up some stash.  It's kind of cool how colors that don't go at all with purple can go with purple in a quilt.

Thinking of a name for this quilt: maybe Olympic Mountains Majesty?  Inspired by this and other photos of the lovely Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Peninsula in my home state of Washington?  (And not, of course, meaning any denigration to the U.S. athletes competing in a sporting event to be held soon, but meaning a great deal of denigration to the corporation devoted to marketing and commercializing their efforts.)

I have a stash report as well:
Fabric used this week: 1 yard for backing for Jack's Chain baby quilt
Fabric used year to date: 49 yards
Added this week: 0 yards
Added year to date: 27 yards
Net used for 2012: 22 yards
Yarn used this week: 900 yards for a finished Color Affection
Yarn used year to date: 3406 yards
Yarn added this week: 0 yards
Yarn added year to date: 1308 yards (all handspun, not purchased)
Net used for 2012: 2098 yards

Gearing up for the Tour de Fleece starting soon... I'll be adding a lot more yarn yardage then.  And then hopefully knitting it all up in the competition formerly known as the Ravelympics.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ravelympics: Who Wins?

The Ravelympics will have to undergo a name change: Ravelry members can vote here on a shortlist of contenders, none of which have quite the same significance or resonance as the original.  I haven't even officially chosen or signed up with a team for the Event Which Must Not Be Named, but I'll be knitting.  And I'll be calling it "Ravelympics" here on my blog even if I can't on Ravelry.  And I will be taking every opportunity between now and then to put the words "Olympics" and "Olympian" in their proper context, which I do not believe is as the exclusively trademarked property of an American corporation.  Expect to see reviews of books featuring Olympic deities, references to Mt. Olympus in classical times, and maybe some talk about the Olympic Peninsula right here in Washington State.  I think I will be okay, because this is a small blog, and because it's not making a profit.  But you never know.  Just in case, I want to be buried in my orange Rhinebeck sweater.

I despise a bully, and although I understand why Ravelry feels it must comply with the U.S. Olympic Committee's "cease and desist" letter, I think there are far deeper issues involved than copyright infringement.  Ravelry itself is a for-profit corporation, yes... but it's also a social networking platform, and its 2 million members should be viewed as private individuals with the rights to free speech and free association that all Americans enjoy.  The Ravelympics is an all-volunteer effort, run by ordinary members of Ravelry and not by its employees.  So for the USOC to dictate what private citizens can call their own hobbies and groups really does ring a lot of free speech bells for me.  And if you're not a knitter, consider what might happen if you invited a lot of friends to come to your house for a party to watch the Olympics... and you used the Facebook platform to do it.  Or your email program.  Or your cell phone.  Would the USOC go after these corporations because you used them to infringe on their copyright?  And if not, is it just because those are big corporations, and Ravelry is small (in profit, not membership)?  Then shame on the USOC, because that's the very definition of a bully.

The internet is still in its Wild West phase, and the rules are unclear.  But I don't think the legal department of a for-profit corporation that is turning a tidy profit exploiting the efforts of amateur athletes (well, they used to be anyway) to market them to TV viewers should be the one to set the rules.  This is what the term "crony capitalism" means, and it's not pretty.  Now, I know better than most that knitters are all over the map politically.  I myself am a proud conservative Republican, and I like free enterprise, and I like businesses to be able to turn a profit as long as they do it honestly (which I think they do, most of the time).  Where there's real copyright and trademark infringement, I'd like those things to be sensibly protected.  But I utterly fail to see the business sense in alienating a large group of potential customers, some of whom have been eagerly looking forward to the games.  It's like winning the trademark battle and losing the fan base that made the trademark worth something.

The ironic thing, of course, is that 5 days ago most knitters didn't think one way or the other about the USOC.  They were generally positive about the Olympics and many were looking forward to watching the games while working on a project that would be personally challenging to them.  One crazy day turned that all upside down.  Very few knitters are going to be watching with the same spirit of goodwill towards the Olympic organizers and profiteers that they might have had.  It's all left a sour taste in our mouths.  It's so very petty, like the jocks in high school who picked on the artsy kids.

The USOC has created a massive PR problem for itself, and I can't say I feel too sorry for it.  I've watched with a small amount of schadenfreude as the social media have exploded with outrage about this issue over the last few days.  For sure, when the history of social networking is written, the Ravelympics will have its own chapter. 

I'm looking forward to watching the London games and cheering on the athletes who are doing their best to be the best in the world at what they do, but I'll be muting the commercials.  Or, perhaps more to the point, I'll be giving serious thought to whether I want to support the attempt to commercialize excellence.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Randomday: Keeping Out the Damp

Some days are more random than others.
Our downstairs ceiling is leaking.
That means it's coming in from the upstairs.  This is the closet of the girls' room.  It smells really bad in there right now.
It's running all the way down the joist onto the living room beam and then wicking all the way across the beam.  Probably has been doing this for several months now.  We cannot afford a new roof at this time, but Handyman Can is on the job.  Let's hope we can get the repair made next week and it's relatively simple.  And that it stops raining!

The Shakespeare Love mug Primigenitus bought me at the Folger Shakespeare Library came with a link to an instructional video.

I took Primigenitus and Secundus to the DMV this week; Primigenitus needed to renew his learner's permit and Secundus needed to get his.  I got two whole rows of the final border on Color Affection done while waiting for their numbers to come up.

I keep checking to see how seven kittens in Pittsburgh are doing.

Star Trek had much better writing after Gene Roddenberry departed.

Thai Little Home is a really neat Thai restaurant that I hadn't been to until yesterday.  They advertise the biggest Pad Thai in town, enough to feed 4.  We might have to go back there with the family.

Also, it is really difficult to get Steve to buy shoes.  He looks, but nothing is just right.  He liked the bit in Mr. Magorian where he found the perfect shoes and bought a lifetime supply... and when the last pair wore out, it was time to go.  So far I have found out that he likes New Balance 10.5 regulars for sneakers, but they can't be in any funky colors.  And he likes Ecco for dress shoes, but when we go where they sell them, he doesn't find anything to buy.  And that he doesn't like Rockport.  And I'm not clear about Dockers and the other brand he tried on last night.

I had insomnia last night, worrying about the leaky roof, and went downstairs to listen to the drips and watch posts going live on Ravelry.  It's fascinating the list of countries I came up with: if you're in the UK you get to choose whether the UK, Scottish, English, or Welsh flag comes up on your profile.  Besides that, there were Australia, South Africa, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Germany, Bulgaria, Singapore, India, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Hungary and earlybirds on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada.  Which brings to mind the international nature of Ravelry, and just why it is so annoying to be harassed by the U.S. Olympic Committee over the name "Ravelympics."  I've been joining in on the discussion about what to call it if they have to change the name, and suggested a move to Mt. Parnassus.  And the suggestion for the slogan "faster, bigger, prettier" was made, for which I came up with the translation "Citius, Magius, Pulchrius."  But frankly, I'm looking forward to the Tour de Fleece a little more.  And that's coming up next week, right after Primigenitus' 18th birthday.

I wonder if it will stop raining by then so I can spin outside?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spinach Salad, and a Gaffe of Olympic Proportions

I made this recipe: Spinach and Radish Slaw with Crispy Chiles and Pepitas.  It's a bit of a production, and it makes a LOT.  I substituted red wine vinegar with a dash of sherry for the sherry wine vinegar called for.  And the only dried chiles I could find were "chiles negros" which I think had already been roasted before I stir-fried them.  The Pepitas are pumpkin seeds, which I had left over from my last batch of homemade granola.  This is a great salad, although rather soggy after the first day.  I'd make it for a potluck or cut it in half next time.

Have you seen the Ravelry tempest in a teapot?  Seems the U.S. Olympic Committee has sent a cease-and-desist order to Ravelry claiming trademark infringement, because of the Ravelympics.  (The Ravelympics are a completely volunteer effort, in which individual crafters challenge themselves to complete a knitted or crocheted item during the duration of the sporting event the USOC thinks it is promoting).  To add insult to injury, the letter claimed knitting somehow "denigrates" the hard work and competitive spirit of the U.S. athletes (but only the U.S. athletes... I guess the international competitors aren't going to feel threatened by the sweater sprint).  Hoo boy.  They probably know, now that it's gone viral, that it was a mistake to do this.  Here's Mason-Dixon Knitting's take on it.  Although I'm not a huge fan of Stephen Colbert, I can see him having fun with this and would stand behind him, just this once.  The USOC has issued a semi-apology and suggested that knitters might like to knit items and donate them in honor of the games.  I don't think this is going to happen, at least not as the payoff the USOC seems to hint at.  They have proved themselves decidedly un-knitworthy.  Even after the second apology.

Ravelry, much as I love it, can be a rough crowd.  Rough as in "don't let your underage daughter go unsupervised here."  Some boards are as innocuous and friendly as you would expect from a knitting forum.  Some, despite vigilant moderation, are so overpopulated that threads degenerate and get locked quickly, but not too quickly for feelings to be hurt.  And some are actually set up to be a kind of verbal cage-fighting; no-holds-barred, no feelings spared, mob psychology and snark in full force.  I suspect that the denizens of the latter groups will not be called off easily.  Knitters have not been this vengeful since Madame Defarge.  I'm just as glad it's corporate America in the form of the USOC rather than political and religious conservatives they're targeting, this time.

As for me, I've (mostly) given up on the contentious groups and avoid the overpopulated ones as much as possible.  I will be knitting my Ravelympics project and calling it just that on this blog no matter whether they change the official name or not.  And somehow, I think I will be doing my part to work the words "Olympics" and "Olympian" into my blog as much as possible, but not in reference to the international summer games located in the capital city of the U.K.  Those shall remain nameless, since I wouldn't want to infringe on the rights of an American company to think it has a monopoly on the use of the word that refers to them.  Or denigrate the efforts of soulless fat cats to prove themselves pompous jerks.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

WIPs and Yarns

Jack Junior, my baby quilt bonus version of Jack's Chain (tutorial available here) is now on the Megaquilter frame.  I'm going for a simple point-to-point arc for the 9-patches and triangles, and a squiggle-flower for the white hexagons.  But I'm encountering frustrations... the rails for my Grace Frame, made of hard plastic, have cracked and abraded and they are putting unwanted jogs into my quilting, which I have enough of a hard time keeping smooth as it is.  I'm going to have to rethink before attempting quilting one of my larger quilts, and I was hoping to do a lot of that this summer.  Grr... the size of that frame takes up quite enough space in my family room.  I wish I didn't have so much trouble getting it to behave!
For the yarn-along, I'm halfway through the final border for my Color Affection.  That means probably another couple of evenings of knitting at the rate I go.  I'm reading Lord Brocktree, which is chronologically the first book in the Redwall saga by Brian Jacques.  Primigenitus and Quarta are having a Redwall race and I'm joining in for the books I haven't read yet.  There are a lot of them!  I need to get back to doing book reviews.

Short summary of needlework projects:
  • Jack's Chain baby quilt top - on the frame for quilting
  • June UFO project (felted sweater blanket) - not really even started
  • knitting Black Roses/ Lady MacBeth stole - about 60%
  • knitting Color Affection - about 95%
  • finished spinning blue Wensleydale... yay!
  • no real progress on other projects.  Dithering over my next sewing project.  Should also be working on scrapbooks, which I don't like.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday Spinning Report

It has been awhile since I did any serious spinning.  I finally powered through and finished my 8 ounces of Wensleydale.  I bought this back when Woodland Woolworks was going out of business, and I dyed it with Wilton's cake decorating gel "Delphinium" during one of the rest days of last year's Tour de Fleece.  I started spinning it sometime this year, I forget exactly when, but it was really hit-or-miss for a couple of months whether I'd even get any spinning in at all.  Now I'm gearing up for the 2012 Tour de Fleece, which starts June 30.  I've got a fairly massive amount of spinning to do, and then will come the Ravelympics, when I'll try to knit it all up.  But I needed to clear up the bobbins on my wheel first.
So I plied it all up.  Amazing how fast plying goes in comparison to spinning!  This is (my estimation) 816 yards of heavy laceweight or light fingering.  Wensleydale is a long-fibered wool, and it's very lustrous.  I used similar dyes to color the BFL that eventually became my Oslo Walk shawl, but it never posed for photos quite so well.  You can see how the color ranges from true blue to purple. This yarn will probably eventually become another shawl-that-I-never-wear. 
Quarta wanted to help with a silly pose.  Wasn't that thoughtful?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Design Wall Monday and Stash Report - Bonus Jack's Chain

This ought to be the last time for Jack's Chain on my design wall.  It's my bonus baby quilt that I made with all the extra blocks I ended up with because I didn't do my math first.  It will also give me a chance to practice whatever quilting design I choose on a smaller scale before starting the big one.
I made up a tutorial last week for how to piece Jack's Chain.  Check it out if you want to make one yourself!
I've been playing with the concept presented by Anita Grossman Solomon in Rotary Cutting Revolution and made these blocks.  They're on my design wall too, but they didn't turn out great because I didn't starch them first.  I'm still at loose ends with what quilting project I want to take on next.  It will probably be something very simple.

With graduation and end of school, it's been 2 weeks since my last of these also:
Stash Report:

Fabric used this week: about 1 yard for Jack's Chain Jr.
Fabric used year to date: 48 yards
Added this week: 0 yards
Added year to date: 27 yards
Net used for 2012: 21 yards

Yarn used this week: 0 yards (working on 2 shawls)
Yarn used year to date: 2506 yards
Yarn added this week: 816 yards (finally finished plying my Wensleydale)
Yarn added year to date: 1308 yards (all handspun, not purchased)
Net used for 2012: 1198 yards
I'll post pictures of my new handspun tomorrow maybe.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


The wanderers returned today.  Sounds like a great time in Washington, D.C.  Here is the slide show for some of you not on Facebook.  My son is always the blondest in any group.

He came back home and was shocked that the Value Motel, that Hazel Dell landmark, had changed its old sign.  It's now charging $39 a night and its sign looks halfway respectable.  I think it's a bit sad that my son associates that eyesore with being almost home!

Not as much has been done on the summer planning front as I would like.  I have the girls signed up for swim lessons and an opthalmologist appointment made for Tertia, but there's a lot more.  Funny how it seems like there will be enough time, but never is.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Field Day and Hypothermia

Our family is always pretty busy, but this last week takes its place in the Chapman Book of World Records as the week that I'll look back on as the benchmark of craziness.  "Remember that week with the 2 graduations, 2 graduation parties, a play, a concert, puberty, a Senior trip to Washington D.C., a work conference in Maine, a migraine from hell, a refinance, Field Day, and teacher inservice?"  I probably won't, because I'll be blocking it out the same way you block out other traumatic events.  So in the interest of jogging my memory with only positive triggers, here are some of the pictures from Field Day.  Only a week late!  (If you're looking for quilts, check out my Jack's Chain tutorial from a few days ago).
Quarta with the 4th grade handbell choir during the Field Day talent show.
This was a few days before Field Day, but here is Quarta's costume for history day.  She represented a colonial lady of Boston and described the Boston Tea Party with words and edibles.
My contribution was figuring out how to attach the Necco wafers heads to the Twizzlers bodies by cutting a slit in the Twizzlers... better than frosting!
One of the best improvements ever in Field Day was getting the Rhetoric students, not the teachers, to captain the teams.  Here's Secundus organizing his pyramid.  He does a great job with the little kids!  And yes, it was chilly on June 8 in Ridgefield, WA.  I don't think it ever hit 60.
Field Day looks a little different seen from a distance through the woods.
Fabricius has a cool shirt!
Saints vs. Phoenix watermelon-eating contest.
All in all, I think I prefer grading the 18-page Dies Irae.  I spend part of every Field day finishing that bit of grading; it's very appropriate.
That's Quarta upside down on the play structure.  There were scattered showers throughout the morning.
It was really too cold to sit on the rock eating a popsicle and reading the yearbook, but that didn't stop kids from trying.
Afterwards the Rhetoric students went up-county to the Leutholds' farm, and the parents of the seniors joined them for a barbecue.  Primigenitus won honors in the toilet paper cap and gown contest.
Secundus took a dare to go swimming in a hailstorm.
This was probably not one of his brighter moments.  You really can cramp up from hypothermia and shock, and your friends would feel really bad if that was the last thing you ever did.  Fortunately he floated on his back until he got close to land, and then spent the rest of the afternoon warming up.
The seniors were subjects of some good-natured roasting.

We left early to attend another graduation, and then the Seniors and Juniors left very early Saturday morning for the D.C. trip; I dropped off Primigenitus and Steve at the airport at the same time; Steve's AASHTO conference was in Portland, Maine this year.

It has been a week since the events in these photos, and I am just beginning to recover.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Jack's Chain - the Tutorial

I'm going to take a break from the graduation, school, and family blogging and share my tutorial on how to piece a Jack's Chain quilt top.  I finished this one recently and am really proud of it.  It's a great, old-fashioned pattern.  Yes, there are lots of inset seams, but I'm here to tell you they are not really that bad!  I personally have never wanted to do the English paper piecing that is so popular with hexagon quilts right now... and you don't have to.  This is all pieced on a machine, with intermediate sewing skills.  My points are not always perfect matches, and I have found that I am a happier person if I don't worry about it too much.  The overall effect is charming, and I can't wait to get this quilted and on my daughter's bed.  So, I'd like to persuade you to attempt this little-known vintage pattern, sometimes also called Rosalia Flower Garden.
I started thinking about this pattern when I was browsing through non-square block patterns in Maggie Malone's 1001 Patchwork Designs.  There are three blocks listed that combine squares, hexagons, and equilateral triangles in this unique way (the others are Merry-Go-Round III and Wedding Tile). 
I like the way it creates a circular-looking pattern even though there are no curved lines to piece, and I thought it would be really cute in the 1930's reproduction fabrics I had been collecting.  I also found the pattern on Quilter's Cache (which is a fabulous resource for all sorts of quilt patterns, by the way!)  Although Quilter's Cache does give step-by-step directions and templates, I don't really like using templates and so I bought a Clearview Triangle ruler at a local quilt store.  This makes it possible to cut both the equilateral triangles and the hexagons without templates.  From that point, I did not really follow the Quilter's Cache piecing directions.
Here's the picture of page 2 of the Quilter's Cache Jack's Chain pattern.  I did use it as a guide for assembling the rows.  Complicating matters still further, this project became a UFO for a few years (I think I started it in 2007) and I didn't get back to it until this year when I've been participating in Judy L.'s UFO project.  I had divided the piecing of the top to be done over two months, and I groaned a little when the number for half of the piecing came up in April.  But surprisingly, I found it was easy to make progress once I cleared some time to work steadily.  I had already pieced a lot of the 9-patches and made enough blocks for a partial row of the finished top (which is 67x94").  I just needed to review and actually write down how I had cut and measured the blocks I had already done before!
The Planning:

I wanted to use '30's reproductions for the 9-patches, white for the hexagons, and various pastel and bright solids for the triangles.  (Many of these solid fabrics are vintage... my grandfather was a partner in a business college in Ohio, and my grandmother had in her stash the 1/2 yard lengths of rainbow colored cotton that were used in the Nancy Taylor course, which was, I guess you would call it, a charm course for secretaries.  So whenever I dig into my vintage solids, I imagine fashionable young women of the Mad Men era figuring out what colors were most flattering with their skin tones.  I've read the books, and they are a hoot).  The only significant yardage I required for this quilt was the white, and I think I used a little less than 3 yards of that.   I have seen some examples of the Jack's Chain pattern online that use the same white background fabric for the hexagons, triangles, and the 4-patches of the 9-patch. If you want to do this, be sure to plan ahead and buy more of the white fabric!

Here's the math that I should have done first, but didn't.  I just plunged in.
The very first step is to make lots, and I mean lots, of 9-patches that finish to 3".  You will probably choose to do this with 1.5" strips, and your best bet is to pace yourself.  If you make a twin-sized quilt like mine, you will need 335 9-patches that finish to 3" (but with raw edge included, they are 3.5").  That's a lot of 9-patches.  I wanted a scrappy variety of vintage-looking prints, so I tried to use different combinations of the fabrics I had.  I would keep thinking that, surely, I had enough 9-patches.  But then I'd calculate and realize that, no, I actually did not.

At some point, you will want to take a break from making 9-patches and cut some triangles (you will need 238) and hexagons (you will need 110, although some will be trimmed to half-hexagons later).  That's only if you're making a quilt as big as mine; but you're on your own for calculating numbers if you change the size!  For both these shapes, it's important to remember that the Clearview Triangle markings help you figure out the height of the triangle or hexagon, but you are going for a 3" finished measurement along the sides, not the height.  For triangles, I cut strips that were 3 3/8" wide, and then I used the Clearview to subcut the triangle shapes.  I used a mix of pastels, and a few brights (red, turquoise, green).  The sides of the triangles are 3 7/8" in length.  But because of the angle, they will finish up to 3"  So, 238 equilateral triangles, cut from 3 3/8" strips.
Cutting the white hexagons was more of a challenge.  I think I made a paper template for the first one and measured it.  What you do is to cut strips 5 5/8" wide.  Then, you press them in half lengthwise.  Then you place the 5 5/8" line of the Clearview Triangle on the folded edge, and the 2 3/4" line on the raw edge, and cut along the side angles.  Discard the little white equilateral triangles or save them in your crumb bin: they are too small to work as the triangles you need for this pattern.  You should be able to get 7 hexagons out of one strip; you need 110 total for a twin-size quilt.  When you measure the raw edge of the hexagon, it will be just a smidge over 3 1/4", but again, because of the angles, all the edges will finish to 3".
Arcs and Canoes:
Now we're ready to join 9-patches and triangles into some of the elemental units that will later be formed into blocks.  If you're like me, you'll want to do a few blocks just to see where the pattern's going.  I call the two units above "arcs" and "canoes" because that's what they look like to me.  An arc is 2 9-patches connected by a triangle.  A canoe is 2 triangles connected by a 9-patch.  My quilt uses 112 arcs and 63 canoes.
Looking closely at how the triangles match up with the 9-patches, you can see that the 3" finished measurement is where you will need to start and stop stitching.  I drew little dots so you can see.  The triangle points extend a little beyond the straight edge of the 9-patch, but because of the angle, the lengths are just about exactly even along the future seamline, 1/4" in from the top edge.  You will need to backtack to secure the stitches at beginning and end of each seam.  I know, it's a bit of a drag if you're used to chain piecing and never stopping, using leaders and enders, etc.  You kind of have to get into a frame of mind where you are not primarily concerned about speed piecing, and you will be surprised at how fast it actually does go.  When you are piecing a unit and one seam meets another one, as in the arc unit, make sure to position the seam allowances for the first seam so they are not caught in the second seam.
Wheels and Apple Cores:
Now we are ready to begin constructing the blocks themselves.  There are three basic types of blocks; above is what I call a "wheel."  I made it by sewing two arc units onto opposite sides of a hexagon, and then adding two canoes on either side.  If you have a stack of arcs and canoes ready to go, you can make a wheel block with 10 seams, each of them 3" long.  My quilt needed 28 wheel blocks.
The second type of block is what I call an "apple core."  It consists of two arcs on opposite sides of a hexagon, just like the start of the wheel block.  There are 21 apple core blocks in my quilt.  By adding a single canoe unit to an apple core, you create an "end" block, needed for the end of each row in my quilt: I needed 7 of those.
Here's a view of one seam of a hexagon joined to a 9-patch.  You can see that where the triangle was longer than the 9-patch at the raw edge, the hexagon is a little shorter.  But it is even at the 1/4" seam line, which is where it counts.  Start and stop stitching at the point where the 1/4" seamlines cross.  I tend to eyeball it and it usually works.  And you do need to clip the threads close to the fabric after stitching.  Again, wherever you have multiple seams meeting at that 1/4" point, make sure not to stitch over the seam allowances.  Stitch back and forth a few times at the beginning and end of each seam.  I think it worked best if I avoided pressing the seams until after I had joined an entire row or even multiple rows of the quilt.
For my quilt, I joined 4 wheels, 3 apple cores, and 1 end block to make a row that was 8 hexagons long.  That's the width of the quilt.  In addition, you will eventually need to piece the connector or "chain" rows.  In the above photo there are two regular rows and one connector row in between them.
My chain connector rows consisted of 8 9-patches alternating with 9 hexagons.  The two hexagons on either end will eventually be trimmed to half-hexagons.  And yes, when the quilt is ready for binding, I will be binding a very scallop-y, raggedy edge.  I will almost certainly need to use binding cut on the bias, not straight of grain.  It's similar to the technique used to bind a Double Wedding Ring quilt.  The alternative would be to cut with a rotary cutter to make a straight edge, and I don't think I would have the heart to do that!
Here's a shot of how I didn't work: I never used pins.  But you could certainly do so if you were concerned about hitting the right 1/4" intersection point, or keeping the seam allowances out of the way of the needle.  Remember that Jack's Chain has a different rhythm than most modern quilts: there's a lot of stop-and-start seaming, but the seams are short and regular, and you will very quickly get used to how the quilt goes together.

My final quilt had 7 regular rows and 6 chain connector rows, and is 67"x94" or twin size.  I didn't calculate everything out in advance, and I have enough extra blocks to make a baby quilt, which I'm working on now.  I did find that one very thorough pressing with steam at the end of all the set-in seaming was good: pressing before all the seams were joined meant I was more likely to have trouble with a seam allowance getting caught in the stitching.
If you find this tutorial helpful, please drop me a line or even send a photo of yours.  I'd love to see this pattern become more popular!