Friday, April 18, 2014

The Best Kind of Winter

I'm glad the season of winter is over.  But we now have Winter all year long! Our new granddaughter arrived during a snowstorm earning her the name Winter. She's 2 1/2 months old now.  That's her daddy, son #2, holding her:
Doesn't she just look like she will want to sew someday?  or maybe garden?  or bake cookies or...whatever, I'm sure we'll find activities to enjoy together.  Right now we enjoy the mobile above her seat together and cuddle and look around, but her world expands every day and it's so much fun to watch!  I am truly smitten by this little one.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lessons from the Thrift Store

Several months ago I began volunteering at a local non-profit thrift store named Tried and True.  

My primary "job" there is to price and display the housewares.  I absolutely love it.  I've always had a bit of a soft spot for retail and I love old and unusual items; so this really was a good fit in so many ways.  I've sort of expanded this activity by attending a local auction and buying the boxes that go for one or two dollars for the store.  So, all of this has taught me many lessons - some purely retail related and some with a bit of life application:
  • Just about anything will sell for 50 cents.
  • People are attracted to color.  The prettiest dish or bowl or cup in white will sit on the shelf while the hot pink one will sell in a flash.
  • People buy the sizzle not the steak....the way you display something matters a whole lot in how well it sells.  If it doesn't sell in one place, move it to another location in the store.
  • You may not like something, but someone will.
  • People like to collect cats and cardinals and bears and ducks and geese and roosters.....and tons of other categories.
  • Many things can be repurposed successfully with a bit of imagination.
  • Donations and auction boxes give you a peek into the person.  It can tell you what they found important, how they cared for their items and where they spent their money.
  • Bidding at an auction is better when you're not emotionally invested in obtaining the box or item.
  • Never bid against the guy with the clipboard.  He's serious and will get what he's after.....unless of course you just want to bid him up so that he spends more :-)
  • Condition always matters.
I don't come home with a lot of extra stuff.  In fact, being around it and seeing others  find things they like seems to fill that spot in me that wanted to bring everything home!  Sometimes I feel like I'm a rescuer...saving treasures from the landfill.

I'm having great fun with this new activity.  And that, my friends, is the beauty of retirement.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Whisper Block #4: The Mystery Revealed

Saturday was the big Whisper Block reveal at my quilt guild meeting.  I'll soon share the blocks that I received made from the picture that I provided.  As a teaser let me mention that over the course of the four blocks a dog morphed into a fish.

But, remember just a few weeks ago when I shared my Christmas tree created from a...well, a something?  Here is the full transition.

The first person submitted this picture:
Quilters number one and two made these (#1 on the left, #2 on the right) from the above picture:
Quilter number three made this which she told me was an earing:

And I made this:
I'm not really sure what to say!!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Celtic Solstice: The Conclusion

I've finally finished Celtic Solstice - Bonnie Hunter's mystery quilt for 2013.  Now, that might sound like I'm right up to date on quilting projects, but for full disclosure let me mention that I still have the mystery quilt top for 2012 waiting to be quilted as well as my Craftsy Block of the Month from last year.

We had a beautiful day today so I tried my hand at some outside photography:

I used a paper pattern to quilt this time.  On my last quilt I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't keep an even density on the stippling and I thought following a set pattern would be good practice to learn that.  I'm not so sure that I would do this again.  It seemed to make the whole process more complicated.  First of all I had to thread baste the sandwich since you can't have pins under paper and expect to be successful.  Secondly you have to tear off all that paper which is no small task.  There are still tiny pieces that I keep finding under the stitching.  And thirdly, when you are stitching over paper you can't really view your stitching too well making it difficult to get good stop and start places.  But, I did discover the answer to one of my nagging free motion quilting problems while finishing this quilt!  I've had trouble with the thread shredding and breaking when I move my quilt to the right during a free motion design.  After paying attention to the details of the problem I finally decided that it was my needle.  I've been using Superior topstitch needles which I love for everything, but apparently on my machine they are not the best for free motion.  The larger eye which is normally a plus allows my thread to rub against the last thread guide on the machine when moving in that particular direction.  The smaller eye on a regular Schmetz needle held the thread away from the guide.  Problem solved!  Yeah!!  I still love Superior topstitch needles but I guess when free motioning on my machine I need to give them a rest.
I also used one of my toys from last years travels and was much more impressed with it this time. The Fabulous Fabric Glide is made by The Gypsy Quilter.  The idea is that you put this around the area you are quilting and it helps you guide the fabric. It made the quilting process much kinder to my old arthritic hands and I'll probably give them another go without the paper this time.
I put flannel on the backing of this one just because I like it and I rounded the corners...same reason.

 So....that closes the book on this quilt.  On to the next project.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Little Sashiko

This past Christmas my husband bought me a Baby Lock Sashiko machine.

 I've been sort of fascinated my this machine since I first became aware of it.  It's function is basically embellishment.  It's stitch is modeled after Japanese Sashiko embroidery.

Part of my fascination is due to the unusual way that it makes stitches.  It uses only a thread in the bobbin.  There is no top thread.  The thread somehow gets looped around itself to make the stitch.  On the front side there is actually two strands of thread in each stitch.  The back side of the stitch looks more like a standard machine spaces between the stitches.  You can vary the size of the stitch and the size of the space between the stitches.  Both of these simple variations changes the visual impact of the finished stitching quite a lot. You can also vary the amount of pressure that the foot exerts on the fabric.  The looser hold is used to make the curved patterns.  You move the fabric during the time when the needle is up.  Traditionally a solid fabric is used with a thread that provides a big color contrast. 

Threading is...well, different than any machine I've ever used.  But it's not difficult, just different.  Finally after two projects, my Sashiko cover and my most recent quilt, I think I've got straight sewing under my belt.  That doesn't mean that I'm perfect.  I still break the thread more often than I'd like.  But I feel like I can make a nice finish with straight stitches.  Next I need to work on the curved patterns.  When I first tried this, right after getting the machine, I had a lot of trouble with thread jams and broken thread.  But now that I understand the machine better I think I should be able to make curved patterns work for me.  The curved patterns seem to deliver the most punch.

The machine is not computerized.  It comes with a bobbin winder and a compartment to hold some tools and extra needles and bobbins.  It uses a special needle to make the stitch work.  Baby Lock says that they make the only Sashiko machine in the industry.  The website has some great pictures of the features I've mentioned.

And, just to be clear.....I'm only sharing my experiences.  I'm not on the Baby Lock payroll in any way.  I am glad, though to answer any questions about my experience with the machine.

So, maybe I'll be able to create some items once my quilting backlog gets reduced.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Book #2: Palisades Park

Before the days of Disney World and Disney Land, before the days of Kings Dominion and Sea World and Cedar Point, there was Palisades Amusement Park.  It was just a few minutes from my childhood home on the top of a cliff on the Hudson River in New Jersey.  They had rides and carnival games, shows and a salt water pool that made waves.  This book, Palisades Park by Alan Brennert tells all about it.
The book starts way back in the 1920's and takes the reader through the entire life of the park until it closed in the 1970's.  I remember the closing of the park very well.  I don't think anyone ever thought the park would close.  There was actually a bit of community grieving over the closing.  The story is told through the eyes of the Stopka family.  They grew up as part of the family of amusement park workers.  The book mentions towns and streets very familiar to me from years ago.  Even many of the family names are historically accurate to that area.  Stores and hospitals are mentioned that I grew up around.  Telling the history of the park through the personal story of the family keeps the book from reading like a history book.
So, would I recommend it?  If you have any ties to this area - a definite YES.  If you like carnival stories or historical fiction - yes.  Otherwise....maybe.  I enjoyed it a lot, but I don't know if the fictional story would hold enough interest if one isn't particularly interested in the history of the park itself or the history of that area of New Jersey.  I thought my sister would also enjoy the book and indeed she did!  She had already finished it before I had the chance to share my discovery of it with her.  It's a fun historical look at local culture and the influences of more national issues (such as wars, integration, and local small town politics) on the everyday lives of Palisades Amusement Park.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Whisper Block #4

I guess I just have trouble thinking abstractly.  Because this month I received a block for our guild Whisper Challenge that looked like...well, like nothing.  I stared at it for a long time:
Then I turned it upside down (or maybe right side up?) and stared at it some more:
It looked like a rib cage with a lot of tumors and then it looked like an oak leaf with acorns, but mostly like those alien things from the TV show "Falling Skies" that were placed on the back of the kids to allow the aliens to control them.  But finally I saw a Christmas tree with candles and I just ran with that idea.  Here's the result:
I tried to keep the colors and the swirly nature of the design and the glitter.  I don't how the previous sewist accomplished the glitter but I went with metallic thread.  This was my first time using metallic thread and I was expecting it to be a bit of a challenge to sew with.  I was surprised at both how smoothly it sewed and how nice it looked!  I'm anxious to use it somewhere again.

Although it was never said, I sort of expected these blocks to become more abstract as the weeks went on.  But somehow I made this one less abstract I think.

So, next month we will get back the blocks created from the picture we provided and will have the challenge of combining them into one.