Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Childhood BFF

First, let me apologize to any quilters out there for my lack of quilting/sewing related posts lately.  I've been sewing, but I have little to show for it.  Some projects aren't going as planned with frustrations of many types: I've broken needles, sewed things together backwards or upside down, chosen fabric poorly, had thread break, nest and just plain look awful and lots of other errors that I thought I would never make again - all resulting in a lot of un-sewing (again, such a kinder word than "ripping out").  Perhaps next week I'll have a finished project to share.

Anyway, today I was thinking about a friend from my early childhood.  When I was about three or four, my best friend was named Mary Lou.  We liked all the same things, we played well together and had lots of fun.  But here's the thing: only I could see Mary Lou because she was invisible to everyone else.   She was a small brunette with shoulder length hair and light eyes. We entertained each other for days.  My mother, bless her heart, went along with the entire invisible friend thing.  My sister's introduction to Mary Lou was a bit dramatic.  She came home from school one day and let the screen door slam behind her only to hear me shriek, "You shut the door on Mary Lou!!"  She became a bit confused when she looked behind her and saw nothing.  My mother quickly explained, in a very uncritical way about my special friend.  And my sister just rolled with it, too.

And, since one thing that all kids like is a birthday party, I decided that Mary Lou needed to have one.  My mother baked a cake and helped me prepare the party.  Of course Mary Lou's seat was "empty" but the others had stuffed animals in them.  I also recruited my family members to help sing.  About this time my practical father was a bit concerned that his youngest child was...well....crazy.  I remember my parents talking in hushed tones about weather I needed to see the doctor.  My mother assured him that this was a normal phase and that it would go away.  He didn't look too reassured.

But Mary Lou did go away.  I don't remember when or why so it mustn't have been particularly traumatic.  We just stopped playing together and I guess I moved on to other interests or perhaps some real relationships with other children.  I still remember her well, but she has never changed or grown up in my mind.  I guess that's a good thing, or we would be saying "schizophrenia" instead of "childhood phase".  Hmm....maybe she sews?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Seamus vs. Skunk

I keep wishing and hoping for spring to finally arrive in all of it's glory.  I'm anxious to see the green on the trees and smell the flowers and grass.  But there's one smell that scares me....odor of skunk.  I'm a little wary of skunks ever since one decided to wrangle with my sweet Golden Retriever, Seamus.

This was actually in the autumn about five years ago.  I guess spring and fall are  busy for the little stinkers.  The husband was away on a business trip (things like this always seem to happen when the husband is away) and I gave Seamus a final trip into the backyard before bed.  He trotted back in and suddenly I realized that something was a-stink.  In fact, I could hardly breath for the heavy musky putrid skunk smell.  Seamus didn't seem bothered.  In fact he might have even looked a bit proud of his new perfume.  He didn't understand why I was trying to get him to go into the laundry room and away from any carpet or upholstery.  Not only was I trying to contain the smell but I needed a minute to figure out what the heck to do.  I called the husband, mostly for moral support since there is little he could do from 500 miles away.  He suggested the old tomato juice routine.  The only tomato product I had was some paste, so I figured, "Why not....should be the same thing just more concentrated."

And then it got better.  Seamus loves the water - lakes and oceans and such; but, convincing him to get into the bathtub has always been a challenge.  And he weighs a hefty 95 pounds.  I got him into the bathroom and closed the door, but he wasn't going easily into the tub.  So I decided to start to apply the tomato paste first - outside the tub.  I quickly realized that this was a messy job so I decided to reduce the inevitable stains and laundry  by taking off my jeans - and then my shirt -  and tossing them outside the bathroom.  So now, in my unmentionables I'm smearing tomato paste onto my exuberant Golden.  He isn't cooperating too well and starts to back away from me resulting in --- tomato paste on the walls, the cabinets, the floor and all over me.  The place looked like a slasher film with low budget fake blood.  Then, suddenly his doggie brain noticed that this was food!  So he decided to lick it off and make a snack of the tomato paste.  (Trust me folks, I'm not making this up!) So, before he ate all of my supposedly "deskunking" potient, I decided to get him into the tub.  This required lifting at least one end of a now slippery 95 pound dog over the side of the tub and convincing him to stay put.  It was NOT pretty.  But finally I got him into the tub and lathered and scrubbed and rinsed about five times.  Then out of the tub and onto the shake, shake, shake, and shake that dogs love to do, spreading water all over the bathroom.  Now I have a pile of laundry, a dirty bathroom, a dirty me and..............a STILL stinky dog.  Not to mention, a rather stinky first floor.   And family was due to visit the next day.

The next morning, bright and early I was on the phone and the computer searching for ways to get rid of the stink.  The best thing I discovered was that PetSmart offers a special "deskunking" bath in their grooming department.  So, off I go to PetSmart with Stinky Seamus where they did some doggie bath magic.  The smell still lingered some, but at least you could stand to be near him.  I also found some other magic stuff to spray in the rooms near the door he came in which apparently got a larger dose of skunk stink.  It took weeks before the smell was completely gone. I also discovered that there are services around here to trap and remove animal "pests" from your property.  They tell me that catching a skunk who walks across your property is a pretty hit and miss adventure compared to catching a skunk who is living under your porch.

So now, if I smell skunk when I go to let Seamus out....well, he just has to hold it a bit longer!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Meet My Machines

So, yesterday I listed the machines of my past and today I'm going to tell you about the machines of my present and join up with the Meet my Machine Blog Hop.

A few years ago when I retired from a rewarding but emotionally draining health career I knew that I wanted to renew my sewing hobby.  I didn't think my Sears Kenmore machine was up to the task.  In hindsight I think at least part of the problem was me and not the machine, but nonetheless I was convinced that a new machine was needed to maximize my experience.  Here's the funny part:  I was NOT going to quilt.  I was going to do crafty sewing, but quilting was not on my radar.  So my little Bernina 330 seemed just right for the task.  It's not fancy, but it's well made:
In all honesty I couldn't image ever needing anything more than what that machine had to offer.  And then I made one quilt and another and another and suddenly smashing them through that little machine became rather frustrating.  And I started to wish that I could reverse my decorative stitches for certain applications and I lusted after a stitch regulator.  So a mere two years into things I was looking longingly at new machines.  But  I never did bond with my local Bernina dealer and the next closest one is an hour away.  I wanted a local dealer and hopefully one that I liked.

Then, I discovered Baby Lock.  I visited a different fabric store and instantly liked the friendly helpful and enthusiastic staff.  So now I have a Baby Lock Elegante 3 living at my house and I love it.  It has some great features like automatic thread cutting, stitches that come in two sizes and reverse, a knee lifter, and even an embroidery module.  I'm still busy trying out all of the options.  I'm super pleased with all of the results so far.  (Not to mention that the price point is much more affordable than a Bernina with comparable features)
Since I switched brands, I didn't trade in the Bernina and it still comes in handy for travel to a guild meeting or to piece while I'm trying to embroider on the Baby Lock.  It's probably more machine than I need, but I've managed to use lots of the features to good advantage. 

I'm linking up with the Meet My Machine blog hop.  I'm really enjoying reading about all the different machines out there.  I think going with a brand that is sold and serviced near you is a good start.  I like having friendly, helpful people available to ask questions of and it's great knowing that someone is available to fix  problems that might arise.   I'd encourage you to hop on.  There are four different blog posts each day this week and then a link up here of other bloggers sharing their machines.  There were also questions about sewing rooms and storage, but mine is sort of in transition now so maybe I'll save that for another day.

Sewing Machines I've Known

I've been wanting to write a post about the different sewing machines that I've used over the years and the present machine blog hop was just the inspiration I needed.

The first machine that my mother had during my years in the family was a Domestic brand model 153.  It was a straight stitch only with reverse.  She had a cam driven button hole maker attachment for it that she loved.  Instead of a foot peddle, the machine was powered by a knee control.  It looked like this:
Here's the button hole attachment:
It lived in front of a window in our dining room in a cabinet like this:

Sadly, while I still own the cabinet, the machine no longer lives with any family members.
One day in the late 1960's my father came home with a new machine.  (There's a rather colorful story about how this machine was acquired, but that's perhaps better kept quiet).  It was a Visetti brand model 965 and it did zig zag stitching!  We thought we were hot stuff now!  Zig zag stitching!  Imagine?!!  The old machine didn't go away though and my mother still used it for button holes. I think perhaps it was a favorite.

This is the machine I did most of my early sewing on and after awhile it was given to me.  I bought a small cabinet and installed it into the cabinet.  But several moves ago I let it go to live with a stranger.

Then, when I was in high school, my mother began to do alterations for a local dry cleaner.  She needed a machine that could handle the newer knit fabrics of the day.  So she invested in a Sears Kenmore model 1914.  It had lots of stitches and a collection of cams and monogram plates to do decorative stitching.  My Dad installed it into the cabinet that the Domestic machine used and the Domestic went into retirement in a closet. I was allowed to play on this machine when she wasn't busy letting someone's pants in or out (often the same someone who apparently kept changing sizes) or replacing a zipper or shortening a dress.  The first Christmas after she got it I made monogrammed cloth napkins for everyone in the family.

I still have this machine.  It still lives in the cabinet from the Domestic but it also is living the retired life in a closet.  Perhaps one day I'll take her out and see how she runs.  I've been curious about comparing the stitching with the mechanical cams to the decorative stitching on my new computerized machines.

If you want to follow along on the machine blog hop this week, you can start here and follow the links to the other blogs.  Happy hopping.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Craftsy BOM: March

Unlike my first block of the month project, I struggled with the colors on this one.  This is the free Craftsy Block of the Month class.  This month there was only one large 17 inch block to create.  For some reason, my block is slightly too large.  I don't want to cut it down any further because the points will be cut off when it's joined to the next block.  Here's what I ended up with:
I actually changed some of the fabrics several times before settling on this combination.  Here's the first three months:
Here's my problem:  I like all the blocks but the one's on the right are too vivid for the one's on the left.  So they are going to join my leftover Easy Street blocks to make a small crib sized quilt and I'll try again on the February blocks using the light colors.  The leftovers are on my design wall now with these blocks and really go amazingly well.  Now I just need to come up with some kind of pattern to put it all together.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Country Threads BOM: March

I'm finally back at my sewing machine after about a week and it felt good to be back!  I caught up with my Country Threads Block of the Month project with these three blocks:

I thought this was an interesting contrast.  All three blocks are the same pattern but the colors make them stand out in different ways.

I like the way these blocks are coming together.  Here's the first three months worth:
I'm sticking to traditional fabrics and colors since this will be a fairly traditional sampler quilt.  So, that's one project done until April!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful: a Movie Review

If you read this blog with any regularity you will know that I am a fan of all things "Oz".  So, when I heard that a new Wizard of Oz movie was being released I was both excited and apprehensive.  I love the old Wizard of Oz and I was afraid that a new edition would tarnish the old.  This was opening weekend for Oz the Great and Powerful and we were sitting in the theater with our 3D glasses donned on Saturday afternoon.  This movie lacks my favorite character: Dorothy, but her spirit and spunk are somewhat replaced by a new character: China Doll.  It is a prequel to the original movie and tries to explain how the Wizard ended up in the Land of Oz.  I liked it.  There were plenty of elements that mirrored the old movie to keep me happy.  The evil in the movie was very "retro".  What I mean by that is: no deep darkness and occult evilness like is often used in newer movies to portray the bad guys.....just mean witches.  And no one had to die in the movie either to tell the story.

James Franco and Mila Kunis are on the road in 'Oz the Great and Powerful'
I've read quite a few criticisms about the CGI effects and at times they seemed a bit cheesy, but I'm easily entertained and the overall effect didn't ruin my movie experience.  It's also been said that the Wizard's acting lacked some authenticity (so, exactly HOW authentic is a wizard anyway?).  And I might agree with that, but again, I bought it....I was pleased.  Perhaps the one thing I missed most was the music.  This movie isn't a musical and the songs from the old movie stick in your mind and make you smile.  And given how visual a movie it is, it's one that merits a trip to the theater rather than a viewing at home. 

Hmmm.......I wonder if anyone will release new novelty Oz prints?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Book #1: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

I haven't said much about my New Year's resolution progress - mostly because I would just barely give myself a passing grade so far.  There's been some progress, but also some dismal lack of progress on a few of the fronts.  But, I've finished my first book (One of the goals was to read six books this year. I really like to read, but I seem to get so distracted by other interests)

My recent travels gave me an opportunity to finish the last few chapters of Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey.

The book tells the factual account of life at the castle where the TV series Downton Abbey is filmed.  I like the show quite a bit so I thought the book would be interesting.  It was fun to see how some of the real history of the castle is woven into the fictional story that we see on TV.  My favorite fun fact is that the approaching road to the castle purposefully shows the corner view we are accustomed to in order to make the structure look even larger and more imposing than it is.

The writing style was a bit difficult to get through.  It seemed like there was often more facts than necessary to tell the story.  It certainly wasn't a page turner.  There are a lot period photos which I also enjoyed and which make this a book that I would suggest not be read in an electronic copy to make it easy to flip through the pictures as you read information related to the photo.

So, if you like English history - a definite yes; if you like action - a definite no.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Toys from the Quilt Festival: Volume 3

I came back from the quilt festival with three new toys directly related to free motion quilting.

The first is this:
These babies are called The Fabulous Fabric Glide and are 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 gives you a larger area to work in that the span of your hands (or my hands, anyway).  I think it will help to give a more even density to my free motion quilting since I can fill one area this size, then move the guide and go on to the next area of the same size.

Next I came home with this:

This is called a skill builder.  It's made by RGA Design and the purpose is to improve your confidence and skill at machine quilting.  It's one yard of fabric with a variety of quilting patterns printed on it.  You make a sandwich out of it and then practice quilting the designs.  You can see that I've already played with it some along with my other FMQ toys.  When I went onto their website to add a link I discovered some things that I didn't know.  First of all, there are several levels of difficulty of these skill builders.  Fortunately the one I bought is the first level!  I had a few "frugal pangs" at using good batting and backing fabric to just practice and play, but on the website were some nice suggestions to tame the frugal monster inside of me.  First was the idea that you could stitch several times over the same pattern using different thread colors to get more practice.  And then second, if you use a colorful print as a backing you can turn it into a tote (directions on the website) with the skill builder fabric on the inside.

And last but certainly not least, my sweet husband bought me a Trustitch for my new machine as an early birthday present.  This is Baby Lock's answer to the Bernina stitch regulator.

Several months ago when I was researching a new machine one of the things I was interested in was Bernina's stitch regulator.  I tried it out pretty extensively in the store but decided against it and ended up getting a Baby Lock Elegante.  This was my first opportunity to try the Baby Lock Trustitch.  It just came out a few months ago and  works on a wireless signal.  That round thing in the front attaches by a magnet (the black knob is the magnet) to your quilt sandwich and sends messages to the box about how fast the fabric is being moved.  The box is attached to the sewing machine and adjusts the stitching accordingly.  To me this system worls much better than the Bernina system.  I thought it really DID make a difference in the quality of the stitching.  So, it lives at my house now and I'm anxious to quilt something up using free motion!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Guild Top Finished

Last month I attended my first local quilting guild meeting.  I took home some blocks to make into a quilt top that will be used for a donation quilt.  The only "rule" was to alternate the solid and four square blocks.  But the randomness of that request turned out to be more difficult to me that a specific design.  Here's what I ended up with:
I sort of wish now that I had turned some of the four squares around, but I think that's just me looking for order in randomness.  (Son #3, the math guy, would have fun with that statement!) Next, someone will put a border on the quilt and then it will be packaged with batting and backing for another member to quilt and bind and then off to it's intended recipient.

I really enjoy participating this way.  The task is very do-able and doesn't seem overwhelming to accomplish.  I wonder what the next meeting will bring my way.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New Toys from the Quilt Festival: Volume 2

I mentioned that I used two new rulers on my last project.  They were both bought at my trip to the MId-Atlantic Quilt Festival last weekend.

The first is a binding ruler by TQM Products. This ruler helps you join the ends of the binding together. It was handy to have for the placemat project that I just did since there were ends to join on all six placemats and the table runner.  There is a good explanation (and a better photo) on the website.  My bindings for this project were 2 1/4 inches so I had to do a bit of adjustment to get the result I wanted.  But this is definitely the best method I've used so far for joining binding.  And...this can be used as a template for a french braid quilt...directions on the website.
And another first while I was at this opinion on binding was solicited!  Since I'm a newish quilter I'm rarely asked the hows or whys of my technique.  But I guess no one knew my level of experience and I was asked about how I like to attach binding.  Unfortunately this was before I had discovered the machine method in my previous post.  But just being asked was nice!

The second ruler I bought was Leaves Galore by Sue Pelland Designs.

There is so much that you can do with this ruler/template.  Sue designed it to cut out leaves and stems for applique.  She has great examples on her website.  The ruler comes in three sizes.  I bought the middle size.  My ears really perked up when she mentioned that it could be used to mark lines for curvy quilting.  I've wanted to find a way to quilt nice big curves for awhile.  I used this ruler to cut the curvy center applique on the table runner that I posted about yesterday.  For the smaller side of the ruler you really need a small rotary cutter to get around the curves.  Sue is also the one who introduced me to the magic iron off chalk. If I had had this ruler when I first planned the placemats I probably would have incorporated some leaf applique into the design.
I can see lots of quilty fun with both of these in my future.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Placemats and Table Runner: A Commissioned Project

I really like the opportunity to use my hobby to help fill needs that the world of "ready made" seems to ignore.   So when my sister asked for table linens that would match her decor I was "all in".  Here's the final result:
The request was for placemats and/or a table runner to coordinate with this carpet:

This project gave me the chance to play with my machine embroidery, decorative stitches and even two new rulers!  I also used a new to me technique to attach the binding. 

Binding is my least favorite part of the whole quilting experience.  I've resigned myself to the fact that I like the look of hand sewing the binding the best even though it seems to take a lifetime to accomplish. But there are some times when hand sewing isn't the most practical technique to use. Items that will get frequent washing like quilts for children or table linens seem to be more secure with a machine sewn binding.  I used a technique that I found  on Jo's Country Junction blog which took me to a tutorial at Sew, Cluck, SewHere's the link to the tutorial.  The binding is sewn onto the front and then sewn from the back just past the first line of sewing (I know I'm making this sound complicated but there are great pictures on the tutorial).  The result is a binding that looks handsewn on the front with a line of topstitching around the item just inside the binding. 

And on the topic of binding....I wanted to round the edges of the table runner but cutting the binding on the bias meant another trip to the fabric store for more brown.  I decided to try my straight grain binding since all I had to lose was a bit of time.  I was amazed at how well it fit around the curves.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Life With Seamus

On the first of every month I turn my Golden Retriever calendar over to a new page and a new picture and somehow it makes me want to post about Seamus.  As I write, he is faithfully by my side wondering why I'm still awake.  You can tell that he looks a bit disgusted with me in the photo.  He wants me to go to bed so he can lay beside the bed to guard us through the night.  He used to get into the bed, but alas, those old legs don't work as well as they used to.    
I love this dog.  And all you dog owners out there know just what I mean.  Dogs have a way of getting into our hearts.  Dog love is somehow different than people love.  Not better or worse....just different.  Dogs have no pretense.  What you see is what you get.  Again...I LOVE this dog.

So let me tell you about a story from the very beginning of Seamus' life.  I had never owned a dog although I had wanted one for a long time.  My life circumstances changed such that dog ownership became possible and Seamus entered our lives. 

We had work and school during the day so for his safety and that of our home we set up a room in our basement for him to spend his alone hours.  The room didn't have a door so I used a baby gate to secure him and also closed the door to the upstairs.  Apparently he wasn't too happy with the arrangement. When I came home about four hours later I heard him at the top of the stairs!  Son #2 and I carefully opened the door to discover Seamus at the top of the stairs covered in doggie poop and very glad to see us!  He had managed to chew through the baby gate and climb to the top of the stairs.  But he hadn't yet learned how to go DOWN the stairs, so he waited there for us to come home.  You couldn't be mad at him.  He was clearly lonely and scared and looking for us to make things better.  I carried him outside and instructed Son #2 to watch him in the yard while I cleaned up the mess on the steps and then carried Seamus down to the laundry tub and cleaned him up and held him as much as he would let me to comfort him after his traumatic adventure. 

His puppy hood had many trying the time he chewed up Son #3's glasses and the TV remote.  But he clearly was loyal and loved us and our company and wanted to please us and make us happy and was counting on us to care for him.   Gradually our lives and our hearts became intertwined until we could barely imagine our life without Seamus.  I miss him when we go away.  Heck, I miss him when he's gone for a few hours to be groomed. 

He's my constant companion, my faithful walking partner; he encourages me to embrace and enjoy life and to see the wonder in the everyday. 


P.S.  We're linking up with Lily's Quilts so Seamus can meet more of you in blogland.
Lily's Quilts